I was shocked to discover how quickly the Eventide Prerelease was going to be upon us. As you read this, it will be two weeks away. Shortly thereafter, Eventide will be legal tender for your PTQs. For most of you, that means that there are, at most, two chances left (three if you are lucky) to PTQ before the world is a wholly different place. The official release of Eventide is on the July 25th. PTQs continue until August 31st. Essentially, there are going to be less than thirty days until things change.
What’s the plucky PTQer to do? At this point, the answer, I would say, is to pick through all of the data you can, and find some kind of decklist edge from all of the dreck.
Edges are incredibly difficult to find in this format. Perhaps not since Odyssey Block have we sees a format that is dominated by so few decks. Clearly, there is room to maneuver in there, but essentially, it is a format of Vivid/Pool decks, Kithkin decks, and Faerie decks. What can you do to get ahead?
Here are some particular innovations that I think are worth to discuss:
Pat Price, 4th Place, Tallahassee, Elementals (a la Levy)
It appears to me that Pat took Raphael Levy list from GP Birmingham and decided to turn his Flamekin Harbinger’s into Smokebraider tutors. From there, things went into an entirely different direction, with Fulminator Mage/Reveillark/Makeshift Mannequin being a way to punish people for their non-basics, Crib Swap as a potential tutor target, and a massive upturn in the land count, becoming a 27-land deck (replacement for the Smokebraiders, no doubt).
- 3 Cloudthresher
- 4 Flamekin Harbinger
- 1 Horde of Notions
- 4 Mulldrifter
- 3 Shriekmaw
- 1 Smokebraider
- 1 Wispmare
- 4 Reveillark
- 4 Fulminator Mage
Perhaps more interesting are his elemental targets from the board. First, is the surprising, perhaps powerful choice of a single Eyes of the Wisent.
Eyes of the Wisent is perhaps one of the few cards I’ve seen included that actually makes me support the idea of Harbinger in a deck like this. I just usually don’t find that there is a really strong justification for the tutoring power of the card. Usually, I just feel that you should simply run more of the tutor targets, because there are so few two-drops that you actually could give a crap about getting.
On the other hand dropping a second turn Wisent seems like a crazy-powerful play against Faeries (or any heavy-counter deck). To me, this innovation seems like a potential brilliant one. Barring getting rid of a Cryptic Command main phase (a dubious proposition), Eyes of the Wisent will create a small supply of consistently potent monsters against such an opponent. Nicely included, Pat.
Festercreep is a passable tutor target as well. While not as exciting as Eyes of the Wisent, I can see it being a great way to tutor up an answer to a growing swarm. Also, while I don’t believe that the card is intended for Kithkin, I can also see it being a way to have a tutor target to get rid of Forge-Tenders previous to a Firespout, just so long as you can keep lords off of the table. Still, that’s probably not the intended use.
Melissa DeTora, Winner, Boston, Faeries
DeTora, along with boyfriend Bryan Lynch, can be counted on, I think, to put it a lot of work into any format that they get their fingers on. Her (their?) Faerie list is a testament to a very single, simple innovation that strikes me as particularly good.
While clearly Block Faeries has been hurt by the loss of Ancestral Visions, she has gone with main-deck Peppersmoke as a means to reclaim some of the potential card advantage loss, and shrink the deck down. The simple question that a lot of people were grappling with was whether to include Ponder or to include Thoughtseize in their builds of the deck. Proponents of each camp stood to one side or another, but Melissa clearly shows that a third school is worth reckoning with.
If we think about what this means, it uses the same goal that both Ponder and Thoughtseize are trying to achieve for the mirror: they want to have a better shot at having Bitterblossom advantage. Ponder hopes to achieve this by finding more, and by providing more powerful draws as games play out. Thoughtseize hopes to gain the edge by stripping them away from an opponent.
Peppersmoke, conversely, can gain the advantage when Bitterblossoms are dueling. By adding this onto Nameless Inversion, it can become all the harder to get a Scion of Oona to stick. In addition, since the card will often be a cantrip, it can be an incredibly cheap spell in a midgame that will help find a Bitterblossom simply via the extra card draw that makes Peppersmoke so appealing in the first place.
Michael Pinnegar, Winner, Columbus, Green/Black Midrange
And here we have the massive departure from script…
- 4 Masked Admirers
- 4 Mulldrifter
- 2 Nath of the Gilt-Leaf
- 3 Shriekmaw
- 4 Wren's Run Vanquisher
- 4 Chameleon Colossus
- 4 Scarblade Elite
- 4 Kitchen Finks
Here is a deck that completely turns the format on its nose. If we look at its curve (adjusted so that we imagine half of the evoke cards being evoked), we can see the following:
It’s a slightly uneven curve, perhaps made all the more acceptable by the Vivid lands which can cause occasional mana hiccupping. There are some particularly innovative things about the list that I just love. Scarblade Elite is one of those.
While there are only four actual Assassins to power up the Elite, there are 8 Shapeshifters in the deck to help feed it. As a result, the Scarblade Elite can end up being an actual Assassin. This feeds the early part of its curve very nicely.
