I want to talk to about a deck that has enormous potential in the new metagame. Along the way, I will discuss the process of deck creation, specifically how the process of subtle metagaming works.
Before I begin, let me tell you that I test exclusively on Magic Online. I do not attend DCI events. I think this is a blessing, as I believe that by now the MTGO metagame has been proven to be the most cutting-edge and – dare I say it – the most sophisticated.
At the heart of this article, I am trying to do what the failed Beach House players tried – beating the field. Those pros failed (one top 32 finish for people who practiced for a month is failure) because they mined data from the pre-Honolulu metagame in order to play the Honolulu metagame. That doesn’t work with a large, open Pro Tour. They were trying to out-control control.
I am not trying to do this. I am only trying to beat the best decks, not break the format. Specifically, I am gunning for Gruul and Zoo, but also considering the rest of the Top 8.
As Mike Flores and others have recently remarked, there seems to be a discernable path of development within metagames. Lifecycle is an appropriate word to use here, because lifecycles vary. Lifecycles aren’t delineated only by set releases, but also by (what I will call) Information Releases. The release of a new set itself, like Guildpact, will shake up the metagame by providing raw resources. A visible event like Pro Tour Hawaii will shake up the metagame by providing technology. After this influx, we will have a period of relative flexibility and proactive play at first, but then increasing control and sophistication – what has recently been called reactive play.
Right now, however, we are still in a world where there are no wrong threats, only wrong answers. That may change as technology and archetypes become more refined, but by that time Dissension will be out and the metagame will be shaken up again. In the meantime, there is a small space for innovation on MTGO.
I want to take advantage of this.
I want a deck that can beat Gruul and Zoo by answering their threats, but that can also beat other decks in a proactive way by providing threats. Additionally, I want at least a small amount of disruption.
I think White Weenie has these elements. The way that pre-Guildpact Boros Deck Wins worked was by sending out a swarm and then clearing its way with burn. Near the end of pre-Guildpact, the deck decreased the number of creatures to only run those with the best power-to-mana ratio, and increased the burn. Then the deck got hated out completely by Glare, and now outshined by Gruul and Zoo alike.
Today I will present a WW/g build I have played on MTGO since Pro Tour Honolulu.
- 4 Isamaru, Hound of Konda
- 4 Savannah Lions
- 4 Paladin en-Vec
- 4 Hand of Honor
- 4 Watchwolf
- 4 Dryad Sophisticate
I wanted a deck that had good aggressive game, and that had ways to deal with a variety of opponents.
In the main deck, I have eight Protection from Black creatures that can’t be killed with Mortify or Last Gasp; eight that survive Pyroclasm either because of Protection from Red or three toughness; and eight that drop two power on the first turn. The sideboard provides Hokori against control and Loxodon Hierarch against aggro.
The question of course arises: isn’t Gruul resilient? Why not play any of the other aggro decks? When I choose decks, I like to look at the opportunity cost, or missed opportunities, due to playing both individual cards and whole decks. For example, my build above, by playing Dryad Sophisticate, gains a largely unblockable non-White beater, but at the cost of the disruption of Kami of Ancient Law, the grave-yard hosing of Samurai of the Pale Curtain, and other alternatives. Yet I believe that in this case the costs outweigh the benefits.
Similarly, entire decks have opportunity costs. By playing White Weenie, I am missing out on the ridiculous swarm of Gruul, the disruption of Orzhov Aggro, the counterspell protection of Bob the Builder or Sea Stompy, or the accelerated fat of Ghazi Glare. I still think it is worth it.
Why not play Zoo or Gruul? By having a White core, I get to have the Protection from Black and Red creatures that are impossible for certain decks to remove. This is crucial when removal runs rampant. It is very important to have someone to hold Umezawa’s Jitte or Moldervine Cloak; otherwise they turn into dead cards. Furthermore, I have disruption in the form of Hokori, which Zoo cannot support. This is vital against the increasingly popular Heartbeat matchup. Furthermore, I can support Shining Shoal, which has become good again in today’s metagame where it is more important to gain tempo in the early turns than to have strict card advantage.
