The Pro Tour New York Qualifier season ended rather unceremoniously for me; my last shot at qualifying was waylaid by a family emergency and I couldn’t attend. So, I never got a shot at throwing Dancing Dead Things in front of the Donate/Illusions juggernaut to see if my theories worked.
On the plus side, my stalwart Magic companion, Kevin Davis, went on up to Charlottesville to the Qualifier and won the slot! I actually got to witness his victory; on the way back to Richmond from Roanoke, I pulled into Mike Long’s The End Games to see if the qualifier was still rolling. As I drove up, I saw people milling around and figured it was still on. Walking up to the door, I could see Kevin sitting at the same table I did when I won States last year. I thought”Cool, he’s in the final 8!” I get inside and, lo and behold it’s the finals match, Kevin versus John Slaughter, the 1998 Virginia State Champ himself. Not only that, but they are 1 and 1, so it is literally the very last game of the qualifier with everything on the line. Holy good timing, Batman!
It’s a classic matchup, too. John is with mono-white weenie, which seems to be a favorite of his. Kevin is with the power of the Skull, classic Necro including Donnie Gallitz-inspired Negator tech and a sideboard of his own devising. I know Kevin has been exhaustively testing this deck since hearing about it in Philly, and his efforts have evidentially paid off. They do pile shuffles, banter back and forth, cut each other’s deck and draw. I’m standing behind Kevin as he picks up his seven cards. I see Swamp, Ritual, Necro and I don’t need to see anymore; barring ridiculous snafus, this game is a forgone conclusion. That’s just how good modern Necro is (at least, pre-Dark Ritual banning). He Contagions an early Mother of Runes, drops a Dystopia to keep John off any white permanents and, since he doesn’t have a Disenchant, it gives Kevin plenty of time to get up to six Swamps and start the Corrupt/Drain dance of death. John takes the loss in stride, despite Kevin’s awesome draw. What can you do? I guess Kevin did the right sacrifices to the demons of Black, his deck performed consistently and he gets to go to New York. Interestingly enough, the 3 PTQ’s I went to in Virginia for this Extended season were all won by Necro decks.
So, one of our gang of players gets to represent us in New York, and I am determined to help him the best I can to make a good showing. Obviously, we’ve got to bone up on Masques Block constructed, but where to start? Kevin has made up a few decks– a black control, green beatdown, and blue Pirates. I show him my MBC Pirate deck, a little more teched out than his, so he makes a hybrid of the two that improve it and it seems to be doing fairly well.
One thing I’ve noticed in our initial playtesting is that there are very little early plays in these decks. It’s kind of like Masques Limited decks – the first couple of turns tend to be Land, Drop-Go. So it occurs to me that there’s an opportunity here to get ahead of the resources game by having a deck that can do things from the first turn on. And since Masques and Nemesis seems to be a slow environment overall, the best choices don’t exactly leap out at you.
So what I did was go through the spoiler lists for Masques and Nemesis and write down the one and two drop spells that could be viable early game plays. Here’s what I found:
Casting Cost of 1 or less–
Green: Seal of Strength, Skyshroud Ridgeback, Stampede Driver, Groundskeeper, Vine Dryad, Deepwood Wolverines, Skyshroud Cutter, Harvest Mage, Mossdog, Invigorate
Blue: Brainstorm, Cloud Sprites, Soothsaying, Seal of Removal, Trickster Mage
Red: Flailing Soldier, Kris Mage, Laccolith Whelp, Seal of Fire, Kyren Legate*
White: Charm Peddler, Cho-Arrim Alchemist, Ramosian Sgt., Netter en-Dal
Black: Cateran Summons, Dark Ritual, Rampart Crawler, Unmask
Green obviously has the edge here in sheer numbers, and some of the cards are pretty decent. I particularly like Seal of Strength as a nice stall threat to make your opponent hesitant to attack with the intent to trade creatures. Invigorate?s alternative casting cost also serves to protect your creatures from early damage. Stampede Driver and Groundskeeper are fantastic early creatures that can support later-game strategies, and the Ridgeback is the only early beatdown creature around.
I also like blue’s choices here; while not as numerous as green, all of them are solid cards in the right deck. The quality here rivals green I think. The rest of the colors have few good cards in this category, with a few exceptions like the Seal of Removal, Ramosian Sgt., and Dark Ritual. Kyren Legate was mentioned simply because of the anticipated prevalence of white rebel decks makes this little guy a probably”free” raging goblin, but overall red is pretty bad. This all leads me to conclude that a deck based in green or blue has the best chance of establishing early game board control or tempo from the very first turn. With that in mind let’s look at the next turn’s cards.
