The Chump Block – Block Head

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Friday, November 27th – I played on MTGO dutifully for several years before I had my “awakening.” I would sit, when I had a spare 2 or 3 hours, and draft, shaking my fists towards the heavens out of jubilance or anger depending on the outcome. I would sell the rares that I was lucky enough to draft in order to feed my insatiable hunger for computer-based Magic…

For those of you who don’t play Magic Online, this article is probably not for you. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t read it; if anything, I hope you do read it and it inspires you to dust off that credit card and sign up for a brand spanking new Magic: The Gathering online account.

I played on MTGO dutifully for several years before I had my “awakening.” I would sit, when I had a spare 2 or 3 hours, and draft, shaking my fists towards the heavens out of jubilance or anger depending on the outcome. I would sell the rares that I was lucky enough to draft in order to feed my insatiable hunger for computer-based Magic. If the Magic gods were angry with me, however, I could very soon be forced to take a short hiatus until I could afford to purchase some more packs, an investment which might not guarantee more than one or two drafts worth of computerized enjoyment.

I am no longer the starving, college-aged boy I once was; I am now a full-blown starving college graduate. I no longer have the spare change that I would need to feed my online appetite, but luckily, I no longer need to. I have been playing Magic Online for the past 7 months without having to spend a dime due to a little friend I like to call “playing Constructed.” Many of you may scoff at the idea of playing Constructed online. True, the staples of many Standard decks are quite expensive — Baneslayer Angel is an ungodly 40 tix — and without several game-smashing mythic rares on one’s side, winning any one-on-one can be quite the uphill climb. Even regular ol’ rares such as Noble Hierarch and Maelstrom Pulse can fetch a hefty price tag, making the transition to online Constructed seem incredibly daunting from a financial perspective. There is hope, however, and its name is “Block Constructed.”

Unless your local store likes to run tournaments with unique restrictions, Block Constructed is not a format one is likely to hear about in real life unless there is a PTQ season or pro event on the horizon. Through the magic of the internet, however, one can literally play Block whenever one wishes. Stumbling home at 2 in the morning, dejected at your inability to pay rent let alone feed yourself? Play some Block! While I’m sure most of you understand the convenience with which one can find a Block game online, I haven’t quite given a reason as to why you should. How about this: what if every time you drafted, it only cost you two tix and one pack? You would have to do a lot less winning to break even if that were the case, which, at only 6 tix per entry for a Constructed queue, it is. You can effectively play in two Constructed events and have some tix left over for the price it costs to join in one draft. Yes, your odds of opening any sort of ludicrously valuable card you can sell are 0%, but if your long term plan to stay afloat on MTGO is “consistently open sellable cards while still winning the draft,” then your financial sense worse than mine. To the point, playing Block online is an affordable alternative to both Standard and draft. I am going to outline some major Block archetypes, and hopefully one of the following decks will inspire you to cobble something together and give it a spin.

The first and most obvious option when it comes to Zendikar Block Constructed is the Standard wannabe, Vampires. Look under almost any daily event deck of the week, and you will see row after row of lists that start with a vast array of Swamps and Swamp-fetching lands. For instance:


24 Swamp

4 Bloodghast
4 Gatekeeper of Malakir
4 Malakir Bloodwitch
4 Vampire Hexmage
4 Vampire Lacerator
4 Vampire Nighthawk

4 Disfigure
4 Feast of Blood
4 Quest for the Gravelord

2 Halo Hunter
4 Hideous End
2 Marsh Casualties
4 Mind Sludge
1 Sorin Markov
2 Soul Stair Expedition

I highlight this deck, not because I think it is the best choice of Vampire deck or because it contains some amazing hitherto un-discussed unique card choices, but rather to illustrate how inexpensive Block decks can be to construct. This deck went 4-0 in a Zendikar Block Constructed daily event, winning its pilot 11 packs, and costs a pittance to build. The entire deck contains 11 rares, only one of which is worth more than 2 tix. One can certainly trick out ones deck with whatever number of fetchlands feels appropriate, but when it boils down to it, Sorin Markov aside, you can build this very solid and competitive deck for about $12.

