Five Also-Rans

Behind the link are five decks that didn’t quite make it. They aren’t bad or anything; in fact, I think some of them have good ideas as jumping-off points, and one or more may even grow up to be great. But why did these decks fall short, and what can this tell us about Standard?

Any scuttlebutt you’ve heard around the Internet is probably true. My wife was in the hospital due to three separate labors and on bed rest for about two weeks. Right now she is recovering at home and I have a new son. Jon Finkel reaction, predictably, was "Oh cool. Now my [presumably as-yet unborn] son will have someone to beat in the PTQs."

As such, I have been busy, and "missed" the last two weeks of Worlds testing and two of the last three Flores Fridays. Before actually missing, I built a couple of post-Champs decks and worked on the format based on the North American and Japanese Champs breakdowns. Please keep all of this in mind when you read this… I was never really holding anything back so much as spending every night flitting to and from the hospital, not Podcasting, et cetera.

Following are five decks that didn’t quite make it. They aren’t bad or anything; in fact, I think some of them have good ideas as jumping-off points, and one or more may even grow up to be great. This set is interesting (I mean, if you think following my decks is interesting) because they are all top-down to some degree. Usually, I try to go for the least creative possible decks, tweaking existing skeletons or attacking the metagame with very specific goals, but for essentially all of these I had specific ideas in mind when I started.

Of course I open up the article with "top-down" and "ideas in mind" blah blah blah, and I start off with a tweaked stock deck. Damn sequential storytelling!

I don’t remember the exact genesis of this deck but eyeballing it tells me I probably started with Evan Erwin Top 8 deck from Tennessee. The main differences are that I worked on the mana a great deal and I switched out some of Evan’s gear for four maindecked Nightmare Voids.

The mana is important, because coming out of Champs I had a good idea of what goals had to be accomplished; the mana base for this deck actually fed the eventual U/R/W deck that I sent Josh to Worlds with (I’ll let him talk about it on Friday if he wants, but Chapin thinks it’s the best deck in Standard). Obviously, in any kind of a Smallpox-aware format you want four Flagstones of Trokair. Because of that, you basically have to play 1 Plains (minimum) and the maximum number of both your White-aligned duals (Godless Shrine and Sacred Foundry here). This radically affects which Karoos and Signets you can play, given the proper mana balance (normally, I would have Boros Garrison and Boros Signet, or max out on at least one). In this deck, though, all the Signets make Black for the 1BB cost in Phyrexian Arena… Lots of specific mana requirements going into these decisions.

The splits are more and less simple in U/R/W, where you just go Boros Garrisons (naturally) and Azorius Signets (to bust out of Blood Moon and balance your mana properly); this actually makes it impossible to reliably sideboard Giant Solifuge (which is neither here nor there). In the same vein, you can make the argument that this deck should have all Carnariums and all Orzhov Signets instead of the two two-two splits so that you consistently have White mana to play Hide / Seek under Blood Moon (you will always have the Red mana, even if you have to burn)… If I had continued with this deck I probably would have gotten there, actually.

In their own way, the Nightmare Voids are the top-down element of the deck. After watching Evan’s hardships in the Top 8, I wanted a way to bring the fight to another control deck rather than playing only reactively. Nightmare Void, underplayed in this archetype, has a lot of upsides. It can disrupt a problem deck like ‘Vore on turn 3, and Dredge long to set up Firemane Angels. I actually won most (if not all) my matches against ‘Vore and AnnexWildfire capable decks between the Voids and copious sideboard cards (though this deck is a dog in Game One).

This deck was actually pretty good – but the end of the day, Compulsive Research and Careful Consideration are just a million times better and more synergistic with the Control-oriented Good Colors options than Phyrexian Arena (which is of course cute with Firemane Angel, but not very good by itself). Probably the most fun I had was beating lethal boards with Moonlight Bargain to set up Firemanes and Helixes. However cute that was, it took me a while to realize I was taking points to do what Careful Consideration did for a lower cost and better curve point (with a Signet).

