This past weekend I had the pleasure of Gunslinging (“Champion Challenging” does not verb well…) in beautiful Richmond Virginia. I will be talking mostly Constructed today but I did want to share my experiences with M10 Sealed. The M10 prerelease was obviously a ton of fun though there is no denying that M10 Sealed is really not that good as a format as it continues to display the typical problems that have plagued every core set since the game began.
It would appear that there isn’t enough room for synergy to overcome the enormous power of the “good cards.” In addition there are so few cards that “do things” that it is hard to build small advantages to tip the scales in one’s favor despite not having the Mind Control Serra Angel or Fireball that the opponent plays let alone a Baneslayer Shivan Dragon or Earthquake.
There is no question the format could be a lot worse and who knows maybe draft is somehow much better (we’ll see). Still the problem that seems to be clouding the format (from one weekend of play) is that out of every 40-card deck maybe 8 cards are relevant at all and of those one to five are total bombs (and it sucks to play against five bombs with one).
In M10’s defense there are some big improvements over 10th Edition such as the balancing of colors. As bad a format as 10th Edition is it is made even worse by the fact that like Urza’s Saga seven of the ten best cards (practically) are Black. M10 seems to have a nice mix of strengths across the colors. There are good commons and good bombs in each color. I am not sure just how big a factor that will be but it is definitely a positive.
In addition I should remind that Sealed formats are often pretty bad (compared to draft) even when the draft format is really good so I am definitely going to be keeping an open mind. Maybe the draft format is fast enough that White aggro creatures can really make an impact and Black’s “Swamps Matter” theme can prosper. Maybe half as many packs worth of bombs will help. We’ll see. It is definitely possible that draft format is decent but let’s just say I am definitely excited to see that Nationals is one last chance to rock out to Shards block.
Back to the Constructed tip I have a number of decks to talk about today trying to explore the possibilities beyond just “Faeries and Kithkin.” Some of them have a ton of potential whereas others are just outside shots but all should be considered when trying to take in the new picture that is materializing in the post-M10 world.
Let’s start with some specific topics that people having been asking about. First up: Combo Elves. Some people call this archetype Elfball but I mean when was the last time people stuck any balls in there? Using a Fireball as a way to take advantage of your absurd mana development is more or less the same as Coat of Arms Overrun or looping Primal Commands and Regal Forces. At the end of the day you are really just an Elf deck that tries to produce an absurd amount of mana to create degenerate effects.
Here is a sample post-M10 Combo Elf deck.
- 1 Burrenton Forge-Tender
- 1 Cloudthresher
- 4 Devoted Druid
- 4 Elvish Archdruid
- 4 Elvish Visionary
- 4 Heritage Druid
- 4 Llanowar Elves
- 4 Nettle Sentinel
- 1 Noble Hierarch
- 4 Ranger of Eos
- 4 Regal Force
For those not familiar with the deck the basic idea is that you use Ranger of Eos to set up Nettle Sentinel + Heritage Druid. Once you have those two you can start “Ritual-ing” off of your other Elves (Devoted Druid twice!). You use this mana to cast Regal Force usually drawing 5-8 cards. After drawing the extra cards you continue to play Nettle Sentinels and other cheap Elves to build up a large supply of mana. This is followed by a Primal Command for another Regal Force (beginning to attack the opponent’s mana supply).
You continue to draw cards and produce mana until you draw your whole deck and have most of your guys in play. At that point you Primal Command your opponent over and over using all of your Primal Commands to get rid of their land then the last one to shuffle your graveyard back into your deck. Then you draw more cards (be careful Regal Force isn’t optional) and Primal Command some more. Often you can Primal Command every single land your opponent has ensuring that your 30 creatures in play that are each 5/5’s is enough to pull it out. People used to use Mirror Entity but with Elvish Archdruid that is probably not needed anymore.
As you can see Combo Elves is probably the best opportunity to take advantage of the new “Priest of Titania” giving you another massive mana engine that can help you combo off faster though interestingly the +1/+1 aspect gives you a legitimate backup plan.
The loss of Commune with Nature is disappointing but not nearly as disappointing as Brushlands. It’s funny Dragonskull Summit is so much better than Sulfurous Springs but Sunpetal Grove is so much worse than Brushlands. It would seem that Green lands coming into play untapped on turn 1 is particularly important when you need to play one-drops like Llanowar Elf.
The other change of note is the removal of Dauntless Escort. Dauntless Escort is probably the wrong man for the job in a format of Hallowed Burials instead of Wraths and M10 rules weakening him in combat. There is still room to evolve this strategy and I think it has potential but you have some pretty big hurdles to overcome if you want to make Combo Elves succeed.
