In the current Extended, the metagame has seemingly switched only twice, once from Berlin and again after seeing the Worlds decks and the introduction of Mono Blue Control into the mix. However, the supposed metagame for Grand Prix: Los Angeles seems to be shaping up into three camps: MUC, Zoo, and everything else. This could certainly change in the next few weeks, but at the moment the two listed decks seem to be the most popular, and both have both proven to be solid via testing.
Thus far we’ve had two Grand Prix Trials in the area, with the field basically breaking down into half Zoo, at least a quarter Blue, and then a bunch of outlier decks. Certainly some of this can be blamed upon card availability or just general testing, but in the testing circles I’ve asked, just about everyone is in agreement that MUC is a very strong force in the metagame and many people’s current choice. I would normally be skeptical, because in seemingly every format people always point to the Blue deck and make the claim that it happens to be the best deck, but in this format I find it to ring true. Zoo is a deck that’s strong enough that you can’t discount it, and people that don’t test will play simply due to the aggressive nature of the deck and punishing ability against a variety of decks.
So the question then becomes, “what strategy has a reasonable chance at trumping both a very fast aggressive creature deck and a slow-grinding Blue deck?” With Elves out of the picture, or at least far lower in numbers, this seems like one of the best times for traditional Storm combo to return in force. Sure, Blue decks have a reasonable shot against it in the past, but that was back when every Blue deck ran a minimum of three Stifle between the maindeck and board, and usually packed some sort of discard mechanism as well. At the moment they only real option against Storm decks MUC has is simply to outcounter or mana-screw them on the turn they plan on going off. In the face of Gigadrowse (the bane of all Blue); Remand and Pact of Negation; or Xantid Swarm, this plan becomes far harder to actually pull off. Yeah, Vendilion Clique in response is still legitimate, but that’s a two- or three-of and honestly depends on the strength of the hand to begin with.
Zoo, on the other hand, has had two plans of attack against storm combo, usually dependent on hand strength. One is via the obvious racing plan, and this falls apart if they happen to have a turn 3 goldfish hand or Firespout. The most obvious and most obnoxious complaint on Magic Online with this deck has to be when you end up on the play and kill them the turn before they would kill you (turn 4). They will complain, and cry, and disconnect like the crybabies they are, even though everything went just as planned. The second way Zoo has to win is to use Tidehollow Sculler and Gaddock Teeg to slow you down by a turn or two, and then race you. Again, this plan usually falls against Firespout, but has the added bonus of getting blown out by any hand involving Grapeshot, as often you can just chain and kill the offending creature and then go off the following turn.
Although this sounds easy to do, it really isn’t… wait, yes it is. That’s why playing on Magic Online with this deck is awesome. Your opponents basically all consist of Zoo, Burn. MUC, Fae, or Swans players. So here’s one of the best lists I’ve seen, courtesy of Orie Guo.
4 Desperate Ritual
4 Seething Song
4 Mind’s Desire
4 Lotus Bloom
2 Pyromancer’s Swath
4 Peer Through Depths
4 Rite of Flame
3 Dreadship Reef
1 Bloodstained Mire
1 Wooded Foothills
1 Polluted Delta
3 Cascade Bluffs
4 Steam Vents
2 Flooded Strand
4 Brain Freeze
4 Echoing Truth
4 Pact of Negation
The only real difference from my test build and this is that I go -1 Remand, -1 Desperate Ritual in the maindeck for 2 Gigadrowse, and my board is -1 Pact of Negation and +1 Gigadrowse. Sideboard-wise, the only thing people might note as missing is Empty the Warrens, which has been a fan favorite for a while now. You simply don’t need it to win any match, and it doesn’t particularly make any class of match-ups good. Against control, the worst match for you, they have Engineered Explosives, which makes going on ETW terrible. Against aggro, you already have the advantage pre- and post-board, plus decks like Affinity and Zoo can race 8-10 Goblin tokens without too much trouble since you likely can’t play it turn 1 with only four relevant early accelerants.
Think of this version of the deck as “High Tide Light.” It only has a few really powerful cards, and everything else is built around supporting those or being able to chain up enough storm to bootleg a win off Pyromancer’s Swath and Grapeshot. In the end, though, just remember that even if you don’t believe you can combo out, sometimes you just have to go for it with a small Desire or hope that you can Manamorphose and Ponder into something that can win. Better to take the shot a turn early and have a chance at succeeding than waiting a turn too long and just getting run over.
MUC / Faeries
Game 1 comes down to resolving one of the key spells — Mind’s Desire or Pyromancer’s Swath*. If you can get a couple of Ritual effects and Desire in hand, you’ve pretty much won unless they Vendilion Clique you. If you have that hand and Remand as well, well then you pretty much win because they max out at two counters per turn. The key isn’t to try and combo off early, simply sitting and building up a critical mass of mana, cards and positioning yourself to go off on one big turn or being able to play a back-up turn. If you see a Dreadship Reef, you’ll basically be on easy street or force the Venser to hit quickly.
