As most of you are aware, States happened this past weekend and, as always, it was a blast! I ended up going 6-2 with a sweet brew of Wolf Run Ramp, barely missing Top 8 after taking my second loss to local ringer Kenny Mayer in one of the later rounds. What did I learn at States, you ask?
That this is one of the best lands ever printed. Sure it's mana-intensive, but a recurring fireball from a land each turn is just plain good. I mean really good. Not quite as good as Valakut, but at least you don't have to play twelve or more Mountains in your mono-green deck! That was always the biggest hassle for me, since it forced you to mulligan a lot of hands you would normally keep. This deck has no such problem, which is a huge plus!
What I learned about the deck in the testing leading up to States proved invaluable. This was the first time in a while that I've done serious testing before a tournament, and the knowledge I received helped me to win a lot of my matches, where playing a different card would have ultimately ended with me going something like 4-4. What I learned is that I was right all along. Solemn Simulacrum is not as good as people think it is, and you probably shouldn't be playing with it.
News flash, it isn't 2005. Whatever good Solemn Simulacrum has done in the past, the supporting cast just isn't here to fill in the blanks this time. There are better things to do on four mana than ramp into another land, and by that I primarily mean Garruk Relentless.
After testing about twenty-plus games against various decks with the new iteration of Garruk, I've begun to believe that he is probably better than his larger self, as he comes down at a reasonable spot in your curve. Rampant Growth or Green Sun's Zenith into Garruk Relentless on turn 3 is just bananas, and a lot of decks can't handle it. Big Garruk is fine, and does some cool things with Primeval Titan, but let's be honest with ourselves—five mana is a lot more than four mana, especially when you're playing Rampant Growth in your deck. At the very least, Garruk Relentless can take out your opponent's creature before he gets mangled.
With Garruk Relentless, a lot of big Garruk's problems can be resolved instantly. You come down swinging a turn faster, have the potential to kill an opposing creature and flip into "beast mode," which could be followed by turning your Viridian Emissary into a Primeval Titan or Acidic Slime. His ultimate ability doesn't do all that much in the deck, but there can be some cool corner cases where activating a few Inkmoth Nexus and using the Overrun effect can get awkward.
Here's a list that is pretty close to what I played at States, and what I'm recommending for this weekend at the StarCityGames.com Baltimore Standard Open.
In this deck, Garruk Relentless does some real work. He's a constant stream of threats against aggro and control and can act as a preemptive strike for the opponent's Garruk, Primal Hunter. Additionally, his ability to kill utility creatures is very underrated, and I used that ability at States almost as many times as I used his ability to make Wolves. Going into States, Garruk Relentless was only theoretically good. I had played a ton of games with the "regular" version using Solemn Simulacrum and Wurmcoil Engine, but those cards were cumbersome and mediocre against the control decks. I wanted hard-hitting threats that were also versatile, and Garruk Relentless was it.
After that, the first thing I knew I wanted was the fourth Primeval Titan. He's the backbone of the deck, much like Valakut from last season. While he isn't as backbreaking as he was in Valakut decks last season, he's still plays a similarly important role within your engine. The Titan fetches a secondary win condition, as well as a land that turns every threat into an enormous problem for the opponent. All you have is that tiny Viridian Emissary, you say? Well no problem—let's turn him into a Fireball every turn.
The fact that you give the creature trample is almost good enough. I've often used the ability to make Acidic Slime into a monstrous powerhouse, since the little trick with trample and deathtouch is quite underused and people don't always see it coming. Along with Viridian Corrupter and Inkmoth Nexus, the Kessig Wolf Runs act as a multiplier of two, since you only have to deal them ten points of poison damage.
Without Primeval Titan, the deck still works fine, but it doesn't have quite the same punch that it would get from resolving the big guy. Sure, you have a lot of supporting cards that are quite strong in their own ways and can dominate different aspects of the game at different times, but Primeval Titan puts your opponent on an insane clock. Maxing out on those and Zenith should be your first priority when deckbuilding.
