Constructed Criticism – Preparing For The StarCityGames.com Atlanta Standard Open

The StarCityGames.com Open Series returns to Atlanta!
Tuesday, April 27th – UW Control has been the deck over the last week, sweeping all of the online PTQ. Last week, I wrote an article on my take for UW Control without Baneslayer Angel. Apparently, all three versions that won PTQ’s played Baneslayer Angel, and made me eat my words. But what can we discern from the fact that all three winners were playing Baneslayer Angel?

Recently, AJ Sacher wrote about the Lull. It affects all of us, including me. Without the aid of Magic Online to playtest, it is very difficult for me to get any momentum going to physically build decks and playtest with people. The StarCityGames.com Open Series is coming to Atlanta this weekend, which is only about 2 hours from my home in Birmingham, so I’ll definitely be there. However, I’m not sure that Rise of the Eldrazi is going to change my deck choice all that much. UW Control has been the deck over the last week, sweeping all of the online PTQ. Last week, I wrote an article on my take for UW Control without Baneslayer Angel. Apparently, all three versions that won PTQ’s played Baneslayer Angel, and made me eat my words. But what can we discern from the fact that all three winners were playing Baneslayer Angel?

There is a very good reason that Baneslayer Angel is worth 50$ or more. She is an amazingly undercosted creature that dominates the board when left unchecked. I’ve personally played the deck with and without Baneslayer Angel over the past few weeks, and I honestly don’t know which version is better. If we want to be results oriented, we can assume that playing four Baneslayers is correct, but just how good is Baneslayer Angel is this format? Sure, there are plenty of situations where she is really good, but why would you “turn on” removal spells that are rotting in your opponent’s hand? The real conundrum is that Baneslayer Angel is probably too good not to play, even if your opponents all have removal that only target her. If I play UW Control at the Open this weekend, I’ll more than likely be playing with Baneslayer Angel, but I often play the “best version” of a deck based on results and not necessarily on my gut. The same thing was true for Dark Depths in the last few Extended tournaments, since I really just played an amalgamation of the most streamlined versions over the previous few weeks leading up to Houston, and the results were quite stellar.

One of my biggest problems with playing Magic is that I am not as innovative as I would like to be. Sure, sometimes the occasional Damping Matrix comes along and gives me a few cool sideboard ideas for various decks, but often I will just play whatever deck I think is best and is putting up the best results, or will most likely result in a win for me. If the “best” deck at the moment has in incredible target on its head, and people aren’t leaving home without 10+ sideboard cards, then it is very difficult for me to play that particular deck. For one, I will not have any fun playing against a room full of hate cards, nor will I win as much as I would like. If the hate does not stand up to the power of the deck, that is a different story. Dark Depths was one of these decks, and could attack the format at a multitude of angles. In the Quarterfinals of Grand Prix: Houston, I played against a BW Smallpox deck. In the first game, I just got destroyed by a combination of Smallpox and Gatekeeper of Malakir, but I resolved myself to remove 3 of my Dark Depths and Vampire Hexmages to decrease the effects of both cards on my strategy, relying almost solely on Thopter Foundry to take games 2 and 3. In both games, I used Thoughtseize multiple times and saw a useless Gatekeeper of Malakir, and it felt so good. Generally speaking, that was one of the main reasons I loved playing Dark Depths so much, since you had so many different plans of attack that your opponent could just not deal with. Jace, Thopter Foundry, and Marit Lage all required different cards to deal with, and your support for them was just too much for people to handle most of the time.

So, going back to Standard, what have we learned from Pre-Rise of the Eldrazi? For one, Spreading Seas and Tectonic Edge are a great start for crushing Jund. Both cards attack their manabase with a fierce intensity, which can leave them with plenty of dead cards in hand. Most of their problematic cards are Red, so you should kill their Red sources as often as possible. It should be nearly impossible for them to cast Siege-Gang Commander if you stick to this plan, and he is a great way for them to recoup after a slew of removal, or a Day of Judgment. Figuring out what colors to hit with Spreading Seas could be difficult at times, but really you just want to do two things: 1) cut off relevant colors, 2) shut off manlands. If you adhere to these two things, you should be alright.

