First I want to touch on some brief Standard thoughts before we move to M12 Draft.
While Caw has had plenty of success over these past few weeks I can’t help but think the SCG Open results are just off. Various Nationals around the world have certainly shown Caw to have legs and be a legitimate strategy, but their top eights and top Standard performers have been varied with reasonable decks. Last week I listed four decks that I thought all had reasonable or outright favorable Caw matches and yet I see most of the variety in the top sixteen instead of the top eight. Goblins made it to the finals before going down and I have to stress that just [card]Timely Reinforcements[/card] is not enough to beat a real red deck.
Honestly the more I talk with players I respect the more the consensus seems to be that people using the various UW Caw decks simply because they have the most ‘play’ to them. They are coasting off their skills and other people not rising up the occasion of beating this strategy, there’s nothing inherently broken about Caw as it stands. I mean look at all the people still playing [card]Jace Beleren[/card] in UW when [card]Divination[/card] would just be more effective most of the time. Oh boy you got to draw your two cards over two turns and soak up a [card]Squadron Hawk[/card] attack, congratulations. My favorite part is when people actually +2 Jace which feels like such a joke now when there’s usually no reason to do it anymore. At that point you need to draw 3-4 cards before I even remotely care that you’ve played Jace with any real deck.
Meanwhile cards like [card]Foresee[/card] are ignored because they force you to tap out… in a field which primarily taps out and plays weak counters. Joy. Yes someone might hit you with a [card]Spell Pierce[/card] every now and then, suck it up and then [card]Dismember[/card] their [card]Hero of Bladehold[/card] and ship a “Thanks for playing.” People aren’t worried about getting blown away by the most commonly played removal spell in the format, but you seriously worry about getting gut checked by a Leak or Pierce? You could always play [card]Gitaxian Probe[/card] or [card]Inquisition of Kozilek[/card] if you’re that worried.
Speaking of which I find it amusing now people are seriously talking about a deck like Grixis or Esper, like they were such absurd propositions before because one deck runs [card]Tectonic Edge[/card] and a few people think [card]Acidic Slime[/card] is a real card. Tom Raney split the finals of a 1k this weekend with strong-looking Esper Control list, the highlight being [card]Abyssal Persecutor[/card]. Having every creature survive [card]Dismember[/card] without engaging in combat is a pretty big boon in this format and trampling fliers doesn’t even seem like a real or fair thing to be doing to [card]Squadron Hawk[/card]. Yes, [card]Sword of Feast and Famine[/card] is a card; except people only run two and have lousy draw engines to find them. Oh and you have the rest of your deck to deal with it. Pack a few [card]Oblivion Ring[/card] or [card]Into the Roil[/card] and watch the problem disappear. I’ll leave it to him if he’d like to post a full list anytime soon, just know that the idea is there and it doesn’t involve [card]Gravitational Shift[/card].
On the other hand we have Grixis Control which has been a largely avoided conversation without Cruel Ultimatum to perk up anyone’s interests. My friend Alex McCormick over in the land of Aussies and sunshine made top four of his PTQ just this past weekend with a sweet Grixis list. He was kind enough to share his updated list with me and I’ll return the favor and pass it on to all of you.
[deck]4 Creeping Tar Pit
3 Darkslick Shores
3 Blackcleave Cliffs
2 Drowned Catacomb
2 Dragonskull Summit
3 Tectonic Edge
4 Scalding Tarn
3 Consecrated Sphinx
2 Wurmcoil Engine
3 Jace Beleren
4 Inquisition of Kozilek
4 Mana Leak
2 Go For The Throat
3 Doom Blade
2 Consume the Meek
3 Torpor Orb
3 Peace Strider
3 Manic Vandal
I’m a fan of many of these card choices, although I would personally want the 4th [card]Consecrated Sphinx[/card] before any other six-drop. [card]Grim Lavamancer[/card] also deserves a shot at doing some work either over [card]Skinrender[/card] in the board or perhaps making a tad bit of room in the maindeck for him.
Here are a few quick points:
Yeah it is a pretty big joke that somehow discard has fallen out of favor when the Caw deck barely functions without its namesake card. Thanks for sharing.
[card]Grim Lavamancer[/card] is a real card and can be played in decks that aren’t mono-red. It also happens to be quite good against decks that are trying to use equipment, small creatures and take out planeswalkers while avoiding combat. So everything but Twin and Valakut. That’s why I’d like to see him in Grixis Control and perhaps other types of decks as well.