I understand Brian Sondag's reasoning behind playing Wurmcoil Engine, since a lot of times it helps you stabilize against the red decks. However, that can sometimes backfire on you when your draws in the early game do almost nothing. By increasing the count on Slagstorm to the full four, you're increasing your chances to draw it against them, as it is likely your most important card. Viridian Corrupter also gives you an easy way to kill Shrine of Burning Rage while also presenting a blocker or threat to Koth of the Hammer.
Control decks are something you're likely to face many times on the day, because people just can't get enough of Snapcaster Mage. It can be difficult, but there are a lot of things you can do to improve your game against them. For one, Mana Leak is the obvious bummer card against you. In this matchup, you want all of your threats to be hard-hitting, so cutting Solemn Simulacrum for Garruk Relentless helps to maximize the strength of your individual cards. If they waste all of their Mana Leaks early, they'll run out of answers for your threats eventually.
Additionally, the opponent will usually have answers like Oblivion Ring, so you want all of your cards to generally do something the turn they come into play. While Garruk Relentless "just" leaves around a 2/2 creature, he presents them with a threat that they have to tap out to deal with, and you will usually be left with something to show for it. This will leave you free to do almost whatever you want on turn five or six, which is when you want to be dropping your biggest baddies. Wurmcoil Engine, while tough for U/B to beat, is quite miserable against anyone playing Oblivion Ring, which is one of the reasons I'm sitting him on the bench.
A lot of you might be thinking that six Garruk is a few too many, but I assure you that it isn't. If anything, it just gives you more flexibility to use Garruk Relentless as a removal spell, allowing you to curve up to Garruk, Primal Hunter to finish things off. While a lot of people will argue that Primal Hunter is "better" in the deck, I can't disagree more. Sure, it has more synergy with Primeval Titan, but they do very different things at opposite ends of the spectrum. You have enough top-end cards to close out the game, and Garruk Relentless is much better at gaining control of the early turns.
Having a threat of this magnitude on the battlefield before the control opponent is ready for it can be devastating. Even then, they'll usually have to give you an opening while they deal with it, and Acidic Slime can often be the end of the Oblivion Ring party. With that said, Garruk Primal Hunter is still a really good card, and I wouldn't consider cutting him from the deck completely. I've tried out a few things in his spot, like Batterskull, but have come to the conclusion that you just want to run a few more planeswalkers to help solidify your board position in the late game.
What planeswalkers represent to most opponents is a must-kill threat. This will often lead to insane suicide attacks in order to kill your Garruk, leaving your opponent a bit devastated and worse for the wear. On top of that, you'll usually still have a creature or two left over after everything is said and done. You also wouldn't believe how strong Inkmoth Nexus is at defending your planeswalkers from all kinds of threats—even the ever-so-threatening Phantasmal Dragon.
As for the rest of the deck, there aren't a lot of overwhelming changes. I felt like an additional Mountain was necessary to support the Urabrasks in the sideboard, as well as the fourth Slagstorm in the maindeck. Slagstorm is best when cast on the third turn against aggressive decks, and you can't afford to draw a Forest instead of a Mountain when you need to drop the hammer down.
The Viridian Corrupter in the maindeck answers a lot of problems that the deck was usually too slow to deal with, and also gives you another threat alongside Inkmoth Nexus to poison your opponent with. Viridian Corrupter will often allow for lines of play that make attacking with an Inkmoth Nexus on the second turn the correct play! He's also great when you're forcing your opponent to block while you have a Kessig Wolf Run in play.
Viridian Corrupter has a lot of versatility, killing everything from Blade Splicer's Golem token to Shrine of Burning Rage, and everything in between. I wouldn't cut him from the deck, and the second one in the sideboard should let you know just how important he can be. With that said, don't be afraid to side him out. Most of the Solar Flare decks don't have a lot of targets for him, and you'd rather just brown them with Acidic Slimes and Mayor of Avabruck.
