Peebles Primers – Exploring Doran in Block Constructed

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Wednesday, August 13th – We’ve recently added a couple of high-level Block Constructed tournaments to the books, and while the usual suspects powered through to the final tables, an old 0/5 treefolk friend is experiencing a Renaissance. Doran, it seems, is back for good. Today, BPM investigates the many faces of the tricolor tree, and examines the strategy’s position in the current metagame.

In the past two weeks, we’ve had an extremely high number of Premier-Level events. While it’s easy to focus on just the winner, lurking underneath GerryT’s and Takahashi’s victories is a story that is very important for anyone who is trying to win a qualification to Berlin. We’ve had a couple of weeks’ worth of PTQs with Eventide in the mix, but there’s nothing like a Grand Prix to really show you what’s capable of coming out on top.

As it turns out, Doran was supposed to come out on top at Grand Prix: Kobe, but a third-turn misplay came back to bite the Doran player as his Faerie opponent stabilized the second game on a few life he shouldn’t have had, and then went on to win the game 3 he wouldn’t have played otherwise. The story is a little less exciting for the Doran player sitting in the Top 8 of Grand Prix: Denver, but he was sitting there nonetheless. In addition to these Top 8 appearances, Doran showed up in the GPT winners section, won the Denver PTQ, and has generally been putting up a good showing in Block Constructed.

Unlike last week’s article, in which I showed that there was a huge consensus about how to build the deck of the moment, Doran decks seem to be taking many different forms right now. There are the aggressive builds, with an Elves package stapled to the Treefolk. There are the Shaman versions, in which Doran is simply a nice three-drop to go with the Leaf-Crowned Elders and Wolf-Skulls. And there are the control decks, featuring Soul Snuffers and Fulminator Mage. The question, then, is which version to play in PTQs. While I don’t have an easy answer for you, I hope to explore the differences in the builds, and try to make your choice an easier one.

Here’s a barrage of decklists, listed in approximate order of creation:

This is the decklist that “should” have won Grand Prix: Kobe. According to the coverage on the Sideboard, Takagi forgot to attack with Treefolk Harbinger after playing a third-turn Doran in the second game, and his opponent came back from the brink of defeat to win the game, the match, and the tournament.

Decks similar to this one appeared in the very beginning of Lorwyn Block Constructed. At the time, the Green/Black Elf decks found that they could do quite well by splashing White for Doran, giving them an extremely powerful, extremely resilient, threat. Doran continues to be quite hard for many control decks to answer, and the additions of Murmuring Bosk and Reflecting Pool to the format have made it a simple matter to stick some White three-drops into your Black/Green Aggro deck.

Takagi, though he sports 3 Firespouts and 4 Inversions, is clearly planning to attack his opponents to death quickly. Vanquisher and Wolf-Skull Shaman are both quick threats that can pack quite the punch, and if they happen to fall to a mid- or late-game Firespout, then at least Doran and Cavaliers will live through, and generally tend to connect with the opponent’s face due to the sudden lack of chump-blockers. I see the removal in this deck not as a control deck trying to make sure that they don’t get run over, but as a big aggro deck wanting to clear the way for the fatties. Three Profane Commands help there, too.

Usually a big Green deck features a handful of maindeck Cloudthreshers to combat the Faerie menace, but Takagi seems to be confident in his deck’s ability to simply run over the small flyers, and lets the ‘Threshers linger in the sideboard. He has Crib Swap, which has become the default removal spell for anyone that wants to Harbinger up an answer to Colossus, Oversoul, or other hard-to-kill animal. The rest of the sideboard, other than the Wickerbough Elder, is relatively straightforward; there’s something for Faeries, Five-Color, small aggro, and big aggro. Wickerbough Elder caught my eye the first time around, and I think that I like it. Instead of packing the usual three Wispmares, Takagi has two plus the Elder. While harder to sneak in than Wispmare’s Evoke, the Elder is a tutorable answer to Bitterblossom as well as a 4/4 for four (plus one).

Where the previous deck was clearly looking to use its sweepers and spot removal to force through the guns, big and small, this deck is just as clearly looking to play a much more controlling role. Liliana Vess was considered to be among the best cards in Lorwyn-only Block Constructed, and I enjoy seeing her make another appearance.

It’s not just the Planeswalkers that belie the controlling nature of this deck. Where Takagi had three sweepers and five spot removal spells, Jason has seven sweepers and four spot removal spells, as well as a full boat of Horned Turtles. Necroskitter was a card that I thought would make more of a splash than it has, but Doran is the perfect card to pair it with. The Skitter is already pretty good at holding off weenie hordes, but when it blocks alongside a Doran, attacking seems like a losing proposition, as almost any creature will be killed and stolen. In addition to that nice interaction, Necroskitter certainly loves to see an Incremental Blight or Soul Snuffers kill off two or three baddies.

