This week I have been in Madison Wisconsin crashing Brian Kowal’s basement while we jam matches with all sorts of block brews in anticipation of Pro Tour: San Juan. Patrick Chapin swung by for the weekend to do some drafting, and the first thing he uttered when he laid eyes on me was, “Reading of the Devil…” He’d been reading my Polymorph article from last week in the car. I chuckled at his transformation of a common idiomatic saying to better suit the circumstances, a private joy of my own. (Read my fingers.) We played a small test set into the AM hours before we had to sleep to prepare for the next day’s draftstravaganza. (The people of Madison do not kid around with their “all day” drafts. Where most places that expression means two drafts, here it means all day and all night. Between Saturday and Sunday I am fairly certain we completed a whopping 10 drafts!) Going to bed and all the next morning, our conversations about cards percolated through my mind. After a bit of testing and thinking, I’m ready to make some recommendations on the next step for Polymorph in Standard.
I’ll assume you’ve read last week’s article, and will start the discussion with that as a basis. Here are cards we have changed and the reasons for changing them:
-4 Garruk Wildspeaker, -4 Rampant Growth, +4 Growth Spasm: Rampant Growth allowed us to do some very sweet things in terms of setting up nice turn 3 sequences and shuffling our deck for the low price of 2 mana. Garruk provided a good win condition in several matches as a Plan B, and could give us the mana to untap and Polymorph with protection the turn after he hit the table. What Growth Spasm brings to the table is the ability to perform the functions of two cards (accelerate and make a guy) into one card. This clears up 4 slots in the deck for something new, which is fairly desirable. It also seems that with the emergence of Wall of Omens that Garruk is not the alternate win condition he once was in the W/U matchup. Finally, Garruk is fairly vulnerable to Giddeon Jura, and we don’t really want to play a Planeswalker who looks to be on the losing end of most fights. Growth Spasm also ramps us two mana if we don’t need the token, so we can still go off with protection on turn 4 if the conditions set up in our favor. (Many thanks to Patrick for starting this ball rolling.)
+4 See Beyond: This card is just what the doctor ordered. It used to be that we had surplus land, Ionas, poorly timed Spreading Seas, or what-have-you jamming up our hand. Sure, a lot of them would cantrip, but maybe we don’t have the mana to use them right now. See Beyond lets us sculpt our hand to an entirely new level all while digging for the most important components of our combo that we are missing. With the loss of Rampant Growth, See Beyond also fills in by giving us another two-drop so that we can smoothly use all of our resources almost every turn. The door is also opened to playing only one copy of our win condition. (More discussion of this below.)
-4 Negate, +4 Deprive: Before we started playing, Patrick asserted that Deprive would be better for my deck than Negate. He said that resetting a land would actually be a benefit since we could trigger our Khalni Garden or Halimar Depths again. Additionally we probably wouldn’t be casting our Counterspell unless we were about to win because of it, so that our land count was not of particular significance afterwards. I initially argued that the mana to cast it was difficult to come by as that meant having UUU on the turn we wanted to go off, which was somewhat incompatible with casting a Garruk. He said that needing GG was just another price of playing Garruk, and that maybe he was best left behind. Once I moved off Garruk I found myself much more free to search for Islands with Growth Spasm and Misty Rainforest, and since then casting UUU has been no problem.
-2 Iona, Shield of Emeria; +1 Emrakul, the Aeons Torn: Iona runs into a number of circumstantial problems while controlling a game. 1) Some guys are big enough that she can’t fight them. Most notably Kargan Dragonlord, Student of Warfare, Transcendent Master, and anyone powered up by Rafiq. Of these, I find the Dragonlord most disturbing since I expect to see a lot of him in play over the Standard season. (If you haven’t tried him, do check him out. He just flies over Kor Firewalker and can easily race the lifegain of his foe.) 2) Decks with multiple colors of threats can just keep going if you name the color incorrectly, or sometimes there just is no right color to name. 3) Deprive will make winning with Iona versus W/U Control much more difficult. Now they have a way of slipping your Spreading Seas off, and multiple Colonnades can beat an Iona. 4) Iona has some problems with an established Giddeon Jura (or Sarkhan the Mad). Now if you want to name White you also need to Into the Roil him lest he assassinate your angel. I think Emrakul is going to be better in every match that isn’t against U/W, and that he will be a reasonable play in the U/W matchup anyway, which is more about playing and establishing a Jace, the Mind Sculptor than about what your win condition is. I’ve found a large number of these games are going long enough that I can hardcast an Emrakul, and then they are in a real pickle. (It is important to note that the deck only plays a few non-cantrip spells: 4 Deprive and 4 Polymorph. Every single other card in the deck either replaces itself or is a land, so curving up to 15 turns out to be a run of the mill circumstance. Max McCall had suggested a few Mind Springs for this reason, which isn’t a bad thought, but it made me realize how simple Emrakul may be to resolve.) The other upside of Emrakul is that even when they kill him he goes back into your deck so that every single one of your Polymorphs is a live card (where before it felt like they eventually died as bad things happened to your Ionas or they got stuck in your hand.) Against U/W you make their Oblivion Rings and Day of Judgements live against you, which is unfortunate, but I think if you play a longer controlling game where you set up Deprive(s) with your combo or plan to allow Oblivion Ring and Into the Roil it for a hasty Emrakul, I think the match is still going to be alright. The Oblivion Rings were already live anyway, though, since they are a perfectly good tool for fighting over Jace with, so I think turning back on all of our additional Polymorphs with Emrakul is a wash with turning on their extra Wraths. I’m not 100% certain this will prove out, but the little testing I’ve done has made it look alright.
