This week I was going to revisit the murky world of ID's and scoops and explain the science of why these are inevitable within the current tournament format but instead I thought I'd write about something people might actually want to read about.
Can you feel it? That subtle tang in the air the sound of thunder far off in the distance the pent up anticipation... as if the very air was holding its breath in expectation.
Last week was U.S. Regionals where everyone was focused on Standard so you might have missed this little gem from Tiago Chan who unfortunately picked the worst week to slip out possibly the best Limited article of the year.
If you missed it in the flurry of trying to grab a Standard deck for Regionals I'd heartily recommend checking it out.
I didn't get to play Regionals stuck on this Sceptered Isle as I am. Actually us Brits are pretty lucky with our Regionals as they tend to be spread out to make it almost like an extra qualifying season. The local players in my area are currently haring around the countryside in an attempt to hoover up slots. As I can't play my Magical experiences for the week have been discovering just how bad I am at Two-Headed Giant draft and sort of staying level at triple Future Sight drafts on MTGO.
I've also had Nick Lovett shout at me a lot for playing Zoo decks on MTGO.
“Why are you playing Standard decks Prof? Haven't you got more important things to be worrying about like TESTING BLOCK FOR GP: MONTREAL?!”
“But it's so much fun!”
I seriously love Tarmogoyf. If it wasn't a bug-eyed monster I might seriously consider having its babies. But then that would probably involve them hatching out of my stomach in some unpleasantly gory Alien-fashion.
Heck it would be worth it.
But as good as Tarmogoyf is he's not the biggest dog...
Outside a storm is brewing. I can feel a weight in the air heavy and oppressive. Maybe it will get better with a rainstorm to clear things.
A year back the battle lines for the aggro mirror were fairly sharply delineated. One guy drew Jitte and as long as he had a creature left standing to carry it he won. Now it appears that we've come full circle back from Honolulu and the battle lines are being redrawn.
Gruul is currently a very popular deck in Standard and Future Sight has brought in some interesting new tools to allow Zoo to make a resurgence. In Block Mono-Red has never had it so good with bucket loads of burn and efficient monsters. In this environment you can expect to be facing a lot of aggro mirrors. Often you get people who moan that these “are just random.” Usually these people get beaten up... and then go off to pick up a bunch of Islands just so you can beat them up again.
Beatdown mirrors are just like control mirrors: only random if both players know exactly what they are doing (and only the cards drawn can separate them). Of course one of the most important factors in this battle is making sure you have the correct tools in your deck in the first place. And just like the Jitte wars of the past year there are clear patches of ground to fight over in the modern aggro mirror.
While I'm British and thus too humble for my own good (this sentence is obviously a contradiction but you'll let it pass otherwise I'll feed you to my Lions) I do on occasion get some things right (as opposed to Detritivore and Sulfur Elemental) and so I'm going to take us right back to a report I wrote about the Time Spiral pre-release.
Rather than go into any more boring detail I'm going to talk about Greater Gargadon instead and how I might just actually try and play such a stupid big kiddie card in Constructed. I'm not kidding. You know how those evil geniuses at R&D like to sneak out cards like Accursed Centaur and Norin the Wary just so us good players have something to feel superior about when we see the poor scrubs suckered in? Well Greater Gargadon is the kiddie revenge card.
On the surface it doesn't seem that impressive. A 9/7 with no evasion not even trample. It costs ten mana. Even if you suspend it on turn 1 you have to wait ten turns for the stupid thing to show up. Junk rare for the kiddies not even fit for a reputable Sealed deck.
After my Green/White deck got bashed again I hastily boarded into Red/White. In the confusion Greater Gargadon snuck in. I got it in my opening hand suspended it on turn 1 and suddenly realised the tool I had access to. Every creature your opponent kills is one turn sooner for the beast to arrive. When he drops to a few time counters all of a sudden things get really awkward for an opponent. Attacking becomes tricky when your opponent can sac a few land and suddenly throw a 9/7 monster in the way. It also isn't particularly comfortable to tap out when your opponent can potentially clear out a blocker then throw a nine-powered hasty monster into the gap.
Okay I admit it. I'm a sucker for the big kiddie cards and he'll probably turn out to be dross the most important card in aggro mirrors in a year's time. But it's nice to see a kiddie card with a little bit more to it.
Okay so I added “the most important card in aggro mirrors in a year's time” just now but I'm kind of glad I spotted some form of potential back then. Later I tried to put him in various bad Husk decks while Sean McKeown was adding him to slightly better Husk decks. It just wasn't his time though... still too many suspend counters to take off.
