You Lika The Juice? – Like a Ton of Bricks

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Leading up to States, I heard a lot of grumbling about how underpowered Lorwyn was compared to Time Spiral and Ravnica. I think the results from States and Grand Prix: Krakow put that notion to rest. I’m of the opinion that Lorwyn was pretty masterfully designed – many of the cards don’t set off alarm bells when you’re just looking at the text box and stats, but when you shuffle them up in a deck and start playing with them, many of them give you that “oh, wow!” feeling.

What’s the best day of the year? A lot depends on how old you are. If you’re a kid, the best day of the year is likely a toss-up between your birthday and Christmas. You get a little older, and the best day of the year has got to be the day Summer break starts; no more school, no more homework!

You get a little older, starting in college and then holding steady for a long stretch, and the best day of the year… is the day that just hit this weekend.

Sunday, in fact.

You know you’ve just hit the best day of the year when you wake up in the morning, you need to get up and get moving by a certain time – say, 9 o’clock – and you look at the clock, and it says 9 o’clock…

And then you sleepily remember that Daylight Savings Time just ended, and you actually have another hour until 9 o’clock.


That’s the absolute best day of the year.

Leading up to States, I heard a lot of grumbling about how underpowered Lorwyn was compared to Time Spiral and Ravnica. I think the results from States and Grand Prix: Krakow put that notion to rest. I’m of the opinion that Lorwyn was pretty masterfully designed – many of the cards don’t set off alarm bells when you’re just looking at the text box and stats, but when you shuffle them up in a deck and start playing with them, many of them give you that “oh, wow!” feeling. From my own playtesting experience Galepowder Mage really stood out. Not only was it the perfect addition to a Blink-style of deck, but it also did a nice job of combating such format powerhouses as Garruk Wildspeaker and Sower of Temptation. Speaking of Galepowder Mage, let me give a shout-out to Joshua Lu, who took 4th place at California Champs with this gem:

Yeah, that’s the Red Akroma he’s got there in the maindeck, relying on Blink or GPM to flip her over. How cool is that? I do, however, find only running two Mulldrifters odd, to say the least. Mulldrifters have been insane for me. Here’s what happens all the time with Galepowder Mage – turn 4 cast GPM; turn 5 evoke Mulldrifter and Blink it. Then attack with GPM, removing Mulldrifter from the game until the end of turn.

That’s six extra cards, folks.

By the way, I know my 4-3 performance with Turbo Blink at Champs didn’t inspire many comments on the deck last week, but you don’t have to believe only my assurances that the deck is quite good. I got an email over the weekend that made me grin ear to ear:

Wanted to say that your articles are great. I played your Turbo Blink deck at my local tourney and went 3-1. The deck is insane. I eventually lost to the Japanese player who just won the Okinawan State Champs tourney. The deck has the tools to beat him, I just couldn’t find a Shriekmaw in either game (even after drawing 12 cards total with Mulldrifter tech in the second game). So goes the game of Magic. Anyway, keep up the good work. — Jim Plagmann

Thanks, Jim – I’m glad you gave the deck a try and had good results with it. I plan on tuning the deck some for an upcoming FNM, possibly increasing the Black element some for some Mournwhelk action. I’ll keep you all informed on how that goes.

Anyway, here’s a list of the Lorwyn cards that have hit Standard like a ton of bricks after two weeks of worldwide tournament lovin’:

Chandra Nalaar
Cryptic Command
Dauntless Dourbark
Doran, the Siege Tower
Eyeblight’s Ending
Faerie Trickery
Familiar’s Ruse
Gaddock Teeg
Garruk Wildspeaker
Gilt-Leaf Palace
Imperious Perfect
Jace Beleren
Liliana Vess
Makeshift Mannequin
Masked Admirers
Nameless Inversion
Oblivion Ring
Oona’s Prowler
Profane Command
Secluded Glen
Sower of Temptation
Thorn of Amethyst
Wren’s Run Vanquisher

I’m sure I’ve missed a few, but that’s 31 and counting… after just a month of the cards being available for purchasing. I’d hazard to guess as more of these cards get played — especially in Limited — more would make the jump into the Standard meta-pool. So what’s my point? I suppose it would be directed at the naysayers who inevitably see the cards as they get spoiled and begin their incessant whining about how bad they are compared to older sets. Me, I think it’s pretty obvious that the guys over at Wizards are really good at what they’re paid to do, which is to deliver high-quality Magic product we want to purchase.

