Zero life, an empty library, and ten poison counters. The rules say that when one of these conditions is met, a player loses a game of Magic. Cards,
mana, and tempo are resources that most players intuitively understand. However, there is one that seldom gets mentioned, yet is present in every game
that is played—the twenty life you start with.
Cards like Yawgmoth’s Bargain, Channel, and Hatred allow you to turn life into other resources, but the most common method does not use a card at all.
Defensively using your life means taking damage to set up more favorable trades in the future. Offensively, your life total usually means paying life
in lieu of other costs to get powerful effects. Consider the following scenario:
You have a Fauna Shaman turn 2, and your opponent has a Vampire Lacerator out. He loses one life as a resource, to be able to have a 2/2 creature for
B. Vampire Lacerator then attacks you, which you will not block. Using two life as a resource instead of blocking gives you the time you need to
activate Fauna Shaman and do things far better than trading.
How many games have you fought tooth and nail to bring your opponent to a low, single-digit life total, only for them to come back and beat you turn
10? Those first nine turns you were at twenty life or close to it, I bet. It seems unfair that you just do not get credit for having all that untapped
potential, while your opponent was able to use his life to buy time to get the right sequence of plays to stop your onslaught.
Wizards is usually prudent about giving aggro decks weapons that control players cannot swing. Pain lands like Karplusan Forest and Ravnica dual lands
assured that aggressive decks would always have the most consistent mana bases. Thoughtseize provided the disruption so you can get there just before
the combo decks brought it all together. Dark Confidant paid you off in spades if you built your deck cheaply. Putrid Leech was a fatty that gave free
wins on its speed alone.
The Standard of today is a sharp contrast to formats of the past. Dual lands are pain-free and numerous, with no cost beyond an occasional hiccup,
resulting in the most consistent mana outside Vintage. Discard is complete hit or miss, with each deck vulnerable to a different effect (Despise,
Duress, Inquisition of Kozilek). Creatures that provide card advantage have no restriction, allowing even the control decks to play Squadron Hawk and
Stoneforge Mystic. Some of the largest creatures ever made in Leatherback Baloth, Phyrexian Obliterator, and Abyssal Persecutor are rendered unplayable
by super-efficient removal and Jace, the Mind Sculptor.
Creature aggro decks have never been so outclassed in the history of Magic.
New Phyrexia tries to change that with Phyrexian mana symbols. Paying life is not something suited for most control decks, so aggressive decks should
benefit most. Removal with a life cost in Dismember. Two colorless for a 3/1 first strike in Porcelain Legionnaire. The monstrous Moltensteel Dragon at
a mere four colorless with evasion and immunity to Lightning Bolt and Go for the Throat.
This should be a joyous occasion, with many a deck being brewed to include the new bastions of beatdown hope. Sadly, with every Yin, there is a Yang,
and New Phyrexia has quite a… light side. Sword of War and Peace, Deceiver Exarch, Spellskite, and Batterskull (WHY!?) tagged along to put a
damper on the idea that attacking could make a comeback. Fair cards in their own right, but combined with acceleration/cantrip/tutors, Stoneforge
Mystic, and Splinter Twin, they form formidable combos that end games too fast to compete against fairly.
It is not that answers do not exist; they’re just not versatile enough to be maindecked. Gone are the haters of the past in Zo-Zu the Punisher, Magus
of the Moon, Qasali Pridemage, and Oblivion Ring. Instead, we’re left with cards like Torpor Orb, Nature’s Claim, or Phyrexian Revoker. These look
great against swords and Splinter Twin, but what about Jace, the Mind Sculptor and Titans?
On one side, there are the creature decks, outclassed at every turn—with the tournament results to prove it. On another is Valakut, a
one-dimensional combo deck that is at the mercy of Lady Luck for many of its battles. The new kid on the block is Grixis Twin, owing much of its
success to surprise factor and a lack of enemy sideboard slots. Finally, there is the deck that all the cool kids play in Caw-Blade, which has horrid
mirror matches that only masochists would enjoy.
There is one last choice that borrows a bit from each of the archetypes and brings them together to make the last deck. The efficient removal and
consistency of aggro in Dismember and Preordain. The free wins and easy matchups of the Valakut deck with mana acceleration and Titans. The HEE-HAW
win-out-of-nowhere factor of Splinter Twin/Deceiver Exarch. And finally, the power of Caw-Blade decks in Lotus Cobra and Jace, the Mind Sculptor.
- 4 Lotus Cobra
- 1 Oracle of Mul Daya
- 1 Sphinx of Lost Truths
- 1 Frost Titan
- 1 Inferno Titan
- 4 Deceiver Exarch
While this looks slapdash with so many one- and two-ofs, it’s actually a deck in flux, as it’s in the middle of development. The format is also quite
new, changing with every tournament. I’ll be teaching you how to fish by going over the reasons for the cards, instead of handing out a meal that will
be spoiled by the next event Gerry Thompson wins.
The core of the RUG archetype. The strength of RUG has always been in its ability to get free wins off these cards. Explore is certainly the weakest of
the bunch with a mere 26 lands.
