A few months ago Patrick Chapin was visiting New York City staying—along with Andrew Cuneo Sam Black & co.—at Jonny Magic's house in preparation for Pro Tour Avacyn Restored. I spent as much time as I could with Pat outliving playtest sessions and even skipping out on Movie Klub one night.
Patrick and I ended up at Katz's Delicatessen and spent the evening going over various rapport building and advanced communication techniques. You may already know that I think that a hallmark of successful people is that they ask better questions (that is how they elicit the information they need). Patrick agreed with my belief on most any "why" question. Curious people—even smart people—tend to be obsessed with why this or why that... But "why" itself tends to be a low utility question.
Patrick framed it better than I ever could:
That said "why" isn't a universally bad question or anything; I tend not to frame the world in why or should (rather is and "what are we going to do about it")... But you should in fact query "why" when you want to know somebody's story—their perspective. Don't rely on "why" when you actually want to know something useful or particularly actionable though.
That is the preamble to today's
Flores Friday MichaelJ Monday Makeup. Today we are going to go over five or so well-formed questions and see what we can take away from them in the current Standard.
And just one caveat before we go on: I am as guilty as the next person in terms of using "why" (even when I actually "don't mean it"); I rarely mean it rather am still in the process of undoing 30+ years of lazy language.
To wit contrast the first two or three questions:
Answer: Will Price told me to.
This question is actually interesting because (like many "why" questions) it also features a presupposition; that is you have to assume certain information (like that I played Lone Revenant) in order to ask it.
I did play Lone Revenant at States. This was my list:
The deck mostly did what it was supposed to do (other than my Delvers seemingly never flipped in close games). Annoying stuff: 1) I was slow playing around a Geist of Saint Traft and a Precinct Captain for several turns after taking out a turn 2 Thalia (obviously milking for the turn 5 Bonfire of the Damned); my opponent played his second Thalia on turn 5 on the play. Not turn 4 (would have shot it over the free turn); not turn six (after I got the three-for-one to end the game). Turn five when it put me in an impossible blocks situation... 2) That time I stalled on two and missed on consecutive Augur of Bolas drops... and 3) That time I checked my graveyard about fifteen cards deep from Desperate Ravings and Thought Scours and realized that I had a Dragon down there and not one land. I ended up winning that one but not that game.
Anyway what happened was that the night before I got a weird text message from my old buddy + apprentice / former Top 8 Magic brand manager Will Price (WillPop / SloppyStack) about the U/R Delver list.
"You need one Elixir of Immortality."
I mean the number of viable Constructed decks in the history of viable Constructed decks that need Elixir of Immortality you can probably count on one hand. Nick Spagnolo's original B/U Control (which had Trinket Mage to hunt it up) some versions of Battle of Wits (more on that later) and not a whole lot more.
"Why do you think I need Elixir of Immortality?"
Will had been testing the deck online and thought it was super good (thanks Will!) but he had gotten decked more than once by opponents who were just trying to kill all his threats. That kind of made sense... Even a durable Dragon like Niv-Mizzet Dracogenius is going to have problems with targeted black removal and the rest of the squad is 1/3 or smaller on the backside. Plus you are often binning your own threats with Thought Scour and Desperate Ravings.
... But I didn't really accept that Elixir of Immortality was going to be the solution. Among other problems you might just bin it. And unlike some of the Cuneo solution builds there was no Buried Ruin to lean back on.
Accepting he might be right I forced Will to come up with some different options and it was Will who himself suggested Lone Revenant.
Do you see how "Will Price told me to" is a perfectly acceptable answer to this question? It's actually pretty common to see answers like this in Magic media when people talk about the technological leaps that produce great deck results and I think part of that is that they get asked questions whereby these are actually perfectly acceptable.
How about we ask the question that we actually want answered:
So not only is Destroy All Monsters a perfectly acceptable [Standard] strategy that has benefitted not only guys like Caleb Durward but every Mono-Black Control player ever it seems like a particularly persuasive option for control aficionados in a world with compromised Counterspell options.
We can all easily imagine say a midrange Jund opponent throwing every Tragic Slip Abrupt Decay and Bonfire of the Damned at our poor squad...probably with a Dreadbore or so for poor Dracogenius now Marked for Death.
