The Long & Winding Road - The Imaginarium of Dr. Elias
I’m really excited about playing Magic right now.
I know this isn’t news. I’m always pretty excited about playing Magic. It’s just that I’m excited about playing Standard and I haven’t said that in a long time.
There’s more going on than just Standard of course. Legacy and Standard are relevant year-round and I’m fortunate enough to have access to two or three Vintage tournaments a month. I find my imagination drifting across the spectrum of formats… but first a couple of serious business items for those gearing up for Nationals Qualifiers this weekend.
Philly Open VI – Metagame Report
Players in the mid-Atlantic have grown accustomed to Nick Coss and his pre-States and pre-Regionals (now Nationals Qualifiers) warm-up event the Philly Open. The Philly Open VI took place Saturday May 8th and offers a good preview of the field you can expect for this weekend. 90 players battled it out for sets of some of the format’s best foils over seven rounds of Standard.
Here’s the Top 8:
1 – Bradley Robinson (Mythic Conscription)
2 – James Williams (Mythic Conscription)
3 – Inigo Remigio (Jund Persecutor)
4 – John Grudzina (Blue/White)
5 – Fred Chang (Mythic Conscription)
6 – Ryan Oberholtzer (Mythic Conscription)
7 – Phil Li (Polymorph)
8 – Ralph Fitpatrick (Vampires)
As you can see this was a tough day to be traditional Jund. The only Jund deck to crack the top 8 was Inigo’s Jund Persecutor:
Mythic seemed like the deck to play on the day with far and away the best penetration percentage into the Top 8 from the overall field. The winning list looked like this:
- 4 Baneslayer Angel
- 4 Birds of Paradise
- 4 Dauntless Escort
- 4 Knight of the Reliquary
- 4 Lotus Cobra
- 4 Noble Hierarch
- 4 Sovereigns of Lost Alara
As is the custom at the Philly Open tournaments there was also a Vintage tournament which had 41 players. I’ll take a more detailed look at this portion of the tournament next week. With the serious business part of the agenda out of the way let’s move on to other matters.
Getting back to Standard
Although I haven’t actually played a sanctioned match with it I’ve had Jund built and in my backpack for what feels like years. Over that time period I sometimes had to make massive changes to keep it current like taking out Terminate for Garruk or taking out Terminate for Rampant Growth or taking out Garruk for Terminate or moving out some M10 duals for Man-duals or whatever the kids call those lands or playing three Putrid Leech instead of four – you know massive changes like that.
Over this period of time I’ve found that when people want to test Standard this usually means they have some brew put together that they think will beat Jund. I’m always happy to play the role of dream-crusher slayer of whimsy. Sounds sort of like something from Kamigawa block…
Elias Slayer of Whimsy
If you are not playing Jund and Elias Slayer of Whimsy is playing Jund you cannot win and Elias Slayer of Whimsy cannot lose.
Clearly with Rise legal in Standard this notion is somewhat out-dated. Jund is still very good but there are a group of legitimate decks that can battle with Jund and still be relevant against the rest of the field.
Do you ever sit down and think wow I’m doing something fun that I haven’t done in a few months – only to realize that in fact it’s been a year or more? That’s me and Standard. Last April I skipped an Extended PTQ to play Vintage and haven’t really looked back; I invested in M10 cards to PTQ last summer and ended up skipping them all. I haven’t played tournament Standard since before M10 was released.
Obviously I have a lot of catching up to do. To get back into the format I started by building a gauntlet…
The first deck I looked at was Jund since I already had it built. Turns out Jund is still Jund but it has more strategic options than ever. Do you play Eldrazi Monument? Rock out extra removal Sarkhan the Mad and Abyssal Persecutor like some of the Japanese have in PTQs? Explore Rampant Growth or Trace of Abundance? Okay that last one isn’t that exciting to think about. Still it’s nice to see that Jund has expanded a little bit beyond those who play Garruk versus those who play Terminate…
If you know me at all you know I obviously put Polymorph together. I love cheating crazy huge creatures onto the battlefield and in Standard they don’t get huger than Emrakul or cheatier than Polymorph.
I was testing with Polymorph the other night and windmill-slammed down a Polymorph into Emrakul on turn 4 and smiled with glee at the annihilation that was about to ensue…
And you know what happened? I got attacked by a Bloodthrone Vampire equipped with this little pointy dagger while Pawn of Ulamog and Bloodghast were in play and the next thing you know I’m crunching math and the stupid thing could pump from 1/1 to 19/19 on turn 4… and I was at 19. So giant flying Emrakul had to block and got stabbed 43000 times by some over-achieving Vampire and died leaving me with just some mana and not even a Plant token in play.
