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52 FNMs – Arf Arf

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Last Friday, I played Ken Adams’s Standard deck from the SCG Invitational.

These days, when I’m not playing Blue, I get really stressed out about it.

On one side of the coin, Blue is a crutch. Poorer players who don’t know their decks that well and don’t know which hands to mulligan can, more often than not, be bailed out when piloting Blue decks—there’s card-draw there that just isn’t present in other colors. Knowing when to mulligan hands is much more difficult in non-Blue decks, and the skill usually comes from play-testing and having knowledge of the deck’s interactions; if you’re unwilling to play-test or unable to just look at a deck list and know how to mulligan and how the deck interacts with other decks (like me!), Blue is a crutch.

On the other side of the coin, Blue—and drawing cards—is just more powerful than what other colors are doing. For a long time, I’d be frustrated when players would just offhandedly say, “Well, Blue is the best color, yada, yada, yada; I’m a stupid tramp,” and I’d always assume they were just idiots who had no idea what they were talking about and that they just liked Blue because they liked the crutch. Ninety-nine percent of the time, I was right, but that’s neither here nor there.

When I was an incoming freshman in college, they made us take this StrengthsQuest test so we could find out what our strengths are because, ostensibly, focusing on your traits that are already strengths, maxing those out, and relying on your strengths has more EV than working on your weak spots . . . something like that. The jury’s still out on that one.

Apparently, one of my strengths was simply context. I’m still not sure that’s a strength; the fact that I obsessively seek to contextualize everything does not mean that it’s a strength or a weakness. To me, it’s just a trait. The reason I’m mentioning this at all is that Magic isn’t static. It’s always moving in one direction or the other. So sometimes, Blue is the best. Sometimes, it’s not. Decks are not measured by raw power—that’s stupid; decks are measured by how they fit in the context of their respective metagames.

One of the ideas accepted by [bad] Magic players that I’ve fought against for a long time is that aggro is bad and only shitty players play aggro. This is usually spouted out by Eternal players because they get to play busted-ass cards like Brainstorm and Force of Will; any other strategy is obviously going to look silly in comparison. However, I’m a fan of picking my spots and trying to play synergistic, low-variance decks that attack a specific metagame—instead of trying to jam as many powerful cards and interactions in one pile and just running it out there.

What I’ve come to find with this series is a bit of a heartbreaker: the Blue decks simply are more inherently powerful. As LSV’s even noted on his videos while testing that Esper control deck, the card-drawing spells in the current Standard format are pretty abysmal (Forbidden Alchemy or bust!), and Blue still blows every other color away. And it’s been like that, with brief exceptions—Jund, until people caught on to Spreading Seas, and Ghost Dad, until people figured out it was a deck (it was comically easy to hate)—ever since Ravager Affinity. And even that deck had Thoughtcast.

Blue represents this quest—quixotic as it may seem—to conquer variance in Magic. Sometimes, aggro is the right strategy on a given day. However, more often than not, especially if you didn’t have time to play-test or anything, your best bet in any given Constructed tournament is to go Blue . . . in the dark. Counterspells and Forbidden Alchemies are just easier to play correctly—it’s always easier to identify what kills you rather than what doesn’t, as opposed to identifying whether or not your chances of winning go up or down when you mulligan a five-lander, and so on. Aggro might take away a lot of games, but as you keep expanding the sample sizes of your play-testing, I have a feeling that Blue decks start taking a bigger percentage of game wins than non-Blue decks do. That’s just a theory, though, and it’s worth mentioning that I’ve thought about it for maybe twelve seconds.

Passing similarities to old, insane Bennie Smith articles aside, I liked Jesse Mason’s article from last week about how Blue shouldn’t get all the card drawing. I usually just play with whatever I’m given and acknowledge that I don’t know everything about Magic cards, and I only complain when cards prioritize variance (Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle) or make games and decks idiotically repetitive (the Titans), but it’s fun to imagine a world in which the card-draw isn’t just Blue.

Until then, though, I’m just gonna have to bemoan the weeks I’m not playing Blue.

