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Attacking the Week-One Metagame

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Despite my competitive streak and penchant for playing Sphinx's Revelation decks, I don’t really enjoy being that guy.

Sphinx's Revelation
You know the guy. He always brought Faeries or Jund to Friday Night Magic. He rarely wavered from Delver or R/W/U Flash until Reanimator and B/G took over the metagame. He’s constantly on top of the slightest metagame shift and always, always plays the best deck. He also wins a lot.

While I enjoy being that guy now and then, I gain most of my competitive enjoyment out of beating that guy. I’m the guy who designs a cascade deck with main-decked Volcanic Fallout. I’m the guy digging out Clones and Rest in Peace to stem the tide of never-ending Thragtusks. I’m the one who knocks.

So, when I saw the results of the StartCityGames Open in Worcester and saw the metagame split fairly neatly between W/U or Esper control decks and aggressive or midrange red- and green-based decks, I started looking for my Volcanic Fallout.

Now, there’s nothing so aggressively aimed at the current metagame like a Volcanic Fallout, but there are trends we want to combat. Let’s take a look at them:

1) Counterspells Are Back

Syncopate, Essence Scatter, and Dissolve all saw play in significant numbers. Successful lists had anywhere from around four to six counters—usually, they were heavy on Syncopate, medium on Dissolve, and light on Essence Scatter.

2) Planeswalkers Are the New Black

It wasn’t much of a surprise to see the W/U/x control decks playing planeswalkers, particularly Jace, Architect of Thought and Elspeth, Sun's Champion. But even the aggressive R/G Monsters deck piloted by Christopher Posporellis went heavy on planeswalkers, playing four Domri Rade and three Chandra, Pyromaster. Heck, the mono-red deck that won the whole thing even had two copies of Chandra hidden in its sideboard.

In fact, of the Top 8 lists, only Owen Turtenwald’s mono-red list lacked any planeswalkers. Decks in the Top 8 averaged more than five planeswalkers between main and side.

Jace, Architect of Thought
Supreme Verdict
Burning Earth

3) Azorius Charm, Detention Sphere, and Supreme Verdict Are the De-Facto Removal Spells

This is on account of W/U control decks being the default. Doom Blade is seeing some play, and Mizzium Mortars isn’t to be ignored, but, by and large, these are the three removal spells you need to be most aware of.

4) Mono-Red and Burning Earth Are Fixtures of the Metagame

A lot of players probably just hoped Burning Earth would go away as mana bases become a little bit saner. That’s not happening anytime soon. However, it is interesting to note that Turtenwald didn’t play any Burning Earth. Every other mono-red deck in the Top 16 (there were four of them), on the other hand, played about two copies of the neo-Manabarbs.

5) As Long as Domri Rade Exists, R/G/x Midrange Attack Decks Will, Too

Domri Rade exists, ergo, so do R/G creature decks.

 


 

Given those five constraints, I spent some time looking for solutions in the format that attack the right kind of angles in what is, essentially, a very polarized metagame between decks that can’t pressure your life total and those that do almost nothing but. Here are some of the best men, women, undead political advisors, and Elemental Deer Things for the jobs at hand:

Voice of Resurgence

Voice of Resurgence
Addresses: Counterspells, removal, mono-red

Why it’s good: I shouldn’t really need to explain this, but Voice of Resurgence clearly attacks a lot of the right angles in the week-one metagame. It’s excellent against counterspells, it blocks superbly against mono-red, and it makes Azorius Charm, Celestial Flare, and Supreme Verdict far less appealing. It didn’t fare well in Worcester because most people only played it in G/W aggro decks, which didn’t do well in the face of a field full of Supreme Verdicts, Elspeths, and Celestial Flares. It’ll need a little something extra.

Weaknesses: Basically, Voice’s weakness is the general weakness of G/W to Supreme Verdict, Celestial Flare, and Supreme Verdict. The actual Voice of Resurgence shores up some of those weaknesses, but it lacks the support.

