Yawgmoth’s Whimsy #98: The End of Days Comes Later

Ravager Affinity is not an unstoppable Juggernaut. It is not the end of Type II. It does not define the format. Defining a format takes more than Ravager Affinity has got. To prove that, I’ll give you some decklists that wreck Ravager, but first, some metagame musings.

It is not the end of the world. It can be beaten.

Ravager Affinity is not an unstoppable Juggernaut. It is not the end of Type II. It does not define the format. Defining a format takes more than Ravager Affinity has got. To prove that, I’ll give you some decklists that wreck Ravager, but first, some metagame musings.

Ravager Affinity is a hugely significant deck in the metagame, but it is not the whole metagame. Like any significant deck, it requires every other deck to have a method of dealing with it, but it is not the only consideration in building a deck for Regionals. In every metagame, the limits of deck construction are set by certain constraints – and if your deck does not function within those constraints, it loses. Ravager is just one constraint.

Metagames are defined by the legal card pool, the mechanics in that card pool, and by the synergies between certain cards within that card pool. That makes defining a metagame in a couple thousand words impossible – but some things are universally true.

First, there will always be a pure speed deck – one that tries to kill with a mixture fast, cheap creatures and direct damage. Even in slow formats like Masques block and Homelands, there is some deck that tries to win by heading into the red zone as fast as possible. This deck does not always have to be a weenie deck, but it does have to be playing the most cost-effective creatures available.

Second, there will always be Control decks. Control decks try to negate every threat an opponent plays, generate card or mana advantage, then win with something (concession, a creature, an animating land, milling, whatever.) The key to a control deck is not always counterspells per say, but playing cards that destroy threats for less investment (in terms of cards, mana and tempo) than the threats themselves. Wrath of God is a great example – if it can kill two or three creatures, each costing a card and a couple mana, for one card and four mana, it is a bargain. Counterspell is also a bargain, since it generally costs two mana and a card to stop more mana and a card.

Third, there will be Tempo decks, which try to slow down an opponent while beating with creatures. Tempo decks do not try to completely shut down an opponent – they simply try to slow him up enough to gain an advantage. Think of it this way – a pure control deck tries to embed an opponent’s feet in concrete, then push him off the dock. A tempo deck just tries to tie an opponent’s shoelaces together, then starts the sprint.

A version of the tempo decks are the newer archetypes that control the field, punish an opponent that overcommits, then win by dropping a huge threat. PsychatogUpheaval was an early version, and White control decks with Wrath and Decree of Justice are more recent versions.

Finally, there is always a combo deck. Combo decks try to find and play cards that have some game-winning, synergistic effect. Magic is all about interesting card interactions, and there will always be interactions that can win games. Even Darksteel T2 has combos – I have written about at least a dozen. However, those interactions are not always good enough to be competitive, which is why those combos aren’t showing up in the top eight anywhere.

In reality, decks don’t fit into a single category. Nearly every successful deck tries to play out its plan and prevent the opponent from doing the same, in time to matter.

In any format, the speed deck is usually a Red deck, since Red has a great combination of small, fast creatures and direct damage. (Wizards is trying to make White Weenie fit this mold, too, but it doesn’t work.) In the current Type Two, the two decks that fill the speed deck slot are Ravager Affinity and Mono-Red Goblins (and, here, Goblin Bidding counts as Goblins with a fallback plan.)

In this format, counterspells are not all that cost-effective, so control revolves around Wrath of God and Akroma’s Vengeance. That means control decks are base White, and may splash other colors. Mono-White control goes for a pure mana base and relies on cycling for card drawing, U/W splashes for counters and actual card drawing, G/W turns to Green for fat and artifact kill and R/W goes for the synergy of Astral Slide and Lightning Rift. All are viable, but Wrath of God is the universal constant in these decks.

Tempo decks have traditionally been bounce or mana denial decks, and they also exist in Darksteel T2. Tempo decks include the semi-successful R/G LD decks, but the strange Rat Deck Wins 2K4, which relied on the tempo gains of Chittering Rats, also fits this archetype. The Mono-Red control decks with Avarax and/or Rorix are modern, tempo-based Ponza decks, with just enough disruption to get a step or three on an opponent, and kill him before he can recover.

