My last article or two may have lead you to believe that this one would be about the Blue cards in Time Spiral draft. Unfortunately, I hate drafting Blue. It's not that I have anything against the color in general, but when I have Blue cards in my TS draft decks, I always lose. Since I always lose when I draft Blue, I don't really feel like I'm the best person to tell you how to draft it correctly.
What I do have for you, though, is a whole boatload of information on my favorite Extended deck: Aggro Loam. I've been playing it in weekly Extended tournaments for about five months, and I played it this past weekend at a PTQ in Albuquerque. A misplay turned a 4-0, double ID Top 8 into a 3-0-1, lose twice in a row miss, but I would play the deck again if there were another PTQ next week.
There are two main places where Aggro Loam decklists differ that I think should be addressed right off the bat: what color you splash and which two-drops you play.
You have essentially two options: White and Black. Splashing Blue has been done online for cards like Mana Leak (by the original creator and pilot of the deck, no less), but that choice is very unexciting when you compare it to the possibilities that Black and White give you. Black is usually splashed for maindeck hand disruption (Cabal Therapy), and some sideboard bullets, such as Duress, Chainer's Edict, and Cranial Extraction. White, the original splash, is usually for maindeck lifegain (Hierarch and Helix), and again, sideboard bullets.
I believe that the Black splash is much worse than the White one, because I don't think that four Cabal Therapy is what you're looking for. Yes, the deck will have one- and two-drops that it can sacrifice to the Flashback, but you really want your mana creatures to stay in play; this deck is extraordinarily mana-hungry. In addition, the quality of the White sideboard cards is much higher than the Black silver bullets. I will get to this in more detail a little later, but I will say that splashing White over black allows you to have an actual sideboard, instead of mainly Wish targets.
As with the splash color, the two-drop suite is usually one of two things: Wild Mongrel plus Werebear, or Vinelasher Kudzu plus Wall of Roots. The first configuration is usually found in the White splash decks (though many players have adopted Wall of Roots over Werebear even in the White decks), and the second configuration is usually found in the Black decks.
The decklist gives my opinion away, but I think that Mongrel and Werebear completely outclass Wall of Roots and Vinelasher. Vinelasher Kudzu has the potential to be very big, very fast, but that is when you find him in the opening grip and you have a hand full of Fetchlands. When you draw a Kudzu in the late-game, he is much less impressive, even if you do have a Loam going. Wild Mongrel, on the other hand, always gives you what you're looking for. Outside of Sudden Shock (which takes out Vinelasher too), a Mongrel with an active Loam will essentially stop all opposing attackers, even if they're dramatically larger than he is. He also masquerades as a Seismic Assault, and can take the game down as an 8/8 in short order. Finally, he allows you to make a series of plays that came up quite often in the PTQ: “Turn 2 Mongrel, Turn 3 discard Loam on Upkeep, Dredge, attack for three, Terravore”. In other words, he allows you to start Dredging Loam right away, which kick-starts your draw engine and lets you to play a quick Terravore, even when you don't have any Fetchlands.
I don't have as much to say about Wall of Roots versus Werebear, but I will say that I hate Wall of Roots. If you want to use it as a blocker, you're probably going to get only two or three mana out of it. If you want to use it for all five mana, you can probably only block once. Werebear doesn't block very often, but when he comes off the top on turn 10, at least you're getting a 4/4 and not a 0/5. The real reason to run Werebear over Wall of Roots, though, is that he pretends to be a Terravore for your turn 3 Devastating Dreams. Dreams for three on turn 3 will leave you with a 4/4 attacker that also happens to make mana.
Maindeck Cards that Deserve Talking About:
Devastating Dreams: Where other decks are Mind's Desire combo decks or Empty the Warrens combo decks, this one is a Devastating Dreams combo deck. Your main plan, no matter what anyone tells you, is to cast a Dreams for three or four, leaving a Terravore, a Werebear, or your whole side (thanks to Loxodon Hierarch) in play. Since you are essentially a Dreams Combo deck, it makes sense to maximize the Dreams plan as much as possible. This is why my decklist plays eight men that live through it every time, four that can if they really want to (Mongrels), and three that will save my entire side.
Seismic Assault: Four Assaults is, admittedly, a ton. Since they do nothing in multiples, and since you might expect RRR to be a problem, most people only run two or three copies. If you are playing Aggro Loam (not CAL), playing less than four Assaults is a mistake. If Plan A is a Turn 2 Terravore followed by a (maybe Wished-for) Turn 3 Dreams, Plan B is a Turn 2 Assault followed by a (again, maybe Wished-for) Turn 3 Loam. If you play only two, you reduce your chances of having a blowout opening hand. In addition, you have fewer threats to dig for when you start going cycle-crazy in the late-game. And lastly, sometimes people have a Counterspell, a Krosan Grip, or any number of things that will make you happy that you have a backup copy in-hand.
