Ars Goetia

Valeriy writes about the different applications of Desecration Demon and its upsides in the Standard metagame. See if you should play it at #SCGBALT!

Standard moves not only from week to week but even from day to day, as you saw at the StarCityGames.com Standard Opens in Salt Lake City. G/R Aggro crushed the weekend and is currently the deck to beat. There are many ways to beat it, but the combination of Mutilate and Desecration Demon may be the best one. However, the relatively popular B/G Midrange deck, which has already established itself as a solid tier 2 deck, has some problems (like a bad U/x matchup) that may be able to be fixed with some modifications. Today I’m going to look at the different applications of Desecration Demon and its upsides in the Standard metagame.

The most popular B/G Midrange list on Magic Online is the one used by _Batutinha_ to Top 4 two Premier Events a week ago. Many players on Magic Online use the same 75 or slightly tweak it depending on their preferences.

Why shouldn’t you play this list? The deck’s primary power is reliability. It doesn’t have access to Olivia Voldaren and Bonfire of the Damned, but it beats aggressive decks, is invulnerable to Burning Earth, and can always cast its Mutilates.

Oops . . .

Fifteen Swamps is not close to enough to be able to cast Mutilate reliably, especially against decks full of creatures with high toughness (i.e., Flinthoof Boar and Boros Reckoner). Simultaneously, this list contains only four two-mana spot removal spells to minimize life loss in case of a late Mutilate. I don’t count Tragic Slip among these, as it’s fine but not reliable without other removal spells. So it seems that this list isn’t very effective in the situations where it should be. Moreover, it doesn’t improve postboard; Vampire Nighthawk is bad against both Thundermaw Hellkite and Hellrider, and there’s no additional instant speed removal in the sideboard.

I understand _Batutinha_’s reasoning behind these decisions. Three Mutavaults and sideboarded enchantments are here to improve control matchups, which are simply horrible, and to secure the deck’s position against Jund. However, I believe that this is the wrong way to approach things. Improving a bad matchup slightly at the cost of the serious downgrade of numerous good ones is clearly not where you want to be. U/W/x decks aren’t that popular right now, so it would be better to adapt existing sideboard cards against them than to ruin our best card (Mutilate). I prefer having at least eighteen Swamps, which means that Mutavault, despite all its attractiveness, should not be in the list, at least until U/W/x becomes extremely popular (and at that time I’d rather switch from this deck).

Demonic Rising, Deadbridge Chant, and Primeval Bounty are supposed to support Underworld Connections in midrange matchups since our plan is typically to dismember the opponent’s hand with discard and then grind them out with card advantage. The problems with that plan are numerous:

1. Black pinpoint removal isn’t very good.

2. Lifebane Zombie is unable to hit important creatures like Olivia Voldaren and Aetherling.

3. Duress is an extremely bad late-game topdeck

4. Appetite for Brains doesn’t hit important cards like Underworld Connections and pinpoint removal spells.

Are there any upgrades? Surely. Standard contains Sin Collector, which effectively combines disruption with a threat, and Rakdos’s Return, which is good in the late game and may be a finisher spell. Skipping green will lead to some trouble (namely the lack of Thragtusk), but both white and red have some advantages and may be considered as legitimate alternatives.

Brian Kibler recently presented the idea of B/W Midrange as a way to beat his G/R Aggro deck, and it looks sweet. We were toying with different Demon ideas in our local community a week before Grand Prix Warsaw and had some similar lists. Nobody ended up playing B/W, but I have some experience to highlight its weak points.

I’m a little bit shocked about the lack of Disciple of Bolas in Brian’s list. The card is very important for the deck and is an important part of the game plan against red decks (including G/R Aggro). It’s a black Sphinx’s Revelation; Disciple gives you enough answers for any threat and gains life to survive until you can use them all. The ideal situation is to cast Disciple on turn 6 and draw some two-mana removal to deal with the most important threat (that’s why I want to play Victim of Night over Putrefy and generally maximize the number of cheap removal spells).

Disciple of Bolas is also amazing with Restoration Angel (like other creatures in the deck). Blood Baron of Vizkopa isn’t as good against red decks as Thragtusk is, so I’d cut one or two copies in favor of Disciple of Bolas. This will also help to lower mana curve a bit, which is important.