[card]Sword of Feast and Famine[/card] isn’t a real strategy in most games, people seem to respect it as if it was the old Caw with tutoring power and Big Jace. Most Caw builds only run two Swords and four [card]Preordain[/card] as notable draw with maybe a single [card]Consecrated Sphinx[/card]. Otherwise there’s some singleton draw from [card]Jace Beleren[/card] and that sums up Caw’s draw specifications. Not exactly a plan you have to worry about every single game.
I understand the dislike of Valakut and Tempered Steel from some players perspective but I honestly can’t see why they aren’t the two most played decks at every tournament. They are very powerful and if the opponent isn’t prepared for the match then you are massively favored. Even if they are even minor tweaks to the deck can surprise opponents and put the game back in your favor. Things like a [card]Koth of the Hammer[/card] from Valakut, a [card]Hero of Bladehold[/card] from Steel and so on can make a big difference. Even simple non-techy things like having four [card]Oracle of Mul Daya[/card] in a format which isn’t always going to punish you for playing a four-drop creature.
Stop being so obsessed with getting value out of everything. That’s the biggest problem with most decks trying to think out of the box and [card]Birthing Pod[/card] decks in general. All of them just want to get the sickest value while playing a bunch of cards that don’t do very much on their own when you could just be trying to overpower the opponent.
M12 Limited Thoughts
With Evolution coming to a close this weekend, I’m left impressed at the way every year seems to top the last in terms of amazing matches. Many of the matches were down to the wire and showcased what the very top-level of Street Fighter 4 play had to offer. In a way it also signified a changing of the guard so to speak and a wake-up notice that a small group of Americans don’t have to carry the torch every single year.
The top eight featured no Justin Wong and instead it was a Arizona player going by Latif who defeated The Beast (Daigo Umehara) and the top Korean player Poongko before doing down in the finals to Fuudo. I can’t remember the last time an American player defeated so many top foreign players in a single tournament, let alone top eight of the largest fighting game tournament of the world. Sometimes things change in ways we don’t expect… Which brings me to M12 draft and a massive shift in what the format usually consists of. A changing of the guard for many old cards (Except [card]Giant Spider[/card]) and strategies from older core sets.
Many players have compared this set’s draft to Zendikar, minus the ridiculous Landfall mechanic, which always favored the attacker. While Bloodthrist makes it so aggressive strategies still enjoy benefits, you can still defend yourself effectively and curve-out draws aren’t the one-sided curbstomps as they were in that format. No longer does the format revolve netting the most 2 for 1’s or having the biggest guys on the block. You can still pursue those strategies and have success with them, but for the most part being proactive and setting up a good offense will win you a lot more games than trying to grind the opponent into the dirt.
If you takeaway anything from this article I want it to be that you can’t rest on your laurels and hope you can block and stall until your fives and sixes get online. You usually can’t and even if they get up to speed that’s no guarantee that you’ll be able to swing the game with them. What it also means is that the usual late-game bombs aren’t unbeatable and you really have to think about how your deck plays out instead of drafting one or two bombs and then making the whole deck around them. Ok, Jace excluded since it’s a three turn clock that’s very difficult to kill without [card]Oblivion Ring[/card] or [card]Fireball[/card] being involved.
Oh and since I know it’s going to come up a lot, you largely want to play in this format. Tempo and board development is a lot more important than the extra card is for many decks, so unless you’re absolutely sure you want to play an attrition match (And have the cards to do so) just stay on the play. Part of this emphasis is caused by two-drops being king and one-drops providing key roles in enabling bloodthirst. Just look at the number of strong two-drops in colors that aren’t green and you won’t be surprised that the format reflects Zendikar moreso than M11.
Cards You Shouldn’t Be Playing:
Briefly I want to mention some cards I see played at the FNM level that really should never be in your deck. Feel free to skip this if you’ve drafted a fair amount and know better.
[card]Angel’s Feather[/card], [card]Demon’s Horn[/card], [card]Dragon’s Claw[/card], [card]Kraken’s Eye[/card] and [card]Wurm’s Tooth[/card]: Why? Gaining life is only relevant when it’s attached to a relevant card like a creature or as a secondary effect on a spell ala [card]Absorb[/card] or [card]Lightning Helix[/card]. Straight life-gain needs to be incredibly efficient to be considered at all and these simply aren’t.
