First thing’s first, I need to address an issue with my deck from last week. Apparently you can’t Scapeshift into a Vesuva and have Vesuva copy a land you’re Scapeshifting into play, so apologies to every one of my opponents at my last PTQ. As I said in my article, the most common Scapeshift I made was for three Flagstones of Trokair, a Sejiri Steppe, and a Vesuva copying Sejiri Steppe, which doesn’t work. You can Scapeshift into Vesuva, sure, but you have to copy a land that is already in play; you can’t copy a land that you’re also grabbing with Scapeshift. Awkward.
People have asked me if the Vesuva is still worth running. It can still copy a Mountain if you leave one in play when you Scapeshift. It can still copy a Flagstones of Trokair when you naturally draw it. It can also still kill legendary lands like Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth or Dark Depths, which I did multiple times over the weekend. However, I don’t think it’s worth the land slot since it can’t do what I was using it to do most of the time, and the marginal uses I just listed aren’t worth it.
So, how do we remedy this situation? The idea I’ve liked the most (which I got from Bill Stark of thestarkingtonpost.com, among others) is adding a bounce land to the deck in place of the Vesuva, like Selesnya Sanctuary. The most important thing about Vesuva was that it acted as a second Sejiri Steppe, but I think running a Sanctuary is just better than running two Steppes. It needs some testing, but as long as you haven’t played a land the turn you Scapeshift you can replay the Steppe when you bounce it. Otherwise the bounce land also gives you “infinite” landfall fuel when you draw it since you can choose to bounce the Sanctuary whenever it enters the battlefield, something that I think increases the potency of your landfall creatures as the game goes long.
The other problems with losing Vesuva is that it lowers both the deck’s Mountain count (for Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle) and the deck’s Flagstones count. The deck was sitting at 8 virtual Mountains with Vesuva, so without Vesuva the deck is down to 7 Mountains. It’s not often that you need to deal the full 20 with Valakut, but you still need to deal at least 9. Again, this requires more testing, but I felt like 8 Mountains was about the minimum.
Cutting the deck down to three real Flagstones in the first place was hard for me to do, especially since you want to naturally draw two for your landfall guys. The deck just didn’t have room for more. What worries me now is that if you do naturally draw two of your three remaining Flagstones, your Scapeshift can only grab one, and it won’t be able to kill itself. I think the deck needs to go back up to four Flagstones, but the manabase is so tight.
You’ll notice I haven’t actually mentioned messing with a real spell in the deck. The deck’s spells are so straightforward; there is only one slot I want to mess with. The three Tarmogoyfs and the fourth Lightning Bolt are the only cards I’m still questioning, as everything else has worked so well for me. Vinelasher Kudzu was a leap of faith and he worked out perfectly. When it comes to the lands, though, the numbers are so incredibly important. It’s such a weird feeling as it’s the opposite of most of the decks I’ve worked on. Take any Gifts Ungiven deck, for example. The individual spell slots are so important, but I had three lands in the end that I just didn’t care what they were, so I ran a miser’s Horizon Canopy and some filter lands. I’m not sure if this information is at all useful, I just find it interesting.
Anyway, back to the manabase. If I wanted to add another Mountain to the deck and another Flagstones, where would I look? The first slot I question is the Stirring Wildwood. I enjoyed it throughout the tournament, but I went through most of the testing without it. The card is always nice but rarely necessary. It’s useful when you are just using Knight of the Reliquary at the end of the turn for value, but it’s not THAT useful. I think I’ll have to cut the manland for now, but after more testing I’m looking to put it back in.
The Final List
Otherwise I’m really not sure what to add. The deck might have to lose a sacland, which sucks. There are already too few sac lands I feel, but your mountain slots are so valuable. I’m inclined to test the deck with 7 Mountains and four Flagstones, and leave the deck’s saclands alone.
So, what does that leave us with? Here is the deck as I would try it out now, updated to match how the Magic rules actually work:
I don’t know about you, but I enjoy writing these in-depth articles full of card-by-card analysis that only end up changing one card. It just goes to show how important each card is, and how interconnected all the decisions are. At least it’s true for decks I tend to develop.