First of all Combo Elves has traditionally struggled with Faeries. They have discard permission removal and more plus after sideboarding they often end up with Flashfreezes Deathmarks and Infests. What a disaster.
The good news is that you have some nice options with Great Sable Stag Cloudthresher Windstorm Scattershot Archers and more. What among these is the best anti-Fae plan? That is tough to say but I guess it really depends on how much space you have to combat Faeries.
The other big problem with Combo Elves is that it is particularly vulnerable to board sweepers. Forge-Tender helps against Fallout and Jund Charm but without Dauntless Escort providing a layer of Protection against White Sweepers there would seem to be a glaring hole in your game against traditional Five-Color.
Fortunately traditional Five-Color seems to often get beat up on by 5CB which is far more popular but even 5CB has access to a lot of sweepers running Fallouts or Jund Charms main and sometimes other sweepers in the board. Personally I couldn’t really picture playing Combo Elves unless there was a legitimate plan against Faeries and various Five-Color decks.
The primary incentive to playing a deck like this obviously is that your Spectral Procession match-ups are so good since you are typically always a turn faster. Is that enough? If this deck is going to try to step up to tier 1 it is going to have to incorporate more advances that just the Archdruid in my opinion.
Here is a radical idea for another direction Elves can take.
This build takes a page out of the Merfolk playbook and tries to set up the Mirrorweave-Lord combo with Sleep and Overrun supplying ways to break through creature standoffs. The biggest problem with this build is that the mana is really hard since there are just so few good Blue-Green duals and Sleep and Mirrorweave are both obviously double Blue.
You know me I wanted to put Cryptic Command in this deck SO badly but man we are stretching it to get to Double Blue. Triple seems impossible without a major change such as a ton of Vivids or Green mana fixing. I will tell you though… this deck does a good job of showing just how powerful of a card Sleep is particularly in swarm on swarm match-ups.
Some readers have been asking me about Red aggro decks as Red Aggro always seems to be a hot topic when a new set is released. Typically the story is always the same. New set a couple hot new cards people imagine the ultra-fast Red aggro deck and how scary it is by the time everyone tunes their decks everyone has a good match-up against Red (except maybe Faeries).
This time around the buzz surrounding Red started early due to Ball Lightning and Lightning Bolt returning however the buzz seems to be dying down. First of all Ball Lightning is actually pretty bad these days. It is not that everything is better it is just that Ball Lightning was good when people had better burn than creatures there were few blockers and people didn’t play as much removal. As a result I think it is possible that Ball Lightning might be in the top 5 Red creatures that cost 3 (although honestly I think he probably isn’t).
The three spot has been a very crowded one for Red ever since Shadowmoor. From Gouger to Ram-Gang Blightning to Javelin Anathemancer to Fallout Hell’s Thunder to Ball Lightning Fulminator Mage to activating Figure of Destiny. There is no question the bar is VERY high for what it takes to be a three-drop in Red (as opposed to a two drop where the Bar is pretty much “exist” which unfortunately is too high for any Good Red two drop).
Here is an updated Stock Red taking into consideration that Ball Lightning is awful.
As you can see more removal has been adopted with the theory being that the only way you are actually getting in there for 20 is to play a guy and clear the way. The main problem with this build and archetype for that matter is that some of the cards are really really bad.
Imagine taking a drink of rancid milk.
That is what this deck’s early creatures are like. I mean Tattermunge Maniac and Jund Hackblade are stone cold terrible (and yes so is Rip-Clan Crasher). Even Figure of Destiny isn’t really that good since your three-drop is SO crowded anyway. I think that the best solution is probably to either add a stronger Green (or Black) element to pick up some early game or remove all the (non-Figure) cheap creatures and play more burn (probably sweepers) and finish with Demigod or Siege-Gang or Shivan Dragon.
Okay probably not Shivan Dragon but a guy can dream right? There is no other card that I wish as badly could be errated to “kick butt.”
Some people have asked me if I am moving away from 5CB and I am not sure what else to say beyond that Bloodbraid Elf and Cryptic Command are two of the best cards in the format and I am definitely exploring options with them though the format is much different than it used to be. With Anathemancer losing most of its punch and Maelstrom Pulse losing some value due to so many other people playing the same cards we will need to adapt to survive.
The Faeries players have adapted and are now prepared making them probably a small favorite over most builds of 5CB that people play these days. The B/W match-up was already great but now that everyone plays Kithkin (a much harder match-up) we have lost massive percentage there.
Some of our good match-ups (Swans traditional Five Color Turbo-Fog) are not played much any more or don’t work. Even G/W is less popular which was another decent match-up for us. It does benefit us that Reveillark and B/G Elves are hurt so bad as they were bad match-ups. Plus Combo Elves is a good match-up if that archetype picks up. As such I think there is hope for 5CB in fact I think it is one of the archetypes that has the most potential. Still as with all Five Color decks it is totally a matter of figuring out the right build to beat the decks that people actually show up with. Correctly anticipating the metagame is key with Five Color decks.
