Breaking Through – Markov’s Back!


Austin had ended and I felt a bit lacking with my finish. Sure I had managed to grab some extra points but aside from one horrible draft, I felt that my Constructed deck could have been kicked up a notch. It wasn’t that the deck was bad by any means, but so much of proper deck building comes in sanding down the edges and figuring out as many optimal slots as you possibly can. Granted, a raw but powerful engine can pull the weight of a deck on its own, thus leaving you in the dangerous position of feeling that your deck was “the” deck. Still, rarely can one person get a deck to 100% optimal performance, which is why we tend to only see that occur over the course of a long PTQ season with plenty of guinea pigs crunching the numbers and playing the deck for us.

This doesn’t mean that you’re completely off the hook when taking a rogue deck to a tournament however, if anything, it means you need to work harder, as you are likely the lone person, or one of a few, who are putting their time and effort into the optimization of the deck. A raw list may contain a very unique and powerful set of cards, but you can almost be 100% positive that a card slot or two could be improved either by tweaking numbers of substituting that card out altogether. Unfortunately, one of the downsides to going rogue is that you rarely get to see your creations get to that point of pure optimization. Generally speaking, a deck will get worked on in preparation for a big tournament, and assuming a lackluster result, that tournament will be the last of the deck. Very rarely a rogue deck will show enough promise in a time frame that is appropriate for revision and restructuring that a player will get a second chance at tweaking his/her creation. This happens to be exactly what happened with the Markov Cocktail that carried me through constructed in Austin.

For reference, here I the list I played at the Pro Tour:

The biggest obstacle when revisiting a deck that you have built from the ground up is admitting to yourself what didn’t work. It is never easy to face yourself in such a moment, as you are in a way, admitting that your hard work was partially a failure, but you must now put that behind you in order to give yourself the best chance at winning in the future. So for this list, what didn’t work?

The first thing to go was Lightning Helix. While the card is clearly powerful, it really didn’t DO anything in the above list. Sure it killed a Wild Nacatl or Kird Ape from time to time, but improving an already amazing matchup is hardly worth the space. Against decks that weren’t aggro, 6 point life swings were mostly irrelevant and I can safely say the only time Helix was good for me was killing a Gaddock Teeg during one match. While the life gain of the card was beneficial at times, I just wish the card would have been better against the control decks.

Ghostly Prison was another card that was good for that tournament, but probably not going forward. As I have already documented, it doesn’t actually work with Planeswalkers, despite me getting away with it a bunch during the Pro Tour. In addition, the aggro help is once again not so beneficial, and if I were to be blatantly honest here, didn’t even do much against them. The big loss when taking out Prison is a worse game 1 against Dredge and a hampered Hypergenesis matchup. That said, Dredge is always an improvable matchup post-board and Hypergenesis has been exposed and is therefore seeing less and less play nowadays. Ghostly Prison was not horrible by any means, which leads me to think that if we end up in a slower version of the deck like above, but with fewer planeswalkers, we may revisit its inclusion.

Ajani Vengeant and Sorin Markov made for our endgame but that led to situations where the endgame did not come fast enough. This seems negligible as the deck has the means to stay alive for a long time, but with such a slow win strategy, you are required to draw more of those survival cards and with only Phyrexian Arena at the helm, that didn’t always happen. I like both cards for what they do, but relying solely on them to win the game was just asking too much. We will see if they stick around as utility cards in the updated version.

The last card that underperformed was Kagemaro, First to Suffer. While he did kill an Iona or two as intended, for the most part he was a bit too slow and his lack of evasion made him not close out games as quickly as I would like. He was fine at what he did, but I just don’t think we need what he did anymore.

So, now that we know what didn’t work, what exactly are we looking for to spice the deck up a little bit more and address the issues that became apparent throughout the Pro Tour? The biggest issue, as I mentioned when I first discussed the deck, was the need for a supplemental draw spell in addition to Phyrexian Arena. Arena was excellent but could not shoulder the load alone and needs some other card to help out. I looked at blue for this slot, but stumbled upon a spicy card on color that we will look at shortly,

The other big issue, as addressed earlier, was the closing speed of the deck. It is cool that you can survive most aggressive decks to be able to win with whatever you want, but sometimes that would fail me. I also ended up with a draw that should have never happened simply because I could not finish an opponent off. Lacking a consistent win condition is a silly way to lose games and is something we addressed with the newer version.

