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Chasing Victory – How to Block Boredom

Before Standard season heats up, many players have been taking some time off by playing Shards Block Constructed on Magic Online. I myself recently took the plunge into Block after my luck ran out in the sealed Premier Events. Sadly, I can’t say that I really enjoyed my time spent playing Block. The format has evolved into 60% Naya, 30% 5cc, and 10% other assorted decks that are no where near as good as the best two decks.

While someone who knows me would think that I would immediately flock to the five color deck, that isn’t quite what I did. First, I spent a few hours watching my roommate play with some 5cc, and was basically disgusted by what I saw. Block 5cc is extremely underpowered compared to other 5cc decks in their respective formats. Generally, five color decks are able to basically ignore their inconsistencies by being able to play insane cards like Wrath of God and Cryptic Command. Shards Block does have some powerful cards, but most of them cost six or seven.

Wrath of God is perfect. It resets the board right about when you want it to, while Martial Coup, the Block’s only “kill everything, no questions asked” spell (at least thus far), simply costs too much a lot of the time. Most games you can stall until you hit seven lands, but frequently played cards like Ajani Vengeant, Realm Razer, and Lapse of Certainty throw a gigantic wrench into your plans. The burden of having to survive until turn seven (as there is no good acceleration in the two set Block), play around disruption, and still have to deal with potential post-Coup threats like Broodmate Dragon or their own Martial Coup is too much to deal with.

I decided to just game with Naya in a few PEs and see how I felt after that. I brought an extremely primitive list into battle for the first premier, so much so that I would be embarrassed to show it to you now. I lost playing for Top Eight, finishing 4-2. After that, I had a few ideas on how I might improve my deck. To do that, first I needed to become familiar with the format, which I had.

A basic Naya deck is going to include some amount of these cards:

Basic Naya

Wild Nacatl: You’re playing aggressive Naya, obviously you want the full amount of these.

Noble Hierarch: While a great card, I was on the fence about playing four of these before any Druid of the Anima, which fixes your mana completely instead of only providing green or white. However, Exalted is sick, and sometimes you just Ranger of Eos up a bunch of these guys and send in some giant animal over and over again.

Druid of the Anima: While a better fixer, costing two means that the potential for abuse is drastically reduced (although I still haven’t ever played a turn two Woolly Thoctar yet, I wonder how that feels). Generally, Naya is skipping its three drop and heading straight for fours, so Druid is still good, just not as insane as Noble Hierarch can be.

Woolly Thoctar: Again, the Wild Nacatl argument kind of applies here as well, although it’s not quite set in stone, which I’ll get into later.

Knight of the Reliquary: Usually worse than Thoctar early game, but if you get involved in a creature stall, the Knight will effectively cast Mana Severance in the next couple turns, in addition to becoming the biggest thing on the board by far.

Ranger of Eos: If there were only Wild Nacatls to fetch, this might only be a two or three of, but since Noble Hierarch exists, I don’t see why you wouldn’t play Rangers. Searching up two Hierarchs allows you to cast Martial Coup quickly if necessary, and will turn all of your guys into monstrous threats. Antoine Ruel’s Invitational card is finally getting the respect it deserves.

Battlegrace Angel: This is one of the best cards in the mirror. Fliers are hard to deal with, especially ones as large as the Angel.

Thornling: A similar threat to Battlegrace Angel. It has evasion, hits really hard, and even survives Martial Coup. The only downside is vulnerability to Path to Exile and Oblivion Ring, but it is still worth playing as a two-of for Naya mirrors. It’s even solid against 5cc.

Realm Razer: The Razer isn’t often played maindeck, but sometimes players just really want to catch 5cc off guard with a maindeck Armageddon.

Path to Exile: My opponents love keeping this in against me in the mirror, and I love it when they do. All of the threats in the Naya mirror can be dealt with via trading, except for maybe Battlegrace Angel, yet my turn three Thoctar turns into a basic land a surprising amount of the time.

