I had an incredibly fun weekend in Chicago gunslinging at the M11 prerelease and I got a chance to see a lot of players I hadn’t seen in a while see some familiar regular faces and meet a whole slew of new people. Thanks to everyone who made the weekend such a fun time and kudos to TO Alan Hochman for running a great event. I’m imagining that many of you reading this also took the time to check out a prerelease event of some kind if only for the possibility to open up the cards you’re hoping to be using in the coming months.
I ran the midnight prerelease and built the following sealed deck which I think of as nothing less than absurd:
1 Black Knight
2 Child of Night
2 Lightning Bolt
1 Doom Blade
1 Sign in Blood
1 Quag Sickness
1 Liliana’s Specter
1 Prodigal Pyromancer
1 Mind Rot
1 Crystal Ball
2 Canyon Minotaur
1 Vulshok Berserker
1 Chandra’s Outrage
1 Sorcerer’s Strongbox
1 Fire Servant
1 Terramorphic Expanse
1 Mystifying Maze
I think I boarded in a Duress one game and a Fiery Hellhound another. I started out 2-0 then dropped to go to the hotel and rest up for the big day but I ended up getting sucked into being a Red Mage for Michael Poszgay to test against and I basically stayed long enough that I could have finished out the event.
Obviously for a sealed deck you can’t control how good your deck is but if you get a chance to play a deck in M11 that is just removal after endless removal paired with other card advantage cards the odds are it is going to do incredibly well. My deck had one - count ‘em - one rare. But it was basically just the kind of deck that you’d want to have for an M11 sealed deck game: it had a ton of ways to accumulate card advantage and a ton of creature kill. Playing against one opponent in the actual tournament he dropped Chandra and Liliana Vess but I just tore him down under a slew of card advantage and burn. Six packs is a real problem for sealed skill in my opinion but I’m not sure what the solution is other than to bring back tournament packs (something I expect will never happen).
I kept the deck together to gunsling with on Saturday giving potential opponents a ton of options for what they could play against including the 5 M11 Preconstructed decks this sealed deck and another (a G/W critter deck) an EDH deck with Gwendolyn Di Corci as the general my “Big Cards” draft deck from the “Just Missed” side event of PTNY99 (featuring huge oversized copies of Balance and Zuran Orb – this deck’s record for the weekend was 1-2) Runeflare Trap Shaheen Soorani’s UW Control deck and my take on Red recently reinfluenced by Japanese Nationals.
These last two decks have been my go to decks lately on Magic Online bringing me a slow but steady profit on tickets. The Red deck is just a great deck for a quick match in general and the Blue/White deck is my favorite deck in the pre-M11 metagame.
My Red deck did learn a few specific lessons from Katsuhiro Mori’s list which was remarkably similar to what I was running. He was running two Quenchable Fire straight up in the main. This call was clearly designed to bring the edge up against Jund. I would generally claim assuming “Perfect” Jund and a “Balls” Red that Red would have a game 1 percentage of about 70% and a full matchup of about 60-65% give or take (the results of a roughly 50% game two/three). If you instead take that to about 80% your matchup goes up to a 65-70% for a full match. That’s a pretty big deal. And while I didn’t care exactly with where he went with his land it did encourage me to shave down a single Smoldering Spire which is while in many ways better than Teetering Peaks still something you want to see a little less at more points in the game. Mori’s deck minimized Staggershock as well a card that I’ve become less and less enamored with; hell Adam Jansen’s Devastating Red just straight up cut it. “Too crappy and expensive” he said.
Here is my current build only slightly off of Mori’s (which was only slightly off of mine):
The side is ridiculously varied depending on what you want to beat. My quick go-to list includes:
There are still MTGO PTQs to consider where M11 isn’t involved and so a deck like this would be an incredibly solid choice providing you think that the world isn’t gunning for Red at that very moment. If the world hates Red Red really does have a hard time. I beat a pair of Kor Firewalkers with Celestial Purges and actual lifegain the other night but it was the biggest squeaker in the world and basically I got really lucky. You don’t want your day to be even more about getting really lucky than it has to be; winning any PTQ is a luck-based proposition but you don’t want to have to rely on luck any more than you have to.
