Monday, October 15, 2012

Red Decks and You: Snappy McCastertons Edition.

Alright, alright. That last list was bad. Let's move past it, shall we?

This time I'm running a deck into which I've actually put a lot of thought. Ever since I started playing in FNM's and got "competitive", I've had a soft spot for mono-red. It's cheap to play, it pisses people off, and when it does--as it claims to--win, it wins hard. I've been tuning this guy for about a week and half, and it feels pretty damn strong. I'm very sad that I had to cut the Goblin Electromancers (it sucks, apparently), because I had an awesome name for it that I may try to stick with anyway:

Goblin Electroburn:

Creatures (25):
4 Ash Zealot
4 Gore-House Chainwalker
3 Guttersnipe
2 Hellrider
4 Rakdos Cackler
3 Snapcaster Mage
1 Stonewright
4 Stromkirk Noble

Instant (8):
4 Brimstone Volley
4 Searing Spear

Sorcery (6)
2 Nightbird's Clutches
4 Pillar of Flame

Land (21):
2 Desolate Lighthouse
11 Mountain
4 Steam Vents
4 Sulfur Falls

2 Tormod's Crypt
1 Archwing Dragon
3 Forge Devil
2 Reckless Waif
4 Essence Scatter
3 Flames of the Firebrand

This looked a lot different last week (Goblin Electromancers, Nivmagus Elemental (!), Blistercoil Weird...); then THIS happened. The deck hit 10th place, which is very good for a mono-red list these days. Variance is a thing, so is player skill. It definitely could've top-8'd, and maybe even won. But I really just don't think there's any reason to be playing a mono-colored deck in this format. We have freakin' shock lands!

Anyway, you already know why cards like Rakdos Cackler, Ash Zealot, and Gore-House Chainwalker are in here. They're cheap and they do damage. Sold. But let's talk about some of the less-obvious choices.

Guttersnipe: Anders only played one-, two-, and four-drop creatures in his deck. So I've smoothed out the curve a bit by adding this house. He pushes a LOT of damage through when you can keep him out: to the point where he becomes a must-kill. This guy gets smacked down right-fast in the decks that can deal with him, which is fine by me. When I play a turn 3 Guttersnipe and it gets answered with an Ultimate Price, they better hope they have another one for my Hellrider on the next turn. If they don't kill the Guttersnipe, well... I hear Brimstone Volley for 7 is pretty good.

Snapcaster Mage: I often find myself dropping him EoT turn 2, or even flashing him in for a trade. Snapcaster is--and always has been--good not only for his effect, but his body. He has very positive synergy with Guttersnipe, and both provide valuable reach to eke out those last 5ish life points to end the game. I understand how counter-intuitive it is to play him in the same list as Ash Zealot. But I really just need you to take my word on this one and give it a shot. Snapcaster Mage is VERY good in this deck. And if you still have your turn 2 Ash Zealot by the time you're flashing back Searing Spear with Snapcaster, you're already winning the game. You can spare the 3 life.

Nightbird's Clutches: Now, this isn't my tech. So I can sort of let results speak for themselves and point to Anders on this one. But I wanted to say one thing about it: Holy bajeezers! I truly believe that aggressive strategies would absolutely dominate the format if it weren't for Thragtusk. The incidental life gain is very good, but it's the two blockers that really kill you. So the simple answer is 'Clutch away! We'll get to the less-simple one when we hit the sideboard.

Desolate Lighthouse: There's a term that I learned about in Economics called "opportunity cost". It's something Patrick Chapin talks about a lot, and for good reason. Every card has a mana cost. Maybe it has additional costs or a Kicker or Buyback. But the super-secret extra cost that doctors don't want you to know about is the card's opportunity cost: what could you have instead? Taking the day off to go Skiing costs the price of a lift ticket, gas, food, etc. But there's also an opportunity cost associated with such an endeavor: You could be working and making money. The amount of money you could've made that day is an opportunity cost that makes that half-off lift ticket look a lot less half-off. When you play a utility land, you pay the opportunity cost of making colored mana. The low opportunity cost of having a man-land come into play tapped wasn't too much for people to play the hell out of the Worldwake Manlands. So even though once in a while you won't be able to hit your turn two Ash Zealot, the power of the Loothouse later in the game is definitely worth it. Playing something like Faithless Looting isn't an option: the opportunity cost is an entire card that could be a dude or something to get our dudes through. But Desolate Lighthouse does a very good job of getting through a chunk of lands when you're running out of gas.

