Silvestri Says – Making the Kessig Run

This week will be a topical blend then a focus purely on one deck since I’ve been messing with a couple of different strategies lately rather than just a single plan. Of course as it turned out, [card]Dungrove Elder[/card] Wolf Ramp was miles better than everything I tried and the metagame online hadn’t yet adjusted to it. Despite that I did learn a few interesting tidbits that will serve me well in the next few weeks.

Mono Black Infect

This weekend Infect finally made an impact after being talked about in a few different spots around the net and Smi77y bashing people on Magic Online with it. Right now the deck is positioned very well, however I wouldn’t expect that to remain now that the cat is out of the bag. Right now the metagame is reacting so much quicker than last year to sudden metagame changes and with MODO now in the mix I suspect single week technology to be the norm. At some point the metagame will stabilize and tournaments won’t have a surprise contender that was previously ignored. Right now though just having a solid strategy and refining it to take advantage of niches in the metagame is one of the strongest plans to be on.

Infect, Top 8 at SCG Baltimore – Joshua Wagener
[deck]1 Contagion Clasp
4 Lashwrithe
1 Nihil Spellbomb
1 Tumble Magnet
4 Phyrexian Crusader
4 Plague Stinger
4 Whispering Specter
2 Doom Blade
2 Victim of Night
3 Virulent Wound
2 Skithiryx, the Blight Dragon
1 Despise
4 Distress
3 Tezzeret’s Gambit
20 Swamp
4 Inkmoth Nexus
2 Nihil Spellbomb
2 Ratchet Bomb
4 Phyrexian Vatmother
2 Liliana of the Veil
1 Despise
2 Memoricide
2 Sever the Bloodline[/deck]

While both pilots were knocked out in the quarterfinals, it’s important to note that both of them lost to non-Wolf Run decks, which cleared the way for them to dominate the remaining matches and win the tournament. Frankly I am a bit surprised that the Infect deck fell to G/W tokens since it has scant few answers to flying Infectors, but without watching the matches I can’t say. I have run into MBI a couple of times on MODO, usually by Smi77y, and it’s been a rough match unless I was piloting the little red men. Wolf Run decks just aren’t well-suited to interact with Infect and right now the only thing keeping me in many games is a sideboarded [card melira, sylvok outcast]Melira[/card] and aggressive mulligans. This is by no means a foolproof plan, but at least it gives me some real outs since once I resolve a Melira they only have 4-5 ways of killing it. Even then though [card]Lashwrithe[/card] provides a pretty significant clock so realistically a proper solution has yet to be found yet.

For a quick backlash solution, [card]Dismember[/card] would certainly help in some scenarios, though it doesn’t defeat the main strategy of the deck of combining hand disruption with a bunch of one-shot threats. This deck feels the opposite of how Tokens does where one is expected to flood the board with no practical disruption while this is more disrupting, protecting and enhancing one or two threats. This makes it a bit tougher to really focus on one shot solutions and if the deck grows in popularity it’ll likely require major tweaks to every top deck unless they just want to throw in some sideboard cards and hope for the best (AKA: The Solar Flare plan).

Red and Match-ups

I’m starting to dislike talking about matches in a metagame that shifts every week, because many people overstate their chances based on a set of matches they played against a week (or a couple) ago. Red against Wolf Ramp felt that way when I was talking about it in the comments, basically every criticism was based around playing week one RDW against decks featuring four [card]Viridian Emissary[/card] and maindeck [card]Wurmcoil Engine[/card]. The problem with talking about the match is that cards like [card]Geistflame[/card], [card]Traitorous Blood[/card] and even just not running [card]Grim Lavamancer[/card] makes a difference. Combine all the tweaks to red from the initial winning lists and it can make a notable difference in how the match actually plays out. Here’s the kicker, even if you had an up-to-date list it may not really matter to red players since the matches have now split between RG builds and the [card]Dungrove Elder[/card] iterations.

For Dungrove builds the aggro match is softer in general, because if a couple of large [card]Dungrove Elder[/card] hit the table then the game will end pretty quickly. If they don’t, then they lack any real defense or way to claw back into the game if the initial ramp creatures get killed off. For the most part I’ve largely won my red matches on the back of opponent’s mistakes moreso than any natural advantages Dungrove features. Wolf Run feels the same reason, congratulations the opponent is playing sloppy and you get to cash in a [card]Batterskull[/card] or you get the [card]Slagstorm[/card] for full value.

It doesn’t help when a point in something’s favor is ‘[card]Acidic Slime[/card] kills [card]Shrine of Burning Rage[/card]’ which is about as useful of a strategic note as it sounds. In all seriousness, my point is simply that things change and relying on old information is only reliable if decks remain constant in terms of construction and play. Of course then you could run into the issue of last week’s tech where only a handful of red players bother making real lists and the rest just play older lists that you have beaten into a bloody pulp on multiple occasions.

