Finally we’re back to the Constructed grind with a brand new format to explore and one that’s already being called boring by lazy deckbuilders who then turn to Ramp to solve their problems. Still, there’s a point to be had to turning to what works and we’ll kick off our States preview with what performed best at the 5k held in NYC this weekend, ramp of the Eldrazi and Valakut variety.
Valakut Ramp by Jack Vargas, 1st Place – TCGplayer 5k NYC
All this deck lost was Rampant Growth and Siege-Gang Commander, and Wurmcoil Engine conveniently makes your aggro matches way better anyway. So really the only big loss was Rampant Growth which does slow the deck down, but with Explore and a million other ramp spells, life is still good for the Valakut deck. In addition the rotation killed off Mythic, natural predator of slow and clunky decks, and threw out Jund as well – just in case you had issues with 4/4s backed by hand disruption and could kill a Titan.
For specific updates, as I said above I love Wurmcoil Engine in the deck and feel like it’s the best anti-aggro threat available. Not only is it cheaper than Avenger of Zendikar, but the lifelink pays huge dividends against red decks and stabilizing the board. Past that sideboard-wise I’d consider one far more substantial against aggro decks with Arc Trail as extra Pyroclasm effects, as well as potentially running a splash for Memoricide to trump the mirror. I listed Jack Vargas’s build as an example of a Valakut deck that had won, but as far as builds go his leaves me rather confused about what it’s trying to accomplish, especially in the sideboard.
As a result the only natural predators the deck has left in the format are Red Deck Wins and the new breeds of Boros and Relic WW decks. Just about every deck keels over when a Titan or Wurmcoil Engine hits the table and on the subsequent turn Valakut usually turns on and clears the board or kills the opponent. When every deck left-over is a slower type of aggro deck or falls under the midrange moniker, then a deck that does away with any of the early threats and instead just seeks to trump over and over.
Right now there isn’t a lot to say about the deck, the key to remember if you plan on playing it is that you’ll now be the deck with a target on your back. As long as you bare this in mind and allocate an appropriate amount of sideboard hate against hate-creatures, the mirror and Control then this is one of the best choices for States. Unfortunately since it’s such an obvious choice, you’ll run into a higher number of mirrors than almost any other choice. One of the worst feelings is playing a mirror where the other guy has sold out for an edge and you haven’t, so just keep that in mind.
Eldrazi Ramp by Tim Lindale – 2nd Place – TCGplayer 5k NYC
Take everything I wrote about Valakut Ramp and apply it here. Wurmcoil Engine is a great addition to battle aggro decks and the only truly horrific match left for it is Mono Red. That said the difference in terms of winning percentage between Valakut and Mono-Green Eldrazi against the Red deck is pretty significant. Game one most versions are just completely dead to the Goblin Guide deck and post-board you gain only a few relevant weapons against the Red menace. Honestly I have no idea* how you’re supposed to make this match not suck, so best of luck to anyone playing this and running into a Red deck.
*Ok, I do have some ideas, but I just doubt they’ll be good enough. Obstinate Baloth is the obvious solution, but with Kargan Dragonlord and Kiln Fiend coming back into prominence, having a way to kill them that doesn’t involve All is Dust is pretty important. Ratchet Bomb is basically the worst removal you could play, but sadly for you that is all you’ve got under the seven-mana spell slot (or Brittle Effigy). Long story short, you really want at least one way to make everything not awful that can actually kill creatures instead of blocking and subsequently dying to any non-Goblin Guide creature.
This deck has the best late game in the format and can drag you into it with resounding ease. If your deck is just designed to value out the opponent you absolutely need a plan to beat this type of deck or it won’t matter how many aggro decks you ran over on way to the top eight.
Red Deck Wins
Once I saw Koth of the Hammer I assumed it would make up for the vast majority of Red Deck Wins losses from the rotation. Oh sure it lost all the unearth creatures, but what people are quick to forget is that up until the last few months of the format RDW was firmly in two separate camps. One was the haste ‘This deck is Burn’ camp and the other was the slower, more controlling version actually using Staggershock, Earthquake, Kargan Dragonlord and everything under the sun to control the flow of the game until the opponent was dead. Instead of picking one of the other, I find many of the new builds tend to pick a middle route and hope for the best.
For example, Goblin Guide, Kiln Fiend and Plated Geopede all lend themselves toward bashing the opponent to death as quickly as possible. Meanwhile the Dragonlord, Ember Hauler, Cunning Sparkmage and Staggershock do a lot more of buggering around with the board state before wiping out the opponent. Koth falls under both, though more often than not you’ll just keep throwing Mountains at them until they fall over dead. As a result a number of hands the new Red deck gets can charitably be described as schizophrenic and less generously as a plodding jumbled mess. The consistency in both the goldfish speed and mana efficiency has dropped and the deck isn’t the tier one force I was hoping it would become.
