Black Magic – Reexamining Throne Of Geth And Other Engines

Sam Black is back in the game now that it’s not all Jace and Stoneforge, but it seems Caw-Blade is still everywhere! He takes the battle into his own hands and combines Torpor Orb and Proliferate in these interesting brews.

I haven’t played Standard in a long time (Jace and Stoneforge Mystic were legal), which is why I haven’t been writing. (Are people interested in an article on how absurd Red is in M12 drafts, or is that too obvious?) I’m getting to the point where I can’t really afford to keep putting it off, so it’s time to start to understand this new format.

So far, five matches in on Magic Online, it looks like not much has changed. Four of them have been against Caw-Blade. I’m told the metagame is extremely aggressive. Everyone’s either trying to attack or combo, including all the blue decks. I can believe that that’s how things have to be now, but I’m not quite ready to give up.

I’m still in love with proliferate as a mechanic, and I’ve found some new tools that really appeal to me.

Before, I was working on the Throne of Geth, Everflowing Chalice, Ichor/Mycosynth Wellspring engine. Now, I’ve realized that Shrine of Loyal Legions plays very well with this engine and can even push Surge Node over the top into having enough targets to be playable.

So, I heard the format was extremely aggressive, and my reaction was to add more two-mana do-nothings to my decks? Well, yeah. I guess I’m going to need some defensive cards.

Dispatch is amazing, and I’m optimistic about Timely Reinforcements. Torpor Orb does a lot of work against Caw-Blade, Valakut, and Twin, but it stops me from playing Solemn Simulacrum, who would be interesting otherwise.

The obvious place for this shell is Tezzeret, but if Torpor Orb isn’t necessary for some reason, it’s possible to put it into Mono-White Control.

Let’s look at some lists:

The mana’s a little shaky—with so many colorless spells, it’s really nice to be able to take advantage of the fact that you don’t need colored lands to play most of your spells and play some lands that give you value. Inkmoth Nexus lets you win with proliferate and get a third artifact for Dispatch; Phyrexia’s Core lets you sacrifice Wellsprings if you don’t have Throne of Geth; and Tectonic Edge is just an awesome card. Mox Opal and Mycosynth Wellspring go a long way toward fixing the mana issues, but it’s not completely perfect.

This deck looks absolutely perfect for Preordain—it’s trying to assemble a specific mix of cards, and it’s not doing anything on turn one, or with odd amounts of mana in general. The problem is that a deck can only have so much “air,” and most of the spots for cards that just cycle are taken by Wellsprings. Also, you can only trim so many lands, and Wellsprings, Mox Opal, and Everflowing Chalice are already making me go as low as I can. Also, Preordain lowers artifact density for Tezzeret. That said, I would be amazed if zero is the right number of Preordains (I have no problem playing any number between 0 and 4), but the current configuration lets me try the most top-end cards while keeping my engine dense enough to function. It’s possible I only want 6-7 Wellsprings though.

I’m not entirely sure the non-Tezzeret planeswalkers are good enough, but I want to see how they play with proliferate, and Venser works with Wellsprings and Contagions.

Tumble Magnet certainly wouldn’t be out of place in this deck, but I just don’t like the card that much.

You’re leaning pretty heavily on Torpor Orb + Dispatch against the combo decks, but Tezzeret can put them on a surprisingly short clock.

This is actually a combo deck as well when it needs to be: end of turn activate Shrine of Loyal Legions, untap, play Tezzeret, tap Throne of Geth to proliferate him, ultimate for about 16, and attack with the tokens. It’s a little slower than the other combos, but the pieces are great by themselves.

I feel very good about the sideboard plan against red and black aggressive decks. The 1/1s are a huge problem for them. The Celestial Purges are just bonuses that are actually there for cards like Sprinter Twin, Pyromancer Ascension, and Tezzeret, but the added utility against aggressive decks isn’t unwelcome.

I’m most uncomfortable about decks with Spell Pierce and/or Dispel, and Valakut. Torpor Orb and Leyline of Sanctity are tenuous plans against Valakut, since they’ll definitely bring in Nature’s Claim anyway, but I think they can slow them down enough for you to race a considerable portion of the time.

Twin is a similar situation. They’ll definitely have answers to your answers, but you have a lot of answers and some pressure of your own.

