It’s very hard to invent something new and even harder to do it intentionally. Great Russian chemist Dmitri Mendeleev invented the periodic table of elements while asleep. By the way, his most known intentional invention is vodka, which perfectly illustrates the superiority of random discoveries.
I don’t have to tell you how important tech is for your success. It’s the thing that deprives you of sleep (if you don’t find it) or, quite literally, wakes you up in the middle of the night (if you do). People crawl through several-thousand-word articles (like this one) in search of a card to swing certain unwinnable matchups in their favor. Tech is the salt and the pepper of Magic: it spices things up and makes you want more with each bite.
Simply put, we need tech because it’s easier to win if you’re prepared better than your opponent. The normal way to prepare yourself is by playtesting DI, but there are additional ways, more risky and more reliant on chance, but potentially far more rewarding: to nullify your opponent’s preparation by offering him something he never even thought of. Of course, there’s a dark side of the moon: techs are better when
served hot. It’s delicious when fresh, but could become poisonous if overdue. This is why it’s important to
a tech instead of simply
about it. But how to create a tech? There’s no clear answer to this question, because each tech is unique, but if you know where to look, you have better chances to succeed.
Before we start searching, let’s learn, exactly what are we looking for? What types of tech is out there?
The most widespread, these techs are usually some spells that well-known archetypes utilize to instantly win or gain huge advantage in the right matchup. It’s especially rewarding for mirror matches, as nobody finds coin-flipping a particularly pleasant experience.
I played Kithkin throughout most of Lorwyn-Alara Standard season. I expected to play lots of mirrors at each tournament, and I wanted to feel comfortable. Wrath of God didn’t actually seem like a good idea for me, so I started searching. Sometime around PT Kyoto, a deck emerged that caught my attention: R/W aggro-combo, based on Painter’s Servant and Chaotic Backlash. The deck itself never proved popular, but my Kithkin list quickly became R/W. Chaotic Backlash provided me with everything I wanted: an ability to win the mirror from a light year behind, as well as synergy with Windbrisk Heights.
As a bonus, if the opponent knew about Backlash, he’d play more cautiously, giving me additional time to win due to his tempo loss. It worked very similarly to a widely known “Cursed Scroll and Boil” story: it’s always good to force your opponent into making wrong decisions.
The most complicated way to beat your opponent by surprise is to build your own rogue deck. Countless people try this time and time again – just look at any Magic-related forum. Most of them fail. Why? Because they usually create a powerful but a narrow plan to beat an opponent. A good deck however is always versatile, redundant, and flexible.
Nevertheless, the world has known a lot of great rogue decks. The most representative example I know is Conley Woods‘ Magical Christmas Land deck.
- 4 Acidic Slime
- 4 Goblin Ruinblaster
- 4 Lotus Cobra
- 4 Mold Shambler
- 2 Ob Nixilis, the Fallen
- 4 Rampaging Baloths
My first opinion of this deck was “What the hell is going on?”
Second: “Draw Cobra or die.”
But if you look at this deck carefully, it becomes clear that there are redundant copies of acceleration (Khalni Heart Expedition is worse than Lotus Cobra, but still gets the job done), two types of win conditions (LD and huge creatures), and even another Ultimatum in the sideboard! This deck somehow didn’t see a large amount of play (as many of other Conley’s brews, it was built for a specific tournament), but for me as a deckbuilder, it’s a clear example of a properly built rogue deck.
Game plan tech
More complicated tech is to find a way to change your game plan in a specific matchup. If your opponent is unprepared, he can easily lose even if he has everything to win. The best example of this is a transformational sideboard, often used by combo decks to ensure that they can win through hate.
The most recent examples are Pyromancer Ascension combo with Polymorph in the board from the 2010s-Nationals season and Swans-Assault Combo from GP Barcelona with three Countryside Crushers and twelve LD spells in the sideboard. In both cases, the idea is to force your opponent to pack specific hate and then attack him from a completely different angle. Among non-combo decks, there are more innocuous examples, such as the one demonstrated by Joel Calafell at Worlds ’09 (he played Baneslayer Angel in the sideboard of a Turbo Fog deck), as well as completely out-of-this-world-ish ones that made my brain melt when I first saw them (like Twincast / Uyo, Silent Prophet / Triskelion / Mephidross Vampire in Mono-Blue versus Tooth and Nail).
