Feature Article – Elemental Control in Lorwyn Block Constructed

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Tuesday, May 13th – Tom LaPille is having a week off… in his place, we have StarCityGames Mega-Magic Weekend Top 8 player Gerry Thompson! With a Block Constructed PTQ season on the horizon, and a Block Constructed Grand Prix in the UK mere weeks away, GerryT takes us through an exciting Elemental-themed control deck that has fine matchups against the aggro creature decks in the evolving format…

For today’s edition of “I Help You Get Better At Magic,” I thought that I should talk about rules lawyering and how to get away with it. I’ll show you how to trick rules-inept opponents, confuse players who don’t speak English as their first language, and I’ll even go so far as teaching you the coveted “drop kick” where suddenly your opponent has presented an illegal deck! You really have to be careful though, as some judges may consider this cheating.

Okay, I’m joking. This isn’t a Tom LaPille article. This is GerryT taking over for him with the latest in Block Constructed tech*.

I’m not nearly as excited for Lorwyn Block Constructed season as I was for last year’s Time Spiral equivalent. They haven’t print a 3U instant with which I can dominate (yet). However, there is a massive amount of excellent control cards, and for that I am thankful. Despite the heavy tribal theme, I will still be able to play a control deck. Here is what I have been working on:

4 Smokebraider
4 Mulldrifter
4 Spitebellows
4 Cloudthresher
3 Shriekmaw

4 Firespout
4 Nameless Inversion
4 Makeshift Mannequin
3 Primal Command

4 Primal Beyond
4 Reflecting Pool
4 Graven Cairns
4 Fire-Lit Thicket
4 Vivid Crag
3 Vivid Marsh
2 Mountain
1 Swamp

Spitebellows is probably going to be doing great things in this block. Doran and Chameleon Colossus are both popular, difficult-to-kill animals, and the 6/1 has no problem dispatching them. Firespout (and your other removal spells) can take care of the smaller stuff.

Naturally, I set out to see how this list would fare against what I can only assume is the deck to beat at the moment: Faeries. Faeries might not be the monster it is in Standard, but most of the pieces are there. I wasn’t able to find a consensus best list so I had to build one myself. The automatic four-ofs (in my mind) are Bitterblossom, Spellstutter Spite, Scion of Oona, Mistbind Clique, Pestermite, and Cryptic Command. Past that, the choices are wide open. There are several solid counter spells like Familiar’s Ruse, Broken Ambitions, and Faerie Trickery. You could get some card selection or tutoring with Ponder and Faerie Harbinger. You could even build a hybrid Mannequin/Faerie deck like the Russians have done. Even the removal is plentiful. I figured that testing results would be best if I stuck with the most stock list possible.

4 Spellstutter Sprite
4 Scion of Oona
4 Pestermite
4 Mistbind Clique

3 Thoughtseize
4 Bitterblossom
4 Cryptic Command
4 Nameless Inversion
2 Broken Ambitions
2 Peppersmoke

4 Sunken Ruins
4 Secluded Glen
4 Mutavault
4 Vivid Creek
2 Swamp
5 Island
2 Reflecting Pool

The only questionable slots were the two Broken Ambitions and two Peppersmokes. I have seen a lot of elemental decks, whether they be Mono-Red Aggro or Control, and Peppersmoke is an All Star against them. It’s also very solid in the mirror, allowing you to maintain Scion advantage. Broken Ambitions seemed like the next best counterspell, and the deck was somewhat lacking in permission. I could have just played Ponder in those slots but I personally don’t like it in Faeries. The deck is very tight on the mana curve, and playing Ponder would be very similar to playing too many comes-into-play tapped lands. I think digging for a Bitterblossom would be perfect on turn 1, and so would be digging for gas on turn 7. Anytime in between, Ponder seems a bit suspect.

A quick rundown on some of the more interesting games seems appropriate, considering Block is a new format and you might not have a feel of how the matchup plays out. Faeries went first and then alternated.