Here’s one example of the lack of any updates at all to RDW and similar red decks. Some people are still playing [card]Grim Lavamancer[/card] in the maindeck. In multiples. Exactly what match is [card]Grim Lavamancer[/card] remotely good in right now? Against what match is [card]Grim Lavamancer[/card] more than a 1/1 with the possibility of applying a Shock? And in those matches what are the odds [card]Grim Lavamancer[/card] stays alive long enough to actually do his job?

[card]Grim Lavamancer[/card] without fetchlands was a fun experiment that failed and right now there are a host of one-drops better equipped to do the job. Without the possibility of an early activation Lavamancer loses so much power that it becomes the equivalent of just throwing [card]Memnite[/card] into a random deck. Without a clear way to give him the food or time he needs to be good, Lavamancer hurts your deck by taking space away from other relevant cards. Yet when you look at Magic Online results you still see plenty of red decks running Lavamancer.

There have been multiple games while playing Ramp where if Lavamancer was [card]Spikeshot Elder[/card], [card]Goblin Arsonist[/card] or even [card]Goblin Fireslinger[/card] I’d have lost the game. Instead I win because Lavamancer had three scenarios play out every single game he hit the field.

1) Chump block
2) Attack for one to Bloodthirst, chump and possibly activate once.
3) Activate once and then chump.

Even if you hate the other one-drops you can play in red, consider just beefing up the curve a bit before resigning yourself to playing a creature that lost over half its effectiveness with the loss of fetches.

Veering off into a whole other corner, but still promoting strategy or match discussion that leads somewhere – There’s a persistent idea that the milling plan in UB is too slow or supposed to be used on yourself primarily and frankly both views are short-sighted. First off a single [card]Nephalia Drownyard[/card] is only killing at a slightly slower pace than [card]Inkmoth Nexus[/card] and having doubles means you’ll pretty much win every game within five turns of both of them going active. Now think of all the games where you enter a long game with UB and in fact your endgame in many matches is to eventually get to the point of having 8-10 lands and solid control over the game.

Every time I see someone suggest that you can’t mill out Flare because they have flashback cards, I know they haven’t actually played the match and the rest of their opinions are suspect. There’s no problem with arguing what the proper usage of [card]Nephalia Drownyard[/card] is or if you should only activate in certain matches when you have two in play or other situations. However drawing a conclusion that milling is actively bad in the Solar Flare match with no context given or arguments made is haphazard and silly. Personally I’m of the opinion that you ideally wait until you have two [card]Nephalia Drownyard[/card]s before making your move, but I’ve played it differently before and I know other respectable players have different ideas about it.

See at the core the argument revolves around the idea that you’re cashing in more resources for Solar Flare to use at minimal benefit to yourself. Now take a look at the actual flashback cards used in most Flare lists and what threats you’ll actively be scared of as a UB player. [card]Think Twice[/card] is barely relevant and [card]Forbidden Alchemy[/card] takes an entire turn to use, so they aren’t gaining a whole lot of immediate benefit from either. [card]Unburial Rites[/card] on the other hand can be a factor if the graveyard set-up is there and that’s the one weakness of milling them over time. That eventually you do set the scenario up where they can recur all of their threats into play at once. This risk is largely mitigated though when you note that many Flare decks are moving away from Rites and those that do run it only have one or two in the deck anymore. Actively controlling your milling can mean you have control over how and when the scenario actually occurs. Meaning that in exchange for letting them set this up, they typically will have one opportunity to go for it and that you need to stop that from happening.

Dungrove Elder vs. Multicolor Wolf Ramp

[card]Dungrove Elder[/card] as a card has been tried in a number of strategies before and post-rotation. For the most part he was just bad in previous metagames and decks, but now the stars have aligned and he’s become an absolute monster. Other than [card]Primeval Titan[/card] there’s no card I’d rather see or fetch more than [card]Dungrove Elder[/card] and against certain decks such as UB I rather have [card]Dungrove Elder[/card] period, as it’ll eventually outclass everything on the board.

As far as the actual Wolf Ramp archetypes go, the trade-off comes down to playing removal or not. The rest of the cards you get from going multicolor are irrelevant to the discussion as many of them are wrong choices or not powerful enough to warrant consideration in the argument. If you go red you can play Slagstorm, which is absolutely crucial to stalling token strategies long enough for your six-drops to take over the game. Of course you could also go white and then just get the straight upgrade to Day of Judgment…

Yes, for those who aren’t aware there’s actually a third variation on Wolf Ramp and that’s going Naya colored for [card]Day of Judgment[/card], [card]White Sun’s Zenith[/card] and [card]Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite[/card]. While I’m not particularly sold on the latter two additions, [card]Day of Judgment[/card] is incredibly strong right now and frankly a huge upgrade over [card]Slagstorm[/card]. You also gain access to reliable spot removal in [card]Oblivion Ring[/card] if you find it necessary and also negates the need for narrower effects like [card]Naturalize[/card]. Here’s a list from a MODO Daily.

