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Rogue Report – Last Chance Standard

I only get one chance this PTQ season, and its next Saturday. I missed the Portland Oregon PTQ three weeks ago because I’m bad at planning things. I was visiting home in Montana and didn’t think to schedule my flight out of Seattle for the day after the PTQ instead of the day before. I also missed the Seattle PTQ a week ago because I was in Indianapolis at GenCon. In a way I also missed the GenCon PTQ because I was working in the Well’s Expeditions booth. Frown town. Standard PTQs would have been great for me to play in because it’s the same format as Nationals. Instead I have just one PTQ, and it’s next Saturday.

The Lesser of a Dozen Evils

A lot has changed since Nationals. Five-Color Control rose to the top, Faeries is playing red, Blightning is back, and Elf Combo made like their Extended brethren and disappeared after a hot weekend. I’ve tried a lot of decks, but I haven’t been able to find one that makes me happy. I really liked the cascade deck I played at Nationals because I felt like I was doing something more powerful than the rest of the format – except for Five-Color. Lining the decks up side-by-side, Five-Color Control is simply playing better cards. Trying to win that matchup reduces your chances in other matchups significantly, so it isn’t worth it. What should I do?

It’s good to see Time Sieve is catching on, but I can’t bring myself to play it. A virtual bye against Five-Color Control (at least I’m being told it’s that easy) isn’t worth giving a bye to Faeries (again, based on what I’ve heard).

I was thinking about Elf Combo a lot yesterday, wondering if next weekend is when the hate will be at its lowest. Zaiem talked some sense into me, and now that people know what’s going on, it seems that Elves loses to Five-Color Control and Faeries. That’s not something I’m willing to accept.

A real contender has been Five-Color Bloodbraid. Dan Hanson and Mike Gurney, two local players I respect immensely for both their play skill and thorough deckbuilding, have been advocating this strategy. Last weekend they both top 4ed the Seattle PTQ, and Dan had made top 8 the PTQ before in Portland. I’m cautious of actually using this strategy because Five-Color Bloodbraid is one of those decks that never seems to win a PTQ. Maybe I’m wrong there, and this deck definitely looks like a good place to fall back on if all else fails.

Another deck that has been getting some hype in the Northwest is Elementals. A local player affectionately called McDoogle got second in Seattle, and a testing buddy, Dwayne, finished in 9th at 6-1-1 with the same deck. Unfortunately I’m a little girl and am too scared to play something that runs so many two-mana “elves” in a format infested with Volcanic Fallout. Also, after playing the deck a few times, I just don’t like Flamekin Harbinger. It might surprise those of you that know me to hear me say it, and it feels weird to hear myself finally say it out loud, but I don’t like him.

The idea behind Flamekin Harbinger is that the card you’re searching up is so powerful (usually a Horde of Notions or Reveillark, or setting up the turn two Smokebraider) that the card disadvantage of playing a vanilla 1/1 for one is offset by the sheer power of what you’re grabbing. Reveillark’s power level is higher than two cards, so essentially discarding a card to find it has value. The same kind of idea is behind Smokebraider and Bloom tender; while they are underwhelming on their own, the sheer speed at which they power out your deck is worth it; Horde of Notions on turn three is worth more than the card you throw away when you cast Bloom Tender. I understand this, but that’s not how I like to play Magic. I like inevitability in a deck. I like every one of my spells to be awesome. If Flamekin Harbinger was instead a creature that was worth more than a card itself, there’s no need to tutor. Elementals is a cool deck, but I can’t bring myself to actually play it.

Which brings me back to Five-Color Bloodbraid and the relentless mass of similar decks that never seem to die, like Jund, Cascade, and even Conley Woods’s Mannequin. My problem with these decks is that I don’t like Volcanic Fallout, and they rely on it to function in the metagame. When I cast my Bloodbraid Elf I plan to reveal cards until I hit a spell with converted mana cost three or less, then cast that spell without paying its mana cost. My opponent will groan because of how lucky I was to hit the random spell that I did, even though any spell would have done the job, and I will just nod, knowing inside that it’s their own fault for not playing Cascade themselves. I hate spells like Volcanic Fallout because they ruin this moment. It’s the type of spell that you don’t always cast when you cascade into it. Why would I put a spell in my deck that I’ll sometimes say “nothankyou” to and ship to the bottom of my deck? I’m staring at my board of Bloodbraid Elf and Kitchen Finks, thinking about whether or not it’s worth using my Volcanic Fallout to kill their Spectral Procession, or Scion of Oona and Faerie token, or their two Bloodbraid Elfs, or whatever, and I just want to jump off a cliff.

I keep thinking Reveillark would be a good way to go, but that’s my problem. I keep thinking this, and every time I do, I build a deck. And every Reveillark deck I build just loses, and I have no idea why. If you look through my deck folders in Magic Workstation you’ll see a file filled with 50% Reveillark decks that have all failed. I’m not kidding, I just looked through my folder and counted; and that’s just the post M10 folder. We’ve got 5 Color Lark, 5 Color Lark Again, Basic Lark, Basic Footbottom, Good Cards Jund +, Good Cards, Harbinger, LandLocked, LSVlark, and RWB Goblins. Yet I keep thinking “You know what’s a powerful card we’re not using? Reveillark.” and then I build another Reveillark deck. It’s time for me to stop; I just can’t do it.

