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Very Limited, Kind of Constructed


Last weekend, I had the pleasure of doing coverage at Grand Prix Portland. I was able to see the best players in the world approach the Magic 2015 Limited format from new and exciting angles. One play in particular caught my eye. I felt that it represented a huge amount of power, and it seemed Constructed-worthy. Today, I’d like to talk about bridging the gap between Limited and Constructed, specifically focusing on a combination of cards in Magic 2015 that sent my head spinning.

Umezawa's Jitte
Limited is a place where we can learn valuable lessons about Constructed. Many cards are initially overlooked and only become a major part of Constructed after their power is recognized in a Limited format. The best example of this is Umezawa's Jitte. People didn’t think Umezawa's Jitte was very good; it seemed clunky and overcosted if they only looked at one of the abilities, and it’s often difficult to assess the power level of a card with versatility. Anyone who had the opportunity to cast the card in Limited immediately realized that it was nearly unbeatable, and it quickly found its way into every Constructed format. Now it’s a staple in Legacy.

More recently, the best example of Limited-to-Constructed jumps is Pack Rat. The card was extremely powerful, perhaps even oppressive, in the Return to Ravnica Limited format. Somehow, months went by, and players refused to include it in their Constructed decks. For what it’s worth, it was up against cards the likes of Geist of Saint Traft and Unburial Rites, so there were a lot of fun toys out there. This fall, though, after Innistrad block had rotated out of Standard, a few Japanese players brought a rogue Mono-Black Devotion deck to Pro Tour Theros and put up exceptional results. Over the next few weeks, Mono-Black Devotion would become the best deck in Standard, and it would hold this title with relative consistency until the present. Pack Rat is one of the biggest reasons Mono-Black Devotion has been so successful. Free wins are free, and Pack Rat knows exactly how to get them.

When playing Limited with a new set, it’s important to recognize the cards that seem to be actually unbeatable. Nissa, Worldwaker before turn five is a nice example, as the endless stream of 4/4s is obnoxiously powerful when we accelerate into it, and there’s often far too much loyalty for the opponent to stop it before it’s already too late. Nissa, Worldwaker was overlooked by most when it was previewed, but the card is quickly establishing itself as a very real contender.

Nissa, Worldwaker was flashy enough to be an obvious Constructed powerhouse, but the interaction I’d like to focus on is a bit more intricate:

Chord of Calling
While on a break during the fourth round of Day 1, I witnessed the biggest blowout I’ve ever seen in the Magic 2015 Limited format. One player, let’s call him George, was at 12 life with Ancient Silverback in play and Titanic Growth in hand. His opponent, let’s call her Gina, was at 10 life with no board and only one card in hand with a mono-green deck. George, thinking the game was over, cast his Titanic Growth and turned his Ancient Silverback sideways before extending his hand. Gina didn’t shake his hand though; she tapped six lands and cast Chord of Calling. What did she find? Hornet Nest.

Sure, George made an error by casting his Titanic Growth precombat, but the sight of ten deathtouching Insects hopping onto the board was exciting to say the least. Immediately, I wanted to do this to my opponents. It requires two rares, though, so making it happen in Limited didn’t seem to be the most plausible course of action.

I couldn’t stop thinking to myself, “What if Gina had Purphoros, God of the Forge in play?”

And so it began. I waltzed right up to my friend, an occasional Pro Tour player with a lot of imagination, Matt Ferrando. I immediately dug in with my new plan. He asked if I had played Chord of Calling in green devotion decks, knowing that I’ve been playing green devotion variants for the last six months.

I told him that I was underwhelmed by Chord in those decks.

Purphoros, God of the Forge
He told me that he thought people were going about Chord of Calling the wrong way in Standard. The whole reason it’s good in Modern is that it actually wins the game sometimes. We find Melira, Sylvok Outcast, another combo piece, or even Mirror Entity to just win games out of nowhere. He said we should be trying to find cards that actually win the game right away.

