You Lika The Juice? – From the Virtual Mailbag

Read Bennie Smith every week... at StarCityGames.com!
Thursday, December 11th – The end of the year is often a time for retrospect… and one thing I realized was that I have been pretty negligent in attending to my starcitygeezer email inbox. So, allow me to remedy that!

The end of the year is often a time for retrospect… and one thing I realized was that I have been pretty negligent in attending to my starcitygeezer email inbox. So, allow me to remedy that! I know most of you have probably got your eyes glued to Worlds coverage anyway, so doing a mailbag column chops the content up into bite-sized nuggets that you can digest between Worlds coverage updates. Before I get to that though…

Standard Needs a Kick in the Ass

Man, I had hopes for the StarCityGames.com $5000 Standard Open in Philly. More time had passed for Standard to develop, more opportunity to explore Shards of Alara and figure out new ways to attack the metagame… so what do we get?

Mostly, just more of the same. Perhaps I had unrealistic expectations; after all, the most cutting edge deck tech is liable to be held close to the vest until Worlds. Everyone knows that all eyes were going to be glued to these results in the lead up to Worlds, so why let slip your prime weaponry before the Big Game?

I still had hopes for something new to shake things up. Instead we get Faeries, Reveillark, Faeries, Red Deck, Elves, White Weenie, Reveillark, Faeries, and Reflecting Pool Control of the Cruel variety (and chalk up another “told ya” in the Chapin column I suppose). The trifecta of Tribal / Cryptic Command / Reflecting Pool still has its steely grip on the metagame.

Except… what are these three near-identical White/Red Reveillark decks in the Top 16? No Cryptic Command, no Tribal synergies, no five-color manabase (though Osyp ran a couple Reflecting Pool for a little extra two-color mana fixing). Maybe there is some hope after all? Like you, I’ll be glued to the Worlds coverage too…

From the Mailbag

Danny West wrote: “Good evening Bennie. I enjoy your work. I lost to Mr. Muesing in the first round of Top 8 and I thought I’d give you more insight into what I know of his day:

“I don’t know what he beat in semifinals, but the finals were against another Kithkin deck. He outran bad draws, and there wasn’t enough removal to stop him from going off like a madman.

“A vast majority of the field was playing Faeries. I’m sure he hit several in the Swiss, and outran them. It’s hard for Fae to counter three or four spells a turn. Cruel Control was everywhere… however, I’m sure Muesing was careful. By pressing the issue in the early game and forcing out Firespouts while he sandbags his hand, he can easily play around the removal. Additionally, he dodged tons of bullets; despite Cruel Control’s large numbers, many of the pilots were in the “x-x-2 or more” column by round 4. The deck is slow and, dare I say, fairly overrated in my and my team’s testing.

“Elfball hasn’t had the publicity that other top decks have. Even as far as kamikaze aggro archetypes are concerned, RDW is more popular by far because of pre-Alara results. If Star City had Chapin and company writing tons of articles about the elf deck, you’d see it in Top 8s everywhere. It isn’t a bad meta choice at all, for both now and after Berlin, and Nathaniel was smart enough to take a hint.

“Muesing lost only a single match all day – it was in the first round, to himself. He omitted two cards on his registration.”

This letter was in response to my Fighting the Good Fight in Standard column where I called out the NC Champs-winning Mono Green Elf deck. Danny West was kind enough to provide some additional information regarding the deck, which is a nice departure from the other aggro decks out there. NC had one of the larger attendance numbers in the country, so I don’t think this deck is a fluke. For those of you looking to jump into a side event at Worlds – or something different to play in tomorrow’s FNM – consider giving this a whirl.

Ricky Santos wrote: “Mr. Bennie Smith, good day to you. I’m from the Philippines. I’m an avid reader of your column, and I value your input on the latest Magic tech and analysis on the world of Magic as a whole. For this, I would like to share the deck I’m currently running, and hopefully you can give me an evaluation. Here goes!

Naya Aggro

3 Safehold Elite
4 Wren’s Run Vanquisher
4 Wilt-Leaf Cavaliers
4 Kitchen Finks
3 Woolly Thoctar
4 Wilt-Leaf Liege
3 Chameleon Colossus
1 Archon of Justice
3 Naya Charm
4 Crib Swap
3 Incinerate
3 Firespout
2 Jungle Shrine
2 Treetop Village
4 Gilt-Leaf Palace
2 Wooded Bastion
4 Fire-lit Thicket
2 Karplusan Forest
2 Brushland
2 Reflecting Pool
1 Murmuring Bosk
1 Plains

“Initially, this deck was an Oversoul deck with main deck Oversoul of Dusk and Shield of Oversoul, plus the Firespouts as a way to cleaning the opponent’s board while protecting myself with creatures (thanks to Persist / Shield / Protection). Pre-Shards, my deck was pretty competitive (in my opinion), as I often ran into a potential FNM-winning decks, with a meta of Fairies, Lark, RG Ramp, and others. I know my deck is not a tier 1 deck, but I found myself winning against some of the tier 1 decks.