Why not play Hand in Hand, Ghost Dad, or Nantuko Promise, or Sea Stompy? Unlike those decks, I can goldfish fast – not as fast as Gruul or Zoo, but still realistically fast enough to beat control decks with speed alone.
Matchups and Sideboarding
Gruul Beats – This deck is the anti-deck for Gruul. Paladin en-Vec with a stick or a Cloak is killer against them. Glorious Anthem should allow you to not cower in fear of the Kird Ape blocker, as Craig Jones sadly had to do. Bring Loxodon Hierarch and the Shoals in from the board to seal the deal.
Ghost Dad – This is becoming popular, though on MTGO is has still not shown up as much as Gruul. They have the answers to your creatures, and those answers hurt. This deck perhaps isn’t as vulnerable as many others because of the pro-Black knights, but Shining Shoal can still kill Paladin en-Vec and Hand of Honor.
Roxodon Hierarchy – This is an extremely dangerous matchup. Your creatures with Protection from Black are resilient, but they pack Wrath of God and Loxodon Hierarchs. Bring in Hokori in from the board. This is by no means an unwinnable matchup, just unfavorable. It is possible to win this with a good start.
If the good matchups make up a higher percentage of the field than the bad matchups, then this is a great deck to run.
My own testing gave promising results:
MTGO 8-man, March 8, 2006
Round 1 versus R/U counter-burn:
I get a terrible hand in game 1, which I do not mulligan. My offense starts slowly, and the opponent has disruption in the form of burn and countermagic at almost every turn. Repeal is quite good against me, neutralizing Moldervine Cloak. My opponent also gets the dreaded three-for-one Electrolyze kill. Eventually a Paladin en-Vec and Watchwolf hit the board and stick, but by then it is too late. The opponent starts the burn to the dome at end of my turn, and it is over soon.
In game 2, I sideboard in all my Shining Shoals and Loxodon Hierarchs, replacing Glorious Anthem and Moldervine Cloak. My offense starts early, curving out every turn for efficient threats. With two Shining Shoals in my hand, I purposely overextend. The opponent lay out a Pyroclasm, but this is sent back to his head when I pitch a Hierarch, and he dies soon after.
Game 3 is much the same, with me getting in some early beats, but the opponent has sideboard Bottle Gnomes! They stop my attacking Savannah Lions and Dryad Sophisticates for some time. I then lay out a Jitte, which amazingly sticks. I attack and he tries to burn off all my creatures. Fortunately, alternate-cast Shining Shoal once again breaks through. He Remands it, but I then hard cast it. I lose all my creatures, but I have Jitte on the board and he only has one card in hand. Eventually, I manage to get one attack through with the Jitte. Unfortunately he lays out more Bottle Gnomes, which both gain him life and keep counters off. In the next few turns however I draw nothing but creatures (a benefit of having a high creature count) while he doesn’t draw hard counters or good enough burn. He gambits, and I find out that the card in his hand was a Hunted Dragon! He slams me down to six, while I have one counter on my Jitte, and he has yet another Bottle Gnomes in play. I have out enough creatures to kill him in two turns. It seems that if he topdecks well, it is all over for me. Thankfully he doesn’t, and I win.
Round 2 versus Owling Mine:
Game 1 has me misguidedly keeping a too-slow hand. My first creature is a Watchwolf, which gets in some damage, but Wolf and buddies are slowed down by the usual suspects of Gigadrowse and Exhaustion. Astonishingly, I lose the game to the Owl and Sudden Impact. Embarrassing.
In game 2, I sideboard in four Shining Shoals and all three Naturalize. I drop a first turn Isamaru, and the beats commence. I am slightly slowed down by a Threads of Disloyalty, but I lay more creatures and continue attacking. The turn after he lays down the Threads, he actually Pyroclasms, trying to get at least a three for two and save his life total. Fortunately for me, I play a free Shining Shoal, aiming the burn at his head. With my blocker out of the way, I kill him next turn with a Moldervine Cloak on my surviving Watchwolf.
Game 3 sees much the same happening. I lay down some early beats, taking advantage of his Howling Mines to smooth out my mana while I stock up on Shining Shoals and their fodder. I naturalize a Howling Mine when things start looking dangerous. He Threads of Disloyalties a Watchwolf, but I Naturalize that as well, lay down a Jitte and continue beating. The game is over soon.
