Down And Dirty – Five Decks, Three Formats, Hollywood Holla

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Thursday, May 22nd – It appears that Hell has frozen over. This week, Richard Feldman is providing the chuckles… and Kyle Sanchez tackles the serious task of breaking the Standard metagame. He brings us the latest take on his innovative Wizards Control deck plus a couple of intriguing rogue creations. All this, plus talk on Shadowmoor Limited and Block Constructed!

In all honesty, 95% of my Magical focus has been directed toward Hollywood preparation, resulting in limited Limited experiences and barely any block breakers. Still, I had time to do some drafting this weekend so I wouldn’t be a total slouch on the draft floor, and I’ve already picked my favorite archetype after a sparse five total drafts. My brief understanding of triple-Shadowmoor Limited is that the friendly color combinations are where all the action is at. Much like in triple-Ravnica Limited, when there were only four different decks, each one available in their respected guild colors.

Naturally, my thoughts turned back to the days of Guild Magic. U/B Mill was by far the most dominant Limited deck in RRR, with Selensya, Boros, and Golgari all making up numbers in the rest of the format. But if you think back to Ravnica, there was a standout color combination that didn’t rely on the four Guilds. It used the all-powerful Blue spells Compulsive Research, Flight of Fancy, Vedalken Dismisser, and Peel from Reality. They combined with the under-drafted Red cards like Fiery Conclusion and Viashino Fangtail, who didn’t really fit too well in the lower-curved aggressive Boros decks. Galvanic Arc was an all star when paired with Drake Familiar, and this was the one deck that really gave the UB decks fits, with massive amounts of card advantage and solid removal and counters to play the control battle.

While there’s no Galvanic Arc in this set to pair with Drake Familiar, there is another Red enchantment that’s worth consideration: Power of Fire. And, as Nick Eisel has discussed, when paired with the numerous untap creatures that reside in Blue, you get a color combination that can support a machine gun combo that will decimate your opponent’s board in one turn. If you actually reach the next untap step with the combo in play, there is little hope for your opponent to win, barring extreme circumstances.

I managed to draft the deck twice this weekend, finishing with a sterling 8-0 record. I lost my first deck list, which featured the esteemed Godhead of Awe alongside multiple Pili-Palas and Power of Fire. But this one is much better, with a heavier Red base to break cards like Valleymaker and Jaws of Stone.

Pili-Power of Pala

1 Oona’s Gatewarden
3 Pili-Pala
2 Silkbind Faerie
1 Murderous Redcap
1 Swans of Bryn Argoll
2 Merrow Wavebreakers
1 Valleymaker

3 Power of Fire
1 Torpor Dust
1 Burn Trail
1 Firespout
1 Jaws of Stone
1 Puncture Bolt
1 Curse of Chains
2 Ghastly Discovery

11 Mountain
7 Island

This isn’t exactly going to be the average UR deck, but there is a ton of removal you can pick from to form one of those low creature-count decks which plays an all-star game. You don’t have to bother with the usual stuff in Limited, like two mana 2/2s, or four mana 3/3s… you cut to the removal and big dudes. It doesn’t hurt that Power of Fire combos with nine out of the eleven creatures in the deck.

Even though Nick Eisel has touched on the archetype, it feels like U/R could be one of the sleepers right now. As far as the entire format goes, it’s almost as if Wizards printed two of every hybrid card, one in each color, making signals damn near impossible. Maybe it will just take more time playing with it, but this format looks scary to me. Like a dark shadow passing by your bedroom door when the doors are locked and no one else is home.

Actually, that analogy doesn’t make sense. This format is more like a cluster of ducks all quacking to different tunes while performing at the Metropolitan Theater.

Hmmm… nope.

One of the best parts about playing this deck is the high number of Enchantments, giving you a couple of Enchant Creatures to bait any potential combo stoppers. You’re basically drafting a control deck that wants to hit all its land drops to build up to the game-breaking combo.

But who really gives a flying Pheldagriff about Limited anyway? It’s Standard’s bones that Magicians want to suck dry. After having weeks to build and test decks, I still found myself reaching for something new given the outrageous happenings at the Mega-Magic Weekend. I sought out Ben Lundquist, and we put together this hawt little metagamed number:

This deck is still in “that” phase. It’s past concept, past its first primer, but the engine still needs some work. Scarblade Elite is a great metagame creature now that people are switching to Terror over Nameless Inversion, and he doesn’t have silly color restrictions. Actually, the only creature in the deck that Terror can off is Tarmogoyf. Shadow Guildmage, Dusk Urchins, and the Murderous Redcap also fit the roll of Black dudes with card advantage abilities. Colossus, Redcap, and Scarblade Elite help to enable the guild lands.

There are six small removal spells, Tarfire and Nameless Inversion, which also serve the role of enabling the tribal lands. Profane Command revives important fallen comrades, and gets a little boost after board when Big Fulms shows up to the party. It also helps to put multiple -1/-1 counters on Dusk Urchins by giving it Fear, and gives this deck a lot of late game reach to set up the card advantage creatures over again while taking a chunk out of the opponent’s remaining life.

