Last week, I put about as much work as I've ever put into an article writing about building R/W based on each of its matchups. The story you didn't see is that I started by writing and deleting an opening paragraph that stated that I was going to start with a decklist that I'd been working on, and then go through all the possible variations, because it made sense to just admit my starting point up front. Then I decided that as long as I was going through the trouble of talking about what would be best in each matchup, I should actually start from there and work from the ground up.
I think that article had a lot of valuable information about actual matchups as well as outlining a process one can use to tune a list, but it was ultimately pretty deeply flawed. While sketching the lists I wanted in each matchup, I had an idea of the final list I wanted to build, and I was biasing toward trying to write something that might help as a near sideboard guide for that final list. The result was that my process was incredibly biased. As I indicated a few times, I only included Brimaz, King of Oreskos where I thought he'd be really exceptional, where other cards made it in when I thought they'd be fine, because I wanted to end up with them in my deck. Part of this is that I don't love the double white in Brimaz's casting cost and actually want to bias away from playing the card. Because of that, but I went too far.
The more important flaw in both my execution and the general concept is that a deck is all about the exact interaction between all its pieces. I think of deckbuilding as much more of an art than a science, and aggregate decklists can be a useful tool for testing, but they ultimately tend to lack the cohesion of other lists. If you just average everything out, you miss specific small synergies that lead people to choose one card over another when both would perform a similar role. Tuning a deck should be informed by really precise concerns that are just hard to get into until you get into actually doing it. Things like "I need x one mana plays to be able to swing tempo in my favor in the early turns" compete against things like "I need x answers to Mantis Rider in my deck" when debating between Wild Slash and Lightning Strike. If I cut a Stoke the Flames for a land because I decide I have too many four-mana plays and not enough mana, I might feel like I need to cut a Wild Slash to add a Lightning Strike to get back my Mantis Rider answer. If I cut Goblin Rabblemaster for Hordeling Outburst because I want to decrease my exposure to removal, I need to make sure I'm doing something to make up for the fact that it's going to be a little harder to end games. These tradeoffs are easy to lose when aggregating.
I ended up playing a very different list in Memphis than what I wrote about. After I wrote my article, I realized that I still don't like Goblin Rabblemaster. I didn't like it before, when everyone played it, and I cut it from my R/W list, and then nothing really changed, except that Wild Slash meant there were even more good answers to it running around, but somehow, I decided to play it again because everyone else was playing it, even though that had always been true. Also, I came down on Monastery Mentor. Because I want to play it with mana up to play something else, I end up thinking of it as a four or five mana spell, and for that much mana, I can do a lot better. I cut those and moved toward Raise the Alarm and Wingmate Roc again, where I'd been before, and I was much happier.
On the way to Memphis, we realized that it really was possible to splash black without hurting my manabase too much. I'd always avoided it, because I really liked having better mana than other decks, but I hadn't realized how cheap it was. The only additional pain I had to add to my deck was the one point from four fetchlands, and I didn't need any extra tapped lands. I could have twelve black sources basically free. I did have to give up on four instances of scry 1 from my Temples, but that seemed like a pretty small price to pay if there were black cards I wanted. Crackling Doom seemed awesome. I didn't like any three mana spells other than Hordeling Outburst. I'd been playing Heliod's Pilgrim, which I used to love, but I've been down on Chained to the Rocks as Stormbreath Dragon has gotten more popular, and I wanted more answers to it. At the last minute, I decided I might as well try some Thoughtseizes in my sideboard too, just in case I happened to find myself wanting them.
I ended up playing this list:
- 1 Ashcloud Phoenix
- 1 Monastery Mentor
- 4 Monastery Swiftspear
- 4 Seeker of the Way
- 1 Soulfire Grand Master
- 1 Wingmate Roc
I knew it was a little untuned, as I didn't have a chance to play any games after deciding to add black to my deck. The first change I'd make is cutting Monastery Mentor for Crackling Doom. Monastery Mentor just isn't very good in this deck, and Crackling Doom was pretty great. I'd probably put the fourth Thoughtseize in the open sideboard slot.
