A Return To Block Constructed

Is Bryan serious? Block? What could that possibly accomplish? Well, it turns out the answer is, quite a lot! Get a result from a brilliant, unique testing process for solving upcoming Standard!

All right… I got you to come this far even though this article is, at least
on its surface, about Block Constructed. That was probably not an easy
decision for you, and I appreciate the trust you’ve shown in making that

I know that no one cares about Block Constructed anymore. I know that Block
Constructed doesn’t even really exist anymore. This bothers me.

When I began playing competitive Magic, Block Constructed was a big deal.
My first PTQ was Lorwyn/Shadowmoor Block Constructed. There were Block
Constructed Pro Tours and Grand Prix. Block Constructed was a major part of
Magic’s landscape. And now… nothing.

There were a lot of bad Block Constructed formats. Block Constructed’s last
hurrah was Pro Tour Journey into Nyx, and while our own Patrick
Chapin certainly carries fond memories of the event, there are few others
who share that sentiment. Block Constructed didn’t put butts in seats. The
people who did participate did so begrudgingly.

on Magic Online. Block Constructed flourished on Magic Online, giving
players a budget entry point to Constructed play in the digital world.
Metagames were often diverse and adaptation could be seen on a week-to-week
basis. Somehow, despite an incredibly limited card pool, new technology was
found all the time. The dedicated player base saw to that.

Times weren’t always good. There were several one- or two-deck metagames,
but with each set release, things changed dramatically. When a Block
Constructed format was stagnant, it didn’t last a year or more, the way
current Standard does.

The best thing about Block Constructed though, was that it was a testing
ground for both cards and archetypes that people had preemptively deemed
not good enough for Standard. There were a host of Standard innovations
that found their roots in the Block Constructed queues of Magic Online. If
I had some downtime where I wasn’t actively preparing for an event, I would
always hit the Block Constructed queues to see what new technology was
lurking about.

Then, for some reason, we weren’t allowed to play Block Constructed
tournaments on Magic Online anymore. I don’t recall what nonsensical reason
was provided for this decision. If it was something about fracturing the
player base, I wholeheartedly reject that explanation. Magic Online,
despite its faults, has only grown over the years. It supported Block
Constructed for years with far fewer participants than it currently has.

I also reject any explanation that tried to suggest that Magic Online was
eliminating less popular formats to preserve ease-of-use and accessibility.
Allow me to present my evidence:

I’m sure there are people who love 1v1 Brawl and 1v1 Commander, and I’m
happy those 113 people have a place to play it (Note: As I was writing this
article, Wizards announced that Brawl queues would be ending, but nothing
was said about 1v1 Commander). I’m not sure why the same can’t be offered
to people who want to explore Block Constructed.

Despite how I feel, I can’t just wave my wand and make Block Constructed a
real thing again (that would take a concerted effort by a group of vocal
supporters of the format… perhaps stirred to action by an article that
showed just how interesting a return to Block Constructed could truly be…
hint, hint #bringbackblock). But that doesn’t mean we need to miss out on
the joy of exploring and learning from what looks like an awesome format.

I can’t in good faith suggest that building a bunch of Guilds of Ravnica Block Constructed decks and running a
single-elimination tournament is the best use of your playtesting time.
Luckily for you though, pretty much all I do is talk and think about Magic,
meaning I have ample time to pour into an exercise like this!

The Decks

I’d argue that a ground up exploration of a format should begin by laying
out the aggressive decks that will prey on any inefficient nonsense. In Guilds of Ravnica Block Constructed, I see two potential
competitors for the aggro crown:

Mono-Red Aggro’s best card is probably untapped Mountain, but don’t
underestimate the value of just playing threats on curve when your
opponents are struggling with their suboptimal manabases. Boros Aggro, on
the other hand, gets to play some incredibly powerful legends and
capitalize on the absence of Goblin Chainwhirler by playing Swiftblade
Vindicator. I expect Swifty to get out of hand very quickly given all the
fine mentorship opportunities available in Ravnica these days.

