Flores Friday – Work in Progress: Mishra Again

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Friday, March 28th – With Extended now behind us (more or less), Constructed maestro Mike Flores turns his eyes back to the most popular 60-card format: Standard! Today’s Flores Friday see him try his hand with his beloved Mishra strategy against a number of the top-ranked decks in the modern metagame. Is he on to something?

With the Extended PTQ season more or less out of the way for the year, I figured it was time to get back into Standard. I’ve always liked Standard best, and even though there seem to be a couple of overwhelming decks, at least the format doesn’t have Dredge and TEPS or boring and annoying Doran (oh wait…).

I’ve actually liked formats with powerful, essentially Tier 1, decks (provided there aren’t too many decks in the field)… Because you have something to aim at. Part of the problem with Extended is that it is that preparing for it is so inefficient. Chris Pikula and I talked about this at Grand Prix: Philadelphia, based on conversations we had earlier in the year, and came to the conclusion that (other than Dredge, which has its own set of issues) pretty much everything else is the same. You have two good players running the same 75 and (unless it’s Lundquist and Hall or something) they can have wildly different results; one is 9-0 at the end of Day 1, and the other lost a game to Incandescent Soulstoke and Errant Doomsayers in the 1-2 bracket!

Standard has been a little Wild West the since at least Ravnica, but it looks to be stabilizing a bit with the B/U and U/W creature camps… You have to start somewhere. On my first outing with my new deck, I ran into Faeries once and Blink / Mirror Entity once… and learned, more than anything else pertaining to the deck, that I am out of practice in Standard.

Here is the alpha version of the new deck:

For those among you who are not longtime readers, I’ve really liked Mishra and Epochrasite since last year; I played Mishra (“Heezy Avenue”) in the first mock tournament after Time Spiral came out, and eventually played the two together for Top 8 (but sadly not a qualification) at the 2007 Northeast Regional Championship. Pat Sullivan has gone so far as to say that I always default to Epochrasite (like he defaults to Lava Dart) and build from there.

Mishra is just awesome if you can get him to resolve and nobody kills him before you start playing artifacts. Usually if you can untap with Mishra in play you just demolish the opponent provided it is an even somewhat interactive matchup. The Artificer Prodigy acts as kind of a Tinker and a Yawgmoth’s Will at the same time (albeit limited, at least somewhat). Because of this, I usually slow-play Mishra so that I can at least stick some Signets (Mind Stone, whatever) rather than running him out there on turn 3. Even a little value can quickly escalate.

The main fundamental shortcoming of the deck as listed is its lack of life gain. The Regionals version last year had main deck Tendrils of Corruption along with Dimir House Guard, and therefore had no problem with beatdown. This deck on the other hand lacks the inherent flexibility of a tutor deck, though Mishra himself makes up for that once you get remotely close to getting going. The sideboard makes up for that with Bottle Gnomes (a four-of in Andrew Cuneo’s original Mishra main deck), an awesome combo with both Mishra and Grim Harvest.

The Grim Harvest is there — or was originally placed there, anyway — because every deck you face in Standard right now seems to feature Island. This is old school Mannequin tech… Infinite threats, sure, but a little slow. Despite nominally being present for Islands, Grim Harvest might not be the best there given that the Island-featuring decks can combo you out like Blink or tempo you so severely like Faeries. This card is really only worthwhile when you can get into fights over and over and exhaust the opponent… If he can keep your lands tapped or just outright kill you with a giant Mirror Entity swing, it’s pretty worthless.

While the deck is not particularly vulnerable to Gaddock Teeg, I wanted to play Moonglove Extract as a way to deal with him… It ended up nicely synergistic with the centerpiece to this deck, Mishra.

There is a nice crossover between Epochrasite and Mishra and Epochrasite and Mannequin. This artifact Tarmogoyf is the bridge that most concretely links the two strategies. Both four mana spells can help Epochrasite cheat into play as a 4/4. Just having “more Mishras” with Makeshift Mannequin (given the average life expectancy of a Mishra) has been pretty useful.

The most exciting card overall has been, hands down, Graven Cairns; part of me just wanted to play it again.

I don’t know what I would change after about a dozen preliminary matches online. It seems like this deck should have a lot of potential, but the losses of the Korlash engine and of course Dimir House Guard for Persecute (and Persecute access for that matter) are not insignificant. That said, the hybridization with relative newcomer Mannequin is more exciting in Standard than in Extended, for obvious reasons (like you get more than two turns)… The one card I wish I had but don’t presently is Aeon Chronicler. I’ve always liked a Chronicler, and he is a big threat that isn’t Black, which is important as you fight more and more Chameleons. Plus, you know, the cards.

I tried my hand in some Tournament Practice pickup games just to see how the deck flowed. Results were interesting… The most important thing I learned is that I am out of practice at Standard (as you will see).

I opened up against a base Red Goblins / Countryside Crusher deck.

