Friday, February 4, 2011

Standard Deviations #10 - Stating the Obvious

Hello everyone and welcome back to another edition of The Cardboard Witch.  Unless you've been trapped in a country without internet service (too soon?) you've probably had a chance to read some MBS pre-release reports and peruse the spoiler a little bit.  You probably also noticed that while Mirrodin Besieged doesn't appear to radically change Standard at first glance there *are* several obvious upgrades to pre-existing decks in the format.  I'd like to kick of the post MBS-era here on The Cardboard Witch by taking a look at what I believe are 3 of the more obvious deck upgrades in the format.  While these decklists are only one woman's opinion on what the post-MBS versions of these decks may look I feel pretty confident throwing them out into cyberspace.  I honestly believe that all 3 of these upgrades are so "plug and play" that they'll become environmental standard in a matter of weeks; feel free to bring this up a month from now when PTParis proves me completely wrong.

First up lets take a look at the deck I expect to define early game aggro for at least the early part of this format: Kuldotha Goblins.  Prior to the release of MBS I personally felt Kuldotha Goblins was a good example of a tier 1.5 or even tier 2 deck.  While obviously very competitive on it's best draws I felt the deck lacked overall consistency; too often you'd "wiff" on the early Kuldotha Rebirth combo and be left either holding a dead sorcery or worse still with a bunch of bad artifacts in play.  You can find a pretty good example of what these decks looked like before MBS here ; personally I think it's quite telling that when I searched for a tournament winning list to show as an example all I could find is a deck that won it's Game Day in the Philippines.  Now compare that list to what the deck looks like after Mirrodin Besieged:        

Gobpile - Mono Red Goblin Aggro w/ Artifacts:

Creatures - 26:

4x Memnite
4x Signal Pest
4x Goblin Guide
4x Goblin Bushwhacker
4x Goblin Wardriver
2x Phyrexian Revoker
4x Goblin Chieftan

Spells - 12:

4x Lightning Bolt
4x Kuldotha Rebirth
2x Galvanic Blast
2x Tumble Magnet

Land - 22:

15x Mountain
4x Teetering Peaks
3x Contested Warzone

What's Improved?:  First and foremost the Battle Cry mechanic is pretty snapped; prior to MBS this deck was incredibly dependent on drawing well timed Goblin Bushwhackers/Chieftains to mass push incredible amounts of damage through on turns 2-4.  With Battle Cry the deck now has 8 additional ways to replicate the +1/+0 effect and a stunning 19 cards in total that mass pump your creature's power.  This of course includes the "Battle cry-like" effects of  your 3 Contested Grounds; a card many will be tempted to cut early in the format but one that has been testing out *very* well for me in this deck so far.  Obviously if having 8 ways to mass pump your weenies/gobos is good than it's safe to say having 19 ways is considerably better.  Secondly and almost as importantly; playing artifacts that are good in their own right instead of crappy low cost trinkets who's only purpose is to feed Kuldotha Rebirth is a significant improvement.  Say what you will about the value of cards like Panic Spellbomb and Ornithopter but they pale significantly when measured against a card like Signal Pest.  I've already won a number of test games on this little guy's back without ever even sniffing a Kuldotha Rebirth which is certainly something you'd never say about an Accorder's Shield or a Mox Opal for example.  Finally of course even more expensive artifacts like Phyrexian Evoker (2CC) and Tumble Magnet (3CC) provide direct meta to specific environmental problems.  The Evoker is excellent against Ratchet Bomb and Eslpeth; both cards that can give this build fits against a good U/W Control player.  Alternately the Tumble Magnet is highly versatile; metaing against enemy Titans/Wurmcoil Engines and helping you tap down troublesome blockers to generate lightning quick wins.  One of my favorite plays so far involved tapping down my opponent's 4/4 blocker, casting a Rebirth to turn the Magnet into 3x 1/1 Goblins and then dropping a Goblin Chieftain to swing into an empty board for lethal.

