Hello everybody, and welcome back to You Choose The Brew, the show where we all brew together. Last time, we saw a turning point for our deck, one that allowed us to take widely divergent paths with our creation. You've chosen to go down the midrange road featuring Liliana of the Veil and a white splash to complement it.
Given that that moves our deck in a somewhat different direction compared to what we were doing before, it's time to take a step back and figure out what moving toward midrange entails and what possible lists for said midrangy approach could look like.
As far as usefulness is concerned, this kind of thing is something that comes up all the time in brewing and one of the major aids towards creative deckbuilding built into the process. After all, not all brews are good enough to be worth pursuing - in fact most brews really aren't - but if we can repurpose what we've learned from our earlier experiments, testing one direction might allow us to develop something that goes off on a tangent and is in fact worth pursuing. That's what we're gonna check for today.
To be able to explore where we might move things, we first need to figure out our options. This is quite similar to the process from Episode 2 where we brainstormed options what could be done with our core cards but with a much stronger focus, as we already have a much clearer idea where we want to be moving this deck. So what do we know we want to be doing?
Well, we want to build a deck that revolves around Pack Rat and the Loam engine with Grisly Salvage to help set things up, that much is the same. However, instead of just looking how to complement the core, we already know we want to keep its ability to play with Smallpox and the whole resource grind plan intact, while at the same time moving the deck towards playing a more midrangy game by including Liliana of the Veil and a small white splash into the deck. That means we'll likely be moving away from the Thespian's Stage/Dark Depths gameplan I developed the deck towards last time and instead, we'll move towards one that is either more focused on grinding with a resilient threat base, or one that is straight up more aggressive with more early threats and a focus on attacking a particular resource point. There are a couple of ways to implement this we can take into consideration:
We can decide to make Smallpox just another spell in our reservoir of disruptive options - basically playing it as an Innocent Blood that also happens to attack resources in other zones - and focus on a plan where we plan to cast discard spells on turns 1 and 2 before following up with a resilient threat our opponent hopefully can't answer in their weakened state.
Instead of using the traditional black discard as disruption (and thereby, the hand as our focus in the resource war), we can also think old school and attack the other resource Smallpox is already aiming at: lands. Yes, land destruction decks haven't been much of a thing outside of Temur Delver playing that game to a certain extent, but that deck is doing well enough that we might want to rethink our opinion of good old Sinkhole, especially given how good Life From The Loam is at locking the game up with Wasteland once we've already made them stumble.
Another way to approach things is that of targeting a specific part of the metagame, which in practical terms, generally boils down to mostly ignoring combo in the maindeck and preparing things for the so-called fair decks of Legacy. Lots of board control and creature kill, little disruption for everything else. One tool of particular interest in this context is Chalice of the Void. Chalice is awesome against most fair decks due to Legacy's low mana curves, and it's even better against the format's combo decks because those are most dependent on their cantrips to actually find the pieces they need (not to mention that oftentimes the combo-process itself involves a number of one mana spells). Chalice would make sense particularly because, as I already mentioned last time, the deck already has a strong focus on the two-drops, with relatively little going on for one mana.
Finally, we have the option of moving towards a lategame-centric midrange deck that uses a fluid mix of disruption and threats to make the game long enough for its high-value threats or the Loam engine to take things over.
Note that all of these are essentially variations of the same theme, so all the lists today should look quite similar.
Option I: Discard into Threat
What we're looking for here is a heavy discard complement to lead us into a slightly extended base of threats that are strong on their own and reasonably hard to answer while also remaining somewhat synergistic with Smallpox and the Loam engine. We already want to play Liliana of the Veil, and there are two options that immediately come to mind as a result of the white splash: Lingering Souls and Knight of the Reliquary. What could a list incorporating these cards look like?
This discard package is big enough for us to reasonably expect casting copies on both turns 1 and 2, and with six spot discard spells to check our opponent's hand, Cabal Therapy should be on its A game here. Note that we really want a Dryad Arbor to complement those Therapies.
4 Pack Rat
Our threats; synergistic with Loam, strong and reasonably resilient on their own with Grisly Salvage to help us find them in time.
The Loam core that ensures our lategame is awesome. After last week's experience, I don't think the cycling lands are negotiable.
Our removal suite, allowing us to answer almost any permanent with the exception of non-creatures that cost four or more. That's 51 cards which, even including five lands, is more than we can hope to fit into the deck, especially given that we're almost guaranteed to run five colorless lands in Wasteland and a Volrath's Stronghold. Time to go to the cutting room - and that's where the problem comes up. If we honestly start cutting from this list, either our "discard into threat" gameplan or Smallpox inevitably ends up on the chopping block given that we need to get rid of nine or ten cards.
In short, even just building the deck indicates that there might be a decent Abzan Loam deck to be built here, but it can also mean that said deck likely doesn't incorporate the LoamPox strategy we're trying to work on. The deck is just better off doing its own thing, not poxing people.
Option II: That Other Resource
So if discard just leads us to abandoning our chosen strategy, how about focusing on supporting what is both the strongest and weakest element of Smallpox: the land destruction aspect. Depending on the gamestate, Smallpox killing a land in addition to a creature reaches from a minor annoyance to a game-deciding sacrifice. So let's try to make it the latter as often as possible and just strand our opponents with dead cards in hand instead of useless mana in play.
