There are cards that you see which just kind of take your imagination. This is an article about following that kind of inspiration to where it takes you wherever it takes you.
And for this article that card is of course Ranger's Path.
Yes Ranger's Path.
I'd seen the card and in the new world I knew that it was likely to be one of the best ramp spells available to brewers and tinkerers unless something new came to the mix. As rumors from Return to Ravnica began to emerge it became more and more likely that we'd start seeing the Ravnica duals. For a card like Ranger's Path that's definitely a huge increase in value for the card.
After it came out when I was exploring the newest set Epic Experiment was an incredibly exciting card in a lot of ways but it didn't have the sheer clarity of Genesis Wave or other cards like it (Warp World comes to mind) because these silly little things called "land" would get in the way of Epic Experiment. With Farseek also in the mix I decided to look at all of the different ways to ramp that I could find and figure out if there was something that was possible with an Epic Ramp deck or not.
Despite whatever paths other people took it seems like there ended up being many of us on the same general path.
Parallel Development or Simultaneous Exploration
One of the big truths in Magic is that there are very few things that only one person comes to on their own. I had a shell of an idea for Epic Experiment before the State Championship event but I didn't have anything at all finished. I just knew I wanted ramp Epic Experiment and some way to kill the opponent.
I tinkered with the list to enough of a rough point that I decided to take the plunge and get the cards on Magic Online to be able to play it. After my first game where my Jund Ramp opponent just seemed helpless to everything I did I knew that there was something to what I was doing even if there were parts of it that were clunky. Next game my opponent managed to use the ultimate ability of Tamiyo and had countermagic and I still won. Easily.
There was something here.
At work I shared it with my friend and old Cabal Rogue confidant Brian Kowal. "It's still very rough Brian but there's something here!" He asked a few questions we discussed some of my experiences and we vowed to get into checking more into it together after we broke Modern. Then it was back to work and after work back to Magic Online queues to test.
A few days later I was playing someone and they said "Woo's deck is pretty neat huh?"
It was time for a trip online where I quickly caught up with Travis Woo's attempt to break Epic Experiment and discovered that the deck had also already been used by another player Alex Wennerberg to Top 8 the Missouri State Championship.
There was something here.
Not much later Mike Flores wrote about his version the "funnest" version of the deck. "Great minds think alike" quipped Brian Kowal in the comments trying to troll perhaps one or maybe both of us at once.
This is the thing: Mike Alex and I were all working on the same concept without knowing that the others were doing it. Travis Woo seeing Alex's work made a few moves that were really intriguing and similar to work Mike and I had done all independently.
When you're following an idea in Magic there are a lot of times that it's going to lead to a dead end; some things simply don't work. But when you're going down a lonely path into the new and you meet other people who have found that path too there is some real evidence that what you're chasing is worth paying attention to.
For the brewer one of the things that can happen in testing is that you'll lose with your new idea. Perhaps you'll even lose often. So unless you're a real degenerate who clings onto the concept of different for difference's sake you abandon paths that dry up. The nature of rigorous playtesting tends to filter out the really poor ideas. Still some ideas may well be marginal but have some kernel of promise.
When you get evidence of this it doesn't mean that the deck you're working on is definitely good. But it is evidence that there is something real and true in the core of what you're working on.
Back in 2008 I wrote about Deck Discovery and Collective Intelligence and said this the essence of which I still think is true:
I'm not 100% certain who first described Magic deck "building" and "invention" as actually a process of discovery though I believe it was former R&D member Randy Buehler. The objects that constitute the legal universe of a format are finite and countable. Standard is currently comprised of 1486 cards Extended 5036 Legacy 9886 Vintage 9938 the last PTQ Block 897 and the most recent Block Shards of Alara 234. This pool of cards that deckbuilders create from exists before the deckbuilder even sits down at the table. If we were to wipe everyone's minds and give them the spoiler for all of Standard the decks would again be "found."
Everything is already out there—you just have to find it. With the right kind of hard work what you find can even be valuable.
