Constructed Criticism – The Axis of Primeval

Wednesday, October 6th – The verdict is in! Primeval Titan is the best card in Standard by a mile, and it isn’t slowing down. What does this mean for you and your 2010 Championships this weekend? It means you should either be gunning for Primeval Titans, or siding with the Axis of Primeval.

The verdict is in! Primeval Titan is the best card in Standard by a mile, and it isn’t slowing down. There was a fairly large 5K Standard tournament in New York this past weekend where eight out of the Top 16 decks contained four Primeval Titans. Two of these decks took down first and second place.

What does this mean for you and your
2010 Championships

this weekend? It means you should either be gunning for Primeval Titans, or siding with the Axis of Primeval. Currently there are two very strong Primeval Titan decks in Standard: Valakut and Eldrazi Green. I’m honestly not certain which one’s better, but I personally prefer Eldrazi Green because it has fewer lands entering the battlefield tapped, as well as having access to the nigh-unbeatable Emrakul, the Aeons Torn.

While both decks have their strengths and weaknesses, the next few weeks should flesh out which is the better of the two, but clearly both are strong, and it really just depends on what flavor of kill condition you prefer. Today we’ll go over both lists, what you can do to help combat the mirror, as well as the expected metagame shifts.

Mono-Green Eldrazi Ramp

I talked a bit about Eldrazi Green a few weeks ago, but we’ll go back over some of the basics this week, as well as the matchups you can expect to face this weekend. For starters, here is the decklist that Tim Landale used to make the finals:

The first major change we can see is Wurmcoil Engine. A solid three of these will help you out against many aggressive decks, allowing you to recoup lost life while you’re busy ramping. Additionally, Wurmcoil Engine provides a nice threat that doesn’t roll over to Day of Judgment or traditional removal. He also gives you a few more targets for Summoning Trap to hit, which is nice considering the variance that card can occasionally bring to a game.

Unfortunately, missing on Summoning Trap can sometimes mean Game Over, but the times when you do hit large aliens make up for it. This is one of the biggest reasons why I both love and hate this card.

When you hit a strong threat on your Trap, it feels so good to have “cheated” out a large monster, but it creates a black hole in your tempo when you hit a mana dork, or nothing at all, which is unbearable. With the addition of Wurmcoil Engine, this should happen slightly less often, resulting in fewer suicides at tournaments, which is a good thing.

Another reason to choose this deck over Valakut Ramp is Tectonic Edge. While it’s true that Tectonic Edge can go in most decks, this one abuses it. Primeval Titan decks rely on having a strong foundation of lands to search for to help bail you out of whatever situation your opponent presents.

Occasionally you’ll just kill a manland that’s beating you down, but often you’ll be blowing up the Valakuts your opponent is trying to kill you with. I find that, with access to Eldrazi Monsters, the Eldrazi Ramp deck wins the “ramp mirror” more often than not, making it a strong choice for this weekend. I know that Tim lost in the finals to Valakut, but I still believe you’re favored. Don’t let one result sway your decision.

Other than that, everything I’ve written about this deck can be found


in my article from two weeks ago.

R/G Valakut Ramp

The other elephant in the room is Valakut Ramp, which lost virtually nothing from the rotation. I thought this deck was Tier 1 or Tier 2 before Scars came out, but now I’m sold on it being a major contender until people realize just how good it is.

The printing of Tunnel Ignus (say that one three times fast) and Leonin Arbiter has yet to deter people from abusing this strategy, which means one of two things: people are too stupid to build a good aggro deck, or people want to play

Primeval Titan more than they want to beat it.  

Unfortunately, there won’t be much innovation from high-caliber players over the next few months since there aren’t many relevant tournaments before Worlds that will be using Standard. What this

mean for the grinders of the world is that you’ll be at a significant advantage over the rest of the field if you can progressively innovate. If anything, this should be a wind of inspiration to everyone, since traditional “net-decking” won’t be the norm, and the decklists (even ones that win events) won’t be perfect.

Valakut Ramp is anything but a perfect deck. That’s evident because of the amazing diversity of cards people tend to play in Valakut, while still continuing to win. No one can agree on the win conditions, number of ramp spells, or even whether or not to play Raging Ravine. The winning list from the event played a few interesting cards, including a pair of Koths of the Hammer, but everything else seemed pretty much close to par. Here is the list, for reference:

Let’s examine this list a bit more closely and see what we can infer from his choices, as well as possible changes to help improve the deck.

