What Defines A Successful Block Environment – And Is Onslaught Block Successful?

You think you got tired of the phrase”ditch Wonder, in”?
You just wait. In a few months’ time, the words”end of turn, cycle this for a plains” will be gouged into your brain.”Sack Goblin Prospector, make Warchief, swing” will bring on the dry heaves. To me, Onslaught block has a”fixed” feel about it. It feels like we have the top decks fixed in place already. Everything else we create will be a footnote. The cries of”Wizards is making our decks for us” can still be heard; it’s hard to be innovative when the established,”obvious” decks are so brutal.

Hi, I’m Craig.

I play Magic.

I have not been playing for long. I picked up my first card just after Masques hit the shelves. My first tournament was the Planeshift prerelease.

The most powerful beatdown deck I’ve seen is Fires.

The most powerful control deck I’ve seen is Nether-go.

The most powerful combo deck I’ve seen is…. Heh.

I’ve not had much experience with the block format. Using first-hand knowledge, there’s not much I can compare to Onslaught-Legions-Scourge – just two blocks, Invasion and Odyssey, to stack against the current three stooges. Still, there are good things to be said about my credentials for tackling block… My first PTQ Top 8 came in Invasion block, and Odyssey Block saw me make Top 4 at Grand Prix: London.* So how does Onslaught block fare against the blocks of old? And what defines a successful Block Constructed environment?

To find out, I’m going to reminisce about the blocks I’ve played, both past and present, and see what (if anything) can be deduced.

Invasion Block

Invasion block saw me cut my teeth in serious tournament play. I started badly, as everyone does. To be fair, I continued badly, and still continue badly, but at least now I hope to spot my errors.

My first forays into Invasion block saw me play a BWG Necra Sanctuary/Sterling Grove deck that took me to 10th in the first PTQ of the season, beating a few established British players along the way.

The next PTQ, I went 0-4-drop with the same deck, card-for-card.

I didn’t win a single duel all day. I didn’t inflict a point of damage all day. In fact, two of my opponents ended games at more than twenty life, meaning that they both left the table slightly healthier than when they sat down.

I played red/green for the remainder of the season**, but around me the metagame was heaving. New decks to beat appeared on a daily basis… Go-Mar, No-Mar, Go-Sis, Domain, Dark Domain, Red-Green, Star Spangled Slaughter, BUG, Turbo-Hippo, Desolation Angel decks… All cards had a brief season in the sun. (Apart from Sterling Grove and Necra Sanctuary, obviously.***)

There was a lot of happiness in this block. Apocalypse brought us off-color painlands. These, coupled with the allied color”come into play tapped” lands from Invasion, meant that any combination of colors revelled in the luxury of a healthy mana base. And such spells! Flametongue Kavu, for Christ’s sake! Pernicious Deed! Fact or Bloody Fiction!

The card pool ran deep.

The metagame was healthy.

It seemed like almost anything was viable.

And boy, was it fun.

Things We Can Deduce From Invasion Block:

  • Strong spells in every color leads to powerful decks.

  • Flexibility in the creation of a mana base leads to variety in deck design.

  • Powerful multicolored spells boost creative deck design, spawning strange color combinations.

  • Having a number of powerful and successful decks leads to a varied metagame

  • A varied metagame is fun.

  • Necra Sanctuary and Sterling Grove was, as the say in the common parlance,”the bomb.”

Odyssey Block

From the outset, it was obvious that the defining card of Odyssey block had four legs, a tail, and a bite much worse than its bark.

A turn 2 Wild Mongrel was the most commonly seen play throughout the season. Blue-Green Threshold, Blue-Green Madness, Green-White, Red-Green… All featured Deputy Dawg at their heart. Blue-Green Madness went from strength to strength, appearing in Block, Standard and Extended tournaments. And as we all know, the Day of the Dog is far from over.

A turn 2 Wild Mongrel could spell disaster for many decks. However, another block deck saw an almost equal amount of play – bolstered by the black-heavy Torment set, Mono-Black Control (the proclaimed”thinking man’s choice” for most of the season) had enough removal to worry the most dedicated beatdown strategist. And in Nantuko Shade, MBC had a two-drop that could rival the dirty dog for sheer power… Especially as both U/G and G/W were notoriously low on removal themselves.

