“What are you playing at States?”
“I have no idea. I’m probably just going to skip it, honestly. I hate the format, the prizes are miserable, Scars sucks… I’d rather just sleep in.”
I can’t believe how many times I’ve had this conversation with people over the last two weeks. No one wants to battle anymore. It was the same story last year, too; the night before 2009 States, I was at dinner with six or eight people on a last-minute frantic search for tech when, about halfway through the meal, half the table decided to just skip the tournament entirely rather than wrack their brains trying to figure out a way to beat a Bloodbraid Elf.
Last year, I sort of understood where people were coming from. 2009 States was held after Zendikar Game Day and the World Championships, and the format was pretty well explored. Everyone more or less knew what decks to expect, and no one liked them. Jund was incredibly oppressive; no one liked being on the receiving end of “Elf, cascade, Blightning you.” Or you might get to play against a bunch of people who were planning on casting Safe Passage or Angelsong every turn. Neat.
But this year? If there’s anyone out there who claims to know what to expect from their opponents this weekend, I straight up don’t believe them. Yeah, you’ll probably play against a ramp deck or two… but ramping towards what? Eldrazi? Avenger of Zendikar? Are they triggering Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle? Are they ramping with Joraga Treespeaker and Overgrown Battlement or Cultivate and Growth Spasm?
Similarly, there will be people playing U/W Control. Everyone is going to have Celestial Colonnade, Wall of Omens, and Jace, the Mind Sculptor… but will they have Elspeth Tirel or Venser, the Sojourner? Both? Neither? Gideon Jura? Baneslayer Angel? Wurmcoil Engine? What’s their removal package? Which counterspells are in the maindeck?
There just aren’t any stock lists yet. Sure, there was a 5K in New York last weekend, and some people who don’t feel terribly inspired might pick up a sweet-looking deck from that tournament… but let’s be honest, your opponents are basically going to be Jungle Weavers this weekend. They could actually be anything.
(Well, except a Jungle Weaver, I suppose.)
This is what States is about. Exploration. Discovery. It’s not about the prizes (although free tournaments for a year are probably worth $500 or more to most of the PTQ grinders I know) or even the plaque that the winner will take home or the right to call themselves a champion. It’s about having fun playing Magic with your friends and seeing what new ideas people have come up with. Go to States. Please. You’ll see new things. You’ll have a good time. It’ll be worth it. Trust me.
(Incidentally, the people who say that Scars sucks for Constructed are usually the people who haven’t played around much with Scars in Constructed. Scars doesn’t have many cards with
Constructed applications… but there’s a lot going on beneath the surface.)
Personally, I loved playing Turbo Land last summer, so I’ve been doing a lot of experimenting with Preordain, Lotus Cobra, Oracle of Mul Daya, and Jace, the Mind Sculptor. Right now, this is where I’m at:
For a long time, I was ramping into Avenger of Zendikar, but there were some problems with that. Avenger costs seven, and without the ability to ramp with Time Warp, it can be pretty hard to cast Avenger in a relevant window, especially if you don’t draw Cobra or Oracle. Without Time Warp, it was also a lot easier for the U/W decks to fight Avenger with Day of Judgment because you can’t play Avenger and Time Warp in the same turn.
So I needed something else. I was also noticing that it was pretty hard to beat a ramp deck that got to Primeval Titan, and that leaning on Mana Leak to fight the Titans was a pretty good way to get Summoning Trapped right out of the game. However, the ramp decks couldn’t really do a whole lot until they got up to six mana, so if I could trade Mana Leak for their Cultivates, I’d be in pretty good shape. Goblin Ruinblaster was a sweet little addition to this plan, and once I realized that I wanted to fight over mana instead of creatures, I added Frost Titan to complement the mana denial plan. (There’s still an Avenger in the board, mostly for mirror-ish matchups)
Frost Titan is the man. He’s basically Angel of Despair, but you can pick a new target every turn if your opponent has a bigger threat. Combined with Ruinblaster and Leak on ramp spells, you can use Frost Titan to make sure that your ramp opponents never get to six mana… and if they look like they might be able to stabilize with a last-ditch Titan for Khalni Garden, you can start locking down their Titan while you push through the last few points.
Frost Titan trumps all of the other Titans in a fight and is pretty impossible for people to kill given that you’re already targeting their mana with other spells. I highly recommend him in this and in other blue decks.
The Explore/Lotus Cobra package curves nicely into Jace and Oracle of Mul Daya, with Preordain acting to smooth out your draw. Halimar Depths and Oracle of Mul Daya is a neat little combo, although it’s worth mentioning that you’ll often want to play Halimar Depths as your third land if you’re setting up Explore into Oracle. If you play Depths on turn 1, you won’t be able to ensure that your Oracle hits a land on the turn that you play it. Obviously, if you need to dig for a fetchland or a ramp spell or whatever, play Depths on one, but don’t just blindly play it as soon as possible; maximizing your card selection is usually more valuable than maximizing your mana.
