Flores Friday – Boom, Bust, Bitterblossom, Blowout

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Friday, April 4th – Standard is still proving a tricky nut to crack. Of course, that doesn’t stop Mike trying! Today he updates us on his exciting Mishra strategy, shares his thoughts on a powerful anti-aggro way to wield Bitterblossom, and throws his hat into the Constructed Warrior arena…

I was dutifully testing my new Mishra deck (Mishra Again) when my old Dave Price Fan Club teammate Tim McKenna slaughtered me for the first time with a new B/R deck out of French Regionals. This is the deck that inspired his:

The difference between Kevin Lodyga’s deck and the one Tim played against me was / is the inclusion of four Bitterblossoms, the best card in Tim’s deck by a wide margin (cut Lodyga’s Siege-Gang Commanders and one Urza’s Factory and you have McKenna’s version). Is Bitterblossom the new Tarmogoyf? Tim opened up with “this just goes in every deck,” and the new Black two was no less impressive than it has been in Faeries, or in some versions of Elves (where, now that I think of it, it is much less impressive than in Faeries, though still impressive), for that matter. The synergy between Bitterblossom and Grave Pact here is what makes the deck, in fact, a little special; so while B/R lacks the potential offensive upside of Scion of Oona, the synergistic domination of any deck that has to win with creature damage is quite the tradeoff.

Turn 2 Bitterblossom allowed the B/R to hold the floor somewhat against even the most explosive Mishra openings (this has been a running theme in various matchups tested, including, of course, Faeries). Bitterblossom is great on its own to keep from getting run over by non-trampling monsters, but it really shines as part of a curve sequence.

Turn 1 Greater Gargadon.

Turn 2 Bitterblossom.

Turn 3 Something… whatever it is… Maybe Epochrasite is pretty good, or Mogg War Marshall; or you could do nothing. Doesn’t matter.

Then when you’re a lucky ducky you slide down the Grave Pact turn 4, and it is essentially impossible to lose if the opponent relies on creatures to win the game.

Grave Pact takes synergies that were present in the decks that Antonino De Rosa or Steve Sadin have advocated over the past half a year and launches them into the stratosphere. Sure, Greater Gargadon is powerful with Epochrasite or Mogg War Marshall, but when Grave Pact is thrown in the mix, the squad goes from being a stack of wannabe Black Lotuses to full blown Diabolic Edicts. I am probably not communicating this very well… Try playing against this threesome with something like Elves or Warriors. You won’t get very far. Bitterblossom is functionally infinite; Grave Pact is relentless. Just the two of them together will crush most creature decks, and the B/R isn’t really using any operating mana, so it can do whatever else it likes, including playing out threats and sac outlets such as Nantuko Husk or Greater Gargadon. Show the B/R an open path, it probably won’t need very many attack steps.

The casual observer might have read our games as complete blowouts (especially due to the strength of second turn Bitterblossom with the rest of the deck) but they were actually quite close. The first game we played – and I had no idea what the hell deck he was playing – ended with a savage Liliana Vess sequence. I had the tempo with Mishra in play, but Tim had both Grave Pact and Vess. Down came Pithing Needle, doubling up for Greater Gargadon (important!) and of course Vess herself. The problem… Tim had already used the only activation he needed.

“You will not believe the card I Tutored for… There it is!”

A lowly Mogg Fanatic.

Tim had a second Grave Pact in hand, and played the Fanatic to sweep my entire board, a point over there; lose two guys. Recovery was impossible from that point.

The second game Tim was stuck on Auntie’s Hovel for his fourth land, meaning I had the opportunity to follow up my turn 3 Mishra with a ton of mana acceleration, Serrated Arrows, and Pithing Needles (this time I named Mogg Fanatic)… I probably should have named Vess anyway. Tim held on for a while and stuck Grave Pact, which allowed him to slowly grind back into the game (Mishra at that point could only win with creatures).

