So it’s the weekend of Pro Tour Charleston, and I find myself all tied up at the moment. I want to be at the Pro Tour, but alas I have a prison commitment that I am shackled to. I consider my options, but I seem to be fenced in. Yep, I’m gonna have to give this Team Pro Tour a miss… But you should see the team I have lined up for next year!
Right… So what to do this weekend, that is the question. There are no good movies playing, and not a lot is jumping off at any local bars (mostly just pull-ups). Not surprisingly, none of the women in my life are free (well, actually they are all free; that’s the thing…) So the conditions are ripe for gaming.
I contemplate a draft, but have trouble getting eight, plus I seem to find myself without any product. I don’t currently have access to MTGO (it’s complicated…) so Constructed it is.
Format? Well, the Team PT is Block, so I might as well wait on that. I just did some 1.x and am waiting on feedback. Vintage and 1.5 are always interesting, but I need to put together a good set of gauntlets. Standard? Why not? It is the go to format. Regionals just gave us new information, many MTGO and Real-Life it regularly, it’s a format for Nationals, and besides… mise.
I still had a number of ideas on Standard, some of which others had touched on at Regionals, but many of which weren’t. Was it because the ideas were terrible or just that none tried them? Ah, the age old question.
The concept I decided to try this time was Rise / Fall. Now a few people were taking advantage of Fall as a poor man’s Hymn to Tourach, such as Zach Wolff, who qualified for Nationals, finishing third in Nebraska. However, without even Tendo Ice Bridge, Rise was just never part of the plan.
There is no question Rise is very situational, as there must be a creature in your graveyard and a creature you want to Repulse (at sorcery speed). However, when these conditions exist, Rise is fantastic. First, it only costs two, so typically whatever you bounce will cost more, stealing the opponent’s tempo. Second, while it is like Remand and Repulse in its ability to generate tempo, it also offers selection, as you get your best man back instead of a random card. Third, when you combine it with Dimir Cutpurse… Well, you do the math. Finally, if all else fails, just Hymn the guy. What is the cost to taking advantage of this potential powerhouse? You must play a B/U/R deck. That shouldn’t be too hard, after all. There are a lot of good cards between those colors. But is there synergy? If so, why does no one play these three Guilds? Hmm…
My starting point was the Rise / Fall plus Dimir Cutpurse combo. To add redundancy to my combo, I added Electrolyzes and Remands as additional support besides Rise / Fall. Bob Maher and Terry Soh were next for additional card advantage/disruption (too bad Finkel’s not legal…) At this point, I decided I was going to end up with enough men to support Jittes.
With seven slots full, it was time to look at mana curve considerations and some more warm bodies. I had already decided to go with a low land count, supported by Karoos. “20-20-20” theory was a guiding factor, but I figures as is often the case, it would be more like 19-19-22, since my curve might be more 2s and 3s, rather than 1s and 2s.
As much as I like Lyzolda, the Blood Witch (and I do; she really knows how to please a man…) my three-slot was looking crowded already. This left me with fours, twos, and ones (given my low land count). I would love Flametongue Kavu, but other than that, I found no four-drops to my liking. I suppose Hellhole Rats were an option (I have it on good authority that they deal fourteen damage per game), but I am not a believer. Wrecking Ball… now that is a fine four-drop. I end up with it in, but I need more boys and girls willing to carry Jittes.
The two-slot offered much promise, with Hand of Cruelty, Rakdos Guildmage, and Dimir Guildmage. However, with Jitte, Remand, Rise / Fall, and Dark Confidant, I already had quite a few two-drops. Still, I like decks that get wrecked by Spell Snare and I want at least eight two-drop creatures so that I have a reasonable chance of leading with a dude. With that in mind, I decided to examine the one-drops.
At this point there were no one drops in the deck, though a full set of Shock lands give me plenty to do on the first turn. Seal of Fire and Frostling were both interesting choices, but in the end I stuck with just Plagued Rusalka since the mana would be base-Black. When you look at my lands, it makes sense. I didn’t try Blackmail, but it is an interesting thought.
I decided to go with four Hand of Cruelty for some early defense, plus “Protection from White” is all right. I agonized about the Guildmages, but in the end I plumped for Wrecking Balls for more disruption and versatility.
The manabase is fairly straightforward, albeit painful. First a full set of Shock lands is a must for a deck like this. Second, four Tendo Ice Bridges go in a non-painful way to smooth the mana. Tendos are great in a deck like this because they don’t come into play tapped, don’t inflict pain, make three colors with low land and no reliance on Green (as opposed to Zoo…), they combine with Karoos, and this deck has plenty to do with generic mana. Oh, and they are just great.
