Being a one-set format, Lorwyn Block Constructed isn’t the most complex thing you’ll ever play. Right now there are about four decks that people do well with, and a handful of others that are close but not quite there. The big four are Blue/Black and Green/Black control, and Blue/Black (Faeries) and Green/Black (Elves) aggro. However, there are a ton of different ways to build any given deck, so while a Block tournament will be a series of similar matchups, it’s rare that you’ll run into any true repeats.
The focus of this article is on the Blue/Black control deck, since it appears to be the top of the heap. To start, here is the deck that I’ve been playing in queues on Magic Online:
- 4 Broken Ambitions
- 3 Cryptic Command
- 4 Makeshift Mannequin
- 2 Nameless Inversion
- 4 Oblivion Ring
- 3 Profane Command
This deck was built by my Magic Online clan-mate JoINrbs, and the only changes I’ve made have been to the sideboard.
Nath of the Gilt-Leaf — This guy is probably one of the best threats in the entire format. Being a Black creature dodges Shriekmaw; having four toughness dodges Nameless Inversion, Lash Out, and Tarfire; and being an Elf lets him around Eyeblight’s Ending. On top of all that, his random discard ability is nearly impossible for Blue/Black control decks to beat. Originally found in the Green/Black control decks, Nath was assimilated to help win the mirror. The ways that you’ll usually lose a Nath that you’ve managed to resolve are Oblivion Ring, Profane Command, or a careless attack, so do what you can to play around those options. It’s pretty hard to explain just how good this card is unless you’ve seen it yourself, but I can say that I have won multiple queues solely on the back of a fifth-turn resolved Nath.
Oblivion Ring — Again, his is simply one of the best cards in the format, as far as I’m concerned. It’s vulnerable to a handful of spells, but mostly it will answer whatever problem you need answered at an extremely affordable price. You’ll find yourself using it most often on Planeswalkers and Incarnations, but it’s a great card to get you past the third turn with a healthy life cushion. You should be aware of its interaction with Cryptic Command; many times you will Ring away something like Garruk Wildspeaker only to see your opponent drop a second into play. At this point you can bounce your own Ring, killing both copies of the Planeswalker (or Legend of your choice) and readying the Ring for a second use.
(You’ve probably noticed that I’m talking about the Blue/Black deck and the first two cards I mentioned were Green and White. These splashes are extremely powerful, and I believe that they are well worth the strain you have to put on your manabase.)
Broken Ambitions — One of the biggest vulnerabilities of the Blue/Black deck is its early-game. Most people will be packing Shriekmaws and Inversions, but you’re going to want an early play that is effective against non-creature threats, and the Ambitions is the best option available. Faerie Trickery is much better once you’re both sitting on ten lands, but it won’t stop Fertile Ground and it’s generally much more awkward early on.
Maindeck Planeswalkers — Again, this deck is weak on the first few turns of the game. Against aggressive decks, you aren’t necessarily losing, but you’re on the back foot until you get up to two-for-one Shriekmaw territory. Because you are so often behind on the board, my clan-mate chose to put just a single Jace into the maindeck. This is different from the accepted norm, where you’ll usually see two or three Jaces and possibly some Lilianas as well. In my mind, our single Jace is the fifth Oblivion Ring (for himself) in the mirror, with the added benefit of sometimes being an actual threat that your opponent must deal with.
Wydwen, the Biting Gale — In a more traditional Blue/Black deck, Wydwen is one of the best win conditions you’ll be sitting on. In this deck, it’s slightly less impressive, but still serves two important roles. First, it is an instant speed threat. Because counterspells cost so much in this format, you can often sucker your opponent into countering the Wydwen and then losing to the Nath that follows. Second, it is Planeswalker removal. If you don’t have an Oblivion Ring handy, your best answer to Garruk is going to be the evasion creature that wasn’t on the board a second ago. The only other thing that I’ve found is that you shouldn’t be too concerned about keeping her alive. Yes, she has a self-protection ability, but you’re very rarely going to be in a position where you can get your opponent to continuously try to kill her and fail. Running her into a Nameless Inversion you know they have so that you can do something else is perfectly acceptable.
Makeshift Mannequin — This deck is nearly completely built around Mannequin. People already know how good the card is in combination with Mulldrifter and Shriekmaw, but this deck also has Mournwhelks to re-use. Additionally, it is a great way to get Nath to actually fire against a control opponent, and the Mannequin counter isn’t worth worrying about when you reanimate a Wydwen that you can just pop back to your hand.
Profane Command — There are still people out there who don’t like to run this card in Blue/Black because it’s a big bulky sorcery. Honestly, I think those people are insane. Profane Command is one of the biggest things you need to worry about in any given game, because the swing that it creates (when it isn’t just killing you) can be so hard to come back from. It’s really not too uncommon to see someone cast the Command to kill a big threat (Dread, Nath, Doran, etc) and regrow either Shriekmaw to kill the other threat or Mulldrifter to draw some more cards. The card is good in Extended; it has to be amazing in Block.
