I hope that many of you played in Mirrodin Pre-releases over the weekend. I ran one for eighty-four players on the Saturday and most players seemed to really enjoy themselves. I also managed to play in a sixty-player event on Sunday, taking my Sealed Deck to seventh place with a 4-1-1 record. I really enjoyed myself. It was the first prerelease I’ve been to in a while and I’d forgotten just how much fun they could be.
Mirrodin looks like a fun set to me, with cards for Extended, Standard, and casual players by the boatload. With only a handful of weeks to go before we all wave goodbye to Wild Mongrel, Deep Analysis, and Mirari’s Wake, and say a very big”Hello” to Skyhunters, Bonesplitters, and Spikeshot Goblins, I’ve started to put a test gauntlet together. States and our UK County Championships are on the same weekend this year – October the 25th and 26th – and I intend to be ready for them.
To help out, I’ve put a gauntlet together to test new decks against. Each deck in the gauntlet has been built up and tested against at least one of the other decks in the gauntlet. These aren’t decks you should be taking to States without testing and probably tweaking to your liking; they’re all chosen to test something.
Well, where to start? I guess we should start with the deck that has defined Onslaught Block Constructed and work from there:
This deck is based on a Goblins deck that won the last Bath Monthly Standard, and its heritage is clear. You’ll notice that there are no maindeck Sparksmiths; all four were in the sideboard. The Sharpshooters, Spellbombs, Hammers, and Commanders give us plenty of removal anyway, and we can always board them back in. The only thing new card I’ve added is Pyrite Spellbomb, dropping Gempalm Incinerators. A colorless way to kill Silver Knight might just help the Goblin deck against White decks playing Silver Knight and Worship.
The deck has a higher land count than many similar decks because it runs four main deck Siege-Gang Commanders and two Rorix, which allows us to play Hammer of Bogardan, too. Spikeshot Goblin is strictly worse than Goblin Sharpshooter in this deck. I’ve not added any equipment or more burn because Piledriver, Clickslither, and the Siege-Gang want you to play as many Goblins as you can – so I’m trying to keep them happy.
As with all of these decks, I’m making a main deck and leaving the sideboard up to you. Being able to change the board at will during testing can really help you see if a new deck has a really bad flaw, or is very vulnerable to one card. Once you’ve worked out 95% of your deck and sideboard, you can start to fix what spells the gauntlet will and won’t have, as you’ll know which ones are any good.
Goblins only really loses Flaring Pain in the rotation – but with Moment’s Peace leaving as well, it’s not as big a loss as it might be. I’d suggest that a sideboard should have artifact removal, Sparksmiths, Starstorm, and Sulfuric Vortex. You might want to try out Lightning Coils against control decks (and Mono Black Control in particular), and Oblivion Stone could well be an answer against any enchantment-based decks you’re having troubles with – especially with the higher land count than normal.
If a deck can’t cope with this Goblin deck, it’ll have fits against all the highly tested, teched-out decks that are sure to come out at States. You must be able to beat Goblin decks if you want to win States this year.
Next up – a promising deck I’m starting to have a lot of fun with. At the end of my last article, I asked the following question:”Is White’s time here now or will we need to wait until Mirrodin, or the next block? Well, it looks like we’re going to have to wait until Mirrodin.”
Mirrodin has delivered some of the goods:
There are a bunch of ways you could build this deck when Mirrodin becomes legal. I’ve opted to play creatures that have (or gain) evasion and seven good Equipment cards. Bonesplitter is cheap and makes even a 1/1 flier a clock. Empyrial Plate makes almost any creature a game-ending threat. Worship and Silver Knight help out against the hordes of Goblins, as does Wrath of God.
I’ve kept a blue splash in for Mana Leak, as countering a Wrath on turn 4 or 5 could well be game, and having the option to play blue sideboard cards shouldn’t be sniffed at. It could be that Curiosity has a place in this deck but we’d have to take out Wrath, Worship, or some Equipment to fit it in. We only have room for so many creature-pumping spells and artifacts – and so Glorious Anthem didn’t make the cut. I considered Auriok Steelshaper, but after my weekend winning with fliers I felt that the more expensive Skyhunter Cub was a better bet: Attacking for five through the air on turn 4 with only one creature seems pretty good!
Second Sunrise should almost certainly be in your sideboard to help against control decks playing mass removal. It seems too unfair not to play, and may be unfair enough to find a few slots in the main deck. Worship and maybe a Dawn Elemental or two will bolster the deck against Goblins and you might find Karma useful against MBC. If artifact decks make a big comeback, Annul is an obvious (and cheap) spell to play, but may require more of a commitment to blue mana in the main deck. You might also find White Knight slipping in if testing shows MBC is as strong as people think.
