I want to take a look at how formats drive deck design. To do that, I want to build the same basic deck in T2, Extended, and T1 – or at least try to. That means a bit of force-fitting, since the formats are very different… But that’s the whole point.
The deck is Miracle Gro, which combines card drawing and counters with cost-effective creatures, and wins with a massive Quirion Dryad. The Dryad gets a +1/+1 counter whenever you play a red, black, white or blue spell. And it is cheap – just 1G.
I’ll start with the Miracle-Gro decks that qualified some of my friends last Extended season, and which won the Masters tourney last weekend. These decks came in two varieties – straight G/U and G/U/W.
Both builds start with some basic creatures, card drawing and counterspells, all defined by no or low casting costs and powerful effects. The G/U build uses four Werebears, three Merfolk Looters, and four Quirion Dryads. It may add a couple Gaea’s Skyfolk for evasion, but generally skips them. The G/W/U build adds Mystic Enforcers and may go for Meddling Mages as well.
The deck functions by dropping an early threat, then locking the board with Winter Orb. All versions run three or four Orbs. The Orb is critical – dropping an early threat is not enough in Extended if your opponent’s deck can still function.
Both versions run card drawing: Brainstorm, Sleight of Hand, and sometimes even Opt cycle through the deck and add counters to the Dryad. Four Gush are a fixture because of their interaction with Winter Orb. Early versions ran Curiosity, but those have vanished.
Counters are generally limited to Force of Will, Daze, and a Foil or two – all of which work quite well with Winter Orb in play. Some decks also run one or two main deck Misdirections, which can be very useful – at least in the U/G versions.
Creature control consisted of three to four Swords to Plowshares in the white version, and nothing but sideboard cards in most G/U versions.
The mana consisted of the expected duals and four Land Grants. Some versions run the Mirage fetch lands (Grasslands and Flood Plain), especially in the three color builds. The Land Grants fetch the duals, of course, and thin the deck. The deck runs very, very few lands – from as few as ten to a maximum of sixteen or so.
Here’s the deck Alexander Witt used to win the Pro Tour Nice Masters:
Miracle Gro: Alexander Witt
4 Flood Plain
4 Tropical Island
4 Meddling Mage
2 Mystic Enforcer
3 Quirion Dryad
4 Force of Will
4 Land Grant
4 Sleight of Hand
4 Swords to Plowshares
4 Winter Orb
2 Legacy’s Allure
3 Seal of Cleansing
2 Waterfront Bouncer
The deck is very strong in Extended – obviously, since it won both the grinders and the Masters. As a result, several people have tried to convert it to Type 1 and to Type 2. I’ll cover my take on a Type 2 version first. I saw something very like this being played at a Grand Prix Milwaukee trial last weekend.
3 Memory Lapse
4 Force Spike
2 Divert (may have been sideboard)
2 Fact or Fiction
4 Sleight of Hand
4 Aether Burst
4 Quirion Dryad
4 Gaea’s Skyfolk
4 Static Orb
4 Yavimaya Coasts
It wasn’t doing too well, and I don’t remember seeing the player after round 3 or so. Why? Here are a few reasons:
1) Memory Lapse is not the equivalent of a free counterspell, like Force of Will or Foil. And Force Spike is not Daze.
2) Static Orb is not Winter Orb.
3) You cannot get around Static Orb by bouncing lands with Gush and Daze.
4) This format has a lot of bounce – Aether Burst, Repulse, Upheaval. I even saw Boomerang and Unsummon played last weekend. Bounce and a creature that slowly grows counters is a bad combination.
5) Those decks that don’t play bounce play burn, which can also remove the Dryad.
The Extended deck wins because it can lock the board with Winter Orb, and has a raft of card drawing and counters that work under the Orb. Type Two doesn’t have the alternative casting cost cards to support that approach. Static Orb allows more untapping, and gets into play much slower, which makes it a much weaker lock.
Look at the difference: With two tapped Tropical Islands and an untapped Tundra or Flood Plain, Miracle Gro can play any non-creature spell in its deck. With just that amount of land on the board, and enough cards in hand, it could cast all nine counterspells in the deck, plus a Swords to Plowshares, on that turn. In Type 2, a deck with two tapped islands and an untapped Yavimaya Coast can cast Force Spike or Divert, and that’s about it.
You can build a deck around Static Orb, but you need a flood of creatures and Opposition… And then you can break Static Orb by tapping it at the end of turn to allow you a full untap phase. However, Opp/Orb decks generally include a token generator, like Squirrel Nest. They can control the game via Opposition and just keep generating squirrels until they can win with squirrels.
These decks don’t need Quirion Dryad.
