6,739 miles. That’s the distance Google Maps tells me it is from the couch I’m sitting on right now to the Makuhari Messe Convention Center in Chiba, Japan.
I suspect some of Google’s kayaking calculations are off, but even so, those hallowed grounds of Magic competition are a far cry from my current seat. I’ve always wanted to go to Japan, and some day, I know Magic will take me there. The one time I won a qualifier for a Japanese Pro Tour, I chose not to go… But perhaps that’s a tale better told for “Stories of a PTQ Grinder II.”
While Japan is thousands of miles away, the formats have no such distance barrier. Scratch paper and notepad documents filled with decklists forged in a midnight haze have begun to swallow me. Just like the players pouring hours into Worlds preparation, I’ve been working on the formats as well. With the event nearly upon us, here are the decks I would register this weekend if I were 6,739 miles from my current position.
Day 1: Standard
I should note before I continue saying anything on the Standard format that this article was written prior to the StarCityGames.com Invitational and Standard Open in Richmond. It’s possible these events will shake the metagame and introduce some new contenders. With that caveat out of the way, let me get into the deck I would choose and why.
For a while I really liked the new-age Vampires deck. However, the Vampire moon has already hit its apex, and it’s only going to set from here. While powerful, the rampant popularity of the deck both due to power and cost has forced players to either adapt or fall. Any player who has tested the format extensively is likely ready for the fanged menace.
I started exploring some of the other areas of Standard, especially the decks that receded in popularity. The control decks could be tweaked against various decks, sure, and in exploring the intricacies of the U/B versus U/W Control matchup for
me and Max McCall Matchup Tactics
column last week, I really began to gain a feel for the deeper mechanisms of the archetype. Still, it wasn’t a deck I was totally happy with. I knew there had to be something more to the format. Something I was missing entirely.
As is often the case, sometimes the most obvious answer is the best one.
Vengevine decks have seemed to disappear, partially scared off by Vampires and partially just because other decks weeded Vengevine out of popularity. Brad Nelson even admitted this recently, saying, “There’s a big hole in the ‘decks that run Vengevine’ category in Standard.” Oddly enough, the deck has been staring the Magic community in the face for weeks.
Let’s go back to the StarCityGames.com Standard Open in Boston.
The talk of the tournament was Dan Jordan RUG deck. He clinched back-to-back wins with his build and suddenly the event revolved around that storyline. Dan deserves it for sure. However, forgotten by many was what ended up in second place: Larry (Laurence) Swasey’s U/G Vengevine deck.
Larry and I have been working together on and off since last Extended season. He mainly plays on Magic Online, so few people actually know his face when they sit down across from him, but he brings plenty of strength to his side of the tablecloth. After Larry’s second-place finish, I took notice of his deck and began thinking about its intricacies. Larry kept working on it, too, figuring out how to combat the admittedly weak Vampires matchup while 3-1 and 4-0ing multiple Magic Online Daily Events in the process.
After spending a lot of time thinking about the deck and having Larry tell me his results, I began putting the deck through its paces. Maybe there was a reason it fell off the map after one good finish. It could’ve just been a fluke… Right?
I was amazed how little press his deck received for how strong it was.
After working on and revising the list over and over, this is the version I feel is best. This is the Standard deck I’d register for Worlds.
- 4 Birds of Paradise
- 1 Clone
- 3 Acidic Slime
- 4 Lotus Cobra
- 1 Sphinx of Lost Truths
- 4 Nest Invader
- 4 Vengevine
- 4 Fauna Shaman
- 3 Frost Titan
While there are some changes from the original, a lot of Larry’s core remains intact. The biggest changes come in the sideboard.
For those of you who started playing Standard two weeks ago, the way this deck works at its core is as a beatdown deck that comes out of the gates fast with Vengevines, Garruk Wildspeaker, Nest Invader, and so on. However, those same cards allow the deck to play a defensive attrition war while quickly ramping up to a Frost Titan that seeks to end the game. On top of all that, you have the powerful Fauna Shaman–Vengevine engine which can end games fast or can just work in conjunction with Acidic Slime to mana-screw your opponent out of the game.
The sideboard has been almost entirely revamped to deal with some of the largest problems other decks pose. Since you don’t have Eldrazi Monument, swarm decks give you trouble. Ratchet Bomb is excellent against the decks that do aim to amass a lot of small creatures – Elves, Quest for the Holy Relic, and Kuldotha Red. Baloth is superb against Vampires and the red decks.