Another flash of lightning closer this time and burning an after-image on my retina.
Fast-forward to Yokohama Block Constructed and Big Gargs makes an appearance in the sideboard of Raph Levy's Mono-Red deck:
He's still not quite here. Still a few suspend counters to remove.
Something feels wrong. The animals are restless. The dogs are barking in the back yard. Why won't they stop barking?
Now we move forward a month later to Saito's GP: Strasbourg winning deck:
No sideboard slot for the Gargadon this time. This time he gets a place in the lights. The last suspend counter comes off and Saito continues Japan's dominance of Grand Prix across the globe.
So we already know his worth in Block but what about Standard.
Going into Regionals we had this Gruul listing from Star City's $1000 tournament:
This is not that far removed from the deck Heezy pounded me into the ground with back in Honolulu. Gruul took a break for a while as Boros slipped into the slot of best aggro deck and then Sulfur Elemental came along to beat up all the little Lions Priests and Javelineers.
This wasn't even the most optimal listing. The word on Heezy's Street was that the deck had gone even more blood thirsty with Skarrgan Pit-Skulks and Shocks and then been modified further to look like:
Well hello... guess who's starting to poke his massive head into Standard!
The thunder sounds closer now rattling the tiles on the roof over the staccato beat of the rain. The hairs are standing up on my arms now. Will this tension in the air ever cease?
Lets have a look at the other rising aggro strategy for those of us who are a bit more how shall I say risqu with our manabases.
This qualified a few German players at their Regionals:
Aww look at those Hunted Wumpi. Aren't they so cute and lovable?
Break out the chainsaw boys!
It didn't take too long to determine how much better Greater Gargadon was than Hunted Wumpus. One match actually. I played against a Boros player online that mulliganed to five. It didn't matter. He had Gargadons I didn't so I lost.
So after a few more games my Zoo deck became:
The eight Stone Rain package is probably excessive. I'm thinking of cutting a Stone Rain to make room for a third Riftsweeper. A couple of smash and grabs in my local area with both Block and Standard decks and the locals are starting to wise up. I anticipate both Greater Gargadons and Epochrasites to start putting in appearances fairly soon and you often really have to hit that first turn suspended Lotus Bloom against Dragonstorm.
The Stone Rains come in against the control decks as two-power one-drop followed by three-power two drop followed by two successive Stone Rain is havoc against any kind of slow deck. They ain't Wrathing you any time soon put it this way. It's also a form of disruption against Dragonstorm. It won't save you from the quadruple Ritual draw but it might turn the tide against their average draws.
I replaced Scorched Rusalkas with Greater Gargadons as they're significantly stronger in an aggro field while still serving as a free sacrifice outlet to bust up Bridge from Below and dodge Tendrils. They're not so good against traditional control decks (although their threat rating is so high that control decks have to be very careful when the suspend count clicks low enough to effectively give it flash) or combo like Dragonstorm and so I think the 2 — 2 configuration is probably correct.
The rest of the sideboard should be customized to the field you expect. Two Tin Street Hooligan and one Ronom Unicorn are fairly neutral. You'll probably get to blow up Signets and the miser's Unicorn might pull you out of a hole against random Worships and the like. If you want more specific answers then they might be better served as Saffi Eriksdotter and Tormod's Crypt/Leyline of the Void depending on how popular Project X or Dredge is in your area.
I can't stand it. The relentless pressure beating through my head. The air is so heavy like my head is trapped in a vice.
In terms of boarding you generally want to board out Gargadons Seal of Fire and Chars versus control decks in favor of the Stone Rain package. The exception is for decks like Angelfire where you'll need the Chars over Rift Bolt to kill their Lightning Angels. I sometimes replace Maulers with Hooligans and Unicorn depending on the matchup.
Now we come to the interesting stuff: the aggro mirror and the new battle lines.
First off you should probably read this Dan Paskins article:
The easiest thing to get wrong with aggro decks especially Red-based aggro decks with burn is to assume that their only game plan is to run creatures at their opponent and then burn their face off. During a game you will often be forced to adopt multiple different roles and knowing which role to take will mean the difference between winning and losing.
The important part is picking which battles to fight. Sometimes you need to use your burn to control the board and other times you'll need to recognise the board has collapsed and go straight for the face.
When will this incessant pressure cease? I can feel it. The turning of great cogs behind the veil of existence and driving my thoughts from sanity.
Something is breaking through.
