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Delayed Blast Llanowar Elves

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Imagine Llanowar Elves. Okay, it's not that hard to imagine:

Llanowar Elves

Now, imagine paying two mana for Llanowar Elves. Okay that kind of sucks. But we do it all the time under different names. In the most embarrassing times, we get a 1/1 body for our 1/1 Llanowar Elves, in return for some lame color filtering or something. I once won a PTQ with a 2/1 Llanowar Elves that was hexproof. As if I was so worried about it being shot at. Come on! It was two mana. But these days we can get, say a 1/3 with a decent combat ability for two. Still, nothing like a one-mana Llanowar Elves, am I right?

But what if your two mana Llanowar Elves were a 2/3 instead of a lame 2/1 hexproof or some kind of 1/3? You would be in legitimate combat creature range at that point, right?

What if it also - for no more mana than the admittedly extra extra mana they made you put into it down payment time - killed two of your opponent's creatures, or maybe countered one-and-a-half direct damage spells?

Might you be interested in that?

Sounds pretty good, right?

Well, why don't you play Life of Toshiro Umezawa // Memory of Toshiro, then?

Life of Toshiro Umezawa // Memory of Toshiro has to be the most underplayed card in Standard right now. Not because it's THE BEST card (it's not), but because it's played almost not at all despite lining up really effectively against a wide number of cards that "everyone else" is playing.

It's interesting how going first or second can potentially punish the opponent when you're playing Life of Toshiro Umezawa // Memory of Toshiro.

For instance, you can play a Swamp and pass (or a Swamp and an Okiba Reckoner Raid // Nezumi Road Captain, but we'll get to that in a second); and your opponent might follow up with Generous Visitor. You now (on the play) get to kill the Generous Visitor before it gets a +1/+1 counter. Ditto on Evolved Sleeper.

But against White Weenie it can be better to go second. Say the opponent were going to play a Hotshot Mechanic on turn one no matter what. Going second you have the opportunity to not only get that Mechanic, but another 2/1 if they play a second Mechanic, say. Against Thalia, Who Ruins Everything (or in this case only attempts to ruin everything) going first is better just because you can hit your third land drop and kill Thalia more efficiently; like before you get run over by an Adeline or something. But it's interesting how this card can alter our normal expectations of play / draw; at least situationally.

One other possibility is operating kind of like a Green Time Walk by stealing the opponent's next turn while inevitably gaining two life.

For example, say you play Life of Toshiro Umezawa // Memory of Toshiro into Delver of Secrets on the draw. On the play there's a dead Delver if the opponent played it turn one, obviously. But on the draw they have u open at this point. There are a lot of bad things that can happen to you. One great and one still pretty good thing; but a lot of really bad stuff. Slip Out the Back is probably the worst, but it's not alone. Any number of one-for-ones might beat you right there.

But imagine the second-best (but still not actually good) thing happens. The opponent responds to your Life of Toshiro Umezawa // Memory of Toshiro not with a Spell Pierce (which would be a straight trade that is nevertheless likely leading to a lot of Delver damage) but a Fading Hope. They're not happy about it. They're trading a full card (the Fading Hope) for one-third of your stupid Saga that "no one" plays. The alternative is trading a full card (the Delver of Secrets) in the same way; which would be much worse for them.

THEY DO NOT NOW RE-PLAY THE DELVER.

They just don't do it unless they have Slip Out the Back. But they didn't have Slip Out the Back a second ago, right? They either drew it, are both incredibly terrible and forgetful, or (most likely) they just don't re-play the Delver.

That would mean exposing their Delver to Chapter Two of your Saga, and negotiating the same devil's bargain from a moment ago. So, they do nothing (or at least nothing proactive) and you get a breather and two life. That's not bad. Because Chapter Three is actually a real card.

Life of Toshiro Umezawa // Memory of Toshiro

It is probably more accurate to say that this is a Delayed Blast Elves of Deep Shadow than a Delayed Blast Llanowar Elves; but I figure at this point you take my meaning.

Memory of Toshiro is actually part of the plan, by the way. If you play Life of Toshiro Umezawa // Memory of Toshiro on turn two, Memory of Toshiro will come online just in time for you to either miss your fifth land drop or accidentally draw a second Roadside Reliquary. In either case, it's helping you cast Invoke Despair. WHICH IS GREAT.

I suppose at this point it's probably time to talk about the deck list in specific:


Life of Toshiro Umezawa // Memory of Toshiro is kind of half the "theme" of this deck. The challenge I gave myself was to figure out if cards like Roadside Reliquary or Soul Transfer might still be good in the absence of The Meathook Massacre. The answer ended up being "yes, and" rather than just "yes". They could still be good, but we had to re-think some paradigms.

For instance, most Black decks in Standard are some kind of midrange by default, but tend to slide into the "Control" role because of the presence of some bigger or slower haymakers that are mostly good at gaining an advantage rather than just killing the opponent.

This deck isn't a pure beatdown deck, but it can kind of act like one. It tends to be more of an initiative-based, or "racer" deck; even if it's got many of those same slower cards.

