Deconstructing Constructed – Lorwyn Impressions

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Now the prerelease hype has died down, Josh takes an analytical eye to Lorwyn and shares his thoughts regarding its place in Limited and Standard. He highlights some key cards for Sealed and Draft, and brings us a decklist or two. He then moves onto Extended, and offers up four decklists for our attention…

Through some test of willpower and the fact that my friend’s XBOX 360 has managed to die again*, I’m actually writing an article instead of just playing Halo 3 all night. What frowns.

* The third one since it’s been released. Microsoft has some real winners for hardware.

I attended the Lorwyn prerelease this weekend with my friends for fame, glory, and all that comes with playing at a prerelease. Besides, who hasn’t wanted to actually try out the Planeswalkers in all their glory? I showed up, I came and I won some packs. That was my time at the prerelease for the most part. Okay, back to Halo 3…

Details about the set you say? Bah.

First Impressions of Lorwyn:
I have to admit, I’ve been really skeptical after seeing some of the spoiler. The tribal element in the set seemed very confining and looked to be focused too much on making a lot of bad cards work well with one another, but complete garbage when your draws weren’t optimal. Thankfully that doesn’t seem to be the case, as many of the tribal guys are fairly costed with their Power/Toughness ratios, and many times the synergy involved with multiples is well worth the price of admission.

I’d especially like to single out the Harbinger cycle for being a wonderful piece of design in the tribal theme. Some of them seemed a bit weak for Limited, but now that I’ve gotten to see them in action and played with most of them, I’ve revised my opinion that just about all of them are playable under the right circumstances. The ability to fetch a variety of non-creature cards, along with guys outside of the specific tribe like Changelings (more on them later) give a lot of options in Limited play.

My favorites at the moment are Treefolk Harbinger, Faerie Harbinger, and Boggart Harbinger. The first two simply because they give you a solid creature attached to the tutor effect, and the third largely because it fetches Fodder Launch, which is exceptional. Really, the only one that seems a little too weak due to Limited tutor targets and a small body is the Kithkin Harbinger, but then again that still fetches Crib Swap so… probably still playable in some decks.

Of course, I could be biased because I played U/G Merfolk — Faeries, since I had cracked the Merfolk and Faerie Lords (Merrow Reejerey and Scion of Oona) in my Sealed pool. My pool was quite solid, between those two and a number of the better Merfolk, at bogging down the board. Faerie-wise it doesn’t really matter, because they practically all fly and that’s the most important aspect of the tribe right there. I was constantly amazed by how often I could force through 2-6 points of damage in the air with little to no fear of repercussions. There’s a very small set of cards that can deal with fliers directly, and opponents always seem to hate having to use removal on a X/1 flier. Although Oona forced that option a number of times thanks to Shroud and the extra kick he gives out.

The Ferrett reported on Monday that he was unable to see any of the Planeswalkers in action, so allow me to fill in some of the blanks for him, as I cracked a Jace Beleren and played against two Planeswalkers. For what it’s worth, I didn’t drop any game I resolved Jace, and to me he’s one of the weaker Planeswalkers as far as Limited is concerned. Basically, I used his Howling Mine ability a total of twice to save him from dying to a flier, and otherwise just continued to use my Phyrexian Arena to crush my opponents. Turns out having six cards in hand to the other guys three is a Good Thing in Sealed. Having Jace allowed me to stay on par with my opponents creature-wise, and helped me hit all my land drops. The only downside was that he didn’t break stalemates open in the way one of the other Planeswalkers.

As for the rest, the two I had first hand experience playing against were Garruk Wildspeaker and Liliana Vess. Liliana came out too late against me to do anything but stall the game for a bit by fetching Final Revels. Still, fetching what amounted to a Wrath effect against me was not to be overlooked, especially when the next Vampiric Tutor target was Cairn Wanderer. Thankfully, my opponent was on a low enough life total I could deal with that guy for a turn and just beat with a Cloudcrown Oak for the win.

