The Chump Block – Relax, it’s Champs

SCG 10k St. Louis Offers First Chances to Qualify for the 2010 StarCityGames.com Invitational!
Thursday, December 3rd – It’s somewhat of a shame that State Champs are coming at the tail end of several high profile tournaments this year. While it’s certainly excellent that they are indeed back, the fact that the metagame is so well defined is a little frustrating. Champs is about building that deck that might just solidify your archetype as the one to beat in the coming months.

It’s somewhat of a shame that State Champs are coming at the tail end of several high profile tournaments this year. While it’s certainly excellent that they are indeed back, the fact that the metagame is so well defined is a little frustrating. Champs is about building that deck that might just solidify your archetype as the one to beat in the coming months. Every time I read an article extolling Jund as the be-all, end-all of decks in this current Standard season, I grit my teeth a little. Jund is certainly an extremely solid deck – I play it online – but Champs is a time to try something different. There’s not terribly much in the way of prizes — first place gets free tournament entry for a year — but other than that, nothing crazy. Reading Gavin’s article this week was a breath of fresh air, as it was exactly everything I wanted to say. Instead of rehashing his points, however, I’ll begin discussing how I intend to devour my opponents.

Jund wins because of its card advantage. This statement is nothing revolutionary; many decks rely on the knowledge that the overwhelming utility of having more cards will eventually win them the game. The reason typical avenues of control have thus far been unsuccessful, however, is Jund’s ability to trump traditional avenues of achieving said card advantage. Instead of relying of expensive, game breaking spells, Jund packages its advantage in relatively inexpensive, tempo-oriented cards. This is not an article extolling the virtues of Jund, though. I would rather focus on how to beat it, and to do that one must understand the enemy. There are several ways in which one can proceed when trying to come up with a deck that can beat Jund. I’d like to focus on two of them, however: prevent them from achieving any reasonable card advantage, or simply kill them before their card advantage can come online.

Although it has only recently come into the forefront, the Spreading Seas deck that was deckteched at Worlds has been actually been around for a spell. I believe there were a few people who actually ran in the deck at the very first StarCityGames.com $5000 Standard Open of the season although I personally wasn’t able to attend. For those who are unaware, the deck uses innocuous enchantments to turn all of Jund’s lands into Islands, thus preventing Jund from casting any of its ridiculous spells. In my group’s playtesting session, I was asked to build this deck. I was excited, as this is a deck that is certainly up my alley, and I must say that it was not only quite fun but surprisingly resilient. It obviously had a good matchup against Jund (after all, that’s what it was designed to do), but it wasn’t simply rolling over and dying to the decks that I figured it would. While aggressive decks such as Boros Bushwhacker can certainly apply a lot of pressure with only a single one- or two-drop, often they will be tight on mana to begin with and several Spreading Seas or Convincing Mirages can effectively halt any further assaults if the good guys can stabilize with a Day of Judgment.

In playing the deck, however, I found myself increasingly frustrated with the mana. Trilands are certainly nice, but fetchlands are not as forgiving on a manabase as one would expect when building a four-color deck. In the early turns of a game, occasionally I would have a make a decision on what land to get with a Terramorphic Expanse or a various fetchland, knowing that I might not get a chance to get the other color for a while. Will it be Ajani, or Bloodbraid Elf? It’s because of this awkwardness that Bloodbraid Elves consistently proved to be difficult to cast, as they are basically a double-off-color splash in an essentially Blue/White deck.

I wanted to find a suitable substitute, and I remembered a Red/White land destruction deck that a friend and I discussed as Zendikar was being released that utilized Scepter of Dominance. I slowly started replacing the Bloodbraids in the deck with Scepters, any every time I drew one I was extremely satisfied. They complement the LD package (albeit at a cost of one White mana a turn) thus justifying the switch, but they also act as creature removal by constantly tapping down that troublesome attacker should the need arise. The advantages were several-fold. Icy Manipulator and Wrath of God has historically been a one-two control deck punch by forcing the opponent to over-commit to the board, thus ensuring the maximum value out of the sorcery, and it was proving the same in this deck as well. I’m not sure that 4 is the correct number; drawing too many can be a case of diminishing returns as White mana can quickly dry up. Playing three felt like a correct number, as I was always happy to see one of them. It has single-handedly won me several games, and I encourage people to try them out.

