I came back to the game in March of this year but avoided writing strategy like the plague. After three years away half the readers probably had no idea who I was and ignorance is an enormous barrier to producing quality work. Instead I focused on areas I found under-represented choosing to interview great writers on past works and current opinions. While this proved extremely rewarding (I loved the Rosewater and Rizzo collaborations even if some of you thought them to be far too wordy and narcissistic) they couldn't replace the feeling of discovering new strategies and discussing them with the masses.
And So It Begins… Again
I love to draft perhaps more now than at any point in my Magical lifespan. However I really missed Standard. My favorite times in Magic every year were when we tried cracking new formats for States and Regionals. However coming back to the game after three years away meant my Magic Online collection was sorely out of date and my real life collection sold the week before I moved to the Caribbean. I was also as ignorant as could be which meant Standard was a no go for quite a while. After all I could just barely remember how to play the game – choosing which deck to spend 500-1000 durkas on was far beyond my ken. This was back in March of this year. To give you an idea of how daunting a task learning new Standard was I didn't even consider picking up a deck until July. One of my reasons for avoiding Magic in general was that the upkeep on the game is absolutely enormous. It takes a lot of time and energy to track new cards and news sets and I hadn't started from scratch since Urza's Saga was still on shelves. Starting anew was overwhelming especially for someone like me who absolutely hates to feel stupid all the time. (Insert pre-canned beats here.)
About two weeks before U.S. Nats I started testing some Valakut and mucking around with an extremely good mono-red deck Jarvis Yu gave me. Tom Reeve even convinced me to pay a whole 23 tickets for a complete Megrim deck which was fun and annoying as hell for my opponents to play against. Smiling when you play Constructed Magic is highly underrated.
Anywho all that ended when I took over as Content Manager at this here site here. (No I don't know why I keep to all the old naming conventions Ferrett started back in the day other than it just feels right.) Time spent mucking around with decks was instead spent revamping the website the writing staff and getting new ideas off the ground while still trying to see my fianc my kids and doing my real job. I missed out on the brewing time pre-States and sat idly by as everyone else set about breaking Standard.
Thankfully my free time started to return to me two weeks ago when we hired a permanent Content Manager in Steve Sadin. Training the bearded lackey meant I finally had some time after the kids went to bed to play Standard as well as drafting. It was now time to brew!
What to Play?
There are So. Many. Decks. in standard right now. It's not just tier 1 and a bunch of also-rans either – there are a bunch of decks good enough to win PTQS regularly. It's one of the most complicated metagames I have ever seen and I've been actively involved with online Magic writing/strategy for nearly a decade.
After fifty or so Scars drafts I had enough cards and a big enough bankroll to play anything I wanted to. Figuring they would all be pretty good I bought extra Titans when M11 was being drafted all the time on MODO as well as Baneslayer Angels (17 seemed like a bargain L ) and though I was wincing when I did it I grabbed a set of Jaces at 74 each (the profits from selling high on the extra Titans have now paid for Jaces). Add in draft winnings and a few hundred extra tickets here and there and I basically ended up with 4-of of everything I needed but I didn't have a clue as to what was any good. What I wanted however was a deck that would be fun to battle with. I'm too old with too little time to grind queues without having some fun as well.
With that in mind Valakut was right out – I was onto it when it was young and hip but now that everyone was playing it I couldn't be bothered. I really enjoyed mono-red before the rotation (it was surprisingly complex to play and extremely resilient) but the loss of the Unearth creatures and Ball Lightning hurt the deck's competitiveness a lot. Spagnolo's U/B looked great but lacked any element of fun while RUG just looked brutally efficient. I finally settled on playing Koros for a bit while learning the format. For whatever reason I tend to battle with aggro or aggro-control for learning purposes because it teaches me about how to play the control decks when I am finally ready. Gerry's list remains the best of the lot even if his sideboard needs updating.
