Friday, December 31, 2010

Coordinated Fire # 1 - Changes in MtG Tournament Policy at the Hairy T and Hairy T North in 2011

Hello everyone and welcome back to a special edition of The Cardboard Witch.  For those of you tuning in for informative articles about *playing* Magic this one might be a bit of a disappointment.

As some of you may recall back in September I became the "Magic the Gathering Tournament Coordinator" for both the downtown and North York Hairy T Locations.  This has for the most part been a pretty easy task since someone else had set up the tournament schedule prior to my involvement and both stores have other organizers to run the actual tournaments if I'm not there.  Over these past few months I've had the fortune of watching our tournament scene grow; especially the downtown store's draft nights which are now starting to exceed the space we have to run them in.  Unfortunately despite this growth not everything is lollipops and gumdrops; attendance at our FNM event has been somewhat spotty, tournament start/finish times have been problematic and frankly "slow play/stalling" issues are ruining about 1/2 of our tournaments.  After spending a couple weeks talking to players from both locations it's become apparent to me that in order to sustain our growing tournament scene we're going to have to make some minor changes in terms how we run events.  As always these changes are designed to make playing at the Hairy T a better experience for *you* as the player; if you'd like to talk to me about ways to make tournaments better at our locations or alternately discuss your concerns with any existing Hairy T tournament policies please feel free to contact me directly.  You can reach me through this blog, in person at the downtown store or my mailing me at

Start Times:

Playing tournament Magic is a pretty time consuming hobby in it's own right.  Even if you don't practice all that much a single basic as bricks straight-swiss Standard tournament with 8 players takes about 3 hours to complete.  For players who work, maintain active social lives or simply don't have more than a few hours to spare that means scheduling specific times to play Magic.  In order to accommodate these players and frankly to keep our T.O.s and Judges sane it's important that our tournaments both start and end on time.  The occasional emergency may delay an event by a few minutes but right now almost every event we run is being delayed by 10-30 minutes on average.  This is unacceptable because it makes playing Magic at the Hairy T impossible for people on a schedule; about 3/4 of our customers and most of our event staff!   

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Standard Deviations #8 - Cannibal Pigmy Bloodsuckers: Playing B/R Combo Vampires in Standard

Hello everyone out there in internetlands; happy holidays and welcome back to another edition of The Cardboard Witch.  As regular readers of this blog may be aware I've recently gone on a huge Standard binge; forcing my friends to play as many as 7-8 sideboarded matches in one sitting and crossing into "hopelessly addicted junkie" territory in the process.  I have to admit that I'm thoroughly enjoying myself even if I'm not finding a lot of time to get out to the few tournaments that are actually happening this holiday season.  I'm sure there will be plenty of drafts/tournaments in the new year to attend; in fact be on the lookout for an announcement regarding some changes in Hairy T tournament policies some time just after Christmas.  I've recently talked to a bunch of our regular players and in response to their suggestions we're going to make some improvements in terms of how tournaments are run; both at the downtown and North York locations.  More information will be posted on the store's website ( Hairy Tarantula's Website ) and this blog once everything is finalized.

With that out of the way lets dive right in and take a look at another one of the tournament-level Standard decks I've been testing with/against recently; B/R Combo Vampires.  I think at this point it's probably important to note what I mean by the word "combo" here.  There are basically two ways to build a competitive B/R Vampires deck here in Standard.  You can build a fast aggro deck with solid burn spells and use Kalastria Highborn to backdoor into victories once your opponent stabilizes.  This is a very solid deck in my opinion but ultimately I feel that it's trying to do the same things as Assault Strobe RDW or Kuldotha Goblins at a slightly slower pace.  The other way to build B/R Vampires however is to shape it around the "sacrifice" effects of Viscera Seer and Bloodthrone Vampire to create a deck that does something no other deck in Standard can accomplish; profit greatly from sacrificing it's creatures (and yours).  Personally I find the "combo" version of this deck to be both more interesting and more effective in my local environment.  If you want to try the other deck however just replace copies of Bloodthrone Vampire, Mark of Muntiny and Blade of the Bloodchief with cards like Arc Trail, Pulse Tracker and Vampire Hexmage.       

B/R Combo Vampires:

Creatures - 24:

4x Vampire Lacerator
4x Viscera Seer
4x Bloodghast
4x Bloodthrone Vampire
4x Gatekeeper of Malakir
4x Kalastria Highborn

Spells - 13:

4x Lightning Bolt
3x Blade of the Bloodchief
2x Doom Blade
4x Mark of Mutiny

Lands - 23:

4x Blackcleave Cliffs
4x Dragonskull Summit
3x Lavaclaw Reaches
8x Swamp
4x Verdant Catacombs

Sideboard - 15:

4x Duress
3x Arc Trail
2x Doom Blade
4x Vampire Hexmage
2x Act of Treason

Overview: One part blisteringly fast aggro deck, one part non-interactive combo deck; B/R Combo Vampires seeks to obtain the best of both worlds by switching strategies mid-game and challenging the opponent to respond accordingly. Like most Vampire decks this build tries to dominate the early game by flooding the board with cheap, efficient weenies and backing them up with Lightning Bolts and/or Kalastria Highborn.  Unlike other Vamp decks however this one doesn't rely on it's opponent to help it finish the game; instead it runs 8 key "sacrifice outlet" creatures to fuel game-ending cards like Blade of the Bloodchief, Mark of Mutiny and Kalastria Highborn.  With this distinction may seem subtle the effects on the table are anything but; whereas "aggro" Vampires tries to end the game before it starts the "combo" version of this deck manufactures it's *own* end game if the opponent doesn't crumble early.  As a side note I'd like to thank my friend Jared for helping me throw this list together.  My first version of this deck was half aggro/half combo before he helped me realize that I needed to pick one direction or another; thus saving me probably 40 or 50 wasted games of testing.  Thanks J.

What I think it's good at: If you want to see a U/B control player cry break this deck out against him at your next Friday Night Magic event.  Think for just a moment what we're talking about here:

* 24 creatures that can't be targeted by Doom Blade
* 4 Lightning Bolts to kill off random Jace's
* 4 Bloodghasts that can't really die
* 4 Mark of Mutiny main-deck for Titan/Wurmcoil meta
* Not a single card costs more than 3; making Mana Leak and Frost Titan significantly less effective.     

Even more frightening is that these advantages are all pre-sideboard; 4 Duress and 4 Vampire Hexmages also come in for games 2 and 3 if necessary.  Being fair it's pretty hard for *any* Blue-based control deck to handle this thing game one unless they specifically meta against it.  B/R Combo Vampires also excels against most other weenie aggro decks; it's hard to trade removal with Bloodghasts or outrace a deck with 4x Kalastria Highborn on life.  In my testing I found that most creature-based aggro decks would trade damage with me for the first 10 life and then find themselves at a loss when I combined Kalastria with a sacrifice outlet creature and some spare mana.  Combo aggro is even worse; both Boros and Quest decks are incredibly ill-suited to dealing with both the volume and variety of removal this deck runs.  While 2x Doomblade and 4x Lightning Bolts/Gatekeeper of Malakir are bad enough; Mark of Mutiny on an equipped creature is usually game over immediately.  Alternately making a 7/7+ Viscera Seer by sacrificing Bloodghast over and over with a Blade of the Bloodchief in play also represents a legitimate option against other aggro decks.  Finally I've found that Mark of Mutiny and the general overall speed of this deck-type make it a strong favorite against the slower Ramp decks in the format; Mono-Green Eldrazi and RUG Titan.  This isn't to say Vampires should win these match-ups every time but it's pretty rare to lose either match if you draw a Mark of Mutiny. 

What I think it's not good at:  While it would be easy to write this deck off as weak against "Wrath of God" type board sweep effects the truth is that a skilled player can easily play around these cards.  Unfortunately no amount of playskill can account for the fact that this deck is typically slower than Valakut Ramp builds and that said builds are very popular.  Of course sometimes the Valakut player will play poorly, forcing out the Primeval Titan and letting you beat him to death with it on your next turn.  Good players however will hold you off with Overgrown Battlements and wait an extra turn to play an Avenger of Zendikar before setting up their Titan/Valakut combo.  It's pretty hard to win the game through 5-7 random plant tokens and by the time you do break through your opponent will be hurling "MountainBolts" at you and your creatures.  Ultimately you can beat Valakut by simply outrunning it but more often than not in my experience you'll get the opponent down to about 6 life before he kills everything on your side and starts bashing you with Avengers/Plant Tokens.  I've also found that B/R Combo Vampires can struggle against other swarm aggro decks if the opponent's creatures are both interchangeable and simply too large to attack into/trade with.  Typically this means mono-Green decks with cards like Leatherback Baloth/Vengevine and Wolfbriar Elemental but I've lost games against random Ally decks as well.  Additionally while you're still a good match-up against most copies of RDW, Kuldotha Goblins in full flight can be almost impossible to beat on it's best draws.  Turn 1 Kuldotha Rebirth, Turn 2 Goblin Bushwhacker with R kicker and turn 3 Goblin Chieftain will pretty much always ruin your day but otherwise this is a fairly winnable match-up.  Finally while B/R Combo Vampires has a very strong match-up with Blue-based control decks in game 1, certain versions of U/W Control can be extremely difficult to handle post-Sideboard.  It takes a specific combination of cards of course but usually some mixture of Ratchet Bomb, Leyline of Sanctity, Condemn, Journey to Nowhere and Day of Judgement that adds up to 12+ cards total will be enough to shut you down in games 2 and 3.