This type of tech is potentially the most powerful but the most complicated and unpredictable when the cat’s out of the bag, because your opponent can easily play around it, adapt to your new plan, and beat you anyway. At this point you take it to a new level – leave everything as it was, leaving the opponent with a bunch of dead cards again.
The last type of tech isn’t a card or a deck. It’s deception. Yes, actual lies, not just statistics. While you should never lie to the judge and never lie to your opponent, you still can mislead them to make wrong decisions and lose.
…Russian Nationals 2004, Onslaught-Mirrodin Standard. The Patriarch’s Bidding-based build was the most popular version of Goblins at the time. Imagine that your Goblin opponent plays Bloodstained Mire and casually fetches a Swamp somewhere in the middle of game 1. Sideboarding for game 2, what would you think? Obviously your opponent was just a miserable, color-screwed Bidding player, so you side in all your graveyard hate that you prepared to fight the powerful black sorcery. And you get rolled over. The thing is, there was nothing black in his deck, except for that single Swamp he deliberately searched for, so that you had more dead cards for game 2. Just so you know, that Goblin player was good enough to ride that Swamp all the way to the finals of those Nationals.
Research, inspiration, adaptation, and brainstorming – here are the main ways to discover a tech. Sometimes it will be a product of all four blended together, but it’s more interesting this way, right?
Scanning thousands of decklists on the internet is a sure way to gather new ideas. Not only current formats can help – even forgotten lists for older formats can be extremely valuable. This is tedious and sometimes as boring as watching a NASCAR race (I love races, but I’m European, and three-hundred oval laps are hard for me), but you’re almost destined to find something once in a while. But what to look for in a decklist?
If the deck in front of you is brand new, you first try to understand: why did this deck win? (Or make a Top 8, or Top 16, or whatever). Did it attack the metagame in a certain unexpected way? What does this deck do that other decks aren’t capable of? Can you improve on it – maybe a specific card or a different color combination will advance this deck’s strength even further? Then you examine the role of each card and the deck’s main interactions. Don’t miss anything – there are no fillers in Constructed, but some interactions are hard to recognize from first sight. Martin Juza’s deck from Worlds ’09 is a good example of this. He played G/W/B Junk, and many people were confused, because he opted to play a “strange and crappy” two-mana mythic over the solid and very powerful Qasali Pridemage. That crappy mythic was Lotus Cobra, completely off the radar at that time.
In turn, if the deck you see is known, you’re looking for something to catch your eye. This moment is usually the most disappointing, because more often than not, you see the same 75 that you’ve already seen yesterday and a day before yesterday. But what if not? Here we have two of the most exciting and rewarding moments: discovering a change and recognizing the reasoning behind it. And the excitement grows tenfold, when you see it – the “tech.”
What I want to tell you is this: yes, scanning MODO Daily Event lists can actually yield some potentially cool and fresh ideas to capitalize upon. Maybe this 3-1 list is the next big thing, and you can be the one to jump on the bandwagon among the first few (and might as well earn some packs for your effort).
Adaptation from experience (especially losses)
Tech discovered during the analysis of your losses can actually help a lot. The idea is, if you lost to a card, it probably deserves a closer look.
I witnessed a match of my friend’s U/B Control against some rogue Jund-colored Fauna Shaman – Mimic Vat – Necrotic Ooze deck. Everything was going fine, until the Fauna player imprinted Royal Assassin (a fine tutor target for Necrotic Ooze, I assume) onto his Mimic Vat. In a blink of an eye, the game changed from “in full control” to “almost unwinnable.” It wasn’t for the Vat itself (the card was well respected at the time already) but the little critter. We couldn’t profitably attack with
anymore – our Persecutors, Titans, and Creeping Tar Pits became virtually useless.
And what could we do to stop it? Doom Blade? No. Disfigure? No. Consume the Meek? Jace? No! Only Into The Roil could help. Unfortunately, it didn’t appear anytime soon despite our digging for it, and additional time, bought by our opponent’s Assassin helped him to eventually overwhelm us. Disappointing? Yes. Anything to learn? Yes, Royal Assassin can slaughter you, even without Mimic Vat involved. But wait! U/B Control could run Assassins, too! And that’s how the Royal Assassin tech from my last article was born.
Have you ever launched a
SCG Spoiler Generator
search, which returned all the cards, legal in Standard? If you did, you understand what I mean. Once in a blue moon, you’ll be struck by lightning and discover a powerful combo or a brilliant sideboard card. I could’ve advised you some virgin-kitten-sacrifice techniques to help you improve at this, but there isn’t much you can do about it. Just launch the Spoiler Generator when you feel like it.
