The Beautiful Struggle – Spotlight on States: The Troll Dilemma

Are YOU ready for States?
I have this little problem. Every deck I build that doesn’t have Molten Disaster in it seems to be losing to Troll Ascetic. My Molten Disaster deck ain’t that hot either, if the Troll deck draws Loxodon Warhammer. Let me go back to the beginning, however. I originally wanted a Blue deck with, at a minimum, Scrying Sheets and Cryptic Command. So I built this…

I have this little problem. Every deck I build that doesn’t have Molten Disaster in it seems to be losing to Troll Ascetic. My Molten Disaster deck ain’t that hot either, if the Troll deck draws Loxodon Warhammer.

Let me go back to the beginning, however. I originally wanted a Blue deck with, at a minimum, Scrying Sheets and Cryptic Command. So I built this:

After Mike Flores and three compatriots all took the same mono-Blue deck to the Top 8 of the New York State Championships two years ago, a common complaint that I heard or saw in forums was that Mike didn’t actually “design” anything. After all, a mono-Blue deck with Keiga and Meloku had been fairly popular in Block Constructed, and had even won a Grand Prix. Hopefully, no one will have that same problem with this deck, because I am trying to go in a completely different direction than the mono-Blue that saw play during Time Spiral Block Constructed.

The addition of Tarfire and Incinerate to the format changes everything from what you saw in Block. Can we really afford to run morphs out there on turn 3 anymore? I say no. As you can see from my decklist, I’m not even sure we can afford to invest time in Mulldrifter or Riftwing Cloudskate. There’s too much risk that the opponent will use that time to throw down a difficult-to-answer threat such as Troll Ascetic. Plus, the mono-Blue deck from Block struggled against its mono-Red counterpart anyway; a great many things had to go exactly right in order for the Blue deck to win any game win which Greater Gargadon was suspended early on.

Instead, this Standard deck gets its name from the reliance on Guile. My whole plan basically involves just buying time until I can either (a) untap with Guile in play, or even better (b) play Guile with Pact of Negation in hand. At that point, victory should quickly follow, as the threats the opponent might have on board are bounced with Cryptic Command or countered and hijacked by Guile. Trying playing Guile and Delay together in the same deck; you’ll be glad you did.

This deck was performing decently against recent versions of Goblin Disaster, but Goblin Disaster is a slower sort of Red deck, against which a card like Cryptic Command is going to be much better. It wasn’t until I assembled a fast Red deck that I began to experience problems:

The deck’s name refers to the fact that I was calling it my “anti-Tarmogoyf deck” for while, which mutated into “Anti-Tarmogoyf F***ers.” I should note that I don’t have anything against Tarmogoyf in the abstract. I just want to make sure my mana works perfectly; against me in the Mockvitational, Asher Hecht took something like eight damage playing his Green and Red cards against me. I don’t want that kind of thing happening to me at States; but neither did I want Grove of the Burnwillows in my Red deck. So I went with the Augur instead, but I certainly wouldn’t fault anyone if they changed the mana around in order to put a certain Lhurgoyf into that slot.

I was all ready to change gears, and recommend this deck for States instead of my Blue deck of choice, but then the aforementioned Troll Dilemma developed. This deck absolutely cannot beat a Troll Ascetic carrying a Loxodon Warhammer. Hell, it struggles against a Troll Ascetic, because the Troll can just sit back and do nothing while the Masked Admirers engine draws into a Warhammer. Plus, I wasn’t even sure that the Green deck I was using – Tim Aten’s Wren and Stompy from last week – was any good.

(Side note: have you played with Masked Admirers? If not, I suggest you try them. These guys are ridiculous. Once you get them going, it’s not unusual for crazy things to happen like having three creatures in hand after your opponent Wraths four creatures away, or having to discard in your end step after playing a land and a creature earlier in the same turn. Honestly, I think my big failing for States this year is that I haven’t been able to come up with a deck that doesn’t abuse, and I mean really abuse, the Admirers.)

