I Want Baltimore More More

Todd Anderson battled with Dungrove Ramp at GP Baltimore last weekend. Find out his thoughts on the deck and other decks in Standard as you prepare for StarCityGames.com Open: Tampa this weekend.

I had a lot of topics to write about this week, but I couldn’t make up my mind until just now. While Standard is starting to feel a bit stale for me, I think that’s just because I haven’t played enough of it. During the birth of Illusions, I as grinded approximately six hours per day on Magic Online, I honed my decklist as well as my skills with the deck. After taking some time off to play real events, as well as the lull between the live release of Dark Ascension and the corresponding Magic Online release, I find myself having a much harder time getting back into the swing of things.

As far as streaming and making videos is concerned, I’m currently much more into Modern than Standard though neither format really beckons me like they once did. With Dark Ascension still relatively new to each of my favorite formats, I haven’t quite ground enough games to get to the point where I’m entirely comfortable with a single deck, which saddens me just a bit. By this point, I’ve usually found the "best deck" and generally spend a few weeks getting it to the best list possible before I battle in a PTQ or StarCityGames.com Open Series. As for Modern, I enjoy playing the format, but I don’t really have an incentive to play it anymore since I can’t play in PTQs. Luckily, I’ll be venturing a bit into judging in Richmond this weekend; it will be my first event since I certified as a Level 1 (been a bit busy, I suppose).

This past weekend, we traveled to Baltimore for a Standard Grand Prix, and I felt reasonably confident considering my recent finishes in major events in this format. After piloting the Esper Spirits deck at the StarCityGames.com Open in Charlotte, I knew that the deck was powerful but just not something I wanted to play again. With everyone looking to grind you out with Corrosive Gale, I felt vulnerable, and that isn’t something I’m used to. I hate playing a deck with a huge target on its back, not to mention a hate card that is easily accessible for every archetype.

With Corrosive Gale on my mind and Dungrove Elder lingering close behind, I began to contemplate my options. I considered playing Wolf Run, which probably wouldn’t be a bad choice. I mean, it did just win a Pro Tour, right? I sat down and began to build it, pulling out Primeval Titan, Solemn Simulacrum, and the whole nine yards. I’d built a version of the deck a few months ago, so I had pretty much everything I needed except for Huntmaster of the Fells. As I began pulling cards out, a thought occurred to me: Dungrove Elder still felt really powerful. For just a moment, a brief moment in time, I remembered a deck that began crushing people just a few months ago: Dungrove Ramp.

While Dungrove Ramp wasn’t quite what I wanted it to be, it could easily be a fine start to what I was trying to do. My biggest fear with playing a ramp deck like that was the lack of removal spells and sweepers. Cards like Drogskol Captain and Mirran Crusader are pretty tough to deal with if you don’t have access to Whipflare and Slagstorm, but Ratchet Bomb felt like a decent replacement and would still allow me to play "Little Dunny." But was I stretching too much? Ratchet Bomb felt reasonably well positioned considering the large number of Lingering Souls in the format, and it wasn’t terrible against Humans or Zombies either. Toss in the fact that you could easily splash a maindeck Glissa, the Traitor, and I was already sold.

But I would need a better endgame. Sword of War and Peace wasn’t nearly as powerful as it had been just a few weeks ago, but I still needed a finisher. What if I went bigger? What if Primeval Titan was the answer again? After solidifying some of the numbers, here is what I came up with the night before Grand Prix Baltimore began:

While rough around the edges, it felt really powerful. I can’t really describe exactly how it felt, but it just felt right. I was able to easily burrow out of situations where my opponent would put me on the back foot early, and I had enough haymakers to fight through a fog of counters and removal. Dungrove Elder was still amazing, though he had a little backup in Primeval Titan. Since we could go big, Wolf Run wasn’t really as bad of a matchup as it was before, and we even had the ability to outdo them now that we had a hexproof creature that they would be forced to block over and over in a drawn-out battle. With a Kessig Wolf Run in the maindeck, it would be difficult for them to race once we got an active Titan, but it would almost always be a race as usual.

