Sullivan Library – And the Blue Envelope Goes to Loam!

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Friday, March 14th – This week, Adrian Sullivan shows us the inner workings of the winning deck from last week’s largest PTQ. Loam has been on the back-burner since Counterbalance’s ascendance – now that it’s enemy number one has largely disappeared from the metagame, is it time for Loam to make a comeback? This strange version of Loam has a unique take on how to attack the metagame, and Adrian walks us through what makes it tick!

When it comes right down to it, most of us are picking our deck for any given tournament because we want to win it. This is not the case for everyone. Some people select their deck because they don’t expect to win, and they want to have as much success as possible. Others seemingly hobble themselves from the get-go, choosing decks that they believe can’t win. On this front, I’m reminded of several people, often semi-pros or former pros, who would select decks that seemed to be so underwhelming that they could tell people afterwards, “Of course I didn’t do well… Didn’t you see the deck I played?” or, conversely, should they have a surprisingly good finish, “Yeah, I did great, and did you see the junk that I used to get there?” Their trap/ploy is a success, in the sense that they mean it to be — their failures are not their own (it was the deck), and their successes undoubtedly are (for their skill won out, in spite of their deck).

For most of us, though, we choose a deck that we think can win.

This is often not enough. As a result of an incredible number of factors, even if we are correct, and we have the best deck in the room, it doesn’t mean that we are going to win. It just means that we might have the best EV. When I qualified with Miser Rock two weeks ago, I think that the best deck in the room was probably Rashad Miller’s Spirit Stompy. As of this week, the deck has managed, according to my research, a combined 24-2-6 record in the swiss of three tournaments, again losing in the semifinals to the deck that would take the whole event. In this case, Milwaukee’s Eric X Rufener, piloting a Life from the Loam/Devastating Dreams deck.

Life from the Loam. For weeks, now, I’ve been thinking that this might be the deck to play. I keep thinking about conversations I’ve had with fellow Madisonian, Gaudenis Vidugiris, about the strengths of the deck in a Counterbalance-light metagame. He broke down his objection to the deck to me this way:

“Either people have a lot of graveyard hate or they don’t. If they don’t, you’d rather be playing Dredge. If they do, sure, it is less annoying to you than it is to a Dredge deck, but it is still a problem, and you have to contend with all kinds of other factors, like Counterbalance or a really fast beatdown draw, or a combo deck just winning. This format just feels too powerful for Loam.”

A lot of what he said was very convincing to me, but still, another part of it left me wondering. Life from the Loam still holds the trait that [email protected] Degraff attributed to it last year: “In any rational format, Life from the Loam will, over time, become the best card drawing mechanism.”

Is Extended rational?

When [email protected] was talking about rational formats, he was comparing them to his own prized format of Vintage, which can be described as far from rational (unless you think Ancestral Recall, Black Lotus, Yawgmoth’s Will, and the like are “rational”). For [email protected], older formats that included Necropotence were not rational, even if the Necro decks could be beaten.

Extended certainly seems largely rational to me. It strikes me that there are three major categories of successful decks. There are the decks that attempt to do something explosive that will generally win them the game. There are the decks that attempt to make an opponent’s spells unplayable. Finally, there are the decks which put out a fast clock, and then try to hold on until the opponent dies. Depending on the matchup, sometimes a deck can do multiple of these categories. Goblins, for example, either wins with a clock, or with the explosiveness that comes from Ringleaders/Warchiefs and the like. My own Miser Rock deck uses Flow to try to make opponent’s spells unplayable, but also can just try to be a deck with a clock, holding on. Next Level Blue can make spells unplayable with a lock, or it can just drop Goyfs (or steal them) and hold on with some counterspells.

Generally speaking, the winning decks, I think, will be exploiting one of these categories. Loam has the capacity to do this, and moreover, can be very difficult to successfully disrupt. Week after week, I kept thinking to myself, “This is the week to finally win the tournament with Loam.” I never did play it, though. Partly, it was because I was scared that I’d finally run into the back-to-back Counterbalance decks. But also, I was very confident in my own deck, and furthermore, I’m very much of the opinion that this is a format that rewards you for knowing how to play your own deck. Everyone is a giant, and so having the smallest of edges can make a huge deal.

Last week, Boston saw this list get second place:

As all of these decks do, a bunch of the sideboard is eaten up by Wish targets. Depending on how you want to count it, Simon’s list runs between 6 to 8 bona fide sideboard cards. While I’m uncertain of the one Eternal Witness, I do like Simon’s decision to play Terminate. Terminate suffers against Vedalken Shackles, but is otherwise perhaps the most potent creature killing card available right now. The sideboard seems more prepared for artifacts and enchantments (Grudges and Grips), and only slightly touching into the ways to handle the graveyard, but the main deck is abundantly ready to attack the hand. Just because of the nature of PTQs, we can’t really know whether Simon straight up lost to Tim Landale nearly canonical Blue/Green Tron, or if he conceded. Either way, though, Simon Weschler did not take home the blue envelope.

Contrast that deck, with Eric X Rufener’s highly unusual Loam deck, which did take it all:

There are three things that stand out about this strange list. One, there are no discard spells. In fact, there isn’t even access to them. Two, there are a lot of fat men in here. Not only is there the ubiquitous Goyf, there is also a full set of Terravore, and then Baloth and Crushers to boot. Three, this deck is far more concerned with its opponent’s ability to cast spells. Let’s piece together what all of this means, because the decisions that this deck has made all tie together.

No discard spells means that an opponent is going to be largely unmolested in their casting of spells, and in their hindering of this deck. For the combo deck, this means that when they’re ready to go, they can just go for it. The control deck can try to just push out answer after answer. The beatdown deck can just pump or burn to try to get the advantage on the board.