Armed with the work of Travis Woo and Alex Wennerberg I set about revising my first build.
Synthesis: You Want It All...
Here is Alex's deck which initially inspired Travis:
Woo's build was clearly based on the core of Alex's deck but it went an entirely different direction and actually looked like it was committing pretty hard core to a lot of different victory conditions. This was helped immensely by the fact that Increasing Devotion is also very good at helping to stabilize games as well as being a potential path to victory.
What I was looking for as I looked at these decks was a way to influence my own build of the deck with evidence. Just how much colored mana of which types did these two players decide to go with? How many accelerators?
I had some fundamental disagreements with the path to victory that both players had come to. Even more so I disagreed with some small core elements. I wanted to see what I could learn.
Here was my third version of Epic Experiment:
2 Mana Bloom
4 Ranger's Path
2 Boundless Realms
3 Amass the Components
2 Jace Architect of Thought
3 Mizzium Mortars
2 Devastation Tide
4 Epic Experiment
4 Temporal Mastery
2 Psychic Spiral
4 Hinterland Harbor
3 Steam Vents
1 Rootbound Crag / Sulfur Falls ?
1 Desolate Lighthouse
As you can see I was still working on the mana a little bit but the rest of the deck after taking some lessons from Woo and Wennerberg felt like it might be pretty solid. I'd change my mind after some more testing but the core felt solid.
A part of that core was the acceleration package. I'd been unhappy with only four Farseeks and Travis Woo's inclusion of Mana Bloom just seemed really fabulous. I was still not 100% sure of it but I really loved it. I'd only had three Ranger's Path and had gone with three Boundless Realms but after looking at both of their lists I shifted to the 4/2 configuration that you see here.
Clearly I was not using a fourth color. I had tried it initially and even with Ranger's Path I wasn't convinced that the extra color gave you the stability you needed. In Wennerberg's list the black is basically only really there for flashback on Forbidden Alchemy a card that I was not all that excited about. In Woo's deck the white is a bit more substantive supporting Increasing Devotion and Terminus. If you're happy with your ability to create stability and you're using a reasonable kill spell I don't know that you need the white.
The big disagreement I have with both of these builds is in the working pieces.
Think Twice? Really?
Think Twice is not a card I'd be excited about hitting when casting an Epic Experiment. Think Twice is not even a card that is exciting in control decks unless they're fighting against another control deck. Think Twice is not a card that I want in a controlling deck if I'm fighting against an aggressive deck.
I think that one of the things that happened is that there was a narrow window where Think Twice was actually a very useful card and where it did a job that mattered. After that window closed people just failed to notice.
My deck actually uses a ton of card drawing (including two non-Epic-able cards in the form of Jace Architect of Thought). A part of this is related to a small detail in my kill spell (Psychic Spiral) which is nice to ship away with an Amass the Components if you're not ready to win yet. A part of it is that card draw is just good. If you're doing card draw in preparation for an Epic Experiment Think Twice is just an anemic way to do it. If you're doing card draw during an Epic Experiment Think Twice is shamefully weak. If you're doing card draw as a means to refill with threats Think Twice is basically a push against a control deck slightly more resilient but slower and against a non-control deck Think Twice just gets dominated by Divination (not to mention Amass).
About the only thing that Think Twice can do that matters is trigger the "super lucky" miracle draw that you're never be able to plan on.
Even worse is Flores's use of Desperate Ravings that he posted later that same week which is an overall stronger card than Think Twice but with the terrible drawback of maybe just maybe throwing away your incredibly important card that you were counting on. You don't have the option to just "not cast it if your hand is good" if you're looking for a card draw spell.
Try it out for yourself. Jam some actual card draw spell in there. I expect you'll never look back.
The other card that really drove me crazy was Increasing Vengeance which is basically just a greedier worse Reverberate. Why greedier and worse? Well while it's true that for twelve mana you can get three Temporal Mastery (and twelve is an amount you can hit) getting the flashback of Increasing Vengeance is not a critical part of what you need to do to overwhelmingly win. When you are Reverberating a Temporal Mastery at that point in the game an extra Temporal Mastery doesn't actually do anything for you. But importantly Reverberating their spell can be huge.