First of all, Koth of the Hammer seems like a cool inclusion in the deck, but I’m not sold on its utility. At heart, you’re a combo deck, and I’m not really sure what goal Koth helps you achieve. Sure, he’s fine on an empty board, but if your opponent has any sort of relevant threat in play, he’s sure to die in a few attack steps. Lightning Bolt is your only real protection, and I don’t foresee you using Valakut to kill creatures unless they’re about to kill you.

His only real addition to the deck is that he can essentially ramp you into some of your bigger spells, or potentially help you cast two big spells in one turn. However, since most of your important spells cost double green, I don’t think adding a lot of red mana to your pool will help you accomplish all that much.

Koth does provide you with a great threat against control decks, which is potentially where the pilot planned on abusing him. While you do play twelve Mountains to help Koth along, you play a lot of lands that

Mountains, making all of his abilities much less potent. For these reasons, I say that Koth should be delegated sideboard slots only, since he shines against U/W Control but seems pretty terrible against every deck that attacks you.

The lack of Explore seems very out of place to me. For one, I’m a huge advocate of Explore, especially with the rotation of Rampant Growth. I don’t think this particular list has enough ramp in it to consistently hit a turn 4 Primeval Titan, which is where you should always be aiming to land him.

Explore also helps you cast Oracle of Mul Daya on the third turn, which is exactly when you want to be landing her, since she’s terrible at almost every other point. If your big spells come online a turn too late, every deck in the format is going to pounce on you, so you need to accelerate out your threats as soon as possible. Otherwise, you’re going to be a turn or two behind nearly every other deck in the format, since they’re effectively goldfishing against you unless you draw a Lightning Bolt.

With the rotation of Alara and the exit of the traditional Bant Mythic deck, cards like Inferno Titan are sure to be much worse, which is evident by the exclusion here. However, seeing as the format is still in its infancy, you can bet people will figure out how to continually abuse Lotus Cobra. I’m a huge advocate of Inferno Titan in this archetype, but Avenger of Zendikar is clearly the better threat at the moment.

Wurmcoil Engine is also another top contender, since he’s so resilient to removal and can swing games with his lifelink. Expect lists containing all of these threats and more.

Avenger of Zendikar is the fallback win condition for this deck behind Primeval Titan, but I could easily see people playing Wurmcoil Engine in its place (or in addition to) due to costing one less mana, as well as its ability to withstand Day of Judgment.

I don’t think that U/W Control has any real chance at the moment, seeing as how everyone casting Primeval Titan is backing them up with Summoning Traps. This is very bad news for Mana Leak advocates, but don’t expect them to go down without a fight.

Jace, the Mind Sculptor is a powerful planeswalker, and people will want to get some value out of their $70+ investments. If U/W Control rises in popularity within the coming months, expect Avenger to fall out of favor, with possible threats like Gaea’s Revenge coming to the table.

This list also contains only 26 lands, which is two less than every other list I’ve seen over the last few months. While I’m not certain on the number of lands you should play, I tend to add a land to almost every list I ever see, but this situation is much different. When most of your deck is mana-oriented, playing fewer lands could easily be correct.

However, I wouldn’t feel comfortable playing either Khalni Heart Expedition or Oracle of Mul Daya without at least 27 lands, and I’d probably play the full 28 just to be safe. Some ramp decks from Zendikar block played upwards of 29 or 30 lands, but they didn’t play nearly as many ramp spells, so this is clearly a factor. Your deck relies on hitting land drops, so missing them is absolutely devastating.

Other lists I’ve seen also played many more virtual copies of Terramorphic Expanse. Most lists usually played six of either Terramorphic Expanse or Evolving Wilds, giving you a dual land that effectively counted as a Mountain for Valakut when you needed it. I did find that most of the time with those lands, I’d search out a Forest to help cast ramp spells in the early game, but drawing them late would allow you to trigger Valakut at instant speed. However, they do enter the battlefield tapped, which is abysmal.

The sideboard seems pretty solid other than Leyline of Punishment, which I don’t really understand. The only card it really stops in the format is Safe Passage, which shuts down your “combo,” but that seems incredibly narrow. It doesn’t stop Leyline of Sanctity, since that card just prevents you from targeting your opponent altogether, but you really don’t care if your opponent gains a little bit of life here and there. The Soul Warden deck doesn’t exist anymore. I’d definitely cut this for something more productive.