However less explosive than U/R/W this may be, this deck is better against ‘Tron and so forth because you can overwhelm the pre-Spell Burst lock permission with one Nightmare Void, and profitably go the long run with Firemane Angel.

Either way, it’s probably good enough to be near Tier One; the reason I eventually went back to Blue is that it actually opens up the threat suite and gives the deck a lot more flexibility, as well as speed and a long game.

You’ve probably read about this deck on Online Tech or Deconstructing Famous Decks (or even in Eli Kaplan modified Battle Royale deckThe Ferrett) by now. If you haven’t, here is my angle…

One night I am standing out in the rain and BDM calls me and tells me to make a deck with Vesuvan Shapeshifter and Brine Elemental. I think this idea is horrendous – but ever since I told BDM to shut up about Golgari Grave Troll in Psychatog for Pro Tour: LA last year, I’ve bitten my tongue and tried out Brian’s ideas.

The way the deck works is to get any kind of Brine Elemental (actually flipping it up obviously gets the most value, but you can play it at retail or cheat with a Blink), and then put a face-down Shapeshifter next to it. You pay 1U and steal the Elemental trigger and basically the opponent never gets another turn. Ideally, you will win in two swings with a pair of 5/4 creatures.

I added main deck Gigadrowse, and commensurately, Calciform Pools to set the big ‘Drowse up. The Pools quicken a 3 + 7 hard flip in Brine Elemental, and have a natural synergy with Exhaustion.

To my surprise, I won every match I played with this deck. My first match of the night was Dragonstorm (in which I got mauled), and I was ready to start yelling at Brian for wasting my time. But then I never dropped another game. This deck is particularly wicked against mid-range control like U/R/W (my favorite deck)… You basically do nothing until you can make a giant Gigadrowse, and then you run the lock down. I thought it would be poor against beatdown, but – believe it or not – running a face-up Fathom Seer in front of a Savannah Lions will elicit some profanity.

Gavin Verhey greatly improved on the models that BDM and I put out, netting two MTGO Premiere Event Top 8s recently.

I made this after we started to get the idea that ‘Tron was going to be a good deck at Worlds, since it seemed like more people were going realizing that the Blue, Red, and White cards are the best cards in Standard. The model is very AnnexWildfire in flavor (hey, it’s got Annex and Wildfire) but mixes up the idea that if four Annexes are scary for mid-range control, eight Annexes have got to be pure hell.

In fact, this deck has two key advantages over "traditional" AnnexWildfire (and in general):

1) Mwonvuli Acid-Moss is better than Annex unless you’re nuking a Karoo – it can’t be Disenchanted, and you get to pick what mana you get, and;
2) Four Farseeks and four Rampant Growths are just better than six or so Signets, both in the abstract (when fighting Tin-Street Hooligan and the like) and in a Magnivore deck.

There is one key disadvantage to this strategy, of course, and that’s playing a mana control deck in a format with Flagstones of Trokair as a near-Tier One card (you can’t even net with an Annex, how sad)… Like most Vore / AnnexWildfire variants, I can’t imagine this deck being great against the Tier One Boros decks.

I liked this deck a lot, as it was a lot of fun. But it didn’t win enough. If I kept tuning it, I probably could have put up a respectable percentage, but I pretty much only played 8 Annex one or two sessions. Like many decks that are a lot of fun but don’t win enough, BDM loved it (he called it "the Dredge deck") and demanded I ship it to our Worlds list. The main problem was I made this deck late in testing and I didn’t want to disrupt anything with a read on ‘Tron very late in testing (8 Annex was one of two decks I was running in 3 a.m. sessions while my wife was on bed rest in the hospital).

The consensus was that the deck idea was good, but Mahamoti Djinn was not. I like the two Magnivores (borrowed from a Ken Ho list last year), but wanted a heavy hitter, specifically one that lives through Wildfire. At one point Josh suggested Simic Sky Swallower, but I have a mental block when it comes to seven-mana creatures in a deck designed to blow up your own board. Fat Moti is as close to a Kamigawa Dragon as we’ve got right now… Maybe Stormbind?

