To say that my preparation for English Nationals was sketchy would be a considerable understatement. I didn’t, for example, realize until I arrived in Birmingham the night before Nationals that Fifth Dawn would be allowed in Standard decks (didn’t sets used to become legal on the 1st July? When did that change?) Happily, after brief thought I realized that making Fifth Dawn legal would alter a grand total of zero cards in my deck.
Rather than write a narrative report about how I did at Nationals, which would be a short and bitter report, this article will invite you to identify the mistakes that I made, and hopefully use that as a way of discussing how to choose a deck in situations just after the release of a new expansion set, when the metagame is harder to predict. As a bonus, I’ll use the results of English Nationals to put together a”Decks to Beat” compilation, to use as reference when choosing which decks to test against (or play, if you lack the time or motivation to test).
So, what is wrong with the following?
4 Goblin Sledder
3 Skirk Prospector
4 Goblin Piledriver
4 Goblin Warchief
4 Goblin Sharpshooter
4 Siege Gang Commander
3 Electrostatic Bolt
2 Gempalm Incinerator
1 Rorix Bladewing
3 Blinkmoth Nexus
4 Stone Rain
4 Molten Rain
1 Electrostatic Bolt
To give a full answer to that question, let’s first of all catch up on what’s been happening since I wrote my last article. At the time of Regionals, it was still the case that the number of Goblin Bidding decks outnumbered the number of non-Bidding Goblin decks. By the time Skullclamp shuffled off the scene, Goblin Bidding decks had pretty much disappeared, and had been replaced by Goblin decks which splashed Green to ensure that in the Affinity matchup they could start removing artifacts from turn 1 onwards.
My Red deck from Regionals used Chrome Moxes to achieve that, whereas the Green splash used Oxidize and Electrostatic Bolt, as well as calling on Viridian Shamans to act as mini-Flametongue Kavus (if you don’t remember how good Flametongue Kavus were in Red decks, you don’t know what you were missing…) The R/g decks must have been worse against White-based control decks, but those had been pretty much extinguished, so that didn’t matter.
With the removal of Skullclamp and the introduction of Fifth Dawn, my guess was that the metagame would in fact mostly revert back to the days before the release of Darksteel. In other words, the most popular decks would be White/Blue control, Affinity, and Goblin with or without Bidding. Just as then, there would be other decks such as Slide and mono-Red control, and newer decks such as Tooth and Nail and Ironworks would also be present, though in smaller numbers.
Not a bad estimate, as things turned out. The breakdown of the field was as follows:
28 U/W control
23 Goblins, of which
6 splashed Green
18 Astral Slide
9 Red-White with or without a splash of Green
As has often been noted, nearly all of these decks are based on Block Constructed decks. White-based control decks, and even more so Astral Slide decks, rely on cards like Eternal Dragon, Decree of Justice, and often also feature Exalted Angel and the like. Affinity and Tooth and Nail decks are obviously drawn mainly from the Mirrodin Block.
Even when a deck has to be based almost entirely on cards from one block, however, it is normally expected that in Standard it will gain in some way from the cards in the basic set or in the other expansions. Blue/Green Madness, for example, was a deck which relied nearly totally on Odyssey block cards, and there was not much room for changing that. Nonetheless, cards like Merfolk Looter and Unsummon did find their way into the deck and sideboard of the deck when it was played in Standard.
At this year’s Nationals, Blue/White was the most popular deck. It was a competitive deck in Onslaught Block, and gained significantly from both Eighth Edition, which contributed Wrath of God, Mana Leak, and Circle of Protection: Red, and from Mirrodin Block, which gave Pulse of the Fields.
Now let’s consider my Red deck, and compare it to the Red deck that I played in Onslaught Block Constructed:
4 Goblin Sledder
4 Skirk Prospector
4 Goblin Piledriver
4 Goblin Warchief
4 Goblin Sharpshooter
4 Siege Gang Commander
4 Gempalm Incinerator
3 Rorix Bladewing
3 Goblin Burrows
Now I’m not completely sure about this, but I reckon that there is a decent case to be made that my Block deck was actually better than the deck that I ended up playing at Nationals. In any case, let’s consider what the deck gained from all the Eighth Edition and Mirrodin Block cards:
And. That’s. It.