“I found my deck to be lacking when going against Five-Color Control, Bant Control/Aggro, Fairies, or Kithkin. I recently made some changes to my deck, such as returning the Safehold Elites to add two-drops to my curve; cutting out the Garruk for the Incinerates to add two-drops and a little more reach in the end-game; cutting the main deck Cloudthresher and Oversoul of Dusk while adding the 3rd Chameleon Colossus and Woolly Thoctar to lower my curve; and cutting the Shield of the Oversoul to avoid the “2-for-1” scenario (although that enchantment is really quite strong, I cut it to make way for creatures as additional threats).

“So, kind sir, what is your analysis on this one? Can you kindly give me tips on improving my deck? I know the standard metagame right now, but I really don’t dwell on the prevailing deck technology. I just want to create an original deck and enjoy Magic. Hopefully, you can help me on this one.”

I have to admit I’m a sucker for “Deck Aid” type of emails. One of my favorite things to do in Magic is tinker with decks, and lord knows my own creations always need work, so I’ve got a lot of experience in deck tinkering. So Ricky, here’s how I’d tinker with yours:

First, I think the Wren’s Run Vanquishers are problematic; I don’t think there are quite enough elves in your deck to reliably be able to cast him on turn 2. My initial feeling is that you should cut him for something else… maybe Gaddock Teeg, since Teeg would not interfere with any of your own spells but could very well throw a big kink into your opponent’s plans. But then I remembered the name of your deck: Naya Aggro. And then I remembered just how awesome Vanquishers are. So I think you need to add more elves to the deck. Archon of Justice is a great card, but as a one-of you’re not going to see him enough to make him worth running, so cut him for a fourth Chameleon Colossus.

Now I’m gonna say something akin to blasphemy – let’s cut the Finks! Yeah, I know the Finks are awesome, but you’re the aggro deck here, so let’s not worry about the lifegain (maybe move ‘em to the board). Now you’ve got 4 slots to work with, add a fourth Safehold Elite elf, a fourth Woolly Thoctar (them’s beats!), and put back in 2 Cloudthreshers (with a couple more in the board).

This brings you up to 24 elves, which should be enough provided you sandbag an elf card in hand until you get up to five mana and can just raw-dog the Vanquishers. You’ve got some hard-hitting brothers here and lead pipes / blow torches like Naya Charm, Firespout, and Cloudthresher to clear away chump blockers for a lethal alpha strike.

I’d be tempted to squeeze a playset of Ajani Vengeant in here, but I don’t know where to fit them and I like the low curve, as it would be with this configuration. Hope the suggestions work for you, and good luck beating down, Naya-style!

Chris Birchfield wrote: “My name is Birch. I was a friend of Ritchie Proffitt. We actually learned how to play at the same shop, a little hole in the wall called Paladin Hill. His passing was truly a sad point in my life. He was a good man… it seems a simple epitaph, but I don’t think there is a better, more simple way to say the truth. I wanted to meet you at his memorial tourney, but didn’t get the chance.

“I love your articles. You make really fun decks! I can’t say your decks have won me every tourney I’ve played, but I can say that I have yet to play one and not have a blast. And… after all… isn’t that the goal? We play for fun and social stimulation… where else are that many like-minded people gonna get together and have an all-out battle of wits?

“Before the Shards release, you were playing around with the Devour guys and Cauldron of Souls. I happen to agree with you, as when I saw that card I thought it was amazingly stupid-good, but there was just no way to abuse it. With the devour guys, there is… reduce, reuse, renew, right? I liked the deck, and have been tinkering with it. I have tried a few iterations of it, and this is my most current.


2 Sulfurous Springs
2 Llanowar Wastes
2 Karplusan Forest
4 Savage Lands
4 Vivid Grove
4 Reflecting Pool
5 Swamp
2 Predator Dragon
3 Heartmender
4 Shriekmaw
4 Mycoloth
4 Sprouting Thrinax
4 Kitchen Finks
3 Murderous Redcap
2 Skullmulcher
4 Thoughtseize
3 Cauldron of Souls
3 Firespout
2 Bone Splinters

“At my local card shop, there is no metagame, there are only about 3-5 serious players; the other 10-15 just play casual, so it’s hard to gauge how good a deck is.

“The Firespouts for board control, and the Bone Splinters to help deal with specific threats that were outside of the Redcap’s reach. I added the Skullmulcher to refill my hand. The things I’m looking at are ways to find or keep the Heartmender alive, as it and the Mycoloth are the heart and soul of the deck. To help find them, I’m thinking Gift of the Gargantuan or Beseech the Queen. For protection against recursion, I have no idea – this is where I’m stuck. I managed to get to where I was splitting with White Weenie, but I should be able to pound them with this much removal. They play around Firespout after they see the first one, and some are using Sigil of Distinction to push them out of range.

