For this week we’ll be taking a break from Standard and looking at the current Block Constructed format. Currently, this is played mostly on Magic Online, but also in the Grand Prix Trials for Grand Prix: Birmingham. At the moment I tend to enjoy playing a format with a bit of rigidity to it, so I figured I’d give a general overview for anyone else interested in joining in.
In Lorwyn Block at the moment, there are five basic archetypes that are popular and actually succeeding somewhat in the format. These five are U/B Faeries, Mono Black Rogues, Kithkin, Elementals, and Three-Color Midrange (Doran, sort of).
Bitterblossom, Oona’s Prowler, and Chameleon Colossus have basically pushed the old standby of U/B Mannequin out of the format completely, whereas before it was largely U/B, Kithkin, and other decks in the meta. Faeries and Rogues both bring substantial disruption elements to the game which really wrecks the slower decks in the format, while still maintaining a quick kill turn. Rogues in particular can wipe a slow opponent out by turn 5 or 6 with the right draw, although it helps that many opponents misevaluate what Rogues are truly dangerous in a given situation.
Let’s break it down a little more…
Advantages: Can play almost its entire game at instant speed*, has access to Bitterblossom and can actually make use of counters and limited mana denial.
Disadvantages: No real card draw engine available and having almost all 1/1 or 2/2 flying dorks as an offense can get dicey against Cloudthresher, Hurly-Burly and any other sweepers.
* I’m going to go on a bit of a tangent here… the instant speed options I talk about are fine and dandy, but hardly have overwhelming power unless the opponent just doesn’t know what you’ll be playing turn to turn. For the most part, you can pretty much guess 8 or 9 times out of 10 exactly what card the Faeries opponent is going to play based on board position, time of thought, and simple statistics. I see a lot of people throw away effectively won games by playing around non-existent cards, or banking on a Scion of Oona not suddenly appearing. Trust me, this isn’t hard stuff to learn… you simply need to put the time in and test against the deck. After 40 or 50 games you should have a solid grasp of the most likely options you’ll be confronted with each and every turn. That goes for the Standard version too, though that adds Rune Snag into the equation.
Despite being 90% of the same deck in Block as Standard, the Faeries deck loses three important aspects in the crossover. The first is Rune Snag, which you’d be surprised at how often Faeries players miss using, since otherwise it really isn’t difficult for Elementals or Elves to overwhelm an opponent. The second issue is since Faeries and Rogues share so many of the same weaknesses, people metagame against both and basically beat two of the most popular decks in one stroke. The fact that Faeries is so good works against it, because everyone focuses on beating it and the metagame isn’t diverse enough to punish people for doing so. The third and final aspect is the manabase, as you lose Underground River and River of Tears, which is a huge blow to the deck. You either slow yourself down with Vivid lands to compensate, run only 4-8 Black cards and try to minimize the damage, or cut cards like Cryptic Command which would normally require too much Blue mana to consistently cast. Or you could be like most Faeries players: be super greedy, run 4 Mutavault, 8-10 Black cards, and Cryptic Command, and whine about losing to color-screw. Still a valid option!
Otherwise the only other important difference is that Faeries in LBC is more concerned with ground control than its counterparts in other formats. This means if you’re new to the format, expect to see many maindeck Sower of Temptation, Nameless Inversion, Eyeblight’s Ending, and even Peppersmoke (which is reasonable, considering how many times you’ll see the mirror and other popular decks) all possibly in maindecks.
The biggest threats to Faeries decks tend to come from two places. The first threats are the Doran / G/R Chameleon Colossus aggro decks. These are major issues because of the absurd goldfish turn they get from Chameleon Colossus which can’t be trumped by any non-Sower card in a typical Faeries maindeck. In addition, many Doran builds can simply race with large creatures and Profane Command, while using their own Bitterblossom or Cloudthresher to play defense. The G/R builds produce similar issues, but it trades the mid-game beatings of Profane and Blossom for burn cards and a Wrath effect in Hurly-Burly. They also can be more dangerous in the early game due to Rage Forger, which can make a couple of puny Shaman a lot scarier in a hurry.
