Deep Analysis – Enduring Ideal Indeed

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Thursday, March 6th – Both Dredge and Enduring Ideal have been under fire from hate since the beginning of this PTQ season. While Dredge is still largely under fire, it seems the Ideal hate has dimmed in comparison. Today’s Deep Analysis sees Richard Feldman examining options available to the Ideal pilot. He asks whether the metagame is right for the deck… is it the ideal time for Ideal?

Both Dredge and Enduring Ideal have been under fire from hate since the beginning of this PTQ season. At the outset, Ideal was assaulted primarily by Venser, Kami of Ancient Law, and Gaddock Teeg, while Dredge had to watch out for Leyline of the Void, Tormod’s Crypt, and the occasional Yixlid Jailer. Since then, Dredge has added Extirpate and Offalsnout to the list of common assailants, while Venser and Kami of Ancient Law have all but disappeared in favor of Indrik Stomphowler.

While the Ideal hate seems to have tapered off in comparison, it yet remains – however incidental it may be these days – in the form of Gaddock Teeg and Indrik Stomphowler. So let’s say you are an Ideal or Dredge player who has to deal with this hate. What’s your move?

Broadly speaking, there are three things you can do when someone attacks your strategy.

1) Change decks.
2) Incorporate a new strategy into your post-board configuration. (Example: transformational sideboard.)
3) Trust that your deck is powerful enough to maintain a good matchup without diverting from its core strategy.

That third option describes Resilience, a concept I’ve advocated… tenaciously for high-power decks.

Option 1: Change Decks

Let’s say you play Dredge, and Leyline of the Void keeps you up at night.

Change decks to Death Cloud or Next Level Blue, and you’ll sleep like a baby! Neither deck relies on the graveyard to win; when piloting one of those, you’re generally excited to see a Leyline of the Void in play because it means the opponent is down a card.

The same is true of Enduring Ideal and TEPS, though those decks face hosers of their own. Really, the only thing keeping these decks from dominating are the usual unavoidable limiting factors of a pilot’s playskill and individual tough matchups.

Option 2: Incorporate a New Strategy

Why does U/G Tron board Tarmogoyfs? I haven’t run the deck through a gauntlet, but one explanation is simply that it’s a big man to put in front of a Kird Ape. Dropping cheap fatties in front of beatdown decks’ weenies is a tactic that has been employed by Blue decks since the Stone Age, but an alternate explanation is that Tron might want to present an opportunistic post-board threat to some of its adversaries.

Say I’m Death Cloud against Blue-White Tron (not Blue-Green). In game 1, I have Smothers, and they are dead. That sucks! In game 2, I will board them out for Duresses, which are much better.

Now say I’m Death Cloud against Blue-Green Tron. In game 1, I have Smothers, and they are dead. That sucks! In game 2, I will board them out for Duresses, which are much better… and then I will go deathly pale when my opponent summons a 5/6 Tarmogoyf after I’ve already expended my Vindicate on his Urza’s Tower.

This is not an old tactic, but it is cruelly effective: board in one threat so massive that the opponent must devote post-board real estate to answering it, while firing on nearly all pistons with another strategy that he must combat in an entirely different fashion. By bringing in Tarmogoyf for four undesirable cards, I force my opponent to leave in his Smothers (or Putrefies, or what-have-you) or else suffer the consequences. Against Death Cloud in particular, the consequence won’t usually be outright death — unless I can use a well-timed Repeal and countermagic to make my guy the biggest athlete on the field – but forcing the opponent to take drastic measures like blowing a Death Cloud early (potentially running it into a Condescend) or keeping his attackers at home while I ramp up, throws a real wrench in his works and increases my chances of victory.

The critical element is that if I bring in 4 Goyfs and he keeps in 4 Smothers, we have not engaged in a fair trade. If he draws a Smother and I have not drawn a Goyf, he’s stuck with a dead draw; besides my 4 Tarmogoyfs, Smother does not impact the remainder of my deck’s strategy at all. When I draw a Goyf, however, he will always have to deal with it. Sure, he can lean back on something more versatile – like a Deed or Putrefy – as a defense mechanism, but those come with a new problem. Since he doesn’t know if I’m holding a Goyf (say, because I haven’t had the mana free, or because it won’t be big enough yet) and decides to blow his removal spell on an artifact of mine in order to avoid keeping a dead card in his hand, I can lay the Goyf as soon as next turn and put him in the same tough spot as before.

Even better, the mere threat of post-board Goyfs allows me to try and “win the sideboard war,” opening the door for the opponent to keep in completely dead Smothers as I leave my Goyfs sidelined.

