Tribal Thriftiness #94 – States on the Cheap

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Tuesday, December 15th – Dave reviews results from States, looking for inexpensive decks that performed above expectations in the tournaments.

I don’t have my own States story to tell – my wife’s birthday was the weekend of States, and I work pretty hard to remind her that she’s more important to me than Magic. Hopefully next year, States can return to its September timeframe so it can be the formative tournament for a new Standard, as it has been in the past. But for this year, I’m left to letting Bennie Smith and the others regale you with their tales of screaming success and spiraling heartbreak.

Two things combined over the last seven days to bring me to this week’s article. First, my article last week about reducing the cost of Standard’s top decks – and second, the spectacular flooding of Top 8 decks from States / Provincials 2009. And while (as you might guess) there was plenty of Jund to go around, there also were quite a few decks that were reasonably costed that piqued my interest and deserve to be featured in this column.


Rare Cost Summary:
Crypt of Agadeem ($2.99 x 4 = $11.96)
SB Malakir Bloodwitch ($4.99 x 3 = $14.97)
SB Vampire Nocturnus ($14.99 x 4 = $59.96)

Not exactly your typical Vampires list, huh? The maindeck is, ostensibly, a Crypt-based combo deck – not as fast as the blue-black dedicated deck that you’ll see later in this column, but more capable of fighting dedicated anti-graveyard sideboard plans and counterspell-based control decks by switching into a curved-out Vampires deck. With only a single playset of rares in the maindeck (and a cheap one at that), this deck is a sterling example of how an inexpensive deck can do well in today’s Standard. But how much slower than Dredge 2.0 is it? I sleeved up the deck and learned the following things about it:

* You are very likely not going to “combo off” (meaning, tap for a bunch of Crypt mana and cast a huge Consume Spirit) until turn 8 or later. Thankfully, the deck offers a number of ways to stay alive through those eight turns — a fair amount of creature removal, a fair amount of lifegain, and blockers that you don’t mind losing to the graveyard if you have to.

* Learning to mulligan is critical. I did about twenty goldfishes with the deck and learned that a hand with one land and three cyclers, one of which is a one-cycle-coster, is pretty keepable, as you should be able to draw into the second land and start pulling lands from there. A hand with two lands will ensure you a land drop for the rest of the game — that’s been my experience. So don’t be scared by the 16 lands in the deck — just run a few practice hands and walk through the turns.

* The practice hands will also give you a better sense of when you’re going to “go off” and will allow you to use your blockers to the best efficiency.

In the practice games I ran through, I found that I would get stuck with Doom Blades in hand. After all the work I did a couple of months ago on Mono-Black Control, it’s probably because I’m still not crazy about Doom Blade — it’s horrible against Jund and Vampires, useless against Turbo-Fog / Jacerator and the red-white-blue Planeswalker Control deck, and although I guess it’s picked up usefulness if you expect a lot of Naya Lightsaber, I still don’t consider it a decent maindeck card. Maybe if we’re really getting Smother back in Worldwake, that would be a decent replacement, but I went ahead and replaced them with Sign in Blood. You never hate the card draw, and you can pull it out against super-aggro decks if the lifeloss is too much of a liability.

Crypt Combo

Rare Cost Summary:
Extractor Demon ($1.49 x 4 = $5.96)
Kederekt Leviathan ($0.59 x 1 = $0.59)
Sedraxis Specter ($1.49 x 4 = $5.96)
Crypt of Agadeem ($2.99 x 4 = $11.96)
Drowned Catacomb ($8.99 x 3 = $26.97)
Misty Rainforest ($14.99 x 1 = $14.99)
Scalding Tarn ($15.99 x 3 = $47.97)
Verdant Catacombs ($17.99 x 3 = $53.97)
SB Immortal Coil ($0.59 x 2 = $1.18)
SB Kederekt Leviathan ($0.59 x 1 = $0.59)

Now, having messed around a little with the mono-black Crypt combo “Vampires” deck up above, I wonder how much you could apply the mana base from the first to the quick combo power of the second. There’s a wide difference between 21 lands and 16 lands, but there’s also a wide difference between 12 guys who put themselves in your graveyard, and 20 guys who do that, when you’re a deck focused on a land that counts that kind of thing. For a budget-minded build, I’d remove the fetchlands and replace them with 4 Terramorphic Expanse and 3 Jhessian Zombies. You can even try Jwar Isle Refuge as a replacement for the Drowned Catacombs if need be, although I’d be more inclined to just go ahead and up the number of basic lands.

Valakut-Based Decks

Rare Cost Summary:
Bogardan Hellkite ($4.99 x 2 = $9.98)
Oracle of Mul Daya ($2.99 x 3 = $8.97)
Siege-gang Commander ($3.49 x 4 = $10.47)
Lavaball Trap ($0.75 x 3 = $2.25)
Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle ($2.49 x 4 = $9.96)
SB Caldera Hellion ($1.49 x 3 = $4.47)

Eleven land-fetching spells, plus the Oracles, power up Valakut at a pretty good pace, and the other half of the deck is bundled up in removal and some light mana denial. It even manages to squeeze in the Expedition Maps to be sure that you can find a Valakut when you need one. (Or two, or three.) I’m a little confused about the removal package in the sideboard (I guess you need something to side in in matchups where Goblin Ruinblaster is useless), but I love any deck that’s using Terramorphic Expanse in this age of $15 fetchlands, and I love me a Bogardan Hellkite.

