I've been playing a lot of Magic over the past week. M13 is finally on Magic Online and I've been making the most of it. Over the weekend I played nearly a dozen Prerelease Sealed events (which thankfully cost me five tickets fewer apiece than they would have last set!) with results across the spectrum so I feel like I've learned quite a bit about what makes the Limited format tick.
I haven't been sticking just to 40-card decks though. I've been messing around with a number of different Standard decks with M13 one of which I'm going to highlight today. It's still a work in progress and may not quite have what it takes to compete with the big boys but it's one of those decks that countless people try to revive every now and again so I figured I'd give it a whirl. Yes it's none other than the much loved and much maligned Mono-Black Control.
But let's not get ahead of ourselves. I must have spent nearly 24 hours playing in Sealed Deck Prerelease events so I should at least share what I learned from that before I dive into life on the dark side of the moon. Keep in mind that these observations come primarily from Sealed Deck play. I haven't delved much into Draft yet. I feel like starting with Sealed Deck lets you familiarize yourself with a broader range of cards more quickly and I also think it's easy to draw the wrong conclusions from drafting a format with the less experienced players who are likely to be playing in Prerelease events. With all that having been said let's get to the lessons I learned!
Green Is Awesome
I'm starting off with this because it's so different from most previous core sets that I think it's important to highlight. Previous formats have had a wide range of cheap removal and bounce spells that could largely invalidate the large bodies green traditionally brings to the table. In M13 Doom Blade has become Murder which is both more expensive and no longer splashable and Aether Adept is gone entirely. Not only that but green has two excellent Spiders to help shore up its weakness against flying creatures with both Deadly Recluse and Sentinel Spider serving as serious deterrents to the typical flying armies that green would struggle with.
All of that is awesome but there's more! Prey Upon gives green a real common removal spell and it's actually the most efficient one around particularly given the relative size of the green creatures this go around. The fact that so many of the best white and black creatures have exalted means they tend to be smaller than average for their place on the curve and green creatures certainly are not small so they fight with the pesky Knights and Zombies quite well. Prey Upon's low cost and general reliability makes it a great card on both offense and defense though you do need to watch out for combat tricks that might blow you right out.
I feel like an infomercial narrator—because THAT'S NOT ALL! On top of awesome bodies and Prey Upon at common green also has an awesome spread of uncommons with Acidic Slime Roaring Primadox Rancor Garruk's Packleader and Flinthoof Boor all capable of making a major impact at the appropriate stage of the game. Some people might argue that green losing Overrun was a major blow compared to previous core sets but I'd argue that Predatory Rampage—though it is a rare—is even better than Overrun. Overrun was basically only useful to kill your opponent and frequently it would sit in your hand doing nothing if you were behind. Predatory Rampage frequently kills some or all of your opponent's creatures and knocks out a huge chunk of their life total in the process and it does a pretty sweet Overrun impersonation in a pinch when your opponent is low on blockers.
My record with green decks in M13 Sealed vastly outstrips my record with non-green decks. I believe every single deck with which I've gone undefeated has included green and while that could be the result of any number of factors I'm pretty convinced that the much-maligned color may finally be having its day in the sun.
Blue Is Less Awesome
Blue is a much less powerful color in M13 than it has been in core set Limited in a long time. A big part of this is due to the lack of Aether Adept which was a huge factor in blue's previous success. The lack of Aether Adept makes every aggressive blue card much worse because now blue only has Unsummon for bounce at common which is a lot worse. The card that probably takes the biggest hit from this is Scroll Thief.
I'm a man who loves an Ophidian—I won my first Grand Prix on the back of the little Snake in 1997 with the help of the original Man-o'-War no less—but I have struggled to successfully use the newest Merfolk incarnation. Cards like Unsummon and Downpour can get Scroll Thief hits in but they do so at the cost of a card so you're basically cycling rather than really drawing with the Thief. The best-case scenario is that your opponent doesn't have a blocker who can stop Scroll Thief without dying but this is more a format of Grizzly Bears than Goblin Pikers which means the 1/3 is going to need some help from another color.
Exalted Is A Big Deal
Another color like perhaps black or white! The only times I've had any success with Scroll Thief have been in decks heavy on exalted that could force the Thief through by making him too big for the opponent to safely block. Exalted has a major impact on the way games play out in M13 Limited and its existence requires a reevaluation of many cards that we've played with before in different contexts.
Take Tormented Soul for example. In M12 Tormented Soul was a card relegated to the B/R aggro decks that wanted to push through damage and trigger bloodthirst as quickly as possible. In other decks it was borderline unplayable because it was such a slow clock and had such a low impact on the board. In M13 though things are totally different. With a sufficient density of exalted creatures Tormented Soul represents a very legitimate win condition for even defensively oriented black decks because it can break a stalemate wide open.
