We enjoyed our time with the denizens of Innistrad, but it's time to peace out from the land of the undead and travel to the land of the immortal. The metagame of Magic will be morphing drastically over the next few weeks as Standard boogiemen slide out of rotation. Thragtusk gets roasted, Geist of Saint Traft's soul is at peace, and Bonfire of the Damned is finally quenched. As these powerhouses move out, brewers finally get the room or, shall we say, the distillery space to do their work. As the set changes between acts, so do the costumes.
Everyone always gets excited about new blocks. For a lot of players, getting rid of these powerful threats is the most anticipated part of the rotation. And it's true; we're sick of wading through 5/3 Beasts and swatting Lingering Souls away. Theros itself has a bunch of toys, and don't worry; we'll get to them soon enough.
Theros is sweet; now that you all have seen the full spoiler, I hope you're pumped for what this thematic set will bring, and I know you all are hard at work creating the next awesome decks for Standard and everything else. The set contains stuff for every format—Commander gets awesome Gods, Block Constructed gets monocolored love, and who knows what the new Standard will hold? If you couldn't tell, I empathize immensely with new set-excitement junkies. Evan Erwin is lit'rally! my role model.
The meshing of Ravnica with Theros provides so much gas for me to build what I want: fun, enticing, and enjoyable decks for us all to enjoy.
But we're not there yet.
One thing I've done more lately over the past few months as I pen this column is revisit old decks I've made, rebuild them with new cards and plans, and redistribute them here. Before I get all gaga about God-Gods, let's look at one last deck for Innistrad Standard. After all, Magic Online doesn't convert for a few weeks yet, so there is still some time to give your ISD block cards and M13 gems a shot at glory.
Since Gatecrash first came out, I have been trying all kinds of Simic Aggro decks. I loved the idea of undying tied with the Combine's +1/+1 counter theme. Yet try as I might, I never found anything that could penetrate with consistent wins. In short, the deck pulled wins only when any ol' deck could have won, and it had difficulty turning a bad situation into a good one. Over the last couple weeks, I reworked the deck from a fairly standard mono-green type shell and tested it against all kinds of top tier decks on Magic Online. Finally, right before it's all gone of course, I seem to have cracked the puzzle.
- 4 Dryad Militant
- 4 Elvish Mystic
- 4 Kalonian Tusker
- 3 Predator Ooze
- 2 Slaughterhorn
- 4 Strangleroot Geist
- 3 Witchstalker
- 3 Wolfir Avenger
- 3 Wolfir Silverheart
This all-creature build, with a set each of Rancor and Spectral Flight sprinkled in, looks really sloppy on the outside, I know. Listen to me when I tell you, though, that this deck thwarts B/W Aggro, Mono-White Aggro, Aristocrats, U/W Control, and even the occasional Jund matchup. The deck packs a really broad range of aggressive threats, and I can assure you that your opponent can't answer them all.
I'm always a fan of mana dorks in aggro decks; on the play, you can resolve nearly any threat on turn 2 that your opponent must answer, which in this case involves a bunch of 3/3s. The deck has a similar game plan to Brian Kibler's successful Mono-Green / G/B Predator Ooze deck from several months ago, and you'll notice the blue additions are pretty minimal. Spectral Flight is crucial in a lot of matchups though, and a startling portion of decks can't handle it on one of the deck's three-drops. Blue's only other offerings are Spell Rupture and Blustersquall out of the sideboard, but they're magnificent role players. Blustersquall wins me games every time I draw it, managing gummed up board states like a champ. I took it into a Daily Event, ready to chalk up some tickets.
Round 1: - Mono-Red Aggro: 0-2
Round 2: - Mono-Red Aggro 1-2
Round 3: . . .
Hmm . . .
Mono-Red Aggro, which is sadly a pretty big deal on Magic Online, ate me alive; the deck is just too fast. My threats are relevant, especially the 3/3s, but that deck is so hard to beat if I'm on the draw. Other than that, this deck has handled every other opponent I've come across fairly easily on average. None of those decks were Mono-Red, mind you, but . . . but it did beat stuff. This loss was particularly bitter, and I moped about it for a while.
Making the switch to Magic Online has been difficult. I sold my paper Standard collection several months ago, and in an effort to keep the decks I present to you relevant in a casual environment, I playtest them in one of two ways. My personal favorite—but one I don't have time to do too much—is to proxy a deck and slide up to my local shops to spellsling with some of the faithful patrons and pals I've gotten to know a bit over the years. They're normally very willing to help and often offer positive and constructive feedback about the deck plan. A good deck goes through a rough draft, revision, and refinement period, sometimes multiple times, before it's ready for the big time. This way helps me test shakier lists without deep investment.
The second way—and up until recently my most preferred way—has been to test on Magic Online. Most of my decks are fairly inexpensive to reproduce in a digital medium, and with me returning to school for my Master's, it seemed like a convenient, time-friendly option. I've been on Magic Online since Alara Standard and dabbled with decks here and there and drafted a lot, but I wanted to make it my primary outlet of Magic play and practice.
The problem is that I am one of the very few people that build decks like this on Magic Online. That's not to say that thousands of players don't brew on Magic Online, but by and large I'd say 98-99% of the decks you encounter in a tournament setting are top-tier decks, often directly ported lists. People play brews frequently in "Just for Fun" games and even in "Tournament Practice" games, but if you pay tickets to play, you will very rarely battle a brew. Magic Online, therefore, is a lonely environment for me.
