Ask The Drama — Standard Help, and Block Constructed Updates

Jeroen is low on questions again, folks! Get them sent into [email protected]. For this week, he rounds out the current batch with a couple of corkers. First up, he takes a look at the Block Constructed metagame, and updates Raphael Levy’s quarterfinal deck from Pro Tour: Yokohama. Then he looks at two uncomfortable-looking Standard decks, and offers his advice… All this, and much more, in the week’s Ask The Drama!

You know, I love doing this column. I love being in touch with the readers and having lots of different stuff to talk about. I love knowing that what I am writing is relevant to at least one of my readers.

Thing is, I’m not sure I can keep doing it.

You know why? Because I have to do one thing I hate more than anything… every other week, I have to beg. Beg for you to write in and supply some questions. Whenever I beg and plead at the start of an article, I get a bunch at the same time that week… and then the next week I’ll just get one or two, and same the following week, which means that I am all out again.

And that sucks.

I want to keep doing these articles, in one form or another, but if I have to keep begging for questions I’ll get the impression that you guys are doing me a favor by sending them in. That defeats the purpose, since this series of articles is supposed to be for you guys, the readers.

So once more, guys, friends, readers, anyone… I need questions. Questions, or suggestions about article topics, as I can use those to write entire articles about stuff that you’d like to hear. The questions can be anything: decks, strategy, help with Limited, sports, television, comic books, life…whatever you want, I’ll write. But I need y’all to make yourself heard at [email protected].

Okay, on to this weeks article. Things have been quiet for me Magic-wise this past couple of weeks. I have been working at school a little bit, and doing some other stuff that doesn’t involve Magic (since I am waiting on MTGO for Future Sight to arrive). Back in the day we used to draft a whole lot locally, and while the players are still here, Magic Online just makes everyone lazy. Luckily, with the Two-Headed Giant Pro Tour coming up, it looks like we’ll be kicking it into high gear again soon. I hate the down periods when Magic Online is behind real-life Magic. There is no reason for this, as sets are known far in at advance, yet it keeps happening… sigh.

That, of course, might also be a reason for the lack of questions.

Luckily this week I actually got a batch of good ones, despite them being the final ones in my inbox, so lets take a look:

Dimitri, Dutch master at chess and sometime Pro Tour player, asks me this week’s first bunch:

1) You are known to dislike the card Browbeat ("it never does what you
want"). However, Raphael Levy had 4 copies of it in his Pro Tour Top 8 deck.
Did it change your opinion about the card?

The reason I always hated Browbeat is pretty simple: it costs three mana and it will seldom do what you want. This means that in a dedicated tempo deck, you will often pay three mana for the exact thing you don’t want to happen. Either they take five damage, or you draw three cards that you don’t have the mana to use.

This format is one that we haven’t seen in a long time, with extremely slow control decks. Back in the day, control decks would stall until they could play a Morphling or a Meloku, and end the game in a turn or three. This is not the case right now, because the current best control decks in Block Constructed take ages to actually finish the game. This means that you have much more time than usual.

Therefore, paying the three mana isn’t as bad as it usually is, since you will either have time to cast the spells you draw, or the 5 damage will put the opponent on a shorter clock, thus cutting the time they have in half.

This doesn’t mean the card is good, and it is still a card that is a horrible topdeck when your opponent is on fifteen or more life. It will often do nothing, or exactly the thing you don’t want it to do… but it is a burn spell, or good in a burn deck.

The fact that the card is played says less about Browbeat itself and more about the format, but mostly it says something about the quality of burn spells available. If there was anything better in Red, I am sure that would have seen play, but there wasn’t at the time. There is no doubt in my mind that with the addition of the new tournament level burn spells in Future Sight, that Browbeat will disappear from decklists everywhere.

2) How would you update the list of Levy if you include Future Sight?

For reference, lets take a look at Levy’s deck:

Also, let’s take a look at cards from Future Sight that might fit the deck.

