One Step Ahead – Going Rogue

There are a ton of rogue options popping up in Magic Online Daily Events and real-life events worldwide, and Gerry Thompson shines the spotlight on these under-played, potential role players. Pick up a brew today!

There are a lot of reasons that Caw-Blade continues to dominate Standard. Brian Kibler went over the fundamentals of Caw-Blade here, but that’s not what I’m talking about. It’s true that Caw-Blade (CB from here on out) is the deck that the “pros” are gravitating towards, and for good reason. Because of that, CB is seeing more innovation from week to week than, say, Valakut.

CB gives its pilot room to maneuver, which the pros really appreciate. For the most part, they hate playing a game of Magic in which their decisions had no bearing on the outcome. For the first time in a while, CB is a deck that has the tools to defeat anything, and most pros are ready and willing to show off just how clever they are by figuring that out.

It makes sense that the pros pick up CB week after week. It takes the majority of t16 slots in the SCG Opens; the public decklists are more tuned than the rest of the field; and it makes them feel smart just by playing it.

The banning of Jace and Stoneforge Mystic did little to help things. Sure, Jace was a menace; he was expensive and actively sought out and destroyed fun (you hear that, David McDarby?!). Well, guess what? U/W is still top dog, and now that Jace and Mystic are gone, the games go longer; they are more interactive; and the better player gives the worse player more chances to make mistakes.

It’s been a while since there was a mirror like old CB’s, where it was so skill intensive. Every decision mattered early, and even so much as failing to sell your Spell Pierce bluff could be crucial. Oftentimes, the game would be decided by turn four, but that was only because of the power level of the cards.

Now, every card is relatively weak, but the games are still decided early, around turn six-ish. The mirror matchup is just as skill intensive as it was, but the better players aren’t going to lose to being out-Jaced or out-Mystic-ed. Granted, Jace Beleren is still a fantastic card, and one I used to win several matches with a week ago, but it doesn’t run away with the game on its own.

The bannings may have taken away some of the unfairness from the U/W deck, but as I said a month ago, Magic needs to be like poker. Jace may have allowed the good players to close the door on the bad ones, but it took away the shot for the bad players to do the same against the good ones. Overall, I’m not sure if that’s healthy or not.

U/W is annoying to play against no matter what incarnation it is. Mystic into Batterskull into Jace is terrifying, and you’re dead quickly. Still, is that better or worse than getting pecked to death by two Squadron Hawks for ten turns while your opponent counters or kills everything you play?

Last week, I mentioned specifically playing Twisted Image so that I could beat Edgar, or whoever else was playing his list. Some pointed out that that statement sounded relatively arrogant, which, in hindsight, I agree with. However, that is not how I intended that statement to come out.

I mentioned why I included Twisted Image because it’s an obscure card, and unless you’re playing in a metagame with a lot of Edgar clones, you probably shouldn’t play with it. I expect everyone to cut Twisted Image going forward, and judging from US Nationals coverage, that seems to be the case.

While you don’t normally metagame for a deck like Mono-Black Control, which will have few pilots, I felt that if I wanted to win the tournament, eventually I was going to have to face Dave Shiels, Edgar Flores, Alex Bertoncini, or Nick Spagnolo. Their list is great; they are great; and it was likely that they would be hovering around the top tables all day.

While they are few, they are the end bosses. Making top eight is a great feeling, don’t get me wrong, but I was there to collect some trophies. I don’t want to be satisfied with having a solid record. If I were trying to collect a trophy, eventually there would be an end boss in my way.

Despite their numbers being small, I knew I would face that matchup eventually. Sure enough, I played against Alex in the last round of Swiss. While his Spellskites weren’t relevant (because he incorrectly sided them out), I felt much better about having Twisted Image in my 75.

That’s just how it is. The CB lists are so far advanced compared to the rest of the field that I’m metagaming for Flores-Blade, Hero-Blade, and after this week, my version as well. Sure, there are other reasonable decks, like Splinter Twin, Valakut, RDW, Vampires, and Birthing Pod, but with no one really putting those lists to the test, they don’t evolve enough.

