Constructed Criticism – Know Your ABCs: Alara Block Constructed

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Monday, May 25th – Alara Block Constructed is largely an unexplored country, but it’s very important for a few upcoming events like Pro Tour: Honolulu and the MOL Season II Championships. Today we will look at a few deck ideas, as well as a few of my top cards (around which the best decks should be built).

Alara Block Constructed is largely an unexplored country, but it’s very important for a few upcoming events like Pro Tour: Honolulu and the MOL Season II Championships. Today we will look at a few deck ideas, as well as a few of my top cards (around which the best decks should be built). As usual, the better cards in this format are the ones that have the greatest impact for the lowest cost. However, since this format is slow, cards like Martial Coup and Planeswalkers are probably going to show up at the top tables of PT: Honolulu.

For starters, the king of ABC (Alara Block Constructed) before Alara Reborn was Naya. Virtually everyone on Magic Online played some form of Naya Aggro or Control, sporting 3-4 of the better Planeswalkers in the format: Ajani Vengeant and Elspeth, Knight-Errant. These decks prospered because there were few ways for most decks to easily deal with the Planeswalkers, and they posed huge problems for any deck that couldn’t match their power level. Naya was a color combination that incorporated two of the better five Planeswalkers with little or no trouble, and could easily play Sarkhan Vol as well if necessary. On top of this, they had access to the format’s only actual Wrath of God effect: Martial Coup. With the inclusion of Alara Reborn, aggressive decks have weapons to combat Planeswalkers and Martial Coup by including spells like Dauntless Escort and Maelstrom Pulse. These two cards will go a long way in protecting aggressive decks from their control opponents.

Cascade is an interesting mechanic for Constructed, and especially for Alara Block. Bloodbraid Elf is basically the nuts, usually attaching a 3/2 Haste creature to an Oblivion Ring, Maelstrom Pulse, or Woolly Thoctar. Captured Sunlight could effectively turn any three-drop you play into a Loxodon Hierarch Proxy, or flip over an answer to a problematic threat in play. The best removal spells in the format to cascade into (in my opinion) are Oblivion Ring, Naya Charm, and Maelstrom Pulse. These three spells will gain you an incredible advantage when cascading, leaving your opponent defenseless against an attacking Bloodbraid Elf. It isn’t crazy to think that you could (or should) play 3-4 colors in your cascade deck in order to have the greatest chance of hitting your better spells on cascade. That said, Borderposts should NOT be in this deck. Cascading into a Borderpost will make you want to set yourself on fire, and that could be harmful to you or those around you. The following spells should probably be considered for the skeleton of an aggressive cascade deck:


Wild Nacatl

Putrid Leech

On-color Blade Creatures

Woolly Thoctar

Bloodbraid Elf


Maelstrom Pulse

Naya Charm

Oblivion Ring

Bituminous Blast


Ajani Vengeant

Elspeth, Knight-Errant

Banefire and Martial Coup are a few great spells that should probably not be included in the deck, since they have poor synergy with the cascade mechanic. Your deck should likely be built with an aggressive curve so that you hit land drops 1-5, but stop shortly thereafter. This will make X-spells less effective, and therefore less useful. Larger threats like Lord of Extinction, Broodmate Dragon, Enlisted Wurm, and Enigma Sphinx could all be included on the higher end of a control based curve for cascade, but you should consider avoiding the two-drop Blades, as well as Wild Nacatl, in these designs.

If you are looking for a good control deck that stays away from the new cascade mechanic, there are plenty of ideas to get you started. Since Naya Control was pretty decent before Alara Reborn was legal, I think it should be considered Post-Reborn. You gain a few cards like Trace of Abundance to accelerate into Planeswalkers without being vulnerable to removal early in the game (unlike Druid of the Anima or Noble Hierarch). You also gain Bituminous Blast and Maelstrom Pulse to deal with problems your opponents may pose. Here is my current list for Four-Color Control:

