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In Development – Three Months, Three Topics: The MEP Questionnaire, Jund, and Some M11 Hits

 

We’re in a confluence of interstitial periods right now.

This article comes out in the week between the M11 prerelease and the M11 release, so we’re all talking about M11, but none of us are deploying it in tournaments yet. On the Magic Online side, we’re also in that funky month or so where MTGO lives in the past – and this is particularly interesting as the remaining MTGO PTQs fall within that funky month, and thus won’t have access to M11. Finally, we’re experiencing our first dose of overlapping core sets, with M11 coming in at the end of this week, but M10 hanging around until Shards rotates out

Confusing enough. In light of this trifecta of gaps, I’m going to cover three topics today, two of which plug into that theme. They will be, in order, the Magic Effectiveness Project questionnaire, the next three months of Jund, and then a possibly different take on some cards from the new core set.

The Magic Effectiveness Project questionnaire

Thanks to everyone for the helpful suggestions given in reply to last week’s articles. I’ve incorporated many of your questions into the MEP Questionnaire, which I am releasing to all of you this week.

As a refresher, the idea behind this questionnaire is that we’d like to ask successful players at all levels to tell us about how they experience the game of Magic. The goal is to identify strengths that we can use to customize our learning, so that getting better at Magic is fun and effective, instead of frustrating and ineffective.

Remember that our definition of a “successful” player is “someone who has won prizes in one or more head-to-head events where entry required a fee or some other gatekeeping method, such as a PTQ.”

So if you’ve pulled in prizes at your local FNM, you qualify.

What I’d appreciate from each and every one of you is to spread the word about the questionnaire, as well as answering it yourself if you feel you qualify. You can grab the questionnaire in a bunch of different formats right here:

Magic Effectiveness Project Questionnaire – .pdf format
Magic Effectiveness Project Questionnaire – .doc format
Magic Effectiveness Project Questionnaire – .docx format

Feel free to pass the questionnaire on to anyone you’d like to. All responses can be mailed to magic(at)alexandershearer.com (the email address is also listed on the questionnaire).

In addition, Eric from Monday Night Magic had a great suggestion – if you’re in a position to interview people about Magic from time to time, say for a podcast or your YouTube channel – please go ahead and include some of the questions from the questionnaire into your interviews. Then let me know, and I’ll be sure to check them out and incorporate them into the work.

I expect it will take a while to start collecting enough questionnaires to power some useful results from that end, so there won’t be a “cool stuff I’ve learned” column coming out in the next two weeks or anything like that. However, there will be other MEP content in the future, focusing on things like analysis of past coverage, and enlisting your assistance in that analysis.

Three more months of Jund

A while back on twitter, Aaron Forsythe commented that Wizards had developed the ultimate solution to the Jund menace – set rotation.

Sarcasm aside, this brings up a good point that we should probably keep in mind in the upcoming Shards – M10 – Zendikar – M11 metagame. Jund is far from dead. Although it’s likely that Blightning will see less and less table time as a consequence of Obstinate Baloth’s arrival in Standard, the deck as a whole remains strong and may well profit from that same Baloth more than it suffers from the loss of Blightning.

If you’re having trouble envisioning what a Blightning-less, post-M11 Jund list might look like, I’ll direct you to the winning list of the new Dutch National Champion, Bas Melis. Melis tallied a perfect 15-0 at Dutch Nats, which included 9 wins in Standard with the following Jund deck:

Jund, with all the dudes and twice the removal (Bas Melis)

Even without the addition of any M11 cards, this list is a good start for a Blightning-free Jund list. It features a wall of removal leading up into some prodigious creatures.

I’m also a little tickled that it features two copies of Realms Uncharted in the sideboard as a defense against attacks against its mana base. Although I’m a bit of a sad panda that we haven’t gotten more mileage out of a card with such clear potential, this is pretty much in line with the kind of use I imagined it might see in Standard.

In considering post-M11 Jund, either in terms of playing it or as an opponent, I would look for a list very much like Melis’s, modified to lower the curve slightly and to incorporate Obstinate Baloth. Perhaps something like this:

Melis Jund M11 update

If you’re currently playing RDW and think that Leyline of Punishment will nullify the problem of maindeck Baloth in Jund, consider that builds like Melis’s run a full quad of Maelstrom Pulse to remove annoying obstacles like that.

