The Chump Block – Block Head 2: Return to Block Island

StarCityGames.com Open Series: Indianapolis on March 13-14
Friday, March 5th – With Worldwake added to the mix, I think it’s an opportune time to talk about Zendikar Block Constructed again. I realize that this is a topic that doesn’t pertain to a large portion of the Magic community, but for those of us who play online I recommend it highly.

Worldwake has finally been released online and I’m as happy as a young child on Christmas morning, scampering downstairs and seeing a tree stand completely obscured by presents. I shook violently in my chair from excitement and could barely keep from spasming uncontrollably as I logged on to MTGO and signed up for my first online release event. Foam formed at the corners of my mouth as I salaciously eyed the sealed pool presented before me.

As you might be able to tell, I enjoy playing Magic Online.

With Worldwake added to the mix, I think it’s an opportune time to talk about Zendikar Block Constructed again. I realize that this is a topic that doesn’t pertain to a large portion of the Magic community, but for those of us who play online I recommend it highly. Even if you MTGO solely to draft, I urge you to at least plod through this article, as Block Constructed remains one of the best possible ways for a person somewhat strapped for cash to put together a tournament-viable Constructed deck which, as I stated in my last article on the subject, is the easiest possible ways to play online without damaging the pocket book. Aside from being the frugal Magic player’s respite, there is actually another reason why ZBC is a unique but relevant topic at the moment: the Magic Online Championship Series. The MOCS has (approximately) monthly seasons, which end in a tournament of varying formats with fabulous prizes to be won, the most fabulous of which being and invite to Worlds in December. If you guessed that this season’s MOCS format was Zendikar Block Constructed, then you consider yourself on top of the ball.

Since Worldwake is still in its nascence, there’s still plenty of time for earth-shattering revelations to take place, but even if that were not the case, plenty of innovative changes have already been taking root. I previously mentioned a few of the top dogs of the format in my last article. Some decks, such as Vampires, got a few obvious cards to augment their already impressive repertoire. Others, such as U/W control, got MASSIVE power boosts from no-brainers such as Jace, The Mind Sculptor and Everflowing Chalice. I’m going to forgo talking about these old archetypes for a few reasons. Firstly Vampires, while relatively cheap, is sort of a no-brainer to build. The most complicated decisions when building the deck are metagame calls. Expecting the mirror match to be prevalent? Play some Quest for the Gravelord and Grim Discoveries. Want to beat control? Mind Sludge and Bloodhusk Ritualist are your best weapons against them. The intricacies are obviously more in depths, but it shouldn’t be too hard to figure out how to build a playable Vampire deck. I’m forgoing W/U for the simple reason that it is considerably more expensive to build now that 4 Jace, The Mind Sculptors have become a not-so-surprising mainstay and again there are more than a few ways to build the deck, most of which require planning on what the metagame will pan out to be.

So what are the new archetypes that have emerge? Let’s look at them shall we?

_Batutinha_ (1st Place)

ZEN Block Constructed Premier #965641 on 02/23/2010

2 Dread Statuary
10 Forest
3 Misty Rainforest
4 Oran-Rief, the Vastwood
2 Tectonic Edge
3 Verdant Catacombs

4 Arbor Elf
4 Leatherback Baloth
4 Lotus Cobra
4 Nissa’s Chosen
4 Wolfbriar Elemental
4 Bestial Menace
4 Eldrazi Monument
4 Everflowing Chalice
4 Nissa Revane

4 Nature’s Claim
2 Rampaging Baloths
4 River Boa
4 Slingbow Trap
1 Tectonic Edge

I know, I know. This deck contains a whopping amount of Mythic rares so it’s a little bit on the pricey side, but I felt compelled to talk about it as it is brand spanking new.