Four-Color Control

4 Trace of Abundance

4 Maelstrom Pulse

4 Oblivion Ring

4 Ajani Vengeant

3 Elspeth, Knight-Errant

2 Bituminous Blast

1 Banefire

3 Martial Coup

4 Elvish Visionary

3 Caldera Hellion

3 Broodmate Dragon

4 Jungle Shrine

4 Savage Lands

3 Arcane Sanctum

3 Naya Panorama

2 Jund Panorama

1 Swamp

2 Mountain

3 Plains

3 Forest


4 Terminate

4 Vithian Renegades

3 Thought Hemorrhage

1 Karrthus, Tyrant of Jund

1 Banefire

2 Sarkhan Vol

This list is built to attack the midrange strategies that have previously defined ABC. Naya Aggro has virtually no chance at beating this deck, since their early game is eliminated by the presence of Caldera Hellion, and their mid-late game is dominated by Martial Coup and Broodmate Dragon. Your weapons against opposing Planeswalkers and Oblivion Rings are Maelstrom Pulse, as well as Oblivion Rings of your own. Elvish Visionary smoothes out your draws, as well as being fodder for Caldera Hellion. It can occasionally protect your Planeswalker from a stray Woolly Thoctar attack, giving you the crucial turn you need to go Ultimate with Ajani or Elspeth. You have plenty of removal for cards like Woolly Thoctar in the Oblivion Rings and Maelstrom Pulses, while keeping your power level up in the late game with Bituminous Blast and Banefire. These catch-all and high-value spells will be leaving your opponent reeling from turn 3 onward. There are a few inherent problems with the 2 Bituminous Blasts and your X-spells, but I they are all powerful enough on their own to warrant inclusion.

The sideboard is a healthy mix of solid removal and anti-control cards. Terminate handles problematic threats like Battlegrace Angel, Woolly Thoctar, and any other creature without Protection from Black/Red. Vithian Renegades is there to fight decks that bring Borderposts to the table, or the random Esper aggro or control decks that are bound to show up somewhere. Thought Hemorrhage can effectively neuter a control strategy whose only win condition is Broodmate Dragon or Nicol Bolas, and could deal the last few points of damage you need after getting in there with a Broodmate Dragon of your own. On top of all this, in a Planeswalker battle, you can cripple them by removing their most threatening ones as early as turn 3. Ajani Vengeant and Elspeth have previously defined ABC, and having a way to easily remove all of your opponents’ best cards could be very useful. Sarkhan Vol on turn 3 can be equally (if not more) devastating to a control opponent relying on Rupture Spires or Borderposts to fix their mana early in the game. Banefire and Karrthus round out the curve in the sideboard, giving you an additional out to resolved a Broodmate Dragon, as well as the second Banefire to KO a slow control opponent that could potentially be playing Countersquall or Cancel.

This list has a few particular weaknesses, specifically counterspells. A control-heavy Esper deck sporting Countersquall, Cancel, Offering to Asha, or others could put a real damper on your deck. Combined with card draw from Courier’s Capsule and Esper Charm, they can usually out-card you with their cheap spells, while making your removal spells seem useless.
Esper-based decks give this deck a lot of trouble, since most of their threats are highly resilient to your deck and usually gain a card in the process. Sphinx Summoner, Sharuum the Hegemon, and Enigma Sphinx all generate card wealth and quality while presenting a solid threat for you to handle. Ideally you want to be battling against Naya decks and completely avoid any deck sporting cards with the words “Counter target” on them. Otherwise, you are in for a long day.

There are probably a few different directions you could take Aggro decks, but I am not a huge fan of most of them, as they can lead to blowouts by Caldera Hellion or Jund Charm/Volcanic Fallout. These decks that rely on Jund Hackblade and Putrid Leech to get the job done seem efficient, but too weak to do anything late in the game. However, if you beat your opponent before they get their big spells online, this point becomes moot. Putrid Leech can put a beating on a control opponent in a very short amount of time, and Bloodbraid Elf can combine with an aggressive haste-curve to take your opponent out before they even have a chance to set up. The only problem here is that you are forced to play Borderposts and/or Tri-Lands in order to set your mana up properly, causing you to have the occasional draw of 3 or so lands that come into play tapped and hinder your early game greatly. During Invasion Block it was very easy to play an aggressive 2-color deck, but I don’t think it is possible in a Shard-dominated metagame. Finding the correct balance between cascade, Tri-Lands, Borderposts, and 2-3 color curves could be the key to solving the format.

