Thirst for Knowledge – A Force To Be Reckoned With

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Wednesday, August 4th – I’d like to talk a bit about the most powerful spell in Standard: Destructive Force. At first, many were skeptical. Destructive Force is an awkward spell to evaluate because it costs seven and has to be viewed in context in order to truly appreciate it. Well, M11 has been out for weeks now, and the Top 8 lists don’t lie: this card is the real deal.

Grand Prix: Columbus is now over, and it was certainly a good time. GPs always are, but I will give props to this particular event: not only was it a Legacy GP, but it was also at a wonderful venue. I don’t think I’d be alone in saying that the Greater Columbus Convention Center was a fantastic tournament site, and the lighting and overhanging balconies were awesome. I mean, after the poor quality of the Grand Prix: DC venue this was a welcome change of pace.

I ended up playing Aluren at the Grand Prix, which was probably a fine choice. The hype for the deck going into the event was through the roof, and it wouldn’t be too far off to dub it the “deck to beat” based solely on that fact. Anyone who could get their hands on Imperial Recruiters was playing the deck, and I was one of those people (special thanks to Jonathan Lekse for letting me use his — I really appreciated it, man!). It had a fast clock, a reasonable control shell, and it was pretty hard to disrupt. A number of players made Day 2 with the deck (I got knocked out of Day 2 by Conley, but “them’s the breaks”), but the star of the show was clearly Counterbalance (as always). No matter how unfavored the archetype seems, these Legacy GPs always seem to showcase just how good Tarmogoyf and CounterTop are together. Saito’s decision to play Merfolk was an awkward one given how many people expected loads of Zoo and Goblins, but the “Saito Factor” came into play and he just wrecked opponent after opponent. Whether or not Merfolk was a good choice or not is hardly relevant now anyway — it’s Saito. He’s simply a master.

Beyond that, the Grand Prix didn’t really offer a whole lot in terms of innovation. I mean, it’s very good to see that Durward made Top 8 with his UG Madness deck, a deck that used to love back in the day. Chapin had his Survival deck with four copies of Fauna Shaman, but that’s not a lot more exciting than your usual Survival list. There weren’t really any breakout decks aside from the Madness deck, so from a player’s point of view it kind of was a letdown. Still a fun event overall, though. Congrats to my teammate Brian Arnoldy on his first GP Day 2, and thanks to Pam and the rest of the RIW crew for the support and the cards for the weekend!

Now, however, I’d like to talk a bit about the most powerful spell in Standard: Destructive Force. At first, many were skeptical. Destructive Force is an awkward spell to evaluate because it costs seven and has to be viewed in context in order to truly appreciate it. Well, M11 has been out for weeks now and the Top 8 lists don’t lie: this card is the real deal. Here is what I registered for the PTQ on Day 2:

The PTQ itself went very poorly for me since this deck simply cannot beat a turn 1 Goblin Guide, and I had the misfortune to stare that down in the early rounds. Regardless of that, though, I wouldn’t really change much about this deck. The singleton Time Warp could probably be upped to a two-of over a Primeval Titan, but otherwise the list is very solid. You don’t normally see Time Warp in this style of the deck, but Jason Terry assured me that it was “super explosive” whenever he cast it at the prior weekend’s PTQ, so I ran with it. It doesn’t really take much imagination to get why, as by the time your opponent gets to untap again you’re so ridiculously far ahead that it easily justifies itself a slot.

The only reasonable changes to this deck I’d make would be to alter the ramp spell configuration. The issue is that Explore sucks. I mean, think about it: we’re talking about a spell that doesn’t actually fetch lands, and unless you have a grip full of lands you’re just gambling that it will “ramp” you when you draw the card off it. This normally isn’t a huge deal if you’re running 27+ lands, but this deck only wants around 25, so you’re far less likely to draw a land off of it when you cast it. It’s just awesome following a same-turn Cultivate and it’s obviously much better later in the game, but how often do we build ramp decks with that mindset? How often do we choose our “ramp spells” based on how good they are PAST turn 3?

So where does that leave us? Ironically, I think I want some number of Explores. Despite how much I hate the card, the simple fact is that it’s probably slightly better than Cultivate because it allows you to skip to four mana on turn 3, which is what this deck wants to do. In addition, I think I undervalued Mitotic Slime when I was building my sideboard. Playfully dubbed “Level-Down Slime” by DJ Kastner, this guy is actually pretty sick in this archetype. Post-Force it’s still a four-power beater, and most often it’s just a better Thrinax. You can board it in just to have a better threat density, and it’s usually just better than the Titans themselves since it lives through anything short of a Path.

That being said, I would consider this list over the old one:

Like I said, you want to get to four mana as soon as possible. Of course, it’s also reasonable to just not play Cultivate at all and play the full set of Explores, but I think at that point you lose the ability to ramp to six faster (as Explore still needs you to have lands in-hand), which is obviously working backwards. The added Time Warp is also debatable, but most often you can either cycle it pre-Titan or Force and then just blow them out once you’ve played one of those. It also gives you an attack phase with your late-game Titans against UW decks before they are killed, so it can extend the mileage on those creatures by a large margin.

