Things were looking grim. My opponent had won the die roll.
It had all come down to this match. I was in the finals of my first State Championship and the format was “New Standard” with the release of Saga. My opponent played Mox Diamond, Lotus Petal, Mana Vault... and Tolarian Academy. He tapped the Academy and the Vault and played Time Spiral, choosing his Academy. Yeah, this one wasn’t looking great.
His Spiral brought him more artifacts and a Mind over Matter. When combined with his Academy, he was able to easily produce enough mana to Stroke himself high. This of course led to my getting Stroked right out turn 1.
Nice. Deck. And no, Force of Will was not in print at this point.
We sideboarded and it was my turn to play first. The enemy never took a turn. I was also playing a strategy that revolved around the synergy between Tolarian Academy, Time Spiral, and Stroke of Genius. You know a Standard deck was good when every card in it is restricted in Vintage (or has been). Seriously... Tolarian Academy, Time Spiral, Stroke, Windfall, Mox Diamond, Lotus Petal, and Mana Vault. I don’t think that is even the entire list of restricted cards of which I played four, but you get the idea.
So we go into the deciding game and I was forced to mulligan. The enemy finally did not have a turn 1 kill. He did, however, have an Academy, a Mox Diamond, and two Mana Vaults, followed by a Time Spiral. Some more artifacts hit play, but he was forced to pass. I played a Turn 1 Island a Mox, and a Petal and passed. My opponent Spiraled again and found even more artifacts and decided to go for the kill.
He bounced my Academy, dropped his own and Spiraled once more.
This time I had a trick for him. I played a personal favorite of mine, Hurkyl’s Recall targeting him, in response. Needless to say, he was in shock. Though it was only turn 2, he had 6 or 7 artifacts in play, as well as an Academy. He drew his seven and dropped another Mox, but was forced to pass. I bounced his Academy and played my own, beginning my comeback. A couple turns later I forced him to draw 61 cards. It turns out he didn’t have that many, so he died.
I had won the 1998 Michigan State Championship. I can’t believe it has been almost a decade. Wow, time flies.
States and Champs are coming up again in three weeks and will serve as the unveiling of Lorwyn in Constructed. With Lorwyn rotating in to Standard, we must finally bid farewell to Ravnica block, and of course, Ravnica duals.
All is not lost, however. There are still plenty of good duals, including 10th Edition Painlands, Future Shifted Duals, Coldsnap Snow-Duals, and now Lorwyn tribe-affiliated Duals. On top of this, we have five color lands, ranging from Gemstone Mine and Terramorphic Expanse to the new Shimmering Grotto and Vivid Lands, as well as non-land options like Prismatic Lens, Coalition Relic, and Birds of Paradise.
That is a lot of fixing!
But to what end?
Traditionally, one of the best ways to start to explore a Standard format that features a fresh block rotation is to look at what was good in the previous Block Constructed format.
One of the strongest Time Spiral strategies was certainly based on the card advantage and selection provided by the Mystical Teachings engine fueled by the raw Mana production of Coalition Relic. I think this is a key archetype for the new Standard, as Lorwyn has some valuable additions, even if Coldsnap and 10th do not provide a ton.
Here is what I would play if States happened tomorrow.
This deck is based on the deck with which I posted 6-1 at Nationals, which is obviously somewhat derivative of the Ruel Relic deck from the previous Block Season. For the most part, it is your standard card draw plus permission plus board control elements. The Relics fuel the higher than average mana curve.
Tarmogoyf is actually less of a two-drop, in this deck, and more of a four-drop that only costs two, somewhat like Serra Avenger. The plan is to Relic out a Damnation and drop Tarmogoyf that same turn. This is especially important when facing tempo decks, like U/G or Momentary Blink Decks. The key is to be able to play two threats in one turn. While Tarmogoyf on turn 2 is not amazing in this deck, a Tarmogoyf on turn 4, in addition to a Teachings, Command, or Damnation, is very strong.
Besides, Tarmogoyf is the best creature in the history of Magic.
There, I said it.
As if he hadn’t been hyped up enough. There is a reason Tarmogoyf (currently going for about $35) is the most expensive (regular) card to ever be released (while it was still from the latest set). That is right... previous high cards, like Ali from Cairo; Mirror Universe; Cursed Scroll; Tolaria Academy; Akroma, Angel of Wrath; Arcbound Ravager; Pithing Needle; and Damnation have never hit numbers like these while still from the most recent set.
And it isn’t going to stop. Some of the Tribal Cards and some of the Planeswalkers are certainly tournament playable, as if young Goyfsman needed to be any stronger, plus with both Extended and Legacy tournaments coming up this year, people will be needed a playset across the board.
But I am sure you do not need me to convince you of the strength of Tarmogoyf.
So how about I try to convince you of the strength of Cryptic Command?
While the Commands are all playable (although the Red one is sketchy) and Profane Command is obviously really strong, it is the Blue Command that I think will prove to be the strongest in Standard. This card is crazy good. I would play it if it was only Dismiss. The fact that you can cantrip, Boomerang, and Super Deluge is huge. Then, if you need to, you can even rock the non-cantrip options, mixing and matching depending on how much tempo you need and what problems you need solved. Certainly one of the Top 5 cards in the set. (Along with Gaddock Teeg; Thoughtseize; Doran, the Siege Tower; and Shriekmaw.)