This inspired me to change up some of the cards in my own deck. Here is the new main:

I changed the Terramorphic Expanses into Vivid lands and some additional storage lands during a short period that I thought that Boiling Seas was still in Standard. Who will expect the Blue deck to summon Boiling Seas? It turns out Vivid lands are actually better anyway… They are equally clunky to Terramorphic Expanse, but they can tap for anything, anytime, anywhere; Mishra costs three different colors and hitting him on turn 3 without Rakdos Signet and Dimir Signet on your squad can be difficult… Vivid lands are very helpful.

In addition you get to play strange sideboard cards. I have been trying out Porphyry Nodes because it is so effective against Bitterblossom. Between the Vivid lands and Coalition Relic, you have plenty of ways to hit Nodes mana… I kind of want to play Chromatic Stars (ran three last year) just because.

Updated Breakdown:

4 Mind Stone
Not surprisingly, this card is very good. The thing is, you will often pop the Stone even before you have Mishra because you will not be able to play Mishra on the third turn anyway due to your mana being a mess. You will have just enough to, say, play a Coalition Relic and pop your Mind Stone, or both pop the Stone and activate a storage land. Middle turns this is a pretty good source of card advantage.

2 Pithing Needle
Ninety-nine percent of the time you name Mirror Entity with both Needles. While you can get raced in the sky, that pretty much only happens when you are mana flooded. Needles prevent you from being beaten with the combo, and buy you time to leverage your superior card and mana engines.

4 Epochrasite
Epochrasite gets sided out more than I’d like, but he’s still here.

4 Coalition Relic
It’s possible this can fall to a three-of, similar to the Cheontourage Teachings decks from Grand Prix: San Jose last year. You really want the first one, and it’s always great to double up, but I think the fourth Relic can make room for something else, such as land #24.

3 Moonglove Extract
This card is pretty medium. I originally had it specifically against Gaddock Teeg, but no one is playing that against me, so maybe it’s not necessary at all. If I cut this, I would probably add an Aeon Chronicler back in, and play the other two Profane Commands.

3 Serrated Arrows
This seems to be the right number, though I have fluctuated between three and four.

4 Makeshift Mannequin
Lynchpin to the other half of the deck… I don’t really see any other number as an option.

4 Mishra, Artificer Prodigy
Obv. Heezy Avenue.

2 Profane Command
This card was added specifically after fighting the B/R Grave Pact deck for the first time. I noticed I had a little time and that if I had drawn into Profane Command (given the powerful mana engine of Mishra and his Mind Stone), I would have won both games… But it wasn’t in my deck as of yet. These cards took the place of one Aeon Chronicler and the one Grim Harvest.

4 Mulldrifter

3 Shriekmaw
Obv squared… Used to be four… Fourth is in the sideboard; very good spell.

1 Academy Ruins
I think that if we add land #24, it will be another copy of this one. This always seems like the best land when you’ve got it.

The margins are not huge on Mishra right now but I think that they can be improved with further work and development. The card Mishra, Artificer Prodigy itself is extremely potent; if you untap with it, it really feels like Yawgmoth’s Will. Quite often you will have a dead Mishra and an Epochrasite warping in and you can set up Mishra with Makeshift Mannequin before that occurs and start a really compelling offensive sequence. On balance, this deck feels “Extended” [2008] to me… It does some things that verge on broken, it is high on the power curve… But it doesn’t really crack open a lot of matchups the way the best Standard decks tend to do. This deck is a forward moving object rather than a well positioned and nicely crafted roadblock, and I don’t know that that is the right way to go for Standard sixties. Last of all, I suspect it might be weak against the card I previewed in yesterday’s edition of Swimming With Sharks, Fulminator Mage, paired with Grim Harvest.

On the other hand, I can see Fulminator Mage contributing nicely to the B/R deck, probably out of the sideboard. Take that, control!