Sure, I’ve considered being the hero. I’ve thought about sleeving up RDW or Vampires, and I’ve already tried with Valakut and Splinter Twin, but it’s just not worth it. There’s money to be made by playing CB, and with everyone else being so weak to it in general, there’s little reason for me to switch away from what works.

I’m still thinking about other decks. I still brew, and I was this close to suggesting my friends play a U/G Ramp list at Nationals last weekend, but it’s not enough. I have this feeling like I should be doing more to foster creativity in the community rather than writing about Caw-Blade or Team America every week.

For now, this is the best I got.

There’s a lot of innovating to be done. Yes, CB is the best right now, and no one should really be playing anything else in a high-level tournament if they want to win. However, once someone gets the chance to perfect a slightly different deck that does well against the field, they should probably switch. The problem is that you end up leaving a lot of money on the table playing “bad” decks in tournaments.

When the Hero-Blade variants were all the rage, I seriously considered bringing back Sparkblade. Valakut and Splinter Twin were still decks though, so I couldn’t pull the trigger. The Sparkmage/Grim Lavamancers took up too many slots, and my decks often ended up poor against the combo decks. Instead, I decided that if you wanted to do anything along those lines, it should be in the Puresteel Paladin deck.

Check this out:

Clearly not a perfect list, but one that I was relatively happy with. The mana is rough, and the combo matchups can be tough, but it has a better shot than “normal” Sparkblade lists would have.

Oblivion Ring is a tough card to deal with and one that takes away a lot of edge that non-creature-permanent-based decks had against the field. You could play your own Oblivion Rings, but it’s tough enough to get metalcraft as is, so I’m not sure what you would cut.

Whenever I’d suggest a list like that, I’d be asked, “If you’re playing U/W/R, why aren’t you just playing the Deceiver combo?”

It seems like a given. Add some Spellskites to protect both combos, a lot of cantrips to find them, and voila! Instant monster, just like at the end of the last format, right?

Not quite… The old format had Stoneforge Mystic as a quick, powerful, one-card combo. There was also Jace, the Mind Sculptor to, well, sculpt, and shuffle away excess pieces. Without both of those, the above deck looks pretty loose in my opinion.

One interaction that I was impressed by lately is Sun Titan into Phantasmal Image, but how do we build around it?

I believe I remember kschreve from the JTMS days, where he was cashing several DEs without big Jace in his deck at all. It isn’t surprising in the least to see him doing well with janky looking U/W decks again.

Blighted Agent? I have no idea! It’s certainly working for him though.

This one looks a little more tuned. Both of them forsake Squadron Hawks, which is certainly a bold move. I imagine they both lean on Day of Judgment to clear out the fliers, but is that better than playing Hawks yourself? If I were sleeving up either of those lists, I would be tempted to just add four Hawks and play 64 cards if I couldn’t cut anything.

Honestly, if you want to exploit the Sun Titan/Phantasmal Image interaction, you are probably better off sleeving up Olivier Ruel Bant Birthing Pod deck, but U/W is a good home for the interaction as well.

U/W is boring though, right? Well, what if you could cheat a little bit? Playing White Weenie would get all the netdecking haters off your back, and you could still maintain most of the power that CB has.

This one is truly exciting.

While _Batutinha_ is one of the most celebrated Magic Online grinders and could 4-0 a DE with a ham sandwich, it’s always nice to see him do well. You see, he’s one of the nicest, most courteous players I’ve had the pleasure of playing against in quite some time.

I don’t imagine that he made the choice to play mono-white lightly. Perhaps he was just testing the limits to see what he could get away with, but either way, it goes to show that the power lies in the white cards, not necessarily in the blue ones. You could play W/G, W/B, or W/R and still have results. What about U/B or U/R? You can’t do it in reverse.

I think Batutinha’s deck is for real. Grand Abolisher wouldn’t fit in my CB deck, but in his, it’s great. You are free to equip a Sword, and they can’t cast Deceiver Exarch end of your turn, which allows Oblivion Ring to stop their combo.

I’ve been working on W/B CB decks, but it’s entirely possible that what I was trying to accomplish with discard is easier to do with Grand Abolisher.

Enough of the U/W decks, time for the real hotness. Check out Jesse Smith (aka Smi77y) Mill-Blade!