Regarding Mayor of Avabruck, I can't speak highly enough of him. At States, I only had a singleton in my sideboard to Green Sun's Zenith for, and I really wanted more in the control matchups. For one, your opponent will rarely counter a Green Sun's Zenith on two, because they just expect Viridian Emissary, which isn't much of a threat to them. Once you slam down Mayor of Avabruck, the entire dynamic of their play changes. If they don't have a Doom Blade handy, then they're either dead or tapping out every turn to keep him from flipping.
I constantly compared him to Bitterblossom, and I don't think that's really an understatement. Sure, he's a lot more vulnerable than Bitterblossom ever was, but your opponents won't likely be expecting him and won't have very many ways to kill him. Even if they do, that just gives you a stronger threat-density against them, and every one of your cards is a must-answer threat. While Mayor of Avabruck won't feel like an all-star until you've played against a few Solar Flare matchups, the moment you flip your first you will be sold. Also, if you notice, Garruk Relentless makes Wolf tokens, which combo quite nicely with the Howlpack Alpha.
As for the rest of the board, I'm really digging the additional Acidic Slime, Viridian Corrupter, and Ancient Grudges. Tempered Steel will have a very difficult time beating you, which is good because they're a fairly popular aggressive strategy. One thing I don't like about the current list is your vulnerability to red decks. While you're increasing your percentages across the board in most matchups, the cutting of Wurmcoil Engine and Solemn Simulacrum really hurts against Mountains.
The problem here is that you shouldn't really expect to play against a lot of red, but you will play against it some. In these scenarios, it is important to remember that Slagstorm and Viridian Emissary are incredibly important at helping you stabilize. If you know they're playing Mono Red, then you probably shouldn't keep a hand without one or multiples of these cards, as you will fall behind rather quickly. Additionally, Stromkirk Noble gets out of Slagstorm range in a hurry, and Volt Charge can put you away if timed right.
That said, Mono Red is probably your worst matchup. Wurmcoil Engine only helped a little, since he was so incredibly expensive to cast. Without Solemn Simulacrum, he is definitely not worth including in the sideboard. I might recommend some number of Batterskulls for the sideboard, since it is an aggressive threat that doubles as being pretty sick against one of your worse matchups.
Batterskull also poses some serious problems for U/B Control. Not only can they not easily deal with an artifact, they also have the tendency to rely too heavily on spot removal. Its ability to rebuy once they've killed the germ token gives you more card advantage against them, as well as presenting them with a threat that is very difficult to deal with on a one-for-one basis.
As for the Karn Liberated in the sideboard, he is just ok. He's a large, high-impact singleton that is good in various matchups, but too slow against aggro decks to bother with in the maindeck. While he provides you with an alternate answer to problematic permanents, such as other planeswalkers, he just doesn't have the raw power-to-mana ratio that the deck needs.
The main focus of the deck should be around Primeval Titan. He gives you the most range and most mileage out of any card in the deck. Inkmoth Nexus is a filthy way to win, but it isn't as filthy as Valakut used to be, which is a good thing for Standard. People hated Valakut, and for good reason. At least with Wolf Run Ramp, you still interact with your opponents, and a few timely Ghost Quarters can ruin your day. If everyone starts to play Ghost Quarter, I might recommend a third or even fourth Kessig Wolf Run in the sideboard to help combat this issue. If both of them die, then your Primeval Titans become much less ominous.
After all is said and done, I'm sure Garruk Relentless will find his proper home. I have a feeling that people will realize just how good he is very soon, because it only took me a single tournament to figure it out. He's versatile, easy to cast, and cheap to boot. His abilities allow him to generate threats, protect himself, and his flip side is nothing to scoff at. I'm sure that some people can beat an endless stream of Primeval Titans and Acidic Slimes, but I wouldn't want to be fighting that battle.
As always, I hope you guys learned a bit from this article. This weekend, I'll probably be playing something very similar in Baltimore. I'm done with Illusions for now, but only because everyone is playing a land that kills every creature in my deck. Until next time...
Thanks for reading.
strong sad on MOL