This list should look familiar as it is maintains several parallels to the Standard Eldrazi Green deck that was once a powerhouse of the format. Dudes that make tokens? Check. Eldrazi Monument? Oh yeah! This deck shines because of the relatively narrow removal that is present in the format. Aside from Journey to Nowhere, there are not many cheap answers to a Leatherback Baloth. Urge to Feed, Searing Blaze, Burst Lightning: none of these relatively cheap removal spells can deal with the guy, which makes dropping him turn 2 with the help of an Arbor Elf an extreme pummeling waiting to happen. Just about the only cards that can off this dude are a kicked Gatekeeper of Malakir (provided you have no creatures out) and Day of Judgment. The latter of those two cards may seem like a straight up beating against this deck whose sole aim is to play giant guys with no abilities, but the savvy player will know when to not overcommit to the board. With 8 “recovery” spells (Wolfbriar Elemental, Bestial Menace) it is quite easy to come back from Wrath, not to mention the deck’s Planeswalker that can spit out Nissa’s Chosens nonstop. Finally, Eldrazi Monument does what it always does and backhands the unwary opponent, creating a very hard-to-lose-from board state, especially in conjunction with so many single spells that can generate multiple creatures.

There are a couple of disagreements I have with this list, mainly due to the 4-of mania that the deck has. Four Eldrazi Monuments is a lot, and having more than one of them in your opening hand is generally not a very good thing. You rarely want to have more than one out on the battlefield at a time, as the +1/+1 bonus is just not equivalent to the additional sacrifice it demands each turn. 4 Everflowing Chalice also seems a bit extreme. It, with Arbor Elf, skyrockets you right past half your deck being mana sources, and drawing yet another mana source late game can be the difference between winning and losing. It also doesn’t help all that much with the colored-mana demands of the deck, and I think that dropping down to 3 is fine, especially considering that the only real four-drop you want to accelerate into is Nissa. In their place I would consider moving some of those lovely Rampaging Baloths or River Boas from the sideboard to the maindeck, or perhaps even playing Mold Shambler, an extremely versatile card that surprises me by not being in the 75 somewhere. I realize that I just suggested cutting a mana source for some potential 6-drops, but I really don’t feel like the deck is wanting for mana.

The next deck to analyze I have been hoping would work in Standard for a while, and its success in Block Constructed at the very least lends hope. Ladies and gentlemen, Mono White Allies:

doublegg (4-0)

ZEN Block Constructed Daily #982760 on 03/02/2010

4 Arid Mesa
2 Dread Statuary
4 Marsh Flats
10 Plains
4 Sejiri Steppe

4 Hada Freeblade
4 Kabira Evangel
4 Kazandu Blademaster
4 Kor Skyfisher
4 Steppe Lynx
4 Talus Paladin
4 Brave the Elements
4 Join the Ranks
4 Journey to Nowhere

4 Devout Lightcaster
3 Kor Sanctifiers
4 Luminarch Ascension
4 Tectonic Edge

There are actually several iterations of this deck, but I love this one for its simplicity. It is very straightforward to play, as turns generally follow a plan of “play another ally, attack.” Brave the Elements is obviously insane in this deck, as it can act as a game-winning Falter and Avoid Fate all rolled into a single mana. What really sets it above the curve though is its combination alongside Kabira Evangel. Playing against a mono-colored deck such as Mono-Green or Vampires, and suddenly you have gigantic guys that they can’t chump block.

There are few cards that I’m a little surprised to see omitted from the deck. Mono White Allies seems like it would highly benefit from a single or perhaps double dose of Eldrazi Monument goodness. Not only is the Monument insane with any deck that has a constant stream of creatures and damage, but Join the Ranks can generate a gigantic swing out of nowhere. Instead of a paltry ragtag duo of 1/1s, you summon forth two mighty, awe-wielding, winged 2/2s hungry for blood and impervious to death. This sort of deck needs reach, and the Monument is exactly the card that can get it there. Another card that serves the same purpose and sits at the same point on the curve is Marshall’s Anthem. Both cards provide you with the white weenie mainstay Crusade effect, but while the Monument additionally provides you with incredible combo of Flying and Indestrucability the Anthem has the ability to recoup some card advantage. It should be noted that bringing back an ally is hopefully going to trigger all sorts of Ally shenanigans on the battlefield, but in the end the two cards seem mutually exclusive and I think the ability to straight up kill your opponent is going to be a bit stronger of an effect in the long run.

The best thing this deck has going for it at the moment is its price tag. Aside from the cards I suggested, the entire deck could be bought for a pittance. Fetchlands are worth a surprisingly little online at the moment, only about 3 tix and, if you have to buy them to build this deck, they should be considered as a “building for the future” type of expense. You will play with fetchlands again, I promise. Other than those cards, there’s Kabira Evangel, Talus Paladin, and a bunch of uncommon and commons which, if you tried REALLY hard, you could buy the entirety of for about 5 dollars.