Thoughtseize — This is the other place that I diverge from the consensus. I think that this card is pretty marginal, and I play three in the board while most people play four in the maindeck. Additionally, I bring it in only against Green/Black control, and even then not every time. When I’m casting it, I’m usually trying to mana-screw my opponent by taking their Fertile Ground, or mana-flood my opponent by taking the fatty they were ramping to (or the Profane Command they were going to kill me with). I have considered bringing it in against Blue/Black to try to defend my own Profane Commands, but it never seems to work well that way. I think that the difference is that I have maindeck Mournwhelks and more in the board, so I don’t often want for a way to knock the last card out of my opponent’s hand.
Blue/Black Control — There are so many different ways that this deck can be built, so it’s difficult to give you an easy rule to follow. The biggest thing is that a missed land drop can be lethal. In conversation with others, I’ve found that I play these games out slightly differently. I don’t worry about anything that doesn’t actually put pressure on me. If my opponent wants to Evoke his Mulldrifter, I’m going to let him do it almost every time. Similarly, I don’t worry about being Thoughtseized or anything like that. This deck is just swimming with ways to recoup lost cards, so if I’m not putting my opponent in a position where they need to do something, I’m not really doing anything. The trick is figuring out where you can attack so that they are threatened and you can still defend.
Your instant-speed threats are obviously huge in this regard. Mannequin and Wydwen will usually demand a response from your opponent, which can hopefully give you a window to sneak something through the cracks. Of the two, Mannequin is much more valuable in my eyes, since it usually gives me a threat and an effect, whereas Wydwen is only a threat. As far as card advantage goes, I really don’t like to put myself in a position where I’ll have to discard at the end of my turn. If it’s been five turns of land-go, and I can Mulldrifter myself up to eight cards in hand, I will usually just drop my land and pass. You can get as many cards as you want with this deck, but that doesn’t mean that each one is less valuable.
Eventually, the game will start to tip. After multiple turns of draw-go, someone will manage to do something that forces the opponent into the awkward position of tapping out. At this point, you get to start doing really bad things for your opponent, whether that’s hardcasting Mournwhelk, dropping a Nath with counterspell backup, or Profane Commanding for a ton. The best way to do start this is by sandbagging a threat for when your opponent taps their mana for a Mulldrifter or similar. If they tap three on turn 7, say, then you can likely play a threat (my favorite is Mannequin on Nath), counter their defense, and untap into something like a Nath trigger and then a Mournwhelk, leaving you so far ahead that their response is usually irrelevant.
For sideboarding, I take out the Shriekmaws and Nameless Inversions. I realize that this is a somewhat risky move, but I feel like those cards do so little that they’re not worth wasting deck space on, even if they do technically answer certain threats. Besides, I’ve still got four Oblivion Rings at this point, so it’s not like I can’t beat a resolved spell. I bring in the two Lilianas and two Mournwhelks, giving me more threats that disrupt my opponent. I also like to bring in the last Nath, since he’s just so good, but I remain unsure on the last card to board out. I’ve been going with one Profane Command; the card may be insane when it resolves, but it is slightly awkward to play in this matchup, and the last thing you want is to give your opponent a chance to Broken Ambitions it for one and then Mannequin back a threat. After boarding, pretty much every card in the deck is a threat or efficient answer. The goal now is to do what we were doing before, but to make sure that any open window can be taken advantage of.
Green/Black Control — This matchup is defined by their mana. If you’re on the draw and they lead with a second-turn Fertile Ground, it’s going to be an extremely difficult game unless they kept a do-nothing hand. Similarly, if you can contain their mana, either by stopping Fertile Ground or by bouncing lands with Cryptic Command, you can easily run away with the game. When either player could win, you’re going to want to try to end the game pretty quickly, or at least as quickly as this deck can manage. The reason is that they have access to a lot of cards that can be difficult to beat, such as Nath, Doran, Profane Command, Cloudthresher, and Garruk, so sealing the game up with aggressive Shriekmaws is usually a good idea.
Their threats are better than yours when you look at them card-by-card, but yours tend to be slightly more effective (with the exception of an early Doran). Cloudthresher is their only good way to deal with a crew of Mulldrifters and Wydwen, and many builds will have trouble with Shriekmaw’s fear. In addition, they aren’t going to have counterspells, so you can feel safe firing off multiple Profane Commands for the win.