Equipped White gives us a deck with Equipment and evasion to test against. Your deck will need to be able to deal with 3/3 fliers at the very least – and each time you wipe the board anew, 1/1 critter can start hitting you for three or more the very next turn.
The next deck is a favourite of tribe-lovers everywhere:
4 Wirewood Herald
4 Timberwatch Elf
4 Birchlore Rangers
4 Wirewood Hivemaster
4 Bloodline Shaman
3 Spikeshot Goblin
3 Wirewood Symbiote
2 Caller of the Claw
2 Viridian Shaman
1 Elvish Lyrist
1 Voice of the Woods
1 Taunting Elf
I was playing Goblin Sharpshooter in my Elf deck after this year’s German Nationals but Spikeshot Goblin is a lot better when Timberwatch Elf and Wirewood Symbiote are in the same deck. Twenty-three land is probably a little more than I’d like, but we really need to get three in play now that Llanowar Elves is no longer an option. To help thin the deck a little, I’ve added a pair of Windswept Heaths.
I’ve also added a mini-toolbox that Wirewood Herald can go and fetch. The Viridian Shaman is in anticipation of lots of Equipment and random artifacts. The Lyrist helps with Worship, whilst the Voice of the Woods can pump out 7/7 creatures is we really need them. Taunting Elf helps go ’round the side of decks with a good defence and Caller of the Claw is our main deck anti-Wrath spell. The rest of the deck is pretty explanatory.
The deck doesn’t hold up well against Goblins, but I’m sure some people will persist in playing it, especially now that Spikeshot Goblin and Elves can give you a turn 5 kill… And you don’t even have to attack!
The sideboard will probably need to focus on helping against Goblins. Steely Resolve might be some help against targeted removal, especially with Hivemaster making Insects that your Timberwatch Elf can target (if their Sharpshooters let you). More Caller of the Claws are probably next on the sideboard list against control decks, and Naturalize will give you a none-Elf way of killing Worships, Equipment, and Ensnaring Bridges that might be slowing you down.
Some people will try Elves and Intruder Alarm. To do so they’ll have to really play with their mana base and as long as you either stop the Alarm or kill their Voice of the Woods you should find the deck pretty much the same. We’ve had a little luck adding in Mana Leak as well – but then you’re playing even more non-Elf spells and the deck either goes like a rocket or, more often, a damp squib.
Elves didn’t lose much in the rotation, but it didn’t gain much either. It’s not a deck I’d play at States because its so matchup-dependent and over eight or nine rounds, you’re going to be unlucky at least once.
This deck gives us a rush deck with no real removal to test against. It concentrates on tricks and overwhelming with numbers rather than forcing a single good threat through or killing blockers. Decks that rely on evasion to deal damage may find themselves in trouble (the old U/G decks used to have a serious problem with Elves once Wellwisher was in play) as Red Elves can gain a lot more life than most decks can take away each turn.
When I looked at the cards in decks in Standard a few months back, one of the decks that looked like a dying man was Mono Black Control. Losing Duress, Diabolic Tutor, Corrupt, Mutilate, and Cabal Coffers would surely put it in the ground. Then Eighth brought Tutor and Phyrexian Arena back – but it brought Karma back too, a final nail in a coffin for the once-proud deck.
Fast-forward to today and what do we see? Oblivion Stone, a slightly more expensive Nevinyrral’s Disk, dug open MBC’s grave while Wrench Mind put the patient back in the hospital and Consume Spirit shocked it back to life.
There’s plenty of removal, from Terror and Smother all the way up to Decree of Pain, plenty of discard with Wrench Mind, Blackmail, Coercion, Persecute, and Mind Sludge, life gain – and now, even a way to get rid of Karma! Why wouldn’t MBC be back?
The deck likes to kill creatures. If the format is going to have lots of creature decks, we have to be able to slow the early rush and gain control. Terror and Nekrataal give us early control – and although Consume Spirit is better later in the game, it can always be used to kill an annoying, early creature. Oblivion Stone is our Wrath of God, even if it’s a little slower than White’s. Ambition’s Cost and Undead Gladiator allow us to find cards, and Diabolic Tutor fills two roles: It makes the deck more consistent and allows us to get silver bullet cards if we need them – making it easier to build a good, reactive sideboard.
I’ve stayed away from Extraplanar Lens because I’d rather be killing creatures on turn 3 than casting it. It may be the way to go; my suggestions is that you test it first. Wrench Mind is good if your opponent doesn’t have an artifact in hand, and even if they do they might choose to keep it – Standard players don’t generally play bad artifacts.
