Before I get into the meat of my article, there’s one more thing I wanted to add to the whole”Bad Cards” debate that’s been sparked recently about broken rares and unplayable rares.
The DCI needs to do the right thing and emergency ban Bargain.
There’s no question that the card is inherently broken, and spawns combo decks that are extremely resilient to disruption; drawing obscene amounts of cards tends to help get past that. I think the one thing that has kept these combo decks from simply dominating the entire Type 2 field is the fact that it’s a boring deck to play, and extremely boring to play against. Most competitive players have at least some urge to interact with whomever sits across from them to play the game, and these folks tend to steer clear of playing this deck. However, there are those players who feel that winning is everything, and they have a deck now that does the job in a swift, unstoppable manner. This is bad for the game, and just plain evil; Lim Dul and Yawgmoth must be proud of the corruption they have wrought in the recent Extended format and now in the new Type 2.
I think the best argument for banning Bargain can be gleaned from a case in point. I was reading the tournament report from Matt Zbrog, who recently won a Junior Super Series Challenge tournament. He obviously wanted to win, and so he played Bargain. Here’s an excerpt from the report:
ROUND 1- Eli with Random Black.
Game1: I shook his hand and he said this was his first tourney and I immediately felt bad. The feeling was not improved by him blocking my turn 3 rector with his turn 3 carrion wall. When i said i was getting an enchantment he commented on those”darn worship decks” and when i got a bargain he asked me if i was done and i softly said no. I went off at 20 life and there was not much to say. He seemed visibly disturbed and depressed and commented on my JSS shirt and how it was unfair. I did wear the shirt for intimidation value, but this wasn’t what i meant to happen.
Matt goes on to sweep him the next game in much the same manner. Well, Eli – welcome to your first match in your first tournament ever! Hope you enjoyed playing a total of 6-7 turns and getting positively crushed by a stupid broken deck. If I were John Sorrentino and a gambling man, I’d lay odds that Eli won’t be playing Magic much longer if he continues to have any more experiences like this.
Now, I will grant you that the round’s result was as it should be. Eli is a new player and is playing with sub-par cards, and Matt is an experienced player with a solid deck. The results would have been the same no matter whether Matt was playing Stompy or Accelerated Blue or Ponza. The point I’d like to make is, at least with these other decks the match would have lasted more than a few turns and allowed Eli to play with some of these Magical cards he’s spent his allowance on, and maybe he’d learn a few things and become a better player and go on to win a big tournament one day.
We all start out like Eli, brand new players participating in their very first tournament. We probably had a pretty bad record by the end of the day. But I’m willing to bet you had a good time anyway, enjoyed playing with your Magical cards, and learned a thing or two. In other words, your first tournament experience probably wasn’t against an overpowered monstrosity like Bargain. You felt that, with a little practice and some better cards, you might be able to win more games. Heck, maybe one day you might be able to win the tournament!
Overpowered combo decks discourage new players from staying in the game, and these decks need to be nipped in the bud. The DCI has done this before with Memory Jar and Fluctuator; why have they dragged their heels with Bargain? What is it about the life-for-cards mechanic that makes the DCI so reluctant to ban it? Did the WotC president himself design Necro and Bargain or something? Grow some cojones and do the right thing, folks!
Some folks are saying that it’s really Academy Rector that’s the problem; I’m sorry, but before the Bargain deck came around, the worst I saw the Rector doing was fetching Worships and Patterns of Rebirth. People are calling the Rector the new”Moat” because it sometimes stops players from ground attacks for fear of the enchantment his death will bring to the board. Without Bargain, that fear doesn’t exist for most decks; you’re going to have some sort of answer to a Worship, and if you don’t you can simply reduce your opponent to 1 life and THEN start worrying about the Worship (or just kill all his creatures). With Bargain, though, the problem is if the Rector dies, you may very well never have another turn. Now THAT’s an effective Moat, folks.
Time and time again, it’s been shown that drawing cards for little to no cost is overpowered and potentially environment damaging. When the only cost is a payment in life, and when cheap life-gain is readily available, there’s a problem.
Bargain has got to go.
I’ll step off the soapbox now and move on to some useful strategy for Regionals. The cool thing is that my initial rant sort of ties into the main body of my article.
Have you noticed all the fast mana cropping up? Standard seems to be winding up into a faster and faster environment. It almost feels like Extended to some degree, because the environment is being warped by the speed. Whole strategies are being kicked to the side because they are just too slow. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?
Let’s look at the top decks in Standard right now and what they are using for mana acceleration.
Bargain— Peat Bog, Dark Ritual, Grim Monolith (and Voltaic Keys in some versions). The Rector is also effective mana acceleration, getting a 6 casting cost enchantment on the board for 4 mana. Speed makes this deck incredibly scary, and sets the tone for the whole environment.
Accelerated Blue– Grim Monolith, 28 lands. Over half the deck is mana! I’m surprised they haven’t started running Saprazzan Skerries yet, but don’t be surprised if you see it. The whole deck is top heavy with high casting cost stuff. While the Grims are the only things that actually accelerate the deck, it also uses tools to”decelerate” your opponent while you build up to 5 and more mana (Port, Keg, Counterspell). Variants running Daze and Thwart slant more towards the acceleration by allowing it to tap out to be aggressive while still interfering with the opponent’s early plays.
