Sometimes I feel like I’m trying to fight a battle from a hot air balloon. My lifted perspective gives me a great comprehensive view of what’s going on, but you don’t really know the battle at stake until you’re crawling in the mud, fighting hand to hand in the thick of it. This was one of the reasons I’m dedicating myself to this FNM experiment.
You can look at decklists, observe the rises and falls of any given metagame, make intelligent points, brew killer decks, revolutionize the theory of theories, but until you’re doing the damn thing, you don’t really have a grasp on what you’re doing; it’s just theory, and you’ve got to put the work in to gain a true perspective.
Work is omnipotent.
Everybody has their respected pet cards, eager-eyed when new sets come out and formats are evolving. This is what I’d like to call “Gold Rush Syndrome.” You found something you believe to be gold, whether it be a fool’s or the real deal ~$1,700 an ounce bling that rappers use to declare their infamy. The truth is this:
Gold is where you find it, but you got to mine it.
Any fool can find gold; the challenge isn’t finding these materials in most cases. Everyone has access to Gatherer; every card has been honeycombed well before the set is ever legal. The difficult procedure is mining the gold you’ve found. Getting the resources you need to assemble a profitable endeavor. A proper 60-75 doesn’t come over night, and usually when you wake in the morning, your perspective on what you need is a little different.
After all, Magic has sculpted these overly analytical brains we possess; it’s natural to question yourself. However in doing so, you should never lose confidence in your ability to dissect decisions. It’s a fine line you have to straddle, but one that gets your brain wired for success in and outside of your Magical journeys.
Here’s the deck I played at FNM this week…
The maindeck is basically the same as I had at last week’s FNM; however I wanted to experiment with the sideboard with maxing out on Nevermore, Exclusion Ritual, and Fresh Meat. Nevermore and Exclusion Ritual were for U/B; Nevermore in particular seems hard for them to deal with. At the very least, they feel like they’ve got to burn their counter juice to stop my Kool-Aid from stirring up some sugar.
Exclusion Ritual is my pet card for right now. I love it, and if you’ve ever cast it on a Wurmcoil Engine while playing a deck that loses to Big Wurmz, you’d know the tingling feeling in my loins as well. On top of being the best removal ever for Wurmz, it also handles planeswalkers with ease, ends the Oblivion Ring fight, probably never is going to die to a Ratchet Bomb, curbs late-game Swords, eats Birthing Pod, trounces Primeval Titan, and even makes sure Batterskull buyback shenanigans won’t be happening.
Fresh Meat is there for midrange decks and the mirror, as well as a decent singleton inclusion for decks with Day; however leaning on it is rough. In the midrange matchups where you’ll be trading frequently, it’s really great to pull ahead out of nowhere.
The maindeck Timely Reinforcements was the best adjustment. I wasn’t positive that I’d be able to support it, but with so many people playing Blade Splicer right now, it’s pretty easy to turn on even when you have a creature or two out.
Round 1 – BYE!
9 free points, I’ll take ‘em!
Round 2 – Travis Pillow with U/G/W Venser
Travis’s deck really inspired me. He used Rampant Growth to land a turn-three Glimmerpoint Stag. Stag in particular is a card that’s very abusable right now. It’s a great way to be able to swing past Wurmcoil Engine. Travis was playing Mycosynth Wellspring as well, so it acted like a Solemn Simulacrum at times too.
I had a great curve though, and my Spirit tokens beat overhead the entire game virtually unopposed, until he got his Venser + Stonehorn Dignitary combo! It would have been tough to fight through if I didn’t already have Elspeth with six counters, which easily took care of Venser, Dignitary, and that damn Stag, enabling my tokens to win an easy one, which would have been hard if I didn’t have the removal I needed.
Game two he used Glimmerpoint Stag again to slow me down while he got the Venser + Stonehorn combo. He thought he had lethal, but because I had a Naturalize and Gideon’s Lawkeeper, his math was off, which gave me a much awaited combat step to give him the final blow after many turns of draw-go on both sides.