Drifting a bit more to the “midrange side of things,” we have Golgari

In this format the removal is iffy, and keyword BIG is going to ensure that
our creatures stick on the battlefield. We’re leaning pretty hard into
Nullhide Ferox here by playing very few non-creature spells maindeck. This
should pay dividends against any of the more controlling decks we
encounter, and we can always adjust in sideboard games.

Wait, is Impervious Greatwurm even legal in this format? How about cards
from the pre-constructed Planeswalker Decks?

Things have gotten a little
weird in the years since Block Constructed disappeared, but this deck
really wanted another payoff, so I decided Impervious Greatwurm makes the

Another feather in Block Constructed’s cap was its ability to serve as the
best possible vehicle for conveying a sets themes and feel. To me, this is the Dimir deck, and we will never see a purer expression of the
surveil mechanic. More than any other, this is the deck that has me begging
for a return to Block Constructed. I want to live in a world where
Thoughtbound Phantasm can do things outside of Draft. Given its parasitic
nature, Thoughtbound Phantasm will almost certainly struggle to see
Standard play. Here, it may just be an all-star.

The Golgari guild is deep enough in this set that there several very
distinct decks you can look at. I debated including an undergrowth focused
build instead of this more classic midrange build, but I actually think
that version of the deck is better suited to Standard play (more on this in
the future).

Let’s see what’s available on the control side of things.

Removal in this format is wholly unimpressive. It’s not a great sign when
you’re forced to splash for a four-mana removal spell, but I wasn’t
convinced this deck could exist without access to Price of Fame. Maybe I’m
playing things far too safe and now I’m doomed to lose to my manabase.

For our last competitor, I turned to the GAM Podcast Discord. I know I may
be biased, but I honestly believe that this chat room might be the single
best deckbuilding community on the planet right now. Folks there work
tirelessly on exploring new ideas and do so with a level of respect and
openness that makes me truly proud. While there were a host of great
suggestions, I ultimately was drawn to this seemingly simple suggestion
from Liam Cahalan:

Maybe this is the baseline deck I wanted mono-red to be. “Play some
creatures on curve, make them slightly bigger” is a battle-tested plan for
success in Block Constructed. This would likely comprise the budget entry
point to the format and will make a fine litmus test for all the midrange

The Tournament

For this tournament to produce the meaningful insights I was hoping for, I
knew it needed to be played at a high-level. So I called in the person who
has beaten me at Magic more times than anyone else on the planet.

Not Spider-Man.


If you’ve ever heard me talk about my playtesting process, you probably
know that I’m a huge proponent of playing games of Magic against myself.
The benefits of learning two sides of a matchup simultaneously far outweigh
the damage done by the fact that your match will occasionally arrive at the
“wrong” outcome. If you are actively attempting to figure out what play
would have been made in the absence of perfect information and eliminating
bias in your decisions, things will mostly play out the way they are
supposed to.

I see far too many people attaching themselves to the numbers that come out
of playtesting sessions. “I went 12-3 against Humans in playtesting.” “I
was undefeated against Tron.” “It’s an 80-20 matchup.” I know you’ve heard
statements like this brandished about. The fact is, no means of playtesting
is ever going to have a large enough n to produce an accurate
assessment of matchup percentage. Beyond that, virtually every game of
Magic in the history of the world has been played imperfectly, further
polluting testing results.

One of your goals in testing should be to establish a feel for a matchup.
Efforts to establish hard matchup percentages are pointless. I’d argue that
feel can be generated much faster by playing both sides of the game, even
if doing so occasionally influences the outcome. Focus on the journey, not
the result.

Seedings for the tournament were assigned randomly. Place your bets now.

Round of 8: Mono-White Aggro vs. Grixis Control-Grixis Control wins 2-0

While in both games Mono-White Aggro was able to get off to a blazing
start, Grixis Control was able to do just enough to stay alive and play a
Niv-Mizzet on Turn 6. It’s very possible that I have been dramatically
undervaluing this crafty Dragon. I had previously said I didn’t think it
would do quite enough for such a prohibitively costed six-drop. But after
having played with the card, I’m pretty sure that it’s going to be very
difficult to lose games in which you get to untap with Niv-Mizzet, assuming
your deck is built properly.