Meanwhile, the second decktypes that are a major issue are certain slower Elemental builds that can overwhelm either via Nova Chaser and Rage Forger hijinks, or just bury Faeries in card advantage with Mulldrifter, Reveillark, and the removal Elementals (Shriekmaw and Spitebellows). If you’re a Faeries player, you really want multiple ways to kill off Smokebraider, Brighthearth Banneret, and Soulstoke early in the game. If you can’t… then Elementals is basically playing five- and six-drops in comparison to your three-drops.
Faeries is still a ridiculous deck, but it’s held somewhat in check by the limits on what counters it can play (many run Broken Ambitions!) and the number of hosers and Chameleon Colossi running around.
Advantages: Has more disruptive elements than Faeries.
Disadvantages: The deck is a budget Faeries deck.
I don’t think I can put this delicately, so I won’t bother. Rogues is basically Faeries for the people who are too cheap to shell out for key cards in Faeries but still want something with a lot of evasion than can win before the opponent can do anything. There are â€˜fully powered’ Rogues decks, but the big issue is that they have no practical advantage over Faeries! Rogues run worse cards on the whole, rely more on swarming than Elves or Faeries, pack the most situational cards thanks to Prowl, and have absolutely no way to recover steam.
Zack Smith (Top 8 at Grand Prix: San Francisco, svjchtr, and all around shiny hair) had this nugget: “Maybe you spent exactly the amount of tickets you had on the Vaults and Bitterblossoms and couldn’t afford the Scions/Mistbinds/Secluded Glens.”
There simply isn’t a good reason to play Rogues in the current LBC metagame. I expect it to make Premier Event Top 8s for the next few weeks before fading.
Advantages: Very stable and resilient to sweepers.
Disadvantages: No real broken plays, and has no super effective cards against Faeries
Kithkin on its own merits really isn’t all that good. It isn’t as fast as Rogues, it can’t disrupt like Faeries, it doesn’t have the long game of a Doran or G/B Elves, and it lacks the power of Elementals. It used to be much better when U/B was the deck and Kirushi would just load up WW and play 4 rounds of byes every Premier Event. The one big thing still going for Kithkin is that the deck rarely loses to itself. By and large, many of the ideal strategies in Block are foiled by two things. One is mana production, and the other is lack of card manipulation. More often than not, decks that have non-tribal gameplans fall prey to themselves as any mana flood absolutely devastates them. This is largely because they require heavier mana commitments or simply need to invest in fewer cards that win the game on their own, instead using big idea cards like Feudkiller’s Verdict, Austere Command, Planeswalkers, Mannequin tricks, etc.
There’s no single piece in Kithkin to take out to make the deck fall apart, and with Borderguard you can’t even attempt the Final Revels trump as any sort of consistent strategy. They have the best early drops, Oblivion Ring, and a solid turn 5 goldfish against slower decks if they get stuck on Vivid land drops. As for removal-based strategies, Borderguard, Cloudgoat Ranger, Ajani Goldmane, and Windbrisk Heights can give it a decent late-game even if the initial swarm is handled. Simply out-manning Kithkin is also difficult due to the potential for a Surge of Thoughtweft blow-out against Elves, and O. Ring + Goldmeadow Harrier can screw up any deck who has a four- or five-drop as its first significant threat (I’m looking at you, Elementals).
Kithkin can also be outmuscled on the ground depending on hands, since a swarm of Elves or a few large Elementals are just going to trump every single creature in the deck. Surge and Ajani can help bring a little equality to the table, but by and large it’s just one of those things you need to get used to by playing the little White men.
Is Kithkin a good choice? Debatable.
Will it let you down with must-mulligans like half of the decks in LBC? Nope.
That alone will always make it a popular choice.
Advantages: Plays the most cost-reducers, has multiple ways to recoup card advantage, and is probably the most explosive deck in the format.
Disadvantages: Is prone to getting blown out if the support creatures die and can choke on land / mana creature flood.
Elementals is my current pet deck in LBC due to amount of broken things it can do compared to the other decks available. Turn 3 Reveillark or hardcast Mulldrifter is fun times to begin with. But you can also turn your mana guys into decent sized ping attackers with Soulstoke and Forger. Add in the ability to tutor for card draw, reanimation, removal, or a huge finisher, and you’ve got a very solid base for a deck.