As a mid-game begins building up, you can just continually spend mana on your Masked Admirers to fuel yourself versus an opponent who might run out of gas, and you can further push your Mulldrifters into this same space. With this much card advantage, I find myself somewhat wondering about a card like Profane Command, which strikes me as potentially quite awkward against Faeries. Clearly it has use breaking through a longer game against Kithkin, but perhaps something else could accomplish that same purpose and be less unexciting versus Faeries.
At first, a part of the sideboard raised questions for me… Mind Shatter is clearly powerful and has a lot of applications. I can totally accept the inclusion of Guttural Response. Incremental Blight seems like a great way to deal with Kithkin. But Raking Canopy had me thinking that maybe something was wrong.
After reflection, though, Raking Canopy becomes a lot more reasonable. The real problem with Raking Canopy in other decks is that people seemed to be counting on it to solve all of their problems versus Faeries, while the Faerie deck in reality would either just wait until the right moment to bounce it or simply push through with a Scion-empowered Clique.
This deck, however, is able to use its Scarblade Elite to hold down that second possibility. And on the other front, it is able to put on enough pressure via its aggressive cards that it can be entirely possible that the counter-poor Block Faerie decks might not have the luxury of using a Cryptic Command at some particular turn to try to win the game. Instead, they are probably turning on their heels.
Michael’s deck is a particularly exciting example of innovation that is worthy of note. For those of you not already aware of this, the Columbus area is probably one of the most competitive areas for Constructed Magic in North America. While Iowa might currently be the home of several of its most prominent members, the community in Iowa is not nearly so large as it is in the Columbus PTQ scene. Drawing west to Chicago, north to Detroit, dipping into the upper South and the adventuresome hard-core East Coasters, it is common to see absolutely huge turnouts in Columbus, and anyone emerging victorious in such a scene is worthy of taking note. Doing so with a completely original deck only makes it all the more noteworthy.
Edward Dunning, 6th Place, Boston, Green/Black Control
I’m not going to lie. This is a somewhat strange deck.
- 3 Shriekmaw
- 2 Chameleon Colossus
- 4 Devoted Druid
- 4 Dusk Urchins
- 4 Kitchen Finks
- 4 Murderous Redcap
- 2 Oona, Queen of the Fae
This deck, like many that have appeared recently, is sporting Devoted Druid as both a way to accelerate to a four-drop, but also as a way to quickly push out a fiver as well. With four Murderous Redcaps and two Chameleon Colossus being potential turn 3 drops, it can turn around a game versus Faeries or Kithkin that is threatening to look bad, and make it a good one. At the five, there is the more common drop of Shriekmaw, but added to it is Primal Command (or a Profane for a few).
But the “crazy” card is Incremental Blight in the main. In game 1, being able to use this to turn 3 clear the table of Kithkin seems incredibly powerful. But, even more interestingly, it can be used in conjunction with a Dusk Urchin to be truly cruel.
Picture the following scenario: You have out a Dusk Urchin, and you’re attacking for the first time, but your opponent isn’t interested in block with their sole creature, a Wizened Cenn. On the next turn, they follow up with another creature, and then comes the blowout. You cast Incremental Blight, for —3/-3 to your Dusk Urchin, -2/-2 to the Cenn, and -1/-1 to the final creature. Your Dusk Urchin dies, and you draw four cards. Honestly, that is pretty insane.
One final card that I really like seeing included in Edward’s list is the two Leechridden Swamp. While there aren’t an incredible amount of creatures in the deck, there are probably enough to support the Leechridden Swamps, and there aren’t so many Vivid Lands that you feel like you’d be getting in the way of your mana development. A nice, small, inclusion…
There is still a lot of room for little dabs of innovation like DeTora showed in Faeries, or far more broad bits of innovation that are shown by Edward Dunning and Michael Pinnegar. The thing about formats like this is that while they are dominated by powerful central figures, this also leaves them ripe to exploitation.
Take Kithkin. The Jelger Wiegersma build of the Kithkin runs a lot of great cards in it. The thirty-four spells in the deck all can do a lot to help you be a potent force in almost any matchup. But at the same time, it isn’t the only way that you have to build Kithkin. Lee Shin Tian’s build is wildly different, and even it isn’t the only way to make the deck work. If you go through and look at the various White Weenie style cards that would be available to the archetype, the list is incredibly long. Those minor variances that you put into your Kithkin deck might make a particular matchup result so radically different that you could completely invalidate their playtesting. That is the kind of thing that makes deckbuilding exciting.
We’ll be seeing a major upheaval in the world of Block once the new set comes out. But even until then, if you’re working on something radically different than what exists out there, just keep plugging away, but test well and honestly. My own testing, for example, has shown me that I simply can’t play the Red deck I’ve been working on for PTQs. It has great matchups versus Kithkin, but unsatisfactory matchups against Faeries, and far too wildly oscillating numbers against Vivid/Pool decks to feel comfortable playing it. As long as you are honest about your playtesting, you can avoid taking something that looks “innovative” and is actually just “interesting.”
If you’re like me, you’ll remember that “interesting” is just a code word that mom used, to say “it sucks” without hurting your feelings.
Good luck everyone!