Going in to this article, I knew I was going to have two choices. Two experiences from which to draw for this column. I knew I probably wouldn’t get a chance to look at the top decks from the StarCityGames.com $5000 Standard Open in Philadelphia – although I’m sure Chris Otwell is rethinking any wagers regarding the popularity of Jund decks now – so I was down to regaling you with one of my Magical experiences from this past weekend. It was either going to be stories of my victories and defeats at Friday Night Magic, or my envelope-grabbing performance at the PTQ on Saturday.
I imagine you can probably guess how well I did on Saturday by looking at the decklist of what I played Friday night.
- 25 Swamp
Rare Cost Summary:
Malakir Bloodwitch ($5.99 x 3 = $17.97)
Sorin Markov ($14.99 x 2 = $29.98)
Bloodchief Ascension ($6.99 x 2 = $13.98)
Sadistic Sacrament ($1.99 x 3 = $5.97)
Eternity Vessel ($2.99 x 2 = $5.98)
If you remember from last week, I suggested a build very close to this, although more budget-friendly. New Standard formats tend to be heavily creature-centric, and so I felt that a deck full of creature removal and hard-to-kill finishers would fare well. (I still think this is true, it just needs some tweaking.)
Why I added the rares: Malakir Bloodwitch is a hard-to-remove finisher in today’s Standard. Cards that remove her one-for-one that see play right now that I can think of – three, Bituminous Blast, Tendrils of Corruption, and a kicked Burst Lightning. She evades or survives all of the one- and two-casting-cost removal options that are so popular right now. Sorin Markov is a late-game powerhouse that is a constant source of creature removal and a win condition all rolled into one. Bloodchief Ascension is another source of late-game damage that I wanted to test out and see if it was worth two slots.
Sideboard thoughts from when I built it: Deathmark is a better kill card against anything that makes White or Green creatures (obviously) to include UW Baneslayer Control and Jund or Naya. Jund, in particular, is susceptible to Deathmark, since every creature they run is Green. Sadistic Sacrament is for any X-factor that I don’t think I can deal with — Great Sable Stag, for example. Marsh Casualties is a one-sided sweep against Soldiers and other weenie-producing decks. Vampire Hexmage is a solution to powerful opposing Planeswalkers like either Ajani. And Eternity Vessel was just a fun thing I wanted to test out against aggro decks like Mono-Red; I figured if I could keep a fairly high life total in the early game with all my removal, I could drop Eternity Vessel on turn 6 and just completely shut them out.
Round 1 versus RG Landfall
I get an early Ascension followed by a Nighthawk, and start putting counters on it. With two counters on the Ascension and a Hideous End in hand, my opponent FINALLY casts a creature for me to kill — unfortunately it’s Mold Shambler with kicker, which blows up my Ascension. I still kill it and add a Bloodwitch to push in the final damage. In game two, I manage the creature flow and eventually get a Nighthawk and a Gatekeeper on the board to start bringing the pain. My opponent has three cards in hand and eight mana. What’s in Standard that costs eight mana at instant speed that could potentially wreck my board? Oh yeah, they reprinted fridgin’ Bogardan Hellkite. Youch. I kill it at the end of his turn, but still, my board is clear at this point. I draw Duress and check his hand — two more Hellkites! Luckily my last card is Mind Sludge and I can get those guys where they belong – the graveyard. From there, I still only narrowly survive before drawing Sorin, knocking him to 2, and pointing a Sign in Blood at him. He seems less than happy to draw the cards. 1-0
I realize at this point I’m starting to confuse my Friday night with my Saturday, because I could swear that this opponent put Gigantiform onto a creature (that I then killed). That certainly sounds more like something that would have happened Saturday – and also means it’s less likely I actually killed it. My Saturday started off with a pool that I was told, by the numerous people it passed through prior to getting to me, that it was “ridiculously good” – and then proceeded to sit there the entire deck construction period trying to figure out WHAT was so ridiculously good about it. To that extent, I misbuilt the deck (scrambling even to do land counts right up until the final minute) and ended up with a four-color monstrosity out of what SHOULD have been a White-Green aggro deck with a minor splash. Talking with people after the tournament yielded this nugget of insight: Alara left us all much too greedy. We’re used to being able to cram all the “good cards” into our Limited decks with little downside – and Zendikar is just NOT that kind of format, no matter how many Harrows you open. Players who figure that out the quickest with likely be the ones rewarded in these early Sealed PTQs. Anyway, I know I won this matchup at FNM, so even though I dropped out of the PTQ at 1-3, at this point I was 2-0 on Friday night. 2-0
Round 3 versus Jund Aggro
In game 1, I realize how useless my Hideous Ends are in this matchup. It’s not even a Doom Blade versus Hideous End question in this instance – they both have the same shortfall of not targeting Black creatures. With Jund Aggro and Vampires! as probable big players in the new Standard, this deck really needs another way to handle creatures WITHOUT restrictions. I mean, even though I can kill Bloodbraid Elf and Putrid Leech with Disfigure (and I did), the Hideous Ends quickly become dead weight. This deck needs Sudden Death. In game 2, I swap in the Deathmarks which work a lot better, and keep the hordes at bay long enough to get a Bloodwitch and get through. In game 3, though, I am faced with the perfect Jund “curve” and he kills me before being forced to cast the Broodmate Dragon in his hand. 2-1
Round 4 versus Vampires!
