Today I wanted to take a moment and share some of my other random thoughts that I’ve had since I last sat down to write. I’ll be honest, getting back into the grind of the school year has been a challenge and left me without too many chances to sit down and play Magic, let alone write. However, I’ve had lots of thoughts and ideas and finally had a chance to collect some of those thoughts. So, I apologize if my ideas jump around a little, but that’s the stage I’m at this point in my playing.
So, I wanted to share just how excited I was the other day when I opened up my email and was notified that apparently I was selected to win one of Garruk’s Axes from the M15 pre-releases. SWEET! My brother and I took a terrible photo at our pre-release event and were certain we’d never win. However, when there were only 22 entries from across Canada and 16 potential axes to win, the odds were pretty good. So, when the email landed in my inbox I was pumped. Sure, the odds were pretty much in my favor, but it is still neat to be selected. I can hardly wait for the axe to arrive at my house because it is going to be hilarious. My wife is going to ask why there is a giant foam axe at my house and just roll her eyes! Just priceless. Also, it will get carted to every Casual card night we play as just another ridiculous MTG thing in my collection. I can hardly wait.
So, as the fallout from my brother and I placing second at our Two-Headed Giant pre-release in July we had something extra nice come our way. The Local Game Store we go to holds an invitational tournament for all players who finish in the top 4 of a “premier event”. Basically, any “premiere event” (as defined by the store) is an event played on the Weekend such as a GP trial, Game Day, or even a Pre-release. So…my brother and I, for inadvertently placing second at the Pre-release got invited to play at another event. Sweet!! The issue becomes this…I’m more of a Casual/Limited sort of guy and this event, which is hosted October 11th in conjunction with Canadian Thanksgiving, will be a Constructed event. That leaves me in a bit of a quandary. I don’t have the deepest of pockets and can’t spring for cases of Khans…so I’m, in a bit of a tough spot rolling into the new Standard environment with only a few weeks to brew and get set up. Also, I sort of pride myself on the home brew/budget approach to playing Magic but am concerned that my deck building skills won’t be up to that sort of a test.
With that said I think I’m on to something that could be pretty useful. I’ve been struck with the combination of aggressive creatures and controlling nature of the Abzan clan from Khans and feel like they might lead to something in the upcoming Standard format. Basically, I like the ground and pound game the Abzan provide and immediately said “there’s my boys”. That means I’ll need to learn to play some Black for a change, but that is likely healthy for me in order to continue to grow and develop as a player. Here’s what I’ve got as an early decklist.
This game plan is actually pretty straightforward. Sylvan Caryatid and Courser come down early to play some early D and help you ramp up to some of your more expensive things. The fact that half the mana base comes in tapped is an issue so the ramp could be pretty key. Fleecemane is pretty beast as a 3/3 for 2 mana that is even better once Monstruous. Anafenza comes down as a 4/4 for 3 mana and hates out graveyards pretty hard. Polukranos is just about the best thing you can do for 4 mana and then can act as a Pit Fight if you need it. Dawnbringer Charioteer is a disgusting 2/4 with Heroic, Flying, and Lifelink. I feel like this is a card that is a little under utilized, but could be just what this sort of deck wants and needs to gain back a little life, and if you can trigger the Heroic ability things could get out of hand…fast. Siege Rhino is just another efficient fatty and enters with a gross Enter the Battlefield trigger. Nylea is an automatic because she could just tip the scales in your favour so badly. The High Sentinels synergize nicely with all the creatures that make +1/+1 counters through a number of methods and can just be a killer. The last piece is the Abzan Falconer, because nothing is scarier than when all your creatures with +1/+1 counters take to the skies and can overload the air born defense of your opponent.
The removal package is pretty robust. Abzan Charm has three relevant modes including an exile mode for other creature with power 3 or greater. Banishing Light is a nice catch all, and Hero’s Downfall just crushes just about anything. The Abzan Ascendancy is a nice addition because it can dump counters on all your creatures to enable the Falconer (or just pump your team), but the second mode, that of making 1/1 flying spirits is pretty useful and could totally enable a plan B approach with Pharika (out of the sideboard) to flood the board with tokens. Reap What is Sown again enables all sorts of Counters and Heroic stuff. Elspeth and Lili are just too powerful to overlook for a number of reasons and I’m sad I can only squeeze in a pair.