I liked my odds against control. We were a threat-heavy version of Wolf Run, fighting them from all sorts of angles. We had planeswalkers, Dungrove Elder, and a pretty big late game with Titans. If they didn’t have an answer to all of our threats, one would eventually be able to kill them (at least that was the theory). I ended up doing a pretty reasonable amount of testing that night, mostly against control decks. I felt like I was definitely in the advantage on the play, and they generally had a tough time dealing with Dungrove Elder and all forms of Garruk. If the games went long, they would eventually run out of counters and die to a Green Sun’s Zenith or any of the other gigantic threats the deck could produce.

Against the aggro decks, we had a bit of a different strategy, but one I was pretty happy with over the course of the last few weeks. The only difference is that I decided to maindeck Ratchet Bomb and Glissa since we didn’t have access to other reliable sweepers. Whipflare and Slagstorm seemed difficult to cast on time and killed our Birds and Elves to boot. Additionally, Ratchet Bomb combined well with Glissa, which I was already happy about playing to begin with. The only difference is that maindecking her would take up some space, but I was happy to have the soft lock against various token-based decks. With Lingering Souls on the rise after Pro Tour Dark Ascension, I needed another way to bust through their defenses.

While my performance didn’t quite live up to my expectations, I was fighting for day 2 up until the last round of Swiss. I felt like all of my losses could have gone either way, with one of us needing or hitting a vital topdeck in the last few turns of the game. Unfortunately, I felt like I was usually on the receiving end. I also made a few mistakes where mulligans are concerned, easily costing me one match by itself. With that said, I think the deck is decent but definitely needs a lot of work. I’m not sure if the ramp plan is correct, but Sword of War and Peace isn’t nearly as good as it once was so I’m under the impression that the deck needs to change drastically or just be abandoned (I’m not quite ready to admit the latter).

Jackie Lee piloted a pretty sweet R/G beatdown deck to the semifinals of Grand Prix Baltimore, falling just short of victory to U/B Control.

While the similarities between Mono-Green Aggro and this deck are there, it can attack certain strategies from an angle that they aren’t necessarily used to defending. Hellrider is one of the least-hyped cards from Dark Ascension, but I feel like that card deserves a bit of recognition. While similar to Hero of Oxid Ridge in a lot of ways, Hellrider doesn’t die to Galvanic Blast and doesn’t trade in combat with Snapcaster Mage. Hellrider also does the damage immediately, which is a pretty huge bonus when creatures are already going to trade in combat. You can also use Hellrider to kill planeswalkers pretty easily, and it gives your eight (or so) mana dorks something to do when you begin to flood out.

I think the biggest draw for playing Red/Green Aggro over Mono-Green Aggro is Huntmaster of the Fells, which is one of the most absurd cards in the format at the moment. Huntmaster gives you the ability to grind out control decks with the best of them and is also very good in nearly every creature match considering you can easily race, gain life, and remove chump blockers from your path. You also create four power (at the very least) for four mana, which can be pretty sweet just by itself. The comparisons between Huntmaster and Kitchen Finks are pretty fair, though I think Huntmaster is much better in an aggressive deck than Kitchen Finks.

Eerily enough, Strangleroot Geist also compares fairly well to Kitchen Finks, though Strangleroot Geist is also more aggressive. While Kitchen Finks is probably better in certain creature matchups due to his ability to gain life in the long run, Strangleroot Geist comes down swinging a turn earlier against control, which can be invaluable when you’re on the play. A Kitchen Finks on the draw against a control deck was never that much trouble to deal with. Strangleroot Geist can be presented as a solid threat at almost any point of the game.

While I think Jackie’s maindeck could have used a few more Garruks, I think it was pretty solid. She had removal, cheap threats, and the ability to go long with Kessig Wolf Run and resilient creatures. While she probably still isn’t favored against traditional Wolf Run Ramp, I think the deck is strong enough to take down most weak opponents playing the archetype since they’ll rarely play around cards like Hellrider or Galvanic Blast (with metalcraft).

