Peebles Primers – Brainstorming Standard

Read Benjamin Peebles-Mundy every week... at StarCityGames.com!
Wednesday, May 7th – The Star City Games Mega-Magic Weekend is nearly here, and Benjamin Peebles-Mundy is looking for another Top 8 performance. Today’s Peebles Primers sees BPM sharing his test group’s Standard brainstormed decks, including their latest take on the intriguing Green/White Big Mana archetype. Will these decks manage a breakout performance before the Pro Tour?

It’s crunch time.

The Star City Games Mega-Magic Weekend is just a few days away, and my house has been buzzing with activity while all of us attempt to prepare for the two Standard tournaments we plan on playing. Going in, I knew that I was going to stick with Reveillark, but my companions had, and still have, no such deck that they were dead-set on playing.

When we were two weeks out from the big weekend, our testing was a little more structured than it has been recently. We were looking to put decks through their paces very deliberately, so that we could find out just how everything seemed to play out in a normal game. Now, though, we’re just a few days away from jumping in the car, and we’re contending with final exams while we’re at it. That means that this past week has included a large proportion of general brainstorming and various playtest matchups that might not be the most obvious.

Last week I detailed why the group had discarded Red Aggro as a defensible choice. While I’m not saying that there’s no hope for the deck, I simply meant to show why we decided that our efforts in the future would be focused in areas other than that one. In testing the Red deck, though, we stumbled across a Green/White Big Mana deck that we thought seemed good enough to spend time on. This deck is one of the handful of brainstorm results I’ll be talking about today, as I continue to try to give you guys a window into our tournament preparation.

The decklist has evolved in the past week; we’ve trimmed out, approximately, the one-of creatures, Harmonizes, and a Garruk in exchange for more acceleration, more Primal Commands, and Oblivion Rings:

The reason to play this deck is how amazing it is against aggressive decks. Small creatures and burn spells simply cannot compare to the power of this deck and its huge number of bomby spells. In addition, Oversoul of Dusk and Cloudthresher are extremely strong-anti Faerie cards, and the ability to cast them on turns three and four will allow you to beat the Faerie players that come to the fight with Nameless Inversions instead of Rune Snags. However, the deck is relatively clunky, and decks like Faeries and Merfolk can slip under the defenses and then hold the bombs off for a few turns while they come across the table for lethal damage.

In general, the best hands with this deck must include some form of acceleration. You’d really like to be able to cast Garruk, Oversoul, and even Wrath of God a turn ahead of schedule, so it’s a good idea to mulligan the hands that don’t have any action until the fourth turn. It is exactly this weakness that Oblivion Ring tries to shore up, giving you the ability to at least answer the Ram-Gang or Bitterblossom that’s sitting on the other side of the board when you can’t ramp up to an early bomb. Oblivion Ring is also the only way to answer Gaddock Teeg, and while the world seems to have forgotten about him, cards like Wilt-Leaf Liege have me worrying that I’ll come up against a Green/White Aggro deck packing him.

Upon further testing, the Rune Snag Faerie matchup was less exciting than we’d hoped to find. It’s one thing to be able to crush the Tattermunge Maniac decks, but heading into a big tournament with a deck that can only post a 3-7 record against Faeries isn’t something anyone in this house is too excited about. You should note, though, that against those decks that don’t run Rune Snag, the third- or fourth-turn Oversoul plan is extremely effective, putting the opponent into a situation where their only option is to race against an unblockable (besides Mutavault) 5/5.

If the idea is that you can beat Faeries by overpowering them early, then what about a deck that incorporated some of the strengths of the Green/White Big Mana deck but with a more aggressive frame? Brainstorming about ways to do just that, Steve and I stumbled across the idea of the old Kavu Predator decks. The Predator always enjoyed being paired with Fiery Justice, but other toys for the deck include Condemn and Last Breath. We figured that there was no harm in at least trying the idea out, and so we came up with Standard Predator:

This Green/White(/Red) deck has the same number of bomby creatures and almost as much mana acceleration as the Big Mana version, but the quantity of early plays that can actually apply pressure has greatly increased. Last Breath is actually surprisingly good, especially at killing early Tarmogoyfs and Scion of Oonas, and it’s obviously amazing when you play it while you have a Kavu Predator in play.

Our attempt to improve the Faerie matchup worked, but only enough to bring it to 4-6. That doesn’t sound like a lot when you compare it to 3-7, but the truth of the matter is that the games also felt much closer. Where the Big Mana deck would just lose to Mistbind Clique or a Rune Snag, the Kavu deck could put the Faeries on the back foot and actually follow through. It would not surprise me if the next ten-game set were to finish 5-5 or 6-4, while it would similarly not surprise me if the Big Mana deck found itself staring down a 2-8 on the next trip around the block.