The mana has been the most frustrating part of this deck. I’ve never been able to get that cozy fit. When the list was first designed it featured Mogg Fanatic, but I just didn’t feel comfortable with being able to cast him on turn 1, so I cut him for Colossus and Treetop Villages. This version’s mana is much more solid, since Treetop can actually add Green, where Mutavault only complicated things.

I wish I had some more time to examine this deck, as it could be a few cards/slots away from becoming a monster. Perhaps the whole Assassin theme is a bit childish. It might just be better to bring Big Fulms into the main deck, and swap Redcap for Siege-Gang. But Elite is so much more rewarding. And there’s no better feeling than only drawing five spells against a Kithkin deck and still being about to knock out eleven of his spells in a flurry of Redcaps, Inversions, and an active Elite.

But enough of that R/B/G/u garbage. I mentioned in the forums that I’d been working on hyper-aggressive aggro decks, mostly consisting of Kithkin, Merfolk, and various warrior builds. By far the most successful of the bunch has been a deck reminiscent of that RG token deck that made a brief splurge onto the online Standard metagame last year.

Scatter the Seeds and Fists of Ironwood were the previous token generators, offering a cheap way to make two creatures and an instant speed route to making three at a reduced cost. It seems the roles have been switched, as Gilt-Leaf Ambush gives us a much better two-guy-producing spell, a instant that can yield non-traditional card advantage while setting up next turns play with the Clash. The slightly weaker Scatter replacement is Hunting Triad, which also presents the option for some reinforce action.

This deck follows a strict game plan of turn 1 mana accelerator followed by a herd of Elves to further advance the legion. Once enough troops have been gathered, Giantbaiting, Coat of Arms, and Overrun become much more attractive, along with the usual route of just making a horde of 2/2s and 3/3s with Paragon and Perfect. Four Overrun didn’t feel like enough, and all of the Red decks have access to Sulfurous Blast, Firespout, and Pyroclasm, so I cut an Overrun for two Coat of Arms, and benched the other two. They are the key to negating all of the Red deck’s board-sweepers and keeping the game in this deck’s advantage.

Squall Line isn’t my kind of card, but it gives this deck a late game topdeck when the situation is dire. It also happens to be a hoser for the biggest deck in Standard, so it feels like a natural inclusion. There’s also the potential to set up an enormous Squall Line with Heritage Druid opposite awkward situations like Teferi’s Moat.

The sideboard features Groundbreaker (the Green Ball Lightning) as a way to combat both Damnnation / Wrath of God decks and the Fae. Cloudthresher and another Squall Line give the deck seven instant speed board-sweepers. Garruk is there for any of the creature matches where their creatures aren’t swinging past yours, like all the Rock variants, but not against burn or Faeries to avoid it becoming a dead card.

Seal of Primordium is the throw-in whenever I’m up against Oblivion Rings, Grave Pacts, Teferi’s Moat, and the Bitterblossoms in the GB decks because they’ll also hit Loxodon Warhammer and possibly Shield of the Oversoul. They can also be handy against Dragonstorm to invalidate their Swathe combo while doubling as LD by taking out Lotus Bloom.

All in all, I feel like its a great choice for my perceived metagame. Things might change by the time I get to Hollywood, but this is the deck I’d play if the tournament started tomorrow, and if I was qualified, of course.

But for the Last Chance Qualifier, I’m feelin’ something a lot more Blue is in order, to give me more potential to outplay my opponents.

I was dreaming of the past. And my heart was beating fast. I began to lose control. I began to lose control.

Ah, my bread and butter. My train ticket to Chicago. My favorite card ever printed… such a shame his name resembles the bastard Fae. I’m not really sure what I can say about this deck, other than give you a guide on how to play against the Faeries.

The game is best explained in phases, and the first is the crucial Ancestral Vision war. This is where the game is won and lost by either player committing too much or too little to the rally. Whoever resolves Ancestral Vision is obviously going to be ahead, but if they haven’t played a spell thus far in the game, which is a very likely possibility, there’s no reason to even fight it. They will end up discarding one or two cards at the end of their turn since there isn’t a main phase spell they’d rather play to risk tapping mana for. If they do play something stupid, like a Bitterblossom, you have an opportunity to take advantage of having more mana than them during their end step and your main phase, which is the root of every serious control match. You have to water it gently to see your mana mature into a fully grown sequoia.

If the Wizards player has the Ancestral Vision, it’s extremely important to have a fight over it. You want them to spend mana during your upkeep. Pretty much any excuse to get in a fight. Throw Cliques and Vensers around, as they are completely meaningless in this matchup. But the beauty is that people think they are actually important. Sure, Clique can race, and Venser can bounce Ancestral Vision or Bitterblossom, but both aren’t needed for the inevitable long game plan. The end goal is to kill them with Oona or generate enough card advantage from Arcanis, and the easiest way to accomplish this is through Teferi. But you’d be surprised how many games you can run Faeries out of cards and just drop an Oona safely without counter backup.