Loxodon Hierarch: When your defense against aggressive decks is Firebolt, Mongrel, and Seismic Assault, you'll find yourself losing to Boros more than you'd like. Silver Knight and Soltari Priest can't be killed by anything this deck has, so you've got to block them or race them. Hierarch is great at doing both. This deck is very capable of producing two or three large men, blowing up the world with Dreams, and then racing Knights and Priests, and Hierarch provides an additional large man to race with that also brings some extra life to the party.
The Sideboard, Card-for-Card:
Life from the Loam: Mongrel, Werebear, and Terravore love the extra cards, both in-hand and in the bin. Firebolt likes to get Dredged, Dreams loves the extra fodder, and Assault kills people. Nearly every card in the deck benefits from Loam, so we're playing seven.
Devastating Dreams: I've sung the praises of blowing up the world before, so I'll say it again: seven.
Nostalgic Dreams: This Dreams usually sits in the Sideboard all day long, except for one game where you'll Wish for it and win almost automatically. It is narrow and hard to use, but I have found that at least once a tournament, it will get me back a handful of threats and steamroll my opponent.
Thoughts of Ruin: Long ago, Aggro Loam decks ran a few Thoughts in the Maindeck. A Thoughts in the Sideboard is basically only good against The Rock, and it's not a whole lot better than Devastating Dreams. I probably should not have run this, and instead run an additional Krosan Grip. However, when all you want to do is blow up lands, Thoughts is much less risky than Dreams.
Pyroclasm: This is for aggressive decks everywhere, from Affinity to Boros to randomness. Again, Dreams does a lot of what this card does, but sometimes you don't have a Terravore or Werebear in play, and you need to stop the bleeding.
Hull Breach: Sometimes people play Worship or Pithing Needle or Leyline of the Void. This gives you outs. It's rare that you'll ever get the two-for-one, but over the course of the day it will blow up both Artifacts and Enchantments, so it does what it's supposed to do.
Shattering Spree: This is a gamebreaker against Affinity, an out to Chalice of the Void on two (if you know it's coming), and a one-mana kill spell for Isochron Scepter when your opponent goes for the turbo-lock. Plus, sometimes your Tormod's Crypt-wielding opponent will get overzealous and toss two of them into play.
Krosan Grip: Split Second lets you take out Crypts, Deeds, and Scepters before they can do their damage. Just having a Naturalize to board in helps against decks with Leyline, Heartbeat of Spring, or Solitary Confinement.
Solitary Confinement: This card is for all forms of Small-Men Aggro and Mind's Desire. In the case of Affinity, if they don't have a Mana Leak for it they probably have to scoop, and Boros and Green-Red may or may not have boarded in Disenchants, since the only targets in Game 1 are Assaults that kill them immediately. Desire is probably ready with Chain of Vapor, but some lists don't run it and some players won't see this coming. No matter what's going on, though, make sure you don't get your Loam disrupted, or you might find yourself with no hand and no Confinement.
Rule of Law: For Ritual-Desire and Nevermind. Both decks have answers, but again, but both will be slowed down long enough that you will likely either just win with creatures or have time to cast Armageddon.
I have not sat down and played this deck in twenty-game matches against the whole field, but I have been playing it forever. As such, you may not agree with the conclusions that I draw here, as they are simply how my tournament matches have played out since September.
Boros (Close, but favorable): If you do not have any lifegain, you may find yourself facing ten or more points of burn to the face, all because Protection from Red creatures make it hard to profitably Dreams the board. If, however, you can hide behind a Mongrel or Hierarch, you will usually be able to Dreams or Assault them out. After boards, Confinement will buy you all the time you need to set up.
Affinity (Almost even): One of three things will happen in this matchup: one of you will kill the other on turn 4, they will draw multiple Thoughtcasts and run you over, or you will win the long game. Assault plus Loam stops their plan of victory, Terravore plus Dreams kills them fast, and Wish for Spree can shut down their side. On the other hand, Cranial Plating will kill you if you can't stop it, Ravager plus Nexus is a dramatic problem, and versions with Shrapnel Blast may just take you out from ten or more life. In addition, it's hard to set up a favorable Dreams against a Ravager. Again, post-board Confinements help dramatically.
