Most good players have learned to dread the inevitable Kai Budde articles on Standard. Why, you ask? Two reasons actually: The first reason is because Kai changes metagames like nobody else on the planet. Sometimes there’s a Kai curve built into decks, where regular players realize they just aren’t good enough to win consistently with the deck, but most of the time Kai provides one (or more) of the Top 5 decks in a format, and you can be assured that whatever deck Kai discusses will see play – even if it was a complete mystery until a week before the tournament. For people who tend to build metagame decks (like Jimmy Bean and myself), Kai’s writing creates more work for us and sometimes ruins good deck ideas that see a bad matchup suddenly become public enemy #1.
The second problem that Kai creates is a bit more rare, but it does happen. Every once in a while, a stroke of lightning hits somebody and they independently come along with the same deck as Kai. They put in all the work to tune it to the (perceived) metagame, hoping to keep it on the downlow until tournament time and then Kai outs them, turning what was once rogue into one of the decks to beat with a few capital letters, some mixed up idioms, and a couple punctuation marks. F***ing Germans!
(Aside: Yes, of course Kai’s English is infinitely better than my German. My writing in German is at approximately a first-grade level and includes the phrase”Mein pimmel ist einen flamenwerfer” wherever I can fit it in.) (I’m going to allow that – The Ferrett)
I mean, I like Kai, and his writing is always pretty solid – but there are times when I wish he didn’t have to be quite so open about his opinions with his community because it would make my job easier. Since I am an imminently lazy bastard, you can understand where my priorities lie.
Speaking of lazy bastards, if you check my archives for the last two months, it appears that I have been slacking. States is usually my baby, so my lack of comment on the format would seem to warrant some explanation – is it just laziness or something else entirely? Well, the truth is that I’ve been working on an enormous writing project for StarCityGames that should appear on this here site here some time after Pro Tour: New Orleans. My feeling is that it will probably be the most influential thing I ever write for you guys, so I’ve been putting in some long hours to make certain it doesn’t suck.
I’ve also been working on doing prep work for New Orleans, including getting a few glimpses of behind-the-scenes action with certain teams, the results of which will be available as part of our continuing effort to provide the best event coverage possible. We have good stuff planned for you in that area, so as long as you tune in, you won’t be disappointed.
The last reason I haven’t said much about States is that the format is insane. For evidence of this, you have to look no further than Zvi’s roundup article over on Brainburst where he lists no less than eighteen decks that you should be aware of. Now, I never passed first-grade math, but eighteen sure seems like a lot of decks to be aware of in a Constructed environment. I just barely have enough fingers and toes to keep track of the silly things. Are all of them good? Of course not – but remember, folks, the tournament we are discussing is States, meaning all of them could (and probably will) get played.
Combine the sheer volume of possibilities in the environment with the fact that I’m working with a team that actually expects me to keep our tech a secret this time around (and they are cringing right now, hoping I don’t give away too much of what we’ve learned in the last month), and you get a strong disincentive for me to write. I can’t tout an unknown deck as being good because we might end up playing it, I can’t just rehash the old archetypes (well, I could, but that would be boring), the environment is too diverse to just pluck out the best decks and talk about those, and I’m not including cheesecake again until Christmas. Thus, I don’t have a lot to write about.
So, good luck at States and I’ll see you next week.
Haaaang on… check that. I didn’t have that much to write about… Until we tested like madmen (Jim more than me, per usual), read ninety percent of the articles out there (to much bleeding of eyes, I assure you), and began to figure out the format. Sort of. It’s still too friggin’ big to be as precise as I’d like to be, but I finally feel like I can say some things about the environment and be right. I also didn’t have much to say until I realized that other people were saying a lot of awful things that were confusing, wrong, or both. At that point I felt it necessary to chime in and hopefully set things straight.
So that’s what I’ma gonna do here. I’ma gonna say some things, and they’ll be right, and you’ll be smarter. Hopefully. If you aren’t smarter, it’s not my fault, because I’ll still be right. Ah the salty smell of arrogance in the morning…
Then again, I could be wrong, and you’ll all be dumber and dumberer, but you aren’t going to get me to take credit for that. Nosir! If you are angry about being dumberer, then you shouldn’t have read all those Ben Snyder articles, should you? Just look what it has done to our poor editor…
I wanted to address what I initially thought was a parody article written be somebody else discussing”the aggro decks I think have a shot at impacting States.” Overall, I thought that you actually did have some insight on the format that might prove useful to people. You even posted some decklists that were not awful. However, you shot yourself in the foot by discussing pootastic decks first, and making it sound like Tidal Kraken is an amazing beater. Saying silly things like that just turns your audience against you and makes them stop reading.