In the effort of trying something completely new, I decided to try the LD deck again, this time with the added Blue for the earlier LD package it provided. I ended up with this deck:

I’m not sure I like the manabase, but I’m not sure what other alternative there is. For a three-color deck, there’s a lot of specific mana requirements and, as stated before, fetchlands cannot always be counted on to produce the color mana one needs on the spot. There can be some awkward scenarios that were similar to the last deck. Should I get this Plains so I can play a Scepter and tap something this turn? Or should I get a Mountain so I can kick this Ruinblaster? The only other option as I see it is adding some off-color duals — Crumbling Necropolis or Jungle Shrine — which then just begs the question of why not just add a fourth color. Losing Captured Sunlight is actually somewhat annoying, as it was a card one could count on to boost the deck out of burn range (or creature smashing range for that matter) and I’m not sure there’s a suitable maindeck alternative for this deck. Having discussed the negatives of the deck, I must say that Chandra is amazing. She can mop up that one pesky creature that’s been giving trouble, or she can provide that clock that leads to her ultimate game-winning ability. The fact that there opponents often have trouble resolving threats not to mention the surprising ability of the deck to handle creatures lets her stand around unmolested for awhile. I haven’t gotten to put in enough testing with this deck to comment on its matchups, but it’s certainly going to be one that I tinker around with in the coming days. If I had to come up with a board, it might be something like 4 Wall of Reverence, 3 Quest for Ancient Secrets (to combat both Turbo Fog and Dredge), 4 White Knight, 4 Baneslayer Angels.

The method I prefer the most for this tournament is simply smashing face. Many of the decks that claim to beat Jund, justified or not, usually end with the caveat that they tend to lose to faster decks. Jund is actually an extremely slow deck as well, and by playing a hyper-aggressive deck, I feel like one has both a chance at beating not only the deck-to-beat, but also the decks that aim to beat that deck as well. Getting back to the foe at hand, with the current trend of dropping Putrid Leeches, the deck has exactly zero creatures that it can play before turn 3, and only a handful of Lightning Bolts and Terminates with which to counter any swift assault. Often, Jund’s attempt to stabilize revolves around plopping a Sprouting Thrinax on the table in the hope that it can stymie multiple attackers for several turns. This has been the reason I’ve been trying to shove cards that negate blockers into several of my decks, as it not only deals with the Thrinax issue, but makes alpha striking past a Baneslayer Angel much, much easier. Finding room for both Kor Hookmaster and Elspeth in a Boros Bushwhacker deck has been an engaging pastime of mine of late, and while the planeswalker is certainly not terribly cutting edge anymore, I hope that someone, somewhere, will run some Hookmasters and completely blow their opponents out of the water. As for me, if I choose to play something aggressive, it might look something like this:

The first question one should ask when designing a better mousetrap is if it’s really better than the already well-defined alternative, in this case, Boros Bushwhacker. I can’t give a definitive ‘yes’ to that question — after all, Steppe Lynx can be a extremely powerful first turn play — but this deck certainly has some things going for it which it’s White/Red brethren doesn’t. First and foremost is this deck’s ability to operate on much fewer lands than Boros. Missing a third land drop with this Mono-Red incarnation is regrettable but certainly not game-breaking, whereas it can be a veritable death knell for the Boros deck, especially with a turn 1 Lynx or turn 2 Geopede. Not reaching that fourth mana for those Rangers or Elspeths stuck in one’s hand can be extremely frustrating as well, whereas you can conceivably win on the fourth turn with this deck while still on merely two lands. I like this ability of this deck to bypass its opponent’s blockers as well. It can simply out-swarm the opponent with a second turn Dragon Fodder into a Goblin Chieftain to give one example, or simply circumvent them via Goblin Shortcutter or Mark of Mutiny. Leaving up a single blocker against this deck can be a grave mistake, and one I hope many of my opponents make, as the latter two aforementioned cards can utterly destroy an unsuspecting player.

The deck is certainly not finished, and there are definitely some cards which I keep trying to play with but for whatever reason keep not making the cut: Jackal Familiar; Hell’s Thunder; even Quest for the Pure Flame has made an appearance, although it tended to be more of a “win more” card and a terrible topdeck. There’s certainly the more traditional Mono-Red deck as an option as well, which run the standard hasty monsters. I like the deck, and may attempt to run it, but for now the focus has been on running some interesting cards. In my testing I’ve found that the deck can go toe-to-toe with Jund pretty reasonably, winning about 50% of the time. Being on the play is certainly important, but what has tended to be the deciding factor in a lot of the matches I’ve played against it so far has been whether or not a Lightning Bolt is sitting in the opponent’s hand. The ability to stall the assault is paramount in this matchup, and often a blocker won’t be enough. If I were to run this today, the sideboard I’d bring would probably be something along the lines of 3 Unstable Footing (to trump that infernal Fog deck), 4 Manabarbs, 4 Hell’s Thunder, 4 Goblin Ruinblaster.

I don’t expect people to grab these decks and run with them. I hope, though, that people take this opportunity to try something new. Jund may be the most powerful deck in the abstract, but there are many, many ways to defeat it. Champs is about having fun; there’s free tournament entry for first place, but other than that it’s simply a relaxed tournament with nothing more than some packs and some honor on the line.

As a final suggestion, kudos to anyone who plays Aven Mimeomancer. Isn’t a turn 1 Birds of Paradise into a turn 2 Mimeomancer just sick?! Add an Emeria Angel into the mix and you’ve got a good bird deck going.