San Diego to Boston to Providence to Boston to Newark to Tokyo to Singapore to Shanghai to Nagoya to Tokyo to Houston to Kansas City to San Diego.
That’s what my next month looks like. By the time you’re reading this, I’ll have already embarked on the first leg of my epic
journey, flying into Boston to stay with my brother for a night, then driving down in a rental car to Providence on Friday. From there, it’s off
to less familiar territory.
Not only will I be traveling halfway around the world and back, but I’m going to be facing new challenges at each stop along the way. Legacy to
Standard to Block Constructed/Draft to Sealed Deck. Every event is a new format. How does one even prepare for something like this? With only limited
time to test for a wide variety of formats, what’s the best way to approach them all?
From a gaming perspective, I’ll be starting in alien lands. I’ve jumped into Legacy lately and have been making some videos on this here
site here to chronicle that journey, but it’s the format with which I’m the least familiar and certainly the one in which there is the most
My preparation for Legacy has been to try to gain the most experience with a single, solid deck as I can and try to iterate on and improve it as I go.
You’ll notice that in each of my Legacy videos, I’m trying out substantially different versions of what is essentially the same core deck.
Given that I can’t devote a ton of time to mastering Legacy with everything else coming up, I’ve been trying to get in a lot of games with
the same basic shell so I understand what matters in each matchup.
While I’m typically one who advocates brewing and testing up until the last minute—my Austin deck was a product of the last two days
leading up to the event—in the case of Legacy, I feel like the format is too wide open and the important interactions too numerous to try to
tinker with dramatically new ideas up until the last minute. There are so many decks that play so differently that it is crucial to understand what
matters in each matchup and how they play out. At this point, I’ve played Junk against a wide range of matchups, from Dredge to Landstill to Zoo
to Affinity to Painted Stone to Team America to Dark Depths and more. While there may be a “better” deck, assuming perfect play, I
don’t think there’s a better deck for me to play. Even now, I’m still learning some of the intricacies of particular matchups (a fact
that I’m sure provides no end of amusement to those of you who get to watch me during my videos when it happens), and I can’t imagine being
more successful by starting over at square one.
As I play Legacy on a more regular basis—which I certainly intend to do because I’ve been having an absolute blast with the
format—I’m sure my perspective will change, and I’ll be much more keen on brewing up new decks. The most important element to
building successful decks is format knowledge. When testing for major events in smaller formats, I prefer to spend the majority of my time early on
playing a wide range of different decks I expect to see from both sides of the matchup. Even if I don’t go on to play any of those decks, the
knowledge I’ve gained from how each deck plays out and the strengths and weaknesses of each saves me a tremendous amount of time down the road
when I’m trying to tune a new deck to beat them.
Next up is Standard, which is a format that I’d love to break wide open and prove the “Ban Jace/Stoneforge” crowds wrong but is
likely to be the one on which I spend the least time. With Legacy as the first of the four formats, and the one least likely to dramatically change
with the introduction of a new set, it made the most sense to me to focus my time there. As I write this, I haven’t played a game of the new
Standard. Once I get to Providence and connect with Brad Nelson, LSV, Ben Stark, and the rest of the crew, I imagine the majority of any time we spend
testing will be devoted to Block Constructed, since that’s the Pro Tour format, and that’s where the real money is.
That being said, I’ve spent a ton of time thinking about Standard, even if I haven’t played it at all, and the more I think about
it, the more I like a lot of my crazy artifact deck ideas. The most recent light bulb came from Sam Black’s article this week about a Tezzeret/proliferate
deck in which he was using Vedalken Certarch. Certarch seemed absolutely perfect for the sort of deck I was trying to brew up, since it can shut down a
Sworded creature or Batterskull against Caw-Blade but can also serve double duty by pinning down lands to keep up the pressure provided with Lodestone
As per my previous article, I haven’t played a game with it, but here’s the list bouncing around in my head:
- 4 Lodestone Golem
- 4 Etched Champion
- 4 Vedalken Certarch
- 4 Phyrexian Revoker
- 4 Spellskite
- 3 Hex Parasite
- 4 Phyrexian Metamorph
The card that probably seems the most out of place here is Flight Spellbomb, which is in the deck primarily as a way to enable metalcraft quickly that
can cycle later in the game and even potentially send a Lodestone Golem to the air for some serious beatdowns. A hand with one- and two-cost artifacts
along with a Mox Opal can produce a turn 3 Lodestone Golem or Tezzeret, either of which can be absolutely devastating, especially on the play. Maybe
the deck would be better off with something else, but it felt like it was something that was at least worth trying.
The combination of Phyrexian Revoker, Hex Parasite, and Tezzeret seems like it ought to give the deck quite a few ways to combat Jace. Most Tezzeret
decks typically aren’t able to apply early pressure, since they’re using mana and utility artifacts rather than creatures, which makes them
much more vulnerable to Spell Pierce, allowing the Jace player to land the planeswalker safely by stopping the artifacts from ever hitting play. Here,
the only cards that can actually get Spell Pierced are Flight Spellbomb, Mox Opal, and Tezzeret himself. Lodestone Golem also makes it dramatically
more difficult for your opponent to actually use countermagic while he’s in play, since they have to keep up as much mana as they want to force
you to pay just to cast Spell Pierce and Mana Leak, all the while paying more for all of their spells while most of yours are unaffected.
