The Ashes of Mirrodin Block

Now that Mirrodin Block Constructed is in full swing, with the top tiers filled with established decks (though there are still a few new spins cropping up here and there), I thought it would be interesting to think back on what didn’t seem to work in Mirrodin block as far as Constructed goes. As diverse as the metagame is with the banning of Skullclamp, there are still some major disappointments for the insatiable deckbuilders out there in both Block Constructed and Type Two.

I was hoping to write a tournament report about how I made Top 8 at a Grand Prix Trial I played in recently, likely to be the only Block Constructed tournament I’ll be able to attend this season. Ah, but I had high hopes. There was going to be drama, a love-triangle, a car-chase, some killer special effects, and maybe even some partial nudity (don’t worry, not mine), but unfortunately my editor Ted”Flamebreak” Knutson crushed that dream like the heartless bastard that he is. No, he didn’t spike the idea of the tournament report itself; rather, Ted made a rare pilgrimage down from his Ivory Tower of Editordom to actually sling some Magical cards at the same Magic tournament. After barning from me nearly all the good cards he needed for his deck, we faced off in the final round of Swiss. [Guilty as charged. – Knut] He then proceeded to destroy me with the most reeediculous display of Seething Songs and burn spells ever to luck from a sack, thus knocking me out of Top 8 contention and securing his ninth place finish. No, I’m not bitter at all.

At any rate, since no one likely wants to read another 2-3 tournament report from me (aside from maybe Osyp Lebedowitz), I figured I’d do something different.

Now that Mirrodin Block Constructed is in full swing, with the top tiers filled with established decks (though there are still a few new spins cropping up here and there), I thought it would be interesting to think back on what didn’t seem to work in Mirrodin block as far as Constructed goes. As diverse as the metagame is with the banning of Skullclamp, there are still some major disappointments for the insatiable deckbuilders out there.

Trainwreck #1: Equipped White Weenie

Sonny, I’ve been playing Magic long enough that I remember when White Weenie decks were a force to be reckoned with (queue creaking bones as I sit down upon the stoop). As a fan of large Green men back then, I remember how frustrating it was be beaten down by puny White beaters while I tried to survive long enough to get my Erhnam down, only to have it Swords to Plowsharesed from the game and then have all lands and hope tossed into the grumper by an Armageddon. But then White’s weenies started getting trumped in quality by Green, the”creature color”, so what was the point in playing small White men?

Eventually, R&D got around towards working on the”color pie” and rethinking what each color should do best. It was determined that Green’s large creatures should be of the highest quality, while White should again become the dominant weenie army. We started seeing some decent White weenies crop up in Judgment and Onslaught block, but it wasn’t enough to make a real splash in the metagame. Mirrodin promised something different though: White weenies would make the best use of the cool new equipment cards that were coming out! In White and Artifacts: A different kind of relationship, Randy Buehler said:

“It’ll be interesting to see how much better Onslaught’s Soldier tribe gets once it has access to [Auriok Steelshaper] (and whatever other Soldiers we happen to print over the course of the Mirrodin block that also get better when they’re equipped).”

Equipment held out the promise of giving weenies, so good in the early game, a way to compete in the mid- to late-game! The problem was that the best weenies in the block ended up not being white, they ended up being artifacts (Arcbound Ravager, Arcbound Worker, Frogmite, Myr Enforcer), black (Disciple of the Vault) or red (Atog).

In The Past and Future of White: Old favorites and new directions, Buehler said:

“White is supposed to be the game’s best weenie color and we put White Knight into Legions because we know we have to back up that claim by making sure white gets weenies that are good enough. We thought the weenies that white got in the Odyssey block were a bit better than they turned out to be. Fair enough, we started pushing a bit more with Onslaught. Whipcorder has made a bit of an impression, as have True Believer and Weathered Wayfarer. If those guys plus White Knight aren’t enough then we will definitely take a long hard look at our costing curves and make sure that white weenie does get another day in the sun. Giving any color a little beater that is more efficient than White Knight is not something to be done lightly. Weenies are the bedrock that set the speed and tempo for the entire game so we have to be careful not to mess things up and force everyone to play super-cheap cards in all their decks.”

