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Eight Thoughts About AFR Standard

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1-2-3

One of the most important play patterns you should know for Standard with Dungeons and Dragons: Adventures in the Forgotten Realms is this:

Turn One: Forest (or Lair of the Hydra), Anything

By "anything" I mean any of the Green deck's playable 1-drops...

Swarm Shambler
Lovestruck Beast
Stonecoil Serpent

I suppose if people still played cards like Gingerbrute, it would work too.

Turn Two: Forest (or, I suppose, Lair of the Hydra [still]), Werewolf Pack Leader

That would leave you with a board of nominally 4 power.

Turn Three: Whatever land, Primal Might

By "whatever land" I don't mean Kazandu Mammoth // Kazandu Valley! Or rather Kazandu Valley. I mean a land that enters ye olde battlefield untapped; you know, a Forest, Snow-Covered Forest, or Faceless Haven! This gives you three mana on turn three... Exactly enough for Primal Might where x=2.

Your 3/3 Werewolf Pack Leader has a high as heck likelihood of roflstomping whatever creature the opponent just tapped out for at 5/5. You now have 5+1 (or 6) power attacking.

Rumble!

This is a really good way to get your first Ophidian trigger on the Werewolf Pack Leader, and of course if all that goes well, you will be very nicely ahead on the battlefield as well.

I Suppose That's One Way to Do It

I mentioned Kazandu Mammoth a moment ago.

This is a card I do not play!

I've been splitting my energies approximately three ways during my current grind. The deck that got me into Diamond was of course the Simic Mutate we discussed last week. I have a lot of love for that deck but I try to get games in on my phone when I have a free minute, and as I said before, my poor little iPhone cannot handle the number of permanents Simic Mutate is liable to deploy.

The most popular deck at high levels of Arena is Emergent Ultimatum. You generally want to play aggro decks if you are anticipating that matchup; so (probably not surprisingly, for me), the second third of my grind has been with Mono-Red. "My" Mono-Red deck is thoroughly uninteresting. It's more-or-less the same Mono-Red as everyone else.

But I have also wanted to do a little experimentation, while still getting some good beatdown in. Here is the Mono-Green list I partnered with to identify the above very important new play pattern; which I use for both Best of One and Best of Three ladders:


I remembered that a year or so ago Zvi really liked his StOmPy matchup against any kind of slow deck. We don't have Giant Growth any more, or Pelt Collector; but there are some really nice ways to get faster. Werewolf Pack Leader is a huge upgrade to whatever Trolls or Knights Zvi's deck had access to. Rosethorn Halberd is like a Giant Growth that might hit for 4 instead of 3, and can be super beneficial in longer games. I've found that its surprise factor in sideboarded games is really tactical for sneaking in damage; especially when you're in the long game with Ranger Class. Its flexibility as a one mana spell or a five mana grinder excels at both ends of the long game spectrum.

Oh, none of that has to do with Kazandu Mammoth.

Now many readers joke I am the #1 fan of Trained Armodons; after all, I literally won a Constructed PTQ with the card Gnarled Mass in my deck some fifteen years ago. So, if I'm not playing a Gnarled Mass with as many incremental abilities and options as Kazandu Mammoth // Kazandu Valley, presumably I have a good reason. Or a reason at least.

It just seems to me that Tangled Florahedron // Tangled Vale is the stronger Modal Double-Faced Land. I started to really appreciate it playing Simic Mutate, and it has very good value in a deck that might want to land Questing Beast on the third turn.

Neither version is expressly "right" in my mind. Though Kazandu Mammoth really is much more popular. But if you're a StOmPy fan, I encourage you to try Tangled Florahedron // Tangled Vale.

The Grind

Reasonable Reader's Question: Oh, it seems you are highly informed at Standard. How is your grind to Mythic going this month?

Me, at the beginning of a session: Oh wow, I'm two ticks to Diamond One. Probably be Mythic in an hour...

Me at the end of like four hours: OH MY GOD THANK YOU GOD I MADE IT BARELY BACK TO DIAMOND TWO.

I had forgotten how rigorous high Diamond is. Jeepers. I'll keep you posted though ;)

Again, I Suppose That's One Way to Do It

So, perusing recent top performing decks, I came upon this one:


This deck is the definition of "I suppose that's one way to do it."