Our LD package. Vindicate is awesome at this job because if we've clearly lost the mana denial war for the time being, it serves as a brilliant flexible answer to just about anything.
4 Pack Rat
A minimal threat base, but a hard to remove one that has synergy with our engines.
Our lategame engine.
Our removal, complemented by Vindicate from the LD column.
That's 49, though we're already including nine lands. This looks like it could successfully be shaved down to a workable 60. So let's see what we'd like to run for mana and go from there.
These fifteen lands are what I'd want for colored mana, leaving us with 24 lands and 64 cards total, meaning we'd need to cut four cards from the deck. We already have a lot of removal should we need it, so I'd start by trimming one copy each of Vindicate, Abrupt Decay, and Liliana of the Veil just because they're among our clunkiest cards, and choose the greedy option of cutting another colored source - the sixth fetch in Marsh Flats - to get this list to start testing with:
- 4 Pack Rat
Option III: Little Disruption But The Right One
One thing to realize building those two lists is that we end up playing a lot of disruption, leaving us low on active plays of our own. Maybe we should just condense our disruption into something high impact - the aforementioned Chalice of the Void - and address combo decks in the sideboard. The Abzan colors give us a lot of tools there, after all.
Just cribbing the list from option II gives us these basic 53 cards to fill out with four Chalice of the Void and a couple of other tools:
4 Pack Rat
We probably want the fourth Abrupt Decay back now that we don't have Vindicate (or we might just want to run a singleton Vindicate anyway), which means we have just two more slots to fill out before we need to make cuts. I'd be tempted to get a little greedy here and cut a Lingering Souls (also replacing the Plains with a Marsh Flats) and one of our Grisly Salvages for a different advantage engine: Dark Confidant. Our overall mana curve is low, and Chalice is great at protecting Bob from Lightning Bolt and Swords to Plowshares, hopefully allowing it to run away with the game.
This actually looks quite promising. We have strong earlygame plays that scale well into the lategame, a decent number of impactful yet hard to deal with threats, and a perfectly serviceable gameplan masquerading as an Abzan midrange strategy when we don't have Loam or Smallpox online.
Option IV: Killing Them Slowly
Instead of trying to play the game as a reasonably aggressive deck, we could also try to take things slowly and gradually take over until we dominate in the lategame. That could mean a slight variation on the Chalice theme from option III, basically cutting the Dark Confidants from that list for a couple of useful lategame tools:
Basically this version moves back to the full playset of Lilianas because it's essentially the perfect threat for a deck like this. She's awesome if you play control early while grinding card advantage and also serves as a hard to answer must-kill threat against control decks. Similarly, without Dark Confidant, Grisly Salvage is once again our card quality tool of choice, supported by the two copies of Eternal Witness. The original Den Protector is actually conceptually great with what we want to be doing. It recurs whatever control element we need, can be found with Grisly Salvage, and gives us a lategame lock against fair strategies to Loam into: Once Volrath's Stronghold is online, we can recur Eternal Witness every turn, get back Smallpox, and cast it. There is basically no fair deck that'll keep up with this barrage in the long run.
The other way to go for the slow and grindy approach would be to cut the Chalices from the above list for a different form of black disruption - likely discard - giving us a list along these lines:
- 4 Pack Rat
Yes, this is still at 61 cards; I'm simply not sure yet what the last cut would have to be. The point of building the deck this way would be to play a deck that can stall the earlygame with some discard, removal, and Lingering Souls before moving into a full-blown Life from the Loam endgame where Wasteland and Raven's Crime take over the game before Worm Harvest and Pack Rat end it.
Before having played the deck, I like this list less than the Chalice version because you combine a comparatively small discard suite with a deck that is trying to grind out most of its games with the Loam engine and a disruption package that will take quite a bit of time to deal significant damage. Chalice on its own is just much better at stopping opponents in their tracks than Thoughtseize is, and I'm worried that this version will leave opponents too much time to set up before deploying meaningful disruption.
I also have a conceptual problem with these two lists, though one that might turn out to be imaginary during playtesting: Thinking about how they're gonna play out, they'd probably be better served with Punishing Fire (and, accordingly, Grove of the Burnwillows) than Lingering Souls. They're far down the control end of the spectrum of midrange as is, and being able to set up a recursive removal engine seems stronger in that context than making a couple of Spirit tokens, although that kind of change would likely entail a massive reworking of the manabase.
The End Of The Line?
At this point, these lists are at the proving point: They're either already close to good enough to hang with the big boys, or they aren't. We've come as far as we can reasonably expect the brewing process to take us, and only jamming games and making minor changes as we go will help us further optimize them.
As such, the question now isn't which way we progress, but if we progress at all. Do you think at least some of these decks might have what it takes? If so, I'll run the lists I think have the most potential through a small gauntlet and report back with my findings and proposed changes next time to give you a nice point to start brewing from.
On the other hand, if you decide these just aren't going to cut the mustard, well, that once again leaves us with two options. First, we could take a step back and look into the heavy Dark Depths version I started to move the deck towards in episode 3. Second, we could just call it a day and accept that it's time for this season of You Choose The Brew to end without a clear candidate for advancement, leaving you free to explore those options on your own. This series is about brewing, after all, and a big part of that is recognizing when you've invested enough time into something to be sure it won't get to the point you want it to without straying so far from your original vision as to become something different.
The call is yours to make:
The poll will stay open til Sunday, vote away!