Category Archives: standard

Zendikar Expeditions: Good for the Game or Another WOTC Money Grab?

There are a number of opinions floating around about the Zendikar Expeditions, and for good reason. WOTC doesn’t do this very often. As Magic players, we have come to expect certain things in our packs (I’m still waiting for them to fold the $20 bills right…), and when WOTC doesn’t deliver on that, we begin to get uncomfortable and start complaining, sometimes without even thinking about it.

That was me when the announcement came. I didn’t like it because it meant my parents and other family members who help to feed my Magic addiction would probably have to pay more for the sealed product since that is what I told them I wanted for my birthday. In reality, the thing that is making the fat packs cost more this time around is the pack of full art lands that is included, and less so the Zendikar Expeditions stuff. Now, these I will probably keep sealed and look to sell in a couple of years. I don’t care much for any of the art on the lands, save for one or two, so it doesn’t make sense for me to open them up (yeah, I can get pretty particular about my lands when I want to… If I had all the money in the world, I’d be buying up Beta Islands like nobody’s business).

Now… back to reality. What is the big deal about Zendikar Expeditions? Well, they are exceptionally rare for one–slightly less rare than a foil mythic, according to MARO–which occur 1 in every 216 packs, approximately (here’s a Reddit post that breaks down–and argues in typical Reddit fashion–the numbers). They are foil ‘full-art’ versions of cards that see play in Modern and Legacy–Shocklands and Fetchlands are the big ones people will be after, along with foil versions of cards that occur in the block. My biggest fear was the increased cost of sealed product. Now, this promotion WILL do that. The people who want these premium lands will spend money hand over fist to get them, especially if they plan on dropping some serious money on a couple of cases anyway. Increased demand for the product will invariably mean an increased price. What does this mean for the typical FNM regular? Little to nothing. I MIGHT buy a booster box if I can scrape together enough loose change to do it (i.e. not likely… My LGS would probably ban me for life if I tried to pay for a booster box with loose pennies anyway), but I would not be terribly disappointed if I don’t, and here’s why.

Thanks to this promotion, the full-art basic lands, the new duals, and the new manlands, Battle for Zendikar will be heavily opened. Staples for Standard will be pretty inexpensive in the secondary market unless they have implications for Modern, Legacy, or Vintage (Monastery Swiftspear, I’m looking at you!). It would not be unreasonable to see some tier-1 or 1.5 competitive decks that sit around $100-$150 post-rotation when purchased from sites like TCGPlayer.com.

Many players fear this is a move towards a new Ultra-Rare rarity. This is not the case. All the cards in the Zendikar Expeditions are reprints, or available in other versions. They are not needed to play the game. They are valuable because they are dolled up versions of multi-format staples that are in high demand. Any version of those staples will do what any other version could do.

Some argue that this is Wizards ‘printing money’ with these promotions. Players are upset because this promotion creates artificial demand for the sealed product, which drives up prices of said sealed product. Here, if anywhere, I believe players have reason to be angry. Not being able to easily acquire product at or below MSRP for the first couple of weeks of availability because of speculators and people pre-ordering and then re-selling at a markup could be an issue. Hopefully, the print runs are large enough to account for this, and I suspect they will be. For the first few weeks of availability, expect to pay full-on retail unless you had some stuff on pre-order at a discount or you have special arrangements. As for the secondary market, new set hype should begin to settle down after a few weeks, and the cream of the crop will rise to the top in typical fashion. Aside from the ‘chase’ rares, things should be pretty cheap on the secondary market after that.

Personally, I am looking forward to the new set because I have never had any desire–and probably never will–to drop $300+ on a deck that I can only play for a year or so, and this is shaping up to be the cheapest Standard in recent history.

The State of Standard–Dec. 2014

The Standard metagame continues to fluctuate.  Decks that were good have continued to evolve–and still show up, and new ones continue to crop up.  Reanimator has come on  strong over the past few tournaments.  Whip of Erebos (no real surprise here) has become an important tool in this strategy.

