WHAT, MORE STANDARD?
As if the overwhelming amount of Magic strategy over the last three weeks hasn’t been almost COMPLETELY about Invasion and the new Type 2, I still can’t seem to think of anything but. So that’s what is in this week’s column: only Standard decks. I’m becoming a one-trick pony, I know, and since these are just templates for tuned decks, it’s probably not helping any of you. I’m sorry. Next week I promise I’ll go back and look at something you all care about – like whether Corn Nuts are corn, or nuts, or neither.
With the Invasion’s news cards flooding in, the general impression is that five-color Green can again be a viable deck choice. I certainly am inclined to agree, but I think that in order to be able to see what would work today, we need to look back at some of the older 5cG decks that were successful, then figure out what we can take from their success.
The first thing that comes immediately to attention is the usage of a lot of lands that produce all five colors of mana. When 5cG was in prime form, the deck had access to Undiscovered Paradise, City of Brass, and Gemstone Mine – and then later added Reflecting Pool once Tempest came out. Currently we are not as lucky as to have access to all those tools, with just City of Brass in the main set. Henge of Ramos is passable, but not as effective at mana-washing as Nomadic Elves are. Rhystic Cave is a crapshoot, and I’m not sold enough on Archeological Dig to use it quite yet. This means we’re forced to look beyond City of Brass to see what lands we can use. Thankfully we’re gifted with the new dual lands, and can at least use Elfhame Palace and Shivan Oasis in some capacity. Let’s hold off on the mana mix until we’ve established the rest of the contents of the deck, though.
Birds of Paradise are a no-brainer. The older 5cG decks also used Quirion Ranger as a form of mana acceleration, and we can opt to use Utopia Trees in their place, which will help shore up our multi-colored mana production that is faltering because of land options. Another option would be Nomadic Elf, who not only can produce any color but also can serve as an attacker (and still produce colored mana, even while tapped). Since the deck is usually centered around clearing the path for smaller attackers to get through, I think the Nomadic Elf is going to be the better choice.
Another fun staple of 5cG was Granger Guildmage. The Guildmage’s dual abilities were both useful in this deck: the red pinging ability could kill smaller blockers, and the white first-striking ability could help you win combat battles. Thornscape Apprentice brings back a similar creature – only now the red ability is the first striking, and the white ability can be used to keep even larger creatures from attacking.
Now, the beef of the attacking creatures usually were green, with a mix of Jolrael’s Centaur, River Boa, and sometimes Rogue Elephant – and they also had utility CIP creatures like Uktabi Orangutan and Man-o-War, which could serve as attackers after using their effect. We don’t have access to
Man-o-War or Jolrael’s Centaur any more, but we can hopefully fill in the spots with other creatures. Capashen Unicorn is an inexpensive creature, and can be used to blow up enchantments or artifacts if necessary. Jolrael’s Centaur was great because it could kill three-toughness guys, so why not use some of the great 3/3-for-3’s we have access to now, like Silt Crawler or Noble Panther? We seem to be leaning towards green/white as the main colors, so Noble Panther certainly fits. We also need a couple of heavy hitters, like a Maro or a Jade Leech or a Blastoderm.
Now that we have our creature base built up, let’s talk about disruption. The old 5cG decks used a mix of Winter Orb and Armageddon to mess with their opponents, and while we still have access to Armageddon I think we might even be able to go one better. At 4W Global Ruin is a little more splashable, and we can engineer the deck to reap the benefits of the spell (i.e., be at four or five lands after the spell resolves) with little adjustment. Is this better than Armageddon when it comes to the control players on the other side of the board? I expect they’ll be heavier into the dual lands, and we might catch them with only Islands on the board. One Island means they can still Daze or Disrupt – but since we’ll be at 4 or 5 lands, we should be able to play around that. To adjust the mana so that we’re using more basic land, we have a couple of options: Harrow certainly could work, getting us the extra types of land we need, as could Elfhame Sanctuary. Clear the Land is a drastic choice, but Scouting Trek even might work okay. Scouting Trek + Rowen – hey, is that a combo?
