Deep Analysis – Izzet Deck Wins in Standard

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Grand Prix: Krakow brought a resurgence of Islands to the Standard metagame. Indeed, if the Top 8 is any indication, times are good for the water-loving spellslinger. This week’s Deep Analysis sees Richard Feldman attempt to deflate the control mages, attacking them aggressively in a way that currently has no defense. Intrigued? Then read on!

As some see it – myself included – the three most popular Standard archetypes at Worlds will be U/B Mannequin, Mono-U Guile, and U/W Pickles, the three archetypes with the best showing in the GP: Krakow Top 8.

The first thing I noticed about those three decks was that they all seemed to have a vulnerability to a particular style of beatdown. They’d prepared for the popular G/R approach by playing lots of 3/4s and Epochrasites. With Char out of the picture, removing these guys before the declare blockers step was out of the picture unless you had both the cards and the mana to hit it with multiple burn spells in the same turn. The alternative was crashing the team into it and finishing it off with a burn spell post-combat, but that saved the opponent even more life because it meant one less attacker for the upcoming turns.

In short, everyone blocked.

If these decks are beating aggro solely on the strength of their ability to block on the ground, I reasoned, why not build an aggro deck with…well, flying? This train of thought led to the first beatdown deck I’ve ever designed.

Izzet Deck Wins

8 Mountain
4 Shivan Reef
4 Island
4 Faerie Conclave

4 Mogg Fanatic
4 Magus of the Scroll

4 Mogg War Marshal
4 Gossamer Phantasm
4 Keldon Marauders
4 Riftwing Cloudskate

4 Unstable Mutation
4 Incinerate
4 Rift Bolt
4 Psionic Blast

Initially I had Deeptread Merrow in place of Magus of the Scroll, meaning I had more non-evasive creatures than evasive ones (against an Island), but I quickly came to wish I had more to do on turn 1 than just play Mogg Fanatic or Faerie Conclave, so I replaced him with Magus of the Scroll. While Magus doesn’t quite have evasion, per se, he can do a solid amount of damage without attacking in a deck that empties its hand as quickly as this one. I chose him over Flying Men and Cloud Sprite because he can still deal damage when Mulldrifter, Riftwing Cloudskate, or Guile is on defense, because he can kill creatures, and because I have only eight Blue sources in my deck that work on turn 1.

Unlike most U/R decks of years past, this one is neither control nor aggro-control. There’s neither countermagic nor card draw on tap in the maindeck, and the creatures are selected for their damage-dealing and tempo-gaining abilities rather than their utility features.

In describing the way this deck plays out to Adrian Sullivan, I characterized it as “basically Sligh, but with evasive creatures.” He was quick to point out that one of Sligh’s main selling points was its simple – and highly Mountainous – manabase, so I decided to name it Izzet Deck Wins instead, after a similar deck which also played only eight lands that did not tap for Red. Speaking of Paskins decks, I’m interested to see if Dan will be angry that I’ve tainted a Red deck with Blue cards or pleased that I’ve finally designed an aggro deck.

The playtesting surprised me. I thought Cryptic Command was going to be really strong against Gossamer Phantasm, but then I realized that it’s only good against Phantasm if you give them a spell to counter as well. (This mostly happens when Riftwing Cloudskate is coming in from suspension and Phantasm is on the table.) Otherwise it has only one target and the other half of the Command fizzles after the Phantasm suicides and becomes an illegal target. I also thought that Mono-U would be the easiest of the three Blue decks to defeat, but it turned out to be the toughest for some reasons I’d overlooked.

Versus Mono-U

Game 1 (on the play): I have turn 1 Mogg Fanatic, turn 2 Keldon Marauders, turn 3 Unstable Mutation the Fanatic (with mana up to pay for Rune Snag), bash to put him at 10 life after the Marauder dies. I smack for another three next turn, and when he hits the four mana mark and tries to defend with Venser, I sac Mogg Fanatic and Incinerate him twice to kill him exactly. He had Rune Snag, Remove Soul, and Faerie Trickery in hand, but never got to play any of them.