Rare Cost Summary:
Siege-gang Commander ($3.49 x 4 = $10.47)
Lavaball Trap ($0.75 x 3 = $2.25)
Chandra Nalaar ($4.99 x 3 = $14.97)
Banefire ($4.99 x 2 = $9.98)
Earthquake ($2.49 x 2 = $4.98)
Scalding Tarn ($15.99 x 4 = $63.96)

Another look at a similar deck, this one less focused on the “combo” (Valakut plus Mountain) and more on providing a large amount of board control while you build up the eventual win. You have plenty of removal to handle aggro decks, and the inevitability of Valakut means that you probably don’t need to devote many resources outside of that to winning. Love the “Swerve plus one Island” available in the sideboard — that looks like a fun surprise, although I’m too dense to understand what it comes in against. Something with Time Warps. Or that Consume Spirit-based combo deck up above. I think you could easily replace the Tarns with Terramorphic Expanses, although I might take out the Swerve sideboard plan since it’s kinda hard to surprise someone when that Island comes into play tapped.

I like the Expedition Maps in the green-red deck better than the Armillary Spheres in the mono-red deck; at some point, you have to figure that GETTING Valakut is going to be more critical than feeding it.

Mono-Black Control

Rare Cost Summary:
Malakir Bloodwitch ($4.99 x 3 = $14.97)
Kalitas, Bloodchief of Ghet ($4.99 x 1 = $4.99)
Ob Nixilis, the Fallen ($9.99 x 2 = $19.98)
Liliana Vess ($6.99 x 2 = $13.98)
Sorin Markov ($13.99 x 2 = $25.98)
Crypt of Agadeem ($2.99 x 4 = $11.96)
Marsh Flats ($14.99 x 2 = $29.98)
Verdant Catacombs ($17.99 x 3 = $53.97)

Another deck that can potentially adapt to the mana base / creature base of the “Vampires” deck at the beginning of this column. This Mono-Black Control deck actually has less control elements than Chris Daigle’s deeck, swapping the creature control cards for the raw power of Mind Sludge and the reusable, permanent-based control with Kalitas and Sorin. Swap in Terramorphic Expanses for the expensive fetchlands, or try the cyclers / landcyclers to power up the Crypt. Crypt here looks to be just used to make multiple big-mana plays (since there’s no X-spell) so if I was going all-in on the Crypt plan, I’d include a miser’s Consume Spirit.

So these decks all fared well at States with a reasonable bottom line – and I believe can offer good results if you’re looking for a low-cost deck to play at your local Friday Night Magic. I find it very interesting that all of the decks I’ve highlighted so far have been centered around one of the non-fetch rare lands from our “land set.” Maybe there’s still more out there to be discovered – and I’m sure we’ll be getting more great lands in Worldwake.

There’s one more deck that I wanted to mention – more because I think it’s interesting, and not so much because of the cost of the deck (although, I imagine, in the grand scheme of things, having only one playset of fetch lands might qualify you as a “budget deck” in this day and age) …

Blue-Green Eldrazi

Rare Cost Summary:
Eldrazi Monument ($9.99 x 2 = $19.98)
Birds of Paradise ($9.99 x 4 = $39.96)
Noble Hierarch ($14.99 x 4 = $59.96)
Thornling ($3.99 x 4 = $15.96)
Gigantiform ($0.59 x 4 = $2.36)
Garruk Wildspeaker ($12.49 x 3 = $37.47)
Misty Rainforest ($14.99 x 4 = $59.96)
SB Eldrazi Monument ($9.99 x 1 = $9.99)
SB Pithing Needle ($7.99 x 2 = $15.98)

It was inevitable that someone would try and pair up the Eldrazi Green deck with something that covered up its shortcomings – namely, the vulnerability to mass removal before Eldrazi Monument comes down – and Justin’s done it by adding in a splash of countermagic. It wouldn’t surprise me to learn that a single Negate or Spell Pierce is enough to hold off the removal and get in there for the last bit of damage. But this deck goes right past the token generators and focuses on making those early mana-producing 0/1s and 1/1s into lethal forces using Gigantiform. Gigantiform! It’s just bonkers. I’d be curious to see if any further decks try to blend the token-producing creatures of Eldrazi Green with a splash of countermagic – seems like it could be an idea worth exploring. Personally I’d rather see an Ant Queen as my five-drop than a Thornling in this type of deck.

The State of States

Of course, this article is glossing over the preponderance of Jund that was the heavy hitter in most Top 8s, as I think we all expected. I know we’ll see a number of metagame-interpretation articles over the next week, and number-crunching isn’t really my forte. But these decks show that there still was a fair amount of innovation at States – and for me, that’s what States was always all about. Standard still has a big elephant in the room, but there’s still a lot of variety – and that will hopefully become more varying as we start to see what Worldwake is going to bring us.

Until next week…


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