In exchange for the improvements against the Faerie decks, the Kavu deck did give up some game against things like Red Aggro. Big Mana shut the little guys out completely, and no games even felt close; the Kavu deck could only hold the match count at 8-2. Honestly, though, that’s good enough for me.

The main reason that we lost ground in the aggro matchups are the loss of Wrath of God and Wall of Roots. Wall of Roots is probably more important than Wrath, because it let us ramp up to men like Oversoul while simultaneously gaining four to eight life through blocking. The Kavu deck doesn’t have that advantage, but it can certainly hold its own. Last Breath and Incinerate are both great at stopping the early rush (as is a Kavu Predator that grows to 6/6 in the middle of combat), and Fiery Justice can play baby Wrath if you happen to have one handy.

Overall, I’d say that the two decks are just different takes on the same idea. One goes to the anti-aggro extreme, and one plays a better all-around game at the expense of some percentage points against the Red menace. I think that they’re both decks that could be ready for primetime with a little more polish.

Our last brainstorm deck of the week is a second attempt at making Tattermunge Maniac work. The problems we had with him (and with the Red/Green deck in general) were basically that he got outclassed far too quickly for him to be worth trying to fit into a deck. If we’re trying to make sure that our 2/1s for one don’t become obsolete by the third turn, then we’ve got to find a way to pump them up so that they can hold their own after the first few turns.

Luckily, the Elf-Warrior deck that was popular immediately following the release of Morningtide offers us exactly what we’re looking for. Bramblewood Paragon and Obsidian Battle-Axe both make the Maniac a respectable third-turn threat, and though a 4/2 or 3/2 version of him won’t be busting down fully-sized Tarmogoyfs, he’ll at least do slightly better than trading with a Bitterblossom token.

There are plenty of different ways to build a Warrior deck these days, so there’s a chance that this deck needs some of its numbers tweaked, or maybe even needs different card choices. Either way, we went with the following:

This is a much “bigger” aggro deck than the old Red aggro deck from last week. The tradeoff is that you don’t have as much burn as you did with the other deck, but because your creatures hit at least as hard (and usually much harder), the lack of burn is something you can handle. People have been used to the third-turn Imperious Perfect, equip, make token, swing for four plan for a while now, but that doesn’t mean it’s not actually a very good plan, and creatures like Boggart Ram-Gang love this new home.

Cards that are notably absent from our build of this deck include Keldon Marauders, Radha, Countryside Crusher, and Mutavault. As for the first two, I believe that the two-drops already included in the deck are greatly superior to both, and I believe that you don’t want to stretch the mana enough to make sure that you’d be able to cast Marauders/Radha consistently on the second turn of the game. The nine sources included now mean that you’ll have a Red source ready by the third turn in the vast majority of games, but it’s still not a guarantee. Countryside Crusher is relatively easy to cast in a base-Green deck because of the new Cairn-lands, but again, I think he’s just been completely outclassed by the cards that have already made the cut. Lastly, I think that Mutavault is just stretching the mana too thinly, as eight of the twenty-two lands in the deck already won’t let you play a one-drop.

I would like to find a way to include another burn spell in the deck; I really like Lash Out here because it’s a cheap removal spell that sometimes manages to double up as burn to the dome, but Steve adamantly opposed it when it came up during testing. The four Incinerates do work miracles, and there’s just nothing as good as them, but it might be nice to run some mimics.

Either way, the deck put up reasonable numbers. It produced a relatively large number of blowout draws such as Elf, Paragon + Maniac, Ram-Gang, but it also seemed prone to produce a lot of do-nothing draws like Elf, Elf + Elf, Battle-Axe. It’s slightly unfortunate that half of the deck is primarily mana production when you’re hoping to just run your opponent over, but you won’t be upset when that acceleration leads to a second-turn Ram-Gang and a third-turn Colossus.

So where does that leave us? Like I said at the beginning, I will obviously wind up playing the deck that I’ve been playing for the past few months (Reveillark, if you’ve somehow missed it), and my roommates will likely follow suit. It isn’t that we haven’t found any new decks worth pursuing, we just haven’t found any new decks that really quicken the pulse. That doesn’t mean we won’t stop looking for one, though, and if we find it, I’ll be sure to tell you all about it next week.

As always, if you have any questions, feel free to contact me in the forums, via email, or on AIM.

Benjamin Peebles-Mundy
ben at mundy dot net
SlickPeebles on AIM