[card]Jace’s Erasure[/card]: I’ve tried building straight mill decks and they simply aren’t workable which means this card is bad. [card]Merfolk Mesmerist[/card] is an OK back-up kill in WU and BU controlling decks and can always trade-off in a pinch. The one card I found that might make an exception is [card]Jace’s Archivist[/card], which can turn [card]Jace’s Erasure[/card] into a real kill. Unfortunately it dies to everything, which makes relying on this sweet combo too unreliable… That and one of these cards is a rare. Otherwise [card]Jace, Memory Adept[/card] doesn’t need help to be absurd and even with four of these and [card]Rites of Flourishing[/card] and multiple draw effects they simply don’t do enough.
[card]Smallpox[/card]: Not strictly unplayable, but just about every single deck I’ve seen it in was hurt just as much by casting it as the opponent. The only way to make it playable is to understand that to take advantage of it you need to cast it early and negate its drawbacks in some fashion. Whether that’s discarding a [card]Vengeful Pharoah[/card] or [card]Reassembling Skeleton[/card] or some other fashion you need some way to excuse the loss of an extra cards in the exchange. Eating a two-drop on the other side of the field is not enough to excuse this simply because you can draw the [card]Smallpox[/card] later in the game and then it becomes a sick joke unless the opponent is at one.
Blue: In a shocking twist, Blue is still a strong color in Core Set draft! It threw me for a loop too. In all seriousness, [card]Aether Adept[/card] is one of the best commons and [card]Frost Breath[/card] is one of the best ways of winning a race in a format filled with them. It also has the best uncommon in the set in [card]Mind Control[/card] and [card]Belltower Sphinx[/card], [card]Azure Mage[/card] and [card]Phantasmal Dragon[/card] are no pushovers either It isn’t exactly a strong creature color, but it has fairly efficient fliers and the only real casualty is the loss of [card]Horned Turtle[/card] which would be a godsend for the slower WU and BU decks floating around.
The only surprising thing about blue in M12 is that it received a slight downgrade in relation to other colors. You rarely have blue as your primary color simply because it can’t hold a fight on its own and it lacks the defensive power to stop aggressive strategies on its own. Cards like [card]Mana Leak[/card], [card]Divination[/card] and [card]Cancel[/card] also get hurt by this format shift, but all of them are still worthwhile to play in their respective strategies. You just shouldn’t start dropping elbows when picking up card draw or fliers like you could in any other core set in recent memory.
Blue is still a reasonable color, but I think it falls on the weaker side of the color spectrum and lacks true depth.
Black: Arguably the deepest color in M12, it has 15 playable commons and a few 23rd card type cards in [card]Brink of Disaster[/card] and [card]Zombie Goliath[/card]. Honestly this would be the only color I would even consider rolling out as a mono-color deck; barring an extremely fortunate draft. This can be traced in large part to a few cards that get better with the more Swamps in your deck, [card]Consume Spirit[/card] and [card]Drifting Shade[/card], though there are plenty more that benefit from having black mana on-call. Many of the best black Rares / Mythics have BB or BBB casting costs which can stop people from jumping in or trying to run a splash in later packs.
Black features one of the best Bloodthirst enablers in the format in [card]Tormented Soul[/card], excellent removal in [card]Doom Blade[/card] and a host of solid creatures which includes fliers. There are not a lot of reasons to dislike black in M12 and often it will become one of the more sought after colors in drafts. As I mentioned above black is deep enough to go mono-color in if not too many people are fighting over it and it’s one of the best secondary colors in the format. As for specific cards that are underrated, all I can say is I feel [card]Wring Flesh[/card] is vastly underrated for the amount of work that it does and that [card]Mind Rot[/card] is still quite potent against the field.
My early personal pick for best color in M12 is black.
Green: I’m reasonably sure green is the worst color in M12, even with [card]Overrun[/card] at uncommon and the addition of Plummet Spider ([card]Stingerfling Spider[/card]). Big dumb late-drops have been de-emphasized and the acceleration in green is truly lacking, [card]Rampant Growth[/card] is a fine card but [card]Llanowar Elves[/card] tends to die or is forced to block early. In fact other than [card]Rampant Growth[/card], green’s twos tend to suck and the best spell it has is actually [card]Plummet[/card]. When your second best spell at two or below is a sideboard card, things aren’t looking good for you.