Beyond that, I think Ben Stark was probably right about Soulfire Grand Master, and there should probably be more of them.
This gives me 18 red, 10 black, and 14 white, with 11 cards that let me have a Mountain for Chained to the Rocks, this is a bit short of where I had been, but I get to make up for that a little by getting to scry, and I think this is enough of each, so if I play red/white splash black again, this is where I'll probably start. Note also that this is 24 lands, and my last list had 25. A Mana Confluence would bring me up to a comfortable number of sources of every color, but I'd probably rather add a Plains, if I wanted a 25th land, depending on what my spells look like.
Moving forward, I don't think I start with this list anyway. I think Ben Stark probably just came up with a better way to build around Outpost Siege though; talking to him about my list over the weekend, he said he wished he'd played Crackling Doom. I think his list with Crackling Doom is where I'd start if I wanted to play an Outpost Siege deck.
However, it's not clear that that's what I want to be doing at this point. Going into Grand Prix Memphis, I expected a lot of R/W and Abzan Aggro, but after, I expect a lot of Abzan Control, with U/B Control and Sultai Control trying to prey on them. Ben Stark made it to the finals through Abzan Control, but it also accounted for both of his losses in the swiss, so that's not necessarily a matchup I'd be looking to sign up for.
More importantly for me, the reason I wanted Crackling Doom, and the reason I moved away from Wingmate Roc, was the fear of Stormbreath Dragon, but after Grand Prix Memphis highlighted other decks and showed a build of R/W without Stormbreath Dragon, I think that card's stock might fall enough that I can go back to just hoping I don't play against it rather than warping my deck around it.
The primary issue I had with my deck was that it wasn't great at closing a game out. I missed my Wingmate Rocs, and I think it might be time to move back to playing those in large numbers.
Also, Mastery of the Unseen has really impressed me. Ben said the three in his sideboard were only for U/B Control, but I've been happy with it outside of that, including some brief experiments playing it in my maindeck, so I felt a little validated seeing two in David Moline's 2nd place deck from the Standard Open in Los Angeles. I like that Mastery of the Unseen makes it really easy to trigger Wingmate Roc, as you can make a creature at the end of their turn on turn 4, and then attack with it and play Wingmate Roc on turn 5. Wingmate Roc also just works well with a card that gives you a lot of creatures.
I might try to build this into R/W, using Mastery of the Unseen in place of Outpost Siege to win attrition battles, but I could also see experimenting with W/B or Mardu with these cards. Given the rise of control decks, I like the idea of trying to play a deck that gets to use Thoughtseize and Mastery of the Unseen maindeck.
Maybe something like this:
Ruthless Ripper and Sultai Emissary probably look a little odd, but Sultai Emissary is trying to do something like what Raise the Alarm does in my R/W decks, giving me a reliable creature to trigger raid, and Ruthless Ripper lets me play something early against aggressive decks to buy time. More importantly, both give me creatures I can draw that let me turn a creature face up to trigger Mastery of the Unseen, as I've found the lifegain from that card is actually very significant. Also, they increase the creature density in my deck, especially on creatures I can flip cheaply, which makes Mastery of the Unseen a lot better. Ruthless Ripper in particular is a pretty huge blowout to manifest, as no one will ever play around it, or, having seen one, it makes all your other manifests scary.
After sideboarding, the deck plays a much more controlling role with more card draw, sweepers, and spot removal. I'm a little concerned about not really knowing how to improve against control decks, and I'm really just counting on Thoughtseize into Mastery of the Unseen being good enough, mostly using Read the Bones to make sure I keep hitting land drops to activate Mastery of the Unseen. Maybe Palace Siege or something would help. I'm not sure.
This weekend definitely reshaped the format, as almost every weekend seems to do. Fate Reforged managed to add more tools to a great format without throwing off the balance as far as I can tell, and this continues to be a great Standard format. Moving forward, I need to remember to be honest with myself and my readers about what my real thought process is to avoid falling into unintentional biases that could disrupt otherwise valuable critical evaluations of where I'm at.