Constructed Criticism – Standard and Extended

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Monday, October 5th – Zoo is a deck that people will play even when it is clear that it is probably the wrong choice for the format. It is so fast and resilient that control players have a lot of trouble keeping you on the backfoot, even with cards like Engineered Explosives.

As some of you may know, I got hitched two weeks ago to the best woman a man can ask for. She casts Cryptic Command, drinks Vodka, cooks some ridiculous Chicken Parmesan, and even has the time to make herself look good. We spent the last week and a half driving to Mobile to get on a boat, and sail the ocean blue to a place called Mexico, where the beer is cheap and all the peasants are merchants in disguise. Luckily, I’m pretty thrifty, but even I succumbed to a few of their salesmen tricks, and we returned a few hundred dollars poorer and a lot happier than when we had left. It was my first cruise, and I can’t recommend it enough. That said, I missed a lot over the last week and a half, including the release of about 150 new Zendikar cards.

It would have cost us about $30 per hour to attain access to the Internet, so we decided to play it Dark Age style and just relax, have a great time, and drink until we couldn’t drink no mores. That said, I did fall behind a bit when it came to testing for Austin’s Extended format, as well as missing the prerelease and a chance to draft the new set (which is the other format for Austin). Luckily I have a few good friends who were kind enough to test a lot in my absence, and also to give me full access to the results. Needless to say, I’m probably going to be casting Tarmogoyf come October the 16th.

Luckily, my friends had enough packs left over from the Prerelease prizes to do a draft on Sunday with Zendikar. I was able to read and play with the new cards for the first time, and I must say that I am not impressed. As far as Limited goes, there is just not enough removal. It is possible that I’m spoiled from Shards of Alara block, but I drafted a UR deck with one hard removal spell (the Shock with kicker [Burst Lightning — Craig]), and 2 Into the Roil. I drafted a ridiculously aggressive Blue curve, with 3 Welkin Tern, as well as 3 Windrider Eel, backed with some tricks and tempo spells. I won most of the games by playing an early flier, followed by another flier, followed by some combat tricks and Into the Roil. One game I even got to bounce a Khalni Gem two turns in a row. It was quite fun (for me).

I am still a bit weak on the drafting side of Zendikar, since the product is still not yet legal to be sold for regular drafting (as of writing this article), but hopefully I’ll be able to get another 5-8 drafts in before the Pro Tour, and a basic understanding of the format. The biggest disappointment for me is that Zendikar won’t be on Magic Online until after the Pro Tour.

While looking over the possible format for Austin, our expected metagame has shifted a bit since the last time I was able to write. Here are the decks currently in our gauntlet, and I’ll explain the presence of each:

Next Level Blue/Faeries

This list is what we’re expecting en masse, but definitely not all we expect to face. If we want to win the tournament, we have to be able to have winning percentages against this field. Dredge, while hiding under the radar for some time, is no longer a sleeper deck like we had once hoped. Burning Inquiry and Bloodghast, as well as some juicy reanimation targets, have seen to its return, so prepare yourself with some answers in the board if you want a fighting chance. It is not the boogeyman it once was, but it is still a contender, and much stronger than it was last season.

Affinity will always be a good aggressive deck, until the format finds ways to kill it. Before the spoiling of Enemy Fetchlands, Affinity would have been a much better choice, since not everyone could splash Ancient Grudge. With these new fetchlands released, you can find almost any answer to the robots that you like and shove it into your sideboard and no one would bat an eyelid. The problem is finding out how much hate to dedicate to each deck against which you plan on having a bad game 1. Affinity and Dredge are both notorious for having incredible game 1 percentages, and you should prepare yourself for a long day if you have hate for neither.