After much consideration, I decided the Karoos had to be Rakdos Carnariums due to Rakdos Augermage. Since I had six slots left for land (including the Karoo) and wanted an even split between R and U, but all Black, I opted for three Carnariums and three Underground Rivers. With fifteen pain lands and four Dark Confidants, there is no question the deck would be painful, but the disruption, tempo, and raw power are all very high. I decided to test without sideboards versus the top seven decks in Standard according to Regionals, which conveniently included three aggro decks (Husk, Heezy, and Zoo) to test the sadomasochistic properties of the deck. The others were a combination of combo, land destruction, and permission, offering a full gauntlet. The Roman Empire played first in odd games, and drew in even.
Matchup 1: Ghost Husk
The Roman Empire leads with Plagued Rusalka. Husk answers with Isamaru. Hand of Cruelty hits. Kami of Ancient Law joins the fray. Another Hand drops, while the first serves. Husk has a Promise, but no answer for Protection from White. A Remand, Electrolyze, and Wrecking Ball negate any counter play. Rome wins.
Husk keeps a two-land hand and gets wrecked before another is drawn. Rome wins.
Both sides mulligan and Husk is a bit mana flooded. Rise the Ghost Council, getting back Bob and clearing a path for the Cutpurse is the beginning of the end. A Remand on the Ghost spirals things out of control. Rome sure has a lot of Ophidians. Rome wins.
Husk is on the defensive all game, takes 18 from an Augermage and 4 from a Dark Confidant, but a few Ghost Council points keep him alive while Rome takes 8 from his own land, 8 from his own Confidant, and 3 from the Council. Rome loses.
Rome is mana flooded and gets run over by the Hound, Kami, Promise curve. Rome loses.
Rome flooded again. It has no real way to catch up if it falls far behind. Rome loses.
Husk triple mulligans on the play, while Rome double mulligans. Rome has Bob on turn 2. Husk has the Pontiff, but only 2 land. A Cutpurse demolishes a defenseless Husk. Rome wins.
Husk has turn 2 Kami, turn 3 Promise, turn 4 Promise, turn 5 Pontiff, overrun for 16… Rome loses.
Husk must sac a Hand and a Rusalka to prevent Hand plus Jitte combo, but Rise ruins this plan. Rome wins.
Rome posts a solid 6-4 record versus the de facto best deck in Standard. The match did not feel hard, and while both sides had some mana trouble, they hit each about the same. This might be even slightly better than 60% matchup due to:
1) Jitte. If you draw Jitte and he draws Needle, you more or less break even. If he draws Needle by itself, Needle is weak. If you draw Jitte by itself it is strong, especially with…
2) Hand of Cruelty. Protection from White shuts down everything Husk is doing, save Husk itself.
3) Electrolyze, Rise / Fall, Plagued Rusalka, and Dark Confidant are all very efficient, and Husk is surprisingly vulnerable to Cutpurse plus Removal. All in all, Rome’s cards match up well enough to make up for all its self-inflicted pain.
Matchup 2: Heartbeat
Heartbeat plays turn 3 Heartbeat. Rome has a Remand, but taps out to make a two-turn clock. Heartbeat wins turn 4, but I think it could easily have played around Remand turn 5 and the clock would have been too slow. Rome loses.
Turn 3 Terry Soh comes out to play. Heartbeat’s hand of all Transmutes is the nut low in this situation. Rome wins.
Heartbeat mulligans. Bob hits on turn 2 and draws enough pressure to finish thanks to two Time Walks (Remand). Despite dealing 14 to itself, Rome wins.
Rome’s turn 2 Bob draws into two Remands, a Wrecking Ball and Terry Soh, but double Elder plus Reach accelerates past disruption and Heartbeat goes off the turn before Terry is activated. Rome loses.
Heartbeat mulligans, but Rome doubles, keeping a Plagued Rusalka and four lands. Rome manages a turn 2 Jitte and turn 3 Cutpurse, but Heartbeat has Drift and Elder on defense. Still, Cutpurse and Jitte eventually set up shop, backed up by Fall and Remand. Rome wins.
Rome’s Dark Confidant draws into a Fall that hits land and a Wrecking Ball, but Heartbeat has the Invoke kill so Wrecking Ball only slows him down. Heartbeat wins the last possible moment. It’s turn 2 Remand essentially, eventually, won it. Rome loses.
Turn 2 Bob, then turn 3 Augermage, turn 4 Fall plus Remand equals Not Even Close. Rome wins.