Best uses: It doesn’t really fit the big Naya plan, and G/W needs some help, so the most likely shells seem to be Bant or Junk.

Obzedat, Ghost Council

Obzedat, Ghost Council
Addresses: Removal, mono-red

Why it’s good: It’s really, really hard to kill for a careful player right now. Azorius Charm and Celestial Flare do kill it, but only if you walk into it. Glare of Heresy is the most likely culprit, but even then, that’s only after board. It also provides incidental life-gain against mono-red, making it the rare card that is strong against both strategies. It’ll share time with Blood Baron of Vizkopa out of any deck that can cast it, but Blood Baron is vulnerable to Verdict, Elspeth, and Mizzium Mortars, all of which see serious main-deck play.

Weaknesses: Glare of Heresy is the biggest weakness, and it and Selesnya Charm—if it saw an uptick in play—both make Obzedat slightly more vulnerable than it was before. It also may not be vulnerable to Elspeth, but it sure doesn’t attack through 1/1 tokens very well.

Best uses: Main-decked stunner, ready to be sided out

Abrupt Decay

Abrupt Decay
Addresses: Counterspells, removal, mono-red, planeswalkers

Why it’s good: This is easily the most flexible removal on the market today. It kills Domri Rade, Detention Sphere, Boros Reckoner, and basically anything the mono-red deck can cast, and it does so uncounterably. Decks that can cast this should.

Weaknesses: Jace, Architect of Thought is what you really want to kill in the control decks, as appealing as killing Detention Spheres is. The straight-W/U decks rarely have any other targets worth considering.

Best uses: Any deck with black and green mana

Hero's Downfall and Dreadbore

Hero's Downfall
Addresses: Planeswalkers, R/G Domri decks

Why it’s good: This is mostly its flexibility. With the format split between creatures and planeswalkers, those are the two most important card types to be able to answer. Depending on your colors, these two spells are probably the best removal in the format. The fact that they answer literally anything out of the Domri decks is just gravy.

Weaknesses: Paying 3 mana is a bit much to kill a creature, though it’s about right to kill planeswalkers, making Hero's Downfall kind of clunky. Dreadbore is strong, but it forces you into B/R.

Best uses: Killing all of the things

Vraska the Unseen

Vraska the Unseen
Addresses: Planeswalkers

Why it’s good: Yo, dog, I heard you hate planeswalkers, so I made you a planeswalker that can kill planeswalkers while still leaving behind a planeswalker.

Weaknesses: Sometimes, Vraska is just a 5-mana Vindicate. Sometimes, the format actually calls for a 5-mana Vindicate, but this is just about the worst card ever against mono-red.

Best uses: Limited main-deck or sideboard card to battle Jaces

Loxodon Smiter

Loxodon Smiter
Addresses: Counterspells, planeswalkers, mono-red

Why it’s good: It’s uncounterable. It comes down before Jace, early enough to pressure any planeswalker. This is among the best plays against mono-red, and it’s even better with an Unflinching Courage.

Weaknesses: It still dies to everything. It doesn’t kill most planeswalkers without help.

Best uses: Big, dumb roadblock

Whip of Erebos

Whip of Erebos
Addresses: Mono-red, removal

Why it’s good: The enchantment half—lifelinking your team—is exceptional against mono-red. The artifact half—bringing back creatures—is good against control. We want our cards to be flexible, and this, while expensive to use, is certainly that.

Weaknesses: It is expensive to use, and your graveyard needs some seeding first.

Best uses: Its best use is curving Voice of Resurgence into Loxodon Smiter into this against mono-red. Regrowing Obzedats against W/U/x decks is also great (though I’ll admit I’m not sure how it’s making it to the graveyard in this scenario).

Angel of Serenity

Angel of Serenity
Addresses: Supreme Verdict, Domri Rade decks

Why it’s good: It absolutely drops the hammer against Domri decks. It’s also effective against Supreme Verdict.