This is just a possibility to try to demonstrate the sort of different direction you can take 5CB. When you can Cascade into whatever you want it becomes doubly important to build your deck in such a way so as to always Cascade into winners. For instance the prospect of Cascading into Great Sable Stags against Fae is pretty sweet but how can one best ensure that they are getting consistent Cascades? That is the interesting dilemma facing deck builders as the less cheap spells you play the more consistent your Cascades though the less spells you have to defend yourself with early.
I know a lot of people prefer to take Cryptic Command out but these builds tend to lack the raw power that I am looking for. Here is an attempt.
- 4 Bloodbraid Elf
- 4 Boggart Ram-Gang
- 2 Broodmate Dragon
- 4 Chameleon Colossus
- 2 Great Sable Stag
- 4 Putrid Leech
- 4 Wren's Run Vanquisher
Obviously this is just generic Cascade Jund deck that highlights Changelings to take advantage of Vanquisher and Lorwyn Lands. This deck is reasonable but without Cryptic Command or Profane Command I just don’t think it has enough reach.
Personally I would prefer to build around Profane Command even though it is a blank for Cascade. For instance:
The idea is that Profane Command is so incredibly powerful that it needs a home now that B/G Elves is dead or dying. Getting in some early beats and finishing the game by making the opponent lose 4 life and giving 4 of your creatures fear is a classic formula though it admittedly feels strange to be running so many Vivid lands despite being just Jund. How would you build the mana?
The thing is if you use new duals it is somewhat awkward with Putrid Leech and Boggart Ram-Gang. Leech suffers due to its inability to cooperate with Mountain (plus Rootbound Crag isn’t that good with Swamp) whereas Boggart Ram-Gang sucks with Swamps. There just aren’t enough Goblins or Elves in this build to take advantage of the Tribal lands.
- 4 Birds of Paradise
- 4 Bloodbraid Elf
- 4 Boggart Ram-Gang
- 4 Chameleon Colossus
- 4 Noble Hierarch
- 4 Putrid Leech
- 4 Doran, the Siege Tower
- 3 Gaddock Teeg
Obviously this invokes some of the Dark Bant imagery from early this year. Players that enjoyed those sorts of strategies might be interested in seeing where they could take a deck like this.
Obviously the other end of the spectrum for the Noble Hierarch decks is something like this:
- 4 Birds of Paradise
- 4 Jhessian Infiltrator
- 2 Kitchen Finks
- 4 Noble Hierarch
- 4 Rhox War Monk
- 4 Shorecrasher Mimic
- 4 Rafiq of the Many
The big problem here is of course the lack of Brushlands and Yavimaya Coasts. Ancient Ziggurat is not a good option as it doesn’t mesh well with Finest Hour or Cryptic Command. 8 Forests certainly seems sketchy as there may just be too many hands where you get all Forests and a Birds and can’t even play your turn 2 War Monk. I am not sure how to overcome this problem but that is pretty much the task that enterprising Bant players should undertake.
What am I seeing as a result of M10? Well first of all the cards that rotated out seem to matter more than the cards that rotated in. Great Sable Stag Lightning Bolt Baneslayer Harm’s Way New Duals and Gargoyle Castle are all great but the existing decks really needed those painlands (particularly all the Green ones) and Treetop Villages. What will fill the void? Well for the time being it would appear that more Lorwyn block cards will just fill in the gaps.
Cryptic Command Mistbind Clique Bitterblossom Reveillark Mutavault Spectral Procession Windbrisk Heights Figure of Destiny Reflecting Pool Vivid Creek? I for one am looking forward to that block rotating. Don’t get me wrong strong cards can be a ton of a fun it is just that it is a bit frustrating that the new cards have such an absurd standard to live up to and that the cards are such blowouts that they lead to games where one player just has no chance.
This is not a complaint about Standard. In fact I rather like it. It is just an observation that the format is going to be wildly different after Zendikar. The only thing that makes me nervous is that with Lorwyn block how much different will the format be from Honolulu-style block which was not exactly the most fun or most interesting format around?
If I were a betting man though and I am not saying I am not I would bet Zendikar does a great job of providing some foundation type cards that can be built around. Either way though I am certainly looking forward to National’s as this format seems like it is going to be fun.
Kithkin is supposedly the deck to beat? People are underestimating Faeries again? Sounds like a good time. Besides you know me. I am probably just going to end up shuffling up my Reflecting Pools Cryptic Commands and Cruel Ultimatums anyway…