Magical Hack – Advancing Shadowmoor Standard

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Friday, May 2nd – With a lot of puttering around with Standard already under our belts, just blindly theorizing stuff and seeing what works, it’s time for some more deck designing to see what sticks. Our Red and Red-Black decks last week didn’t really do anything interesting, and we have seen quite a few aggressive strategies so far, so this week I wanted to try looking at a variety of strategies rather than ‘just’ aggro- or aggro-tempo decks.

With a lot of puttering around with Standard already under our belts, just blindly theorizing stuff and seeing what works, it’s time for some more deck designing to see what sticks. Our Red and Red-Black decks last week didn’t really do anything interesting, and we have seen quite a few aggressive strategies so far, so this week I wanted to try looking at a variety of strategies rather than ‘just’ aggro- or aggro-tempo decks. The first interesting thing on my plate, then, was a look at the Time Spiral Block Constructed “Predator” deck, using some new lands and some new spells.

The concept behind this particular flavor is a little weird, as I felt the best way to make a first-pass decklist for a Green-White deck was to humorously ask myself, “What Would Michael J. Flores Do?” Green-White can work as an aggro deck but its real strengths usually come from pulling past the early turns and shining in the mid-game, which led me to concoct a deck that didn’t care about one-drops (they’re all Lands) but did have a Rebel search engine. Whether the “MichaelJ” look is an honest one or just a facetious method for designing an overly-tricksy G/W deck, I can’t say, but if nothing else it was interesting to look at.

1cc: Nothing.

2cc: 4 Tarmogoyf, 4 Kavu Predator, 4 Amrou Scout

3cc: 4 Kitchen Finks, 4 Fiery Justice, 4 Firespout, 2 Defiant Vanguard, 2 Loxodon Warhammer, 1 Mirror Entity, 1 Bound in Silence

4cc: 4 Chameleon Colossus

4 Rustic Clachan
4 Treetop Village
4 Horizon Canopy
4 Fire-Lit Thicket
4 Wooded Bastion
4 Grove of the Burnwillows
2 Forge[/author]“]Battlefield [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author]

We are skipping our one-drop to play lands that come into play tapped, as a rule, slotting out that part of the curve entirely to give us an easy place to play one comes-into-play-tapped land each game. Our two-drop includes a tag-team duo that did quite well in Block Constructed together, Kavu Predator and Tarmogoyf, as well as an interesting little two-drop with some new ramifications to him nowadays that got a little bit better when the Changeling mechanic came around. We’ll always have a two-drop, and thanks to eight hybrid filter lands we should also always have the mana to cast our guy on turn two pretty painlessly in this three-color deck.

The three-drop is where things really get interesting. Between Firespout and Fiery Justice, we have eight copies what should potentially be a one-sided Wrath of God, perfect against all of the different flavors of aggressive decks we are seeing at the moment. Amrou Scout hopefully makes a little more sense with silver-bullet targets Mirror Entity and Bound in Silence… but the real fun little bit is Rebel-searching for Defiant Vanguard, who can then Rebel-search up a deadly stream of Chameleon Colossi. To round out the three-drop we have Kitchen Finks, or “Heather’s Chipmunk” if you prefer, mixing aggression, defense, and outright persistence in interesting fashion.

To fuel this creation, we have some very good mana and some very good use out of our whopping 26 lands in this ‘beatdown’ deck, with a combat trick, a 3/3 man who is immune to sorcery-speed removal, and a cantrip each as a four-of among the lands. Rustic Clachan doesn’t sound too very impressive… but it is reasonably ‘free’ with us skipping our one-drop already, and having a few Changelings plus an actual Kithkin as a four-of. What it does, however, is actually quite impressive given the context of the rest of the cards: it can reset Kitchen Finks to Persist another day, is another easy way to get a Land in the graveyard in a profitable fashion to power up Tarmogoyf, and on top of that, targeting a Tarmogoyf, builds a Tarmogoyf that wins the Tarmogoyf war. Playing 26 lands means you will always have a consistent mana development… but having so many of them do other things besides tap for mana keeps the deck feeling busy, with a higher number of action cards overall, and preventing mana-flood. Playing 26 lands to prevent mana flood feels very strange indeed, especially since this version plays 3 or 4 more lands than the Block Constructed deck it is templated against.

