Rogue At Regionals – Is It Possible?

When I am trying to bust open a metagame, I usually look at the weaknesses of the best decks. In this case there are many decks with similar power level, but most people seem to be choosing Tog or Red/Green. I do not take this as”I will only play versus these decks” but rather,”I will probably play versus one or two of these.” This means that I would like a deck that has good game versus both of these decks, but is not so specific that I lose my games versus anything else.

Regionals is a special time of year when hundreds of players come out of the woodwork to play a format that never really gets a chance to shine – Standard. Every once in awhile we are gifted with a Standard Grand Prix… But besides that and the errant local tournaments, Standard is one of those formats that just doesn’t see as much sanctioned play as many of us would like. Regionals is that time of year where he can unwind and take a breather and actually play something we want to play, not something just to win a qualifier.

For most areas, you only have to make top 8 to come out a big winner – this will get you qualified for Nationals. Because of this and the influx of players who don’t regularly attend large tournaments, you will see a lot of rogue decks. So what does this mean? Well, it means a few things that hold true in any case, but are especially true at Regionals.

Play With Powerful Cards

This may sound painfully obvious, but it is apparently not. Most rogue decks that I see have many cards that are simply not that good. I see many decks that use bad cards to neutralize a greater threat, almost like a variant on silver bullet cards. It would not be their first choice for the deck, except that it really helps them beat deck x, y, or z. I’ve seen some decks use Innocent Blood in order to fight Tog (after four Chainer’s Edicts, of course) – which is just a bad idea if you ever plan to have creatures on the board. Tog has three or four creatures total, and you probably have more. Powerful cards are good versus all decks, not just one specific deck – and since I expect a fair amount of diversity at Regionals, this will play an important factor.

Rogue decks are great – many of them use cool ideas or fun themes, but this does not mean they shouldn’t have powerful cards. Take Zombie Tribal, for instance – you could use Graveborn Muse, Rotlung Reanimator, and Withered Wretch. Those are powerful cards that will get you through tough situations. Try to avoid cards like Gravespawn Sovereign and Shepherd of Rot. I know they look like they belong is a deck with many Zombies – but when it comes down to it, they just aren’t very powerful cards. If you just want to have fun, be my guest, but you can easily have fun and win at the same time by using more powerful cards that stay in your theme.

Have A Flexible Deck And Sideboard

Even though we know about a few Tier 1 decks, our sideboards should not be collections of cards that just hose them. Sure, this might get you somewhere when you play against the Tier One deck… But if your hoser card is too specific, it will not help you against anything else. For instance, if you are running Beloved Chaplain in your sideboard because it blocks fat creatures in R/G, perhaps you would be better served by Intrepid Hero, which kills fat creatures, including flying ones. This will make you much better versus a wider variety of decks than just the ones you originally intended.

This also goes for main deck cards – if you are playing Shock, why are you playing it? Do you need to remove one-toughness things or two-toughness things? If it is only one toughness, why not try Lava Dart? For the Psychatog players out there, why not try Infest over some Chainer’s Edicts? Your goal is to still use powerful cards, but use the ones that most suit your needs versus a number of decks.

I have to say that you still need to be careful not to spread yourself too thin. If removing a card from your deck for a more flexible card means that you will absolutely lose to a Tier 1 deck, then it is probably best left the way it was.

Play Something You Enjoy

Regionals where I come from has eight or nine rounds – If I’m not playing something that will keep me interested and awake, I am headed for the gutter near round seven. It is just too difficult to play a deck that you find boring or frustrating for an entire day. If you don’t like the slowness of Tog, don’t play it. If you don’t like the unpredictability of Red/Green, don’t play it. If you don’t like any of the Net Decks, don’t play them!

I heard a rather disturbing thing the other day from one of my friends; he said that he wasn’t interested in playtesting other decks, and he was frustrated with the format because all the big decks were on the net and there was no point in playtesting anything else.

This is absolutely wrong. Just because there are four or five (or even ten!) good decks floating around the net metagame, that doesn’t necessarily comprise the actual metagame… And it does not mean that there are no other Tier 1 decks!

You heard it here first – most things you read on the internet about Magic are false. Not because people want to lie to you, but just because most of us are exactly in the same position as you – we don’t necessarily know any better.

We don’t take the Tier 1 decks and test them against each other for hours on end unless a Pro Tour or a Masters are involved – and the Masters is gone. That means our best guess comes from how we feel about the different decks and what we see on the net. Sound familiar? That’s exactly how you do it, too!