Emberwilde Augur
This guy is not only a good early game threat, but he is also a burn spell for three to the head. He could make a perfect addition to the deck if the threat of WW diminishes a little.

Gathan Raiders
Not only a great card in the early game with your Fiery Tempers, but also a great late-game threat as a possible 5/5. I am sure this guy should find a way to get in there.

Molten Disaster
As a poor man’s Demonfire, this could come in from the board to finish off unsuspecting Teferi players. They could even be great against the WW decks, but it seems too slow for the main.

An answer to Soltari Priest with a Guide on it, there’s no question in my mind that there should automatically be four of these between main and sideboard.

With those additions, if I were to revamp Raph’s deck in the dark without knowing how the other decks will evolve or how the new decks will look, it would look something like this:

I feel the Molten Disaster plan is better then Disintegrate simply because it is uncounterable. Augur also seems better than Marauders simply because it does the same amount of expected damage (two from an attack, and then when there are blockers out he will deal three more, equaling five), but he seems better at what he does, and the rest of the changes seem natural. Note that I also chose to play 3 Reaches instead of a Slagheap, just to bluff Stormbind a little better…

To me, the deck looks very efficient now, and I feel it could be a real contender in the PTQs.

3) With the new rule, play or draw in Two-Headed Giant? Depending on what?

The new rule really shakes things up in the new environment, and I for one am happy about it. Where before you would just always play first, now you actually have to think about it, and it depends a lot on your deck. If you have a lot of good cards and a decent curve you will want to draw, but if your pool is lacking, you have got to try and win another way – pure tempo – so you need to play. I think it really isn’t as cut and dry as it was, and with mulligans having such a huge effect on the outcome of a match, the decision becomes really important.

A great change.

However, I wish we hadn’t been used as guinea pigs just so they could find all of this out.

4) Are you happy with the outcome of the Eredivisie?

For those of you who do not know, the Eredivisie is the Dutch soccer league, and this year we had the most exciting finish ever. On the last day of play, three teams were standing on top with the same amount of points, and everyone could still become champions. This meant that that day was supremely exciting, and it made for the best soccer ever. In the end, the third-placed team going in won! How’s that for drama?

Of course, I was very happy with that, as I love me some football… and this was football at its best. On the other hand, NAC Breda – my favorite team in the league, for which I have a season ticket – lost nine out of the last eleven games, and the other ones were draws. That made me very sad… Mixed feelings indeed.

The next question is by Matthew Buras:

A friend of mine piloted a deck similar to the one I am currently playing as my primary Standard deck of choice to a 38th place finish at Pro Tour: Honolulu, as well as 5th place at last year’s States championships. I was wondering if you think my list is competitive enough to stand strong in the current metagame. Here is the list, enjoy!

4 Izzet Signet
2 Azorius Signet
4 Annex
3 Dream Leash
3 Copy Enchantment
2 Confiscate
4 Remand
3 Spell Snare
4 Compulsive Research
3 Wildfire

2 Numot, the Devastator
2 Draining Whelk
1 Aeon Chronicler

7 Island
3 Steam Vents
2 Ghost-Quarter
2 Mountain
2 Shivan Reef
2 Izzet Boilerworks
1 Plains
1 Flagstones of Trokair
1 Hallowed Fountain
1 Sacred Foundry
1 Urza’s Factory

3 Piracy Charm
3 Lightning Angel
3 Faith’s Fetters
2 Pyroclasm
2 Detritivore
2 Trickbind (DragonStorm = Bad Matchup)

This is the newest version I’ve piled and shuffled and called a deck. Here’s the dilemma. There is another deck that I’ve also been playing for the last year (please don’t tell the other deck… it gets jealous easily) and it completely wrecks this deck, as well as any other control deck, with ease. The only issue is the aggro matchup, which even then isn’t all that bad. But with the addition of Extirpate, I’m afraid the deck might be useless now. Here is the list, enjoy!

