"Can I read that?" [he picks up my two]
"It's kind of a bad Treasure Map. Heh. You know..."
"For Frenzy, sure. I get it. Okay, resolves."
The game isn't really going great for Our Hero. Despite the second-turn Azor's Gateway, he has missed a land drop or two; which is ironic given the Forest under the Gateway.
And then there's that Teferi, Hero of Dominaria...
"I'll draw," the opponent says.
"Sure." There's not much my deck can do about that, anyway.
"Untap my lands?"
Our Hero draws.
"Spin the Gateway?"
"Okay, I'm going to put down Vivien Reid."
"Okay, I'm going to flip over the Gateway then."
"Banefire you for 18."
"Oh spit*" he replies, shuffling up for Game 2. "You talked about that on your podcast, didn't you?"
That Time I Won a Standard Tournament
Last week, at the Meadowlands Exposition Center in Secaucus, New Jersey, I won a Magic: The Gathering tournament. Sadly, it wasn't the Grand Prix, or even the Sunday PTQ.
I did, however, manage to win a Last Chance Grand Prix Trial. I did it with this beauty:
Double Dinosaur Combo | Guilds Standard | Michael Flores
- Creatures (18)
- 2 Carnage Tyrant
- 4 Jadelight Ranger
- 4 Llanowar Elves
- 4 Merfolk Branchwalker
- 4 Wayward Swordtooth
- Planeswalkers (2)
- 2 Vivien Reid
- Enchantments (4)
- 4 Experimental Frenzy
This deck puts together some elements we've been talking about for the last couple of weeks.
The main shell is likely somewhat familiar to you as a Dinosaur-Experimental Frenzy deck. The powerhouse strategy is to get Experimental Frenzy down. Unlike in Mono-Red (or ) the Green version has Wayward Swordtooth. Wayward Swordtooth allows you to play multiple lands per turn. Besides breaking one of the two fundamental rules balancing all of Magic: The Gathering, the ability to play multiple lands dramatically increases the momentum of an Experimental Frenzy, once you have it already in play.
Basically, sometimes you have consecutive lands on top of your deck and you get stuck. Getting to play that next land [from on top] not only generates card advantage (it was like drawing an extra card, if only an extra land), it keeps you going so you can get deeper and deeper into your library. Further, having more lands out lets you cast more spells! Imagine you "just" get a Forest, but it lets you "just" cast another Llanowar Elves. You didn't "just" draw (and play) two more cards, you have two more valuable mana for the next turn's big spells.
Wayward Swordtooth is just a great card on its own. More than once I got a draw like this:
Turn one: Forest, Llanowar Elves
Turn three: blah blah blah Carnage Tyrant
Even just as a creature deck, Wayward Swordtooth gives this one a dimension that the more popular Golgari decks do not share. Two things on that point... First, you can potentially run out of cards when you're playing double lands. That where stuff like Jadelight Ranger (or later, Vivien Reid) come in. Separately, one of the main reasons to play this deck is that it is nicely favored against Golgari (the most popular deck). You are generally even in the early game. You both have similar Explore guys. They might have a few more. You don't want to trade with them if you can help it. For one thing, they have cards like Find // Finality that can snowball their card advantage; secondly, you need every permanent you can get to establish The City's Blessing.
Wayward Swordtooth gives you a threat that lives through the back half of Find // Finality... But it is also a target for Ravenous Chupacabra. Really, your advantage comes from the big Red spells. Launching a kicked Fight with Fire tends to be the start of good things, and an unchecked Experimental Frenzy tends to define the texture of the game itself.
You'll notice I played Adventurous Impulse instead of Commune with Dinosaurs. For sure Adventurous Impulse is a weaker card, assuming you have a lot of Dinosaurs. This deck plays only twenty-two lands. So it needs Impulse to help find mana early. Again, weaker than Commune with Dinosaurs given a shorter dig. But! A big part of the deck is exploiting the Explore creatures. This is where Adventurous Impulse shines.