The counters have been reduced and mixed up a little. The numbers may look weird, but they have a purpose. The 3-Unified Will, 1-Mana Leak split is because some games you might draw two or three early, and you don’t necessarily want them to all be Unified Wills because that kind of draw means you’re creature light. The pair of Flashfreezes complements all of the other countermagic by giving you more in the matchups where you need it most.
Finally, the one Domestication is an additional weapon against creature decks. Some of the creature decks had room to bring in one more card, and being able to yoink a Kalastria Highborn can be huge. There’s only enough room for one, and it’s not a card you always want to draw a ton of, but it’s definitely something you can craft a hand behind.
U/W and U/B Control
These, along with the Primeval Titan decks, are your better matchups. You’re favored on almost all angles, especially when you pick up countermagic after sideboarding. Four pieces of countermagic instead of six or seven means you need to conserve the ones you have a little more, so really think before you counter something. Try not to walk your Vengevines into Condemn out of U/W.
Primeval Titan Ramp
Boarding out Nest Invader feels very weird against Eldrazi Green, but oddly I think it’s right to do so. If they’re Valakut and have Lightning Bolts, Birds should often be cut instead. Anyway, you just want to apply pressure quickly and back it up with countermagic. Your Titans answer their Titans.
This is a tricky matchup to sideboard for because there are just so few cards you want to remove. I’m not really happy taking out the Slimes, but you need the countermagic. This is a lot closer than a deck like Valakut Ramp, but I think you’re still the favorite.
Elves is a rough matchup game 1. However, after picking up four Ratchet Bombs in the sideboard, games 2 and 3 swing way in your favor. Flashfreeze isn’t great on a lot of their creatures, so make sure to save it for something that matters like Archdruid or Ezuri.
This matchup isn’t great. I know I said earlier that I felt most people would adapt their decks to beat Vampires, and for this reason I feel that there will be fewer Vampire decks at Worlds. With that said, removing some of the clunkers from your deck in favor of Baloth helps a lot. You can sideboard in Ratchet Bombs if you really want to, but it’s so hard to know where to set it at sometimes. Often, you’ll end up killing too many of your creatures in the process. It’s very winnable with careful play, but it’s not a great matchup. Oh, and if you draw your Domestication, it’s almost always right to save it for Kalastria Highborn.
Phew, day one in the books. So how about day two?
Day Two: Scars of Mirrodin Booster Draft
This is the deck I would register for this format:
Okay, fine. This is mostly a Constructed article, but I’ll quickly put my condensed thoughts here for those Limited pundits out there. The rest of you can spend your time debating if that’s a real MTGO draft deck or not.
The format right now is turning significantly. Where we once had R/x metalcraft and poison as the “best” archetypes, everything has been changing recently. The dinosaur deck featuring Alpha Tyrranax has reared its prehistoric head, and blue has went from under-drafted to… well, still highly under-drafted but very good for the people who know what’s going on.
As in any draft, at Worlds I think the best thing is just to be open. Know as many archetypes as possible and move in on something when you see a stream of the right cards. If you’re in a weaker pod, then I’d probably expect R/W and Poison to be over-drafted and the newer strategies to be less popular. Conversely, if you’re at a better pod you might actually find R/W open as people scrabble for every last Molder Beast and Vedalken Certarch at the table. Draft a lot, figure out what’s going on, and use that knowledge to your advantage.
Day 3: Extended
Extended is the format I’m most excited about. It’s prime for innovation. When I was looking through Gatherer searches of the format, there are tons of cards, strategies, and ideas I think people have just forgot about. No doubt some of the best minds in the game have concerted their efforts and will be debuting strategies, both new and old, this weekend.
The first thing I did was to start with all of the decks I love and could see new tweaks on. They say love blinds you, and perhaps it does – but the embrace it smothers you with is so soft and soothing that you can’t help coming back at every opportunity.
I made a list of decks to try. The very first thing I wanted to do was try out Time Sieve. In Extended you have access to twelve two-mana cantripping artifacts –Kaleidostone, Elsewhere Flask, and Prophetic Prism – and the awesome Mox Opal to send you a turn further.
I tried everything. I tried more crazy out-of-the-box ideas on this one deck than I think I have on any other deck I’ve ever worked on. I felt like I’d been given the combined force of Patrick Chapin, Conley Woods, and Sharuum as every angle, every artifact, was considered as I sorted through card search after card search.