In a world of planeswalkers and Rangers of Eoses (keeping that one as is for value – LSV), Path to Exile isn’t what you want. You need powerful, game changing effects. Simply killing a creature that you could have blocked is just a waste of a card, especially when you are accelerating them, fixing their mana, and making their Nacatls better.

Path is basically only good against Esper, Bant, and Blightning decks.

Oblivion Ring: While Oblivion Ring is soon going to become close to obsolete, it’s the best we have right now. It deals with anything, but the only downside is that it’s weak to their own Rings and 5cc’s Esper Charms. I’ve noticed that some players like targeting my early mana creatures with Oblivion Rings and such, and that couldn’t make me any happier. Oblivion Ring is a huge card later in the game as both players start casting their real spells and Oblivion Rings, which you need to save your Rings for. I will draw lands eventually, if I don’t have them already, so spending a powerful spell to Stone Rain a deck with 30 mana sources isn’t profitable the majority of the time.

Elspeth, Knight-Errant: The best planeswalker in Block, not close. You should play four of these because of that, and because you want to kill theirs.

Ajani Vengeant: Overrated. Much like Path to Exile, usually all it does is kill a guy and then get attacked. Elspeth protects itself well, whereas Ajani is much more difficult to keep around. Even against 5cc, they will deal with it via Oblivion Ring or Celestial Purge, all the while you are banking on Ajani to win the game for you. Best case scenario they are all in on Battlegrace Angel and you can simply tap it down forever, but that’s about all that Ajani has going for it.

Naya Charm: I initially thought this would be a great card for the mirror match, as I envisioned a lot of ground stalls, which Charm would just break wide open. Turns out, those types of stalls are less and less likely as more players add maindeck Battlegrace Angels and Martial Coup.

Sarkhan Vol: The lowest planeswalker on the Naya totem pole. Vol is basically only useful after casting Ranger of Eos, as like Ajani, it can very easily be attacked to death. It’s second ability is almost always garbage unless you are close to winning already, and the third ability gets one-upped by Martial Coup.

Banefire: Because of things like Battlegrace Angel and Cruel Ultimatum, Banefire is extremely unreliable. Playing one or two to try and steal a game might seem like a fine idea, but is it really better than more Martial Coups in your maindeck?

Martial Coup: Possibly the best card in Block right now. Part of the skill involved in Block is how much you need to overextend in order to get them to use their Coup, and what you sandbag in order to beat the five tokens they make.

Lapse of Certainty: A great sideboard card against 5cc. I try to set up a turn where they are forced to cast one of their seven drops, either Coup or Cruel, which I Lapse, and then untap and cast Realm Razer. They have very few outs at that point. Even without Realm Razer, Lapse is very strong against them.

Ignite Disorder: I heard that WW was supposed to be a bad matchup for Naya, but in three Premier Events, I haven’t played against it a single time. I had these in my sideboard initially, but quickly cut them for cards that were good in my relevant matchups.

Naturalize/Filigree Fracture: Some people play these for Esper, but I find that Esper is not only a pretty bad deck, but not very popular. I’ve played against it twice, but haven’t needed any sort of sideboard against them.

After the first event, I had some idea of what I wanted to do to beat the mirror, as that was clearly all that mattered. Why was no one playing Broodmate Dragon other than 5cc? It just didn’t make any sense. All the Naya players had Angels, yet Broodmate, the Angel killer himself, was sitting on the sidelines. It just didn’t seem fair.

Obviously, Broodmate with Elspeth and Martial Coup is kind of awkward on the mana, but I felt like I could make it work. Exotic Orchard is basically a comes into play untapped Jungle Shrine, and Armillary Sphere is a card that I had been wanting to try. With Sphere, I felt like I could play Voices from the Void as well.