Negatron/Control Black– Dark Ritual, Unmask, Negator, Peat Bog, Duress, Yawgmoth’s Will. These decks have the potential to produce a first turn that most decks just cannot recover from; a first turn 5/5 trampler plus plucking whatever answer to the beastie your opponent may have from his hand is just devestating. Unmask and Duress are both undercosted pinpoint hand destruction that usually slows your opponent’s game plan, allowing your early play to dominate the board. Yawgmoth’s Will can just be plain broken in card/resource advantage.
Rebels– Cradle, Crusade/Glorious Anthem, Lin-Sivvi and other searchers. The Rebel decks running Gaea’s Cradles can be positively explosive, breaking the inherently slow search mechanic of the rebel recruiters. Lin-Sivvi is the exception, however, being able to search very efficiently and to make sure no rebel is permanently dead. The creature pumping Crusades and Anthems can end the game very swiftly.
Replenish— Saprazzan Skerry, Remote Farm, Replenish, Frantic Search. The latest teched-out Replenish decks are starting to run the depletion lands, and it makes perfect sense in light of the accelerated environment. Frantic Search is a”free” spell that allows you to have effectively 3 extra mana the turn you cast it, and with a depletion land out it’s even more mana. Replenish itself is a huge mana accelerator by often letting you effectively cast enchantments totaling 10, 20 or more mana all in one turn.
Squirrel Prison– Birds of Paradise, Llanowar Elves, Priest of Titania, Yavimaya Granger, Gaea’s Cradle. This deck makes use of lots of mana-accelerating creatures that, along with the Cradle can produce a lot of mana very fast if left undisrupted. The problem we find with this is all of the acceleration relies on creatures, which can be very fragile. Still, Squirrel Prison can be very explosive.
So, it appears to me that for a deck to do well in this sort of environment, it needs speed. Speed in the form of fast mana to cast your game winning spells that much faster, or fast disruption to”decellerate” your opponent’s speedy plans. Where do we find this speed?
Mana creatures: green has had a long tradition of fast mana tied to creatures, and the Saga block brought tons more with Priest, Rofellos, Grangers and Cradles. The problem here is two-fold; once you’ve got all that mana, what are you going to do with it? It had better be good, because while you’re casting critters with summoning sickness to advance your plans, your opponent just might win next turn. The second problem is that green critters are so darn fragile. With Massacre, Cave-In, Masticore and Perish showing up in main decks and sideboards everywhere, now is not a good time to have a 1 toughness. And without a lot of critters on the board, your Cradle just stalls. It’s no wonder why the best Cradle decks are now white, since white’s creatures tend to be much more durable and resilient.
Depletion and sac lands: the depletion lands are just now coming into their own, and I anticipate them becoming stronger as the environment continues on its speedy path. The concept of depletion lands has been dismissed by most players, but combo decks have had success using them to speed their victory by a turn or more and this technology might bleed over to other decks, too. For instance, I was working on a”control white” deck that used Remote Farms and Marble Diamonds to accelerate the deck to the 4 mana threshold in order to cast a fast Wrath of God, which could be necessary against a fast Stompy or Negator deck, or even a turn 3 Morphling. Red uses the Sandstone Needle to start casting Land Destruction on turn 2, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see a control green variant spring up relying less on creatures for mana acceleration and more on Hickory Woodlot along with Exploration and artifact mana.
“Free” spells: I lump the untap blue spells from the Saga block in here with all the pitch spells and alternative casting cost spells because they all basically allow you to get”Virtual Dark Ritual” (as per Omeed’s observation) by allowing you to cast more spells than you normally should be able to. This will inevitably accelerate your deck, and I expect the plentitude of pitch and ACC spells from the Masques block will continue to accelerate the environment.
Artifact Mana: Grim Monoliths have shown us the power of mana acceleration; in the Urza block they helped fuel fast Sneak Attack kills, and their recent migration into blue decks have rejuvenated what some thought to be a bad deck into what some people are calling the best deck out there. Some of the Bargain decks have learned from Tinker’s abuse of Grims + Voltaic Key, but lots of decks could benefit from the explosive artifact mana generation available from the Saga block. One of Star City’s own columnists has written about Mono-Beige, which is more or less a white Tinker deck, and another has recently written about”Accelerated Black.” A similar idea was proposed by Cathy Nicoloff’s Metalworker deck. Can an”Accelerated Green” deck be far behind? How many dead elves will it take before an enterprising green mage abandons creature-based mana for the lure of artifacts? Time will tell.
When deciding on a deck to play for Regionals this year, you are going to have to take into account the speed of the environment. Assuming you’re not going to be playing a netdeck, you can probably liberally borrow ideas from those decks to accelerate your own. Don’t be scared of the depletion lands; their eventual destruction can often be justified by the board advantage you’d gain from the spell you just cast. Look at all the pitch spells and alternative casting-cost spells available for the colors you’re playing, not just the ones that are popular. Can you find one or two that might be a game winning surprise in your expected metagame? Remember,”speed kills” and apply that bit of wisdom your own decks.