Before I get into my thoughts and potential optimizations / push-backs, let me acknowledge that AARDOS must have gotten a ton right.

I was a huge Faith's Fetters guy back in the original Ravnica days, but had completely forgotten the card existed. It is a great way to trigger the "fair" side of The Book of Exalted Deeds.

On that note, Arcanist's Owl is also a tight little addition. The card can kind of dig to The Book of Exalted Deeds, but it also finds big bombs like Elspeth Conquers Death (nice four-into-five there), and sundry defensive cards if you want to two-spell sometime after turn five or six.

That said... Where do I start?

This deck is 80 cards but plays only three copies of The Book of Exalted Deeds. It's tough enough to assemble the two-card combo of The Book of Exalted Deeds + Faceless Haven in a 60-card deck if you have four copies of each component. I realize the deck has Search for Glory as a supplement, but... That's kind of slow.

Moreover, while AARDOS found Faith's Fetters, there are precious few ways to trigger the Angel-making-machine that is The Book of Exalted Deeds. Charming Prince works, but Priest of Ancient Lore only gains one life. It is absolutely puzzling to me that this deck does not play Mazemind Tome or Cave of the Frost Dragon. In an 80-card deck even four copies of Cave of the Frost Dragon will threaten minimal drag. The card taps for the w in The Book of Exalted Deeds, even if it doesn't turn on Faceless Haven. Ditto on Castle Ardenvale. Maybe even super ditto. Isn't Mazemind Tome just - ahem - better than Eye of Vecna, even as a one-of? At least it can gain life for The Book of Exalted Deeds instead of costing you both life and mana.

If you're going to top up on Ugin, the Spirit Dragon... One? This is, again, an 80-card deck!

The bigger thing for me is, who is this deck supposed to beat?

If you get the combo on Emergent Ultimatum, they lose. But how are you going to do that? AARDOS has no meaningful way to disrupt their combo, and they can just hold up Heartless Act for your Faceless Haven. They don't have to tap out for their combo to let you land yours. They are not scared of Priest of Ancient Lore so should have plenty of time to build resources instead of desperately tapping out.

But is it the beatdown? I can see this deck - with Doomskar and Baneslayer Angel in the sideboard only - being run over by both Mono-Red and the Winota decks. I love where the deck is coming from, but really just don't see who I'd want to face with it.

That said, five things I appreciate about this build:

  1. Loyal Warhound - Get in there! This is one of the first cards I invested wildcards in from Dungeons and Dragons: Adventures in the Forgotten Realms; a nice source of pressure and card advantage both. Clearly bonkers with...
  2. 3 + 1 copies of Yorion, Sky Nomad - I feel like Omen of the Sun would make more sense as an anti-aggro tool here than the comparatively fragile Skycloud Apparition or Priest of Ancient Lore, but leaning into Yorion itself makes a ton of sense.
  3. Arcanist's Owl - I think I'd go even harder, or maybe even supplement with other 187-synergistic 4-drops like Solemn Simulacrum
  4. Four - count 'em four - copies of Elspeth Conquers Death! Which, I suppose, help out in the "only one Ugin, the Spirit Dragon" department
  5. The mana: Even given my criticisms around Cave of the Frost Dragon and Castle Ardenvale, every one of the lands AARDOS chose enters the battlefield untapped. Field of Ruin is defense against both other Book-combo decks and prevalent creature lands. Don't forget the Field itself is a basic Plains when you need one.

Again, the Grind

Someone explain Winota to me.

How is this a card?

Why do they ban cards around Winota, like Agent of Treachery, but not Winota itself?

I hate playing against Rogues (I almost typed "Faeries" due to presumably long-standing scarring) with Simic, but I don't hate it generally. Winota though? This has been the least fun card in Standard since it was printed. Think back over some of the cards Winota has shared a format with for how ridiculous - yet true - a claim that is.

Like all my decks feel bad. I win some. I lose slightly more. But with like every deck. The Winota players always seem to have the dumbest draws. They always have Dogs or Dwarves or whatever early; never stupid Humans. And even if you can answer their Blade Historian, Blade Historian always seems to be the next Human that appears post-Winota.

