Where, oh where do I begin? It’s been a while since
my last article,
hasn’t it? Oh, well, I’ve been rigorously playtesting all relevant formats in an attempt to give you all something worth reading. Yeah, I just lied to you… I haven’t really been testing that much. I’ve actually been trying to not fail out of school while spending as much time as I can with my lovely girlfriend, Faith. With that off my conscience, let us move forward to more Magic-related topics.
While I’m on my streak of honesty, I wrote a letter to the current Standard format.
Ever since Time Warp left the format, things just haven’t been the same. Standard has been staying out late, coming home smelling like beer, women, and drugs. I just can’t have this in my household. I tried my hardest to work things out with Standard. The week leading up to the SCG Invitational, I decided to take a trip up to Roanoke, VA, and get some testing in. My good friend Matt Gargiulo, better known as “Googs,” invited me, GerryT, Dan Jordan, and Korey McDuffie to spend the week testing. We were all pretty excited about the event and wanted to do well. I had a pretty good idea of what to expect from the Standard environment, but even with that information, it was still hard to figure out what I wanted to play.
Things I knew
Lots of RUG, primarily piloted by higher quality players. RUG is a pretty difficult deck to play correctly, and it’s not very forgiving. I knew I’d need a deck that had a good RUG matchup, since those were the type of players I was trying to beat.
Vampires and other mediocre aggro decks were going to make a showing. Vampires had been showing up online a lot. I guessed it had something to do with how cheap the deck is (doesn’t play Jace), and the sheer amount of it was forcing wins to show up.
Valakut is a really strong deck. It has a pretty huge luck factor though. It obliterates RUG, and with maindeck Pyroclasms, it should keep aggro well in check. It also has a pretty easy time with most control decks as well.
This put me in a pretty awkward spot. I could either play a very skill-intensive deck that still had a luck factor or flush my pride in the toilet, convince myself not to commit suicide, and sleeve up Vampires or drool on the table for thirteen rounds and roll dice, hoping to play my Primeval Titan before they did anything I cared about. I went with door of terror number three. While I like U/W Control – I just didn’t feel comfortable bringing it to an event that was all RUG, Valakut, and Vampires.
I didn’t do very well in the Invitational, but I did learn a lot. Valakut is a fine deck; I just didn’t enjoy playing it. After all, this is a game, and we’re supposed to have fun. It’s not something a lot of people think about, but I feel like deck enjoyment factors into how well one does with a deck. I have a hard time winning with decks that I don’t enjoy – no matter what their power level is.
This brings me to Worlds. I wanted to play U/W. Who cares if I wanted to play a subpar deck in a format full of bad matchups? It’s my body; I do what I want! Here’s what I decided to roll with on the day of Worlds.
While I’m not upset with my choice for Standard, I couldn’t legitimately recommend this deck to anyone else. I don’t even really want to get into Standard that much more in this article, just because it’s not a good idea to take advice from someone with a negative predisposition.
After 3-3ing Day 1 of Worlds, I was in an awesomely terrible mood. I wanted to find food and a tall bridge. Adam Richards and I found some random restaurant that will remain unnamed. We decided to get their most popular entry, “The Meal.” “The Meal” was somewhere around elevendy-billion Yen (thirty dollars), and it came with a lot of seaweed, sour plums, and fried awfulness. After that encounter, I decided to stick with sushi and any American food that I could find. I went to bed around 9 pm and woke up with lots of extra time at 7 am.
Infecting the Limited format at Worlds
Yeah, I’m clever – I thought of that headline all by myself.
I decided to pull the trigger at the draft table and just force infect. I was picking Cystbearer over Galvanic Blast and Arrest. I’m not going to argue about it being right or wrong – it’s just what I did. I ended both pods at 2-1. I don’t really consider myself any kind of authority on Scars of Mirrodin Limited to be honest. I won a PTQ and Top 64ed the GP, but other than that, I haven’t paid too much attention to it. Forcing infect can get you a 2-1 record in a draft pretty easily if that’s what you’re looking to do. Hell, you may get lucky and be the only infect player in your pod and go 3-0.