Of these, Electrostatic Bolt is marginally better than Shock, but as Shock wasn’t good enough for the maindeck in block constructed, that’s hardly very exciting. Blinkmoth Nexus is roughly as good as Goblin Burrows, Shatter is decent removal in a very different metagame. So the major improvement to the deck is access to land destruction and artifact removal in fairly significant quantities.
In Onslaught Block, the Red deck was the best deck, and certainly the best attacking deck. The White-based decks had things like main deck Silver Knights which were bad against everyone else just because of the sheer power of the deck. In Standard, though, the White/Blue decks have relevant counter magic, Pulse of the Fields, Wrath of God and a plethora of sideboard options. The Red deck can’t be as good at trying to overwhelm these decks because it has to have more defensive cards like Sparksmith and Electrostatic Bolt for the Affinity decks.
In addition, if someone really wants to beat you, it is easy enough for them to do so. I know this, because I played against the White/Green deck in round one which had four Silver Knight and four Troll Ascetic and sideboarded four Worship. I made a mistake (attacking with a Blinkmoth Nexus in game one, seeing it die to his artifact removal, and then being one land short of casting a Clickslither and winning when he was tapped out, on one life and with no creatures in play), but after sideboarding he could bring in Worships and my only hope was to try to use land destruction to stop him getting to four mana.
Some kind of Goblin deck must be viable in the current environment, because it can be built to have good matchups against Affinity (if you want, you can have 4 Sparksmith, 4 Sharpshooter, 4 Shatter, 4 Detonate and 4 Electrostatic Bolt between maindeck and sideboard, even if you don’t splash Green), and naturally has the advantage against Goblin Bidding. The problem, though, is that the cards which you need against Affinity and to a lesser extent Bidding are ones which weaken you against the White decks. Even decks like the Beast deck and White/Green Slide, which should be terrible, have a better chance than they ought to against you because of the existence of Worship and CoP: Red.
Don’t worry, I’m not getting the Fear. It’s not like the existence of CoP: Red is a new problem or anything, and we’ve always managed well enough in the past. The moral of this story is rather different. It’s that when you have a Red deck which you know is good against control decks, and then the environment changes and you modify the Red deck to be better against other aggressive decks, it is a mistake to assume that it will still be as good against the control decks.
The Red deck I played at Regionals had a good matchup against White decks because it could gain card advantage through Skullclamp and was much quicker because of the Chrome Moxes. Unfortunately, that deck offers too many tempting targets for people’s maindeck artifact removal and can’t use Skullclamp to make up for the cards imprinted on the Chrome Moxes. The Red deck that I played at Nationals doesn’t have an advantageous matchup against White-based decks in game one, and therefore the plan of using land destruction to counteract the sideboard hate that they have, which is a good plan when you only need to win one game after sideboarding, doesn’t work nearly as well.
Even if you aren’t playing a Red deck, there are important general principles for any deck which you choose to play just after a new set has come in or a format-defining card has been banned. It is important to make a guess about what other people will be playing. It is just as important, though, to have an accurate idea of how your own deck has changed, and what the ramifications of that are.
For what it’s worth, at Nationals I lost the first to the aforementioned hateful White/Green creature/Worship deck, then beat a Big Red deck and lost in a mirror match. In my first ever Mirrodin Block draft, I went 2-1 with a Blue/White Affinity/Sunburst deck, and then drafted a terrible Green deck which I lost once with and then got fed up and decided to go home.
The happiest story of Nationals was the triumph of John Ormerod, who is finally able to transfer the title of”best player never to have won Nationals” to someone else. [I think Sergio Garcia is next in line. – Knut] After beginning 3-2, he managed to win six matches in a row, then ID’d, then won three more matches to claim the championship. There is a slight irony in John finally winning Nationals at a time when he might for the first time in several years not to be the automatic choice as best deckbuilder and best drafter in the country, but it is richly deserved, and best of luck to him and the rest of the English National Team at Worlds.
Oh yeah, and before I forget, here are some Decks to Beat:
4 Krark-Clan Ironworks
4 Myr Incubator
1 Goblin Cannon
4 Mana Leak
4 Thirst For Knowledge
4 Pentad Prism
3 Talisman Of Dominance
4 Chrome Mox
3 Pyrite Spellbomb
42 other spells
15 sideboard cards
and, ‘cos he finished 9th and was playing a better version of my deck:
Red deck, as played by Simon Hodges
2 Chrome Mox
2 other spells