The Beautiful Struggle – Return of the King Pawn

Read Mark Young every Thursday... at StarCityGames.com!
Hello everyone, I’m back. August is not an easy month for someone whose job is to write about tournament Magic, but at least we have Block Constructed season to talk about. Plus, some Lorwyn information is starting to leak out; MTGSalvation has already spoiled 21 cards*. And there are always the random strategic concepts that I’ll see applied in a game and I think, “that would make a great article.”

Hello everyone, I’m back. August is not an easy month for someone whose job is to write about tournament Magic, but at least we have Block Constructed season to talk about. Plus, some Lorwyn information is starting to leak out; MTGSalvation has already spoiled 21 cards*. And there are always the random strategic concepts that I’ll see applied in a game and I think, “that would make a great article.”

I don’t expect there to be a shortage of material for me this month. In fact, even though I tried to keep my Magic-playing to a minimum while I was away, I still came back busting to the seams with things to say. Thus I present to you a divine comedy in two parts with interludes.

Interlude: I’m Pretty Smart

After finding out that Aaron Forsythe thinks more writers and even judges should be in the Invitational, I’m wondering what I would need to do to get on the ballot next year. I’ve decided that the first step is more self-promotion.

I’m actually a quite shy person, so this isn’t easy for me, but fortunately I have some big names in my corner. See, I recently realized that very smart people have been saying things that, if you’d been reading me, you would already know. I’m not saying people are ripping me off, I’m just saying…

Mike Flores said he lost to Project X in the Top 8 of Regionals because he didn’t know that his opponent could make infinite creatures with Teysa, Orzhov Scion. If he had read Astonishing X Men a month earlier, he’d have known that.

In a top8magic podcast released this week, Zvi says that “caring is an EV tragedy.” In other words, if you care too much about your results, emotion can blind you from the correct decisions. I learned this at Grand Prix: New Jersey, and wrote about it in On Discipline, under the subtitle, “Winning Means Nothing.”

J. Evan Dean’s fine draft article on Tuesday talks about an FNM draft featuring some very shaky Time Spiral picks in U/R/W, following by opening Numot, the Devastator. He points out that this does not justify the bad picks in pack 1; “[j]ust because you won, or opened the nuts, does not mean every decision you made was correct.” Once you get past the obnoxiously long poker story that leads off The Limits of Math, you’ll eventually get to the same message.

See, I’m awesome! As long as nobody figures out who I stole all that stuff from, I’ve got it made**.

Part 1: I Heart NY, But Not as Much as I Heart Sleep

I wanted to go to the PTQ at Neutral Ground last weekend. I had a deck built, I took it to Dream Wizards to test it, and I told half of the Dream Wizards regulars that I was going. I packed up my stuff and selected DVDs for the train ride. I was looking forward to Katz’s Deli meats owed me by Mike Flores, for that time when his deck supposedly mauled G/W and I was knocked out of the tournament in two quick rounds by — you guessed it — Saffi Eriksdotter and Mystic Enforcer. I even paid a non-trivial sum to obtain the one Tarmogoyf I needed to fill my deck out.

Sometimes when the alarm goes off at 4:30 a.m., you know that you are not getting out of bed, no matter how much you love playing Magic. Last Saturday was one of those times. It’s kind of ironic that, for the PTQ described in I Heart NY, I was able to get moving despite a wretched case of the flu, but this time I was feeling fine and couldn’t do it. I just couldn’t get my eyes to open or my body to move. I don’t have many rules in my life, but one of them is when your body tries to tell you something, you better listen***.

So I turned off the alarm, slept in and played Tenth Edition release events on Magic Online instead. Here is the deck I would have played in the PTQ:

More than a few people have told me that this is the best deck in the format. Going into the event, I definitely thought that it was the best beatdown deck in the format; adding Delay and Psionic Blast to the presence of Tarmogoyf puts a ton of pressure on the Blue-based control decks of the format.

I wish I had more secret tech to give you regarding my build, but there isn’t much. I went up to two Venser (most builds I’ve seen have only one), compared to most lists that you might have seen, as a nod to the mirror and other Call of the Herd decks. I gave up on Pongify in the sideboard because, when I was running that card in Mono-Blue Pickles, the 3/3 creature could actually be quite a problem. I often found myself taking a ton of damage from the 3/3 while I had to send bounce effects at other creatures.

Llanowar Reborn is one of the superstars of this deck. John Moore calls the land “Leyline of the Anthem” because its effect on the game is not too much different than if you were to start with Gaea’s Anthem in play. It’s not just your Tarmogoyfs either: during one game against Alex Majlaton’s G/W deck, a 2/2 Looter il-Kor on turn 2 went two-thirds of the way by itself while the non-Shadowy creatures fought, and drew into a pair of Psionic Blasts to finish the job.