What the Sideboard does:  Unfortunately I feel the current Sideboard for this deck is something of a work in progress. Originally when I built this deck I was trying to make sure it beat both U/x control and the various turn 3-4 "combo-aggro" builds that were rampant in my environment at the time.  This lead me to build a sideboard that was primarily about dealing with these two major deck-types while essentially ignoring G/r Valakut Ramp.  Further testing has lead me to believe that this may have been a mistake and that as many as 4-5 SB slots should be devoted to improving this match-up.  For the sake of study I'll talk about the current Sideboard here but for more information on potential answers for Valakut please check the "Possible improvements?" section below.  Currently the most versatile and important card in the sideboard is Vampire Hexmage because she's so ridiculous against both Jace-based control decks and other aggro builds.  First strike is a deceptively strong ability in Standard right now because the format is populated by an absolutely huge number of 2 toughness weenies.  Of course her ability to "suicide" all the counters from an enemy card can be quite valuable too; while obviously she can execute Planeswalkers at will you'd be surprised at how often this comes up against other cards as well.  Chimeric Mass, Beastmaster's/Pyromancer's Ascension, random Allies, Steel Overseer and even enemy Blade of the Bloodchief tokens are all examples of cards I've used a Vampire Hexmage on in play-testing.  Finally of course sometimes the ability to just sacrifice herself is enough; particularly when either the Blade or Kalastria are involved.  Without a doubt if Magic had a 65 card minimum I'd have found a way to work Hexmage into the main deck.  3 copies of Arc Trail are included to try and improve the match-up against other weenie aggro decks; in particular this card can be a lifesaver against Kuldotha Goblins but it's still strong against pretty much every aggro deck in the format.  It's also an absolute blowout card against creature based ramp decks so don't hesitate to bring it in against anyone running Birds of Paradise, Joraga Treespeakers, Elves, Lotus Cobras and/or Oralce of Mul Daya's .  On the opposite end of the scale 2x Doom Blade and 2x Act of Treason allow you to customize your removal for game two against big creature decks that would shrug off Lightning Bolts and Arc Trails.  It's going to take a whole lot of "Fatty" to survive 6 Threaten effects, 4 Doom Blades and 4 Gatekeeper of Malakirs in games 2 and 3 even if your opponent managed out outlast you the first time.  Finally the Sideboard contains 4 copies of Duress as a sort of catch all answer to dangerous spells that might otherwise ruin your day.  In practice this means Wrath of God effects like Day of Judgment, Consume the Meek and Ratchet Bomb but there's really no end to the number of problems this card can solve.   From Planeswalkers to counterspells to Eldrazi Monuments most decks will have something worth Duressing away by the time they've finished Sideboarding.
How to play it:  One of the coolest things about B/R Combo Vampires is that its both delightfully simple and riotously fun to play.  While I would absolutely recommend this deck for a beginning player because it's so easy to pick up and just start playing the design is also complex enough to reward good play by a skilled pilot.  Most veteran deck-builders will tell you that this is a pretty rare combination in constructed Magic and that's part of why I think this deck has the potential to be quite special.  At it's most basic level this deck breaks down a lot like a computer program:

A) Flood the board with Vampires and use spot removal to attempt to overwhelm the opponent.

B) If A doesn't work use Mark of Mutiny to take the opponent's best creature and attempt to kill him with it.

C) if some combination of A and B doesn't work establish a "sacrifice" combo with Bloodthrone Vampire/Viscera Seer, Bloodghast and Blade of the Bloodchief to create a "super" Vampire with many +1+1 tokens and beat your opponent to death with it.

D) If none of the above have worked start sacrificing/chump blocking all of your Vampires and using them to drain your opponent out with Kalastria while restoring your own life total to comfortable levels.

Obviously depending on the game situation/opponent the optimal order of these operations may change but for the most playing B/R Combo Vampires comes down to understanding these 4 options and deciding which is currently your best choice.  Of course there's a difference between playing a deck functionally and playing it well and there's no question that practicing with this deck against a variety of opponents leads to stronger play.  Lets' take a look at a few quick tips that can help you shorten this learning curve and start winning with B/R Combo Vampires right away:

  • Don't walk multiple "sacrifice outlet" creatures into 2 for 1 situations.  Turn 1 Seer/Turn 2 Bloodthrone may seem like a smart play but you'll be pretty upset when your opponent Arc Trails 1/4 of your combo enablers into the Graveyard.  
  • Don't cast Gatekeeper of Malakir without paying it's kicker.  While it will sometimes be tempting to run out a 2/2 beater in the early game the simple truth is sooner or later your opponent is going to play a creature you want to kill and giving away removal effects isn't a good way to win games of Magic.  Given this it's important to realize that Gatkeeper's actual cost is BBB, remember to allocate your mana accordingly when you're planning out your turns.
  • If you smell counter-magic cast the Blooghast first.  Your opponent will be very unlikely to counter it because you'll get it back the next time you play a land.  On the same note always remember to sacrifice/attack with your Bloodghasts first and wait until your 2nd main phase if necessary before playing the land.  I've left more than a few points of damage on the table in tight games simply by playing these cards in the wrong order.
  • Do not cast Kalastria Highborn without at least 1 and preferably 2 mana to activate her ability open.  Unless your opponent is a complete fool he will immediately recognize Kalastria for the threat she is and will go out of his way to kill her.  By waiting until you have a "sacrifice outlet" creature (Bloodthrone/Seer) and some spare mana you force your opponent to both lose and give you significant amounts of life every time he tries to kill a Vampire.
  • Don't walk into Day of Judgement/Pyroclasm/Consume the Meek type effects.  If your opponent is running 10 or less creatures it's a pretty safe bet that he has some kind of board swipe effect; if not in the main-deck at the very least in the Sideboard.  If you have reason to suspect your opponent is "packing heat" the key is to play accordingly; always hold back at least one creature, try to force him to play around Bloodghast and Kalastria Highborn at the same time.  Punish your opponent for killing your creatures but never let him take all of them out with a single shot.  For example I recently won a game against U/W Control simply by saving all 3 cracklands I drew for the late game; my opponent stabilized after multiple Day of Judgements at 5 life with a Sun Titan in play but ultimately lost to my Bloodghasts because even if I didn't draw a land I had the means to go fetch one every single turn.  
  • Finally stay flexible and don't argue with the cards.  Like most good combo-aggro decks B/R Combo Vampires is built around a number of powerful two card interactions and therefore has multiple paths it can take towards winning the game.  Keep your eyes open for ways to take advantage of these combos and try to play into potential combos that might come up later.  During a recent test game I found myself facing down an opponent I knew was holding on to a Lightning Bolt.  I had a Bloodthrone Vampire carrying a Blade of the Bloodchief and a Blooghast in play and I'd recently played but not cracked a Verdant Catacomb.  Without thinking I sacrificed the Bloodghast on my opponent's end step thinking I could put 2 bonus counters on the Bloodthrone and then crack the land to re-summon the Bloodghast next turn because he'd have haste (my opponent was at 9 life).  Of course I'd forgotten about the Lightning Bolt and my opponent proceeded to fire it at the Bloodthrone Vampire stacked on top of the various bonuses.  I stared at the board for a second and then realized that I could respond to the Bolt by cracking the Catacombs to fish out a Swamp; returning the Blooghast to play and giving me another chance to sacrifice it to the Bloodthrone Vampire *before* the Lightning Bolt would resolve.  Amusingly enough I drew another land on my turn and proceeded to kill my opponent outright by sacrificing the Blooghast again.                   

Possible Improvements?:  While ultimately I'm quite happy with the main deck for this build I've recently found myself a little frustrated with it's sideboard.  As previously mentioned I'm particularly worried that the deck simply can't beat Valakut often enough with the answers currently available to it.  While reading the various World Championship articles online I came across multiple "pro" players who suggested Demon of Death's Gate as a legitimate way to take down the match-up.  I am inherently loathe to play with a 9CC creature and I'm not exactly inclineded to sacrifice 3 of my own creatures at once either but I must admit that if you cast it early enough this card can put significant pressure on Valakut Ramp decks.  Unfortunately the card would be almost unplayable against any opponent running effective removal or bounce effects so we'd be talking about including it *just* to beat Valakut.  You would also never want two copies in your hand at the same time and yet you'd need to have it in play by turn 4 on the draw at the latest or your opponent will simply trigger Valakut 3 times on a single turn and kill it.  While the situation merits more testing for sure I'd probably be willing to include 3 copies in the Sideboard if my environment featured more Valakut decks; maybe in the place of 2x Act of Treason and 1x Duress for example.  Finally while my environment contains far too many Red aggro decks to seriously consider it, in more Control/Ramp based metagames Dark Tutelage can be a very strong option; either in the main deck or SB.  It combos well with Viscera Seer and can give you a pile of extra cards against control/ramp/combo opponents.  Of course you probably don't want to include Tutelage in a deck with 9cc Demons and I personally wouldn't include it at all if you expect to see a lot of fast/aggro burn.  Losing to your own cards sucks.