My standard board plan is to take out a Wydwen and both Nameless Inversions for the two Shriekmaws and a third Mournwhelk. If I want to bring in Thoughtseizes, I take the last two Wydwens and a Mannequin out of my deck. The hope is to keep them low on cards, which is usually pretty easy if they’re spending cards on mana acceleration, and then to clean up those threats that slip through. Other possibilities would be bringing in the Lilianas or the fourth Nath, though those are cards that I only board in against Blue/Black Control.
Elves — Playing against Elves is like playing against a faster, weaker version of Green/Black Control. You’re almost certainly up against Garruk, Cloudthresher, and Masked Admirers, but you don’t need to worry about Doran, and many Elves decks surprisingly leave out Nath of the Gilt-Leaf. Regardless, they will try to beat you with an assault that usually begins with Leaf Gilder or Wren’s Run Vanquisher, and runs up through Imperious Perfect and the other usual suspects. What this means for you is that you want action early on. Having kept the five land, Cryptic Command, Mulldrifter hand can turn out pretty poorly for you when you’re looking at six power on turn 3.
If, however, you make it out of the first few turns with your head above water, things are pretty much smooth sailing from there. Their removal is often worse than the Control version, so you can often trade off Wydwens and Mulldrifters without too much trouble. If you get to the point where you can recur Shriekmaw, you’ve almost certainly won the game. Nath, again, is very strong here, since he can block most of the threats you’ll be facing, and he will be extremely difficult for them to answer. While the discard trigger won’t be as amazing as it is against the control decks, free cards are still free cards, and the Elf tokens make great chumpblockers while you set up better ways to use your removal.
The sideboard has seven cards that you might want for this matchup, depending on how good you think Final Revels is against the specific build that you’re up against. Either way, I cut the Mournwhelks, the Jace, and a Wydwen for the two Nameless Inversions and Shriekmaws. At this point, there are no “bad” cards left in your deck, but there are cuts that can be made. If you aren’t worried about Garruk, you can get rid of the last two Wydwens, for instance. If you think that Nath is too slow, though I disagree, that’s another possible cut. I usually settle on the last two Wydwens out for two of the three Final Revels, since I have four each of Mulldrifter, Shriekmaw, and Oblivion Ring to take care of any errant Planeswalkers. The other option I often settle on is cutting the Cryptic Commands when I’m on the draw, since they’re very awkward at that point. After boarding, you’ll have between fifteen and eighteen removal spells for them to battle through, as well as counterspells and the ability to recur your utility guys. This is not usually a fair fight.
Faeries — On the other hand, the Faerie deck is the one I least want to play against. The problem is that they can easily take advantage of your slow speed out of the gates, and then defend their Oona’s Prowler and Scions with a whole host of counterspells, usually including Broken Ambitions, Faerie Trickery, and Cryptic Command (and sometimes Spellstutter Sprite). In addition, they have so many instant-speed threats that it’s very hard to defend yourself, even once you’re sitting on five or six mana. I have played against builds that include Spellstutter Sprite, Scion of Oona, Pestermite, Wydwen, and Faerie Harbinger.
The key to winning is to make sure that you don’t fall behind. You should really not worry about trying to maximize the value of the Shriekmaw in your hand if you have a chance to kill something with it. If you don’t let them build up a critical mass of Faeries, you can often overpower them when you get to the mid-to-late game. There isn’t much more strategy beyond that; if you let them untap with four or five power on the board, it’s going to be very hard to stop the threats they’ve already stuck. If you’re aggressive with your removal, though, you have a pretty good shot at containing them.
Just like playing against Elves, I want to sideboard in the Inversions and the Shriekmaws, since they’re my best early defense. I also bring in two Final Revels; they’re not great because they’re hard to actually resolve, but getting one through should pretty much guarantee a Wrath. To make room for all this, I cut a Jace, two Mournwhelks, and the three Naths. Nath is great if he’s in play, but getting him there is just as hard as getting Final Revels to resolve, and much less impressive when it happens. Something worth thinking about is that many people I’ve talked to have included Peppersmoke in their sideboards for this matchup; you won’t often cantrip it, but it’s an amazing way to kill Prowlers, Scions, and Pestermites. Of course the dream is to use it on a Scion they thought was going to protect another guy from Inversion or Shriekmaw. I’ve been considering taking the Thoughtseizes out to make room for them, but I haven’t been able to bring myself to do it yet.
So, that’s where I am concerning Block Constructed. Hopefully this has been interesting, since I think that my team has a different look at this deck than most others. The interesting thing about this Block format, as far as I’m concerned, is that you can take any deck in any direction that you want, and the fact that there are likely many decks that haven’t even been explored yet. All of that coming out of a single set is pretty exciting to me, and I look forward to playing with the rest of the block.
As always, if you have any questions, feel free to contact me in the forums, via email, or on AIM.
ben at mundy dot net
SlickPeebles on AIM