Actually, not all inspirations are good for you. Imagine: recent Legacy GP Madrid Day 2. A player wins the die roll and starts with “Mountain, Goblin Lackey.” His opponent opens with turn 1 Ad Nauseam, anticipating instant win, but the first player responds with… Force of Will pitching Threads of Disloyalty!
Now stop for a second and try to put yourself in the shoes of the Ad Nauseam player.
The Goblin player’s answer to the priceless look on his opponent’s face (and the faces of all players nearby, attracted to the scene by twenty seconds of good ol’ loud and emotional swearing from the Ad Nauseam pilot) was: “I realized that my deck has only two problems: Ad Nauseam and Tarmogoyf, so I decided to play four Force of Wills and three Threads of Disloyalty to solve them.”
Goblins are well known for their shortsightedness, so for them it’s a fine way to solve their problems. The simplest way is often the best way, but keeping the edge between simplicity and crudity is also good.
Sometimes you need a solution to a specific problem card or matchup, which you constantly lose to. The best way to tackle this is to break the problem into small bits, analyze each bit separately, come up with dozens of ideas (of varying quality, that is) to handle them, and then choose the single one that achieves your goals best. How to apply it? See below!
Practical application of tech hunting
Now I’m stopping to be a Goblin Archaeologist and will become Steamflogger Boss: it’s time to assemble some contraptions. My today’s contraptions will be geared for beating Kor Firewalker with Goblins. I started playing Kuldotha Red while preparing for my previous article and found the deck fun and competitive, definitely worth continuing playing after the submission of the article. It doesn’t mean that I betrayed my opinion about Valakut, but sometimes, when I come home after long day, I just need some fun to relax. And Goblins is a perfect deck to provide fun.
Everything went fine until Kor Firewalker returned to the sideboards. He became a serious problem, and the main reason that my win ratio was dropping rapidly, so I was forced to find some solution – a tech.
At first, let’s look at the decklist because I have an update from the last time!
The main changes are full four Chimeric Masses (as incredible ways both to enable turn 1 Rebirth, and to provide us with some late game oomph) and a completely different sideboard. Mark of Mutiny is better than Tunnel Ignus because Mark can win the game against Primeval Titan, while Tunnel Ignus is just another victim of Pyroclasm.
So, why Kor Firewalker is such a huge problem? Why are we losing to it? Eventually, “because it says Gain Life and Pro Red, you moron!” isn’t a valid answer.
1) He gains life which is crucial to beat any red deck
2) It can’t be targeted by red spells and abilities (hence, is hard to kill).
3) He prevents red damage to itself (hence, he shrugs off even untargeted damage)
4) He can block your red creatures all day
5) You can’t block him with red creatures (Firewalker + Adventuring Gear is basically the end of your adventures)
Generalizing these observations, Kor Firewalker is a way to break your tempo and provide virtual card advantage to your opponent. Let’s start brainstorming!
How to nullify life gain? There are three ways – race (overload the life gain), forbid life gain altogether (Leyline of Punishment), or stop playing red cards (see, I warned, that ideas may vary in quality).
How to avoid targeting him with red spells or abilities? There are also two ways – target him with non-red spells and abilities (Captain Obvious will be proud with me today) – Doom Blade, Deathmark, etc. Ghostfire? Oh, they did not actually reprint it in Rise of the Eldrazi? Sad. Blazing Torch? We’ll talk about it later. Oh, and Perilous Myr! Alternatively, we can avoid targeting him at all (Ratchet Bomb).
How to minimize harm from his ability to block red creatures? Why, make him block non-red creatures of course! (Chimeric Mass, I’m looking at you.) Prevent Kor from blocking with some non-red way (Panic Spellbomb/Tumble Magnet), utilize evasion (Goblin Tunneler? Nah), or make your red creatures big enough not to die in a fight with him (virtually impossible).
How to stop his attacks? Block with non-red creatures (block, that is, not “chump”) – Chimeric Mass looks more and more attractive. You may also try to apply as much pressure as you can, so that Kor’s controller has to keep it on defense.
So, aside from utter ridiculousness, we can learn a lot from this small list of potential “tech.” But it’s time to take the grain from the chaff.