Aside from U/G Madness and MBC, only a handful of decks made an impact on the Odyssey block scene. Johnny Chapman’s Pirates of Compton saw some success****, as did Punisher and the ever-popular Upheaval/Zombie Infestation deck. But aside from that, there was little else that truly mattered.

Oh yeah, there was Wake… but I believe we’ve handled that topic already.

Fringe decks aside, it was clear that the decks to beat were U/G Madness and MBC. If your 75-select didn’t have game against these decks, you could take it to the bridge.

The format soon grew stale.

Facing round after round of turn 1 Careful Studies would make Gandhi want to slap someone.

Odyssey Block has been proclaimed as a speciality Limited set… And yes, it was excellent fun to play Draft or Sealed with the old OTJ. However, trawling the spoilers for strong Constructed-quality cards produced slender pickings. Unlike Invasion, the strong spells seemed to lack scope… There were good quality Madness cards for a Madness deck, or nice green and white creatures for a Green/White Creature deck, or good quality Black Control cards for a (drumroll, please) Black Control deck etc. And outside of Limited, red was unplayable. Cries of”Wizards is building our decks for us!” were heard in games stores across the world. Skewing whole sets to strengthen single colors (or color combinations) only served to bear out this plausible, yet depressing, idea.

But was it fun?

For me? Hell yeah! I made Top 4 at a Grand Prix!

Things We Can Deduce From Odyssey Block:

  • A specialist Limited set impacts directly on deckbuilding scope in constructed formats.

  • A card pool that lacks strength in depth leads to people overplaying the stronger cards and decks.

  • A card pool where the strong cards lack any scope of application leads to the development of one or two extremely strong uberdecks.

  • A metagame in which one or two extremely strong uberdecks flourish can dissuade people from innovation.

  • A stagnant metagame is not fun.

  • All colors need strengths to create balance. A metagame missing a color (like, say, red) is weak.

  • It’s always fun while you’re winning.

Onslaught Block

So now we’re hanging tough with the new block for the kids… Onslaught-Legions-Scourge, or OLS*****. We’ve only just begun the season, but how are things shaping up?


If you can’t beat red, stay in bed.

If you don’t like white, call it a night.

Pro Tour: Venice, the block Pro Tour pre-Scourge, gave out false signals. Yes, Goblins were fast, but they were crushed by Astral Slide. You could play and compete with beasts, and zombies… And even dragons! There were control decks (though blue, alas, seemed to be as neutered as Odyssey red), fast beatdown decks, big fat monster decks, and tribal decks. You could compete with decks that ramped up to insane amounts of mana, drew stupid amounts of cards, played the biggest monsters in the game and cast the most powerful spells in history.

For the record, I played a mono-red fat deck at Venice, which took me to a shameful 1-3 drop.

Then came Scourge.

And Goblin Warchief.

The Little Red Men, already a Tier 1 deck (as Pro Tour: Venice will attest), are now one turn faster.

Beast Bidding, which already had a tough time with the Little Red Men, is now defunct.

YMG’s Dragon deck, arguably the most fun competitive deck since cardboard was invented, is dead.

Beasts, Zombies, Clerics, Elves? All ground to dust in the cogs of the big red machine.

But there is light at the end of the tunnel…. And it’s white. A turn 2 Silver Knight can spell the end for the red menace.

The popular Mono-White Control deck had the measure of the Goblins, until Siege-Gang Commander was brought to the party. Coupled with Sulfuric Vortex, this Shock-machine swung the matchup back in the favour of the noble red guys… And there was much rejoicing.

Unfortunately, Bob Maher had to spoil everything with his Red/White control deck of Grand Prix: Detroit fame. The controlling aspect of Mono-White, coupled with some direct damage, and board sweepers, rift and cyclers means that the Little Red Men have to fight for their right to party.

And what of Astral Slide? Despite the threat of Stabilizer, it’s still plodding along.

The deck that traditionally gives this a problem is Beast Bidding… and we all know where that’s gone. Such a shame, as it’s very strong against MWC and Maher RW.

  • So, Goblins outpace almost everything, but are screwed by white.

  • White pummels Goblins, but gets screwed by Beast Bidding.

  • Beast Bidding stays in bed while the Goblins trash the place.

One thing I’ve learnt in Onslaught block- it’s all about the matchups. While this statement rings true for every tournament in every format, it strikes home hard in the current environment. A bad matchup in Odyssey or Invasion Block could be overcome with a little luck and skillful play. But a bad matchup in Onslaught Block feels like bullying – even the person doling it out is crying on the inside.