If everyone was just going to play The Red Deck, I would consider this an excellent response to that decision, as it puts things in the way quickly and meaningfully, plays eight one-sided Wraths that are cheap enough to make a difference, and can assemble nightmarishly huge monsters that close the game quickly once it has been stabilized. And if we found, perhaps, that this wasn’t quite performing to the standards we had hoped for somehow… well, a little more Red in the other direction instead of as much White as we have here right now, and we get Countryside Crusher on our list of options instead to think about. It certainly keeps life interesting… and showcased here, if nothing else, an option I hadn’t seen anyone else considering, full of nonbasic lands and powerful interactions.

In my testing with the deck, the deck hung together well enough, and served the role intended: as a back-stop for beatdown decks to crush themselves against, and a powerful mid-game deck with the best fatties and literally zero cards you can ignore in the spell slot. That ‘innocent’ little 2/1, Amrou Scout, turns into a host of removal spells and Chameleon Colossi if you leave it alone, and everything else is either Huge/Huge or just ‘happens’ to work twice as hard as another creature of the same size. While Kitchen Finks was great against a Red deck, he wasn’t as spectacular as I had hoped he might be, and thus I am looking at Troll Ascetic to potentially fill that role instead… and I wish I could report back about the awesomeness of a Warhammer on a Chameleon Colossus, but I never drew a Warhammer that actually mattered so it is quite possible that its addition as “the last two cards to the deck” is actually strictly useless.

If Green/White is your ‘thing’, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a smile on your face after playing with this little number; it keeps up with the Joneses, and pumps out devastating threats that happen to be finely aimed at beating some of the best cards in the format. The deck was conceived of as a means to Rebel-search for Chameleon Colossus in a deck that otherwise ‘did something’, because against Bitterblossom that Colossus tells them that their real cards have to do the blocking duty or they’ll end up dead. Firespout makes this incredibly difficult for them to achieve, as does Fiery Justice, so it was an easy reach to the above decklist from the note I’d scrawled myself on a long drive home thinking ‘Wouldn’t this be neat — 4 Amrou Scout, into Defiant Vanguard, into 4 Chameleon Colossus’. I wish I could say I wasn’t channeling the Underpants Gnomes with this idea, with a clear Step 1 (Amrou Scout / Steal Underpants), a hazy Step 2 that requires the opponent to not figure out what is going on before it is too late or just happens after a war of attrition, and a clear Step 3 (Bash with Chameleon Colossus / Profit).

It’s interesting enough that it gives me a reason to pause in my thinking about bashing people with Merfolk, because Fiery Justice + Firespout is a powerful argument for beating down on opposing creature decks right now… especially when you can fine-tune that Firespout to just hit Fliers easily, clearing out the Faeries but leaving even your smaller ground-pounders untouched.

Next on the list of ‘decks to think about’ is theorizing about Savor the Moment. Reprinting Time Walk as cheaply as possible in as un-broken a fashion as possible is always an interesting effort, and we have seen a few Time Walk variants recently that are powerful but clumsy: Walk the Aeons costs six, meaning I frequently cut it from my draft decks despite its then-100%-correlation with ‘winning the game,’ but locks the game up if you get it running… and Notorious Throng gives you Time Walk + Army to literally end the game unless something strange happens. Savor the Moment strips the price down as far as it can go, which is apparently 1UU instead of “1U, This card is Restricted”, and takes out the really meaty part of an extra turn that makes it worth having. Breaking the symmetry of a turn, then, gives you more reason to play Savor the Moment… making it an excellent set-up card in some kind of infinite-turn deck, harnessing the ‘symmetry’ of Howling Mine and Rites of Flourishing for your exclusive use only. Streamlining the deck to possess no ‘unnecessary’ kill cards, i.e. spells that actually kill the opponent, you can set things up very nicely as follows:

Mass Draw:
4 Rites of Flourishing
4 Howling Mine
4 Ancestral Visions

Each of these is less fair than it looks when you start taking extra turns, even without an untap; drawing multiple additional cards with each extra turn starts to make these ‘symmetrical’ permanents a good deal less symmetrical, while Ancestral Visions firing “one turn earlier” makes it even better than it is, an impressive fact when you account for the belief that it is probably the best card-drawing spell currently legal in Standard. (And yes, I still dissent in using it in my Fish decks… Ponder fixes my beatdown draw, and I rarely wait so long as turn five to do stuff anyway. So sue me.)

4 Search for Tomorrow
4 Wall of Roots

You could play more, but you want to play permanents in the early game, so after these first eight the idea of adding Rampant Growth or Into the North becomes less interesting. Both interact in pleasing fashion with Savor the Moment, and Wall of Roots is great at blunting the beatdown that is your true worry, as you have to ‘race’ a beatdown deck to go infinite before you fall to zero.

Time Walks:
4 Savor the Moment
4 Cryptic Command
3 Walk the Aeons

Multiple Walks are redundant, and worse yet counter-productive; you never want to just cast Walk the Aeons as that opens the door for Extirpate to nail you, and this deck literally cannot beat anything tougher than a goldfish without Walk the Aeons in its 60. That said, even with Mines and Visions you want to draw one,

2 Gaea’s Blessing
2 Crucible of Worlds
1 Primal Command

Blessing lets us go infinite if something crazy happens, and it is better to have that option than to not when we are planning things out. The downside of having no real kill card is that we can’t expect to kill the opponent easily with just the 60 cards, so we need to be able to push some back in, which is why we actually extend that to 2 Blessings and a Primal Command, which lets us deal with pesky permanents just like Cryptic Command does and puts the entire graveyard back into the deck, to make sure we don’t deck out to too many Howling Mines and Rites of Flourishing as we take every turn for the rest of the game. This leaves us room for 24 Lands, which hopefully alongside the mass-draw effects, Search for Tomorrow and Wall of Roots will be plenty to hit critical mass.

Kill Cards:
1 Urza’s Factory
4 Yavimaya Coast
12 Island
7 Forest

The sheer humor of how you go about killing the opponent with this deck is amazing: so long as you don’t expose Walk the Aeons to Extirpate and can actually keep two Rites of Flourishing in play, you can take infinite turns, and everything else from there just sort of handles itself. Somewhere in these infinite turns you start cranking out an Urza’s Factory token every turn alongside your Time Walk with buyback every turn, with Primal Command and Cryptic Command handling any bothersome permanent that might somehow stop a marching army of infinite Assembly Workers. I had Treetop Villages in here for a while but really, why bother… if somehow the army of infinite men does not suffice, just take your infinite turns and point an infinite number of Ancestral Visions at the opponent’s noggin.

It is because you can build a deck like this, by the way, that I hated the concept of “Turbo Fog” around this time last year… the notion of Holy Day = Time Walk does not equal a combo deck, but the notion of Infinite Turns = Infinite Damage = Infinite Decking does equal a combo deck. (And in a pinch, well, Cryptic Command is the best Fog printed yet… for those ‘slow’ starts.) And while it may not be the flashiest combo deck at the moment… that title certainly belongs to Seismic Swans… it’s literally impossible to disrupt with any creature removal, as creatures are not a relevant part of the equation. It is also, unfortunately, very easy to disrupt with countermagic… but Green’s access to Vexing Shusher and Guttural Response probably takes that fact and tap-dances on its face after sideboarding.