Meanwhile, Garruk Wildspeaker in a G/R beatdown deck was just a bit more difficult to deal with. First off, his untap ability is ridiculous when you have to play around tricks like Gilt-Leaf Ambush and Lace with Moonglove. It means when the opponent goes to basically tap out for him, you can’t even take true advantage of the lack of development for the turn because if I try to battle through on the ground, I risk losing my guys anyway. Shortly after Garruk hit play, I was facing down multiple 3/3 Elephants to go along with his various Giants that he was playing.

Realistically, the only reason I was able to hold off the horde with my far smaller creatures was thanks to Faerie Harbinger and Changeling Titan. A 7/7 basically outranks everything else in the format, save one or two other guys… and it gets all the sweeter when, if he happens to die to, say, Consuming Bonfire, I get to fetch a new creature when Harbinger comes back. Effectively I just pinged through the air for a few turns, while thankfully my opponent didn’t take advantage of his extra resources to force damage through. He did Bonfire my Titan eventually, but all that did was kill him since I fetched Scion of Oona to pump my flier and his alpha strike left him a few points short of lethal. I can say Garruk would’ve killed me had my opponent been a bit more aggressive in his attacks.

At the top tables during the last round of the prerelease, all I saw was Planeswalkers and Profane Command being thrown around. The latter, by the way, being the most ridiculous Limited card in the set. Any of those abilities on there would be great and potentially game-ended at certain points, but the ability to use two? I saw people getting completely blown out from what appeared to be a weaker board position, because of Disintegrate plus Fear allowing for huge life swings. In the case of small stalemates, a removal spell plus reanimate seems just fine to break that in your advantage. Anyway, from what I saw all the Planeswalkers are solid to amazing in Limited. The weakest I actually feel is possibly Jace Beleren, just because the other Planeswalkers can affect the board in a quicker or more direct fashion than Jace can, and are more likely to last longer than a turn in the face of opposing evasion creatures. For my money Garruk and Liliana seem to be the strongest, but I think you’d be happy with any of them.

As for other cards that don’t happen to be rares, Gilt-Leaf Ambush probably caused the most cursing and slumped heads out of the matches I saw. You can’t really play around the trick if you’re not in Blue, and Clash is essentially random with a slant towards the Treefolk guy. If your opponent wins the Clash you feel infinitely cheated, and if you win it you’re happy you didn’t lose your two best guys on the spot. Of course, this is assuming the extra 1/1 blockers won’t throw off combat math any way, or cause any problems the following turn thanks to some of the mass pump effects in the set.

The second big blowout card I saw that wasn’t a rare was Incremental Growth. It seems like very few decks can effectively deal with a couple of 5/5s suddenly popping up on the table, let alone 3-5 power fliers or Fear creatures. Growth takes a bit of set-up due to the “three target” requirement, but if you put in the effort, you can just blow the other guy out with one.

Changeling seems to be the sleeper characteristic in the set. A lot of people at the prerelease really didn’t seem to know what to make of some of them, while others shoved all that they could into their decks. After playing with and against a number of them, I find that Changeling is often a great boon for the cards, and although the drawback can come up, it’s almost always a bonus. Nearly the entire set of Changeling cards are playable in Limited regardless of how they look at first glance, as it’s practically impossible to properly value them in a vacuum.

Finally, I’d like to take note of how much faster the matches were in game terms. They took a while in real time, but they felt a lot faster than other recent Limited formats and ended earlier turn-wise than in other formats. In draft it especially feels like tempo is one of the most important sticking points with certain tribes. Obviously I haven’t played a lot with the set, so this is based on a very small sample size, but that’s how it felt.

PS: The White and Green Hideaway lands are ridiculous in Limited. Nice free card down the road with no resources expended in the first place. Mosswort Bridge is especially fun, because people forget it’s a trap and walk right into a fresh Treefolk going smash.

Lorwyn Standard
With the full spoiler out now and the ability to see some of the cards in action, now the real testing can begin for Standard. For what it’s worth, when it comes to Goblins and the Kithkin tribes, I recommend following the KISS principle. A lot of the early decks I saw focus a lot around a few specific synergies along with “good cards” which makes for tons of variance in opening hands, or go overboard and try to fit every single cute card into the deck. I’m not saying I know the exact ratio you want, but for the most part keep the tricks to a bare minimum and make sure you can get the early beatdown going on a consistent basis. Then worry about all the cool tutor targets you have, or how gigantic you can make a swarm. For reference, since people seem to love lists, here’s my stock G/W Kithkin deck.

