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How do you break a solved format? For me, this question is one that I've asked myself over and over for a decade. The correct response is usually “just play the best deck,” but time and again I find myself on a never-ending quest to beat the best deck instead of just playing it. Why is that? For some, playing “the best deck” is like giving up. The moment that you pick up Mardu Vehicles or Four-Color Saheeli, you already feel like you've lost, because you've conceded the fact that you can't do it better.
And that's a terrible feeling.
We're all being damaged a little.
I know that the current Standard format is in its swan song, but that doesn't mean there aren't still relevant tournaments to prepare for. In fact, this weekend I'll be playing in a Magic Online PTQ with said Standard format, and I'm at a crossroads. Everyone I talk to just tells me to play Mardu or Saheeli Rai, and they're probably right. That's the sad part.
Honestly, the games featuring these two decks are usually pretty intricate, assuming both players have reasonable draws, which leads to some very exciting gameplay. These two decks are obviously the strongest in the format, so why am I fighting so hard against playing them?
The short answer is that I'm stubborn. Time and time again I do my damnedest to “break it” as opposed to falling in line. A lot of you are probably right there along with me. After all, how fun can it be to play a bunch of mirror matches? Well, if most of the field is playing two decks, that means you're going to be repeating a lot of the same matchups regardless of what deck you decide to play. If you can somehow build a deck that consistently beats both of the top two decks, then that should be the formula to solving the equation.
One big problem with playtesting rogue strategies against the top two decks is that your results may be skewed. A weak opponent, an unexpected sideboard strategy, or a slight variation in one of the best strategies could drastically alter how the games play out. Just think how much better the Four-Color Saheeli decks became when they cut Elder Deep-Fiend in favor of Chandra, Torch of Defiance, not to mention Oath of Chandra singlehandedly changing the dynamics of the B/G Constrictor matchups. When something like that happens, how do we fight back?
- 4 Scrapheap Scrounger
- 2 Verdurous Gearhulk
- 4 Walking Ballista
- 4 Greenbelt Rampager
- 4 Longtusk Cub
- 3 Tireless Tracker
- 4 Winding Constrictor
- 2 Rishkar, Peema Renegade
Ben Stark did a great job realizing that older versions of B/G Constrictor could no longer keep up with the two best decks. Mardu could outpace you in the early turns, and the Four-Color Saheeli decks could just combo kill you if you didn't find the right form of interaction. So, instead of sticking to the more traditional builds of B/G Constrictor, Ben Stark decided that splashing Unlicensed Disintegration was the best option. Not only does this version give you some staying power in the form of Scrapheap Scrounger, but it also gives you access to one of the best removal spells in the format.
This version of B/G Constrictor seems to have it all, but I'm still left wondering if it is good enough to give Four-Color Saheeli a run for its money, not to mention how it fares against Mardu. If Ben was able to pilot it to a fourth-place finish at Grand Prix New Jersey, then it has to be good. All the reports I heard from the tournament had nearly every matchup feature a Mardu or Saheeli opponent, which means Ben had to beat quite a few of those archetypes on his way to the semifinals. Ultimately, he was dispatched by Four-Color Saheeli, but that could be due to a number of reasons.
My initial testing of B/G Constrictor before Pro Tour Aether Revolt pushed me down a number of roads that all led to lowering the curve. Scrapheap Scrounger gave you a lot of breathing room against Saheeli Rai decks, as they were usually chock-full of removal. The recurring threat let you continue giving the beatdown, while your removal spells helped contain the Saheeli Rai combo. The major problem of playing the card in B/G Constrictor was that it failed to play defense against Mardu, and was often overshadowed in B/G Constrictor mirrors. Now that we don't have to worry too much about B/G Constrictor mirrors, we have a lot more room to make sure we can attack the two top decks in the format.