The presence of these two decks gives me a little worry, since they are both likely to dominate game 1 unless I have a decent plan for battling either. Affinity and Dredge have few weaknesses, and neither have weaknesses in common, so preparing for both is a difficult task. Your first game of the match is likely to be a bad one, since it is unlikely for you to maindeck cards that are great against either. Mogg Fanatic becoming unplayable makes Zoo lose a bit of value in that respect, and Kataki has never really been a maindeck inclusion for Zoo, so I don’t know why they would start now.

Zoo is a deck that people will play even when it is clear that it is probably the wrong choice for the format. It is so fast and resilient that control players have a lot of trouble keeping you on the backfoot, even with cards like Engineered Explosives. Lightning Bolt has upped the power level of this deck a bit, as well as the return of Fetchlands, making it similar to its form from last season. I don’t know if Woolly Thoctar and Ranger of Eos are enough to cut the mustard anymore, but they are probably still your best options for the time being. Lotus Cobra combined with Ranger of Eos and Bloodbraid Elf are something to take a look at, as those cards can lead to incredibly explosive draws with little investment, since you are probably playing 12+ fetchlands. One problem I foresee with Zoo is that you don’t really know which way to go as far as hate is concerned. Maindeck, you can play Ethersworn Canonist, Kataki, or Mogg Fanatic to help deal with problematic decks, but all three are fairly weak on their own (Mogg Fanatic due to M10 rules changes), but necessary for fighting Hypergenesis, Affinity, and Dredge.

Speaking of Hypergenesis, this deck is for real. There is a plethora of ways for you to win, and choosing the right win conditions can be the real challenge for the deck. While you are still an underdog to cards like Chalice of the Void and Ethersworn Canonist, you have many ways to fight back. This deck reminds me a lot of Dredge from two seasons ago, having a really sick game 1 and a decent amount of counter-hate for games 2 and 3. I’m seriously considering playing this deck come Austin, but we have not decided on the final build, or the sideboard yet. Hopefully this won’t be the new “Elves” like last year’s Extended Pro Tour where everyone is playing it, and the format will be diverse and fun. Unfortunately, I feel like there are too many broken options for people to play, and the format will be unbalanced in one direction, making “fair” decks the reliable choice, but not necessarily the correct one.

Next Level Blue and Faeries are two decks that do the same thing. Hybridizing the two is probably the right call, since Spellstutter Sprite is a hard counter about 1/2 the time, and Tarmogoyf is the biggest beating you can put on the table for 2 mana. Vendilion Clique and Cryptic Command are sure to play major roles here, as both are extremely good at doing what they do best, and neither have cheaper replacements. I’m still unsure as to whether or not I should be playing Vedalken Shackles, but I’ll probably be playing too many non-basic lands to worry about it.

Trinket Mage has come up for discussion on many accounts, acting as a Diabolic Tutor of sorts against two of the format’s popular bad boys: Chalice of the Void for Hypergenesis, and Tormod’s Crypt or Relic of Progenitus for Dredge. Our current list looks pretty good, and is able to handle the format’s “bad boys” with the right draws. After sideboarding, each matchup becomes much better, but most game 1’s are winnable, especially with the Trinket Mage package. As of now, this is my number 1 pick for the deck I want to play in Austin, since it fits my style and gives me the most options when preparing for an open field. Hopefully we’ll be able to decide on a final decklist in the next week, giving us plenty of time to become familiar with the deck’s ins and outs for each matchup.

If testing continues with the combo decks giving the control and aggro decks problems, I don’t know how I could justify playing either at the PT without some major changes in data. Our control decks are decent, but seem to be lacking that punch. Our aggro decks are ok, but can’t put the nail in the coffin before the combo decks go off. Each deck we’re planning on facing off against has a completely different method of attack, which makes having sideboard cards for each matchup difficult, since there aren’t many cards that keep multiple strategies in check. That is one reason why I’m partial to the Trinket Mage deck, since it allows you to have a few sideboard cards maindeck, as well as having answers before you get access to your sideboard. With this package, you could also more reliably hit land drops, as well as find utility cards against the more random decks. Thirst for Knowledge is likely an include in this deck, so having artifact lands can hardly be a bad thing, since you will usually need a good card to discard to it. Here is my starting point for Next Level Blue:

This list is obviously rough, and will certainly be changed a bit before it is considered “done,” but it is a great starting point and the ideas behind it are solid. I’ll definitely be considering this come Austin.