Round 3 – Adrian Toledo
There was an annoying 15-year-old teenybopper couple sitting next to us for this round. I didn’t know them; they didn’t know Magic and were naturally disrespectful during our Friday Night competition. They were kissing like it was their last night on earth, and Adrian offered that we listen to some music on his phone to blot them out.
He asked if Staind was cool; I asked him if he had anything a little more feel good, but alas all he could offer was pain music. I told him it would be good for his outlook if he opened his ears to some different perspectives. He said he liked Staind a lot, which I believed, but I gave him the sage advice that whatever you put in is what comes out. If you keep feeding your brain those whiney, “my life is awful” songs, what do you think your life will become?
Anybody can stay at home in a dark closet and cry themselves to comfort. You got to live!
I think I saved a soul this Friday Night. I’m going to follow up with Adrian next week to see where his musical horizons have stretched. He’s a good kid, young, but his composed nature is the type of thing that makes the good players stand out from the idiots with curly hair and big mouths.
He was obv playing Goblins. I obv mulliganed to five game one and got smashed by double Goblin Grenade. I was thinking about adding Grenade to the list, but it’s much less frightening than Brimstone Volley, which he was ALSO packing! A deck with four Grenade and four Brimstone is actually pretty scary, so I boarded in Nevermore!
Game two was really tight, but a couple of Timely Reinforcements saved my day.
Round 4 – James Guzman with U/R Tempo
Game one he had a double Delver draw, and with the help of Ponder, they were both incinerating my face on turn 3! I died really quickly; I had the Midnight Haunting, but the card he revealed to flip them was Mana Leak, so I was basically stuck the whole game.
Game three he flipped Delver again on turn two, had a couple Chandra’s Phoenixes to pair with it also; my Timely Reinforcements kept me in the game, but he had Snapcaster and Brimstone Volley to finish it!
James’ U/R deck was very tough to play against. Quick fliers, cheap burn, Snapcaster to bring it all together—I was really impressed, but the mana looks absolutely atrocious. After the match, he admitted he was playing a couple Shimmering Grotto. Vomit!
Top 8 Noah Lang with Mono-White Aggro (No Humans)
Game 1, I was on the Shrine plan, with lots of goodies like Gideon’s Lawkeeper, Oblivion Rings, Midnight Haunting, a couple Intangible Virtue. I kept a great two-land hand, but never drew a third land.
Game 2 I drew land and beat his linear creature deck with ease; because I was playing a token deck, my creatures came in multiples and were hard for him to wrangle.
Should I mulligan that hand to four?
I didn’t. I was on the draw, so I felt pretty confident in the ability for that hand to make the game go a bit longer if I could just topdeck some lands. Would a two-land, two-spell hand be something I should try and chase down?
3-2 (36 Planeswalker Points)
I’m very unsatisfied with the W/g token deck; two FNMs, two top 8s, and only 72 points to show from both events.
What should I play this week?
I don’t like U/B Control, and I don’t like this R/G ramp deck called Wolf Run Ramp. Perhaps it’s their linear nature or their one-for-one removal approaches followed by a large finisher, and the fact that they’re the “net decks” of choice at the moment. Whatever it is, I just don’t like them, or Mono Red for that matter.
You’re not a victim,
But neither am I,
Nostalgic for garbage;
Desperate for time.
Now that Standard is becoming a little more fluid, here is the list of cards that are ending games.
The S(tandard) Hit List
This card is damn serious, and if your opponent has two of them, you aren’t going to be around very long. It’s the best burn spell in Standard; you can’t be lollygagging around. You’ve got to put yourself out of a sizzling blowout range and have some kind of a clock to race this mammoth burn spell. Wurmcoil Engine is a great tool, slow, but the kind of big dude you’d like to accelerate to or play one-for-one until they’ve exhausted their resources to finish a game like R/G and U/B are capable of.