Next time I suggest leaving the poo decks for earlier articles and just discussing legitimate contendahs in your preview – that way you are less likely to make your audience dumberer at the time when they most need to be smart. er. er.
Also, if you playtested, and you were keeping track of the results, then you would have come up with a number that represented a win percentage for a particular deck. This number is not a suggestion, it’s what you actually tested the deck for, and it represents match win percentage, not game win percentage. Anyway, if you actually do the testing thing and get legitimate results, then you won’t need to say silly things like”Against R/W, we’ll be conservative and say 60% (it’s more like 70%).”
Tell us the win percent the matchup actually tested to and then express any concerns as to whether that number is reflective of how you think the deck should be performing. Otherwise, it looks an awful lot like you are creating numbers out of thin air, in which case people would rather trash you than give what you say any credence. If you have any further questions about playtesting and numbers, feel free to consult my”Lies, Damn Lies, and Statistics” article for help.
Remember folks, Magic writing is a lot like cooking… It’s 50% taste (substance) and 50% presentation (style). If your creation looks like poo, people are going to ignore it, even if it tastes like ambrosia.
The Holiest of Knuts
All right – enough with the preamble, on with the info!
Since the environment is so open, I think it’s probably appropriate to start with a few notes or rules to keep in mind.
1) Board Sweepers Are Everywhere
Since Wizards decided they wanted to reduce the effect of counterspells in the environment, control decks have largely morphed from counter-control decks to board-control decks. The result of this is that what Jimmy Bean calls”kill all your sh**” spells are ubiquitous. MBC has Oblivion Stone, White has Wrath of God and (more importantly) Akroma’s Vengeance, Red still has Starstorm, and Blue has Upheav…
Hey, wait a second – no more Upheaval! Just when you thought you would never see the end of it, it’s finally gone. You won’t even see it in Extended, so, you know, rejoice and stuff.
Anyway, the point is that you have to be prepared to either counter these spells (not bloody likely) or recover quickly from them so you can maintain pressure on your opponent. Everybody has ’em, you just have to figure out how to deal with it.
2) Artifacts Will Matter
I knew this rule was in effect before Affinity came to the fore, but now it’s particularly relevant. Oblivion Stone changes games. So does Isochron Scepter (though I am not advocating that anyone play Scepters). Icy Manipulator is back and could see play in a March of the Machines deck. Then you’ve got all the Affinity decks running around, and half the aggro decks running Chrome Mox. If you pack artifact hate, it will have targets.
3) States Net Decks Are Untuned
This should almost go without saying, but I’m pretty certain that everyone doesn’t know this, so it needs to be said. Right now, your favorite pro is putting the finishing touches on their Extended deck for New Orleans. States is, at most, a secondary thought for them and sometimes it’s much less than that. Therefore you should test it for yourself and figure out if it really is as good as you’d like it to be, or whether it needs tweaking (Kibler’s Zombies deck is a pretty obvious example here).
If you want a really good deck for States, you’re going to have to do a lot of the legwork yourself.
4) Never Play Cards With A Man Who Has The Same First Name As A City
This one is self-explanatory.
5) Aggro Almost Always Trumps Control At States
It takes more work to develop a good control deck and, in general, the control decks that people run at States fall just a little short of optimal. Every once in a while you see them sneak through and win it all – but usually, they get derailed somewhere along the way by threats they didn’t plan for or matchups they didn’t understand quite well enough, and that’s that.
Do Not Sleep on the Little Red Men
As much as some of you might wish it were otherwise, Goblins remains the deck to beat. It’s fast, it’s resilient, it’s sideboard is surprisingly versatile (though the one listed below isn’t particularly imaginative), and it’s consistent. For people who aren’t sure what to play, this is an easy default. Goblins is still good (just like U/G Madness was good last year), and just because people have had time to prepare other decks to beat it doesn’t mean that they won’t get played.