Jeskai continues to stick around, but what the ‘best Jeskai Ascendancy deck’ is remains to be seen.  Right now, the answer seems to be avoiding going all in on the Ascendancy combo plan, and operate like a tempo deck for the most part.  Since it operates as a tempo deck, Hordeling Outburst has found yet another home.

Many of the successful control decks appear to be UB in construction.  Going 1-for-1, refilling your hand with Jace’s Ingenuity and the like, resetting the board or removing hard-to-deal-with threats using Perilous Vault, and finishing games with Pearl Lake Ancient.  There are plenty of exceptions to the rule, however.

Standard has become quite an open format.  Play any deck type you wish to, and you will have a reasonable chance against anything.  It’s refreshing to see such changes.  Here’s hoping things continue in that direction.

How to play Steam Augury

For starters, let’s break down the card.  Steam Augury is a 4 mana instant that costs 2UR.  Its CMC is the same as one of the most skill intensive cards ever printed: Fact or Fiction, and its similarities to the Extended staple don’t end there.  It digs 5 cards deep, the cards get separated into two piles, and one pile gets chosen over the other.

The primary distinction between this and Fact or Fiction is a pretty big deal, however.  The caster is the one who makes the piles and the other player is the one who chooses the pile to be given to the caster.  This makes getting what you want off a Steam Augury a little tougher than if it were a reprint of Fact or Fiction.

However, the one advantage Steam Augury has is made apparent when multiple cards of the same type are revealed in the five.  If digging for lands and there are 2 lands revealed, the opponent will not be able to force you to choose between lands or spells.  The same is true for removal spells and threats.

In splitting piles, players will typically want to stack the piles such that one of the important cards are in each of the piles.  If there is a card that is overwhelmingly important or just wins the game on the spot in the current boardstate, that card will get put by itself with the other four cards in the other pile.  Pretty self-explanatory.

The card is obviously better when you are ahead, when you are not digging for anything specific, and your opponent doesn’t know what you have in hand.

With the return of the Delve mechanic, Steam Augury provides added value.  Cards like Treasure Cruise, Empty The Pits, and Dig Through Time come online faster, and 4-1 pile splits become a slightly more reasonable option than they would be otherwise.

 

UR Control: Why NOT to build it like UW…

In all honesty, UR Control seems fair, but some of the cards clash pretty hard.  I’ve been running Trading Posts in place of the Young Pyromancers I don’t have and am too cheap to purchase right now.  The deck is durdly, even for durdly decks, and really wants to be on the offensive… or at least it seems that way.  Ral Zarek is pretty unimpressive without some kind of backup, or creatures to clear the way for, or to untap after they attack.  Elixir of Immortality is in primarily because U/W control runs it, but hitting it with Steam Augury is REALLY miserable.  Sure, you can get four cards off your Steam Augury when that happens some of the time, but you would rather have the Elixir in those situations.  You’re also not going to be drawing 10 cards every turn like U/W gets to do.  Not gonna happen. Period.  Don’t get me wrong… Steam Augury is an all-star of a card, but it can under-perform when you are digging for one card in particular and your opponent knows it (cough, cough,  Aetherling,  cough…).

If you get to Aetherling mana, the game will be over in quick order usually.  Overloading Cyclonic Rift is sometimes your only way to stabilize, which makes a pretty good case for adding Mizzium Mortars.  The only way I can conceive of to compensate properly is to make the deck more aggressive.  (earlier posts have a link to the original control list if desired).  The deck really wants to be on the more aggressive side.

Here’s what I’m thinking:

8 UR sources
2 Islands
13 Mountains

total: 23 lands

2 Hammer of Purphoros
3 Izzet Charm
1 Ordeal of Thassa
4 Steam Augury
1 Bident of Thassa
4 Lightning Strike
2 Counterflux
1 Negate
1 Voyage’s End

total: 19 spells

4 Firedrinker Satyr
2 Frostburn Weird
4 Rakdos Cackler
4 Gore-House Chainwalker
4 Splatter Thug (sort of trades w/ Reckoner, solid blocker in the matchups where it’s relevant.  Probably should be Reconer, but I’m cheap and not running Fanatic of Mogis, which is probably incorrect…)

total: 18 creatures

sideboard:

3 Ral Zarek (goes in against UW Control, red aggro, mono-B devotion.. I’m sure there are others…)
2 Negate
2 Counterflux
3 Divination
1-2 Island (or UR source once Born of the Gods comes out?)
1 Frostburn Weird
1-2 Prognostic Sphinx
1 Ordeal of Thassa

The post-board controlling version seems decent, but will be a bit top-heavy on its curve, even after adding 1-2 lands.  That might be reason enough to cut another Ral Zarek from the sideboard or make Prognostic Sphinx a 1-of in the board.  The Sphinx is a solid blocker against most of BW midrage’s threats, Mono-G, Mono-R, and Mono-U devotion decks, and lets you rifle through your deck or set up for some stacked Steam Augury’s.

Prognostic Sphinx won’t be in against UW because of their wraths, which will undoubtedly get left in.

The mise Ordeal is to provide a mana sink, add extra damage, and make for a ruthlessly explosive start in some games.  I can’t see running more than two Ordeals, and it might be right to just run none of them, but give me a break… I came up with this from scratch with no playtesting to support it.  I think Ordeal of Thassa barely edges out Ordeal of Purphoros because of its ability to compensate for the card disadvantage when you manage to cash it in.  Riding a turn 1 Cackler to victory seems pretty satisfying, and it seems more likely to happen when you’re drawing 2 extra cards when you attack on turn 3 instead of dealing 3 damage to a player/creature.  I don’t think it would be the case in a less controlling deck, but here, I think it is.  Madcap Skills would get the nod over Ordeal if the curve were dropped further and the deck became still more aggressive.

Counterflux is a great card to have against control.  Sphinx’s Rev, a late Detention Sphere, an Azorius Charm to stay alive…  They can’t fight over anything they are casting!  The drawn-out counter-wars will revolve around the spells you are trying to resolve.  Since many of your spells are low casting-cost creatures, you should have a bit of an advantage in the mana department.  Unfortunately, the U/W wrath isn’t counterable.  That doesn’t mean there are no ways around it.  Hammer of Purphoros provides a sustainable stream of attackers and Voyage’s End lets you save a creature from certain doom.  It’s probably better to save that to protect Hammer against Detention Sphere, however.

Esper has a bit of an edge through Duress and Thoughtseize.  Getting your hand torn apart is a real possibility.  If given the opportunity, trade Izzet Charms for Thoughtsiezes and Duresses.  It won’t be useful outside of that unless they have Pack Rat in the main.

That’s all I’ve got for now.  Merry Christmas!

Izzet control

Izzet is a strange pairing of colors… reckless aggression and rage meets calm and patience.  It seems like a color pairing that will always produce some form of aggro-control similar to Delver… Resolve a threat and protect it with countermagic.  Well, I wanted something a tad more controlling, with the ability to board into a more aggressive build after game 1, and early experiments have been promising.  Aetherling is the best finisher a control deck could ever ask for.  Even Elspeth, Sun’s Champion can’t do it justice (and Elspeth is an awesome card.. don’t get me wrong).

(here’s my list for reference)

Don’t laugh, but the best card in the deck is probably Lightning Strike.  It deals with a majority of the big loyalty producers in mono-black and mono-blue devotion, and it trades 1-for-1 with Reckoner (granted, you take damage, but still… a sweet trade).

The slots that were originally Trading Posts are Young Pyromancers.  The Trading Posts didn’t perform as well as I had hoped in protecting my life total.  Maybe it should be a 1-of in the sideboard.  Sometimes, discarding a card to gain 4 life was good or paying 1 life and 1 mana for a chump blocker, but not very often.

Izzet Charm is really underwhelming in a deck that doesn’t run a whole lot of card draw… its third ability is almost completely irrelevant.  It seems I’m usually pretty elated to trade this away for a mana dork or other durdly creature.  The other modes have never been relevant.  Ever.  Granted my testing consisted of three rounds of far less than competitive REL Magic.