A few Bound in Silence will probably be added once I have a better idea of who’s pulling their weight and who isn’t. Most of the spells I’ve tried in the maindeck so far, like Surge of Thoughtweft and Griffin Guide, haven’t really been effective. However, that’s also partially because the metagame is in flux, so their value could be negatively affected at the moment but be good down the road for an optimal list.

QnD Logic: The deck is practically all creatures because you always want to curve out, and the guys in here are neutral or better in multiples. Like I said, eventually Crib Swap or Bound in Silence will likely be added once cuts are made.

Serra Avenger and Avian Changeling are in here to give you ways to dodge ground stalls against B/G and B/G/W decks which can gum up the ground with Wall or Roots, Tarmogoyf, and Doran, The Siege Tower. Plus Changeling can be fetched via Scout, which gives you a way to raise a flying army to break a stalemate.

Ajani Goldmane has been very useful with its army pump effect. Seems expensive, but the fact that the counters stay on are huge, especially when Goldmane won’t die to Damnation, and if you can his second ability twice you’ll most likely have the biggest army on the table. Mirror Entity is here for the same reason. He’s a little mana intensive, but the Overrun type effect it creates can generate a huge amount of damage at any point in the game.

Again, this is just a stock list, try not to get hung up on the specific choices and try to focus around the plan of the deck, which is curving out and dishing out the maximum amount of swarm damage on turns 4-6. Oh, and surviving Damnation.

Extended Lists and Thoughts
Last week I had people asking for lists, so I’m going to give out a few of the lists with brief thoughts on each.

You can see the extreme of the G/W hate card approach here in Frank Karsten’s last article for now (we’ll miss you, Frank… one of my favorite articles each week). My build doesn’t run quite as many hate cards, and it’s closer to the original incarnations of King in the Castle. Essentially the deck looks to take advantage of Root Maze and Suppression Field’s huge impact on Extended manabases. Meanwhile, Chalice of the Void is a potential turn 1 play that hit a huge portion of the field when set at one, and also has heavy impact when set at two. Most importantly, all three can be laid turn 1 thanks to Chrome Mox: at worst you’ll almost always have a turn 2 disruption spell followed up by a turn 3 dork.

Meanwhile, the creature base largely consists of guys that give you the best chance to beat Goyf Red, while Loaming Shaman is maindeck to help against Dredge decks. Troll, Angel, and Hierarch won’t die to Lightning Helix, and two-thirds of those gain life, so that’s a solid start at beating them. Post-board hasn’t been worked out too much past running Cabal Therapy / Duress (I lean towards Therapy), Vindicate, and Worship, with the last slots most likely being Leyline of the Void or Yixlid Jailer. Armadillo Cloak has been very helpful in turning Troll and Hierarch into outright killing machines, able to face down Tarmogoyf and just about every other creature that isn’t Psychatog or Golgari Grave-Troll.

Again, this deck has a lot of different ways you can build it. The one featured in Karsten’s article uses Venser, Shaper Savant and maindeck Threads of Disloyalty. I chose to clip those cards so I could run a full set of Duress and more Tormod’s Crypt in the maindeck. As you can tell, I really don’t like combo here. I covered the deck last week, so really all else I have to say is Thirst for Knowledge may be better as Fact or Fiction depending on how many counters you choose to play and if you keep 25 mana sources. One or two Meloku the Clouded Mirror are viable finishing options that are less resource-intensive than Psychatog.

Finally I’d like to present an interesting Zoo deck from Bill Stark. The only switches I made were the addition of Lava Dart and the 4th Isamaru over 3 Sensei’s Divining Top, which I was finding too slow in the combo and aggro matches. Against slower control decks like Scepter it was fine, but everywhere else I wished it was burn, or even Jitte.

Hopefully some of these give you something to chew on, and I’ll see you next week.

Josh Silvestri
Team Reflection
Email me at: joshDOTsilvestriATgmailDOTcom

PS: There is one other fun list I was updating, but I haven’t tried it enough to give a totally informed opinion.