While Mono-White Aggro was just was a little too far behind in terms of
card quality, Dawn of Hope was a definite bright spot out of the sideboard.
There have been a few times recently I’ve found myself wishing for a Sacred
Mesa. Dawn of Hope is likely far better.

Round of 8: Selesnya Convoke vs. Golgari Midrange-Golgari Midrange wins 2-1

A swingy set, where both decks were throwing haymakers back and forth,
Golgari Midrange leaned on recursive Izoni, Thousand Eyed to outvalue
Selesnya. I have little doubt that Izoni is good enough to make the leap to
Standard, and I’m very excited to see what fully powered up Golgari decks
are capable of. Find deserved similarly high marks for providing exactly
the type of versatility you would expect from a sweeper/draw your two best
cards in the matchup (Izoni and Doom Whisperer).

This was also a matchup where Assassin’s Trophy really was able to shine.
Any deck playing targets like Trostani and Conclave Tribute is going to
feel absolutely targeted by the versatile piece of removal. I’d note that
March of the Multitudes on the Selesnya side was often underwhelming. Maybe
it was just a function of facing Izoni, but the 1/1s simply never mattered,
and were easily answerable in sideboard games.

Round of 8: Mono-Red Aggro vs. Dimir Surveil-Dimir Surveil wins 2-1

After a long and extremely back and forth set, Dimir Surveil had the
strongest possible double Thoughtbound Phantasm draw in game 3 to close out
the match. Honestly, these were fantastic games of Magic, with loads of
decision points throughout and interesting points of tension surrounding
Blood Operative decisions. As expected, Thoughtbound Phantasm proved to be
a standout and I don’t think it’s crazy to suggest that Inescapable Blaze
might see some sideboard play, even with the presence of Banefire. When it
comes to Mono-Red, every small bit of mana efficiency matters.

The real shocker in this set was Risk Factor. I’ve been around the game for
20+ years now and I promise, I know all the arguments against “punisher”
cards. In fact, I would have never under any circumstances put Risk Factor
into a deck were I not playing Block Constructed. That’s how strongly
opposed I am to a Browbeat. But Risk Factor was far more impactful than I
expected, and there comes a point where no matter how much worse one option
may be than another, you can’t argue with the efficiency of generating
eight damage and six new cards from one Risk Factor. I’m not saying I’m
sold, but I am saying I will try the card again.

Round of 8: Boros Aggro vs. Golgari Aggro-Boros Aggro wins 2-0

Good lord was this Boros deck explosive. Integrity did a beautiful job of
forcing through damage early while providing reach late, and Swiftblade
Vindicator is one of the strongest double striking creatures we’ve ever
seen. Despite the large bodies in Golgari, the Boros Aggro deck kept
finding ways to force awkward blocks and get damage through.

Semi-Finals: Grixis Control vs. Golgari Midrange-Grixis Control wins 2-1

I found this outcome somewhat surprising, since I thought Golgari would be
able to leverage the fact that virtually every card in their deck was a
two-for-one, but Niv-Mizzet again proved unbeatable in a host of
situations. If Grixis effectively dealt with Golgari’s early board
presence, they quickly composed an unassailable hand via the card selection
of Radical Idea and Chemister’s Insight. From there, Grixis only had to
wait for 9 mana and the chance to play Niv-Mizzet with countermagic backup.

The most surprising card on either side of the matchup was Plaguecrafter.
The first time this card kills one of your planeswalkers as a control
player, you will realize that this card is far more than a Fleshbag
Marauder. It may just be a Standard staple.