That said, Ramp is the most popular deck in the room and not only do you have a great Ramp match, but this is before the addition of any hate whatsoever. Throw in your Tunnel Ignus or Goblin Bushwhacker/Devastating Summons combos into the sideboard and watch them openly weep as they slam a Wurmcoil Engine down in snide triumph, only to eat a pair of burn spells to the face, leaving a broken man in front of you crying about how if only he was on the play things would’ve been different. Sadly for you, there are other decks in the format and while most decks fall under “awful confused mess” there are decks like UW Control and Bant which are designed to outlast you rather easily and have Baneslayer Angel to stabilize.
I already listed the basic Red shell and there’s not a lot to say about it since unless you want a theme that’s 90% of the efficient Red cards available to you. As for Big Red, well I haven’t had any luck making a version that was good enough to compete, but the number of high-end Red cards available is pretty impressive. I’ve seen some lists I liked on Magic-League, but sadly what always happens is I inevitably compare what I’m doing to an actual Ramp deck or Fauna Shaman deck powered by Lotus Cobra and weep. Being stuck with only Everflowing Chalice as early acceleration really claws into how good your late game actually is when practically every deck has some huge overpowered trump to everybody else’s late game. Suddenly Koth, Molten-Tail Masticore, and Kuldotha Phoenix don’t look so impressive when everyone and your mum have Wurmcoil Engine, Titans or an Eldrazi waiting in the wings.
Still, good on you if you can actually make one of those decks work. I haven’t seen a fun Big Red list since Scrying Sheets was legal and it’d be nice to have a different flavor of Red around other than the kind that burninate the countryside. Speaking of different flavors of Red, Goblins is a deck that may prove itself competitive thanks to Spikeshot Elder and Tunnel Ignus, so here’s a base build to go from.
If RDW is the Coke of the format, then WW will be the Pepsi. Both share the title of being the fastest decks in the format and having hands that range from unbeatable to pants-wetting embarrassing. You haven’t lived until you see an opener of double Argentum Armor along with a couple of Ornithopters and Memnites to top it off. On the plus side, the deck is actually a lot more consistent than one might expect for revolving around Quest for the Holy Relic and a bunch of 0cc creatures. Unfortunately for many of the people who play this deck, they won’t have gotten the memo that Day of Judgment and Pyroclasm ruin the deck completely.
In an attempt to get around that, you’ll notice the set of Squadron Hawks which combined with the equipment setup gives me an out to sweepers. Kor Skyfisher is at least kind enough to do the same trick against Pyroclasm by having that extra point of toughness tacked on while playing well with Quest. Of course the downside is that for every one of these slower creatures I play that may save me a bit of card advantage I’m damaging the number of hands that are going to fly out of the gates and murder the opponent. Regardless I’d much rather play a gimmick deck like this that can actually win without the main engine rather than say Soul Sisters from old Standard. The sideboard also helps since Jinxed Idol is often a one-sided drain on the UW deck’s life total and Ascension is the blade if it manages to get online.
Another option that’s been discussed elsewhere is the addition of Blue to keep the attacks flowing and digging out of holes sweepers put you in. Trinket Mage is likely the best option, since it doesn’t hurt with the curve too badly at 2U and unlike Jace can always nab you a decent creature like Chimeric Mass or a Titan killer in Brittle Effigy. It also gives you the possibility of actual countermagic in the sideboard like Unified Will or Negate. While that splash is debatable, I suspect WW of all sorts will be one of the most popular decks at States. Not only is WW a traditionally popular deck regardless of format, but this particular version is around 50 bucks to build unless you add Mox Opal into the mix. For budget conscious players who just want something to jump in with and occasionally take out for some local Standard tournaments, this is the optimal buy-in deck.
One final note: The equipment package of the deck is hardly set in stone. Livewire Lash was a card I was recently testing over Sword of Body and Mind, and I found it was frequently dealing around the same amount of damage and made spot removal awkward. Simply put unless you’re battling Naya, if you hit a late-game you’ll almost always be forced to win through damage in the skies rather than on the ground. Given that evasion becomes the name of the game, SOBAM tends to just be a more expensive Trusty Machete.
Much like the WW deck, I believe Elves aggro is a viable deck due to its excellent speed and potentially be very popular due to the price point. Even if you happen to be have a more expensive build with Lotus Cobra and other rares, compared to what Jace would run you it’s a small price to pay. As a tribal aggro deck, I like Goblins a bit more if only because Spikeshot Elder gives it excellent reach, but the Green horde definitely has the most explosive turns of any of the aggro decks available.
While this build may not be the fastest in all the land, what it does do is keep the overwhelming starts from Elf decks of old and keep some cards in that give it a way to win a long grinding game. Cards like Fauna Shaman and Vengevine could easily be cut for other choices if you want to focus on pure speed, but in a format where Pyroclasm, Day of Judgment, and All is Dust could be commonplace it becomes a relevant concern. Just like WW adding a color to increase resilience post-board against sweeper effects, that idea is also valid here where discard and Unified Will are very valid options.