And last on the list of interesting thought-experiments is a look at the funny things you can do with skipping mana drops. Looking at the “Predator”-style deck, above, raised the question of “what drops in the mana curve are worth ignoring?”, and it seems quite apparent that Green can ignore the two-drop if it wants to, just playing Elves and the super-annoying three-drops. Using a similar concept as we did with the alternate look at Blue-Black, we would be designing a tempo deck that steamrolls with its threats once its initial board presence is put into place. For example, we have the following:

4 Birds of Paradise
4 Llanowar Elves
4 Thoughtseize

4 Tarmogoyf
4 Nameless Inversion

4 Spawnwrithe
4 Ohran Viper

4 Chameleon Colossus

4 Shriekmaw
2 Profane Command

4 Gilt-Leaf Palace
4 Llanowar Wastes
4 Horizon Canopy
4 Treetop Village
3 Forest
2 Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth
1 Pendelhaven

The concept is again a tempo-based approach, always having a one-cost accelerator to push into a turn-two three-drop, with both Spawnwrithe and Ohran Viper allowing you to run away with the game if they start getting in unmolested. The Black is for removal to clear the way, Shriekmaw and Nameless Inversion, and while I did say the idea was to skip the two-drop, it just so happens that the two-drop is the perfect place to double up on turn 4, so Bird/Elf, Spawnwrithe/Viper, Inversion + Tarmogoyf is a great opening. Alternatively, a second three-drop plus a Treetop Village does much the same on turn three, when all we really want to do is to curve out. Profane Command is great for just that sort of tempo, and Thoughtseize stops the worst from happening… if all you need to do is nab that one Wrath out of their hand, so they can’t recover from 4 Spawnwrithe tokens that just keep making more copies of themselves, it’s the right card at the right price.

The question is always, “how do these stand up against the existing decks”… and in a format that was previously Faerie-dominated, I doubt the answer will be clear until we’ve had some serious action under our belts. The Red deck makes Faeries less viable, which makes Reveillark more viable, which makes the Red deck less viable… there’s a new equilibrium point to be found as the cards come in and mess things up, with a subtle effect for some decks (… like better mana for Reveillark, for example…) or a powerful one for others (… any archetype that now wants to play Tattermunge Maniac, for example…). In the meantime, brand new things exist as well… we’ve heard of the turbo-aggro Red deck featuring Tattermunge Maniac and Boggart Ram-Gang, but have we heard of the Green version of that deck yet? Maniac and Ram-Gang are Green, after all, as are some very powerful other creatures… could it be that the Red burn is the splash we want, not the “mise add Tarmogoyf to my Red deck” that we have otherwise heard of? If we are getting to that point anyway, why are we even bothering with the Red cards?

4 Tattermunge Maniac
4 Llanowar Elves
4 Boreal Druid
4 Uktabi Drake
4 Bramblewood Paragon
4 Wren’s Run Vanquisher
4 Boggart Ram-Gang
4 Groundbreaker
4 Imperious Perfect

10 Forest
4 Treetop Village
4 Horizon Canopy
4 Mutavault
2 Pendelhaven

It’s not quite the Elves! deck, but it is a lot of hasty damage and powerful attackers… with an Elf theme, making way for some hasty non-Elf-type creatures. It is also 36 creatures, 8 man-lands and another 6 lands that do something interesting, so even if it can’t go to the face with its spells (… or play a non-sorcery-speed, non-creature spell…) it has a powerful threat density and a lot of Haste to follow up on mass removal with.

Ball Lightning and Jackal Pup are Green creatures now… we might as well at least explore the options. Surely there is a better way to build this deck, that mixes pump spells in for variety while we are at it, but other than going about showing it here, I didn’t want to take it quite seriously enough to sit down for a few hours and tune it. After all… it just dies to my first pet deck with its eight one-sided Wraths, obviously that means I shouldn’t take it seriously when I could look at another pet deck instead!

Next week… we start putting puzzle pieces together, in anticipation of the Star City Games Mega Magic Weekend that will provide the first concrete evidence of how the metagame has changed, and start to get serious with decks instead of trying to figure out what wacky things we can do like resurrect Stompy! now that we have a Wild Dogs stand-in and a reasonable Ball Lightning impression to seal the deal faster than the opponent can recover.

Sean McKeown
s_mckeown @ hotmail.com