Game 2 (on the play): I start with Gossamer Phantasm on turn 2, suspending a Cloudskate and Rift Bolt on turn 3 when he has countermagic mana open rather than going for Magus of the Scroll. He cycles Think Twice instead, and finds Desert, which shuts down my Gossamer offense. I play a pair of Magi and they are both countered by Remove Soul, tapping down the Desert and allowing me to get in with the Phantasm. Cloudskate comes in and is countered by Faerie Trickery, allowing me to resolve Marauders, the third spell this game to slip by Rune Snag. Venser stops Cloudskate from entering and chumps Marauders; I play another Magus and it sticks, so I re-suspend Cloudskate. He lays Guile, I can’t attack into it, he beats with it and plays another, and I’m done.

Game 3 (on the play): I lead with Gossamer Phantasm on turn 2 and again suspend a Cloudskate on turn 3 rather than walking into countermagic. Stuck on two land, I continue to play threats and get them countered while the Phantasm plinks away at my opponent. Eventually I resolve Keldon Marauders, which he chumps with Venser while killing my Phantasm, but I have him down eight when he plays Guile. He lets Rift Bolt resolve, taking him to 5, Pacts my Psionic Blast, and attacks with Guile to try and finish me; the Pact was his last counter. I play Shivan Reef (which I had been holding back so that he wouldn’t know that I had a second Blue source and could send the Conclave in as soon as I had spare mana), send in the Conclave, and Incinerate for the win. My lack of a third land hurt my tempo early on, but the gas it provided came through for me in the end.

Game 4 (on the play): This is merciless. My opponent mulligans and I have turn 1 Magus, turn 2 Marauders, then a Conclave on turn three and an end-step Incinerate. I untap and play another Maruaders, which gets countered, and then Unstable Mutation on Magus to knock my opponent to six at the end of turn four. He uses Cryptic command to bounce the Magus and tap down my Phantasm, but I replay the Magus, repeat the sequence next turn, and Psi Blast him out the next time he taps mana.

Game 5 (on the play): I mull to five and keep two Islands and Red cards rather than going to four. My first play of the game is Suspending Cloudskate on turn 5.

Game 6 (on the draw): I mull to five and he counters the first four threats I play while waiting for his two Ancestrals to come in.

Game 7 (on the draw): He mulls to five. I play turn 1 Fanatic, turn 2 Conclave, hit him with both on turn 3, add an Unstable Mutation to the Fanatic on turn 4 while my opponent is stuck at three lands, and Psionic Blast him out shortly thereafter.

Game 8 (on the draw): I start off by suspending three consecutive Cloudskates. When the first comes in, it is countered by Cryptic Command, allowing me to resolve Keldon Maruaders and War Marshal instead. He can’t play Guile because it will just get bounced by the incoming Cloudskate, so he has to use two Rune Snags to counter an Unstable Mutation instead. War Marshal and the previous Skate come in to drop him to 5, and Desert kills the Goblin token. He plays Guile, but Conclave, Skate, and War Marshal swarm across to knock him to 2, and Psionic Blast finishes it.

Game 9 (on the draw): My War Marshal and Keldon Marauders are countered, and I have nothing much to do but chuck Incinerates at his head. He plays Guile; I play Gossamer Phantasm and another War Marshal. He beats with Guile and when I try Unstable Mutation, he counters and Guiles it onto my Phantasm, killing it. War Marshal drops him to 3, Keldon Marauders resolves and takes him to 2, but the Ancestral that goes off next turn serves up Cryptic Command, allowing him to tap my team and leaving him alive at one life when the Marauders fade away, with plenty of counters in hand and Guile about to come across for the win.

Game 10 (on the draw): He plays three Remove Souls on my first three plays, then brings in Venser on turn 4 and Teferi on turn 5. They start racing; I get him down to six life with two Incinerates in hand, but he has Trickery for the first and Pact for the second.


Takeaways from the Mono-U Guile Matchup

Desert only made a huge difference in one game this set, but I was getting absolutely wrecked by it in the warmup games I played before I started recording. Turns out most of my creatures have one toughness, so if the Blue deck gets Desert down early and I’ve drawn a lot of those creatures, I’m in a tough spot. As it happened in this set, almost all of the times Guile had an early Desert coincided with Desert-resistant draws on my part, but the warmup games showed me that Izzet Deck Wins can have a really tough time beating that unfortunate four-of.