Speaking of stalemates Fog Bank is a card that's seemingly tailor-made for causing them especially in battles between exalted creatures. Fog Bank is a card that looks pretty good at first glance but plays out even better. The nature of exalted dramatically lessens the impact of removal spells on stunting your opponent's offense—any champion they choose is as good at the next much of the time—but no matter who they are they're going to get lost in the Fog.
The Rings Are Better Than They Look
I had several Rings in my very first Sealed deck and I dismissed them largely out of hand. After all they didn't have a powerful immediate effect on the board which is what is generally expected of quality equipment so they couldn't be good right?
Wrong. Very wrong in fact. The Rings are all actually pretty awesome. The black one is almost certainly the best since regeneration is an extremely powerful ability and I'm frequently tempted to play it even off color. The red ring is a poor man's Lightning Greaves putting into second place I think while green white and blue follow up in about that order.
But the thing is that any of them are good enough to play if you have enough creatures of the appropriate color since the +1/+1 trigger is an extremely powerful effect in any game that stalls out. In those situations the green ring is probably the scariest because +1/+1 counters have quite a bit of synergy with trample especially when you're facing off against the aforementioned Fog Bank. I'm not sure if the Rings will turn out to be too slow for Draft which is certainly less prone to stalemates than Sealed Deck but they're certainly far better than my initial estimation for Sealed Deck and I have to imagine some of their effectiveness carries over.
Mogg Flunkies Is No Joke
Last but certainly not least is the beatdown. Despite many games turning into stalemates defined by exalted creatures Fog Banks and Rings M13 is a format that is conducive to building aggressive decks and Mogg Flunkies is at the core of many of the best of them. Mogg Flunkies is dramatically over the curve for creatures in the format—even at a full casting cost higher Centaur Courser is the only creature to match them which means if you're able to effectively enable your Mogg Flunkies you're getting more than a full mana discount compared to most of the creatures you're going to be up against.
A deck with Mogg Flunkies obviously wants a bunch of other cheap creatures. Specifically it wants Goblin Arsonists and Reckless Brutes. Goblin Arsonist is the best one-drop to support Flunkies because it can trade with many two-drops and some three-drops so you don't need to worry about suiciding it just to get a Flunkies attack in. Reckless Brute helps enable Flunkies attacks out of nowhere with haste and can put your opponent on an extremely fast clock. Flunkies also happen to work quite well with one another and in fact probably work best in pairs than with just about anything else.
Barring the cream of the crop I've also been happy with Krenko's Command as Flunkies support since even if you're suiciding your Flunky buddies you're at least only giving up half a card to do it. Incidentally Flunkies also work very well with the red Ring because you can tag in any other creature with haste to get them moving quickly.
I've only done a single M13 Draft but I got absolutely pummeled by a mono-red deck featuring multiple Flunkies. I anticipate mono-red being a legitimate archetype in the format since cards like Dragon Hatchling are pretty bad in other decks but awesome in yours so you can get them late. Flunkies will be more heavily contested since they're similarly sweet in any kind of aggressive deck but will certainly be one of the cornerstone cards of the archetype. Who doesn't like attacking with a mob of Goblins?
But enough with 40-card strategy for now. It's time for a little segment we like to call…
Back In Black
No Louis Black didn't write this and I'm not going to write the decklist in…colorful language. I just find it funny that Mono-Black Control is a deck that has such staunch supporters who try to revive it any time there's any kind of good black cards printed. When Mind Sludge came back people wanted to make MBC again. Same with Nantuko Shade and even Black Sun's Zenith—when the former isn't even really a control card and the latter has nothing to do with playing heavy black. It's just an archetype that seems to have captured the hearts and minds of players since the days of Torment and those players seem to be forever yearning for its return.
Might now be the time?
- 24 Swamp
With the popularity of midrange green decks lately I decided to put together a Mono-Black Control deck just for fun because it seemed like playing a bunch of board sweepers would be pretty damn good against a field of Birds and Elves. Mutilate is the card that really put Mono-Black Control on the map oh-so-long-ago since it gave black decks an efficient sweeper that grew in power based on their commitment to sticking to Swamps. Mutilate is still a powerhouse and a legitimate reason to play mono-black—that hasn't changed. And this deck does a great job of crushing those green creature decks since you can repeatedly wipe their boards with your sweepers and easily overpower them with your late game cards. The problem comes when you're playing against anything else.
