Block Constructed PTQs began in full force this past weekend, so those of you who are out there with dreams of finding Magic fame and fortune in Berlin are on the clock. Our last PTQ season used the Extended format, which has a healthy variety of viable decks that make preparing for tournaments a bit of a crapshoot. It’s entirely possible to play against eight different reasonable decks in eight rounds, and that means that heavy preparation against specific decks may or may not actually be useful to you at tournament time. Block Constructed, however, is an entirely different animal. Historically, most Block Constructed formats quickly settled on three or fewer accepted best decks, and this greatly simplifies the preparation process. It’s always legal to play something else, but most of your opponents will be making deck choices from a very narrow set of decks. Learn these matchups, and most of your work is done. This also means that if you also choose from that narrow set, the potential rewards for knowing your mirror match better than the opposition are great. This is especially true when standard lists of each deck become common knowledge. If you play one of those standard lists you won’t be able to get an edge through the construction of your deck, so you’ll need to get your edges through your play or your sideboarding.
As it stands now, the three “best decks” in Lorwyn Block Constructed seem to be Faeries, Kithkin, and Reflecting Pool decks of various sorts. The Faerie mirror is pretty random, and there isn’t much universal agreement on what the right Reflecting Pool deck looks like, so I chose to use the Kithkin mirror to demonstrate the kind of analysis that should go into solving such puzzles.
Before I start, I’d like to thank longtime collaborator and Grand Prix: Philadelphia Top 8 competitor Ben Wienburg for his help. I learned everything I’m about to tell you from testing this matchup with him last Thursday night. Also, this is the only time I have seriously tested Block, so the only thing I can actually tell you about is this matchup. We were trying to win him the PTQ that took place in Columbus, Ohio on June 14, but he only managed to get to the Top 4 before making an early exit. After playing nine rounds with the deck, Ben recommends the following list:
- 4 Burrenton Forge-Tender
- 4 Cloudgoat Ranger
- 2 Goldmeadow Harrier
- 4 Goldmeadow Stalwart
- 4 Knight of Meadowgrain
- 2 Mirror Entity
- 4 Wizened Cenn
- 3 Thistledown Liege
This is very similar to Jelger Wiegersma’s deck from Birmingham. Playing all four Mutavaults is a somewhat greedy move that thumbs its nose at Spectral Procession’s casting cost, but I love me a manland and I haven’t had too much trouble casting Procession on turn 3.
Before we talk about the mirror, let’s get familiar with this deck. The first thing to note about this deck is that it is a creature attack deck that has an actual mana curve and isn’t supported by mana acceleration, which is sort of a rarity in Magic. The only other deck in this category that I can think of that has been good in Constructed is the Onslaught Block Goblins deck and all of its various incarnations in bigger formats. To support a mana curve that goes all the way up to five mana, this deck plays a full twenty-six lands. Rustic Clachan nominally has an extra ability, but don’t be fooled; you’ll only be reinforcing with it when you flood horribly. You will, however, be glad when that happens. The other thing to keep in mind is that this deck has no reach. Mirrorweave on a Wizened Cenn or Thistledown Liege does a decent job of faking a direct damage coup de gras, but you will need an attack force to make that work.
First, we need to talk a lot about Mirrorweave. One common way that a game will end is that one player gets a few unopposed attackers, then casts Mirrorweave on a Wizened Cenn or Thistledown Liege while they have many total creatures in play. The unopposed attackers in question tend to be Spectral Processions tokens and maybe a launched Cloudgoat Ranger, but sometimes all a player needs to accomplish this is to have more total creatures. The only way in the maindeck to stop this sort of Mirrorweave blowout is to respond to the opponent’s Mirrorweave with your own Mirrorweave on a harmless creature like a Goldmeadow Harrier. This will turn everything into a Goldmeadow Harrier, and then your opponent’s Mirrorweave will once again turn everything into a Goldmeadow Harrier. Therefore, if you are in danger of dying to this kind of Mirrorweave and it makes sense for your opponent to have it, you should keep four mana up at all times even if you don’t even have your own.
What do I mean by “if it makes sense that your opponent has one?” Actual experience playing the Kithkin mirror will show you that it’s not actually that difficult to get enough critical mass for a Mirrorweave on a lord to be lethal. Therefore, constantly look out for situations where if your opponent had a Mirrorweave they would have killed you with it while you did not have access to four mana. If such a situation arises and you do not die, you can safely assume that they do not have a Mirrorweave and ignore the threat of it with impunity for the rest of the game. This is very important information to have, so pay careful attention to that.