First game, Smokebraider was Nameless Inversioned and Mulldrifter got Broken Ambitioned. Cryptic Command countered an end of turn Mannequin, which let Primal Command resolve, fetching another Mulldrifter. Faeries drew a Bitterblossom but had no counter for Mulldrifter. A Pestermite let the Faeries get through for a little bit of damage and a Firespout got Sprited. Thoughtseize got rid of a sandbagged Cloudthresher but a second Firespout resolved. After that, it was pretty easy for Spitebellows to finish off the Faerie deck with the help of some spot removal.

The second game was over very quickly. Smokebraider was Thoughtseized, showing a hand of all five-drops. Turn 2 and 3 Spellstutters fueled the turn 4 and 5 Mistbind Cliques that sealed the game.

Thoughtseize took Primal Command in the third game, showing a Spitebellows that came down on turn 3, but not much else in the way of action. Bitterblossom easily took it down because of Elementals didn’t draw much business.

Faeries started with a mulligan. Again, Thoughtseize proved crucial, taking a Mulldrifter. However, turn 3 Scion allowed the discarded Mulldrifter to get Mannequined. From there, the Faerie deck couldn’t really cope with being down so many cards, especially since the Elemental deck had seemingly infinite spells.

Faeries started with a second turn Bitterblossom after another mulligan, but had to basically move in on playing the second one as well. Three Cloudthreshers managed to wipe the board enough times for the Faerie enchantment to kill its owner.

The sixth game was very interesting. An early Thoughtseize took Primal Command once again while revealing a pair of Cloudthreshers. I thought Faeries would have to set in for the long game because of those Threshers and some semi-dead removal in hand, but a Pestermite and Scion tag team got in a for a few points. The first Cloudthresher got countered by Cryptic Command. The second one wiped the board, although it left Elementals at only five life. Facing a Mutavault and some potential flash creatures, Thresher had to stay home. Faeries ran out an end of turn Scion in case they drew a Pestermite to tap down the Thresher, but missed and has to pass the turn. Elementals decided to try Shriekmaw, but the Scion got Peppersmoked in response and Shriekmaw accidentally killed Cloudthresher. Inversion took out the Shriekmaw and Mutavault got in the last few points of damage. The Elemental deck didn’t really have any other options except for a Spitebellows, which would have produced the same outcome.

To be honest, the rest of the games don’t really warrant going into full detail. Some Bitterblossoms were cast, some Cloudthreshers were summoned, and it still ended 5-5. This is somewhat disheartening for a couple of reasons. The first is that despite the fact that Block Faeries is strictly worse than the Standard version, it is still a powerhouse. The staying power of Ancestral Vision isn’t necessarily needed in this format. Second, I think Faeries has more to gain after sideboarding than the Elemental deck. Sure, Elementals can replace awkward removal like Shriekmaw and Spitebellows with Chameleon Colossus, Wispmare, and possibly Kitchen Finks, but Faeries upgrades their counter suite and possibly their drawing power with stuff like Jace Beleren.

I have seen some builds with Colossus main deck and I will probably try those next. Sower is basically a joke in this format with all the removal running around, so that shouldn’t be a problem. You just need to worry about sneaking it past things like Broken Ambitions. Conveniently, Thoughtseize fits the curve of turn 2 Smokebraider, turn 3 Colossus.

That Faerie list performed as expected. There are a lot of different directions you could take it, and I’m not claiming I have found the perfect list. The main deck Peppersmokes seem especially good.

The next matchup I wanted to test was the Mono-Red Aggro Elemental list that I had seen tearing up Magic-League tournaments. Mono-Red seems very fast in this format and a natural enemy of Faeries, but I’m skeptical at their ability to get around stuff like Firespout, Wilt-Leaf Cavaliers, Kitchen Finks, and Doran.

