As I’m sure you may have figured out from the plethora of articles written on the topic, last weekend was Grand Prix Nashville. Like many of the other fine writers for this site, I too journeyed to the land of Tennessee for some Magical happenings. I had a lot of confidence going into the event. Innistrad Limited has been something I’ve experienced a lot of success in. I figured that as long as I could avoid a truly terrible pool that I had a good shot of going deep in the tournament, especially with two byes to help out.
Through my sick skills and superior planning (read: complete luck), I was able to successfully navigate the registration portion and artfully dodged an unplayable pool. The deck I ended up registering was G/W with an excess of good creatures. I had to leave guys on the bench that would be easy starters in most other pools. What my pool lacked was quality removal or tricks. I was on the nearly mono-dude plan, but those creatures included Manor Gargoyle, Angel of Flight Alabaster (with Strangleroot Geist for maximum value), Vorapede, and Mentor of the Meek, so I wasn’t looking too bad. The hope was that my opponents wouldn’t play any unanswerable bombs like Olivia Voldaren and I could just get people with my bigger creatures.
For the most part, that worked out. The two rounds I lost were unsurprisingly to creatures I couldn’t really effectively answer. One of said creatures was a Skirsdag High Priest, and the other was actually a Gavony Ironwright. My opponent let my Galvanic Juggernaut take him from twenty to five and then cast Increasing Devotion and flashed it back with the Ironwright in play; I died a horrible death. I don’t blame the Juggernaut, though. He had to attack. It wasn’t his fault. He never wanted things to end up that way.
Going into Day 2 at 7-2, I had to basically 3-0 both of my draft pods to make Top 8. I wasn’t quite able to get that done. I went 2-1 in my first pod with a U/W deck featuring Drogskol Captain with some Spirits and Invisible Stalker with Bonds of Faith and Runechanter’s Pike. In my second pod I ended up in G/W with a lack of tricks and removal again but solid creatures like Requiem Angel, Kessig Cagebreakers, and Deranged Outcast. I was able to go 3-0 with that deck.
That was enough for a 12-3 finish and 17th placeâ€”the best finish I’ve had in a GP. I’ve only played in a couple of GPs and this was only the second time I had even made Day 2, so I was quite happy with how I ended up. Hitting 17th place instead of 16th on tiebreakers was a slight dagger, but mostly I was just happy.
One fun situation that came up during the Sealed portion of the event was in round 5 or 6. My opponent played a Daybreak Ranger against me on turn 3 of game 3. I had a Mentor of the Meek in play and nothing else. As he played it he said, "I feel like you don’t have a lot of ways in your deck to deal with this guy." I looked down at my hand, which contained Smite the Monstrous and Spidery Graspâ€”the only two answers in my deck for that cardâ€”then looked back up at him and said, "I feel like you are correct." I passed my next turn to him. He gave me a quizzical look as he flipped his Daybreak Ranger into a Nightfall Predator. Before he passed the turn back he decided to fight my Mentor of the Meek.
At the time he didn’t quite…grasp…the implications of that action. I cast Spidery Grasp on my Mentor and he had no response. His 4/4 Daybreak Ranger fought my not-so-meek 4/6 Mentor and was sent packing on an all-expenses-paid trip to the Hidden Valley. Ranched! I went on to win that game by later sending a Doomed Traveler on a suicide mission with my opponent at one life and no flying blockers. He had to block it, bricked on an answer for my Spirit token, and died the next turn. I got him with everyone’s favorite Innistrad creature: ‘Dome’d Traveler.
I was originally planning on writing about the G/W draft archetype this week, as it has been something I’ve done very well with. However, Brad Nelson wrote an article on that exact topic, and I tend to agree a good deal with what he said so I there’s really no need to dip into that well a second time.
Speaking of dipping into a well a second time…
This week WotC released the new Banned and Restricted Announcement, and there were two cards that I can honestly say I never expected to see on that list this time last week.
