Oh what a wonderful world we live in!
I can't tell you how much I've been looking forward to this day! To see what it looks like with the Giants gone. To live in a world without Ponder! Oh friends this is a great day indeed!
If I seem excited it's because I am. Of course this should be taken with a grain of salt because this is the time of year that I'm always excited about Constructed Magic. The times of the Great Rotation are truly exciting and one of the many things that I love that Wizards has done in recent years is create a tournament environment which actually has such dramatic moments of change for Standard. Kudos to Wizards for that.
As it is I've begun the process of brewing. This is somewhat stymied by the fact that most of my Magic gaming these days is on Magic Online. Magic Online is of course not yet able to supply me what I need in terms of this New World of Magic. It's frustrating but it does give me the opportunity to continue to win tickets galore with my Kuldotha Phoenix deck. This is great but it is a distraction from the "real" world of Magic right now.
And it's a great world too.
Of course in some ways I feel pretty divorced from it. Normally I'd be working hard on States (now "The 2012's"). I've had a pretty good track record at this event and I absolutely love the freshness of the format combined with the fun of fighting for the State Championship title. This year's tournament is going to be a weird one though somewhat courtesy of the current state of Organized Play.
Because PTQs are now effectively run at the "local" level by individual stores there was no ability for large Tournament Organizers to organize a weekend that doesn't conflict with PTQs so this year's 2012 State (and Provincial) Championships are butting up against some PTQs here and there. If you live in or near Nebraska Kentucky Georgia Illinois Texas Maryland North Carolina Indiana or Maine you could have a conflict. On top of that Grand Prix San Jose is the same weekend. It's going to be a fairly strange event in Wisconsin this year particularly given how many of the best and brightest are going to be in San Jose. As for me I'm skipping Wisconsin States for only the third time in fifteen years; I just have to hit that PTQ.
So it is that on the weekend of one of my favorite events I won't be battling for the State Championship. For years Misty Mountain Games has made our States an awesome event and I'm sad I'll be missing it. The two previous years that I missed it Owen Turtenwald and Mike Hron won. Normally this would make me say something like "I expect Sam Black to win it!" But most of the names I'd insert there are going to be in California so it's going to be anyone's ball game.
Good luck everyone!
But what will you play?
Chapter 1: Rakdos
I've long loved B/R decks probably ever since Sol Malka's groundbreaking deck he nicknamed "Randal" from about twelve years ago. My fellow Cabal Rogue member Sol Malka is better known for this deck you might have heard of called The Rock but Randal was just a house. Built on the back of Sedge Troll (back when a 3/3 for three with an ability was utter insanity) the deck was a really intriguing midrange beatdown deck that just could dominate the table while smashing up your hand and burning down your things.
It was cool stuff.
These days we've gotten used to something different. The discard simply isn't as good and the burn is less exciting too but the creatures have become nothing short of insane. In the post-rotation madness "B/R Zombie" lists (now with fewer Zombies!) are one of the instant go-to lists for anyone looking for a solid beatdown deck.
Why this list? The easy answer is that it actually isn't that different than the one that existed in the world before. You get to run so many of the same cards that you actually get to short cut to near the head of the line because you know that the deck you are working with is at the very least a solid deck to consider. The way it works is so close to how it used to work that there is little in the way of disincentive for it.
Take this list from Chicago mage Joe Bernal:
- 4 Blood Artist
- 4 Diregraf Ghoul
- 4 Falkenrath Aristocrat
- 4 Geralf's Messenger
- 4 Gravecrawler
- 4 Rakdos Cackler
Here is a deck that seems like a simple clear update of the Zombies list of old Standard. Check out this curve:
1CC: Diregraf Ghoul Gravecrawler Rakdos Cackler
2CC: Blood Artist
3CC: Geralf's Messenger
4CC: Falkenrath Aristocrat
What do you have? Twelve two-power one-drops and a smattering of quality cards up the curve backed up by a ton of burn.
This is a solid plan that we've seen for a long while. Having that many one cost aggressive creatures often means you get to "cheat" a little on a real curve because you will often just have the other "ones" in hand to help fill out your curve at any point in the game.
As far as bets go this one is a safe one.
Joe talks about the deck for a good eight minutes. Check it out!
While I haven't watched how he lost to eventual Standard champion Todd Anderson I would expect he was just slowly ground out after the board was cleared.