Well ladies and gentlemen it's officially 1 AM on Christmas morning and I'm thinking about a warm glass of egg nog and a comfy bed.  Merry Christmas to everyone who reads the blog and hopefully I'll have a chance to post another article before the New Year.  The gamestore I manage is having a crazy Boxing Week Sale and I'm expecting to put in 5-6 long, hard days in a row at the shop during this event.  Dunno how much energy I'll have for writing about Magic but we'll see.  As always thanks for reading and remember that while most creatures can only die for you once, Blooghast is happy to die over and over again to further your mad plans for world conquest.  Goodnight everyone.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Standard Deviations #7 - Joining the Dark Side: Playing Valakut Ramp In Standard

Hello everyone and welcome back to another edition of The Cardboard Witch; a blog about playing "competitive Magic with a casual attitude".  First let me apologize to those of you checking back for another SoM Draft Archetype article.  Unfortunately I simply haven't been drafting very much recently; partially due to illness and partially because I'd be the 9th player.  While it's possible to write on theory and past drafts alone I really prefer to be actively working with the archetype I'm talking about during the writing process; that's why I usually post a recent deck I drafted as an example in the comments section.  If the truth be told my Magic experience recently has been "limited" to play-testing Standard with a bunch of my friends and customers.  Of course I say limited in quotations because I've actually managed to get about 200 or so practice games in during the past 5 days and it's hard to imagine having time to test much more than that.  It truly amazes me how many times an exasperated friend will fall for the line "just one more game" when it's delivered through a weezy cough by an obviously ill person.  *evil grin*

So what has playing all this Standard accomplished for me?  For starters I now have 7 viable tournament decks with no proxies; 6 of them even have full 15 card sideboards.  This of course means I'm roughly 90 cards away from being able to run tournaments by myself in a back alley with random hobos.  (This is a joke; although being fair hobos are more likely to show up than my Magic friends sometimes.)  Playing this many games against a varied field has also allowed me to tweak my deck-lists to perform better in my local environment; after all the meta-game for a 5K event in New York may well be *very* different than the meta-game at your local FNM event.  One of the most insightful things I've read about Magic all year was penned by Nick Spagnolo in his regular Star City Games article; "There is no best deck for a format – there is a best deck for a tournament."   In my local environment that means building your decks primarily to beat Blue control decks built around Jace and making sure you don't lose to turn 3-4 "aggro-combo" decks like Kuldotha Goblins, Assualt Strobe RDW or W/x Quest.  While Primeval Titan based "Ramp" decks are present they are nowhere near as popular as they are online for example.  With this meta-game in mind let's take a closer look at one of the best decks I've been testing/playing with recently; Green-Red Valakut Ramp:

T-Dot Valakut Ramp:

Creatures - 12:

4x Overgrown Battlement
4x Primeval Titan
2x Avenger of Zendikar
2x Gaea's Revenge

Spells - 21:

4x Lightning Bolt
4x Explore
4x Khalni Heart Expedition
4x Cultivate
3x Growth Spasm
2x Summoning Trap

Lands - 27:

5x Forest
12x Mountain
3x Evolving Wilds
3x Terramorphic Expanse
4x Valakut the Molten Pinnacle

Sideboard - 15:

3x Naturalize
4x Pyroclasm
3x Acidic Slime
2x Summoning Trap
1x Avenger of Zendikar
2x Gaea's Revenge

Overview:  Valakut Ramp is one of the more straightforward combo decks in the history of Magic and versions of this deck have been performing exceptionally well in Standard since the moment Primeval Titan was printed.  If you've never seen this deck in action the experience can be quite disturbing; it essentially ignores it's opponent for the first 3 turns while forcing out ramp spells before unleashing a hellacious barrage of huge creatures and Valakut fueled "Lightning Bolts" on turns 4-6.  The end result can be quite overwhelming if you are unprepared for it; when Valakut Ramp wins it wins quickly and with ruthless efficiency.  I originally threw this version together after reading about 8 days' worth of MtGO daily event results and 3 or 4 decklists that had recently won some larger cash events (1-5ks).  I specifically chose to focus only on tournament-winning decks; I wasn't trying to reinvent the wheel here and if you want to practice against an archetype you might as well practice against the very best, right?

What I think it's good at:  To be fair it's pretty hard to think of things this deck  *isn't* good at.  It's a huge part of the current Standard meta-game for a reason and even though it isn't as popular as it should be here in Toronto *every* single Standard deck I build starts with the question "so how do I avoid just losing to Valakut?"  Where this deck really shines however is against Blue-based control decks that run Mana Leak.  In particular the inclusion of 2 main-deck copies of both Summoning Trap and Gaea's Revenge combine with Valakut's inherent inevitability against Blue decks to make for a 75-25ish game 1 match-up.  After all you can't counter *every* spell they cast and once they start triggering their Valakuts for "Lighting Bolts" it doesn't matter how many counters you have at all.  Like most versions of Valakut Ramp this deck is also very strong against traditional aggro builds like Boros, Vampires, White Weenie and anything with Fauna Shaman/Vengvines.  Typically these decks can't kill before turn 5 without disruption and by that time the Valakut deck has probably dropped a Titan/Avenger and at least one Lightning Bolt; in other words a whole lot of "disruption".  Finally of course due to issues of both speed and consistency Valakut Ramp decks tend to perform exceptionally well against other Ramp decks; including Mono Green Eldrazi and RUG (Red/Blue/Green) Titan.  Simply put the lands these decks ramp into don't turn into 3 damage each in the mid-game and that typically makes all the difference in these match-ups.

What I think it's not good at:  Again being the prohibitive favorite in the entire format means there really aren't a lot of things Valakut decks aren't good at.  In fact in my opinion of the major reasons to choose Valakut Ramp as an archetype is that it has such amazing match-ups with all the other top decks in Standard.  There are essentially only two ways to beat this deck; you can try to win the game before it beats you (turn 5ish) or you can remove/control every single potential game-winning threat before it can kill you.  In terms of decks that can do the former we're basically talking about turn 3-4 "aggro-combo" builds like Kuldotha Goblins, W/x Quest (on a good draw) or Assault Strobe RDW builds.  While Pyroclasm can help alleviate some of the pressure post board many of these decks can easily play around Sorcery-speed mass removal with "Haste" creatures and faster than instant speed equip effects.  This can get particularly frustrating if the opponent sideboards in Mark of Mutiny without you realizing it; there's nothing more embarrassing than losing to your own Primeval Titan when your opponent Marks it to his side and then fishes out 2 copies of Teetering Peaks.  As for decks that aggressively go after your win conditions the primary offender is U/B Control.  Typically this will mean some combination of Duress/Inquisition of Kozilek, counterspells, Frost/Grave Titans and Tectonic Edges in the main-deck and possibly cards like Memoricide, Volition Reins and Brittle Effigy in the sideboard.  The trick with either of these strategies is that they don't always work; if your opponent stumbles or the Valakut deck simply "goes off" sometimes it doesn't matter how much meta is involved.  Finally it should be noted that this version can tend to be weak against land destruction strategies; particularly since it chooses Growth Spasms over Harrow as a protective measure against counter-magic.  It's tough to ramp into 6-7 mana if you're opponent is destroying 1-2 lands a turn from turn 3 on and with 6 main deck crack-lands his Roiling Terrains add up pretty quickly.  Ultimately however land destruction decks are not very popular in the environment overall so I'm not really sure how relevant this weakness is. 

What the Sideboard does:  Just like the rest of the deck the beauty of a Valakut Ramp's sideboard is that it's both ruthless and simple.  Every single card is designed to directly attack another top tier strategy or cards that specifically meta against the deck itself.  4 copies of Pyroclasm helps close the deck's hole against early aggro; just don't make the mistake of taking out Lightning Bolt in the process since it's also an effective "time sink" against aggro.  2x Summoning Trap and 2x Gaea's Revenge help you max out game 2 against counter-control builds; both cards are exceptionally difficult for Jace decks to play around in the current format and going up to 8 copies total almost feels unfair unless your opponent is exceptionally skilled.  Naturalize is included to help against key problem enchantments like Leyline of Sanctity or Spreading Seas but can also be effective against random annoying artifacts; Eldrazi Monument, Brittle Effigy and Mimic Vat all come to mind instantly.  3x Acid Slime are primarily included as counter-meta against other Valakut decks; if your Valakuts stick around and his don't it's possible to simply kill his Titan/Avenger and outrace him with yours for example.  The Slime also doubles as secondary enchantment/artifact removal and can even function as the worst creature removal spell ever simply because it has Deathtouch.  Finally the singleton Avenger of Zendikar is included for games 2 and 3 against aggro decks; the simple truth is that an Avenger on turn 4 or 5 stops most creature based aggro decks in their tracks.   Typically I'll side him in place of a Gaea's Revenge if only because he's way stronger in that match-up. 