So… all this talk of a new version, so let’s see it already! Alright, alright. Here is the list developed for Brad Nelson who piloted it to a top 4 finish during Tuesday’s online PTQ before scooping to give fellow U.S. Team member a shot at the crown in Todd Anderson. Brad will be writing about his experience with the deck for his article tomorrow, which is why we are primarily concerned with its development.

Right off the bat the most obvious change is a move towards a more creature-oriented game plan. This has allowed the deck a few different things that we didn’t have before. First and foremost is the speed at which we can actually win a game. Essentially we have traded in a few Ajani Vengeants for a trio of Baneslayer Angels but also picked up a set of Kitchen Finks and a couple Necrotic Slivers while we were at it. Combined with the silver bullet life setting ability of Sorin Markov, we can actually go from 0 to 60 in a turn or two, essentially turning on our end game at the blink of an eye. Ajani obviously resolved at such a speed, but it then took at least five turns to really end the game via his ultimate, assuming he went untouched of course.

In addition to this, creatures offer a unique position in the fight against both aggro and control decks. Lightning Helix for example, was fine against aggro, but was basically dead against control. Finks on the other hand, offers a similar advantage against aggro decks while being able to actually attack a control deck, forcing them to actually respect our creature front and thus keep them occupied from two different angles. Necrotic Sliver for example, may be a tad slow, but with Emeria, he mimics Ajani pretty well, even doing the job better at times, but can also turn into the little Grey Ogre that could when need be. This delicate advantage is actually huge in a slower control on control matchup.

We were also able to address the issue of needing a secondary draw spell with a spicy little piece of technology in Moonlight Bargain. While the 6-10 life you are required to pay is often too detrimental for most control decks, Martyr can obviously sidestep the issue due to the inherent synergy with the Martyr engine itself. Sometimes you will be forced to play the Bargain at a time when you are not as comfortable on life, but there is nothing requiring the payment of 6 or 8 life. It is worth noting though, that a Bargain for 8 life only requires 3 of those cards to be white in order for a Martyr to not only recoup the life loss, but actually net you a life. Rarely will you pay the full 10, as some random land will usually not be needed but again, the option is nice. Also, for all of you just now becoming acquainted with the card… yes, it is an instant.

The sideboard mainly just shows a change in the metagame. Ghost Quarter was pretty important before as one of the worst matchups for Martyr was Dark Depths but with the format shifting, most of the lands you care about, like opposing Emerias can be taken out by Necrotic Sliver. Scapeshift is now a big player in the metagame and although Martyr has a fine matchup there, if they are able to assemble both Valakuts and subsequently deal something like 36 damage, the matchup gets worse. This is where Bitter Ordeal comes in. With a single fetchland activation, you can either steal both Valakuts or even a single one through a counterspell, which then puts your life total mostly out of reach.

As we talked about before, the Dredge matchup got a little worse with the loss of Ghostly Prison, so actual Dredge hate cards in Ravenous Trap and Extirpate are needed. You basically are looking to prevent Iona from hitting the board, as your engine can usually stall for quite some time against the rest of their game plan. Because of this Bitter Ordeal is another option to come in as well.

Thoughtseize and Ghost-Lit Stalker provide some extra disruption against control decks that will more easily allow a clean path for your Baneslayer Angels to come through. I am not entirely sold on the Celestial Purge that Brad ended up running, so if you feel like it, the 4th Thoughtseize is an option there as well.

Proclamation of Rebirth offers an additional engine piece for those decks with a ton of ways to render your Emeria useless. To be fair, this is another piece that can probably be cut. The decks that can deal with Emeria probably can also sidestep the recursion of some lowly 1/1s which may make Proclamation useless. I would look to some other anti-control card if you do choose to remove the Proclamation.

Obviously it is not as though this list is perfect and this was mainly the list that Brad felt most comfortable playing with at the time. Some possible cards to try out in the side 15 include Runed Halo, Hide//Seek (add a Sacred Foundry main of course), Ajani Vengeant, Persecute, Cranial Extraction, and Damnation. Anyway, if this seemed slightly incomplete it is due to the fact that Brad will be detailing his play scenarios, matchups, and PTQ experience as a whole tomorrow night, so be sure to check back for that.

Alright that’s it for me then. Give the deck some credit and try it out or at least test against it. With a metagame so focused on aggro and combo decks that win through damage, Martyr strategies won’t be a sleeper for much longer. Good luck as the PTQ season grinds on!

Conley Woods

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