After the StarCityGames.com Open Series in St. Louis Sam Black stated the metagame was "delusional." At first it seems like this should be right. Everyone had put in a lot of work to fight Mana Leak and now the format was about dueling five-drops?
Turns out they were probably more right than you'd expect. Delver despite its win at the SCG Standard Open in Buffalo is no longer king. Specifically Mana Leak is not anywhere near as oppressive as it once was.
Sam specifically cited Thragtusk as the impetus for this shift but that card isn't even the big picture here. Step one was that Cavern of Souls started beating up on the actual Delver decks. Delver next leveled that by turning into Esper Hybrid Control which at the time was amazing at handling the various low-end threats the green decks tried to kill you with. Sword of War and Peace was an issue but if you recognized that and played around it you were fine.
Since then the green decks have upped the ante and gone over the top. Gone are the threats that are easily bricked by 3/x walls. Instead you have long games your own Angels and Bonfire of the Damned.
My plans to attend the SCG Open Series in Buffalo unfortunately fell through at the last minute so I was left battling at a PTQ in Illinois. Here is the list I played last weekend almost 100% blatantly burgled from Caleb Durward's win at the StartCityGames.com Standard Open in St. Louis a couple weeks back.
- 1 Phyrexian Metamorph
- 1 Wurmcoil Engine
- 4 Avacyn's Pilgrim
- 4 Birds of Paradise
- 4 Blade Splicer
- 2 Borderland Ranger
- 3 Elvish Visionary
- 1 Geist-Honored Monk
- 1 Hero of Bladehold
- 1 Huntmaster of the Fells
- 4 Restoration Angel
- 1 Thragtusk
- 1 Zealous Conscripts
- 1 Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite
- 3 Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
My matches were fairly inconsequential. I lost some close ones won a few more close ones and had a couple absurd blowouts when I miracled a Bonfire.
There's a possibility you want nine mana dorks instead of eight. The more mirrors you expect the more I would want to max out on my ability to jump the curve. That matchup is almost entirely decided on mana advantage early.
Just to confirm Elvish Visionary is far better than Strangleroot Geist. It lets you play Avacyn's Pilgrim and still cast your spells and the extra card is more important than a 3/2 in a format full of Blade Splicers and Restoration Angels. If you want to play Geist in Pod see my talk about an alternate RUG build later on.
The third Thalia is probably a negotiable slot but the card did enough work to be worth playing. I even considered leaving it in for the mirror match but I couldn't figure out whether disrupting their Pod or Bonfire curve on the play was worth it. Against everything else I wanted the three I had but I'm not so sure I would ever want the full set.
Hero of Bladehold was extremely unimpressive. All it did was die or get stolen with Zealous Conscripts. I assume that it would have been amazing if I had played against the usual Wolf Run Ramp lists but the one I played against had Day of Judgment. I would not maindeck it again but the two in the board Caleb had are probably deserved.
Phyrexian Metamorph on the other hand was unreal. Killing Geist of Saint Traft was a big issue but the most common thing I did was turn it into a second Birthing Pod. Two Pods is actually more than twice as good as one especially against decks with sweepers. One of my Delver opponents had Day of Judgment and due to my double Pod setup any creature I drew after each Day or Snapcaster Maged Day was enough to threaten near lethal.
Cutting the second Huntmaster was completely correct. The card doesn't do anything relevant in the green mirrors or against control. You still need the one to chain into against Delver decks but I would never want a second and boarded it out most rounds.
I consistently wanted an Acidic Slime in the maindeck. It smashes Pod and Gavony Township in the mirror and Swords and Moorland Haunt against Delver. Against Wolf Run Ramp it either lets you Time Walk them or lets you kill their Wolf Runs and just fight their Titans heads up. I don't think I would cut any of the current five-drops even though they are fairly narrow but having four cards at that slot is fine.
The sideboard card I never wanted to see was Wolfir Silverheart. He just doesn't do enough in the creature mirrors. Similar to Hero while he might be enough in the stock Wolf Run Ramp matchup oftentimes a monster or two doesn't break through the lines of defense created in Pod mirrors. Unless he hooks up with a flier he isn't going to actually impact the board. It isn't going to beat an Elesh Norn and it isn't going to stop them from getting there. I would immediately cut this before the next time I played this deck.