How to play it:  While I'm certainly not trying to be rude in my honest opinion this deck could be piloted to a 50/50 tournament record by a drunken howler monkey who'd just picked up Magic last week.  Okay it's not *THAT* easy but it's absolutely fair to say that this is the most forgiving Tier 1 deck-type in all of Standard.  First you check your hand for a Forest or one of the 6 crack-lands that can go fetch a Forest; if you don't have one you should take a mulligan.  Once you have access to a Forest you play some lands and cast some cheap "Ramp" spells to help you play more lands.  This rapid stockpiling of mana allows you to cast a turn 4 Titan/Avenger at which point you play some more lands and win the game.  While I may be simplifying things slightly I am in fact being 100% serious here; winning with Valakut Ramp is that mechanical.    If there's anything at all about this deck that can be tricky it's learning to play cards in the correct order depending on what your opponent is doing.  Good examples include playing Overgrown Battlements on turn 2 instead of Explore against aggro decks or playing Growth Spasm instead of Cultivate when you're trying to bait out a counterspell.  Always remember to cast the Khalni Heart Expedition *before* you start playing land for the turn; ditto for Avenger of Zendikar.  Another way in which timing can be important for this deck is when jumping from 4 to 6 Mountains simultaneously with 1 or more copies of Valakut in play.  This is because multiple permanents that enter the battlefield at the same time "see" each other entering the battlefield (Ruling), thus allowing you to trigger each Valakut twice as if both Mountains were your 6th in play.  While it takes a little practice to learn to set it up properly learning to do so is incredibly important.  The ability to squeeze an extra 3-12 damage out of the deck on the turn you cross from 4-6 can be the difference between winning and losing against both super-fast aggro decks and sloth like control builds.  Remember folks at the end of the day you only have 12 Mountains; you'd hate to lose a game with your opponent at 3 life simply because you gave away an early "Lightning Bolt" by using Primeval Titan/Khalni Heart incorrectly.  Finally try and remember to be flexible; this deck excels at winning both long and short games.  You are almost never under pressure to force the game towards a conclusion simply because eventually you'll win just by playing Mountains!  For example don't cast fatties into open Blue mana without a Summoning Trap.  Alternately feel free to take a turn off the Valakut plan and drop an Avenger of Zendikar against aggro; you aren't likely to lose the game with so many free blockers in play and it gives you a good chance of surviving a Mark of Mutiny when you do finally play the Primeval Titan.  Of course the opposite side of this coin is that you shouldn't waste time when facing against slower or weaker decks; one of the major reasons Valakut destroys other Ramp decks is it's sheer speed.  Don't give this advantage away by puttering around in the early game unless you have to (read except vs Blue).  

Well folks it's quarter to 5 in the morning and I have a holiday shopping retail sales shift at 11 AM tomorrow so I think I'd better wrap this up right about now.  Hopefully this article has been useful in helping you to understand a little more about one of the most dominant deck-types in the post-SoM Standard environment.  While the version presented in this article is tweaked slightly against control the simple truth is that at the core virtually all Valakut builds are identical.  Whether you're playing against it or rocking it like the Imperial Deathstar, Valakut Ramp is certainly a force to be reckoned with in the tournament environment.  Until next time folks may all your Summoning Traps hit and always remember to keep it weird.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Of Limited Interest #15 - "The Spaces In Between"

Hello everyone and welcome back to another edition of The Cardboard Witch.  As those of you who know me personally are aware I've been wracked up sick for several days and I've only managed to stagger out of bed to draft a couple of times and eat.  Winter and me don't seem to get along so well and I'm not exactly seeing this changing anytime soon.  I've also missed back to back FNM events because my breathing is a mess; head cold and a chest infection at the same time is a more devastating combo than Jace/Oracle of Mul Daya apparently!  I had originally wanted my next article to be about Standard but I refuse to be the kind of writer who posts/talks about deck-lists without testing them; the world already has far too many people guilty of this crime. Frustrated and discouraged I decided to get back to basics and write about the two drafts I *did* manage to participate in this week.  Purely by accident it turns out I drafted essentially the same deck archetype twice; except one was vastly superior to the other despite many of the cards being quite similar.  Naturally both of these builds were R/W Metalcraft; a deck that I'm thoroughly sick of playing but seems to haunt me like I owed it money in a former life.  Personal feelings aside however, I figured this would be a unique opportunity to compare and contrast 2 R/W Metalcraft decks; highlighting the subtle differences between a tournament winner and an also-ran here in the SoM environment.  First let's take a look at the winning deck and why it might have been the best deck I've drafted yet in triple SoM draft:

"Very Angry Birds" - R/W Metalcraft:

Creatures - 11 (15):

1x Origin Spellbomb
1x Embersmith
3x Glint Hawk Idol
2x Iron Myr
1x Myrsmith
1x Perilous Myr
1x Auriok Replica
1x Chrome Steed
1x Golem Artisan
1x Kuldotha Phoenix
1x Razor Hippogriff
1x Saberclaw Golem

Spells - 13 (9):

1x Darksteel Axe
1x Galvanic Blast
2x Sylvok Lifestaff
1x Contagion Clasp
1x Arrest
1x Dispense Justice
1x Tumble Magnet
1x Turn to Slag

Land - 16:   

9x Mountains
7x Plains

Whoah boy, now *this* is a picture perfect Metalcraft deck.  For starters this build has a grand total of 8 colored cards and every single one of them is incredible.  While some would argue that Dispense Justice and Turn to Slag are a bit of a stretch I honestly feel that all 8 of these cards are potential first picks in triple SoM drafts.  Even more incredibly 2 copies of Iron Myr allows this deck to run 16 artifacts; only 2 of which I'd classify as "sub-par".  This in itself is pretty spectacular; it's certainly more common for Metalcraft decks to either be running numerous questionable cards "just because they're artifacts" or simply less artifacts overall.  What really puts this deck over the top however is how it all comes together; cheap, aggressive and full of removal this deck literally has it all.  5 flyers, 3 power-boosting equipment cards and a Golem Artisan make for a pretty formidable "airforce" while 8 removal/control effects make it almost impossible for the opponent to keep pace.  Even if this deck can't knock the opponent out quickly it's more than happy to run a long game as well, relying on cards like Embersmith, Myrsmith, Kuldotha Phoenix and the Contagion Clasp/Tumble Magnet combo to grind out 10+ turn victories.  

In terms of the actual draft, my first 3 picks in pack 1 were the Kuldotha Phoenix, a Razor Hippogriff and then a Dispense Justice.  While this set my colors very early on I wasn't really that unhappy about that; the best time to pull Kuldotha Phoenix is Pick 1 Pack 1 because you can build around the triple Red mana in his casting cost while simply put the Hippogriff was the best card in the other pack by miles.  I didn't see very many White cards at all for the rest of pack one so I focused on Red and Artifacts.  My first pick in pack 2 was a Galvanic Blast, followed quickly by back to back Xsmiths: Myr and Ember.  I also grabbed 2 Glint Hawk Idols and a Turn to Slag out of this pack.  By pack 3 I was pretty convinced that I had cut people out of Red very well and that while I was sharing White with SEVERAL other drafters, I'd managed to get most of the good flyers.  My first pick in pack 3 was a Darksteel Axe, I got passed a Contagion Clasp and then a couple picks later I found the Tumble Magnet to go with it.

Ultimately I finished 2-0-1 (4-0) after a draw in the finals.  I honestly think I could have won that round but my opponent had a Carnifex Demon, a Sunblast Angel at least one Grasp of Darkness and at least one Arrest.  My deck was certainly faster but obviously his bombs were better than mine; it doesn't make sense to gamble away packs when you aren't sure.  It was also getting pretty late as a game in the first round went to full time and my 2nd round match with Beau almost did as well.  I also probably should have lost the 2nd game against Beau, he made a poorly timed play mistake that let me sneak the last little bit of damage across through the air literally *just* before he was about to take control of the board.  Sometimes it helps to be lucky I guess.

So now that we've looked at probably the best R/W Metalcraft deck I've managed to pull off in SoM let's examine a more "typical" version from a draft where everything *didn't* fall perfectly into place:

"Hornet Engines" - R/W Metalcraft:

Creatures - 16 (18):

1x Glint Hawk
1x Embersmith
2x Glint Hawk Idol
2x Gold Myr 
1x Iron Myr
1x Necropede
1x Auriok Replica
1x Kemba's Skyguard
1x Rust Tick
1x Snapsail Glider
1x Vulshok Replica
1x Blade-Tribe Berserkers
1x Oxidda Scrapmelter
2x Saberclaw Golem
1x Flameborn Hellion

Spells - 8 (6):

1x Galvanic Blast
1x Sylvok Lifestaff
1x Revoke Existence
1x Turn to Slag
2x Contagion Engine

Lands -16:

9x Mountain
7x Plains

Now before we get too far here I want to be clear about something; this is by no means a *bad* deck.  It's actually pretty solid overall and on a good day in a weaker pod you could win a draft with this deck.  It has 5 cheap flyers and 9 solid removal/control effects; including a couple of "bombs".  It also has 15 artifacts to fuel cards like Embersmith, Glint Hawk Idol, Galvanic Blast, Snapsail Glider and Blade-Tribe Berserkers.  3 Mana Myr make it fairly easy to run only 16 land in the build despite the presence of multiple 5-6 casting cost cards; allowing for a higher threat/answer density than normal.  Finally of course the deck has not 1 but 2 copies of the best mass board wiping card in the format; Contagion Engine.  I even managed to grab a late Glint Hawk to potentially replay one of the Engines in the late game; if 2 Contagion Engines are good 3 simply *has* to be better right?

As far as the actual draft goes this is a pretty good example of a "forced" R/W Metalcraft deck.  The first pack I opened in the draft was terrible; I took an Iron Myr and I honestly felt that it was the best pick by several degrees in said pack.  Thankfully my opponent to the right had apparently opened a Putrefax because he proceeded to pass me a Revoke Existence and a Turn to Slag.  I certainly wasn't going to complain about this and I happily accepted the invitation to draft R/W that he offered.  Unfortunately the first pack was pretty lukewarm in terms of Red cards overall and as it turns out the strength of the White cards had attracted too many people at the table.  I opened the first Contagion Engine in pack 2 and got passed a Scrapmelter by my opponent to the left; later on it turned out he was in Blue/Red but his rare had been pretty strong so he had to kiss the Melter goodbye.  Unfortunately yet again I didn't see a lot of great Red or White cards and started having to reach for Saberclaw Golems and Blade-Tribe Bersekers.  Things finally got better when I opened up *another* Contagion Engine in pack 3 and proceeded to gobble up a Galvanic Blast, a Rust Tick and an Embersmith in rapid succession.  I even managed to find a late Glint Hawk to combo with my Engines sometime around pick 7 or 8. 

