[Editor’s Note: Congratulations on Article #300, Pete! Here’s to the next 300…]
By the time you read this, I should be in Renton for the Magic Online Community Challenge Cup Tournament. Eight writers / community leaders going up against over a dozen WotC staff, lead by Hall of Famer Mike Turian. We will be playing some Constructed formats that may never be seen again, and I didn’t want to write about those too much. However, our thoughts on building sideboards are generally relevant, so I’ll talk about that.
The two Constructed formats are unified, meaning that we can only play four copies of any given Standard card in all eight decks. The Unified Singleton lets us have just one copy in all eight decks.
We are not sure exactly what we will face in the Standard, but we can make some educated guesses. We (we being the team and the people helping up in the forums) know a few things. First of all, we know what decks we built, and what decks we could not build. (Five-Color Control is one. It eats all the good lands, especially fetches, leaving nothing for the other seven decks.) Second, we know that Aaron Forsythe is building the decks for the Wizards team. (At least, that’s what I have heard — let’s assume that’s correct.)
Aaron is known for one major deck — his Top 8 US Nationals deck Angry Hermit. Here’s that deck.
Angry Hermit — Aaron Forsythe
I started work on a series of articles looking at the best Standard decks of all time, and Aaron suggested adding Angry Hermit (not because of pride — the deck was just that good.) Not including it was an oversight: it will definitely be on the list when I get back to that project.
Most recently, we have the deck Aaron built and used while gunslinging at the Zendikar Prerelease.
Aaron Forsythe Green-Blue-Black Allies
Two data points are not enough, statistically, to do trend analysis, but this info, plus his other writings and so forth, can give us some indications of what he likes to play. The majority of his decks revolve around swinging with highly efficient creatures, while playing enough disruption to keep his opponents off their stride. Angry Hermit has creatures backed by mana denial, like Rishadan Port and Plow Under. The Allies deck has rapidly growing, interacting creatures backed by — and incorporating — removal, discard and some counters. In general, I would expect Aaron to build this sort of deck for the majority of the Wizards team.
As we well know, the biggest issue will be the mana. I would expect him to build the same mono-colored tribal decks we have and had, especially for the less experienced members of the Wizards team. That probably means something along the lines Vampires, Soldiers, or maybe Goblins.
Here’s the Goblins decklist Mon’s Johnson used while gunslinging at the Zendikar prerelease.
Mons Johnson’s Red-Green Goblins Standard
I don’t necessarily expect that the goblins deck will appear. Mons — of Mons’ Goblin Raiders fame — is almost required to play Goblins, so he did. We looked at goblins, and I think our red deck is just plain better. I suspect that Aaron would reach the same conclusion. However, Aaron has a lot to do and he already had access to Mons’ list, so he might have just adopted it. The deck is pretty straightforward, and the only cards other decks will really want are the Bloodbraid Elves and the Lightning Bolts. If Aaron is not building a Jund deck, this could be present.
I thought a bit about trying to predict decks, based on play skill, and assuming that newer players could not handle complex decks. That would be totally appropriate in the paper world, but online, you cannot forget your triggers. I see no problem in giving a newer player (which, in this case, means employees who have been playing for a year or more) something like the Allies deck. It is really pretty straightforward: play guys, watch them grow, then bash.
At the other end of the experience spectrum, we are facing Mike Turian, Eric Lauer, Tom LaPille and Lee Sharpe in the Standard event. The first two are former World-Class pros. Tom LaPille is good, and Lee Sharpe is not going to have problems understanding the rules or the way the game works. If Aaron wanted to build combo decks, he could give them to any of those players and they could pilot them. Likewise, if he wanted to show the power of an unexplored mechanic or interaction, he could give it to one of these players, and let them smash face with it. I remember building a Conspiracy / Rebels deck, back in the day, and watching just how well pros could do with it.
Another deck I would watch out for: Warp World. Aaron listed Warp World as one of his favorite cards in the bio he wrote for this tournament, so we might see that. Warp World Allies would be — interesting.
While we cannot identify — for certain – the decks that we will face, we can identify certain archetypes, and look at how we can sideboard against them. For each archetype, I’ll describe the deck type, then talk about the potential weaknesses and the cards that we could use to attack them. I’ll look at this from the standpoint of my probable deck: RGBW Warp World, with the caveat that a lot of the good answers are in other decks.
For what it’s worth, here’s my build of Warp World, at the moment.
