Feature Article – Approaching Lorwyn Block Constructed

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Wednesday, May 14th – With the eyes of the world set firmly on Standard and the upcoming Pro Tour: Hollywood, Luis Scott-Vargas takes a preliminary look at the next important Constructed format: Lorwyn Block Constructed. He offers his thoughts on the all-conquering Faeries, and posits that, in Block at least, they may not be as strong as you might think…

It has come to my attention that people are interested in hearing about Lorwyn Block, the format for the next season of PTQs. This is, for the most part, an untouched format with no big events held thus far, opening it up for some creativity before everyone has Top 8 decklists to work with. There are two PTQs at PT: Hollywood that will be particularly interesting, as they break the ground for Block. I enjoy formats like that, and plus, surely Lorwyn Block can’t be quite as dominated by Faeries as Standard?

Well, yes and no.

Faeries is good, and at least initially going to be the best deck. However, I think there is some hope for those of us who don’t get enjoyment out of repetitively casting Scion of Oona and Bitterblossom.

Part of the reason that Faeries will be so good initially is simply that it is the easiest deck to build. Its pedigree is already proven in Standard, and modifying it for Block is no hard task. The core of the deck remains, and the changes are easy. Essentially, Faeries is the beneficiary of thousands upon thousands of hours of virtual testing due to its popularity in Standard. Other decks not only aren’t as popular as Faeries in Standard, but also don’t make the transition so seamlessly. Elves without any sort of Llanowar Elf, and Red Deck Wins missing Tarmogoyf, Keldon Marauders, Mogg Fanatic, Incinerate and more just don’t make the leap from Standard to Block so easily.

Thankfully, it isn’t hard to imagine as Block season continues that other decks will catch up to the level of testing Faeries has, as people start devoting attention to this format. As of now, most people have yet to really consider Block at all, and that will change soon enough. Once it does, other decks will be tuned and tested to the same extent as Faeries.

Of course, Faeries isn’t just good because it’s easy to make. It’s also good because of the fact that it is a really strong deck to begin with. Block isn’t Standard though, and there are some key differences that might topple this elephant. First, Lorwyn Block is an extremely creature heavy block. Most decks will be built upon Tribal lines, and even the ones that don’t will be hard-pressed to avoid containing a large amount of men. Like it or not (and I am getting a little sick of it), creatures have been pushed. A nearly creatureless deck is a rarity in Standard, and nigh impossible in Lorwyn. What does this mean for everyone’s favorite Tinkerbell? Faeries has traditionally had a weakness (only in the relative sense of course, since Faeries doesn’t really have bad matchups as we have come to find out) to fast creature-based decks. Even a turn 2 Bitterblossom, Faeries optimal opening, doesn’t seem very exciting if the opponent has deployed two guys by that time. Elementals, Kithkin, Elves, Goblins, all will try to exploit this vulnerability, and combined with the lack of a good U/B board sweeper, Final Revels notwithstanding, it is a legitimate strategy.

Faeries also lost Ancestral Vision and Rune Snag, two pretty key pieces to its Standard dominance. And before anyone chimes in about how other decks lose cards also, my point is simply that Faeries won’t necessarily be the best deck, not that it doesn’t get worse. All decks by will have fewer options in Block, but Faeries was constructed in such a manner that losing these cards without any replacements hurt it a lot more than similar changes in other decks. Let’s take a look at what a typical Faeries deck might initially look like (from a recent Grand Prix Trial held in Porto):

While Thoughtseize does resemble a replacement for Rune Snag by providing some early game disruption, there is no good replacement for Ancestral Visions. This list and similar ones will be what many people will default to at first, but again I don’t think that Faeries is at quite the level it is in Standard. I might consider replacing Vendilion Clique with more Sowers, as Sower seems pretty strong in such a creature heavy format.

Okay, enough about Faeries. I think I have typed the word “faerie” more than any other word if you look at all my recent articles, and I’ve had just about enough of that. Let’s see what some good starting points are, given that Block looks like it’s going to be made up of a ton of creature-based decks.

Firespout is the single best Wrath effect in the format. It only costs three, and can even avoid killing your own guys. The biggest strike against it is its particular mana requirements, seeing as how Red and Green aren’t the colors most in need of Wraths. It also pretty much demands both Red and Green mana, as running only half of Firespout is a sideboard card at best. What advantages can be gained with this card? Even a controlling deck is going to play a fair amount of creatures, but the nature of Firespout is such that you can easily build so that it has little effect on your guys. Obviously using it as just Hurricane is the easiest way to accomplish this, but that only really comes in to play against a certain Blue-Black deck filled will small flying creatures. Otherwise, playing big guys like Chameleon Colossus or Wilt-Leaf Liege, or possibly guys whose death isn’t a big deal like Kitchen Finks or Murderous Redcap, would do the trick.

