You Lika The Juice? – Standard & EDH With Doran

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Friday, September 25th – While Wizards has been knocking out some home runs of late, in terms of card design and business decisions, and understandably wants to highlight their successes, I also think it’s important to the long-term health of the game to take a critical look at this most recent Standard so that the people who make the game will hear and take it into consideration for future designs.

While Wizards has been knocking out some home runs of late, in terms of card design and business decisions, and understandably wants to highlight their successes, I also think it’s important to the long-term health of the game to take a critical look at this most recent Standard so that the people who make the game will hear and take it into consideration for future designs. All of us, whether personally or professionally, should strive for continuous improvement in everything we do, and that is the spirit in which I writing this.

Before I get into it though, I would like to start on a positive note inspired by Summoning Trap:

Summoning Trap – 4GG

Instant – Trap (Rare)

If a creature you cast this turn was countered by a spell or ability an opponent controlled, you may pay {0} rather then pay Summoning Trap’s casting cost.

Look at the top seven cards of your library. You may put a creature card from among them onto the battlefield. Put the rest on the bottom of your library in any order.

This time last week, I noticed that all the other colors except green had Traps in the MTG Salvation spoiler. I have to admit I started working up a head of steam, Googling for some articles on animals in nature who utilize traps to catch their prey. I just knew that Green was going to get shut out of the trap mechanic, because Wizards doesn’t think Green should be clever, and traps by their nature are so supposed to be tricky and clever.

And instant speed. Instant speed cleverness is so not Green.

I noted on Twitter that I was kinda feeling like the NAACP for the color Green – call it the NAACG, the National Association for the Advancement of the Color Green. I gathered evidence and jotted down arguments, and waited like a trap-door spider for whatever explanation Wizards would have Mark Rosewater or Tom LaPille trot out to justify keeping traps out of the hands of Green mages.

Then the Green traps started popping up on the Salvation spoiler, and the shock couldn’t keep the smile from my face. There’s still not one on the official Visual Spoiler on Magicthegathering.com, but I have faith the tireless worker bees at Salvation are pretty darn close to accurate and look forward to talking about Summoning Trap and the others in my Zendikar review. I just wanted to thank whoever it was in Wizards who helped bring some much needed clever back to Green; Summoning Trap is an awesome card even without the trap mana discount!

Post-Mortem on pre-Rotation Standard
The qualifier season for PT: Austin is in the books, and StarCityGames.com excellent season summary for all the Top 8 decks is available for those of us who want to dig in. There are a lot of statistics and a lot of different ways you can analyze the numbers. I took a look at this stuff back in the spring, but now we’ve got an entire season with lots of decks and two complete blocks to look at.

Now, Standard has traditionally been my favorite format ever since it was invented. I’ve always loved how each new set injects fresh ideas and shakes up the metagame. What has bothered me so much about Standard with Lorwyn however is how little freshness there’s been, how few new ideas we’ve had. Ever since Lorwyn block’s power cards were discovered, they’ve dominated the format no matter what deck archetype they’ve been in.

I think too many people – from the folks at Wizards to many Magic columnists—focus on deck archetypes when judging how healthy and diverse a format is. If you look at the database, it shows 52 different archetypes made a showing in the 461 top eight decks from the season. However, half of those 461 decks were:

B/W Tokens (12%)
Faeries (10%)
5-Color Bloodbraid (8%)
G/B Elves (8%)
5C Control (7%)
G/W Overrun (6%)

In other words, half of the top 8 decks were stuffed full of Cryptic Commands, Reflecting Pools, Bitterblossoms, Spectral Procession, Windbrisk Heights and tribal synergies – Lorwyn block cards we’ve been playing with and against in countless games for two years now. Even 5-Color Bloodbraid, which taps into Alara’s Cascade mechanic and quite a few of Alara’s utility cards, exists primarily because a Reflecting Pool mana base lets it play Cryptic Command plus whatever other goodies it needs to play no matter what color(s) they are.

In fact, 3-4 copies of Reflecting Pool appear in 47% of the 461 decks! There are 12 cards that are found in over 20% of the decks, and 9 of them are from Lorwyn block:

Reflecting Pool 47%
Mutavault 43%
Path To Exile 41%
Kitchen Finks 41%
Cryptic Command 34%
Windbrisk Heights 30%
Spectral Procession 29%
Maelstrom Pulse 27%
Ajani Goldmane 27%
Cloudgoat Ranger 26%
Treetop Village 25%
Bitterblossom 22%

Alara block represents a little better if you score all the cards from all the top 8 decks (basically giving each card a score equal to its percentage showing, then rolling the scores up as totals for Lorwyn block, Alara block, and Core set). Even then, Lorwyn block scores exactly twice that of Alara block (720 to 361). Sure, you can make some accounting for Lorwyn being a larger block of cards, but even then there’s still a gross imbalance.