That last section is rather prophetic, but not in the way Randy had thought. Weenies are indeed the bedrock that set the speed and tempo for the entire game, and we’ve seen just how potent that can be with Ravager Affinity. Players who tried to play the speed and tempo game with White Weenie would inevitably have to realize that Ravager Affinity is infinitely superior. The whole Equipped White Weenie concept was trumped by a deck that did the job better, and ended up relegated to casual fun decks and a draft strategy. Which is a shame, really. I can’t help but wonder how things might have been different if R&D had pushed the White Weenie/Equipment relationship a little harder, or maybe did a buckeye and print a powerful White enchantment in a format where no one bothers with enchantment removal even in their sideboard.

Trainwreck #2: Big Brown

When Mirrodin was released, most people didn’t pay too much attention to those silly little artifact lands that would end up playing such a major role in defining the format. What got our attention was the friggin’ amazing splashy artifacts! From little guys like Isochron Scepter and Spellweaver Helix, to Mindslaver and Bosh, Iron Golem. Cards like Gilded Lotus and Blinkmoth Urn gave us visions of ramping up our mana to cast the big spells. Or you could try and cheat them out with Trash for Treasure.

And they even gave us ways to protect our special artifacts! Welding Jar, Leonin Abunas… certainly someone would cook up a powerful artifact deck! Yeah, but unfortunately it wasn’t one built around large, spectacular artifacts, but rather Ravager Affinity strikes again! Like Trainwreck #1, Ravager Affinity negates the Big Brown approach because its power is such that any competitive deck has to be chock full of artifact kill, causing terrible splash damage to anyone trying to hang their success on a few big meaty artifacts. As much as I’d love to try Panoptic Mirror, Staff of Domination, Summoning Station, or Memnarch, it’s just not going to pan out.

Trainwreck #3: The Black Hole

People tried so hard to make mono-Black control work when Mirrodin came out. It was such a tease, with cards like Consume Spirit, Terror, Chrome Mox, Barter in Blood, Promise of Power, Oblivion Stone and Extraplanar Lens. All high quality, powerful cards, it just seemed like something good should come together! Later on in the block we got Chittering Rats, Death Cloud, Greater Harvester, Night’s Whisper, Devour in Shadow, and four metric tons of artifacts that plug in nearly all the weaknesses that Black as a color is supposed to have.

So what happened? Again, see Trainwreck #1. The Ravager Affinity deck deals so much damage so fast that it renders some of Black’s powerful trade life for effects cards way too dangerous to play. And that’s not even taking into account the powerful burn spells in this format as seen in Big Red decks. It also becomes hard to justify playing Black when Red and Green end up sporting the best removal spells in the format. So if you can’t afford to pay life to draw cards, you can’t Pox, and your removal is worse than is available elsewhere, why the heck play Black?

Where’s The Love?

Here are some other cards that seemed like they’d have warranted some constructive love but for whatever reason have been ignored and neglected.

Second Sunrise/Roar of Reclamation: I lent a hand to a local effort to break Krark-Clan Ironworks with these two cards as engines. Let me assure you the deck was positively disgusting… if your opponent didn’t drop a Disciple of the Vault in the early turns. That was a fatal flaw that was difficult to overcome, so when the Incubator version of KCI came about that seemed to be”the best” KCI deck, we gave this one up.

Fiery Gambit/Krark’s Thumb: Both are pretty much purely casual cards, still the text that reads” If you win three or more flips, draw nine cards and untap all lands you control” is incredibly alluring to even the spikiest of Spikes. So what are the odds of winning three flips in a row if you get to flip twice for each flip?

Glissa Sunseeker: It just seems wrong that reusable artifact destruction at a reasonable cost would see so little love in this format.

Tooth and Nail: Splashy and a seriously big effect, this was just way too expensive to see play. What’s that? People have been playing this? And winning? Well I’ll be… [Crazy Frenchies. – Knut, who was flogged for suggesting the deck would see play in Standard right after the Block. Elf and Nail, anyone?]

Grid Monitor: Before Morphling, they used to call Steel Golem”Superman,” so when they printed a bigger, better Steel Golem, I thought for sure this guy would make the grade. I even tested a mono-Black deck for States last year that used this guy and some Stalking Stones, and even a couple Loxodon Warhammers. A local kid played it at States to a 50/50 record.

Icy Manipulator: I bet you probably forgot this old favorite with the nice new artwork was in Mirrodin too!

Isochron Scepter: Whoo-ha, did this thing create a big buzz when Mirrodin came out! Only to quickly fade away. R&D obviously was very cautious with what instants they made that cost two mana or less for the block, here’s hoping the Kamigawa block brings some stuff that works with the Scepter.