For reference, you can find the decklists for the MTGO PTQs here. If you look closely at all three lists, you will see many similarities. After the first win by the deck, bolov0 adopted a few Negates into the maindeck in order to help with the mirror, and they performed flawlessly. While the differences between the decks are small, they are very important and should give you some real food for though. The biggest argument I’ve had with both _ShipItHolla and _SipItHolla (who are both in my clan) is whether or not to play a second Martial Coup. Both of them think that playing a single Martial Coup is correct, but that card is just such an amazing blowout most of the time that I can’t bring myself to cut down to just one. Against Jund, it can pull you out of a sticky situation against Sprouting Thrinaxes, or just destroy a Broodmate Dragon and company. The 1/1’s you make afterwards are not irrelevant, and a very large Martial Coup in the late game can end things quickly. If you decide to play a version with more Everflowing Chalices, then you should definitely run at least 2 Martial Coup, if not 3. Chalice is really the point where I can agree with either of them on, since it helps facilitate your Phase 3 plan of “cast insane spells,” but their logic is basically that they are using Everflowing Chalice as a fifth Knight of the White Orchid, who they think is just better than the Chalice itself. It is hard to argue with those results.

From these results, you need to figure out just how to build your sideboard. Jund will probably be popular this weekend, since people will likely just play whatever deck they think will smash all the “random” decks people tend to bring to tournaments after the release of a new set (see the Danger of Cool/New Things). Jund does a great job at beating people who don’t know how to play Magic, or those who are just unprepared for their particular strategy. When people start to focus on trying to get Emrakul into play, they might forget that Bloodbraid Elf and Blightning exist, and just fold to an early aggressive draw containing a Putrid Leech. Unfortunately for most people, Jund is an harsh overlord that keeps these kind of decks in check, and will likely put them out of contention early on. While this is not always the case, I find that Jund keeps fringe decks in check much the same way that Faeries did over the last few years, but is much more forgiving in play mistakes. Faeries was usually very difficult to play correctly, and minor mistakes often resulted in a loss. However, you can make a few mistakes with Jund and just topdeck your way out of situations quite easily.

So, with all of that said, what should you play this weekend? That is a question that I am facing myself, since I want to blow people’s minds with a new strategy, or revamp an older one. This tournament will set the precedent for Grand Prix DC coming up, so I think I should use it as a testing ground for a new version of UW Control, or possibly another deck I have a lot of experience with. One major issue is whether or not to change the deck at all. It has put up ridiculous numbers against a large and diverse field, and I don’t know if many of the cards in Rise of the Eldrazi will affect your deckbuilding decisions all that much. Path to Exile and Oblivion Ring already deal with Vengevine, and Wall of Omens might not be necessary in a field full of monsters that are larger than it. It can’t block Steppe Lynx, Plated Geopede, Putrid Leech, Vengevine, Knight of the Reliquary (usually), Baneslayer Angel, Sphinx of Jwar Isle, etc. It can’t even block Raging Ravine without dying, which would be one of the reasons why you really wanted a Wall if the first place. While there are plenty of creatures in Standard that it can block, Wall of Omens might be better coming in from the sideboard. However, it does draw a card, so it is never a dead draw. The problem is, like last week, finding room. No one can seem to agree on the numbers of each card in the maindeck, so it will be very difficult to find room for anything, even a card as good as Wall of Omens. With all that said, it will probably be in my maindeck, but I won’t fault you if you sideboard it in against decks like Burn, Naya, or Jund.

If you don’t want to fall into the categories of playing Jund or playing UW Control, there are a few options which I would like to explore. Last week, I talked briefly about a possible resurgence of Eldrazi Green (not to be confused with the gigantic, flying, vampiric monsters), including cards like Vengevine from Rise, as well as a few all-stars from Worldwake that have been overlooked. Here is a list I have seriously been considering over the last few weeks:

