This is pretty much my favorite creature in Magic:
I’m not saying it’s the best creature in Magic. That honor probably goes to [card]Dark Confidant[/card]. But it is my favorite.
Because of those magical words, “comes into play.” Or, if we want to go to the modernized Oracle text, “enters the battlefield.”
I will preferentially stock my deck with creatures and other cards that do something right now over cards – possibly even “better” cards – that do something only after a turn. I have to be careful that I don’t get so excited about cards that do something the turn they’re cast that I end up making decks that don’t really have high-power action cards.
So what’s the thought process here? Why am I so excited about a 2/1 for three mana that gets me a card back? More to the point, how does this plug into what I’ve been playing lately in Standard?
Investing in right now
Before he Top Eighted Pro Tour Honolulu and was subsequently absorbed into the R&D team at Wizards, Zac Hill wrote an article that centered on the concept that “sorceries and instants have haste.” That article was a big clarification for me, as it gave a qualitative name to a preference I’d sort of noticed in myself prior to that, and explained why creatures need to be very efficient to see play if they don’t have some kind of impact on the current turn.
Essentially, when we cast a creature that doesn’t do anything right now, we’re investing in the potential gains we’ll make from that creature in the future. This is almost the core theme of non-Conscription builds of Mythic – all the creatures have high-value payoffs. Knight of the Reliquary and Baneslayer Angel can be sole gamewinners, if you manage to untap with them in play.
Of course, we’ve all had the inverse experience where you topdeck that Baneslayer, and all it does is eat a removal spell EOT before your opponent untaps and kills you with all their stupid little critters. In that position, something like a Kitchen Finks might have been better, or, in modern Standard, a Wall of Omens drawing you into a relevant solution spell like Day of Judgment.
Still, the potential payoff of the Baneslayer or Knight is big enough that you don’t toss them by the wayside simply because you might end up in one of those situations where the investment in future turns doesn’t pay off.
In modern Standard, we have a lot of things that impact the board immediately, and I think we need to keep them in mind whenever we’re building or tweaking our decks.
Things with actual haste
Although I’d been having a pretty good time with the BRG Planeswalker Control deck I talked about two weeks ago, last week I had to shelve it. Why?
As it happens, decks featuring thirty plus creatures including four Vengevines are just too good at overwhelming a deck that tries to hold back and use removal to keep the board clear. The specific strength of Vengevine Naya comes from its eponymous vengeful elemental, which by dint of combining reanimation with haste effectively imparts haste to all the other creatures in the deck. Although I’m not a fan of pushing too hard to trigger your dead Vengevines – by diluting the deck’s strength with Kor Skyfisher, for example – the simple fact of having a 4/3 haste that keeps coming back takes it over the top and makes it painful to fight.
Looking at everything that has haste in Standard right now, we come up with a pretty short list of decent creatures:
I’m not counting the haste that unearth creatures get in their “second life” in building this list. If we take a look at the Top Eight from last weekend’s GP DC, we see:
Notably, the Vengevines and Thunders both lived in Bradley Carpenter’s hyper-aggressive take on Jund, which offered the perhaps even-more-nauseating possibility of Bloodbraid cascading into Hell’s Thunder.
We want to have creatures with haste and “haste” whenever possible
Creatures with “haste”
The category of creatures with “haste” – that is, creatures that do something the turn they come down – is much wider than that of creatures with actual haste. My general assertion is that given the choice between a creature that does something eventually and one that does something right now, we want to play the one that does something right now, even if this requires a bit of a power cut.