OK fine, his deck is U/W too, but you can’t hold that against me! If this deck doesn’t get you excited, it’s official: you don’t like fun. With Valakut, Splinter Twin, and CB being easily the three most played decks (and together, 50% of the field at US Nationals), this might be a great choice.

I doubt that this will put up Owling Mine-type numbers against CB, but then again, not much can. All it takes is a week for CB to adapt, and I’ve already planned on adapting myself. Mental Misstep for Hedron Crab and Leyline of Sanctity are great answers to the mill deck.

Is sideboarding cards for the mill matchup really the time we live in? It very well could be. A week ago, Kyle Sanchez sent me a list, and while I can appreciate Kyle’s brewing soul, this list really struck me as being great.

“‘Yo, you a net-decker?’ Kyle Sanchez snarked at his opponent. […] ‘I tell ya, man, there’s no pride in Magic anymore.'”

I would imagine that the list Kyle started 4-0 with at US Nationals was a tad different, but these lists are both awesome. As I said, I’m anticipating a few of them to start popping up, so I’m going to be prepared, and it won’t take long before others are as well. If you’re going to mill people, it should probably be this weekend.

If you need another option, look here:

With so many good results with different lists, milling has to be respected as a somewhat viable strategy. Clearly the above list is a little off the wall, but I bet it gets the job done.

Back to the Blade section of Standard that I’m sure you’re all sick of. Japanese Nationals quietly came and went, but what about the G/W deck that made top eight there? It hasn’t made anything close to a wave on our shores, and I feel like that’s probably a mistake.

If it were me, I’d probably play Oblivion Ring instead of Journey to Nowhere, at least in some numbers. I would also consider playing Dismember somewhere. Past that, there isn’t much to change. The list looks tight, although has plenty of Tempered Steel hate in the sideboard, which may no longer be warranted.

By now, it’s apparent that CB has a fine Steel matchup. With other decks playing dedicated hate like Creeping Corrosion, I don’t foresee Tempered Steel having a place in the metagame.

I had to stop and wonder if Lewis Laskin “Christmas Aggro” list wasn’t good right about now. Sparkmage/Collar is still pretty awesome; Hero of Oxid Ridge is great against Timely Reinforcements; and there are some Acidic Slime shenanigans happening to make their Oblivion Rings look foolish. Unified Will or Mana Leak could fend off the ensuing Day of Judgment. Could it be time?

For the Paul Rietzl out there, there’s always Steppe Lynx to fall back on.

Rodgerrabbit, no relation to reiderrabbit, is working to single-handedly put Boros back on the map. Honestly, with the Hero-Blade lists running around, it made sense for Boros to make a comeback. Hero-Blade didn’t play Day of Judgment, and Boros is roughly the same deck with removal instead of counterspells. It seemed like it would have a decent “mirror” matchup.

Timely Reinforcements is a beating, as always, but a midrange red deck has plenty of options. Hero of Oxid Ridge and Cunning Sparkmage can make the tokens irrelevant, and Adventuring Gear will allow you to hit hard to lessen the impact of their life gain.

Manabarbs is a fantastic option as well.

What about the Timmies though? I, for one, didn’t even know Quicksilver Amulet was in M12 until Japanese Nationals. However, I read a feature match where an Eldrazi Green deck used the Amulet to backdoor Emrakul into play.

Man oh man was I ever happy that Oblivion Ring was legal again.

This update to that list seems very solid:

Most of the ramp decks from the last year have been struggling as of late. They try to ramp as quickly and hard as possible, but they’re still a turn or two too slow against aggro decks, and don’t have the longevity to compete with control.

Instead of trying to race aggro, ramp should probably slow it down a turn, pause to sweep the board, and then continue on with its game plan. The above list seems well-suited to doing that. Quicksilver Amulet also provides a solid plan against control decks.

Is this a worse Valakut? I’m not sure. They’re doing similar, but different things. I’d imagine that this one is probably better against beatdown and combo, while a touch softer against control decks, but that could be fixed.

Why not just adapt Valakut using my new theory? Well, that will come later in the week.

You know what’s good with Quicksilver Amulet? Grand Architect.