The split on Lightning Bolt and Mana Leak looks odd, but it’s important to have answers to other Lotus Cobras and Goblin Guides that can also act as answers to Jace or what have you. You usually don’t want to draw two of either Bolt or Leak against control or ramp decks because of how often you’re tapping out, but Leak isn’t that much worse than Bolt against aggressive decks and is much better against the slower decks, so you want more Leaks main.
It’s hard to give exact matchup breakdowns because it’s hard to predict what your opponents will be playing this weekend, but I want to go over sideboarding and common lines of play in each matchup.
Mono-Green Ramp decks
are generally pretty good matchups. You want to focus on attacking their mana; fortunately, they have plenty of Khalni Gardens, Eldrazi Temples, and Tectonic Edges for you to go after with your Ruinblasters. Their long game is a lot better than yours, but if you can get an advantage in the mid game with Oracle, Jace, or a double Ruinblaster draw and close it up with a Titan, you usually never have to worry about your opponent getting up to his expensive spell before it’s too late.
Again, you want to focus on countering their ramp spells, which is why Pierce gets the nod over something like Flashfreeze. Most ramp sideboards I’ve seen have stuff like Terastodon that you’d be most worried about, but the easiest way to fight it is to ensure that your opponent can’t cast it.
are also pretty good matchups. Their mana includes a lot of nonbasics and a lot of tap lands, which is easy to exploit with Ruinblaster, but you can also start getting ahead on lands quite easily with Oracle and Explore (and a higher land count) and start punishing them with Jace or Frost Titan with Mana Leak backup. Frost Titan can break through Wall of Omens to get at planeswalkers pretty easily, so you only really need to fear Elspeth Tirel, but it’s hard for your opponent to ultimate with Elspeth when they need to be spamming tokens to gum up your Titans. You’re the aggressor in this matchup, but it’s pretty hard for the U/W deck to defend themselves without tapping out and exposing themselves to Mana Leak.
Spell Pierce was chosen over Negate for two reasons: first, when you have a Lotus Cobra/fetchland/four-drop draw, you usually have one mana left over, which is perfect because you can Spell Pierce their attempts to answer your four. Second, there are a lot of situations where you have five mana and want to be able to play a four-mana spell but still hold up a counter, which is another opportunity for Spell Pierce to shine.
Volition Reins helps complement your mana denial package if nothing else, but provides a lot of opportunities for total blowouts involving planeswalkers. They could be Mold Shamblers, but having more than just Frost Titan as an answer to Baneslayer Angel is pretty important.
(It might look awkward to have Lightning Bolt in the maindeck, considering how often you have to sideboard it out, but Bolt is pretty important in the aggro matchups, and you want to have access to it in game 1. You can also occasionally punish people for playing Jace and Brainstorming.)
Aggressive Red decks:
I’m not going to lie, it’s pretty hard to beat a Goblin Guide when you’re on the draw and don’t have a Lightning Bolt. You can handle a slower draw from a Red deck because they’ll usually have to pause to kill your Lotus Cobra, and you can start stabilizing with Jace and Frost Titan, but it’s pretty tough. They can also put a lot of pressure on you with Koth of the Hammer, because if you start trying to attack Koth, it becomes pretty easy for the Red deck to race you.
Forked Bolt is a good answer to problems such as Tunnel Ignus plus Plated Geopede. Flashfreeze didn’t make the cut because it’s pretty bad when you’re on the draw or when you tap out for Obstinate Baloth and your opponent does something like play a Koth. If you draw enough ways to interact in the early game and can get into the mid game at a reasonable life total, things are manageable, but on the whole, the matchup is pretty hard.
Aggressive Green decks:
Most of these decks are trying to establish a board full of Elves before swarming you with Eldrazi Monument, but some have a plan involving Genesis Wave or Vengevine or other unpleasant nastiness. Regardless, the answer is the same; kill every creature you see and try to ensure that they never have a critical mass of Elves for Monument, Ezuri, Renegade Leader, or Garruk Wildspeaker’s ultimate.
If possible, try to conserve your Forked Bolts such that you can get two-for-ones out of them on mana dorks. That’s not always possible because of cards like Elvish Archdruid, but it’s a noble goal. The Baloths come in so that you can be a little more aggressive, not to act as a blocker; you need to win quickly once you begin to stabilize or they’ll find a way to come over the top with Garruk or Monument or Ezuri.
I really feel that Lotus Cobra, Jace, and Frost Titan are among the best things you can be doing in Standard right now, and I want to urge people to take a look at them for States. The sideboard is pretty malleable, and you can configure it to ensure that you have a solid post-board game against virtually any deck.
Most of all, I just want to encourage people to go to States, battle, and have a good time.
max dot mccall at gmail dot com