I know it’s been a while, and I have been hoping to get back to writing for the site. If you can remember back to the beginning of my hiatus, you might recall that I took some time off to get my own gaming store up and running. It was one of the those labors of love where I no longer get any full days off – but that’s balanced by the fact that I’m living pretty close to the game that’s in my blood.
Now of course, there are hours spent dealing with the silly madness that is YuGiOh – a game that I’d rank right around Spellfire for thrills. So it’s one of those things that while I’m now so very close to Magic almost all the time, I’m also probably more distracted from the higher levels of play, both in terms of keeping up with the net and in quality playing time.
There was a time when I had almost nightly sessions with a team that was at least somewhat focused, and at worst was comprised of quality players who were also imbued with a high level of personality and character. This is to say that when I was kicking around with Binary21, I went from a somewhat bad player caked in rust to a somewhat good player with a Top 8 pin, a trophy, and a nice pile of packs that I’d won.
This report, where I’m going to give you a little look at the game from my perspective, is going to be on the short side… But I still hope that it accomplishes several things including giving the reader some insight, getting my feet wet again writing about the game, and being somewhat of a lead-in to a larger (and what I feel would be a more profound) piece… That being a metagame clock article on November extended. That article will take some time and effort, but hopefully will appear soon enough to be of some benefit.
For right now, though, I’m going to use a bit of what I’ve garnered from clock theory to make some comments on Standard Constructed, which is what’s on everyone’s minds thanks to States being right around the corner.
Before I actually get to that evaluation I will do the briefest of reviews on metagame clock theory.
Metagame clock theory was an extension of the older Rock, Scissors, Paper ideas of looking at how different decks matched up. It grew out of ideas put forth most notably by Mike Flores and Leon Workman. In it, instead of just having the idea of”Rock beats Scissors beats Paper beats Rock” idea, Workman made a much more robust idea based around a clock and incorporating most of the most notable deck types in sections of the clock.
The”clock” notably included the newer*”aggro-control” types of decks, and split open-state (or”hard counter”) control decks from the more mid-game types of control decks that used permanents as some sort of”stall” mechanism and/or big global resets to creep towards winning the game.
This was all a fancy way of saying that decks like NetherHaups, artifact Wildfire, and counter Rebels are different than Buehler Blue Draw Go, Nether-Go, or the current versions of mono black control… Even though they are all controlling types of decks.
Anyway, to get some more detail on the subject, you can go either take a first time bite (or refresher, hopefully) on the original piece we submitted here to Star City.
Also somewhat amazingly still relevant to the times is pretty much my only OBC piece: Little Green Men. It seemed to lay out the course of OBC fairly well, I think, only notably missing a few decks like”Pirates” and the Wake combo deck.
Now for a little theoretical look at why the good deck is good and what you really want to look for to beat it.
As Wonder Dog is a UG aggro-control deck**, it should have beatdown enemies; that doesn’t seem to be the case with this deck, however. I pointed this out before but most mono red beatdown decks of history do not like fat green men, and the problem gets exacerbated by cut-cost green fatties dropped through a burn-proof 2/2.
As such, I’m loathe to believe that however much notorious red mages like Burn and Price might tweak the goblin-based deck, they are still going to have to show us that they can get something that beats Wild Mongrel, Arrogant Wurm, and Roar of the Wurm. I’m not saying it can’t happen, but I think that what I know of theory and what we have in green men is making the red deck look like a challenge without a reissue of Fireblast… And I think we all know that ain’t gonna happen.
Now, the decks that any aggro-control deck should beat are open control and combo – and again, it should lose to dedicated low-curve beatdown. Currently, for open control we have the mono black control”Corruptor” decks… And one could possibly put the Counter Mobilization decks in this category, although I suspect that any good build will move towards more permanents (like perhaps Meekstone) and therefore be more of a midgame deck than open control.
What most realize as well is that the counters don’t really exist any more to create the pure, open-state Draw Go decks of old – and not only that, but flashback erodes the old confidence you used to have that when you countered something, it wasn’t going to come back to haunt you from the graveyard.
The current most popular mid-game approach has long been defined by one card: That card is Upheaval… And while the demise of Tog has been long and oft repeated, the simple fact is that the UB color pair has a lot flexibility and resiliency. This is to say that Tog can”create” enemies, and then morph to beat them.