Grand Architect has made a splash in some form here and there. As always, Dismember and Oblivion Ring have kind of spoiled the fun a bit, but I feel like there’s a lot of unexplored potential here.

I always wondered why the Architect lists didn’t always sport Kuldotha Forgemaster as a secondary way to cheat mana costs, but Quicksilver Amulet probably does the job better.

Tezzeret is an old favorite, and is about the closest thing on power level to Jace, the Mind Sculptor that’s legal in Standard right now. To be honest, I’m surprised that Tezzeret hasn’t caught on. Even U/B Control has mostly fallen by the wayside. Granted, the appeal of CB is well-known, but still. You think there’d be some diehards out there.

For the most part, it’s up to the Shoutas and Alis of the world.

A fairly clear Chapin clone circa PT Paris. There’s more to this archetype than meets the eye. Everyone might look and say, “Yep, Tezzeret, seen it.” But, do you splash? Do you play Chalice/Magnet/proliferate? Maindeck Torpor Orb? Kuldotha Forgemaster? Wellsprings? Counterspells?

Tezzeret has plenty of avenues worth exploring, which no one has really done yet. It’s much easier to just build CB and jam that.

Speaking of artifacts, this one got me pretty excited:

I initially saw a buddy of mine playing this in some DEs, but before too long, it had a couple other pilots as well. Just for sheer novelty’s sake, the deck is awesome. Charlie went pretty deep for this one (as I’d imagine it’s his deck). Mystifying Maze! That seems like a card more people should be playing right now.

Four Voltaic Keys? Surge Node? This is a deck only Sam Black could love.

While the novelty is pure adorable, I can’t help but scoff at the sideboard and the “colored” spells within, nor think that the deck could greatly benefit from “splashing” at least one color.

So I may have lied when I said you couldn’t reverse engineer CB to be U/B. Apparently all you need is a stack of value creatures and some Swords. Granted, his singleton Sword is in the sideboard, but I could easily see suiting up a Sea Gate Oracle or Solemn Simulacrum in U/B Control.

Are Jace, Mana Leak, Preordain, and Creeping Tar Pit really worth being blue? Is mono-black viable?

Beatz isn’t just some yokel that managed to cash a DE with a brew. He is, in fact, one of America’s lesser known brewmasters with a Pro Tour top eight on his resume, and his decks are typically well thought out and well tuned.

This “MBC” deck has been around for a while, but I really appreciate his innovations. Torpor Orb and Sword of War and Peace make a lot of sense right now. Phyrexian Obliterator might be a little weak, and maybe Tezzeret would be a better call, but then you’d have to sacrifice Lashwrithe.

Do any of you remember the 3-5 color Beacon Green deck from Mirrodin Standard? This one brought me back.

While not clearly a powerhouse, this one showcases the use of Ratchet Bomb as an all-purpose catchall for Hawks, Deceivers, and Guides alike. Garruk, Primal Hunter is an under-valued and under-appreciated engine. I assure you that someday, Garruk will be a staple.

The sideboard makes it very clear that he is a no-nonsense deck builder. He’s using his sideboard to the fullest in order to attack the perceived bad matchups. Honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised if this deck turned out to be another role-player. After all, if Jund can top four an SCG Open, I would predict that this list is capable of the same.

And now, I present the ultimate brew that I found lurking on Magic-League.

This list reminds me of the Swans/Seismic Assault/40 land deck that I played at Grand Prix Barcelona. I don’t think there’s any way it’s as good as Swans considering how insane that deck was for that weekend, but it has the potential to be close.

Faeries ended up being a fine matchup, and I have a feeling you’d be able to fight through their Leaks and Pierces with your Noxious Revivals. Magosi seems super good against the counterspell decks, so I’d probably try that as well.

If anyone has a better list for this, please show me. I’d be very excited to play it in the future.

Well, as you can see, some of these decks are a little rough, but they’ve already made their pilots some money. With some work and lucky pairings, I wouldn’t be surprised to see any of these lists in a top eight somewhere.

Lately, the extent of my Magic playing has been the SCG Open Series, but I’ve started to play Magic Online again. I hope that, in time, I return to brewing. In the meantime, forgive while I rebuild my bankroll by slicing up DEs with CB.