I mention Desert because I played against it all wrong until the very end of this set, and think I can get some significant mileage out of correcting that for the future. My strategy against an early Desert was to build up a number of one-toughness attackers and attack in waves thereafter so as to minimize my losses on each attack, but the fact that I hadn’t been attacking from turn 2 onward meant my opponent had a ton of time to make land drops and could then hold off my attack in other ways instead.

As with any aggro deck, my goal is to deal as much damage as I can in as short a time period as possible. I thought I’d end up dealing more damage overall by building up my forces, but by the end of the set, I’ve become convinced of the opposite.

Granted, if he has a turn 2 Desert and my draw is all one-toughness guys, I’m in a tough spot regardless of how I play – tapping one land to kill my guy is a hell of a bargain, as I take hits on both card advantage and tempo. That said, when I find myself dying to Guile with four cards in hand, I know I’m taking the wrong approach. Unlike other beatdown decks, Red decks are set up to pull out games where they’ve exhausted their own resources in exchange for damage, because a few topdecked burn spells are all it takes to pull a victory out of the jaws of near defeat.

Had I had just been crashing my guys into his Desert, making him tap a land (in some cases — certainly when he has only two mana up — allowing me to resolve another threat in my second main) and keeping up the damage, I might have been able to pull out quite a few of those games where I tried building up attackers and died with cards in hand.

Besides an early Desert, the main ways Mono-U was able to pull ahead in this matchup was curving into big guys: play a counter on turn 2, another on turn 3, then Venser or Cryptic Command, then Teferi (or Venser or Command), then Guile on turn 6. The only way I can keep pace with those draws is by dodging the countermagic by suspending Cloudskates.

A quick rundown of my losses in this set:

Game 2 — Early Desert holds off a ton of Phantasm damage, leaving me in no position to race Guile.
Game 5 — I mull to five and get crushed
Game 6 — I mull to five and get crushed
Game 9 — Having to play Unstable Mutation pre-combat in order to get damage in with it lets him redirect it onto Phantasm with Guile, killing it and leaving him alive and attacking for the win at 1 life after I resolve Marauders. If I didn’t play the Mutation at all, he would have just countered the Marauders and lived that way, so the real problem was not having another threat I could play post-combat.
Game 10 — He counters my early threats, then plays Venser and Teferi and backs them up with more counters.

Gossamer Phantasm and Unstable Mutation are probably the worst cards in this matchup. Phantasm dies too easily to Venser, Cryptic Command, and Desert, and doesn’t make up for it by flying over anything of consequence like it does in the other matchups. Only Teferi (and, I guess, a Venser that has something better to do than to kill the Phantasm outright) is productively circumvented by the Phantasm’s evasion. Mutation is often dead because Guile has either countered all my guys or has a bounce effect to blow me out. It cost me game 9, but won me game 1… though in game 1, had Mutation been some generic three-damage spell (even Brute Force) instead, I still would have had the opponent clinging on at two life with only one hard counter in hand to stop topdecked burn spells and no defense whatsoever against a topdecked Faerie Conclave. In other words, although Mutation did make my final attack lethal, I certainly would not have explicitly lost it had it been something else.

The biggest reason this realization helped me out was that it taught me that I should always play turn 2 Phantasm over Marauders when I’m on the play against turn 1 Island. If it turns out he’s Guile and plays Desert turn 2 (trumping my Phantasm), forcing him to tap it to capitalize on my third-turn Phantasm attack will allow me to resolve Marauders post-combat because he’ll only have one mana left. Since Marauders fades away anyway, I don’t lose any damage for having resolved him later, and can still expect him to get in for the full five.

Anyway, enough about that matchup. Onward!

Versus Mannequin

Game 1 (on the play): I lead with Magus and Keldon Marauders, while he suspends a Cloudskate. I follow with another Maruaders and an Incinerate, but he blocks the second Marauders with Ironfoot, dropping to 5 life from the Magus. I play a second Magus, but Cloudskate and Shriekmaw team up to put one back in my hand and kill the other, clearing my board and putting a flyer in the path of my Conclave. However, as he is at five life, playing Mogg Fanatic and Psionic Blast is enough to kill him before his team can finish me.

