Magical Hack – Hacking Hollywood

Read Sean McKeown every Friday... at StarCityGames.com!Friday, April 25th – With Shadowmoor at our fingertips at last, all of the information that is really needed to figure out what the Standard metagame might look like at Pro Tour: Hollywood is now known. With the very last card now known and seen, we can begin working on building decks… and do that enough times, bashing cardboard into cardboard, and you’ll figure out what is going to be good in Standard come Hollywood.

With Shadowmoor at our fingertips at last, all of the information that is really needed to figure out what the Standard metagame might look like at Pro Tour: Hollywood is now known. With the very last card now known and seen, we can begin working on building decks… and do that enough times, bashing cardboard into cardboard, and you’ll figure out what is going to be good in Standard come Hollywood. For this first article, then, I’ll be talking about what decks Shadowmoor makes me want to play, and we can figure things out from there as we bash them against each other and against everyone else’s creations as well in coming weeks.

It should come as very little surprise, then, that the most exciting card to me was such an innocent, innocuous little thing… a Merfolk that frankly most others haven’t even looked at. His name is Cursecatcher, but I like to think of him as ‘Fish Fanatic,’ a potent one-drop that does what Blue likes to do and meanwhile attacks for one (or more) while your opponent has to ask themselves the difficult question of whether they should be playing around him or not. Ultimately the answer is that no good course of action exists: play around him and you lose tempo… a win for me; don’t play around him and you lose the spell of my choice… a win for me. So it is no surprise when the first thing I think of for the new Standard is a Fish deck.

Unlike the previous rendition, I am skipping the ‘practically no basics’ routine for almost entirely basics, because Fulminator Mage is going to have a big impact on the format and being prepared is very important. And as happy as I was with the version I had with Black mana for Thoughtseize and Nameless Inversion, this version is a spicy little number that gets me excited in a big way. Admittedly, there will be plenty of room for people to point and laugh and tell me Vexing Shusher is going to kick my butt… but that is why we actually play the game, instead of just being afraid of a card that exists and might be good against you. As it is, I find this a very exciting deck, bringing me back to the good old days of when I used to play far worse one-drops like Sandbar Merfolk instead of getting a Force Spike stapled to a Fish. Sadly it doesn’t hit everything… I’d be very happy if it was limited to non-creatures, and go bonkers if it could Spike anything… but it hits enough things that matter, and otherwise hits your opponent.

Knocking the deck around a bit against other creations did show something quite impressive that I had somehow missed before in my prior musings on the strategy: Cryptic Command in a beatdown deck is absolutely ridiculous. Pushing things out of your way and cracking with your team makes the already-best Command feel even better, which you have to try to believe. It is that fact, exactly, that made the U/G beatdown decks circa States so potent, with the Commands to do the trick and the Green creatures to attack with.

But as an aggro-control deck designed to prey upon expensive “Big Spell” decks and other dedicated Blue decks, one would think this is the kind of solution you reach for after you know what the metagame is going to look like rather than as one of the building-blocks of the metagame to think about beforehand. And so I will put together my Fish deck and bash people for fun, while I think about ‘real’ decks and how they work. Thankfully I have found that I am full to brimming with other ideas anyway, to see where they lead.

Looking at Blue-Black strategies, you obviously have Faeries to work with as a quite potent deck, and it deserves full recognition for the fact that it didn’t need anything from Shadowmoor to make it ‘better’. But with a new Ophidian around, I’m thinking back years and years ago to a controllish Blue-Black Tempo deck I used to see running around the Neutral Ground Grudge Match, and wondering if something can be said for pushing things out of the way and hitting your opponent in the face.

The idea behind this one is that you have counters and creature-kill pushing things out of the way of your Ophidians, who then bury your opponent in card advantage because more cards equals more creature-kill equals even more opportunities for the Infiltrator and Adept to get in unchallenged. Unlike the Merfolk deck, I imagine this deck actually has a use for card advantage on a four-turn layaway, and thus gets Ancestral Visions where the Fish deck wants Ponder because turn 5 might be too late to have any meaningful impact. I’m not completely against the card in general — I just think it’s not an automatic, even if it is good.

Shifting over on the allied color wheel one notch, we turn instead to Red-Black and the honest curiosity I have for figuring out how to put these cards together, a problem I am sure many people are having. Looking at it from a beatdown perspective, I find I want to try using a bit of an aggro build with 4 Profane Command, using the mighty Command to resurrect spent beatdown men while Draining the face, and Profane Command seems to me like it would be good with Keldon Marauders. It also seems like it would be excellent with Fulminator Mage and Murderous Redcap, and which of those two kernels it will grow into is not yet clear: a controlling Ponza deck that reanimates Mages and Riders to buy back their effect, or an aggressive beatdown deck that uses Profane Command as a game-ending tool.

