This past weekend, instead of rocketing off to Oakland with an Elvish Army, I decided to sit back in the SA and attempt the first of a local $1K Standard tournament series that will run each week for the foreseeable future. I’m pretty hyped about this; however, I can’t really be too hopeful for the longevity of the tournament since there were only 26 people and I’m not sure if the turnouts are really going to get much bigger. It was basically a glorified FNM with only the local hustlers ready to do battle.
Worldwake was legal, so I had my first chance to give Jace, the Mind Sculptor, Treasure Hunt, and Halimar Depths a go for their money accompanied by the Ranger of Crabs shell. The results have inspired me so much that I’m seriously considering flying out to San Diego today to mill all of those unsuspecting LCQ folk. Here’s the brew I played…
Worldwaking Up Ranger of Crabs
4 Noble Hierarch
1 Birds of Paradise
4 Hedron Crab
4 Knight of the Reliquary
4 Ranger of Eos
3 Path to Exile
2 Treasure Hunt
3 Rampant Growth
4 Archive Trap
4 Jace, the Mind Sculptor
4 Misty Rainforest
4 Terramorphic Expanse
2 Scalding Tarn
1 Verdant Catacombs
2 Halimar Depths
1 Seriji Steppe
2 Baneslayer Angel
2 Wall of Reverence
4 Rhox War Monk
2 Pithing Needle
1 Path to Exile
Ya, yah, yeah, 61… I was trying to get a feel for the deck. Going into the tournament I’d only played about twenty games with the deck. Ten of those were against Jund and I was boasting a surprising 7-3 record. One thing I noticed is how their manabase is a little bit slower with the addition of Raging Ravine. It’s a very powerful weapon for them to upgrade to, but its presence in this match-up is sketchy at best. The others were against a combination of Vampires, Grixis Control, Bant, and Boros, and I felt like I was on the right track with Jace being a very crucial piece pretty much across the board.
During my testing I kept thinking my late game Bird draws were a problem, so I opted for the sturdier mill-enabling Rampant Growth instead. I wanted to hit my busty four-drops on turn 3 every game, and Birds can be killed rather easily which wouldn’t give me the jump start this deck needs to leave them scratching their heads in the dust. Growth combined with Path gives the deck that extra little push toward the end of the game when you have two or three Crabs out, to get the job done if you didn’t draw any Archive Traps.
I didn’t fully realize how insane this card is until I was drawing into the top 8, but it does EVERYTHING you need in this deck. His +2 isn’t that great, but against decks with Burn when the game is slowing down, it’s a good option to have. The Brainstorm is obviously what makes Jace tick, being a very solid source of card advantage in a formerly dehydrated format. In Crabs you’ve got a ton of ways to shuffle your library with eleven fetchlands, Knights, Rampant Growth, and Ranger of Eos, giving him a lot of value because you’re putting your worst two cards on top and shuffling frequently to enable you to dig even deeper to make the combo more fluid than in the past. When you accelerate into Jace on the play, and they only have one creature out, it’s an almost insurmountable hurdle to try and pump enough creatures out to race his bouncing, which can often buy you three to four turns. With that time you can get the other card drawing engines going and if you have a backup by the time they take care of Jace you don’t need to dig too much more to have enough gas to put them on a very consistent two-turn mill clock.
I honestly can’t even do justice to his grandeur. This is one of my favorite Blue spells of all time. Unlike most Planeswalkers, Jace has three immediate abilities that you can use, giving him a much deeper decision tree than the others. This is obviously great for Blue and control decks, but my interest is his applications for combo decks, which are a dead form in Standard. His digging ability combined with fetchlands is unparalleled right now and, combined with his ability to hold off creatures and relevant +2 ability, Jace is going to be a more influential Mythic than Baneslayer Angel, for Standard at least. I’m not sure if it can hang in Extended where the burn is brighter and creatures more efficient.
On Halimar Depths & Treasure Hunt…
In this deck, Halimar Depths essentially gives you a ten-card opening hand. Find the Crab, play it on turn 2, drop a fetchland, and shuffle away the crap. It’s about the best start you can hope for, and if there’s gas on top, just save the fetchland and use it next turn. One of the subtle tricks in this deck is waiting to use the fetch when you think they have a removal spell. They’re anticipating you to use it so they can kill a Crab in response, so just play it cool and make them make the first move. On top of being the best turn 1 play possible, Halimar Depths is also a great utility to have later in the game when your stalled out with a Knight of the Reliquary, functioning very similar to Ponder. EOT grab a Depths, draw the card you want, shuffle again for another Depths, draw the card you want, and all of a sudden you’re back in the game with two great spells.
My initial deck lists had four Treasure Hunt and three Jace. Treasure Hunt kept underperforming, and my newest version of the deck at the end of the article actually omits it entirely. It looked like Hunt would be the best card ever for this deck. You’ve got Ponder, Depths, Jace, but you’ve also got a fetch-heavy manabase which is constantly trimming the number of lands in the deck. This meant I wasn’t going to get good random value out of casting it on turn two, making it a card I’d have to keep setting up before I cast it. At that point I’d rather have something that can operate on its own lie Gift of the Gargantuan or something like Grim Discovery to pull be back in a game, but Treasure Hunt has a lackluster feel to it. I’m playing a “landfall” deck, so drawing lots of lands and a business spell is an awesome resource, but it takes too much time and mana to set up to be worth a damn. I’d rather have something sleek and efficient.
