This week's article was inspired by last week's article Hero-Blade vs. Caw-Blade. While the top-tier decks have already been discovered in this finely-tuned metagame players and deck constructors must decide between cards that have similar roles.
These choices can lead to The Butterfly Effect in that a small change can alter the way a player runs the deck or the way the other cards in the deck function. Being able to understand both sides of a given argument is the first step to a better understanding of the question at hand — and as a bonus it'll help you learn how to reach a reasonable conclusion.
If you're looking for easy to net-deck lists you're reading the wrong article. But if you want to hear some thoughts about the current choices to be made when you're looking for a Standard deck then this article is just for you!
Mirran Crusader certainly has a lot of things going for it. The protection from black gets around everyone's favorite “colorless” removal spell Dismember. U/B Control already has a hard enough time with Sword of Feast and Famine but at least they can attempt to kill the creature it's being equipped to in response. Mirran Crusader presents a threat that needs no other creatures to kill you opponent. The protection from green is a little less relevant but will prove annoying for RUG Birthing Pod and Blade Breaker.
Blade Splicer on the other hand leads to a nice colorless blocker. This allows you to trump other people's Mirran Crusaders with the Golem's 3/3 body. While Mirran Crusader can hold a Sword of War and Peace and threaten lethal very quickly Blade Splicer offers two bodies for the price of one. A reason why Squadron Hawk is so good in Caw-Blade variants is because it is one card that gives you four bodies. (And Emeria Angel can give you even more.)
Now it's time to play Devil's Advocate: Mirran Crusader is horrible against red. Grim Lavamancer comes to mind right away. Playing a card that is an indirect 4/2 at heart makes it very vulnerable to Red Deck Wins and Splinter Twin (which has recently adopted Grim Lavamancer as a mainstay). Blade Splicer makes up for this by supplying a creature with three toughness. Several times I've been able to keep Hero of Oxid Ridge at bay with a Golem token because they only have a Shock in their hand.
When is Blade Splicer bad then? I don't like Blade Splicer against Into the Roil as much. They can get so much value out of their used-to-be pseudo removal spell. One ripple effect from running Blade Splicer is that it doesn't allow you to play Torpor Orb in your sideboard — a card that puts a huge damper on Valakut and Splinter Twin.
In Grand Prix: Pittsburgh I ran three Mirran Crusaders two Blade Splicers and three Torpor Orbs in my 75. In the end I liked both Mirran Crusader and Blade Splicer for the reasons listed above. The choice is very metagame-dependent. If you expect lots of aggro Blade Splicer is the way to go. Mirran Crusader really shines against the more controlling decks in this format. If you really want to be like me I guess you can just run both!!
Hero of Oxid Ridge vs. Leyline of Punishment vs. Arc Trail and Forked Bolt
Changing gears let's try analyzing these means of combating Mono-Red's sworn enemy: Timely Reinforcements.
Hero of Oxid Ridge is a beater that essentially nullifies Timely Reinforcements by not allowing the Soldier tokens to block. The drawback is that the Hero's just another creature that can die before its effect gets to work.
Leyline of Punishment does the exact opposite thing. It works before the game even starts! If a Leyline's in your opening hand you can simply ignore both Timely Reinforcements and Kor Firewalker for practically the rest of the game. However Leyline of Punishment is a card that will neither kill a creature nor deal damage to the opponent making it a dead card in the late game. This is hard for a deck like Red Deck Wins which needs to utilize all of its cards to win. Plus decks that play Timely Reinforcements and Kor Firewalker will usually have Into the Roil and/or Oblivion Ring for your narrow answer.
Arc Trail and Forked Bolt allow the Red Deck Wins player to kill the pesky Soldier tokens and attack. These cards allow you to play a lower curve that's less dependent on lands. A burn-heavy list of Red Deck Wins seems particularly good right now like Darwin Kastle's from the $75k Championship. This in turn gives you a lot of reach and allows you more ways to kill blockers from Mirran Crusader to Birds of Paradise.
The conclusion? I can easily rule out cards like Leyline of Punishment because I don't like having dead draws. Hero of Oxid Ridge only shines against Caw-Blade — because against other decks it's simply another creature waiting to die. If I were expecting a metagame with less Caw-Blade I would definitely run a lower curve with Arc Trail and/or Forked Bolt.
