Deconstructing Constructed – Loaming Through the Countryside

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Wednesday, January 7th – I’m rather excited about the current Extended format. Instead of being dominated by Elves, Dredge, or Counterbalance decks, we now have a format with legitimate options everywhere on the metagame clock, and where the current top decks all have legitimate weaknesses.

Just two weeks until the Grand Prix in LA… Here’s a quick suggestion / begging in case anyone is in contact running the event. Please, please, please, have something other than Magic to do on-site, I’ve seen that area, and it is a complete mess to get out toward anywhere, due to how they set out the airport. As a result, having a projector or an area set-up for TVs so people can play video games would be appreciated. Barring that, somebody print out the quickest way to Arcade Infinity or Denjin and ship, okay? Thanks.

Back on topic… just two weeks until the Grand Prix in LA, and I’m rather excited about the current Extended format. Instead of being dominated by Elves, Dredge, or Counterbalance decks, we now have a format with legitimate options everywhere on the metagame clock, and where the current top decks all have legitimate weaknesses. Today I’ll be focusing on a couple of the Loam strategies I’ve seen and played online, and some of the strengths such plans have in the format.

The first question you have to ask yourself is why do you want to play a Life from the Loam deck in the first place? First, you have access to a recursion engine, which can lead into a card-drawing engine that allows you to automatically hit all your land drops. This is pretty huge with slower decks; as anyone can tell you, getting stalled a mana short of whatever your target point is can be completely backbreaking. Loam with Fetchlands means this simply doesn’t happen. With cycling lands, whatever deck you play also has an uncounterable way to gain you card-advantage. Of course, the other main selling point is that Life from the Loam is very difficult to stop, the only common answer seeing play is Vendilion Clique which can safely plant Loam on the bottom of your library on the draw step. With cycling lands and careful play this can be avoided though, so it isn’t a guaranteed answer to Loam either.

The next question is which deck really gains from what Loam brings to the table? Mana disruption decks using symmetrical effects is an obvious one, the same with ways to abuse the cycling lands (Astral Slide) or simply using them directly (Seismic Assault). However, in whichever deck you run Loam, you really want to ask yourself if the deck wants and can support having a bunch of comes-into-play-tapped lands in exchange for a midgame draw engine. For many Blue decks, this answer is “no.” For BGx decks, on the other hand, the answer is typically “yes,” due to the lack of valid options and nature of the strategies the decks can employ. Even without Death Cloud, I’ve won many games simply by outdrawing the opponent and going one-for-one with them, and then beating them up with creatures.

As I just mentioned, Death Cloud decks seem to be the Loam candidate that sees the most play at the moment. So let’s see what makes it tick by going over the Loam Cloud list from Worlds.

Luiz de Michielli
Loam Cloud

4 Kitchen Finks
4 Sakura-Tribe Elder
4 Smother
3 Crime / Punishment
3 Damnation
3 Death Cloud
3 Life from the Loam
3 Raven’s Crime
4 Thoughtseize
1 Worm Harvest
4 Barren Moor
3 Bloodstained Mire
2 Forest
2 Ghost Quarter
2 Golgari Rot Farm
2 Overgrown Tomb
1 Polluted Delta
4 Swamp
3 Tranquil Thicket
2 Wooded Foothills
3 Garruk Wildspeaker

3 Ravenous Baloth
3 Darkblast
3 Choke
3 Engineered Explosives
3 Sun Droplet

As far as deck construction goes, having testing BG Cloud as one of my top choices for the Grand Prix, I’ve come to a few conclusions about the general design which I’ll share. The first is that the 4th Death Cloud and 4th Life from the Loam are musts, and you are actively making your deck worse by not playing them. Yes, drawing Cloud in multiples is bad; this disadvantage is offset by the fact that if you resolve a Cloud, it’s likely you’ve just won the game. On the other hand, a card which is bad all the time would be Garruk Wildspeaker, who is borderline fine when you’ve resolved a Cloud and gained a huge advantage and terrible the rest of the time. Woo, for 2GG I’ve managed to either gain a slight mana boost or make Wild Nacatl tokens (or typically just one token); I’d rather just take Tombstalker as a giant cheap beatstick post-Cloud, and it’s actually useful on D pre-Cloud.

Note the lack of ways to break on-board synergy with Loam other than Death Cloud… just a singleton Worm Harvest. Instead of purely trying to abuse the mana denial and instant land recovery from last year, if Cloud doesn’t pop up but Loam does, this deck simply shifts gears and aims to keep the board reasonable while using Removal, Finks, Ravenous Baloth, etc. while using the cycling lands to keep card quality high. This is a pretty hefty mana-investment and doesn’t pay back right away, but with the amount of removal available and additional ways to strike the opponent’s hand, you can usually buy the time necessary to take advantage of this situation. The reason this is so effective is because other decks have removed many of the common card drawing engines to increase speed. Even a deck like MUC is effectively defeated in many set-ups by an active Loam engine, simply because its only way to replenish itself comes from a scant set of Thirst of Knowledge. Additionally, this is a reason why cards like Darkblast are such a pain for the Fae hordes to deal with, but that’s for another time.

Death Cloud succeeds far more than it should because it runs a reusable draw engine that doesn’t take up more than four ‘spell slots’ in the maindeck, giving it a reach it shouldn’t otherwise have. Other decks looking to tap into the midrange segment of the metagame should really take a look into employing the Loam plan even if it can’t really be broken. Doran decks, for example, should consider it as an alternative to the easily-killable and equally slow Dark Confidant, even though the secondary benefit would simply be recurring something like Mutavault or Treetop Village; or you if wanting to get really spicy — Horizon Canopy.