In the aggro mirror you'll often want to become the control player. This game often boils down to a battle of attrition where the last creature usually wins. You have to play slightly differently. For starters your life total is far more precious. Making turn 1 Savannah Lions isn't quite as important so you might want to bring in shock lands tapped whenever possible.
The traditional plan in these kind of mirrors is to bring in bigger monsters simply because they take multiple burn spells to kill and give you an edge in attrition. Back in 1998 when I won GP: Birmingham that role was taken by Rathi Dragon. Since then cards like Fledgling Dragon and Hunted Wumpus have stepped into the role.
Greater Gargadon is just enormous. But more importantly he costs one mana. One of the problems faced by Red Deck Wins is that the big threats all cost four mana (Flametongue Kavu Fledgling Dragon). Taking out Jackal Pups for four mana spells leaves the mana curve looking like a train wreck. Sometimes you lost games because you couldn't hit four mana. Greater Gargadon can be suspended on turn 1 with the knowledge that some time in the future he is going to appear. And he will appear. Unless one player gets a horrible draw the game will devolve into a battle of attrition with creatures dying all over the place. Those dying creatures just bring him in faster. And once the Gargadon arrives he's probably going to decide the game as he's just too big to burn.
Tarmogoyf plays a similar role to an extent. Like Greater Gargadon he feeds off the carnage taking place around him. There will almost certainly be creatures instants and sorceries in the graveyard by the time he hits and the fact Standard has Seal of Fire is also fairly ridiculous. Throw in explodable lands like Gemstone Mine and Horizon Canopy (Straight Red/Green decks should probably run these lands anyway because of this reason) and Tarmogoyf is probably going to be relatively burn-proof as a 4/5 or 5/6. The insane thing about Tarmogoyf is that a "bad" Tarmogoyf is usually a 2/3 for 1G.
In short the decks not running Tarmogoyf are going to be at a significant disadvantage in the attrition to war to those that do and as Tarmogoyf is usually going to be around 3/4 with minimal effort against other decks there really isn't an excuse not to run him.
Epochrasite is the cockroach. Early on he's just a guy that stands in the way but then he comes back as a 4/4 three turns later and then three turns after that should they have to use a Char on him (usually a recurring Epochrasite would be one of those collapsing board states I was talking about earlier).
While I'm sold on Epochrasite in Block I'm still not sure on him in Standard as that three-turn gap might just be a little too slow.
No I can see it. Over by the hill. The sky is tearing asunder. There's something behind the veil vast and ancient and blacker than the deepest night.
It's coming through.
My god it's coming through!
Now we're starting to see where the battle lines are being drawn and which tools you need to have in your aggro deck.
Tarmogoyf is an auto-include. He's just too ridiculously efficient to not be included in any Gruul or Zoo deck. As soon as you play with him you realise the "what about the times when he's 1/2” don't exist.
And then we look at the aggro-on-aggro fight. Personally I think Gargadons are the new Jittes of the format (but limited only to Mountain-on-Mountain battles). If the games go to plan both players are going to hold a relatively stable position and then someone is going to unsuspend a Gargadon and win. In this case you want some Gargadons in your deck probably as many as you're allowed to maximise the chance of being that person.
Once everyone realises this then the next step is how to try and gain an advantage. This is where Riftsweeper comes in and we learn his true use. You might have thought he was there to kill Lotus Blooms and Aeon Chroniclers but his most important targets especially in Block are going to be Greater Gargadon and Epochrasite.
The other way to fight Gargadon is to adopt the collapsed board state premise and try and nug them for 9 with their own Gargadon using Honorable Passage. Unfortunately this becomes less effective if they have a second already suspended.
And now we can see how the battle lines are going to shape up over the next few months. I did hear a rumor that Greater Gargadon was actually R & D's highest-pointed card for Time Spiral. It's only just now that he's started to flex his considerable muscle.
Four Tarmogoyf is an automatic starting point for burn-based aggro decks. After boarding the mirror is going to be about Gargadons and Riftsweepers. If you actually want a chance in the mirror then you need to have these tools within your deck. You really don't want to be in the position of trying to fight an Uzi with a penknife. Very messy otherwise.
No no it's coming through. An eldritch creature older than the stars and tall enough to blot out the moon. No no I can't look must look my mind torn asunder by the sights of something that cannot be.
No no I won't look.
Oh god that howl! That hideous howl. Like a knife trailed down the inside of a skull and announcing its entry into our plane.
It's here. Our doom is here.
The Gargadon has arrived!
Err until next week