Game 2 (on the play): I mull and keep Magus, Psionic Blast, and lands. He plays turn 2 Epochrasite, turn 3 Finkel. Having drawn two more lands, I decide to Blast the Finkel and try to keep him from getting his machinery going rather than hoping to topdeck solid burn spells on every draw step thereafter. He gets going nevertheless, and I don’t topdeck enough burn to put any kind of dent in his life total.

Game 3 (on the play): I start with Magus and Phantasm, then follow with Mogg War Marshal, who doesn’t do much against his Epochrasite and Ironfoot. He plays Profane Command to give my Phantasm Fear (killing it) and Magus —1/-1. I play another Magus and another Phantasm, and he does the same thing, having drawn the other Profane Command. I start hitting with Conclave and chuck and Incinerate at his dome, while Suspending a Cloudskate and periodically gumming up the ground with War Marshals to keep his three Ironfoots from racing me. He plays a Conclave, but Cloudskate just bounces it and comes across with my Conclave for four in the air, dropping him to five. He replays the Conclave, but it is too late; I come across for another four and finish him with Mogg Fanatic.

Game 4 (on the play): I have turn 2 Phantasm, laughing in the face of his turn 2 Epochrasite. I play out another Phantasm and a War Marshal, and knock him to five with some Unstable Mutations, then play Keldon Marauders gum up his racing Ironfoot team and drop him to three. A topdecked Psionic Blast finishes him off.

Game 5 (on the play): I have turn 2 Phantasm again, and once again he has the irrelevant turn 2 Epochrasite. I hit with Conclave on turn 3 and suspend two Cloudskates on turn 4. Turn 5 is brutal; I animate the Conclave, play two Unstable Mutations on it, and sail over for ten points with the Phantasm and the 8/7 Conclave. This puts him at four life, and when my two Cloudskates come in, it’s all over.

Game 6 (on the draw): Again I open with turn 2 Phantasm, which knocks him down a bit before he intercepts it with Mannequin on Mulldrifter. I play another one, and a War Marshal, and he Damnations them away. I play Unstable Mutation on the resulting Goblin token, and send it in along with a Conclave, then make another Phantasm. He has a second Damnation, letting me push in another Conclave beat. He eventually turns the board around with Shriekmaw and Mannequin, but by then he’s in burn range. I’m holding plenty, so it only takes me a couple of untap steps to put him down.

Game 7 (on the draw): I start off with Magus and Keldon Marauders, but he has Ironfoot to stop them. I play a War Marshal that gets in for a point around his Ironfoot as he draws cards with Mulldrifter, then he plays another Ironfoot. I start hitting with Conclave but he reanimates Mulldrifter to intercept. However, he’s at thirteen and I’m holding two Psi Blasts. I play another Marauders to gang-block the incoming Ironfoot with War Marshal, Blasting him down to seven on his end step. My next card is Incinerate, allowing me to finish him exactly on my own turn.

Game 8 (on the draw): I start with Magus and Phantasm, but he has Epochrasite to dissuade Magus from attacking, and a suspended Cloudskate next turn. I hit once with Phantasm, play Conclave, and Suspend Rift Bolt. He clears me out with Damnation and sets the clock ticking on his Epochrasite, then plays Ironfoot next turn and hits me with it on the turn after. While suffering Ironfoot Beats I Psionic Blast him twice and suspend a Rift Bolt, leaving Conclave open to chump Epochrasite. Unfortunately, he has Profane Command to give his team Fear and dome me three for three, killing me with the attack.

Game 9 (on the draw): I start with Mogg Fanatic and Mogg War Marshal, then decline to pay Echo, ping his Epochrasite, Mutation up the Goblin token, and bash for four. I also play Phantasm this turn, putting me way up on tempo. He kills the token with an Evoked Shriekmaw next turn, then plays another Epochrasite. I hit with Phantasm, play another War Marshal, and lay a Conclave. Again I decline to pay Echo, in favor of hitting with Conclave and Phantasm, knocking him to 10. Shriekmaw kills my Phantasm, and I start chumping Epochrasite with Goblin tokens. I hit with Conclave, then he stops my aerial offense with a Mulldrifter. I find another Conclave next turn and Incinerate him, then slam both Conclaves into the Mulldrifter to take him to 3. The Epochrasite and Shriekmaw knock me to the single digits, but he doesn’t have a Command to finish me off and I do have Psionic Blast to burn him out next turn.

