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Bruce Gray - June 2, 2014

The plight of the Underplayed Theros Block mechanics – Inspired,...

Inspired MTG deck - Tormented Hero

The plight of the Underplayed Theros block mechanics

by Bruce Gray – Casual Encounters

We all watched the Pro-tour with baited breath not all that long ago.  For starters, Congratulations must go out to Patrick Chapin.  I doubt he’ll ever read this article, but the truth is what he accomplished is tremendous.  To defeat the world’s best players and win a Pro-tour is the stuff dreams are made of (although he made it look frighteningly easy!).  However, in amidst all the talk of Block Constructed decks, did anyone notice that there were hardly ANY of the mechanics from Theros block on display?  A block committed to the Devotion mechanic by virtue of being tied to the Gods of Theros…and it was virtually totally ignored.  There were very few creatures carrying the Monstrous ability.  Constellation got some love…most in the form of Eidolon of Blossoms.  Inspired? Tribute? Bestow? These hardly even got a sniff.  In the end it was wars waged as Elspeth tokens crushed Elspeth tokens and Thoughtseize and Brain Maggot crippled the hands of countless players.  No…the mechanics of Theros were sadly underplayed and it felt…I don’t know…deflating.

Well, I’m here today to try and restore our faith in the little used mechanics of Theros and present a budget worthy Casual Brew that can grind down an opponent (or multiple opponents as the case may be) and find a way of getting you a win from seemingly out of nowhere. The mechanic I’m thinking about is the Inspired mechanic because it is so tempting…so poised with potential…that to not attempt to build a deck would just be wrong.

Now, we have seen that some of the mechanics in Theros are very powerful.  Devotion powered out crazy amounts of elemental tokens with Master of Waves, drained buckets of life with Gray Merchant, and pumped out dizzying amounts of mana with Nykthos.  No, Devotion is pretty safe.  Monstrous is the same way. With Stormbreath Dragon and Polukranos running around still Monstrous is a thing and they may be joined by Fleecemane lion as staples of this mechanic.  Bestow and Heroic have shown to be invaluable in Draft giving these decks new reach and greater power than ever before.  No, these three mechanics are just fine despite not being played much at the Pro-tour.  However, Inspired and Tribute, both Mechanics from Born of the Gods have hardly got off the ground.

It makes perfect sense for why Tribute has been largely ignored.  In almost every instance the cards carrying Tribute present an option for your opponent to dictate the terms of the creature.  This means that you are no longer in control and if you are looking for a desired effect, well, I can assure you that you won’t get it because your opponent is out to put the screws to you.  Snake of the Golden Grove is a perfect example because you either get 4 life…or a 7/7.  Let me assure you, 100% of the time you will give your opponent the life gain.  However, if you REALLY needed a 7/7 to help you block…well…tough, you are out of luck.

Inspired on the other hand actually holds some promise.  This is actually an ability that you could use because the only requirement is that the creature untaps.  Simply untap. It seems so simple…but yet getting your card to actually untap is pretty tricky.  The most common ways of tapping it is by virtue of attacking with it and then on your next turn untapping it.  The problem is that usually if you go into combat, something dies meaning you could very well lose your inspired creature.  Other options exist like Spring Leaf Drum, Retraction Helix, Epiphany Storm and Claim of Erebos which all allow the creature to tap without combat, but this is extra work for you and harder to set up.  So, how to maximize your chances of Inspired without as much set up cost to your deck?

I have long been a proponent of making combat as absolutely miserable for my opponent as I can manage. This means I pack decks full of combat tricks, death touch, first strike, double strike and haste, basically ensuring that my opponent really has to think twice before blocking ANYTHING.  Well, Inspired gives you even MORE incentive to pack your deck as full of nasty tricks as you can find so that no one is keen to actually block.  With this theory in mind let me share with you a little deck list that I’ve put together to exploit the Inspired mechanic.

 

B/W “Grindy” Theros block mechanics deck for Standard

The game plan behind this deck is actually pretty straight forward.  You are looking to do everything you can to drain off the life of your opponent without attacking , but the creature base in the deck is actually aggressive enough that you can start on the beat down path and not actually take your foot off.  All the while you are looking to exploit the Inspired Mechanic as much as you can wrangle.

For 1 drops we have Tormented Hero which is a solid 2/1 for 1 black.  Sure, it comes into play tapped, but play him turn 1 and attack turn 2 and you’re pretty golden.  Also, when he is targeted he does exactly what you want the deck to do and that is drain the life of your opponent.  At 2 we have a couple of bears, namely Sun Guide and Pain Seer.  These are both aggressive enough that they can come down early and swing in, hopefully triggering the Inspired trigger on either of them.  Baleful Eidolon and Spiteful Returned are technically 2 drops, but are really there for the Bestow ability to basically make something totally unpalatable for your opponent to block.  Spiteful returned is also triggered just by attacking, making him just extra value.  The last 2 drop is Cartel Aristocrat because when you are missing a way to sneak through, Sacrifice a creature and get in there.  At the 3 drop spot we have the bread and butter.  Scholar of Athreos is an awesome mana sink and a solid blocker to plug up the ground.  Servant of Tymaret is a wily little 2/1 with regenerate that I WANT to block with and need to regenerate in order to trigger the Inspired ability when it untaps after regenerating. The 4 drops are really there as Bestow creatures apart from King Macar,  but at 5 we have Gray Merchant and he is a sure fire way to drain out a bunch of life all at once.  The spells are pretty tame in a Gods Willing to protect something or more importantly to allow a creature the ability to sneak in for free.  Necrobite presents an awful combat trick for your opponent.  He will need to play around a situation where you have 3 mana up or risk trading something for a deathtouch creature…who now regenerates.  Whether this is Tormented Hero’s heroic trigger, or regenerating a Pain Seer, there is going to be value generated.  The last one is Asphyxiate which is a poor man’s Hero’s Downfall.  Same casting cost…but much slower and more conditional.  Not my first choice, but acceptable considering the financial cost of a playset of Hero’s Downfall.

