All right, folks; we’ve been given a gift. Let’s use it.
Even though the format for the summer PTQ season has yet to be officially announced, chances are it’s the usual summer madness – Block Constructed. (It could be Type II, of course, but I’ve shaken the Magic Eight-Ball of my sources at Wizards, and, well…”My sources say no.”)
Unfortunately, the longer the season, the less likely it is that you’ll be able to predict anything on a reliable basis. One of the unexpected downsides to finally having a balanced environment is that the metagame has almost vanished. Whereas before, the imbalanced quality of cards created one or two top-tier decks that you were either playing or playing to beat – in MBC, you were playing Lin-Sivvi or hoping you hated her enough – now, the field is almost a tossup.
Look at last year’s IBC season – an exercise in chaos theory. The winning decks shifted on a weekly basis, depending on what won last week, what was doing well locally, what pro had touted what deck, and so on. It was possible to predict the IBC metagame, but only with painstaking work, a lot of playtesting, and more intuition that most people had. As such, people were complaining bitterly.
But now we have an opportunity! Since Judgement was essentially released a month early, we have even more time than usual to try to crack the field wide open – to storm into the gates of that first Odyssey Block PTQ with a deck that nobody’s expecting; to pierce the virgin nipple.
You have more time than ever to try to build this year’s Fires or Netherhaups; the deck that nobody’s prepared for. That’s more difficult in a Block Constructed Environment, of course… But when you’re dealing with as strange a set as Judgement apparently is, you just might be able to pull it off.
If you ask the right questions.
Part of breaking open a format is knowing it inside out. Zvi Mowshowitz is famed, and rightfully so, for foreseeing the rise of R/G speed decks for Invasion Block in Tokyo, for understanding that the R/G deck was so much stronger than the rest of the field that people would be initially drawn to playing it – and creating a counter deck that could stand on its own yet still crush R/G in its own right.
Zvi asked the right questions.
To crack OBC, we have to look at the current weaknesses and strengths in the metagame… And see how Judgement impacts them. To not only create new decks, but to see how Judgement eases its way into old decks and changes them. Subtly.
I think that we can look at what did well in Osaka and extrapolate. To figure out what decks did well and why…. And then see if we can hit them hard enough that they never get up again.
I don’t have the answers to these questions. Yet.
But if you want to break the format, you might want to start asking them yourself.
Nantuko Shade is insane; it just comes out too quickly. It’s also far too large for most decks to deal with via simple creature combat – and mono-black has the removal to force you to block the Shade with your last great hope. What can take care of a Shade while dodging sacrifice effects… Or is there a good way to ignore it?
Mono-black puts you in a bind, daring you to put a creature on the table where they can Mutilate it away – or keep it in your hand and wait, where they can Mind Sludge it into the graveyard. What cards in Judgement help you escape this lock? The ones that can might wriggle out of mono-black’s threat zone.
Rancid Earth is also a strong card in mono-black’s arsenal, slowing you down in the early game to Sludge your hopes away in the late. Can you avoid the stutter?
Ask U/G Madness:
My, Circular Logic dashes a lot of dreams, doesn’t it? Look at the matches in Osaka; it was the counterspell of choice in a format light on counters. Now; take away the ability to counter, and a lot of the strength drains from this archetype. Can you neuter the Logic?
Now, another question: The other strong counterspell in Judgement is going to be Grip of Amnesia. This will definitely help blue-on-blue matchups… But what do you do when you’re facing both Logic and Amnesia?
The deck is reliant on creatures to activate their madness cards cheaply, and it runs a low land count since it expects to be riffling through its cards fairly quickly. Is there a way to confine them to no creatures or to keep the land they have?
Everyone’s talking about Quiet Speculation – and that card’s tailor-made for this deck. You can bet that everyone will be trying, at least initially, to go for turn 2 Speculation, turn 4, 5, and 6 token creature. How can you get ahead of the crowd and cut this strategy off at the roots before it even gets started?
Upheaval is a great reset button if they get too far behind, since they’re fast… But sometimes the other deck can come off a little faster off the blocks, or cause you to sacrifice your first creature before you can say”go.” (I’m looking at you, mono-black.) Can you take advantage of that? And more importantly, can blue better position itself to take advantage of a late-game Upheaval?
Again, Circular Logic makes a strong appearance – and again, you must ask U/B the same questions you asked U/G.
Upheaval + Nantuko Shade or Tog = Death for most non-black decks. However, black is going to be everywhere, at least for awhile; black is both a powerful deck, it was made ridiculously popular at Osaka… And it’s fun to play. Is there any way you can avoid black decks, or control their draw to prevent the Blood from spilling?
