The Chump Block – Block Constructed After San Juan

The StarCityGames.com Open Series comes to Seattle!
Friday, June 4th – During my short tenure here at StarCityGames.com, I’ve written two articles on a subject that is generally shoved to the wayside: Block Constructed. I posed the not-so-subtle “should I write about this subject again” question at the end of my last article, and the response was a fairly enthusiastic “sure, whatever.” In all seriousness, people seemed to enjoy the articles, as it’s a subject that doesn’t receive too much attention, which of course is because it’s not too applicable in our everyday Magic-playing universe.

During my short tenure here at StarCityGames.com, I’ve written two articles on a subject that is generally shoved to the wayside: Block Constructed. I posed the not-so-subtle “should I write about this subject again” question at the end of my last article, and the response was a fairly enthusiastic “sure, whatever.” In all seriousness, people seemed to enjoy the articles, as it’s a subject that doesn’t receive too much attention, which of course is because it’s not too applicable in our everyday Magic-playing universe. I actually had to bite my tongue in order to not talk about it prior to the Pro Tour last week. I didn’t feel it was my place to perhaps inadvertently spoil some hard-working pro’s format-defining work. Having waited, I may have missed the boat on writing something relevant that someone in San Juan might have been able to use and take the day, but I have no illusions that pros around the world sit eagerly around their computer, eyes fixated on their monitor, waiting for the next Chump Block article to debut.

Before we begin, I feel I owe you, gentle reader, the obligatory “why am I writing about this subject” explanation. Block Constructed is just one of the many formats you have at your beck and call at the magical computer-box program called Magic: the Gathering Online. It has, I would venture to say, an equivalent amount of actual tournaments as Standard meaning that, as far as the MTGO community is concerned, it is a relevant format. The dearth of writing on the subject actually ends up being a boon for the most part, as there is less of a “best deck” and innovation is much more highly rewarded. The reason to play Constructed online is one that I like to reiterate, and one I don’t think most people appreciate. Unless you are INSANE at drafting both winning decks and valuable cards, drafting is by and large a losing proposition. With the post-mythic drop in regular rare prices, even winning a 4-3-2-2 or coming in 2nd in a 8-4 is barely breaking even. Comparatively, Constructed costs less than half of the admission, and you are actually making profit by even winning a single round. Losing a draft becomes much more bearable when you don’t have to reach back into your wallet every time things don’t quite work out.

Finally, and the foremost reason to generally get involved in Block, is that it has been historically less expensive to acquire a competitive deck than Standard or, say, Legacy. I use the word “historically” as, SPOILER ALERT, it may be suffering the same fate as Standard at the moment in terms of the “Jace” problem: uncharacteristically disproportionate mythic prices. This high mythic price precludes the playing of some decks by a vast majority of people trying to play them. I’m not arguing for or against Wizard’s mythic policy (of course, I have my opinions…) but many decks simply NEED several mythics. This isn’t always a bad thing, but it certainly doesn’t lend itself to being the “budget” format when you have to still sell out hundreds of dollars for some cards.

There were, prior to the Pro Tour, a few archetypes that were consistently doing well online. They are, in no particular order: Mono Red, Koros, U/W Control, Vampires, and Big Mana Eldrazi. Most of these archetypes are decks that would be familiar to the lay person who plays Standard exclusively, with the exception of the last one. In the interest of brevity, I’m not going to splatter this page with a long string of decklist after decklist. If you’d like to take a gander at some examples though, by far the best resource you have at your disposal is that of mtgonline.com. Even if you despise the thought of block constructed or you find the idea of playing Magic without real physical cards to be a perverse abomination of the very core concept of “card” games, it is still a magnificent site that Wizards maintains that posts, literally, all of the major (Premier Event) and smaller (Daily Event) winning decklists. For reference and example, here is a list of a small tournament that highlights each of the 5 decks that I mentioned above:

Coming out of the Pro Tour, there are several brand new concoctions that made a splash, by far the biggest of which was Monument Green. Not to be confused with the aforementioned Big Mana Eldrazi which attempts to cast a single giant Kozilek, Ulamog and Emrakul, Monument Green occupies the complete opposite end of the spectrum by attempting to plop a bunch of dorks on the table and win via Eldrazi Monument or Beastmaster Ascension. The deck (or those similar to it) took many top spots at the event, and here for reference is Noah Swartz’s 10-0 deck:

There have been a few people already discussing this deck, particularly the mothership’s own Chris Lachmann. This deck can be fast beyond what you thought was remotely possible, and to make matters worse (for the opponent), the indestructibility clause of the namesake Monument makes traditional “answer” cards such as Day of Judgment and Comet Storm laughably ineffective. The sacrificial demands of the Monument are remarkably easy to maintain as well, mostly just through random Eldrazi Spawn tokens littering the battlefield, but also as a result of the card that really puts this deck over the edge: Vengevine. That card hits hard and hits often, as this deck can revive him as easily as most Standard Naya or Mythic lists.

This deck has been seeing a fair amount of play online since the introduction of it at San Juan, and I highly, highly respect it. While it does seem to just putter around sometimes without one of its super-power enabling non-creature spells (Monument and Ascension), with seven copies of the game-winning haymakers in the deck, it’s unlikely to not run across one in the first few turns as they compromise roughly one eighth of the deck. Even if they manage to whiff on the Power-Thirst infused Monuments or Ascensions, attacks from Arbor Elves, Nest Invaders and (again) Vengevines all definitely add up over time.