4 Plaxmanta
4 Mystic Snake
4 Loxodon Hierarch
3 Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir
3 Riftwing Cloudskate

4 Condemn
4 Momentary Blink
4 Rune Snag
4 Repeal
3 Think Twice

4 Hallowed Fountain
4 Breeding Pool
3 Temple Garden
3 Yavimaya Coast
3 Adarkar Wastes
4 Islands
1 Forest
1 Plains

4 Thallid-Shell Dwellers
3 Mana Leak
3 Krosan Grip
2 Draining Whelk
3 Loaming Shaman or Aven Riftwatcher

Either way both decks may seem weird, but I dare you to proxy / build ’em and see for yourself, and then let me know what ya think.

I don’t really know what to say, as you aren’t really giving me much to work on besides two decklists and that’s it. I’ll just throw out some things.

Regarding the first deck: You say Dragonstorm is a bad matchup, but all you do to fix this is add two random Trickbinds to the sideboard. As everyone knows by now, this will not help you, and you are better off not trying at all (or trying very hard). On top of that, Dragonstorm is the “best” deck right now, and it’s played very heavily. All these things combined means you are in a lot of trouble.

On top of that, you have what is basically a modified Block Constructed deck, from a block that is very underpowered compared to the current set of cards. This doesn’t bode well, and probably means your deck is underpowered. What is your gameplan against control? What is it against beatdown, which seems like a horrible matchup? What are your good matchups? These are things you need to answer before deciding you have a cute-looking deck and think it is viable.

On the second deck: The mana curve seems horrible. Your deck basically does nothing for the first couple of turns, and will often be overrun by creatures early on before you do your thing with four-mana counterspells and Momentary Blinks. With that much focus on the early game, you need Signets badly, or even look at other options like the great Wall of Roots, which seems perfect for it. Plaxmanta seems very out of place since you don’t care about the body it provides anyway.

Then we have to ask the same questions we asked the last deck. Why do you want to play this deck over any other deck in the current metagame? What are the good matchups and what are the bad ones? How do you look to gain an edge? Right now, both your decks seem to have bad matchups versus most of the decks that are on top of the metagame.

And last but not least, you fear your deck might be dead because of Extirpate, yet you do nothing that involves the graveyard. Why do you fear the card?

Jose Pineda harks back to one of my previous articles:

"One of the things we tend to do with every game of Two-Headed Giant we play is to formulate a game-plan based on both players’ opening hands."

The above statement was written in last week’s article. I have two questions (well, one question and one request)…

Do you do this in other Limited formats as well?

In Magic, forming a game plan is always very important. Mainly in Constructed, you’ll have a game plan built in your deck, but in some cases (like the mirror match) you need to re-asses your role based on your opening hand and other factors. In Limited, making a game plan is the most important part. Very often you see people lose because they are trying to race when that should not be the case, or they are trying to hold back when they should be racing. Formulating a game plan is one of the most important parts of being good at Magic.

In Two-Headed Giant this is equally important, but you can do it a lot earlier than in regular one-on-one Magic because you have more cards in your opening hand than usual. This makes it easier to assess what you will be doing during the game, and how you should proceed. This is why I put extra emphasis on this, as a lot of people seem to make things up as they go along, and don’t see this as being as important as it really is. Even though the board gets complicated more easily, you still need to focus on what you are planning to do to win the game.

2) What does this mean? Can you give an example from one of your opening Two-Headed Giant games?

The thing is, while I can completely see this in Constructed, in Limited the decks (Sealed especially) have a more varied assortment of cards, and you never know what you are going to draw. I just don’t seem to get what you mean by having a game plan. Is it something like:

"We cast these creatures and try to clear a path for them to do the required 30 damage with the these cards."


"We use this card to target that guy, and spells x and y to kill any creatures that do z."

I really appreciate your statement, as it is something about Magic I have never thought about. Learning such a thing seems to really useful. I think the thing that is really blowing my mind is that I can’t believe that you can plan past the first 5-6 turns based on your opening hand. In the early game, your creatures are bond to get killed, and these opening cards (other than bombs) are bound to be traded with your opponent’s cards (be the trades favorable or not).