I think that the kill condition is a really difficult question. I've continued to vacillate between all manners of kill. Devil's Play has a lot of appeal to me because it can be used as a control element before the point where you're looking to win the game. A part of the reason that I ended up with Psychic Spiral is that I tried the card out and found that it was supplying these incredibly crazy kills with so little mana that I was able to crush control decks that were theoretically going to take the game on the back of countermagic after they had survived the initial rush. Also the "partial go off" of Epic Experiment because of Psychic Spiral tended to just guarantee a win eventually even if the game wasn't "officially" over.
Of course there were a few dabs of trouble in paradise. I'd cut a few cards to Double-W (Woo and Wennerberg) my list and I found that I was missing them quite a bit. The big one was Izzet Charm. I'd been running Izzet Charm in all of the initial lists that I'd been trying. To make room for the Reverberates that I'd included (and liked) I'd cut the Izzet Charms and I could really feel the loss of the card.
Izzet Charm does a lot of work for a deck like this with each of the modes of the card actually being useful. Particularly missed was the ability to just take out random early creatures from an aggressive deck.
Another thing I had noticed was that since I'd gone to four Ranger's Path it was just too much. One of the things that both Woo and Wennerberg get out of Ranger's Path is the ability to fix their mana more particularly Woo with his heavy substantive reliance on white. For my deck what I got was...more Forests. Hmm. This was just not quite good enough.
Here is the list now with the modifications based on more testing:
This list has been playing out well and I'm happy with it but I can definitely tell that it needs some tweaking.
Right now the things I'm mostly thinking about are whether or not I want to include more Mana Bloom the land mix and count how many Ranger's Path and Boundless Realms to run the mix of card draw the choice between Psychic Spiral and Devil's Play and whether or not to run any maindeck planeswalkers. I largely view Jace as being a solid potential control card overall and Chandra as a walking alternate Fork (or Reverberate if you prefer).
The details of this are really things that just take time and grinding.
Siding generally comes in one of three forms.
The first is to add just a touch more removal or planeswalkers to fight against a deck which you are fundamentally already good against. With this plan you just trim a little here and there and are good to go.
The second is to add in an alternate path but stay largely intact. In this case sideboarding in four Thragtusk will usually do sometimes with a little more help on top of it in the form of one or two cards.
The third is just to side in all fifteen cards and side out the entirety of the combo.
Antithesis: ...And You Can't Have It
This is for me the troubling turn in the deck. The deck that really seemed to be the one I wanted to be playing was the switcheroo sideboard build. Right now after having played the Epic Experiment deck a lot it's interesting to discover that the path that I've been on might be one I'd be abandoning to essentially build some version of this:
Obviously very little of Reid Duke's deck is still legal. The thing about that deck though is that it was a resilient and powerful thing to fight against. Epic Experiment feels powerful but it doesn't feel resilient.
What it boils down to is a question of incentives. The Epic Experiment deck is a deck that can simply win a game on the back of resolving one card. Slower decks and most controlling decks simply can't go toe-to-toe with this. After they sideboard in cards like Slaughter Games I've still found that they can't win the fight because you just out-resource them and win with Thragtusk / Jace / Temporal Mastery while they fall behind.
It's exciting to have a deck that can push around whole classes of other decks.
At the same time the aggressive decks can be a real pain. You can beat them but right now for me it feels like game 1 is a 30-35% proposition against non-Thalia draws and closer to 5-10% against Thalia. This doesn't need to be the case.
Heck if I just make my sideboarded deck into a "deck" it doesn't look half-bad:
As built this deck isn't right; it's still running the Boundless Realms mana base for example.
But this is what I've started to work with. Wish me luck.
Until next time
Thanks for people who responded onmy Facebook page telling me I should write about this even though Flores and Woo already had.
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