In our testing, we’ve used two different versions, one by Nick”Frogmite is terrible, don’t play it” Eisel (insert vicious snickering and joking”Stick to Limited!” comments here) and the other that’s identical to the stock build Brian Kibler tested with on Brainburst this week. Nick’s is a little more teched out, while Kibler’s retains the synergy between Onslaught Goblin builds and the sometimes-brutal Goblin Sharpshooter action.
EiselGoblins also known as”Frogmite is bad, mmmkay?”
4 Pyrite Spellbomb
4 Raging Goblin
4 Goblin Sledder
4 Goblin Piledriver
2 Hammer of Bogardan
4 Goblin Warchief
4 Blistering Firecat
3 Goblin Goon
4 Siege-Gang Commander
3 Goblin Burrows
4 Wooded Foothills
Kibler’s Stock Onslaught Block Goblins
3 Gempalm Incinerator
4 Goblin Piledriver
3 Goblin Sharpshooter
4 Goblin Sledder
4 Goblin Warchief
2 Rorix Bladewing
4 Siege-Gang Commander
4 Skirk Prospector
4 Pyrite Spellbomb
3 Goblin Burrows
Bottom Line: Goblins is still very good and will probably make up the largest portion of the metagame at States. Personally, I’d work on these decks a lot more before playing them because they honestly could use a little work, if for no other reason than the sideboards aren’t very good. That said, three out of every four decks will probably not be Goblin builds, so you could always just play the odds and hope you don’t face Goblin decks at all on Saturday.
Joey, Jordan, Donnie, Danny, and Jon
Affinity… Yet another build that Wizards tried to push on the public through synergistic mechanics. This time it happened at States instead of Regionals, but anybody who has tested the deck for a few games will easily discern the power contained within. Unfortunately, along with that power comes some inconsistency and a couple of very stark vulnerabilities.
For those who have been living under a rock for the last two weeks while Ferrett attempted to sell all the Broodstars Star City had in stock, you have two flavors of Affinity – one being Kai’s aggro deck that contains no counterspells, tons of card drawing, and flying Atogs (and who doesn’t love flying Atogs?), and the other being the more aggro-control decks that you saw appear in the e-League results. I’ll list Kai’s build here, while I’m certain the e-League deck is already in our database.
4 Myr Enforcer
4 Chromatic Sphere
4 Chrome Mox
2 Neurok Hoversail
2 Rush of Knowledge
4 Talisman of Progress
2 Temporal Fissure
4 Thirst for Knowledge
4 Welding Jar
4 Ancient Den
4 Great Furnace
4 Seat of the Synod
First off, there are two problem cards either build must deal with that can result in a quick exit to the Bean Bracket. The first card is Akroma’s Vengeance, since that often equates to”Game Loss” if your opponent casts it and you don’t have a full hand or a counterspell. Lots of people are working on finding a fix for the Vengeance problem (hint: Welding Jar ain’t it), but I haven’t seen any posted that have worked reliably.
The second card that we encountered that could cause problems was good ol’ Blood Moon. Essentially, all of Affinity’s mana base is non-basic lands, and while it still has access to Blue mana through Talismans, losing the flexibility of Glimmervoid and painless Blue mana is a real pain in the ass.
Bottom Line: Make no mistake, Affinity is a very powerful mechanic that can accelerate out large threats in a hurry, and one set of builds even has counterspell backup. That said, it suffers from the occasional inconsistencies inherent in decks that only have sixteen lands. It is also surprisingly vulnerable to the best mass removal spell in the game (yes, Vengeance is better than Oblivion Stone due to surprise factors and wording on the cards), and Kai’s version, as usual, is a bit non-intuitive to play. That, or it’s just bad, but I rather doubt the latter is true.
Therefore, you should expect Affinity to appear all over the States road map and be prepared for it (everybody loves the new kid on the block), but if you choose to play it, you kind of have to hope your luck holds up for seven rounds of Swiss and three more of T8 action.
Inexplicably, People Still Love AC/DC
For a while there, everyone was lamenting that there were no good Black decks to play. That hasn’t been the case for a some time now, and Mirrodin has done little to change that, meaning Black picked up a few more power cards in this set as well. On Saturday, Mono-Black decks will come in two primary flavors with very different goals, but we can have little doubt that they will be out in force.