“Any thoughts would be appreciated, and thanks for your time.”

Yay, another Deck Aid, only this time it’s based on my Devour/Cauldron deck ideas, so it’s near and dear to my heart. I’m not a fan of Skullmulcher; there seems to be too little bang for your mana spent there, so I would definitely recommend trying out Gift of the Gargantuan instead, though I’d run four of them so you need to cut two more cards. I’m not a fan of Bone Splinters, so that’s where I’d make room. With only 23 lands, 4 Gifts seems even more important.

I like Heartmender, but he never seems to “get there,” you know? I’m thinking you might want to give Quillspike a try instead, he finds all the persist counters quite tasty.

If you haven’t already, I’d recommend checking out Michael Rooks’ “Aggro Token” deck I talked about a few weeks back. I’ve been kicking around the idea of adding some Devour dudes to his build; you might find some good ideas there too.

Chris Hayes wrote: “I was wondering which big Prerelease you attend?

“I ask because I actually was pleasantly surprised with the recent prerelease changes. Now, there are choices; I can go to any number of prereleases. I can pick the prerelease that has the start time I want, instead of driving two hours, then waiting two hours for a queue to fill up, then possibly going 0-2 and knowing that another queue won’t fill up to give it another try. Instead of seeing the same dealers each time, I can go to a new store with different products every time. If a store charges too much or gives away bad prizes, I can just go to a different store. They’ve broken up the monopoly on prereleases, which I only see as a good thing! After all, big prereleases can still exist. If they give something for the smaller stores to offer, then they’d still be worth driving to.

“I might feel differently if the three prereleases in my area (Chicago, Indianapolis, and St. Louis) had artists, gunslinging, or some other draw besides the event itself. Instead, they just seemed to be baffling, crowded ordeals. I just wanted to know where you went… maybe there was more lost besides the headaches that used to be Midwest prereleases.”


Chris wrote in regarding my rant, The Shards Prerelease. I was pretty steamed about the changes Organized Play had made to the prereleases, and I certainly staked out my point of view very clearly. However, this letter from Chris certainly hit home that not everyone shared my point of view, a notion that is always healthy to keep in mind. Chris quite obviously had not been impressed with previous prereleases and had a much better time playing Shards prerelease events at a local store. Not all Premium TO’s are created equal, and letters like this one reminds me that I’m pretty lucky to live in Virginia, where Pete Hoefling and his staff run a heckuva fun and professional tournament experience, whether it’s a “big” event or not.

I find it interesting that Wizards has responded to the feedback regarding the Shards prereleases and have proposed a “Solomon solution” — offering to run big events in select cities while maintaining a more diversified, local store-driven approach. Whether I personally like that solution probably will have a lot to do with where the closest city to hold one of the big events will be. As far as I know, that information is not available yet.

EDH Toolbox Recommendation for the Week
A lot of people seemed to enjoy the EDH Toolbox recommendations last week, so I’m going ahead with my plan to feature a card each week that I’d highly recommend for your Elder Dragon Highlander decks. I’m going to focus on “old gems” — cards that many of you may not necessarily be familiar with. I’m putting the cut-off (at this point) at Invasion, since that set was incredibly popular and I still see plenty of people playing with cards from that block casually.

Reflect Damage
This rare from Mirage is dirt-cheap and features prominently in one of my popular columns on multiplayer Magic — The Legend of Chuck. Multiplayer formats like EDH encourage spells that have mass effect; with so many targets out there, trading one-for-one against opponent’s cards will likely leave you in a deep hole in the long run. So people play spells that can take care of multiple problems, and the ones that deal lots of damage are the perfect prey for Reflect Damage. Let’s say someone tries to take out a bunch of ground-pounders with an Earthquake for six… and you just happen to also be at six life. For five mana you can turn that into a lethal mistake. Even an innocuous Cloudthresher can end up killing its caster if there are enough fliers and players around the board.

Reflect Damage doesn’t just protect from spells, you can reflect the damage from a creature too. EDH often features creatures growing to enormous size, and holding a Reflect Damage in your grip is a fantastic insurance policy against that disaster headed your way. Just read The Legend of Chuck to see what Reflect Damage did to me with my Multani, Maro-Sorcerer

Okay, so that’s it this week! Here’s hoping that Worlds brings us some exciting and fresh new metagame-smashing decklists to chew over!

Until next week!


starcitygeezer AT gmail DOT com

What I’m Listening To:
Mexico City, by Jolie Holland
Never Say Never, by Romeo Void
Camel Walk, by Southern Culture on the Skids
Don’t Lose Yourself, Laura Veirs
Femme l’a dit, by Feufollet