Noble Hierarch based aggressive decks could make a return, since Wild Nacatl combos so well with Ranger of Eos. These decks will probably have to lean on Woolly Thoctar as their early-game threat of choice, and finish out the curve with Battlegrace Angel. Bloodbraid Elf adds a new dimension to the deck, since you will likely hit a powerful card with cascade, and top your turn 3 or 4 with as many creatures in play. The problem here is that Bloodbraid Elf and Ranger of Eos are both fighting for a slot alongside Planeswalkers at 4 mana. You can’t have too many spells in this slot, so cutting Ranger of Eos is probably the way to go. Ranger of Eos will probably continue to shine in Extended as a way to tutor for Figure of Destiny, Forge[/author]-Tender”]Burrenton [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author]-Tender, or Wild Nacatl, but I think it is Bloodbraid Elf’s time to shine in both Standard and ABC.

If you are not a fan of cascading into Noble Hierarchs, here is my list for Jund Aggro:

4 Terminate

4 Maelstrom Pulse

1 Sarkhan Vol

3 Blitz Hellion

4 Goblin Outlander

4 Jund Hackblade

4 Putrid Leech

4 Shambling Remains

4 Vithian Renegades

4 Bloodbraid Elf

4 Swamp

3 Mountain

3 Forest

2 Jungle Shrine

4 Crumbling Necropolis

4 Ancient Ziggurat

4 Savage Lands


2 Sarkhan Vol

4 Anathemancer

4 Spellbreaker Behemoth

4 Filigree Fracture

1 Forest

This list punishes slow decks for taking the early turns setting up their manabases. While you play some lands that come into play tapped yourself, your creatures are fast enough and strong enough to put the game away very early. Ancient Ziggurat is the backbone of this deck, helping to smooth out your curve early in the game. However, it limits the number of non-creature spells you can play in the deck. Therefore, I am playing 8 removal spells that are efficient and powerful for their low cost. Shambling Remains and Putrid Leech are very resilient to mass removal, since most mass removal in this format is Pyroclasm-esque. Vithian Renegades can occasionally catch your opponent’s Borderpost, or completely crush an opposing Esper deck. On top of this, it can sometimes destroy a Courier’s Capsule if your opponent is lazy about activating it. Goblin Outlander is another outstanding two-drop that is very resilient to removal, and can halt a Woolly Thoctar or an entire White Weenie swarm. Your creatures are the most efficient for their cost and can put opponents away in a very timely fashion.

Your sideboard cards are limited due to the fact that you’re playing Ancient Ziggurat. Anathemancer comes in against any control opponent playing 15+ non-basic lands. Spellbreaker Behemoth is a very strong monster that can really punish a counter-spell based deck. He might not end up in the final version since the format doesn’t have too many strong counterspells, and his ability is mostly irrelevant for your other creatures, but I am willing to give him a shot before I dismiss him completely. Filigree Fracture is an additional way to punish a slow Esper deck while giving you more gas in the process. The Forest in the sideboard comes in when you sideboard the Filigree Fractures, so that they are a bit easier to cast. The 25th land can also come in when you side Sarkhan Vols, since they can’t be cast easily off Ancient Ziggurat.

Overall, the format is going to be very interesting to watch over time. There haven’t been any large ABC tournaments, so the MOL Championships should set the stage for PT: Honolulu. Hopefully I’ll do well in that tournament, helping to shape the metagame for the Pro Tour. While these decks should be viable, they are all untested and likely to need adjustments (especially to manabases). Alara Reborn has only been on Magic Online for a few days now, where I do the majority of my testing for Constructed. I will be hammering out lists for decks over the next few days, including the start of a Bant aggro deck, and possibly a Five-Color Control list. Let me know if you have any ideas that you’ve been working on, as I haven’t had many people to talk to about the format since I am not qualified for the Pro Tour, and most people who are have a vow of secrecy.

Thanks for reading, and good luck.

Todd Anderson

strong sad on MOL

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