When the deck swung too far towards the mid-game with a load of bounce/stall tactics (Zevatog), it made itself vulnerable to a more open-state control deck with more counters – that deck being Counter Trenches. But once the Trenches deck showed itself however, good minds went to tweaking the Tog deck to take on the more dedicated control deck. I think that malleability is still there and Upheaval is still the powerful reset of the format. I’m hearing that Budde’s U/B Uzi deck is testing well.
There is something else to think about facing off against the U/G Wonder Dog approach as well… Namely, that it has answers to your answers.
Again, Counter-Mobilization is a cross-clock approach that wants to rely on an enchantment to win the game. In the current reassignment of the abilities of the colors in the”color pie,” green gets the artifact and enchantment killing Naturalize. Super! Now even if some lucky fool happens to get a game-altering enchantment out, there’s a reasonable chance in match games that Mr. Dog player will get to cast his Naturalize with possible counter backup.
We have a similar back-up plan when the UG deck plays mono black… What the deck was given were some excellent sideboard-type backup plans, ranging from Envelop to Phantom Centaur. The same is true of Upheaval decks, where the UG deck can counter the powerful sorceries for the low cost of one blue mana with Envelop.
So what are the problems again when addressing the problems posed by format’s noted”best deck”?
The first is that the hyper-curve beatdown decks that Wonder Dog should lose to don’t work: Fat green men beat over red weenies. The other problem is that it has gotten a lot of sideboard backup help for some of the currently most-often tried approaches.
Now, there have probably been worse chokeholds on the game than the one that Wonder Dog is going to hold over the game… But I might say that this is going to be one of the more unique ones. Seth Burn called it one of the weakest top decks in some time. I don’t know that I can exactly counter that point other than to point out why I think it’s got its hold.
The build of the thing and the way that it plays gives us little to look forward to for a break. Red remains dead, I think, and we have to look at black; one of the problems I think that we have here is that of casting cost requirements and color mixing.
Let me explain further.
Of late, the very best spells have been highly splashable. I’m talking about Flametongue Kavu here, along with Fact or Fiction… Both of which cost 4 total mana and only required one mana of color to cast. Now take a look at Wonder Dog. In the best-case scenario, the deck never casts a spell that requires any double color. Turn 1 is either blue or green, two is 1U or 1G, three is a 2G, four is a 3G.
If there was one spell in there that had to have GG or UU, the thing wouldn’t exist.
It’s also possible that if a certain color had some better single color-requirement spells, it would be making itself better known. That color is, of course black. Faceless Butcher is nearly on the plane of a card like Flametongue Kavu – except that the card requires BB over the FTK’s single R.
Really, Wonder Dog should get crushed by a mono-black beatdown deck. And while black seems to have some powerful tools to approach that, well… If you’ve previously thrown them in a deck, it has somehow faltered along the way.
With Onslaught available, I’m looking for someone to crack that nut for states. That is I’m looking for a creature-oriented black (or B/x) deck to do well in several places. This sort of deck got a big shot from one card, Oversold Cemetery, which I think should allow the B/Bx deck to take on a battle of attrition with Wonder Dog. There is other help from Onslaught as well, with the Mongrel-killing Smother… And it’s simply my guess, but I think Fade From Memory is a main deck card for the deck.
The problems to mention with this approach is that black beats don’t generally like burn*** much… And I think we will still have enough people on the Sligh wagon that it makes black beats a slightly iffy approach. Red needs to wait for its time till someone cracks the Wonder Dog nut… Which I don’t think it can do. Also, the deck is going to have to win facing Naturalize from the Sideboard.
Anyway, this is what we get when we have an extremely good deck centered on fat green men with a little counter backup. It’s a unique metagame problem for folks to try and crack – and it’s come to the point that many good builders I know are lamenting the problem. I don’t necessarily blame them. One thing we’ll see is if this”problem” trickles down to Extended, where it will face off with the formidable power of Urza’s Black -a power I have long advocated was much more balanced around the wheel that most folks realized.
I’ve found that the metagame clock is an excellent tool to use when looking to find a deck to crack a format. I must say that I wasn’t surprised to see it”predict” the hot new decks of a season. Last year it told me that”Miracle Gro,” the frozen fish extension, was the proper call in a field of Trix combo decks… And it then told me that this would lead to a return to Sligh, the deck that couldn’t beat Trix, not to mention stuff like the death and rebirth of Tog.
I’ll leave you with”Be careful what you wish for” ringing in my ears.
* – At least at the time.
** – I mentioned before it also includes or can include”Tinker” like aspects, whereby it can use the tutor like abilities of Quiet Speculation… But most notably, it gets cut-cost fatties on the board.
*** – Not Seth, but those fiery spells.