About a week after I started playing new standard I heard there were Genesis Wave decks floating around. This is Anton Jonsson's pet card in limited so how could I resist trying it out in standard? There's obviously a huge fun factor built into the reveal process and with all the cheap mana acceleration floating around my nose smelled the potential to be broken. I missed it the first time Flores talked about it but since then he's been screaming how awesome his U/G version is. However right before I plugged it into the deck editor someone linked me Sneakattackkid's deck from a daily:
- 3 Admonition Angel
- 4 Emeria Angel
- 4 Joraga Treespeaker
- 4 Lotus Cobra
- 4 Overgrown Battlement
- 3 Rampaging Baloths
- 3 Wall of Omens
Ooo. Now this was different. White meant I couldn't use those incredibly expensive Jaces I had purchased but I really liked the idea of a deck based around landfall synergy. I had actually just played with Emeria Angel for the first time in a Cube draft while reading Admonition Angel for the first time and imagining what it could do with fetchlands made me sit back and say 'Whoa.' I was hooked so it was off to the Tournament Practice Room for me. (For you old dudes this is the modern equivalent of goldfishing on Apprentice.)
One of the things I found confusing about this early build was its lack of Primeval Titans. I was playing Green… with manlands... and landfall synergy. Where the hell were the Titans? Alright Mr. Rampaging Baloths you might be Titan-sized and you are so cute I want to pinch your cheeks but you need to make way for something more format-defining. No matter how much we might wish otherwise cute does not win games. (It's been about nine years since I was in a normal office but that one might not be entirely appropriate for stuff places.)
After playing with the Titan build for a while I definitely fell in love battling 2-man and 8-man standard queues online every night that I could. Phase 2 of this deck was mostly testing out different sideboard configurations learning the metagame and figuring out optimal plays. You end up doing a lot of mana math with this beast and decisions on turns 2 and 3 make an enormous difference in what could happen on turns 4 and 5. Lotus Cobra is banoners (and evil) but you already knew that. Chaining together fetchlands into Khalni Heart sacrifices into Primeval Titans and Admonition Angels while maximizing snake mana along the way however was new to me.
While I was busy testing the metagame was doing its own thing by skewing aggro. Luckily for me in its basic form this deck handles aggro reasonably well. After a week of play I found myself believing Emeria Angel was a weak link. Synergy is all well and good but 3/3 meant Lightning Bolt killed her dead leaving little more than a couple of feathers behind. I decided she wasn't doing enough to keep her place but what could replace her. Six mana remains a lot if someone shuts down your acceleration and I like building decks with multiple play pathways in case things don't always go to plan. What could replace the Angel cost less than six and still be a general threat while improving the game against aggro?
Casting this turn 3 on the play (Lotus Cobra plus a fetchland on turn 3 makes it easy) against the aggro decks usually earns a sad little whimper and a concession shortly thereafter if you follow up with anything useful.
At this point I could have called it a day. I was happy to alternate between this Vampires and Koros depending on my mood but I felt I needed to tinker more to see if I could make it better. Already operating on two important axes of the metagame (ramp + Titans) it was still missing one more: Planeswalkers. As you know the format is extremely short on removal for planeswalkers while they happen to have most powerful repeatable effects around (minus maybe Tumble Magnet Levitator of Planes). This means 'the best deck' should likely be playing them in bunches. Shoehorning Jace into the deck is the next evolutionary step but I figured I'd try out the white ones first. Gideon in particular looked really tasty. Testing said I was right.
(Note: Jace is probably doable but you'll lose your man-lands which definitely help win the game against control. Then again Jace wins games by himself… I would not be surprised to see someone clever get Jace into the deck and 6-0 Worlds with it.)
After playing with Genesis Wave for the last three weeks I get the sense that this is one of those secret format-defining Timmy-Johnny cards that Development released into the wild and has Aaron Forsythe/Zac Hill cackling like madmen and rubbing their hands together waiting for it to be found. (For the record Tom LaPille does not cackle. To him cackling is utterly foreign and cannot be grokked.) Obviously it's a card that hates a counterspell but the entire format is full of those and if you present a deck with enough bombs opponents have a tough time prioritizing which ones will hurt them the most. The mana cost on Wave would be a harsh one in old formats but today mana fixing abounds which is why you can get away with GGGX and WWW3 in the same deck and still discuss adding UU2 in later iterations.