What about Ideal and Dredge? The Ideal archetype, certainly, is poorly-suited to strategy changes. As a combo deck powered by Invasion lands, its options for a post-board transformation are fairly well limited to TEPS or Balancing Tings – both of which are comparably hosed by Gaddock Teeg. There’s always the old Tarmogoyf Mise route that is open to U/G Tron, but Ideal provides very little backup for the Goyf. If I have a Goyf and my opponent has Gaddock Teeg, I’m in rough shape; my little Lhurgoyf now needs to take on the opponent’s entire deck by himself. Tron at least has the control cards necessary to back up such a strategy.

Dredge… man, Dredge. Everyone tries the strategic bailout with Dredge – myself included – and still no one has been able to make it work. So many slots are devoted to the graveyard – not just the Bridges, Ichorids, Dread Returns, reanimation targets, and Narcomoebas, but all twelve of the dredgers themselves are a steaming pile of weak sauce in the face of a Leyline or Crypt. This makes it very difficult to move to a different strategy.

If you think about it, pursuing a new strategic angle in the face of hate essentially states the following: “My opponent’s dead-draw hate cards will be enough of an advantage for my second-string strategy to defeat him.” The problem is that, with Dredge, you inevitably have way more graveyard cards to take out than the fifteen cards you can bring in to transform, and anything short of a transformation is going to suffer the same problem that Ideal does: a lack of backup for whatever other cards come in.

Dredge has few cards that can actually support a non-graveyard strategy; the draw spells aren’t too awful, and Therapy is still Therapy, but Putrid Imp is a real donk, and it’s pretty much downhill from there. Inevitably, successful Dredge players end up with Chain of Vapors and Pithing Needles supporting the same core strategy that they ran with in game 1, despite the hate.

Option 3: Trust in your deck’s Resilience

It’s pretty clear that Resilience and Changing Decks are a Dredge pilot’s only recourses, but what about Ideal? Including the most recent week of PTQ results and the GP: Vancouver Top 8, the only cards capable of disrupting an Ideal deck that have gone Epic are Indrik Stomphowler, Adrian Sullivan Wishable Viridian Zealot, and Matthew Pratser sideboarded triplet of Ronom Unicorns.

The most dangerous of these cards is the beatdown deck’s Unicorn, as the beatdown matchup is generally often one where you cast Enduring Ideal and need Solitary Confinement right freaking now, on pain of death – and do not have time to fetch out some Kami defense first. The fact that this particular threat has all but disappeared makes it easier for the Ideal pilot to rely on the deck’s resilience rather than trying to fundamentally alter its strategy or abandoning it entirely.

And what of Indrik Stomphowler and Gaddock Teeg? Meet the modern Enduring Ideal list.

While Aaron Paquette progressed towards his 7th place finish in the main event with his Invasion lands and Mind’s Desires, Gabriel was on his way to 7th place at Vancouver’s Sunday PTQ with Invasion lands and Enduring Ideals.

Say I’m an Enduring Ideal player facing down problems such as the aforementioned Teeg and Stomphowler. Clearly I use Fire/Ice on the Little Kithkin That Could, but what about the Howler? If I’m going to stick with my core strategy, I have to fend him off… and clearly, Dovescape is not going to do the job.

Enter Decree of Silence. Leading with Decree means my opponent has to come up with three spells and then the Stomphowler or Viridian Zealot before it can actually do any damage; the fact that those decks are generally packed with expensive spells (if they had a cheap one-shot like Duress or Thoughtseize, chances are they would have played it before I cast Ideal) means that I probably have another full turn before the opponent can cast a spell.

If the opponent hasn’t exhausted the first Decree yet, and has yet to put much pressure on me, I can just get Sterling Grove to protect my Form. If it’s available, I can instead use that full turn to get a second Decree, meaning my opponent now has to cast six actual spells, get them all countered, and then hit me with a Stomphowler or Zealot to do any damage. By that time, he’ll be dead to my Forms.

It’s fortunate for Ideal pilots that these options exist, as deck changes can cost you certain edges you have gained from playtesting, and the structure of the deck offers few alternatives to its core strategy. Really, for Ideal, it’s either Go Resilient or Go Home when contemplating an answer to the format’s hate. Now that Kami is nearly out of the picture, the solution may be as simple as the aforementioned Decrees, but recognizing that the deck is worth playing despite the incidental hate and the success of TEPS at the GP itself, is an important step.

Ideal nearly won PT: Valencia, and unlike Dredge, the Ideal hate has decreased as the season has progressed. If the deck is resilient enough to handle the hate, and can’t really support a secondary strategy, why are so many players abandoning it? More importantly, why hasn’t it been able to bring home blue envelopes? What’s missing from the equation?

The deck keeps on enduring, still putting up finishes even this late in the season… but it never quite rises to the top. I think the Decrees are a step in the right direction, but the deck still has deficient matchups that it is failing to shore up. We’ll see if it can make the jump as the season rolls to a close.

See you next week!

Richard Feldman
Team :S
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