Build the first, the needs-more-work aggro deck, looks like this:

Build the second, however, is a bit different:

One feels very Red and aggressive, the other feels very… off, and likely needs a pile of help before it gets anywhere good. Conceptually it makes me want to explore just where Black-Red can go, and whether this idea of using Profane Command to burn you in both modes (by resurrecting a Redcap, Keldon Marauders, or Mogg Fanatic) has any play to it. But looking at a Red deck, I am more interested in its capacity to just beat down, and disagree that the “Red deck” should be tying itself down to not playing Tarmogoyf, when the mana is readily available to do so.

All of these decks presumably supplement, not replace, the existing metagame… after all, we can’t just say Tattermunge Maniac exists, so the only viable Red-Green strategy is beatdown instead of the Big Mana decks that have been doing well since Worlds or so. I imagine Shadowmoor asks for some tweaks to these decks, and not ‘just’ to their manabases, where a new dual land or Reflecting Pool has become available. Red-Green Big Mana might want to consider the ‘selective’ version of Sulfurous Blast, as it still lets you punish the Faeries while keeping your Siege-Gang around, and is a full mana cheaper when you ‘just’ want a Pyroclasm effect as fast as you can get it. The question then is how important Instant speed is to the Sulfurous Blast, or the fact that sometimes just sometimes it could damage an opponent’s planeswalker while Firespout never will. Reveillark gets a new dual land as well as a potential tool in Augury Adept, an impressive little Wizard who can benefit from their already-existing tempo plan involving bounce creatures to draw cards and gain life… both good things. Mono-Red is asked to reconsider its stance on creatures, which it currently does not favor as much as burn spells, because Tattermunge Maniac is powerful and might sway the deck to a more traditional ‘Red Deck Wins’ or ‘Sligh’ approach instead of 38 Burn Spells, 22 Land.

And Faeries… literally has nothing it wants to add, except its dual land. It’s tough being the King sometimes. Instead you get to see some startling new additions against it… not just the aforementioned Firespout, but the more troubling Vexing Shusher as well makes its life a bit more difficult. Others point to Raking Canopy and call it the death of Faeries; I for one look at Raking Canopy and see a permanent that sits in play and asks for a Cryptic Command before you can win, which is a pretty bad way to ask Faeries to go away. Staying nearby however is the Rogue creature type, which gets so many new additions at the right mana costs it’s not even funny… which makes you wonder whether the mono-Black Rogues strategy is suddenly more viable.

The burden of proof is of course on this deck to prove it doesn’t want Murderous Redcap, and thus the assumption is probably that it does, it just isn’t sure where yet. It is after all quite a good card… just not a Rogue. I would imagine a version with Redcaps would likewise find Frogtosser Banneret interesting, to cut the costs on the Redcap alongside all of those Rogue spells like Nameless Inversion, Oona’s Blackguard, and Earwig Squad. Sygg will likely find himself cut here yet again, as he is a Black-Red kind of card and less at home in this strictly beatdown-based mono-Black deck, but it is quiet possible Sygg should have a home in that Black-Red deck trying to make good use of Profane Command if we are already trying out double Black in our heavy Red deck.

Shadowmoor ultimately offers a lot of interesting things that push forward Lorwyn’s strengths, while also being its own unique entity… with quirky things like Enchanted Evening that offer ridiculous benefits if you can find a way to abuse it. A five-mana ‘do-nothing’ that just happens to say “win the game” if you can cast Spring Cleaning and win the Clash to destroy all “enchantments” the opponent controls, you have to respect the fact that some goofy, inefficient, and horrendously powerful design space now exists that you have to at least think about. Two-card combos are great when they have a reasonable mana cost and say ‘win the game’… and you can set up Enchanted Evening with both Idyllic Tutor and Glittering Wish, the latter of which happens to get Harmonic Sliver as well. Sure, it’s probably terrible… but if you get one-sided Wrath-a-Geddoned, it doesn’t look quite so bad. These are the sorts of things we do have to think about after all… last week’s casual cute trick may very well be next week’s tournament staple, as Ichorid surely has taught us by now.

Where we go from here, the first step from raw design to actual testing, will help to inform us of what matters in post-Shadowmoor Standard, as we go about throwing our decks against the metagame wall to see what if anything sticks. Try back next week, when we start cutting the wheat from the chaff and settling into the beginnings of using these newfangled things properly to get our first hint at figuring out the Hollywood metagame that will likewise inform the Regionals metagame come June 7th here in the U.S…

Sean McKeown
s_mckeown @ hotmail.com