Cyclonic Rift overloaded is an out to anything hexproof, gets rid of planeswalkers about to ultimate, and sometimes is just a non-overloaded tempo play to keep up the pressure when you go on the beatdown.  Sometimes, you live in magical Christmas Land and stabilize on the back of double overloaded Cyclonic Rifts.  Sometimes, but not often.  It is the deck’s “wrath” effect, but it costs just a tad more.  Mizzium Mortars and Anger of the Gods may have a place in the deck as well, but I haven’t fully explored all my options yet.

The most annoying threat to this deck comes out of the sideboard: Mistcutter Hydra.  If it gets more than 3 +1/+1 counters put on it, it is nigh-impossible for the deck to deal with inside of Izzet colors.  Ratchet Bomb does a reasonable job, and can do a lot of work against other cards as well.  That might be the answer, particularly considering how well Ral Zarek interacts with Ratchet bomb.

Steam Augury has been pretty sweet… None of the cards you pull off of it are bad.  Even if it’s all land, it’s still pretty sweet because you didn’t have to sit there and draw all five of those lands.

The aggressive vane in it seems pretty obvious to me, but maybe I should cover it anyway… but it’ll have to wait.  It’s 2:40 in the morning here.. time for bed.

Happy Thanksgiving by the way!

I’m back!

Good news, everyone!  I have decided to return to the game.  I have a lot of time on my hands right now since I am recovering from a seizure and infection, and can’t work or drive.  I’m going to stick to standard for most of my  gaming.  I’m afraid to make any forays into Modern due to the crazy combo decks in there.  I haven’t looked into it recently so maybe things have changed, but I’m a tad lazy.  Going to be hard enough to catch up on what the meta in standard looks like as it is.  Since my computer is on the fritz, I am going to be typing on an iPad (boo hiss… Apple), and my ability to play test is going to be SEVERELY restricted until I get another computer.  I might try to wipe my computer hard drive and install Linux, but I’m not convinced the problem can be solved so simply.

I want to put together one deck in particular right now.  It revolves around Burning Vengeance.  It is probably the most fun deck I have seen in standard that can actually pull off wins against top tier decks, and I have a lot of the expensive cards I need for it on MTGO.  Burning Vengeance allows the player to use cards like Think Twice to not only obtain card advantage, but to kill creatures or damage the opponent.  Other flashback cards and cards recast off of Snapcaster Mage provide a massive card advantage when Burning Vengeance is on the battlefield.  Decks that aim to end the game really late or really early can both cause problems for it, however.  Hopefully, I can have a list up by the end of tomorrow and have some sort of sideboard plan to shore up those tough matchups.  I might play around with Search the City to push the card advantage over the edge and give me a better late game.  Delver of Secrets is also in consideration since the deck loves sorceries and instants.  Lots of fun possibilities.

Well… time to get to work.  I will have a list out soon.  See you then!

Avacyn Restored Release on MTGO was Sunday?!

I completely missed the Avacyn Restored release apparently… I have been busy with Diablo III and trying to find a job.  I’ve had a lot more luck with Diablo III… Finished Hell difficulty the other night.  Inferno is… bonkers.  An entirely different ballgame.

Anyways, I’ve re-assessed things a bit, and I might be continuing with the Mono-Blue Delver project.  Delver is not a terrible deck right now, and I really like my chances against decks playing Wolfir Silverhearts.  The deck will still need some tuning.  4 Invisible Stalkers and 4 Runechanter’s Pike seem correct, even in the face of cards like Curse of Death’s Hold and Black Sun’s Zenith.  I’d like more answers to it than just Grand Architect and the already stretched thin Mana Leak, but the metagame may dictate that little more is warranted.  I toyed with the idea of using Spectral Flight instead of Runechanter’s Pike so my Invisible Stalkers get the benefit from Favorable Winds, but that seems incorrect… Too much has to happen for that interaction to be useful and it doesn’t have the raw power available in Runechanter’s Pike.  I’m still undecided on what I should add to finish out a long game.  Mill may be the way to go about it since it doesn’t involve attacking at all.  Increasing Confusion is an interesting card for this purpose.  Most of the time, it will make an equipped Runechanter’s Pike threaten lethal immediately, but it can polish off opponents almost on its own given enough time.  To couple with it, a card that made me giggle at how bad it seemed when I saw it in the Innistrad spoiler: Dream Twist.