Game 10 (on the draw): I have three Keldon Marauders this game, and he has Epochrasite for the first and a Finkel to chump the second. He has a Cloudskate to bounce my Conclave and chump the third Marauder, and when I got to animate and Mutation the Conclave, he has Mannequin on Cloudskate to bounce it and wreck me. Epochrasite kills me while his life totals stays nice and high.

7-3 overall.

Takeaways from the Mannequin Matchup

A dead Epochrasite is Mannequin’s best shot at racing me, and Game 10 is a prime example. Turn 2 Marauders (unless I have no other play) really poor if they have turn 2 Bug, as it seems better to just let the Marauders deal its two damage, then fade away rather than attacking and letting the Epochrasite start morphing into a 4/4 Haste that can race me later.

I was surprised at how infrequently I found myself paying Echo on War Marshal. Maybe that’s a common choice in Standard, but in Time Spiral (when I was playing Teachings), most of my Red opponents would pay every time. In this matchup, though, I rarely found myself in a position where I could justify expending two mana just to keep the War Marshal on the table, when instead I could play a much bigger threat or get in another hit with Conclave. In fact, I’m pretty sure I would have lost game 9 if I’d paid Echo on either of my War Marshals; I got to advance my board position a lot better because I didn’t in both cases, and I still ended up with enough tokens to chump my way to victory in the late game.

So far my priorities for which early drops to play have been as follows:

– Play a Red guy turn 1 over Conclave if I have both, unless I will absolutely need the Conclave’s mana on turn 2.
– Go for Phantasm first and then Keldon Marauders if I have both.
– If I’m on the play, try to resolve a two-drop rather than Suspending Cloudskate if I have both.

I think the only one of these that gets me into trouble in this matchup is the last one; when I’m on the play, turn 2 Suspended Cloudskate is much better than turn 2 Marauders if they have Epochrasite, but if they don’t – and do have a third-turn Ironfoot – I miss out on three points of Marauder damage by waiting. However, I can mitigate this if Ironfoot is the only blocker, by playing the Marauders the turn before Cloudskate comes in, allowing the Skate to clear the path for my 3/3 to get its one hit in. Overall, I think I get more mileage out of suspending Cloudskate instead of playing Marauders turn 2 against this deck, so I will start going for that if I know my opponent is Mannequin instead of one of these other Blue decks.

Versus U/W Pickles

Game 1 (on the play): I lead with Mogg Fanatic and Phantasm (again over Marauders), and try for Marauders next turn. They are Rune Snagged, but Fanatic gets a Mutation upgrade. Next turn he shrinks to 3/3, crashes into an Ironfoot, and sacrifices himself to finish off the 3/4. Phantasm is then killed by Oblivion Ring, and I am down to all lands and an Incinerate. He’s at 11. He draws and morphs a Vesuvan, and I draw Rift Bolt to kill it. (I didn’t know was a Vesuvan, naturally; otherwise I might have let it live.) Over the next few turns we both draw lands, and none of mine are Conclaves. He gets Factory online, but after a draught of business spells, I find Psionic Blast, another Incinerate, and Rift Bolt right in a row, to finish him off from 11.

Game 2 (on the play): I have two Mogg Fanatics and a Magus to start things off, then a Conclave and a Phantasm. Oblivion Ring stops the Magus, and Cryptic Command taps down my team while bouncing one of the Fanatics. I replay the Fanatic and get off a Psionic Blast and suspend a Rift Bolt in the meantime. Teferi comes down to stop the Suspended Bolt, giving me room to Mutation up Mogg Fanatic for the attempted kill. He has to chump the 4/4 with Teferi, and drops even lower on life from the unblocked attackers. Next turn he morphs a Vesuvan; I come in with the two Fanatics and the Conclave, he blocks the big Mogg, unmorphs the Vesuvan and pings the Conclave to death, surviving the turn at 4 life with two Fanatics on the table. His next draw is Rune Snag, so he goes down.

