And I believe this may call for a proper introduction, and well
Don't you see, I'm the narrator, and this is just the prologue?
For those of you who've followed my work over the last few years, you know what to expect from me. I break myself down each and every week, picking through the choicest bits just for your enjoyment (and intellectual nourishment). I bring you new decks, new (and changing) technology for various formats, and honesty above all else. I try my best to spice things up every now and then with a bit of poetry, but my passion lies with Magic, and that is always the center of attention. Of course, we will get sidetracked on occasion...
Some people have described some of my more "personal" articles as difficult to read. I will agree that, on occasion, those kinds of articles are more important to the author as opposed to the people reading them. The articles I tend to write about family, lifestyle changes, and inner struggle are therapeutic, though I (genuinely) try to include sufficient Magical content, with or without the occasional gratuitous scene.
I don't always make the best decisions.
Since 2009, I have been writing for this fine website, and it honors me to be able to bring this piece to you on the Premium side, as well as many more to come! However, the Playtesting Videos featuring myself and Brian Braun-Duin will continue on the Select side. While there will be a bit of awkward overlap, I think it is important to have that kind of detailed information readily available to anyone who wants to visit StarCityGames.com.
Brian and I love making the Playtest Videos, and we look forward to them every week. We make them to be entertaining, but above all else we want them to be tools that are readily available for anyone to view. We want to showcase interesting decks, discuss important aspects of gameplay, and figure out just how certain matchups tend to play out. We want to bring you deck techs to give you insight into certain card choices, and give you sideboarding advice based on our experiences. And lastly, we want you to learn from our mistakes!
We are not always right in our assumptions, and we don't always make the right plays, but I want these videos to become learning tools so you don't repeat our blunders. I want these videos to become ingrained in your weekly routine. I want you to recommend these videos to your friends who are just getting into Standard and need help figuring out what deck(s) to play. I want these videos to inspire, and to be educational. It is my passion to teach. It is also my passion to play Magic (which is evident by sticking with the game for over a decade). Conveniently, I get to do both in every article I write and video I record. In essence, I am living the dream, and I have no one to thank but the people who come back each and every week for more.
Your hunger and your drive to get better at this (truly unique) game is what inspires me to write and to keep writing. Your questions and constructive voices are sugar to the senses, and the only reason I am constantly improving as a player and writer. Magic: the Gathering is a wonderful game, and I couldn't ask for a better audience.
P.S. If you have never read an article of mine before, I recommend reading the first half of my article "Trust."
Swear to shake it up if you swear to listen.
Just because I am on the Premium side of things now doesn't mean anything is going to change. I'm the same guy who wrote about Illusions, Mono-Green Dungrove, and Delver: the Compendium*. I still love to play Magic, and my goal is to share basically every bit of relevant information that I come across. The topic of choice is generally whatever I think is most important, but it is difficult to write when one is not inspired. Luckily, there are a lot of different subjects to write about!
Over the next....well, for the foreseeable future, I plan on writing about Standard, Modern, and Legacy until my fingers bleed. With Return to Ravnica being torn off the shelves at such a rapid pace, I can only assume that you would be excited to see some of the new cards in action! The deck I played in Cin City the weekend before last got a ton of attention. I'm glad to see such enthusiasm about the new Standard format, because Return to Ravnica pays homage to one of my favorite blocks of all time. I'm genuinely excited to play Standard, and I know the same can be said for Gerry Thompson, Brad Nelson, and BBD too! While there are a lot of elements of Innistrad Block currently dominating the current crop of decks, we won't be able to fully appreciate Return to Ravnica until we've had more time to build and play with it.
Magic is a complicated game.
With Return to Ravnica being released on Magic Online last week, I was able to procure some of the new spoils and get to work on some decks! Thanks to my extensive Modern collection, I have access to virtually any manabase because the shocklands are reprints. I've been keeping track of what's been performing up to snuff, as well as playing a lot with various brews and established archetypes. My current favorite deck in the format is B/G Zombies (big shocker)! Here are some things I've learned about the deck over the last week:
1. Crippling Blight is amazing against any deck with creatures. Removing a blocker or killing an early threat for a single mana is very powerful in a deck as aggressive as this. Tempo is important with Zombies, so (effective) removal for a single mana is strong.
2. Rancor is an absolute powerhouse, and I want to play with four in virtually every aggressive deck. Zombies utilizes Rancor with resilient creatures, as you are not afraid to trade in combat. With Jace, Architect of Thought being in the format, having a way to pump your small monsters is important, lest you have your entire team be reduced to Squires.