I had it come up a couple times where I wanted another six-drop to Pod through to Elesh Norn after I lost the Wurmcoil Engine but I have no idea what it should be. Any of the Titans is reasonable as is just accepting that scenario occurs and not clunking up the deck. I would lean towards Primeval Titan as it is the best without a Pod in play but I can see either of the other two. Sun Titan is the best to Pod up and might give you incentive to stretch into four colors for an Image or two while Inferno is also very good without Pod but much harder than Primeval Titan to hard cast.
Elesh Norn was absolutely insane and was one of the few reasons to play white. I didn't actually beat anyone with Blade Splicer + Restoration Angel the way I did with Esper. Those cards just did some things that helped build the overwhelming incremental advantage I eventually won with. Elesh did the exact opposite and provided an automatic win to cap the Pod engine. It is also very easy to hard cast; I named Praetor on Cavern of Souls multiple times.
The other real reason to play white is Gavony Township. The main reason these Pod decks are winning while previous lists didn't is their ability to play Magic without the namesake card and Township is most of this. You can get away with playing 33 mana sources because of this card. I killed many people with giant mana Birds and Pilgrims and easily won through extreme flood because I just spent my turns profitably leveling up my team.
Caleb was probably right about the one Oblivion Ring. At the least I would sideboard it. I found myself constantly wanting that effect somewhere in the 75.
Three Birthing Pods is mostly a hedge against Delver of Secrets. I was very happy with having the fourth in my board when my opponent wasn't playing that deck. I was also very happy boarding down to two when they were playing Vapor Snags and I didn't have the life to expend to get it going early.
We all know Bonfire is insane. Instead of just going on about how insane it is let's sit down and look at how it actually works.
The first thing is that you basically can't play the card without some kind of mana acceleration in your deck. Miracling the card is nice but you need it to be actually playable when you don't hit the jackpot. Dealing one damage to their team on turn 3 or two on turn 5 is not impressive given what creatures look like these days. Specifically you need one-drop mana creatures so that your curve syncs up with the 1-3-5 leveling on hard cast Bonfires. If you play Wolf Run style ramp you end up with a 2-4-6 curve which doesn't actually let you jump ahead on Bonfire counts until the point you should just be slamming a Titan down on them.
The second thing is you actually want to take advantage of the fact the card is one-sided. Actual sweepers are a dime a dozen and I'm fairly sure Wolf Run Ramp often wants to kill its own Solemn Simulacrums. Unless you are using the unilateral board sweep to push through damage Bonfire isn't actually doing anything relevant.
So you have a card that is really good against decks with small to midrange creatures. It also happens to only be good in decks with small to midrange creatures.
Let's take a trip back in time. Half a decade ago there was a similar card: Umezawa's Jitte. When you resolved it any creature that wasn't absolutely massive was completely irrelevant. The downside was that it required you play creatures.
One answer was to build the best Jitte deck. People shoved a bunch of guys with protection into their B/W decks hoping to stop their opponents from getting Jitte active. In the Bonfire case there isn't a direct analogy but this is almost where Naya Pod lies. You have access to some of the top end that Bonfire can't reach while still having good Bonfires yourself. If you want to go down this route I would advocate having access to the full four Bonfires as well as one or two Arc Trails out of the board. Arc Trail is just more ways to steal the mana initiative in the early game. It is even better than Bonfire on the draw as it lets you actually keep hands without a Pilgrim or Birds.
The other answer was to just jam your deck full of Kird Apes and burn. You were terrible against a Jitte that got going but hopefully that never happened. The equivalent today would be Zombies. Bash their brains in before they get to natural Bonfire range kill their mana dorks to keep it under control and if all else fails accept that you have a bit of actual resilience to the card. To be fair undying and Blood Artist are a little better against Bonfire than just being an x/3 was against Jitte. I don't think B/R Zombies winning multiple events was a fluke. The deck is very well positioned against the best card in the format. Just be aware that if you play that deck you probably want Arc Trail over your own Bonfires. On one hand you can kill their early drops and always have a two-damage burn spell. On the other hand you could take the mystery box. It might even kill their mana guys when you want it to!
The final option is also known as "Michael Flores was ahead of his time." Specifically you just don't play any cards that are affected by your opponent's bomb. Back in the day this meant jamming Steam Vents and playing four creatures in your deck. Now it's about the same only replace Steam Vents with something else. Bonfire is not very exceptional when it's just a sometimes Blaze.