Our toolbox is simple: Promise of Power is a mid-to-late game card that either fills up our hand, makes a finisher or both. Decree of Pain kills everything and lets us fill up on gas and Persecute and mind Sludge both empty hands. Replicator is our route to victory if they have Circle of Protection: Black and we can’t get rid of it.
The sideboard should contain all the usual toys. Infest is a must to help against Goblins. Another Persecute and Mind Sludge will probably help more against Control, as might Phyrexian Arena. Withered Wretch is an obvious choice if you expect the graveyard to be important (bye-bye Eternal Dragon, Undead Gladiator, and friends!) – and Smother, Eastern Paladin, or a fourth Nekrataal could help against creature decks.
If you’re planning on playing a deck with creatures, you should try it against this. If you’re losing more than half of the games after boarding, you need to try harder – someone will play MBC at States, as too many people have too much experience with it not to.
Our penultimate deck is another that finds its feet in Onslaught Block Constructed. Just after Onslaught became Standard-legal, Astral Slide decks made their first showing – and they’ve been with us, to a lesser or greater degree, ever since. They work well in an environment that’s not really ready for them; too many Stabilizers or Naturalizes, and they can’t stall the early game long enough to gain control. Even so, whatever you build probably needs to go through the Slide test at least once.
I was playing a Slide deck that splashed for Green. It allowed me to play Krosan Tuskers, Nantuko Monastery, and Naturalize in the sideboard and Moment’s Peace. The Monastery and Peace have left us, and I’m not sure splashing Green to tech out a deck in a gauntlet is the right thing to do – so this list is a pretty vanilla R/W build.
I’m not playing four Eternal Dragons for one reason and one reason alone: Solemn Simulacrum is better in this deck. I started off with four Dragons and two Simulacrums, but quickly found the mana acceleration from Sliding the Simulacrum was much better than drawing a Plains every other turn. It thins your deck, and you add two land a turn to the table!
The rest of the deck is fairly obvious: Lots of cheap cycling cards and some mass removal combine with the life gain of Renewed Faith and a pair of Angels to kill critters and keep us alive until we control the board, then we can finish our opponent off with a returned Dragon or the Angel or even burn them to death. It’s nothing new, but I feel it’s a necessary member of the gauntlet.
Last, but not least, I’d like to try out a more old-style control deck.
Sometimes I look at a deck and almost weep at the cards we’ve lost. How much better would this deck be with Counterspell, Fact or Fiction, and Impulse? Where’s Swords to Plowshares when you really need it? Even so, this deck has counters, card drawing, and mass removal.
Four Wrath, four Oblivion Stone and four Wing Shards combine with Story Circle to try and force players to overextend to get in some damage. I’ve chosen Discombobulate because with Flooded Strand, Eternal Dragon, and Solemn Simulacrum, we get to pick the best cards out of the top four and shuffle the rest away when we want. As with the Slide deck, I’m playing three Dragons and three Simulacrums. The Dragon is much better later in the game, whilst the Simulacrum speeds up our mana, blocks an early creature, and replaces itself! Thieving Magpie is an old favorite of mine and now that Flametongue Kavu is gone, it might be worth rolling them out and giving them another try. Exalted Angel gives us a turn 3 chump blocker and a turn 5 (thanks to the Simulacrum) 4/5 flier that can keep us alive long enough to gain control and win.
The sideboard of this deck starts with four Silver Knights. Hibernation might make an appearance – we’ll have to see if Green is good or not – and we certainly make space for Karma. If we need extra artifact removal we’ll need to look at Altar’s Light, White’s only real answer now that Odyssey Block and Disenchant have gone.
Three cards that should be looked at are Icy Manipulator, Trade Routes, and Rush of Knowledge. Icy would combine well with the Story Circle but you can’t really use it until turn 5 – way too slow for most decks. Trade Routes could help us against control decks, turning one or two extra land into more spells. We might also need Second Sunrise in the board if we suspect players are going to bring in Boil or Flashfires.
So that’s six decks for you. If whatever you’re planning to play to States beats all of these decks consistently you’re probably on to a winner (and please email me the list) – but then, as with every gauntlet, you should tweak their main decks and boards to slow it down.
Each week until States (and Counties here) I’ll build up a new, Mirrodin-based deck and test it against these decks. I’ll write it up and send it straight of to StarCityGames, along with any changes to the gauntlet. Over time, the sideboards will start to cement and we should have a fair idea of what we’re up against.
Cheers, Jim Grimmett