How To Prepare For States

Tim Landale gives you three rules he follows when buildnig a deck for States, and given his good record, he knows what he’s talking about! Find out why Tim tends to avoid aggro and what deck he’s excited about for States this time.

Since the last time I wrote, I have done quite well. I scored ten thousand dollars piloting a Valakut deck to a second-place finish and had another good showing with it at Grand Prix Pittsburgh for a top 64 finish. In addition to that, I had a heartbreaking loss in the last round of Grand Prix Montreal to miss top sixteen and ratings invite to Worlds. Overall those are some pretty good finishes, so while it has been a little disappointing not to have a breakthrough finish at a professional level event, I’ve been very pleased with my play. Anyway, time to get to more current matters.

A whole new world
A dazzling place I never knew
But when I’m way up here
It’s crystal clear
That now I’m in a whole new world with you
Now I’m in a whole new world with you”

I don’t quote Aladdin too often, but this came to mind when combing through the new set and exploring deck ideas. While much has been written about new lists and what people think might work, I also wanted to take a look at how to go about preparing for those first few tournaments before we have any events with the new set. Many people show up with these horrible decks and end up wasting an event!

In the past I have done very well with new formats. I pioneered Izzet Tron back at States many years ago and lost in the finals. I lost again in the finals with Eldrazi in a 5K in New York. I finished in the top four with RUG Twin in Orlando. Overall I have felt very good about my deck choices when it comes to new formats. Over the years I have come to have a few rules that I generally follow when selecting my decks for the first event of a new format.

  1. Don’t play aggro! This is more of a general rule than a hard rule. Most people get very excited about the new aggro decks especially when it comes to tribes. I can only imagine what people will think of flip cards and Vampires. Generally speaking, a bad control deck will be much better than a better aggro deck. The reason for this is that a control deck has many different parts, but they tend to be much closer in function. Frost Titan, Grave Titan, and Wurmcoil Engine are all very good at finishing a game and generally will all get the job done. That being said, the difference in two-drops is often far more important. I’ll play aggro decks, but only if I really think it’s quite a bit better than any other deck, and it meets rule two.
  2. Play something very powerful. Of all of the decks I listed, they all meet this rule. Whether it’s casting Emrakul, the Aeons Torn, Demonfire for 20+, or making infinite Deciever Exarch tokens, these decks all had very powerful finishes unlikely to be topped. Most aggro decks are designed to deal exactly twenty damage or maybe a bit more. This is part of why I don’t like them. The more powerful your deck is, the better, as long as it does not look like that Dragon deck you built when you first started.
  3. Play good cards. Try to avoid guessing at what the metagame will be and just fill your deck with good cards. This does not mean turn a blind eye to what people are playing; just give it less heed than you otherwise would. Far too many people show up with decks that will not even be tier 3 in a few weeks. You really want to have generally powerful cards against them. Cards like Day of Judgment are really good to have these first few weeks. All of the Titans are really good choices. Just don’t try to guess too much about the format. If anything, be prepared a little more for aggro than anything else, as they tend to show up quite often during the first couple of weeks in a new format.

I think if you follow these three rules, you’ll find yourself doing quite well in these uncharted waters. I myself will be doing some testing this week to prepare for a tournament in Philly this coming weekend and will be listening to my rules. That does not mean I won’t be testing some aggro decks; I just won’t play them unless they seem to be demolishing everything I have been throwing at them. That being said, these are a few decks I will be tinkering with over the next several days.

First off we have Humans:

Now I know I just said don’t play aggro for the most part, but I still want to give this deck a shot. Champion of the Parish seems like the real deal to me. For the first several turns, he should be getting at least one +1/+1 counter. Any one-drop that is attacking for more than one has a good shot at being quite powerful, and this card is no exception. I look forward to draws where you have two of them as well. Not to mention this deck is still filled with plenty of powerful cards in their own right. Mirran Crusader has already proved it’s quite powerful as well as Hero of Bladehold. Mayor of Avabruck is another card that I think might make this deck a legitimate contender. Imagine turn-one Champion of the Parish followed by Mayor of Avabruck. You get to attack for three on turn two! Later in the game, you get to pump your entire team for only two mana!

The next deck is straight from a Magic-League trial:


This deck was played by Mitch Machine to a first place finish. This will be the last aggro deck I will be tinkering with, but it does look quite interesting.

Stromkirk Noble is one of the most exciting cards in the new set. It will be trying to fill the big shoes left by the departure of Goblin Guide, but I can imagine this guy giving control decks fits. Slith Firewalker was something else back in the day, and this looks like a more reasonable version.

I think Koth of the Hammer should probably be a three-of in this deck since it is the most powerful card in the entire deck and is always a huge problem for control decks.

Brimstone Volley is the only other new card to make the maindeck. While I think it might be better than Volt Charge, I am not convinced. Adding another counter to your Koth or Shrine of Burning Rage is very valuable. That being said, the extra two damage you get from the Brimstone Volley also is quite nice. I can imagine sacrificing my Furnace Scamp on turn three and casting Brimstone Volley and looking over at the score pad to see them already at ten from just two cards!

The last deck I want to talk about is the deck I think I am most likely to play this weekend, Bant Pod!


Losing Sea Gate Oracle is a huge problem for this deck. It allows you to search for the correct creature or Birthing Pod while being a reasonable guy. It really was a big part of the deck before. I also felt like the Bant Pod deck did not have enough power at times before. I was much more impressed with the RUG Pod deck created by Patrick Chapin and Michael Jacob.

That being said, I like Fiend Hunter quite a bit. One problem this deck had before was the lack of removal, and Fiend Hunter looks to be an excellent answer. Before the rotation you had Acidic Slime and not much else to kill your opponent’s cards. I think Fiend Hunter is going to be a very important card now that everybody will be sporting many Titans. I do think you have to be careful with it however as it sets them up very nicely for a Day of Judgment, clearing the board and getting back whatever you removed. You can also use it to hide one of your guys from Day of Judgment, which looks like a cute trick, especially if you have a Blade Splicer or something already in play that has a good comes into play effect.

Avacyn’s Pilgrim looks to be a little bit better than Llanowar Elves was. You almost never needed the second green once you had the first to cast your one-drop. Thus, having it add any other color seems more valuable. I think with the addition of Avacyn’s Pilgrim and Hinterland Harbor, this deck’s mana base has gotten quite a bit better. That alone is one of the reasons I am very excited to play this deck. That and the lack of Squadron Hawks now really help this deck. I always felt like the Bant list had a hard time beating a Hawk and a Sword before; you just had all these clunky answers that struggled mightily against a Mana Leak.

The only card I am on the fence about is Mana Leak. As I said before, I really like all-purpose cards. Mana Leak really does not have a terrible matchup, although it’s not great against red. I don’t have it in the deck right now because you want as many different guys as possible to maximize your Birthing Pod, but I do want to try and fit a few in. Overall I am really excited about this deck and a few of the control decks that have already been written about by other authors on this site.

I can’t wait to watch as this format develops. I really love brand new formats, and the first few weeks are filled with lots of innovation and great new ideas as well as a ton of horrible decks. If you follow the rules above, I think you will find yourself doing quite well in the first few weeks. If not, I think you are rolling the dice quite a bit more than you need to be when it comes to picking your deck. Good luck to all those of you playing this weekend!