Focusing back on the maindeck for a moment reveals two things, first is that if anything is going to be a successful vehicle for Genesis Wave; this is going to be the deck. With twenty mana accelerants, powering out a huge Genesis Wave on turn three or four will simply seal the game against most aggro and midrange decks in the format. By slopping out 3-4 creatures and a few lands, usually you can get enough of an army on the field that even without the assistance of Eldrazi Monument you can beatdown for the win. This is also one of the few decks fast enough to race Ramp decks as a Monument hitting before a Titan practically guarantees a win against Valakut and puts Eldrazi Green into the position of ‘All is Dust or no?” Leatherback Baloth is a card I keep seeing pop into these decks and I’m not sold on just having a large warm body in the deck. Sure it’s fine against Cunning Sparkmage and Pyroclasm, but it seems better as a sideboard card if that’s the case.
Speaking of a sideboard, that remains the problem with this type of green deck. The options you have to make this deck better are basically limited to changing the P/T of your creatures and the ability to destroy artifacts and enchantments. Not a whole lot of help against decks that are doing the bare minimum to interact with you until they get their trump online and bonk you on the head with it. As a result if you stick with the mono-green shell, the best I could do was abuse Nissa Revane as another method to keep the elves on the field and Brittle Effigy as an expensive way to take care of Titans. I definitely would consider black to nab Memoricide and Duress, which should prove invaluable if infinite Ramp decks infest the metagame.
I think this deck is a shade under tier one and that shifts to the metagame or perhaps a more refined build could put this up in top contention. My problem with it is that the deck has the capability of hitting all-mana and going in on a single spell resolving which is harsh in a format with Mana Leak.
UW Control by Gerard Fabiano, T16 – TCGplayer 5k NYC
Here we have currently the best and perhaps only true control deck in the format. There are definitely some valid control decks that are being refined, but who knows what sort of impact they’ll make before States. Meanwhile UW control has established itself as a deck to beat and one of the few that has great natural answers to the many forms of aggro decks running around and don’t auto-scoop to Ramp. Plus you’re the only certifiably good deck that’s packing Jace, the Mind Sculptor so that has to count for something!
While I like the road Gerard went down, I happen to like Frost Titan a lot right now. It goes after Ramp decks by shutting down key mana sources or opposing Titans while being Ajani Vengeant in the average Vengevine fight. GerryT called it the most underrated card in Standard and I think it’s definitely up there; the more people adapted Titans and strict mana efficiency into decks, the better Frost Titan plays out. So packing a set of Frost Titans with a couple of Baneslayer Angel falls under my concept of trumps nicely while not being particularly bad in any given match like certain cards. While I love Gideon Jura against Naya or midrange, I can effectively ignore the card if I play a Primeval Titan or Frost Titan deck.
The other key question I facing the UW player is if the Trinket Mage package is worth seeing action. You’re basically vying for four targets every time you cast Trinket Mage, Brittle Effigy, Everflowing Chalice, Chimeric Mass and Nihl Spellbomb. Now fetching up an Effigy or Chalice with a 2/2 attached can definitely be a good use of 2U, but in a deck already tight for space you really have to question how much more help you need in dealing with Vengevine. The same self-analysis has to be performed on Mass, which is going to be a finisher or mid-game blocker, not something the UW deck necessarily needs. While I rather pack the usual suspects in my control deck, I’m by no means a control expert and could definitely see the metagame moving in such a way where the Trinket package is very valuable.
One last thing about specific card choices – While I gushed about Frost Titan already, the other card I think is being played off is Volition Reins. Stealing a Titan or planeswalker is absolutely worth six mana and if you’ve already established an on-board threat can easily seal the game. It falls under the criteria of a two-of card, since you have enough drawing and filtering that you’ll typically be able to find it around the time you would want to cast it and it is pretty pathetic in aggro matches. Still there’s definitely a space which Reins can fill and it’s worth having around in the maindeck or sideboard. Same goes for Gerard’s choice of Linvala if you suspect a lot of Fauna Shaman decks to exist, since that card still does a great job of shutting them down cold and there’s no Path to Exile to bail them out after getting locked.
If I was going to play control this weekend and was just looking for the best UW list, I’d start with Gerard’s and build on it from there.
There are plenty of other decks around I haven’t discussed, B/G Poison, Naya, Bant, Boros and a host of other developing options. Realistically you can only prep for so many decks though and in the end I suggest testing against the decks I listed above and your favorite Vengevine deck. The key to remember is that this format will largely be dominated by early game creature interaction, planeswalker advantage and the ability to trump whatever late-drop your opponent has. I suspect a good number of Naya and Bant decks will succeed this weekend, but look out for decks people were trying to get work from the last format and were held down by Jund.
To close us out, here are a few of the decks I was brewing for post-rotation play that were outside the norm. How viable they are… Well some need a lot more work than others. The B/R list is pretty reasonable and I think a good Pyromancer Ascension list would be very well-positioned in the metagame. Regardless some of them are at least interesting thought experiments. Best of luck to those attending States this weekend!
Email me at: joshDOTsilvestriATgmailDOTcom