Another fall, another Standard rotation. If you’ve seen one prerelease, you’ve seen a thousand–a lot of people scrambling around for the new cards at inflated prices, people brewing decks based around cute interactions in their draft decks, people just wanting to get home because, for some stupid reason, the best seasonal beer is only available for a nanosecond . . . but the real atmosphere is one of excitement. People are excited to see something new for a change.
It’s probably not too much of a stretch to assert that the upper tier of players in a given area is only in the upper tier thanks to consistent and unrepentant netdecking. I make no judgments on this; it’s just a theory I have. If we hold this theory to be true, the result of a large-scale rotation is a special kind of excitement among less competitive players; the streamlined, competitive decks that they are unwilling or unable to replicate just don’t exist yet. The playing field is as level as it’s going to get.
I’m particularly excited about Standard going forward, although the format is not without its flaws . . .
Aside: Reprinting the Titans was an astoundingly stupid move. Comparing them to Baneslayer Angel, of all things (she got her two sets, so we gave the Titans theirs), reflects this. Baneslayer Angel is basically a White Dragon. The Titans do irreversible damage just by resolving, and Standard games usually come down to “do you have a Titan or not?” They make the Praetor cycle—actual interesting cards that encourage players to build decks around them—look pointless in comparison. The Titans are bullshit, and not at all fun to play with. End aside.
. . . but I’m really excited for life after Zendikar. Getting the new cards is always a pain in the ass, and this set appears to be no exception to that rule (I’m looking at you, Tiago), but I’m super-pumped for the new, crappier mana, in particular. I know that’s a weird thing to be excited for, but for me, it harkens back to a long-forgotten time in Magic, one of mana sources, interrupts, and decks that were actually punished for making wild stretches with mana—as opposed to being encouraged to do just that. Now that the fetches and man lands are gone, it appears that decks are going to have to play fair with their mana—at least for now. Which is nice.
I played Todd Anderson’s Illusions list from his SCG article last Thursday, marking the second time I’ve rolled with a Todd Anderson list during this column.
4 Lord of the Unreal
4 Phantasmal Bear
4 Phantasmal Dragon
4 Phantasmal Image
4 Snapcaster Mage
2 Mental Misstep
4 Mana Leak
4 Gitaxian Probe
2 Oblivion Ring
3 Moorland Haunt
4 Glacial Fortress
4 Seachrome Coast
1 Mental Misstep
2 Surgical Extraction
3 Revoke Existence
4 Timely Reinforcements
1 Oblivion Ring
It’s probably worth noting that this is the second time I’ve sleeved up four Phantasmal Bears, which is . . . yeah.
For those of you who were wondering, I’ve already played RDW. I can’t play that deck again. I realize RDW with Zendikar is drastically different than RDW with Innistrad, but, to me, RDW is in the books. Same with U/B control. You will never see those two decks again in the column, which also means I’ll never change five cards in a deck and run it again, citing that it’s technically different, no matter how true it may be. So there’s that.
This week, I decided to go to a new shop in Syracuse called Cloud City Comics and Toys, who decided that October was a good time to start competing with the other shop in Syracuse by running Standard FNMs. When I arrived at the shop, I was pleasantly surprised to see over twenty people, all in good spirits, hanging out and playing Magic. There’s something to be said about playing in a smaller space. Sure, there’s some downside too, but as long as it’s an FNM and not a bigger event, I usually prefer the smaller venues. They’re cozier. There was definitely a palpable excitement in Cloud City that night, which may or may not have had anything to do with everyone’s happy disbelief that so many people showed up for the store’s first Constructed FNM, when there was a better-known, longer-standing store in a bigger mall holding a Constructed FNM across town.
Round 1, I play against Sarah. She seems bummed out, for whatever reason. Seeing as how she has absolutely no reason to be mopey—she is playing Magic, after all—I decide to see what’s up, and I start making small talk.
“So, is this your first time here?”
“No, it’s my second.”
“Oh. It’s my first time here. [pause] I kinda like it.”
“So how long have you been playing Magic?”
“About three months.”
“Oh. That’s cool.”
“This deck isn’t even mine. You’re probably just gonna win.”
That’s the spirit.
I win the roll and lead with a Phantasmal Bear, and Mental Misstep her Elite Vanguard on turn two. I play Lord of the Unreal on my turn, and suddenly, my hand is nothing but lands and the shittiest Snapcaster Mage ever. She plays an Elite Inquisitor and ships back to me. A Gitaxian Probe on my turn reveals:
I peel a Phantasmal Image off the Gitaxian Probe, happy plop it down, copying my Lord of the Unreal, and swinging for 4. Sarah never hits her third land-drop, I rip another Phantasmal Image, and that’s it.
I can’t say enough about how underrated Grand Abolisher is; having played with it in Limited a fair number of times, the level of comfort and relaxation that comes over you when you have one in play and your opponent says “Go” is one that rarely comes in a game of Magic, especially in the early turns. You aren’t playing around anything anymore. Every card in your hand represents an unanswerable trick. The cards in your hand that do happen to be tricks are pure gold. It’s a nice feeling.
Sitting across from a Grand Abolisher is a pretty effective invoker of discomfort. Chances are, if all the removal in your deck is sorcery-speed, you wouldn’t be playing those cards, because they’d be too shitty for an actual game of Magic. It robs your tempo and makes at least one card in your hand worse, and that’s barring any Stave Off shenanigans.