Now, for those of you uninterested in PT: Austin, Standard is new and looks to be quite fun! Cascade is still a very powerful ability, and combined with acceleration via Lotus Cobra is, as well as consistency with great manabases, this strategy looks potent. However, I’m not a fan of hitting random cards off Bloodbraid Elf, so I’ve decided to build something that looks pretty good against it! Last week, Cedric Phillips built a soldier deck that looked to smash your opponent in quick fashion, before they got a chance to set up. He also had a solid late-game card that many have overlooked: Conqueror’s Pledge. This card is the new Cloudgoat Ranger, and makes Ajani Goldmane as well as Honor of the Pure as potent as ever. I wanted to take a different look at White aggro, having good defenses to your hoser cards like Volcanic Fallout, as well as the entire Cascade Strategy. I built something very similar to this right before nationals, albeit with Spectral Procession and Cloudgoat Ranger, but here is the post-rotation update:

I’m really liking the maindeck, but a few small things could be changed. I’m thinking Emeria Angel might deserve a slot here, as she fits the curve nicely, and is another “army in a can” cards that your opponent will have to deal with immediately. Flying is another undervalued ability at the moment, sailing over Sprouting Thrinax and Putrid Leech with ease. Her tokens that she makes also fly, which is great when combined with Ajani Goldmane. If I were to build a White Weenie style deck, she would definitely be included, along with all 8 of the White fetchlands to abuse her ability and thin extra lands out of your deck.

This particular maindeck is set up to punish the cascade decks. If they rely on a single strategy to take control of the game, you can really hinder them with your Meddling Mages and Ethersworn Canonist. Meddling Mage himself can protect your team from Volcanic Fallout, and Brave the Elements can protect you in a pinch too. Both White planeswalkers fit well into this strategy, as they combine well, and provide you with some valuable threats that have reach. Elspeth can just send your Baneslayer on over to play for 8 damage, or provide an army of dorks that work well in conjunction with Ajani Goldmane. Ajani can protect your life total against a Ball Lightning deck, or provide your dorks with a substantial boost. I think it is also safe to say that the game is almost always over if you activate Ajani after a Conqueror’s Pledge, barring any Wrath shenanigans.

Baneslayer Angel is there to provide you with a few “I win” cards if your opponent does not have the answer. Meddling Mage combos well here, keeping your opponent from using their Path to Exiles or Doom Blades to deal with the large lady. Captain of the Watch plays a similar role here, since he is battling clean-up after Baneslayer. Hopefully one of your threats will go unanswered and you will eventually get there. The only problem this deck has is against counterspells, since your bigger spells are slow and clunky. However, those barely exist in this format, so that shouldn’t be too much of a problem. Your disruption cards should give your opponent a lot of problems, and having Negate after boarding can counter your opponent’s Day of Judgment, or just stopping some Planeswalker from ruining your party.

My favorite thing about this deck is that it is very similar to BW Tokens from a few months ago. You have some decent early game disruption, followed by some ridiculous late-game threats. If your opponent can’t deal with everything you cast, hopefully one will be able to get the job done. I’m looking forward to making life very difficult for cascade.

I haven’t tested much with new Standard, since the cards aren’t easily available yet, but I’m really looking forward to everything it has to offer. I was getting very tired of Lorwyn-based Standard, but hopefully this new format won’t be the same thing over and over via Bloodbraid Elf. There are a lot of powerful cards to work with, and a lot of space for creative minds to work. Fortunately, the best creature is still Baneslayer Angel.

strong sad on MOL