Game 3 (on the play): I have Mogg Fanatic and Phantasm starting, and then a Rift Bolt and a War Marshal. His first resistance is a Wrath of God that doesn’t accomplish much, and I have him down to three life with Conclave beats and an Unstable Mutation shortly thereafter. He stabilizes with Venser, Ironfoot, and a morph (Brine) but can’t make a move because I constantly keep two mana open (and am, in fact, holding the lethal Incinerate). Eventually I hit five mana and can simply go for Incinerate and Psionic Blast in the same turn; as it happened, he didn’t even have the counter for the Incinerate.

Game 4 (on the play): I start with Fanatic and Cloudskate, and then add Rift Bolt and Conclave to the mix. A Mutation beefs up a Fanatic, but Cryptic Command lets him get rid of it while tapping down Phantasm. Another Command kills the Phantasm and taps down Conclave, and next turn a Wrath clears the Fanatic and Cloudskate off the board, leaving the opponent at eight life. A War Marshal helps Conclave knock eight down to one, and a resolved Keldon Marauders finishes things off.

Game 5 (on the play): I have turn 1 Conclave, turn 2 Phantasm, turn 3 swing with Conclave and Phantasm. The Illusion is killed off by O-Ring, but I replace it right away with another and a Rift Bolt. I add a second Conclave and continue to beat down, though Cryptic Command kills the second Phantasm and stalls the attack again. Fortunately, the opponent’s hand is 2 Teferi, 2 Ironfoot, and another Oblivion Ring, and none of these can deal with a Conclave. He is soon in Psionic Blast range and the game is over.

Game 6 (on the draw): I have Magus and then Cloudskate, followed by another Magus and not much else. I knock him to 16, and then Teferi comes down to stop the Skate. I Mutation up a Magus and send it in; it is chumped by Venser, as Wrath is coming. I stick a Marshal, but it dies to Wrath immediately. I put a Mutation on the token and send it in, then resolve a Phantasm and suspend a Bolt. The opponent plays Brine face-up, I send Rift Bolt at his face, and I do not attack my 3/3 Goblin into it the 5/4 after topdecking another Phantasm. Instead, I knock him to 4 and play my other Phantasm, leaving a Mountain open. As suspected, he has the Shapeshifter, locking me — but he’s not out of it yet. I still have a Red open and an untapped Phantasm, and he’s at 4. I topdeck Rift Bolt (!) and Suspend it, but he topdecks Rune Snag. Tear. I draw a sequence of irrelevant cards and he kills me from 2 life after I hit with Phantasm.

Game 7 (on the draw): He starts off with a suspended Ancestral and I have a Mogg Fanatic followed by a Cloudskate. I then play a Conclave and Incinerate him rather than walking my last threat, a Phantasm, into a Rune Snag or Remove Soul. When he hits four mana I play my fourth land and the Phantasm post-combat to lessen the impact of Cryptic Command or Venser, if he has it. As it turns out, he has only Rune Snag, so it resolves. He plays Oblivion Ring next turn, killing the Phantasm, and my Cloudskate bounces a land. Skate, Fanatic, and Conclave come in to knock him to 10, and I Incinerate him down to 7 with my last two mana. His Ancestral goes off and a Vesuvan copies my Cloudskate, bouncing my Conclave. I bash with the team, and he trades fliers; the Fanatic takes him to 6. I Rift Bolt him down to 4, holding onto Psionic Blast (as it’s easier to resolve), and replay my Conclave. Teferi comes in to intercept my attacking Fanatic, and I Blast him in response for the win.

Game 8 (on the draw): I start with Magus and Cloudskate, but only get in one hit with the Magus before he plays Ironfoot. I drop Phantasm and when the Cloudskate comes in, he stops it with two Rune Snags rather than let me get another flyer and bounce his Ironfoot. Cryptic Command counters War Marshal and kills off the Phantasm next turn, leaving him tapped out and allowing me to resolve Keldon Marauders, taking him to 6. He taps for Brine Elemental next turn, as his Ironfoot and my Shivan Reef (my only blue source) have knocked me to the single digits and he is looking to finish me off. As it happens, I have Incinerate to finish him off after Conclave connects and Marauders completes his suicide mission.

