At The Gathering – Weapon of Choice

Read Jeff Phillips every week... at StarCityGames.com!
Thursday, February 19th – Jeff Phillips is our final writer to make his debut today. In this article, he introduces himself and sets out the goals and direction of the column going forward, before branching out into Extended territory…

Don’t be shocked by tone of my voice
Check out my new weapon, weapon of choice

“Weapon of Choice,” Fatboy Slim

Hi, my name’s Jeff, and I play Magic. For this debut article on StarCityGames.com, I want to give you guys an idea of what you can expect from me, and what you might expect but probably won’t get.

1) I am not a Vintage or Legacy Master.

If you are looking for that, I highly recommend Stephen Menendian or the Unlocking Legacy guys. Heck, that’s who I look to as well. They know what they’re talking about, whereas I really only have a strong familiarity with the last 4-5 years of cards. What you can expect is plenty of talk on Standard, Draft, Constructed, Sealed, and Block, and General Magic Theory.

I want you to know that I’m in college, at a small college town (Pocatello, Idaho, if you’re wondering. And yes, we have lots of potatoes). I want you to know this because I want you to understand why I don’t have a large cadre of testing buddies to run gauntlets against. Our FNMs range from 8-20 people. We have two game stores, but one of them won’t last. We’re just not large enough to support two of them, though we certainly try. I want you to understand that I can give you great ideas, that I can talk Theory all day (I am a Philosophy Major, after all) but I don’t have the community around me to give you the same sort of battle-tested results that Chapin can. I can give you the tips to help get you to that level. So, when I put up my new RDW list for Standard (which I may do) I’m not going to tell you it’s the best list. I am going to tell you why I made most of the choices I did, so that you can hit the ground running when you sleeve it up.

And you’ll tweak it, I hope. You should tweak it, too. Mine, and Sanchez’s, and LSV’s, you should tweak all of our lists. You should change them for a few reasons.

a) If the list is up on the StarCityGames.com site, odds are everyone else knows it already. Would you want to go to a tournament where everyone knew your list already? I wouldn’t.
b) Your needs are different, and so are you. When you sleeve up one of our 60- or 75-card lists, you are doing so in a different localized metagame that that of the writer. That means you have different threats and need different answers.

Let me give you an example. In my local metagame, nobody else plays Faeries. Nobody else has all the pieces. So, when I decide to play Five-Color Control one Friday, that’s a deck I don’t have to worry about. I don’t have to have a full boat of Cloudthreshers, because I won’t see a Bitterblossom all night. But I do put in a few extra sweepers for the multiple weenie rush decks I’m bound to see (Elves, Kithkin, and Elementals, to name a few). Most of the time, I’ll remember to make a note after the deck, saying something like “This deck is poorly positioned against Faeries. If Faeries is a real threat in your area, you may want to tweak the main deck or sideboard to reflect that.”

This leads us to expectation number two:

2) I will give you my thought process.

I’m sure all of you are familiar with the “Drafting With ___” series. It’s had a number of different authors, but the premise is the same: to take you pick by pick through a typical eight-man draft. The one desire of a majority of the forums posters, and therefore I assume readers as well, was more insight into the thought process. See, LSV is awesome, and we all know that. He’s playing Magic at a whole different level right now. But sometimes, I wished we would get more of his thoughts on his picks gifted to us mere mortals, because we could sure use it. So, that’s why I want to give the readers as much of my thought process as possible, because what I may assume is a given could be something someone else may not be understanding at all. Even just rereading something you already knew can sometimes unlock a new, deeper level of thought on the subject. And if it turns out to suck, well, at least you know the answer to the question “What was he thinking?

What do we get from all this? I’m going to give you plenty of ideas; new angles and thoughts; or even a new take on an old idea. I won’t always be right, but hopefully, I will inspire you to newer and better things. I am not the Master, but merely the Muse.

Enough of the introduction (you didn’t really think I was going to ramble on for an entire article about myself, did you?) Let’s get down to some ideas!

I want to start with Extended. Right after Shards of Alara released, everyone expected Zoo to dominate, either a Naya build, or a Domain build. Then ELVES! came along and ruined that idea. Since then, we’ve seen Mono-Blue Wizards take the scene, and Affinity make its presence known as well. Loam shells are popping up, and Proclamation/Martyr decks rose up to counter Burn Decks made popular by Finkel himself at Worlds. So what’s a poor Zookeeper to do? Well, I still think Zoo is not a bad choice for a PTQ, but you need to have a plan for the top decks. You’re going to have to change the makeup of your sideboard, and even your main deck, to make it an unexpected threat. You’re also going to have to be able to counteract some of the faster threats in the field. Let’s start with a list.