The Ulamog, the Infinite Jäger Bombs in the board is pretty interesting, but I’m sure a lot of people don’t understand why he’s there. I’m also not sure he’s entirely necessary, but the logic is sound. To me, it seems like a very interesting addition to the sideboard due to the presence of so many diverse threats in the format. This Standard format has the most diverse threats of any format I’ve ever played, since you have to protect yourself from creatures, lands, artifacts, enchantments, and planeswalkers.

With Valakut and manlands dominating from the land-zone, having a card that can answer those, as well as any planeswalker, is awesome. You can also randomly hit Ulamog with a Summoning Trap for the knockout punch, but with only a single copy, that shouldn’t happen too often. Additionally, he can shuffle your graveyard back in if a mill-style deck crops up, giving you an out to a particularly hard matchup.

All Is Dust from the board should probably become Pyroclasm, since All Is Dust costs so much mana to cast, and I would think you really want a sweeper to help combat the aggro decks featuring Fauna Shaman and Birds of Paradise. While All Is Dust doubles in utility against planeswalker control decks, I don’t think they’ll ever resolve when you want them to. Additionally, your matchup against Lotus Cobra decks needs a bit more help than your control matchup. The switch should be fairly easy.

While Fog was a solid sideboard card against older versions of Mono-Red featuring Ball Lightning, Hell’s Thunder, and Hellspark Elemental, I don’t think that’s what you want to help you beat the newer versions of Mono-Red. They’ll likely consist of Plated Geopedes and Kargan Dragonlords, as well as a variety of other threats that stick to the table, so having solid removal would probably be more beneficial than having a card that only saves you for a single turn.

Obstinate Baloth would probably be better here as well, considering his ability to block the majority of their threats. Awkwardly, expect most red decks to board in Mark of Mutiny, which is an utter blowout when they fetch up two Teetering Peaks using your Primeval Titan. This could be the reason that he played Fog in his sideboard, but that situation just doesn’t warrant the exclusion of removal that could help sway other questionable matchups.

With some of these changes in mind, here’s the list I’d play if I were playing tomorrow:

While there are some big changes, I think they help your overall consistency, both with Summoning Trap as well as with your early acceleration.

Koth just seems superfluous to what you’re trying to do, but he’s just sick against U/W Control, so he’s taken the place of a few narrow sideboard cards.

While Ulamog is cute, I’m not sure he’s necessary. I’d rather stock my sideboard full of insane removal. Arc Trail is just absolutely bonkers against green aggro decks, and gives you access to the removal you need to buy yourself enough time to land an Avenger or Titan.

Wurmcoil Engine joins the gang, which is an amazing addition. He’s definitely better than Inferno Titan at the moment and does pretty much everything that the rest of your deck can’t. Aside from being incredibly efficient for his cost, he comes back through removal for more. He gives most non-ramp decks nightmares and makes Summoning Trap that much better. Now you have the option to grab a blocker that can gain life in a pinch, on top of just upping your bomb count from eight to ten.

Oracle of Mul Daya, while solid, is just not as good without access to eight ramp spells on the second turn. Cutting them also turns your opponents’ Lightning Bolts into dead cards. You have enough ramp without her, and she’d rarely attack or block so that isn’t really an issue. By cutting her, you allow yourself a bit of breathing room to add cards, as far as acceleration, land count, and bomb count is concerned.

In case you were wondering, I cut down to three Harrows due to the blowout factor of getting it countered. Mana Leak is a strong presence in Standard, and I’d expect more people to be playing it now that ramp decks are everywhere. Reducing the number of Harrows you draw could be the deciding factor in whether or not you win the game. I realize the card is strong, but you have enough ramp without it to be successful, and you don’t want to give your opponent too many opportunities to beat you.

As far as the Terramorphic Expanse argument is concerned, I’m going to try playing fewer copies. My main argument for not playing this deck was the absurd number of lands entering the battlefield tapped, but this list reduced them to six, which isn’t too bad considering it used to be ten.

Everything else should be self-explanatory, but feel free to ask me some questions in the forums!

This weekend should be a blast, and I hope people bring some new ideas to the table. There’s so much potential with the new Scars of Mirrodin Standard format, but people haven’t really had a chance to figure it out yet.

When an aggro deck figures out how to smash Primeval Titan decks, people will shift more towards that, making decks like U/W or Esper popular again, as well as fringe decks that just folded to Primeval Titan decks. Hopefully this weekend I’ll bring a spicy brew to the table that’ll smash ’em, giving me the trophy and a year’s supply of free Constructed tournaments.

Good luck and have fun!

Thanks for reading.
strong sad on MOL