I’ve been asking everybody I talk to what they like in Standard, and what I should play if I want to win a PTQ, and the one answer I can’t seem to avoid is Five-Color Control. I’ve got Zaiem Beg in my right ear and LSV in my left, both telling me that Five-Color is a good deck to play. [Psst. Time Sieve. –Riki, somewhere in between them] That’s when I get flashbacks of Regionals and Grand Prix Seattle where I played Five-Color Control. It’s also where I went X-2 and X-3, just missing top 8, and just missing day two. I didn’t feel like I made any glaring mistakes or played a misbuilt deck or anything, I just felt like that’s where my skill and my deck aligned: X-2 and X-3. Blah. Meh. Whatever – and that’s exactly how I feel about the deck.

I should probably just play Five-Color Control because it’s the bane of any deck I try to build. Do you know how tough it is to beat Cryptic Command and Cruel Ultimatum? I prefer beating my opponent by playing better cards than them, and just brushing off their heavy hitters. You can’t just brush off a Cruel Ultimatum, which is why the 4-color cascade deck couldn’t beat it. Still, Five-Color Control is my frontrunner if all else fails, unless somebody can convince me that Bloodbraid Elf is still good.

There are aggro decks I could play, but that’s not my style. Blightning and Spectral Procession are good cards in good decks, but the control tools are so powerful that I always feel like I’m behind. (Bill Stark gave me that excuse, and dammit I’m using it.) I also don’t feel like these are real aggro decks, because each is trying to resolve five mana spells anyway. Blightning is just one extreme in the Jund cesspool. There’s even Merfolk, but I don’t like drawing my spells in the wrong order and losing because of it.

Despair & Desperation

So what do I do? I can’t just sit here and complain all week because that will certainly lead to a loss next weekend. Can’t I just play spells that I like?

This is where I took a deep breath, and tried to find some new focus.

What is the most powerful thing you can do in this format?

There are good candidates, but they each have strong and popular answers. Five colors has to deal with Anathemancer, Mistbind Clique has to deal with Volcanic Fallout, and Bloodbraid Elf has to deal with Cruel Ultimatum and a mass of other Bloodbraid Elfs.

Routinely, however, one game state keeps popping up. There is one action that seems unbeatable, but I don’t see anybody maximizing on it.

Untapping with Baneslayer Angel in play.

Better yet, untap with a Baneslayer Angel in play and a Cryptic Command in your hand.

That was the goal I had in mind when I sat down to build my new deck. My presumption was that you can’t lose the game with a Baneslayer on the table. From that point, keeping her on the table is your top priority, and as long as you do that, you’ll win. Here is my latest draft:

Bantslayer Angel

I knew I wanted four Baneslayer Angels and four Cryptic Commands, that part was easy. Four Primal Commands was next, the idea being that I can probably count on one hand the number of games I’ve lost when resolving a Primal Command with the correctly chosen modes, and it’s the best way to get more Baneslayer Angels. It seems like most decks have to two-for-one themselves just to deal with her, so playing two or three in quick succession is game over.

Next, I needed to find ways to protect her. Glen Elendra Archmage has been my favorite tool to beat Five Color Control, and it’s by far the cheapest way to protect a Baneslayer Angel when you can stop a Maelstrom Pulse with a single blue mana. Harm’s way was another natural fit, especially when the most common Baneslayer Angel killer seems to be Volcanic Fallout plus Lightning Bolt. It also provides some needed early action and is backbreaking when it protects a Glen Elendra Archmage. Negate is the next cheapest option, but loading up on too many of them in the maindeck scares me.
Rhox War Monk has been very good to me, and is almost like a mini Baneslayer Angel itself. It’s hard to lose when he gets to attack every turn, and he’s my primary reason for sticking to three colors. Kitchen Finks is also really good at helping you survive, but I felt like four was unnecessary alongside Rhox War Monk, so I squeezed some Great Sable Stags in from the sideboard. Jace Beleren is another permanent worth protecting and interacts well with Harm’s Way (as far as I know). Lastly, one Mind Spring is the spice I’m always looking for.

I’ve flopped back and forth on my manabase, and this is what I’ve settled on most recently. Gargoyle Castle has yet to be worth it, but I can’t bring myself to cut it yet. If it stops me from casting a Rhox War Monk on turn three again, I may need to cut it. The other manabase I’ve been toying with runs more basic lands and [card]Terramorphic Expanse[/card] in order to soften up Anathemancer, but I can’t tell if that manabase is consistent enough to actually cast spells. There’s something to be said for going the full five color and gaining the value that it brings, but that has yet to be necessary.

I’ve tried one Cloudthresher in the maindeck to give my Primal Command more utility, but it hasn’t been necessary so far. Essence Scatter is the card I most want to find room for, as my deck has a harder time countering Shriekmaw and Sower of Temptation, and is a little removal light to begin with, but I’ve gone with the more flexible [card]Bant Charm[/card]s for now.

The sideboard isn’t smoothed out yet, I might be over-sideboarding in certain matchups, but it covers the basics of what I’m looking for.

Preliminary testing has me up in games against Five-Color Control, Blightning, and Faeries, but it’s a small sample size and the games have all felt very close. I’ll definitely need to do more testing before I can say for sure. Faeries and Five-Color Control have surprisingly few answers to a Baneslayer Angel on the table, though opposing Baneslayers or Sower of Temptation can be a problem. Blightning is easy if you survive to cast a Primal Command, but you can’t fight them with a slow draw. Kithkin and other similar decks seems like the main problem, but sometimes you just Baneslayer them. I know I probably don’t have a lot going on against elves, but that’s a matchup I need to test to see how far my counterspells can get.

Rogue Report goes to Canada

Wish me luck in Vancouver this weekend! I hope I can find something rogue enough to make me happy, though maybe this is the time to fold and just play Five Color. What do you think?

Thanks for Reading,

Jonanthon Loucks
Loucksj at gmail
JonLoucks on twitter

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