Now, I am absolutely aware that this is not a Budget deck…heck, the mana base alone ensures that it isn’t a budget deck. However, there are some interesting options to help bring the budget factor of the deck down. The Fleecemane Lions can totally be subbed out and replaced with the Ajani Pridemate. The Pridemate is very realistically a 3/3 for the same two mana…but likely a turn later. The way this works is you drop some of the Temples and replace them with the Refuge lands from Khans and every time you gain a life when they enter the Pridemate grabs a counter. So, turn 1 drop a land…turn 2 is better if your land is untapped and cast Pridemate. Turn 3 drop a Refuge land and your Pridemate is now a 3/3 and you are basically on par with the Lion. Siege Rhino can be dropped in favour of the Reaper of the Wilds and there are lots of other options at the 4 slot to play perfectly viable creatures instead of Nylea. There are really no alternatives to the Caryatid or the Courser, but things like Voyaging Satyr or Golden Hind can do reasonable approximations of these all-stars but at a fraction of the cost.
The sideboard is whole other issue that I’m not sure about. I’m not 100% sure I know what the meta will be playing, and seeing as I am only dabbling in Constructed I’m likely pretty screwed so I might just pack a sideboard full of removal and some Ajani’s Presence…and some Nyx-Fleece Ram to put the crews to Burn decks everywhere. It isn’t a perfect fix, and I’m open to suggestions from anyone out there in the community.
Well, there we have another week. The good news, I’ve picked up some Khans boosters and some Crack a packs are on the way for those who love to draft. For those out there with a penchant for Constructed, let me know what you think about my deck for the Invitational. Do you have some suggestions? I’m all ears. Let me know because I at least want to put up a reasonable result (i.e. not embarrass myself). And we’ve got a Casual night coming up complete with a Fresh Hobo deck to share with all of you. Lots to come, that’s for sure.
Until next time, keep it safe, keep it fun…keep it casual.by Bruce Gray – Casual Encounters @bgray8791 on Twitter
Well, we’re back to school and back to the grind. For some this is the worst time of the year because it signals the start of the boring and mundane for yet another year. For others it is a time of excitement as things start all over again with fresh beginnings and fresh options. For those of us who play Magic, the specter of rotation and the imminent arrival of Khans means there is lots of buzz in the air. The end of September can’t come fast enough!
This isn’t an spoiler article because we are hard at work here at Three Kings Loot prepping our review, but we’ve got good stuff on the burner. However, with Khans being on the horizon and Constructed being in a bit of holding pattern until the rotation, I thought this would be a perfect chance to highlight some casual decks I’ve been rocking, some relatively inexpensive and fun decks to liven up your Casual games. These are all 60 card decks that are perfectly viable in a duel situation, but are better suited to playing a multiplayer setting. Let’s see what I’ve been brewing.
The first deck is my take on what can only be called a Modern Mono-Green Devotion deck. A number of months ago I posted a decklist for a budget Mono-Green Devotion deck here on Three Kings Loot. It has done reasonably well for me since then, but decks are like living organisms that change and evolve and this deck is no different. With cards like Chord of Calling, Genesis Hydra, Hydra Broodmaster there are yet more powerful options to sink a ton of mana, there is no reason not to change a few cards to do a few more powerful things. However, the addition of a card from an older set is REALLY what I wanted to add to the deck…and that was Craterhoof Behemoth. This just smacks of being the best thing you can do to dump a ton of mana either by hard casting it, Chord of Calling for it, or Genesis Hydra for about a billion and grabbing it too. Here’s the list.
I was rocking this is in a 4 person free-for all game and was in the driver seat. My opponents had allowed me to resolve a number of creatures, a Voyaging Satyr and a Nykthos. I had all the tools needed to start going off and just needed some huge mana sinks. Sure enough, up comes a Polukranos and we’re off to the races. I cast “Big Polly” and get set to Monstrosity him…but sadly have to target the stupid Biovisionary in the stupid combo deck my pal was playing, a Fleetfeather Cockatrice because I had no flying defence, and some other random creature. Stupid Cockatrice and the Deathough ability. Oh well. I get my turn back and top deck… Hydra Broodmaster! OK! So, cast it, and then set up the Monstrosity…and make 10 10/10 Hydra Tokens! OH YEAH! Let the beat down plan begin. I start smashing stuff around and just making a wreck of the board. Then, out of nowhere, my buddy slams a second a Biovisionary, casts Polymorphist Jest, and turns his mana dorks into Biovisionaries…and we all lose. Damn it! Lesson learned…kill the stupid combo deck…no matter how durdly the combo is.