I have taken essentially every opportunity to rebuild my Charleston Batman deck. Heezy Avenue was one misguided attempt, and this one came from a late-night throw-away at the Top 8 Magic offices. The night of the second mock tournament, where Luis won with Beach House, Matt Wang asked if I could make a Golgari-themed deck when we were thumbing through cards and I hit upon a Spectral Force. I was really impressed with any and all Skeletal Vampires I had seen in action that night, and decided to run with it. (I actually quite like this deck.)

On top of borrowing from Charleston Batman, Golgari Bats has many other fathers. It steals the Farseek-over-Signet angle I ran in 8 Annex, and speeds up the Batman curve with more early-game drops. Batman played no disruption main deck, but Golgari Bats has Persecute.

The matchups should be much different. This deck should have a much harder time with Glare than Batman, which had Orzhov Pontiff and Mortify, so I went with an aggressive Stomphowler and Rolling Spoil side theme (Rolling Spoil being passable against ‘Tron). In order to fit the Withered Wretches in (which are golden against Firemane Angel), I had to move the Last Gasps out of the main.

In Charleston, the Bats deck seemed to do great against almost everything (except for possibly dedicated land destruction), but was our absolute best deck against beatdown. To say the metagame in Standard is "different" would be an understatement of the… Oh, add whatever magnitude you want here.

I tested against Blue decks (‘Tron specifically) and they were not easy to beat. You basically have to sneak in the Persecute, and sometimes the rat bastards have Commandeer! The shape of the metagame coming out of Worlds, though, is much more Boros, as well as ‘Tron. I wanted to see if the deck (the Golgari build, anyway) retained the vigor against beatdown, just to see if there was any reason to keep going.

As there were several undefeated – and multiple Top 8 – Boros decks at Worlds, I just picked Nicholas Lovett’s because, hey, how many dudes have the stones to run four Wildfire Emissaries?

Here is how the games ran:

Game One:
Lovett.dec mulligans a hand with no clock (three burn and four land), keeps double-Sacred Foundry, Plains, Lion, Unicorn, and Magus. Crime / Punishment wipes the one-drops, then a second one gets two Wildfire Emissaries. Multiple Farseeks jack Bats into a Spectral Force, Skeletal Vampire, and multiple Elephant tokens.


Game Two:
Lovett.deck mulligans a one-lander with Forge[/author]“]Battlefield [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author] and with double Wildfire Emissary. Bats plays a little risky, jumping to double Plague Sliver (ouch)… Ten power is big enough to seize the advantage even through massive life loss.


Game Three:
No mulligans for Lovett.dec this time!

The game is quite close. Golgari Bats has to take two from a Shock land and rips no land on the final turn. Either not taking that two or ripping a land (for double-Putrefy) would have won the game. Golgari lost with double Spectral Force when Boros was all-in on burn spells and guys and Golgari had no Crime / Punishment.


Game Four:
Golgari mulligans and both decks have slow draws (which apparently favors the slower deck).

Bats had Persecute in the opener (which seems to suck) and Persecute in the six. This time Persecute gets three Volcanic Hammers, which is the main reason for a Golgari landslide when Boros is tapped out for some small guy.

Incidentally, Boros’s cards are ten lands, including one Garrision and two Flagstones (cheating for two), three Hammers (Persecuted), one Knight of the Holy Nimbus, one Unicorn, and one Magus only. On balance, Golgari has a bonus Plague and Skeletal Vampire in reserve.


Game Five:
Boros has a double-Helix draw with Lion into two-drop. Great tempo erases Golgari card advantage and acceleration early – but Bats gets it to "even," if you can call it that. When both decks are in topdeck mode after a second Bats Crime / Punishment, Boros has four lands and a Knight of the Holy Nimbus, and Golgari has DI lands and a Wretch, 24-9 life lead for Boros. Boros rips Rift Bolt and Char whereas Golgari rips land, and dies before the next card (which was a Farseek anyway). There was a glimmer of hope for Bats when a Persecute got two Volcanic Hammers, but it didn’t pan out.


