Now that the set has been released and we’ve had a bit of time to play around with some of the more interesting cards from the spoiler, it’s time to see where to fit in some of the new cards. Right now there are only a couple of cards I see making a serious impact and the rest mostly serving as roleplayers alongside their Wade/Lebron counterparts for the vet minimum. For the short list of build-around cards I think are worth pursuing:
I’m sure there’s room for others to possibly make a serious impact, but those are the cards I see with a lot of raw power for the cost. Their drawbacks aren’t outrageous like Time Reversal and don’t necessarily need entirely new decks built around them to make good use of them. So these quickly stand out as the cards I want to start with when analyzing impact to this type of format.
Starting with Fauna Shaman, we have two easy choices right off the bat; both Next Level Bant and drag-out attrition Naya decks could both get a lot of value from the Shaman. Obviously any Fauna Shaman shell using Vengevine is going to get a big advantage, but in particular the GW pairing tends to have the best 1-of utility creatures to nab. Qasali Pridemage is hardly exciting, but having one around to kill a pesky Oblivion Ring or Behemoth Sledge is always appreciated. Dauntless Escort is a pretty miserable guy on his own, but obviously having one around to back up an army is sweet. However you don’t want to go nuts with your toolbox and the reason why Fauna Shaman is so exciting for Naya is because it just fetches your best cards which you already have plenty of, essentially making the rich even richer.
Still I’d be lying if my first thought was toward fair use of Fauna Shaman, my first thought was to throw it into UGB and go nuts. Now for those that never saw the UB Dredge deck post-Vengevine, it was effectively a cheaty midrange deck that didn’t actually pay for any of the creatures it expected to kill you with. It just consisted of many Merfolk Looters with the main win being the triple-threat of Vengevine, Bloodghast and Extractor Demon. Since it was a deck consisting of 30 some-odd creatures, Eldrazi Monument also sometimes made a show-stopping appearance, often ending the game on the spot. There were two problems with the deck. First is that if it couldn’t find Vengevine or Eldrazi Monument, the deck generally sat around and did nothing. The second problem was being very weak against decks that aimed to kill you on turn five like Mono-Red and Mythic.
For our purposes, Fauna Shaman is yet another way to help out with one of those issues while not being completely useless against stalling Mythic. It may not sound like much, but the ability to find Sedraxis Alchemist could often buy multiple turns much like a turn three Jace single-handedly stomps certain Mythic draws. With that sort of glowing recommendation it can’t possibly end up failing!
28 Matches later
Ok so it ended up failing, shut up. The problem with Fauna Shaman in these types of decks is that it isn’t [card]Survival of the Fittest[/card]. What I mean by that is the card won’t carry the deck even if it stays alive and is just a nice thing to have around. Unfortunately this deck needs something strong enough to just carry it in matches where your early drops die or you have a ton of pressure put on you early. The deck needed a serious redesign to make up ground in those matches, so it quickly got sent to the backburner. Oddly enough if there’s enough time in the season for a Control deck turnaround that pushes strong aggro back down, then it could be a great deck to prey upon the metagame.
Back to Fauna Shaman in Naya though, now there’s a deck which was already great and is amazing with the inclusion of Shaman. It gives you another valid early drop and if she lives, you never run out of fuel since nearly every relevant card you draw can be transformed into a Vengevine or Bloodbraid Elf. In addition your toolbox can be good cards that would make for fine drops anyway, such as Stoneforge Mystic and Goblin Ruinblaster. Post-board you can get a little more cute with it in matches where your Shamans have a shot at living, but in the rest she’s fine just fetching the core cards in your deck.
As you can see this is a no-frills version of the Naya deck looking to maximize its best cards and still pack a few trumps to end the game like GR Overrun does. The only singletons in the maindeck that take advantage of Fauna Shaman are fine on their own and Stoneforge Mystic is really just a fetchable 2nd Basilisk Collar for the Mythic and Naya matches. Goblin Ruinblaster is a card I often bash on for not doing enough, but here it isn’t that big of a deal since you can’t draw multiples to clog your hand. Additionally if you successfully land one against many decks when backed by Cunning Sparkmage or turn three Vengevine they’ll often crumple up into a ball, something Jund’s Ruinblasters can’t boast. Ruinblaster puts you far enough ahead when you’re doing well that I don’t mind sacrificing a slot in the maindeck for it.