Returning once more to the top eight from GP DC, check out the tally of creatures that have haste, “haste,” or nothing. I’ll limit myself to main decks for this tally:
In the three Jund decks
Owen Turtenwald’s Jund – 4 Haste, 1 “Haste,” 9 Nothing
Joshua Wagner’s Jund – 4 Haste, 2 “Haste,” 11 Nothing
Bradley Carpenter’s Jund – 12 Haste, 3 “Haste,” 12 Nothing
In the four U/W Control decks
Kyle Boggemes’ U/W Control – 4 “Haste,” 3 Nothing
Michael Stanfar’s U/W Control – 6 “Haste”
Carlos Ramao’s U/W Control – 4 “Haste”
Brad Nelson’s U/W Control – 4 “Haste,” 4 Nothing
In the one Mythic deck
Brett Blackman’s Mythic – 4 “Haste,” 24 Nothing
I do have a point here – I think there’s a good lesson in the top eight decks. Although we’re naturally going to end up picking more powerful creatures that don’t do anything for us the turn they come down as we include more creatures, as good players and designers winnow down their creature lists, they tend to bias those lists toward creatures that have true haste or “haste.” The control decks, in particular, can’t afford to include too many creature choices that don’t either immediately impact the board or dig you deeper into your deck, as it’s essential that as many of your non-land topdecks as possible offer you the option of doing something immediately, so that you won’t be overwhelmed by those aggro decks that have loaded up on truly hasty creatures.
This is also one reason that Conscription Mythic is probably a better choice than non-Conscription Mythic. The simple addition of those four copies of Sovereigns of Lost Alara effectively imparts a kind of pseudo-haste to your otherwise fairly meaningless mana dorks, converting it from a deck that invests almost purely in later turns into one that has the option of making plays that impact the game right now.
The ultimate life cycle investment
I’m a big fan of planeswalkers.
There are a couple reasons for this. I like the kind of games they tend to generate, since they intrinsically operate on-board, and inspire a lot of back-and-forth with decisions about whether to attack you or your planeswalker buddy, when and how to redirect damage, and which of their many abilities to use. I also like the fact that they are the ultimate now-and-later investment.
Simply put, every planeswalker does something right now. Every planeswalker is also an investment in the future, as you can look forward to incrementally gaining card advantage, board position, or some other game advantage each turn after this one.
With most creatures, even awesome ones, your long-term investment is solely in damage. Planeswalkers are generally a superior investment because they’re an investment in a portfolio of futures, including damage, tempo, and card advantage.
The short, take-home version of this point is that even if a given planeswalker doesn’t intuitively look great to you, you probably ought to test it out anyway to see if it’s a better investment opportunity than you realized. After all, there was a lot of negative noise about Sarkhan the Mad during the spoiler-month fervor about Rise of the Eldrazi, but six copies of crazy uncle Sark made it into the top eight of GP DC.
Left to Right: damage + card advantage, card advantage + card selection, tempo + card advantage
Bringing this all together
As I alluded to above, Standard is chock-a-block with cards that impact the board immediately. As a consequence, I think we want to think very carefully about including permanents in our deck that don’t have some potential to generate an immediate effect.
For example, I’ve played against a number of variations on U/W and U/R/W that continue to run Wall of Denial. Carlos Romao had two copies in the sideboard of his deck at GP DC, but I think maindecking a card like Wall of Denial is pretty much wrong at the moment. Although it offers the promise of future tempo loss for your opponent, it doesn’t dig you any deeper into your deck, nor does it deal with the planeswalker that they may well drop on their following turn, or that Bloodbraid Elf into Putrid Leech into Vengevine.
The whole “multirole” idea that I was going on about three weeks ago was an expression of my desire to have all my cards have the potential to have a meaningful impact on the game right now. I’ve found in subsequent testing that there are some reasonable exceptions to this rule – specifically, I’m having a great time with Malakir Bloodwitch and its immunity to all the spot removal in U/W decks. But in general, I think the right bias to have is toward cards that have an immediate impact on the game, whether that’s via a triggered or activated ability, or by having actual haste and putting your opponent on the defensive.
All of this has led to what I’m playing right now, which has regressed enough to the mean to be legitimately termed “Jund” once more:
Yes, that’s Vol, and not “the Mad.” Wacky, I know.
