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The Best Deck in the Game Right Now

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Call me IndestructibleDWest.

Some of you are reading my work for the first time. Right now. Here.

In fact...

Some of you are probably relieved to see me at all.

How long has it been? Months? Years?

Has it really been that long already?

The story of how we got here is brutal, but today isn't the day to go over those details. I wanted to make a point of having my debut piece for CoolStuffInc. be large and very encompassing. I asked friends, most of which are fellow writers I've managed or edited before, Magic minds I really respect. They mostly wanted to know about where I've been and where I'm going. They wanted something unique and special, something that looks at Magic in an outside the box way.

In other words...

They wanted a very "Danny West" article. Sadly, I just couldn't write one. Not this time.

Try as I might, it was too much. The details of how my life became such a strange one will have to wait, but I suspect these heavy truths will seep in, like rain water into waiting earth, and my regular readers will soon find themselves understanding my mutating life, the growingly complex, dark and eccentric adventure for which I am often a desperate and exhausted protagonist.

But first...

Great Expectations

Fabled Hero

For now, I just want you, my sophisticated audience, to know what you should expect of me, your new favorite writer:

  1. My work frequently references relationships between Magic and its intricate details with those of real life. Go with it. Whether it's strategic value or a new way to look at yourself or an important experience in your life, I'm going to try to give every reader something for their time spent here with me.
  2. For reasons of life circumstances and convenience, an overwhelming amount of the Magic I'm playing right now is via Arena. My favorite things to play are Draft and Constructed Best of One. I've been playing Magic since 1996, and never once have I actively enjoyed sideboarding more than I'd have enjoyed doing something else related to the Magic match I was involved in. When you step back from how desensitized we are from the act of sideboarding, it reveals itself as a strange solution for cleaning up development error margins and balancing issues. Although it can enhance an experience playing Magic (oh just you wait...), most sideboarding is done in a strategically quiet and unexciting way. There are interesting angles to it, but on the whole, it's time that would be better spent just playing more Magic on Arena. It's inorganic. It's dated. The new modal, flexible designs we keep seeing on new cards are clear indicators the world will start featuring less Game 2s and threes, and my self-proclaimed The Best One At Best Of One® moniker will be a continual approach to getting the most good Magic I can get in my life. Most of the time I spend on stream is doing just that: jamming that bo1 life, kid. Join the movement. (~_^)
  3. I know my way around a Modern event. I know my way around a Legacy event. I can help you with such matters, and sometimes, I will.
  4. I was never all that into Commander. I just played a Commander guy on TV. If you know me from Commander VS, I'm sorry. The truth hurts.
  5. I love to Cube, but that's useless information. That's like when people put that they "like to have fun" in their dating profiles. Everyone loves to Cube.
  6. I'm okay with others sharing my previous Magic work with one another in order to communicate information about my history and who I am, though I'd prefer to not accommodate links to these materials myself. I don't feel these pieces largely do not represent my present point of view, lifestyle, or my present attitudes. I acknowledge there's biographical value in some of these materials, and maybe even some entertainment, but my present preference is to not engage with these works myself.

So if we're not going on some deep dive that links life and Magic together in a harmonious and profound way, where the hell are we going?

To my Gated community, baby. Here's how to get in.

My Favorite Deck In History

I've been playing a long time. And right now? In April of 2019? I have a lot of reasons to not pick this as my favorite Magic era. The point is, when I say a deck might be my favorite - ever - you should pay attention. This is something.

I won't go through all the list evolutions and experiments because the flexibility of this strategy is so absurd (as is its pilot) that we could be here a while; however, this is her as she is today. Look at it as a newborn babe. Take in my precious lifeforce as she sleeps peacefully.


Love and Deck-building in the Time of Arena

So before we get too far in, let's talk a little more about what makes Arena different in terms of what it asks of its deck-builders. In other words, besides convenience, how does Arena change the equation of Magic itself? We know about the economics and the business strategy of Arena, but what about as a Magic game?

Start with this important distinction: When you're playing bo1 on Arena, the problem you're working on ("winning," we call it) is by its very nature radically different than what most players and deck-builders outside of the Arena sphere are looking at.

For instance, let's take a look at this card:

Centaur Peacemaker

There are a number of adjectives that come to mind when examining a card this blatantly unpushed. The one that I'm most enamored by would be: "geeky." Centaur Peacemaker is a geeky, geeky Magic card.

Until two days ago, I had two or three Centaur Peacemakers in the deck at all times. And they were incredible.

Fanatical Firebrand
Electrostatic Field
Skewer the Critics

Because I only have to beat Mono-Red Aggro (and to a lesser extent, the other aggro decks of Standard) one game, not two out of three, geeky garbage Draft chaff is suddenly viable. It stops being chaff at all. In fact, a lot of Magic stuff is suddenly viable when the threshold for competitive viability becomes about a single game instead of multiple games: "outside the game" cards, niche combos with big and surprising payoffs, easy exploitation of the sheep copying the best "irl" Magic tournament strategies even though they have greater disadvantages in a bo1 setting...

