Black Devotion and U/W/x Control, once again, are the talk of the town. I don't blame anyone, as they just spiked Cincinnati and were also doing well locally. The squeeze of Detention Sphere, Banishing Light, and Abrupt Decay really puts a damper on the aggressive creature decks, and that doesn't even count cards like Bile Blight and Drown in Sorrow. Magma Spray out of UWR Control decks is nightmarish for Chandra's Phoenix and Voice of Resurgence, and I don't predict Prophetic Flamespeaker to have a huge impact this week, despite how absurdly powerful it is in a vacuum.
So where does that leave us aggressive folk? How do we get around the plethora of spot removal, sweepers, and inherent roadblocks and life-gain creatures?
I don't know.
It's hard for me to recommend the Foundry Street Denizen build of Mono-Red because of the frighteningly high amount of slingshot effects Junk Midrange has, on top of the Blue Devotion problem. I don't think the R/G Aggro deck I talked about last week will be well-positioned this coming week unless it goes through a major rework (which probably involves cutting Flamespeaker altogether). It's really difficult for me to recommend going bigger with Planeswalkers with confidence. Slowing down is playing right into their game, and you'll get crushed by Mono-Blue all the same.
I'm a fan of punishing them for interacting with them via Eidolon of the Great Revel, but now Monsters has a leg up against you unless you have a red-based devotion shell, but red devotion gets picked apart by Thoughtseize. That setback does get partially mitigated if they play a second color at all, which opens up our sideboard options a bit for things like Rakdos Cackler (which is better than Firedrinker Satyr if you're trying to beat Mono-Black because it doesn't get hit by Doom Blade or Ultimate Price). We can also attempt to ignore the card as best as possible and be as redundant as can be, but if you're devotion based, your redundancy is pretty lackluster until you actually do something with it, and a deck full of spot removal makes that tough. This does circle back to Eidolon of the Great Revel, and maybe we can make something out of that.
- 2 Ash Zealot
- 4 Boros Reckoner
- 4 Burning-Tree Emissary
- 4 Fanatic of Mogis
- 4 Frostburn Weird
- 4 Stormbreath Dragon
- 4 Eidolon of the Great Revel
- 2 Purphoros, God of the Forge
I'm not excited about it, but this is probably what we want to be doing if we're going with a red devotion strategy. I'm not interested in things like Iroas, God of Victory, or anything that doesn't have an immediate impact or doesn't maximize devotion. Everything needs to push Mono-Black back until we can get ahead of their one-for-one game.
If we're being brutally honest, I'm actively doing what I can to avoid playing maindeck gods not named Thassa, God of the Sea. I want immediate action in my cards, and none of the gods really do it for me. Purphoros, at the least, gives your crummy creatures some added value that your opponent has to sit there and take. This is a Thoughtseize format, and you will get torn to shreds if you don't build with it in mind.
That said, they aren't always going to have the Thoughtseize, and it's less likely that they'll Thoughtseize into Pack Rat. One can really attempt to ignore that aspect of Black Devotion and try to do their thing. In doing so, you open up some real treats, but it's hard to say where one should go from there. If you're going to ignore that part of the format, then extra attention needs to be paid to the other parts. There's no sense in being weak to Thoughtseize and Master of Waves, or Master of Waves and Supreme Verdict, for example.
It's pretty difficult to ignore Thoughtseize with R/W Devotion since all of your pieces are so critical, but if you're willing to deal with that, then you have Master of Waves covered in Chained to the Rocks and just ignoring the board state with Fanatic of Mogis for a million. Supreme Verdict is a pretty decent problem pre-board, but Stormbreath Dragon helps you get right back into it, and Boros Charm is a thing post-board.
Regardless, the big question I had playing this deck was the first one: Black Devotion. And while cards like Eidolon of the Great Revel did prove itself to be strong in that shell, I wasn't terribly impressed. It kind of sucks, because I've been having a difficult time finding a shell that works for the cards that I want to play, while not getting obliterated by Thoughtseize.
Maybe we play Thoughtseieze in our aggressive deck, then.
I was never a big fan of these black-based aggressive decks that have popped up recently. They're good, but I think all of them are trying to stretch out too much and play with all of their shiny new toys. It's kind of hard to tell because everything feels like it fits perfectly, but your gameplan very closely resembles that of Monsters decks, except with more one drops and no defenders except for Desecration Demon when you're behind. Couple that with constantly jamming even more creatures with drawbacks that will eventually catch up to you, and you have a recipe that makes me just want to play Monsters over it.