He’s finally become the best six-drop in Standard, surpassing all those busty Titans. Sure, Oblivion Ring is around, but there isn’t anything that really answers him efficiently. One answer that I’ve been testing out recently is Exclusion Ritual, a very handy spell that’s capable of stopping Wurmcoil Engine for good, along with the ability to remove planeswalkers, enchantments, artifacts, well, every nonland permanent! Sure, it costs six, but its effect on a game and ability to create card advantage by blanking additional copies of cards in the opponent’s hands make it quite attractive. Especially because, unlike Oblivion Ring, if they destroy Exclusion Ritual, their permanent stays removed still!
You might find him in some Heartless Summoning decks, but Grave Titan is almost exclusive to U/B Control. Day of Judgment is the best answer to this guy, aside from a Mana Leak or Dissipate. Unlike big Wurm, he doesn’t fold to an Oblivion Ring, so you’ll see some kind of mix between the two in their attempt to diversify threats.
He finally had his breakout in this new Standard format as the backbone of Wolf Run Ramp. He doesn’t do anything insanely impressive. The mass card drawing is nice, but most of the time you’re just drawing into lots of creatures. Unlike a control deck, where you can lock the game up by drawing that many cards, the decks Garruk is mostly featured in are just doing it to be able to recover from Day of Judgment or Black Sun’s Zenith.
Nexus is seeing lots of play, in lots of different decks. It can be seen trampling over flyers via Kessig Wolf Run to poison an opponent out, making a great blocker in U/B Control, becoming a 5/5 infect badass with Tezzeret, and being used as Tempered Steel’s alternate win condition. You can even pair it with Shape Anew to put a Blightsteel Colossus into play!
Lands with abilities are always sought after to be abused because they don’t take up “real” slots in your deck; it’s a trend that dates back to Mishra’s Factory. I’m surprised SO many decks are using it because everyone is choking on their mana, but at the same time, that’s how you grind out wins in Standard Magic. If you both draw ten lands and five spells, the guy who has more lands that generate action is going to win.
This is one of the most demoralizing cards to play against. Yeah, you’ve got an answer in hand sometimes, but they’ll always get that initial value out of it. And oh boy, when you don’t have a removal spell, you watch your opponent’s hand fill up with so many cards they’ve got to discard a spell at the end of the turn. It’s an awful lose/lose situation, and that’s why you saw U/B decks increase their numbers at GP Australia this past weekend. This card being good also makes instant-speed answers to it rise in value: Doom Blade, Go for the Throat, Tribute to Hunger, Victim of Night. These are about the only way to efficiently deal with the Sphinx, making black more desirable.
This is the card that is warping the format right now. You can either give them value on it by trading a spell that they need to counter, or you can wait to play around it, meanwhile giving them time. It’s very tough for an aggro deck with limited mana resources to play around this, especially combined with Snapcaster Mage efficiently. This spell is also one that ends games; fighting through Mana Leaks at any stage of the game can be frustrating. For two mana, they can stop your bomb spell from winning you the game.
While this card doesn’t “end” the game, it gives the person utilizing it free rein over the outcome of the game. A dedicated Pod player has an aspiring toolbox to battle with, insuring victory via slow attrition. That said, Pod isn’t very popular right now, but still an enemy that you’ve got to be wary of in the future, especially when more creatures are printed to give it more utility.
These are the same card, and two of the most powerful spells in Standard. You’ve got to build around them a wee-bit, and they aren’t that exciting late game, but you’ll know your Shrine is golden when you see the sweat gathering on your opponent’s forehead. The real awkward part is that both of these Shrines exist in decks where they are the only artifact, much like Birthing Pod, meaning contextual artifact removal like Ancient Grudge isn’t that appealing because it might be a dead card. You’ve got to have a versatile option, like Oblivion Ring or Acidic Slime, if you want to battle them effectively.
