With SCG Philly providing a more pressing topic, I put off writing about Fate Reforged until this week. Fortunately, that lag has afforded me the time to play some games with the new cards in the context of both Limited and Standard. I have grown increasingly weary of Prereleases over the last few years (I loathe seeded packs and playable promos), as I readily acknowledge that their target audience is precisely what I am not. I nevertheless made the trek up to my local store to get some games in with the new cards as my initial preparation for Grand Prix San Jose and Pro Tour Fate Reforged.
For my first flight, I chose the Sultai Brood. The choice was somewhat arbitrary, since I mostly wanted to play with all the colors, but I do think the blue and black cards in Fate Reforged are strong. I was greeted by a powerful pool and built the following deck:
- 1 Abomination of Gudul
- 2 Abzan Beastmaster
- 1 Abzan Guide
- 1 Gurmag Angler
- 1 Lotus Path Djinn
- 1 Sagu Mauler
- 1 Torrent Elemental
- 1 Warden of the First Tree
- 2 Whisperer of the Wilds
My thoughts while sleeving the deck:
1) Holy rares, Batman! Rares are good. Who knew?
2) The curve is a little high. I had just enough early plays that I did not feel compelled to play a weak two-drop like Smoke Teller or Ainok Guide. I also felt more comfortable with cards like Arcbond and Crux of Fate that could catch me up from behind. Still, the one thing I would have loved to add to the deck is a cheap defensive creature like Archers' Parapet or a cheap removal spell like Debilitating Injury.
In general, I think I have been too sensitive to my curve in Sealed Deck, as I tend to favor aggression. This leads to my Sealed decks looking more like Draft decks and falling to more powerful cards. As such, I was willing to hedge in the opposite direction and play a slower, more powerful deck.
3) I have lots of card advantage and should easily win games if they go long. That means trading early is advantageous, and I can mulligan slow hands more aggressively. It is certainly possible I should have played the Sidisi's Pet in my pool as an added defensive creature, but I ultimately cut it for the more powerful Abzan Guide, splashing the white mana off of two dual lands.
4) My mana is not ideal with only six black sources, seven blue, and eight green. Splashing the Arcbond was certainly greedy, but I was not going to pass on a chance to play with a powerful rare from the new set when I had the lands to make it work. It may be tempting to play a Plains for the Windswept Heath to help morph the Abzan Guide, but there is no way you can afford to play an effective colorless land in this deck.
My thoughts after playing four rounds with the deck:
2) I rarely had issues falling behind early, as I was consistently able to get on the board by turn 3, and a turn 2 Whisperer of the Wilds set me up to get significantly ahead by turn 4. I expected the Fate Reforged cards to speed up the format, but that did not materialize in these matches.
3) Abzan Beastmaster was my MVP. I drew approximately fifteen extra cards with my two copies, which often rendered my other draw spells moot. In a surprise to no one, this means I favored a green creature over Treasure Cruise.
4) I had some issues with the three delve cards and had few ways to enable them. I was hoping the added spell count from the manifest cards would help fuel delve, but it rarely came together easily. Even at seven mana, Gurmag Angler was likely the best lategame creature in my pool, as the other options were Ambush Krotiq, Feral Krushok, and Tusked Colossodon.
5) Ethereal Ambush was fine, if unexciting, and actively good against opposing aggressive decks. Without the five-mana morph dynamic of Khans, the slant towards Fate Reforged made this card seem even better than it will be moving forward, so I am going to hold off final judgment there.
I went into my second flight hoping to play Jeskai to cover red and white, but it ran out by the time I was able to pick. Having a strong distaste for Mardu, I landed on Temur and built the following:
- 1 Ugin's Construct
- 1 Ainok Guide
- 2 Aven Surveyor
- 1 Bear's Companion
- 1 Destructor Dragon
- 1 Mardu Heart-Piercer
- 1 Mystic of the Hidden Way
- 1 Sagu Archer
- 1 Shockmaw Dragon
- 1 Snowhorn Rider
This deck was certainly worse than the first but had plenty of powerful cards, a handful of evasive creatures, and lots of card advantage. I was very worried about my mana, and with the lack of two-drops in my pool, decided to play the very weak Ainok Guide. My mana was so poor I decided against playing Daghatar the Adamant with two white dual lands, instead siding for Ugin's Construct. All of my three-mana plays are colorless, so Construct would make a very strong turn 4 play, although a somewhat poor topdeck on many boards. I was willing to take the risk and play the powerful new card.
Thoughts after playing with the deck:
1) Aven Surveyor and Write into Being were excellent. I had a copy of Write into Being in my first pool and actually left a third copy in the sideboard of this one, but it consistently felt like a morph creature with a Sleight of Hand stapled to it. Surveyor allowed my deck with a rather high curve to still punish slow starts. Adding these angles to your deck with an already powerful card is incredibly valuable, as it is essentially free versatility.
2) Whisk Away was bad. I did not expect much from this card but thought that the added ability to target blockers would make it approximately as good as Kill Shot, a fine but unexciting card. I also wanted another cheaper card to help if I fell behind on board. Whisk Away was significantly worse, and I wish I had played the third Write into Being over it, even if it meant I would lose a piece of interaction. Catching up from behind on board was a role that was well-covered by Aven Surveyor.
3) I never drew Ugin's Construct when it was bad and frequently manifested it, but I was certainly lucky in that respect. I wish I had played the rare for testing purposes.