Ritual Desire a.k.a. TEPS (Favorable): They have to kill you fast, because if they don't then they will lose their lands to Dreams. They also usually have to kill you fast with Tendrils, because if they don't then they will lose their Goblins to Dreams or Pyroclasm. Luckily for the Loam player, the faster the deck, the more likely you are to be facing twenty goblins instead of twenty points of life loss. Confinements stop both Tendrils and Empty, and Rule of Law shuts down their gameplan. Versions with Chain of Vapor can still beat you, but they have to have brought them in and they have to have drawn them.
Combo-Goblins (Favorable): You have Firebolts if they decide to run a fast Prospector out there, and without Fecundity they have no hope of beating a Devastating Dreams. When they do have a Fecundity, they will still need to kill you in one turn or get run over by a giant Terravore. Additionally, as with most decks out there, they will have a hard time making it through an Assault backed up by a Loam. After boards you have Confinements to make them find a Krosan Grip, and you can even bring in Rule of Laws if you want to. In general, your one spell will outclass theirs, but they can still Grip it and go off, since the Rule slows you down too.
Gifts Rock (Favorable): You have to take the favorable rating with a grain of salt, since I don't think I've ever played against someone who could pilot Gifts Rock correctly. It may be that when someone who knows the deck sits down and plays it, I get blown out. However, what I've found is that Deed is the only thing that you need to worry about, and a fast Dreams will take out any chance they have of winning. If the game goes long, they'll probably be able to out-power you with Genesis, lifegain, Witness Recursion, and more, so you want to win fast.
Flow Rock (Favorable, if you know Flow is coming): This deck is extremely vulnerable to a fast Flow, so you need to be playing around it to win the game. I don't like taking pain from my lands anyway, so I'm usually only fetching up a Stomping Grounds if I have plans for a second-turn Seismic Assault, and as such I run into Flow problems pretty rarely. If you get more aggressive with your lands, and they have a Flow on turn two or three, you might just find yourself dead before you can recover. The Worlds decklist has Crypts that you will need to play around after boards, but it also has no way to beat a resolved Confinement.
Scepter-Chant (Close, but unfavorable): Game 1 you have no way to beat Chant-lock. Games 2 and 3 you have Grips for just a Scepter, but to beat Teferi plus Scepter you're going to need to resolve a Confinement. Playing a Confinement against Chant is very risky, since they can just counter your Loam a few times and run you out of cards in hand. To win this matchup, you're going to want to play as aggressively as you can afford to without just walking straight into Wrath of God. The good news is that if you can set them up to Wrath you on turn 4, you can follow up with Assault and win. Despite calling this matchup unfavorable, I usually win it much more than I lose it, because most Chant players do not try to stop you from digging with Loam.
UW Tron/Post (Unfavorable): Your chances of winning hinge on their mana. If they don't get a fast Tron or multiple fast Cloudposts, you can win since they have to play as a fair U/W control deck. If they draw only colorless lands you can just power through them with Terravore, Assault, Loam, and Dreams. If their mana comes together, though, you basically can't do anything. Any winning position you have will kill you if they draw Mindslaver, and Decree is hard to beat when they can just Remand your Dreams.
Trinket Angel (Favorable): There is not a whole lot that the Worlds decklist can do to stop either of your gameplans. They do have a Maindeck Crypt to Trinket Mage up, but as long as you keep that in mind you can shut them out with either Terravore / Dreams or Assault / Loam. A Silver Knight with a Jitte can be a little scary, but your biggest chance to lose the game is if they assemble Top plus Counterbalance. After boards, Krosan Grip gives you a chance to beat Top / Balance, since you can just run a two-cost spell into the combo and then Split Second the Counterbalance away.
This was a six-round PTQ in Albuquerque, and my only real chance to qualify for Yokohama.
Round 1 — G/R aggro
Game 1: She opens with Kird Ape, Mongrel, and Call of the Herd. I have a Mongrel but it dies to Sudden Shock. I Wish for Loam, play a Hierarch, and then drop Seismic Assault to win.
I board in Confinements for 2 Bears and a Dreams.
Game 2: She plays a Tormod's Crypt and a Llanowar Elf on turn 1, and I Firebolt the elf. She has Mongrel on turn 2, and I Wish for Shattering Spree. She attacks me for 3, Madnessing Arrogant Wurm, while I Spree the Crypt and play a Mongrel. She Rift Bolts the Mongrel, which I save with two lands, and then attacks with Mongrel and Wurm. I block the Wurm, she assigns it one damage, and I pitch Loam to kill the Wurm and save my Mongrel. After surviving that turn, I start to draw cards with Loam and drop a Terravore. She has another Crypt, and since I've been aggressive with my graveyard it gets my Loam, two cycling lands, and my Vore. However, I have a Wish for a backup Loam, and another Terravore. She has a handful of guys that hold me off, but I dig into two Hierarchs and an Assault.
