Sunday, January 2, 2011

Standard Deviations #9 - Finding Jamie Wakefield

Hello ladies and gentlemen and welcome back to another edition of The Cardboard Witch.   Due to the recent holiday schedule and the store I manage having it's biggest sale of the year I've unfortunately been unable to draft *at all* this past week.  Well, I probably could have played Magic Online but as those of you who know me in real life are aware, Magic The Videogame and I don't play well together.  I have however managed to find time to keep playing/testing Standard decks despite a myriad of work/holiday obligations; after all you've gotta feed the monkey somehow. I've also managed to build and start testing two new decks for my growing gauntlet; a mono Green "Elves!" list cobbled from MTGO daily results and a R/G aggro deck that doesn't look like anything I've seen in the format before.  For those of you counting at home this puts my gauntlet up to 8 separate decks; U/B Control, G/r Valakut, Boros, RDW, Mono G Elf Vine, B/R Vampires, Big Red Koth and of course this new R/G Aggro build.  Unfortunately I had to take the G/W Quest list apart to build the Elf Vine deck but ultimately I don't feel like this is too big of a loss; the simple truth is that the Quest deck wasn't winning very many games against the rest of the gauntlet in testing. 

Now before we go any further I'd like to offer the following disclaimer:  The deck I'm going to talk about in this article is completely new (as far as I know anyways) and I've played about 18 games total with it so far.  I have not only not finished testing this baby but I haven't even built a proper sideboard for it yet!  I think this is important to mention simply because usually when I write an article about a Standard deck it will be *after* I've play-tested the build thoroughly and tweaked it multiple times.  So why am I showing you a deck I thought of less than a week ago and have only had the time to test minimally?  Well the fact that it's lost a grand total of 1 game so far is certainly a factor but the honest truth is that I think this deck is "soo freaking cool" I couldn't wait to share it.  That's right, I've got a deck designer crush on this new build and now I want to show off my "baby"; let ye who hath never sinned cast the first stone!  First let's take a look at the list itself and then I'll talk a little bit about why I chose the cards I did and what the deck is trying to accomplish:         

"Scarlet Force" - G/R Stampede Aggro

Creatures - 25

4x Llanowar Elves
4x Joraga Treespeaker
4x Lotus Cobra
3x Beastbreaker of Bala Ged
4x Leatherback Baloth
3x Wolfbriar Elemental
3x Inferno Titan

Spells - 11

4x Lightning Bolt
2x Tumble Magnet
2x Garruk Wildspeaker
3x Overwhelming Stampede

Lands - 24

6x Forest
4x Verdant Catacombs
2x Misty Rainforest
4x Copperline Gorge
4x Raging Ravine
4x Rootbound Crag


4x Arc Trail
11x Forest

Overview:  Long time fans of Magic the Gathering will be intimately familiar with the work/decks/writings of one Jamie Wakefield.  For younger readers however it should probably be explained that Mr Wakefield was one of the earliest (and most popular) Magic theorists publishing articles and deck-lists online.  By sharing how he thought about deck-building with a whole generation of players Jamie revolutionized how we think about magic; in particular he's credited with introducing the world to modern mana-bases and acceleration schemes with his most famous creation Secret Force .  One of the most influential decks of all time Secret Force was all about spilling out "mana Elves" and cheating a huge token producing "Fatty" into play as soon as possible before wiping the opponent out with a massive Overrun.  In order to buy enough time to set this "combo" up the deck also ran a number of "disruption" creatures like "Sex Monkey" , Elvish Lyrist and Spike Weaver.  Perhaps most importantly Jamie's deck could outlast/out-endure control strategies of the day; after all just because you killed the Verdant Force doesn't mean all the tokens go away and if necessary he could always sacrifice an Elf and tutor up another "Fatty" with Natural Order.  This combination of speed, disruption, endurance and brutal up front power helped Wakfield qualify for the Pro Tour and would ultimately become the blueprint for building successful Green-based aggro decks to this very day. 

I bring up this little trip down memory lane because when I initially began building this deck Jamie Wakefield was very much on my mind.  I'd been working on a mono-Green "Overwhelming Stampede" deck designed to take advantage of cards like, Fauna Shaman, Vengevine, Leatherback Baloth and Wolfbriar Elemental.  Unfortunately after hours of unsuccessful building, testing and tweaking I was beginning to get discouraged; while the deck clearly had a lot of synergy it just wasn't winning enough games to be tournament viable.  In particular the deck seemed to suffer greatly from Green's lack of "disruption" creatures and a general inability to "grind-out" long games against control decks with board sweep effects (Day of Judgement).  Frustrated and just about ready to quit I happened to stumble across a several months old article about "Secret Force" style mono-Green decks in Standard.  The article itself was uninspiring but just the name "Secret Force" send my memory into over-drive; starting from scratch I sat down with a copy of Wakefied's original list and began to brew myself a modern reproduction true in both form and faith.  Of course times change and with them so do the names of the cards we play but good Magic theory is eternal; I felt that if I could make my deck do the same things in modern Magic as Jamie's deck had done back in the day I'd have a sure fire winner on my hand.  Unfortunately there was just one more minor problem; no matter how hard I tried I simply couldn't make modern mono-Green do all the things Secret Force had.  Thankfully I had already learned while building/playing B/R Vampires that the newest crop of SoM dual lands made it incredibly easy to splash friendly colored spells into an otherwise mono-colored deck. By adding cards like Lightning Bolt, Raging Ravine and Inferno Titan I felt I could more closely emulate the qualities that had made Secret Force so successful and "Scarlet Force" was born:

  • Speed: The combination of 12 mana ramp creatures, 2 Garruk Wildspeakers and under-costed "fatties" like Beastbreaker of Bala Ged and Leatherback Baloth make this one of the fastest decks in standard.  Turn 3-4 Inferno Titans or "triple-kicked" Wolfbriar Elementals are certainly not uncommon and winning through Garruk/Stampede on turn 5 is pretty consistent.
  • Disruption: Frankly cards like Lightning Bolt, Tumble Magnet and Inferno Titan are *way* better than what sticking to Green could have offered us.  While the deck lacks the Artifact/Enchantment destruction that helped define Secret Force this is simply a modern environmental choice; it would be quite easy to throw some Acidic Slimes/Manic Vandals in the Sideboard.
  • Endurance: While there really aren't any cards in Standard quite like Natural Order it's also pretty safe to say that Secret Force never had a card like Garruk Wildspeaker either.  Between 2 Planeswalkers, 4 copies of Raging Ravine and "must-answer" early threats like Baloth and Beastbreaker this deck is actually very strong against control.  When you throw in post-Wrath options like a multi-kicked Wolfbriar Elemental or even just an Inferno Titan to "the dome" I think it's pretty safe to say the game 1 match-up is clearly in your favor.
  • Brutality/Power:  Not to brag but frankly I feel that Scarlet Force is an improvement over Secret Force in this department almost across the board.  From turn 2 Leatherback Baloths all the way through 6 point Overwhelming Stampedes this deck hits harder and faster than it's predecessor ever did.  Think about it; would your rather have Inferno Titan/Wolfbriar Elemental, Tumble Magnet and Lightning Bolt or Verdant Force and some crappy Enchantment/Artifact destructions creatures?  Exactly.

How to play it:  With only 18 games worth of testing and a couple hundred "goldfish" draws to go on it's a little difficult to write the definitive play-guide for Scarlet Force at this point.  On a basic level you want to spend you first turn or two setting up your mana base and then start hurling 4+F monsters at your opponent's head as quickly as possible.  Once you've flooded the board with enough creatures it's pretty easy to overwhelm your opponent with Stampede or Garruk's "ultimate" ability.  Typically this ability to "go over-top" of most aggro decks allowed me to save my Lightning Bolts and Tumble Magnets for a defensive role; making it impossible for my opponents to outrace me. Against control I tend to play more cautiously; forcing out an early Leatherback or Beastbreaker and then milking it for maximum value.  The key is to force your opponent to spend his board wipe effects on 1 or 2 threats at a time; if you can make him Day of Judgement away a Baloth and a Cobra BEFORE you have to cast a Wolfbriar or Inferno Titan you're more than halfway towards winning the match-up.  Of course even if your opponent is running multiple Wrath of God effects you can always simply grind him down with Garruk Wildspeaker and Raging Ravine.  Finally due to the sheer number of "mana ramp" effects in Scarlet Force it's frighteningly easy to "blank" cards like Mana Leak and Spell Pierce; unless your opponent main-decks Flashfreeze this deck is relatively immune to counter-magic in game 1 when played well.   Of course it's still important to play well; nobody is going to win running all their best creatures into removal spells or failing to leave up "Leak" mana when dropping Inferno Titans.   Don't forget to think your turns through carefully before you act, particularly when you have one or more Lotus Cobras in play.  I've left more than a couple free mana on the table by playing my lands/Cobras in the wrong order and mistakes like this will cost you both speed and tempo.

Well folks thats about all I have for the moment.  Obviously while I can freely speculate about which match-ups I feel Scarlet Force is and isn't strong against in the current Standard Format but until I get more time to test this would be merely idle chatter.  Additionally at some point it's probably important that I throw some sort of sideboard together; likely some combination of Arc Trail, Wurmcoil Engine, Acidic Slime, Manic Vandal and Brittle Effigy.  I'm also considering switching to 2 Beastbreakers to make room for a 3rd Tumble Magnet; while not spectacular in every match-up the Magnet is just about the perfect answer to a turn 3-4 enemy Titan in this build.  I promise to come back to this deck and "fill in the blanks" after a hundred or so more games of testing but so far I think it shows an incredible amount of promise.

On that note it's probably time for me to get some sleep; I hope everyone out there had an amazing New Year and I look forward to bringing you more Cardboard Witch articles in 2011.  As always thanks for reading and until next time remember that if you squint really hard Wolf tokens look like Sapprolings and Inferno Titan can pass for a giant tree elemental!


  1. I don't have any insights about this deck at the moment, but it does look *spicy* and I'm excited to try it out. I did want to say thank you for continuing to blog well-written, thoughtful articles. I read them regularly and appreciate your site quite a bit -- happy new year!

  2. Wow, well thanks a lot Stephen; I gotta admit that's the nicest thing anyone has said to me all day and it made me smile. Thanks skittles and I'll try to keep posting good articles as time moves foward.

  3. Nice article. Well written and some nice thoughts behind it. I wish I had seen this sooner, it looks like a great deck to play.