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Chasing Victory – GP Brighton and Standard

Despite my (self-perceived) mediocre 28th finish at Grand Prix Brighton, I feel a lot better about the way things are going for me. There’s nothing like a little victory to put some spring in your step.

Normally, I wouldn’t even consider going to England for a lowly Grand Prix, but Steve Sadin was getting a sick deal, and showed me how to get a very different, but equally good deal involving a ton of free miles. Suddenly, the trip seemed worthwhile.

We arrived on Tuesday and immediately crashed. On Wednesday, Steve was busy covering UK Nationals, while I decided to fire up Magic Online for some drafts. I did seven drafts on day one of Nats and a few more on day two, all of which basically confirmed what I had thought already.

M10 by color

First of all, Green and Red are very close to unplayable. As Sadin pointed out, there is simply too much toughness in this format. In past core set drafts, such as Tenth Edition, which I did a lot of, colors like White and Black had very small creatures on average, so something like a Trained Armodon or two could easily run you over.

That isn’t the case anymore. White’s creatures have been given a major boost in the butt department. Even Black decks are able to clog the ground relatively quickly, and if the black deck is forced into a poor trade (due to a trick or just having to two for one themselves to trade with a Craw Wurm) Black can easily recover with a Gravedigger.

Green is all groundpounders, and the ground becomes stalled very quickly, at which point Green is in trouble. There are very few cards in Green that break stalls, and for that reason, choosing what your second color is going to be is very important. Also, things like Giant Growth, Gorgon Flail, and obviously Overrun are very important to have in your Green deck. You can have as many undercosted animals as you want, but if you can’t do anything about a Rhox Pikemaster, you are going to lose.

Red has some powerful uncommons and rares, but most of them come with a heavy Red commitment. The commons are also much worse on average than the other colors. Oftentimes, the red deck is a mishmash of bombs, removal, and suicidal aggressive cards like Panic Attack, Lava Axe, and Jackal Familiar. Those types of decks usually aren’t very good in limited, but that is basically all Red has to work with in this set.

Some combination of White, Blue, and Black is where I want to be. Blue, while initially hated on, is actually quite strong provided multiple players aren’t drafting it. Merfolk Looter is by far the best Blue common, and I wouldn’t even consider taking another Blue common over it unless I already had two or three Looters.

Sleep, while very powerful, doesn’t tend to fit into the decks that I like to draft. Often, I’ll have a bunch of defensive walls, a Righteousness or two, and some big fliers. I don’t end up racing too often, and Sleep functioning as a double Fog in that archetype isn’t worth it. In an aggro UW deck, Sleep is obviously the nuts, but don’t automatically pick it and assume it’s going to be awesome.

Black and White might seem like they wouldn’t make a good color combination, since both colors desperately want to be your base color with things like Veteran Armorsmith, Sign in Blood, and Tendrils of Corruption, but if you show a little restraint, making it work is easy. You just have to decide what your base is going to be, and therefore whether or not you want to be aggressive or controlling. Base White tends to be the aggro deck while Black prefers to gain card advantage.

In my second draft of Brighton, it was pretty clear that I was going to end up in WB going into pack two. I first picked a Snapping Drake over Goblin Artillery, ignoring the Red and hoping the guy on my left would hop in, but was then forced into White with a side of Black scraps.

I first and second picked Harm’s Ways in pack two, and knew there was a correct direction to go, but which one. I hadn’t actually considered whether Harm’s Way was better in an aggressive deck or controlling one. However, I figured that with how aggressive all the White cards are, and how much tempo I could gain off of some sick “Harm’s Way your two guys and still have enough mana to play another threat” turns, it would be make winning fairly easy.

Sadly, it didn’t end up that way, as I was left creature light, with poor mana, and some defensive Black regenerators to go with my WW cards. Thinking back, I believe I made the wrong decision, both in that I shouldn’t necessarily commit to anything, but also in hindsight, I believe that Harm’s Way is much better when used as a defensive card.

In my aforementioned UW control archetype, combat will happen eventually. I can then pick and choose my spots to use Harm’s Way for maximum value, which is achieving a two for one. In an aggressive deck, I will often be attacking with one guy into one guy, or two guys into two guys, and in those scenarios, Harm’s Way is a glorified Neck Snap. Granted, that isn’t bad, but clearly getting maximum value out of the card would be preferable.

Also, in the above 2v2 scenario, you could just attack with one guy, but your opponent should be able to figure out what’s going on and either double block or simply take the damage. On the flip side, if they are the aggressive deck and have to attack two guys into two guys, they will almost always get destroyed.

I posed the above question to Limited Information author Steve Sadin, and he replied with a very mature, “If you had two Lightning Bolts, would you rather be aggressive or defensive? DERF DERF!”

He made it seem like my question was stupid, but with a pair of Harm’s Ways, I’d rather be defensive, while Bolts obviously (in my mind at least) lead you on the path of aggression. Not only do they provide you with much needed tempo when you are able to play two spells in one turn, but they can also finish off an opponent who has managed to stabilize.