So will it be fun? Only time will tell.

I hope it will.

Things We Can Deduce From Onslaught Block (So Far):

  • When one deck is extremely fast, it takes a lot of innovation out of the format.

  • When the difficulty faced in certain matchups seems insurmountable, luck seems to play a greater factor in success than skill.

  • When luck seems more important than skill, a great deal of fun is lost.

  • There seems to be little point in filling a block with high-powered, high-costed spells if you’re going to die by turn 5.

So… Onslaught Block. Does it rock, or does it suck?

It seems to me that Onslaught block suffers from a few of the problems seen with Odyssey. There are two or three strong decks – all of which dominate the metagame so completely as to make playing other decks almost suicidal. And as with Odyssey Red, Onslaught Blue has tottered off to the retirement home, where it eats its meals through a straw.

At the moment, Onslaught block consists of two colors… Red and White. As Odyssey suffered from the lack of competitive red spells, Onslaught will suffer from the lack of truly competitive Green, Blue or Black. You think you got tired of the phrase”ditch Wonder, in”?

You just wait. In a few months’ time, the words”end of turn, cycle this for a plains” will be gouged into your brain.”Sack Goblin Prospector, make Warchief, swing” will bring on the dry heaves.

To me, Onslaught block has a”fixed” feel about it. It feels like we have the top decks fixed in place already. Everything else we create will be a footnote. The cries of”Wizards is making our decks for us” can still be heard; it’s hard to be innovative when the established,”obvious” decks are so brutal.

Is that what the block will become? An endless round of turgid mirror matches? Where every second match is patently unwinnable? Where an opponent’s first-turn island, swamp, or forest sees you punching the air?

We’ll have to wait and see.

Hopefully, I’m wrong.

Hopefully, someone with hone a Zombie deck to Tier 1 status, and the lines can be redrawn.

Hopefully, someone will hit a run of good form with a Bad Form deck.

Hopefully, someone will actually find a legitimate use for Mobilization.



For me, the following things make up a good Block Constructed environment:

  • A consistent power level across all colors – no colors left out in the cold.

  • No single cards dominating the format through their sheer strength (e.g. Wild Mongrel, Goblin Warchief, Necra Sanctuary etc)

  • Multicolored deck designs being able to rely on a robust mana base.******

  • The strong cards in the set having a wide scope of application, finding homes in a variety of deck archetypes.

  • A constantly evolving metagame, which directly springs for all of the above.

Even this early, Onslaught block seems to commit a few cardinal sins:

The balance of power amongst the colours seems ludicrously skewed.

The cards themselves vary wildly in their strengths and playability.

When facing a difficult matchup, the strongest player can feel powerless and beholden to luck.

The sheer aggressive speed of one popular archetype renders a large majority of the powerful yet overpriced spells obsolete.

But I think we’ll be okay.

We all seek to have fun, and to win, and we’ll do the best we can with the cards available. If Wizards are indeed”making our decks for us,

they’ve done a poor job if they could only come up with two or three. I’m pretty confident that the collective creativity of the Magic community will spring more surprises on us yet. Somewhere out there is a killer Enchantress’s Presence deck…

Whatever the final verdict on Onslaught Block Constructed is, I love the fact that the Magic community is healthy enough to support forums such as this. It is through the sharing of our likes and dislikes, of our ideas and our complaints, that progress and innovation can be made. Only by maintaining a frank and honest dialogue between player and designer can we influence future block development.

And if all else fails, there’s always Yu-Gi-Oh.

Thanks for listening,

Craig Stevenson

Scouseboy on Magic Online

[email protected]

– So what do you think? Do you agree with my deductions? And where do Masques and Urza’s block fit into the grand design? Jump on the forums, send me an email. It’s good to talk.

* – Ar-Har, Jim-Lad.

** – Laying the groundwork and honing me into the psychotic beatdown machine I am today.

*** – It coulda made it, I tells ya! It coulda bin a contendah!

**** – Hehehe, HAVE IT!

***** – I hope Wizards employs someone to keep tabs on Magic acronyms. I pray for the day that MODO runs a Planeshift-Odyssey-Onslaught draft, if only so I can legitimately type”three more needed for POO.”

****** – This goes for ANY format. I was praying that 8th Ed would see the Apocalypse off-color painlands join their allied-colored brethren. Roll on, 9th edition…