Vampires seem to be a very customizable deck choice for the aspiring innovators out there. Often “the best deck” will have a very rigid build, with the top performers varying by only a few cards, but in scrolling through the pages after pages of Vampire lists, one sees a vast array of differing builds. This is most likely due to the unrefined nature of Block decks, as there are not only fewer tournaments to offer up results, but there are few pros out there who are consistently writing about the subject. This in turn lets people who enjoy and succeed at deckbuilding have an upper hand, as “super secret tech” has even more of an impact than it does in a world of overly publicized Standard.

Vampire decks seem to be dominating a lot of the top tables in many of these events, so decks that focus on beating the mirror seem to have a leg up on the competition. Blazing Torch, Eldrazi Monument and Soulstair Expedition seem to be common sources of card advantage or evasion that help for those interested on alternate builds. For those who want to have a good game against the fanged menace but don’t want to run it themselves, here’s a very viable alternative:

U/W Control
Zach Jesse

4 Emeria Angel
4 Sphinx of Lost Truths
2 Sphinx of Jwar Isle
3 Kor Sanctifiers
2 Devout Lightcaster

4 Journey to Nowhere

4 Into the Roil
4 Cancel
4 Day of Judgment
2 Khalni Gem
2 Rite of Replication

4 Seriji Refuge
4 Kabira Crossroads
1 Magosi, the Waterveil
2 Arid Mesa
1 Marsh Flats
2 Scalding Tarn
5 Island
6 Plains

4 Spell Pierce
2 Devout Lightcaster
2 Pitfall Trap
4 Spreading Seas
3 Luminarch Ascension

When watching replays of daily events, I saw this archetype take down Vampires again and again. Even before I saw it smash face with consistency, I knew it was the deck I wanted to run as it does several things I love to do in Constructed matches, namely, counter spells and draw cards. This is the build that I play online, so I have a little bit more to say about U/W than I do about the other decks. Like most control decks, the game plan is pretty simple: survive until the last game with cheap answers such as Journey to Nowhere and Day of Judgment, at which point the deck’s expensive spells can eventually release their full power. And oh what fun expensive spells! Shall we discuss? We shall.

Perhaps one curious omission is the limited card draw. Originally Ior Ruin Expedition was in the deck to help find the more powerful spells but it turned out to be by far the worst card in the deck. It suffered from the same problems that it does in Limited settings: drawing it early is great, but it’s one of the worst topdecks the deck can offer up. More frequently than you would expect, too, the mirror match can revolve around one player being decked (it’s really not that slow and boring; it usually involves a kicked Rite of Replication on a Sphinx of Lost Truths) and the having two less cards can end up being a large liability. When all things are said and done, I would rather have a card that did something rather than one that merely provided a single card in terms of advantage.

The Devout Lightcasters may be a little bit out of place, but drawing them in the wrong match-up is largely negligible, whereas drawing them in their intended matchup is just a blowout. Post-board, they are one of the most powerful spells in your deck against Vampires, as they not only remove a potential attacker (or Sorin), but also provide an almost impenetrable line of defense or unstoppable bashing machine. Obviously, the opponents have foils to your foils in terms of both Gatekeeper of Malakir and, to a lesser extent, Marsh Casualties, but both are easily counterable and not terribly efficient at anything else. I’m generally not too terribly sad to see them spend 5 mana killing my 3-drop that’s already done its damage.

Rite of Replication is a huge powerhouse, but it’s often the card that people play incorrectly. Surprisingly, I’ve found it rather ineffective in the mirror match, where it would seem like it would be a huge boon due to the relative ease of hitting the nine-mana mark. In that matchup there’s few adequate targets though; I’ve already mentioned the danger of copying a Sphinx of Lost Truths, which leaves Emeria Angel as the only real target. Further, there are a plethora of answers to a cast Rite including Cancel, Day of Judgment, or perhaps the biggest routing, a kicked Into the Roil. I tend to board one of them out during sideboarding against the mirror, at the very least, and I’m surprised every time the opponent keeps them in. They are actually quite good against those darn Vamps, as they make any resolved, non-lethal Malakir Bloodwitch a veritable game-over for your side (for those interested in the math, 5 Bloodwitches entering play at the same time is a 25 life drain).

Kor Sanctifiers are an addition that I’ve made, transferring them from the sideboard to the maindeck and one that I’ve been very happy with. Against Vampires, they serve as a not only a Disenchant against problematic cards such as Blade of the Bloodchief, Bloodchief Ascension or Quest for the Gravelord, but the 2/3 body is just as relevant as it is in a Limited environment. Often, it will stymie their attack or, at the very least, draw some removal out of their hand so that your more relevant threats will survive. The Sanctifiers really shine when sent into battle versus more controlling decks such as the mirror. There is almost always a target, more often than not an opposing Journey to Nowhere or Luminarch Ascension.

