The Dragonmaster’s Lair – Better Beatdown!

Friday, January 7th – Brian Kibler loves attacking. He’s been piloting Zoo, Next Level Bant, and Doran to GP and PT Top 8s for years and wants to continue this trend with the latest Extended season. Watch out, Faeries.

I’m a guy who likes to attack. I can hold my own with control decks, but I’m happiest when I’m turning creatures sideways. That said, I’m not someone who likes to just jam together a bunch of creatures and burn spells and call it a deck. No, I like my beatdown with a side of disruption. If you look at any of decks I’ve had the most success with over the years, all of them are fundamentally aggressive decks, but they each attack the weaknesses of the field in a very specific way.  

“King of Beatdown” David Price famously once said, “There are no wrong threats; only wrong answers.” While it makes for a good saying, it’s unfortunately not quite true. You certainly wouldn’t go into a field full of Perimeter Captains and Kor Firewalkers playing a Goblin Guide deck. Similarly, last Extended season saw Punishing Fire virtually invalidate huge swaths of creatures by its mere existence. Our Doran deck was so effective there because we identified the right threats and the right way to support them.

So what are the right threats in the current Extended and how do we best support them? Well, to answer that, we have to break down the major players in the format and identify the ways in which they defend themselves.

The first MTGO PTQ was won by Faeries, which really should surprise no one who’s been paying attention. Faeries performed remarkably well at Worlds, and it’s the sort of deck that can really benefit from the attention of the masses.

Faeries is the deck that really drives how fast other decks in the format have to be because the combination of Bitterblossom, Cryptic Command, and Mistbind Clique mean that if you don’t mount a substantial offensive very quickly, you’re unlikely to stand a chance. This triumvirate is what set Faeries apart from being a real “control” deck because you can go from being in the game to dead in a matter of two turns while they lock down all of your lands and then tap all of your creatures and swing with an army of dorks.

My first attempt at a disruptive beatdown deck in Extended came from a conversation I had a passing with Nassif the night before the Extended portion of Worlds. Gaddock Teeg seemed remarkably well positioned in the format, stopping Cryptic Command, Wargate, Day of Judgment, Jace, etc. At the time, 4CC was the biggest deck on everyone’s radar, against which Teeg died to Bolt, Fallout, etc., so I wanted to try to play Wilt-Leaf Liege to back him up, which also seemed pretty awesome against Jund.

There are a lot of things wrong with this particular deck, and I’m almost embarrassed to post it (Loam Lion with four turn 1 untapped white sources and only eleven Forests, anyone?), but the most important thing for this conversation is that a four-cost 4/4 isn’t something you ever want to draw against Faeries. I’d play out a Gaddock Teeg, maybe a Kitchen Finks, and be salivating over OMG HOW BIG my creatures would be when I play a Wilt-Leaf Liege the next turn. Yeah, like that ever happened. They’d Mistbind Clique me on my upkeep and then kill my Teeg with Disfigure and Cryptic Command the Liege when I finally had the mana to cast it, and then a couple turns later, I’d be dead. Unimpressive, to say the least.

While Wilt-Leaf Liege sucked, Gaddock Teeg didn’t. He’s not much of a beatdown artist, but he does a great job of keeping unpleasant things from happening to you. Going all-in on “Teeg-protect!” certainly isn’t a good plan, but he proved his value against Faeries and 4CC despite that, to say nothing of the absolute beating he is against Wargate. I’ve played multiple games against various Wargate decks that have been one-hundred percent decided by Gaddock Teeg completely locking them out of the game. He’s definitely made the short list of the right threats to play right now, and I’ve been building decks in part to try to fit him in.

One such deck is Doran. Doran is an interesting sort of deck because there’s so many ways you can build it, and so many of them can be wrong. For Amsterdam, we knew that the format was going to be exceptionally combo heavy, so we wanted our deck to be as fast and disruptive as possible. That meant maxing out on Treefolk Harbingers and fitting in Loam Lion, along with both Thoughtseize and Duress. That gave us both an incredibly fast clock against combo and incredible resilience to Punishing Fire, both of which were huge assets in that tournament.

Things are quite a bit different now, and the kind of Doran build that was so good then is hard to make work now. Treefolk Harbinger is just a Wall of Wood that walks without Doran in play, and all of Faeries, 4CC, Wargate, and Jund are quite capable of killing or countering a Doran. The matchup against 4CC is particularly embarrassing for Treehouse, as Wafo-Tapa displayed in Amsterdam when he dispatched LSV quite handily despite being mana screwed in their match playing for Top 8.

The fact that Doran turns Wall of Omens into the best blocker in history certainly doesn’t help things. I played any number of games with Treehouse-style Doran decks where I’d have a Loam Lion and a Putrid Leech in play, and I just couldn’t play the Doran in my hand because it would let their Wall trade with my Leech.

I liked Doran himself, but he wasn’t great on the mana without Harbinger to support him, and I certainly wouldn’t want to play the full amount of them. Christian Calcano did well at Worlds with a Harbinger-lite version, which is worth a look:

This particular version was built for a less well defined metagame, so the numbers and types of each card are kind of all over the place. Path to Exile in particular is a weird card right now. Interestingly, I actually think lots of decks want Path against Faeries because it helps to soften the devastating Mistbind Clique turns. Path doesn’t seem like the sort of card you want against control decks, but it’s important to remember that Faeries isn’t really that. Interestingly, it’s also a good solution to another big problem card that beatdown has to deal with – Wurmcoil Engine.