These archetypes can only explain things on the most basic level. They can explain why no mid-range Green deck (mana acceleration, 3/3’s for three, 4/4s for four, 5/5s for five, plus combat tricks and Naturalize) is viable. First of all, Affinity decks are playing 4/4s for two or less. Second, control decks are capable of sweeping the board early and often. Even the tempo decks could probably beat a midrange Green deck, but all this makes a pretty trivial finding.

What is more important in defining the metagame is to look at the relevant strengths and prevalence of the major deck types, and how decks adapt accordingly. The metagame is never static, not when people are working hard on beating it. In any constructed season, the decks that fair well in week one are rarely still around in the final weeks – at least, not in the original form.

Decks adapt and interact with the metagame, and many of these interactions are subtle. For example, during the first few weeks of the Trix extended season, Trix dominated, then Survival and other base-Green decks started running a lot of Elvish Lyrists, which could sneak under the Trix countermagic, and other decks ran small amounts of lifegain to take them over twenty life. This was tough on Trix, until good Trix decks, which were already splashing Red for Pyroblast, also began running Firestorm. With Firestorm, the Lyrists died and twenty-two life didn’t mean you could let the first Illusions go.

The T2 metagame is also showing some subtle changes. The whole metagame is not changing that much, but individual decks are.

Here are some numbers on the metagame before (arbitrarily) March 15th, and after. I assume that the players in the later tourneys had the advantage of having seen the earlier results, because the metagame has changed.

I had 186 top 8 decks in the pre-March 15 data, and 78 in the post March 15th, so far. That gives strange numbers, so I’ll use percentages.

  • Ravager Affinity is holding steady at 35% of the top 8, before and after March 15th.

  • R/W Slide has dropped from 13% of the slots before March 15th to 5% now.

  • Goblin Bidding has stayed even: 16% before, 17% after.

  • U/W Control has slipped a bit, 8% to 6%.

  • MWC gained a trifle: 5% up one point to 6%.

  • R/G decks fell off the face of the earth, from a minor 3% to a no show.

  • But the big winner is a personal favorite: Tooth and Nail decks have gone from 2% to 14% of recent T8 slots, and look to be building momentum.

There are some very subtle shifts going on, and most either involve Ravager Affinity or trickle down from that changes to that deck. (Hey, big surprise.)

The very early tournaments were full of Broodstar Affinity, R/G LD, U/W control and similar decks – decks that were based on the old States metagame. Ravager Affinity was still relatively unknown, and it ran down a lot of unprepared people. The best Affinity deck, at that time, was the pure speed version with Arcbound Ravager, Arcbound Worker, Skullclamp, Shrapnel Blast, etc. Just pure speed. That version tended to win the early events. Other strong contenders were Astral Slide, a deck that could best handle the speed approach, and U/W with Akroma’s Vengeance did passably well against that build. Goblin Bidding was the other deck that could run with Affinity. It also had explosive,”I win” starts and a decent late game plan.

Later in the month, Ravager Affinity decks were no longer a secret. The beatdown players, and the netdeckers, had all started to play Ravager Affinity. At the same time, the control players had started to playtest against fast Affinity, and discovered”secret” tech. This began the two or three week period where Damping Matrix was golden. Control players running maindeck Damping Matrix could wreck Affinity and Goblin players, but those decks were not yet packing answers.

Late in the month, nearly all the Ravager Affinity and Goblin / Goblin Bidding decks started packing maindeck artifact kill, to take down opposing Skullclamps, anything catching opponents’ modular counters and Damping Matrices. This greatly improved the matchup against control, but it had a price. Shatter, Naturalize, Oxidize, and Echoing Ruin are not artifacts. They do not pump Affinity. Pulling a couple Teeth (of Chiss-Goria) for artifact kill slows the deck up by a fraction of a turn. It isn’t much, but I think that the reason that some of the Tier 2 decks have made the gains recently is because Affinity and Bidding got a bit slower.

Decks like B/G Cemetery and Elves had a decent game plan against Affinity, but all too often they lost to Ravager’s explosive”I win” draws. In a long tourney, just a couple of those loses can keep a deck out of the T8. Once Ravager had slowed a bit, however, the frequency of those explosive draws dropped just enough to let some Tier 2 decks make a comeback.

