I know, I know, I should be focusing on Worldwake spoilers. Everyone’s excited about the new set. My grandma’s been getting her trade binder in order all week getting ready for the big Pre-Release. But there was one more stop on the Magical Highway for me before I head up north to the Pre-Release in a couple of weeks – one last Friday Night Magic – and I ended up trying out something that I think the readers of this column will like.
There was actually two inspirations for this week’s column: Last week’s Extended article showcasing the Scapeshift combo deck, and the results from the Star City Open weekend in Dallas. In the Top 8 of that tournament, Justin Corbett was playing a Valakut Ramp deck that is a great choice for budget players:
The maindeck will probably run you about thirty bucks, which is pretty amazing when you consider a single Baneslayer will run you twice that much. Well, I guess the Bloodbraids are up around $4 now too, but there’s more of a likelihood that you would have cracked a few in packs since Alara Reborn was released.
I started building the deck some time Wednesday night. I was only able to put my hands on one Naya Panorama, so I switched them for Jund Panoramas – the real point is that you can fetch out a Forest and a Mountain, although this would become awkward once I got to the sideboard. I also discovered that I only had three Siege-Gang Commanders, so I added in the fourth Burst Lightning. Not exactly what I would call a fair trade, but I’m never upset to see additional removal.
I grabbed all the items from Justin’s original sideboard, but I will admit that the one area that I could use a ton of practice in is building sideboards. So I do what I usually do – take as many possible cards that might make it in, and then consult with my regular sideboard assistant, Doranless-Doran-aficionado Randy Tempelaar. I think Randy has built my sideboard for at least the last dozen events we’ve played together. I think it does two things: first, obviously, is provide me with a good sideboard with the event we’re heading to – Randy has a lot better feel for the metagame; but secondly, it also gives everyone in the car a little bit of a crash course in the metagame, which is great.
When I showed up at Compleat for FNM, Randy was actually testing against local deckbuilding legend Frank Bowker playing the Valakut Ramp deck, which apparently has taken a bit of an upswing in popularity. I think there was at least five people who took it up for FNM, which is another testament to the availability and reasonable cost of building the deck. Randy was having great success with the giant creatures in the (for lack of a better name) Doranless Doran deck – giant Baneslayer Angels and Knights of the Reliquary. Once you get to a point where you’re having to use multiple Valakut activations to handle these big beasts, you’re reducing the amount of damage that you’re going to be able to hit your opponent with. Clearly this is why Chandra makes a sideboard appearance, but we discussed the possibility of siding into a straight “destroy target creature” possibility – either putting one Plains and some Path to Exiles into the sideboard, or one Swamp and some Maelstrom Pulses. I opted for the Paths, as I thought they also might help against Vampires (and those recurring Bloodghast) – plus, I had those readily available. Frank also noted that the Siege-Gangs weren’t working out very well for him, and that he had swapped straight to Lavaball Trap, which filled the role of “mass removal” that the Siege-Gangs could be, but also kept up the light land destruction theme that the maindeck Ruinblasters give you. I put the Lavaball Traps into the sideboard, and we ended up with this sideboard:
The Earthquakes became Fallouts, which are still great against Boros and (to some extent) Vampires, but also is good against mono-Red, which is much more prevalent in my neighborhood.