As for general impressions, I was happy with how the manifest mechanic played out. It generally rewarded players for managing variance well with cards like Write into Being, while the straight manifest cards were not appreciably better than a 2/2. I'm sure I will lose some matches to a manifest card being something I could not have predicted or played around, but those situations should not occur frequently enough to be an issue.
I rarely saw players use the dash mechanic, which is not surprising in Sealed. I hope to see more of that happening in Draft where decks can be more focused and use their mana more efficiently early in the game.
The results were, to say the least, encouraging. I won all sixteen games I played with two strong pools and more importantly, was able to see how many of the new cards interacted with each other. The caveat here is, of course, that the unorthodox format for the Prereleases (pools had a seeded pack, one Khans of Tarkir pack, and four Fate Reforged packs) means Khans makes up a significantly smaller portion of the card pool than it will in competitive level events where Draft will consist of one Fate Reforged pack and two Khans, and Sealed will have an equal amount of each.
With fewer of the powerful multi-color morphs from Khans, smaller creatures were more effective, although Manifest still made matching up well against a 2/2 very important. Leveraging these creatures in a more aggressive deck could prove difficult against the larger creatures from Khans, so I will be looking for easy ways to get through blockers. In Fate Reforged we have good options at common in Aven Surveyor and Goblin Heelcutter. I'm also looking closely at the cycle Runemarks that combine with essentially any two-drop for a very powerful opening.
I expected the heavy Fate Reforged format to be more aggressive because of these cards, but I was still able to have success with the classic Sealed Deck formula of card advantage, removal, and enough early creatures to get to the lategame. Perhaps the above mentioned aggressive options will change the Draft format more than Sealed, but I think the format will fairly closely resemble triple Khans of Tarkir. Fortunately, I greatly enjoyed that format so I'm looking forward to a break from the Constructed grind to play some forty-card decks.
Early Standard Thoughts
Unlike Limited, I have not enjoyed Standard since Khans of Tarkir was introduced. The wealth of midrange decks are not what I enjoy playing, and the two decks I saw significant success with, Green Devotion and Jeskai Tokens, were pushed out of the metagame by Abzan and Sultai. While Jeskai Tokens seems to have received some powerful tools in Monastery Mentor and Soulfire Grand Master, I was more interested in Yasova Dragonclaw and Shaman of the Great Hunt.
The G/R Aggro deck has seen some success recently, and these are two powerful options that work well together. A single +1/+1 counter from Shaman allows Yasova to steal Siege Rhino with its ability, and they form a perfect curve, especially when accelerated into play by an Elvish Mystic. Adding a lot of two toughness creatures to the deck may seem to position you poorly against Drown in Sorrow, but Shaman actually insulates you from the card by immediately pumping your team out of range of the common sweeper.
Here was my initial brew:
- 2 Ashcloud Phoenix
- 4 Elvish Mystic
- 3 Fanatic of Xenagos
- 4 Goblin Rabblemaster
- 4 Heir of the Wilds
- 2 Rattleclaw Mystic
- 4 Shaman of the Great Hunt
- 4 Stormbreath Dragon
- 1 Boon Satyr
- 2 Yasova Dragonclaw
The sideboard would certainly have 3-4 copies of Destructive Revelry, some planeswalkers (Chandra, Pyromaster and Xenagos, the Reveler) against control decks, and added cheap removal (Lightning Strike, Scouring Sands), but the relative numbers are constantly in flux. I decided to try Wild Slash in the maindeck over Lightning Strike to test out the new card because it's cheaper. Going forward, the decision between the two will certainly be metagame-dependent, and I will oscillate between the two depending on the relative presence of Fleecemane Lion, Sidisi, Blood Tyrant, and Mantis Rider relative to Goblin Rabblemaster, Monastery Mentor, and Soulfire Grand Master, although currently, I would favor Lightning Strike.
I was able to test this deck over the weekend, and unfortunately, I came away somewhat unimpressed with the new additions. Shaman was fine but not as good as I expected it to be, and Yasova was unimpressive. The worst card, however, was Goblin Rabblemaster, which rarely did anything against Jeskai Tokens or Abzan Aggro. Overall I think the curve is too high, and I was unable to come out fast enough in most games I lost, so there is definitely still potential here.
Without the ability to gain free wins from Goblin Rabblemaster, we can try to cut Elvish Mystic and play a more red-heavy build for the powerful Flamewake Phoenix, which also plays very well with Shaman of the Great Hunt. That list would look something like this:
- 3 Ashcloud Phoenix
- 4 Fanatic of Xenagos
- 4 Flamewake Phoenix
- 4 Heir of the Wilds
- 4 Rattleclaw Mystic
- 4 Shaman of the Great Hunt
- 4 Stormbreath Dragon
- 1 Yasova Dragonclaw
Cutting Elvish Mystic allows us to play more lands that enter the battlefield tapped so we avoid the pain of Mana Confluence. This list seems to exacerbate the tempo issues I had with the previous list, but the added fliers means that coming out ahead of blockers is not nearly as important, so this could be a convenient sidestep of that issue.
Unfortunately, I do not have much time to test Standard for the Open in Washington D.C. this weekend because I am preparing for the Pro Tour two weeks later (playing Pod for two years straight has backfired slightly). Hopefully Anthony Lowry breaks it. No pressure, but I'm counting on you, buddy!