Which leads us to the current configuration:
- 3 Admonition Angel
- 2 Baneslayer Angel
- 4 Joraga Treespeaker
- 4 Lotus Cobra
- 4 Overgrown Battlement
- 4 Primeval Titan
- 3 Wall of Omens
For the sake of completeness I will mention that I tried Elspeth Tirel but I'm not convinced she does enough to merit a place. I've also waffled on putting the fourth Admonition Angel back into the board in place of something but that level of tuning is best left to the Hetricks and Nassifs of the world. I just know I'd be happy to run this at any tournament right now.
But What Does It Doooo?
It gets very broken draws. If someone isn't messing with your mana package you'll regularly put out Titans or Angels on turn 4 (and occasionally on turn 3). You also have the opportunity to put together giant Genesis Waves that wreck your opponent's board and put you too far ahead in mana to be caught. I got a rare triple Cobra draw the other day that had me Waving for something like 10 on turn 4. My opponent conceded. Normal draws are a bit slower but just as broken. With the sideboard in play the deck plays like aggro-control-combo meaning good players have a ton of choices they can make every single game.
Another thing this deck does is beats aggro decks over the head and as you might have noticed above the maindeck has been tweaked with that in mind. In my experience it's done very well against the sundry WW/Quest decks Goblins Kuldotha Rebirth and Boros. It's even got game against Vampires though in the earlier builds game 1 was hit or miss. Now you should be at least advantaged though not heavily so. Once you bring in the Journeys and the Wraths it plays like a control deck with better mana ramp and a higher than normal threat density.
I've also had solid success against U/B and U/W Control. After sideboarding Luminarch Ascension is a must-counter (whoever designed this card hated draw-go decks – I'm guessing it was Nagle) while Stirring Wildwood and Journey to Nowhere for their threats tends to cause serious issues in the long-game. And then you always have the Genesis Wave out of nowhere for the Gee Gee Factor. That's actually one of the coolest things about this deck. It can win from nowhere even when an opponent has dealt with all of your threats so far. It really is the last fatty that gets 'em.
Additionally (unlike the U/G version) you get a much more versatile toolbox to combat a complicated metagame. You get to tune the sideboard as necessary for whatever you think you are likely to face and there are still a few slots in the maindeck that are open to tinkering if you get the urge.
Now Tell Us the Bad News
Well this is kind of hard to say. In fact it's a little embarrassing to mention…
What I mean to say is...
It isn't very good against Valakut.
I know! Ow stop throwing things! I'm sorry!
What kind of idiot builds up to this and then tells us the deck isn't very good against the most popular deck online?
Er me? Valakut isn't as popular in the real world right? Can I get half credit at least?
In tournaments you end up running metagame roulette where you want to face the decks that beat Valakut and avoid the Molten Pinnacle yourself. Leyline of Sanctity gets rid of the Valakut problem but then you still need Journeys for Titans/Oracles (I am notoriously bad at drawing Admonition Angel) and god forbid they play an Avenger of Zendikar on you. At that point you absolutely must have Wrath of God or you lose.
I might have actually solved things by adding Tectonic Edge (how did I forget Titans can search these up?!?) but that was a card I added last night at two in the morning so it hasn't been tested to the same degree as the rest of the deck.
A Very Basic Sideboarding Guide
Against control decks you are typically taking out 3 Walls of Omens and 4 Joraga Treespeakers plus 1 Growth Spasm and adding 3 Luminarch Ascension 2 Summoning Trap 3 Journey to Nowhere. Most decks will bring in Flashfreezes and Cancels which makes the counterspell to threat battle a sweet little game of cat and mouse. Counter a creature and you risk a Trap. Don't counter it and lose board position. Wait too long and Mana Leak becomes irrelevant and you only have 3-4 spells that deal with the white creatures. Tap out for Jace and you risk Angels or Waves over the top. As far as a plan goes play around Mana Leak when you can and remember this is an attrition war you will likely win in the long game.