[cardlist]

[Creatures]

4 Chandra's Phoenix

4 Stromkirk Noble

3 Olivia Voldaren

[/Creatures]

[Planeswalkers]

2 Koth of the Hammer

[/Planeswalkers]

[Spells]

1 Brimstone Volley

2 Incinerate

2 Tribute to Hunger

2 Volt Charge

3 Geistflame

2 Devil's Play

2 Slagstorm

3 Arc Trail

1 Batterskull

4 Shrine of Burning Rage

[/Spells]

[Lands]

11 Mountain

3 Swamp

3 Stensia Bloodhall

4 Blackcleave Cliffs

4 Dragonskull Summit

[/Lands]

[Sideboard]

2 Witchbane Orb

4 Manic Vandal

1 Enslave

1 Dismember

1 Doom Blade

1 Galvanic Blast

1 Sorin's Thirst

3 Night Terrors

1 Sever the Bloodline

[/Sideboard]

[/cardlist]

The deck is B/R, with Olivia Voldaren. I’m not the biggest fan of cards like Olivia Voldaren in Constructed; it’s much easier for me to know when I’ve exhausted someone’s removal suite in Limited than in Constructed, and the opponent is also less likely to rip removal off the top in Limited. Olivia Voldaren is a de-facto bomb in Limited. In Constructed, she’s merely okay; the 3 toughness is a big liability in a format with Brimstone Volley, Incinerate, and Slagstorm. It just seems that she dies a lot is all I’m saying.

Some of the sideboard choices are laugh-out-loud funny: two Witchbane Orb, one Enslave.

Round One – Holden Omans

Holden is playing G/W Humans, like always. Before the match, he aired his displeasure at no longer being able to Google his name without “some Magic shit” popping up, thanks to this very column. Sorry, bro, but I’m on a quest to out all Syracuse Magic players. NO MAN LEFT BEHIND!

Holden wins the die roll but mulligans and starts on a Birds of Paradise, which I’ve got the Geistflame for, but since I have no other pressure, I can’t really take advantage of the tempo swing. I play Chandra's Phoenix, and Holden answers that with the infinitely better Blade Splicer.

The lack of low-drop creatures in the deck was a little frustrating. I know the deck is supposed to be playing for the late game, but I hated getting huge swings in tempo by killing mana dorks and being forced to sit on my hands while my opponent recovered. This is why I like Blue better than Black in this type of deck: You’ve got Delver of Secrets and you’ve got Mana Leak. Once you get the tempo advantage, it’s easier for you to slam the door in your opponent’s face.

I play Arc Trail followed by my second Geistflame, taking out his team, but by then, I’m out of gas and have to hope for him to brick a lot, which he doesn’t. He follows up with the one-two punch of Gavony Township and Hero of Bladehold. It dawns on me that Gavony Township wrecks this deck, and I really hope he never draws any.

Game 2, Holden mulligans again. This time, I get to start on Stromkirk Noble, which destroys his entire deck, so Holden’s on the back foot, trying to stabilize, for the entire game. It doesn’t help that he keeps Forest, Forest, Avacyn's Pilgrim, Plains, Mirran Crusader, Mirran Crusader against a Red deck; I snap-kill his Avacyn's Pilgrim, and by the time he finds a second White source for his Mirran Crusader, the game is done.

Holden mulligans again to start Game 3, making him the unluckiest man alive. I have a hand of two Stromkirk Nobles, a Geistflame, a Batterskull, and some lands. The game actually takes forever; I start off with a lot of mana-flood while he’s got a shitload of guys, but my Stromkirk Nobles absorb a lot of his resources, and I win with Batterskull when he stops drawing dudes every turn. Holden gets pissed when he finally stops drawing creatures to block my Batterskull, which is ironic, because at that point, I have approximately sixty-five lands in play under my control and a single-digit number of spells played over the course of the game. It just so happens that three of those spells (two Stromkirk Nobles and Batterskull) destroy his deck. Also, I can’t complain about drawing a load of land with a Batterskull in play.

Oh yeah, and I kill an Elspeth Tirel with a Stensia Bloodhall this game. That feels pretty sweet.

Round Two – Matt Brown

Matt’s playing a U/R deck with Runechanter's Pikes and Invisible Stalkers, which I’m really happy about because I’m playing a burn deck with main-deck Slagstorm.

Game 1 wasn’t all that interesting. He’s got guys, and I’ve got burn for them. Matt ends up throwing away a couple of Mana Leaks when I have 3 mana available as I play my spells, and I end up killing him with Stensia Bloodhall and Koth of the Hammer.

Matt mulligans to start Game 2 (yup, I’m the luckiest) and has trouble hitting his third land-drop. It’s not terrible for him because I have one of those creatureless draws and a bunch of reactive things in my hand. I end up drawing a lot of lands, and Stensia Bloodhall ends up pulling a lot of weight. A random Invisible Stalker gets me to 8 with a Runechanter's Pike, but by that point, I have a 12-counter Shrine of Burning Rage that kills him.

Concerning the new IPG changes: I miss counters on my shrines consistently. I’m kind of happy about these changes, though; I’m usually in favor of stuff that forces me to play tighter. Unfortunately, this probably means I’m going to be more prison-rulesy to my opponents. I’ll let you guys know how that goes.