This version is much more resilient to Wrath effects than a GR version playing Bloodbraid Elf (which was my original concoction). You are even immune to Earthquake with Dauntless Escort and Refraction Trap out of the sideboard (in conjunction with Eldrazi Monument). While this deck might use Eldrazi Monument more like an Overrun and less like its predecessor with cards like Master of the Wild Hunt and Ant Queen, you can still use it to protect yourself from Day of Judgment and the like. You have plenty of gas in the form of Ranger of Eos and Vengevine to keep creatures coming, and Wolfbriar Elemental puts you right over the top when trying to sustain a decent creature count in the mid-game. Even making 2-3 Wolves can be pretty backbreaking for most opponents, and the game is usually over if you have Oran Rief, the Vastwood or Eldrazi Monument already in play. Elvish Archdruid can make some insane things happen if he gets to untap, and he often will if your opponent wants to sandbag their Oblivion Rings or Maelstrom Pulses for your Monuments.

If you want something fresh and fun to play, than this really could be the deck for you. My wife will likely be playing some iteration of this deck, since it is something she is familiar with, and she hasn’t played much Magic lately. She loves to “play dudes and attack,” and that is exactly what this deck wants to do. Much like the Mythic deck that Zvi has been writing about over the last few weeks, this deck has no non-permanents in the maindeck. Creature-based decks cannot afford to have dead cards against Control and Jund in the forms of weak removal spells, so playing as many game-breaker cards as possible in a shell that so aggressively accelerates and attacks can be devastating. Unlike the older version of this deck, you are no longer reliant on Planeswalkers to get the job done. Sadly, we live in a different world where Blightning is just too hard to overcome. I can no longer justify playing a Planeswalker that dies to Blightning, since the cards you lose are just too great when combined with the Planeswalker itself. I would rather play a much more devastating 4-Drop like Vengevine or Ranger of Eos, since both of them really shine against Wrath decks and Blightning.

I really wanted to run something like Scute Mob to make Ranger of Eos a little better, but Scute Mob is just not what this deck wants to be doing, since you won’t often get up to five lands, rather just having a ton of mana accelerators and the like. Over the last few weeks I’ve been trying to break Student of Warfare with Ranger of Eos, but it just doesn’t look promising against a field full of Jund and Wall of Omens. Student of Warfare is a strong card, but he just looks so pathetic trying to attack through a Wall, and even more idiotic when you invest a lot of mana into a Lightning Bolt target. Sure, he’s good, but he’s not Figure of Destiny. I don’t think they’ll ever make something that good again, and this set really shows. Sure, the “levelers” are really awesome for limited play, but few of them (if any) will break into serious constructed play. Student of Warfare and Kargan Dragonlord have the most potential thus far, but even they kind of wane in comparison to their older brother, Figure. Also, why is Kargan Dragonlord a Mythic Rare? To me, that makes absolutely no sense, and especially so since he will probably see even less play than Student of Warfare. Hopefully Wizards will stop printing such premium removal, making these creatures worth their investment.

While the “lull” has affected me a great deal, I suspect that over the next few weeks this mood will expire. I am not one to go over a new set “card by card” and tell you which ones are good and which ones are bad, because I don’t think that this is the best use of your time. Mostly, I like to choose a few specific goodies to talk about and figure out how to implement them in a literal sense. Some people do it right, like Patrick Chapin article about Vengevine last week. If you take a few cards and talk about them in great detail, that is something I can get behind. While I only want to hear about a select few cards for Constructed, I find the exact opposite is true for Limited. I love it when writers go over each card and its playability for Limited, as well as the thoughts and ideas behind each. In the future, I would like to do a few of these, but I am not a Limited master, so my opinions will probably be less influential than others.

It is evident that the “lull” has affected most people, but I’m sure we’ll be back to the good old grind with articles about new tested decks and tournament reports very soon (which I’m really looking forward to). If you are going to the StarCityGames.com Open in Atlanta this weekend, come say hi! I love hearing from readers and enjoy what you have to say. I know that I am not the most popular writer on the site, but it does make me feel great when people to tell me they enjoy my writing. I like to think that what I’ve been doing over the last year or so has not only been helpful to me, but other players as well. If I know you from Magic Online, tell me what your name is on there, since I can remember those better than IRL names for some reason. I’ll probably be battling with some form of UW, since I think that is the best deck at the moment, but don’t be surprised if you see me casting Eldrazi Monument. Like Ken Nagle, I always liked the fatties.

strong sad on MTGO