Feature Article – Back to the Grind: Archive Trap In the New Standard

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Friday, October 9th – Those who know me know I’m a pretty nice guy. Need someone to help move furniture, got a favor to ask, I’m your man. And yet, my favorite Magic decks to play are resource denial decks; land destruction, hand denial and mill decks. Deep down, I suspect I’m a closet sadist. It would explain so very many things.

Those who know me know I’m a pretty nice guy. Need someone to help move furniture, got a favor to ask, I’m your man.

And yet, my favorite Magic decks to play are resource denial decks; land destruction, hand denial and mill decks. Deep down, I suspect I’m a closet sadist. It would explain so very many things.

But that’s neither here nor there. Zendikar has many exciting cards, not just the enemy color fetchlands. Warren Instigator, Lotus Cobra, Sorin Markov — all worthy of praise.

What really caught my eye, however, was Archive Trap. That card got my inner sadist thinking. Mill decks have, on occasion, been really good, and Sanity Grinding was one of those knocking-on-Tier-1 decks pre-rotation.

But why mill thirteen? Thirteen does seem like an odd number, but if you haven’t already figured it out, consider this: Your opponent is on the play, opens with a Misty Rainforest, cracks it for a land and passes the turn. Their deck is now 52 cards deep.

For the math-challenged in the audience, 52 is also what thirteen times four equals.

Somewhere, some lucky soul is going to get to live the dream of the turn 1 kill without even playing a land, and, lo, the Admiral Ackbar impressions will be everywhere.

Yes, it’s going to be that bad, but it could be worse. At least you aren’t Timothy Rose, the actor who played Admiral Ackbar. Can you imagine what his day is like? Being followed by Star Wars nerds, screaming “Say it! Say it!” all day long, until you finally turn, hang your head, sigh mournfully, then mumble “… it’s a trap,” lamenting how you went from the Royal Shakespeare Company to this.

But back to matters at hand: Could an Archive Trap-based deck be playable in post-Zendikar Standard?

Sanity Grinding
John M Jackson
1st Place at Pro Tour Qualifier on 08-09-2009

Say what you will, this post-M10 deck won a qualifier in that Magic hotbed of Lincoln, Nebraska, and it’s a good a starting point as any. For those who have been living under a rock for the past year, Sanity Grinding won by milling you with its namesake card for, on a good pull, 15-18 cards, and perhaps Twincasting that for another quarter of your deck. Jace’s ultimate would do a pretty good job of milling your library as well. Plumeveil was an effective instant speed deterrent, there was plenty of good, cheap countermagic and Cryptic Command… well, I don’t think I need to add anything there.

Rotation hits this deck hard, and not just with the loss of Sanity Grinding. The Blue Wrath, Evacuation, and the underrated but critical Boomerang were lost with M10 (although M10 did open the door to the brutal Time Warp plus Twincast combo and the two-turn lockdown of Sleep). Lorwyn’s rotation also sees Broken Ambitions, Plumeveil, Dream Fracture, and (sob!) Cryptic Command disappear.

And as for new counters, well… If you love countermagic, you aren’t going to love Zendikar. When a reprinted Cancel is the best of the lot, in that regard, the set is found wanting. I can’t remember the last time Standard had such a poor counterspell base. Somewhere, Jamie Wakefield is smiling.

Lack of quality counters aside, that leaves a Blue/artifact core of Howling Mine, Jace Beleren, Archive Trap, Time Warp, and Twincast for a possible revamp.

What other quality Blue cards are there in Zendikar for this archetype?

Trapmaker’s Snare: Could feasibly function as an extra copy of Archive Trap, or as a tutor for other Trap cards that might fit, such as…

Mindbreak Trap: Most likely more of an anti-combo card in older formats, unless you expect to see a lot of Bituminous Blast into Bloodbraid Elf into the three mana spell du jour. It can kill a cascade stack, which makes it worth considering if Jund Cascade decks are popular.

Whiplash Trap: Could be effective against aggro decks. Too expensive otherwise, and can be played around. Undo this quite ain’t.

Hedron Crab: Not unthinkable, but this guy won’t likely live long enough to have that much of an effect on the game. Now, if it was a 0/4 for 1U, say? That would be a different story.