Onto the sideboard!

Essence Scatter: Spicy, no? We're very, very scared of Thragtusk. Centaur Healer too, sure, but he dies to Searing Spear. But if somebody resolves a Thragtusk, my life gets a whole lot worse. But who says it has to resolve? Essence Scatter is a good tempo card to stop big blockers like Thragtusk and Olivia. Dare we dream of the day we Essence Scatter a hard-casted Angel of Serenity? We probably durst. But that sure as hell would win you a game. This is still very much a theoretical choice. I haven't gotten to test against too many Selesnya decks, which is a shame because that's decidedly the Bad Matchup. But we'll see!

Archwing Dragon: Yeah, really! You know what this format doesn't have? Good instant-speed removal for big creatures! With all the Dreadbores, Sever the Bloodlineses, and Abrupt Decays  scampering about, life sure looks good for Archie. When you're late in the game against a tap-out control deck that's got you beat, nothing's better than burning them for four every turn.

Forge Devil: Arbor Elf!

I think this deck has a solid plan, and it has an extraordinarily good matchup against zombies. So let me know what you guys think!

Monday, October 1, 2012

Deadeye Lotus (OR: How I Convinced Reddit to Love Me Forever)

Guys, I have bad news. I just said the words "I think I'll BLOG ABOUT IT!" out loud. Oh god oh god ohgodohgodohgod

Right! So combo decks.

Sometimes they're really good. Like literally the best thing possible. Sometimes they aren't. What's up with that.

I've just started testing the initial draft of a deck that takes advantage of the combo that Reddit is oh-so in love with, Deadeye Navigator + Gilded Lotus + Zealous Conscripts. If you didn't know, you can target your own Gilded Lotus with your Conscripts' ETB effect. This not only gives it haste (which is important against the all-too-popular Karn, SIlver Golem counter to this deck heh), but untaps it, netting you one U in your mana pool for each recursion. The arbitrary amount of blue mana (and therefore any mana your lands can produce, with more Conscripts untapping) allows you to do a whole mess of things, not the least of which being stealing your opponents entire board (and doing so again at their upkeep if they're not dead yet).

I had played with the idea of making a deck like this to screw around even more than I usually do to finish out the season, but I lost interest and my LGS is like, 25 frickin' minutes away from my house. Seeing this on the MTG Salvation forums, however, renewed my interest. But then I was all "actually this deck sucks, mine's gonna RULE though!"

We start with Blue and Red as necessary colors for the deck. Two pieces cost five mana and the last one costs six, so Green is the next logical step for our Ramp needs. Unfortunately, RUG is not particularly well-positioned with the guilds we have right now; the only Shockland we can use is Steam Vents. This rules out 1-drop dorks, but Farseek can grab you a Steam Vents or a basic. Izzet Keyrune provides more ramp that takes us straight from Turn 3 to our 5 drops, and then provides utility if we run out of gas or get flooded. It certainly isn't ideal, and the list will look a lot better after Gatecrash, but it's certainly serviceable right now. And fuuuuuuun!

Now, the idea of this deck is not to sit on its ass durdling until it hits those three cards. That would make what we call a Bad Magic Player, and a single copy of Slaughter Games could take you out of the game. Instead I try to take advantage of all three (well, mostly two) combo pieces in several situations to make a solid midrange deck that doesn't rely on the combo to win. It's always nice when you do though, as the results are Hilarious.

So, first, a decklist:
3 Huntmaster of the Fells
4 Zealous Conscripts
4 Deadeye Navigator
2 Niv-Mizzet, Dracogenius

4 Thragtusk
2 Acidic Slime

4 Gilded Lotus
3 Izzet Keyrune

4 Farseek

4 Jace, Architect of Thought
2 Tamiyo, the Moon Sage

4 Steam Vents
3 Sulfur Falls
3 Rootbound Crag
4 Hinterland Harbor
6 Forest
2 Island
2 Mountain

I'll start by talking about the combo pieces, for obvious reasons.