Speaking of Shriekmaw, this guy is amazing. At first glance, you may just think he is a slightly better Nekrataal, since you get a very useful 3/2 Fear guy, with only Single Black in the casting cost and a relevant ability. However, the Evoke option is amazing and makes him downright crazy good. If it were not for this guy, I would play Terror anyway. The fact that at a cost of making it Sorcery speed (except when Teferi is in play!) you have the option of buying a powerful two-for-one. Throw in that he is a legitimate threat versus creatureless decks and you have a winner. Honestly, any non-combo deck with Swamp in it is going to want four of this guy. Get a play set and run it. I promise you, you will be happy you did. The fact that he helps fill your deck with answers to Teeg is tremendous.
The only other Lorwyn card to make the cut in my deck is the uncertain addition of Eyeblight’s Ending. It is in the Terror slot, as a Teachings target to kill a creature and pay for it now, as opposed to Slaughtering it. It also provides more Teeg protection. I am still unsure if it should perhaps be Terror or Sudden Death, but for now, I want the option to kill Black creatures with only single Black in the mana cost. Also, I am not going to lie... the fact that it is another way to power up my Tarmogoyf has a strong appeal to me.
My original draft of this deck also featured a Take Possession and Jace Beleren, and they both seemed fine, but neither did what I really needed. Take Possession doesn’t help with Teeg or direct damage. Jace just isn’t as strong as Teachings. Still, no question... the first time you attack with an 8/9 Tarmogoyf, you will feel something deep within your soul that will make you realize that Green really has come of age.
Green, the creature color as they say, is a real color with many dimensions. Also, the best creature in Magic is finally Green. Goblin Welder, Psychatog, Disciple of the Vault, and Goblin Lackey... you have company.
I also tried Faerie Trickery, but while it’s much better than Cancel, it is still a three mana one-for-one counter. It may need to come back though, depending on if Masked Admirers see a lot of play. Hitting a Teachings is pretty sexy, though.
I removed Beacon of Immortality, as the direct damage available has weakened a great deal, but I could see putting it back in. Especially if it turns out that I cannot support a Tendrils with my two Swamps.
I tried a Venser and quickly realized that with four Cryptic Command there is just not room for a fifth four-mana bounce/counter.
No, I never had Mouth of Ronom is this deck... that is not why the lands are snow-covered. The fact of the matter is, most of the time, snow-covered lands are just better (in Blue decks anyway). Aside from little things like if you can Take Possession of a Scrying Sheets, the point is your opponent doesn’t “know” you don’t have access to a Mouth of Ronom. You even have Tolaria West. Being able to represent the threat has value when you are trying to outplay an opponent. Even if they read this article, they still won’t “know” because surely a fair number of people who netdeck this one will add Mouth and gain an advantage because of their opponent thinking they don’t have access to it.
The first opponent I played against was Brian DeMars with a U/G Ohran Viper deck featuring Mystic Snake, Birds, Elves, Rune Snags, Calls, Ponders, Tarmogoyf, etc. This match-up was quickly realized to be incredibly lopsided, as Shriekmaw effectively trumps his entire strategy. After four games, we called the battle off.
The second opponent was the originator of the Big Mana R/G Time Spiral Deck that splashed the Chronic, Phil Cape, running a stock R/G aggro he was handed, featuring Mogg Fanatic, Greater Gargadon, Mogg War-Marshal, Incinerate, Tarfire, Llanowar Elf, Tarmogoyf, Call of the Herd, Troll Ascetic, Garruk, and Treetop Village. This one was a little more interesting but, with so little direct damage, the aggro deck was only able to seal the deal once in the five games or so. A nice lesson was learned though. Garruk is incredible.
The third and final opponent was DJ Katsner with a G/W Kithkin deck he and I thought up last night.
Here is that list:
- 4 Amrou Scout
- 4 Birds of Paradise
- 4 Goldmeadow Stalwart
- 2 Mirror Entity
- 4 Tarmogoyf
- 4 Troll Ascetic
- 4 Gaddock Teeg
- 3 Saffi Eriksdotter
First of all, the Kithkin tribe pretty much sucks. Gaddock Teeg is obviously insane gas, but beyond that, well honestly, Amrou Scout is probably the next best Kithkin. An interesting note, by the way, is that Mirror Entity is both a Kithkin and a Rebel.
The name of this particular beast comes from the fact that the Kithkin tribe can pretty much be summed up this way.
It is hard to describe just how annoying it is to face down an endless stream of Teegs, Saffis, Trolls, Griffin Guides, and Treetop Villages. You may think seven answers to Teeg is a lot, but remember that they also have all these other ultra-annoying threats. Personally, I think the evolution of the G/W deck will be away from Kithkin and just focus on ultra-annoying creatures. Maybe Calciderm, Mystic Enforcer, Masked Admirers, etc. Here is a prototype:
- 4 Birds of Paradise
- 1 Cloudthresher
- 2 Llanowar Elves
- 2 Masked Admirers
- 4 Mystic Enforcer
- 4 Tarmogoyf
- 4 Troll Ascetic
- 4 Gaddock Teeg
- 3 Saffi Eriksdotter
I don’t know, but what I do know is that DJ beat me convincingly, somewhere around 6-3 or so. I know the G/W deck is rough, but there is no question there is something in the strategy. Teeg lives up to the hype and will certainly be a format-defining card.
I was discussing Lorwyn with Flores yesterday and he suggested that the way to build U/B was to be tuned completely to beat Teeg, with the exception of Cryptic Command and Damnation which are obviously far too powerful to not run the as a maximum. After a few testing sessions, I think I am with him on this one. Teeg is like a Meddling Mage that names four different cards. At first I thought he was overrated, but after having to actually face him, I am sold. He is completely insane. Forget the Legend Rule. This guy is a four-of in Standard. Your opponent will kill it for you or they will die (if they are control, anyway).
Okay my friends, I am out like Ravnica Block. See you next week.