Another difference – since all of the extended counters used do not require mana, it is not a problem for the Gro player to tap out during their main phase to pump the Dryad. That means that the Dryad is frequently a 5/5 very quickly, and makes sorcery cards like Sleight much better. In T2, the decks need to hold mana back for counters and have fewer instant-speed, 1cc card drawers. This means the Dryad is not getting very large very quickly – and in a world of elephant tokens, the Dryad has to get very big, very fast, in order to do any good.
T2 has a lot of decks that are just better than Gro.
Next, we move on to Type One. First, a disclaimer: although I play a fair amount of Type One, I’m not an expert, so I spent some time on the Beyond Dominia website. This confirmed a lot of what I thought about Miracle Gro in Type 1… So credit them for the intelligent parts. The errors in judgment are mine. (Actually, the errors in Judgment are Quiet Speculations and so forth, and are the design team’s.)
On the plus side, all the Extended cards in Gro are legal in Type 1 – including Winter Orb. The card drawing is better and cheaper, and nearly all the restricted cards you could play pump the Dryad. On the down side, that doesn’t really help.
The main problems here are that Winter Orb is not enough, and that Quirion Dryad is not Morphling.
Assuming that you are playing some real, tournament-style T1, a Winter Orb is not going to deprive a player of mana all that well: Moxen, Sol Ring, and Black Lotus all work just fine under the Orb. You could try to get around this problem by using both Winter Orb and Null Rod (which shuts down all artifacts)… But now the deck has a two-part lock that costs twice as much as the Extended lock, and would turn all your own Moxen, your Sol Ring, and your Lotus into dead cards. On the other hand, not playing them means you cannot have the explosive turn ones that make T1 interesting.
In Type One, Back to Basics is, in many respects, better than Winter Orb. It costs one more, but shuts down opponents much more effectively. Moreover, in Extended, untapping one land does not mean all that much – even if it is a Treetop Village or a Wasteland. In T1, the untapped land could be Academy or Library. Back to Basics solves that problem.
You could also play anti-moxen games by running Titania’s Song instead of Null Rod. Titania’s Song is a Mox slayer and a means of stopping artifact activations. Of course, it’s green, so it does not pump the Dryad (artifacts don’t, either) – and now the lock costs six mana.
So far as I can tell, no one on Beyond Dominia has discussed Titania’s Song. No one has discussed Pale Moon, either. That might indicate something.
The other option is to play artifact hate like Mox Monkeys. Of course, that requires adding a third color, which creates additional problems.
Reason 2: Quirion Dryad is not Morphling. Saying it sounds trite… But it’s important. Both Morphling and the Dryad can get big. However, Morphling is untargetable, which is important in an environment with lots of 1cc removal (Swords to Plowshares, Lightning Bolt) and enchantments like the Abyss. Morphling also flies, meaning that it does not get stalled by regenerators (unlikely) or Moat (not so unlikely.)
Okay, here’s where I lay myself open to laughter and flames from T1 players everywhere – I’ll try for a decklist. If I were going to play Miracle Gro, in T1, here’s what I would put together. (I have not had any time to playtest this.)
4 Quirion Dryad
4 Serendib Efreet
4 Nimble Mongoose
4 Back to Basics
7 the five Moxen, Black Lotus, Sol Ring
R Ancestral Recall
R Time Walk
R Time Twister
4 Force of Will
1 Rushing River (Reverent Silence?? Simplify?)
4 Land Grant
4 Tropical Island
This is pretty strongly metagamed against decks that run a lot of non-basics. The sideboard will be all about smashing Suicide Black, Sligh, and Stompy, because it would take a miracle to win game one if any of those decks get a fast draw. A turn 2 Back to Basics is not an answer to a turn one Swamp, Lotus, Ritual, Duress, Hyppie, Nantuko Shade.
I considered Mana Drains – but the deck doesn’t have enough cards to cast with the mana. I could add Stroke of Genius, Fact or Fiction, and a Morphling or two, but pretty soon I would be upping the land count a bit and pulling a couple of the other weak cards for better options – and pretty soon, it wouldn’t be Miracle Gro. I also want to add white for Balance and Swords to Plowshares, but that will not work with Back to Basics. Besides, following that logic will end up with Keeper, not Gro.
I’m uncertain whether Standstill fits here. First of all, the format has a fair number of man-lands, like Mishra’s, that get into play around Standstill. Second, it is not clear that you will always be ahead in creatures: if not, Standstill is a dead card, and T1 is a bad format to draw dead cards in. Third, some decks can afford to play a bomb that even three cards will not offset – on the other hand, this deck does play with a lot of cards that can counter spells, even when you are tapped out. Standstill would need testing.
Once Judgment is legal, a Cunning Wish or two, and maybe a Living Wish, should find their way into the deck. That would give the deck a little more game versus mono-colored decks.
I cannot recommend this or see myself playing it over a control deck, my Land Tax or JP Meyer Stacker 2. But if this exercise helped show the differences in the formats, then that’s all to the good.
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