Now that we've looked at what I think is the most obvious aggro deck in the format let's shift gears and look at what's probably the most obvious mana ramp deck in the format;  Green Sun Valakut.  This is a pretty good example of where R/G Valakut Ramp stood before the addition of MBS.  The simple truth is that even before this set Valakut was one of the most powerful decks in Standard; although it had recently become less popular due to a spotty match-up with U/B Control and a general tendency for decks to over-meta against it.  I don't expect this lack of popularity to last much longer however and the deck-list below offers a good example of why:   

Green Sun Valakut - R/G Mana Ramp:

Creatures - 12:

4x Overgrown Battlements
1x Thrun, the Last Troll
4x Primeval Titan
3x Avenger of Zendikar

Spells - 21:

4x Khalni Heart Expedition
3x Explore
4x Cultivate
4x Slagstorm
2x Growth Spasm
4x Green Sun's Zenith

Lands - 27:

4x Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle
3x Evolving Wilds
3x Tectonic Edge
12x Mountains
5x Forest

What's Improved?:  Considering that Valakut was already one of the most consistent and explosive decks in the entire format it's difficult to understand why it was necessary to print cards like Green Sun's Zenith and Slagstorm.  While obviously having 8 copies of Primeval Titan is pretty ridiculous the green Zenith's true value lies in it's utility; having 8 copies of Overgrown Battlements in the early game or 7 copies of Avenger of Zendikar available when you need a pile of blockers borders on criminal.  It's actually difficult to overstate the effect a resolved Green Sun's Zenith has on the current board state; imagine your opponent top-decking the perfect creature for the current situations 2-3 times in a single game and you'll be close.  From this point forward Green Sun's Zenith is the most important card in the entire deck (including Valakut) and every game you play with or against Valakut will revolve around this spell.  As if this wasn't disturbing enough MBS has simultaneously delivered a 3 point Pyroclasm that can be used to "dome" both players in a pinch.  While somewhat clunky compared to either card Slagstorm allows Valakut players to sidestep the "Pyroclasm or Lightning Bolt" question entirely by mimicking both.  While obviously more valuable against weenie aggro decks as a 3CC board sweeper the fact that you can redirect the damage at an enemy Jace if necessary makes Slagstorm a pretty obvious main-deck inclusion.  Additionally don't discount the value of doing 3 points of damage instead of 2 with a Pyroclasm; Slagstorm allows you to power through the first "Crusade" (Tribal Lords, Leyline of Sanctity, etc) effect and in many cases (Tribal Lords) even the second.  Finally of course I added a lone copy of Thrun, the Last Troll to help improve the matchup against counter-control decks in game 1.  While I'm not entirely sure how far the singleton Thrun is going to get me the card seems at least reasonably powerful against anything running Islands and I had an open slot.  You can turn this into an Inferno Titan or a Koth if you like, I just prefer the Thrun for the moment.

As a final note it should be mentioned that while the deck has now dropped Summoning Trap and Gaea's Revenge from the main-deck (at least my version) there are still likely 4 Traps and 2-3 copies of Revenge in the SB.  To gain something you have to give something and unless all you ever play against are U decks you're gaining a LOT by ditching the Traps for the Zeniths in my opinion.

Naturally of course no trip to Magic "obviousland" would be complete without a look at the current "King Daddy" of Standard decks; U/B Control.  I should warn you that this is in no way inventive; many people believe that U/B Control is going to shift towards either an Infect/Poison based strategy or towards a Tezzeret fueled artifact control deck.  Unfortunately neither of those choices are as "obvious" as simply rebuilding the World Championship era deck with new/better cards from Mirrodin Besieged.  At some point I promise you I'll build a Tezzy deck but for now it's all about starting at the beginning with a new environment and I honestly feel straight U/B Control will be the more common beginning point in the format.  Probably the most famous example of a mainstream U/B Control deck is Guillaume Matignon's WC Winner and as regular readers of the blog are aware I have my own version, meta'd heavily against control .  With these lists in mind let's take a look at where I think this deck might go in the first few weeks with MBS added:

A Cold Dark Place - U/B Control:

Creatures - 5:

2x Abyssal Persecutor
1x Frost Titan
2x Grave Titan

Planeswalkers - 4:

4x Jace, the Mind Sculptor

Spells - 25:

4x Duress
4x Preordain
1x Brittle Effigy
4x Mana Leak
4x Go for the Throat
3x Spreading Seas *
3x Cancel/Stoic Rebuttal/some mix of both
2x Black Sun's Zenith

* can be substituted for 2x Into the Roil, 1x Brittle Effigy

Land - 26:

4x Creeping Tar Pit
4x Darkslick Shores
4x Drowned Catacomb
4x Tectonic Edge
2x Scalding Tarn
5x Island
3x Swamp

What's Improved?:  The most obvious improvement in the post-MBS version of this deck is the inclusion of Go for the Throat in the old Doom Blade/Disfigure slots.  For the most part Go for the Throat is a straight up improvement on Doom Blade overall and before you say "what about Wurmcoil Engine/Molten-Tail Masticore" remember that neither of those creatures were great targets for Doom Blade either.  Most importantly Go for the Throat lets you kill black creatures; whether they be Vampires, enemy Grave Titans or even your own Abyssal Persecutors when it's "winning time".  This combination of early defense (G4tT costs 1B) and the ability to kill my own demon made it pretty easy to switch in the game winning Persecutors for the somewhat marginal Sea Gate Oracles.  While I don't doubt I'll miss the card draw/cycling I certainly won't miss attacking my opponent for 1 damage 5 times in a row while I wait to draw an actual finisher.  Additionally of course the deck also received Black Sun's Zenith which in my opinion is a very powerful board sweeping option; although admittedly a little clunkier than Consume the Meek was.  For example you will have to play BSZ *before* you cast any of your creatures unless you're prepared to kill/permanently shrink them whereas you could typically play Consume whenever you drew it and lose nothing but Zombie tokens.  In my opinion what *really* makes BSZ shine in this build however is actually the reshuffle mechanic printed on all the Zenith's in this set.  It's pretty hard to turn down protecting my Jace from weenies while giving myself a free shuffle at the same time to make his "Brainstorm" ability more effective.

* A Note On Personal Card Choices:  In the above U/B list I've included several card choices that would be considered "nonstandard" by those who netdeck religiously.  In particular Duress over Inquisition of Kozilek, running more than 1 Cancel/Stoic Rebuttal and running anything less than 4 Spreading Seas will likely stand out as "odd".  The environment I play in is very U/Control heavy; to tell you the truth I rarely bother to maindeck *any* of the Spreading Seas at all.  I also see way more Summoning Traps/Jace, the Mind Sculptors than I see 2-3CC Vampires/Goblins and just enough Mana Ramp decks to ensure that 1x "real" counterspell isn't going to be enough.  I've been told that Toronto is sorta like France in that U/x is popular regardless of how good it is but I certainly can't say as I've never been to France.  I also still see Wurmcoil Engines, Masticores and big giant Eldrazi Monsters on a semi regular basis which may help explain the inclusion of 1 or more copies of Brittle Effigy in my version of these decks.  Assuming this somehow offends you it should be pretty easy to switch the deck back to "normal" and play it from there, good luck.

Well folks there you have it; my quick take on what I consider 3 of the most obvious decks in the post MBS environment.  While this list is by no means exhaustive I feel fairly confident that you're see decks very similar to these soon in your local FNM scenes.  I should mention that I didn't include sideboards with these decks on purpose and not just because I'm lazy.  Good sideboard building requires a keen understanding of the environment you expect to face; while I can easily say "run Summoning Trap in your Valakut sideboard" or "Flashfreeze and Memoricide are standard U/B sideboard options" anything more complicated would simply be guesswork on my part.  Like most people I tend to start my sideboards by protecting against a deck's perceived weaknesses and over time rotate in more and more cards to hate out whatever proves to be the strongest/most popular decks in the format.  Hopefully this article helps you prepare for the post MBS meta-game a little easier; as always thanks for reading and until next time "happy smashing"!


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