The first one was kind of close because he stuck two Lash Outs, winning the Clashes both times. However, I untapped with Mishra and presented overwhelming power and machine gun Extracts right before he could win.

I immediately punted to Elves 0-2.

I don’t even know how this happened; Elves seems like it should be the easiest matchup in the world. The first game… I don’t even know. I was pretty sure I should have been on one after his last attack, but then my ‘Tog avatar was all flashing like lightning and a skeleton and I was on zero. Math? I do recall that I got hit by a 6/7 Tarmogoyf once or twice and I probably should have used a Serrated Arrows to save a point of damage on a turn where he played Imperious Perfect, but I guess I was too greedy. Anyway, MTGO math probably doesn’t lie. The second game, I actually just attacked myself to death. I had four… He had a Treetop Village and Loxodon Warhammer… He had the mental acuity to actually activate both cards; I scooped. He had one irrelevant card in hand (Imperious Perfect) when I had Mishra and Epochrasite in play, and multiple artifacts in hand. I’d make an excuse about not being used to combat due to playing relatively non-red zone interactive Extended for the past couple of months, but… Nah. Just embarrassing.

I played a deck with Dromar (Solar Flare) colors… It was Venser, Aven Riftwatcher, Mulldrifter, and so on… The deck looked like a hybrid between Blink and Mannequin.

This seemed like a matchup I would have problems losing unless he went infinite on me. The Aven Riftwatchers were kind of annoying because, at 2/3, they actually ruled the skies; when they start dying, that’s cool, but if they live due to Venser, other bounce, other methods, it can be very awkward because he has so much more life and you can’t attack effectively. Over time, if you can stick Mishra the matchup gets to be super favorable because of the overwhelming positional advantage that particular 4/4 for four mana provides… Again, as long as you’re not infinite’d

In Game 2 he drew two or three of them and I was mildly worried that I was going to get raced… Then they all disappeared; I had a mana heavy draw and suspended Detritivore for 4, earning the scoop.

Next it was onto U/W Blink / Lark

Game 1 was a total embarrassment. I was ahead on all metrics but he had two Cloudskates down and played ‘Lark and Mirror Entity, and started activating for zero. So I conceded…

And a watcher asked why I did that.

I was about to respond when he pointed out that there was no Body Double anywhere. Man!

Greg Weiss says that most people actually do more harm than good when they sideboard. My Game 2 was a nice example of this… I had the misfortune of drawing my sideboard cards, two each of Tormod’s Crypt and Detritivore.

Now in Game 1 I saw everything from Mutavault to Nimbus Maze, but Game 2 it was all Islands and Plains, Islands and Plains… argh!

The worst thing was when I was up against naked ‘Lark with Crypt out. I played Mishra and — don’t ask me why — before running out my second Crypt, I Crypted him (wouldn’t I have wanted to thin a Crypt out of my deck? You’d think, wouldn’t you?) so this gave him the spot to Blink in response, and then I was up against two Mulldrifters as well as a ‘Lark… Having drawn so many pointless sideboard cards, I was easily raced. It wasn’t even greedy… just stupid.

0-2 in games in one of the two most relevant matchups… I think there’s potential here. Just gotta tighten up.

Finale was against the other most relevant matchup in Standard, B/U Faeries. He had “the draw” of turn 2 Bitterblossom, turn 3 flash Scion, but I had Shriekmaw into Mishra. Shockingly both resolved. He was all in on Bitterblossom CounterSliver. I stuck Epochrasite… and managed to lose.

I made the same mistake I made at States that cost me a match. I ran pre-combat Serrated Arrows with Mishra down. Like most of you who have been playing a long time, this is just hard wired (wrongly for the current Standard) into my brain. I got the Serrated Arrows Cryptic Commanded, tapping my Mishra and two Epochrasites. But I had Academy Ruins! I did it again, embarrassingly, got Commanded again! With the two Arrows I was able to net, I lost the race by exactly one turn, thanks to his having two Faerie Conclaves on board. I would have easily won with just one swing for nine. At some point, it would have been a lock on 1/1 or 2/1 Faeries, but the poor execution got me.

Anticlimactically, I kept a two lander on the play and was discarding even before he stuck me with the first Clique Mana Short.

Okay! 0-2 / 0-4 in the two most relevant matchups… These seem, if not winnable today, very winnable long run with a little tuning. The combination of acceleration, Serrated Arrows, and board presence in general is a strong one given the tempo orientation of the top U/x decks. You can still lose in a blowout to Mirror Entity… but before that happens you can be ahead on the metrics (maybe Pithing Needle is best?). In terms of Faeries you just have to be fast enough and then capable of recouping some card advantage. Faeries is a terrific tempo strategy and surprisingly quick… but not particularly flexible outside of permission. There is definitely a gap that can be exploited here, and I (will probably always) think Mishra is worth the effort.