Game 9 (on the draw): He mulligans, misses his third land drop, and does not have Rune Snag.

Game 10 (on the draw): I start with Conclave and then Cloudskate. Next turn I hit with Skate and resolve Phantasm while he is tapped for Ironfoot. O-Ring kills it immediately, leaving him with two mana open for Rune Snag. I bounce Island rather than Ironfoot when Skate comes in, letting me resolve Unstable Mutation on Cloudskate and Psionic Blast, taking the life totals to 12-6 in my favor, with me holding two Incinerates, a Rift Bolt, and a Psionic Blast. He’s burned out as soon as he tries to answer the Skate.

9-1 (!!!)

What a beating. The only loss came with the opponent Pickles-locking me at 2 life.

Unstable Mutation was once again lackluster. The problem is that it’s basically an inconsistent three damage for one mana. Sometimes it’s three, sometimes it’s five (I can’t think of a single time it’s ever been the full six), and sometimes it’s zero because I get blown out by Venser or Cryptic Command or something.

It’s really about time I got rid of it.

Replacing Unstable Mutation

I spent a lot of time thinking about candidates for replacement, and the ones I like most were Brute Force, Dead/Gone, Unsummon, and Pongify. I liked Brute Force mainly because it accomplished Mutation’s most common mode (one mana for three to the dome) with the added versatility provided by Instant speed. Dead/Gone was more interesting because it was also efficient, yet solved different problems. There are a lot of creatures I’m interested in shoving away without using a burn spell – Guile, mainly, but also Tarmogoyfs, Spectral Forces, and so on from decks other than the three I tested against this time.

However, Gone is a very temporary solution to these problems given how much it costs. I buy a turn’s reprieve from the creature I bounce, but at the cost of a full turn’s mana. For example, when I play Keldon Marauders turn 2 on the draw, and the opponent drops an Ironfoot on his turn 3, Gone lets me bounce it and salvage my three points of attacking damage, but at the cost of my third-turn mana usage. With Unsummon, I could instead bounce the Ironfoot, get in with my Marauders, and play another two-drop on the same turn.

In the end, though, Pongify seemed the most attractive. As my deck is geared to deliver aerial damage, a 3/3 for the other side is not nearly as bad as it is for the average beatdown deck, putting it closer than ever to a one-mana Dark Banishing. It can also deliver the “three to the dome” function that Unstable Mutation did, albeit situationally. If my Keldon Marauders are about to fade away, for example, and I observe that there will be no blockers (and the opponent doesn’t have Venser/Command mana), I can Pongify my Marauders on his end step and get in for another three on my turn.

Of course, there’s also the opportunistic Pongification of my own creatures that are about to die for various reasons, and the “acceptable losses” use of turning Guile into an Ape for one mana, even though the Ape will get in the way of my Mogg War Marshal. I expect that having a one-mana answer to Guile will be huge in the Mono-U matchup.

Pongify is also a real beating against Cryptic Command. One of the most common plays of this entire testing session was my opponent casting Command to bounce one of my creatures and tap the rest of them (or draw a card). Pongifying the original target leaves me with a 3/3 and a potentially deadly round of incoming damage – for one mana.

The Sideboard

Adrian Sullivan thinks there will be Kithkin at Worlds, and I am inclined to agree. This means Sulfur Elemental in the board, a card I will be happy to board in against Mono-Blue and possibly Pickles as well. After that point I get less sure of myself. Magus of the Moon seems worthwhile, both as a way to shut down Deserts and as a way to hose multicolor decks, and Lash Out is the quintessential Red beating of the format against other creature decks. My final pick is Ancestral Vision, as a way to refuel in beatdown mirrors for a trivial mana investment. I don’t like it in the maindeck, as I’m more concerned with speed than card advantage in most matchups, but it has the potential to do a lot of damage against other creature decks.

That leaves us with the following revised build:

The Pongifies and the sideboard are experimental, obviously, but I’m happy with the rest of the maindeck and was pleasantly surprised with the first draft’s performance in testing. I would be more than happy to recommend this deck for tournament play, and think it might even be worth tuning up for Worlds, if one were so inclined.

And wanna know a secret?

It feels good to beat down for a change.

See you next week.

Richard Feldman
Team :S
[email protected]