I'm a firm believer in taking in as much information as you can.
This doesn't mean taking in information uncritically; you have to vet this information you get. You have to exercise judgment. One of the things I took out of studying rhetoric was a firm belief in critical analysis. Taking the time to do this with all of the content out there is pretty intense (and practically impossible unless it is all you dedicate yourself to), but you can, at the very least, pick-and-choose based on your experience with an author and succeed in getting a valuable mini-version by figuring out who it is you want to read, week-in and week-out.
I, for one, always make it a point to read Ari Lax's articles. I think he has a great head for the game, particularly in merging theory with practical empiricism. Ari's article this week, Analytical Failures, is a great example of why I like reading him: he goes into the changes of Draft now that Fate Reforged exists, discusses the merits (or lack thereof) to Red Devotion, addresses potential changes to Magic floor rules, and analyzes his previous take on Valorous Stance. I especially love that he revisits his old ideas and isn't afraid to say that he was wrong on something.
His ideas on Valorous Stance really got me thinking, and I headed back to the ol' workshop to try out some ideas. It was brew time.
Let's look at the card:
One of the first things I liked about this card was not as an add-on to W/U Heroic, but rather as an alternative to Chained to the Rocks. My brain immediately went to my R/W Midrange Aggro deck from a few years ago. The deck sideboarded Chained to the Rocks to handle all of the big cards that the burn spells couldn't take care of, but it never felt great about it. Particularly horrifying was when a Desecration Demon was freed up by an Abrupt Decay or Golgari Charm. I was pretty firmly in the U/W Control camp at this point, but this problem was what kept me from returning to the R/W deck.
Thinking about Ari's comments, it struck me that Valorous Stance was basically the card that red decks wanted. Killing a big creature was always a huge problem. Now, there was a reasonable solution, even if it was off-color.
I resolved to revisit the deck.
My current version of R/W is a midrange-aggro deck that can play a fast game or a long game. It is working the "top-and-bottom" approach that I've been playing in Standard aggressive decks for several years. It is definitely still a work in progress.
- 2 Ashcloud Phoenix
- 4 Goblin Rabblemaster
- 4 Soulfire Grand Master
- 4 Stormbreath Dragon
- 3 Vaultbreaker
- 2 Alesha, Who Smiles at Death
First of all, I definitely need to thank Aaron Dailey for his comment in the forums of my Red Review; I certainly misevaluated Vaultbreaker. I had misevaluated the strength of the filtering cards ability of the card. Since trying it out, the card has actually impressed me quite a bit.
Check out this combo:
I'm not including it in this deck, but it is still great.
There are a ton of long-lasting game combos in the deck. Soulfire Grand Master can do wonders in this deck in a lategame (though perhaps it should be a Seeker of the Way to help the early game). Alesha, Who Smiles at Death can bring back the Grand Master as well as Goblin Rabblemaster, both of which seem like exciting mid- or lategame plays.
Vaultbreaker feels awesome to me in this deck, helping to keep the deck going in a lategame and supplying awesome damage in an early- or midgame. Initially, I did have the Flamewake Phoenix + Vaultbreaker combo in the deck, but I felt like there were too few ways to bring bake the Phoenix so I cut it. Maybe nine ways is sufficient though.
Of course, that combo made me think about a different deck that I'd been working on to no success not so long ago when Khans of Tarkir was new.
This card is awesome. And it is almost unplayable.
If you've ever attacked with this card in Constructed, you probably know just how awesome it is, even if you are sending it in on a suicide mission. The problem, of course, is that Narset is incredibly expensive and doesn't play well with lands or creatures (a part of the reason the card is so weak in Limited).
If Rabblemaster is awesome when it is saved from death, let me tell you, saving Narset from death feels like the most awesome Kung Fu movie ever. I decided to really push the card, running a full four, with Jeskai Ascendancy doing extra duty (aside from being awesome) as a means to ditch extras and fuel the deck.
Here is that brew, which again, is very rough.