Game Six:
Boros outdraws Golgari (two guys, one Putrefy, fourteen mana). No contest.


Game Seven:
This one is wicked close (Boros has the Lions-into-Priest opening), but Golgari Bats gets two with Persecute, then three with Crime / Punishment. Boros drew zero burn this one; Golgari played to lose to a Char, but nothing else would have mattered considering the game state.


Game Eight:
Boros slow plays so as to not get wrecked by Crime / Punishment (losing only a two-for-one) and wins with a fist full of burn and continuous tempo.


Game Nine:
Boros has a very good burn draw (two Rift Bolts, Helix, Hammer, and Magus) after getting two-for-oned on Crime / Punishment… Unfortunately, Golgari’s follow-up is Skeletal Vampire into Spectral Force, which is surprisingly unraceable, even with all that burn.


Game Ten:
Golgari mulligans on the draw with no acceleration. Nevertheless, Boros has a clunky opening, starting with Javelineer and following up with no second one-drop and Garrision as the second land. When Boros makes the second drop, which is Wildfire Emissary, Golgari can Persecute two Chars out of his hand. Boros moves in, but Golgari responds with Spectral Force, Crime // Punishment, and double Call of the Herd to stabilize and win on eight.


6-4 isn’t really what I was looking for there, given that the deck isn’t very good against Blue/Tron. Fujita’s version is probably harder to beat, with more burn cards, and it’s not clear which version of Boros will be the dominant force in Standard.

Does it have potential? I think so. The main deck may be too "Wakefield" threat-heavy and not hateful (or even realistic) enough at present to keep going…. But hey, I have an obvious soft spot for it. Mark Herberholz actually claims that the Charleston version of Bats was never actually good enough and that I won so much – believe it or not – on play skill rather than edge on deck (I don’t buy it, either).

Sometimes I have these flashes of inspiration. So last Sunday – about a day before my friends were about to ship off to France – I had this question:

Why don’t people play Red in their Martyr Of Sands decks?

Josh makes all kinds of fun of me. He says I only like a few cards and put them into every deck – Weathered Wayfarer, Muse Vessel, and so on. With this deck I would have an actual reason to play Weathered Wayfarer, and in fact would be able to abuse the little guy.

Besides the basic Proclamation combinations, this deck can run the absurd "get three Garrisons"-into-Razia’s Purification combination. Conveniently, three Garrisons make six, which will allow you to go and get the Wayfarer on upkeep. Additionally, you can get as many Flagstones of Trokair as you like – for example, the one that lets you finish the turn with four or five permanents to the opponent’s three.

One cool thing this deck can do is jam Wayfarer up against Gargadon and Flagstones of Trokair. Tap the Flagstones for W, sacrifice it to remove a counter from the Gargadon; before passing priority on the Plains search, tap the Wayfarer (the opponent will momentarily have more lands than you do) and laugh like the Joker. I initially thought of Gargadon as a sideboard card against mana control, but Josh thought it was just better than Boros Signet.

The Firemane element is a bit dodgy in that you have to over-draw with Boros Garrison or get Wayfarer going to discard her properly, but she still operates. Firemane Angel is just a better card than Adarkar Valkyrie, as far as I can tell.

So BDM liked this deck more than any other ever, and I was all high on it too… So of course it never won. I still don’t know what was wrong with the poor thing, or in the alternative why Snow White variants, which have generally lower card quality, were in any wise viable if this one can’t win a game.

I hope you liked this change of pace. With any luck, I’ll be up and back in the saddle writing soon… but you know how these things are.


P.S. – I have some stuff in the pipeline that was intended for publication three weeks, a month, ago, whatever. Would anyone be interested in my finishing some of that stuff (like “The best cards in [post-Champs / pre-Worlds] Standard”), or should I just move on?