Of course, that’s not to say I’m completely thrilled about the state of Standard. I’m actually a bit irritated, because as far as I can tell, Blue cards are still driving the metagame.

Yep, that’s right. I said it. In a world where Tarmogoyf and Garruk Wildspeaker singles prices are continuing to climb towards ridiculous, Vintage-level heights, Blue is still over the top ridiculous as always.

Last week, my man Peter Jahn (in his Yawgmoth’s Whimsy #201 – Wisconsin States) took delight in poking fun at people like myself who seem to perpetually complain about Blue. “It’s all about Blue being nuts and Green sucking, right?” he said, and then proceeded to eviscerate that notion by examining the cards present in the Top 15 decks from his Champs. And you know something? By all the evidence he had at the time, he was justified in his conclusion. As a Green mage, I think I’d love playing Magic in Wisconsin. Here’s a breakdown of the Top 8 decks there:

Wisconsin Champs Top 8
1st — U/G Pickles
2nd — U/G aggro-control
3rd — Monoblue Pickles
4th — G/W/B Doran
5th — G/B Goodstuff
6th — G/W Kithkin
7th — G/B Elves
8th — G/B Rack

Green is all over the place, present in 7 out of 8 decks! Blue’s only in 3 of them… and yet, isn’t it interesting that the decks with Blue in them rose to the top of the heap?

It’s too bad that Wisconsin wasn’t typical of what’s going on in the bigger Standard metagame. When I was walking around the top tables at Virginia States, the picture was a lot different. Here’s our Top 8:

Virginia Champs Top 8
1st — U/B Mannequin
2nd — U/B Mannequin
3rd — Coalition Control
4th — Monoblack Zombies
5th — U/B/W Control
6th — Monogreen “Poorlash”
7th — U/B Faeries
8th – Slivers

Five of the Top 8 decks feature strong Blue elements; of course, looking at just Virginia, you’d conclude that Black was out of control. I do take a little bit of pride in seeing Makeshift Mannequin decks making a good showing. When I was finalizing my list of Top 10 Lorwyn cards for Constructed Tournaments for Scrye, I snuck Makeshift Mannequin in there on a hunch that instant speed reanimation would prove to be quite good.

The response over at MTGSalvation was less than flattering on that pick:

“Makeshift Mannequin seems much less deserving than a lot of the other cards we’ve just seen.”

“Makeshift Mannequin? I don’t know if Instant Zombify is that good actually…”

I’d hazard to guess that the Makeshift Mannequin deck certainly qualifies as a major contender in the new metagame, especially after Krakow…

Let’s take a quick look at a few key Champs and see the state of Blue:

Ohio Champs:
1st — U/b Pickles (only Black is in the board for Damnation)
2nd — Predator/Goyf
3rd — U/B/w Blink
4th — U/B beatdown
5th — U/W Blink
6th — U/b Pickles (only Black is in the board for Damnation)
7th — U/G/w Blink
8th — Predator/Goyf

I picked Ohio because that State usually has outrageously huge turnout, which means lots of Swiss rounds, which in turn is a pretty grueling test for decks (and players) to have to go through. I’d hazard to guess not too many “flukes” make it into the Top 8 in Ohio.

Six of the eight decks from Ohio featured Blue.

New York Champs:
1st — U/B Teachings
2nd — U/B Mannequin
3rd — R/g Burn
4th — G/B Elves
5th — U/B Faeries
6th — U/G/w Blink
7th — G/B Goodstuff
8th — U/G/w Blink

The New York Magic scene has long been a hotbed of deck technology and a Pro breeding ground, so I was curious to see what rose to the top there. Five of the eight decks sported Blue, with Blue/Black Teachings squaring off against Blue/Black Mannequin in the finals.

Let’s check out what the pros played at the recent GP: Krakow.