In looking at his deck we see a fairly classic B/R deck: black for the powerful creatures and red for the burn. If the mana works this is a really common plan. There isn't much that I'd think about changing if I were to play Joe's deck. The biggest thing is the mana where I'm not certain that twelve "dual" lands are necessary to accomplish all that the splash is setting out to do.
It would take some grinding to figure out the exact numbers but I'm willing to bet that a few of the Guildgates could perhaps be Swamps. Maybe. My guess is that the likely number of Guildgates should be in order three then four then two. When it comes to small things like this this isn't really much of a switch by any means just a massaging really. A similar kind of massage could be applied to the burn but there I think the decisions are largely based on the needs of a metagame.
What if we don't want to be a true "Rakdos" deck but we'd rather be a red deck? What then?
Chapter 2: Rakdos Red
Joe Bernal comes from Chicago and Chicago has had a long history with red decks. In fact Joe himself like many a Chicago mage has played a fair amount of red. The first time I saw him have a finish with any kind of press coverage it was when Innistrad was released; he crushed the Swiss rounds of a SCG Standard Open with a red deck splashing in Kessig Wolf Run and Garruk Relentless. It was pretty awesome and he ended up in 9th place with the tiebreakers just barely keeping him out of the Top 8. Alas.
In that case though Joe splashed green to boost up the slightly tepid red aggressive cards with a little more pure power. This is the usual reason you splash in a Mono Red deck: you just want the power.
And so it is with the red-based aggro deck from Cincinnati piloted by Steven Wu. He has a Mono Red core to his deck but he just wanted to power it up.
- 4 Ash Zealot
- 4 Falkenrath Aristocrat
- 4 Gore-House Chainwalker
- 4 Rakdos Cackler
- 3 Stonewright
- 4 Vexing Devil
- 2 Zealous Conscripts
There really isn't much in the way of black in this deck if you really boil it down. In the maindeck you're looking at four Falkenrath Aristocrats much like we saw splashed for on the red side in the black-based deck played by Joe Bernal. For me Falkenrath Aristocrat just seems like a great call right now. The hasty flier is a huge deal in a world where Thragtusk can just rule the ground. Any aggressive deck worth its salt has to have a plan for Thragtusk. If you want a visual representation of how big a deal Thragtusk is here it is:
It is just seriously the biggest thing. Aristocrat helps deal with that. "To the air" is a completely legitimate way to attempt to trump (key word: "try") Thragtusk but you really need to get used to the concept that when you are an aggressive deck there are few things more damning than a card like Thragtusk which buttresses the life total provides a huge blocker and then when it departs leaves another one behind. At least Baneslayer Angel had the decency to have to wait before it gave the boost and if you removed it it didn't leave behind another problem.
It is problems like those that make me look at some of Steven Wu's choices with a little bit of a grimace.
The biggest grimace has to come from Vexing Devil. Vexing Devil is at its best when you can back it up with a crazy amount of damage. Otherwise the "choice" or "punisher"
elements of the card simply don't come to fruition. This makes a format like Legacy one of the more ideal places for the card. Even there though it just doesn't quite work out. Check out Patrick Sullivan's list from the SCG Legacy Open in Los Angeles:
If Patrick's deck isn't the place for Vexing Devils I really don't think Steven's is either. In a lot of ways this is good news for Steven's deck because I think this is an error that is actually quite sizable so the deck has a lot of room to improve. My first thought goes right to Stromkirk Noble which despite being a hard card to get through in the current metagame actually does have a huge upside in the current metagame and is fully able to take a game all by itself if given the chance.
The real drawbacks of a deck like Steven's though come to mind when looking at the mana which makes heavy use of black to the point of using Swamp all in order to put some anti-graveyard cards in the board and the primary anti-Thragtusk card available to Steven: Appetite for Brains.
Appetite for Brains is a completely reasonable choice in a lot of ways. It takes out all of white's sweepers and it gets rid of Thragtusk. But being discard it can also come late to the party which can be a real problem. Overall though I totally understand the inclusion of the card though every time I see a card like Swamp in a deck like this I ask myself if it's really worth it. I'm not certain…
Chapter 3: Non-Rakdos Red (Or Simply Red)
And so we get to the crazy concept of Mono Red without all of that Rakdos-ness mucking it up. What would a deck like that look like? And we ask ourselves the same question we asked with the black build: is it even worth it?