Casting Cost of 2–
Green: Deepwood Drummer, Silverglade Pathfinder, Vine Trellis, Dawnstrider, Saproling Cluster, Deepwood Elder, Treetop Bracers, Rushwood Dryad
Blue: Darting Merfolk, Waterfront Bouncer, Accumulated Knowledge, Rootwater Thief, Hoodwink, Counterspell, Trade Routes, Customs Depot, Overtaker, Diplomatic Escort, Daze, Saprazzan Heir
Red: Kyren Glider, Flame Rift, Flowstone Strike, Mogg Toady
White: Crossbow Infantry, Fresh Volunteers, Last Breath, Muzzle, Ramosian Lt., Defiant Falcon, Righteous Aura, Avenger en-Dal, Seal of Cleansing, Silkenfist Fighter
Black: Cateran Persuader, Misshapen Fiend, Molting Harpy*, Silent Assassin, Specter’s Wail, Undertaker, Mind Swords, Parallax Dementia, Plague Witch, Spineless Thug, Vicious Hunger
Artifact: Distorting Lens, Rishadan Pawnshop
Green and blue continue to have a wide variety of decent turn 2 plays. Green gets some mana acceleration, something precious and sparse in this environment, in Vine Trellis and Silverglade Pathfinder. Rushwood Dryad, Deepwood Drummer and Treetop Bracers aid the beatdown cause, and Dawnstrider provides good defense. The Cluster is an interesting option that can produce nice on-board resources if the symmetry can be broken.
Blue again gets good quality cards to choose from. Waterfront Bouncer, Hoodwink, Darting Merfolk and Overtaker all give nice board control options. Accumulated Knowledge and Trade Routes give some card drawing ability, and if nothing else blue gets the ability to Counterspell or Daze. White’s creatures start to really kick in here, particularly the key Ramosian Lt. and Defiant Falcon rebel searchers. Black also gets into the game with a few Mercenaries, the awesome Undertaker and Plague Witch, and some hand destruction with Specter’s Wail and Mind Swords. Red is still pretty weak, other than the decent early removal Flowstone Strike and the cheap life reducer Flame Rift.
Two artifacts might also be interesting to consider. First, Distorting Lens interacts nicely with the Rebels, who have the Gliders with Protection from a color as well as the Bringers of Law and Light that function as recurring removal for any creature with a Lens and Lin Sivvi on the board. In a black deck, it’s awesome removal arsenal is somewhat tempered by the fact that most of it is useless against black creatures; the Lens removes that drawback quite nicely.
The Pawnshop is interesting for it’s library shuffling effect and it’s interaction with blue’s Brainstorm and Soothsaying, both of which are decent spells on their own, but even better with some way to shuffle the library. The Pawnshop can also throw valuable permanents back into your deck for possible drawing later on, like something with Fading that’s run out of counters or has been targeted for destruction by a spell or effect. While playtesting might prove otherwise, I think the Pawnshop might prove valuable in the right deck.
On a related note, with the Invitational event results in (congratulations, Chris Pikula!), we see the first Pro-level Type 2 Nemesis tech creeping into decks. 14 of the 16 competitors played with at least one Nemesis card in their deck or sideboard. Most all of the cards chosen were of the one- and two-casting cost variety, with a”free” one (Massacre) thrown in for good measure. The blue and red Seals made the biggest splash, with Seal of Fire showing up in Hacker and Humphrey?s Red LD, Maki’s Wildfire, and Price’s Deadguy Red decks. The Seal of Removal showed up in the sideboards of Baberowski and Budde’s Tinker, and Slemr’s Accelerated Blue decks. The Seal of Cleansing showed up in Kastle and Pikula’s Rebel decks. The simply amazing creature control card Massacre showed up in Finkel and OMS’s Bargain, Herzog’s Black Weenie and Wise’s Suicide Black decks.
Dave Price’s Deadguy Red showcased the almost too-hot-to-handle Flame Rift (sure to be popular in the next Extended season), and Slemr tried out Daze in his Accelerated Blue deck. Zvi Mowshowitz, otherwise known for his innovation and cutting edge tech, only dipped his toe in Nemesis’s waters with two Rath’s Edges in his Accelerated Blue deck. At least he tried out one card; Mike Long and Pat Chapin’s Stompy decks were garden-variety with no new tech at all! Hey guys, what about Skyshroud Ridgeback and Stampede Driver, or Wild Mammoth and Blastoderm?
Masques Block Constructed holds some interesting tidbits of knowledge for the non-pro player, too. While it may or may not be the format for an upcoming PTQ season (I’ve checked and there’s not much information out there yet on the upcoming season), it does offer us clues to post-Urza Block standard. Modern Type 2 decks like Bargain, Squirrel Prison, Tinker and Road Trip Red all had precurser decks in the UBC decks from not too long ago, and while Masques Block technology might pale in comparison to the overpowered Urza block, it will make it’s mark sooner or later. Now is a good time to mine for that gold.