When I finished last week’s column, I was feeling really good about States. For the first time in a long time, I had a deck concept I was really happy with time to spare. The last task left was to polish the list, and the grinder of choice was Jund. If you can’t at least have a reasonable shot at beating Jund, you shouldn’t play the deck, right? After about 20 games and various tweaks, I realized – I just couldn’t beat Jund. So I have no deck…
… Just days before States… as usual. Sigh.
Ever since I “randomly” won States in 1999, the tournament has held a special place in my heart. I put “randomly” in quotes because I was a Magic nobody who came out of nowhere and beat a few pro players along the way to claim my plaque and duffle bag. As far as I can recall, Blair Witch Green was one of the first of the Gaea’s Cradle decks that powered out fast Deranged Hermits, Plow Unders, Creeping Mold, and turbo-charged Masticores (though eventually the strategy was further developed by top players, culminating in Aaron Forsythe G/R Angry Hermit deck). It was a thrill bringing something powerful and unexpected to the tournament and doing well with it, and in two of the next three States Championships I made Top 8 with rogue creations. The next couple States I performed miserably before roaring back to the Top 8 with what Michael Flores called “one of the ugliest decks I’ve ever seen” when he mentioned the deck over at MagicTheGathering.com (I love the caption in that article underneath a picture of Stinkweed Imp: ” Not just for draft anymore?”). Yep, the deck was ugly, but it was one of the first decks to employ a dedicated Dredge strategy, and that strategy required some odd deck building. Jay Delazier and I created that deck the Friday night before States, starting with a funky idea that utilized the graveyard, started trying Dredge cards to fuel the graveyard, then ditching the original idea altogether since we kept winning with just the Dredge cards (and quite often with a gigantic Svogthos).
Since then, my States decks have been rarely hitting and mostly missing. This year though, I thought I might have really hit on something. Summoning Trap is a spell I’ve really been happy about – it’s tricky, often powerful, instant-speed, clever – and it’s Green! I was just having a hard time figuring out the best deck configuration to support the concept. Last week, I thought I’d finally had it, taking Conley Woods‘ Magical Christmasland mana engine and merging it with Summoning Trap to come up with this beauty, slightly evolved from the list I posted last week:
- 4 Knight of the Reliquary
- 4 Sphinx of the Steel Wind
- 4 Great Sable Stag
- 3 Iona, Shield of Emeria
- 4 Lotus Cobra
- 4 Rampaging Baloths
Doesn’t this look awesome? I built a stock Jund list to play this against, and I mostly wanted to see if I could take at least 40% of the games and if there was anything I could do to improve the Jund matchup some without wrecking the concept. Sadly, after lots and lots and lots of games, I realized that the Summoning Trap concept was just fatally flawed when it comes to trying to beat Jund.
Sure, Jund can sometimes stumble on its early game, letting you get lucky and get a fast Summoning Trap, where you hit Sphinx of the Steel Wind and it’s game over. Make no mistake, Jund just can’t beat Steel Wind — period – in game 1, and cannot handle him sideboarded unless they happen to run Deathmark (which I don’t see in most lists). But you have to bank on the Jund deck getting unlucky and you getting lucky early to pull this off. That just didn’t happen enough.
What did happen was that Jund would kill off all your early creatures and hit you with a pile of 2-for-1s while beating you down with Leeches and hasty Elves. Yes, The Grinch could sometimes fight through it, but if you ever had an awkward draw – you drew a Trap target instead of a Trap, for instance – you were just dead. And unfortunately a Tinker-style deck is going to occasionally have awkward draws. The Grinch’s mana engine could often power through the awkward draws because you could easily hard-cast the Sphinx and Iona earlier than their mana costs would indicate, if your opponent gave you just a little time.
Jund doesn’t give you time. Jund is too busy ripping your face off and crapping down your throat to give you a little time. And there are decks out there much faster and quicker to face-rip than Jund.
With near tears in my eyes, I pulled the Summoning Traps, cut the Ionas altogether, and cut back to 3 Sphinxes, morphing the deck more towards a “ramp” style with maindeck Grim Discovery. The deck performed slightly better, but not enough to impress, and it certainly lacked the “unfair” element that drew me to Summoning Trap to begin with.