As for the sideboard, like I said last time you are likely going to want some mix of the following spells. This is the mix I played at my last tournament.
Aven Mindcensor is by far the weakest card in that list, but it overlaps as a card against both Dark Depths (which you have a decent amount of room for when you are sideboarding cards out) and Scapeshift (which you generally don’t have much for).
Unfortunately I’ve already mentally moved past the Extended season. First, I was busy the last week completing finals and starting my new job (making games again, must be nice), which means I haven’t really played Magic over the last week. Then I’ve only got one remaining IRL PTQ coming up along with a few Magic Online PTQs, and I’m pretty sure this is the deck I’m going to play. I think the deck is great, and I enjoy playing an aggro deck with a twist. Being able to win a game with a turn one Steppe Lynx has been a liberating experience, and I hope to do more of it in the future.
Meanwhile I’ve started cube drafting again. It’s the go-to activity in the lull between formats and it’s a good way to polish my draft basics. Cube drafting teaches you to draft a deck and not just a pile of good cards. Unfortunately I cheat all the time by looking at my past picks as I’m drafting, but I should really be working on my memory skills. It’s so easy to get lazy when all of your drafting is casual or on Magic Online that when you sit down for a PTQ top eight or a draft at a Pro Tour you’re not used to having to remember all of your picks.
The deck I’ve been having success with lately in cube drafting is a blue deck with a lot of counterspells but with good proactive things to do in the first few turns of the game. A four drop is pretty terrible when you’re holding a Hinder in your hand, and it’s so easy for the combo decks to play around your counterspells when you don’t put a clock on them. Still, take this advice with a grain of salt because my cube drafting is nowhere near the level of those around me. Brian Wong, Zac Hill, Ricky Boyes – these are the people that are kicking my butt with cards I never thought of drafting.
It’s easy to notice cards you are overvaluing in cube drafting when you draft with the same cube over and over. When you keep ending up with Grand Coliseum it’s easy to see that you value it more than the people around you. In my case that usually means I am over-valuing it. It can go the other way, however, when you get a 10th pick Fireblast, a card I know is ridiculous.
Card value is something I have trouble with in normal draft (like ZZW) when I’m drafting outside of my comfort zone. I know RW pretty well (at least in triple-Zendikar) but when I start drafting mono-black I have a hard time valuing something like Guul Draz Vampire. I know the card is good on some level, but is it good in my deck? Is the guy to my left going to move in on black because I pass this? With decks I haven’t drafted before I’m pretty bad at making these decisions.
It’s all about practice and getting advice from the people around you. I just went through a first pick exercise where we opened a few cube boosters and analyzed the first picks. For power nine cards this was really easy, and we usually replaced them with something else to make the pick at least somewhat interesting. First picking in cube was not as straight forward as I thought. Zac for example was putting a lot of weight on what would table. Since you’re drafting a deck and not just good cards, knowing that you’ll get a second card out of that pack that will also match your strategy is important. It’s also hard to weigh Animate Dead against Brain Freeze, for example, because it’s really about how strong each individual strategy is in that particular cube.
It also provides a good opportunity to just discuss random cards. Take Grand Arbiter Augustin IV, for example. How high do you pick this card in certain strategies? Is it always maindeckable, or does it often make the sideboard? Asking questions about cube drafting has helped me tremendously in regular drafting, but its effects are subtle. Even the act of discussing a card’s power in cube will help you analyze a pack of Zendikar.
Speaking of cube, it’s that time. We just finished reworking and re-sleeving Peter Beckfield’s cube, so it’s fresh for the drafting. This is one of my more bloggy articles, so if it’s not your thing I’ll try to be more constructive next week. Like I said, it’s been a busy few weeks, but my next two are free sailing until my next quarter. Only two more quarters of school left, then I’m done! I’m so excited to finally be done with schooling. I’ve been doing it for the past eighteen or so years of my life, and I’m ready to be done.
Anyway, good luck to anybody playing my deck. I’d love to hear how it performs in somebody else’s hands. Also, my apologies to the people that have e-mailed me in the last few weeks. I’ll try to get back to you soon.
Thanks for reading,
Loucksj at gmail
JonLoucks on Twitter
Zygonn on Magic Online