Zoo Burn

4 Mogg Fanatic
4 Kird Ape
4 Wild Nacatl
4 Tidehollow Sculler
4 Tarmogoyf

2 Seal of Fire
4 Tribal Flames
4 Rift Bolt
4 Shard Volley
2 Path to Exile
2 Tarfire
4 Lightning Helix

4 Wooded Foothills
3 Bloodstained Mire
2 Windswept Heath
2 Stomping Ground
2 Sacred Foundry
1 Blood Crypt
1 Overgrown Tomb
1 Temple Garden
1 Godless Shrine
1 Steam Vents

A lot of those cards are pretty standard in Zoo, but there’s let me give you my thoughts on why I have some specific choices in there.

18 lands – Yeah, I know, light. Thing is, I only ever want to get to 4 lands at the max. You’ll notice that nothing costs more than two mana at all (Rift Bolt doesn’t count), so I can typically do well on 3 lands. I have seen most builds go with 21 lands, some 20, but I’ve never had mana problems in my 100+ games running 18 lands, including last season as well. Maybe I’m just a big lucksack, though. Either way, two to three less lands means two to three more spells I can draw.

Path to Exile – A double dose of the new Swords, I use it solely to clear out blockers before they can be declared. I’m still not entirely sure I like it, but for now, it’s okay. I’d keep an eye on it, and see if accelerating your opponent’s mana is causing too many problems. If so, find something else.

I split Seal of Fire and Tarfire into two pairs, to help my Tarmogoyfs as much as possible. If you drop the Paths, you may just want to up those to triples instead.

As you can see, I’ve gone a little heavier on the burn for two reasons. First, with Faeries and Elves being threats, I want to be able to burn out important pieces (Typically Sower and Heritage Druid, respectively) I also see that as I keep heavily on the gas pedal for burn, they either stabilize quickly and I’m blown out, or they stabilize at a low enough life that I can go for the topdeck win. And with three more spells than before, I like those odds.

You’ll notice I haven’t put down a sideboard yet, and that’s because I don’t have one cemented. I’m always trying to keep an eye out for new ideas.

One of the worst matchups I’ve seen so far is with Proclamation/Martyr decks, and Rock decks with lifegain, for obvious reasons. I was trying to find a way to counteract what is a pretty bad matchup, but didn’t find anything upon first glance. Then I came across an old favorite of mine while sorting some old cards.

Kavu Predator.

How awesome! A big, beefy, tramply beatstick that let’s me counteract their lifegain. Martyr of Sands for twelve life? Go ahead, 12 more +1/+1 counters for my Predator!

As for other sideboard cards, I don’t have any new hotness for you yet. Finding a way to make your last bit of damage uncounterable seems strong, but I don’t know that Banefire, Demonfire, or Volcanic Fallout are strong enough on their own to warrant inclusion. Volcanic Fallout looks good against Faeries, killing Sower of Temptation and the like without any recourse, which seems very strong. It’s pretty good against ELVES as well, depending on the build. So, perhaps it does warrant inclusion. It only hits your Tidehollow Sculler (short of a sacrificial Mogg Fanatic), and two seems to be the number of popularity amongst opposing critter’s toughness these days.

There seems to be a lot of buzz around Knight of the Reliquary right now, especially in Extended. As I pondered where he might fit in best, I stumbled across the start of an idea. Take a look at this list:

Naya Loam

4 Knight of the Reliquary
4 Seismic Assault
4 Life from the Loam
2 Worm Harvest
4 Idyllic Tutor
4 Chain of Plasma
4 Swans of Bryn Argoll
4 Lightning Helix
4 Shard Volley

26 Lands

I haven’t been able to start on the land base for it yet, but the deck seems very synergistic. I don’t know yet if Idyllic Tutor is worth a four-of, or inclusion at all, as it seems pretty terrible if you have a Seismic Assault already. The other card I was considering in that slot was Countryside Crusher, which on further review seems like a much stronger card. Lightning Helix and Shard Volley are there as further efficient finishers. This is another deck that could easily benefit from a Volcanic Fallout, as it is uncounterable, and draws you two cards. Hmm, I’m liking Volcanic Fallout more by the moment.

There’s obviously a lot of synergy. If the lands include a playset of Dakmor Salvage, we have the Seismic Swans loop, there’s the Plasma Swans combo, and the Loam engine too, for card advantage. It just feels like the whole of the deck works very well together, short of Idyllic Tutor. Okay, you’ve convinced me, I’m pulling the Tutor.

Updated Naya Loam

4 Knight of the Reliquary
4 Seismic Assault
4 Life from the Loam
2 Worm Harvest
4 Countryside Crusher
4 Chain of Plasma
4 Swans of Bryn Argoll
4 Lightning Helix
4 Shard Volley

4 Dakmor Salvage
22 Lands

So, with that list out there, what other lands would you put in? What changes would you consider, and why? I’m butting up close to my deadline, and I don’t want to be late on my first day, so, I’ll leave you with that.

Next week, I’m going to take a crack at Standard and see if we can’t shake some ideas loose.

This is Jeff Phillips, reminding you: Don’t make the Loser Choice.