Round 2 — Scepter Chant
Game 1: I have no turn 1 play, and he has a tapped Hallowed Fountain. I get a Mongrel in to play, but he has Scepter plus Chant. Luckily I have a Wish and two Red mana, so I Wish for Spree to stay in the game. He has another Scepter on Fire / Ice, but he uses it to kill me instead of draw cards, so I'm able to get his hand low and drop Assault to win.
I board in 2 Grips for 2 Hierarchs.
Game 2: My draw is fairly slow, but it includes a turn 2 Assault. However, I have no Loam or Wish to back it up, and he locks me. I don't draw a Grip in time to break out of it.
I board in Confinements for the last Hierarch and 2 Firebolts.
Game 3: My draw is extremely fast, and when he Wraths me he's already on eight. I have an Assault for the turn he's tapped out, and he's dead.
Round 3 — Scepter Chant
Game 1: I start digging with Loam and lands very early on after he Counterspells my Dreams for 4. Unfortunately, all that I'm drawing are Mongrels and lands, and I continuously Dredge Terravores, Werebears, Assaults, and Wishes into the bin. With not much time left to live thanks to his second Scepter on Helix (I killed the first one immediately with Spree), I drop an Assault that miraculously he has no counter for. On my last turn I use all of my mana to collect enough lands with Loam to deal 24 damage, but he's on 25. I can only assume that I misplayed, since the last card in my hand was a Firebolt that I could have played on any other turn to win the game.
I board in the Grips and Confinements for 3 Hierarchs and 2 Firebolts.
Game 2: I get him on the back foot almost immediately, and split his Fact or Fictions so that he has to play big sorcery-speed spells such as Wrath and Exalted Angel. After he Wraths me I drop a medium-sized Terravore, and he follows up with a Morphed Angel with enough mana to counterspell or flip his Angel. I Firebolt it, he flips the Angel, and I use Loam to make my Vore big enough that he has to block it or die. He again Wraths me, and I follow up with Assault and enough lands to kill him.
Game 3: We start with five minutes left, and I have turn 2 Mongrel and turn 3 Dredge my Loam, Terravore. Looking good to win the game since he's just got three mana, he plays Thirst, and drops Scepter on Chant. We draw.
Round 4 — Ritual Desire
Game 1: I have nearly the god draw, with Birds, Terravore, and Burning Wish. Unfortunately, I don't have a third land that comes in to play untapped, so I can't Dreams for the win on turn 3. However, he doesn't kill me in the extra turn, so I make a 10/10 Terravore with Dreams and he dies.
I board in the Rules and Confinements for Hierarchs and Firebolts.
Game 2: He plays a Watery Grave untapped, Suspends a Bloom, and Duresses me. My hand is amazing, with Loam, Confinement, and Dreams, so he has to take the Dreams. I don't have a ton of action, but he doesn't have another land. I drop the Confinement turn 3, and he bounces it at end of turn with Chain of Vapor. The Bloom comes in to play, and he starts to try to go off. Fortunately for me, I'm at fifteen and he can only get his Storm up to six before casting Tendrils, making the score 1 to 34. I replay the Confinement and follow up with a Terravore. I have a Rule of Law in my hand, so I get stupid and Loam back three lands and drop the Rule of Law. This is stupid because he went off with a Bloom and Rituals, not with Invasion lands, so my Vore dies. I pitch a lethal Fetchland to Confinement, drop a Thresholded Werebear, and start to use Loam to draw and upkeep my Confinement while attacking for four. Meanwhile, he Burning Wishes for Hull Breach and starts to accumulate Invasion lands. When he's on 26, he goes for it. He sacrifices his lands for WUGRBB, and plays Rite of Flame. I then point at Rule of Law, and he burns for eight. After that he can't assemble anything and I kill him with my Bear.
Round 5 — Affinity
Game 1: I have a Mongrel and a Hierarch, but I can't find an Assault, a Dreams, or a Wish. Fortunately for me, he has just an Ornithopter and an Atog, and the Mongrel and Atog fight for a few turns, keeping him low on artifacts. However, he plays a second Ornithopter, a Thoughtcast, and a Cranial Plating and starts to kill me. I have two Firebolts in the bin to stop the Thopters, so I think I'll be able to stabilize until his next turn is Thoughtcast, Thoughtcast, Ravager, Enforcer, Enforcer, attack for ten with my Ornithopter.
I board in Grips and Confinements for 4 Werebears and a Dreams.