I agree that mill is not the most effective possible way to win a game of Magic.  However, further enabling my primary route to victory while allowing for an alternate route in case the game goes late is something I want this deck to be capable of.  For this type of list, I will be moving back up to 23 lands and probably going for a slightly more controlling build.  That means Dissipate will probably make it back in.  Milling myself also makes my Snapcaster Mages all that much better.  Consider this slightly improbable scenario:  I finished my sixth turn and I was fortunate enough to have hit every land drop thus far (yeah.. probably not a good idea to keep 5-land hands, but with Runechanter’s Pike and Invisible Stalker?… tough call, at least in my opinion).  Unfortunately, my opponent is attempting to resolve a Curse of Death’s Hold and I have no way of dealing with it at the moment and he knows it (Gitaxian Probe).  I do, however, have Dream Twist in hand along with a Snapcaster Mage.  I cast Dream Twist, manage to find a Mana Leak, cast it off of Snapcaster, and my equipped Invisible Stalker lives.

Oh, and if you decide to use something similar to the deck I’ve described, I’d like to know what kind of results you had if you don’t mind.

Nixed Sixth Edition… 6.1th Edition anyone?

Sixth edition got nixed before it made it to a Standard queue.  My balance of creatures and spells is off.  Also, my abysmal matchup against Wolf Run and similar decks leads me to reconsider some things.  A budget Spirit Delver list I found here revealed some major flaws in my deck.  An inability to deal with creatures effectively, as well as an inability to push through damage outside of a Runechanter’s Pike does not allow this deck to succeed.  The other deck features Fiend Hunters and Oblivion Rings as solutions to problematic permanents.  The deck also features 20 instants and sorceries to help flip Delver, while my sixth edition mono-blue delver list only has 17.  Drogskol Captains protect the other Spirits in the deck and also pump them.  They are also pumped by Honor of the Pure.  I feel the two decks have very different paths to victory, and the path to victory my version uses is fairly narrow and less resilient than the Spirit Delver list.  Token generation provides a very rapid recovery after a board sweep, whereas my deck leans on countermagic to answer a board sweeper.  With that said, I now must decide if I want to further protect the threats I present, or move to a more resilient plan.  Given the evidence presented in that forum, a more resilient plan seems to be the correct answer.  I have really liked Invisible Stalker, but in thinking things through, I can’t remember very many occasions where it was actually better than any other evasive creature.  I’d love to turn off removal spells altogether with hexproof and deal with sweepers using countermagic, but I can sacrifice a few counterspells for ways of dealing with difficult creatures after they have hit the table, and I really like that possibility.  Niblis of the Breath gets me pretty excited.  However, the creature’s toughness makes me depressed.  With a Grand Architect in play, it’s a little less scary.  Yes, I’m moving back to that plan again.  This time, I think I am wise to the mistakes I made, so.. hopefully this won’t end in another failed list.  There’s a blue uncommon that pumps fliers.  I think it fits the bill nicely here.  A lack of token generators is a problem here, however, and is where the list stalls out a bit.  I think we can cheat by with two routes to victory here, however.  Dropping down on the countermagic suite and revising the creature list a bit should help.  Snapcaster Mage doesn’t get into the red zone very frequently, so four seems like the wrong number.  I really need evasive, aggressive creatures.  Dungeon Geists really isn’t what I want either in spite of how good it is.  4 for a creature is a bit much.  Early pressure and cards that stall an opponent’s threats are things I need more.  I’ve revamped my spells to add to my ability to stall out creatures.  Though I’m still worried about allowing Titans to return to play over and over, I think my spell selection will help significantly in giving me that added bit of reach I need toward the end of a game.  I’m afraid to post a list because I fear the deck will be revised again before it makes its way into a standard queue, particularly since you don’t see Niblis of the Breath at the top tables.

