Force of Will: Pork

Why Pork? Because it’s the other white meat. This is the other white control deck.

Don’t take my word for it. Take Alex Shvartsman.

"One of the best reads in recent memory is Mike Flores‘ article on The Dojo where he examines the philosophy behind, and implications of, The Rogue Strategy."

So all that’s left to ask is: Who were the folks that gave Flores anything but a 5 rating for this piece? I see you stumbling around the gopher patch with a roll of Charmin… But I forget; there are some people who give Flores a 1 rating without bothering to read his stuff. I myself find him fascinating. I don’t have the faintest idea if I’d like him personally, but his stuff is the best in that it is insightful, instructive and funny.

Take the above, The Rogue Strategy. While reading this, I was jumping up and down, saying, "I am rogue!" The essence of what Flores puts forth here is how I played Ankh Tide through last year’s standard season post-Nemesis. In the first week of playing the deck I was on the verge of crushing a Bargain deck played by Missouri player of the year Nick Weber, before a forgot-to-be-removed-by-me-the-idiot-that-didn’t-have-standard-card-pool-memorized Force Spike got played. I had one game in hand already before that great mistake, and after game one Weber’s comments had been gold. "New strategy…don’t play lands." That would be a neat trick with the mana hog that Bargain is, don’t you think?

I played a version of Tide that rolled over to the crappiest of Red decks. I didn’t sideboard for them. I worked on beating the snot out of the mana-hungry combo decks, then sided heavily against green. I went to tournaments in the middle of last summer, thinking that if I could beat Replenish, Bargain, and Stompy, then things were probably going to be okay…and they were. I beat those decks with my rogue approach and had fun. I watched as players routinely made gaffe after gaffe in tactics while playing me. This Replenish player burns his Seal of Cleansing on my Tide when I dropped it. My response was to pop all the counters off and finish him with ten damage from the Ankh he should have Sealed. I watched as a guy playing Magpile allowed me a second-turn Indentured Djinn cast from a Saprazzan Skerry. He gleefully scooped up three cards, none of which could save him from the five-turn clock of the Djinn’s attack phase. These were fairly good players, too, who have made PTQ top 8’s and regular local finals. The advantage that I had was what Flores spoke about. I knew what their deck did. I knew the strategy that they were going for, and I knew how to beat them. They did not know my deck (although they probably knew the concept of Ankh Tide), and they did not have a preconceived plan of action for dealing with my own strategy for winning the game. Anyone can be a rogue at any time, if they choose. Bob Maher Jr. is making it almost a regular thing at this point. Wasn’t Finkel a bit rogue as well, playing first Flores black and then double-teaming the field with Maher by the duo playing the Tinker decks? Making things a surprise can be the thing that wins…But you have to make it a good surprise.

Here I am in the middle once again. I’ve been asking myself, "What is the value in continually putting forth rogue deck designs?" I’m not sure – but of late, I’ve come to a conclusion that what I do as a writer most of the time is that I keeping a journal of the experience of playing and designing decks. Lately this has taken a great leap forward, with my almost constant interaction with my Binary 21 teammates Scott and Mike and with a lot of interaction with the Star City staff writers that I hear from. Playing almost every night with a Binary team member and getting to help test ideas with a gauntlet of top decks – both playing them and against them for testing purposes – is a very good thing. There is no better example than Rizzo; if you can interact with the better minds of the game, it can do nothing but help. Rizzo gets slighted for his "abilities" (and worse), but the intersection of his sharp head and his growing interaction with the CMU cabal has lead to what has become inevitable. Rizzo has gotten visibly better as a player (and this is without even watching him play, but by only reading his reports of his play) making a top 8 and having very real insight that he will share about drafting in Invasion.

You, dear reader, because of your penchant for the internet, can interact with all sorts of "magical" minds. Unfortunately for you, some of the better ones don’t write like they used to. My teammates were captivated with Adrian "Broken? They don’t know broken," Sullivan and luckily for all of us, he has promised to write more. I’ll give you a link to another gem: Eric Taylor’s Learning from Losing. This is certainly what I am doing.

Seer Rebels

I had promised last time to look into this combination of adding Blind Seer to a Counter Rebel build. If you learn from losing, then I learned a lot from this one over the past week or so. Not that I spent all of my time with it, but after several sessions of beatings I had to really step back from this one for a little while. Starting loosely from the Counter Rebel archetype, I just added in Blind Seer and Wash Out, and then maindecked Lawbringer. My pre-build, pre-play reasoning was that Lawbringer itself should be good against the likes of Two-Headed Dragon and the odd Ancient Hydra, and that with the color change ability of the Seer and the recursive ability of Lin Sivvi and her merry band, this deck could be very good. Wash Out, in my opinion, is a very good spell. I’ve had it wreck the Fires deck’s early mana production. I further reasoned that the partnering of Seer with Wash Out/Lawbringer would provide an advantage in the Rebel matchup. I could theoretically make Lin (or any Rebel) red, and then Lawbringer her away so that I could get my own Sivvi into play. Rinse and repeat. I could Wash Out white and hope to have at least a 3/3 creature left in play (or more) with its ability. Add in Teferi’s Moat for some further color-changing control, and I thought I had an idea.

