Flores Friday – Mockvitational Ends and Some New Lorwyn Action

States is coming!
Mike rounds out his Mockvitational experience, sharing his Bring Your Own Block deck and personal performance, before diving deep into the coming Standard Champs metagame with a couple of interesting decks powered by the new Lorwyn cards. Everyone is attempting to lash Green with White to abuse Gaddock Teeg… but what are the other aggro strategies available to us? Read on to find out!

I am not sure on this, but I think that I may have finished dead last in the Mockvitational… and that’s with Chapin throwing matches all day, after the epic first round.

The tournament started off completely stacked. BDM claims that the pairings were random but no one believes him. It was Patrick and I… surprise, surprise. A little backstory…

Last week I posted a Golgari Trinity deck for Bring Your Own Block that I was about 50% to play. I got a little leery because I was convinced Chapin was going to metagame against me. There was no way that he was going to drive 1,000 miles for a no-prize exhibition tournament for any reason but to ruin my day as thoroughly as he could. We had some phone exchanges and I was sure that he was 80% likely to play a deck of Tempest / Planeshift / Coldsnap simply so that he could run Perish, Slay, and Deathmark against my Green creatures. I switched to my other mid-range Green deck, being Champions of Kamigawa / Planeshift / Exodus in order to dodge:

Dragon Recur

4 Sensei’s Divining Top

4 Kokusho, the Evening Star
2 Oath of Ghouls
3 Recurring Nightmare

3 Gifts Ungiven
2 Keiga the Tide Star

4 Kodama’s Reach
4 Sakura-Tribe Elder
2 Spike Weaver
4 Survival of the Fittest

4 Flametongue Kavu
1 Thunderscape Battlemage

12 Forest
2 Island
2 Mountain
3 Swamp
4 Terminal Moraine

4 Sphere of Resistance
4 Bog Down
4 Cranial Extraction
1 Destructive Flow
2 Wear Away

The big question mark (and I’ll get to that again when modernizing Standard in a few) was life gain. I really wanted to play Champions of Kamigawa in my Survival deck, but the middle set was up for grabs. I couldn’t really find a good Spike Feeder / Ravenous Baloth / Loxodon Hierarch… But then I got to the point of playing Kamigawa Dragons with Recurring Nightmare and that seemed like a good plan; Kokusho plus Recurring Nightmare would be fast life gain and also a very good way to win.

The way I set up my Survival deck was sort of take-on-all-comers without being dominating towards any one section of the metagame, just being very powerful in general. I knew I would not be very good against burn, but I didn’t really expect a lot of burn. Early scouting put the metagame on a lot of basic lands… It would have paid off a great deal if I had played four Destructive FlowsSphere of Resistance never made an appearance (though I played four real ones… the same ones (I assume) I won a PTQ with eight years (!!!) ago… Though I think I have more than one play set).

In the end I’m not sure exactly what went wrong. I mean Bring Your Own Block in 2007 is very much like the old PTQs ten years ago when there isn’t so much of a set metagame and people pretty much show up and play what they want to play. Therefore there were Survival decks, Donate decks, burn decks… All in different brackets from me. I played against Medallion Draw-Go, Orzhov, ZevAtog, and Solution update. What an interesting format. What a strange day.

My match against Patrick ended in a draw. I kept two lands, Top, and Survival, and didn’t hit any land drops, missing land on literally five (!!!) shuffle / Tops. Pat went all in on Masticore on turn 4 when I missed early and was able to ride it. I had Kodama’s Reach, and I think I would have won if I had hit some land at some point. I got the second game, an extremely long back-and-forth by playing awesome (or according to Patrick, “I didn’t play as badly as I did game 1”). We went to time! Argh. Damn you, BDM!

I got legitimately dominated by Conrad Kolos (Top 8 at U.S. Nationals recently). He was playing straight Orzhov (Ice Age for Swords to Plowshares and Dark Ritual, Guildpact obviously, and Apocalypse obviously), and decided to pin one of my colors with Vindicate and Angel of Despair each game. Conrad was medium impressed that I had a second Island in game 1, but he had more than two Vindicates or whatever so it ended up not mattering; Conrad succeeded in locking me out of Gifts in game 1 and Recurring Nightmare in game 3. This was a superb strategy as I would have blown him out both games if I had been able to play, but I wasn’t able to, even though I had 80% resources. It’s kind of cool if you think about it… Great strategy, like I said. Of course I could have played Cartographer, but I didn’t expect to get attacked from this angle.