During the tournament portion of the event I finished 2-1 (5-3) and managed 3rd place on tiebreakers.  I lost in the very first round to an opponent who exposed several flaws in my deck over the course of 3 games.  Beau's deck was built around removal, Walls, the Proliferate Mechanic and cards that featured counters; most notably Venser.  While at first this frustrated me a bit because I felt I had the better deck overall, the simple truth is that I was likely wrong.  Beau would go on to lose a tightly contested final against a W/G deck running Elspeth while I would spend the rest of the evening trying to scramble back into 3rd place.

So what exactly went wrong?  How did two decks that look so similar play out so differently on the table?  It would be easy to say I simply got unlucky; my round 1 opponent was playing a deck perfectly suited to beating mine and he had dropped both a Contagion Clasp and a Venser by turn 4 in game 3.  Careful examination of both decks however makes it painfully clear that luck wasn't the primary factor.  Despite outward appearances these two decks are fundamentally different  in two major areas; speed and durability.  The first deck is blisteringly fast; both in terms of playing/attacking with early threats and accelerating into it's mid game cards.  Easy access to Metalcraft enhanced monsters and 3 power boosting equipment cards magnify this advantage even further; pushing this deck to it's end game as early as turns 6-7.  The second deck by contrast is one of the slowest builds of R/W Metalcraft I've ever drafted.  Most of it's cheap creatures are either 2 power flyers or 1 power utility cards; making dealing early damage easy but also making it harder to "ramp" damage in the mid-game.  In fact another huge issue with this build is it's general lack of a mig-game in general; while it has excellent early creatures and some 6 CC bombs it's middle game consists of some marginal Hill Giants (Scrapmelter, Berserkers) and a couple of Saberclaw Golems.  During games this typically meant I would get my opponent down to 12-14 life before finding myself on the backfoot and trying to race 3/3-5/5 "ground pounders" with my 2/2 flyers.  Despite starting out with a slight lead this position would eventually become untenable, forcing me to sacrifice *my* smaller defenders just to keep racing.  Of course sacrificial blocking is no way to maintain Metalcraft which in turn made my deck less effective overall.  In the games where I survived this sudden loss of traction I'd eventually top-deck a Contagion Engine and one of my few finishing creatures to win but typically this would be around turn 10 or 11.        

The second major difference between these two decks is durability which I personally define as the ability to absorb damage/kill spells and win long games.  The first deck is one of the toughest/most resilient builds I have ever seen in a booster draft.  For starters when you're talking about grinding out long games it's pretty hard to beat a Kuldotha Phoenix in a deck that hits Metalcraft in it's sleep.  Killing the bird becomes a temporary but absolutely necessary solution; there aren't many decks that can survive a 4/4 hasted flyer turn after turn.  Another good example of how this deck dominates late games can be found in the Tumble Magnet/Contagion Clasp combo; 4 mana in the late game is *more* than worth always having an extra token on your Tumble Magnet to tap out your opponent's best creature.  I've even gone so far as to refuse to use up my last Magnet counter just to make sure I could Proliferate it when I finally drew my Contagion Clasp.  Throw in 3 Glint Hawk Idols that aren't even creatures on your opponent's turn and a Razor Hippogriff to fish back an artifact while gaining you life and you get a deck that's even harder to close games out against.  How about using a Golem Artisan to turn *any* artifact creature in play into a game winning monster once you have enough mana?  Darksteel Axe performs the same function and is especially strong when combined with flying creatures; something this deck certainly doesn't lack.  Speaking of equipment don't forget the important role the 2 copies of Sylvok Lifestaff play in this deck.  Not only does the +1 power speed up the clock in the early game but you can also use them to grind out longer games simply by attaching them to sacrificial blockers.  Your opponent's creature fails to get through *and* you gain 3 Life in the process; for added fun you can even do the blocking with disposable 1/1 Myr tokens created by your Myrsmith.  To sum it up nicely; this deck keeps coming all day and if you're going to beat it than you're going to have to put it down hard.

The second deck on the other hand is actually quite fragile.  Most of it's creatures have 2 toughness despite the fact that some of them are quite expensive.  You don't know pain until your opponent wipes out your entire board with 2 mana after you use a Myr to force out a turn 4 Saberclaw Golem and he untaps and replies with Arc Trail.  Even it's big beatstick is actually a little light in the butt; 5 toughness is worlds away from 4 in SoM and it's pretty tough when you lose a 6 mana investment to a Galvanic Blast or Grasp of Darkness.  This lack of toughness in turn made ground-based creature combat extremely difficult and ended up putting a lot of pressure on my 5 2/2 flyers to win games.  Making matters worse the deck had very few "disposable" creatures whatsoever and no way of making/recycling creatures from the graveyard.  Typically this made blocking in the early game impossible unless I stumbled across my lone Necropede, a somewhat irregular occurence as it turns out.  This inability to defend against early attacks combined with my smallish creature based to make racing with opponents even harder.  I only managed to win one game the entire night simply by outrunning my opponent and in that game he only played about 4 creatures total and I drew every piece of removal in my deck.  Most of my wins were entirely the result of a late game Contagion Engine after my opponent had already spent his artifact removal cards in hand.  In fact aside from the 2 Engines this deck has almost no late game either; ultimately it's just another deck trying to win before it loses with a bunch of tiny creatures somewhat ill-suited to that goal.

Ultimately the difference between these two decks lies in how they were drafted and built.  The first deck started out ridiculously strong in pack 1 and I was able to sculpt a deck around my first few choices.  The second deck was primarily a by-product of forcing R/W Metalcraft once it became clear that my opponent to the right was probably playing Infect.  These results pretty much line up with my theory that R/W Metalcraft is one of the best decks in the format if built properly but forcing it constantly is a good way to finish 2-1 and out of 1st place for the most part.  

Well folks that just about wraps it up for this time.  Hopefully you'll all surviving the pre-holiday rush as well as I am and thanks again for reading.  Until next time always remember to take what the packs are giving and keep it weird!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Gotta Catch Em All (SoM Deck Archetypes) # 9 - "G/W Metalcraft Primer"

Hello ladies and gentlemen, welcome back to another edition of The Cardboard Witch.  Hopefully you've all been well the past couple days; I personally have been *trapped* at work being *forced* to playtest Standard decks all day (the horror!).  When we last left off we finished the 8th installment of our series about deck archetypes in SoM booster draft; "Gotta Catch Em All".  Let's jump right back into the mix by looking at one of the most basic but effective aggro decks in the format; G/W Metalcraft.  While less popular than some of the other "flashier" Metalcraft decks this archetype is both very aggressive and resilient; it's also much easier to draft.  Green based Metalcraft-ish cards are considerably easier to come by than Red ones for example and most of the time I end of playing this deck it's because I notice Green is "open" after I load up early on good White/artifact cards. 

Description:  Despite being the unwanted stepchild by comparison to the other Metalcraft decks available in SoM drafts, G/W is actually an incredibly powerful choice when built properly.  Combining cheap White flyers and removal with fat Green monsters has always been pretty effective in draft and both colors synergize well with SoM's artifact theme.  Typically this archetype will start the aggro rush early with White based flyers and then crash in for 4-8 damage at a time once it's Metalcraft enhanced ground forces spring into action.  It's awfully hard to outrace a seemingly infinite army of 4/4 "beatsticks" when you've already taken 4-6 damage in the air.  Like most good Metalcraft decks in the format this archetype is extremely dependent on drafting and playing a significant number of artifacts; often you'll only have room for 10-11 colored cards in total!  As a side note I have also seen G/R Metalcraft versions of this deck that are functionally quite similar; simply swapping White removal for Red.  This variation seems less common however; likely owing to both the popularity of G/R Dinosaurs and the recent mass over-drafting of Red that's been a trend for SoM in general.    

Key Cards:  One of the most frustrating aspects of playing *any* Metalcraft based deck in this format is managing the "artifact" vs "non-artifact but broken Metalcraft card" ratio in the build.  Both Green and White have strong common cards that become downright broken when you have 3 artifacts in play and the tendency will be to over-value these cards when you should be drafting artifacts.  Always remember folks; 10 artifacts and 1 Carapace Forger/Auriok Sunchaser/Ghalma's Warden is the basis of a draft deck .  10 Forgers/Sunchasers/Wardens and 1 artifact however is the basis of an impending train wreck.  

Once again the top commons in this build are all pretty much removal cards; Arrest, Sylvok Replica and Revoke Existence are all high quality 1st-3rd type picks.  You won't be passed these cards very often so if you want them it's probably wise to take them early.  As regular readers of my column already know I think Glint Hawk Idol is one of the best commons in the entire set if you're running some Plains to activate it.  In a White based Metalcraft deck however this card goes from "great" to "unfreaking-believable" and should be drafted accordingly.  It's also pretty hard to go wrong with either on-color mana Myr in virtually any Metalcraft deck; in a format that values both mana acceleration and having artifacts in play these cards are almost never "dead".  Other strong common artifacts in this build include Perilous Myr, Origin Spellbomb, Accorder's Shield, Chrome Steed, Tumble Magnet, Snapsail Glider and Sylvok Lifestaff.  Green is noticeably thin at the common slot due to Infect; the only cards we really want here are Alpha Tyrranax, Carapace Forger or Molder Beast and even then we don't want too many copies.  White is marginally better; Glint Hawk is amazing is you have enough cheap/reloadable artifacts.  Ditto for Sunspear Shikari and Equipment.  While I'm not a *huge* fan of Ghalma's Warden in the right version of this archetype it can make a strong "1 of" and it's still a 2/4 blocker even when you don't have Metalcraft active.