One deck that really fell recently is the R/G variants. In the early weeks, a few R/G deck, like the strange one featuring Hunted Wumpus, made T8. Later on, even teched-out version just seemed to vanish. I think that they fell victim to Ravager decks. Ravager decks operate just fine on two lands, and are way too fast for cards like Molder Slug to have any real impact. You can tweak them to be better against Affinity (e.g. four maindeck Viridian Shaman, Oxidize, Detonate, etc.) but those decks fold to most other matchups – and since Affinity is only about one-third of the metagame, that is a problem. The other problem for R/G LD is that the decks that R/G LD can beat – MWC with Cloudposts and U/W control – are even less common.

Slide decks, which had been running Damping Matrix all along, fell a bit. I expect that this is because Affinity players could now get around the Matrix, and some could even kill the Lightning Rifts with Naturalize. Moreover, once people discovered that Slide was still solid, a lot more decks began sideboarding Stabilizers once again.

Mono-White control is also evolving. Some people are dismissing the deck – usually with comments like”Weathered Wayfarer is too slow.” Right, and the Wayfarer is useless under Damping Matrix, and if you don’t have Damping Matrix maindeck, you have a bad build which should be dismissed. The early MWC decklists need drastic revisions: Damping Matrix comes in, which means that Weathered Wayfarer and Cloudposts leave. Mindslaver goes to the sideboard, since control now accounts for less than a third of the metagame. Wing Shards probably makes a comeback, as might Silver Knight. The archetype, built that way, is solid, and provided it keeps hovering around 5% of the field, it will stay solid. If it gets bigger, people will put Flashfires back in their sideboards.

The new kid on the block seems to be Tooth and Nail decks, which are garnering more and more slots as the format evolves. These decks benefit from two changes. First, land destruction is nearly dead. Second, Ravager and Bidding are a touch slower. The third factor in their rise, however, has to be that they are becoming much more widely known and respected. The first article I could find on Tooth and Nail builds is here. It went up just over a month ago, and those decklists are pretty bad. The archetype didn’t get serious consideration until after PT Kobe, where TwelvePost proved itself (albeit in block format.) After that, people started paying attention.

The one big innovation that my early decklists didn’t have was Leonin Abunas to protect the Platinum Angel. That is a huge improvement, since you often need to produce a miracle on turn 4 or 5 to stay in the game against Affinity and Goblins – and protecting”you don’t lose” qualifies as a miracle.

I have always said Tooth and Nail decks are solid, and I think they will stay solid. However, once they get popular enough, people will start bringing in sideboard hate. Every deck has something that can deal with Darksteel Colossus, if they want to sideboard it. White has Altar’s Light, Wing Shards, Arrest, and Pacifism. Blue has Steal Artifact and Domineer. Black has Barter in Blood. Red has Grab the Reins. Green has, er, problems – and maybe Molder Slug – or land kill.

I do have some advice to anyone playing Tooth and Nail decks – practice a lot. The deck has a lot of stuff going for it, and it does a lot more than just go for fatties with Tooth and Nail. You need to know when to use Reap and Sow as land destruction, and when to play out which lands. It is pretty easy to lose the game on turn 1 with this deck – although the fact that you lost won’t be apparent for several turns.

Jamie Wakefield wrote a brilliant article on playing Secret Force years ago, where he explained that Secret Force was not all about casting Natural Order for Verdant Force – and Secret Force was very similar to Tooth and Nail decks in many respects.

We have several weeks until U.S. Regionals. During that time, we will see results from British Regionals, the last few French Regionals, and a lot of other tourneys around the world. The metagame will continue to evolve. Tooth and Nail decks will have to survive once opponents know what they do, and may have to start surviving the hate. LD decks may make a comeback, since Tooth and Nail decks give them another easy win. And Ravager Affinity will remain top dog.