Even after the vicious beatings Jund had been giving me, I was still impressed with the landfall mana engine and how explosive it could be. I was also thoroughly impressed with Rampaging Baloths as a source of card advantage; churning out multiple 4/4s can quickly get out of hand and tax even Jund’s plethora of creature control – even if they get a Maelstrom Pulse, killing the three 4/4s still leaves you with a 6/6 trampler that is willing and ready to crank out some more 4/4s.
Since I was running White for the spectacular Knight of the Reliquary and Baneslayer Angel, I decided to add Emeria Angel to the mix. It has certainly been getting some good buzz, and I was already heavily rocking the landfall theme. Churning out 1/1 chump blockers could certainly buy me some time and could even keep Bloodbraid Elf’s hasty self from attacking on occasion.
As I started tilting towards White, I started wondering why I was playing Black. Grim Discovery has been decent but not exactly spectacular; the problem was often that I didn’t have enough mana to cast the spell and the creature I got back in the same turn. Ob Nixilis was a fine man and certainly loves the landfall themes, but I’m already pretty crowded at the top of the mana curve with Baneslayers and Baloths, and neither of them is going anywhere.
Then I ran across someone touting Soul Stair Expedition recently. Now, I’ve really been impressed with Khalni Heart Expedition in this deck, how quickly it gets charged up, and how nice it is to have one fully charged and ready to pop at instant speed, since once you get to six mana you don’t need the acceleration. The no mana activation is what’s particularly awesome and why I like KHE so much better than Harrow. SSE is 2-for-1 much like Grim Discovery, but when you want to use it, it doesn’t cost any mana, and you can pop it off when you want to. I can recall one test game where I’d been hit with a Blightning to clear my hand, then ripped a Grim Discovery to get back Baloth and a sac land, but due to casting the Grim didn’t quite have enough mana yet to cast the Baloths, but next turn I’d drop the Baloths and the sac land and stabilize. Jund cascaded into another Blightning and I lost both cards again. I can foresee getting my hand nuked, but having SSE charged and ready to pull back two creatures when I was ready to cast at least one of them.
As the deck began to come together, I started looking hard at the Great Sable Stag. He gleams and shimmers at me. “Who blocks Putrid Leech all day, my brother?” he asks me. “Who always seems to eat a Lightning Bolt?” I ask him back. I can’t tell if an Elk can blush, but he does snort back at me in frustration. “C’mon, you can’t hold that against me – Lightning Bolt is the best burn spell ever made! Besides, the Cobra and Knight both will likely eat that Bolt early on, and then I can come bring the noise against Jund!”
Great Staple makes a good point… and yet I’m apparently going full-tilt down the landfall path and I can’t help but wonder if it might be better to play Grazing Gladehart? One of the strongest lessons I learned from winning with Dredge back when it was rogue is that cards that look like Limited specials can gel together into a competitive deck when they sport strong mechanical synergies. Great Sable Stag is strictly better than Grazing Gladehart… and yet Gladehart can really gain a lot of life for me either incrementally (and easing the bit of the fetchlands) to supplement Baneslayer Angel, or with a huge jolt on the big explosive landfall turns. As of right now, Gladehart gets the nod, but final testing Friday night might bring back the Stag.
Anyway, here’s what I’ve currently got sleeved up for States:
The sideboard is still wide open, and I’m looking for suggestions. Green, White, and Black certainly offer up a lot of interesting options, from standard go-to cards like Duress, Maelstrom Pulse, Fog, and Wall of Reverence, to interesting cards I’ve heard some buzz about lately like Grizzled Leotau, and maybe some combination of Qasali Pridemage and World Queller. My friend Jay suggestion Sunspring Expedition for the aggro decks and burn.