Flavor #1: Mono-Black Control
I don’t have a good decklist that I can post for you because I haven’t seen one online, and certain people would punish me severely for posting their builds. That said, rest assured that any good version will contain Oblivion Stones, Terror, Mind Sludge, Phyrexian Arena, Consume Spirit, Persecute, and probably Jens as well. Unfortunately, MBC is missing the one crucial element that would make it shine in the current environment: Mutilate. If Mutilate (or something like it) were available, I’d easily put this deck at the top of my Tier 1 list, but since it is not (and Barter in Blood is not the same), I’m not sure where to place MBC. Does the deck have real synergy, or is it just a bunch of good cards thrown together in the hopes of winning?
I guess I’ll find out on Saturday.
Bottom Line: MBC is good, but it is not (yet) at the power level of the post-Torment glory days. Karma is frequently bad news, and the Stone is a slow answer. Whether either of these facts will matter is another question entirely.
Flavor #2: Zombies!
Kibler posted his updated version of Zombies last week with the term”Aggro,” but if you’ve played his build, you’ll notice it feels a lot more like a mid-range deck. Chrome Mox helps with the aggressiveness quotient, but honestly, the strongest turn 3 play this deck can have is Persecute. When your best spell is a four-mana discard spell, it’s hard to classify the deck as aggressive.
Quibbling about the terminology aside, Zombies stuffs a lot of card advantage into a sixty-card package. Brian’s build has eight (!) Arena effects (four attached to a 3/3 body), maindeck Persecutes, and Lord of the Undead–Rotlung Reanimator-Zombie Token action. My only worry is that it doesn’t have much in the way of finishers, so it has to hope to win on number advantage alone, and sometimes that’s hard to do, particularly if you get off to a slow start. Along with that, Blackmail just isn’t good enough, but you don’t have any other options, since the three- and four-mana slots are very, very full. You can try to shoehorn Coercion into the deck, but more often than not I’ve found myself with a bunch of cards in hand, wishing I could cast spells just a little bit faster.
I’ve modified Brian’s deck just a little to compensate for my complaints about the extra Arena effects, but I’m not sure it’s any better… It still dies to Circle of Protection: Black, and Worship or Karma remain very real problems. I’ve also thought about putting in some Twisted Abominations for land smoothing (not needed) and regenerating from Akroma’s Vengeance and such, but the deck is pretty full already.
4 Withered Wretch
2 Lord of the Undead
4 Rotlung Reanimator
3 Graveborn Muse
2 Phyrexian Plaguelord
4 Chrome Mox
4 Consume Spirit
3 Phyrexian Arena
3 Unholy Grotto
Bottom Line: If the e-League results are any indicator, some people will do quite well with this deck, and even Zvi likes it with some of the same reservations that I have. That said, there are some glaring holes that can be exploited by well-prepared decks.
The Thing About My Nose, It Don’t Matter If It’s Black or White
If you know anything about the Constructed decks that I’ve played for the last year, you know that I’m a big fan of B/W Control. Whether the deck sports Astral Slide or not, it has proven to be a powerhouse of Type 2 again and again, probably falling just behind Wake decks as the control deck that has had the most success over the last year. Unlike Wake, B/W control wasn’t gutted by the rotation of Odyssey Block, but it did lose some platinum hits – chief among them being Cabal Therapy.
In spite of that loss, the deck still sports what I think are probably the two strongest cards in the environment right now in Akroma’s Vengeance and Persecute. Vengeance is a wrecking ball against certain matchups (like the aforementioned Affinity deck), while Persecute does a lot of work against a largely mono-color field. To recap, B/W Control has discard and board clearing spells, and also contains spot removal (Terror, Smother), card drawing (Ambition’s Cost, Arena out of the board), and beefy finishers. What’s not to love?
My only caveat about playing this deck is that Kibler’s version (man, that guy did a mountain of work for States), is untuned right now, and you should do a little work to figure out how to make it match up to the current metagame a little better. I’m not playing the deck though (I’m swearing off B/W for a while), so unfortunately, I do not have any advice on how to go about doing that.
Kibler B/W Control
3 Eternal Dragon
4 Exalted Angel
3 Akroma’s Vengeance
3 Ambition’s Cost
2 Decree of Justice
3 Renewed Faith
4 Wrath of God
3 Temple of the False God
Bottom Line: When tuned to the metagame, I still think this is the strongest, most versatile control deck available. When choosing between this deck and U/W Control, it really comes down to whether you have a preference for Counterspells or Discard and Spot Removal. I’d probably choose the latter.