Lightning Greaves: The second coming of Fires of Yavimaya didn’t really catch on, though I did have some local success with the cleric/Greaves/infinite life combo deck…

Mesmeric Orb: Personally, I’m not a fan of the Orb cards, but I have to admit to being surprised this didn’t go very far after a decent attempt to break the card during States sputtered away to obscurity.

Relentless Rats: Holy smoke! Breaking one of the fundamental rules of Magic! Star City was paying premium dollars for these guys at the Darksteel prerelease. I haven’t heard from the card since then.

Myr Matrix: An indestructible artifact that is able to constantly churn out 2/2 creatures has got to be good, right? Right? What if we toss in March of the Machines? I guess this has just proven to be too slow, but it certainly feels like it should be better than it’s been so far.

Blasting Station: When I first saw the Fifth Dawn spoiler, I was really excited about this card. I thought it would be a great card for other weenie decks to use to combat the troublesome Goblin Sharpshooter, but it just didn’t seem to work out too well. Then I started to think about some other ways to abuse it, and Beacon of Creation leapt to mind (included in my June MagicTheGathering.Combos, Fifth Dawn Edition article). I dunno if The Ben Seck reads my articles, but apparently he was also thinking along similar lines recently:

Ben Seck

TheSuperBlastingStation – 2004 MTGO World Championship Qualifier

20 Forest

1 Mountain

4 Wood Elves

4 Eternal Witness

4 Birds of Paradise

3 Solemn Simulacrum

3 Wirewood Symbiote

1 Wirewood Herald

1 Viridian Shaman

4 Beacon of Creation

4 Fecundity

3 Blasting Station

3 Magma Jet

3 Oxidize

2 Rude Awakening


4 Naturalize

3 Fractured Loyalty

1 Oxidize

3 Electrostatic Bolt

1 Mountain

3 Sword of Fire and Ice

I have no idea how he ended up finishing, but let me tell you I’ve long been a fan of Fecundity, and this deck looks like a blast! While the Elf side of things won’t be legal much longer, I expect to revisit this idea when Champions of Kamigawa come out for States this year.

Ion Storm: Yes, that smell is the smoke of old brain cells recalling the days of Stormbind; Ion Storm is a lot like Stormbind, only a little more difficult to just drop in your deck and only worry about making sure you can generate green and red mana simultaneously. Unfortunately, in the wake of the Days of Lightning Rift, Ion Storm barely seems worth looking at in comparison.

Summoner’s Egg:”Blinkmoth” Jimbus Ferraiolo introduced his cool deck built around Summoner’s Egg in Egg Beaters and the New Face of Reanimation. The thing was all about getting a massive Darksteel Colossus out early and smashing face. The cool thing about his deck is that everything but Read the Runes will be legal for States this year, so maybe it’s time will come around.

Before Jim published his deck, I was working on a Summoner’s Egg deck that tried to help set up the White Bringer/Mindslaver lock. Like Jim, I came to the conclusion that the Egg needed lots of ways to be sacrificed, and like Jim I concluded that Ravager and Ironworks were good ways to do it. The deck was gross when everything went right, but it wasn’t nearly as resilient to all the artifact hate running around as straight Ravager Affinity, so it got set on the back burner:

MD5’s Greatest Hits

4 Chromatic Sphere

4 Night’s Whisper

4 Pentad Prism

4 Arcbound Ravager

3 Krark-Clan Ironworks

4 Thoughtcast

4 Summoner’s Egg

3 Mindslaver

4 Bringer of the Blue Dawn

4 Bringer of the White Dawn

2 Glimmervoid

2 Great Furnace

2 Tree of Tales

4 Great Den

4 Vault of Whispers

4 Seat of the Synod

4 Mirrodin’s Core

Silent Arbiter: An excellent foil for rush decks… has yet to show up to fight the rush. Makes you wonder if he’s goofing off and partying up in Alabama somewhere… [Mmm, Crimson Tide Rush week. It doesn’t get any better than Alabama sorority girls, let me tell you. – Knut]

Raksha Golden Cub: Seriously, who hasn’t had dreams about building the ultimate cat deck? Unfortunately Raksha is just a little too slow in an environment with Affinity rolling around. And yes, I am joking about Raksha.

Well, that’s it! Next week MTG.com starts previewing Champions of Kamigawa, and we can start to see how Mirrodin and Kamigawa block might play together for States. I can’t wait to start brainstorming!

Next time: My dinner with Dynamite Jackson