Resolving Teferi will almost always result in winning the game, since over half their deck gets shut down by the resurging planeswalker, with Terror and possibly Sower being their only outs.

The second phase of the matchup is an early Bitterblossom. This can be countered a variety of ways: Desert, Venser, Cryptic Command, Magus of the Tabernacle. Bitterblossom takes a pretty decent amount of time to kill you, and is the main action-starter. They will usually try to protect their Blossom, which will give you some reach to sneak a Magus or Teferi into play. You can do this by charging up Calciform Pools every turn religiously, using Rune Snag when they have mana open, or via a Vendilion Clique or Venser to clear the way. Ideally you’d like to just sneak an Oona into play, but risking a Sower will turn it into a win or lose situation, and I’d rather set up a situation where I don’t have to make such a ballsy move.

This matchup will go long, so it’s important to play as quickly as possible. This deck rarely has any main phase action other than draw-land-go, so doing all your thinking during the opponent’s turn isn’t a bad idea. The weaker opponents will try and interact as often as possible, which will give you room to capitalize on their mis-steps. The experienced players will play the same draw-land-go style as you until they have a buildup of spells, or wait for an Ancestral to trigger some more action. Either way, Wizards has an edge due to the higher land count and Calciform Pools.

The third phase is another Ancestral Vision war. Keeping the train going is important, and using Tolaria West to churn out extra copies is the best use of the land in the early game. Pact is rarely good before turn 7 or 9, because the only situation where you use it is to protect a Teferi, Oona, or Arcanis, and spending five mana for a counter on the next turn isn’t too hot. But its utility in the deck is still well worth it, given that you can turn an excess land into a free counterspell for the big war.

Another aspect to this matchup is the numerous man-lands to which Faeries has access. For most control decks they would cause big problem, but for this deck there is hardly a better deal than having them tap three mana to inflict a measly two damage.

Post board you look to play the same shell game as game 1, only this time they have access to Thoughtseize. This means two Negate, a Magus of the Tabernacle, and an extra Oona are replacing two Venser, Austere Command, and Arbiter of Knollridge. It’s not the dedicated eight-slot instant speed Wrath, but Faeries doesn’t have an opportunity to overrun you without jeopardizing their shot in a Teferi battle or overextending into Magus. The better players will acknowledge this and play into the long game plan, where this deck is more suited to win. The inexperienced players will rush the kill and fall victim to a Teferi.

The goal of the Faeries matchup is to wait for your opponent to screw up. Tapping wrong, trying to play the aggro deck, playing a dude when he shouldn’t have, attacking with man lands, fighting over Ancestrals. These are all interactions in which the Wizard deck can jump on top of Faeries. But again, I’m probably going to play the Green deck if I do LCQ. I feel that the margins for the Wizard deck drop significantly against opponents who make a low amount of mistakes per game. Sneaking the necessary creatures into play is much harder to do against players who are ready for it and know how to maneuver in counter wars.

After Faeries hand is exhausted, or if you know they have no action via Vendilion Clique, it’s the time to pounce with the power Wizards. If you manage an upkeep with Arcanis or Oona it’s nearly impossible to lose. The most dangerous card Faeries has is almost certainly Spellstutter Sprite… which unfortunately tips the number of permission spells in their favor. Thankfully, Rune Snag is easier for me to play around than them, so it’s still about even. Also, if they don’t have a Bitterblossom in play, Spellstutter’s actual casting cost is increased due to the fact they have to activate man-lands to get enough Fae in play.

I’m very confident in this matchup, but it will only yield 55-60% against an experienced player. However, at the grinders I’d expect that to increase to about 70%.

I honestly haven’t tested Dragon’s Claw in the sideboard, but it seems much more efficient (and castable) than Forge[/author]-Tender”]Burrenton [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author]-Tender. The Red matchup is first on my list given its rise in popularity. I’ve had no trouble with any of the previous Red incarnations, thanks to Arbiter acting as a pseudo-Worship stopping me from ever losing. But they have a striking number of new tools to abuse the control player, and I definitely need to test the matchup before embarking to the wood.

I haven’t played a smidgen of Block Constructed, but I’d really like to play with a bunch of good spells. So I threw this together with zero games seen, played, or theorized. I have absolutely nothing to say on it other than if I get a chance to PTQ at all this weekend, and lord knows early mornings and late nights will be a big problem, I’ll probably just raw dog this list.

Any ideas for a sideboard?

I once knew a man named Teferi,
His torso was rippled and hairy,
He couldn’t shake a leg*,
So he was forced to beg,
For a tattered women to hop into bed with him and do all sorts of crazy freaky flashy things that would see him incarcerated because she looked underage.


Top 5 Picks
1) Wu-Revolution – Wu-Tang Clan
2) Got To Let Go – A Band Of Bees
3) King Without A Crown – Matisyahu
4) Lovers In The Backseat – Scissor Sisters
5) Disappearing Line – Umbrella Sequence

* We all know that can’t be true. Teferi is the biggest playa Dominaria has ever seen. Maybe second to Urza, but I think chicks dig the shaved dew over Urza’s white mane.