The only other addition I’ve personally made is the pair of Khalni Gems over two lands. Hitting four mana is generally not too difficult with 25 sources, and while getting stuck on 3 lands with a Gem in hand is infinitely frustrating, having the extra mana is integral toward casting those higher-end spells and the ability to retrigger your lifegaining lands ranges from a nice bonus to highly valuable depending on the game state. They can be destroyed, unlike lands, but I’m rarely unhappy to see them.

There are certainly alterations that one can make to this build. Perhaps the one that is catching one with most fervor is the dropping of Sphinx of Jwar Isle for the more disruptable but more potentially busted Conqueror’s Pledge. I wanted to mention this substitution so that people were aware of it and didn’t think I was in the dark of the change, but I simply don’t agree. While the ability to make 12 tokens can be game breaking, the unkicked variant always seems underwhelming when playing against it. An Emeria Angel from the good guys all but negates the entire spell, and any blocker for that matter only makes the spell do a finite amount of damage which, in a matchup based on card advantage rather than tempo, seems to be strictly against the game plan. A 5/5 untouchable dude is a powerhouse in this format defined by 3/3, 4/4 and 3/5 flyers, and it’s cheaty ability to peek can be incredibly helpful when it comes to whether or not to crack that fetchland.

The Spreading Seas in the sideboard might seem as an odd addition, but it serves as one of the only outs this decks has to its most feared nemesis. As in any format, there is the rock to the scissor, and here is what I feel is slowly becoming that deck:

R/G Valakut

4 Plated Geopede
3 Grazing Gladehart
4 Oracle of Mul Daya

4 Harrow
4 Khalni Heart Expedition
4 Expedition Map
4 Burst Lightning
4 Punishing Fire
2 Chandra Ablaze

13 Mountain
4 Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle
4 Misty Rainforest
2 Scalding Tarn
4 Forest

3 Lavaball Trap

4 Inferno Trap
1 Island
3 Quest for Ancient Secrets
4 Goblin Ruinblaster

While I’ve had the pleasure of beating Vampires more often than not, I’ve had the displeasure of having to face this deck several times and losing with an almost equal frequency. It shouldn’t be surprising; against a slow, controlling deck, the Valakut deck can simply plays its namesake card and win without playing a single spell. Tapping out to kick a Sphinx of Lost Truths often leads to an “eot, double Harrow, sac this Khalni Heart Expedition, Burst Lightning, I win” exchange. While many people certainly devised the deck independently of one another, I had a chance to talk to one creator, RandomForeigner, whom I had battled with many a time before in two-man queues, and whom I saw again in a daily event in which he went 4-0, not losing a single game. Fortunately for him, he played nothing but U/W all day and dodged all the Vampires looming out there which, he admitted, were not the ideal matchup.

This deck, again, is incredibly easy to build, and is an ideal starting place for an aspiring deckbuilder. While the fetchlands contained therein are a bit more necessary than in a Vampire deck due to the smattering of landfall abilities, aside from them it contains merely 13 rares, only 2 of which are worth more than a ticket apiece. One could potentially build this deck for under $10, as rares such as Oracle of Mul Daya, while incredibly fun, are worth almost nothing in the world of infinite drafts online. Also, unless you decide to play the anti-mill sideboard Island tech (which I’m not sure I condone), the fetchlands don’t have to be anything specific. Verdant Catacomb is just as good as Misty Rainforest when it comes to fetching a plain old Forest, so mixing and matching fetchlands can certainly ease the budgetary constraints as well. There are many other deck choices out there for people interested: White Weenie especially has been rearing its head in the winner’s circle recently, and it along with decks such as Boros, SummoningTrap.dec, and Mono-Red are all viable options for those looking to build a fun, inexpensive deck.

One final note about tiptoeing timidly into the realm of Constructed: Don’t be afraid to ask your friends to help you build decks. Unless you have a reputation as a card boggart or thief, generally friends are pretty content with lending cards to their friends. So while you may not have all the pieces to build the ultimate killing machine, with you and your friends powers combined, you might be able to cobble something together. Hopefully this will inspire some people to attempt to battle where they haven’t battled before.

Thanks for reading…

Zoochz on MTGO