Another important problem with the lack of green is Thragtusk. We need to stabilize against red decks, and stabilization includes invulnerability to Searing Spear and Act of Treason. Thragtusk is ideal for this purpose, while both Blood Baron of Vizkopa and Vampire Nighthawk aren’t (and Disciple of Bolas is very conditional against decks with instant-speed removal). Nighthawk only costs three mana, which may help, so I’m almost sure that some copies are necessary in the sideboard (while I still strongly dislike Nighthawk in the B/G version). Summing everything up, my take on B/W Midrange:

This deck is worse against hyperaggressive decks whereas B/G isn’t, but Sin Collectors supporting planeswalkers and Underworld Connections give you much higher chance to beat blue decks and other midrange decks (though I’d be happy to fit one or two Appetite for Brains against cards like Olivia Voldaren). Our current metagame is based around beating Jund thanks to the almighty William Jensen, so this B/W creation may become better than B/G (which is well positioned right now).

My list is relatively rough; I’m not really happy with the mana curve, especially the four-mana slot and the amount of cheap removal. Maybe cutting one Desecration Demon or Lifebane Zombie in favor of a Tragic Slip or an Orzhov Charm would be good. Charm is, however, controversial without life gain, but the deck is still short on ways to kill Olivia Voldaren and Obzedat, Ghost Council, so one copy may be fine. The sideboard would include War Priest of Thune for opposing Underworld Connections and some Duresses for decks with Domri Rade and Act of Treason.

I was so sad about the loss of Thragtusk in B/W that I actually thought about playing a three-colored version of the deck. Did you? The most important questions such a creation should be able to answer are “is it better than Junk Reanimator?”; “can it cast Mutilate?”; and “will it keep its stability?”

None of the answers to those questions are a resounding “yes.” It’s sad, but a way to keep the deck’s playability relatively high may exist. My fellow friend Basil Sasorov worked on a list, so I’d like to share it. The exact 75 is still rough but already very playable.

The mana base looks super complicated, but there are still sixteen Swamps—more than in the very first list in this article. Moreover, there are eleven green sources and a playset of Farseeks, which help improve the mana curve and fix the number of Swamps in play. This list is too geared towards beating control right now, especially with the popularity of U/W/x decks declining by the day due to G/R Aggro. However, if the metagame shifts back to more midrange decks, it would easily revive U/W (probably without red thanks to Burning Earth), so this deck may be very helpful (B/G’s matchup against U/W is a nightmare).

Is this deck better than Junk Reanimator? That’s hard to say, but it’s nice to not have to be too concerned with Scavenging Ooze. Yes, Junk Reanimator can beat it, but playing nine tense rounds is very exhausting and can lead to errors; this deck is much less stressful to play. Having a fine solution to control problems makes it a good choice for the next week as well.

Predicting the metagame a strange beast, especially when we speak about control decks. The most popular versions right now are U/W and U/W/R Flash. It seems that U/W/R Flash is generally better, but it’s very weak to Burning Earth. That means that the popularity of Burning Earth will define U/W/x players’ choice. If control players choose U/W, I’d try Junk Midrange, but if control players hope to avoid G/R and beat Jund all the way with U/W/R Flash, you can try one more interesting idea: B/R Midrange.

Olivia Voldaren, Burning Earth, Rakdos’s Return—are they good enough to compensate for the lack of Thragtusk? They actually could be, as Trevor Watkins proved at a StarCityGames.com Standard Open in Salt Lake City.

I like this deck’s idea, but I’m very surprised by the lack of Burning Earth maindeck (or at the very least in the sideboard). This list is an even better place for Burning Earth than Big Red, which made some Top 8s recently. From other points of view, the deck is a very interesting tool against slow opponents since Olivia Voldaren and Rakdos’s Return cover the principal weakness of B/G: the inability to win quickly. Burning Earth is a very powerful tool for these matches, which can completely knock the opponent out of the game.

Anti-aggro tools are interesting too; red gives access to the very powerful Pillar of Flame and Dreadbore (which solves the important problem of killing planeswalkers quickly). Eight Zombies looks excessive to me (at least without Cavern of Souls and a blue-heavy metagame), so some Doom Blades would be fine instead. Reliability is still a primary goal, and Doom Blade is much better at dealing with opposing creatures than Geralf’s Messenger. Yes, it blocks twice, but you can easily die before that can happen because B/R has no life gain at all (which leads me to the idea that Vampire Nighthawk maindeck would be fine here). Trevor has three Doom Blades in the sideboard, which reflects his choice of having more chances against slow decks in game 1.

B/G, B/W, B/R—is there a B/U version to end our small Goetia? Unfortunately not; U/B is much better as a control deck with Nephalia Drownyard and Aetherling as win conditions. Mutilate is a powerful sweeper, but U/W decks require blue-heavy mana bases and don’t need an engine of Desecration Demon and friends.

This week I leave you face to face with Desecration Demon. Will you take the challenge?

Valeriy Shunkov