3. I want to play with twelve one-drops, as Rakdos Cackler is not that much worse than Diregraf Ghoul. The added aggression will allow Rancor and Crippling Blight to do great things. Most decks in Standard can't handle such an early onslaught of creatures, and especially so when their stabilizing threat (aka Thragtusk) is reduced to rubble via Crippling Blight.
4. Guildgates are awesome, even in aggressive decks. With so many efficient threats, it is generally fine to play a one-drop on the first turn, followed by a Guildgate and another one-drop on the second turn. This will allow you to slam down a Rancor or Dreg Manlger on the third turn, right on curve. While you will have the occasional awkward draw where your lands all come into play tapped, I think the drawback is worth it to make sure you are able to cast your Rancors and Golgari Charms.
Here is my current list:
- 4 Diregraf Ghoul
- 4 Dreg Mangler
- 4 Geralf's Messenger
- 4 Gravecrawler
- 3 Highborn Ghoul
- 4 Lotleth Troll
- 4 Rakdos Cackler
The deck is light on removal because the format is light on creatures that are a "must kill." Tragic Slip doesn't always defeat what you need it to, or those creatures are much better served by neutering them and keeping them in play.
Crippling Blight is a card that I didn't think would see much constructed play, but after experiencing the interaction it has with Thragtusk I was immediately sold. Sure, some things can obviously go wrong, and Restoration Angel is still a problem, but there's not a lot you can do about that. You're an aggressive deck that tends to turn all of your creatures sideways every turn. After all, that is one of the reasons why Crippling Blight and Rancor are so good in the deck. When blocking is virtually an afterthought, all you care about is making your creatures more important and harder to deal with. When you can overwhelm your opponent with an early swarm, Crippling Blight is the card you want to take care of whatever (creature-based) obstacle they throw in front of you.
While Zombies didn't win either of the two StarCityGames.com Standard Opens held thus far, I don't think it will be held down for very long. The deck is overwhelmingly fast, resilient to traditional removal, and has nearly unbeatable nut draws. With the right build and the right pilot, the deck is virtually unstoppable. I expect to see Zombies taking home a trophy in the very near future (and possibly in my hands!).
While most of the cards in the B/G Zombie deck seem familiar by now, there are a couple of stragglers to discuss before moving on.
Highborn Ghoul - Without Gut Shot in the format, I think Highborn Ghoul should see more play than it currently is. There are a lot of matchups where your opponent will drop some creature that invalidates your army of small animals. Highborn Ghoul can swing through most of those nuisances and is a Zombie to boot! Rakdos Shred-Freak was my pick for the best two-drop slot after Lotleth Troll in our playtest videos, but he underperformed. Haste was powerful, but being "unblockable" is a bit better.
Dead Weight - This is a card that Brad Nelson has talked about a reasonable amount. I think it is better than Tragic Slip for a few reasons, but I think Crippling Blight beats out both of them. However, you still want a few more removal spells, and Dead Weight is solid. Without Fume Spitter or Mortarpod in the deck anymore, Morbid isn't an ability we can trigger very easily. Even your opponent's removal spells all say "Exile" or "Bottom/Top of the deck." After all, there is a reason that most Zombie decks now avoid Blood Artist like the plague! While Tragic Slip is still fine, I think we can do better. At the very least, I just want to play more creatures! Unfortunately, playing without Tragic Slip makes us more vulnerable to Olivia Voldaren, but we have to pick our battles.
Appetite for Brains - This card is very similar to Duress in a lot of ways. However, Appetite for Brains hits certain cards that are more relevant to what you are trying to do. Appetite for Brains can take care of the oh-so-annoying Thragtusk as well as back-breakers like Olivia Voldaren. The fact that it still takes away Wrath effects and Planeswalkers helps it get the nod (for now). I'm not sold on it just yet, but the argument for Appetite has merit, and I'm willing to give it a chance.
Cremate - Just your run-of-the-mill answer to Unburial Rites, except this gets to draw you a card! I toyed around with Tormod's Crypt, but drawing a card can be huge, and there aren't too many decks where you need to remove someone's entire graveyard. I might consider adding a third (and possibly fourth) copy to the sideboard since the Unburial Rites into Angel of Serenity strategy is quite powerful against Zombies. I like Cremate a lot, and I especially like it in a format where Unburial Rites is a reasonable game-plan.