Now the only question: which four-drop is better?
In one corner we have the Sad Robot. The colorless value creature. Jens Thoren himself — Solemn Simulacrum!!
Solemn Simulacrum allows you to have a nice colorless creature to road-block your opponent's creature while you can happily continue on your way to six mana. Being colorless can prevent a non-flying creature with Sword of Feast and Famine from connecting with you.
Oracle of Mul Daya is a little more complicated than this simple robot. She has a very high chance of ramping you up to six mana just as quickly. The real kicker is what she can do if she stays on the board. Explore will normally only allow you to draw a card leading to a pseudo-Rampant Growth. However with Oracle of Mul Daya and shuffle effects you can knowingly Explore into a Titan. Oracle of Mul Daya really shines against Torpor Orb allowing you to simply kill your opponent by playing two lands every turn instead of needing an extra turn to get a Primeval Titan activation.
The winner of this fight is Oracle of Mul Daya by far. It's a card that I fear almost as much as Primeval Titan himself. These alone make Green Sun's Zenith a must in Valakut even though I could see the reason for running Summoning Trap.
So why not run both?
But in Standard both of these are the closest thing to Damnation these days. Black Sun's Zenith is very devastating against Caw-Blade allowing you to kill those pesky Squadron Hawks and Emeria Angels. Goblins and Vampires have an equally hard time.
Consume the Meek can kill very similar things but will be a turn slower (since X=2 is the most common for Black Sun's Zenith). What does Consume the Meek even have going for it? One word: instant. Being an instant allows you to keep Mana Leak and/or Stoic Rebuttal mana up. Into the Roil can come out of nowhere to ruin your opponent's day. I guess they should just attack with their man-lands like Inkmoth Nexus and Celestial Colonnade — whoops! Consume the Meek blow-out time!
After talking to a lot of U/B Control players they said that they are similar enough to warrant a split but you want three in your 75. I'm guessing that one of each maindeck can work. The last one in the sideboard depends on what you expect.
Consume the Meek shines the most against Tempered Steel because Inkmoth Nexus is really hard for U/B Control to stop. Black Sun's Zenith is slightly better against Caw-Blade but not by much. Personally I'd run a second Consume the Meek in the board as a little concession to Tempered Steel since the difference in the other matchups aren't as big.
Going back to Caw-Blade there's often a big discussion over what six-drop fits the bill. Sun Titan has a devastating ability allowing you to get back Blade Splicer a Squadron Hawk that your U/B Control opponent made you discard Tectonic Edge Jace Beleren or the monster known as Phantasmal Image. (And in case anyone didn't get the memo you can have the Phantasmal Image come back as a Sun Titan to bring back another card from your graveyard.)
Consecrated Sphinx has seen tons of play in blue control decks generating tons of card advantage. No one is playing Sword of Body and Mind these days (except for my good buddy Rob Vaughan). This allows Consecrated Sphinx to block most guys that wearing a Sword. Also the Sphinx's card drawing makes it a lot easier to dig for outs such as Gideon Jura and Day of Judgment.
This is probably one of the hardest comparisons to make right now. Yuuya Watanabe played Sun Titan as did a lot of other people I know. However the raw power of Consecrated Sphinx always makes it enticing. I would say that going with Sun Titan is better if you're running Blade Splicer and Phantasmal Image. Otherwise Consecrated Sphinx is the way to go.
…But as I said before I could see it going either way.
Wurmcoil Engine vs. Grave Titan vs. Consecrated Sphinx vs. Batterskull
U/B Control has access to quite a few fatties. The average list seems to play about five fatties and will always prefer a split. While this probably isn't a concession to Memoricide U/B Control likes being able to play threats that will simply win the game.
The problem is that the opponent will interact with your threat in different ways.
Batterskull is a card that hasn't been considered nearly as much lately so let me explain why it makes the list. As a constant Block Constructed player on Magic Online I can tell you that I played Batterskull over Wurmcoil Engine in my U/B Tezzeret Agent of Bolas deck.
The main reason is that people would be ready with Dispatch or my Wurmcoil Engine would come down a turn too late. Sometimes people would block my Wurmcoil Engine with their Inkmoth Nexus only to Galvanic Blast is before combat damage to prevent me from gaining life. Then I would die on the crack-back from their Hero of Oxid Ridge and Kuldotha Phoenix.