Because a RUG list without one would be uncivilized.
While multiple Exarchs are fine as they serve a multitude of purposes, Splinter Twin extras do not.
My RUG lists always end up with three one-mana removal spells, in line with the logic that you want one per game. This number can fluctuate, but
Dismember killing Overgrown Battlement and Deceiver Exarch makes me happy. Remember, Lotus Cobra can cast your Dismember pain-free. Spellskite could be
trouble maindeck, and Twisted Image is the best solution.
In all honesty, I do not like it, and it’s a placeholder for either a utility removal spell or another alternate fatty win condition. People say,
“But you need to check if it is SAFE!11!!” Look, they’re either tapped out from your blue laser and you don’t care what is in their hand or
they have it when you use your red laser. What are you gonna do, NOT pull the trigger?
Frost Titan is downright adorable with Splinter Twin, and I wanted to give it a try. Frost Titan can help against Batterskull and swords in
fair fights, something Big Red is rather lax about. It can also stop a Deceiver Exarch from being ready for a Twin. This should definitely be a solid
one or the other, but the metagame will decide that.
This guy buys a ton of time against anyone trying to kill you legitimately and loots to search for what you are looking for. Foresee is a possibility
instead of this.
This is run over Mana Leak because it fits so smoothly into your nut draws. Imagine:
Or the classic:
Lands are pretty basic, nothing to go over there.
There is no sideboard listed, as the metagame is not defined. Here are some potential ideas to look at so you can form your own.
This is an experiment in the wacky, but in theory, it makes sense. Beast Within seems excellent in the control matchups that are all about planeswalker
advantage, but going up to four could cause you to be stuck with multiples in hand and no way to capitalize. Ichor Wellspring/Spreading Seas allows you
to cash them in for a 3/3 and a card apiece, a mighty fine bargain.
Against durdle creature decks, it’s also commonplace to board out Lotus Cobra for Pyroclasms. Ichor Wellspring provides some mana fixing at a two-cost
cantrip and puts the fear into your opponent, similar to Plumeveil, risking each attack getting bricked by a 3/3 flash.
Spreading Seas may even end up being the secret tech for the Splinter Twin mirror. The Grixis Twin versions that did well in SCG Orlando had a whopping ten red sources total. With a win condition that requires RR to utilize and with four entering the battlefield tapped with Blackcleave Cliffs,
Spreading Seas could be the card that buys you the time you need to set up the win.
Cute with Splinter Twin. More than two is unnecessary with all the search and combo kill.
For the matchups that do not disrupt you.
You have to be careful when you have situational removal like this. You do not want to go overboard and lose to fatties or Jace in the mirror. Beast
Within is far more versatile, but this could also combo with Ichor Wellspring to cycle when unneeded.
See Nature’s Claim.
If Spellskite becomes the primary method to stymie the combo, this is by far the best solution.
I’m not convinced of the validity of this guy yet. He seems far worse than just another threat. Time will tell.
Whatever hate card that gets brought in to deal with your combo will be unlikely to deal with a Jace of any variety.
It is not all butterflies and rainbows in the land of combo, as there is one card in New Phyrexia that could help fight the good fight. That weapon is Act of Aggression.
This is the perfect answer to many forms of Splinter Twin. If they go for the combo on Deceiver Exarch, just take it. At end of turn, make eleventy
billion 1/4s and give it back to them tapped. Your horde will survive until your turn and subsequent attack phase, giving you time to ask them
what it’s like with the shoe on the other foot.
They have a Spellskite in play? No problem. Just take the Spellskite instead and redirect the incoming enchantment, rendering it harmless. Act of
Aggression is even worse for RUG, as most lists will also be running Inferno Titan as a backup victory condition. It even dodges Inquisition of
Kozilek, something that Combust and Go for the Throat do not. The icing on the cake is the splash damage against the other combo deck, Valakut.
Magic Online section
Magic Online is a month behind real life, as per usual. Some of you still want to win the Standard PTQs that are held there, and I encourage you to do
so (~150 in attendance this past weekend). Finding advice on what to play pre-NPH nowadays is rather difficult, but luckily DarkestMage is here to save
the day. Here is an alternative to Caw-Blade (which grabbed seven of the Top 8 in the most recent event). I’ve used this exact list to win over 30
qualifying points in just four days playing Daily Events, so this certainly comes from practice and not just theory.
Sphinx of Lost Truths is back and better than ever against the nemesis that is Caw-Blade. Few things are as pleasing as the pause you get when you cast
it and it dawns on them that they’re unable to win. It blocks every single one of their threats, from Squadron Hawks and Stoneforge Mystics with swords
to Celestial Colonnades; none are mighty enough to get through your flying blue defender. You then have all the time in the world to set up
the game-ending Inferno Titan around Mana Leak.
Some SB guides:
Bonus: I’ve been on an Anime Music Video (AMV) kick lately, and here are two of my favorites:
No need to understand the language in the first:
Yes, I have seen most of the shows referenced in this one. Don’t judge me.
No one can fight the tide forever.