The sideboard is a bit loose, but being anti-red is very important for this deck as it has problems competing when Naya’s mana animals get blown up. Bringing in an extra land (bringing it up to 26) is a concession to that facet of the match and helps make Kor Firewalker a reasonable early play. The rest of the board aims to make the Mythic match better by providing Linvala support to the Cunning Sparkmage plan, as well as more Collar action and some Path to Exile to take out their own Linvalas and Sovereigns of Lost Alara. Thanks to Orie Guo’s utter decimation from Linvala, it sparked a constant reminder that I needed actual outs to the card on the draw.
I’m sure there will be plenty of other attempts to abuse Fauna Shaman in the future, but those were the two I got furthest with. R/G Overrun and NLB are both great candidates for Fauna as well, but I don’t have great lists for either one yet. So instead of guesstimating let’s move onto another card with a lot of hype (and whopping price tag) Primeval Titan.
At first I naturally assumed everyone was just being ridiculous with their love for the Green Titan. After all, people wanted to do such mundane garbage as fetching two manlands and claiming that somehow justified the Titan. Newsflash: Broodmate Dragon isn’t worth playing and that’s 8 power of evasion that I don’t have to waste my next turn activating. Heck even Siege-Gang Commander is seeing less and less play in various decks and by now everyone knows how hard it is to lose when you untap with that in play. As for any other utility land you could pick up, I just couldn’t justify spending six mana to initially fetch lands.
Then someone made a good point, Valakut existed and the RG mana ramp shell was tailor-made to cast the Titan. Now we have a real contender for doing something useful with your six-drop! Fetching a Valakut and 6th Mountain or double Valakut is obviously going to be sweet, but in testing if you got a single activation in then the game ended on the spot. Combine this with the printing of [card]Cultivate[/card] and suddenly my interest in the green money sink had been piqued.
This was my initial list:
Over time the more I tried the deck, the less I liked Oracle of Mul Daya and Siege-Gang Commander. While I enjoyed the raw power they provided, I was winning practically all of my non-control matches on the back of Harrow, Cultivate and Titan powering out a massive Valakut kill. Plus, the number of slots left in the deck was reduced dramatically, leaving out much room for offense. After a few more sessions of battling against Jund and Mythic, I revamped the list to keep myself in a better position against them until Valakut kicked in.
First I dumped some of the Rampant Growths, which were borderline garbage after the first one and oftentimes replaced outright by Explore if I had both in hand. Unlike Turboland, pure accel was less important then having the right set of mana accelerants in hand and locking down the board long enough to get your “kill” online. Anything I did at three mana was far stronger than what I was doing at two and skipping to my four-drop was a lot less important in general since I don’t have Jace, the Mind Sculptor to ramp into.
The next thing I did was remove Siege-Gang Commander and Bloodbraid Elf in an attempt to open up space for defensive cards. While I really liked both creature cards and might re-add both, I wanted to see how heavily I could focus on the Valakut kill and get away with it. With more cards like Earthquake in the deck and all of the removal doubling as direct damage, it was possible to “get there” on turn five and six a lot more often. Ended up with a combo version which was a lot more explosive and capable of defending against Mythic, but I’m not 100% that this is the right way to build it.
Right now this is the list I’m most excited about, since it kills around turn six at a great clip and with fewer dead early draws than the other deck. Obviously you lose out on a lot of value cards which is unfortunate, but the deck feels like a very strong comboish deck that can take over the Turboland role. Jund has an easier time against this type of deck, but a combo of Avenger of Zendikar, Obstinate Baloth and other valid sideboard options make that match very winnable even if they have Ruinblaster and Blightning.
Again while I’m not completely sold on Valakut as some tier one strategy, this is the kind of approach I think will work best with the Green Titan. Instead of incremental advantage, just using it like a small Scapeshift and getting there when you start tapping out for six mana spells. With Spreading Seas usage at an all-tiEmrkaulme low and Goblin Ruinblaster also being on the cutting room floor I feel like this deck could definitely make an impact. Obviously Red is still a rough match, but with a combo of instant speed removal, Obstinate Baloth and Grazing Gladeheart that seems easily fixable.
As for the other two cards I mentioned, while I’d like to share more about them, I can’t really. Right now the best I could do for Dark Tutelage is what you’d expect: R/B Aggro without too much in the way of upgrades in many matches over Mono-Red. On the other hand Mass Polymorph has huge potential and just needs the right shell around it. Remember that if you cast it with 2-3 tokens out you can get this set (Or 2/3rds of it) of creatures on the field: Stormtide Leviathan, Emrkaul, and Iona. Even having two of the three at once is usually game over, but with all three out I’ve yet to encounter a situation where I lost the game. Next week I’ll be covering the various Poly shells more in-depth and the advantages Mass Poly brings to the table.