All of my base Black decks focus on card advantage, mainly centered around Gravedigger. Once you have a Digger or two, I really like having a Disentomb in my deck to keep the Digger chain going. Reanimation also moves up a lot in my pick orders if I have a bomb like Captain of the Watch, Master of the Wild Hunt, or Baneslayer Angel (not that I’ve ever had one of those, but still).

I like to draw first with these types of decks, and I’ve found that it’s rarely detrimental to my success. Multiple Sign in Bloods would make me want to play first with a nearly mono-Black deck, but that’s about it. I draft cards like Weakness and Tendrils of Corruption very highly, while others seem to rate them much lower.

Weakness has been a surprise hit for me. You can “kill” almost all of the creatures with evasion with Weakness, and it’s a great answer to early Runeclaw Bear that would otherwise threaten your life total, while not wasting one of your “good” removal spells on it.

UB ends up functioning like a monoBlack deck, with card advantage at the core of my strategy. Again, Merfolk Looter is insane! Stop passing it. She is also a very good reason to play first in UB.

Also, stop trading against Black decks. How is it possibly good for you to trade your 3/3 for their 3/2 when they have Gravedigger in their deck? You will probably be able to make that trade somewhere down the line, so there isn’t really a reason to ram your guy into theirs as soon as possible, especially if they are sitting on Gravedigger with no other plays. If that’s the case, you just allowed them to get very far ahead of you on a turn where you could have forced them to do nothing.

Gorgon Flail is overrated. A lot of very good players have expected me to second or third pick it in various drafts, only for them to get visibly upset when I take a Pacifism. In my opinion, that pick isn’t even close baring certain circumstances.

I played Gorgon Flail in my very first sealed deck, mainly because I had two expendable Elvish Visionaries. Generally, I have far too many spells in my deck that are already reliant on me having some sort of board presence. You don’t want to be the guy with Gorgon Flail and Whispersilk Cloak in play, holding Safe Passage and Giant Growth. At some point, you are going to need a card that does something by itself.

Sealed

Some sealed decks may end up really bad, with no good ways to break stalls, and at that point you can call on the Flail for assistance. In an already good sealed deck, what is the Flail going to do for you? Make your 3/3 into a 4/4? You have just slightly traded up once, for the price of a card and at least four mana.

Flail is excellent on a first striker, but there aren’t many dudes with first strike, to the point where I have halted entire decks in their tracks with a pair of White Knights. First strike is already pretty awesome on it’s own. Flail-ing up your White Knight still doesn’t accomplish all that much on offense. Whispersilk Cloak would arguably be better on offense every time, and no one seems to be praying to open a Cloak like they do with Flail.

Last week I promised to focus on Standard, as that is what matters for the most of you, so I have to apologize for the heavy M10 content, but there are also GPs coming up and MODO events to be had.

5cc is the top dog, and there’s really no doubt about it now. Baneslayer Angel is very awesome, to the point where you can literally build your deck around it (see UK Nationals). Brian Kibler was right in that it’s probably better than Broodmate Dragon right now.

I assumed that with a sea of Jund decks with Maelstrom Pulses, Baneslayer wouldn’t live long, but that isn’t quite the case. If the first Angel dies to Pulse, it’s no big deal, and it won’t be long until you’re casting another with Negate backup. I would even consider main decking Glen Elendra Archmage in 5cc for Elves’ Primal Commands, the mirror, and to protect Baneslayer.

It was because of Plumeveil and Baneslayer that I made the swap from Agony Warps to Doom Blades, and all you Faerie players out there should do the same. While I have the Fae players’ attention, I should note that the Red splash in Faeries seems like the way to go. Bolt, Firespout, and Anathemancer are all great cards in this environment, and Faeries incorporates them well enough to make it worth it.

If you insist on playing Elves, consider a second maindeck Forge-Tender, but otherwise don’t stray too far from Osyp’s list. He’s done extremely well with it lately and is a constructed mastermind. I’m not entirely sold on zero Mosswort Bridges, but Osyp swears by it. I understand that zero lands that come into play tapped is great for powering out fattie Oversouls, but they are pretty good game one.

To the Rb players: Why aren’t you just playing Jund? I remember playing Rb around Regionals and being supremely jealous anytime someone else cast a Bloodbraid Elf or Putrid Leech. Having crap like Figure of Destiny doesn’t quite compare to the raw power that three colors provides you.

To the Kithkin players: Do you still exist? If so, why? Well, if you refuse to become extinct, you should really consider playing Ranger of Eos and a Forge-Tender or two maindeck. Reveillark will also give you some game out of the board against 5cc. Be sure you have enough ways to kill Baneslayer and hell, even consider playing some of your own.

Next week: A Gen Con report probably, then maybe I’ll actually play some Standard after that, but who knows?

GerryT

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