Between Standard, Modern, Legacy, and Draft, in that order, I’ve got plenty on my plate right now. Pro Tour Hawaii (Standard/Draft) is next weekend, followed by Grand Prix Lincoln (Modern), and then Grand Prix Baltimore (Standard). On top of that, I’ve been brewing Legacy for the love of the format.
I’m a little scatterbrained at the moment, which means this article will be too.
First up, Standard!
The StarCityGames.com Open Series returned to Richmond last weekend. It was supposed to be the grand showcase for Dark Ascension strategies, which would set the stage for Pro Tour Honolulu. However, not many Dark Ascension cards actually showed up, so what gives?
Star City was well-stocked with all the new hits from Dark Ascension, from Sorin to Strangleroot Geist, so that wasn’t the issue. The W/B Token deck may as well have come with a decklist printed on those tips and tricks cards that come in booster packs, so why didn’t it perform? I don’t have the exact numbers, but from what I heard, W/B wasn’t a very popular archetype.
It seems like players were either too concerned with the hate they perceived to be out there, or they simply didn’t want to drop $240 on a playset of Sorins. Liliana was huge for a couple weeks and then plummeted in price when it didn’t live up to its hype as the new Jace, the Mind Sculptor. Were players simply gun-shy about the same thing happening to Sorin?
Honestly, I have no idea. Perhaps players in the forums could chime in.
The decks that actually performed were Humans, Delver, and Tempered Steel. It’s a good time to be an aggro-control deck in Standard right now. Delver and Tempered Steel gained effectively nothing from Dark Ascension, unless you want to completely redesign how those decks are built. Humans got some upgrades but is mostly the same thing.
It’s entirely possible that the sheer amount of token hate meant that decks like Humans or Tempered Steel, who have mostly varied casting costs, ignored Ratchet Bombs. Even if a deck like tokens is best in a vacuum, it’s little things like not getting crushed by splash damage that allow crazy decks to succeed.
The results from Richmond have completely skewed my testing for Pro Tour Dark Ascension. I used to think that Delver might not be so great anymore. Beating a Lingering Souls, especially backed up by pump from Intangible Virtue or Swords, was proving difficult. However, if tokens doesn’t show up or get hated out, Delver suddenly looks good again.
Five-Color Control was the other deck I was considering, but for that to work, I needed to guess the metagame correctly. I wouldn’t be able to fight my enemy if I had no idea what it looked like. If I guessed wrong and was off by even five cards, it was unlikely that I’d do very well.
Curse you, Richmond, for screwing things up, and curse you, Standard, for being “too diverse!”
Moving onto a format I actually have my head wrapped around—Modern.
I skipped going to Richmond for a weekend at home but also for the double Magic Online Modern PTQs on Friday and Sunday. I didn’t so much as top eight either tournament but felt like I could have won either with better technology or play skill.
The decks I played? U/W Caw-Blade and U/R Tron.
My list was fairly standard. The only things I had going for me were the Sword of War and Peace maindeck, as I knew the mirror would be relatively popular, the lack of mopey Kitchen Finks, and a reasonable sideboard.
Dispel and Disenchant were the highlights of my sideboard, but I knew what I needed to fight and picked my battles well. With the ever-changing metagame and the fact that it’s different wherever you are is reason enough to build your own sideboard.
I also challenged Remand vs. Mana Leak. I engaged a number of excellent magicians in what I thought would be a heated debate, but it appeared one sided. Nearly everyone snap yes-ed Remand, which was surprising.
Caw-Blade isn’t quite a tempo deck, but it’s not a pure control deck either. Caw-Blade wants to use its mana efficiently and control the board. To that end, Mana Leak seemed better. I figured that Caw-Blade would rather trade spells than have a random card in their hand compared to their opponent’s spell.
On top of that, Remand isn’t particularly good against the cheap spells that see play in Modern. This isn’t the format where people are jamming Doran, Knight of the Reliquary, or some gigantic four-drop animal. The most common scenario is that Remand trades even mana-wise. If your opponent is on some sort of Delver deck, you will try to cycle Remand the first chance you get on any ole spell.
Serum Visions was “just” alright. Not playing with any sort of card selection felt akin to playing without Preordain, and Caw-Blade definitely needed Preordain. My deck flowed well, but the impact from Serum Visions probably wouldn’t be noticeable until I cut them. I don’t plan on doing that quite yet.
The next step is fighting the mirror by adopting Vedalken Shackles. With Steelshaper’s Gift and Mortarpod, it gets pretty tough to lose to any sort of creature deck. Fighting through those two cards in the mirror is a nightmare.
A couple other things I’ve considered are either splashing for my favorite blue/red card (see below!) or mashing the Mono-Blue Faeries decklist together with Caw-Blade.