While Lotus Cobra, Vengevine, and Eldrazi Monument are the only real cards of value in the deck, with price tags of around 15, 20, and 8 tix apiece, this deck is liable to run about 200 tix to straight up buy it, if you feel so inclined. While that seems a bit daunting, these cards will almost certainly maintain a high value post-Shards rotation, which happens to be another upside of investing in Block — your cards generally hold their value for at least a year. I would definitely consider and recommend this deck if you’ve got some money burning a hole in your pocket, and I definitely feel like some extension of this list could see its way into Standard within the next year.

Next up is Mr. #1 PV’s 24 point-earning U/G/R deck. It’s similar in style to Brad Nelson MOCS-winning list from pre-Rise Block in that it uses burn to stall the ground while also using accelerators like Lotus Cobra and Explore to ramp up to more expensive card-advantage machines such as Jace, The Mind Sculptor; Comet Storm; Oracle of Mul Daya; and Sphinx of Lost Truths. I wouldn’t exactly describe this as a “new” deck, but it’s definitely become much more popular since several high finishing players piloted it to solid records.

Unfortunately, this is a little expensive for most players as it’s jam-packed with mythic rares, but it is a deck you should be aware of as it’s quickly becoming very popular. It can produce an absurd amount of mana, with the conjunction of Lotus Cobra and Oracle/Explore/fetchlands leading to some very explosive turns. This is probably one of the best decks in which Jace has appeared, as his interaction with Oracle of Mul Daya is one of the most powerful things you can do in Block, and perhaps even Standard. I don’t really see this deck transition particularly well into Standard, at least at the moment, as it’s a little slow and can be easily disrupted, but who knows.

So what should you play, Mr. Budget? Well there are a couple options for you. Probably the least expensive of all of these decks is Koros. While it didn’t fare particularly well in San Juan, it’s still a great starting point and, more importantly, one that eschews mythic rares entirely. Stoneforge Mythics, Fetchlands, and a singleton Basilisk Collar are to only rares you need to have for a competitive deck, although you could always add Goblin Guides and Emeria Angels to taste. The best part is that none of the cards in this paragraph probably run more than 3 or so tickets, and the savvy shopper could probably purchase the deck outright for less than 30 tix. Again, a point I’ve stressed before in previous articles: buying things like fetchlands should be considered less of an expense and more of an investment, as owning them (as in real life) makes subsequent decks much cheaper to afford. There are several varieties of builds for this, from ones running Kiln Field and Emerge Unscathed to much less “cute” versions that just try and kill your opponent.

If Koros isn’t your style, the next cheapest decks to consider are both mono-colored. Vampires in Block doesn’t require any Nocturni in order to smash face, although many lists are running Abyssal Persecutors in their stead (although the demon right now costs about half that of the Vampire Lord). Bloodghasts, Kalastria Highborn, and Malakir Bloodwitch all cost around one tix (maybe a little more) apiece, meaning that one could buy the deck for a mere pittance. Vampires is a good example of a deck that has held its usefulness for quite a while. If you had jumped on the bandwagon at the start of Zendikar Block, investing in this deck could have been an extremely profitable decision.

Finally, while it does require a mythic, the price of Mono Red is not terribly high outside of the Kargan Dragonlords, which seem to be dropping by the day. The deck is extremely fast, punishing those decks that greedily try and play ridiculously over-costed spells (see below). It also tends to have quite a bit of reach, and while I think it’s dangerous to categorize aggressive decks as “easy” to play, it probably requires fewer decisions than, say, U/W Control. Mono Red, also, has the distinction of being remarkably similar to its Standard brother, meaning an investment in this deck is liable to yield up one you can play in another format as well.

I hope that these few suggestions and prodding will convince people to invest a little bit or their hard-earned semolians and/or time into playing some block. Again, I’ve refrained from adding specific decklists here, as I think that various builds of each deck will appeal to various people. I direct you to link above. I’m writing this article as it seemed from e-mails that I received that many people were interested in continuing hearing about it. I still hope that’s the case (feel free to e-mail me either way) but regardless, you don’t have to hear about another one of these articles for at least 6 months when Scars of Mirrodin comes out online.

Before I go, I’ll comment on the deck I am currently playing which is one of the most fun decks that I’ve played in a long time. Friends that I’ve lent the deck to have echoed that sentiment, but I fear liking this deck brands me with the Scarlet Letter “T” for Timmy, as it involves casting larger-than-average guys.

I can’t take credit for this deck; I saw current 5th place MTGO Player of the Year _Batutinha_ running it, and felt a certain compulsion to play it myself. Of the two Big Mana Eldrazi decks — this G/W one and the straight monogreen one — I prefer this one for several reasons. While Gideon is slightly awkward in a few matchups (U/W, the mirror match), he is by far your best card in several others (anything aggressive). There’s the obvious trade off too, of getting to play Wall of Omens over something a little less impressive, like Ancient Stirrings or Kozilek’s Predator.

I’m sure you wouldn’t be surprised at how easily a hardcast Eldrazi can put a game away, but it might be surprising as to how early and often it happens. While certainly not mega common, I have had multiple turn 4 Kozileks and Ulamogs with this deck. If you have the means, I highly suggest you give this deck a spin, as casting Emrakul the “hard” way is MUCH more gratifying than trying to somehow sneak him into play.

As always, I love hearing feedback, so feel free to send me your constructive criticism or lavish complements.

Thanks for reading…

Zach Jesse