Something along these lines lets you play 4 Firespout with little consequence to your own guys. Only a few of your creatures die to it, and Wilt-Leaf Liege minimizes Firespout’s effect even more. Being able to harness Firespout, particularly in an aggressive deck, will be very valuable in the upcoming Block season. Ideally you stay aggressive enough to challenge Bitterblossom and the like, while retaining the ability to wreck other aggressive decks with Spouts. A well-timed Firespout will destroy an unprepared Kithkin or Elf deck, and particularly coming out of a deck with Wren’s Run Vanquisher it may be surprising. Kithkin have the option of siding in Forge[/author]-Tender”]Burrenton [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author]-Tender, a man I expect four of in every Kithkin sideboard. That doesn’t seem like much of a problem for you, being as Forge-Tender is laughable against your huge Green men, as well as still giving you the option Inversion’ing the Forge-Tender before Spouting off.

The package of GW hybrid guys is quite powerful, providing some pretty large men for a low cost, and letting you get in with Shield of the Oversoul. The Shield may have some vulnerability to bounce and removal such as Oblivion Ring, but Shield on a Wilt-Leaf Cavaliers is just game over for decks without access to those effects, like a normal Elf or Goblin build. The mana might look messy, but actually is quite good. All lands produce Green, unless you get the draw of multiple Thickets and Wooded Bastion, which of you of course mulligan like a good Magic player. It is certainly possible some Commands of the Profane and or Primal variety belong in, but the creature set should give you enough late game as is. Oversoul of Dusk in particular packs quite a punch, really only answerable with Oblivion Ring or a bunch of Green dudes.

Another aspect to consider when brainstorming decks in this format is the absence of nearly creatureless Blue-based control. Mulldrifter and Cryptic Command are the best ways to draw cards, and that is quite slim when compared to previous blocks. Time Spiral had the awesome combination of Mystical Teachings and Careful Consideration, with the added bonus of Foresee on top. Ravnica had Compulsive Research and Bottled Cloister, as well as Remand acting like a Cryptic Command for half the mana. What does the lack of card draw mean for a format? Well, it turns out that building a slow control deck is made much more difficult. There is really no purpose to trying to go long game when that doesn’t give you a measurable advantage, and having no efficient way of drawing cards hinders that greatly. Back when it was just Lorwyn, a very popular deck was UB control with Mulldrifter, Shriekmaw, Mannequin, Profane Command, sometimes even Jace and Liliana. Such a deck seems like a tough sell now that Bitterblossom is out, as all the card draw you can assemble just pales in comparison. Lastly, the lack of a good Wrath outside of Firespout makes traditional UB or UW control hard to assemble as well. Austere Command is good but expensive, and generally going to be a bit slow for this format. You have to use so much of your one-for-one removal to stay alive until Austere that you aren’t really getting much advantage out of casting it.

Basically, Bitterblossom, the lack of good card draw and the need for a nice Wrath makes Blue-based control not too viable. I would love nothing more than for another Teachings-style deck to be good, but that doesn’t appear to be an option. A Mannequin-style deck might be decent, but Bitterblossom really puts a damper on the viability of any slow deck. You can of course play your own Bitterblossoms, but that just puts you in a fight that is tough to win. Your unaccompanied Bitterblossom against one with Scion of Oona and Mistbind Clique as backup just doesn’t seem fair.

So, looking at Lorwyn block, what do we have. We have a format where the best Wrath is Red and Green, traditional Blue-based control will have trouble flourishing, and an aggro-control UB deck is going to be at the top of the heap at the start. Most decks will be built on tribal lines, and even the ones that don’t will have some tribal synergies almost without exceptions. While I think the “all creatures all the time” thing is getting a bit old, it’s what we got for this block. Depending on how popular Faeries ends up being, it seems like an aggressive deck that can harness the power of Firespout might be very effective. The decks that will start out popular are probably the Tribal decks of Faeries, Kithkin, Elves, and the much less tribal Red Deck Wins. Firespout is insane against all of those decks, killing just about every creature played in those decks. It’s actually possible that Firespout is good enough to play even if it kills a lot of your own guys, much like Wrath of God in aggressive mirrors, something that has been used from time to time. If you know you have Wraths and they don’t, you can come out slowly in order for them to overextend. This even works after they know you have Firespout, as they might be wary of coming out too fast, slowing themselves down while allowing you to come out quickly without fear of reprisal.

Despite the difficulty of assembling a blue control deck, it isn’t out of the question to make a Green-Red based alternative. Primal Command, Firespout, Cloudthresher, Garruk, Chameleon Colossus are all pretty powerful, although a little slow. If Faeries doesn’t end up as popular as it is in Standard, I would be willing to look at slower and more controllish decks, but as it stands I definitely would advise against starting there. Despite the setup of this block as creatures bashing against each other, I have good expectations. Hopefully, Faeries isn’t as bone-crushingly good as Standard, opening up the metagame a little bit for decks other than Faeries and super-aggressive decks. I don’t like choosing between the two, but Lorwyn block has the distinct possibility of allowing other and more interesting decks to see some play at least. Especially once PT: Hollywood is over in a few weeks, I will be able to get some good playtesting in for Block. As of now it is hard to justify playing much Block (although I have played some) when Standard still remains unbroken.

Feel free to offer any comments, criticism, or Standard decks that beat Faeries in the forums.