That's not to say what other players are doing is bad; I have no problem with people finding the best decks and playing them. This is real money for them, too, and I'm in no place to opine about how they play the game. Constructed Magic is designed for good decks to exist. I wouldn't want a format so lousy that Canyon Minotaur is an all-star staple, but I am disappointed at the lack of innovation. Even just a pinch of creativity or tweaking to an archetype would be welcome. I see people play "netdecks" all the time on Magic Online, and many pilots are unfamiliar with the way the deck works or get saved on the back of a vicious topdeck. Magic is a game of variance, and sometimes they'll just rip the Bonfire or the Hellrider or the Dynacharge or the Thundermaw Hellkite (please do not miss my example theme).
The frustrating thing about my two losses to Mono-Red Aggro is that I was confident that the deck was loaded out strong against this matchup and I played my very best in all five games. I made no mistakes, I kept strong hands and mulliganed bad ones, and I still lost a matchup in which I should be favored. Every deck has room for improvement, but I felt pretty defeated after this one.
For me, this increases my anger levels a lot. I'm a very competitive person about anything that I take even a small amount of pride in, and anyone that's met me in the flesh knows that I am personally affected when my deck babies get smashed on the rocks. I know you've probably felt like that before, too. I wouldn't say I'm a "sore loser" per se, but I am a sore loser. The brew is what I live for in Magic; finding a bit of untapped edge that helps me slalom through the metagame in new and unusual ways is the most exciting part about Constructed Magic, and I'm pretty darn uncompromising about that.
Switching to Magic Online has probably been most difficult because of the loss of the human element that makes the game so dynamic. It's hard to get mad at BlackLotus4U1203 (not a real handle) for playing the same list as every other person in the tournament or at LSVismyhomie1992 for ripping his or her (hey, I don't know which one) perfect answer off the top. I don't get to share my emotion, whether it's excitement or that embittered "good game, good plays" handshake. I hate losing in paper too, especially to heartbreaker plays, but in Magic Online I have no way to vent my emotion.
I'm left sitting at a computer screen in the dark in my gym shorts with a cat in my lap. Full disclosure, I curse a lot when I play Magic Online. A lot. That kind of frustration doesn't stick to anything, so it doesn't really go away. An unlucky draw in Magic Online can ruin my day. Not being able to look at a smiling face of a fellow Magic enthusiast on the other side of the table and see another pair of eyes and hands and learn about a person based on their sleeves, custom tokens, and meticulously rolled playmat is something I truly miss. I still try to get some paper Magic in with my Commander decks and Cube when I can, but with this being the mainstay of my gaming allowance, I am left wanting.
Therefore, I implore you brewers to consider playing a bit on Magic Online. I may not recommend playing both media in Standard at once unless you just hate your wallet a lot, but it's usually much cheaper to play online than in paper and we need more brewers like you online. We'll never outnumber the Spikes of the world, but we can make a difference. I want Spikes to consider adding Naturalizes to deal with your off-the-wall-enchantment-that-they-can't-beat. I want Spikes to consider toning down the power level for versatility that rewards good play and timing. I want to fight something different when I pay six bucks to playtest a deck. Gandhi said, "Be the change you want to see in the world." Let's apply this powerful quote to our favorite hobby; I know Gandhi, the original white mage, would be proud.
I'm sorry about that, y'all; I got pretty worked up for a second.
Now, let's look at Theros and the Prerelease this weekend!
Although the choices you make before cracking your packs aren't as deep and binding as they were in RTR block, Theros' Prerelease this weekend will still ask you to choose your hero when you arrive, and I'm curious who you'll choose. You'll get your Prerelease rare and can use it in your deck, so it matters a bit which color you choose.
You'll have your choice of Celestial Archon; Shipbreaker Kraken; Abhorrent Overlord; Ember Swallower; or Anthousa, Setessan Hero along with a pack designed to encourage that color. Although I won't discuss Theros Limited a lot over the course of the next few months (though I'll play plenty of it), I am excited to see a fresh new look at a Draft environment that focuses on monocolored-matters and enchantment-matters mechanics. Monocolored decks have started floating into Standard, and I am sure that our Limited games will, too. So come Saturday morning, which hero and color should you champion? In my opinion, the best rare is:
Sealed is slow, and black, which is encouraged to be heavily that color and as such supports devotion well, loves things that care about this. Making a beefy Dragon and a fleet of evasive flyers for seven mana is a killer deal in Sealed. You'll get two Harpies right off the bat, and Sealed, which often carries less quality removal per capita, fosters an even healthier trigger. Sealed games have no problem getting to turn 7, and with scry to find your lands and smooth out your draws, this Demon is a particularly vicious one. On a side note, it's a sexy target for Shadowborn Apostle . . .
Here's the order that I rank the starting rares. Although Ember Swallower is more efficient than many green creatures and has the potential to see some play in Standard (in my opinion), it's just not high-impact enough to do as much in Sealed. That being said, an aggressive red deck could be the plan based on your pool, and then it could easily be the best card in the bunch. Hey, rare vanilla beatsticks have proven to be powerhouses before. I love Anthousa, but her ability will not often trigger at opportune times (though a surprise blocking option is pretty nice), and I feel her ability is too narrow to see sturdy play. Both of the lowest two are excellent Draft choices.
As a color, black offers a lot of flexibility in its commons and uncommons, giving you sturdy, on-curve creatures and solid removal, so I feel like it's potentially the best direction to march in. Dat Thoughtseize, too.
I'll be attending one of my local shops' midnight Prerelease events this weekend, and I hope you'll give yours a shot; you'll get a report on that next week as well as some cool Standard deck to knock around! There are a lot of great cards, and I think we're going to see a surprising and welcome shift in Standard during the coming months. I'm excited to see how the immortals shake up the format, and I know I can count on you all to drop by for all your brewing pleasures! Thanks for reading, folks; I'm always appreciative of your kind and constructive comments. Keep crafting, and until next week, don't forget to untap!
CaptainShapiro on Magic Online