Who has two thumbs and didn’t drop a match in the Extended portion of Worlds?
I wanted the majority of this article to be about Extended for a few different reasons. Prior to Worlds, I was working on an article for Extended already. It’s about to become the most relevant format for all of the PTQ grinders, and GP Atlanta is just around the corner.
Let’s take a second to talk about some of the changes from Extended. Something people are failing to realize is that Extended is its own unique format.
It’s very similar to a new Standard rotation. Some of the decks from the previous Block season will become powerhouses, but you can’t bank on a new Standard format just being Block version 2.0. A lot of people that I talk to are just treating the new Extended format like it’s the past few years of Standard shoved into one season. People are saying, “Jund, Faeries, (insert previous deck that dominated a format here).” It’s not really fair to a new format to treat it like that. Sure, those decks were and will still be good, but with all the access to these different cards, it’s only a matter of time before someone comes up with a deck to “break the format.” Again, I’m not saying that a deck like Jund and Faeries can’t be powerhouses – I’m just saying that you can’t sleeve up all your old Standard decks, run them against each other, and call that testing. This is a good time to get creative!
So what does a new format mean?
Aggro is generally a lot better. Control decks usually rely on knowing what other type of decks you’ll be playing against. In a wide-open format, it’s a lot easier and many times more efficient to just turn guys sideways.
Expect the unexpected! I do love rogue decks and homebrews! You need to play a deck that doesn’t have any auto-lose cards in the format.
Many people will not know what they’re doing; this is the best time to do well at a tournament. Many people will stumble with their new decks. Don’t be in the same boat as them – test your deck.
Think of cards that work well together, like Pili-Pala with Grand Architect, Bitterblossom with Polymorph, Liege of the Tangle with Incandescent Soulstoke, Mimic Vat with evoke creatures, Bitterblossom with Skullclamp etc., etc. Are these too cute? Probably that last one, but the potential is there.
Taking all of this into consideration, I decided to go with a 4CC deck that packed a fair amount of aggro hate. This was the list I played. After all, when push comes to shove, just shove a lot of good cards into a deck, and be glad Blood Moon rotated.
So why this 75? There are a lot of obvious card selections in this deck. The mana base is going to be pretty standard across most of the decks. As long as you have four Reflecting Pools, you should be okay. Cryptic Command is another one that just gets shoved into the deck purely based on power level.
HEY KIDS! DO YOU LIKE TWO-FOR-ONES?!
DO YOU LIKE DRAWING LOTS OF CARDS?!
DO YOU WISH YOU COULD PLAY EIGHT CRYPTIC COMMANDS?!
Too damn bad; here’s Esper Charm.
Alright, so we can only play four Cryptic Commands. I’m okay with this; when Esper Charm is your fallback plan, things are going pretty good. Along with Esper Charm, Mana Leak is another one of those “glad you could be part of the team” cards. It’s very rarely bad, and it’s not dead in any matchup.
So we’ve got a pretty solid starting lineup. We got Cryptics, Esper Charms, and Mana Leaks. Well, we know there’s going to be a lot of aggro, so we’ll need a diverse lineup of removal. Some number between two and three Volcanic Fallouts is probably right. Path to Exile and Lightning Bolts are always usable too. Firespout and Consume the Meek just to mix it up. Currently we have some ways to counter spells, draw cards, and kill creatures. When you’re looking at your deck and you see that 30 of your 34 nonland cards are counters and removal, I like to refer to that as the “not die” plan. We’re not trying to steamroll anyone here, just whittle them down, and live.
King of the “not die” plan is my good friend Plumeveil. I’ll be honest, I and Wall of Omens have had some good times recently, but Plumeveil is a lot better in my opinion. Sure, Wall of Omens draws you a card; however, Plumeveil kills a creature, shuts off attackers, and demoralizes your opponents.