The short version of all of this commentary is that Obstinate Baloth, and Vengevine before it, are not Jund killers. Instead, they’re [card]Blightning[/card] killers, and Jund is a perfectively serviceable deck even without that specific power card. So if you’ve been doing a little happy dance about how you won’t have to face any Jund decks come Friday, I’d reconsider.

It’s possible that Jund decks like Melis’ will have to pull back a bit from being quite so top-heavy, for a reason that I’ll discuss in a moment.

A reasonable take on some M11 additions

As I briefly mentioned in an earlier column, I’m quite happy with the overall feel of our new core set. Wizards is really on track to successfully capture the essence of the original core sets.

I’m also not quite so ready to jump on the hype wagon with a lot of other authors, so I’m going to offer what I hope is a measured evaluation of a pair of M11 cards, starting with”¦

 

Mana Leak 

Prior to the release of M11, I was rooting for two cards to reappear in the core set. The first was [card]Eternal Witness[/card], which was more of a wish list item than a realistic expectation. The second was Mana Leak.

We’ve seen a lot of writers going a little crazy over the reappearance of Mana Leak in the core set, viewing it as a potential stepping stone on the road to running draw-go control instead of tapout control. Simultaneously, all of you control haters out there are probably lamenting the introduction of Mana Leak for pretty much the same reason.

I was rooting for Mana Leak because I view it as a great example of a “fair” counterspell. It’s in the trio of “fair” 1U counterspells alongside Negate and Essence Scatter. In fact, I think it will help generate a healthier, more even Standard starting in about a week.

Consider a top-heavy Jund list like Melis’s in the context of an environment featuring Mana Leak. Although the pure power of Bloodbraid Elf and Bituminous Blast remain, Siege-Gang Commander, Broodmate Dragon, Grave Titan, and all those planeswalkers can no longer be run out on autopilot on the first possible turn against any deck that could potentially even splash for Mana Leak. Similarly, every other deck in Standard has been designed to simply run out threats ASAP. People will either have to reconsider their plays or redesign their decks, because just a single untapped blue means that you might be at risk of a critical disruption.

I think one practical consequence of all of this is that the environment will slow down a bit. The other practical consequence for each of us as players is that we will need to revisit our OODA loops and reevaluate our card sequencing. Where before your concern might have simply been “What order should I play cards in, given the removal my opponent is likely to have?” now you should also be thinking, “Should I play this first, given that it’s likely to eat a Mana Leak?”

So even though I’m not planning on playing any draw-go myself, I’m happy to have Mana Leak back.

If you’d like to take a look at some prior Standard events where Mana Leak was in the format, check out:

Worlds 2006
Pro Tour Honolulu, 2006
Worlds 2005

 

Fauna Shaman 

Now, this is a card with hype of another flavor entirely. Fauna Shaman is more polarizing, drawing out the full array of responses all the way from, “It’s Survival of the Fittest,” to, “It dies to everything!”

Although we can debate the merits of those arguments somewhere else, I think Brad Nelson has pointed us in the right direction with this remark:

If you made the deck rely on Lotus Cobra too much it would be bad and clunky when you did not draw it. If you made the deck not need the card, well then, it didn’t need it.

Brad is dead-on in drawing parallels between Lotus Cobra and Fauna Shaman. The Shaman is not Survival of the Fittest. It’s more killable and definitely slower. If you build your deck around it, you’re going to spend a lot of time being disappointed when the Shaman eats a Doom Blade – or worse, a Path to Exile. But if you just toss it into decks with no thought at all, it’s a waste of space.

On the other hand, the effect is clearly powerful, which is why so many people are thrilled at the idea of dropping Vengevines into the graveyard while tutoring up any number of silver bullets to smash all opposition.

I have a more measured suggestion about the value of the card. While the Shaman assuredly is yet another in a long line of powerful two-mana critters, and an active Shaman is going to be about as gross as an unkilled Lotus Cobra, my real excitement about Fauna Shaman is her ability to “Queen” all your worst creatures.