Some would say that this looks like an Extort deck from Gatecrash and I can’t disagree…except I prefer this model to relying on the Extort mechanic of Gatecrash because Extort rewards you for durdling around with spells and paying the extra mana to drain the life.  In this deck there is no need to durdle around.  If you have open mana sink into something…like your Scholar of Athreos, attack with your Servant of Tymaret, or cast a Bestow creature to make blocking totally undesirable. You are being proactive and engaged instead of being rewarded by casting derdling spells and hiding.

This deck is weak to decks packed with fliers or with control elements like counter spells and plenty of targeted removal.  Oh, and it still gets run over by the pack rat/desecration demon game plan prevalent in Standard, so don’t take it there.  Where does this deck shine?  Multiplayer variants of all sorts.  Free for all, Two Headed Giant, Grand Melee…if any of these formats match what you like to play then this is a cheap and efficient deck that will do work.  Life drain is absolutely brutal in multiplayer matchups and this deck is no different.

So, I have done my part to restore faith in the mechanics of Theros…particularly Inspired.  Now it is up to you to go forth and Inspire that same belief in your opponents and drain the life right from their souls…without ever attacking!  Enjoy frustrating the heck out your opponents because you can bet I’ll be enjoying every minute of it.

Thanks very much…and until next time keep it fun, keep it safe…keep it Casual.

 

Bruce Gray – Casual Encounters
 
@bgray8791
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Eric Jeffrey Seltzer - May 26, 2014

Orzhov Midrange by Charlie Rinehart (1st at SCG Somerset Standard Open...

Banishing Light - Orzhov Midrange

Orzhov Midrange by Charlie Rinehart

1st Place at StarCityGames Standard Open on 5/24/2014

Charlie Rinehart was able to stymie SCG circuit superstar Chris VanMeter on his mission to shave off his beard, which he has sworn to wear until he is victorious in a major tournament. This came down to a battle of the Midrange decks after both successfully dispatched Esper Control decks in their semifinal matches. While CVM chose to attack the format with an ever popular style with Jund, Charlie took a different route and combined the strengths of Black and White known as Orzhov midrange, which has been a powerful choice of late.

The deck follows some similar lines that this formats bogeyman Mono-Black Devotion has in using a trio of creatures that form the foundation of the Black deck. We see the pest know as Pack Rat as the two drop of choice in the deck, quick to grow into a swarm of vermin if unchecked and synergistic with the manland Mutavault to big fast and effective beats to the enemy. There is also Lifebane Zombie which against the Green based monster decks is truly effective but also is able to sneak past most defenders to either chip away at life totals or finish off annoying planeswalkers. Then continuing up the curve we the other borrowed creature with Flying powerhouse Desecration Demon which is a bargin at four converted cost and will most often force your opponent to sacrifice his worst creature in an effort to stave off the onslaught for another turn, but eventually he will be out of fodder and you’ll have a gigantic flying demon. Then we get to the creatures which helped to inspire the dabble into white. There are two five drops which both help the deck to recover lost life points first with a singleton of the legendary Obzedat, Ghost Council which also has a great synergy with another singleton Whip of Erebos that allows it to be returned from the grave and then use its own trigger to stick around for more turns after. The other five drop is the powerful and elusive Blood Baron of Vizkopa with not only Lifelink to assure that you remain alive against aggressive strategies but also protection against both White and Black which ensures it dodges a lot of the formats removal to ensure it keeps you alive and kicking. The last creature is a one of Sin Collector which work with the other key disruption in your deck Thoughtseize to provide important information about the opponents plans and strip away a valuable card. For planeswalker power we find Theros Block superstar Elspeth, Sun’s Champion which this deck is often able to drop down behind some protection then use it to ramp up the board state into a one sided slaughterhouse on your road to victory, and is also a very key as additional removal to rid the board of huge monsters that have accumulated on the other side of the table. As far as removal is concerned this deck is rife with a plethora of choices starting with a full set of the creature and planeswalker killer Hero’s Downfall, then also adding pairs of Ultimate Price to rid the board of any of the many mono-colored creatures in the format, Bile Blight that functions as the decks sweeper although it is limited to shrinking all copies of one particular card, and as a catchall answer Banishing Light which is able to remove a good variety of threats. The final card is the decks only real source of card advantage, although the scrylands do help filter bad draws, with another choice borrowed from Mono-Black with Underworld Connections that is so key for this deck to grind out small bits of advantage to try and pull ahead to seal the deal.

While certainly not a newcomer to the format it is a very powerful deck and shows that a lot of the raw power comes from that old faithful Mono-Black. Don’t hesitate to jump on this deck as it has the ability to power through the format. It is definitely one of the juggernauts that will help to close out this Standard format over the next few months.
Eric J Seltzer
@ejseltzer on Twitter
Email: ejseltzer@hotmail.com

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