The reason you bring up is exactly the reason why formulating a game plan is more important in Limited than in Constructed. In Constructed you have a set game plan based on your deck construction. You have an aggressive deck, or a control deck, or a combo deck, and thus you play accordingly. In Limited, you have a varied bunch of cards, and as such you need to constantly re-evaluate what your role is in the game, and how you plan on winning it. This starts with your opening hand.

For example, in Two-Headed Giant, using the Sealed decks I posted in an article a while ago from a PTQ, and the opening hands look like this:

Player A: Forest, Forest, Island, Search for Tomorrow, Mire Boa, Viscerid Deepwalker, Chronozoa
Player B: Plains, Plains, Swamp, Swamp. Shade of Trokair, Cloudchaser Kestrel. Temporal Isolation.

Both good enough to keep, as well as very playable. Now, as I explained in the article, our idea with the decks was to set up a controlling game with Deck B’s Rebel engine, and thus win the game in a long run. Based on these opening hands though, it is very clear that these are pure tempo hands, and we will have to try and win based on pure tempo. This means that in this game, based on our opening hands and assessing what we’ll be doing, Player A starts with turn 1 Deepwalker, turn 2 Mire Boa to get the beats going as soon as possible. Player B will also simply curve out with his men as soon as possible.

Another example using the same decks:

Player A: Forest, Forest, Island, Search for Tomorrow, Viscerid Deepwalker, Dismal Failure, Pongify
Player B: Plains, Plains, Swamp, Magus of the Disk, Temporal Isolation, Cloudchaser Kestrel, Blightspeaker.

Based on these hands, the game will develop completely differently. Instead of making turn 1 Deepwalker, we will want to get our colors and lean on Magus of the Disk to get us through the early game, backed up by the counter. We’ll mop up with the Blightspeaker powered late-game.

Same decks, same cards, different gameplans altogether. In the first scenario we would run out turn 1 Deepwalker and use the Search later, and in the second scenario we go turn 1 Search to save the Deepwalker for after the Magus, and in the first scenario we would run out turn 3 Kestrel, whereas in the second scenario it will be saved for later.

3) How often does your plan change once the game gets going?

Of course, you constantly need to re-asses what you are doing and check if your gameplan still works, as cards drawn or the plans of your opponent can always change what you are doing. There is no set amount of times we will change gameplans, but you can expect most gameplans to stick. You will change them every so often, as long as you planned well enough.

This week’s last question is by Jon Corpora:

About your top ten TV shows, I noticed there were no comedies. Why is that? The best and smartest shows on television far and away right now are The Office, Scrubs, and South Park. Sure, they have the stigma of being labeled as comedies, but all three are certainly better than, say, House (can you say cheap Dr. Cox rip-off?), or even friggin’ Friday Night Lights… I guess my question is, did you knowingly exclude these shows for being comedies or have you just never seen them before?

No comedies? Are you kidding me? What about Entourage? What about Arrested Development? I did include comedies, and even shows like Sopranos and House have a lot of comedy in them, which is what makes them so good. I watch all the shows you mention, but I just don’t think they are good enough to be in the Top 10. They are smart, but I feel they aren’t as good as the shows I mentioned, with less thought behind the main storyline and more reliance on general gags, which, while good, are easier to make. [Wow, do I disagree with you… – Craig.]

I love Family Guy as much as the next guy, and I can’t wait for Futurama to return, but I don’t think these shows are as good as the ones I listed.

As for you, saying what you did about House, you clearly haven’t really watched the show as it is genuinely one of the best out there, with humor, drama and everything you would want. Dr. Cox really can’t hold a candle to the guy, as all they have in common is that they are rude…. Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it, buddy.

By the way, were you talking about the American or English version of The Office?

That’s it for this week! Remember, don’t make me beg for more, and send your questions and suggestions to [email protected]. I’ll be waiting!

See ya next week.