I had the same problem with the Prophetic Flamespeaker R/G Aggro deck I wrote about last week. The card can do some really busted things, but I was doing something that was just worse than a deck like Mono-Red or Tom Ross's R/G deck. I was trying to commit to Prophetic Flamespeaker, but I wasn't willing to commit to the other cards in the deck, so the whole shell collapsed from under me.
I think that cards like Eidolon of the Great Revel and Prophetic Flamespeaker need to be in a shell that doesn't go out of its way to make them good. R/W Devotion and maybe Burn can be potential shells for Eidolon, and I'm almost positive now that R/B Aggro is the shell for Prophetic Flamespeaker.
Mark "Bestico" Nestico (I got autocorrected to Bestico, and leaving it there seemed appropriate) messaged me Friday night talking about my experience with the Flamespeaker, and I told him that the card was incredibly strong and was something I wanted to play really badly. We initially talked about jamming him on Turn 2 via Elvish Mystic, but I contested. First, I felt that it wasn't about how fast it can hit the board, but how everything around the card is being force-tailored to make it good. I just don't think that's necessary, plain and simple.
Second, if we're going to try to jam it on Turn 2, then we're going to have to play Mana Confluence in our deck to have a fighting chance at it. I'd rather just set them back a turn in my Mana Confluence deck than to try to push ahead with a mana dork. Doing the latter, once again, just makes us a worse Monsters deck.
Thoughtseize kind of brings my thoughts and frustrations full circle, and was the solution all along, but the puzzle wasn't solved yet. I was still looking for the explosiveness of R/W Devotion and Mono-Red, while maintaining the staying power and sturdiness of the Monsters and Black Aggro decks.
So we went to work, and this was one of our first drafts:
- 1 Gore-House Chainwalker
- 4 Prophetic Flamespeaker
- 4 Rakdos Cackler
- 4 Spike Jester
- 4 Tormented Hero
- 4 Gnarled Scarhide
- 4 Herald of Torment
- 4 Mogis's Warhound
What sticks out to me is the flexibility that our three-drop spot has between the maindeck and sideboard, with Lifebane Zombie and Master of the Feast covering the ground that Prophetic Flamespeaker and sometimes Herald of Torment can't do. Playing against smaller creatures that can't quite get through a massive 5/5? Flamespeaker goes out for Master of the Feast. Are those smaller creatures green and/or white? Lifebane Zombie subs in for Herald of Torment. Against blue control? Flamespeaker is pretty lame there because of Jace, and you really don't want to invest so much just to make him effective, so I prefer Lifebane Zombie's evasion. The great thing about it is that you, reader, may not prefer that, and you'll still be okay! The second main selling point is how it doesn't go out of its way to make Prophetic Flamespeaker good. With twelve bestow creatures, we free up a lot of space for actual interaction in Thoughtseize, Bile Blight, Dreadbore, and any other sort of removal and discard we want.
Cards not in the list:
Brain Maggot: I don't care much for this sort of effect, and the card isn't aggressive enough. That's pretty much it.
Pack Rat: There are way too many ways to answer, outclass, and outrun this card now, and I don't have the resources to recover from that angle. I'd much rather add more inherent resistance to those problems.
Pain Seer: I don't want to play bears that don't do anything. I'm basically required to bestow this, and I don't want to force things like that just for a card.
Thrill-Kill Assassin: I don't think it will be the week for this card. If I expect more Monsters deck, then I'll consider it.
Nighthowler: While obviously powerful, I prefer non-vanilla creatures at this mana cost.
Desecration Demon: Does absolutely nothing when behind, and would want me to play a 24th land, which I'm not willing to do.
Slaughter Games: What are we really trying to name here? Playing this card just to name Sphinx's Revelation is a huge trap, and that isn't even the card that kills you. Elspeth is, and you have better ways of dealing with her. Kill them!
Whip of Erebos: I'm not interested in bringing back most of the creatures that we play, but the lifelink can help a lot against the other aggressive decks. I don't expect much of that this week though, but it may in the future.
Of course, more refining is needed, and the numbers aren't quite where I'd like them, but I'll definitely be looking to work on this as theSCG State Championships and the Open Series in Somerset draw near. I can't forget about Legacy, though, and the only two decks I'm particularly interested in is Jund and Omni-Tell, the two decks I have the most experience with. With the rise of Delver strategies and Miracles, and a decline in Show and Tells, I'm much more inclined to play Jund. Abrupt Decay is in a great position, and you can configure your deck to have as much game against True-Name Nemesis as you want.
What does a Jund list look like nowadays? I'll have to figure that out next week.