A couple of Centaur Peacemakers may be embarrassing in a tournament hall playing and sideboarding with Standard in a traditionally competitive way. But in bo1, man is it hard for a Red deck to get past.

There's a different game to play now.

This is how to become the Gatekeeper:

A Short History of Gates

Maze's End

Maze's End was not a sufficient payoff during its Standard time. Between its poor pedigree during the Dragon's Maze era and the tunnel vision of seeing Amulet of Vigor's necessity in helping better taplands go harder in Modern, I was resigned to my fate as a Gate hater. Good mana usually exists in Standard, so why are we putting ourselves a turn behind for more colors? It doesn't make sense.

Well, the payoffs changed.

Guild Summit
Gates Ablaze
Gatebreaker Ram

The Gate payoffs are now so absurdly good and efficient, they override the "turn behind" issues of having these lands enter tapped. On top of that, the necessary mana-fixing in playing such a ridiculous combination of colors is somewhat Reflective of when the Vivid lands of Lorwyn made for five-color control decks that could accommodate whatever cards they wanted. Shards of Alara Limited, like the recent Limited sets featuring Gates and their payoff cards, was a format where you could draft all fixing and just play with all your most powerful cards, no matter what color.

I drew the parallel between the two environments, started experimenting with what kind of deck designs can come from this basic idea, and I haven't stopped since.

No Limits

In case you weren't really understanding the implications of a format that allows you to play with more or less whatever you want and you take away the consistency needed to win a second game after the cat is out of the bag, wow do you start tearing up some battlefields.

From a strategically fundamental point of view, this deck is a control deck that uses mana acceleration in much the same way that a dedicated ramp deck does. You see a somewhat "sister strategy" to this in the Nexus of Fate decks that go for a linear spell-based kill after shooting up the mana production rate. Nexus being a non-factor on Arena, we take the scenic (Circuitous) route.

Opt
Growth Spiral
Search for Azcanta

The original version of the deck did not contain any Black cards, had no sideboard (best of one!), and mostly won with whatever X spell was left after a few big threats ate enough life total. No matter which way you eventually go to customize your wins, mana-efficient cards that allow you to make careful selections from the top of your deck and help you to expand your hand and your mana is what makes this deck sign its name so effortlessly in both the "control" and "ramp" fields.

These are the cards that most commonly open the game and get you set up ahead of schedule. Without Growth Spiral letting this deck untap with extra tap lands early and replacing itself, it's hard to imagine any part of this strategy making it out of the early stages of the format.

One thing to note as far as sequencing early is that you want to prioritize these cards first. You want to lay a Blue Guildgate on turn one every time you can to open up the option of casting Opt the following turn. Growth Spiral asks for similar consideration.

If your hand is particularly strong and your opponent is moving without urgency, it is often wise to Opt much later in the game, even if the option is available earlier.

Guild Summit
Gates Ablaze
Archway Angel

Guild Summit is a made up card. It's a mtgcardsmith card. It is fictional. I can think of no other explanation for how and why I've been allowed to ruin lives with this enchantment for months now. The rate at which it gets you way out in front of an opponent is so unfair and disproportionate to the way card advantage is typically doled out now. There's nothing incremental about this card. If your life total is high, if your opponent doesn't have much of a battlefield presence, if they don't have an engine about to come on line in an explosive way...if any of these conditions are met and you resolve a Guild Summit, you are going to have to try very hard to lose the game.

One note is that it almost never takes more than one Guild Summit. Even with multiple failsafes to prevent myself from dying from being decked, I still almost always never cast the second Guild Summit unless I'm sure. The difference between seven cards and ten is minimal when you have to discard the most inconsequential ones anyway. And yes, at one point I did try a Reliquary Tower.

Archway Angel and Gates Ablaze are much more traditional control versus aggro blowout cards. Angel's four toughness is an especially obvious attempt make her as obnoxious as possible against aggro decks that have to shut the door quickly.

Gates Ablaze is much closer to Wrath of God than it is Pyroclasm. Putting this card at three mana was an open invitation from the dev team to do this Gate thing. Who am I to tell them no?

Gatebreaker Ram

As far as I can tell, I'm still the minority here. Gate Colossus is much more common to see doing this role, and I still disagree with it. I think the primary reason for the disconnect is that my list always has an eye toward incidental recursion. In other words, I don't "need" to get the Colossus back all the time because the Ram is doing it anyway. I also like not having to do Gates Ablaze math when my own threat is on the field. Gate Colossus can get taken out, whereas the Ram will always have enough toughness to stay alive. It's a small thing, but the Ram is faster and has more abilities that matter to me without sacrificing the recursion people value in the Colossus. Give me Tarmo-Ram every time.

Hydroid Krasis

The tons of cards, tons of land feeds it, and then this card makes more of them. Also, as stated a thousand times, it doesn't have to resolve to matter. There is no other card in the history of this game that I love casting into open mana while also caring zero whether or not it resolves. Cast triggers are the reason people give up on life. And why shouldn't they?