A nice idea, really. The problem is that nice ideas don’t win.

As a general rule, Sutcliffe is very right. Boring + Efficient = Wins. Still, that rule is broken often enough. A great many of the Extended decks are less than boring, along with last season’s top decks in Standard – Bargain, Replenish, Trinity and Flores/Finkel Black Efficient? Yes. Boring? I don’t think so. Perhaps this season is a bit different. Fires, Rebels, and Skies are all rather straightforward. There is nothing closer to a combo than Ankh Tide. Do we give up looking for something a little less boring and more "magical" to play? Never.

I did, however, move on. It isn’t because I gave up on Seer Rebels, or that I now hate the idea – I’m sure I will get back to it in time. It is certainly possible.

Blinding Angels
I had been a little obsessed with the Angel since that Chevy duo of Seth Burn and Zvi Mowshowitz had voiced their fear of the attack-stopping white flyer in their post-Chicago ruminations. I went for it. As a broken netizen, I routinely search the net and pull things together. Mike Mason gave us Consistency as a point of strategy. I had played some U/W control with very good results. The only problem with that deck was gaps in consistency. Sometimes the U/W deck will open with a major hole in its colored mana production where the top decks – the aggro gauntlet – will charge through to pound you. Consistency. How about mono white control? Hmmm…

Pork. The Other White Meat.
Since Rebels was the mono white deck of choice, I cleverly chose "Pork" as the name. Part of the idea had been the plethora of white removal, spells like Afterlife, Last Breath, and Exile all packed into a creature-heavy environment. To that we can add the staples of white creature control that Wrath of God and Parallax Wave offered. I added in the synergy between Armageddon and Chimeric Idol. Idol also offered some early offense and blocking ability. Still, Blastoderm, that old nemesis, reared its ugly head. This creature is another deck construction obsession. Once it’s on the board, there is very little you can to with it except chump block it or get trampled by it. I needed to stumble on a blocker. I did.

In my recent buyout of a local player, I booked a couple of Primal Clays. I look it over. For four mana, it can make a 3/3 creature, a 2/2 flying creature, or a 1/6 wall…"Hey! That blocks Blastoderm!" I thought, "And without a color requirement!" Clay tech is all the rage now, with the rogue contingent – okay, mostly Binary 21 members – leaving Aaron Forsythe scratching his head.

A Circle.
I put the deck together. I played it against Mike, playing the gauntlet and his own decks. It did fairly well but not great. This still felt like a failure. The Fires matchup was the best and Rebels could be had… But the blue match was, as I had imagined, not good. Elarar’s deck continually won, even if it WAS by the slimmest of margins. This is where something came to light, thanks to Mike.

"You don’t present enough early threats," he said.


You must know that I had great intuition that my idea was going to roll over to the Aggro Waters Blue Skies variant. Still, I couldn’t explain it specifically. He had to explain something that I now think should have been basic.

My idea was somewhat akin to Waters. I intended to present a certain card and then, by control, make sure that it worked – worked by limiting or eliminating my opponent’s threats. Worked by eliminating their attack phase by protecting a Blinding Angle and ensuring it clear a path to hit. The Waters deck, though, was just faster at doing this – and thus better. I was left now with choices: Either I had to evolve to get faster and present more early threats, or I could continue to roll over to Skies.
Of course, I opted to evolve.
There was too a good card for this. Against Waters, Longbow Archer should be excellent. It’s ability to block fliers with first strike would be very good against the early fliers of the aggro blue decks. This is where I became crossed, though. By travelling along this path, I was actually heading towards building another deck: The white, bear-oriented ‘Geddon decks that Sean McKeown had provided an early example of. I was struck by how tough it is to be the good rogue. Perhaps I’m jumping the gun there, but I lost momentum on the deck with that thought. It just struck me that the white bears idea was going to be more efficient – is that the life of the rogue? Is it that so much of what we think is unique isn’t? Or is it perhaps that these "problems" are as much present in the not-so-rogue as well – remember the Taylor article?

Deckbuilders, I think are a lot like hitters in baseball. If you fail only two thirds of the time, you are considered great! Even though you fail that much, good hitters don’t quit. That last strikeout doesn’t matter now that hitters are on base. It also doesn’t hurt to have a pitching coach and watch how well other guys do who fail two thirds of the time and more. You keep swinging…

As it is, I will leave you with the final decklist for Pork. From here, I’m moving on to getting my kids ready for another JSS qualifier and myself ready for the newly organized St. Louis "Grudge" matches. Cand!man U/W kicks.

Pork 3.0
4x Longbow Archer
4x Chimeric Idol
2x Primal Clay
3x Blinding Angel
3x Enlightened Tutor
4x Parallax Wave
1x Story Circle
3x Seal of Cleansing
3x Cho-Manno’s Blessing
4x Afterlife
3x Armageddon
3x Wrath of God
16x Plains
3x Dust Bowl
4x Rishadan Port
1x Seal of Cleansing
3x Circle of Protection: Blue
3x Mageta, the Lion
4x Last Breath
4x Exile