Weaknesses: We’re paying full retail now. Stormbreath Dragon. Counterspells.

Best uses: As a two-of alongside some mana acceleration

 


 

If you’re paying attention, you’ll notice a pattern with the cards I’ve listed; or, more accurately, you’ll notice a deck. With the exception of Dreadbore, everything I was looking at fit nicely into a Junk deck. Junk, however, didn’t do well at the SCG Open, with the exception of one Top 16 finish:

Nicholas Barone had many of the same thoughts I did, but I think he misbuilt in several spots that might have cost him a better finish. (Keep in mind that I have no idea how Mr. Barone’s tournament went.)

Thoughtseize
For one, I’m not fond of Thoughtseize in the main. Reid Duke’s “Thoughtseize You” article (warning: Premium) was an instant classic in the realm of single-card strategy. The biggest take away from that article is that Thoughtseize isn’t great in decks that don’t want to trade one for one. This deck, with no card-draw and few ways to actually garner any significant advantage out of its cards, doesn’t want to trade one for one. I would move them to the sideboard, and I would consider Sin Collector as well.

The Centaur Healer and Advent of the Wurm also seem awfully random. Centaur Healer is both a curve-filler and something of a hedge against aggressive decks, but having just one copy makes that incredibly random. We already have four Loxodon Smiter, so it’s possible Barone just wanted a virtual fifth Smiter against aggressive decks. However, Centaur Healer is no Loxodon Smiter, and I think it’s a weak link in the deck.

Additionally, Advent of the Wurm is just another beater. It’s fine to try to haymaker our opponents out, but Advent is pretty weak against Celestial Flare and Azorius Charm, though it’s solid against Supreme Verdict. I understand the desire to have a 4-drop to accelerate into with Sylvan Caryatid, but I’m not sure this is the answer. It is, however, strong against counterspells and planeswalkers too, so maybe I’m selling it short.

Sylvan Caryatid
I do like the Elspeths to go over the top, and it seems that Sylvan Caryatid was created specifically for this deck (and is another reason we don’t really need Centaur Healer). However, you don’t gain nearly as much value out of Elspeth since the Retribution of the Meek ability kills pretty much all of your creatures.

Both Blood Baron and Obzedat seem excessive, but they’re both quite powerful, and five copies between the two might be okay.

I’d like to see some copies of Read the Bones. Between Obzedat and Blood Baron, gaining life shouldn’t be an issue, and Read the Bones is incredibly strong. I understand not wanting to play both Thoughtseize and Read the Bones in the same three-colored deck, but I think he chose incorrectly in this instance.

I like most of the sideboard as well, though I’d rather not have the random Doom Blade floating in there. I guess you bring it in against Domri decks, but if we’re aiming specifically for those decks, we can do better than a simple removal spell.

I also want a twenty-fifth land. The easy choice is to add the fourth Temple, which was an odd exclusion as it was.

If I were to rebuild the deck (and I built my own version of Junk independent of Nicholas), it would look something like this:

Some of the numbers are still weird because I want to try some things out—such as the Deadbridge Chant and the combo with Whip of Erebos and Shadowborn Demon, which seems devastating to Domri decks and other midrange strategies. With Whip in the main, we’re less in the market for Blood Baron’s lifelink, so he is relegated to the sideboard, usually swapping for some combination of Obzedats or Shadowborn Demons. It might turn out to be right to have Blood Baron main and Shadowborns in the sideboard.

I’d rather not play Pithing Needle in the board, but I’m not sure what our strategy against Aetherling is otherwise. It’s possible we can just ignore it, race it, or work around it, but that’ll take some testing and experience.

Other than that, I very much like this shell to attack the current Azorius- (and Esper-), Gruul-, and red-dominated metagame. Give it a spin at your next tournament.

Because you don’t want to be that guy.


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