Although the Polymorph deck feels a tiny bit gimmicky to me I said the same thing about Swans and that worked out fine last year and it has some of the same features in that it is consistent in what it does. Even in this deck we see how powerful and ingrained Planeswalkers have become in our collective understanding of Standard. Jace has been so good in my limited testing with this deck it is almost ridiculous; even Garruk was quite good whenever it game up enabling additional plays each turn throwing out blockers or turning a swarm of Spawn into a potentially lethal attacking force. It’s also interesting to see how much Library manipulation is suddenly available to this deck between See Beyond Jace and Halimar Depths.
I also love LOVE a Red beatdown deck. I don’t really love blowing up my own lands and then having my opponent Wrath of God (I guess the kids call it Day of Judgment now – again it’s been a while) to leave me with no permanents. On balance though the explosive power of that deck is pretty impressive... when you draw the nuts. More on this later.
When I first started looking at the format I gravitated to Mythic almost immediately. I started out testing with Jund against Mythic as Jund was the only deck I had built and I lost. Again and again. And again. Mythic was fast brutal and surprisingly efficient considering the deck had hardly anything in the way of utility spells or removal. The Planeswalkers and Man-lands really give the deck legs in the match-ups where board sweepers are a problem. I like Mythic because it has a very simple game-plan and does it well; it appeared flashy to me at first but it backs up that flash with plenty of substance and repeated play really brings out some of the quirky things you can do with the deck. The Eldrazi Conscription versions take everything about Mythic and make it even flashier and more brutally versatile in its drive to smash opponents with game-ending threats although oddly enough that version is considerably less Mythic. It needs a more appropriate name like Money Rares or something.
The deck I would’ve been most likely to play in the Grand Prix Trials I missed out on due to interference from “real life” was Blue-White Control. U/W didn’t impress me on paper but as I lost to it repeatedly I became a fan. There’s been an interesting trend the last few blocks (post-Faeries) where people bemoan the awfulness that is Blue only to end the season by smashing people with a Blue deck. It seems like every year people cry out “We need COUNTERSPELLS that aren’t Cancel blue is the worst I can’t play control tear” and end the season saying “Tap-out Blue is the STONEBLADE!”
Or maybe that’s just me?
One of the big changes over the past year year and a half is the ascension of White as far as power-ranking among the colors. Hard to believe that White’s been something of a laughing stock for years now when you review the cards available to it in Standard: Path to Exile Baneslayer Angel Elspeth Gideon Day of Judgment… These control decks are driven by White as much as they are by Blue although Jace has become the glue that holds these decks together in my experience.
So that’s the gauntlet I built for initial testing which will obviously be impacted by Regionals (or whatever that’s called now) in the lead-up to the Grand Prix. I’m looking forward to playing Grand Prix Trials all day long in a few weeks to get back into the Standard frame of mind. Generally speaking Standard gets the most interesting over the summer not just due to the relevance increasing but the larger card pool as well.
If I had to pick a deck today to recommend I’d suggest playing one of the Control decks because I think they get to use the best cards (Jace Path Day of Judgment Baneslayer Colonnade Sphinx Omens Spreading Seas) and are the most consistent; they also seem perfectly able to beat Jund and for players who are decent they’re more likely to let you leverage play skill to win a match. If card availability is an issue Jund is still an excellent choice. For myself I’m still leaning towards Mythic…
In the forums last week I learned that I’m one of the luckier guys you’ll ever meet. Apparently the format I play the most (Vintage) is a coin-flip format that is determined by the die roll alone. I say that I’m lucky because I’ve played in eight Vintage tournaments so far in 2010 and I’ve made the Top 8 of six of them with a win percentage in the Swiss rounds of 72% through 48 rounds of play (and that includes two clunker tournaments where I went 2-4 and 2-3-1 since there’s no reason to drop from unsanctioned events). Those are decent numbers right there seeing as I should be only 50% to win every round.
And here I thought it had to do with understanding of the format preparation testing learning to sideboard effectively staying ahead of the metagame and developing a Vintage-centric skill set regardless of deck choice (which I’ve varied significantly this year). Apparently no dice on that – I’m just literally better at rolling dice than my opponents. I should probably use this skill set by which I mean being lucky at a game where it is better suited like Craps. Or uh Dice.
Maybe Casino War?