This means playing no normal creatures. You can try to play a ramp deck but those have their own issues with Delver. I think the actual answer lies somewhere around here.
I want this but with more of Mike Flores' mono-removal deck. I still want Trading Post or a similar engine so I can maintain parity against a Birthing Pod or Snapcaster Mage on Ponder but I also want more Wraths. Mutilate isn't enough; get me Black Sun's Zenith too. Just beat Birthing Pod by killing every guy they play and the same applies to Delver of Secrets. Curse of Death's Hold likely deserves a slot or two to deal with Moorland Haunt and Gravecrawler. It might be asking too much to have answers for every random Sword of War and Peace that can also handle hexproof from Geist of Saint Traft and flash from Restoration Angel but I'm sure there's a right mix. One card that looks really good is Tribute to Hunger. As long as you save your Mutilates and Black Sun's Zeniths for their Blade Splicers you can Tribute their instant or hexproof threats.
Another card I wanted to explore with Bonfire that was obsoleted by Angel and Splicer is Hellrider. Incidentally he is another haste body that fights control fairly well.
Let's imagine your Pod deck is RUG instead of Naya. You now have Llanowar Elves over Pilgrim so you can cast Geist. Your default three-drop turns into Borderland Ranger which means the double red requirement on Hellrider is eased. You have Phantasmal Image which adds to Metamorph in letting you get multiple Hellriders on the table. You have a Pod deck that has all good cards just like Naya only your plan is aggression over value.
Something like this maybe?
- 1 Phyrexian Metamorph
- 4 Birds of Paradise
- 4 Borderland Ranger
- 1 Champion of Lambholt
- 1 Deceiver Exarch
- 1 Dungeon Geists
- 1 Frost Titan
- 3 Hellrider
- 1 Huntmaster of the Fells
- 1 Inferno Titan
- 4 Llanowar Elves
- 2 Phantasmal Image
- 4 Strangleroot Geist
- 1 Thragtusk
- 1 Thundermaw Hellkite
- 1 Zealous Conscripts
I make no promises that the mana is workable. I also notice there is a real issue with not having a three-drop that you can Pod up to a Hellrider. It's possible you don't even want blue and just want to still be Naya for Blade Splicer only with a much more aggressive line of Tutor targets. The other possibility is that this is just going too deep and assumes the control decks can actually fight the threats that exist in the format.
I'm not sure if Magic 2013 actually gave us cards that shifted the format or if it just shifted peoples' mindsets but I like what it has done. Get ready for some real battlecruiser Magic where your monstrous five-drop and theirs face off and duel. This isn't like Titans where the first one to get there wins but more of whoever can do the biggest best thing with their setup. Cool might be the new good and I'm ok with that.
Magic 2013 Limited Update of the Week
I've noticed a definite trend developing in this format both in my own drafts and the successful public decklists. For those interested in figuring it out themselves the undefeated Sealed and Draft lists from Grand Prix Shanghai can be found here.
Notice anything in common yet?
How many creatures are in these decks?
It's been a while since we played a format where the creatures are worse than the spells on average. Counting back we've had a format too short on playables where random filler bodies are better than blanks a format of morbid and Spider Spawning where the green creatures are a full spell ahead of anything else a format based on hyperaggression and curving out and a format where creatures were in short supply and you scrambled to not be left without enough to win a game. I would have to go all the way back to Magic 2011 to find a format I wasn't happy to just play an on curve body in most decks.
Magic 2013 reestablishes a bit of this old school feel. It isn't a straight up attrition battle but a more subtle one where you try to line up your worse cards to their better ones and have rooks facing down pawns in the end game. It's a lot easier to do this when you have more instants and sorceries than if you are mono-Grizzly Bears. The creatures also size appropriately up the curve meaning that while a Silvercoat Lion may serve its purpose it isn't as good on turn 5 as a Darkthicket Wolf was.
Depending on archetype it seems like the ideal number of creatures to play in this format ranges from thirteen in some U/B control decks to seventeen in the Mogg Flunkies-Centaur Courser theme deck with most decks wanting fifteen or sixteen. This means that you should generally be picking cards based on actual utility not completely by curve. Four-drop glut is a thing that can happen but that means you should be more willing to pass fours instead of going all in on twos and threes.
This also means that playing around tricks is much more important than it has been in the past. Not only do you have to learn what ones exist but you have to evaluate which ones they likely have and which you can play around. Start early; it's not an easy task.
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