Yes, the PTQ season was a rousing success, with attendance records being broken left and right. But I don’t think that’s a measure of how healthy the format is; I think it’s more a measure of more people liking Standard — and having the cards to play it — than other traditional PTQ formats such as Extended or block. Nearly everyone I talk to is sick and tired of Standard and can’t wait for the rotation. Last week’s FNM had a total of 8 people who mustered out to give the format a last hurrah.

So what are the lessons to be learned here? I imagine the Wizards guys would be much better at figuring that out than you and I if they took at look at the data this way; they’re professionals after all, and they are privy to what decisions went into the designs of these cards. For what it’s worth, here’s what I think:

1. Easy five-color manabases are dangerous to the health of the format; printing Reflecting Pool and Vivid lands in the same block (basically) was a huge error. Both of these lands are really great cards separately, and I’d have loved seeing Reflecting Pool pop up in Alara Reborn to help support the three-color shard theme. But making it easy to put whatever cards you want into a deck exaggerates the problem of overpowered cards (since they pop up everywhere) and suppresses the playability of other good cards that might otherwise get the nod.

2. When making a cycle of strong cards, take a little extra effort to make sure the blue card isn’t head and shoulders (and chest, torso, and legs) above the other cards. Blue’s color pie lends itself to dominance of the game. Yes, green and black have good Commands too – but Cryptic comes in at #5; Profane is #44 and Primal is #53. For the record, Austere rings in at #155, and Incendiary at #266.

3. Linear strategies are dangerously powerful. Still, players love tribal stuff so you’ve got to be willing to go there sometimes. When you do, let’s try and balance out the tribes a bit better. Faeries and Kithkin were insane; elves and merfolk were strong. Elementals could sometimes get there, treefolk were hopeful but always fell short. Giants… yeah, there were Giant tribal stuff, remember?

In closing, let’s keep in mind the power of Magic’s constructed formats over fans—how the infusion of each new set keeps the game fresh and new, while remaining fun and familiar. Ideally. But it’s not just the number of distinct archetypes in a metagame that’s a measure of a format’s health—as has been made clear this past year or so, you can shift a few power cards from deck to deck to achieve “new” archetypes while still leaning too heavily on those few cards to win. Individual card fatigue is real and needs to be considered. With that in mind I’m not so sure that Wizards’ ultra-conservative approach to dropping the banhammer is correct. In retrospect, what would Standard have been like this past season if Wizards had banned Reflecting Pool, Cryptic Command, and Windbrisk Heights? Would the season have been better, or worse?

Okay… enough! I’m tired of being tired about Standard. I’ve put that behind me and am really ready for the big shake-up with Zendikar!

EDH with the Doran deck from my Primer series
Up at Richmond Comix, Tommy has launched an EDH League, where players get points for playing, killing other players, and for being the last player standing in a game. Also, league games cannot be more than 5 players and no less than 3. Everyone pitches in $5 and at the end of a couple months the points leader gets a nice bundle of store credit. I think the idea of a League is fun, but I’m a little concerned about EDH decks becoming a bit too cutthroat; with points on the line, are you going to put cool haymaker cards in your deck, or are you going to lean towards the killer combos? I’m thinking that adopting some of Sheldon’s points system, awarding cool plays and detracting for killjoy actions, would help balance the competitive and casual spirit but we’ll see how it goes.

Only eight players mustered out for Standard FNM this past week, so we had a quick 3 rounds and cut to the finals. I went a disappointing 1-2 with G/B Elves, desperately wanting to fuel gigantic Profane Commands with Elvish Archdruids. Unfortunately, the only times I saw the Archdruids they got killed before they lost summoning sickness…

The upside to the abbreviated tournament was that we could jump into an EDH game relatively early. There was a table of five and a table of four; here’s who played at our table:

Harrison playing Adamaro, First to Desire
Jessica playing Rafiq of the Many
Ian playing Karona of the False God
Me playing Doran

Here’s the deck I played, pretty close to what I posted in Part 3 of my EDH Primer:

Doran EDH deck
1 Doran, the Siege Tower
1 Diamond Valley
1 Maze of Ith
1 Sensei’s Divining Top
1 Slagwurm Armor
1 Meekstone
1 Worthy Cause
1 Birds of Paradise
1 Carpet of Flowers
1 Sakura-Tribe Elder
1 Sylvan Library
1 Fellwar Stone
1 Wall of Glare
1 Wall of Souls
1 Wall of Mulch
1 Wall of Roots
1 Wall of Blossoms
1 Saffi Eriksdotter
1 Deadly Recluse
1 Regrowth
1 Wall of Putrid Flesh
1 Masako the Humorless
1 Opal-Eye, Konda’s Yojimbo
1 Dauntless Escort
1 Devout Witness
1 Eternal Witness
1 Bone Shredder
1 Rune-Tail, Kitsune Ascendant
1 Order of Whiteclay
1 Ensnaring Bridge
1 Belbe’s Armor
1 Coalition Relic
1 Darksteel Ingot
1 Phyrexian Arena
1 Aura Shards
1 Spidersilk Armor
1 Reaping the Graves
1 Spoils of Evil
1 Yawgmoth’s Will
1 Retribution of the Meek
1 Citanul Hierophants
1 Blessed Orator
1 Sworn Defender
1 Ancient Spider
1 Noetic Scales
1 Tawnos’s Wand
1 Glare of Subdual
1 Proper Burial
1 Harmonize
1 Ambition’s Cos
1 Shirei, Shizo’s Caretaker
1 Guiltfeeder
1 Sapling of Colfenor
1 Karmic Guide
1 Silklash Spider
1 Selesnya Sagittars
1 Cauldron of Souls
1 Angelic Chorus
1 Black Market
1 Wave of Reckoning
1 Crime // Punishment
1 Route
1 Rootgrapple
1 Necrologia
1 Austere Command
1 Akroma’s Vengeance
1 Hex
1 Exotic Orchard
1 Forbidden Orchard
1 Rupture Spire
1 Murmuring Bosk
1 Windswept Heath
1 Savannah
1 Temple Garden
1 Wooded Bastion
1 Sunpetal Grove
1 Selesnya Sanctuary
1 Fetid Heath
1 Orzhov Basilica
1 Godless Shrine
1 Bayou
1 Overgrown Tomb
1 Golgari Rot Farm
1 Shizo, Death’s Storehouse
3 Swamp
1 Vivid Meadow
1 Mistveil Plains
3 Plains
1 Vivid Grove
7 Forest

I made a few changes. I added Shirei, Shizo’s Caretaker because I have a lot of cards that interact nicely with Shirei, not least of which is Wall of Mulch, Deadly Recluse, Opal-Eye, and Sakura-Tribe Elder. If I’m working a Cauldron of Souls then I have even more creatures that’ll come jumping back. I’d also forgotten about Guiltfeeder, which definitely belongs in a Doran-low power-high toughness deck. Citanul Hierophants was a little clunky because of its three power, but giving all my dudes the ability to tap for mana is extremely helpful. I also ran Masako the Humorless so I could tap for mana and still block, and possibly even sucker somebody into an ambush.

Also, Rune-Tail because… why not?

Round 1
Harrison starts things off with a Sol Ring.

Round 2
I play a Wall of Blossoms. Harrison plays a second Mountain, plays Adamaro, First to Desire.

Round 3
Jess plays a Forcefield. Ian plays Jhoira of the Ghitu. I play a Wall of Roots and a Fellwar Stone. Harrison attacks Ian with Adamaro, plays Goblin Assault.

Round 4
Ian suspends Empyrial Archangel with Jhoira. I play Aura Shards, then Saffi Eriksdotter. I use the Shards to destroy Harrison’s Goblin Assault. Harrison attacks Ian, who ponders whether to take another large hit of general damage, or put Jhoira in the way. He decides to keep Jhoira and take the hit because it’s not quite lethal general damage yet.

Harrison pitches Blazing Shoal for just enough to have dealt 21 points with Adamaro. Ooops… it was lethal. Ouch!

Round 5
Jess plays Rafiq. I play a Wall of Glare and Doran, and with the Aura Shards triggers I destroy Jess’s Forcefield and Harrison’s Sol Ring (he’s still only sitting with 2 Mountains in play).

Round 6
Jess plays Maze of Ith. I play Tawnos’s Wand, target Doran with it, and then swing with Doran, who’s unblockable because he only has a zero power. Jess’s Maze means that Harrison gets the unwanted attention. Harrison whiffs again on lands.