The other two matches I didn’t hit my breaks. What can you do? It was one of those days. I won all four game 2s but got caught by the little things. I had Keiga online and stole a Psychatog, but knew my game was on an expiration date named turn 9 in game 1. I out-lasted a Standstill with Sensei’s Divining Top in game 2, but in game 3 I couldn’t find a Swamp to save my life despite having three Moraines. I just didn’t have time to crack for a Swamp. He went spells-into-Standstill and I had to pick my spot with my opponent, Gabe, on seven cards. I cracked it with Gifts Ungiven, knowing I could stick a Cranial Extraction the next turn if I could cast two of them. My big problem was that I had no Swamp and only enough mana to get one with Moraine before the critical next turn. Should I have put Swamp in a Gifts Ungiven mix? I didn’t think that there was any way I would get a Swamp (though Gabe says I definitely would have tricked him… I don’t believe); I missed on the first Extraction (not surprising) and turn and turns later, it never lined up quite right.

Christian Culcano, who met Gabe in the finals, beat me WLW with a straight little B/U/W Wizards package. Chris drew a million Remands and just got there with multiple Dimir Cutpurses in two of the three games (I was four for four in game 2s).

#1 Apprentice Asher ManningBot went 4-0 in Bring Your Own Block playing exactly the Trinity deck I posted here last week. I should have taken him up on his offer of swapping decks! Good job, ManningBot!

In Limited I drafted a 2-1 or better deck according to most, but got Mountainwalked in one match, and flooded out of the next one, to go 1-2. There was an important lesson to this draft. I had a Crush Underfoot but didn’t realize that I had to save it for Luis Neiman’s 3/3 Mountainwalk Giant; I lost game 3 where nothing else really would have been able to bust through. In a fair string of winning game 2 in otherwise unsatisfying matches, I exploded all over the board in an orgy of Smokebraider, Soulbright Flamekin, Ceaseless Searblades, and other fatties (but mostly those three going completely crazy on pump activations). Damn you, Oblivion Ring. I flooded out, but I almost certainly would have lost to Steve Sadin B/U Faerie deck anyway. Good luck in Valencia, Steve.

Okay, Standard.

Steve and I had a lot of the same opponents lined up for Standard and knew they were going to be playing Red Decks so we tried to audible to last minute anti-Red Deck changes, but in the end, we just played my B/U Haakon engine deck (basically the last deck I posted last week). I figured that I would be able to dominate any aggressive deck from the creature angle but that I would be in a bit of trouble due to the lack of life gain in Standard.

My Deck:

As predicted, all my opponents were Red Decks. I beat Becker in two, lost to Asher in two (Asher and Becker played identical main decks, basically Sadin Update with Keldon Megaliths), lost to Mark Young with Goblins, and beat Matt Ferando (Top 8 Northeast Regionals this year) with Elementals burn (surprisingly long on potential).

The Becker / Asher split was… Odd. I think the matchup favors my deck both main deck and sideboard, but for Manabarbs. Against Becker I had two pieces of artifact mana and two Dreadship Reefs and just stalled and managed through the Manabarbs. Asher put me on must-Wrath, and snuck the Barbs down, easily racing me. He could never have won without Manabarbs, but with Manabarbs the match was almost academic in his favor (how do I race?). I should have beaten Mark, I think. I got game 1 easily, but in game 2 I thought for a million years about whether or not I should play Haakon, Stromgald Scourge. He was on eleven and I had the initiative. I had Triskelavus online with Academy Ruins, and two Flashfreezes in hand. However, if he had Molten Disaster, he could kill me without ripping a land. If he ripped a land, I was dead to Molten Disaster anyway; if he didn’t, I was dead if I played Haakon. However, with Haakon, I would be able to kill him with Academy Ruins shenanigans the next turn. It turned out Mark had the second Molten Disaster and did not play a land. If I had held back the Haakon, he would have put me to one (or tried going without the kick, and I would have countered), and I would have still had Flashfreezes to hide behind; game 3 I kept Academy Ruins, Dreadship Reef, and Mind Stone for opening seven mana options (otherwise very solid) and the hand ended up slow to develop. Mark had two copies of Thoughtseize, which allowed him to take my Damnations and sneak in a win while I failed to produce. I really should have held back on the Haakon. Ferrando smashed me with double Storm Entity turning on his Hideaway land in game 1, but I came back, forcing him to draw burn the last turn… He did. I got the next two with complete Haakon control, going on the offense with Shadowmages (it took me the first three matches to figure out not to side out Jonny Magic against Red Decks… I am the beatdown).

