This past weekend was a rarity for me these days. I didn't get on a plane. I didn't fill out a deck registration sheet. I can't say I didn't play in a tournament since I did go to my local FNM, but it was the first weekend since Grand Prix San Jose way back in October that I was actually home. I had fully intended to travel to play in an event in Indianapolis—I had booked a plane ticket and everything—but decided after I got home from GP San Antonio that I needed a break.
I love Magic, but the GP schedule these days can be pretty grueling at times. Earlier this year, Pro Tour Dark Ascension kicked off eight straight weekends with premiere events in North America, while just recently we had a stretch with six events in eight weeks. That's just too much, especially for someone trying to juggle playing in tournaments with any kind of competing responsibilities. The occasional sequence of events back-to-back is okay, but having huge stretches with so many in a row just fosters burnout—as can be seen by my choice to stay home last weekend.
Now it's easy to say, "No one's making you go! Just skip some events if you're burned out!" The problem is that competition for World Magic Cup and Player's Championship slots—along with the steep drop-off between Gold and Platinum Pro Players Club levels—means that skipping events when you're in contention comes with a huge potential cost. It's hard enough to compete with the Shuheis and Martin Juzas of the world who travel to literally every GP on the planet with just going to all of the North American events. The few Pro Points you could have gotten at that event could make the difference!
At the end of last season, I ended up skipping Nashville and Mexico City because I was burnt out, and I would have been quite upset if I'd lost out on the WMC slot by a single point. Add to that the fact that going to a bunch of Grand Prix in a row might seem like a great idea a month before when you book your tickets, but is much less attractive when you're waking up at 5 AM to catch a flight for the sixth time in three weeks, and I'd much rather see this issue fixed with scheduling.
I'm certainly not suggesting there be fewer Grand Prix—I'm just saying they should be spaced out better. If there's 22 Grand Prix in North America over the course of a year, there's really no reason to have so many on consecutive weekends. There's 52 weeks in a year! And with a Grand Prix scheduled in Indy later this year immediately before Christmas, it's pretty clear that no weekend is out of bounds. Granted, there are Pro Tours, the WMC, Player's Championship, and Prereleases that have to dodge scheduling conflicts, but I find it hard to believe that we couldn't do better than one event each in June, July, and August and then three in a row in November.
I know, I know—first world problems. I'm thrilled that Magic is big enough now to justify the expanded Grand Prix schedule, and I have a blast traveling around the country playing in events. I'd just like to do it at a bit less hectic pace. The schedule for next year already looks better, with several back-to-back sets of events on the calendar but with solid breaks in between. But an event every weekend in June leading into another the first weekend in July—is that really the best we can do?
Anyway, enough about that. My break from tournaments last weekend didn't mean I wasn't thinking about Magic. Far from it. A break from events that I have to test for imminently means a chance to try out new decks that I haven't yet had the time to explore. Between my commitments as a game designer (SolForge, by the way, is coming along amazingly, and you're all going to love it) and my articles and videos on this website, it can be hard to find an opportunity to try new things between tournaments. I probably should have been testing for the upcoming Modern GP in Toronto this weekend, but I spent much of my free time thinking about Standard and how to break it.
Standard is in a pretty awesome spot right now. We've seen enormous diversity amongst successful decks over the past few months, with everything from B/R Zombies to U/W Flash to U/W/R Midrange to Bant Control to G/W Humans to Craterhoof Reanimator decks putting up strong results—that's a long list! The format has shifted away from everyone playing (and/or complaining about) Thragtusk to a wide swath of decks that are well prepared for the big Beast from value town. At the beginning of the format, people were worrying about how they could possibly beat Gravecrawlers. Now those Gravecrawlers have been replaced—or just supplemented—by Thundermaw Hellkites, as beatdown decks are coming prepared to fight past a Thragtusk or two.
Last week I talked about the struggles I was having trying to make G/W Aggro work in the format. Since then, I've tried several different directions to try to keep green decks on the map. Let's take a look at each of them:
This deck—which is saved as "Junkmike" on my Magic Online account—came about in an attempt to find a home for Lingering Souls. Lingering Souls is one of the defining cards in Modern, was banned in Block Constructed, and even sees play in Legacy, and yet it hasn't been seeing much play in Standard. Specifically, I thought that Lingering Souls seemed like a particularly good card against Falkenrath Aristocrat, who is otherwise a tough customer for many green decks to deal with.
I knew that Thundermaw Hellkite was a potential problem for any deck using Lingering Souls, so I wanted to play as many ways to enhance my tokens as I reasonably could. Intangible Virtue was an obvious choice but requires a certain level of commitment to the token strategy. It seemed like the best way to ensure the deck had game against control since a collection of tokens plus Virtue is a significant clock, which is otherwise difficult for you to present. My real innovation was Mikaeus, the Lunarch, which provides a solid use for mana at just about any point in the curve and gives you another way to pump your tokens out of Thundermaw Hellkite range when you don't draw Virtue (or have enough mana for Township).
I ran into some problems with my plans when I was actually playing the deck. While Virtue plus Mikaeus can pump your tokens out of range of the damage effect of Thundermaw Hellkite, they do nothing to stop the Dragon (and his friends) from rumbling past your now-tapped blockers that turn. Even if your Spirits could survive the initial damage, frequently you cannot because you rely on Lingering Souls to stabilize the board. I still felt weak to Knight of Infamy and saw a bunch of clunky do-nothing draws that were easily overrun by fast Zombie draws, especially if they could break past my tokens.