Immediately, we started talking about red devotion with Fanatic of Mogis.

Suddenly, the deck was coming together. The Limited dream of using Chord of Calling to find Hornet Nest was becoming a Constructed reality.

Purphoros, God of the Forge would be a powerhouse, dealing massive swaths of damage when we make an army of bees and then pump the bees for a lethal attack on the following turn. Additionally, we would be playing Boros Reckoner, Burning-Tree Emissary, Ash Zealot, Frostburn Weird, and enough other red permanents to make creature-ifying Purphoros a very real option.

Domri Rade is a powerhouse here. Against control decks, we can immediately start ticking it up for a ton of value over the course of a long game. Against creature-based strategies, we can fight with Hornet Nest, making an army of Insects. We also have Boros Reckoner, which naturally combos beautifully with Domri Rade.

Fanatic of Mogis would come down and assassinate people, dealing massive amounts of damage out of nowhere. The opponent is going to have a lot on his or her hands when playing against this deck, and the extra, often unexpected damage from Fanatic of Mogis should be enough to “get ’em.”

Fanatic of Mogis
Chord of Calling is extremely exciting, and it lets this deck make some busted plays, but playing four copies seems to be a recipe for disaster. We want to draw one Chord by the midgame, and additional copies are only necessary as things go late. Let’s start with three copies, and we can add or subtract them as we see fit. Chord of Calling can find enough devotion to turn on Purphoros, God of the Forge at instant speed. It can find Hornet Nest for the full-blowns. It can find Fanatic of Mogis and actually end the game. We’ll rarely be using it for something else in this deck.

Hornet Nest is great to combo with our Chord of Calling, but it’s also pretty nice to make it fight with Desecration Demon when we have Domri Rade. It’s also just a tremendous card against decks with Nissa, Worldwaker, Rabble Red, or anything aggressive. We can always sideboard them out against control decks. Hornet Nest should be Plan B most of the time, but it should quickly become Plan A when we have Purphoros, God of the Forge in play because damage.

I’ve wanted to play with Zhur-Taa Druid for a very long time. Again, it’s a card that did a lot of good work for me in Limited, and I always felt it deserved a home in Constructed. Here, it seems especially strong because we’re dealing a lot of passive damage, and the 1 point per turn becomes very relevant. I also like that we can cast it off Burning-Tree Emissary for a lot of value.

Frostburn Weird is well-costed, and it helps our devotion plan. It also gives us something to do with excess mana on turns four or five when we’re chaining 3-mana spells.

Burning-Tree Emissary
Ash Zealot is basically Frostburn Weird number five. The split could possibly go the other way, but I think (for now) that Frostburn Weird is probably better as the four-of.

Burning-Tree Emissary lets the deck make a lot of exciting plays, fixes mana, provides a ton of devotion, and occasionally lets us vomit our hand onto the table by the third or fourth turn.

Boros Reckoner is the deck’s best creature, comboing with all of our red devotion cards and Domri Rade, providing a brick wall against red strategies and making combat a nightmare for basically anyone on the ground.

Finally, I feel that the deck wants a single copy of Hornet Queen to combo with Purphoros, God of the Forge. Sometimes, we just need the Queen.

Here’s what a Standard Hornet Nest combo deck would look like:

Learning lessons from Limited and porting them over to Constructed makes us better Magic players. We understand why cards are good and what they’re capable of without blindly following the words or lists of others. This strategy seems to be a ton of fun in Standard, but it’s definitely worth taking to the kitchen table, too. It’s generally an exciting and fun deck with a lot of interaction. The Hornet Nest combos can be added to a Commander deck with cards that tutor up creatures. There, we can use it with Blasphemous Act for the most bee action we’ve seen since the tragedy scene in My Girl.

Keep drafting, and keep your eyes open for powerful interactions that might be worthwhile attempts for Constructed.

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