Wurmcoil Engine is like some kind of sick joke. Not only is it an enormous beating against any kind of beatdown deck, but it’s also an artifact, which means that anyone who wants to can play it – oh, and by the way, it just so happens to be a solution that Faeries decks can use against Great Sable Stag. It’s apparently not bad enough that they have Wall of Tanglecord – another card that makes Doran himself somewhat embarrassing, I might add.

Wurmcoil has proven to be a big problem for a lot of the decks I build. They’re more midrange than ultra-aggressive and don’t tend to have all that many ways to actually get the big artifact off the board profitably. It’s the reason for the Oblivion Rings in that first G/W list, but that may be the only good part about them, since they provide a decent answer to Wurmcoil, along with things like Bitterblossom and Prismatic Omen, but I’m not happy paying three during my main phase to try to handle either of those. Maybe I need to stop being stubborn and just actually play with Paths.

One deck that I’ve been messing around with, in which I feel I have a good excuse not to play Paths, is a VengevineFauna Shaman deck. Fauna Shaman is a card that initially got a lot of hype and then sort of dropped off the radar in Standard when Mythic proved to be a better configuration for aggressive green decks in the old Standard, and in the new Standard, Vengevine just doesn’t compete with Valukut. Maybe Vengevine is the wrong way to go when Valukut is still perfectly legal and just plain better, but hey, at least it’s not the deck everyone is playing!

I’ve actually had a decent amount of success with this deck against Jund, Wargate, and Faeries, along with the random selection of other decks that show up in the queues. Bloodbraid Elf and Gaddock Teeg make playing non-creature spells of any cost somewhat awkward, since you want to be able to rely on bringing your Vengevines back every time, so this deck is as animal-heavy as it gets. Rawr!

One card that has been surprisingly good overall is Squadron Hawk. It provides fuel for Fauna Shaman and helps keep your Vengevines going and can help block things like Demigod of Revenge while you grind out your Jund opponents. I’ve been sideboarding it out against Faeries because it’s slow, and you need to make room for higher impact cards, but overall, it’s performed well. The deck may not seem disruptive at all, but Gaddock Teeg and Pridemage – along with Fauna Shaman to find them – and Tectonic Edges courtesy of Knight of the Reliquary give the deck a surprising number of ways to deal with the format’s relevant threats.

One card I’ve found myself constantly wanting in my beatdown decks is Mana Leak. Thoughtseize is nice, but so many decks have redundant effects at different points in their curve that what you really want to do is to stop their spell and keep swinging. Or just swing once and explode them into little pieces, like so:

This is the second-place deck from the MTGO PTQ, played by I believe SCG’s own Cedric Phillips, who was complaining on Facebook about losing in the finals (to which I replied, “That’s what happens to quitters”). This is basically the Standard deck with better mana thanks to Scars of Mirrodin, and it’s still quite powerful. I’m not sure I’m convinced a deck with threats that average four mana is what I want to play in a world of Mana Leaks and Cryptic Commands, but I suppose twelve mana creatures help you back up your threats. I can’t imagine Mythic really getting out of hand if people want to beat it because Faeries players can run things like Deathmark if they really want to, but I think Thoughtseize, Mana Leak, and friends should probably already be able to handle it. Cedweller did lose to Faeries in the finals, after all.

The “mainstream” beatdown deck that I like best right now is Jund. Jund is interesting to me because it has so many ways it can be built that it’s hard to gauge what people even mean when they talk about how their deck does against Jund. Are you playing against decks with Anathemancer? Boggart Ram-Gang? Sprouting Thrinax? Demigod of Revenge? All of these dramatically impact how the deck performs in different matchups, and – unlike Faeries – it doesn’t seem like the accepted build has quite settled yet. The deck performed rather poorly at Worlds, but it could very well be due to the card choices of the pilots.  

This third place finishing deck from the MTGO PTQ is my favorite build of Jund I’ve seen so far. Fauna Shaman gives the deck a much-needed additional two-drop and one that can cause serious havoc if left unchecked thanks to Demigod of Revenge – or just chaining Bloodbraid Elf for value or Anathemancers to go to the face. The deck eschews Boggart Ram-Gang, which I think quite frankly stinks right now. He dies to Lightning Bolt, Vendilion Clique, and Kitchen Finks and puts a huge strain on your mana base. Just not worth it.

Finks itself, however, I think is awesome. I remember playing Doran in Lorwyn block, and Finks was my favorite card in the deck. It was good against beatdown, survived mass removal against control, and helped you win races against Faeries, along with being difficult for them to kill once it entered play. Remember, Faeries is

a control deck – life gain is very relevant in the matchup if you have the tools to race them, and this deck certainly has those.

Last but not least is Tempered Steel. Tempered Steel is a deck we actually spent quite a bit of time on in our Worlds preparation but discarded for two reasons. Firstly, it was a huge dog against 4CC, since mass removal plus Esper Charm for your Tempered Steels meant you were often left with something like a single Memnite.

Secondly, and more importantly at this point in the season, the deck has just absurdly high variance. You live and die by your opening hand, and a huge percentage of seven-card hands out of this deck are just unplayable. I haven’t done any serious testing of this deck since before Worlds, and I doubt I’ll delve much into it over the next few weeks, but I’d feel remiss if I didn’t at least mention it in my beatdown breakdown.

I’m still searching for the deck I want to play in Atlanta, and I’ll be honest – I haven’t even bothered to trade for Cryptic Commands on MTGO, so there’s a good chance I’ll be swinging with monsters when the time comes. I have some more brews that have yet to see the light of day (or soft glow of a monitor, which is probably a more accurate description), so I’m certainly not done just yet…

Until next time,