A couple other versions of this deck have been taking off as people begin to explore Allies further. Blue/White seems to be the next most common, a build which exchanges the ease of mind of the mono-White manabase with some upgrades on the allies. Instead of Ondu Cleric (which is not actually a bad card when you think about how many decks aim to race) and Brave the Elements, you get Jwari Shapeshifter and Umara Raptor. The Spell suite is considerably improved as I’ve seen lists that run cards such as Cancel (to combat this decks public enemy #1, Day of Judgment) to Vapor Snare (to combat this decks public enemy #2, Malakir Bloodwitch). Frankly, I’m not quite sold on the blue version, but it’s worth keeping an eye out for. What I’d really like to see is a Red or Black version, both of which have upsides or increased aggression, but whose downside is incredibly poor mana. You end up running exactly 4 color fixers in the form of on-color fetchlands, and while most of the secondary color spells are only a single colored mana (Akoum Battlesinger, Bojuka Brigand, Bala Ged Thief, Burst Lightning), having an awkward start due to faulty mana seems like a very real possibility. Running these enemy-color decks also precludes one from running the popular man land of Dread Statuary (or at the very least, it should).

If White Weenie is your thing but you’re allergic to allies, there’s also the option of a Kor-based deck that does quite well. Revolving around Armament Master, Kor Duelist, Stoneforge Mystic and various equipment it can provide some very explosive draws and even a single threat can deal massive amounts of damage. It’s just as cheap and easy to build, but I haven’t quite found a list that can tackle the metagame and consistently come out on top just yet.

A final deck to think about is for the pyromaniacs at heart. If you love aiming burn spells directly at your opponent’s face, this deck is for you:

Ivan_Kulbich_aka_Striped (4-0)

ZEN Block Constructed Daily #982742 on 02/25/2010

1 Arid Mesa
4 Forest
11 Mountain
1 Raging Ravine
2 Scalding Tarn
4 Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle
4 Verdant Catacombs

3 Burst Lightning
4 Comet Storm
4 Expedition Map
4 Explore
4 Harrow
4 Khalni Heart Expedition
2 Lavaball Trap
4 Punishing Fire
1 Ricochet Trap
3 Searing Blaze

4 Goblin Ruinblaster
1 Hellkite Charger
2 Relic Crush
3 Ricochet Trap
4 Roiling Terrain
1 Slingbow Trap

I’ve chosen to highlight this specific build that Ivan has been piloting even though he placed 3rd with a slightly different version in the one Zen Block Constructed Premier Event so far. Like the White Weenie deck above, this 75 doesn’t require a whole lot of monetary investment. The singleton Raging Ravine is the most expensive card, but again, lands shouldn’t necessarily deter you from playing a specific deck as they a) retain their value fairly well because b) you will play they in a wide variety of decks. After that you’ve got Comet Storm, a mythic, but one that isn’t fetching a high price at the moment. Lavaball Trap, Valakut, and Hellkite Charger are all junk rares as far as online is concerned, and you could probably build this whole deck (lands aside) for about 8 tix. Not too shabby.

This deck is ideally situated in the metagame right now. Against aggro decks, you have plenty of removal with which you can toss at their minions to slow them down while you slowly accrue mountains for some Valakut shenanigans. Comet Storm here is huge, as it can easily Wrath their whole team while simultaneously charring their moustache off. Against control decks, Comet Storm being an instant is killer, since their giant threats like Sphinx of Lost Truths provide a window of opportunity to fire off several spells. If they are more reactive and hoping to grind out the long game, your Valakuts begin to shine as they are uncounterable sources of free damage. Prior to Worldwake, many U/W decks were running Spreading Seas to combat the Pinnacle, but the enchantment has since fallen out of favor. The absence of creatures also blanks a lot of removal from the opponent, a handicap I love getting behind.

The only thing that I question about this deck is the singleton Raging Ravine. It seems like cutting a couple of the Catacombs and a Forest to have access to a full playset drastically increases the threats the deck can have without cutting into the Mountain count.

That’s all I’ve got for today. If you enjoy hearing about Block Constructed, or even if you hate hearing about it, let me know. That way I know to write more/less in the future.

Thanks for reading

Zach Jesse
Zoochz on MTGO
[email protected]