I asked Patrick the question, “Would it be greedy to play only one copy of your win condition?” His respose, “I don’t think it would be greedy, I think it would be foolish.” We went on to discuss that See Beyond, the card which enables you to eject your win condition from your hand back into your deck, makes it less bad to draw a copy of your win condition. Therefore, even though you could now probably play one and not suffer for it, similarly having two doesn’t hurt you as much as it used to either. I don’t think that he’s wrong, but the deck needs a lot of different kinds of effects in it and I don’t want to go up to 61 cards to get the proportions right. For now it feels that the deck is so good at manipulating itself that I can probably gain more value from having more of the spells that make the deck tick than I lose by risking drawing Emrakul without recourse to See Beyond or Jace, the Mind Sculptor. It will take a lot more testing to determine the answer more definitively, but it’s a risk I want to take for a little while to see how it pans out.
+1 Into the Roil: With the hazard of Kargan Dragonlords, Gideon Juras, Oblivion Rings, and other board based hazards for Emrakul I want more ways to get them back off. I also think that with fewer turn 4 plays off Rampant Growth the ability to steal some tempo with the card becomes more valuable. If it weren’t this I would consider Rampant Growth, a copy of Garruk, or a second copy of our win condition. Also fairly reasonable would be a miser’s All is Dust or Mind Control.
-4 Ice Cage: I found that I only really wanted these against Naya Allies. If you’re only playing online they may be worth keeping around, but otherwise they feel strictly inferior to Mind Control. Especially with the extra copy of Into the Roil I feel like cheap early defense is probably sufficient. They were also solid against White Weenie builds that had eschewed Stoneforge Mystics for some of the new levelers, but I’m not sure how frequent that will prove to be the case.
-2 Flashfreeze: Since Deprive is such a versatile Counterspell we don’t need to have as many copies of counterspells in the board. We could probably strictly drop these if we found other cards we wanted, since Deprive does so much work for us.
+4 Negate: We lost these in the main, but still want them for control mirrors. Having 8 counterspells for only 2 mana is a great way to battle almost any other Blue deck. Ours are even better than theirs since we are so good at digging through our deck to find whatever it is that we are in need of.
-3 Cancel: Since Cancels were coming in mainly for control mirrors, we now have Negates to bring in which are substantially cheaper. Cancel is just being pushed out because a higher quality spell has come along to displace it.
+3 All is Dust: Blue and Green have never had Wrath effects before, but they have always wanted one. In many cases we are taking on a controlling role and having a mass sweeper available to us is great. I’m not sure how good it is against W/U decks at 7, but it gives us answers to all their planeswalkers, Sphinxes of Jwar Isle, and Oblivion Rings. My hunch is that if they can pay 6 for a Sphinx, we can probably pay 7 for a Wrath.
+2 Iona, Shield of Emeria: For matches where locking a color out seems stronger than annihilating your opponent having these in the board allows one to go back to “classic” Polymorph mode.
That’s pretty much all I have for this week. I wish there was more, but building block decks consumes heaps of time. If I were playing any event that were not a PTQ I would run the Emrakul list above. If I were very concerned about having a more vetted list, and didn’t have a lot more time to test (which are my current circumstances) I might chicken out and stick with the following more conservative build:
If you do run either list, I’d love to hear your impressions on them in the forums. Until next week, best of luck in your Magical endeavors!