Then, on Monday, the results from StarCityGames.com’s pre-States Standard tournament went up, and although it wasn’t as bad as I had feared, the implications are disturbing. Although only two out of the Top 16 decks actually had Troll Ascetic in them, Green/X decks placed in seven out of the Top 16 slots, and any of them could be adapted for States to host TrollHammer (I’m not even counting the Poison Slivers deck, which presumably would not want Trolls on the team at all). One forum poster to Patrick Chapin’s Monday article mentioned that he faced decks with Trolls and Treetop Village in five out of the six round he played.

If you asked me which of the Troll decks, or decks that could have potentially run Trolls, were the best, I would have said John May’s 3rd place finisher:

I would like to have my Scryb & Force deck be mono-Green – between Ohran Viper and Masked Admirers, you can draw almost as many cards as the format’s typical control decks, and the Viper kills Tarmogoyf also. However, in a format this wide open, it behooves you to have answers to things. Maybe it’s an opposing Planeswalker, or an Elemental Incarnation, or simply a Shriekmaw trying to target your Spectral Force… if any of those things happens across the table and you do nothing, you’re in trouble. Venser, Mystic Snake, and Psionic Blast will all get the job done as solid answers; I’m not sure if Familiar’s Ruse is strictly necessary, but it will occasionally be a total blowout.

The thing about these Green decks is, you’re not even worried about Damnation that much. The Masked Admirers will keep coming back, the Treetop Villages will keep attacking, the Loxodon Warhammers will turn every single creature in the deck into a game-deciding threat by itself. If Damnation were the only thing I had to worry about in terms of removal, I might not even run Blue, but with Shriekmaw, Slaughter Pact, etc., it seems like Mystic Snake, Venser, and friends are necessary.

Perhaps you don’t like the way the mana looks in May’s deck; maybe you remember from the Odyssey Block days how hard it is to have Blue and Green mana in the right proportions every time you need it. Maybe you’d like to try a deck like this:

A Green/Black Elves deck won the StarCityGames.com event, but it was filled with cards I hate, including Wren’s Run Packmaster and Nath of the Gilt-Leaf. Slow Elf decks that want to play five-drops? Sacrilege! I would rather just run the full set of Masked Admirers and spend the same amount of mana regrowing them over and over again. In matches against other Green decks, that mana can be put to even better use, obtaining a “lock” with Shriekmaw and Grim Harvest.

While Cryptic Command is unquestionably the most powerful card of its cycle, a somewhat more convenient mana cost will probably lead to Profane Command being the “best” of the group. In this deck it will most often be used as a combination of Falter effect and life loss, allowing you to kill an opponent who may have been planning on blocking with Purity, Goblin tokens, whatever. However, something as simple as killing an opposing Vanquisher while reanimating your own Vanquisher is huge swing in the mirror match.

The toughest part of coming up with this decklist was deciding what removal to run. The winning decklist from StarCityGames.com had Eyeblight’s Ending, but since people now know that Elves are good, it seems to lose a little bit of its punch. I wanted Nameless Inversion, because you can reveal it for Wren’s Run Vanquisher (yes, I already have 24 Elves in the maindeck, but you can never be too careful), but it doesn’t kill Elemental Incarnations or Tarmogoyf. Shriekmaw allows me to be the control deck after sideboarding by bringing in Grim Harvest, but he is not an Elf, which could be annoying. Right now Shriekmaw is in the main with Inversion in the board, but I have not made that decision completely final.

So, let’s get back to the original topic of this article: Blue Snow decks. It seems very likely that a mono-Blue deck is not going to cut it; at least, not for those of us who aren’t Shota Yasooka or Kenji Tsumura. However, if you look at the most successful control decks from StarCityGames.com last weekend, they went a different, but equally interesting, way. The Cryptic Commands and other countermagic were forgotten, with the intent of using
White cards to do the controlling (Wrath of God, Oblivion Ring, Condemn, Beacon of Immortality). A list might look like:

Alternatively, you could ditch the Purity package and just go with some combination of Sacred Mesa and Akroma (or possibly Sacred Mesa and Crovax, Ascendant Hero, as in the 4th-place deck from Star City) as your win conditions. The appeal of that plan is that Akroma and Crovax can dodge Shriekmaw, and Purity cannot. Then again, Purity will be back. That’s kind of his thing.

The sideboard would begin with “3 Teferi’s Moat” and proceed from there. You want to attack with Trolls, Elves and animated Ape-lands? Then there ought to be a deck in the format that makes you pay the price.

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