Last week I received a number of responses wanting me to go further into Lorwyn Standard, so I’ll be leaving any final Extended thoughts to Feldman and company. We’ll jump right in with some baselines that many of the new decks people are throwing out there will have to live up too. Think of these as general guidelines that you want to follow while trying to optimize your deck.
Base 1: Your deck needs some way to combat Teachings, preferably one that wins even if they draw Damnation.
This seems to be the primary thing people are ignoring when trying to update decks with Lorwyn cards, going all out and making Tribal decks to start smashing face. A Teachings deck only gains, while many of the other decks have key cards leaving the format. Cards like Nameless Inversion, Eyeblight’s Ending, Shriekmaw, and Cryptic Command only add to many decks’ problems when trying to deal with Teachings.
That’s not to say it isn’t possible. Teachings is still heavily reliant on Damnation to trump various swarms, and you have much better options than Time Spiral Block if you want to be an aggro-control deck. And of course you can still go with the classic strategy of just playing so many fat idiots that the opponent runs out of spot removal and you win eventually. Slant your card evaluations when making a deck against these types of control decks instead of the most common question of bashing Tarmogoyf. Both are important, but it’s silly to just shoot for getting by the basic aggro decks of the first few rounds and then losing to Teachings decks.
Speaking of alternative ways to beat Teachings, Jace Beleren and counters is a very good start. Here’s a nice easy base to start with:
6-8 Pyroclasm effects
3-4 Sower of Temptation
4 Jace Beleren
10-12 Counters: Rune Snag, Faerie Trickery, etc.
10 open slots
26 mana sources
Congratulations, you’ve just won the Internet. That’s how it feels sometimes when every other deck thread is swarm aggro and every article references Teachings running a massive one Pact of Negation (At least Chapin has some hot Cryptic Command action going on) as the best ever. Seriously, the deck isn’t going to win if you gain the ability to remove Teachings from the game with a single counterspell, and be able to fight on the stack without referencing Teferi.
I’m not saying that kind of strategy is the bee’s knees, but it reinforces the idea that when building in what seems like a vacuum you need some boundaries.
Base 2: A deck must be able to deal with or win around at least three large creatures (4/4 or bigger is a nice generality here) in the first six turns.
Base 3: A deck must be able to deal with or win around swarms of three or more creatures by turn 3.
Since these both are effectively the same idea, just reversed, I’ll cover them together. If you play a swarm aggro deck like Kithkin or Goblins, it’s important to have the ability to actually destroy guys like Tarmogoyf or Doran, The Siege Tower in a relevant time frame. Otherwise unless you have a significant life and board advantage, the offense will soon be coming to a grinding halt and the aggro-control / midrange decks are going to maul you. A great litmus test is trying out any kind of swarm aggro deck against a slightly modified Kavu Justice deck.
“Oh, but that’s no fair! They have Fiery Justice and that wrecks me, wah wah!” Okay, so take it out of the deck then. See how the deck does when you have to beat Tarmogoyf, Kavu Predator, Calciderm and Call of the Herd elephants. Many of these decks have the capacity to beat one without any major issues via Oblivion Ring, or combat damage plus burn or a similar trick. However, if you start stacking up two or more, let alone when faced with opposing burn that can take out multiple small toughness guys at once, things tend to change drastically.
Of course, the opposite can happen. You could be a midrange deck that can’t consistently play multiple creatures to shatter the swarm. Perhaps the main removal you run is just a few spot removal slots like Nameless Inversion and hope, or a nice two Damnation, because hey, you’d totally wreck that swarm when you actually drew them. Even Teachings can overrate how much time they have to get their big guns online. A straight WW Kithkin deck can kill on turn 5 with a decent amount of consistency, and even slower draws can drop around 5-8 life without issues. In fact, you’ll notice many Teachings and midrange decks skewing towards more cheap spot removal than seen previously.
The idea is not to get so wrapped up in what your deck is supposed to be doing that the deck is worse off for it. Sometimes this means giving up a bit of synergy here and there to be sure you don’t just roll over and die to existing strategies when building new ones.
Base 4: Although not your main concern, you shouldn’t outright ignore cute combos like Haakon, Turbo Fog, etc. if you can help it.
This is the shakiest thing, but it seems like the last few States / Regionals have had a few “cute” combo decks that take off in popularity and suddenly become more than a fringe deck. Every once in a while one of these decks is actually quite good once optimized, so despite being low on the priority list, if you have the patience these kinds of things should be kept in mind for the sideboard.