When I think about new M11 cards that are worthy of considering for this deck if you wanted to update it the list is fairly small:
Cyclops Gladiator: This card is a very solid possible sideboard card. It is another Obsidian Fireheart style card in Red/Red matchups supplying a big hard to kill body. In other matchups like Naya or Bant for example this guy is just a murderer eating up Birds and Cobras like mad. If you put a Basilisk Collar on him he can take down much more potent critters before he gets taken down and can actually supply a ridiculous swing in life very easily. Cyclops Gladiator is fabulous as a sideboard card for this deck. It would be fine against Jund if they weren’t so well prepared with a card like Bituminous Blast (which makes hard-core investments like a four-mana 4/4 feel foolish). He’s definitely a great possible sideboard option though.
But let’s have a little aside. If we think about the work that a Cyclops Gladiator can accomplish it starts to beg the question “is there a deck here for this monster?” There might not actually be a good deck that can be made in which this card is a legitimate part of the main deck but as you’re going through and beginning to update old decks you need to keep the creative juices flowing and just make note of those cards which might just push you further enough away from other archetypes that you’re into a new one; Cyclops Gladiator speaks to the Red control player in me and I’d be excited to see if that deck can be legitimately built.
Ember Hauler: Here’s a card that seems far better to speak to the needs of a Red deck. Particularly with the weaknesses of Staggershock Ember Hauler seems like a possible plug in to an aggressive red deck. From a Mori-style list the places that seem like the most likely includes are the non-fours: Burst Lightning Staggershock Quenchable Fire and Earthquake. Which cards you cut depends on what you think is important for the metagame; I would hesitate to cut into Burst Lightning and Earthquake for example because I think those cards are simply too important. As the White Leyline becomes played cutting into your targeted spells could be a really good plan. Other people might think that shifting towards a permanent-based deck might be the answer and cut into Hell’s Things but as long as Jund is a real part of the metagame world I definitely wouldn’t advocate that. Much like Cyclops Gladiator Ember Hauler begs the question on a deck and in this case it’s almost certainly “is Goblins a potential deck?”
Fire Servant: As potential board cards against Big Bads like Baneslayer Angel and friends go personally I think Fire Servant is exactly the kind of thing you want rather than a crappy card like Combust. Fire Servant is clearly quite terrible against decks with Lightning Bolt but there sure are a lot of decks that have to kill him by spending more than one mana and some that have a lot of cards that they are concerned about killing. A Fire Servant neatly can make answering big creatures incredibly trivial and if you don’t need to answer something Fire Servant is an incredible threat all on its own. Still as expensive as it is it is certainly competing against a lot of great company for slots in the sideboard. When you think about what this card can do to a Kor Firewalker problem it becomes worth grinning about (particularly if you get multiple copies in play): if two Fire Servants are facing off from two Kor Firewalkers things look pretty rough for the White deck unless you’re at 4 life…
Leyline of Punishment: This seems like a clear sideboard answer to the Kor Firewalker menace but it is held back by a couple of factors: multiples only help as insurance it doesn’t otherwise affect the board and if they aren’t in your opening hand it might be too late for the card to do its work. With this kind of thing in mind I expect I’d only be running this card if the metagame was seriously ridiculously full of lifegain and even then I’d struggle to run more than one or two and probably still consider tossing it to the curve for Fire Servant.
Jinxed Idol: This card is almost worth thinking about in the maindeck of Red as a fabulous way to poke holes in decks that don’t have Hell’s Thingies to throw away. For controlling decks a card like this is always going to be a nightmare but it still makes a pretty poor topdeck. I could easily see fitting in one copy of this into a deck with a fair number of targets to toss aside and more in the board if you feel like Blue/White is going to be around in abundance (a deck which otherwise can give you fits).
That’s actually a really short list to add to the cards I’d consider for this style of Red aggro. But the thing about lists that have come from so many cards; there are over 1300 cards in Standard that M11 has to contend with. Having five cards be potentially be worthy of making the cut is more impressive than you’d think. More radically different decks would open the floodgates far more but with what we’ve got that’s a good start.
Here is Shaheen Soorani’s beautifully crafted Blue/White deck. I only just learned that I couldn’t possibly go to Amsterdam even if I won a PTQ so I won’t be slinging this deck in any more tournaments but it is definitely the deck I would play if I played tomorrow.
The big things I like about this deck are actually pretty simple: it smashes Jund. I played a whole slew of games against Brian Kowal to try it out and it was just absurd. Even with a bad board plan I was still at 50/50 with the board and in subsequent testing (with Shaheen’s advice in mind); I’m slightly at about 55% to 60% after board on top of a great game 1.