As Walamies Keeps Telling Me, Fins Are On Fish, While Finns Are Great Magic Players. And Have You Seen Their Flag?
U/W Control is back, and it’s even good again. Once again, Akroma’s Vengeance is the star of the show, backed up by early and late counterspells, Wing Shards, and the occasional appearance of Magic Players from other Scandinavian Countries (we’ll just call him Jens for short). Decree of Justice is still a house, even without a Wake to power it, and having Circle of Protection: Black and Red out of the sideboard as well as access to Karma, Sacred Ground, and instant-speed enchantment destruction means that U/W is well suited to the current metagame. Just watch out for getting punked by the guys running Zombies with heavy discard, because that could mean trouble.
I’ve worked a little on this deck, but I don’t have anything I can show you better than this deck from e-League (which seems rather vulnerable to Blood Moon, actually), so I’ll leave you with that and let you ruminate on the possibilities.
Bottom Line: I like this deck a little less than B/W control, but U/W is back to being a solid deck to play, even if the counterspells at your disposal are suboptimal. If you are a good player who wants to play a control deck that can be prepared for almost anything (usually a good strategy at States), then this may be for you.
Chairman Mao Zvi-Tung And His Dream Are Alive And Well
When was the last time the most successful Aggro deck of the last three months was completely overlooked for an upcoming tournament? That’s what has happened lately with Goblin Bidding, and I honestly can’t understand it. This deck rocked from the European Championships, through Grand Prix: Bangkok, into Worlds, and then in Grand Prix: Atlanta. What did it lose with the rotation of Odyssey? Burning Wish (a crucial component, but not a debilitating loss), and a little mana flexibility. That’s it!
Look, I’m not going to claim that Goblin Bidding is the powerhouse it was before the rotation, because it probably isn’t. But – and this is important – it’s still good. It still has the ability to come back immediately after your opponent has Wrathed your kids off the board and win the game in a single turn. It can still pull off disgusting Goblin Sharpshooter tricks. It still has access to the best parts of Red and Black in the sideboard.
Maybe I’m wrong on this one, and maybe everyone else is right to overlook Goblin Bidding for States. Maybe all of those people who wanted to go aggro playtested White Weenie and found that to be better, or maybe the loss of Shadowblood Ridge scared them away from the Bidding mana base into mono-Red Goblins. Maybe they just forgot that the best aggressive strategy of the last three months is still available to them, just begging to be played at States to a Top 8 a or Top 1 finish.
Whatever the case, if you forgot about Bidding, you have been reminded about it now.
Bottom Line: Still the best aggressive deck out there until proven otherwise, because it has a solid backup plan.
Last on the list or worthwhile mentionees, and a deck that I’m not really going to cover, is R/W Slide/Control. Assuming you played some Onslaught Block, you know what the deck looks like, and you know it is always solid against creature strategies. It’s still good, and you should be aware of it because it remains a solid choice to play, particularly for people who haven’t put much time into testing and yet still want to run a viable control deck.
That said, I’m bored with the deck. It’s been around for a year and it will probably be around for one more. Zzzzzz…
There are probably fifteen more decks that I could cover, but then I’d just be overloading you with information and the realization that you can’t test for every possibility. I’m sure some people will play White Weenie on Saturday, but our testing has indicated it isn’t that good. If you do play WW, please be smart and run Mask of Memory, and keep the Empyrial Plates to a minimum. Another underground deck that may see some play is the W/G control deck, but I honestly haven’t tested against it, nor do I really have any comments about it. Look around the message boards at any Magic site though, and you can probably find some decklists. Land Destruction exists, and if you live in Wisconsin, you know that Adrian Sullivan will be running it.
That’s all for now kids. Best of luck at States, remember to do some of your own playtesting before blindly accepting a net deck as being good, and I hope you mise well.
I leave you with this link to what is perhaps the most painfully funny piece of Magic writing since John Stephens covered Grand Prix: Kansas City… and that just occurred last weekend. Anyway, ladies and gentlemen… let Mike Long show you the way! Nationwide… in person (which typically means physically present, but apparently not in this case), and for free!
And remember, the”meat” have no serious crew, and um… the cheese stands alone!