Out of 128 decks at GP Krakow, here are the numbers according to the coverage over at magicthegathering.com—

17 Mono-U Pickles
13 Mannequin
11 G/B “Rock” (including two with a Red splash for burn)
7 Teachings
7 Mono-Red Aggro
7 R/G Aggro
7 U/W/x Blink
6 Elves
5 R/G Ramp
5 Skred Red
5 TarmoRack
4 G/W Kithkin Aggro
4 U/W (Snow) Control
3 Merfolk
3 U/R Sligh
3 Sexy Planeswalker (black-green, one splashing for Siege-Gang Commander)
2 U/B Madness
2 Kavu Predator.dec
2 Mono-Blue Control (no Pickles!)
2 Mono-Black Control
2 B/R Gravepact
1 R/B Goblins
1 Mono-Red aggro-control
1 Suicide Black
1 Scryb & Force
1 U/G Faeries (yes, Scryb Ranger is a Faerie)
1 R/G Fatty-Fatty-Boom-Boom
1 Reanimator
1 Doran.dec
1 W/r Snow Control
1 Mono-Green Aggro
1 not classified (according to Adrian, this was Kowal “Con Troll”)

That’s 43% featuring Blue. We all know pros tend to love them some Blue cards, so that doesn’t mean anything, right? Well, pros don’t love Blue cards irrationally, do they? There’s a reason for they love the Blue. Still, 43% of the total field isn’t that outrageous given the number of two- or three-color decks available to players.

Let’s see how much Blue was in the Top 8 decks—

Paul Cheon — 1st place, U/W Control
Amiel Tenenbaum — 2nd place, Monoblue Guile
Armin Birner — 3rd place, G/R Big Mana
Olivier Ruel — 4th place, U/B Mannequin
Robert Jacko — 5th place, U/G Faeries
David Besso — 6th place, Monoblue Pickles
Guillaume Wafo-Tapa, 7th place, Monoblue Guile
Matej Zatlkaj — 8th place, U/B Mannequin

Hmm, seven out of eight is roughly 88%… only Mr. Birner prevented a full sweep, God bless ‘im.

See, the problem isn’t, as Mr. Jahn and many others (myself included) have framed it, a question of Green versus Blue. The problem is that Wizards can’t seem to help but make ridiculous Blue cards. I know I usually came at it from a “Green sucks and Blue is too good” perspective because I love Green, and followed in the large footsteps of Jamie Wakefield and his similar gripes. But Green is good now, and has been really good for a few years; currently, I’d say it’s fighting for second place against Black. And that’s the problem—while all the other colors scrap and fight for second and third place on the power spectrum, Blue continues to ride head and shoulders above them all, year in and year out.

Maybe that’s just the way it’s always going to be. Perhaps when Richard Garfield set up the colors and made Blue the color of card drawing and counterspells, he cemented the most powerful elements of the game with Blue forever more, and there’s nothing that Mark Rosewater or Aaron Forsythe can do about it outside of making the occasional ridiculous card like Tarmogoyf to give other colors a shot at the silver medal?

The optimist in me tends to think otherwise; the Blue Dilemma is a hard nut to crack, but I have faith in the Wizards gang. They’ve given us a world of “Tier 2” cards which has resulted in an explosion of deck diversity in Standard – heck, even the seven Blue decks from the Krakow Top 8 sported five distinct archetypes. They’ve given us yet another fantastic Magic expansion in Lorwyn. I’m going on 14 years now of playing this game, and I’m still having loads of fun. Now that Forsythe has stepped into Randy Buehler shoes, I expect this last big design challenge to be met and overcome. Buehler was known for “Buehler Blue” (boo, hiss!); Forsythe was known for Angry Hermit, a Green/Red deck (yaaaayy!). He’s bound to have the bias we need to break this last barrier.

Alright, before I go I wanted to point out my hero from the State Champs decks I’ve looked at so far—

A full boat of Cloudgoat Rangers! If you followed my development of Turbo Blink, you’ll know I gave the Ranger a run for a while before reluctantly deciding against them, so I was delighted when I ran across them in Jared’s deck. Of course, in his deck the Rangers are much scarier – four 3/3s for five mana is much more impressive than a 3/3 and three 1/1s.

Yep, that’s Muraganda Petroglyphs there. Ben “Top 5 Overlooked/Undervalued Cards in Future Sight” Bleiweiss is loving it. He placed Petroglyphs between Tarmogoyf and Epochrasite. I somehow doubt we’ll be seeing the Petroglyphs moving into Tarmogoyf territory (or Epochrasite for that matter), but give credit where credit is due. Ben knows his cards.

Post Script
So this Friday I’m hoping to be able to draft Lorwyn for the first time up at Richmond Comix. My head’s been so far up Standard’s ass testing for States I’ve not paid any attention to Limited strategy articles (sorry guys). Anybody got some red-hot tips for me in case I don’t get a chance to catch up on the required reading before then?

Anyone? Anyone?

See ya next week!


starcitygeezer AT gmail DOT com