You can fill out your curve consistently with this card. turn one Adventurous Impulse to find a turn two Merfolk Branchwalker, say, can both satisfy your second turn mana hole and keep both lands and spells flowing.
Besides the switch to Adventurous Impulse, the unique element of this build is Azor's Gateway. Azor's Gateway plays the role of supplemental Treasure Map when you have Frenzy on the battlefield. Basically, it's a two-mana artifact that can alter the top card of your library for only one mana. You do get a whole additional take on the deck (Azor's Gateway into Banefire) that is really powerful. If slow control decks continue to play at the top of the metagame, I think that makes an even better choice. I both beat and lost to Golgari decks on the weekend; went dead even against Arclight Izzet; and lost to Boros while never beating a deck so badly, so methodically in my life... But Banefired out every Esper and Jeskai deck I faced.
This deck is hugely favored against Blue control due to the presence of both Banefire and Carnage Tyrant in the main. The Gateway games are more the exception than the rule, but they're certainly in the predictable range. It's not just Banefires. You can use big mana for Fight with Fire, or just to get an enormous leg up for operating under Experimental Frenzy.
Early game your acceleration can serve you, or your cantrip guys can build your battlefield without over committing into removal. Even when they have something like Settle the Wreckage, your comeback will be devastating. Frenzy, Reid, or of course Banefire are all murderers.
If there is one thing I would say is a "Weakness" inherent to this deck, it's the mana. Not only does the mana base kind of stink (five Mountains, thirteen Forests? Yuck!) but you are often stuck gambling on hands that refuse to produce.
Do you keep one land, a couple of Explore guys, and an Adventurous Impulse? I think you're supposed to... But you can easily just miss all your drops! I once missed twelve in a row, through multiple Jadelight Rangers, a Branchwalker, and even the Impulse. Golgari has similar problems, but this deck is even more volatile. For one thing, 22 land is lower than Golgari's count; for another, Adventurous Impulse "counts as a land"... Except when it doesn't. That is certainly speculative to deal with, but the deck is made to operate under Frenzy. Limiting your total number of lands limits how many times you get stuck under Frenzy, but it also adds a question mark before you quite get there.
Tocatli Honor Guard is certainly a Threat. I didn't actually lose to the card itself on the weekend, but I easily could have. Honor Guard decks often have something else you might want to kill with your relatively limited removal, and they tend to put you under a lot of pressure with Knights or Angels. Honor Guard is designed to put a little drag on Golgari decks; it will annihilate us in any of the games where we actually need our Explore guys to hit land drops. As much as Eli Kassis winning validated the Azor's Gateway side, Brad Nelson's umpteenth GP standout put hated Tocatli Honor Guard that much more on the radar.
Further, the deck is a little behind against Arclight. They win the overwhelming number of matches that they win the roll, if only because they're going first in Game 3. We have some nice play with Deathgorge Scavenger, but even Lava Coil puts us behind. The Coils are heavily taxed. You might need to spend one on a Goblin turn two. That sucks. Rekindling Phoenix is a perfect target in every way... Except that it's not what the Coil is there to kill. Crackling Drake is a convenient target on size and cost. But besides, again, simply not being an Arclight, you're down a card to start. Finally, even when you get Arclight, you're not only implied to be down a card, they already got you for three. Bad and bad.
Plausible, and much better:
Them: Island (for EOT Opt)
Heroes: Forest, Llanowar Elves
Them: Chart a Course, pitching Arclight Phoenix
Heroes: Land, our other 3 mana Dinosaur
Despite winning the least important of the three tournaments I played last weekend, I remain happy with the deck. I can see where I lost all the matches I lost. All but two were mine given a single different decision.
And that's great, right?
I like Magic when there is a lot of play, and the guy who makes a critical, or strategic, error (even one that looks small) is supposed to lose.
All that's left is to figure out the best nickname for this Beast... err... Dinosaur deck.
Thanks for reading!