As it stands in this format, Haakon, Stromgald Scourge plus Nameless Inversion / Crib Swap decks seem to be the combo platter at the moment. For those who don’t know, in-play Haakon + Inversion = infinite creature kill. Although it may not look like much, a 3/3 along with what amounts an endless supply of Last Gasps can quickly decimate a board. Some decks even go a bit further with the subject, using multiple Knights in the deck to abuse the recursion engine some more. For most decks using the Haakon engine, they double as substandard aggro decks, while largely unexplored, but referenced uses also are in Teachings decks and even modified Reanimator using Makeshift Mannequin and Beacon of Unrest.
As a deck to prepare for, that doesn’t exactly inspire fear in the hearts of men. It has some obvious limitations with the engine and combo itself. But for decks that can’t exploit these vulnerabilities game 1, then it would be worth at least a thought about rationing four Tormod’s Crypt in the board to beating it.
Actually, the boarding example here is part of a larger lesson in the current field. If you take a look at that Jace / Pyroclasm base I listed, you can get the idea that there are some major holes to be exploited. Almost all the Teachings decks have few answers to Jace, let alone good ones making it easily exploitable. The best answers are almost all known already or sufficiently off the wall, such as having Oblivion Ring if heavy White, Tarmogoyf as a possible early attacker, or even one forumite suggesting Beacon of Destruction for a tutor answer. Remember that when building the maindeck, the proper board cards can completely warp how an opponent has to treat you from game to game.
Garruk Wildspeaker may not be getting much press at the moment, but he makes for an incredibly useful maindeck or sideboard tool against certain matches. Elephant trios can absolutely dominate an attrition war when given time, making it perfect against the many midrange decks with no good way to recover card advantage. Take a few of the Tarmogoyf — Rack decks floating around; if they can’t stop Garruk from coming into play, the offense is reduced to Tarmogoyf himself or trying to slap Loxodon Warhammer (assuming said version even runs it).
For deck themselves, since I’ve had people e-mail me and ask for my opinion / lists of a few, I’ll gladly share. Just please take these with a grain of salt, as for many of us there has only been a week or so of real testing done. Today I’ll be looking at just one deck and then doing more next week, with hopefully some data to go along with it.
I’ll start with one of the fun decks I’ve tried lately, although I doubt you could really create an exceptional version without the metagame becoming clearer. The deck itself is essentially based around four classes of cards: Beaters, discard outlets, removal, and other.
Beaters typically include the various Knights, Haakon, Paladin En-Vec, Knight of Meadowgrain and so on. I actually tend to dislike the non-Haakon Knights since they simply don’t have a good damage output and their recursion synergy almost seems silly as you can typically clear the board if you get the engine online. When used in a normal aggro role, they often come up too small or too mana-intensive to be taken seriously, although Paladin En-Vec has enough natural immunities that he’s a worthy consideration. This is doubly true if you run Warhammer in the main or board.
Gathan Raider is another option simply because of how often you can run out of cards with the deck and the importance of discard creatures. Nether Traitor is another potential option, although it suffers some of the same issues as the Knights, Traitor is cheaper to return to play and the evasion makes it far more likely to get damage through. Tombstalker is most likely the best outright finisher in the deck as you can go through many non-Knight / Inversion cards and a 5/5 black flier is nothing to scoff at.
For discard outlets, Smallpox is the biggie as it’s capable of blowing opponents out by wiping the board and setting up the engine for later. Oona’s Prowler is the other universal enabler as you can drop Haakon in response to any removal, and it’s otherwise an unmatched three power flyer for 1B. Hidden Horror is another option as a 4/4 body goes a long way in this format against non-Green decks, along with its natural immunity to various Terror effects and being able to survive Nameless Inversion.
Removal is obvious as Nameless Inversion is in every Haakon deck. Crib Swap is usually there for fattie removal, and a bootleg Inversion if you can’t get Haakon and Inversion going together. Damnation is a less popular option, but I think is a necessary evil until some of the tribal swarm decks decrease in popularity. The ability to simply wipe the board is often too important to give up. I’ve also seen Oblivion Ring used as a catch-all, but it feels more like a sideboard card compared to Inversion or Crib Swap.