Riddlesmith, Grand Arbiter, and Etherium Sculptor? Okay, maybe you could expect those ones. Pili-Pala? …Okay, maybe. But Semblance Anvil and Selective Memory? That has to be reaching to places you didn’t expect.
Unfortunately, after hours of effort, I couldn’t get the deck to a place where I wanted it. Beating 5-Color Control and similar decks was a breeze, and WW was usually easy. But Jund, Merfolk, Faeries, Mono Red, and several other decks? 35% at best. In the end, I had to scrap my time and put the artifacts down.
After that I tried out a list of old favorites. Reveillark, Elves, and several other decks I’ve had the itch to break out in Extended lined the top of my list. One by one, I found reasons to eliminate them.
Finally, I got down to an item on my list I had casually put there. The idea was placed into my head Leonardo DiCaprio style when the deck was brought up at dinner, and I had been meaning to try it when I found the chance. I began work, and immediately the deck yielded results.
I began to fight in the Magic Online two-mans (the only online Extended events that will fire right now) and instantly found success. I was regaining my investment, one Scars of Mirrodin pack at a time.
Not only is this deck very good, but it’s incredibly fun to play, and nobody is really equipped to deal with the threats it poses. This is the Extended deck I would register for Worlds:
- 4 Flamekin Harbinger
- 4 Horde of Notions
- 4 Mulldrifter
- 3 Shriekmaw
- 4 Smokebraider
- 4 Reveillark
- 4 Bloom Tender
- 4 Vengevine
- 4 Fauna Shaman
Probably weren’t expecting this one out of me, now were you?
For those who didn’t see this deck during its brief Standard stint, I’ll walk you through how it works.
The cards forming the core of the deck are the Smokebraiders and Bloom Tenders. They quickly accelerate you into plays like a turn 3 Horde of Notions, and Flamekin Harbinger gives you access to essentially twelve copies of these guys by turn 2. If they ever don’t kill your turn 2 accelerator immediately, you pretty much always win.
The trick is figuring out how to win when they do have the removal spell for your first one or two accelerants. It used to be that this kind of deck relied on Incandescent Soulstoke to have another plan, but that has changed.
My first pass at this deck was very similar to the old lists. I had a full set of Soulstokes, and it was mostly Lorwyn Standard legal. The only other cards I was using were Vengevines, which seemed like a perfect fit, and a single Liege of the Tangle to crush people with off of a Soulstoke. The Liege was about as sweet as it sounds, and it singlehandedly caused multiple people on MTGO to complain, which is always a plus in my book.
However, what I was soon finding was that the deck didn’t support Soulstoke as well as it once did. With Vengevine included, this deck could go aggressive a lot easier. Therefore, the deck seemed to boil down into two modes. You either went beatdown with Vengevines and Horde of Notions, or you played the long game attrition battle using Reveillarks and Mulldrifters. The problem? Soulstoke didn’t fit well into either plan!
While the Glorious Anthem effect was nice when you were on the beatdown plan, Horde of Notions and Vengevine didn’t really need the help. Your two primary aggressive cards already had haste anyway. While bringing in Vengevine with Soulstoke is cute, it certainly isn’t necessary. On the flip side, if you were on the attrition plan, you didn’t just want to be throwing guys away.
It seemed like the only card really worth flipping in with Soulstoke was Reveillark. (And Liege, which was only in the deck due to Soulstoke.) While admittedly good, it definitely wasn’t worth keeping them around. I had to find a replacement that fit my game plan better. I tried some maindeck
Fulminator Mages, and they were okay but not great. Then I stumbled upon a new and revolutionary idea:
what if I played Vengevine and Fauna Shaman in the same deck?
While I was actually hesitant towards Fauna Shaman at first, a few quick matches with her quickly revealed how unbelievable she was in this archetype. Not only is she good with Vengevine, but she can set up Reveillarks, find Shriekmaws, make sure you always have Horde of Notions, and creates all sorts of other ridiculous utility in this deck.
Furthermore, say your opening hand contains Smokebraider and Fauna Shaman. You can actually play the Shaman on turn 2. If they don’t kill it, you can set up for a Smokebraider and then turn 3 use the Shaman to find another if they kill it and then have whatever Elemental you want the next turn. If they do kill it, then they burned their removal spell on your Shaman, and you still have a Smokebraider for them to deal with next turn. It ups the count of two-drops your opponent
kill to twelve and a virtual sixteen including Harbingers.