Since it has no method of card drawing it relies severely on topdecks for the end game, and its reliance on lots of tokens means that bounce really hurts. Is there a way to make green stronger in the end game?
Fiery Temper looks nice in this deck… But it never seems to be worth it. Either it’s Logiced away, or it hits something that is bounced in response, or it targets can grow in response like Mongrel or Tog. Is it worth dipping into three colors when the universal kill seems to be Upheaval+Tog anyway? And will anything in Judgement make this stronger?
Ask The Judgement:
The Prison deck is prebuilt for you: Mists of Stagnation, Grip of Amnesia, Scaplelexis, Web of Inertia. Now ask Wizards R&D: Have any of the prebuilt decks, like the Echoes/Traumatize combination, ever turned out to be as powerful as everyone thought?
Hello, Punisher deck! I must ask you the same thing as the Prison deck.
Hello, Threshold decks! Gee, Judgement is bringing a lot of graveyard hatred with it. Do you have anything to help protect your win condition aside from Ground Seal?
Hello, Wishes! We’re all very excited to see you, and the wonderful flexibility you bring, and the new slew of rulings which will eventually clarify whether you can be broken in Type One. The question is, are you really worth giving up the mana (and quite possibly chewing up a turn) for the ability to get anything?
Hello, Ernham Djinn! You’re in great shape for your age; have you been working out? Also, have you realized that now you’re going to be letting large Nantuko Shades and Reckless Charged beasts fly right past your Mr. Cleanish face? Does that bother you, Mr. Djinn?
Hello, Mister Blue Mage! How do you feel about Seed Time? Do you have a sideboard plan to either help you win the early counter wars, or survive until the late ones? I sure hope so.
As I said, I don’t know all the answers yet; I may even be asking the wrong questions.
Do you know?
Secondary Additional Editorial Hoo-Hah:
Between Toby Wachter article and the hateful responses we got last week, StarCity came that close to holding a war between the pros and the casual player. I put my foot down and said,”No more. Toby’s said his piece, and you’ve said yours: I’m not bothering to go any more.”
No less than four people called me a coward* for rejecting their articles and not daring to publish their responses. Of these four, two were on the pro side, and two were firmly entrenched in the casual.
On the whole, I feel that means I’m doing my job.
But the whole”coward” thing really irritates me. I’m not afraid to let anyone have their say on StarCity – hell, I’ll let Flores basically call me an idiot to the world if it’s a valid opinion.
But after the fifteen zillionth”Rizzo was a God! No, Rizzo was a dope!” article, another humorless, pathetic, angry and turgid diatribe is not what any of us need. Judging from the responses I’ve gotten, even a week was too long – and frankly, in retrospect, I shouldn’t have published any of it.
And I apologize. That was an editorial faux pas, where I was trying to encourage the diversity of opinion in the Magic world and wound up just starting another flame war. I’ve learned my lesson, and if any of you got bored or upset watching the editorials fly, well…
I had to read them all, which should be punishment enough. Man am I sorry.
And so the casual players shout:”So why did you allow Toby to get in the last word with his article? Why can’t I get in my shot?” And the answer is simple, written in stone in StarCity’s firm editorial policy:
StarCity will never allow personal attacks, obscene language, overt sexual references, or unpolitically correct opinions unless they make me squirt milk out my nose.
Tell ya what, punky; write something as funny as Wachter’s bit, and I’ll cheerfully publish it. Otherwise, that subject is dead. Humor goes a long way here.
Oh – and by the way, the idiots who called me a coward for not publishing their opinion because, obviously, their words were so powerful that I dared not unleash them upon StarCity – you’re wrong. Here! I’ll summarize!
From the pros:
“You’re all idiots blah blah blah you play rogue because you suck and that’s your excuse for not winning blah blah blah StarCity is a scrub site blah blah blah if you play Magic, you should play to win win blah blah the only valid articles are articles with real Magic strategy, not stupid ramblings like Rizzo blah blah anyone who doesn’t play Magic to win is a deluded moron blah blah and Kai and Finkel are geniuses because anyone can write well but it takes talent to make a deck. Blah.”
From the casuals:
“Toby Wachter yadda yadda yadda we casuals play hard yadda yadda you don’t have to be a pro to be good yadda yadda yadda Rizzo changed my life yadda yadda yadda I know a casual player who Top 8’d at PTQ: Random yadda yadda yadda diversity yadda rogue yadda and people have no respect for scrubs yadda yadda yadda and they may have tourney wins but I have a life. Yadda.”
There. You’ve all had your say. Now go home.
* – Three out of four of them called me a coward exactly. Gotta love a sheep mentality.