* Swath is important in the sense that, if they let you get to the point where you’re dropping it and they don’t counter it, they’ll be subsequently dead. Meanwhile if they do counter it, you’ll likely be forced to just try again with a small Desire to win.
-4 Grapeshot, -2 Pyromancer’s Swath, -2 Desperate Ritual
+4 Brain Freeze, +4 Pact of Negation
Brain Freeze allows you to chain a small set of spells to hit for a third or half of the MUC deck. If you happen to see more than a single Freeze, then it isn’t too tough to basically win off smaller controlled turns instead of one huge Desire turn. Alternatively, if the draw dictates it, you can simply build up and go off like normal using Remand and Pact as protection. Key moments in the match are when they set-up some sort of Riptide recursion, especially with Venser since that can cap how much mana you can get into play without using Rituals. Same goes with Vendilion Clique or if they can get down a Glen Elendra plus secondary counters. At certain points the MUC player simply has to tap out and that can be a time you attack him with a non-lethal Desire if that’s your plan. Alternatively, you can simply go off around turn 6/7 if they tap out or down to 1 or 2 mana for the effect and overwhelm them.
Due to their slow clock, this match is generally favorable whether you run Gigadrowse or not. As long as you have some anti-blue package in the board, this isn’t a tough match.
Straightforward as any match can really be in Extended, you have minimal interaction with them pre-board and it really just comes down to opening hands. If you know the opponent is Zoo, just try to mulligan aggressively for Lotus Bloom, as hitting that on turn 4 is almost always good game if you have any gas. Sculler is annoying for the deck to deal with and very difficult to race when backed by a turn 1 Nacatl. Thankfully this is usually the only relevant piece of disruption they have game one and you have a good chance of racing any hand of theirs that doesn’t involve double Tribal Flames.
+3 Firespout (Adding Echoing Truth is fine as well, if you expect Gaddock Teeg)
Remand may seem good because it has the potential to give you a Time Walk, but on the draw it ranges from pitiful to wondering why you run the card in the first place. Firespout does a much better job of buying time and I’d rather have the Desperate Rituals in the deck for a little extra speed than trying to slow down a deck with half one-drops.
Zoo is favorable for you overall, but winning the die roll can be crucial if they have a notable anti-combo sideboard. Two cracks at them on the play is a lot rosier than the alternative.
There isn’t a lot to say about this match, except that it’s rather poor if Elves has any sort of keepable draw. Unfortunately for you, without maindeck removal other than Grapeshot, your only real chance at victory is winning on turn three. This is doable of course, but you also have to be on the play to win before they combo off and kill you.
-4 Remand, -3 Desperate Ritual
+3 Firespout, +4 Brain Freeze
Post-board you have an actual shot at victory thanks to Brain Freeze being able to kill them if they play too many spells while comboing you out. With the Grapeshot win a liability you usually force them to pass the turn with a ton of men in play and a full hand instead. This gives you an extra turn in which to pull your own combo turn with no fear, except from the occasional Chord of Calling into an annoyance.
Not a good match on the whole, but post-board it’s actually winnable as Firespout and Brain Freeze buy you the time to combo off for the win.
Unless they play turn 1 Deus of Calamity, you win. Seriously, game 1 this match is a bye. The only other opening that hurts is if they play turn one Blood Moon effect and you don’t have Lotus Bloom, Manamorphose, Island or had a Fetchland in play already. That’s… a lot of outs, contrary to the conception that just because you run few basics you’re somehow vulnerable to the effect. Oh and Remand beats every early play they have except Empty the Warrens, just in case they were unfortunate enough to lose the dice roll.
-2 Desperate Ritual, -2 Peer Through Depths
+4 Echoing Truth
In game 2 they get more disruption in the form of either Chalice of the Void or Trinisphere, but you get Echoing Truth which is an even bigger blowout than Remand. Typically you have at least seven turns to win if you see an Echoing Truth, which is more than enough time to chain together a large Desire. Desperate Ritual is the weakest accelerant in the match and their mana denial package can put quite a beating on even the â€˜good’ Ritual in this match (Seething Song). On the whole, the AIR match is solid and in your favor, with the only worry being the best starts from AIR which just crush any deck.
So there you are… perhaps not the newest and most amazing tech, but something different from the traditional MUC / Zoo / Swans metagame certain spots online has seemingly become. Next week we’ll focus a little closer on Loam strategies which are effective in the format.
Email me at JoshDOTsilvestriATgmailDOTcom