Flores Friday – On Principle: A New Deck For Block Constructed

Visit the StarCityGames.com booth at Grand Prix Denver!
Friday, August 1st – While the battle for U.S. Nationals rages on, the PTQ crowd still search for the Holy Grail of Block Constructed: the deck that can take down the Fae. In this evocative article, Mike makes a claim for a new and exciting deck that may have the steel required…

Picture this:

First turn you don’t do anything.

Second turn, you play a 2/1 for two. That’s how we rolled back in the day, Patrick first, then Dave, then all the posers… No reason to change now just because they have 3/3s for two or, for God’s sake, 6/7s.

He does something… Probably some kind of a do-nothing enchantment. Maybe someday it can block your 2/1, but… You are Red (at least nominally so); he’s Black! Doesn’t that count for anything anymore?

Okay, he’s tapped; your turn again. Another 2/1. His face kind of crinkles. He’s not too happy about the second 2/1. He starts to move to his life total. You raise your hand and shake your head no (believe me, I did this a dozen dozen times back in ’99 when they tried to get away with writing down “18” but you intended to just kill him outright on the third turn… You’d apologize, but what you were really thinking was Nice job tapping out, broseph) and he is puzzled. Other kid is getting in too. Take eight.

His face crinkles again.

He’s got that look like I don’t believe I am going to lose to this garbage. Have you ever seen that look? I think it may in fact be the main reason I’ve kept playing Magic for the past fifteen or so years, that look alone. That look. You can see it and he hasn’t taken his third turn yet. This garbage. You haven’t even declared your attack yet, and he’s already given up. Towel is vaulting in from corner. And not to wipe sweat from brow. You sweat when you’re trying; you try when you think you can still win. Him, he knows he’s cooked. Even if you don’t have more Gold (and you do… It might not be, you know, gold Gold, but you’re golden. Grok? Grok!

Eight again? He scribbles on his paper, thinks better of it, and makes the motion for game 2.

How many great Constructed decks have been born out of Limited deck ideas?

I don’t know either!

I tried to tell Finkel the other night about the fast kill of Devoted Druid plus Quillspike, but he said that was just slow. “What’s faster?” I challenged. He puts on a front, but Finkel’s still thinking, always thinking; it’s easy to forget he won a PT this year. “Oh, I don’t know… What about first turn Seedcradle Witch, second turn Bloom Tender, third turn any two-color creature?” I thought about it for a second… Damn that Finkel. Always thinking. The Bloom Tender taps for four, two of which are Selesnya thanks to the Seedcradle Witch, which then untaps the Bloom Tender. Rinse. Repeat. Infinitely large Bloom Tender. Good game, sir. Turn 3.

He had me going; I tried and tried to make the deck! It turns out Sadin killed him that way earlier in the week. Forties of course, not sixties.

All that said, Ben Lundquist has me so excited by drafting Red in Shadowmoor (and even moreso, now, with Shadowmoor / Eventide)… And Riverfall Mimic is just the most exciting card of all!

I mean, I threw together all of the Green and White Gold cards from the last set, genius that I am, who knows how to utilize gatherer.wizards.com, and that was good enough for a PTQ win and some sundry Top 8s… Why not try out the Blue and Red version?

A First Draft:

I wish I could get more Izzet Gold cards in the deck, but there aren’t really any more that I want to play in the main. Mimics make you do strange things, or at least have strange ideas. The other night I called Patrick and told him how we were going to make Boros in Extended with the Boros Mimic, and reminded him of how Raph won two consecutive Grand Prixes with Swifty Joe and Armadillo CloakAnd now Boros has an Armadillo Cloak of its own! He hung up on me. What a big timer. He called me back the next day, but I was sober by then and I big timed him in response. What a killjoy. Gotta strike while the iron’s hot, my friend! Turns out that most or all the cards (Skyknight Legionnaire much?) were just worse than the Green cards I pulled to play more Boros Mimics or whatever (Kird Ape and Tarmogoyf); this was especially embarrassing in that I had to make room for four copies of Scourge of the Nobilis, on principle.

Side Note on “On Principle”:
I decided that I am not going to do anything “on principle” any more. The last really big fight I had with my wife was “on principle” … On the principle of a ninety-nine cent song on iTunes. Blowout. Cats and Dogs. Ninety-nine cents. I am pretty sure that you do things “on principle” when you don’t have a real (read: practical) reason for doing them and you need a reason to do something you know is wrong. This has led me to make some itchy decisions lately, but I am pretty sure they are right ones, even if I don’t like them. End Side Note.