Following this reasoning, isn’t it fair to say that better decks are probably out there, but that no one has stumbled upon them yet? It happens time after time – some guy waltzes in with a random deck that no one has played for six months and runs the tables. Why? Maybe because we forgot about the deck, or maybe because the metagame changed. Either way, I think we would be foolish if we thought we’ve found the best deck in any given metagame.

So go ahead, give it a try – make something better. It can be done!

Okay – So Show Me!

Here is a Rogue deck that I have been working on for Regionals – Soldiers.

4 Shared Triumph

4 Longbow Archer

4 Whipcorder

4 Exalted Angel

2 Lieutenant Kirtar

4 Gustcloak Runner

4 Gempalm Avenger

4 Deftblade Elite

4 Catapult Squad

2 Mobilization

18 Plains

2 Daru Encampment

4 Secluded Steppe

As far as I know, soldiers has not even been mentioned as a Tier 3 deck. However, I am inclined to use this as an application of my principles of Rogue deck building. First, notice how the deck uses many powerful cards – Shared Triumph, Whipcorder, Catapult Squad, Mobilization, Longbow Archers, Exalted Angel, and Deftblade Elite. There cards help maximize the threat potential that the deck brings to the table. I particularly think Shared Triumph is underused in Constructed.

Now look at the deck again and notice that it also has certain cards that may normally be deemed subpar – namely, Gustcloak Runner and Gempalm Avenger. In truth, these cards are the bread and butter of the deck and maximize the number of superb hands you can get. In this environment, one-drops are less useful (unless they produce mana) because they quickly encounter blockers that are hard to break through. The one-drops in this deck (Gustcloak Runner and Deftblade Elite) are used with this in mind. It is easy to send all your men when it is useless to block a Runner (they can never get a good trade with it) and Deftblade Elite has its obvious tactical advantages. Also note that the runner works particularly well with Catapult Squad. Gempalm Avenger provides two things this deck lacks – card drawing and tricks. This guy will let you serve through for much more damage than normal.

Now I am not saying this deck isn’t without its faults – for instance, it is difficult to deal with a well-fueled Grim Lavamancer or Sparksmith, but at the same time, it is better rounded than many decks that I have seen, and it certainly has game versus the metagame.

Is this deck for you? Perhaps, if you like Soldiers or White Weenie. I know Elliot Fung is out there somewhere just drooling over this thing. The point is that this deck could post a winning percentage near the Tier One decks, if not better, just on the merit that it uses some powerful cards and has solid deck building behind it. If you take the same approach with a concept you like, then perhaps you will end up with a Rogue deck that storms Regionals.

Things To Exploit In The Current Metagame:

When I am trying to bust open a metagame, I usually look at the weaknesses of the best decks. In this case there are many decks with similar power level, but most people seem to be choosing Tog or Red/Green. I do not take this as”I will only play versus these decks” but rather,”I will probably play versus one or two of these.” This means that I would like a deck that has good game versus both of these decks, but is not so specific that I lose my games versus anything else.

Weaknesses in Tog

It’s a one-card wonder. If you can deal with Tog and kill fast enough to avoid Upheaval, then you are golden. Everything else about Tog is just countermagic. Just have enough threats, then this becomes a non-issue.

How Soldiers Exploits This

Deftblade Elite, Exalted Angel, and Whipcorder are excellent versus Tog, plus White Weenie tends to sneak plenty of threats under countermagic.

Weaknesses in R/G

It’s a tempo-based finisher. While the deck does not burn you out per se, it does usually try to win with Blistering Firecat, Elephant Guide, or Grim Lavamancer as a tempo burst that just overruns you. If these tempo threats are neutralized, then the remaining force usually is not enough to finish the job.

How Soldiers Exploits This

Whipcorder and Deftblade Elite do the trick versus the fat men and Elephant Guide while Catapult Squad and Longbow Archer shut down Blistering Firecat. Exalted Angel or Kirtar can wrap things up while the ground is stalled. The Grim Lavamancer problem is one I have not solved… But I mentioned that earlier.

Rogue decks get their strength from the fact that people are not gunning for them, and they still maintain some surprise value – these things alone can get you far, but putting the right cards and thought behind your Rogue deck can get you much farther.

It has happened before – it will happen again.

Nate Heiss

Team CMU