The next thing we need to talk about with respect to Mirrorweave is crazy rules issues. Mirrorweave turns every other creature into an exact copy of the target card as printed, not as it is when the Mirrorweave resolves. Therefore, if you target an activated Mutavault with a Mirrorweave, all creatures become inactivated Mutavaults. The next thing to know is that due to the way layers work, copy effects apply before characteristic-setting effects do. Mirrorweave is a copy effect because it actually says “copy,” while characteristic-setting abilities include things like “target creature gets +3/-3 until end of turn,” “All creatures you control are X/X until end of turn,” and “Mutavault is a 2/2 creature with all creature types until end of turn.” Therefore:
? If you activate a Mirror Entity for three and then Mirrorweave a Goldmeadow Stalwart, all your creatures will be 3/3 Goldmeadow Stalwarts while your opponent’s will be 2/2 Goldmeadow Stalwarts.
? If you activate a Mutavault and then Mirrorweave a Cloudgoat Ranger, the Mutavault will be a 2/2 White creature named Cloudgoat Ranger that has all creature types.
If you do not understand what is about to happen in your game with regard to a Mirrorweave, call a judge immediately. Mirrorweave is confusing, and you deserve better than to lose a game to something you could have asked about beforehand.
One nice feature of this deck is that the mirror match is fairly skill-intensive. It feels random at first, but different things matter every game and careful planning is rewarded. Ben and I began our exploration with a six-game set of game 1s, and at first I was not optimistic about how skill-intensive it would actually be. Here are my notes from each of those games, during which we alternated going first:
Game 1: Lose, he drew Mirror Entity on a stalled board
Game 2: Lose, he drew Mirrorweave and I didn’t
Game 3: Lose, he drew more Spectral Processions
Game 4: Lose, he drew more Wizened Cenns
Game 5: Lose, he curved out perfectly and I stumbled slightly
Game 6: Lose, we are drawing the same cards in the same amounts and he is winning every game
We paused after this to identify what was going on. Ben maintains that he was drawing better than me, and I did keep a sketchy one in game 6. However, I think he was outplaying me pretty heavily. I wasn’t really surprised; Ben is a natural at playing attack decks, and on top of that he has been casting Goblin Warchiefs whenever possible ever since that card was printed, and I already discussed how similar this deck and Onslaught goblins are. On the other hand, I’m a control player at heart and my record with goblin decks is less than stellar.
Most games you will play in the mirror eventually degenerate into enormous ground stalls between large amounts of creatures. Given that, Ben identified three main ways to win games: out-creature the opponent, out-lord the opponent, and surprise blowouts with Mirrorweave and Pollen Lullaby. I will talk about them in that order. You should identify which of these plans you can use to win from a given position, and then play to make that way happen as fast as possible. Flailing around without a direction is a good way to give your opponent time to execute one of these plans and kill you.
1. Out-Creature The Opponent
The way this method usually works is that on a big stalled board one player plays Spectral Processions and Cloudgoat Rangers that give him a few more total creatures in play than the opponent, and then uses Mirrorweave or Mirror Entity to immediately win the game by sneaking some creatures through and making everything in play enormous. The way to make this happen is to avoid trading creatures in combat while using your Spectral Processions and Cloudgoat Rangers to get lots of creatures in play. Then, you will use a Mirrorweave or a Mirror Entity to put the game away. Doing this is simple and painless with a Mirror Entity, since there’s nothing your opponent can do to stop you. Even if they Mirrorweave something, your guys will still be X/X versions of whatever was Mirrorweaved. If you are using a Mirrorweave on a lord to put the game away, you need for your opponent not to respond with their own Mirrorweave for the plan to work. Use logic as discussed before to figure out if it makes sense for your opponent to have one, and play from there.
This method is not as reliable in sideboarded games due to the existence of Pollen Lullaby. If you move in on a gigantic Mirrorweave or Mirror Entity attack and get hit with one of those, you are dead if you don’t have your own Lullaby. Even if you do have your own, if they win their clash and you lose yours you still will die. I’ll talk about how to deal with this later on.