  • Gilded Lotus: This is a card that people seem to be just discovering as an amazing control piece and all around guhdcrd. On Starcity's Brad vs. Gerry, Gerry Thompson played a Grixis list running a few Gilded Lotus, and was raving it by the end of their playtesting sessions. As loyal readers of mine will know, I've been singing this card's praises for months, but I can't expect the Magic community to keep up with my genius (heh). The biggest weakness that I see with this deck right now is its lack of 3-drops to cast after the Lotus. However, the 5 slot is actually pretty bloated in this deck, so the plan is usually to cast this guy a bit later. Seven mana is a good number, so you can follow your Lotus up with a Thragtusk or Tamiyo, or, even better...
  • Zealous Conscripts: Why play him off of a Gilded Lotus? Well, it depends on what's on your board, and what's on their board. If they have a threat that you could really use to good effect, you can go ahead and steal that. But, the rules behind the "Gain Control" keyword key...phrase? don't require the permanent to be under an opponents control. That's kinda why the combo works at all. Speaking of which, I guess I haven't actually explained the combo yet. Hang on, I have to go edit that in... Okay, so yeah. You can actually cast your Conscripts for a net two mana by untapping the Lotus you used to cast it. If you have your Navigator on the board, you get to go off right then and there. This will save you a surprising number of times, and also blows peoples MINDS.
  • Deadeye Navigator: This guy has hung out for the last six months or so as what you might call a fringe constructed-playable card. But his ability is undeniably powerful with the right cards around it. This has led him to show up in countless casual brews, and some reasonable, if very low-tier, Standard decks (mostly Bant land-denial stuff with Venser and Acidic Slime). The thing that gives me much more faith in him for the upcoming season is that little number in the bottom-right corner: 5. Mizzium Mortars is a Card. Doom Blade is no more. It's going to be a lot easier to untap with a Deadeye Navigator in the coming months. And once he's there, he is (barring Terminus and Supreme Verdict) there to stay. He and his bond-buddy can blink out of the way of spot removal and burn, and that's a good spot to be in. Azorius Charm is very popular right now with all those damn zombies lurching about, but luckily we can get by just fine without attacking with him at all, if necessary. Deadeye Navigator is, most importantly awesome, and we have plenty of synergy to justify his existence in the deck besides Zealous Conscripts. Segues, baby, Segues!
Deadeye Navigator's Evil Flicker Council

  • Thragtusk: The list I linked to earlier which inspired this post didn't run Thragtusk. And that is an absolute goddamn crime! He's a format staple and is an immediate 4-of in so many decks that can't even abuse him, it's insane. Newcomers to the Power of Thragtusk should note that his second effect doesn't say "die", it says "leaves the battlefield. So every time we blink him with Deadeye Navigator, we get 5 life and a 3/3 Beast. I... don't really have much more to say here.
  • Huntmaster of the Fells: Thragtusk Junior. Fives and threes become twos, and he remains awesome. You can Farseek right into him turn 3, and he's no schmuck when you flip him over, either.
  • Acidic Slime: The double green is painful to us. The mass LD is painful to them. I only have two due to the restrictive mana cost, but he sure as hell does work.
The rest:
  • Izzet Keyrune: I touched on it earlier, but this card is awfully nice for us. Patrick Chapin has a very public love-affair with this cycle (especially with the Rakdos one), and I see where he's coming from. He compares them to the Zendikar man-lands which, like these, have very low opportunity costs (as compared to other forms of ramp/fixing) and significant upsides, especially in grind situations. Obviously, 5 is an important converted mana cost, so hitting it turn 4 is sweet.
  • Niv-Mizzet, Dracogenius: Iunno, he's just good. Yes, he kills people when you get your combo off, but that's incredibly win-more. Much more importantly, he's just powerful. Untapping with Niv-Mizzet means full board-control and plenty of card advantage. We have Gilded Lotus, so you get plenty of mana to smack dudes with excuse me, with which to smack dudes.
  • Jace, Architect of Thought: Yes, four copies. Drawing multiples of Jace is actually great, as you can just -2 the first one to death, get a bunch of cards, then play a new one. His +1 is, as many people will tell you, deceptively powerful, and if there's any deck that wants him to use his ultimate ability, it's this one. That isn't something that's going to come up much, but it bears mentioning.
  • Tamiyo, the Moon Sage: Her usefulness in any midrange or control deck has already been proved. I like tapping, I like drawing. Her ult lacks synergy and won't win you the game, but it's still awfully good.
  • Farseek: What do you want me to say? It's Farseek, figure it out.
I hate ending these things. I don't have any "conclusions" or anything, I really threw this list together hours ago. But I really can't wait to play it more. In fact, I think I'll do that now.