JELLYFISH BEAST. Haha what!

Circuitous Route
Ajani, the Greathearted

More ramp, more life.

New Ajani is replacing the Centaur Peacekeepers. Having to wait an extra turn (or two) is typically just fine because of the repeatable life gain and the extra defense he provides to the non-Sheep members of the creature contingent. Overall, it's been an improvement, and I'm happy the experiment has gone the way I wanted.

Circuitous Route is either what gets you to the mana you need to cast your stabilizing cards or it draws you a few with a Guild Summit. Either way, an understated spell that frequently puts the game away but doesn't get the credit.

Blink of an Eye

I've taken this card out a lot of times, but it always, always does something. Saving an Archway Angel and giving yourself another twelve life and a card is as great as saving yourself from lethal and then turning the corner when you untap. Every time I cut it I regret it.

The Mending of Dominaria

Same story. I've cut it a few times and hated it every single time. This keeps me from getting milled, recurs the many excellent creatures that both kill and keep me alive, and it can take out the control mirror by running them out. It also gives you some incidental Guild Summit draws (safe ones since you Feldon's Cane) when the milled lands re-enter the battlefield in Chapter III.

Expansion // Explosion

This is frequently the finishing blow or the final spell before it.

All my former lovers are very large people. I like my Xs to be huge. You can obviously make your opponent draw a bunch of cards for the kill, but it doesn't come up much.

Expansion isn't cast as often as in versions where there are plenty of copies of this to lean on. It's hard for me to throw it away unless it's copying a really good spell. Like, oh...I don't know...

Mastermind's Acquisition

At long last, here we are.

It started out with me messing with the Dovin's Acuity deck and hating it. I understood it, why it was doing what it was doing, but after the Four-Color Gates stuff I'd been doing for so long, it just didn't feel right for me.

But the idea of getting access to a flexible, fifteen-card sideboard? In a format where most people don't even get a sideboard?

And just like that, I was playing a 75-card deck against 60s.

Because of this card, I warped my list to the "three copy" signature you see now. I changed all of the mana to emphasize and protect Black while not disrupting the rest of the deck's properties.

Here's a quick review of the "sideboard" and the reasoning for each card:

Banefire - When I want to win and have enough mana but am too tired to pay attention to Explosion's nuances - my opponent might have a counterspell, I have to count all my lands again, and so on.

Assassin's Trophy - An answer with utmost flexibility. It usually kills a planeswalker that I fear I won't be able to deal with in other ways. Vivien Reid's enjoyment of firing Angels and Jellyfish out of the sky makes her a pretty important target.

Timestream Navigator - This started as a way to stretch removal on the pivotal turn during games with the Four-Color Gates early versions. It still does an amazing job of that role (and in being a "fake" Nexus of Fate) in the spots where I need it. It dies about one and a half times for every activation, but if I'm grabbing it, it's because my opponent is dead to rights either way.

Clear the Mind - An eloquent Feldon's Cane effect. Between this and Mending, I typically do not get milled. It also cantrips, which is something in some cultures.

Jace, Wielder of Mysteries - If they still manage to get through all of that and want to mill me out, I'm cool with that.

Nicol Bolas, the Ravager - Hard to find a better hand when they have almost no hand. I've been getting this one more and more frequently. Probably anecdotal, but an interesting effect of paying attention to a deck like this is how new sets and metagame changes can effect which cards are most commonly retrieved with Mastermind's Acquisition.

Lyra Dawnbringer - It's the damnedest thing, but once in a while you get a gamestate where a few of your Archway Angels are out there, but you don't feel all that confident. This fixes that.

Gates Ablaze - Toolbox business.

Massacre Girl - I opened one of these in Sealed but never drew it. You don't have to play Massacre Girl in this slot, but I'd at least try to make sure whatever you pick is as cool as Massacre Girl. I'm kidding, of course. Nothing is as cool as Massacre Girl.

God-Eternal Bontu - Because using two Massacre Girls would look weird? I opened one and want to play with it. What do you want me to say? This is the freedom that comes with being The Best One At Best Of One.®

Archway Angel - Toolbox business.

Expansion // Explosion - Just in case the first one didn't make a believer out of them.

Teferi, Hero of Dominaria - If I'm afraid I'll still find a way to lose after doing all of this deck's ridiculous tricks, I just have Grubhub bring me one of these. I don't know what it does really, but when it resolves, people usually just sort of give up.

Guild Summit - Tool. Box. BUSINESS.

Nicol Bolas, Dragon-God - I'm sorry to my family and friends. This is who I am now.

Be Indestructible

You can find me operating this deck here with utmost expertise, or at least you can when I'm in between my many other Magic works. It's a busy time, and as strange as this sounds, it's been somewhere between difficult and impossible for me to be a part of Magic's streaming scene the last few years. I'm really enjoying doing it my way for the first time.

And of course you're invited. Just step through the Gate and let's show 'em how it's done.

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