Anyway long story short if you see me at GP: DC stop by and I’ll rub your deck for good luck.
That’s D-E-C-K for those who are speed-reading.
In all seriousness Vintage isn’t particularly luck-based; I don’t feel luck plays a bigger role in Vintage than it does in any other format. In fact I find it to be exceptionally skill-testing and interesting because it tests a different set of skills than Standard. Those great counterspells you miss in Standard and Extended (and really even Legacy)? Library manipulation like Impulse and tutors? All of that is available in Vintage. Vintage forces you to act react and plan earlier and more intensively than any other format of Magic because decks are more capable of ending games quickly; please understand: turn 1 kills are very rare in modern Vintage. They are far far more common in Legacy than they are in Vintage. That said there are many Vintage games that are decided on the first turn of the game even if they aren’t literally won. First-turn plays like “Black Lotus Mishra’s Workshop Sol Ring Trinisphere Lodestone Golem pass turn” aren’t very forgiving – yet we generally find that modern Vintage is defined by control decks like Tezzeret and Oath of Druids more so than “broken” combo decks like TPS or Long.
Vintage decks have adapted to broken combo over time due to the omnipresence of fast mana. The format is defined by its answers – Chalice of the Void Leyline of the Void Null Rod Force of Will – as much as it is by its threats.
The Curious Case of Legacy Reanimator
Lots of talk about Legacy…
Fundamentally this is the problem with Legacy at the moment to the extent that there is really a problem at all which is debatable: the unfair decks aren’t penetrating the field to the extent that the fair decks can profitably adapt.
Let’s say that Reanimator is currently the best deck in Legacy for the sake of discussion. There’s probably a limit to the number of people who will play Reanimator because cost is a limiting factor in non-proxy Legacy. Reanimator plays Underground Sea Force of Will and Entomb. While I believe that Reanimator is vulnerable to a number of strategies and specific hosers – although it is surely more resilient than something like Dredge – dedicated sideboard hate for Reanimator isn’t even remotely close to where it should be based on the power level of the deck because the field percentage of the deck is still relatively small in real-life Legacy events. I have to attribute this to card cost as much as anything although the slow-turning wheels of Eternal formats are probably also to blame (and this is an area where an online metagame could really affect Legacy IRL).
This is problematic in that I know that I could probably work out a favorable post-sideboard win percentage against Reanimator with Zoo. However unlike in Vintage where I can expect to face Dredge and should carry enough sideboard cards to beat it in Legacy I have no idea what cards I should focus on. Cedric Phillips played Zoo at the last StarCityGames.com Legacy Open and ran into eight different decks in eight rounds going 6-2. When I say eight different decks I’m not talking about variations on CB/Top or ANT as compared to TPS… I’m saying eight clearly distinct strategies. That’s part of what makes Zoo appealing to me; it preys on a random and unfocused metagame as well as a metagame where people are using Blue decks to beat combo. However it also makes running specific sideboard hate – instead of general items like Pyroblast Jitte and Krosan Grip – harder to justify.
Reanimator isn’t really combo which further complicates matters. Like the Oath decks I love in Vintage Reanimator is disruptive versatile and fast and is more vulnerable to specific sideboard hate than any given strategy per se. Generally speaking past results show that ANT is vulnerable to CB/Top and Merfolk (unless you are certain interweb writers who will go unnamed that want to debate this on the forums). Still Reanimator is less of a control deck than Vintage Oath (especially more recent versions of Oath) and it will be interesting to see if it’s metagame penetration finally reaches a point where the field calls “enough!” and starts to pack the sideboard with Seal of Removal and Curfew and Graveyard hate.
Ultimately of course the DCI could just say “Hey we goofed on Entomb. It was fair when we tested it in 2009 but since R&D keeps churning out crazy targets like Iona and Terastodon we need to reconsider our position.”
It is interesting to track the effect of these Mythic creatures on cards like Hypergenesis Entomb Oath of Druids and Polymorph across the various formats of Magic. You don’t have to go too far back into Magic’s past to find Oath decks using Spirit of the Night.
As an aside I’m still not convinced that Reanimator is the best deck in Legacy although it probably is the best choice at the moment. It is a top-tier deck to be sure but as broad as Legacy is chock-full of answers and metagame options with a field that shifts rather slowly I think it will take a while before the deck’s true position can be determined.
Give your breath long-lasting freshness…
Back to that Red deck.
Okay look I just don’t get it. I built the Devastating Summons version of Red Deck Wins and when you get that nut hand every fourth or fifth game the deck feels awesome. You know one of these games:
Opponent: Celestial Colonnade go.