The three main ways this deck can lose are by either going in on a string of accelerators and having them all killed, being run over by a super fast beatdown start, or running out of gas in the midgame and eventually losing to a Cruel Ultimatum.
The first way to lose is something I’ve tried to mitigate as much as possible with my card choices. It does happen sometimes, but much more infrequently than it did in the original build.
The second way to lose is why I have three Shriekmaws and a Nameless Inversion maindeck. You’re a heavy favorite in almost any beatdown matchup as long as you don’t just die in the first four or five turns. If you’re expecting a lot of beatdown, you may want to consider sideboarding Spitebellows or more Flame Slashes just to make sure you can stem the tide.
The third way to lose is something that sometimes you can avoid, and other times will unfortunately happen. Sometimes you just draw three straight lands when any two creatures would let you return a lethal Vengevine, and there’s not much you can do. However, most of the time I feel as though I lost because I played a Fauna Shaman activation or Flamekin Harbinger wrong. Try to not walk into Cryptic Commands and make sure to play your Vengevines right. Lead on Vengevine, and then if they counter it, cast another creature to bring it back and attack.
Let me explain the sideboard choices.
Mono Red and its variants are not a great matchup. Additionally, practically the only way I’ve found myself losing to Jund is if they have a fast start backed up by Lightning Bolt for your accelerator. I quickly found that Forge[/author]-Tender”]Burrenton [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author]-Tender addresses all of those problems. Four is a lot, but you really want to draw it in the matchups you need it.
Fulminator Mage hampers any control deck pretty significantly. Much like when Elementals was in Standard, 5-Color Control is the primary control enemy, and Fulminator buys you plenty of time against them. Additionally, do you have any idea how hard it is for them to beat an active Fauna Shaman with Fulminator Mage and Reveillark in your deck? Thanks to Fulminator Mage, some matches end rather gratuitously with my opponent having no permanents on the battlefield.
Sometimes the Fulminator Mage plan doesn’t work out. Maybe you just don’t draw them. Fortunately, Spellbreaker Behemoth provides a beefy plan B. While working on the sideboard, I began to scour old Manuel Bucher articles for Elementals technology, and this was one piece he was definitely right on. I came very close to maindecking it instead.
First of all, a 5/5 is hard for a lot of decks to deal with. But after that, he makes sure Horde of Notions resolves. While that might not sound like a big deal – after all, Horde is just one card in your entire deck – an active Horde usually equals a game win. He’s a great tutor target with Fauna Shaman when you know your opponent has a grip of Cryptic Commands and need a way to get past them.
Cloudthresher was originally in the maindeck, but it’s not something you want to draw a lot of the time and usually worse than other cards the deck could play. Eventually I pushed a pair off to the sideboard for the Faeries matchup and have been perfectly happy leaving them there.
The Crib Swap, Shriekmaw, and Flame Slash add to the removal suite. Crib Swap gets around a creature being black or having protection from black and can deal with big creatures Nameless Inversion can’t. Shriekmaw just fills out the set of the efficient removal spell. I know that one Flame Slash probably looks exceedingly random, but I had exactly one slot and wanted a cheap, efficient removal spell that I could cast off my myriad of red sources. Flame Slash kills Putrid Leech, so it made the cut over Lightning Bolt.
There are a wide range of decks you could potentially encounter in Extended, but fortunately I think the cards to bring in are fairly self-explanatory. I’ll try and cover some of the matchups I’ve been running into often on MTGO.
Reveillark is a little slow against them, and since they usually only exile your creatures, it’s not as strong as it could be. Sometimes you can bring in the Spellbreaker Behemoth, but often they can tap your creatures with Reejerey, so it’s not great as a blocker to buy time. Since they usually can’t kill your Smokebraider or Bloom Tender, you can easily just deploy the Elementals in your hand.
Your Merfolk matchup is highly favored. They have some countermagic, but nothing I usually find too concerning. Save your removal for their lords and play around Sage’s Dousing and Cryptic Command when necessary. I haven’t dropped a match to Merfolk yet.
The games go long, and you draw a lot of lands. Furthermore, you can’t afford to draw too many lands and let them wrench control of the game. I think it’s reasonable to cut a land, especially on the draw.