Round 7
Jess plays Knight of New Alara. I tap Tawnos’s Wand targeting Doran, swing at Harrison. Harrison counts everyone’s lands, then cheerfully plays Avatar of Fury for two red mana.

Round 8
Jess plays Akroma’s Memorial and attacks Harrison with a flying, pro-red, double-striking Rafiq. I tap Tawnos’s Wand targeting Doran, swing at Harrison. I then play Ancient Spider, and with the Aura Shards trigger destroy the Memorial.

Round 9
Jess plays Primal Command, gaining 7 life and fetching up Azorius Guildmage which she plays. I tap Tawnos’s Wand targeting Doran, swing at Harrison. I also play Sensei’s Divining Top and take a peek, seeing 3 lands. Oof. Harrison plays Chandra Nalaar and tries to kill Doran with it, but I save him with Saffi.

Round 10
Jess plays Tooth and Nail (man, talk about the haymakers!), fetching up Teferi and Seedborn Muse. Yeesh, I’ve been trying to find removal for the Guildmage and now we’ve got those two to worry about. I draw a land, Top again, and still see three land. Sadly, I have to play Regrowth to grab a fetchland from my graveyard, play it, pop it, and spin the Top again. This time I hit paydirt—a Route! I don’t have the mana to cast it so I leave it on top.

Round 11
Jess uses the Guildmage to tap Harrison’s blocker, then attacks. She plays Time Warp, untaps, attacks again and kills Harrison. On my turn I cast Route, she hits it with Dissipate. I slump since the Route had been all the gas I had on top of my library.

Rounds 12-15
We draw and pass back and forth with no attacks. I play a Silklash Spider. Jess draws and plays Overbeing of Myth at some point and starts drawing more cards. I keep spinning the Top and seeing no action. At the end of my turn on Round 15, she casts Stroke of Genius for 6 cards.

Round 16
With a grip overflowing with cards, Jess casts Time Stretch and with nothing going in my hand or on top of my library I scoop ‘em up.

I have to admit I was a bit bummed losing to Time Stretch, which just leaves an awful taste in my mouth. I’m debating hanging it up for the night, but some folks talk me into playing again. This time I don’t take any notes, and don’t you know it—I end up winning! I actually get some card drawing going this time around, with Harmonize and Ambition’s Cost, and manage to play Retribution of the Meek and Wave of Reckoning that nails everyone else but leaves my critters untapped. At another point I cast Akroma’s Vengeance to try and reset the board but it gets countered. Later, I get back the Vengeance with Witness, cast Vengeance, and sack Dauntless Escort to make my army invulnerable (after sacrificing Saffi so that my Escort comes back).

So – surprise! If you get card-drawing and removal you do well! Who’d have thought?

The end-game had me squaring off against Jess and Ian; Ian’s deck had started playing massive legendary creatures (which I’d been able to kill off with Retribution of the Meek), but when he dropped Progenitus I was in a little bit of trouble. Checking my Sylvan Library though, I found the perfect answer—Noetic Scales (since Ian’s hand was pretty small). I was swinging with Guiltfeeder and Sapling of Colfenor (combining with the Library to draw cards and gain life), and then came across Belbe’s Armor, which functions as a reusable Howl from Beyond in a Doran deck. I killed Jess and then gang rushed Ian, and the creature he didn’t block with Progenitus got gigantic with Belbe’s Armor.

The next day on Twitter I posted: “18-character #EDH report from last night– Belbe’s Armor FTW!”

A reminder to Virginia-area EDH fans: this Saturday I’ll be working the Star City Games prerelease tournament in Richmond, and as usual I’ll be bringing along at least one EDH deck (the Doran deck I just talked about, along with a couple surprises) to play later in the day. The last few prereleases I was approached by several people who were like “dude, if I’d know you were going to bring an EDH deck, I’d have brought mine!” Well, now you know, plenty of advance warning so don’t forget!

Also, we’ll be hosting Wizards R&D member Ken Nagle, who helped design Planechase & Zendikar among other things. In Mark Rosewater column this week he said this regarding Mr. Nagle: “Each member of the Pit has their pet issues. One of Ken’s is multiplayer play. Whenever a card could be tweaked to make it slightly more efficient or fun for multiplayer play, Ken will make a comment in Multiverse.” I was thinking of doing an interview with him for this here column, but I’ve gotten zero response regarding any questions you all might interested in me asking, so I may just chill and chat with the man off the record.

Man, I am soooo looking forward to getting my mitts on some Zendikar…

Take care!


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