Intangible Virtue and Lingering Souls Banned in Block Constructed
You may recognize those two cards as the cornerstone of the Block B/W/g Tokens deck that I wrote about in my last article. That deck and Boros Tokens were the two most dominant decks in Block Constructed. In other words, the two top tier decks were both different token decks running Intangible Virtue and Lingering Souls.
There’s no question that these two cards were extremely powerful in an environment like Block Constructed that has a limited card pool. The only effective answers to Lingering Souls were Curse of Death’s Hold and Sever the Bloodline. Cards like Blasphemous Act or Divine Reckoning are only capable of providing an answer to half of the spell, and with an Intangible Virtue in play every time your opponent played a Midnight Haunting or Lingering Souls it demanded a sweeper effect or for you to go over the top of it with something even bigger, like Bloodline Keeper. Eventually, the player playing Lingering Souls would run you out of answers. There were a lot of times I would mulligan to five and keep a hand that had three lands, Intangible Virtue, and Lingering Souls and win the game without ever casting another spell.
I’m not sure things had quite progressed to the point where a ban was fully necessitated. Then again, I’m not sure I wanted things to ever progress to that point, either. These bans fit perfectly with the precedent WotC has set based on how they’ve treated the Modern format. If a card is looking like it might ruin the health of a format, they nip it in the bud early before it has a chance to do exactly thatâ€”ruin the health of a format. These cards were starting to be dangerously close to destroying the format, and I don’t disagree with WotC’s decision to end the show early.
The one thing I disagree with is the banning of both cards. I think only Lingering Souls should have been banned. Intangible Virtue is a perfectly fair card when it doesn’t go hand in hand with Lingering Souls. Without Souls, Midnight Haunting is the only reliable way to get flying tokens. Midnight Haunting with Intangible Virtue was around before Lingering Souls and was never that big of a factor.
If they banned just Intangible Virtue then I think there’s a very strong chance that Lingering Souls could still dominate just as much as before. People could turn to Drogskol Captain or Gavony Township as a proxy for Intangible Virtue or just play Lingering Souls without either and still win games because of how powerful the card is just on its own accord.
Based purely on what we have now, I don’t think Virtue needed to be banned. However, it’s certainly possible that the decision was made based on what’s coming out in the next set. I wouldn’t be surprised if there were more token generators in Avacyn Restored. If that set doesn’t have an effective way to deal with swarms of tokens, the Pro Tour could be dominated by token decks even with Lingering Souls banned.
Regardless of whether or not these cards deserved their grisly fate, the banning has certainly opened up the format and made a lot more decks viable. Let’s take a look at some of the decks I suspect will be good again, as well as a few untested brews I have put together.
I think that this will initially be the most powerful deck after the bans take effect. There are versions of Boros right now that don’t use either Lingering Souls or Intangible Virtue, and they’re based more on Humans, burn spells, and Ridin’ Dirty.
Here’s an example of a possible post-ban Boros deck:
Other options include cutting Thalias and playing cards like Midnight Haunting, Increasing Devotion, and Rally the Peasants. I don’t think you can play all of those and Thalia in the same list, though.
Jund is an archetype that stands to gain a lot from the banning of Intangible Virtue, maybe even more so than Lingering Souls. The reason is that Jund decks tend to be pretty reliant on Curse of Death’s Hold to keep your opponent’s random dorks in check. When Curse of Death’s Hold ends up being a five CMC spell that merely negates an Intangible Virtue it doesn’t do a whole lot. When it can take out a few of your opponent’s creatures and threaten to lock them out of the game if you have another one, that’s when it becomes scary.
Here’s the current Jund list I have for post-banning:
It’s certainly possible that a third Curse of Death’s Hold should be maindeck, probably in place of one of the one-of creatures: Olivia Voldaren, Bloodline Keeper, or Bloodgift Demon. I do like having powerful effects like those creatures maindeck because you can search them up using the backside of Garruk and they all have a high enough power level to where they are reasonable cards to just naturally draw at any point. Naturalize is a card that should probably be sided in against a high number of decks since Jund has a very tough time beating Witchbane Orb and anyone could theoretically have it. Ancient Grudge is another possibility if Witchbane Orb or other artifacts become very mainstream.