I didn't actually test Lone Revenant prior to States but it turned out to be awesome!
I let my [predominantly Zombies] opponents trade cards with all my early Delvers and Augurs and handsome Tiagos and then I found myself with just one fella. And when he got through... Good night!
I am not sure that Lone Revenant is "better" than Niv-Mizzet Dracogenius for what we want to do but it was awfully good. Its insane durability (can cleanly block any 3/3 out of Junk / Selesnya / Reanimator / etc.) plus synergy with tons of cheap instants / removal make it one of the most underrated threats in Standard. While I did in fact lose to double Falkenrath Aristocrat via Cavern of Souls with Lone Revenant in play (sorry Dissipate) I don't think I lost a game where I actually connected and Impulsed with one.
You will notice that while this explanation is more useful than "Will told me to play it" if you actually want to get "my story" rather than some higher utility understanding of working on and developing a deck the "why" question will give you what you want. ;)
The best pure threat in Standard at this point is probably the green five-drop Thragtusk. It is so good that Reanimator decks consider it a front-line threat. They are happy to turn 4 it (and then turn 5 it probably) treating it in the same "combo target" vein as a 187 Angel or Griselbrand. In fact some play Thragtusk and no Griselbrand at all!
Some creature decks top-end on Thragtusk. They play fair and Play Fair and PLAY FAIR and the fairest one of all is a 5/3 five-drop. The most unfair thing they do is combine Thraggy with Resto Angel and everyone holds hands and... I dunno... Blocks some Zombies.
The original version of my sideboard played the Maximum Number of the card Dungeon Geists. Dungeon Geists is a very good card against fair or to an extent even Reanimator (verging on unfair) decks with Thragtusk. It is very difficult to beat Thragtusk playing on a traditional card economy or even Who's the Beatdown? axis; a deck like U/R Delver can beat a Thragtusk deck by hook and by crook and by Counterspell... But my deck in particular only has two Syncopates tons of card drawing but not a whole lot work drawing into if the opponent is just mono fatties. That means that you have relatively few legitimate ways to "control" their best beatdown. Conversely if you are the beatdown (seeing as you will start on a 3/2 on turn 1 and all) they arguably have better control elements to halt stall counter and trump your attackers. You lose both ways.
If you go Dungeon Geists though you can sidestep the typical Who's the Beatdown? dilemma. While fair Thragtusk decks can essentially play both sides (they have both better offense and better anti-offensive options) card drawing into Dungeon Geists allows you to simultaneously answer whatever threats they have (best or no) while racing them with decently sized flyers. You just have to avoid getting out-carded...but then again you are the deck with sixteen two-for-ones.
I tested a bit on the side against Junk Reanimator and lost most of them (hi Alan!); we didn't board but then again I didn't have Dungeon Geists anymore. If you can willpower yourself into playing against just small creatures (White Weenie W/U Aggro Zombies) and U/W or U/R/W Control you are in great position to make a run for Top 8. However my U/R Delver is flat-out bad against anything bigger than a 3/3. Izzet Charm doesn't counter an Angel of Serenity and there is little more frustrating than tag teaming an Izzet Charm and a Pillar of Flame to give the opponent yet another 3/3 that can't be killed in a single shot (but sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do).
U/W/R—which was the leading deck coming into States—is actually your best matchup. They are on exactly the same wrong side of the Who's the Beatdown? dilemma that you are on facing a fair Thragtusk deck. You are clearly faster on offense (3/2 on turn 1 or even an Augur of Bolas to start is a great start as their first proactive play is probably turn 4). Your interactive spells all "do something" (including Izzet Charm which holds in check their nuts planeswalkers and miracles) and it is hard for them to play control because you have so much card drawing.
What makes life so tough is a Bant Control deck (or a Ceta Control deck I suppose...all Thragtusks and Izzet Charms of their own). Instead of Pillar of Flame they have—you guessed it—Thragtusk. So you are in the same boat as against a fair Thragtusk deck but all your tools to tempo them out are trumped by their baseline strategy. The more you commit to Dungeon Geists the worse it is when they have Terminus or Supreme Verdict. You have 3/3 flyers and they have tons and tons of 4/4 flyers. You can't even try to go over them with Lone Revenant Shenanigans because their style of creature suppression—mostly resolving sweepers instead of pointing one-for-ones like red-x removal—doesn't care about hexproof.