Stream Hopper is… well… Goblin Balloon Brigade was an important damage source back in the mid-1990s, and Sligh suffered at its rotation. In this deck, it is a playable Gold card that sometimes gets in for as much as two damage.

Inside Out is actually better than it seems, as a spell rather than just an enabler for Riverfall Mimic (but more on that later). Inside Out outright kills a lot of creatures people actually just play in Block, including Treefolk Harbinger; Devoted Druid (actually pretty important to nix that guy nowadays); and of course Doran, the Siege Tower.

Dominus of Fealty is just so much worse than Demigod of Revenge… But this deck is all about getting in with Riverfall Mimic. Scratching your head? I think you may be underestimating Riverfall Mimic. Initially I liked Shorecrasher Mimic the best (come on, I mean five… come on)… And I tried to build for Extended with Nightsky Mimic… But Riverfall Mimic, with its mere three power, is so unstoppable sometimes; it’s a clock that is just waiting to strike twenty, inexorable and lightning-quick.

But really, what is the point of a deck, a Block deck, if it can’t beat the one deck that matters?

Side Note on beating the one deck that matters…
I am really surprised that more people don’t play the Little Kid G/W. I know it’s not a perfect deck (what is?), but of the heretofore revealed decks… why not? G/W absolutely crushes Faeries, and what is in the Top 8 of all these PTQs? Faeries Faeries everywhere! You can literally play Faeries three times in the Top 8. Isn’t this the deck you want, then?

I brought this up to Patrick, and he said we have a fundamental disagreement (it started with my asking how good his Solar Flare really is). Patrick’s position was that Solar Flare is not necessarily the best deck against Faeries, but he is so good that he can try to make up for it; on balance, he says I come from a paradigm of doing all the hard work before the tournament and letting the deck do all of the work once I get there (there are problems with this, of course… Like when you get paired up against something you don’t know how to or just can’t beat, and you have no flexibility to address the problem). He says these are fundamentally irreconcilable differences, but that playing more challenging (and generally more flexible) if “on paper” lower EV decks has made him the player he has become… and has defined most of the great players. “No one ever got to be the best by playing Red Deck Wins.”

There isn’t really a right answer to this outside of modeling. You can look at the best players, and no matter what they say, they don’t always “play the best deck.” They play not even to their strengths, but their biases. On balance, if you aren’t the best, and you are just trying to win the PTQ, then maybe you should let the deck do the heavy lifting… I think that’s what a lot of the Faeries winners have ended up doing, even in conceding a fair amount of control. Maybe I don’t have a leg to stand on… When I made all those Masques Block Top 8s, I was just playing a stock strategy with some mirror refinements, wasn’t I? Seemed reliable then. Definitely something to think about; oh, and End Side Note.

I actually decided to test out my Izzet Dominus Deck Wins a few games against the only deck that matters…

Game 1

Faeries didn’t draw any support Faeries (basically no Bitterblossom, no fast enough Mutavault)… which makes it kind of a terrible deck. Naked Spellstutter Sprite that couldn’t counter anything waltzes out to try to set up Mistbind Clique, and just gets killed. Izzet probably just had a good enough hand to beat a good Faeries draw, not that it mattered this game… Second turn Mimic; Puca; Puca; backup burn.


Game 2

This was a pure race: Turn 2 Bitterblossom versus Turn 1 Hopper into Turn 2 Mimic. Hopper never did very much this matchup, mostly because of Bitterblossom. It was kind of embarrassing, but managed to eke in a point or two this game. Anyway, turn 3 I tried to enchant the Mimic and got hit with a Spellstutter Sprite… No problem, backup Mimic, in for three. Then came the backup Clout. Big Bang. Not even Cryptic Command on Crag Puca (tapping team, of course) was going to save the game. Tarfire, Tarfire.


Game 3

This one was kind of interesting. I chose to mulligan a no action but spell-heavy hand (funny how that can be). The six was terrible but I ran with it. Hopper. Clout? Being on the play rocks. Pow. Bitterblossom. Man! Better get in while I can. Puca, roar! Second Bitterblossom? Say you’re Faeries, and you’ve just drawn a completely worthless Peppersmoke, and Thoughtseize is looking mighty horrendous, and your only board control is another Bitterblossom. Do you go ahead and play it? Against Mono-Red? Bang again with Clout #2. Bitterblossom is going Forcefield pretty quickly. Flame Javelin in hand. Et Cetera.