Thanks entirely to Invitationalist cards and disruption, Rome posts a fine 6-4 record, which probably only improves after sideboarding (now you have Cranial, plus Wrecking Ball and Rise / Fall are great versus both main and transformative). Basically, Heartbeat can’t stop the threats, and all sorts of disruption ranging from discard of his choice, to discard at random, to discard of my choice, to permission, to land destruction makes it hard for him to go off. Rome’s cards that did not disrupt were all second rate, but eighteen disruption is plenty to secure a bit of an edge. Taking out Rusalkas would be nice, post sideboard.
Matchup 3: Heezy Street
Rome is stuck on two land while both of its Confidants are Charred. Heezy has few men, but eventually a Cloaked Shaman takes over. Burning-Tree Shaman is bad enough, but I’m not really sure what Rome is supposed to do about Moldervine Cloak. Rome loses.
Shock lands plus Maher allow two Giant Solifuges and two Flames of the Blood Hand to win, despite getting hit by a Cutpurse. This game might have gone the other way if Rome had let with two Hands instead. Rome loses.
Gruul curves Goblin, Dryad, Shaman, Solifuge, Flames for the turn 5 kill. Rome’s turn 3 Electrolyze is hardly enough due to no one- or two-drop. Gruul wins when it gets a good curve. Rome loses.
Rusalka, Hand, Rise, then Jitte holds off Gruul’s all one- and two-drop draw. Cloak makes it interesting, but Wrecking Ball saves the day. Rome wins.
Kird Apes and Scab-Clans trump Cutpurses. Jitte is too late. Rome gets Charred and Flamesed out one turn before control would have been established. Rome loses.
Rome mulligans, whereas Gruul has an aggressive draw. Gruul just rolls Rome despite getting hit with the super slow Cutpurse. Rome loses.
It’s hard to be happy about 3-7, but considering a full 1/3 of Rome’s deck does damage to itself, 30% isn’t unforgivable. There are several other problems in Rome’s game:
1. Grey Ogres are not good versus Kird Apes
2. Burn is bad.
3. Creatures with two toughness or bigger are annoying.
4. Heezy is not very vulnerable to any of Romes’ disruption, while trumping all its men.
Rome’s whole plan is Umezawa’s Jitte. Period. Rome was never in any sort of reasonable position without it and didn’t even win every game it drew it.
Matchup 4: Vore
Two Falls, a Remand, and two Wrecking Balls disrupt Vore while Plagued Rusalka does 7,163,518 damage. Eventually Wildfire resolves but Rome actually has more land. Bob finishes the job. Rome wins.
Vore just destroys some land, then drops a Magnivore and glides to victory. Leaking the turn 2 Confidant was huge. Should I have led with Fall? Going first is very important. Rome loses.
Vore destroys all of Rome’s land, then Pyroclasms to win despite being hit by a Cutpurse twice. Rome drew only three land in the first fifteen cards. Rome loses.
Rome double mulligans into turn 1 Rusalka, turn 2 Jitte, turn 3 Carnarium plus Fall, but turn 2 Pyroclasm and turn 3 Stone Rain disrupt things. Both sides decimate each other’s resources. Eventually Augermage wrecks shop, with the Remand (on Wildfire) plus Augermage combo winning it. Rome wins.
Vore mulligans, gets beat by a Cutpurse, then Wildfires. When another Cutpurse starts swinging, another Wildfire kills it. Despite multiple Tidings, the third Cutpurse wins. Rome was at five for many turns, but kept a Rusalka back on defense just in case of Vore or Genju. Rome wins.
Each side spends about 1/3 of its cards on disrupting the opponent, but Vore lacks many good answers to Ocean’s Eleven (4 Confidants, 4 Cutpurses, and 3 Augermages). Also, compare the efficiency of Fall versus Demolish. Vore just doesn’t capitalize on all Rome.dec’s self-inflicted damage.
Matchup 5: Zoo
Zoo mulligans and has no White for a few, but is serving with the full four Frenzied Goblins. Plagued Rusalka, Hand of Cruelty, and Augermage try to resist. Fall takes burn and Wrecking Ball on a finally drawn White land barely wins it. Rome wins.
Zoo leads with turn 1 Ape, turn 2 Watchwolf. Rome has Bob and Terry, but Terry is burned. Two Flames of the Blood Hand win it quickly. Note: Electrolyze was dead this game, but would have won either of the first two. Rome loses.
Rome mulligans a six-land hand. An army of Apes, Lions, and a Watchwolf slaughter Rome. Rome loses.