The deck actually plays quite a bit like Mono-Blue Pickles. There are many situations where the Mono-U deck cannot simply go for the Brine Elemental lock, such as against any other deck with Vesuvan Shapeshifter. In those cases you just try and play a board position game, bouncing opposing creatures, trying to stop opposing bounce creatures, and beating down with 2/2 men. The U/G deck does the same, except its 2/2s can be 3/3s without any additional investment, and it has Char and two-mana 6/7s.

Additionally, there are versions of this deck going around which I have seen a lot of in the Premiere Events on Magic Online, which add a dash of White for Momentary Blink. Having run up against these decks when playing both U/B Teachings and Mono-Blue Pickles, I can tell you they’re quite the beating. I had all the cards to play one of these decks in New York if I wanted.

However, I like having good mana, and you have only 23 lands; you can get mana-screwed or color-screwed pretty easily if you don’t get a Looter going. You’d think Chromatic Star and Terramorphic Expanse are fine to solve this problem, but surprisingly not. Part of the reason is that Terramorphic Expanse removes two lands from your deck; thus, if the first Expanse doesn’t fix your mana perfectly, you could be in quite a bit of trouble drawing the next land needed.

Interlude: The Invitational

Vote Gerard. He’s awesome.

Part 2: Justice League

As it turns out, U/G might not be the best beatdown deck in the format after all. The PTQ was won by someone who had already anticipated everything I mentioned in this article, and made his own adjustments. Josh Ravitz, playing the G/W/r beatdown deck with Fiery Justice, defeated Michael McGee in the finals. Asher also made Top 4 playing the same 75. I don’t have the Ravitz decklist as of my deadline — there is another Northeast PTQ this weekend, and nobody wanted to leak the tech. I had thought that with any luck the deck will be on MagictheGathering.com today, but maybe they know something that I do not.

I would not assume that it’s the same as the three-color decks from the Grand Prix; as Flores showed with Critical Mass, some small changes to an existing archetype can make a big difference. For example, if I were trying to innovate a G/W/r decklist from Grand Prix Montreal…

… plenty of cards could potentially be axed. Riftwing Cloudskate was not expected to be as big a player in the format as it is now, so those Thornweald Archers don’t seem as good as Riftsweeper or Scryb Ranger. If U/G is the most important deck out there, then only two Fiery Justice does not seem appropriate.

The advantage of this deck is that it crushes the U/G decks like the one I mentioned above. Just crushes them. The number of Tarmogoyfs drawn can often be a breaker in Green/X versus Green/X matches; the G/W/r deck is pretty much designed to have eight Tarmogoyfs by making Kavu Predator gigantic. Add to that the fact that it is often Wrathing the opposing team at the same time the Predator is getting big, and you have a recipe for beating opposing aggressors.

Plus, the big plus of the original G/W decks is that they make using spot removal very difficult. Tendrils of Corruption works well in the late game, but before then it might not be big enough or the opponent might have a Mystic Enforcer. Damnation and Slaughter Pact aren’t even cure-alls, if Saffi Eriksdotter is in play. The end result is that Teachings decks have to play very well to beat you, and many PTQ players are not up to that challenge. The three-color version takes that theme and expands upon it: for example, if a Kavu Predator is in play then a Tendrils can’t be used anywhere else.

The mana adjustments are not such a big deal here — although I would still be concerned about them — because the deck wants up to eight dual lands. The U/G/w decks don’t really want four Nimbus Maze the same way that G/W/r wants four Grove of the Burnwillows, plus Grove is just better than Maze at giving both colors as necessary. Thus it’s easier for the Red decks to have their needed colors.

In closing, I think that the rise of both of these aggro decks shows the difference between in-person Magic and Magic Online. Although the last 4x Block Constructed Open had no U/B Mystical Teachings decks in the Top 8, a look at any of the random 2x events that happen every day would seem to suggest that Teachings is the best deck in the format by a wide margin. U/B takes up one-fourth of all 2x Top 8 slots according to this Karsten article, and has gained quite a few wins. In the real world, however, beatdown never went away. Both of the decks that showed up in this article are fine choices for the aggressive-minded player, and they run the best creature in the format; what’s not to like?

mmyoungster at aim dot com
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mm_young on MTGO

* Yes, I know, 20 of them are basic lands. I just want to see if any people get outraged in the forums because they didn’t read this footnote.

** Same.

*** This is actually a joke. I like to say, “I don’t have many rules in my life, but…” and then finish the sentence with something new every time. So I actually have DI rules in my life. Get it?

Guys? Where are you going?

Maybe this is why I didn’t make it onto the Storyteller ballot.