When Vampires! gets a good curve draw, they are hard to stop. If they go Turn 2 Bloodghast, Turn 3 kill your Gatekeeper with my Gatekeeper, Turn 4 Nocturnus, that’s going to be hard to beat – especially when your Hideous Ends don’t actually kill stuff. In game 2, I use Marsh Casualties and Disfigure to clear his board, stay at a comfortable life total thanks to Tendrils, and finally drop an Eternity Vessel on 19. Thankfully he is not running Hexmages in the sideboard, so he has no way to deal with it. I draw the Eternity Vessel in game 3 as well, but can’t stay at a decent enough life total to drop it, and a pair of Nocturnuses (Nocturni?) overrun me. 2-2
Round 5 versus Naya Aggro
I am praying for removal for the entire two games. I point early removal at things like Wild Nacatl and Woolly Thoctar, which means that his mid-game Scute Mobs are going to get out of control in a hurry. Luckily I am also applying damage in the air with Nighthawks and Bloodwitches, and win the damage race to squeak out the win. 3-2
Round 6 versus Mono-Red
It could be “win and Top 8, lose and go home” in this match. I manage some of the early creatures in game 1, offing a Goblin Guide and a Ball Lightning and at least one 7/1 token, but the second 7/1 from a Zektar Shrine Expedition hurts a bunch, and he draws burn before he (or I) draws a creature so I can point a Tendrils at it. Game 2, his choice of running Punishing Fire allows him to offset Sorin’s +2 ability and bring me down into burn range. 3-3
So what does this deck need? It needs instant-speed removal that can deal with Black creatures, or creatures with toughness greater than 2, at least. Disfigure is great for what it does – I’m more thinking a replacement for Hideous End, which was just okay. If only we had a two-mana spell that just said “Destroy target creature” … oh right. The problem with running Terminate is that it requires a lot of adjustment to the manabase, and even if you’re just looking at Terramorphic Expanse and Akoum Refuge (for the budgetary mind), you’re still watering down the number of actual Swamps you are playing, which weakens Tendrils (one of the most powerful removal tools you have) and Mind Sludge.
Fellow MBC enthusiast Rick Ashby suggested Wretched Banquet, but I’m not sold. I can imagine there would be times where I’d be forced to use it on a Noble Hierarch rather than a Rhox War Monk and that would be irritating – and it’s sorcery-speed, which means any kind of pump effect (like, say, the one on Putrid Leech) can easily negate it. The problem is that there’s not much at instant-speed, which means that I may have to give up that flexibility just to get something that will regularly kill non-Black creatures.
In whatever case, the Bloodchief Ascensions as a two-of never got active, which means it’s likely I’ll pull them out. Removing them will at least make me run Doom Blade over Hideous End (as the two life becomes less relevant), as that comes closer to the curve I’d like and doesn’t glut me at the three-casting-cost spot. I’ll take suggestions for the two slots remaining (Rick is a fan of Nightmare) but they might become maindeck Infests. Leave your suggestions in the comments! I’m planning on playing this deck in two weeks at the Front Range Magic Team Challenge, and so I’ll probably be talking about it a fair bit.
Next week, I’m going to take a look at the new mechanics from Zendikar and build some budget decks using Landfall and the Allies!
Until next week…
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