The biggest lever to pull is obviously Okiba Reckoner Raid // Nezumi Road Captain. That card allows you to come out starting on turn one... Something few Black decks in Standard can do well. It's not surprising to see Red players run Kumano Faces Kakkazan // Etching of Kumano right? Okiba Reckoner Raid is arguably just a better card. Sometimes you don't get the extra damage from Chapter Two of the Red analogue because you don't have a creature that turn (or you're forced into removal or something). Chapter Two on Okiba Reckoner Raid never "misses," and it's not controversial to say that the Black Chapter One is literally twice as powerful as the Red one.

Coming out with Okiba Reckoner Raid on the first turn sets up one of the unique play patterns of this version.

Do whatever you want on turns two and three. Might I recommend Reckoner Bankbuster into Graveyard Trespasser // Graveyard Glutton? That way you get to swing for four on turn three.

Anyway, on turn four, your Okiba Reckoner Raid will not only have flipped, but be ready to attack... With Menace. That means that its seemingly inconsequential 2/2 body is a little tough to block.

So, you get in with four mana on the battlefield.

Three of that mana can now upgrade your 2/2 for a different creature with Menace: Biting-Palm Ninja. Zinger! You get to flip the Menace counter for some Hypnotic Specter action, and with your fourth mana... Re-play the Okiba Reckoner Raid!

This deck has a light-to-medium enchantments (really Sagas) theme, which pairs with a light (but present) partnership alongside Reckoner Bankbuster and The Celestus. All this makes life living on Roadside Reliquary or your mid-game Soul Transfers feel like cheating.

Speaking of cheating: Sheoldred, the Apocalypse.

Basically, that's the only creature that matters. We can talk about all these peripherals or add-on themes, but Sheoldred is the Alpha and Omega of the format. No other creature can steal a game that seemed all but lost (emphasis on "but") or turn a close one into a blowout.

That's the reason we don't play Cut Down.

You don't have to adopt all the twists and turns of my Black deck, but I would encourage you to not play Cut Down whatsoever in Best-of-One, and to mostly not play it in Traditional Standard. Cut Down is a trap. It's a card that looks really good on rate but ends up kind costing you games merely by existing because it doesn't kill Sheoldred.

My opponents' Cut Downs inevitably kill a 2/2 that already Drained them for two or a 3/2 that I'm about to re-buy thank you very much. Obviously, the card is great for matchups full of Phoenix Chicks or Voldaren Epicures... But honestly it's not even as good as Life of Toshiro Umezawa. Anyway, you can sideboard it for that job.

I also don't play Infernal Grasp. Infernal Grasp is fine because it can kill Sheoldred but it's nothing to write home about. Adrian Sullivan asked me about it and the best I can come up with is that I'd rather gain life than pay life. Typically, March of Wretched Sorrow is just better. Not only do you snag a lot of one Loyalty Lilianas and Wandering Emperors, but March of Wretched Sorrow plays into this deck's kind of racer / life gain sub-theme.

If you look at the build, 19 of the deck's 36 spells can gain life directly. This deck is not good at certain things. It is pretty good at holding a lead, but it's bad at catching up to an opponent that is significantly ahead on materiel. But in the same way that a purer control deck can use life gain to buy time to stabilize the game, this deck can use its light life gain sub-theme to live just long enough to get in one last time with a Menace creature, or topdeck Invoke Despair. A lot of the life gain feels minor in isolation... Just one or two points. But they're all add-ons. The cards they're on are doing damage or attacking or killing a creature as well. If you already have an attacker, they can help you hold a lead... Or at least prevent the opponent from getting too far ahead.

This sub-theme isn't "powerful" therefore... But now that you know it's there, probably you can play with it mind, which should allow you to steal a game or twenty with a sneaky attack.

There are three play patterns that are unique to this deck that I'll list here, and then let you go to try it out the deck yourself:

  1. Double Life of Toshiro Umezawa - Typically this will only happen after turn four, where you play two Sagas in one turn. It's a very underrated sequence against Fable of the Mirror-Breaker // Reflection of Kiki-Jiki or even just a Bloodsoaked Harvester. You're not using up a full resource even though you're using two cards. If the opponent has two x/2 creatures in play, you're likely to kill multiples this way, anyway.
  2. Reckoner Bankbuster over Tenacious Underdog on turn two - This one is fairly contextual, but I tend to err in favor of the Bankbuster. The Underdog can't even attack until turn three right? The Bankbuster can attack for four even if you miss your next land drop and are just forced to slow play the Underdog. You also get some optionality here because if you really are in danger of missing Land #3, leading on Bankbuster gives you an open to try to draw that crucial mana. Also, you get to do stuff like just using turn three for a 3/3 (which can still crew and attack for four), if you draw into a more mana efficient sequence. Finally, think very hard if you want to trade Underdogs on turn two, especially on the draw. The worst is if the opponent sends their 'dog into your 'dog; you trade; and then they cast Graveyard Trespasser. Even if you have your own Trespasser you feel kind of stupid.
  3. Biting-Palm Ninja locks - The "classic" for this deck is turn four Menace-into-Menace, with a Reckoner Raid re-play... But you can do two other cool things with Biting-Palm Ninja. One of them is to re-run Life of Toshiro Umezawa, which can be very profitable. Not only is three damage more than two, but sometimes the opponent plays an annoying mid-game Gala Greeters you want to kill. The most fun option is looping Biting-Palm Ninjas into each other to keep the opponent's hand locked. This is particularly useful against Counterspells.

I will leave you by recommending you don't become a victim of your own success. Which, to be fair, is probably a high form of flattery:

LOVE

MIKE

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