This deck is extremely good at what it is good at, but can be put into difficult situations by burn decks due to the lack of life gain in the format (more below). It lacks a legitimate answer to Manabarbs, and has a hard time with multiple Ancient Grudges. No one plays Detritivore, but that card should be a house against this deck. The sideboard needs some work. I think a little discard would go a long way.

In general…

The biggest gap I have identified in the upcoming (Lorwyn / Champs) Standard is the complete absence of high tier life gain available to control strategies. For the past couple of years Control decks have been able to completely dominate beatdown decks in Standard (when built properly) using Miren, the Moaning Well; Faith’s Fetters; Lightning Helix; Firemane Angel; and to a lesser extent Tendrils of Corruption or even Beacon of Immortality. The remaining options were never as good as cards like Lightning Helix, and have become less and less attractive. Tendrils was a staple in Time Spiral Block, played all the way to four-of main deck, but was declared completely unimpressive for Standard, typically a singleton target for Mystical Teachings or Dimir House Guard (the latter now defunct). Beacon of Immortality is long on potential, but the current Standard does not seem like a very inviting place for a six mana singleton due to competing market forces… The weakened position of fourth or even fifth colors in polychromatic Teachings decks due to the departure of Ravnica Block lands and Signets… The opportunity cost of a quick and aggressive Lorwyn tribal linear deck… The uncertainty of Mystical Teachings as a continuingly viable macro strategy… The predicted popularity of Gaddock Teeg.

Following is an attempt to exploit this gap, and from multiple angles. Note that this deck both attempts to exploit the predicted lack of solid life gain and has some nice life gain elements itself. To wit:

The idea for Kithkin + Red is care of Brian David-Marshall. I was working on a number of G/W decks, but he soberly told me to f*** Teeg and burn my opponents out. Striking from nowhere with Greater Gargadon is awesome and no one expects either the Spanish Inquisition or a Disintegrate out of White Weenie.

This deck is a little heavier on the lands than I typically like to play in beatdown, but the continued activation of the awesome Militia’s Pride probably demands that… Plus, there are no Karoos. I am a little leery on the amount of Red in the deck but I haven’t tested this hardly at all and am operating, at present, based on the idea that I am just spoiled by Ravnica Block.

Note that you can actually play Ancient Amphitheater untapped in this deck with Mirror Entity (there should maybe be four); I anticipate sideboarding Crib Swap.

Specific choices:

2 Disintegrate + 4 Incinerate
The four Incinerate plus two x-spell configuration comes from my [locally] highly successful G/R deck from some years ago, TDC Heat, which was mostly great creatures and a couple of hot spells to finish, very good against conventional beatdown decks of the time and Blue control. This is the starting point; it may not be where the deck ends up (obviously).

4 Greater Gargadon
The only non-Kithkin creature in the deck, this seems like simply the best aggressive threat in the format as well as a fine combo card with Militia’s Pride and Flagstones of Trokair.

4 Amrou Scout
I played a lot of different Amrou Scout decks in the MTGO Tournament Practice Room after reading Patrick Chapin original article on Bound in Silence… This seems like the perfect home. Boros Again wants a two-drop and this card has some solid long game up-side.

1 Bound in Silence
Purely a combination with Amrou Scout… Though I suppose it is a fine card.

4 Goldmeadow Harrier
This seems like the proper compliment to Goldmeadow Stalwart on one. This deck is a little thin on one-drops (only eight proper) but you can kind of count Ancient Amphitheater there, especially with the deck running a strange number of lands for Standard beatdown. Again, testing will tell more as we approach Champs.

4 Goldmeadow Stalwart
Basically the most obvious choice for this kind of deck.

4 Knight of Meadowgrain
The second most obvious choice for this kind of deck… I am pretty sure this creature is the best [purely] White two-drop in the history of the game; Knight of Meadowgrain is also the answer to the life gain dilemma described above. It seems like players are going to go down the road of decks that either attack the lack of life gain (typically burn oriented aggression, potentially narrow damage combo) or are attacked (and presumably have to come up with an answer). Knight of Meadowgrain allows for some conservative life recoup. You don’t have to build completely around this card… It’s enough that you can get some serious value out of it.

4 Militia’s Pride
As a long time mid-range control player, this seems like the scariest card in the metagame. How does Blue beat this thing? It’s so cheap! I added a land to the main deck just so I could activate Militia’s Pride more often. Basically one creature becomes a minor army over time… It doesn’t even matter if he hits. This card takes a lot of decisions out of your hands and makes the opponent sweat even when he isn’t actually dead on board any time soon. Just fantastic.