Built around this controlling shell, there’s still the eleven huge threats waiting to end games. Control deck or no, Firespout is generally going to do a good job of letting you get in there with your Cloudthresher or Colossus, so this deck can go from zero to sixty in the span of one turn. This is, of course, the main attraction I have to Doran. I won many games with Five-Color Control on the back of an endstep Thresher and a mainphase Firespout, and Doran is even better at that job.

The sideboard is overwhelmingly anti-aggro, which surprises me. I would have thought that the maindeck would already be good enough at beating creatures, but I guess that you can never have enough removal against something like Kithkin. Puppeteer Clique makes his signature appearance to punish Five-Color decks, and Wispmare is ready to eat Bitterblossoms. Under most circumstances I would have expected to see the singleton Wickerbough Elder, but Jason does not have the Harbingers to fetch it. This also explains, I think, the choice of Oblivion Ring over Crib Swap, as the Ring doesn’t leave behind a chumpblocker, and there’s no way to tutor either up.

Yet again, we find the Colossus/Doran(/Cloudthresher) core wrapped in a different frame. Instead of a Green/Black Elf deck with Doran stapled to it, we’ve got a Green Shaman deck with Doran stapled to it. At this point, it’s getting hard to come up with something creative to explain about the deck. We know that the removal can hold of the fast assault and let the fatties win the game, and we know that the signature creatures are quite potent.

The most important note to make about the Shaman build is the extraordinary power of Treefolk Harbinger. Instead of just being a tutor for your fatty, removal spell, or land of choice, the Harbinger in this deck might give you a 2/2 to go with your 0/3, or a free Chameleon Colossus. Against a deck that doesn’t have much in the way to disrupt you, you can start to pull off some pretty degenerate plays when you’ve got Leaf-Crowned Elder out, and you can clog the board in a matter of a turn or two by putting out multiple Elders and then using them to play free Harbingers.

Curiously, the sideboard doesn’t have the Wispmares that everyone seems to pack. This says to me that Ward believed he was going to win the Faerie matchup without much help, and his Trial win backs that conclusion up. He does have a potentially-free Wickerbough Elder to dig up, so he’s not defenseless against Bitterblossom, but the supreme confidence that no Wispmares implies makes this deck an attractive choice for anyone worried that Faeries might show up to the PTQ. With more wins than the rest of the field combined, I think that that’s a safe bet to make.

Back when Michael Pinnegar won his PTQ with a Scarblade Elite/Mulldrifter deck, I was chatting on AIM with Sam Stoddard. We were discussing how strange it seemed to us that he would choose Mulldrifter as his splash card, and Stoddard said that he’d been playing with Doran in that place instead, as it let him run fewer Vivid lands and therefore play the aggro role with more consistency as he didn’t have to wait for his lands to come online.

Honestly, this seems like a great idea to me. Scarblade Elite was pretty strong as a Grizzly Bear that might get extra value out of your Inversions and Colossi, but the White splash, as well as the Treefolk focus, make it even more potent. Playing White and playing Doran gives you Crib Swap and Treefolk Harbinger, and that means that you’re going to have more Assassins in your graveyard due to the increased density of them as well as the fact that you’ll be tutoring them up quite often.

Just like every other deck in this article, Hunter’s deck makes one big deviation from the core spells you’ll see in most Doran decks. I think it’s likely that he’s trusting in the power of Scarblade Elite, as there are no Firespouts in this deck. In the other builds, there were creatures besides the common trio that survived the ‘Spout, whether it was a Cavaliers, Necroskitter, or Leaf-Crowned Elder. Without more creatures that survive the sweeper, and with the Elites to hold off creature decks, it seems as though Firespout just doesn’t belong.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that there’s no good sweeper to play. Hiding in the board are four copies of Soul Snuffers, which have honestly made less of a splash than I thought they would have. Still, they are quite good at shutting down Spectral Procession tokens and un-pumped Kithkin, and will at least save you some points when you cast it into a board enhanced by Wizened Cenn.

This is also only the second deck of the article that has access to Thoughtseize. I believe that this deck wants Thoughtseize to force through its whopping four Profane Commands. Against any deck with counterspells, it is important to make sure that your super-Fireball actually manages to resolve, as opposed to cluttering your hand and falling victim to a Broken Ambitions for one. I think that going forward, running more than two or three Commands is going to be a dangerous bet, as the control decks will catch on to the fact that Runed Halo is quite good, and they’ll be ready to set it to Profane Command and never have to worry about getting burned out. This, in turn, makes Wickerbough Elder more impressive.


The thing that I find most interesting about Doran in Block Constructed just how many ways there are to build the deck. If you want to play a control deck, you can run with the Horned Turtles and Lilianas, but have the same game-ending capability that the version running Leaf-Crowned Elder and Wolf-Skull Shaman has. The simple core of cheap, hard to answer fatties, and removal spells to give them room to swing, is actually quite strong. At the very least, the various flavors of this deck are something that you should consider when you’re finalizing the last few cards in whatever deck you decide to play; it’s been on the rise, and I expect that trend to continue.

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