Playing against aggro that actually kills creatures usually saw me board out 4 Treespeaker and 2 Genesis Wave for 3 Journey to Nowhere and 3 Day of Judgment. Your basic plan of ramping into Angels and Titans with Gideon backup is usually enough to beat them – Journeys and Wraths just make certain of it. While boarding out Treespeakers means your Cobras eat even more spot removal they are simply boy targets that cause giant frowny faces when they get Bolted/Disfigured/Vendetta'd when you try to level them up.
Against Valakut I usually start off with a nice long cry by myself. Then I say a little prayer hoping they get manascrewed/flooded. After that is done I board in Leylines Wraths (and Journeys if they have mana creatures) and repeat steps one and two.
I either missed other people writing about this deck or it's largely flown under the radar but obviously I found it to be competitive powerful and really fun to play. Just this week I had three opponents tell me they thought it was a cool deck and something they hadn't seen before so I decided to do something I hadn't done in four years – write a strategy article.
The Kitchen Sink
For those of you unfamiliar with the whole Mixed kNuts label this is where I put random thoughts that have gone through my head in recent times. The “strategy” part this article has now ended so those of you with no time or sense of humor are released from duty.
Jesus where to even begin? I am a touch rusty like a '78 Cutlass Supreme that's lived through 32 Detroit winters. How about this?
I learned from Twitter today that SamStod calls his little man 'Becker.' I'm not quite sure what this means but if I were Jon I'd be a little creeped out.
Hrm a little too tasteful.
There we go! I knew I still had it in me.
Random confession: I somehow caught Bieber Fever last week ( Remix!). I avoided interactions with Cedric for months and even wore a condom any time Bieber came on TV but the little brat found his way through anyway. Unbelieveable! I was perhaps charmed by his completely awesome come-on to Cheryl Cole and the fact that he's actually incredibly talented.
I am so ashamed.
Normally I'd fill the rest of this spot with Magic beats musings about sports and links to cheesecake but today we're going to skip all that in favour of some good old ranting.
Dear Wizards of the Coast
While I respectfully agree that the game of Magic seems to play better than ever I do have some issues with recent policies. The 'clarified' press release you gave us explaining the WPN decisions seemed to suggest your audience was a bunch of idiots who simply didn't get what you were trying to say the first time. Translated from corporate-speak it read more like this:
We here at Wizards of the Coast really like stores. You should like stores too. If you like Magic you should definitely like stores. Going forward we're enforcing this whole stores thing so honestly we don't care if you like stores or not because you're only going to get rewards via stores. If there are no stores in your area you should make a store. Then we might like you.
Oh and Friday Night Magic happens on Fridays. We don't care if your pubs are full on Fridays or if you have a life. Pay attention to the branding b*tches!
Your changes to FNMs and non-store-based TOs seemed like a poorly thought-out policy that was fine for 95% of the markets in the United States but absolutely abysmal when applied to Magic in the rest of the world. I live in Bath UK. It's a city of about 100000 people that hosts two universities yet it doesn't support a game store because real estate is too expensive. The comic book store that's here is the size of two spare bedrooms and it only makes money because they started selling American candy and sweets. We play Magic in a pub on Mondays and Wednesdays because they let us use their space in exchange for bringing them business. On Fridays the pub is full of drunk people. All of them are. There is no room for Magic on Fridays.
I get that you want shelf real-estate to cross-sell your other brands but that's a poor reason to punish loyal and happy customers in places where the economics of running a game store do not equate to turning a profit. Organized Play can and should do better to tailor their programs to the economic realities of local situations instead of rolling out blanket policies worldwide causing a lot of emotional backlash and gnashing of teeth in the process.
People Who Live Outside the U.S.