Breaking with tradition I feel the absolute best uncommon for this archetype isn't another removal spell, it's the borderline ridiculous Metalcraft enabling Myrsmith.  When played early enough in a good deck this little lady can turn Metalcraft from an "important mid-game objective" to "a foregone conclusion" in a matter of turns.  She also makes it possible to cheat a couple more on-color cards into your deck simply by promising a small army of 1/1 artifact Myr whenever she's in play.  Of course your opponent can always kill the Myrsmith and in fact he probably *has* to simply to avoid losing the game; she's that powerful in this archetype.  Once you're sure the pack is all out of Myrsmiths things go back to normal; removal spells like Dispense Justice and the criminally under-rated Slice in Twain are always high picks in these colors for example.  I also tend to value artifacts that feature removal/control effects quite highly in this archetype; Rust Tick, Necropede, Contagion Clasp and Trigon of Corruption are all excellent cards in an aggressive Metalcraft build.  Other top uncommon artifacts in this deck include Rusted Relic, Palladium Myr, Golem Artisan, Barbed Battlegear, Trigon of Rage and Darksteel Axe.  Assuming you have enough Myr or a Myrsmith, Myr Galvanizer can be a very powerful "plan B"; as can sacrificing some of those chump blocking Myr tokens to a Culling Dias.  In terms of colored cards I'm fond of Razor Hippogriff,  Belllowing Tanglewurm, Tangle Angler, Glimmerpoint Stag and Acid Web Spider; albeit again only in the right artifact/non-artifact ratios.  This shouldn't be a huge problem as most of these cards are early picks for other deck archetypes; it would be hard to draft enough copies of these cards to threaten your status as a Metalcraft deck.

While it's generally true that most of the rare cards in SoM are very strong in booster draft there are actually several Green rares I don't recommend running in this build.  Putrefax, Ezuri Renegade Leader, Genesis Wave and Asceticism all come to mind as good rares "for someone else to play".  I'm also not overtly fond of Leonin Arbiter in White and artifact rares like Platinum Emperion, Tower of Calamities, Venser's Journal, Grindclock, Lux Cannon, Mindslaver, or Myr Propagator.  Aside from these obvious low-synergy choices this deck is open to exploiting an absolutely huge number of solid Green, White and artifact rares in this set.  In terms of "on-theme" rares however some of my favorites include Indomitable Archangel, Ezuri's Brigade, Kuldotha Forgemaster (especially w/ Myrsmith tokens!), Tempered Steel, Precursor Golem, Darksteel Juggernaut and Myr Battlesphere.  While I've never been personally fond of the card I've been on the receiving end of a beating from a G/W Metalcraft deck that cast a Prototype Portal and imprinted an Origin Spellbomb under it.  I'd already used up my Shatter by then and my opponent proceeded to make a mockery of our game by spitting out 1/1 tokens and drawing extra cards every single turn.  Of course as "cute" as the above cards are there's really no replacing raw power; Sunblast Angel, Contagion Engine, Liege of the Tangle, Elspeth Tirel, the list goes on and on.  Don't ever let the "theme" of your deck keep you from playing a "bomb" rare that just doesn't fit; winning the game is still the ultimate goal even if you'd *rather* do so in style.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Gotta Catch Em All (SoM Deck Archetypes) # 8 - "R/B Furnace Celebration"

Hello and welcome back to another edition of The Cardboard Witch; a blog about playing "competitive Magic with a casual attitude".  As regular readers will already know for the past week or so this blog has been looking at deck archetypes in Scars of Mirrodin Booster draft with a multi-part series called "Gotta Catch Em All".  Today we're going to continue that series by looking at another "combo" type deck in the format; R/B Furnace Celebration.  While I'm aware that a number of "Pro" Magic players have written about this archetype, after playing the deck a few times in draft I disagree with a number of the theories I've read about it.  In fact the deck's very title may well be a misnomer; I've played and played against several excellent R/B Celebration decks that never managed to draft a single copy of Furnace Celebration!  Without further delay then lets jump right into the deep water and take a look at another one of the coolest "combo" type decks in SoM Limited:

Description:  At it's core R/B Furnace Celebration is basically an aggro deck built around some of the best removal cards in the format.  In the early game this deck seeks to rush out a bunch of cheap creatures and clear out enemy blockers with cheap spells/damage effects.  Where it differs from say non-Metalcraft R/W Aggro however is that it has a "back door" or late game strategy built around sacrificing it's own permanents for positive effects.  Typically this will involve a copy of Furnace Celebration or two but I've also seen versions built around cards like Culling Dias, Perilous Myr, Barrage Ogre, Necrotic Ooze, Ferravore and even Myr Reservoir.  Aggro rush decks with a game winning combo have long been a staple deck-type for creative drafters the world over and in my humble opinion R/B Furnace Celebration is simply the next contender in the line.

Key Cards:  The general key to drafting this deck archetype is to properly identify which cards you're actually competing for and which cards nobody but you will want.  Generally sacrificing your own permanents isn't something people want to do; players will usually quickly pass these cards without a further glance.  While in many cases these "fringe" cards will be the *best* choice for your strategy, taking them early will make it hard for you to build the *best* deck possible.  As usual the best strategy is probably to focus on removal and game finishers early and then draft your "combo" cards later in the pack.  This base strategy unfortunately makes this a difficult deck to share with others; if you're winning with B/R Celebration it probably means nobody else in your draft was forcing the deck. 

Virtually any discussion about the top commons in this archetype pretty much has to start with the removal; Grasp of Darkness, Galvanic Blast, Shatter and Turn to Slag are all worthwhile early picks in virtually any R/B deck.  I would also be tempted to value Perilous Myr quite highly here; there's probably no better artifact in the entire format to sacrifice on purpose for this deck.  Tumble Magnet is also a pretty strong pick in this archetype; helping you clear out early blockers until it runs out of counters and then turning on a sacrifice trigger in the mid-late game.  Even Fumespitter and Instill Infection can be very good in this deck; although it's probably unwise to take either card before about pick 5 unless you suspect you're at a table with more than 1 other Black drafter.  Both on-color mana Myr are somewhat invaluable here; not only does this deck have a lot of action at 4 or 5 mana but they also make ideal pain free sacrifice targets in the late game.  While both on-color Replicas are pretty strong in this build I'd take the Vulshok over the Moriok by several picks simply because it's in higher demand in my experience.  Finally I also like to draft a few high utility artifacts like Sylvok Lifestaff and Wall of Tanglecord; assuming I get enough of them the Bleak Coven Vampires are actually pretty solid in this build as well.

While it would be tempting to assume that the most valuable uncommon in a deck called R/B Furnace Celebration would be the one named "Furnace Celebration" this is only partially correct.  The simple truth is that while you might be able to pick a Furnace Celebration between picks 5-9 your *only* chance to draft powerful on-color removal spells like Arc Trail, Skinrender or Oxidda Scrapmelter will be with your first couple of picks in a given pack.  Assuming you have enough artifacts to consistently trigger him (11+) Embersmith is also incredibly powerful and will have to be chosen early.  Once these 4 cards are gone however I would consider it completely reasonable to grab a Furnace Celebration if I felt I could support the archetype.  Other powerful options include "control" based artifacts like Rust Tick, Contagion Clasp, Necropede and Trigon of Corruption.  Barrage Ogre, Culling Dias and Flesh Allergy all deserve special mention as well; by turning the drawback of sacrificing something into an outlet for additional damage these cards consistently outperform their pick ranking in this build.  Both Painsmith and Necrogen Scudder can work well in this archetype; it's hard to find an aggro deck that wouldn't benefit from extra damage or a 3/3 flyer for 3 mana.  Depending on how "aggro" your early game is it's probably worth it to grab power boosting artifacts like Darksteel Axe, Trigon of Rage and Barbed Battlegear.  Finally generically good artifact creatures like Golem Artisan, Palladium Myr and Darsteel Sentinel are as useful here as they are in the rest of the format; very.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Gotta Catch Em All (SoM Deck Archetypes) # 7 - "G/U Molder Beast.Deck"

Hello ladies and gentlemen and welcome back to another edition of The Cardboard Witch.  If you're joining us for the first time, the author of this blog (me) has recently undertaken an epic quest to identify, describe and rate all of the available deck archetypes in Scars of Mirrodin booster drafts.  In my opinion the SoM draft environment is noticeably archetype driven; as opposed to say M11 which was more about "assembling a pile of good cards in 2 colors".  One of the key skills necessary to succeed in this format is identifying which archetypes are open/available and adjusting your pick evaluations accordingly in real time as the draft progresses.  While I certainly can't draft a good deck for you it's my hope that these "1 page archetype primers" will make it easier for readers to compete successfully in SoM drafts; after all the more the merrier and I need *somebody* to draft against!

With that out of the way lets get right back to the fray and talk about one of the better "combo" style decks in the format; G/U Molder Beast.deck.  The very first time someone played this deck against me in a draft was at least a month after SoM had been released and I was taken completely by surprise.  Up 14 or so life to his 5 my opponent proceeded to draw and cast 3 cards on his turn, sacrifice a bajjilion artifacts and hit me with a 15 power flying Molder Beast for the win.  Combining cheap artifacts, card draw, sacrifice effects and giant Green monsters who are very hard to block into the same deck allows this wacky archetype to create stunning victories from out of nowhere.