Sever the Bloodline - This is more of a theory tester than anything, but I felt like the B/G version really lacked a solid card for the mirrors. The red versions have Pillar of Flame, which can be huge in the right situations, but we usually do our best to ignore removal spells and keep on truckin'. Sever can obliterate an opponent's board presence in the mirror, but it has other significant uses. Against decks like Miracles, Entreat the Angels can be a particularly devastating card, and having a pair of answers is nice. Additionally, Esper Token decks have been cropping up on Magic Online lately, and Sever works wonders against them. Since Ultimate Price isn't that great, and Murder already costs three mana, I figured having access to Sever the Bloodline would be a small sacrifice to be able to exile creatures, as well as hit multiples.
So we'll pick back up on that on another page
While B/G Zombies has been my go-to deck for the last few weeks (or months), I can't forget about Miracles. I don't think the deck will dominate Standard for a few reasons, but mostly because it has an incredibly difficult time interacting with the opponent on their turn! This means the deck is weak to an exorbitant number of cards, and likely won't survive if the field adapts.
I would be lying to you if I told you that I'd picked up the deck since winning the Open in Cincinnati, but that is mostly due to my infatuation with the plethora of other decks in Standard. I haven't gotten to try out much since the release of RtR, but my gut tells me that Miracles isn't the best we can do! As I mentioned in my article last week, I got incredibly lucky on a few occasions with said Miracle mechanic, but that is the nature of the deck. While the cards are incredibly powerful when you Miracle them, they work best in a deck that can utilize them in virtually any game. That is one of the reasons why the Miracle deck is so good, but there is such a wide range of threats in Standard, and it is difficult to prepare for them all!
For Cincinnati, we thought that Zombies would be huge, so we built our deck accordingly. Pillar of Flame was a must, even though it was the only (actual) Red card in the deck. Alongside Azorius Charm and Detention Sphere, it gave you the early removal necessary to beat the aggro decks we expected to face. Since all three of those spells can get rid of a Geralf's Messenger or Gravecrawler without sending it to the graveyard, we felt like we were in business.
Now that the cat is out of the bag, and the format is fleshing itself out a bit, we're left with a few problems. This is a short list of cards that occasionally beat the pants off of us:
If you'll take notice, all of these cards are in two colors that are very popular right now. Selesnya is everywhere, and can really punish Miracles when built correctly. There are so many creatures that are problematic for us, because most of our removal is sorcery speed or situational! While all of these creatures are vulnerable to Supreme Verdict, it is difficult to justify playing in a world full of Zombies! Zombies is the reason why you can't lean on Supreme Verdict in U/W Control, since their Lotleth Trolls can regenerate, and so many other creatures are still valuable even when they're dead/dying! You are probably going to have a tough Game 1 against either G/W or Zombies, and really, you just have to choose. If you want to play more Supreme Verdicts, I wouldn't blame you. Just know that you will probably lose to Zombies if you start cutting cards like Pillar of Flame!
I will say that I'm not comfortable with any Miracle list at the moment, but I do appreciate adding more counterspells to the deck. Dissipate can handle a lot of your problems, and Cavern of Souls isn't seeing nearly as much play as it has in the last few months. Without Mana Leak in the format, people aren't nearly as afraid of countermagic as they should be. Honestly, I don't think Cavern of Souls is that good, and I'm glad people have begun to adapt without it. Not only does that allow me to play more counterspells, but it helps decks flourish when they can try out new weapons! Joe Bernal's deck from the SCG Open in Cincinnati was marvelous, proving just what adding a full secondary color to Zombies can do! His ability to play that much burn in his almost-Mono-Black aggro deck was....exhilarating!
Casting off-color spells should be a high priority, which means leaning more on Guildgates. This is great news for blue mages, so get to work! Don't be afraid to try out a mix of Syncopate and Dissipate, as both are solid answers to a lot of the midrange threats people are throwing at you! With everyone trying to "get bigger" than everyone else, having a counterspell for their biggest threat will go a long way towards winning you the game. There are so many spells that are just devastating if they resolve, so you need to be ready with answers to them. There is a world of difference between countering a Thragtusk, and allowing it to hit play!
Good, good now we're making some progress
For years, I've tried my best to excel at this wonderful game we play. Only recently have I had much success, and most of that credit goes to my friends and my wonderful, loving wife. While my actions and words haven't always been my greatest allies, I constantly strive to become a better person. I owe everything in my life to those around me that care about me, and continue to believe in me. I appreciate all the heartfelt messages from everyone, even through the all the static.
After all, I am no stranger to the taste of my own foot. I'm just glad you keep giving me more chances to prove my worth.
Thanks for reading!
strong sad on Magic Online
@strong_sad on Twitter
Lyrics by Panic! at the Disco: "The Only Difference Between Martyrdom And Suicide Is Press Coverage"
*Delver, the Compendium is not an actual book, though it could easily become one by compiling the countless articles I wrote about the deck over the last year.