Pete’s Warp World, Version 8.7.1b
It’s still a work in progress, and I have a fall-back deck if I cannot get this to work, but this at least this has options. (The other deck just smashes face.) Where the number are missing, it is because other decks may want some copies, too.
This classic archetype involves throwing a lot of burn spells at the opponent. This includes straight burn spells, like Lightning Bolt and Fireball, and I would also categorize one shot creatures like Ball Lightning as burn spells. The deck’s entire purpose is to deal 20 damage as quickly and efficiently as possible.
The first option to battle burn is life gain. The concept here is to gain enough life that the burn decks run out of resources — cards, mana, or their life points — before you do. This has rarely been effective in the past, with a few notable exceptions like Sun Droplet. Today, however, lifegain is good enough to pose a viable answer to burn decks. Baneslayer Angel is more than fast enough to outpace burn decks, but cards like Vampire Nighthawk and Rhox War Monk are also pretty good at keeping life totals out of the danger range. True, all of these can be killed, but if the burn deck wastes a couple spells killing a Rhox Pancake Flipper, that also eats burn’s resources.
In the Warp World deck, I have Wall of Reverence, which is both lifegain and a flying blocker. It should help hold off burn until I can Warp World. Resolving a Warp World should wipe out most burn decks, since the burn decks have a relatively few number of permanents, and a high portion of spells. With luck, I’ll get tons of good stuff, and they will get a few Mountains and a creature that will be sacrificed at the end of the turn.
The second answer to burn decks is racing — just dealing lethal damage to them before they can deal lethal to you. This is a valid strategy, provided you have a fast deck. Mixing in a Lifelink creature or two makes it even better. Baneslayer Angel is probably the epitome of this tactic. It’s very tough to race Baneslayer, unless you have one, too.
The third method of combating burn spells is to counter them. If a burn spell is countered, it does not reduce your life total. Since the counterspell-based decks generally have methods of finding more spells, the game comes down to the control deck surviving long enough to get the game in hand, then finding a way to win while the burn deck is depleted. Cantrips like Hindering Light are great in these circumstances — they can counter and dig for a replacement all at the same time. The problem with using counters as an answer, in unified standard at least, is that only one or maybe two decks can play counters. There simply are not enough playable counters in the unified format to equip more decks.
A fourth answer is discard. If you can rip the cards out of their hands before you burn to death, that can help with the resources race. If you can find one card that can make them discard several cards, then you can win that race. Of course, to be effective, the card has to be played early enough to matter — once burn has pretty much emptied its hand, discard will do very little.
A fifth answer is to make yourself invulnerable, either by preventing the cards from being played or from targeting you. The current format is rather sparse on these effects. There is no Ivory Mask or True Believer to give a player shroud. There are, however, Iona, Shield of Emeria, which can completely shut down a mono-colored burn deck, and Guardian Seraph, which can at least slow it down.
In general, all five colors have some answers to burn decks — the issue will be whether we can squeeze enough into the deck without wasting too much sideboard space.
We may face some combo decks. The Time Sieve deck was great before the last rotation, and it didn’t lose all that much — but it lost speed. It is probably dead, but that does not mean that people may not try to play it. Likewise, I have seen decklists for decks built around Pyromancer’s Ascension, and even Mayeal’s Aria. Whatever the combo, the decks attempt to assemble their contraption before their opponent kills them. They generally use some mix of card drawing, tutoring or taking extra turns to set up, then win. Some of these decks also use the graveyard as a resource, but I’ll discuss graveyard hate later.
The first answer to combo decks is hand destruction. If you can force your opponent to discard critical combo pieces before they play them, you can buy more time to kill them. The best discard spell, for this sort of thing, is probably Duress, followed closely by Thoughtseize. Only Duress is legal in the format, and we can only have four, so that takes care of one deck. A second option is Scepter of Fugue, but after that the options drop off swiftly. Mind Sludge can work — although it is really slow — but cards like Mind Rot or Ravenous Rats generally don’t. You don’t want to give the opponent the option of discarding non-critical cards.
The second answer is counters — countering the combo pieces when the opponent tries to play them. This works well — but we only have enough playable counters to fill a couple decks at most. We don’t have enough counters to use them as sideboard answers in other decks.
The third option is to Extract the combo parts from the opponent’s hand and deck before the combo fires. Thought Hemorrhage is the best option here, while Sadistic Sacrament is a close second — and a very through answer if you can pay the kicker.