This take on Jund is built toward a metagame that is rich with U/W control decks, Jund decks, and a reasonable smattering of Naya and RDW. I’ve let my paranoia about Open the Vaults largely lapse for now, as I haven’t been seeing much of it around. Here are some sideboarding notes:
Versus U/W Control
Note that this assumes that your U/W opponent is running just the four Spreading Seas. If you’re up against a more Spread’Em-style deck, you may need to board the Rangers and extra Spasm back in – that’s what they’re there for.
This matchup is the primary justification for running Vampire Hexmages over the more popular Jund speedbump, Sprouting Thrinax. Although Hexmage is far less helpful in the mirror, the ability to have 67% of your cascades end in a card that is relevant against planeswalkers (Blightning, Maelstrom Pulse, Vampire Hexmage) is tremendously useful.
Outside of Jund decks that pack as many planeswalkers as this one does, the Hexmages are pretty much dead weight in this matchup. We’d prefer to simply hit our Growth Spasms and ramp into Bituminous Blasts and Chandras, relying on a superior load of card advantage to help us beat our Jund opponents down.
The degree of sideboarding involved in this matchup has had me considering going down to three Bloodwitches in the main and moving one copy of Chandra in from the sideboard.
Pro tip: Vapors come out when Bit Blast goes in. It’s really embarrassing when one forgets that. Not that I’ve done that or anything.
I used to think it was useful to drop creatures to clog the ground in this matchup, but have since been disabused of that notion. Early creatures are largely just handles to hang [card]Searing Blaze[/card] on, and will be overrun by [card]Ball Lightning[/card] and so forth anyway. The current sideboarding options are all about keeping mana up to kill hasty attackers (there’s that haste thing again) before you start dropping life-gaining finishers and going for the throat.
Although Mythic decks do run planeswalkers, they don’t run enough to make the Hexmage a worthwhile inclusion over the superior available sideboard options. The whole gist of this matchup is “kill their stuff over and over again,” and the sideboarding strategy entirely supports that notion. The Jund Charms can potentially make your Bloodwitches big enough to win some fights they otherwise might not, but their real point is to kill all those stupid Birds and Hierarchs before someone gets clever and casts Sovereigns of Lost Alara and then kills you with a giant, trampling Bird.
Versus Vengevine Naya
See above. Seriously. The primary different between the Mythic and Naya matchup is that this time around, the Jund Charms are there to clear their graveyard once they develop a backlog of Vengevines who are all ready to wreak vengeance on you. They can also incidentally clear out tiny dudes to let your Consuming Vapors have a field day on their big guys, but keep the Vengevine recursion problem in mind, and hold onto your Jund Charms if you can.
You know what’s better than a Threaten that can’t even target Emrakul? Right. A Threaten that can target Emrakul, or that can give your dudes a bonus and haste and ramp into dragons in those games where it comes down to an Awakening Zone-spawned board stall.
I have, indeed, used Sarkhan to steal someone’s Emrakul and hit them with it. It’s a delicious feeling. Note that [card sarkan the mad]crazy Sark[/card] is a fair alternative here, since he can simply convert Emrakul into a much-more-palatable 5/5 dragon. That said, the impact of hitting them with their own Emrakul is usually game-ending, so I’ve been enjoying Vol for now.
The take home – now is a good time for now
My particular and peculiar take on Jund aside, I think the take-home from last week’s Grand Prix is that the current environment strongly, strongly favors loading your deck with cards that have an immediate, this-turn impact on the game. At some point in the future we may return to a Standard metagame where we’re happy making three 1/1 Spirits for three mana, or two 4/4 dragons for six, but at the moment, if you’re putting cards into your deck, they need to pass the test of “is there a better card that could impact the game the turn I cast it?”
A hand full of relevant action.
Clearly, many cards make the cut, but if you find yourself falling continuously behind in your matches, it may be time to go back and reevaluate your card choices, asking each card “What can you do for me right now?”