While I don’t expect to achieve many victories based on poison, Inkmoth Nexus provides a “free” artifact to turn on metalcraft when
you need it. This can be especially effective if you have an Etched Champion and Tezzeret but only one other artifact in play. You can use
Tezzeret’s ability to turn him into a 5/5 creature for the rest of the game and then activate your Nexus to give him protection from all colors
and send him in. Similarly, you can use Nexus to turn on your Certarchs to lock down your opponent’s permanents when you might come up short on
your artifact count.
I don’t expect to spend a huge amount of time trying to break Standard over the coming weeks, but I’ll certainly try to get a few games in
with something like this. If I end up playing Caw-Blade or Splinter Twin in Singapore, it’ll likely have more to do with just how many
Constructed events I’m playing in a row than my giving up and proclaiming the format ruined like so many others seem to be doing.
The format that will be taking most of my time, and happily so, is Block Constructed. Block has always been one of my favorite formats, and I’ve
been quite disappointed that since my return to Magic, it has been pretty much phased out as a format outside the Pro Tour. The very first deck I built
after I started playing again was a Lorwyn Block Constructed deck, complete with Doran, the Siege Tower, Reveillark, Fulminator Mage, Mulldrifter,
Primal Command, and more sweet, sweet action. I love the fact that Block Constructed provides such a clear set of constraints—only cards from
these three sets—and presents a puzzle to solve. Block Constructed leads to people digging incredibly deep to find solutions to a very fixed set
of problems, and I think it leads to some awesome results. That Doran deck has Juvenile Gloomwidow in the sideboard, even!
I understand WotC’s rationale for cutting back on Block Constructed events, at least. The small size of the format can lead to a very small range
of decks in the field. But while Faeries was clearly the dominant deck of Lorwyn block, it certainly wasn’t the only deck that enjoyed any
success. I don’t know the exact data, but I’d imagine Faeries results in Lorwyn block weren’t too different from those in Standard or
Extended, which is indicative of the fact that Bitterblossom and friends were just too strong in general, and less indicative that there was a problem
with the Block format. Alara block was pretty clearly terrible thanks to Bloodbraid Elf, but Standard wasn’t too much better at the time either.
Right now, it doesn’t even make sense that WotC uses Block Constructed on the Pro Tour. It is a format that only matters for a select group of
players for a single event. The entire reason for the Pro Tour to exist is marketing. How is that marketing to anyone? Not only that, but the Block Pro
Tour each year has a Draft Top 8, so there isn’t even a “winner’s deck” for anyone who might have an inclination toward Block
to go out and build! It’s quite jarring, really. While I’m not sure Block needs to be the format for an entire PTQ season like it has been
in the past, I hope with the dramatically increased number of Grand Prix next year that WotC decides to make at least a few of them Block Constructed.
I’m not going to share any of my specific Block tech with you, since it’s the format for a Pro Tour and all, but I will say that the exact
same things I said about testing for Legacy apply to Block and are much easier to achieve. If you want to figure out Block, play all of the major decks
against each other and figure out what makes them win and lose and why. The “What’s Happening” page on the Magic Online site is a
tremendous resource and should provide you with a good foundation for understanding the format. Granted, there’s an entirely new set that will be
included at the Pro Tour that’s not on Magic Online right now, but you can learn a lot about the important interactions in a Block format by
playing even without the third set. Last year, Brad Nelson won the Magic Online Championship Series in two-set Block with RUG, and then Paulo and Josh
Utter-Leyton went on to make the Top 8 of the Pro Tour with the same basic deck. I’ve been battling in the SOM Block queues from time to time,
and if you want to be fully prepared for the Pro Tour, I suggest you take a gander at them too.
Last, and certainly not least, is full Scars Block Limited. The Pro Tour has six rounds of draft, and GP Kansas City—the finale of this whole
extravaganza—features Sealed Deck on day one and Draft on day two. This is a format I thankfully have played a bit, most recently spending an
entire day battling with the Vegas Magic crew in Panorama Towers after I drove out to watch Scott Seiver win the WPT Championships at
Bellagio—the same event David Williams won last year. Keeping it in the gaming family!
What I’ve noticed from my experience with the new format is that nontraditional Infect decks are a lot better. I think it may even be possible
that white is now the best color for infect, since Lost Leonin is an incredibly fast clock, especially when backed up with Shriek Raptors, Priests of
Norn, and Tine Shrikes. With both the cheapest two-power infect creature in the format as well as the most common evasive infect creatures, white can
take an aggressive position but still close the game out after the opponent stabilizes. My best deck in the course of our drafts was a U/W deck that
won primarily with infect, backed up by Lost Leonins and Blighted Agents with Viral Drake (which is an absolute bomb, by the way), Chained
Throatseeker, counters, and bounce spells. Public Service Announcement: Blighted Agent is a really sweet target for Quicksilver Gargantuan.
It seems like the value of artifact removal has tapered off somewhat, as many of the best cards in NPH are colored creatures. I already preferred
creature removal over Shatter effects by a pretty large margin, but that gap widened considerably with the new set. The importance of early drops has
also increased, I think, because of creatures like Lost Leonin and Glistener Elf. David Williams had a deck with two Glistener Elves backed up by
Mycosynth Fiend, and he was able to dominate games incredibly quickly by getting in a few quick poison hits. Half-and-half decks, while previously
somewhat mocked, are now very viable strategies, with Mycosynth Fiend at the top of the list of reasons why.
I’m sure I’ll be drafting more than just about anything else over the next few weeks, since it’s hard to get a group of gamers in one
place to agree to do just about anything else. I’ll be sure to try to get some of the ones I do on video when I get a chance, and if I do brew up
a sweet new artifact deck, I’ll certainly try to find time to get some videos of that for you all as well.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go pack for a month of gaming. Rough life, isn’t it?
Until next time,