2. Out-Lord The Opponent
Another good thing to do is to win games before a stall even happens. You should try to do this when you draw more Wizened Cenns than your opponent, which makes all of your creatures bigger than your opponent’s identical creatures and allows you to offer your opponent the choice between making unfavorable trades and taking lots of damage early in the game. Get your opponent as low on life as you possibly can before they dig out of their temporary disadvantage with Spectral Processions and Cloudgoat Rangers. The holy grail if you are executing this strategy is to force your opponent to start chump-blocking, since that means that his ability to execute plan number one will be diminished. If you are doing this, be careful of when you play Thistledown Liege. It takes fewer creatures in play to make a Mirrorweave on a Liege lethal than it does for to make a Mirrorweave on a Wizened Cenn lethal because each newly-created Liege pumps all the other creatures on its side twice instead of once, so do your best not to expose yourself to a random Mirrorweave kill by playing a Liege unnecessarily. As always, when you know your opponent could have Weaved to kill you and didn’t, you can ignore this advice until the end of the game.
3. Mirrorweave and Pollen Lullaby Blowouts
If you can’t get ahead on total creatures or on damage in game 1, you are probably in trouble. Your best chance is to use Cloudgoat Ranger and Spectral Processions to create a flying attack force that can get through unblocked, and then use a Mirrorweave on a lord to make those unblocked creatures huge. Once again, you should try to time this when you cannot be foiled by an opposing Mirrorweave. In sideboarded games, you can often dig out of these situations with a Pollen Lullaby when your opponent makes a big alpha strike. However, if they do this and leave themselves completely open to an opposing attack, don’t be surprised if they have their own Lullaby.
If you’re ahead on the board, you should be careful to not let yourself get crushed by a Pollen Lullaby from your opponent. The best way to do this without your own Lullaby is to make attacks that are large enough that they put your opponent on a significant clock but small enough that they do not leave you completely defenseless on a return swing. This kind of attack is easy to make when you have a Mirror Entity, tricky to make when you are ahead but lack an Entity, and usually completely impossible to make if you are behind.
In terms of actually sideboarding, the mirror-oriented cards in the sideboard as I have presented it are Pollen Lullaby and Ajani Goldmane. Pollen Lullaby is awkward but is a good way to steal games when your opponent draws more and better creatures than you, which is hard to dig out of otherwise. The other reason you want to play Pollen Lullaby is that if your opponent figures out that you didn’t board any copies of it in, you are in deep trouble. If you decide that you don’t like it, you should consider extreme measures like putting one in your sideboard and “accidentally” revealing it while you are sideboarding just to force your opponent to fear it. [Wow, talk about hardcore… – Craig, amused.] Ajani Goldmane solves a couple of different problems. Ajani helps both the out-Lording plan and the out-Creaturing plan; it adds a size to your creatures every turn, and it allows you to make big attacks without actually tapping your creatures and exposing yourself to a return attack or a Pollen Lullaby. Both of these things are kind of a big deal.
Ben and I settled on sideboarding out the Forge[/author]-Tender”]Burrenton [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author]-Tenders and three Goldmeadow Stalwarts. The Forge-Tenders are very underwhelming men when your opponent is not casting lots of Red cards or Firespouts, and Goldmeadow Stalwart is very efficient but does not contribute to any of your plans and strategically goes dead as soon as the board stalls.
If you like attacking with creatures, I am comfortable recommending the Kithkin deck for this block format. It is full of powerful cards, gives you lots of options while playing, and has a mirror match that is skill-based enough that a good player will have plenty of opportunities to get advantages. There is no substitute for spending time actually practicing the mirror match if you seriously want to qualify, but this article should give you a head start in your exploration.
This is my last article for StarCityGames.com. On June 23, I begin a six month internship in Wizards of the Coast Magic R&D on the development side. This a life-long dream come to fruition and those interested in the details of how I made it happen should read my article from last week. Once that begins, I can no longer write for Magic sites other than the mothership. Writing for StarCityGames has been a fun ride, and I hope we’ve all learned something. I know I have!
As I write this, I am in the middle of Montana on I-90 driving toward Seattle. While I’m here at the microphone with a captive audience, thanks to:
– Ted Knutson, The Ferrett, Pete Hoefling, and Craig Stevenson for the opportunity to write for StarCityGames
– Rich Hagon and Evan Erwin for spreading my voice and image on the internet
– Adam Prosak and Gerry Thompson for coaching, encouragement, and lots of lists
– Anyone involved in the growth of the cube draft meme
– Everyone I’ve met through Magic tournaments for making the ride fun
– Richard Garfield for making something so awesome that I want to dedicate six months of my life to it
Okay, there’s the music so I’m out of time. Two days ago I got a mysterious phone message telling me where on I-80 in Iowa to stop and look behind a bush. There was a metal briefcase there which I am told is full of Multiverse printouts. I’m about to take my first look at Eventide and Shards of Alara, but there’s some kind of scrambling device that will activate when I open this thing. Here goes nothing….