Round 1 I played against Naya, and crushed it easily 2-0. He had some rough mana starts where his Loam Lions and Nacatls weren’t being all they could be and my Pithing Needle on Ajani stopped him from being able to get rid of my Jace. In the early game he used up all his Bolts n Bursts on my mana producers and early Crab, then when my Ranger and Jace came down he didn’t have enough gas to deal with them. Once I saw he had Bolt, Burst, Path, Ajani, along with a horde of tiny creatures, I felt I’d be better off going the War Monk route and boarded out all my Traps, Crabs, and Rangers in favor of the Rhox + Angel game plan.
Round 2 I was matched against the esteemed James Wise, and crushed him 2-0 handily as well. He was piloting one of his James Wise Control specials, this time being a RBW brew with all kinds of good stuff from Baneslayer Angel to Abyssal Persecutor and Day of Judgment to Smother. Lots of removal, big dudes to finish, and a hard-to-stomach manabase with that new R/B man land that can pump its power equal to X. Game 2 was pretty funny; I went down to -3 while he beat me down with Persecutor and Banegels, but I had two Negates handy to take care of his attempts to kill his Persecutor. That bought me enough time to find a Ranger, and with a couple Knights in play it didn’t take long to mill him out.
Round 3 was up against Vampires, which I thought would be a lot rougher than it was. It went to three games because I screwed up and forgot to put a Path to Exile in my hand when I was going to kill him next turn. I should have figured his only out to win was to play a second Nocturnus, hit a Black spell, then hit another Black spell when I sacrificed my fetchland. I was at twenty and a little impatient. All three games I accelerated into Jace on turn 3, and he had stone no answer for it outside of a Hexmage once. Vampires is seriously screwed opposite Jace; they drop a dude, you bounce it, they drop a dude, you bounce it, they land a Nighthawk, you +2 to put Jace out of range. It seriously goes like that every time. In a match-up I thought I’d be a slight dog, it actually turns out I’m a huge favorite if they can’t deal with the tempo-gasmic Battlefieldsculptor.
I drew my next two rounds…
This was when I found out the actual prize of the tournament was $500 in cash to the top 4 and $500 in booster packs to the 2nd-8th. First would get $250, second gets $150 + 15 packs, 3th and 4th get $50 and 15 packs, and the rest of the top eight gets 20 packs. What the hell kind of payout is that? The goal in this type of tournament is to get top 4, then draw to bank $125 and some packs. Winning is nice and all, but I’m not about to risk getting that measly $50 bucks and packs I’ll sell at my standard rate of $2.80 a pack.
In the top 8 I played against a guy I dislike, someone I haven’t talked to in five years. When I used to own Magic cards, I let him borrow my playset of Ravagers for a tournament back when they were pulling $30 apiece. He straight up told me he was never going to give them back, since he’d sold them and had no plans to ever pay me back.
He was playing a bad UWR list, and I smashed his balls into the table. Then he blamed the loss on his friends who told him I was playing Aggro Bant when they saw my post board game against Naya, since he kept a bad hand against a mill deck. We need to reinstate guillotines in game shops. The English had it right… anyone who sucked, they’d throw in stocks. They’d throw food at them, and cut their head off the next morning. It worked back then, so I don’t see why we couldn’t bring back that fantastic means of control again.
Here’s the updated list I’ve been working on…
Seriji Steppe just doesn’t ever do anything, and I’d really like a Glacial Fortress to have a White/Blue source that doesn’t enter the battlefield tapped. I also felt I could shave a Rampant Growth for a Wargate for versatility, and with only one card left I’d like to have another Archive Trap.
The sideboard changed a fair bit. I don’t think you need to have Wall of Reverence anymore, and I’d like to have more Archive Traps post board to be able to mill them through the creature hate control decks like Grixis and occasionally UWR. When sideboarding, I usually end up shaving a Rampant Growth, Paths, a Jace on occasion, the Bird in match-ups where I don’t have to block a Baneslayer, Sphinx, or Knight with an Elspeth pump. Sideboarding with this deck is just about being objective and figuring out what corners you can cut to increase your power at the cost of stability. I also shave a Ponder whenever I don’t need to be very quick out the gates in control and Jund matchups. If you’re positive they’re bringing in Hemorrhage, I also usually shave a Hedron Crab and bring in the Snares. Sometimes, all you need to do is triple Trap them and get any landfall trigger off a Crab, and if they start aiming their hate toward the Crabs you’ve got to keep pace by bringing in the Snares to reinforce the mill strategy.
Against Jund I always board out the Archive Traps in favor of Baneslayer Angel and Negates. The key there is that if they use all their removal on Jace, the Crabs, and Knights, you’ve got plenty of ways to dig to a Baneslayer, and by the time you drop it they rarely have an answer.
The key is being patient; if they’ve got mana up they aren’t doing anything to advance their clock on you, so you’re usually in good shape if you just keep drawing cards to set up an explosive mill 30+ turn with Crabs.
For all you qualified for San Diego, you should really give this deck a spin. Jace has completely transformed it into a contender. I’ve also got a couple of other similar versions featuring Lotus Cobra, but those feel a little too narrow and heavy on the mana side of things to win consistently. Another idea you might try is cutting the Green for Black cards like Esper Charm and Grim Discovery. Keep the Ranger of Eos, throw in Everflowing Chalice to accelerate? There might be something scary there too…
One thing’s for sure… using Antoine to grab some Crabs is a very realistic approach to winning games now that we’ve got adequate Blue card draw to provide consistency to the obscure combo.
Thanks for reading…