This is a fringe archetype right now, but it stands to gain a lot from the bannings. One of the big issues with Werewolves were cards like Lingering Souls making it very easy for a player to cast multiple spells to flip and then keep Werewolves on their weaker front sides. I feel like Werewolves has a fairly easy time beating other creature decks but will likely struggle to beat control decks that can easily play multiple spells a turn and control the tempo of the game.
- 4 Avacyn's Pilgrim
- 4 Daybreak Ranger
- 4 Gatstaf Shepherd
- 4 Mayor of Avabruck
- 4 Wolfbitten Captive
- 4 Huntmaster of the Fells
- 4 Hellrider
- 4 Immerwolf
One thing I’m not entirely sure of is whether Garruk should be maindeck. I don’t want to have too many four-drops, but it’s possible that Garruk is better than either Huntmaster or Hellrider. My guess is that he’s not as good, but I could be easily wrong.
I also don’t know about the Avacyn’s Pilgrims. They can be very good or very bad based on when you draw them. It’s possible this slot should be Reckless Waif, but in my experience that card has done very close to nothing any time it has ever been cast against me, so I’m certainly skeptical.
U/R Invisible Stalker decks were very popular before Dark Ascension. This archetype has basically become non-existent since that point, though, since it has a very hard time beating the token decks. It’s not fast enough to race them usually, and all the maindeck Ray of Revelations made relying on Spectral Flight and Furor of the Bitten on Invisible Stalker to be a very mediocre game plan.
I suspect this will change now. Ray of Revelations won’t be a maindeck card anymore, and without Intangible Virtue other decks won’t be able to race as easily. A sample list looks something like this:
A lot of lists run more Furor of the Bitten to make Invisible Stalker better. The issue I have with that is if you don’t draw an Invisible Stalker then you run a strong risk of having a bunch of creature enhancements stranded in your hand doing nothing. Silver-Inlaid Dagger is another consideration for that slot.
It’s the same deck that I wrote about last week minus the Lingering Souls and Intangible Virtues. I actually believe that this deck still has enough powerful tools at its disposal to be a strong contender even without the two main pieces to the archetype.
- 2 Mikaeus, the Lunarch
- 3 Mentor of the Meek
- 4 Skirsdag High Priest
- 1 Geist-Honored Monk
- 2 Bloodline Keeper
This list is something I want to make work, but I’m not sure if it’s possible. I had a U/W deck for Block Constructed before Dark Ascension that I loved, but it unfortunately didn’t perform very well because the mana base for U/W was absolutely terrible. Evolving Wilds will hopefully help to fix that specific problem. I have a feeling this list basically cannot ever beat a Hellrider, but here it is nonetheless.
- 1 Fiend Hunter
- 4 Invisible Stalker
- 4 Mindshrieker
- 4 Geist of Saint Traft
- 2 Geist-Honored Monk
- 4 Drogskol Captain
- 4 Dungeon Geists
Cards like Geist of Saint Traft and Dungeon Geists see absolutely no play in Block despite how powerful they are. That seems a bit odd to me, and I feel like there has to be a deck that uses one or both of them to good effect. I’m not sure if this deck is viable, but it’s certainly a starting point to trying to make those cards work. Another consideration is Runechanter’s Pike with hexproof creatures, but I don’t know if there are enough powerful spells in U/W to make the Pike good enough.
Hopefully these decks give you a good idea of what the Block Constructed landscape may look like after March 28th when the bans go into effect for Magic Online.
Next week, I’ll have a tournament report from the SCG Open Series: Baltimore featuring the Invitational that I’m playing in this weekend. I haven’t yet figured out what I’m going to play in Standard; I only know that I want to be playing Lingering Souls. The key is figuring out the 56 other cards to play around it.
Thanks for reading,
BBD on Magic Online
@BraunDuinIt on Twitter