Description: Like any good combo deck in the format, G/U MBD is all about combining multiple (mostly common) cards to create a stronger whole.  Most of the best cards in this deck are unwanted or at least not highly valued by other deck archetypes; as a general rule your opponents are trying to put *more* artifacts into play not sacrifice the ones they have.  It's important to mention that the deck is title can be somewhat misleading; while it's true that the Molder Beast is the single *best* finishing creature for this strategy you don't need to play one to win with this archetype.  Any large enough (preferably on-color) creature will do; you just can't typically kill your opponent in one glorious shot without a Molder Beast or two.  Finally I should mention that G/U isn't the only color combination that makes this combo work, it's simply the easiest one to draft.  I've seen absolutely devastating G/R versions built around cards like Shatter, Vulshok Replica and on-color Panic Spellbombs.  Alternately there's also a G/B version that seeks to poison it's opponent to death with cards like Grafted Exoskeleton and Tainted Strike.  Unfortunately both of these "support" colors are typically in higher demand than either Green or Blue at most draft tables I'm aware of.  If you can select strong R/B removal early and still table your key Spellbombs, Replicas and Green monsters than by all means go for it.    

Key Cards: This deck archetype can be very difficult to draft simply because it has a significant number of "moving parts"; card draw, mana acceleration, ways to make your "Fatties" hard to block, giant monsters, some removal and ways to feed the Molder Beast all qualify as base requirements to build this archetype well.  You will certainly need a good memory to draft this deck well in any sort of serious tournament environment; they don't let you double check how many Horizon Spellbombs you've already drafted at higher level events!  Of course the upside is that very few of best cards in this deck have to be drafted early; removal effects, on-color mana Myr and the Molder Beast itself are the only cards you'll likely be competing heavily for.

The top commons in this build are probably the Molder Beast itself and both on-color Replicas (Sylvok and Neurok).  In this deck it's pretty hard to beat the overall versatility of cards that work as early defensive "walls", have built in removal/control effects and send a artifact (or two) to the graveyard when you use them! You'll probably also have to draft Tumble Magnet pretty high and while it's not the best defensive card in this archetype it's frighteningly effective at clearing out blockers for your late game rush.  Additionally both on-color Spellbombs are critically important and should be drafted slightly earlier than normal just to ensure you have a few; picks 3-5 for Horizon and picks 6-8 for Flight.  Personally I still value on-color mana Myr very highly in this archetype; if only so that I can cast my chubby monsters early without having to blow up/cycle all my Spellbombs.  I've also seen 1-2 copies of Stoic Rebuttal used quite effectively in this build; if you're going to create a 9+ power Molder Beast you might as well protect it.  I'd make a point to scoop up any copies of Sky-Eel School and Alpha Tyrranax I saw at the appropriate time; both cards make excellent back-up beatdown options when you just can't find a Molder Beast.  Finally while I wouldn't sell out to draft them highly like an Infect player might, I've found that Untamed Might can be fairly effective in this deck-type.  Combined with either Flying or Trample this card lets you end games suddenly even when you can't get a bunch of "tricks" into play.

In terms of uncommons the two best cards in this archetype are probably Slice in Twain with Volition Reins lagging only slightly behind since it doesn't (typically) also feed the Molder Beast at the same time.  Removal is "King" and this is especially true in a color combination like G/U were it's not always easy to come by.  You should also rate Necropede, Rust Tick, Tangle Angler, Contagion Clasp and Trigon of Corruption fairly highly for the same reason.  Darksteel Axe, Trigon of Rage and Barbed Battlegear are all excellent cards in a deck designed to make huge creatures difficult to block.  As far as creatures go Darkslick Drake, Bellowing Tangleworm and Golem Artisan can all make reasonable substitute "finishers" when you're having trouble finding a Molder Beast.  Acid Web Spider is another good "mans"; providing equipment removal, 5 toughness and reach for 5 mana.  It'd be nice if he had more than 3 power but that's what *your* equipment is for.  Palladium Myr is perfect for ramping up to 5 or 6 mana on turn 4 which makes him a solid fit here.  While I don't normally get excited about Blue's uncommon creatures both Riddlesmith and Trinket Mage are particularly effective in this archetype while being somewhat suspect in others.  Riddlesmith provides the card cycle this deck so desperately craves; allowing you to push towards whatever pieces of the combo you need at the cost of extra things you already have (usually land).  The biggest reason Trinket Mage isn't one of the top cards in this format is because the set has been carefully designed to limit the number of effecting 1 casting cost artifacts in actual decks; what's the point of casting a Gray Ogre if all you're going to do is go get a crappy Spellbomb anyways?  Of course in a deck designed to win the game with said spellbombs, Trinket Mage suddenly has way more value.  Finally keep an eye out for Culling Dias; while I don't recommend picking it early a singleton copy of this card can be very effective with a copy of Molder Beast or two and some spare artifact creatures.  Anything that can let you sacrifice 2 artifacts in a single turn to draw a card, even if one of them is itself has value when you're playing with Molder Beasts.
As mentioned in previous articles about SoM Booster Draft, most of the gold cards in this set are actually pretty good.  It's typically easier to just list the rares that *don't* work well in a given archetype than all of the good one simply because the latter outnumber the former by 2-1 or more.  In terms of strong "thematic" rares I'd tend to go with anything huge and "beaty"; Quicksilver Gargantuan, Liege of the Tangle, Wurmcoil Engine, Engulfing Slagwurm, Steel Hellkite, Myr Battlesphere, Molten-Tail Masticore, Argent Sphinx and Ezuri's Brigade all come to mind.  Asceticism can be solid in this archetype; it's much easier to win the game with a giant monster when your opponent isn't allowed to target your creatures and they all live forever.  Obviously rare power-boosting equipment like Nim Deathmantle, Livewire Lash and Strata Scythe can all be very powerful for pretty much the same reasons their uncommon counterparts are effective; making big unblockable monsters even bigger shortens your opponent's clock.  Probably the most interesting "on-theme" rare for this build however is Kuldotha Forgemaster, at least assuming you have 2-3 copies of Molder Beast of course.  There's nothing quite as satisfying as blowing up 3 artifacts to fish a copy of Sylvok Replica and then blowing it up to give each of your Molder Beasts +10 power in the process.  Otherwise my advice is to "play your good rares"; leaving a Contagion Engine in your sideboard because your deck "isn't about -1-1 counters and Proliferate" is just stupid.  In terms of rares to avoid I'd likely advise against drafting/playing anything too dependent on artifacts, Proliferate/Infect cards or rares that are simply bad; Dissipation Field, Grand Architect (unless you have a pile of Blue creatures and need a Crusade), Inexorable Tide, Shape Anew, Ezuri Renegade Leader, Genesis Wave, Putrefax, Darksteel Juggernaut, Grindclock, Lux Cannon, Mindslaver, Mox Opal, Myr Reservoir, Platinum Emperion, Prototype Portal, Semblance Anvil and Venser's Journal are all good examples.

Gotta Catch Em All (SoM Deck Archetypes) # 6 - "W/B Aggro"

Hello everyone and welcome back to another edition of The Cardboard Witch.  Today we're going to continue our ongoing look at deck archetypes in triple SoM booster drafts by taking a look at one of *my* personal favorite archetypes in the format; W/B Aggro.  While not as popular as some of the archetypes we've looked at previously I can say from personal experience that W/B aggro is by no means less powerful.  Combining excellent removal, cheap flyers and multiple life gain effects into a single deck has always been a successful recipe in Limited formats and even the Infect mechanic can't change that here in Scars.  Despite these advantages this archetype is often difficult to draft simply because all of it's best cards are also highly sought after by players drafting other, more popular archetypes.  This makes the deck something of a "rogue"; appearing roughly once every other draft or so locally.

Description:  Probably one of the greediest archetypes in the format W/B aggro decks are all about having *the best*; the best flyers, the best removal and the best game winning bombs in the format.  Of course many of these cards have WW or BB mana symbols in their casting costs but that's a small price to pay for casting Grasp of Darkness and Sunblast Angel in the same game.  Rarely will someone set out to force this archetype; the only reason to play it is because you've drafted a pile of good white and black cards.  In my experience most versions of this deck will essentially be a "Skies" deck; built around good flyers and removal.  Typically however most W/B aggro decks will also be running just enough artifacts to activate key cards and trigger Metalcraft status in the late game.  Usually this means between 10-13 artifacts against 11-14 colored cards but obviously it depends on the deck .

Key Cards:  As usual the name of the game is removal and bombs; things which this color combination can provide in quantity at the right draft table.   You'll also want to value flying creatures and power boosting equipment fairly highly while still finding enough artifacts to trigger late game Metalcraft effects.  As previously mentioned this is not an easy deck to draft and this archetype should almost *never* be forced.  Let your early picks be your guide and only shift into W/B aggro when you have the cards to make it worthwhile.

In terms of commons it's pretty hard to ignore this archetype's excellent removal options; Arrest, Grasp of Darkness and Revoke Existence are all incredibly powerful cards.  Even mid-pack cards like Instill Infection and Fumespitter can be very strong in this format when played properly and in moderation.  You'll also want to grab any copies of Perilous Myr and Tumble Magnet that come your way; they're both decent control cards while still helping you achieve Metalcraft and trigger cards that interact with artifacts.  As far as creatures or cards that become creatures go I tend to value Glint Hawk Idol very highly with Origin Spellbomb lagging only slightly behind.  Assuming you have enough cheap artifacts Glint Hawk is also strong but he's an absolute albatross if you don't; draft accordingly.  Both on-color Mana Myr should rate highly for 3 major reasons; W/B's mana base is atrocious, both colors are littered with 5 and 6 cc "bombs" and finally you simply need the relevant cards that say "artifact" to make this archetype work.  Other strong common artifacts in this build include equipment cards like Sylvok Lifestaff, Accorder's Shield and even Strider Harness; although don't draft the latter card too highly.  Assuming you actually have some equipment Sunspear Shikari works fine here as well.  Finally while I'm not a huge fan of either Replica in this color combination you'll probably have to draft/play a couple of them simply to meet the deck's requirement for artifacts; just don't draft them early because they *will* be available later in the draft.