Now we need removal. Incinerate took up the red spot in traditional decks, and unfortunately that’s gone. So is Swords to Plowshares, which saw play in the earlier versions (pre-Tempest). There’s still Terror. Maybe since we’re shifting into basic lands we could use Tribal Flames, which hopefully will do as much damage as an Incinerate. There’s also Scorching Lava for dealing with pesky in-graveyard or regenerating guys. I think I’ll use Do or Die instead of Terror for my black removal. I also added in one Fact or Fiction for the card drawing.
That leaves us nineteen spots for land. That hopefully will be enough – the casting cost of most of the cards is low, plus the mana acceleration of the
Birds, the Sanctuary and Harrow should be able to get us the mana we need.
A more traditional version with Armageddons probably would work also. For the Armageddon version, I think Utopia Trees are probably a better fit because they actually produce mana, and can help you recover faster from an Armageddon.
KAVU SEEN MY THEME DECK?
I touched on elves and merfolk last week, and the merfolk deck I’m working on currently (mirroring some of the black/blue development that’s been seen elsewhere on the web) seems to be pretty good. But there’s another creature type that’s in Invasion in bulk, and there really haven’t been any decks that deal with them yet. That’s right, I’m talking about Kavu.
(As an aside, I wonder what the pronunciation of "Kavu" is. I’ve been pronouncing it ‘kav-oo’, but I pronounce Mageta ‘ma-get-a’ and not ‘ma-geet-a’ or ‘ma-jeet-a’ like I’ve heard, so what the heck do I know.)
There’s a number of potential ways to go. The bulk of the Kavu are red and green, with one black one. The gold Kavu are similarly split. The green ones tend to be huge, with Kavu Titan at the top of the scale, and Kavu Chameleon and Serpentine Kavu in behind him at 4/4. The reds tend to be middle-of-the-road, generally 3/3 for 4 or 2/2 for 3, as well as some weenie Kavu for the opening of the mana curve. The only decision, color-wise, really is "should we include the black?" Adding the black would give us access to Firescreamer (a potential game-winner with the trample granted by Kavu Monarch) and Vicious Kavu, a 4/2 attacker for 3 mana. I think that in the long run it may be better to stay green/red, and go from there.
The game plan for the deck should be: turn one, lay down mana acceleration, turn two, a two- or three-cc Kavu, turn three, Kavu Monarch or similar 4cc Kavu. On turn four we should be able to play another Kavu, pump up the Monarch, and hit for big amounts of damage. For the low end of the mana curve: Kavu Titan is an obvious choice here, as is probably Rogue Kavu. The Rogue is essentially a 3/1 attacker for 2 in the early game, which is nice, but you don’t necessarily want ’em late-game when they are just a 1/1 speed bump. Rounding out the early selection, I’d probably use either Kavu Aggressor (and just ignore the kicker), or Hunting Kavu. The 4cc slot is occupied by Kavu Monarch and Rooting Kavu, and maybe Yavimaya Kavu, and the 5cc slot gets Kavu Chameleon. You definitely want the Chameleon because he survives Perish and black removal, and the Rooting Kavu gives you another maindeck answer to Perish (you get all your Kavu back into your deck).
That’s twenty Kavu, probably more than you’d see in any other theme deck. The curve is: 7 @ 2cc, 3 @ 3cc, 8 @ 4cc, 2 @ 5cc – that’s a little steep in the 4cc slot, but with the acceleration you expect 3cc and 4cc’s to be turn-three plays, so it pans out OK. Now to round out the deck:
I put in the Thornscape Apprentices because they’re just great one-drops that have a lot of functionality. Since the bulk of this deck is big creatures, using the Apprentice to give them first-strike means you’ll hopefully win more creature battles than you lose. It’s especially nice because you can assign it after blockers are declared, effectively throwing a monkey wrench in your opponent’s blocking scheme. The Birds will provide the mana to use the other ability of the Apprentice if need be; if you think it will be useful, you might replace the Shivan Oases with Cities of Brass. The Rage and the Lightning are there because they’re instants, but you can swap any of the current burn in without having to adjust the mana-mix overmuch (like Flameshot or Thunderclap or even Shock).