Round 3: It is late at night and I draw to save forty minutes. The other person was playing Enduring Ideal (he tells me after we split). That probably would’ve been about an even matchup, but likely a little in his favor. Hokori hurts him bad, but my maindeck lack of Kami of Ancient Law would surely hurt me. Even worse would be my lack of true reach. Still, I don’t think Enduring Ideal is a matchup I will have to worry about much.
MTGO 8-man, March 11, 2006
Round 1 versus Dish (Dragonquest) playing Savage Heartbeat
Game 1 has me start off (yes!), but I miss a few early drops due to keeping a sub-optimal hand. The beats start coming in though, and he actually has to cast a Drift of Phantasms to stay alive. I get him down to two, but then on turn 5 he goes off (though with only four lands!) and kills me with a huge Maga.
I sideboard in Shining Shoals, Hokoris, and Naturalize. I mulligan to five in game 2, but start off with a curved out offensive. I draw Moldervine Cloaks when I need them, and I soon have two-five power attackers on the table. He casts Sakura-Tribe Elders and Phantasms to try to stay alive. It almost works, but my Hokori freezes him for the win.
Game 3 has me on the edge of my seat. I keep a hand with a Savannah Lions, a Dryad Sophisticate, and a Shining Shoal. Over the next few turns I draw nothing but lands, and am quite worried. I get him down on life with just those two creatures. Eventually, he goes off! Luckily for me, he is using Invoke the Firemind and not Maga, so I use my Shoal to send eleven of that twenty-three back at his face. I win.
Round 2 versus krzysiek78 (Team Poland) playing Savage Heartbeat
Game 1 pits me against another Heartbeat deck. This entire matchup is extremely similar to the game I just played. I am manascrewed for the first few turns, and he beats me with a huge Maga.
In game 2, I start off quickly with a Savannah Lions and an Isamaru, and then get out a Hokori on what looks like the turn before he would go off. He had tapped out, and paid the price.
It looks like he has brought in Repeals for game 3. I get a turn 4 Hokori, and do some beats, but he pulls out a Savage Twister. Luckily, I have a Shining Shoal in my hand, and send the damage right back at his head. That’s basically game.
Round 3 versus Elemental Mox (Final Fantasy 7) playing UWR Control
In game 1, I attack early and bring him down to five, while my Watchwolves are out of range for his Electrolyze. Unfortunately, I overextend into a Wrath of God. He lays down a Firemane Angel and a Meloku, and I lose.
Game 2 sees me defending my early Isamaru and Savannah Lions twice from burning up: once using Shining Shoal. and once using Bathe in Light. Tricks are good! This undisrupted tempo is too much, and I win.
Game 3 starts off a bit slow for me, and it hurts. I eventually get some Moldervine Cloaked beats on, but a Meloku stops it all. I make a few play mistakes and lose.
MTGO 8-man, March 11, 2006
Round 1 versus AlexLer (Atatat) playing U/R Tron without Tron
In game 1, my early Paladin en-Vec holding Jitte and Cloak beats are just too much. My opponent eventually manages to Repeal the Paladin, but the damage is done. I slip by his Keiga using a Dryad Sophisticate, to deal the last point of damage.
Game 2 has me side in the usual Hokoris and Shoals. I play some quick beats, but am stalled for a bit due to a Threads of Disloyalty and a Keiga. A Dryad Sophisticate holding a fork manages to win the game, however.
Round 2 versus Fcormier (Savage Beatdown) playing Gruul Beats
Game 1 has us both coming out of the game fairly fast. My creatures hold their own against his Kird Ape, but he has a Dryad Sophisticate getting in for some damage. I get a Jitte out, and protect the Hand of Honor wearing it from burn with a Bathe in Light. I slaughter his Sophisticate, gain board control, and win.
In come the Shoals and Hierarchs. In game 2, my opponent starts off fast with a turn 1 Stomping Ground and Kird Ape, followed soon by a Burning Tree Shaman and a Skarrg. My Paladin en-Vec only somewhat stems the beats. I don’t yet dare cast my Jitte, out of fear of losing tempo. The tide turns, however, when I double block a Kird Ape with Paladin en-Vec and Savannah Lions. He Chars my Savannah Lions, but I Bathe in Light. I win.