Emrakul in the sideboard is there to win control matchups because it’s not uncommon for Chalices to get very big. He also beats anyone who tries to mill you (not that I really expect that, and they’d probably lose to Leyline anyway). If you wanted to get really cute, you could find room for one Expedition Map, or Eye of Ugin, and beyond that, you could try to Trinket Mage for the Map, but I don’t think we need to go that far.

If you can find a better way to beat the combo decks than Torpor Orb, or if it’s unnecessary because they fall out of favor, the other approach is to take advantage of Solemn Simulacrum and Emeria, the Sky Ruin.

This would look something like:

This deck could easily splash a Swamp and an Island to play Tezzeret, but too often you’d have to guess if you wanted to go for Plains for Emeria or your splashes to cast Tezzeret. Splashing just Venser would be dramatically easier, but the payoff is a lot lower. An Island could let you do something like sideboard Flashfreezes against Valakut, instead of essentially giving up the matchup, which I think this build is doing.

There’s a chance that the plan against more people should be to accelerate Iona, but racing to nine against a deck that’s racing to six when all their spells are ramp spells doesn’t sound ideal.

I suspect the format is too fast for Emeria’s inevitability to be better than Tezzeret, even without considering the importance of Torpor Orb, so that deck is substantially more appealing unless something changes.

The other engine I’m interested in is Birthing Pod.

The traditional approach seems to be G/B, but I’m more drawn to G/W and blue splashing green.

This deck is fairly dedicated to the infinite life combo of Soul’s Attendant/Suture Priest, Leonin Relic-Warder, and Phyrexian Metamorph. Fauna Shaman and Birthing Pod are both capable of setting up either that combo against a deck that doesn’t have a lot of disruption, or a chain of Vengevines against a deck that does. Trinket Mage can either find Voltaic Key, which lets you Birthing Pod twice a turn, or Memnite to Birthing Pod into Soul’s Attendant or return Vengevine. Soul’s Attendant is surprisingly good when you’re not trying to combo just because life gained can be poured into Phyrexian mana, and a lot of creatures should be coming into play, especially thanks to Blade Splicer and Vengevine.

The deck has a pretty healthy mix of utility and streamlined aggression, and the combo pieces should play reasonably well as individual cards, which makes me think it’s worth including even though infinite life is still a slightly awkward plan in this format because of poison and Twin, though it’s nowhere near as bad as it was when everyone had Jace.

The blue deck is modeled after Kenny Oberg Block Constructed deck from PT Nagoya, which, ported to Standard could look something like:

This deck uses Grand Architect to power Birthing Pod to do awesome things, often involving Spine of Ish Sah and Phyrexian Metamorph. Spellskite is awesome in this deck, and Grand Architect can potentially protect it from Twisted Image (another option is to sideboard Mutagenic Growth, which protects Spellskite from Twisted Image and Dismember). Against aggressive decks, you can find a lot of Obstinate Baloths, and your game plan relies just little enough on creatures that trigger when they enter the battlefield that you can side them out for counterspells and Torpor Orbs against combo decks.

This is another place where Preordain’s absence is likely unjustifiable. The best reason not to play it is that Toolbox decks need space to fit all the tools, but that excuse is easily outweighed by the importance of actually being able to find a necessary tool. Birds of Paradise is the obvious first card to look at cutting, although a turn 2 Architect seems kind of awesome. The next question is whether you really need Mindslaver and Contagion Engine, and I’m not really sure of the answer to that yet.

Again, when giving preliminary lists, I feel like it’s better to try to suggest more different cards and leave exactly what to cut open.

If these options end up being too slow, I think the next places I’ll look are at updating decks I’ve played before. I’d try Tempered Steel modeled on our Paris list rather than on the Nagoya lists, which is to say that I’d want to lower the curve and try to be as fast as possible and leave cards like Blade Splicer and Hero of Bladehold for the sideboard, and I’d try Black Infect with Swiftfoot Boots. Hexproof seems very good with Mutagenic Growth, and a hasted Whispering Specter has some appeal.

Failing that, I think Grim Lavamancer deserves a lot of examination outside of Mono Red, and Goblin Grenade deserves examination inside Mono Red.

This is my starting point as I approach Standard again. Next time I write, I hope to have a lot more data behind my opinions, and my break shouldn’t be nearly as long.

Thanks for reading,

@samuelhblack on Twitter