R1 versus Stephen, also playing Valakut Ramp – I quickly win the first game when the deck does exactly what’s it’s supposed to do, but lose the second game despite killing three (three!) Valakuts on the other side of the board when I can’t draw into any Valakuts of my own – or any land at all, period. The third game comes down to a couple of missed Valakut triggers on the other side of the board, letting me fetch out enough damage despite being faced with a Bogardan Hellkite looking to seal the deal. 1-0
R2 versus Ivan, playing UWR Control – Game 1 I set him back a turn with a turn 3 kicked Ruinblaster, and while he eventually sets up some defense, I have a Siege-Gang and play the aggressor and beat him down. Game 2, he turns out to be less controllish than I thought when he starts out with T1 Goblin Guide, T2 Deft Duelist, and even though I don’t find a way to handle the Guide until I’m way-low on life, I still manage a plan to kill him. I take a Deft Duelist attack to go to 2, fetch up a second Valakut with an Expedition Map, play it on my turn with a Khalni Heart Expedition and a Panorama in play; all I need is for him to NOT have the Negate when I cast the Harrow to get those last points in. He has it. In game 3, I again disrupt his tempo with an early Ruinblaster, and eventually shoot him down with Valakut. 2-0
R3 versus James, playing Vampires – Last week I played Jund and Top 4’ed, and won a little prize for the first time in about a year. I teased my Twilight-loving wife that I couldn’t do it with Vampires (see my article about the Crypt of Agadeem combo deck) but I could do it with wolves (from Master of the Hunt); evidently this round was to be the revenge of the bloodsuckers. James got a fast start in game one, but I eventually stabilized, but I was stuck using multiple Valakuts to take out two Nocturnuses in a row, which left me struggling for damage to kill him, and he was able to find the last few points of damage. I sided in Fallouts and Lavaball Traps, thinking that the Traps would give me a good sweeper answer for an active Nocturnus; I hadn’t seen Bloodghasts in game 1, so I opted not to go with the Path plan. Of course that means he gets two Bloodghasts active early in game 2, and while I pull a fair amount of removal, I never find a Valakut to get rolling. 2-1
R4 versus Randy – Being faced with six rounds of Swiss for FNM, we decide that it’s much more in our best interests to eat something, so we go get a pita and play some EDH. I’m really beginning to think that my Nicol Bolas decks needs a lot of help before it becomes anything approaching competitive. That being said, I still love playing giant Dragons, and that will undoubtedly be the theme of a future article. Needless to say, we draw here, expecting that we probably had to win out in order to make Top 8. 2-1-1
R5 versus Russ, playing Jund – Game 1, Jund does what it’s designed to do, and even though I can’t get him to pump up a Putrid Leech so I can kill it in response, he doesn’t need the help. In game 2, I stumble on mana, and while I can hold him off a little while (since Blightning really isn’t as damaging against this deck as most), it’s not long enough. 2-2-1
Eliminated from Top 8 contention, I head home.
Thoughts on the deck after playing it:
* Yeah, I could see switching in the Lavaball Traps. This format definitely gives you plenty of opportunities to cast it on the cheap, but even if you can’t, you still ramp into enough mana to hardcast them if you need to. And four damage is certainly enough to kill most of the relevant creatures in Standard. (Most.)
* The “Plains plus Path” sideboard plan is… less than stellar. The fact is, you need to learn when to stop paying attention to what your opponent is doing, and when to start focusing on figuring out how to kill them with Valakut. Undoubtedly this is the reason for the Grazing Gladehearts and Bountiful Harvests in Justin’s original sideboard – they give you those extra turns to get the kill set up. That being said, I still think Baneslayer is a huge problem, not only because she’s hard to kill, but also because she gains your opponent life and makes you have to work harder for the kill; it might be worthwhile to explore Fiery Fall or Windstorm as possible sideboard additions.
* I hate hate HATE Khalni Heart Expedition. I understand that it’s critical to getting to the point where Valakut becomes active, but it is hands-down the worst topdeck ever. Every other ramp spell in the deck is still good once you have fourteen mana and two Valakuts running around turn 9; Khalni Heart Expedition just sits there unless you can somehow find another ramp spell. I think, were I to play this deck again at FNM, I would replace some of them with Borderland Rangers. No, they don’t ramp you, but you have plenty of ramp with Harrow and Rampant Growth, and Borderland Ranger will still fetch you a Mountain in the late game.
Next week: Let’s start digging into Worldwake previews! I hope you’ve already made your plans for attending a Pre-Release, whether it’s a big one run by a Premier TO, or one at your local store.
Until next week…
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