This deck is probably too heavily biased toward beating the green decks by going big which leaves it ill-equipped to deal with decks sporting countermagic. My overall record against control style decks is actually a winning one though I've found that I'm something of a dog against Delver. Specifically the combination of instant creatures like Restoration Angel and Snapcaster Mage backed up by equipment—even Runechanter's Pike or Sword of War and Peace to say nothing of Sword of Feast and Famine—can be a big problem since so many of your spells are sorcery speed.
I've found that I can frequently win game 1s against Delver thanks to the number of dead removal spells they have but once they're able to streamline their deck with Negates and Celestial Purges and the like it's hard to make much headway. I've tried a number of different plans but the creature sideboards don't quite cut it and the planeswalker-based plans can still lose to Celestial Purge. I can almost always quell the initial offensive but I quite frequently just end up losing long games in which I eventually draw too much land and get ground down by card advantage and card selection. I need some kind of legitimate trump which I haven't successfully found yet.
The next step I'm going to take is to just forget about the whole Sorin/Vengeance plan and play a ton of discard and Karns—yes that's plural. Sorin is decent but Vengeance only seems to improve matchups where you're already a favorite and don't really need the help. Karn can solve a ton of problems like the deck's weakness to equipment and planeswalkers while also threatening to just win the game on his own.
I've been somewhat disappointed in Liliana due to the lack of payoff you get out of her compared to the difficulty in keeping her alive. Right now there isn't anything awesome to do with tons of mana (though for a while I did have a single Diabolic Revelation in the deck which was pretty sweet) so even if you do build her up to her ultimate it's not like you get a huge payoff out of it. She seems like she has to be pretty awesome to me and I think she's definitely better than three-mana Liliana in this deck. You can't really effectively use Liliana of the Veil's +1 ability in a deck that's as resource hungry as this one because you can't really afford the card loss. Interestingly the two Lilianas would work very well together but unfortunately you can't really play both because of the planeswalker uniqueness rule. So sad.
The cards I've been most impressed with in this deck are Pristine Talisman Mutilate and Griselbrand. I could kind of take or leave the rest of it but those are awesome. Pristine Talisman does so much work as a mana accelerant and keeping you alive. It works extremely well in a deck like this that uses its life as a resource for cards like Sign in Blood (which is okay but not amazing—I hate not being able to cast it on turn 2 without discarding but that might just mean I need more turn 1 plays like Duress) and also works very well with mass removal like Mutilate to force opponents to overcommit. I actually had an opponent playing Esper Midrange concede to my four Pristine Talismans when I'd killed every threat in his deck short of a Batterskull which couldn't make any headway on my life total thanks to the constant life gain!
Griselbrand may seem a little strange with no way to cheat him out but he's just worth it at full retail. This is a deck that can frequently just run the opponent completely out of action and it simply needs some kind of trump play to win. So far Griselbrand has been the best available because even if they deal with him somehow he translates into another fistful of cards. It's possible I even want more of him as funny as it seems since most other cards options just can't do the job nearly as well as he can.
It's possible that I might want to try a more aggressive version of the deck with cards like Lashwrithe but I like the fact that my current maindeck can minimize the impact of any kind of creature removal my opponents might have. Lashwrithe would be nice to provide growing pressure over the course of a game (and maybe should be in the sideboard) but it would also give my opponents a lot of value from cards like Vapor Snag that I prefer to keep as weak as possible.
I'm going to be tinkering with this deck because it's a ton of fun even if it doesn't quite have what it takes just yet. It's certainly a powerhouse if your metagame is full of green decks since they just *hate* getting Mutilated and generally don't have what it takes to tango with Sorin and company but I'd suggest playing it a bit for yourself and giving it some tweaks before taking it into the wild where you might run into a bunch of Delvers. They're big jerks.
Anyway that's it for this week. A few final things before I go though. One is that this week was finally the big announcement for the game I've been working on for the past year or so. The game is called SolForge and it's a digital TCG we designed alongside Richard Garfield—yes the original designer of Magic. We've posted a Kickstarter page with a lot more information on the game and a lot of cool opportunities for players to get in on the ground floor and get involved with the creation of the game as well as a bunch of cool rewards—including one-on-one Magic lessons with yours truly! I hope you all check it out because it's really the biggest coolest most exciting project I've ever worked on and I'm excited that it's finally becoming a reality.
As part of our SolForge push this week I'm going to be doing a marathon stream this Saturday August 4th. I'll be starting around noon PST and I'll keep streaming all day and into the night as long as our Kickstarter keeps getting support. I'll announce more details on the stream itself but it'll be a long day of Magic action so if you want to check it out tune in to www.twitch.tv/bmkibler this Saturday!
Until next time