Other is usually Thoughtseize, but some builds also run Warhammer, Chromatic Star, and random other goodies.
Here’s my basic list:
The basic idea was to ditch the slower Knights for beefier creatures, preferably with Flying or some evasion so the deck could be a respectable bootleg beatdown deck. Shriekmaw is usually the first or second “huh?” to most people, so I’ll explain that now. Shriek is here because there’s going to be targets for the Evoke ability in the majority of your matches, it can be a threat later in the game, and it helps pay the discard cost of Hidden Horror versus running more instant removal. Once again, it’s not necessarily better than Crib Swap or Terror in this type of deck, but the options it provides are incredibly useful at times.
As far as other creatures and Haakon decks go… needs more Hidden Horror. On curve, dumps Haakon, and you’ve got far better odds beating through early stuff like Tarmogoyf, Elephants, and other threats with a 4/4 than other small dorks. Tombstalker is the other “out there” type of creature, but I found a number of the games I was losing were because I was unable to mount a significant offensive to get through a few huge ground pounders without Haakon tricks. Yeah, Crib Swap could take down that Goyf or Doran, but what about the Cloudthresher or Tombstalker that would soon come down to face off? Heck, most of the Knights can’t even battle through a Wall of Roots!
This deck is probably best against the midrange and slower Green aggro decks we see sometimes. Against something like a modified GoyfRack, Rock, or Kavu Justice deck you’ve got plenty of removal to buy time against their various fatties, and you won’t just be wasting time since every card brings you closer to inevitable Haakon world of ruin. Swarm decks aren’t particularly difficult either, as you pack the full set of Damnation post-board to go along with your nine spot-removal spells and early threats. Again, creature decks just roll over and die when the engine gets rolling, so you get some much appreciated auto-wins here.
As I said earlier though, you want game against Teachings. That I’m not so sure the deck can provide, it has some of the tools to succeed in the early game with Thoughtseize, Smallpox, and solid early beaters. Unfortunately that’s basically all the deck has, as it lacks any real oomph after the fact, instead relying on Haakon continually coming back to brawl and Tombstalker to seal the game. If Teachings can get the weighty manabase online, all it takes is a Mystical Teachings or Careful Consideration to get way ahead on cards, at which point the only thing you have going for you is that a number of the decks have switched to removal that can’t touch Black creatures. In fact, it may be a good enough reason to try a Green splash for Gaddock Teeg and Tarmogoyf, but that’ll take serious tuning.
So there you go, a non-Kithkin, non-Teachings deck to chew on.
Last Word on Extended
In a few days we’ll get to see PT: Valencia and finally get some answers to the questions you’ve seen flying around the site lately. Is Dredge going to show up and be the real deal, even in the face of hate? Will Zoo roll in and just smash everyone like the last few Grand Prix tourneys? Or will something out of right field show up, like some of the Ideal or Goblins decks floating around MTGO? Personally, Lorwyn has been quite unexciting when looked at from an Extended perspective, so these results should help give some context for the Extended PTQs at the beginning of next year (assuming the schedule follows the last few years), especially with Extended being replaced with Legacy at Worlds.
The Ideal deck is actually one of the decks I’ve seen nearly no discussion about outside of the forums or Frank Karsten’s old metagame article. Enduring Ideal itself is rather self-explanatory, but what I love about the deck is the ability to simply resolve Insidious Dreams to set up the Erratic Explosion — Draco combo. Not only is it cheap mana-wise, since it’s spread out over two turns in most cases, but now paying all seven in a single turn is possible with Lotus Bloom and the “comes into play” sac lands. In testing and watching replays on MTGO it seems like the primary plan against decks like Zoo or Gifts Rock which consistently drops to 16 life or less from land life loss; the ability to run a small two-card alternate combo that wins under a pretty reasonable set of circumstances is amazing.
Anyway, early bets are on Tarmogoyf being the most played card at the PT, Tormod’s Crypt being the most played sideboard card, and once again the simple aggro decks taking roughly half the Top 8. Remember between GP: Dallas and Singapore, seven of the sixteen slots were taken by straight no-frills aggro like Zoo, Goblins, Affinity, etc.
Singapore also brings up Balancing Tings, which still amuses me to no end. If somebody solved the Dredge match past bringing in a set of Leyline and praying, a very fun time will be had blowing people away with Draco-Explosion or completing wiping the board of permanents and beating for infinite.
Good luck to all those attending!