One of the alternative decks for Loam, Slide, might have a very good reason to exist if a good way to beat Faeries decks can be found. As it stands, a combo of Astral Slide, Renewed Faith, Gilded Light, and Kitchen Finks recursion is a great way to smash any Red aggro deck into the ground. Meanwhile, against combo you have Ethersworn Canonist, Gilded Light, and (at least in my versions) Black for Tidehollow Sculler, Raven’s Crime, and boarded Darkblast, which will maim just about any combo deck in the current format.

Unfortunately the pesky Blue decks can’t be hated out easily, nor dealt with simply by playing hard-to-beat win conditions. Eternal Dragon can simply be raced or stolen, unless you’ve already taken control of the game completely with Astral Slide (unlikely if they see Venser), and Decree of Justice is dealt with via Engineered Explosives recursion. At the moment, the best course of action seems to be abusing Darkblast and other removal to stall the offense all day, and eventually Raven’s Criming the opponent’s hand into nothingness, then slowly grinding out a win using a variety of win conditions.

Needless to say, this not only takes up a ton of slots, but it isn’t very practical in a long game. I’d like to play multiple Tarmogoyf and beat them to death, but often it becomes difficult to do anything that simple when Venser and Shackles are involved, especially when a simple removal spell no longer stops them from being re-used. The best plan might be to get Ghost Quarter and Worm Harvest recursion online, eventually overwhelming with creatures while destroying any Academy Ruins.

The reason I don’t give a listing here is because, honestly, I have yet to find one that could effectively incorporate all these modes of attack into the same deck shell. Everything would be fine if we all ran 66-card decks, but unfortunately that just isn’t conductive to winning over a long period of time. If someone has a good G/B/W Slide shell that doesn’t automatically go to time against MUC / Faeries, then power to you, because until the metagame shifts again, you’ve got a wide-open field.

Of course, we could also head toward the classic way the deck was played, a la Aggro Loam in GR base colors. We lose Burning Wish and Devastating Dreams, but gain the knowledge that Counterbalance doesn’t completely maim the deck and make you cry. Seismic Assault, Tarmogoyf and Thoughts of Ruin are still around, while Ghost Quarter has a significant amount of power considering how many utility lands the mono-colored decks like MUC run and Zoo is still crippled after one or two pseudo-Wasteland moments. My main issue with this type of G/R Aggro build was it felt like AIR was doing everything this deck wanted to, but better. You have a legitimate mid-game option to refuel, sure, but your opening threats are effectively half of Zoo’s, minus the backbreaking pressure to go with it.

Then we have the other legitimate deck to shove it in: Dredge. Whether you play Loam in a G/B ‘slow’ Dredge or a UBG ‘fast’ version, it becomes one of the best weapons to make up for the lost speed and easy enablers that we had access too pre-rotation. Right now both decks have legitimate strategies against control decks and even more resilience to grave-hate than the older builds did. With access to Darkblast, and Elves generally lowering in numbers, the metagame has actually become much friendlier to these decks than I had originally anticipated. I can’t talk more about this type of deck due to obligations, but just as with Storm, I’ve been surprised how some tweaking to this old strategy can make a big difference.

I will say this much about the Dredge decks, though: Magus of the Bazaar and Fatestitcher are overrated and you don’t need either one to have a good version of the deck. Trying to play Magus on turn 1 and having your strategy revolve around him in such a way is just awkward, and not worth the trouble against many decks. Yeah, against Faeries, a turn 1 Magus will pretty much mean game over, but so will just playing your game out normally and dredging something simple like Darkblast or Loam every turn. Often against Zoo or G/B, or a deck that can kill my early drop, I’d rather use Drowned Rusalka than risk putting serious resources into Magus, especially when he might not even get the job done to begin with.

Raven’s Crime also becomes a lot more important, as combined with Thoughtseize it’s basically your only way to fight other fast non-Elves combo (other than racing, obviously). On the draw you typically get raced if they Gigadrowse to shut you down for a turn or kill off your first enabler. Heck, even a Stifle can wreck the ‘just race’ game plan many Dredge decks prefer using. With Loam and Crime you now have the ability to just make them lose so many of their resources while advancing your game plan you’ll win eventually anyway. So why rush it and open up to so much risk?

That’s about it for this week… good luck to those with PTQs this weekend, and if anyone from the Bay Area is attending the Grand Prix and still hasn’t made plans to go down, contact me and perhaps something can be worked out. Thanks, and see you next week!

Josh Silvestri
Team Reflection
Email me at: JoshDOTsilvestriATgmailDOTcom

Bonus Section

Last week someone in the forums (And Justin texted me about it, yeah, Stifle still sucks) asked if I thought Storm was just a better Swans deck in the current field. After thinking about it for a while, I feel comfortable saying yes. You win a lot of the same matches as Swans, but more easily and typically with fewer mulligan problems. Basically you trade some later options in the form of more counters and draw for a consistent turn four win that’s very difficult to stop. Personally I prefer that, sure you might not fare as well over a longer game, but the majority of games will just be over on turn four. Plus a single Remand or Gigadrowse in this format is a practical Time Walk, while being huge beatings against other control decks trying to stop you.

If Swans of Bryn Argoll had the same difficult-to-stop components that the storm spells Mind’s Desire, Grapeshot and Brain Freeze did, I’d probably favor it, but the built in protection my ‘I Win’ spells have is huge. Not only can you keep traditionally unbalanced hands that you can’t with the Swans deck, but it allows for small chains and multiples to be used effectively. Swans can go off by just having one piece in play and ripping the other shortly after, but I dislike being in that situation in the first place. At least if I throw out a Desire I have some outside chance at winning, no matter what I play it at. If I play Swans without Chain, I know I cannot win that turn.