Let me explain.

I’m allergic to bad late-game topdecks.

One of the most disheartening feelings in the world, for me, is to peel that Birds of Paradise or Llanowar Elves off the top on my sixth turn, when I’d rather be coming up with something useful like a planeswalker, a fatty, or a game-ending sorcery. Although one way to stave off this problem is to minimize cards that are “early game only,” we just can’t do this if we want to make headway in environments where other people are using their mana dorks to drop turn two Knights and turn three Elspeths. The alternative solution is to somehow rehabilitate these late-game slackers, giving them some topdeck utility.

Noble Hierarch comes prepackaged with her own late-game utility in the form of exalted. Although it may not seem like much at a glance, those +1s really build up, making the Hierarch a consensus better choice over Birds or Elves in most cases.

Sovereigns of Lost Alara promises to empower your mana dorks by making each one a potentially game-ending threat with a patched-on Eldrazi Conscription.

Stoneforge Mystic, a personal favorite, can tutor up some Basilisk Collars, Behemoth Sledges, and Swords of Vengeance to turn your 0/1s and 1/1s into legitimate threats.

It’s in this area that I think Fauna Shaman can genuinely shine. Far outside of best-case scenario land where we ditch [card]Vengevine[/card]s and tutor up silver bullets, I’m looking forward to using the Shaman to simply cash in my now-useless mana dorks for some real action.

Consider a Mythic list reconfigured to accommodate Fauna Shaman:

Fauna Mythic

You’ll doubtless notice the lack of “silver bullets” in the main deck. Indeed, my goal in including a couple copies of Fauna Shaman in a deck like Mythic is not to dilute its core goal by adding in a bunch of solutions, but to focus it ever more sharply on this core goal by adding in two more cards to make it play even more consistently.

Philip Yam, winner of the most recent ChannelFireball 5K, has pointed out that Jace’s job in his Mythic build is to “shuffle away eight-mana enchantments.” More generally, Jace makes the flow of the deck more consistent, which is important in an archetype that can have the classic “I get my mana or I get my threats” problem from time to time.

Fauna Shaman’s job is similar. Clocking in at just two copies in the main deck, she’s there to let you trade in that pesky mid- to late-game Noble Hierarch, Lotus Cobra, or Birds of Paradise for Sovereigns of Lost Alara, or possibly a [card]Baneslayer Angel[/card]. This is not a deck that relies on Fauna Shaman, but it is one that can profitably use the Shaman to even out its draws and convert late-game garbage into an endless threat parade.

Over in the sideboard, we take advantage of the Shaman to allow a few silver bullets such as [card]Qasali Pridemage[/card] and [card]Obstinate Baloth[/card]. There’s also a backup Shaman for those pairings where it’s essential that we hit these silver bullets – much as you might see an extra Mystic in cases where we want to hit a critical equipment post-board.

If I were feeling cuter, I might consider having a single copy of Platinum Angel in the sideboard for various removal-light Monument Overrun decks, and perhaps Pelakka Wurm to help crush RDW. Cuter still would be a single Kederekt Leviathan, but that’s mainly because the idea of discarding one to Shaman and then unearthing it to bounce the board is kind of hilarious.

But those are cute asides. The real point is this:

Fauna Shaman is powerful because it lets you trade your accelerators in for threats in the late game.

Regardless of what else gets built around this card, I think that’s an important point to keep in mind, and speaks to why it should see play even if you don’t want to build Survival 2.0.

Three months!

So, I’m looking forward to the next three months. It’ll be the last run of Standard Jund, and as much as that deck is maligned, I like it. At the same time, it’s our first experience with dual core sets, and with both of those sets being near home runs in terms of appeal, that makes for an exciting Standard.

Finally, I’m looking forward to seeing those questionnaire responses from all portions of the competitive Magic community. Whether you’re an FNM regular or a Pro Tour ringer, I want to hear back from you about what makes the game so fun for you, and what makes you good at the game.

So what are you looking forward to in these next few months? What has you excited about Magic? Let us all know in the comments.

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