Opponent: Island Chalice go.
But then sometimes this thing happens where you’re “on the draw” and those games don’t go so well. There’s this card Negate and there’s also this guy called Sprouting Thrinax in some fringe deck called Jund. Also some people have these stupid “sideboards” that actually have cards that are relevant instead of the Dragon’s Claw you have when you play this deck. Who knew?
I’m not saying this deck is terrible but I really don’t think it’s very good either. Whenever you don’t draw Goblin Guide in your opener I think you lose 50% of your win percentage. Decks like Mythic that can explode quickly into large creatures are a problem. Decks like Blue/White that have a lot of removal and anti-Red sideboard cards are a problem. Jund is a huge problem if they have a reasonable draw and you don’t have an exceptional draw.
I like the idea of playing Earthquake against Jund to play clean-up against Thrinax tokens. I also have tested with Kiln Fiend who is excellent at punching through Wall of Omens with value. In fact I actually really like that guy a lot based on the way the field is developing.
Still this deck seems like it is a quality one-drop short being Tier 1. I think it is probably going to fade as the summer goes on.
Take that with a grain of salt I haven’t played Standard in year.
I tried to build it with a package of Jackal Familiar and Hellspark Elemental and Hell’s Thunder but it didn’t seem that different. You end up with a build that’s more consistently mediocre instead of one that is sometimes explosive and sometimes terrible. Adding Black gives you a man-land (that is unfortunately weak) along with removal for pro-Red creatures (Deathmark Smother). Black has the one-drop we want in Vampire Lacerator but you can’t make it work with the mana available. Hellspark Elemental is kind of unexciting in a world of Omens.
In fact the best option might be to look back at Red/White. You get an on-color fetchland removal for troublesome creatures (remember that Path to Exile pumps Kiln Fiend) plus another good one-drop in Steppe Lynx. If you want to keep your deck nice and janky (which it already is be honest) – what about considering Emerge Unscathed with Kiln Fiend? You can get a nice engine for those guys going with Staggershock and Emerge Unscathed and Emerge works offensively and defensively.
Again ultimately I want one of these ideas to work but I just don’t see it happening. Maybe M11 will give us the one-drop we need.
By the way the last thing you should do when you’re getting back into a format is brew. Start out with the established winners and learn those first. Brewing requires a fundamental understanding of a format.
I know this but I ignore it. Be smarter than I am.
Note to self: challenge readers to more difficult task in the future.
Who you calling Degenerate?
Legacy yields some “broken” hands. That’s fair. Do any of these sound familiar?
Degenerate is a relative term. I understand that if you lose to “broken” decks in Legacy or Vintage you might feel like it’s not worth playing the game without Force of Will. A lot of people feel that way. Sometimes depending on the metagame it’s 100% correct.
At least in Legacy and Vintage you have that option available to you. I spent a whole Extended season hearing people complain about degenerate draws while battling with Zoo.
Welcome to Magic folks.
Hot Dog Eating Contest
I drove to a hotdog eating contest last weekend. Despite being raised Vegan I was pretty sure I had this contest in the bag. I arrived on-site without much of a plan having never eaten meat in my life and my friend said the metagame call was to eat the hot dogs as fast as possible using one’s mouth and teeth. Good to know.
I ate one hot dog and vomited.
I’m pretty sure that the fact that I was unprepared for the contest in that I’ve never eaten meat before wasn’t the reason for my defeat but rather my loss was due to the degeneracy of hot dogs.
Anyone who eats hot dogs with their mouth is doing it wrong as far as I’m concerned.
Less ranting more focus. I promise.
And… Yes I watched the Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus before/during/after the writing of this article. Not Terry Gilliam’s best movie nor Heath Ledger’s but the cast is immensely talented and I enjoyed it just the same. Tom Waits is terrific and steals every scene he’s in. The most confusing part for me is how Colin Farrell ended up taking one of the “mirror” roles. I mean SWAT was awesome and all but…
Brazil has pretty consistently been my favorite of Gilliam’s films especially as my company expanded into the basement of our building where ducts run amok.
“This is your receipt for your husband... and this is my receipt for your receipt.”
Remember when Robert De Niro didn’t play a parody of Robert De Niro in all his films?
I also had no idea people generally disliked The Brothers Grimm so much. I thought it was entertaining and that was actually the movie where I became a fan of Ledger so for me my Heath Ledger experience began as it ended: with Terry Gilliam.
PS: I’m not a Vegan.
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