If this is the current direction for aggressive green decks then I’m on board, but I still don’t think we’ve met perfection (but perhaps that’s a good thing). I think that this deck was good enough to take down the tournament, and I’m a bit sad that it didn’t. Jackie ran well all weekend, and everyone knows I’ll always have a soft spot in my heart for anyone packing four Sword of War and Peace. Sometimes the people playing Lingering Souls need to get punished.

If we look over the rest of the Top 8 we see the usual smattering of decks, but a few things stand out to me. U/B Control got a bit of a boost thanks to Brad Nelson breaking it open last week, and his influence helped a few solid players into the Top 8. Delver also ended up taking down the tournament, but I think that’s probably more of a testament to Matt Costa than to the deck itself. I’m still not a fan of Invisible Stalker, but desperate times call for desperate measures. U/B Zombies also made a push into Tier 1 in the hands of Matt Scott, though I’m still not completely sold.

In the hands of Matt Scott, I think this is the direction the Zombie decks want to go stumbling forward. I think this list is a vast improvement on the one that beat me in the Top 4 of the Standard Open in Charlotte, but there are still a few cards that I just absolutely hate. For one, I don’t think anyone with a reasonable amount of brainpower will lose to a Skirsdag High Priest, but you do have a lot of ways to turn it on. Unfortunately, there aren’t a lot of options at the two-drop slot for the deck, but I’d probably still push for Porcelain Legionnaire over the 1/2. This deck can get some absurdly powerful openers, but curving out with a 1/2 is not something I want to do.

In the words of Matt Scott himself: "Cut Skirsdag bro; he’s real bad."

Phyrexian Obliterator also seems a tad raw to me, but it could easily be the best option for the slot. You want a few late gamebreakers, and Obliterator is a large monster that is tough for many decks to get off the field. When attached with a Sword of any variety, Phyrexian Obliterator can put people away very quickly while giving you a ton of value.

I think the biggest draw of this deck is being able to play eight creatures with two power for only one mana. Gravecrawler is also quite absurd in the current format since traditional removal has very little effect on him. It also feels pretty refreshing when your opponent uses a Dismember on your Diregraf Ghoul, but they honestly don’t have many good targets! Diregraf Captain, Skirsdag High Priest, and Phyrexian Obliterator are their best targets, but if they wait for those to come online then they might just get crushed by a horde of flesh-eating ghouls.

Mortarpod also has some absurd synergy with a lot of cards in the deck. Alongside Diregraf Captain, Mortarpod can deal twice as much damage and can be rebought easily when combined with Gravecrawler. You can also virtually fireball people out of the game with Geralf’s Messenger and Mortarpod. With the rest of the pressure in the deck coming down on the opponent, it will be hard for them to deal with Messenger on top of everything else you’re throwing at them.

In my opinion, the only two reasons to play the deck are Geralf’s Messenger and Gravecrawler. When the two cards were spoiled, we didn’t quite have all the information about the set, but I decided to write an article about the two anyway. Now that the entire set is out and we have a few tournaments in the books, I think we have a pretty solid list to start brewing from. Overall, I think Matt Scott did a great job in taking the archetype to the next level, and it will definitely be a contender in the coming weeks.

I’m taking the weekend off to judge instead of play, but I’ll be back next week with more videos and potentially some new brews for your viewing pleasure. If you guys have anything specific you’d like me to record for Modern or Standard, let me know. I have access to pretty much anything in either format, and I love brewing up new decks.

We also have a new streaming connection on StarCityGames.com, allowing you guys to see whenever someone is streaming on Magic Online! I should be doing more streaming now with various brews in various formats, and I hope you come along for the ride! Streaming and videos are always a lot of fun for me, and I would do it more if I could. Check me out on twitch.tv/strong_sad and be sure to check out the list of all of our streamers here!

Thanks for reading.


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