Squadron Hawk is either great or terrible, depending on your matchup. I was siding them out a lot of the time, but man are they good against Blightning. If Modern stays where it is for the near future, I could see cutting Hawks for Spellstutter Sprites. Once you’re on that path, Mistbind Clique starts looking like a great way to force through a Sword hit.
One thing I figured out between Friday and Sunday was that Electrolyze was an absolute house in Modern. A lot of decks have Vendilion Clique, and some have Squadron Hawk or Noble Hierarch. Not only does Electrolyze buy you a ton of time against the decks playing those cards, but it does it without costing you a card!
You see, with Tron, every resource is valuable. You can’t spend a Pyroclasm for every two Squadron Hawks or one Vendilion Clique they put into play. That just isn’t feasible. Eventually you’ll run out of gas. Electrolyze allows you to keep churning through your deck, searching for that missing Tron piece, all the while giving you breathing room. It’s a perfect fit.
The thing I liked most about this Tron deck is its ability to win every long game while maintaining the capability to blow your opponent out as early as turn three. Through the Breach is a hell of a card!
In the beginning stages, I lost occasionally to Affinity, Splinter Twin, and some weenie swarm decks. Average run-of-the-mill creatures most likely won’t beat you, but I took losses to stuff like G/W Trap and 4c Geist Aggro. Both of those are super fast and have disruptive elements, although in G/W’s case, that’s just by putting multiple permanents into play.
Since then, I haven’t gone easy on those decks. I’m packing Hurkyl’s Recall and Shatterstorm instead of the nearly impossible to flashback Ancient Grudge. I’ve got more Combusts and more sweepers in the maindeck. Those “bad” matchups don’t seem quite as bad anymore.
Making Gifts piles can be difficult, but it should come with practice. If you need a specific card, Snapcaster Mage plus Noxious Revival can find it for you. If you have Through the Breach, you can find three Eldrazi. If the game is getting grind-y, don’t feel bad about Gifts-ing for more Gifts.
Clearly the deck isn’t perfect, but that’s just the nature of the format. Everything is so fast and so resilient that it’s going to be difficult to dominate Modern. With a little luck, a solid decklist, and tight play, Tron could very easily be one of the best decks though.
As I said earlier, I didn’t make it out to Richmond. If I did, this is what I would have played in Legacy:
I’ll warn you right now that I absolutely hate Stifle. I’ve tried it before and hell, even won an Open with it in my deck before. Regardless, it doesn’t seem very good in theory, and it certainly hasn’t been in practice.
Players who are new to Legacy might walk into Stifle, but for the most part, people play around it. That means that you just used a bunch of your mana very poorly hoping to Stone Rain them. I’d prefer to play the game on my own terms and be able to cast what I want, when I want it.
In my opinion, Spell Pierce is much better. Frequently, it’s as good as Red Elemental Blast, yet sees way too much sideboard play rather than maindeck play. In this sort of deck, I would rather focus on stopping them from stopping me rather than playing a situational Stone Rain. Yes, I realize that Stifle has other applications, but let’s be real here—you are using it to Stone Rain them 90% of the time, and that just isn’t good enough.
I’d gladly play mana denial in this strategy if it were better than Stifle. I’m not asking for more Wastelands or anything; I just don’t want cards that are dead half the time. Your strategy should be about applying pressure and disrupting them, not trying to disrupt them with Stifle and then apply pressure.
My sideboard might seem a little strange. Instead of boarding into a half-assed Counterbalance strategy like the Hatfields and Calosso, I’d rather keep my deck coherent. Clearly the Counterbalance strategy is working for them, but much like Stifle, I don’t think it meshes with your overall game plan.
For the mirror, I want to focus on not letting Counterbalance resolve. Between Pierce, Daze, Snare, and Pyroblast, that should be easy enough. Past that, the most important card is Tarmogoyf, which is why I wanted Dismember in the maindeck. Big green creatures can be a big problem.
Once you have that on lockdown, it’s all about the Gooses. To answer those, and to some extent Counterbalance, I included a pair of Engineered Explosives. This might not be the best card for the matchup, but it’s what I was going to try.
No, I don’t care if you can Stifle it. I’ll stop you.
To fully commit to the Goose, I want Thought Scours. Yes, RUG will get threshold eventually, but I don’t want it eventually—I want it ASAP. A 1/1 shroud creature isn’t beating anybody, but the 3/3 is actually quite good, so I’d like to get there.
As for drafting, I haven’t got a clue. I was able to get in a few practice drafts where, admittedly, I learned a lot, but it’s not enough. For Pro Tour Dark Ascension, I’m not going to prepare anymore for Limited. My plan right now is to force Self-Mill. It’s the deck I’ve drafted the most and understand the best, and I want everyone to know it.
If you read my articles, follow me on Twitter, or if you’ve just heard through the grapevine that I’m forcing Self-Mill, stay outta my way! You wouldn’t want to train-wreck us both now, would you?
Wish me luck in Hawaii!