So what do you get in green? Well Jon Becker must be thrilled since [card]Giant Spider[/card] is still as strong as ever and this time it brought friends along. Plummet Spider is probably the fourth or fifth best uncommon in the set, just behind [card]Fireball[/card], [card]Overrun[/card] and [card]Mind Control[/card] in terms of sheer annoyance and power. A solid body that blows up a flier is a quick way to make the usual U/X or W/X fliers decks cry and a fair number of bombs happen to have flying attached to them. It is nice to also have a common green enchantment to shut off a mage or other obnoxious utility creature and since green should be able to handle guys based on size alone, the drawback isn’t all that difficult to work with. Let’s not waste words on [card]Overrun[/card], though be warned you might not like all the hoops you need to jump through to get value from it.
Green has plenty of power in its uncommon slot and a few reasonably strong cards at common, but the color in general is shallow and has the worst two’s of the five colors. It really needs early game help from another color if you want to be able to race the R/B or R/W aggressive strategies in the format. Additionally if the uncommon support isn’t there, I can’t really come up with a good reason to go into green in the first place. If you do want to splash and want to take advantage of the secretly best three green has, go G/R aggro bloodthirst and pick up all the [card]Lurking Crocodile[/card]s you can. There aren’t that many ways to beat a 3/3 unblockable in this format and especially if the opponent is heavy blue. They can bounce it and stall sure, but they have little in the way of permanent solutions.
White: White has one of the sweetest aggressive curves in the format while also packing some of the best early defensive options. At first white didn’t strike me as particularly impressive outside of the sheer number of flying durdles at its disposal and having the best (tempted to say only) combat trick in the format. However it has one of the best bases to build on if you plan on going aggressive and you don’t have a treasure trove of [card]Goblin Fireslinger[/card] or [card]Tortured Soul[/card] to power up bloodthirst with. I know Gavin Verhey has written about his love of [card]Stormfront Pegasus[/card] and his disgust of anything costing more than four mana except certain fliers and [card]Mind Control[/card].
What isn’t talked about as much are all the solid white creatures that can play defense. Past the obvious tapper, [card]Roc Egg[/card], [card]Griffin Sentinel[/card], etc. you also have the [card]Armored Warhorse[/card], [card]Stonehorn Dignitary[/card], [card]Siege Mastodon[/card] and [card]Pride Guardian[/card]. Yes I’m a fan of the prideful one as a fire and forget wall / life gain spell against the aggressive strategies in the format. There are plenty of guys that can’t get by an early X/3 and not interfering with your other two and three-drops is a huge boon when board development is the name of the game.
White is the hardest working color in showbiz and will end up as the secondary color for a huge number of decks in the format. The best thing going for white is that many of the aggressive and controlling cards don’t overlap outside of the very best ones such as [card]Pacifism[/card] and [card]Gideon’s Lawkeeper[/card]. As a result you won’t be cut too often as long as you stay in your lane when making a deck.
Red: This is the easiest write-up to make out of all five colors. Red features the best bloodthirst enablers (specifically [card]Goblin Fireslinger[/card]) and arguably the two best common creatures in [card]Blood Ogre[/card] and [card]Gorehorn Minotaur[/card]s. Now throw in [card]Shock[/card] and [card]Incinerate[/card] and you have the best line-up of early drops and are the overall winners of the early drops that dominate the format. By all rights they should be the best color…. Except that it’s traditionally been overdrafted and even moreso now.
Previously everyone sniped the red removal leaving only barebones creatures to pick up the slack, but now that’s its a fully fledged color you’ll still have people sniping removal and then going in on red. All the “bad” red creatures rise in pick orders and the bloodthirst guys are going to be taken far higher than they should at first. Red simply isn’t as deep in terms of quality creatures and spells as black is in M12 and they’ll draw a lot of people in until they learn better.
Red is arguably the best color in the format with the only drawback being a weak set of uncommons outside of [card]Fireball[/card] and [card]Stormblood Berserker[/card] ([card]Volcanic Dragon[/card] being fine, but slow). It’ll be the primary color of a lot of decks and definitely has the best aggressive base in the format. I just can’t imagine people not looking at bloodthirst and plentiful removal and not overdrafting it though.
Once I get some more drafts in I hope to go over an archetype breakdown and some overrated / underrated. While I largely only cover Constructed events, I always seem to get a fair amount of feedback when I take a break and do Limited so please indulge my little side-quest.