You might also look at using something like Tectonic Break.
Probably only a fun deck, but the Kavu certainly are solid creatures in a wide variety of sizes. Fun to play with, too. The art is great on most of them, and playing with little lizard guys is always cool, right?
Wizards keeps throwing out new win conditions, practically daring inventive deck builders to make or break the card. Their attempt in Prophecy, Celestial Convergence, never really found a niche, mainly due to the fact that it was tough to protect the card for seven turns AND gain enough life to be declared the winner. Their new attempt, Coalition Victory, has win conditions that are easier to achieve, and could see at least attempts at decks built around it.
Before one starts building a deck around Coalition Victory, one has to think about what kinds of ways other decks will have of preventing you from achieving your win conditions. Since you need one of each basic land in play, land destruction decks promise to be troublesome, and black/red LD decks are around. What this could mean is having to shift into an alternate win condition should we come up against LD, maybe even to the point where we want to try and include pro-red and pro-black creatures in our creature selection. Against control decks (which again will be present, probably in abundance) we want to have at least a measure of countermagic to back the Victory up. Against anything with creature kill, we need an abundance of creatures, or tough-to-kill creatures, or some way or recursing critters from the graveyard.
I think my initial build would be green/black, with some land-thawing mechanism, as well as Twilight’s Call. If anyone has any other ideas for a
Standard deck around the Victory, I’d be very interested in seeing them.
Speaking of Celestial Convergence, once again I want to revisit this card. Every time I look at Coalition Victory, I think about Celestial Convergence and wonder why it never made any impact on the Standard environment. I know; most people will say things like ‘life gain isn’t a practical game plan,’ and ‘it’s impossible to protect the Convergence for the seven turns,’ but I have always thought it could work – and I’m even more convinced of it now that I’ve seen Invasion.
Here’s the Convergence deck I built for an old article here (during MBC season):
The original deck was blue/white, in order to have access to counterspells to protect the Convergence from removal. Invasion gives us a great utility creature in Hanna, Ship’s Navigator to go searching for lost artifacts and enchantments, which are our keys to victory. We also get Absorb, which not only counters the removal we need it to, but also furthers our lifegaining mission. I also think we should add in some green, which gives us Sterling Grove to protect our Convergence (or search for another Grove should one get Disenchanted), plus Heroes Reunion, a 2-cc lifegain spell that nets us seven life.
Because of Hanna and the availability of Tutors in Standard, we don’t need to play four copies of the Convergence in order to make sure we get it. In fact, we could play only one, but I’d play two to be safe. However, because we’re running less copies, we don’t want to use Crumbling Sanctuary, as that will hurt us much like Demonic Consultation hurt players in Necro-Donate at times. We have access to either Dueling Grounds or Teferi’s Moat or even Story Circle in this format, and so will use one of those instead.
Another thing to do for the deck is to reevaluate the lifegain options. While I’d really like to use Blessed Wind should my life get too low, the casting cost on it is just outrageous – and using Hero’s Reunion instead seems like a better deal in the long run. Congregate and Angelic Chorus have both rotated out, and Congregate would actually be quite good because of the creature stalemates that Teferi’s Moat can cause. Reviving Vapors is a good option, as it’s card drawing plus lifegain – plus if we’re forced to ditch a Convergence, we can get it back later with Hanna. Add in Absorb (and maybe keep the Honor the Fallen), and that should round us out okay. One thing I will add is one Treva, the Renewer. I figure only one can’t hurt, plus she’ll work overtime putting our opponent lower than us on life totals.
Here’s a rough deck:
It probably wants to run Fact or Fiction, the best card this deck has access to, and so we need to pull out cards to make room for it. I think twenty-three land is probably just right, so let’s pull out one Reviving Vapors, one Wave, and one Enlightened Tutor for three Fact or Fictions.
Well, that’s enough Magic for me for this week. Talk to you next week!