For some of these problems, the deck’s answer is to make spells uncastable. In the main, Blood Moon can simply blank out a ton of an opponent’s spells by making them uncastable, and another in the board can help out this plan. Access to the full set of Devastating Dreams (three main, and one to Wish for) further shuts down an opponent.

The large numbers of fat men are a means to both end games quickly, while disruption happens, but also a means to overwhelm a board in the face of a beatdown opponent. Should they get the advantage off of killing one fat creature, simply provide them another to deal with. With full access to Devastating Dreams, several of the creatures (the Vore and Crusher) are likely to not only survive, but thrive, forcing even potentially surviving Tarmogoyfs into a defensive posture.

If the deck did choose to include discard, it would have to cut into these features, reducing either the ability to disrupt mana, or the large numbers of big creatures. While that path might be a completely reasonable one, it would require a huge reworking of the deck. It is worth noting that the deck has so turned its back on discard, it doesn’t even include any Black mana. Other than the single Sacred Foundry, the only access to non-Red/Green that the deck has is from Birds of Paradise.

Since this is a deck that not only doesn’t particularly care about creatures in play, but also doesn’t seem to care about cards in hand, it really needs to have a solid plan in mind. Overwhelm the board and cripple the opponent seems to be that plan.

In the face of more controlling opponents, it can hope that it manages to stick something. Shackles is probably one of the most difficult cards for the deck to deal with in the first game. Largely, its plan against Shackles is probably going to have to be to survive while running Loam, and get off a sufficiently powerful Dreams that the opponent is crippled, or manage to resolve a Shatterstorm or Hull Breach somehow. That seems like a hard fight.

After board, however, it has access to a huge variety of options. Blood Moon is still probably an excellent means of holding down access to Blue. A shocking three Boil sit in the board, just begging for a Blue mage to tap out. And this is a deck that can probably find that moment. A resolved Boil is almost certain to end the game completely for the Blue player, if not immediately, then in the destruction of that deck’s ability to actually play either side of its control game — devastating its countermagic, and making Shackles close to useless for some time. Ancient Grudge is also nice, further keeping them off of shackles, but might be entirely unnecessary.

Blood Moon may not destroy the mana like a Boil does to Blue, but it does destroy the utility of a lot of decks’ spells. In the semi-finals, Eric used Blood Moon to shut down Rusty Kubis’s entire manabase, much like I did with a Living Wish for Magus of the Moon. For some decks, a single Blood Moon can all but render them powerless. Check out the Tron deck piloted by Tim Lindale that Simon, from before, lost to:

4 Signet, 3 Chrome Mox, and 2 Island. This is pretty typical. Eric told me that he beat this very deck simply by dropping down a Blood Moon and getting it to stick. He dropped a second one for insurance, and his opponent just drooped down, unable to bounce out of it with a simple Repeal.

Eric deck has its weaknesses, obviously. A quick examination of the board reveals only a single Wishable Morningtide and 2 Tormod’s Crypt as his means to fight Dredge. Against other decks that have a combo-like behavior, he probably needs to hit them down with a one-two punch. First, drop the Blood Moon to slow their explosive mana potential. Second, Devastating Dreams away all of their land. Meanwhile, he’d have to kill them before they can put together the hand that can win despite the disruptions he might have handed them. While doable, this is certainly at least semi-problematic, if not simply problematic.

If one were insistent in trying to include a discard spell of some kind, it might be difficult. The simplest way to go about it might be to include a Blood Crypt in place of one of the Mountains, and then run a single Nightmare Void in the board. Overall, though, I think that this approach might be stretching the deck too much.

What I like about this deck, is it seems to have an incredible ability to fight decks that play for a mid-game. So much of the format seems to be about mid-game right now. Life from the Loam seems incredibly devastating in those matchups. Beatdown also seems well covered, with such an abundance of fat creatures that I imagine it has to be quite devastating. Simply put, the confluence of Loam’s benefits, with the power of strong creatures, and mana disruption just seems very primed for the format. While probably weak(er) against combo and definitely Dredge, it just has so many weapons going for it, that I know I’d be hesitant to be its opponent unless I were armed with several Counterbalance.

While I’d like to say that I would unequivocally advocate this deck, though, I do know that I still am advocating what I’ve always advocated: any good deck that you know through and through. Ultimately, the ideal situation would be to know three or four decks very well, and the morning of an event, select the best deck for the metagame that you can discern that day. Unfortunately, this requires not only the preparation with those decks, but also actually having them all built. This isn’t tenable for most people, especially if they are helping others build decks.

So, my revised advise would be this: get to know the format as well as possible. Know what any opponent could do. Play a deck that is good on its face, but that you know intimately. If you can’t rattle off the decklist from memory, get to know it so well that you could. Just so long as your deck actually is a good one, and it isn’t a terrible call for the current metagame, simply knowing your deck and how to win with it in a variety of situations is going to be the best call. At this point, one just goes to as many PTQs as possible, and hope one sticks. Part of the reason to know about other decks, like Eric Rufener’s Loam, or Rashad Miller’s Spirit Stompy, is that those decks have been vetted, and their power proven in the field of battle. Having access to it, you can make your own decisions about whether it is the right call for any given tournament. If you come to the tournament knowing the deck well, it’s relative newness can place you against opponents who are unprepared for what the deck can do, even if they know the list from the same article you do.

I’ll be heading out to Detroit this weekend. Best of luck to all of you still working on that Q.

See you in Hollywood,

Adrian Sullivan