Winota is not particularly strategic, at least as far as I can see; presuming you know what order to string out your creatures. And they just run their guys into whatever defenders are waiting on account of Winota's powerful card advantage and mana cheating expectation. So, they don't even have to be careful in combat like other creature players (e.g. Mono-Green, Bard Class, White Weenie, etc.) Whatever dies is just going to be replaced by a card that costs three more mana anyway.

I would probably always draw Kenrith, the Returned King in my opening hand if I played Winota. But man, it really seems like these people win the lottery every time.

Again, 1-2-3

So, this is my new favorite Magic: The Gathering card:

Barbarian Class

I think I'm going to re-shape my whole Magic persona around it. Back in 1999 Dave Price explained to me that his "Magic friends" and "friends" kind of blended together, and that seemed like it made sense. So, I moved to New York to manage a Magic website and hang out mostly with Magicians who were good at many other aspects of life. This was a good choice. Thanks Dave!

But with these Class cards, I'm a Magician but also a... Paladin or whatever. Cleric. In this case, a Barbarian. Luckily, I'm already acting like some kind of weirdo barbarian in everyday life. Like, over the pandemic lockdown, my gym closed. I had trouble ordering a kettlebell from Amazon because everybody's gym closed, so I got really, really, into steel mace training. No one had heard of steel maces yet, so unlike kettlebells (or, I suppose, Pelotons) they weren't sold out everywhere.

This was my home gym until just a little earlier this year:

Steel mace training is really eclectic. I often joke it's for people who are too weird for kettlebells. Most trained crossfitters who are complete animals at heavy bells and pull-ups have real challenges getting through a twenty minute workout with a 10-lb. mace.

Up until starting back at FNM the past couple of weekends, I was at the archery range every Friday night; except that one weekend I did axe-throwing instead. Barbarian. Yes, I realize how ridiculous a position this is for a 45-year-old nerd whose adult life is largely predicated on playing a children's card game.

But Barbarian Class? Man does this card encompass every thing that children's card game has taught me.

Level 1: Make Your Own Luck

When do you even play Barbarian Class? Only in a deck full of dice rolling! Or at least some dice-rolling, right?

You've probably gone 1-2-3-4 into Hoarding Ogre. If you've played much Limited, anyway. Man does that feel powerful. Everyone is Fires of Yavimaya the rest of the game. Hoarding Ogre probably gets though unblocked thanks to the Level 1 synergy, it's making two if not three Treasure tokens.

My conclusion? The dice-rolling Class isn't about luck. It's about making luck. The Barbarians are master strategists, or at least masters of synergy.

Level 2: Cowards Can't Block Warriors

What is Menace anyway?

Who is the quintessential god of Barbarians?

It's Thor Odinson, right? Like the abs-popping apex of masculine charisma? Comeliness, rather.

I think that Menace here isn't just about being scary, not just about being intimidating. It's about avoiding conflict with your presence. It can be about reputation, influence, leverage. We might call this ability Menace; but what we really mean is any and every way of getting done what needs to get done; about getting "blockers" out of the way to cross The Red Zone.

Barbarians are not just master strategists, they're peerless pathfinders.

Level 3: faster, Faster, FASTER

Magic is largely about racing.

We use all kinds of specific words to give color or texture or character to "racing" but what we're really talking about is speed. Beatdown decks have to close out Control decks before they build too many advantages. Combo decks have to get under beatdown decks, even if it means running completely defenseless up until the finish line. Control decks need to find that next land drop against other control decks; because whoever loses that race will tend to lose the game.

Magic has increasingly become about turning speed into leverage. In no previous evolution of Magic has it been bad to try to block a 2/2 on turn three with a 5/5. Today that can get you killed. Having your fourth land come into play tapped when the opponent is about to drop a Joiner of Forces is a similar death knell.

Pure card advantage has never been less attractive. So many of the creatures are "Mulldrifters" instead of "Baneslayer Angels" a little card advantage isn't even that impressive. It's more about what you got out of your mana, and how quickly you can deploy what you've got onto the battlefield.

The.

Barbarians.

Know.

This.

One, two, three... Haste. This card is maybe two mana off of The Fix. It is almost painfully aware of the history of hasty Red enchantments. It drips with synergy and is lousy with confidence.

Barbarians put it all together.

Barbarian Class is Life.

Random Thought

Tell me that whole Barbarian Class thing wasn't random as hell.

Again, Random Thought

But you liked it.

LOVE

MIKE

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