On Leyline and Unstable Footing – both cards are ways to allow trading Firewalker for your creatures. But “allow” does not mean “force.” Why these cards are bad solutions? I think they’re both very narrow (only for one matchup) and make your deck worse. Leyline is good in your starting hand, but awful as a late-game topdeck – you’re never going to hard-cast it. Footing is a better topdeck (because of kicker), but you can’t just cast it once and feel safe.
On Perilous Myr. He can deal with Kor, but first you must somehow send it to the grave. Kuldotha Rebirth helps, or, if everything goes terribly awry, you can Bolt your Myr. A bad-value play, but it looks interesting as a backup plan. Myr is also great; it’s in our deck for a completely different reason but happens to free-roll an answer to our scariest nemesis.
Blazing Torch? The typical reactions to this suggestion are “Hey! Just read the card! You can’t kill Firewalker with the Torch!” I did read the card, and I can kill Kor Firewalker with Blazing Torch, since there are ten or eleven artifact creatures in the deck: Chimeric Mass is not just Kuldotha fodder, after all. But this solution is far worse against Boros, because they’ll usually have a removal spell in response to equipping.
Ratchet Bomb? Playing Bomb in an aggressive deck is a poor idea, but take a closer look at our mana curve: there are no two-drops except for Perilous Myr (our best second-turn play is Goblin Bushwhacker who’s lucky to have a different mana cost), so Ratchet Bomb becomes a really attractive way to deal with any two-mana creatures (i.e. all of Boros and Mono-White except for Goblin Guide and Steppe Lynx). Objections? Yes, of course. The Bomb is too slow to deal with a turn 2 Firewalker and still allows him to provide tempo advantage during turns 3 and 4. But Ratchet Bomb is so good against the rest of their deck, so having it can be a good idea anyway.
On playing non-red
spells. Well, why not? The black splash was widely used during the previous season; why not do it again? The main objection to a splash has always been a stability issue and the “too many tap lands” problem. Our deck became faster and first-turn plays became far more critical, so we can’t pack four Lavaclaw Reaches anymore. But we can pack four Blackcleave Cliffs! With those lands, any two-landers in our starting hand (except for two Dragonskull Summits and five spells) could provide us with a turn 1 play!
What removal spells are available in black? Deathmark, Doom Blade, Vendetta, Smother, and Disfigure. Each of these spells can kill Firewalker, so we should choose one of them for its versatility. Which matches could require powerful black removal? Valakut and U/x Control. From this side of a problem, Disfigure and Smother are the worst of the two, because they’re not able to deal with a Primeval Titan or Baneslayer Angel, not speaking about Abyssal Persecutor. Vendetta’s drawback is too huge in the world of 6/6 creatures.
What? Doom Blade can? For four mana with one of your black sources tapped? I just don’t believe it. If you’re able to pull it off, you probably should win anyway (or lose anyway – what are you doing here with five lands in play against a Titan?). Doom Blade isn’t better against Valakut. Yes, you can kill Avenger of Zendikar in response to a trigger, but it’s really hard to win even if they just get seven 0/1 blockers and not 4/5 attackers. Avenger is a huge problem, but it needs another solution (maybe Chain Reaction or Ratchet Bomb?), so let’s leave him for another time.
The most significant difference between Deathmark and Doom Blade lie in Boros and WW Quest matchups. Doom Blade is able to kill a creature equipped with Argentum Armor before your opponent starts Vindicating your permanents. And Doom Blade can kill Plated Geopede and even Molten-Tail Masticore. I think at this point my choice became obvious: versatility over cheaper cost.
“You just wrote 300 words to tell us that Doom Blade is the best removal in Standard? Are you kidding me? Everyone knows this!” you say. But sometimes it’s just useful to know exactly
the spell is the best. And it’s pleasing to know that you’ve done your homework and considered all the available options.
Now let’s rework our deck. We can’t play Teetering Peaks anymore because we really want to play something turn 1, but black has no further effect on our maindeck, so:
Maindeck stays the same, and the sideboard is:
Doom Blade means that we can choose not to play Shatter (as an answer to Argentum Armor), which gives us two additional slots. I opted to fill it with Ratchet Bombs because of its effectiveness against any aggro decks. I’ll side them in addition to Doom Blades to ensure my advantage in the late game and ability to deal with the second Kor Firewalker – they all need to receive some care.
Good-bye, take care of your domesticated Firewalkers, treat them fairly, hope they’re not dangerous anymore! Feel free to ask me about anything you want.
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