Rome mulligans a no-land hand, but keeps Blood Crypt, Watery Grave, Rakdos Carnarium, Hand of Cruelty, Electrolyze, and Wrecking Ball. Electrolyze kills a Lion and a small Kird Ape. Rome stabilizes at fifteen, but can’t keep a man on the table (nothing in the whole deck can survive a Seal of Fire). Meloku out of the board would be insane. A Hand eventually sticks with Rome and Zoo at eleven mana apiece. Zoo manages to burn Rome out, however, with thirteen lands in play to Rome’s eighteen mana. Rome loses.
Both sides play many men and use removal on key creatures. Several Rises buy time to get a Jitte going, despite having the first four targets burned. Rome wins.
Rome mulligans, but manages turn 2 Hand, turn 3 Electrolyze, and Augermages turns 4 and 5. Zoo’s creature heavy draw can’t break through. Rome wins.
A 6-4 record versus twenty burn spells was certainly surprising, and Rome may have been a little lucky. However, Zoo’s real problem was internal. Its manabase is notoriously sketchy (half its losses involved mana problems). Also Zoo is much like Heezy, but with far more one drops and burn. The one-drops are terrible compared to Burning-Tree Shamans, Cloaks, and Solifuges. The burn is decent, but as removal, since Rome’s creatures are too menacing to let live.
All said, Zoo would give Rome a harder time if it had more consistent mana and bigger men (i.e. it was Gruul not Zoo). Of course Zoo has no main deck plan versus Jitte, save “burn everything.”
Matchup 6: Firemane Control
Multiple early Dark Confidants and Dimir Cutpurses net some cards that eventually translate into a Hand plus Jitte sailing to victory. A Wrath, two Helixes, and two Fetters aren’t enough, due to being down cards. Rome wins.
Firemane counters or hits everything until it gets up to 47 and starts recurring Angels. Rome loses.
Firemane mulligans a hand with two Plains as its only mana. Rome plays a turn 2 Hand. A Boros Garrison is Wrecked, slowing Firemane. A second Hand hits and no Wrath ever comes. The Hands deal 28. Rome wins.
Rome mulligans, Firemane’s Compulsive Research and Gifts fuel card advantage to win a war of attrition. Rome loses.
An early Plagued Rusalka and Hand of Cruelty do massive damage. Wrecking Ball on a land and Remand are both Time Walks, while a Fall hurts Firemane a lot. Eventually two Angels come, though one is Wrecked and another Hand hits, holding a Cutpurse in hand in case of a Wrath. The turn before dying, Firemane topdecks Meloku with six land in play. This is good for two Illusions, but they and Meloku are each Plagued once, via that Cutpurse and two Rusalkas. Meloku dies in combat. Firemane doesn’t draw the Wrath. Rome wins.
Turn 1 Rusalka, turn 2 Fall for two, turn 3 Fall for two, turn 4 Fall misses… but a Dark Confidant drops. Eventually life totals are 6-6 when Firemane draws a Wrath to kill the Rusalka, Bob, and Terry. Still, Rome has so much card advantage, it continues to drop threats until Firemane submits. Rome wins.
Firemane leaks the turn 3 Maher. Now I love Karoos, but having to play one on turn 2 probably cost Rome this game. Still, one game out of 70 is just fine by me. They win far more. Anyhow, a turn 3 Compulsive Research to ditch Angel, turn 4 Weirding is game. Rome loses.
Rome mulligans, but Firemane doubles into one land and one Signet draw on the play. Rome keeps five lands and a Jitte. Firemane draws no land for the first three turns, but Rome draws two Jittes and a Rise / Fall (which it doesn’t play). Firemane draws a Garrison and dumps an Angel while Rome draws more land. Zur’s Weirding drops before Rome can manage a threat. Rome loses.
Attrition leaves both sides with no cards, plenty of mana, and life in the high twenties. Rome drops a Jitte. Firemane drops Zur’s. Rome is clearly winning the race and has more cards that must be stopped (22-27). However, when Firemane gets to the low teens, an Angel appears. Remand and Wrecking Ball only stall. Rome loses.
A Helix kills Confidant, two Wraths kill two Cutpurses, then an Angel drops and out-races an Augermage. Rome loses.
Rome’s 4-6 record was a little disappointing, though the way the games played, it felt like an even matchup. Sideboarding would be insane, as Cranial is game over. Rome probably has a substantial edge in a full three game match.