That’s not the only important list to have; there’s also a ton of middle of the game cards that really shape how the games end. Here’s a less glorious list of “Middle Fillers.” They’re cards that can end games, but most of the time they end up setting up the above list.
We’ve also got a removal list…
Kill ‘Em Cards
Day of Judgment
Black Sun’s Zenith
Go for the Throat
Tribute to Hunger
Victim of Night
Sever the Bloodline
If I’ve missed anything you think should be mentioned, mention it!
These are important lists for brewers. When you make lists like these, you can group together trends, which adjust the rating of cards that aren’t being used right now with potential. For instance, there aren’t very many cards to deal with fliers on these lists. Cards like Leonin Skyhunter, Midnight Haunting, Chandra’s Phoenix, and Vault Skirge look pretty attractive. Tempered Steel in general seems like it could do a lot with the way the metagame is shifting, since its core is very strong, and there are a host of colors and combinations that can be spliced onto the deck.
The primary reason I made these lists is to identify that perhaps the Nevermore + Gitaxian Probe combo isn’t being used to its potential. I quickly noticed its potential while boarding it in this past FNM, and I’d like to design a deck that utilizes Nevermore more (more more?). Everyone is using the same cards in Standard right now, and logic dictates that the smaller the pool of cards is, the quicker the best decks will come out, standardizing the use of the most powerful/usable cards in the format, thus giving Nevermore a lot of value in some type of deck.
There are a few restrictions to work around, such as the fact that you can’t play the named spell either. Beast Within, Oblivion Ring, and Acidic Slime are the only cards you can expect to see that actually deal with Nevermore, besides countermagic of course. Nevermore can’t stop Birthing Pod from searching for a creature or Phantasmal Image from copying a card already in play that you have named with Nevermore.
The real attraction to Nevermore is being able to sculpt the game however you’d like it to play out. If you want to stop their removal from beating your superior creatures, Nevermore does the trick! If you want to stop them from blowing you out with that fattie boom boom they’re waiting to cast, Nevermore is the ticket! If you want to be a jerk and stop all that Think Twice/Forbidden Alchemy/Unburial Rites nonsense, Nevermore is like graveyard removal! Any nonland card they play, spell or permanent, Nevermore can stop it! With so little removal for this card, there’s got to be a way to abuse it!
- 2 Acidic Slime
- 2 Hero of Bladehold
- 2 Thrun, the Last Troll
- 1 Consecrated Sphinx
- 4 Viridian Emissary
- 1 Stonehorn Dignitary
This one is still a little rough around the edges; it started as a G/W ramp deck, looking to have powerful creatures like Hero, Thrun, and Sphinx, backed up by Nevermore + Gitaxian Probe. Oblivion Ring kills whatever they’ve got; Venser and Garruk provide some nice support. I’d really like to squeeze a Karn Liberated in here too, maybe over the second Exclusion Ritual or fourth Oblivion Ring.
I really like how I split the four-drop slot. I don’t think this deck can handle more than seven, so we’ve got it diversified between four creatures with different talents. Hero is the most powerful; however Thrun and Garruk don’t die to usual removal, and Stonehorn Dignitary combined with Venser can create a lock that can win games against certain decks, especially at an FNM. It could be possible having fewer than four Hero is wrong; however she’s really only good at attacking, while Garruk, Thorn, and Stonehorn play defense much more effectively.
The real trick is the mana. You want to have lots of green and white early, so casting UU spells like Frost Titan and Sphinx can be tough, despite being ideal for this strategy. I’ve brewed U/W/G decks recently that look to cast turn 3 Glimmerpoint Stag, turn 4 Acidic Slime, turn 5 Frost Titan; then you’ve got Venser tricks with all those guys to chokehold decks. The mana is just atrocious though, and when you fall behind, it’s tough to recoup.