Access to both White and Black's incredible selection of uncommons is probably the single best reason to draft this archetype; it's hard to argue that there's no synergy between cards like Glimmerpoint Stag and Skinrender on the basis of mana symbols for example.  Alternately Razor Hippogriff combines pretty well with Flesh Allergy if you sacrifice an artifact creature along the way; say a Necropede for maximum value?  While Dispense Justice isn't as strong here as it is in a pure Metalcraft deck it's still usually worth drafting early; not only can it be used to kill the first giant monster your opponent rams into you but it can take out two creatures in the late game once you do have 3+ artifacts in play.  Depending on your number of artifacts both of the on-color XSmiths are ridiculous in this archetype; Painsmith in particular works VERY well with flying attackers for example.  Speaking of flyers, don't forget about the criminally undervalued Necrogen Scudder.  You certainly don't want 3 copies of it in your deck but a 3/3 on-color flyer for only 3 mana is a major pain to deal with in the early/mid game and more than worth the initial 3 life investment.  Finally like most aggro decks in the format this build will benefit from generic strong uncommon artifacts like Rust Tick, Trigon of Rage, Darksteel Axe, Golem Artisan, Contagion Clasp (even without Glint Hawks), Barbed Battlegear, Palladium Myr and Trigon of Corruption.  If you drafted a Myrsmith or enough Origin Spellbombs/Myr creatures to make it worthwhile the Myr Galvanizer can also be very strong in this archetype.

While it gets a little tedious repeating it each time the simple truth is that Scars of Mirrodin rares are for the most part *VERY* good in Limited.  Given this fact I think it's actually simpler just to focus on which on theme rares work best in this decktype and which rares you should probably avoid.  By now I don't think anyone needs me to tell them that Contagion and Wurmcoil Engine are both good in virtually every deck in the format.  In terms of White cards I think the strongest rares in this build are the the two flying Angels, Elspeth and True Conviction.  Assuming you have 2-4 decent equipment cards Kemba, Khar Regent is also pretty broken.  I'd tend to shy away from Tempered Steel without a significant number of artifact creatures or ways to make them; say 11 and a Myrsmith minimum.  Leonin Arbiter is essentially the worst Sunspear Shikari/Carapace Battleforger in the format; if you're playing him it's because you desperately need bodies.  Alternately Black offers this archetype two of the format's best mythic rares in Geth and Skithryx; who you should draft and play even if you have no other cards to support an Infect strategy.  In the regular rare slot Carnifex Demon is no slouch; dominating entire boards and typically demanding an immediate answer upon being cast.  Necrotic Ooze isn't particularly effective here but it's playable; the same can not be said for Memoricide and Painful Quandry.  Hand of the Praetors is also a complete waste of time in this archetype, although it's obviously very good in an actual Infect deck.  As for artifacts my two favorite cards in this build are probably Mimic Vat and Precursor Golem.  The Vat obviously works well with Black removal but it also combines incredibly well with the various 187 creatures in both colors; putting a Skinrender, Razor Hippogriff, Glimmerpoint Stag or even just a Fumespitter under the Vat demands a near-immediate answer in my experience.  Precursor Golem on the other hand is pretty much the ideal rare for a "fake" Metalcraft deck like this one; instantly providing 3 artifacts at the cost of 1 card.  In terms of artifact rares to avoid I'd say Grindclock; Myr Propagator, Lux Cannon, Mind Slaver, Platinum Emperion, Semblance Anvil and Venser's Journal are just as terrible here as they are in most other archetypes.  Additionally your average W/B aggro deck will struggle to take maximum advantage of cards like Darksteel Juggernaut, Tower of Calamities, Prototype Portal, Mox Opal and Koldotha Forgemaster.  Otherwise quite literally anything else that says artifact and has a gold set symbol is playable in this archetype.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Gotta Catch Em All (SoM Deck Archetypes) # 5 - "U/R Metalcraft"

Hello everyone out there reading along in Internetlands; welcome back to another edition of The Cardboard Witch.  For those of you just joining us, recently this blog has featured a multi-part series on deck archetypes in triple SoM booster drafts; "Gotta Catch Em All".  After taking a day off to recharge my batteries I'm pretty excited to get right back at it!  Lets dive in and look at our 5th deck archetype and yet another deck that appears in almost every SoM 8 man booster draft at least once; U/R Metalcraft.

Description:  While there is a certain tendency to assume that all Metalcraft decks are pretty much the same, careful observation over a number of drafts prove this statement blatantly untrue.  Just because we all share the same pool of artifacts to draw from doesn't mean that each functional color combination wants to use them in the same way.  While W/R and W/B versions of this deck will generally try to swarm you quickly with hordes of aggressive artifact creatures, U/R Metalcraft on the other hand is very much a control deck at heart.  Using a combination of Red's cheap removal, Blue's walls/defensive cards and powerful artifact creatures this deck stalls the game out early before clubbing you to death with Metalcraft enhanced effects/artifact creatures in the mid-late game.  Obviously like any Metalcraft based deck in the format this archetype is heavily dependent on playing artifacts, generally meaning it will have room for 8-10 on-color cards at most and these will often be some form of removal. 

Key Cards: Unfortunately part of the trade-off you make when you build a deck around the Metalcraft trait is having to pick artifacts higher than you otherwise would.  That isn't to say you should be passing a lot of Red removal to 1st or 2nd pick a Chrome Steed but ultimately you're going to need about 14-16 artifacts to make this deck work and you won't have them if you spend all of your early picks on colored cards.  Thankfully most of the Blue removal in the format can be had with later picks; you should therefore prioritize Red removal cards, Volition Reins and powerful artifact creatures more highly and use later picks to fill out the deck's Blue cards.

In terms of commons this deck archetype is actually quite strong; Galvanic Blast and Shatter are probably the absolute best although Neurok Replica gives them a good run for their money.  Depending on your draft table you may not even have to pick the Replica all that highly; many people simply haven't figured out how powerful it is in this format.  Sitting just behind those 3 cards are Turn to Slag, Vulshok Replica, Tumble Magnet, Perilous Myr, Sylvok Lifestaff, Sky-Eel School (be mindful of your # of colored cards though), Chrome Steed and both of the on-color mana Myr.  These cards will all be high picks in other archetypes as well so it's important that you make a concerted effort to load up on them early since you likely won't see additional copies later in a pack.  Thankfully U/R Metalcraft is one of the best archetypes at squeezing maximum value out of cards other decks won't value highly; we'll talk more about some of these cards later on in this article but for now keep cards like Stoic Rebuttal, Accorder's Shield, Solition, Snapsail Glider, Lumengrid Drake, Disperse, Strider Harness and Wall of Tanglecord in mind as late pack common options in this archetype.

One of the major pitfalls of playing U/R Metalcraft is properly ranking the amazing uncommons available to this archetype.  It's very easy to fall in love with SoM's many broken uncommon artifact creatures and forget all about the 3 best cards available; Arc Trail, Volition Reins and Oxidda Scrapmeleter.  The only uncommon artifact creature that's even close to "on-par" with these cards is Golem Artisan; regardless all four cards will certainly be highly sought after by numerous people at your draft table and you *will* be forced to pick them early.  Assuming you have enough cheap artifacts Embersmith is also literally "off the chain" and should be picked early; don't bother if all of your artifacts cost 4-5 however as he works much better as an early game Myr assassin.  Other excellent options include Contagion Clasp, Darkslick Drake, Rust Tick, a Barrage Ogre (but not more than 1 usually), Palladium Myr, Necropede, Trigon of Corruption and Rusted Relic.  While I'm not a huge fan of the various uncommon power boosting artifacts I've seen Darksteel Axe, Trigon of Rage and even Barbed Battlegear perform reasonably well in this design.  The same thing can be said for Riddlesmith although I like the card way less than most people; I rarely have room for "extra" land and every time I've used this card I find myself  constantly discarding cards I need later.  Finally depending on how many Solitons you've drafted (2 being ideal) it may be worth aggressively drafting a Heavy Arbalest or two.  Machine-gunning your opponent or his creatures for 2 Damage a turn for each Island you have in play is both ridiculously fun and frighteningly effective.  

Like most decks in this format the number of good rares you can play in U/R Metalcraft vastly exceeds the number of rares you shouldn't play.  Particular favorites of mine include Precursor Golem, Grand Architect and Mimic Vat (imprinting a dead artifact creature).  Other "broken" options include recursive or regenerating cards like Argent Sphinx, Molten-Tail Masticore and Kuldotha Phoenix.  Finally the general defensive/control-ish nature of U/R Metalcraft make mass board-sweeping cards like Cerebral Erruption and Contagion Engine more effective; albeit only slightly in terms of the already awesome Engine.  Otherwise the general policy should be to "smoke em if you've got em"; virtually any of the good rares here in SoM work well in this archetype completely regardless of their interaction with Artifacts.  Even a giant fat monster like Quicksilver Gargantuan can always just copy your best artifact creature in play!