The other option to combo is to be faster than the combo. It rarely works – combo generally beats aggro. It’s not a great strategy, but we may have no other options for some of our decks.
In this format, we have three graveyard based strategies — Replenish-like means of returning cards from the graveyard in mass, single card Reanimation and Unearth. The Living Death variant (Soulquake) is probably not playable, but Open the Vaults, the Replenish for artifacts and enchantments from M10, is critical to the Time Sieve deck. I have not seen a Black Reanimator deck that works so far, but I did play around with a Mono-White deck using lots of Wraths and Emeria, the Sky Ruin, which does a fine job of reanimating Iona. Finally, Unearth decks, using cards like Hellspark Elemental, work just fine.
The format does not have a ton of answers to graveyard recursion. The first is Relic of Progenitus, which can eat unearth cards slowly or whole graveyards in a flash. We can have four, and at least three have to go into one sideboard to be effective. The newest answer is Ravenous Trap, which is designed to hose Dredge but can work on any Reanimator deck. Beyond that, there is Jund Charm.
The downside is that I cannot think of any more playable sideboard cards that are legal in the format, meaning that we would either have to stretch the cards thin, or just include graveyard hate in a couple decks and hope to get lucky in our matchups.
Ramp / Grow
Ramp decks accelerate their mana and try to cast really big, powerful spells. Grow decks try to assemble / grow powerful creatures. The first type would include decks like the old Jund Ramp decks, and Warp World. The second would include decks like Aaron’s Allies, and the Mayael’s Aria deck.
The simplest answer to decks that spend time ramping up their mana is to be faster and just kill them first. This is actually an efficient strategy. It doesn’t always work, but it can. Speed kills, if the opponent wastes time dinking around.
The second option is to counter all the good spells that the opponent eventually ramps into. Again, it is a solid strategy, but not one that most decks in a unified format can apply, and not one that we can sideboard into. We have too few counters.
One of the best answers to ramp decks like Warp World is discard — if you can catch them with big spells in hand before they can cast them and strip those spells, then they have to rely on top-decking. Be careful, though: if you load up on so much discard you have no pressure, you can wreck thier hand, but the game can go long enough that they end up top-decking what they need.
Mass removal — even two for ones — can be very good against the growing creatures decks, like Allies and so forth. Anything that can two-for-one or three-for-one them is playable. However, growing creatures can, if you are too slow, grow too large for damage-based removal. For example, Marsh Casualties and Pyroclasm are great, but not when the creatures all have a toughness of three or better. In my Warp World deck, I have Lavalanche, for exactly this reason. If I can get my mana acceleration to work, Lavalanche can kill anything, even Baneslayer.
Earthquake and Windstorm are also answers, provided that the opposition is either flying or grounded, as appropriate. Which means they work half the time — but half the time, against Vampires, can be every other turn.
These are the speedy creature decks — the Vampires, Soldiers and Goblins — of the format. They all come out very fast, but their individual creatures often have very small power. A board sweeper like Infest, Marsh Casualties, Jund Charm, Pyroclasm, Volcanic Fallout, etc. etc. can do wonders. (Unless they have a couple copies of Honor the Pure in play.) Lavalanche fills the sweeper roll for me. In white decks, Wrath of God variants do the same. Blue and Green have fewer outs, although the more I play against Vampires, the more I like Windstorm.
Lock decks prevent the opponent from doing whatever it is that they do. These include things like Ensnaring Bridge against creatures, or older combos like Darkest Hour / Light of Day, or going further back — Stasis. I don’t know that we have any of these decks in Standard, at the moment. On the other hand, the WotC team’s decks are being designed by Wizards R&D, and at least one will be piloted by a Hall of Fame player. If that sort of thing exists, they might want to try it out and we should be ready.
We can’t know what the lock may consist of, but most locks are built around a combination of artifacts and enchantments — and maybe creatures. The best solution is to have some method of killing artifacts and enchantments in the board. We have lots of options: Naturalize, Solemn Offering, Mold Shambler, Oblivion Ring, Demolish, Smash, Kor Sanctifiers, etc. etc. My policy is always, when heading into an unknown field, to have at least three Disenchant-type cards in my sideboard. We should have something like that in all non-black decks. The black decks will have to rely on discard.
Well, time to send this off, and pack.
Wish us luck.
“CC_1M_Words” in the Community Cup Tournament.