Game 1 really depends on their build. If they have cards like Lightning Bolt, Firespout, and Volcanic Fallout, it can be a little rough. If they’re using Path to Exile and Consume the Meek, you’re pretty favored. Even against the worse builds for you, you can still just get a lot of draws that are hard for them to beat. Unless they have Path, Vengevine is pretty tricky for 5-Color to deal with.
After sideboarding, Fulminator Mage gives them a ton of headaches. They absolutely have to kill all of your early creatures. If you get off even a single Fauna Shaman activation, it’s going to be very hard for them to win.
Tutoring every turn unfortunately isn’t as insane as you’d hope against Jund. If you hit the point where you can cast Horde of Notions and Reveillarks, you’re going to win anyway. It’s just the matter of making sure you hit those crucial turns
The matchup is very favorable, and the only starts I find myself losing to are Lightning Bolt, Putrid Leech, Boggart Ram-Gang, and so on. Forge-Tender buys you time and makes sure those starts aren’t as effective.
For those wondering, yes, I tried bringing in Fulminator Mage to try and mana-screw them. It never worked out the way I wanted it to. Sometimes it’ll pick up free wins, but plenty of other times, it isn’t effective enough.
Unlike Jund, searching up Shriekmaw every turn against WW is pretty insane. Some of your slower cards hit the bench here.
They have little to no way to disrupt your starts and are just a bunch of creatures. Another matchup that’s very favorable.
Though this deck has fallen out of popularity thanks to Jund and White Weenie, there are still plenty lingering around. I’ve found it to be a fairly close matchup, and it’s probably
unfavorable. As usual, Bitterblossom on turn 2 is bad news, and you don’t have a Wispmare to deal with it.
Game 1 they usually don’t have too many removal spells for your accelerators, so you just have to play around countermagic. Game 2 I’ve found they bring in a ton though, so your accelerators are often unreliable. Fortunately, Vengevine is absurdly good against Faeries. If you can stick to a Vengevine plan, you’ll usually win.
Also, similar to Jund, I tried bringing in Fulminator Mage and didn’t find it as effective, as I would’ve hoped. It always seemed like they were able to draw out of it. However, I’ve only faced it a handful of times in the queues and didn’t test much against it prior, so that may be something worth trying – especially if they’re playing Preordain and likely playing fewer lands than usual.
Game 1 is unfavored. After sideboarding, Forge-Tender helps a significant amount.
Vengevine is bad here because you want to play the slower game, sit on Forge-Tenders, and eventually win on Horde of Notions. They’re going to burn all of your early accelerants, so you just have to hit your land drops the hard way and get up to five most of the time.
You can’t afford to be clogged on Harbingers because they ensure two things: your next draw step isn’t a Forge[/author]-Tender”]Burrenton [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author]-Tender, and your next draw step isn’t a land. If you just keep Harbingering for Smokebraiders, and your opponent keeps burning them, the burn player is likely to win that game. You need to hit your land drops naturally. If you ever get Fauna Shaman active, you can just find all of your Forge-Tenders – the first one can protect your Fauna Shaman – with a Reveillark end strategy – and easily win from there.
While I may not be going to Worlds, hopefully I have given those who are – or just those who enjoy Standard and/or Extended – some new decks to play with. These decks have been a blast to play and create, and hopefully you’ll find them equally as powerful as I have – perhaps even powerful enough to see some action on the game’s largest stage.
If you have any feedback or comments on these decks, please post in the forums, tweet me @GavinVerhey, or send me an e-mail at Gavintriesagain at gmail dot com.
I wish all of those going to Worlds a great experience, and I look forward to seeing how it all turns out. Until next week, have fun with Vengevines! (Bonus points if you trigger them on your opponent’s turn using Horde of Notions!
Rabon on Magic Online, GavinVerhey on Twitter, Lesurgo everywhere else
To help show off Elementals! I wanted to play in a bunch of 2-man queues on Magic Online, record them, and then put them in the article for you guys to watch. Nothing helps you immediately understand how a deck works like watching a seasoned pilot play it! Unfortunately, the videos were fraught with difficulties as the recording software had issues. On one, the audio didn’t record, and three more were lost due to some kind of recording error that took far too long for me to figure out. It was pretty disappointing to me, especially since I won all of the matches and would’ve been pretty excited to show off a bunch of wins.
Only one ended up turning out okay, mostly because the games in it were so short. To not have the work completely go to waste, I figured I’d put it in a bonus section at the end. If you liked this, please let me know in the forums! If it turns out to be popular I’ll resolve these recording issues and be able to show you more games like this in the future.