Round Three – Kevin Poncelet

Oh, K-Ponce. Throw Dream Twist into an established deck, and suddenly you think you’re King Shit.

I was at a weekly Legacy tourney last Thursday, to celebrate being done with classes for the semester, and I overheard Kevin talking to someone:

Other Guy: “I think I’m gonna start playing Honey Badger.”

K-Ponce: “Ahhhh, so you’re gonna start playing Honey Badger, huh? Hmmm.”

The exchange just reeked of condescension. In Kevin’s defense, though, the dude’s beaten me a lot in Standard, so there’s that. My only recourse to that is the following:

  • Remind him how many PTQs he’s punted. It’s a lot. One time, he showed me a Sealed pool with Heretic's Punishment in it. He was playing W/U/B.
  • Beat him heads-up in Legacy matches for money. This has earned Kevin the nickname “the ATM.” The only Legacy deck he has is Affinity, so I beat up on him with Adam Barnello’s cards. It feels good to answer a bunch of throw-in trade rares with: “German Force of Will, pitch foil Jace, the Mind Sculptor, untap, foil fetch, grab Beta Tropical Island, cast foil Tarmogoyf, my hand is Brainstorms and Ancient Grudges, go.”
  • Do crappy impersonations of him. A lot of people laugh at this.

When you repeatedly get smashed by the same guy every week . . . I find it’s the little things that help you keep your sanity.

Game 1, I’ve got a lot of pressure, but he has a turn-two Spellskite. Game 1. I call a judge for a deck check and am soundly ignored. I’m able to take care of it with one of my two Shrine of Burning Rage, and I get him to 9 with a lot of lethal, represented by fliers and my second Shrine of Burning Rage. I forget that he has Sun Titans, though, and he hard-casts Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite before attacking for 16, getting back the main-deck Spellskite that kills me because I can’t burn his face anymore. I suck at Magic.

Our second game is uninteresting: I have a lot of burn and early dudes, and he doesn’t have Day of Judgment.

The ATM storms out the gates with a fourth-turn (on the play) Wurmcoil Engine, and I have to wait for turn six so I can Enslave it. Obviously, Kevin sided in Sever the Bloodline against my eight-creature deck (pretty sure I bring out Olivia Voldaren; she is just too slow against Honey Badger. My best bet against that deck is to just have burn for the face) and promptly plays it on his own Wurmcoil Engine, and the board is suddenly stalemated. Kevin draws action while I draw lands, and that’s all she wrote.

It’s a good thing that Kevin’s a really nice guy or I’d just play U/R tempo every week to put him in his place. I’m sick of playing against that damn Honey Badger deck every week and not being able to do anything about it because I have to play something different all the time.

Round Four – Macsen Rutledge

Max is a nice guy playing mono-Black Goodstuff. I do not think this is a great matchup; I don’t have any early action at all, and he starts Game 1 on Lashwrithe and Bloodgift Demon, and I have no way to interact with that other than just to die. Between games, someone asks Macs (pronounced “Max”) if he drew Phyrexian Obliterator. Macs puts his finger to his mouth and says, “Shhhhh.”

My mind starts racing. Can I beat that card? I can bring in a Sever the Bloodline and an Enslave. That’s it. If Macs plays Phyrexian Obliterator on turn four on the play, I’m pretty much fucked. I resolve to play really tight, because I can still make second place for $20 cash if I win this pretty much unwinnable match.

Our second game, Macs draws a couple Phyrexian Ragers but not much else, and I win with a Koth of the Hammer—Black doesn’t really have many good ways of dealing with planeswalkers. I also get to see a Sever the Bloodline out of Macs . . . on my Olivia Voldaren.

My last game of the night is one I don’t really remember much, unfortunately. By the time I’m done with FNM, I’m usually just happy to be done with it all, so my notes are really bad. As it stands, the notes on my last game are simply the spelling of his name and the name of a Pad Thai place he recommended. I do remember that last game being very intense; he had a lot of guys—two Phyrexian Ragers and two Typhoid Rats—but I had a Chandra's Phoenix and some burn, and after the reveal of Phyrexian Obliterator, I knew, no matter how tempting it was to torch his creatures, all of my burn had to go to his face. Luckily, I had the presence of mind to not only start on a Shrine of Burning Rage, but to draw Devil's Play—two of my best cards in the matchup. I think the matchup comes down to Macs drawing Phyrexian Obliterator, and he didn’t see it all match.

 


Do I recommend the deck? I guess so, if you don’t mind not playing Blue.

That’s all I got. See you next week. Happy Holidays!

Jon Corpora

pronounced Ca-pora

@feb31st

Limited time 30% buy trade in bonus buylist