On top of that, there are a lot of cards people are incidentally playing that are brutal against token strategies. Detention Sphere, Bonfire of the Damned, and Jace can all cause headaches, while Izzet Staticaster—particularly in multiples—is really the stuff of nightmares. While Lingering Souls may match up well in the head-to-head against Falkenrath Aristocrat, that seems to be about the only card anyone plays for which that is true. While I liked some of what was going on with the deck, I felt like the token core just wasn't the place to be in current Standard and started looking elsewhere.
- 1 Acidic Slime
- 2 Armada Wurm
- 4 Avacyn's Pilgrim
- 3 Borderland Ranger
- 1 Disciple of Bolas
- 4 Restoration Angel
- 4 Thragtusk
- 3 Trostani, Selesnya's Voice
Those of you who watched my videos this week have seen this one before, and you also already know that it didn't turn out to be a winner. The idea behind this deck was that Trostani seems potentially well positioned in a field of aggressive black and red decks. I've had something of a fixation with Trostani since the spoiler was released, and I'm convinced that there's a place for the card since it's incredibly powerful—I just haven't quite found it yet.
Ultimately, some of what went wrong with this deck was the specifics. Disciple of Bolas, as it turns out, just isn't a very good card in the format because you can't afford to play a conditional four mana effect that doesn't impact the board, even if it's occasionally very impressive with Thragtusk. The bigger problem, though, was structural. This deck just doesn't do powerful enough things. That may seem strange to say about a deck capable of producing an endless stream of 5/5 Wurms and gaining life in the meantime, but that isn't nearly enough against opponents playing Angel of Serenity or Sphinx's Revelation. With as many cards as this deck devotes to mana, it really needs to be able to do more with it. I considered playing red over black primarily for Kessig Wolf Run, but the lack of Farseekable red lands that can cast Trostani right now makes that tough to pull off. Perhaps this is a plan to try once Gatecrash comes out.
I did get a chance to find some cards I liked by playing this deck, though. Silklash Spider was excellent the few times I played it, providing a huge body on the ground (that happens to gain a whopping seven life with Trostani) while protecting me in the air as well, Thundermaw Hellkite or no. Ultimate Price was a nice tool to have, though it felt troubled in a deck like this. I felt like this deck couldn't afford to spend slots on very many reactive cards because it's so mana-dense.
That's one big thing I've decided about this format. It's very important to be proactive. There are so many powerful proactive things that people can do that it's hard to have answers to all of them. Consider just the pairing of Thundermaw Hellkite and Falkenrath Aristocrat. On one hand, they seem like very similar cards: midrange haste fliers. But on the other hand, if you're looking to kill them, they're pretty much entirely different. Falkenrath Aristocrat shrugs off Ultimate Price and Victim of Night while Thundermaw Hellkite laughs at Tragic Slip. Only Azorius Charm effectively answers both of them—and only until the following turn!
With that in mind, I put this deck together:
- 4 Arbor Elf
- 2 Corpsejack Menace
- 4 Dreg Mangler
- 4 Lotleth Troll
- 4 Strangleroot Geist
- 2 Ulvenwald Tracker
- 4 Wolfir Avenger
- 2 Wolfir Silverheart
- 2 Yeva, Nature's Herald
Now this deck is a mess. I don't mean that it's bad—I just mean that it's very raw and hasn't gone through anything resembling a tuning process yet. I've played it so far in two total two-man queues on Magic Online, but I won both of them. The idea is that if Knight of Infamy blunts the effectiveness of white creatures and Supreme Verdict makes life difficult for creatures in general, why don't we try playing a bunch of green regenerators? I had a lot of success with Wolfir Avenger in G/W, and I've been rather impressed by Lotleth Troll when I've tried him out before—it was mostly the supporting cast that I wasn't a big fan of. With the two of them together, we have a deck that's well suited to brawling on the ground as well as fighting through Supreme Verdict.
A lot of stuff here is totally experimental. Corpsejack Menace caught my eye while I was looking for creatures to fill in my curve, and it's actually been pretty sweet with Lotleth Troll the few times the combination has come up. It works with both the scavenge on Dreg Mangler and the undying on Strangleroot Geist as well. Ulvenwald Tracker isn't a new card I'm trying out, but it has again proven quite potent, especially in combination with regenerators. A Rancored up Lotleth Troll or Wolfir Avenger doesn't have to back down from a fight with anyone.
I like the core of this deck because it's very proactive. You're very capable of presenting powerful threats quickly, and the removal in the deck can both help defend you and force damage through. Your threats stack up very well toe-to-toe with the other creatures in the format and are very resilient to commonly played removal spells. In my very short time playing the deck, I've already discarded my entire hand to a Lotleth Troll to save it from burn against an opponent playing red and decided the game on the spot. And I didn't even have to have a Corpsejack Menace in play!
As I mentioned before, I really haven't done much testing with this deck, but the idea of the sideboard is that Duress helps you fight through Azorius Charms, Supreme Verdicts and Sphinx's Revelations, while Golgari Charm gives you even more protection from Wrath effects. Deathrite Shaman serves double duty against Reanimator and Zombies (with some anti-Snapcaster action for good measure), and the rest is just a collection of cards that I wanted to try out because they might be good somewhere. I'm sure I'm missing something, though, and I'm definitely open to suggestions. This is the deck that I'm going to be messing with once I get back from GP Toronto and start preparing for the SCG Invitational coming up in Los Angeles, so any ideas on how to get it in fighting shape are more than welcome.
That's it for this week. Hopefully this look into my brewing process has been at least somewhat enlightening for you. If you're going to be at GP Toronto this weekend, be sure to come say hi—I always enjoy meeting my readers.
Until next time,