The reason Firemane gave Rome such a hard time than Heartbeat or Vore was its ability to consistently remove key threats (it has answers to everything, with Hand of Cruelty being the only difficult one) while simultaneously drawing cards and setting up its combo.
Matchup 7: Urzatron (U/R version)
A turn 2 Confidant sneaks under permission. Three Remands and a Fall ensure no counter-play. Rome wins.
Urza mulligans and dies to men with Jitte before hitting six. Rome wins.
Despite many extra cards from Bob, only having a single Black for far too long gives Urza time to play Keiga and win a close race. Rome loses.
Another turn 2 Bob, but this time the turn 5 Keiga knocks Rome low. Rome dies with two Electrolyzes and a Rusalka, but only six land. Rome loses.
Dorks pound on Urza while Remands and Falls cripple him. Eventually a Pyroclasm, then Wildfire, slow assault, but Rome never had to over-commit and recovers thanks to his fifth land being a Karoo. Rome wins.
Rome mulligans. Urza has four counters, but a turn 2 Confidant sneaks in. Rome takes fourteen damage from Confidant and lands, while all its spells are countered. Demonfire ends it. Rome loses.
Urza has a weird quadruple Signet draw with only two land and manages a great Wildfire, but a Rusalka has a Jitte. Keiga holds him off until a second Wildfire followed by Blaze, lets Keiga take over. Cranial Extraction would be great. Rome loses.
Disruption makes it interesting, but ultimately two Pyroclasms and a Keiga are too much. Red sweepers are harsh. Rome loses.
Well, given the amount of disruption, I had hoped for a little better than 5-5, but it is respectable. Urza’s Red removal is very strong, as are the two mana counters. This is certainly on the hard side of 50%, but with careful play, Rome can obtain an advantage if the opponent doesn’t know the matchup. Given that Rome is “rogue” for now, this shouldn’t be unlikely.
Important keys are knowing how much to commit (usually never more than one of the eleven “good” creatures), as well as how to arrange the disruption. For instance, do you Wrecking Ball land or save it for Keiga? I wish I could give you a rule, but it really depends.
I’m not sure how to adjust for a heavy Urza field, but I would be worried. I’d be interested in suggestions in the forums on how to tweak the deck versus all these Steam Vents.
Final – 37-33
A final score of 37-33 (53%) versus the top seven strategies in Standard is an excellent sign, especially considering Rome.dec isn’t tuned. Its two losing matches were versus Heezy and Firemane. Firemane is helped dramatically by sideboarding Cranials. Heezy is just plain bad, and will certainly continue to be, even after sideboarding four Hearth Kami, Rend Flesh, Slay, three Melokus, a Wrecking Ball, and Seize the Soul (siding out three Confidant, four Cutpurse, and four Remand). They get 2R “win the game” (Blood Moon). It is not unwinnable though, and if that is your worst matchup, so be it. Winning records versus Husk, Heartbeat, Vore, and Zoo are sufficient compensation.
Some final thoughts on changes:
A fourth Augermage is probably better than a fourth Cutpurse for defensive purposes.
A fourth Wrecking Ball should probably go in, as it is good against people with lands or creatures. 100% of opponents seem to use these (removal is good versus some, disruption is good versus the rest). Maybe cut an Electrolyze or Plagued Rusalka.
Nationals is a ways off, but Standard is still alive and kicking. Regionals only scratched the tip of the iceberg of what Dissension has to offer. Is the Roman Empire the next Ghost Husk? Maybe, maybe not. It certainly doesn’t feel broken, though it is a fun, synergistic, combination of powerful cards, offering play versus anyone. I am very interested in what others have to say on Rome.dec, as well as suggestions on how to improve it. If you try it, I’d love some feedback in the forum on how it performed for you and what you’d change. Also, remember the sideboard is purely theoretical. The important things are 4 Cranials, 2-3 Meloku (or something bigger than two-butt), and some tools to help Jitte wars. The Hearth Kamis just seem the most versatile, but Shattering Spree is an option. Slays were just to help Gruul matches, though more Seize the Souls are an option, as is Nekrataal. Two Nekrataals might even have a play in the main, though Plagued Rusalka is probably what you’d have to cut. Electrolyze is the only other option. Everything else should stay (I think). Actually, cutting 4 Electrolyzes or Rusalkas for 2 Nekrataals, 1 Augermage, 1 Wrecking Ball and switching in one Rakdos Carnarium (to support the higher curve) is an interesting thought. The Rusalka is certainly the weak link. He is decent versus half of the opponents, and terrible versus the other half.
Friends, Romans, Countrymen, lend me your rares…
The Patrick Chapin