As it goes, I play a sorcery-speed Dismember on Sarah’s Grand Abolisher and attack with my Illusions, putting her to 10 life. On her turn, she plays a Stave Off on her Mirran Crusader pre-combat, naming Blue, and attacks me down to 6. She plops down a Mikaeus, the Lunarch with 2 counters on it, and I play my Snapcaster Mage on my main phase, flashing back my Dismember, going to 2 life in the process, to kill her Mikaeus, the Lunarch and crack back for exactly 10.
I go over some things with Sarah after our match, like how to play Stave Off differently: how to nullify removal, how to cast it after your opponent has declared blockers, why playing it like this is good, etc. It seems like information she’d like to have.
Round 2, I play against Tony, who has a Puresteel Paladin deck. I prefer to think of Round 2 as That Time I Realized How Bonkers Snapcaster Mage Is. Game 1, I lead with Phantasmal Bear, and he doesn’t have a Mortarpod until after my Phantasmal Image has already copied a Lord of the Unreal. A Snapcaster Mage flashes back a Dismember, targeting a Puresteel Paladin that threatens to get Tony back into the game, and we are on to Game 2.
I board in three Revoke Existence for the matchup, and I only draw one. This doesn’t end up mattering, because I draw a Snapcaster Mage and completely blow him out with it. He has a couple of Invisible Stalkers this game, but he has to tap out for his Sword of Feast and Famine in order to keep his head above the onslaught of Illusions, and I am able to dispatch both his Sword of Feast and Famine and his first Mortarpod with Revoke Existences. I really like knowing that my sideboard cards will always be really good for me, even if I only draw one of them.
Round 3, I play against a dude named Kevin, who is playing Solar Flare. We split the first two games.
Game 3, I play Gitaxian Probe, and he shows me the following hand:
How did he keep this hand? I look at my hand full of permission and decide there is no way I can lose this game. This is commonly known as “foreshadowing,” among literary types.
He dutifully casts his Deranged Assistant on his turn, and proceeds to brick with it repeatedly. I am able to counter all his relevant spells, but I am stuck on five lands, so the game comes to a point to where I can’t press my advantage and simultaneously keep up my permission, because my permission now has a 2/1 body for attached to it. We play draw-go a lot.
On his side, he is a little flooded (so much for that Deranged Assistant), so when he is down to two cards in his hand, I figure it is safe to dump part of my hand, and I tap out to play Phantasmal Bear, Lord of the Unreal, and Phantasmal Image. Kevin calmly draws and casts Day of Judgment, so I follow it up with the rest of my hand: a Lord of the Unreal and a Phantasmal Image.
Kevin draws, casts his Phantasmal Image, and says go.
I attack with both guys. Kevin takes it.
Kevin draws and casts Dream Twist.
“Oh, wow, that was a good one,” he said.
“It resolves,” I say.
Round 4, I am paired against James, who is playing a deck that I actually really like a lot, but which I am ill-equipped to fight. All his cards are either Birds of Paradise or DFCs: Mayor of Avabruck, Daybreak Ranger, Villagers of Estwald, Gatstaf Shepherd, and Instigator Gang, the last of which is a complete blowout for me.
This deck proves to be a poor matchup for Illusions, because all my opponent’s creatures outclass mine. I think it’s safe to assume that Todd Anderson didn’t expect to be swarmed by creatures while playing this deck. I think it’s also safe to assume that Todd didn’t expect the opposing creatures to outstrip the Illusions so completely—but they definitely did. I’m not saying that Todd should’ve expected a Werewolves deck; I’m just trying to give some reasons that he isn’t packing Day of Judgment in his sideboard, because that’s the exact question I have to field when a crowd gathers to watch me get swarmed by DFCs in Game 2.
When you’re playing an unfamiliar format, you tend to take forever, because you don’t know what to play around as you rack your brain trying to remember what cards you saw in the prerelease. This is starting to happen to me in Round 4. Round 5 is the culmination of that.
Round 5, I am paired against Louis (the same Louis who played Valakut), and he wins Game 1 in a blowout, thanks to a card called Feeling of Dread, that also served me my one loss in the Innistrad prerelease.
Our Game 2 takes forever and ends up going to time; I have an active Moorland Haunt and have resolved an early Surgical Extraction on his Unburial Rites, but he is able to answer back with Surgical Extraction in response to my Snapcaster Mage, targeting my Surgical Extractions. Louis ends up having another Surgical Extraction for my Snapcaster Mages while I am tapped out, and the game goes to a draw.
Would I recommend the Illusions deck? Sure, for something like an FNM. It’s pretty fun to play really crappy creatures, and Snapcaster Mage can just take over games a lot of the time. I’m almost positive I played wrong against Solar Flare twice—you don’t need to Dissipate Forbidden Alchemy; Mana Leak will do, because Forbidden Alchemy’s Flashback cost is so high. It’s also possible that I shouldn’t have sided out my Mental Missteps out against him; I just totally forgot the possibility of my opponent bringing in his own Surgical Extractions.
I’ll see you next week. I hope I can scrounge some of the cards together to play Brian Sondag’s sweet Wolf Run deck from SCG: Tennessee. That deck is the fucking shit.