All that said, Mishra seems perfectly competitive; the margins just aren’t huge. I think you have a nice advantage versus U/W, whereas Faeries is merely winnable. At Regionals last year, The Legends of Team CMU was hands down the best anti-aggressive deck in the format, and for basic beatdown decks, the tools haven’t changed overmuch. Most creature decks that intend to fight on the ground have basically no chance, though especially if the Gnomes aren’t in place, the deck can still be burned or Commanded out.

Another Deck I’ve Wanted to Work On…

Back when we were doing Top Standard lists for Morningtide, Patrick Chapin turned me onto Obsidian Battle-Axe. He was already working on ‘larks and Bitterblossoms, Rogue Prowling and so on, but he knew I would like a mid-range Green offensive card… I started working on Warriors.

Finally my MTGO account got stocked with Morningtide (yay), and I had a chance to lay out the Warriors. Here is my first build:

While exciting… This deck isn’t really where I want it to be. Maybe I’m a little too discouraged having had to play versus Tim with the B/R Bitterblossom / Grave Pact deck (about as bad a matchup as 2000 Deadguy Red against Secret Force in Extended), but the deck seemed a little more erratic than I would have liked. Having played back when they first let you run Fires of Yavimaya in Standard, I remember always hitting Birds, Fires, ‘Derm, Burst; the Godfather even chastised me for not running Fires at Regionals when I so consistently mized The Fix. This deck doesn’t get its equivalent nearly so often.

Quick quick:

Chameleon Colossus — awesome
Civic Wayfinder – yes, a warrior! Better here than in Elves; already good in Elves.
Grove of the Burnwillows – boo
Imperious Perfect – both warriors!
Mirri, Cat Warrior – just about everything you could hope for in a Cat Warrior, wearing an Axe
Obsidian Battle-Axe – so good
Profane Command – You actually have problems hitting BB in this deck a fair amount of the time
Radha, Heir to Keld – warrior; not bad; not broken here, either
Rhys the Exiled – better than I assumed; keep him around for now
Taurean Mauler – much worse than I assumed
Lys Alana Bowmaster – ace against Faeries. Jury still out… Exciting, though

Random Addendum #1: Rilo Kiley, Silver Lining, etc

Sometimes I run YouTube all day, querying my favorite musical artists and watching their videos while I run spreadsheets or whatever. Today I was listening to Rilo Kiley (long time readers know that thanks to my friendship with Josh Ravitz, Rilo Kiley has been my favorite band for about six years). I was shocked to see the large number of YouTube denizens covering Rilo Kiley single “Silver Lining” … and even more shocked to see how not awful some of them were! Here are three editions I sat through today. I was really pleasantly surprised:



Of course none of these young women is Jenny Lewis. Rilo Kiley is my favorite band.

Silver Lining

This is probably my all-time favorite Rilo Kiley song:

Portions for Foxes

“There’s blood in my mouth / ’cause I’ve been biting my tongue all week.”

Man, I wish I could write like that, someday.

Random Addendum #2: The Flores Family Update

People are always asking me how the wife and kids are. People, here is your answer for the week ending 5 April 2008.

My wife, a woman already about one million times better looking than I could reasonably have hoped to marry, dyed her hair red this past weekend. She has always suspected I had a weak spots for redheads since we first espied the upside-down kiss in Spider-Man. We thought my daughter would love it because she is a big fan of both Ariel and Mary Jane Watson Parker; however, Bella has decreed that she preferred the wife’s hair black.

For anyone who doesn’t have a three or four year old, here is how they roll (apologies to Bella, who I’m sure will be scandalized by this twelve or so years from now): Earlier this week, my wife offered her basically her favorite thing in the world, chocolate ice cream. “Wait a minute,” my daughter replied. “Let me finish these boogers.”

No update on the lad (sorry Godfather!). He is awesome, walks around, hits things (including my left eye when I am asleep and he has decided Daddy should get up) with implements such as slippers, mallets, or toy trains… Doesn’t really talk yet, though.

That’s it!