18 Mountain
4 Mutavault
1 Spitebellows
1 Nova Chaser
4 Rage Forger
4 Incandescent Soulstoke
4 Sunflare Shaman
4 Inner-Flame Acolyte
4 Flamekin Harbinger
4 Flamekin Bladewhirl
4 Shard Volley
4 Lash Out
4 Tarfire

In a ten-game set, the control Elemental deck won seven. Most of the games the control deck won were insanely close, whereas the games the aggressive deck won were always blowouts that usually started with Jackal Pup clone or two. A majority of games were decided strictly upon how many Firespouts or Primal Commands the control deck drew. I can only imagine that Finks out of the sideboard will further compound things. Murderous Redcap has seen play so far, but I don’t think that it’s necessary. The only relevant things it kills are little creatures and, as I’ve said, those usually aren’t a problem. You need answers to tough-to-kill monsters like Doran and Chameleon Colossus.

Fulminator Mage would have always been devastating, and might buy the Red deck enough time to steal some more wins. Tattermunge Maniac, while not an elemental, could help provide the early pressure, although it does seem fairly miserable against almost every other deck in the format.

The third matchup I wanted to test was against a GBW Doran deck or an Elf deck of some sort. Again, no one could agree on which card choices were correct so I built my own.

4 Wilt-Leaf Liege
4 Wilt-Leaf Cavaliers
4 Imperious Perfect
4 Wolf-Skull Shaman
4 Wren’s Run Vanquisher
4 Leaf Gilder
4 Chameleon Colossus

4 Oblivion Ring
3 Mirrorweave

4 Vivid Grove
4 Wooded Bastion
4 Mutavault
3 Reflecting Pool
2 Plains
8 Forest

Unsurprisingly, this matchup was in the favor of the control deck. The final game count was 7-3. Mannequin, Mulldrifter, and Firespout just proved to be too much. While this particular version of Elves has a lot good things going for it, it’s barely anything more than a bunch of great dudes and a couple of tricks. Mirrorweave was good in a couple of the games, but usually the high count of removal kept everything in check. This type of deck is usually solid at the beginning of the season but has to drastically adapt after everyone figures out how to beat it.

As for the Elemental deck, I liked it a lot. Hopefully the deck remains playable as I certainly don’t mind casting Mulldrifters and Mannequins. Flamekin Harbinger has been getting fairly popular and I don’t understand why you would want that guy in the control deck. You can rarely cast it on turn 1, and most of your cards are redundant. If you’re using it to find a Mulldrifter, now you’re basically back at card parity because the 1/1 will rarely be relevant. Hitting Smokebraider on turn 2 is always a plus, but not at the cost of a card. Just play a real card instead.

You could always run Fertile Ground as another accelerator, but I wouldn’t want to commit to that until I knew that Fulminator Mage wasn’t in the metagame. At least you can run Fulminator Mage for the mirrors.

Bitterblossom was (a real shocker here) very difficult to handle unless multiple Cloudthreshings occurred. A singleton Wispmare may find its way main deck. Oblivion Ring could also replace some number of Nameless Inversion, but being a two-drop, and elemental, and an instant is a pretty big bonus. Without Inversion, it seems like Mutavault might just kill you all by itself.

While the Red matchup was very good, a main deck Finks to get with Command would probably put you over the top.

If the first PTQ of the season were tomorrow, I would play this:

Versus Faeries
+ 4 Chameleon Colossus 1 Wispmare
– 4 Spitebellows, -1 Kitchen Finks

Versus Mono red Elementals
+ 3 Kitchen Finks, +4 Chameleon Colossus
– 1 Wispmare, -4 Cloudthresher, -2 Spitebellows

Versus G/x midrange (Doran, Elves, etc)
+ 3 Oblivion Ring, +4 Chameleon Colossus
– 4 Nameless Inversion, -2 Cloudthresher, -1 Kitchen Finks

Versus Mirror
+ 4 Fulminator Mage, +3 Oblivion Ring, +4 Chameleon Colossus
– 4 Firespout, -4 Nameless Inversion, -1 Wispmare, -1 Shriekmaw, -1 Kitchen Finks

Hopefully you guys are all going to wish me luck in Hollywood so that I won’t have to be PTQing while Day 2 is going on. Thanks for reading.


* None of Tom LaPille feelings were hurt during the making of this article.