3 Mirror Entity
I am not sure if this deck wants only one, or the full four. I wanted a 22d land to test, so given this uncertainty, Mirror Entity was what got the card cut short term. This card seems really absurd setting up alpha strikes, and absolutely terrific (in every sense of the root word) with Militia’s Pride.

4 Wizened Cenn
I’ve never liked Crusade in White Weenie; they’ve never put Crusade on my two-drop 2/2 before. In!

Some sideboard ideas…
Wispmare, Ronom Unicorn, Threaten, some sort of Pacifism, Manabarbs, Mana Tithe, Crib Swap, Surge of Thoughtweft, Thoughtweft Trio, Griffin Guide

Preliminary SWOT

This deck is long on potential strengths. It has most of the Kithkin regalia (very strong aggressive linear plan of attack), plus a real end game, something most White Weenie decks have never had. While by no means unique in this regard, Boros Again can search up Mirror Entity and go for the Alpha Strike (take a million), but unlike most decks with this capability, it can just Incinerate the other guy’s Amrou Scout in the mirror. Lastly, even with Red lands telegraphing burn potential, few players will expect x-spells from an opposing White Weenie-based deck, which can create confusion and help steal wins.

I haven’t shown this deck to Billy Moreno, but I suspect he would criticize the number of one drops (though you can make a case for Greater Gargadon, the lack of first turn Red itself acts as a counter-argument). The number of Red mana-producing lands is not exactly what we have become accustomed to having in recent years, though that is not necessarily an indictment of the strategy.

Boros Again was born as a deck of opportunity. Yes, it has an attractive top-down Kithkin strategy for those of you who like that kind of thing. Yes, Militia’s Pride is downright filthy. You feel disgusting, like you have to rub the top layer of skin off of your arms, when you play it. Yes, burn is burn… But the combination of light life gain and the lack of life gain overall seems like there might be a place in the world for specifically this kind of beatdown deck. I really think that even for a color defined by its Hand of Honor, Silver Knight, and so on, Knight of Meadowgrain is just outstanding. I can’t wait to slap a Griffin Guide on this thing.

The scariest thing seems to be some sort of bigger creature deck, such as G/W with Thrill of the Hunt. Mass removal in Damnation or the equivalent is obviously a potential downer. Breaking out of stalled boards without a Bathe in Light may be difficult, or at least put a ton of pressure on the two Disintegrates.

A Change in The Numbers

Before playing Becker and Asher, I completely missed how important Manabarbs is likely to be in the upcoming Standard format. Good news for MSS Champion Greg Povarelli (whom I narrowly beat in the finals of last year’s New York Champs)! As such, I am adding Manabarbs to the Numbers for Standard. To wit:

1. Number of cards useless against a creatureless deck
2. Number of cards a counter deck has to stop to break up your deck
3. Number of turns you need for a goldfish kill
4. Number of cards useful if you can’t attack
5. Number of ways to deal with a Black creature
5a. Number of ways to deal with a creature with Protection from Black
6. Number of ways to kill Gaddock Teeg
7. Number of ways you have to deal with [protect?] a Planeswalker
8. Number of ways to deal with [ignore?] Manabarbs
9. Number of lands you need to operate properly
10. Number of first turn plays

Per Richard Feldman suggestions, I changed the wording somewhat in order to mask my mid-range allegiances. I made dealing with a Planeswalker a full Numbers entry, and cut the effective number (who understands this?) and Pickles entries (latter being mostly for kicks).

To answer some earlier questions on the subject, the Numbers is not supposed to be a rigid system. It is supposed to help you in your design process as you approach deck development for a potential metagame. This isn’t about driving tons of data, it’s about the art of deck design and gauging how important certain things are to a deck as it fits into the greater puzzle of the tournament universe. For example you could have a theoretical deck like the Kuroda-style Selesnya fatty deck I posted recently that doesn’t really answer Teeg at all (other than by playing one)… but doesn’t see that as a black mark because Gaddock Teeg is any old two-drop to that deck (no expensive non-creature spells).

People often come up to me at tournaments and ask where I got the idea for crazy deck X or Y; I don’t think I have particularly creative deck ideas. I am not as inventive as Adrian Sullivan, not by a long shot, but I think that I end up with very effective decks even when they seem under-powered because the processes that I use to develop them are more holistic than most people’s. I try to figure out my deck’s place in the universe and tune my card choices towards that information rather than just trying to make the best deck at doing Something (whatever that may be). I think the Numbers is a good example of a tool that you can use to improve your process well before there is a lot of hard data from actual tournaments; as you can see we have already been flexible about the actual rules.