Into The Roil: A good bounce spell, but if it only hit land (but it will hit enchantments, which may prove important with various quest-type cards, and yes, Bloodscale Ascension, I am looking at you). It’s one of the few good tempo cards in the set, so it might actually merit inclusion. Might. I commit to nothing here.

Archmage Ascension: You’ll be drawing a lot of cards in this deck, yes, but this just seems too darn slow.

Summoner’s Bane: Did you not read the previous line about “worst counterspells ever?”

Mono-Blue is clearly no longer an option, but since we don’t depend on Sanity Grinding any longer, that’s not a problem. We’ll need to dip into another color, but which ones? Red and Green don’t really offer anything to the archetype. White seems the obvious and traditional choice, what with its copious removal spells of spot and global variety and damage prevention effects. But what about Black? There’s some interesting tools in that box.

Here’s a question: Do you want to run fetchlands simply because they’re available? In an allied color deck, they’re just glorified and painful Terramorphic Expanses, and if you’re facing a field full of aggro, making their job easier is not what you want.

Given that this deck already has beaucoup card drawing effects, I’m willing to go without them — for now. Further testing will reveal if this is the correct decision. Now, if I was splashing both Black and White, I’d definitely want four Marsh Flats. But I’m not, at least not yet (and that manabase would make the baby Jesus cry).

Mind Funeral can be pretty hit or miss; sometimes you’ll get a quarter of your opponent’s deck, sometimes you help them out of mana flood, but it does make an inviting Twincast target. Nemesis of Reason is not only a mill card but a beefy ass to hold the fort as needed. I like the versatility of Sorin Markhov as removal/lifegain and the Mindslaver effect, especially in combination with Magosi, the Waterveil (“I’ll skip my next turn, but I’ll be taking yours instead.”)

Trouble is, however, while Infest is a good sweeper, there’s a very, very large list of things it won’t kill. Perhaps Doom Blade would be the better choice here?

Also notice: no counterspells. Seriously, what’s worth running in the main? If my prediction is correct and Standard is going to be overrun by creature decks (pun most definitely intended), then a grip of Essence Scatters might be worthwhile, or perhaps some combination of that card and Negate. I can’t believe I’m writing that, but that’s what we’re reduced to. Dare I say, Cancel?

Do you run sub-standard counters to at least make your opponent think about what’s in your hand with two of three Islands up, or do you just damn the torpedoes and try to take your opponent to zero cards before you hit zero life? That’s a question I haven’t answered to my satisfaction yet.

While a Black version of the deck looks interesting, let’s not kid ourselves; control decks are going to want to run White for the removal. In this deck, Path to Exile is really going to shine… are you sure you want to search for a land? Really? Do you feel lucky, punk?

I decided against either Wall of Frost or Wall of Denial in this initial build. I’m fearing an environment filled with Gatekeeper of Malakir, as I’m fairly positive that aggro Vampire decks will be most everywhere, at least in the beginnings of this metagame. Nonetheless, a creature-heavy deck is going to have its work cut out for it trying to punch through.

In the U/W variant, I am running the singleton Trapmaker’s Snare. While I don’t have them in now, it can fish up a Pitfall Trap or Arrow Volley Trap, although the latter is most likely too expensive and too difficult to trigger. The former is quite acceptable, especially against exalted-centric decks.

Angelsong gets the nod over Sleep here. In a deck sans attackers, Angelsong and Sleep serve a similar function, and Angelsong at least replaces itself in the worst case scenario.

One possibility to explore with White is the transformational sideboard, not uncommon to control decks of this ilk. Stash four Baneslayer Angels in the sideboard and bring them in once your opponent sideboards out his/her removal. It’s worked before and it’ll work again.

I do have one very, very big concern about this deck: what if no one else is running fetchlands? Not even the Vampire decks? If that’s the case, we have one very, very large lead balloon here.

So, what’s the initial verdict on this concoction? I like this deck, but I suspect it’s like pre-Morningtide Faeries — okay, but needing that one or two extra cards to push it into genuinely nasty. Mono-Black decks, both aggro and control, can shred this (a turn 5 Mind Sludge would be just as bad here as it was in Odyssey block, and there’s no Basking Rootwallas to discard nor Deep Analysis to flash back).

But the concept is definitely worth exploring further. As Kyle Sanchez said, the best time for Blue decks are when they’re down and no one’s expecting them. Give me one good counter — just one — and we’ll see if it’s time to start brushing up on the Mon Calmari.