Game 2: My only play for turn 1 is to Fetch up a tapped dual, while he drops a Worker. I have another Fetchland and a Firebolt for his Worker. He has another Worker, and I Wish for Loam with Confinement and Assault in hand. He plays a Plating, hits me for six, and says go. I can either play a 2/2 Terravore and block (or take it and cast Dreams) or Loam back my Fetchlands to get three Red sources, which will allow me to drop the Assault on my next turn, essentially winning the game. I can't play Confinement because I have 0 cycling lands so I can't upkeep it.
Aside: My opening hand included Heath, Foothills, and a Mountain for lands. I misplayed my lands, dropping the Foothills on turn 1, when I should have dropped the Heath, since I was going to get a tapped dual either way. That would have allowed me to use the Foothills to fetch a basic Mountain turn 2, Wish for Loam, and then drop a turn 3 Assault with Loam and Fetchlands going. Even with the misplay of turn 1 Foothills, I still should have gotten Sacred Foundry on turn 2 instead of Temple Garden. I got the Garden because I had Terravore and Dreams in my hand, and I wanted to have access to both GG and RR, when instead I should have played for RRR and Assault.
I went with the Loam plan, realizing that I was dead to a second Plating. He didn't have another Plating, but he did have two more artifacts and a Shrapnel Blast. I can only blame myself for losing that game.
Round 6 — U/W Tron
Game 1: He has an Adarkar Wastes and turn 4 Tron. I resolve a Terravore after he Condescends two spells, and attack him to three. He has a Renewed Faith to go with a point of manaburn, taking him up to eight, and I have an Assault that resolves. On his turn he makes five Angels with Decree, tapping out. I have a Birds in play and a Birds in hand. Therefore, if I draw either Loam or Wish, I can kill him with Assault, and if I miss I'll get to live one more turn. I miss, he attacks me to four, and taps out for another six Angels. This time I don't have the mana to Wish for Loam and play it, since my Birds is dead, so I have three outs to Loam off the top to win. I miss.
I have zero board cards for this matchup. Pithing Needle is what you want if you expect a lot of Tron.
Game 2: I get a very fast Terravore, but I don't have a Dreams to follow it up. It attacks him down to four, and then he Wraths, tapping out of blue. I drop a Seismic Assault and kill him.
Game 3: I get my Werebear Remanded, Repealed, and Condescended, all while stuck on two mana. I eventually draw out of it with Loam, and stick a Terravore that attacks him to sixteen. On my next turn I will be able to drop Assault, throw four lands at him, and attack for the win. Unfortunately he again has the Tron on turn 4, and the turn before I can kill him I get Mindslavered. The Slaver deals me ten, but I can still beat him if I get another turn. He has a second Mindslaver and I lose.
I really have to blame myself for missing the Top 8 of this tournament. If I'd cast my Firebolt in round 3, instead of sandbagging it so he wouldn't think he was on two less than he was, I would have won instead of drawing that round. At 4-0 I might have been able to double-draw into the Top 8. Even if I couldn't, I threw round 5 away too. I misplayed my lands because I didn't think my plan through correctly, and even with the misplayed lands I could have just adjusted my play and still had a turn 3 Assault. I was too afraid of him dropping some obscene number of guys on turn 2, which is why I killed the Worker instead of just waiting a turn and killing it with Assault. I even misplayed round 4, but that one didn't cost me anything since my opponent returned the favor.
After moving to Albuquerque, the only Magic that I have played is a little bit of MGA in Standard, and a handful of drafts on Magic Online. Back in Pittsburgh, I used to say that I had never played any deck as hard to play at 100% as Aggro Loam. However, I played it every week, so I was much better at judging how the game would go and playing technically correctly. When I left Pittsburgh, I didn't have any way to keep my instincts sharp, and this really came back to haunt me in this tournament.
I could blame my judgment of the metagame too, but it wasn't as bad as it could have been. The entire room contained zero players with Goblins, one with Desire, zero or one with Trinket Angels, and a few with Boros. Chant, Rock, Affinity, and random B/W decks made up the majority of the tournament. In preparing for the tournament, I figured that I would see a lot of Boros, Desire, and Goblins, with a handful of people playing Trinket Angel, Affinity, and the Rock. The field wasn't as hostile as it could have been, but it certainly wasn't as soft as it could have been either.
Still, I think Aggro Loam was the right choice for me that weekend. I am a firm believer in playing the deck you know, and I think it matches up well across the field. U/W Tron has been doing well on Magic Online, which is a disincentive to playing this deck, but I didn't expect to see any at this PTQ. I played against Crypts, and they continue to be not as good as people think. All in all, I think that Loam has the power and the tools to win any event you play it in.
Until next time,