There is one minor though important reason to stay mono-colored: the small stumbles that funky multicolored land can produce can sometimes be just enough that you ever so barely lose as a result. Burn in Legacy is usually mono-colored in large part for this very reason. This is similar to the reason why Patrick Sullivan didn't play Vexing Devils: consistency.
Another reason that you usually stick with mono when it comes to your varieties of red is that you're looking to take advantage of the power of heavy red cards. Ball Lightning Koth of the Hammer Kargan Dragonlord and Fireblast are just a few of those cards we've seen in the past that truly reward you for your loyalty to the fire.
The last major reason that you usually stick with Mono Red is because of the variety of powerful colorless lands that you want to make use of. If we go all of the way back I'd say these have included the following: Strip Mine Mishra's Factory Wasteland Rishadan Port Mutavault Kher Keep Inkmoth Nexus Dust Bowl and Stalking Stones. I'm sure I missed a few but those are the big ones.
If we start with the colorless land even though there are numerous potential cards to be thinking about many of them are simply too expensive to seem like they'd be worth it (I'm looking at you Rogue's Passage). What this leaves us with is two cards: Cathedral of War and Hellion Crucible.
Each of these cards is really quite interesting in what it can do to a clock. One of the problems with red beatdown decks right now as opposed to black beatdown decks is that red decks simply have way fewer options when it comes to their really big one-drops. If you're red you have Rakdos Cackler but so does black. After that you're already on the back foot when it comes to the aggro race. This is not an exciting place to be particularly since the black-based decks still get access to your burn quite consistently. Having access to Cathedral of War can help build up your monsters certainly but the cost isn't fake: a comes-into-play tapped land is not the most exciting card for a deck that isn't packing poison.
Hellion Crucible is in some ways a little more interesting. If you can afford the colorless it gives you something to do with your mana if you flood out which is always a concern for an aggressive deck. In addition Hellion Crucible can actually be quite scary for a control deck which might clear away the table but then have to deal with a not-so-surprising creature that can eat a chunk of their life.
If we want to push into the use of these lands we might find ourselves going just a little bit bigger in our fight against opposing decks. Say something like this:
This is still in the brewing stage which is part of why it doesn't have a sideboard. One of the things that it does have going for it is a lot of reach. Between Thundermaw Hellkite Bonfire in a 26-mana deck Brimstone Volley and Stonewright you can just push out a ton of damage.
There is a way in which the deck is a little schizophrenic. Running Hellion Crucible Bonfire of the Damned or Thundermaw Hellkite in a deck with Rakdos Cackler almost feels like you are running at cross-purposes. The Cackler wants to end the game immediately whereas Hellkite and especially Crucible and Bonfire feel like long-term games. That being said it's hard to justify playing aggressive red (or black for that matter) without Rakdos Cackler in the mix. While this is a purposefully slower build in order to avoid by devastated by Thragtusk Hellkite and Bonfire aren't exactly poor cards to draw when you're pushing an aggressive draw provided you have the mana.
It doesn't take much of a shift to make the curve go lower and more aggressive though. Try out this build:
This list is definitely less concerned about the long game and hopes to make use of Pyreheart Wolf and Hellrider as a means to push in that last damage. Thundermaw Hellkite again makes a small appearance but only as a slight touch at the top end.
If you haven't played against Pyreheart Wolf one thing I discovered in playing against it is that it is incredibly frustrating to play against particularly when powerful burn is being used to keep the board relatively clear. If it didn't have undying it would just be a nuisance but the fact that it sticks around makes it a true Pillar rod.
I'm sure you have played against Hellrider and you might remember just how scary that card can be when it's paired with an aggressive start. This deck is able to provide just that kind of start so Hellrider is a very scary card. If you really want to push the haste fitting in Rakdos Shred-Freak over Thundermaw Hellkite can help things out here but I struggle to imagine cutting down the Hellkites because they are just that impressive.
Of course which path is worth the most?
I think the clear safe option is heavy on black like Joe Bernal did in Cincinnati. There are however a lot of people who really want to be playing with red cards if not Mono Red. But if we really want to take advantage of the cards that Wizards is currently printing it does seem like there are some really good reasons to play with black in what would otherwise primarily be a red-based deck.
Here is a deck that tries to do just that but might just be a little wilder than the others. Unlike the previous two lists I haven't tested this one. It is all brew.
Until next week
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