I think the format is reasonably healthy. You could take at least five decks (Affinity, Slide, MWC, U/W control and Tooth and Nail) to Regionals and have a reasonable chance of winning. A few other archetypes (B/G Cemetery, mono-Red, etc.) can top eight, with a bit of luck. I suspect that your results are going to depend on a bit of luck in any case. For example, if you take a G/B Cemetery deck to Regionals and face U/W Control and Ravager with maindeck artifact kill, you could be all right, but if you happen to hit a couple players playing older, faster Affinity decks, you could be heading for the side events. Likewise, if you bring fast Affinity, and hit a couple decks with maindeck Damping Matrix, you may miss the cut.

Not only are the tech changes subtle, but those changes are going into and out of decks week by week.

Like I said, it is a reasonably healthy metagame.

I promised a deck that could kill Affinity. Here’s one that works pretty well.

Mono-Green with – what?

This deck may look like garbage (actually, it is, as I’ll discuss below), but it will smack Ravager Affinity upside the head time after time. Pre-sideboard it is 18-2 against Ravager Affinity, and sideboarded it would just get better.

I should also note that this is hardly an optimized list. I dreamed it up on the drive home, threw it together and took it to a store tourney an hour later. I built it specifically for the expected”metagame” at that store: lots of Ravager Affinity, some Bidding, some randoms, and very little control. Note the three-of and random stuff – this was not very tuned.

4 Vine Trellis

4 Elvish Warrior

4 Viridian Shaman

3 Hystrodon

3 Fangren Firstborn

4 Ravenous Baloth

3 Skullclamp

3 Pulse of the Tangle

4 Predator’s Strike

3 Oxidize

2 Nourish

2 Isochron Scepter

4 Blinkmoth Nexus

17 Forest


3 Hunted Wumpus

3 Naturalize

3 Creeping Mold

3 Krosan Tusker

1 Oxidize

2 Nantuko Vigilante

What Was I Thinking?

A lot of this needs some explanation. First, the deck is designed to be aggressive, and to run over the small creatures that Goblins and Affinity produce – and to kill off the larger, counter-stuffed creatures with artifact kill. The deck can often afford to target artifact lands with an early Shaman, because it is all about tempo.

The Isochron Scepters are in the deck primarily to reuse Predator’s Strike, but having a reuseable Oxidize is fine. The Nourishes are mainly included just to annoy people, since having Nourish on a Scepter is funny. However, that kind of stupidity forces them to waste artifact removal that should be targeting Skullclamps, and has won games. (If you plan on actually playing the deck seriously, dump the Nourishes for another Skullclamp and a creature, like Viridian Zealot or Nantuko Vigilante.)

The deck doesn’t run Birds of Paradise or Chrome Mox because they were in another deck, I was too lazy to fetch them. Vine Trellis is defense and acceleration, because I expected a lot of aggressive decks. Elvish Warrior is there because it survives Pyrite Spellbomb, blocks Frogmites and lives and stops most Goblins – for two Green mana. It got the nod over the Zealot because I expected a lot of Sharpshooters and two-point removal. It beats, especially when backed by Predator’s Strike.

The Hystrodons were there because they draw cards, and are beasts. A 3/4 trampler is very good when all you are chump blocking with Arcbound Worker and Goblin tokens. Once it flips over, an opponent has to think about Oxidize and Predator’s Strike when deciding on blockers. The Firstborns are also beasts, and are particularly good with Blinkmoth Nexus. (Yes, the counters stay on.) Ravenous Baloths are not only good in and of themselves, but the deck has a lot of Beasts. Even Pulse makes Beasts.

The deck is great – for the people and decks I expected to see at that shop, on that night. That metagame consists of lots of netdecked Ravager Affinity and Goblin Bidding, plus two or three janky decks from people like me who want to play something different every week. That is not typical of the”real” metagame.

The real metagame – the metagame that appears at larger tournaments when real prizes are on the line – is more varied than just Ravager Affinity. Ravager Affinity is holding at 35 percent, and Goblin decks are about 15 percent. It is the other half of the metagame that the above deck has trouble with.

I know I promised other decklists, but this is long already, and other people have written about mono-Red control. The final deck was to be U/R control with March of the Machines, but I need to work on that.

By the time this goes up, we should have some results from the British Isles, as well as the last few French Regionals and a lot of stuff from elsewhere in the world. I wonder how accurate my predictions will prove.


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