Mono-Blue Delver: Fourth Edition

After a little thought, I realized quickly that although Negate  might be a good card in several matchups, it will not work to throw them in along with all the other countermagic in the deck.  Assuming you are not swapping them out for 3 of the Mana Leaks, you are looking at a troublesome time.  From six counterspells to a full nine, assuming no more were added.  Aggressive decks are fueled not by counterspells.  This must be rethought in light of an actual plan against the decks.  Now, they might still be correct, but I truly was contemplating just throwing them in with the Mana Leaks.  Instead, adding 2 Dissipates to the sideboard sounds better.  So.. for the G/R/x ramp decks, my sideboard strategy will look something like this:

+2 Dissipate, -3 Thought Scour, +2 Nim Deathmantle, +2 Darkslick Drake, -1 Runechanter’s Pike, -2 Delver of Secrets

Yes.. a Delver deck that boards out its cornerstone card.  While Delver is the meat to these potatoes, square meals that do not include meat are actually pretty darn good.  Keep in mind that this plan was constructed in about 5 minutes, with only 3 games as a reference point.

For Solar Flare lists, I will be doing something similar.  Only here, I will not board out my Delvers:

+2 Dissipate, -3 Thought Scour, +2 Nim Deathmantle, -1 Runechanter’s Pike

I really shouldn’t even be posting sideboarding strategies because they will vary greatly by the time I put pen to paper and finalize a build.

Anyway, here is a completed decklist and sideboard (no links to the cards because I really want to get to testing):

4 Delver of Secrets
2 Dungeon Geists
4 Invisible Stalker
2 Snapcaster Mage

2 Dissipate
4 Forbidden Alchemy
4 Mana Leak
4 Ponder
3 Thought Scour
4 Vapor Snag

4 Runechanter’s Pike

2 Buried Ruin
21 Island

Sideboard:

2 Dissipate
2 Darkslick  Drake
2 Negate
3 Nihil Spellbomb
2 Nim Deathmantle
4 Disperse

Bounce spells that can get rid of Curse of Death’s Hold and other nonsense will make life difficult.

The State of Standard

Standard is a pretty healthy format at the moment.  With Nationals approaching, there are several tier 1 decks to be considered.  Wolf Run Ramp, Red Deck Wins, and Solar Flare are the big three.  Tempered steel, with its ability to steal games, is not one to be counted out, but does not have the raw power of the top tier decks.

Solar Flare is moving away from Liliana and towards Jace, Memory Adept.  I believe this is among the proper approaches to take, as Liliana is weak in the Wolf Run Ramp matchup.  Of the big three, Wolf Run Ramp seems to be the deck to beat.  The top 8 of Grand Prix Brisbane featured 4 Wolf Run Ramp, 3 UB control, and 1 WG Hero of Bladehold beatdown deck.  View the results for yourself here.  Among the UB control lists was a Tezzeret deck.  Any of the top decks that could fit it in ran Wring Flesh.  Having a 1-mana out to annoying X/1 creatures outside of red is worthy of inclusion.  Wring Flesh as a maindeck card in UB control is probably a good enough reason to avoid running Tempered Steel in the present format.  Oddly enough, the winner of the tournament was UB control.  The deck is legit.  Untapping with a Concecrated Sphinx against any deck seems good.  The card’s primary weakness is its lack of an immediate effect.  The deck’s other finishers make up for that quite nicely.  UB control’s finishers are immune to Dismember, at least if the red zone is not considered in the equation.  If the deck isn’t tier 1, it is very close.

There are other tournament results to consider.  The StarCityGames.com Standard Open brings more lists to the table.  There were a great number of innovations in the tournament, as pointed out by Mike Flores here.  For innovative Solar Flare decks, Christian Valent’s decklist takes the cake.  The deck features no planeswalkers at all.  None.  Not even in the sideboard.  The deck is a thing of beauty.  As a concession to aggressive strategies, the deck has a miser Celestial Purge, 3 Timely Reinforcements, and 2 Day of Judgment.  In the current meta, I don’t know that such a decklist would work.  Ghost Quarter is a must to deal with Kessig Wolf Run and Inkmoth Nexus.  Running lands that don’t tap for colored mana can really strain a deck working off of 3 colors.  However, switching numbers around a bit and overhauling the mana base may produce a list that has a solid chance.  The tournament saw decks that ran fewer than four Mana Leak.  Personally, I don’t like the card at all right now.  You are quite often outside Mana Leak range once you see something relevant to counter with it.