Round 3 versus jimdownside (Rare Drafters) playing Heartbeat
I feel confident enough about this deck to take it to a MTGO Premier Event, but I simply don’t have the time to play seven or eight rounds straight.
In summary, this is a solid deck that can do quite well on MTGO, but only for the very near future. In a sense, it is Owling Mine that lets this deck survive. It keeps the deck’s worse matchups – Roxodon Hierarchy and Enduring Ideal – in check. This deck preys on the decks – Gruul, Zoo, and to a lesser extent Orzhov Aggro – that prey on the Owling Mine metagame. I fully expect this build to be obsolete in two weeks at the most, but that is what you get when you play a metagame deck.
It does not pay to be overly attached to a deck. Jushi MUC was good for a small period of time, but people insisted on playing it long after it became bad. I ran a Red/White burn deck on MTGO, which was extremely successful for a few weeks. I actually made some packs running that in the 8-man queues. Unfortunately, I stayed overly attached to the deck for too long, and actually lost all the packs I won in the end when Glare, an auto-loss, became bigger in the meta-game. The difference MTGO makes is that these kinds of niche decks are not good just for the one or two days a tournament lasts, but for the much longer effective period between now and the next big Standard tournament.
Update: Still, I didn’t feel quite contented with the above deck. There was one class of deck, Roxodon Hierarchy, that was almost an auto-loss, and against Heartbeat I could only race (albeit winning the Heartbeat race often). I wanted something different to test as well. I’ll take you through a quick look at a deck that though proactive, also has answers of its own.
- 4 Ninja of the Deep Hours
- 4 Isamaru, Hound of Konda
- 4 Savannah Lions
- 3 Kami of Ancient Law
- 4 Paladin en-Vec
- 4 Hand of Honor
The lack of the Azorius shockland does not hurt this deck as much as you would think. Blue is strictly a support color, and the White requirements are almost never too heavy. The eight Blue cantrips also help smooth the mana out. It often pays to leave two mana open on turn 2 when you have an Isamaru or Savannah Lions on the board, so you can draw into lands to play on turns 3 and 4, when you can lay down a Jitte with protection. Unlike WW/u decks I have seen in the past, I resisted the temptation to put in Meloku. That is strictly a win-more card for this deck. It is simply not powerful enough for a deck with this low a land-count.
MTGO 8-man, March 2006
Round 1 versus Ghost Dad
I unexpectedly win game 1 with a combination of early beats, tempo disruption, and Protection from Black. I drop an Isamaru on the first turn, which faces a Plagued Rusalka. On the next turn, I leave mana open to counter what my opponent casts. My Remand draws me the mana to lay down a Paladin en-Vec, then a Jitte. I win.
I sideboard in Shining Shoals and Devouring Lights, taking out Repeals and Ninja of the Deep Hours. I lose game 2 to a resolved Tallowisp. My Protection from Black creatures, immune from non-Shining Shoal removal, only stall the inevitable death beneath a mountain of card advantage. Thief of Hope hurts!
I come back in game 3, roaring out early beaters backed up by tempo-disrupting countermagic. The turning point comes when one of his Shining Shoals is countered by a Bathe in Light of mine. I soon get in the damage I need to win.
Round 2 versus Owling Mine
I win game 1, though my hand was perhaps optimal for fighting this deck. My turn 1 Savannah Lions simply ends up dealing too much damage. Near the end the Ebony Owl Netsukes are dealing me damage, but I outrace my opponent.
Game 2 is scary at first, because a Kami of the Crescent Moon holds off my early beats while making my hand dangerously full. I am able to Shining Shoal it to death however, and I attack my opponent, all the while Mana Leaking potential lethal Pyroclasms and Sudden Impacts.
Round 3 versus Hand in Hand
This seems, in retrospect, like a good way for my WW/g deck to adopt if the metagame shifts back away from aggro. This deck has game against a wider variety of opponents, as it can simply counter a lot of the expensive fat out there that would wreck the guys on the ground.
emeng on Magic Online