At its heart, it is still a Jeskai Tokens deck. It does lose the smashing power of Rabblemaster/Seeker, replacing it with a gameplan less likely to create a short game, but with an even stronger long game. Obviously, it might be far better to just keep things as they have been and stick with the more aggressive version of the deck.
However, you never learn one way or another if you don't try.
And, besides, doesn't this look awesome?
Man, oh man. If you want to get seriously bonkers, perhaps replacing Soulfire Grand Master with Generator Servant will do the trick. Warning: this plan is really only recommended if you want to get rid of any semblance of stability in favor of "Pop! Bang! Wow!"
You'll notice that there are no counterspells in the board. This is because of how poorly counterspells work in conjunction with Narset, Enlightened Master. Instead, this deck tries to go with the G/R Aggro approach: overwhelm the opponent with threatening cards.
The slightly less ambitious version of this deck replaces all of the Jeskai Ascendancy with three Tormenting Voice and one Narset, Enlightened Master. Tormenting Voice is a reasonable combo with Soulfire Grand Master, but in addition, it immediately grants cards off of a Narset, where Jeskai Ascendancy requires a little more gas in hand. One of the things I've noticed when I'm playing against Jeskai Tokens decks is that there can be moments in the game where the opponent actually is completely out of gas, and they are sitting around waiting for the next spell. It could actually be better for the Narset build of the deck to run Tormenting Voice than the more powerful card, Jeskai Ascendancy.
Both of these lists were basically inspired by taking a second look at Valorous Stance. I'm definitely very grateful to Ari for revisiting the card this week, because it really made me think about how the card could be employed.
Magic, in many ways, is about economics. If you're going to play one card, you're not going to play another. Many years ago, one of my favorite conversations I've had about Magic happened with Patrick Chapin. We were discussing card counts in Constructed decks - I talk about it a little in the article Overcoming the 4-1 Dogma in Numbers:
As Patrick and I got going on card counts, he piped up[:] "Zero is the most common correct number because most of the time, a card simply doesn't belong in your deck." Assuming you are playing, for example, the smallest currently played format, there are only 752 cards in the format (Time Spiral Block). Chances are you are playing zero copies of most of the cards in the block. Chances are even greater in a format like Vintage (8845 unique, legal cards). This may seem incredibly obvious, but it is important to point out that it is likely that the correct number of copies of a card in your deck is probably zero. This means that for a card to have a home in your deck, the burden of proof is on it . I'll say it again, the burden of proof is on it .
If every choice to play a card must be measured against every other legal card, this is a high burden to overcome. This is one of the reasons that when I think about, say, red cards in Standard, I am often a bit harsher with my criticisms. A year ago, people were excited about Mindsparker, for example, but how do you justify that card when Boros Reckoner is legal?
In this case, with Valorous Stance, one of the reasons that I think it is actually very good is that it successfully solves problems that older decks have had and it manages to go above and beyond and do something else. Chained to the Rocks is a completely fine Magic card, and it can more efficiently answer far more creatures than Valorous Stance. However, there is a cost to Chained to the Rocks that is not insignificant: people play Glare of Heresy, Erase, Reclamation Sage, and more. I've watched more than one game where Chained to the Rocks was involved on both sides and so was removal for Chained to the Rocks. Some games ended up being positively decided by timely enchantment removal.
Protecting one's creatures is something that we always knew was valuable, but seeing how effective it was in W/U Heroic and R/W Heroic is something people are only recently becoming aware of. One of the reasons that I've switched over to Soulfire Grand Master is that with Valorous Stance it is much easier to have your two-drop just stick around. When the Grand Master sticks around, it matters. A lategame Grandmaster feels positively gross to deal with, especially if they have a Valorous Stance in hand.
Continuing with my theme of "Valorous Stance is my favorite Chained to the Rocks replacement ever," here is Mardu Midrange, updated with Fate Reforged.
That's all the Valorous Stance brewing for this week.