Like I said if you can willpower all your matchups—say in a short tournament like FNM—U/R Delver is superb. But the more—and especially the more kinds—of Thragtusk decks (like in a long tournament like States) the more you have an uphill battle in front of you.
You have probably been reading about how cards like Slaughter Games "have never been good." I actually have a hard time reading some of these reviews. Not only have cards of this style (starting with Cranial Extraction) basically always been good they have always been 1) insane and 2) played by the most successful decks often in the most interesting ways.
Burned into my memory from Cranial Extraction's Block PT debut is a third round feature match between Hall of Famer Brian Kibler and awesome deck designer and PT champion Osyp Lebedowicz. In the deciding game 3 Kibler played a turn 3 Cranial Extraction naming Yosei the Morning Star...of which Osyp had two in his hand. Like many players today Osyp was complaining about how the card wasn't good. And yet there it was having annihilated any chances of his opening hand being good and in fact playing an absolutely crushing Hymn to Tourach impression.
In the same era I was quite the vociferous Cranial Extraction fan playing it in not only the oft noted Jushi Blue of States 2005 as a three-of (it was the deciding card of my failed mirror against eventual New York State Champion Julian Levin) but Josh Ravitz's Kuroda-style Red of US Nationals. Kuroda-style Red had a medium matchup against the dominant Tooth and Nail of the era but a black splash off of Wayfarer's Bauble and Tendo Ice Bridge made a single black for Cranial Extraction a simple way to cut off Tooth and Nail's Stage Three many turns ahead of the game.
And of course in the all-Guillaume finals of the B/U World Championships we saw Memoricides on either side of the best two finishes in the room.
And now one that can't be countered?
In a format with Blood Crypt and generally easy mana fixing?
And still we have the naysaying for this kind of card?
I think I saw perhaps the best case for the card given the presumed dominance of Jace Architect of Thought. One player "let" the other player go nutso with Jace card advantage. In fact he gave him good Jace piles...which racked his hand up with not only juicy targets but great information for the Slaughter Games mage. Slaughter Games can't be countered. Jace decks tend to be thin on ways to win.
Side note: Poorly asked "why" question false presupposition checkmate.
This has little to do with States or the discussion at hand to this point but it was just so awesome I had to add it.
The night of States I came home and decided to test a new Bant Battle of Wits deck (which I will write about soon possibly later this week). The incentive to this deck beyond being a Battle of Wits deck is that it can actually fit all the jazz necessary for a third turn Jace Architect of Thought and play all the toys you want for Thragtusk + Restoration Angel (and every other incentive that comes with those two cards in the same sentence). In fact you have room for like 200 more cards after you play everything you already want to play.
So I am up playing super late tuning up my Bant Battle game after game and recording what I think might be interesting.
Insane comeback versus Selesnya Midrange. He is all early gas + Rancor and draws multiple Thragtusks and multiple Rancors. He totally has me on the ropes but I have a reasonably fast Supreme Verdict kick a Cyclonic Rift (surprising that you can even lose a game you get that off) and more sweep.
I breathe a sigh of relief.
My opponent applies Rancor and sends.
I really wish I had asked myself how Chris Manning would have blocked. Chris Manning was a terror of FinkelDraft the last Ravnica drafting all kinds of defensive Selesnya decks. He made Top 8 of US Nationals the same year as Josh actually.
Chris would have blocked with both Wurms.
Even blocking with the Armada Wurm itself would have been better.
Perhaps I had a Restoration Angel in hand. Maybe that would have made me feel better but I honestly don't recall.
I put the token in front of the Rancorous Thragtusk.
He tapped an Overgrown Tomb THAT I TOTALLY DIDN'T SEE A SECOND EARLIER to Abrupt Decay my token and rumbled over for the kill.
Every part of the buffalo. Consider every Wurm. Ask better questions.