/End block rant
In the current format Batterskull generating a smaller creature can be more relevant than the fact that Wurmcoil Engine comes down a turn later. Both Flame Slash and Dismember can kill the Germ token that was supposed to save your life… But the upside is that Batterskull can just keep coming back. Equipping Solemn Simulacrum with Batterskull is a very very nice feeling as well.
If I only had one spot for an artifact life-gain card I would have to give it to Wurmcoil Engine since it is less likely to get removed from the game than it is in Block Constructed. However if another spot is open I would strongly consider having the first Batterskull over the second Wurmcoil Engine.
Now for the clash of the titans: Grave Titan is the real one-man army. He is able to kill in two turns and will still leave some Zombie tokens behind even if someone goes for his throat. Go for the Throat deals with Consecrated Sphinx just as easily. This puts Wurmcoil Engine ahead by a bit at least initially.
While all of these fatties survive Dismember Consecrated Sphinx does it the worst. Your opponent can attack with their team and you'll probably hesitate to block for fear of Dismember. Consecrated Sphinx gives you two cards Grave Titan gives you two Zombies and Wurmcoil Engine gives you the two 3/3 tokens. Normally two cards would be the best — but both Grave Titan and Wurmcoil Engine have deathtouch which allows them to still kill the creature you blocked. Consecrated Sphinx on the other hand blocks with a -1 power.
Consecrated Sphinx does have a really good synergy with Jace Beleren. After playing Consecrated Sphinx and feeling confident that your opponent doesn't have a Doom Blade Go for the Throat or Into the Roil you can +2 Jace Beleren causing your opponent to draw a card while you draw three. With this type of card advantage even if they can Oblivion Ring your Consecrated Sphinx you'll still be up about four cards.
My conclusion would be to run two Consecrated Sphinxes two Grave Titans and one Wurmcoil Engine. The Grave Titan and Wurmcoil Engine will be able to finish off most of your aggressive opponents while Consecrated Sphinx is the trump in the control mirror.
The fact that Jace Beleren is really easy to keep alive these days is not to be underestimated. Sometimes killing your opponent is the hard part so we can't play too many Consecrated Sphinxes. This split feels the best for me but it can change in a given metagame.
These decks are very similar at the core. They both use Birthing Pod to create some advantage and win with their unique way of getting card and board advantage.
Personally I have really liked the idea of being able to combo someone out on turn 3 with the aid of Birds of Paradise. The best part about having the combo in your deck is that the cards work separately too. Deceiver Exarch can help you “jump the chain” and go from a two-mana cost guy to a four-drop by untapping Birthing Pod with Deceiver Exarch. The mere presence of Deceiver Exarch on the battlefield is sometimes enough to make people play overly cautious.
Splinter Twin does double-duty as well. Acidic Slime Frost Titan and Inferno Titan are some of the best cards that come to mind. Being able to blow up your opponent's lands while making a deathtouch blocker is nothing to scoff at. When you put it on a Titan you get both their ability when it enters the battlefield and when it attacks. The best part? You're attacking with a 6/6 that they don't really want to kill because the token will go away at the end of your turn anyways.
The problem with the combo is how many spots it takes up. Instead of playing good cards and being able to win with raw power you are dedicating about seven slots to a combo that everyone has Dismember ready for. You can make your deck more consistent by cutting the combo and playing other utility one-ofs such as Urabrask the Hidden alongside more Preordains/Ponders and possibly a Forked Bolt or two.
If you want to play a deck with Deceiver Exarch and Splinter Twin why not just play U/R Splinter Twin? If you want to play a Birthing Pod deck you can play RUG Pod but without Splinter Twin. You should only play RUG Twin Pod if you think that having the combo would get you more wins than RUG Pod without Splinter Twin; otherwise you're just playing a worse version of a Birthing Pod deck.
Even though this format is virtually dead except for Pro Tour: Philadelphia Grinders and Magic Online players like myself I think it's very important to be able to evaluate specific cards in a given metagame. I hope this article was able to aid in putting your cards into two different categories: t he ones that make the deck and the ones that make the binder.
Thanks for reading
Jonathan “Watchwolf92” Sukenik