Semi-Finals: Dimir Surveil vs. Boros Aggro-Boros Aggro wins 2-0

Boros Aggro again showed its resiliency, as it took a victory over a Dimir
Surveil deck that cast six Blood Operatives in game 2. First strike,
mentor, double strike, pump spells, burn… the Boros deck brings heat from
every possible angle and is extremely difficult to play against. When this
deck picks up some Standard upgrades such as Lightning Strike, it just may
be the starting point for aggro post-rotation.

Finals: Grixis Control vs. Boros Aggro-Grixis Control wins 2-1

An incredibly close match, this showdown ended like so many others in this
tournament–Grixis at one life, seven cards in hand, and a Niv-Mizzet,
Parun in play. I’m done gushing about how impactful this card was. It
should be respected as a premier control finisher, and it deserves to have
decks built around it. While Sarkhan, Fireblood powering out Niv-Mizzet on
turn 4 has its own appeal, make no mistake about it: Niv-Mizzet will be at
its best paired with Radical Idea and Chemister’s Insight.

Global Takeaways

-Removal in this set past Assassin’s Trophy is some of the worst we’ve seen
in a long time. I tolerated a lot of Price of Fame, but only when it cost
two mana was it acceptable. While we have two other blocks (three if you
count M19) in which to find Standard removal spells, I would still
expect to occasionally feel the pinch of poor removal when deckbuilding in

-Surveil is an extremely powerful mechanic. There is a lot of equity to be
gained by building your deck to get as much value as possible from your

Jump-start is far better than I initially gave it credit for. I was very
happy I had copies of Radical Idea in my Grixis deck, and Chemister’s
Insight was quite a bit better than I expected, and I already thought it
was one of the ten best cards in the set. It’ll be interesting to see how
these cards transition to Standard and whether Radical Idea is able to take
some metagame share from Opt in control decks. In decks that play Connive
along with sizable threats, Radical Idea is an auto include.

Cards That Impressed

Niv-Mizzet, Parun – You get it.

Thoughtbound Phantasm – It is a true shame that there probably isn’t enough
surveil support to make this card a thing in Standard, because it is pushed
to the max. If surveil makes a return in the third Ravnica set, keep an eye
on Thoughtbound Phantasm.

Plaguecrafter – Don’t even say Fleshbag Marauder around this card.
Seriously, black decks all should have multiple copies somewhere in their

Hunted Witness – When will I learn that one mana white creatures with
upside are just always going to be great? I can’t wait for Sam Black to get
up to some shenanigans with this card.

Cards That Underperformed

Runaway Steam-Kin – This one truly shocked me, but I think Runaway
Steam-Kin is going to turn out to be a bust. I understand that these
aggressive red creatures will always get worse as the game goes on. But at
any spot in the game other than turn 2, this card was an absolute blank.

Legion Warboss – It wasn’t that Warboss was necessarily bad, its just much
worse than I thought it was at first glance. Warboss gets bricked on a
whole host of gamestates. It’s a card you really have to work to maximize,
and it may prove to be a far better sideboard “change of pace” type card
than an instant inclusion in all red creature decks.

Charnel Troll – I think this card probably has a home, but this deck was
not it. You really must be all-in on a graveyard-based strategy to have any
chance to employ Charnel Troll reliably.

Venerated Loxodon – Making your 1/1s into 2/2s still leaves you with an
irrelevant state. I expected more from this card when I saw it previewed,
but I think I was way off base.

Overall, I am incredibly happy I decided to explore Guilds of Ravnica Block Constructed. I’ve got a high number of
experiences with a host of new cards, many of which I don’t think I would
have given their proper due if the confines of Block Constructed hadn’t led
me to look for new solutions. More than anything though, I was impressed by
how good the games were. Part of it was the joy of playing with sweet new
toys, but I honestly think that this format would be a pleasure to play, at
least for a smaller window of time.

I’m sure every single set would not yield such a positive experience. For
instance, my brief Magic Arena dalliance did not give me the impression
that I wanted to spend much time exploring Ixalan Block. But
that’s fine. Give me the freedom to choose. Block Constructed doesn’t need
to be part of organized play going forward. I would love if it was a small
part of Magic’s digital world though.