The worst things about playing this deck are pretty simple: the truly swarming aggressive decks can sometimes just take you out unless you are drawing your three Day of Judgment like Gangbusters and the combo-laden decks of all kinds are basically incredibly rough. Turboland TurboFog Brilliant Combo Runeflare Trap what-have-you… only Polymorph isn’t really rough for you.
The basic plan with this deck is to grind out the opponent and simply overpower them with card quality and card advantage in essence being the Blue/White version of Jund running like a classic Weisman control deck. The weakness is to dedicated linear explosions whether it is true combo or the kind of aggro-combo that comes from Allies or certain Eldrazi Monument based aggro. Keeping M11 in mind we get several possible adds:
Condemn: Adding Condemn to the mix seems absolutely incredible. There are absolutely times in which you are getting a blocker out of the way or times in which you are wanting to kill a Knight of the Reliquary but for the most part you are generally concerned with an attacker and giving the opponent a little bit of life is nothing compared to giving them a land. Losing out on Pathing a Wall of Omens is a little annoying but I imagine that Condemn largely replaces Path here with perhaps some small number of Path staying or making it to the board.
Leyline of Sanctity: This card doesn’t quite feel like it does the work that needs doing for where this deck is weak. Beating Red isn’t generally all that hard unless you’ve gotten unlucky and I can’t imagine more than one in the board unless something really strange happens. Yes it solves problems but not really problems that this deck has. If something new crops up this could be a real solution.
War Priest of Thune: If all you’re concerned about is Oblivion Rings this might be a good go-to card. It also of course is a helpful solution to Leyline of Punishment. As a cheap body he beats out spending 2WW for the same effect and a 2/3 body (and from a historical standpoint he makes Monk Realist look silly). There is certainly a potential home for some small number of this card in the board depending largely on Oblivion Ring and Leylines.
Frost Titan: As an alternative to Sphinx of Jwar Isle this guy is fairly decent but doesn’t have the damning power of the Sphinx to shut down Jund. Sun Titan seems worse than this card for what you might need each to do but they are both going to have to be competing against Sphinx Baneslayer and Gideon none of which are easy fights.
Jace’s Ingenuity: Does this card replace Mind Spring or not? My thought is a resounding “No.” More reasonable is the idea that it might augment Mind Spring and replace Jace. The thing about this kind of Blue/White it’s not really spending that much effort keeping mana open for counters. It could however have a nice home in the sideboard joining Negate and Deprive for control wars that were all the more effective.
Mana Leak: This card is being hailed as a second coming of Blue/White (or Blue/X really) control but if you look at what this deck is doing it really is playing out much more like a midrange control deck that overpowers the opponent. Adding in Mana Leak over Deprive might not be unreasonable but in going that route you’d definitely want to find room for four Mana Leak. Something’s gotta give there then and you’d have to find other spaces that are competing for that work. Wall of Omens Spreading Seas and Everflowing Chalice are the primary competitors for that slot along with Deprive. Deprive’s strength though comes from its power as a true voice of “No!” Even after board Negate seems stronger in many of the matchups you’d want it. I don’t see Mana Leak being very useful in this deck but it could be tried as an experiment certainly.
Mystifying Maze: This card actually looks fairly insane. The problem of course is where to fit it in. With so many non-basic lands trying to find room for another means kicking one out definitely hurting the integrity of the color quality or tossing out Tectonic Edge. Tectonic Edge though is primarily an answer to man-lands or used upon occasion to screw a player who is struggling for appropriate colors of mana. Mystifying Maze particularly in conjunction with Day of Judgment seems like a great answer to latter-game creatures and certainly takes care of a man-land as well as promoting overextending. I’m willing to bet that this card should simply be in the deck straight up likely as a two- or three-of. It’s inclusion though certainly seems to encourage more Everflowing Chalices.
Usually the first best thing to do when new sets enter the mix is to actively see what can be worked into decks that you know are good. These two are my personal favorites in Standard right now. While I know I’ll certainly be brainstorming new concoctions as well (particularly for U.S. Nationals) that first step is just updating the decks you already know work. You’ll be able to push beyond them soon enough but you don’t want to fall behind them either with a deck that isn’t really geared to handle the old powerhouses.
Until next week…