Frost Titan is the only card I wish I had room to play more copies. I could get behind playing zero Warps and going up to a second Frost Titan and the second Into the Roil again, but I’m not sure it’s needed. Frost Titan fills a specific role: the mirror. He keeps other Titans tapped, and that’s really all he needs to be doing. He also clearly plays well with the “destroy all of your opponent’s lands” plan, but in the end he’s just ensuring that your opponents can’t come out on top in the mirror after a Destructive Force. If he had a second function, though, I’d say it is definitely to fight Knight of the Reliquary. Knight is insanely hard to deal with because he not only survives Force every time, but he also thrives on it. You usually can’t even attempt a Force while he’s in play, and we certainly don’t want our opponents to have 6/6 Meddling Mages, do we? You can basically do one of two things: Roil him or Jace him, and then cast Force. If you have a Frost Titan you’re set, of course, but otherwise Knight is just a hassle. Post-board you have Mind Control, but even then you have to have it before they untap with Knight and can fetch Sejiri Steppe.

The headache of Knight isn’t all bad, though. We can use it to our advantage. The “synergy” between Knight and Force is hard to ignore, so what if we play them together? Consider this:

Now, this list has a lot more creatures than your average Titan deck, but the tradeoff is that you are doing “more” with the deck than the other versions do. A friend of mine was trying to pitch the Naya version of this deck to me, but I couldn’t understand the purpose of White. Ajani Vengeant is definitely insane, but it just wasn’t worth the switch. However, when you factor in Knight (which he didn’t have in his list), it all makes more sense. Knight can help ramp you to Force and it survives through it as a 7/7 at least. In addition, White lets you run Wall of Omens, which helps solve the Goblin Guide problem, and that is a pretty strong reason to give White a shot.

I’m not convinced that the White version is better than the UGR version, but it gives it a run for its money. Sun Titan is a card I wasn’t sure I wanted to play over Inferno Titan, but to be honest, being able to recur Tectonic Edge, dead Knights / Walls, and even the singleton Oblivion Ring seemed reasonable. He also serves as a pseudo Primeval Titan post-Force, since he can return the lands you blew up and he doesn’t even have to tap to do any of that. The Vigilance is actually relevant too, since it makes him the best Titan against Red decks (well, outside of maybe the Red one), and I don’t need to explain why that’s a good thing.

This version of the deck gets more mileage out of Explore, too, since it plays more lands and it has more tapped lands which prevent you from playing Cultivate on turn 3 anyway. You also get an additional turn 2 play with Wall of Omens, which is obviously really strong and digs you deeper into your deck (remember we don’t have Mind Spring anymore). Autumn’s Veil is a lot worse than Negate in that it cannot counter just any noncreature spell, but it is a lot better at countering removal spells on your creatures and helping you resolve your Destructive Forces, which is a plus. The rest of the sideboard is pretty standard, so there shouldn’t be much to say about it. The only thing to note is that Path might be better off as Condemn since we want to deny them lands, but I don’t think it’s that big of a deal overall. If we’re resolving Destructive Force, what difference does it really make if they get to fetch one land? Beyond that, the deck is somewhat weak to Jace if you don’t draw an Ajani or an Oblivion Ring– more maindeck Rings could remedy that, so that might be necessary.

No matter how you decide to build with Destructive Force, you’re going to get positive results. My friend Ryan Wall took a RG version to the Top 8 of Garden City’s PTQ two weeks ago, and his list was fairly close to the one I wrote about a few weeks ago. I don’t think playing the deck without a third color is wise mostly because it just seems like a waste not to add another color, but the point is that Destructive Force is just a beating in any form. The card is really just a lot worse than Wildfire in theory, sure, but in the context of this Standard format it is miles better. Being able to kill Baneslayer Angel and hit an additional land is more than worth it (five mana is pretty key in this format), and this card has more than proven itself.

If played right, you can easily beat a UW player as long as you resolve Destructive Force, and you just destroy Jund decks if you get to Titan mana. The other aggro decks fold to your superior spells, and you can beat Turboland if you land a planeswalker and can get an early Force. The only match-up where you’re a dog is against the red deck, and the white version has a much better match-up with that deck. Both have access to Obstinate Baloth and Pelakka Wurm, and those two spells are definitely key in that match-up.

If you’re looking for a deck for the end of this season, my stock is in Destructive Force. It’s simply the most powerful spell in the format, and it’s impressively hard to beat for 90% of the decks in Standard. My only word of warning? Beware of Manabarbs. That card will likely be seeing a lot more play in light of the Force decks, so be wary.

Until next time…

Chris Jobin

Team RIW

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