Against red decks, Nevermore attempts to take out their burn; Emissary, Thrun, Garruk, Hero, Venser, and Day fight a good fight until they run out of gas. If they give you a big problem, Tree of Redemption in board could be a good move. If they’re playing a Goblins version with a bunch of creatures, it might be useful to board into the Stonehorn Dignitary + Venser combo.
Against U/B, we play a long game of forcing their countermagic and removal out of their hand, with lots of big bomb spells to put them to the test. Their threats aren’t very imposing unless backed with counters because we’ve got Exclusion Ritual and Oblivion Ring. Out of the board, Spellskite might be good. Thrun is really good against them; perhaps a third in the board would be good. If they’ve got Ratchet Bombs coming in, Naturalize is needed so they can’t destroy all the enchantment work you go to.
Against R/G, we have a better plan. Nevermore preempts all their big fatty boom booms. They have Beast Within though, so it would be advised to name that bad boy if you know they’ve got it. Inkmoth might give yah trouble, so Acidic Slime that Kessig before you’re in a poisonous position. Slagstorm doesn’t do much to this deck, other than weakening Venser or nuking a Garruk.
I also learned while playing this deck how badass Nevermore is against “linchpin” cards. Fringe decks are everywhere: Grand Architect, Shape Anew, Forbidden Alchemy, Heartless Summoning, or any other wacky card that reeks of power but doesn’t have the mashed potatoes to make a Thanksgiving dinner. Although, the Heartless Summoning decks are all pretty weak, so naming Summoning might actually help them.
This is a controlling way to use Nevermore. These games go long, and the curve is a little tough. You’ve got Rampant Growth and Viridian Emissary who take you two to four; meanwhile the three slot gets left behind, where Nevermore awkwardly sits. Maybe an already established deck can use Nevermoreprobe?
This deck really sucked, but sometimes you have to know for yourself whether something works or not. You’ve got to sift streams you know are dry, just so you can let that idea rest.
It only took me a few games of having Nevermore in hand with a mediocre clock to realize Tempered Steel needs every spell it draws to be able to help scratch at a win. Sure, it’s nice to name Ancient Grudge so that you don’t get blown out, but the Ancient Grudge will still have value to them because I spent a dang card to deal with a card they’ve no mana investment in.
Here’s a promising midrange deck that looks to jump one to three to take advantage of a quick Nevermore.
- 4 Birds of Paradise
- 4 Mirran Crusader
- 3 Hero of Bladehold
- 2 Thrun, the Last Troll
- 3 Spellskite
- 2 Blade Splicer
- 4 Avacyn's Pilgrim
This one is rough too, and after playing with it, it turned more into an Angelic Destiny deck. Spellskite is the perfect complement to all the busty game winning creatures, and when he grows some Angel wings, he can even turn a Brimstone Volley into a Shock, living to gloat about it.
Despite being a clunky looking midrange deck, it’s actually got a ton of powerful cards that force U/B’s counters, while presenting tough threats for R/G to answer in time. Nevermore provides a way to land Angelic Destiny and protect the finishers in this deck.
I’m going to work on the U/W/G control Nevermore deck a bit more to see if I can make it a bit more stable. I really think it’s got a chance to shine in this limited Standard metagame. There is a lot of utility there, and I’m sure it can be used better than the brews I’ve presented today. I also really like playing with Gitaxian Probe; it can be troublesome as far as mulligans are concerned, but knowing exactly what the opponent is sitting on is a great way to navigate the most profitable game plan.
Good luck at FNM this week! Anybody got an exciting brew to share? I’m looking for unique lists to play, as I’m going to be switching decks almost every week!
Thanks for reading,
Top 5 Picks
1) Lisztomania – Phoenix
2) Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots pt. 1 – Flaming Lips
3) Taxi Cab – Vampire Weekend
4) Two Weeks – Grizzly Bear
5) The Mistress Witch From McClure (Or The Mind That Knows Itself) – Sufjan Stevens