$20 for a booster draft on MODO? Better come with a hand job. -
I boycotted my first Magic Online prerelease when Scars of Mirrodin came out. It felt so liberating like I was finally one of the cool kids. Next week I'm going to stop showering and bathe exclusively in patchouli oil. Next month I might just get to take part in my first sit-in – I need to grow some dreads to make sure I look the part as well as smelling it. Fight the power! Solidarity to my brethren.
The reason for the boycott is that 20$ for a booster draft is such blatant price gouging as to cause me to get uppity. As I mentioned earlier I have a big enough bankroll to basically play as much Magic Online as I want to (how laucky!). Between the Prerelease and Release events for Rise of the Eldrazi I probably played 8-10 Sealed flights. M11 was less interesting to me but I still ran 4-6 Sealed and a couple drafts before the main release. For Scars I stuck to release events and regular old drafting. $6 extra per draft won't bankrupt me but it's certainly enough to force me to take notice.
From the perspective of the Magic Online team I am sure that much like at normal Prereleases the flights are where the big money is. Thus most PRs I have attended in person don't even start drafts until later in the day in order to encourage participants to enter one or two flights before getting to draft. If you wanted to replicate this environment it would be far more sensible to me to leave the draft queues for Scars off until 3-4 days into the Prerelease. Once they were turned on you could perhaps charge 4 tix (meaning two more than usual) for the “privilege” of drafting three weeks after the real world release of the set and still get away with it because people are excited and willing to pay extra to get stuck in with a new set. $20 and a promo card of uncertain value is just a bit too obvious a cash grab for me to support.
And to be clear a promo Wurmcoil Engine that I could sell to a bot for 3 or 4 tix at most is not a hand job. At best it's a gentle cupping.
It is highway robbery.
– Todd Anderson
The Toddster wrote this in regard to the 512-person Magic Online PTQs that have been firing this entire Sealed season. 512 people used to be the size of a U.S. Grand Prix where the prize package was ~25K. Now it's a chance at a trip to the Pro Tour with no hosting costs and a prize payout that is 1K for the superdraft plus 1848 in virtual boosters which equates to 2850 in total prizes. Entry fees for a full PTQ = $15360 for a profit of $12500 per event. There are now 16 online PTQs a season. While perhaps not all of them will fill they seem to be running at near capacity equating to a profit of around 200K for this online PTQ season alone. Why is it that WotC can't pony up a few more prizes as part of the process? Why are there the same prizes given away as when you had 128-person Extended qualifiers? Saying varying prize payouts based on entry might possibly equate to a greater perception of Magic Online as online gambling is merely an excuse. Any sort of planning whatsoever or subsequent adjustments could have changed this but thus far nothing has been done.
Okay WotC look. Since 2004 you've managed to cut the Pro Tour to the bare bones. At one time we had 6 then 5 and now 4. PTQs now see average attendance of three times what they did back then but they are still only one slot. Those 1500-person Grand Prix Americans use to laugh at Europeans for are now ubiquitous yet they don't give out any extra cash even though the attendance has also gone up by a factor of three. Magic Online is mostly stable but it's still buggy and it's not as if you've delivered overwhelming functionality or useability increases in the meantime.
We keep hearing the game is doing better than ever and yet you keep cutting prize support. Hell you aren't even running MPR any more. I hope you will come back with something better but you've done more cutting in recent years than Demi Lovato and this OP garbage doesn't exactly leave me with a warm and fuzzy about your decision-making process.
Look I know your owner Hasbro is a corporation and the job of a corporation is to be greedy. For once – maybe just for a change of pace and as kickback for being awesome loyal customers - we would like to be impressed by something you give to us instead of saddened yet again by something you took away.
I really enjoy playing your game – we all do. Maybe it's time for you to stop making us feel like you hate us for spending money on it.
mixedknuts on Twitter
Postscript: A number of us provided solid business cases for how to get Cube Drafting on Magic Online and still make a profit. I'm willing to pay 3-4 tickets a draft to make this happen and I'm certain there are plenty of others that feel the same. Some sort of response that you are at least considering adding this feature would be swell.