Voices for three or four would be insane against the mirror and 5cc. If you resolved it against 5cc, that would basically be game. In the mirror, it might not seem very good because of how fast they are, but that isn’t exactly the case. Because of the Martial Coup battles, both players are trying to sandbag threats, and a Voices followed up with a Broodmate or Martial Coup will almost certainly be game.

I decided to brew up a list, and in my second Block PE, I went 3-2, again missing top eight on tiebreakers. Both events, my matches were riddled with play mistakes due to my unfamiliarity with the format and overall tilt at being on a losing streak. I liked the deck, and definitely felt like I was onto something. Hopefully I wouldn’t play like crap in the next event.

I did a little bit of LSV-style “fine tuning”, and joined the third event with this (should I be insulted? – LSV):

Broodmate Naya

The Knights were a recommendation from Justin Meyer, as it made the mana a bit easier, since I became GW splashing black and red, instead of GWR splashing black. I didn’t know if I wanted to run the Knights instead of Thoctars, so I made a compromise by playing one and two.

I decided to play a miser’s Voices, as drawing one is almost never bad against anything.

In the swiss, I beat three “mirrors,” two 5cc, and an Esper deck, finishing 6-0 and obviously in first. In Top Eight, I defeated a Naya player that I had beaten earlier, before finally losing to a Naya deck. I feel like I got robbed, but I suppose expecting to 5-0 Naya is a little ambitious.

On top of that, my losing streak was broken!

For the future, I’m going to try and clean up the list, as things like one Thoctar/two Knight and one Battlegrace probably aren’t right, although I’m fine with one Voices main. Also, I don’t think that my sideboard strategies are entirely correct, but this is how I was sideboarding.

Naya

+ 2 Battlegrace Angel, 1 Martial Coup
– 1 Wooly Thoctar, 2 Ranger of Eos

I absolutely hate siding out Ranger of Eos here, but I’m not quite sure what else to take out. Knight seems a little bit better, but I could be wrong. It’s possible that skipping the three drop is entirely possible here.

You need to test a few matches before you really get a feel for how to play this matchup. The Coup war is very delicate, and every single creature and point of damage matter. You have to know exactly how to bait out their Coup with threats you really don’t care about, what to sandbag in case they have a Coup, and when exactly to blow the trigger on your own Coup.

Sometimes, you should go all in on Battlegrace or Broodmate, as holding back would simply give them turns to draw answers to your threats. It’s somewhat difficult to know exactly how much trouble your opponent is in, which is where Voices of the Void is very helpful. As I said, drawing one is always good, but I’m unsure if you actually want two in the mirror, as drawing multiples is bad, and sometimes you don’t have the requisite basics necessary.

5cc

+ 4 Lapse of Certainty, 3 Realm Razer, 2 Voices of the Void
– 1 Battlegrace Angel, 3 Oblivion Ring, 1 Woolly Thoctar, 2 Martial Coup, 2 Knight of the Reliquary

I like to keep in one O-Ring and one Coup, as your copies are good against their copies, but bad at any other point. Game one is not good and don’t be surprised if you lose. However, post board is quite good as they don’t really gain anything, while you get a bunch of insane cards.

Esper

+ 3 Path to Exile, 2 Battlegrace Angel, 1 Martial Coup
– 1 Voices of the Void, 4 Elspeth, Knight-Errant, 1 Woolly Thoctar

I side out Elspeths because they have a lot of fliers, although feel free to keep in a couple if they have their own that you want to kill.

WW

+ 2 Path to Exile, 2 Battlegrace Angel, 1 Martial Coup
– 1 Voices of the Void, 1 Woolly Thoctar, 2 Knight of the Reliquary, 1 Armillary Sphere

You want a couple Paths, since Battlegrace is basically the only thing that threatens you and you don’t really want to lose to a flier equipped with Sigil. The Spheres are kind of slow, so I don’t mind cutting one.

If you’re bored with current Magic, feel free to give Block Constructed a try. The straight Naya mirror is kind of boring, but add some Broodmates and you’ve got yourself a winner.

GerryT

 

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