Cracudo – WGr Wolf Ramp

[deck]8 Forest
2 Ghost Quarter
3 Inkmoth Nexus
1 Kessig Wolf Run
1 Mountain
2 Plains
4 Razorverge Thicket
4 Sunpetal Grove
1 Acidic Slime
1 Birds of Paradise
1 Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite
4 Primeval Titan
4 Solemn Simulacrum
1 Thrun, the Last Troll
4 Viridian Emissary
3 Beast Within
3 Day of Judgment
4 Garruk, Primal Hunter
3 Green Sun’s Zenith
4 Rampant Growth
2 White Sun’s Zenith
1 Acidic Slime
2 Creeping Corrosion
1 Day of Judgment
3 Sword of Feast and Famine
2 Thrun, the Last Troll
4 Timely Reinforcements
2 Wurmcoil Engine [/deck]

Both builds feel viable and it comes down to reading the metagame for the proper call. While I’ve seen some respectable players declare one superior over the other, I feel it silly to do so because both decks only share the same shell and the details can have an adverse effect on match-ups. A good example is Dungrove vs. Wolf Ramp and then by contrast their respective matches against [card]Mirran Crusader[/card] aggro decks.

For what its worth I prefer the mono-green shell since [card]Dungrove Elder[/card] is one of the best early game threats in the format. Right now I’m 22-4 with the deck in matches on Magic Online consisting largely of 2-mans (ignoring matches vs. non-competitive decks) and Daily Events. The deck breakdown follows:

UB Control: 6-0
Wolf Ramp (RG): 5-2
Wolf Green: 3-0
RDW: 3-0
MBI: 1-1
Humans: 1-1
WU Control: 2-0
Tempered Steel: 1-0

For the most part the ramp mirrors are what you’d expect, difficult and draw-based with a little bit of play to them if the opponent has [card]Ancient Grudge[/card] or [card]Slagstorm[/card]. One of the more common errors I find in the mirror, especially the Dungrove mirror is the lack of people willing to utilize [card]Green Sun’s Zenith[/card] early. If I have another threat in hand I’ll burn it for one to nab a [card]Llanowar Elves[/card] or [card]Birds of Paradise[/card] without hesitation. The same goes for [card]Dungrove Elder[/card] even when I could wait and fetch up a [card]Primeval Titan[/card] instead. Ultimately [card]Dungrove Elder[/card] forces the opponent to be ramping as fast as you or you can smash for some much life early that they may be forced to chump with a [card]Primeval Titan[/card] just to live. It also makes your own [card]Kessig Wolf Run[/card] instantly lethal in many situations.

I won at least one of the red matches based on opponent mistakes, including one where my opponent would have had lethal on the table and decided that the possibility of [card]Harrow[/card] was too high to not block [card]Dungrove Elder[/card]. My own record against UB followed a similar course where the opponent simply wasted too much time flashbacking [card]Think Twice[/card] and milling himself instead of milling me. Though this doesn’t diminish the results, I just wanted to give a bit of perspective when I give the records with the deck.

For reference this is my current build:
[deck]4 Birds of Paradise
3 Llanowar Elves
4 Rampant Growth
4 Dungrove Elder
3 Sword of Feast and Famine
2 Solemn Simulacrum
1 Acidic Slime
2 Batterskull
4 Primeval Titan
4 Garruk Primal Hunter
4 Green Sun’s Zenith
20 Forest
3 Inkmoth Nexus
1 Mountain
1 Kessig Wolf Run
3 Beast Within
3 Wurmcoil Engine
3 Thrun, the Last Troll
2 Karn Liberated
1 Tree of Redemption
1 Viridian Corrupter
1 Mayor of Avabruck
1 Melira, Sylvok Outcast[/deck]

Nothing special really, I moved the Sword plan to the maindeck where it tends to be the most effective since ramp opponent’s have few methods to profitably interact with a Sword. Post-board I’m not a huge fan of leaving them in simply because everyone seems to sideboard [card]Ancient Grudge[/card] regardless of the number of artifacts I have in the deck. This is why I dropped Travis Woo’s style of Wolf Run early on. Big fan of [card]Palladium Myr[/card], but got tired of being way behind if it died in games two or three. Sure you can board it out, but whatever you swap it with is going to be that much worse.

That’s all for this week, next week I want to focus on one or two decks, so if you have a suggestion please e-mail me about it. Thanks!

Josh Silvestri
Email me at: joshDOTsilvestriATgmailDOTcom


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