Here’s an example list. It isn’t set in stone, since I’m still trying cards out (Mirror Entity, Inner-Flame Acolyte, Supreme Exemplar, etc), but it should give you a decent idea of what the base for most Elemental decks are.
- 4 Flamekin Harbinger
- 4 Incandescent Soulstoke
- 2 Mirror Entity
- 4 Mulldrifter
- 2 Nova Chaser
- 2 Shriekmaw
- 4 Smokebraider
- 4 Brighthearth Banneret
- 4 Rage Forger
- 4 Reveillark
- 2 Spitebellows
As you can see, the core guts of the deck are full sets of: Flamekin Harbinger, Brighthearth Banneret, Smokebraider, and Incandescent Soulstoke. Rage Forger to me is also a must-include, but you could go more combo-like and instead run more huge Elemental creatures like Ashling the Pilgrim, Horde of Notions, Hostility and so forth. The only limits to the huge Elementals you run seem to be that it’s pretty hard to make double off-color mana… and no, you can’t reliably support Cloudthresher, and Hurly-Burly is better as all you do is cast Thresher via Evoke.
As I stated earlier, the big downside is you are just sitting there twiddling your thumbs if something happens to your early drops. Right now very few decks can punish early drops, so this means it’s safe to keep slower hands that rely on one of them to live. At the moment this is still good for you, but as the metagame develops if Elementals stays strong I’d expect more people to board in one- and two-mana answers to these guys.
Kai Davis (Leader of the Kai Ninja Kai’s) ended up â€˜helping me’ figure out how to absolutely maim Faeries, and by this I mean he just made random comments and shot down bad ideas. Surprisingly enough, there was one idea that was so odd that we decided to try it out anyway… and it worked pretty well! Ethereal Whiskergill can consistently hit on turn 3 in this deck, and against Faeries or other Island-packing decks a 4/3 flyer can actually attack for a couple of turns (typically). It won’t be taken down by a Faerie powered up by Scion, nor can it be outright trumped by Mistbind Clique. In addition, if it gets powered up by Soulstoke it gets knocked out of Inversion range, meaning the Faeries player has to trade a guy and a spell, or two guys, to kill it.
I know this split at least one PE and possibly more, so I wouldn’t expect Elemental variants to go away anytime soon.
G/B/W Doran – Treefolk
This kind of deck hasn’t had a lot of tournament success. That said, it can run a huge number of power cards in this format, and mana acceleration, which means a certain tournament subsection will be running similar decks. The basic builds seem to include Treefolk Harbinger; Doran, The Siege Tower; Chameleon Colossus; Cloudthresher; and both Primal and Profane Commands, and then it tends to differ from build to build. Some go with heavier Treefolk including Bosk Banneret, Leaf-Crowned Elder, Wolf Skull Shaman, etc. Others take on a more controlling approach, with Oblivion Ring, Final Revels, and Cloudgoat Ranger.
Whatever your take, the basic issue remains that the deck has to trip all over itself to power up these fabulous cards, and that is typically its undoing outside of the 8-man queues. After a certain number of rounds you either hit a clump or get color-screwed, and that’s the end of the game. On the flip-side, if someone could improve the mana consistency or get Cream of the Crop to somehow function in this thing, then you could have a very scary creature deck.
Finishing things up, a brief Standard interlude…
Over the last week and a half or so, the Standard Premier Events Top 8 results have been utterly dominated by Faeries decks. This should come as a shock to approximately no-one, but having a third of the Top 8s be filled with Faeries decks, along with them taking majority of finals splits and wins, is still impressive. It also pretty much says a major backlash should be coming against the little Blue dorks in the near future. Otherwise the top decks from last week’s article all did well for themselves, and Mana Ramp decks can be added to the decks you’ll generally see now, since I underestimated it in popularity. At the moment, the best gauntlet for Standard on Magic Online and most likely real life is Faeries, Reveillark, Mana Ramp, Elves, and Red Deck Wins.
Email me at: joshDOTsilvestriATgmailDOTcom
Top 5 for the week…
1. The Veronicas — 4ever
2. Kenta vs. Ez – 7701 (kenta-v.ez. rEmix 2k6)
3. Aura Qualic – Aurora Skies –Rebirth–
4. LCD Soundsystem — North American Scum
5. The Brilliant Green – Ash Like Snow