Game 4

I like this one because it was cool like King Mob. Nice finish. Very smooth. Faeries on the play: Bitterblossom. Red: Hopper into Mimic again. Hopper in for one. Blossom #2, token, Swamp up. Yours [mine]. I’ll call your bluff. Clout resolves. Five. Land, swing for one, go. Go? Yep, it’s the big turn. Mistbind Clique. Yeah, yeah, yeah, land is tapped. Thanks for tapping four yourself. I have one, enough for a Clout on this here Hopper (see, he’s worth more than that, you know, point of damage). Five again. Blossom damage for you. I’ll take seven. Done yet? Draw attack. Nope, nothing before attack. There’s that look again. Prior to blocks, Tarfire you? Yes, I know it’s going to resolve. How about Inside Out? No, I don’t actually care what I target, or if you have a response. Five again. Pre-blocks. Unblockable. Et cetera. Inside Out during combat!

Do you see how Inside Out was key here? Granted, there was no Cryptic Command on the other side, which matters a lot, but it allowed me to attack and pump pre-blocks as a instant when most of my Izzet Gold spells are slow speed (creatures).


Game 5

This was another no Mimic game. I finally drew Figure of Destiny. Let’s see how this works out… Not very well for the Figure, apparently. He is a Nameless Inversion attractor. Just a Hopper then, followed by a Puca. That Puca is surprisingly hard to kill. I put it in this deck just because it is Izzet colors… But I think it might actually be awesome. Somebody call Pat Sullivan! It can walk away from a Wilt-Leaf Cavaliers, trade with a Wilt-Leaf Liege, and certainly dance around a Nameless Inversion, much to the Fae’s chagrin. That one ends up killing, you got it, Hopper #1 while two Mutavaults bravely sacrifice themselves to trade with the Puca. I thought about Lashing, but I didn’t want to turn on Broken Ambitions. Anyway, according to the prices on this site, that’s like a $99.50 profitable trade. I’ll take it! With Vaults dead, Fae is down to one untapped Island, and good guys can go ahead and drop both Hopper #2 and Clout it right up. Here comes Figure #2. When the dust clears, Faeries still has both Broken Ambitions in grip, whereas Red has 4-7 in overload burn. Utter cakewalk.


I mean, five games is nothing more than five games, but only one of them was close. I think there might be something here.

I drew Dominus 2-3 times but never had the time or mana to play it. Two of the games ended, favorably of course, on turn 5. What are the non-Dominus options? Crackleburr main? I have to admit it is kind of sexy to have four mana, blast one guy, lift another, and get in with three people. Nah. File that under “only happens in the movies.”

Some additional notes:

Faeries version was “most recent tournament reported” being Nolan Chaney’s from Springfield last weekend; noticeably Nolan’s deck (still?) has two Broken Ambitions.

One noticeable peril of small n… Dominus had three second turn Mimics; Faeries never produced a Peppersmoke or Nameless Inversion to beat any of these.

Josh (Ravitz, obv) suggests playing Crackleburr main, possibly as a four-of, because it is castable and sometimes potentially devastating (think Kithkin); his main argument is that Dominus drew Dominus at least three times and cast it never (never got to five and drew Dominus in the same game). I want a real card to win with should Plan A not pan out. He is constantly telling me not to put something out that Kithkin can use to kill me via Spectral Procession + Mirrorweave. Also, Crackleburr is not nearly as embarrassing as some of the other U/R options.

Given that Stream Hopper did an average of, you know, one, Josh also suggests holding it to make sure you can get in with Mimic as the game progresses. “It’s basically a Fireblast.”

He kind of lit up when we were talking about the deck today, but I can’t see Josh consenting to play Dominus. That GerryT. “You have to play Faeries at least once, Josh.” What a terrible influence!

End additional notes.

I am going to try to get one more PTQ in this season. I am travelling several weekends in August, so I will have to miss New York, which sucks. However I might get the day pass for the Philly-area one. I was going to play G/W again (especially now that Kithkin has changed tappers for Figure of Destiny), but Izzet Dominus Deck Wins seems so exciting. Even though it is a Red Deck, I am not really all that frightened of life gain. I’d be more comfortable with Demigods, but Dominus can go over the top very nicely as well (though Cloudthresher will still be a pain). Hrm. Probably have to test sideboards between now and then. Firespout? I hate that in this deck. Maybe something more one-sided? I guess I’ll keep you posted.