So we’ve figured out how to not die – let’s work on winning the game. I played two Baneslayer Angels in my maindeck. In hindsight, this was just wrong. The guys playing Wurmcoil Engine were just a step ahead of me on this one. I just didn’t really think about Wurmcoil Engine. It’s great against the aggressive decks and needs to be killed twice unless they have a Path to Exile in which case, Baneslayer Angel wouldn’t have been better.
Two Grave Titans made an appearance in my deck as well. This card was nuts for me all day. Grave Titan gains a lot of stock when Frost Titan isn’t in every deck to battle it. It did a good job of clogging up the board for me as well as being an automatic three-for-one. Not to mention it can tango with Jace, unlike Wurmcoil Engine. I’d recommend acquiring some of these for Extended season if you don’t already own them.
I have another confession to make. I love Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker. My friend Justin Parnell made up a little song about Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker. (Reference only funny if you’ve seen the Natalie Portman SNL skit.)
“Whatchu want, Nicol B?”
To drink and fight!
“Whatchu need, Nicol B?”
To **** all night!
Let us back up here, Ali! You’re playing blue and lack the Jace-a-roo?!
It’s true, guys; I got really scared of a hyper-aggressive field and had nightmares of seeing Blightnings, Bloodbraid Elves, Maelstrom Pulse, and 1/1 white flying tokens all day, so they got the nix. Not playing Jace really hurt my control matchups. Luckily, I dodged them for the most part. In future tournaments, I’d strongly suggest tossing in Jace, the Mind Sculptor as a two-of if you’re expecting a decent amount of control. You’d need to cut back on your removal spells, or you could probably trim a threat or two because you’re replacing them with more card draw and another type of finisher.
The sideboard was me trying to answer everything in an unknown format. Next time, I’d include Vendilion Cliques and maybe some baby Jaces in the sideboard. Relic of Progenitus didn’t really do anything and neither did Memoricide. I believe Runed Halo is a necessary evil when someone is climbing in your windows, snatching your people up, tryin’ to rape them; so you better hide your kids, hide your wife, ‘cause Anathemancer rapin’ errbody out here.
I was kind of wanting to try Preordain in this 4CC list, but I was talking to some friends about it, and we decided that Preordain is that new fancy Apple product that everyone and their mom wants, but you don’t need. Preordain can put you in odd situations, and you already have infi other card draw spells. It can make you keep bad hands like one or two lands + Preordain, “BUT, ALI, YOU GET TO KEEP THOSE HANDS AND NOT GET MANA-SCREWED!” Correction: you
not get mana-screwed, and you’ll have to most likely put a card you want on the bottom, like a Jace, Cryptic Command, or Titan. “OKAY, BUT IT MAKES YOU STOP DRAWING LANDS… KINDA.” So does Oona’s Grace; does that make it good? Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying Preordain sucks by any means, but it’s also not an auto-include in Extended where you have so much card draw already.
Overall, I’m really excited about this Extended format, and I can’t wait to see what the creative minds of our terrific Magic community come up with. I’m sure Patrick Chapin is having a field day with this new format and is cooking up something really spicy!
I owe a lot of people thanks for helping me get to Worlds this year. Most notably, Adam Richards; he was kind enough to front me the money for a plane ticket. It’s people like this that make Magic dreams a reality for others. One of the neatest parts of this whole trip was getting to watch the Hall of Fame ceremony. It’s truly inspiring to watch people who have spent so much time with this game get such recognition. It’s a great program that Wizards has come up with, and it’s an amazing honor to those guys who have earned it. It gave me something to aspire to and made me want to perform better. In addition to Adam Richards, all of the people who donated to my “get Ali to Japan” fund deserve a warmhearted ‘thank you.’ You guys are great! Thanks for the support!
Last, but not least, I want to thank Googs and Star City Games. SCG’s Open Series is such a great thing for the Magic community. People need a reason to want to get better at Magic. The SCG Open Series is a pretty huge reason to want to do well. After all, without the SCG Open Series, I’d just be another PTQ grinder.
Ali, the Infinite Gyre
P.S. Sorry, Oona’s Grace, if I have offended you… I’ll probably play with you again at some point! <3