So, this is my final hope for playing a “Bennie Smith original” rogue-ish creation at States, which is something I always try to do if possible — it’s fun to surprise people, and if you come with Jund or Naya Lightsaber you are definitely not going to be surprising anyone. I’ve got two back-up plans if this deck just doesn’t cut the mustard in the final days of testing – one, I know Michael Rooks is brewing up an very intriguing deck that I’m sure will take people by surprise. Two, Dave Kearney did really well at Worlds with an Ancient Ziggurat Bant deck that is stuffed to the gills with creatures that do stuff, which is like catnip to me:
- 4 Birds of Paradise
- 4 Ranger of Eos
- 4 Noble Hierarch
- 3 Dauntless Escort
- 2 Aven Mimeomancer
- 3 Baneslayer Angel
- 4 Borderland Ranger
- 2 Great Sable Stag
- 4 Scute Mob
- 2 Sphinx of Jwar Isle
- 3 Sphinx of Lost Truths
Of course, I won’t be able to play this deck as is because it has a few “issues.” First, I heard a lot about the lack of Baneslayer Angels at Worlds for all the players that wanted them, so I can’t help but think that 3 might have been all that Dave was able to procure. Since I have managed to acquire a playset of Walletslayers, I would certainly want to play all of them. With only 21 lands – including 4 fetchlands – I can’t help but wonder if there’s a struggle to turn on the Scute Mob you fetch with Ranger of Eos, much less running three other copies! Borderland Ranger certainly helps, but still… If I played this deck I’d probably have to play 23 lands or I could see myself struggling with mana screw (and 1/1 Scute Mob) all day. I’d also want to work in some copies of Master of the Wild Hunt, which work fantastic alongside Aven Mimeomancer to kill pretty much anything, as well as just being a great card on its own.
Kyle Sanchez Bant Trap deck looks like a hoot, but it also looks incredibly complicated to play, and I’m sure I’d be making mistakes left and right. And I hate having to reach over and count someone’s library or asking them to do it. I certainly wish him well… and hope not too many Virginians come wielding the deck, because I’d certainly be giving him plenty of free Archive Traps!
One final note regarding things I’m doing with my deck… Green’s got some great mana acceleration options, and it made me realize something interesting – Green’s got the only early mana acceleration. As someone who is quick to jump up on the soapbox whenever I feel Green’s color pie is getting trampled upon (and not too long ago I’d complained about Green’s mana-fixing bailiwick getting spread around to the other colors), it had not occurred to me until recently that Wizards seems to have taken a design stand that, if you want early mana acceleration, you’ve got to be playing Green. Green’s got a ton of it – Birds, Hierarchs, Rampant Growth, KHE, Harrow. The other colors? White’s got a conditional one with Knight of the White Orchid, but it’s not so much acceleration as it is playing catch-up. They’ve got Kor Cartographer, which costs four mana. It seemed for a while that every other set would have a two-mana artifact that would fix mana, but those sorts of things cost three mana now. Early mana acceleration is a very powerful ability in Magic, and it is (for now at least) firmly placed solely in green. Thanks, Wizards!
What Happened to EDH at Worlds?
In the weeks leading up to Worlds, I got an email from my old PR contact for Wizards (from when I wrote for Scrye) mentioning that they might be able to send me some exclusive pictures from Worlds I could use in my column, and was there anything in particular I’d be interested in? This year it seemed that Wizards had really embraced Elder Dragon Highlander as a format they were interested in encouraging, from acknowledging it in “Da Rules” to what appeared to be a big push in playing the format for side events at Worlds. So of course I asked for pictures of EDH games from the side tournaments, and maybe from the Gunslingers (since I knew Aaron Forsythe was sure to be slinging some EDH). Unfortunately, they said that the EDH tournament had been cancelled. I was curious if anyone knew why?
Good luck to everyone attending States! I’ve noticed in quite a few columns this week on StarCityGames.com people have been encouraging Magic etiquette and having fun, and I certainly want to echo that. While this year States is liable to be a bit more serious in the wake of the pros at Worlds establishing the metagame, I’m hoping enough of the traditional rogue spirit and casual attitude of States filters through again, and I’m crossing my fingers there will be some nice surprises among the expected Tier 1 decks. Come say hello if you’re attending Virginia States, and don’t forget your EDH deck for the side events!
[By the way, if you’re the guy who brought the “blinking” d6s to the EDH side event with me a few weeks back at the Richmond PTQ and then accidentally left them behind, I have those for you!]
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