Next, I shuffled up my Mono-Red Goblins deck. I have no real expectation that Mono-Red Goblins will fare well in a multi-player game. They are far too fragile and just not suited to trying to fight a number of opponents. However, things are going my way. I land a Foundry Street Denizen, Legion Loyalist, and then…KRENKO! Oh yeah. A couple of Krenko activations later and I have a ton of goblins, had just smacked one opponent for 20 points of damage and was in good shape to start taking the game over. Everything changed with one card…Scouring Sands…and wipes out all the Goblin Token…and I get thumped. Ok…I know Goblins are fragile, but it is a terrible feeling to have your board wiped out by Scouring Sands because NOBODY plays Scouring Sands. However, I lost to Scouring Sands and I wanted to cry (well, not really).
The last deck today is one that is clearly a Casual build because it is such a silly concept and packs such a ridiculous mana base there is no way to describe it. Here’s the list and I’ll talk about it afterwards.
This deck plays on the interaction between Kor Skyfisher and Spark Trooper. Most opponents won’t bother to block what amounts to a Ball Lightning because they know that it will be sacrificed at the end of the turn. Sure, they eat 6 but they are banking on the creature no longer being a threat. However, during your second main phase if you can cast the Kor Skyfisher you can return the Spark Trooper and re-use it. Once I established that interaction it became a matter of digging up a host of creatures who a) return stuff to my hand to be re-used or b) have good enter the battlefield triggers. Now, this is a very mana hungry deck so playing it in a duel is suspect, but in a slower multiplayer game it is just perfect.
Well, I shuffled it up and suggested a couple of minor adjustments to our game. I suggested that we all play at the same time and play with a Howling Mine effect. The Howling Mine is hardly earth shattering, but the “everyone plays at the same time” is…interesting. It makes resolving spells really tricky, but boy was it fun! So, we had 1 player eliminated leaving 3 of us still playing. It was a tricky situation but I decided to throw caution to the wind and swing to take out the opponent to my right. The whole team went and was delivering somewhere up to 35 points of damage…but in the process the opponent to my left hit me. All the while, the opponent to my right wound up and lashed out with Nefarox with some ridiculous amount of Exalted triggers caving in the guy to my left. So, all in one turn all three of us just straight up die ending the game in a weird finale. It was a fun variant and something we will do again, but most definitely not the way to play every single time.
All three of these decks would fall into a pretty budget friendly category and highlight how you can make some fun decks with just a pile of funny cards and do some damage at your next Casual Night. The Mono-Green deck is probably the most pricey of the decks on this list, but the cards on it can totally be substituted for and can revert back to the Budget deck list I had previously. However, the new twists on it could make for a fun deck because of the powerful things you can do with the crazy amount of mana that can be generated. The UWR Skyfisher deck is pretty unreliable because of the wonky mana base and the fact that half the plays in the deck set you back, but when it works…dear LORD…does it work. And Goblins…well…they’re Goblins and will always be funny. When they work, they work awesome. When they fall flat on their face, they fall flat on their face hard.
There we have it, three fun builds, three fun games, and some random feel bad stories about how to lose a game despite being in a dominant position. I’m not sure what lesson to draw from the last two apart from perhaps playing the politics game a little more, but regardless of the lessons learned it was fun. It was refreshing to sit down and just sling some card board and relax with some friends with nothing on the line. I’ll have to make a point of playing this way more often just to keep things fresh.
Thanks for reading again this week…and until next time keep it fun, keep it safe…keep it casual.
by Bruce Gray – Casual Encounters @bgray8791 on Twitter
Another weekend of SCG Standard has passed and sitting at the top of the heap we find a successful jumble of acceleration into monstrous beasts and powerful planeswalkers. What we find there is essentially the GR Monsters shell that’s been prevalent in Standard for quite a while, but dipping into White for additional planeswalkers and some removal options. And judging by the popularity of this archetype in the Theros Block format it looks like it has quite a future ahead.
It is no stranger that the most prevelant duo of Green mana dorks both in Standard and Block is Sylvan Caryatid into Courser of Kruphix. This not only fixes your mana and even effectively draws you additional cards but also gains you vital life points which are so crucial in this aggressive metagame. The downside is that Courser provides your opponent with nearly perfect information which can foil you bluff when playing off the top of your deck. As an additional accelerent there is also Voyaging Satyr which won’t help if you are missing a color but will still allow you to gain extra mana. All of that goes towards powering out some monstrous fatties quickly so you can activate their Monstrosity abilities and close out games quickly. The two we find in the deck are Polukranos, World Eater which also acts as much needed removal in this deck and also the hasty flier Stormbreath Dragon which peeled off the top is often the recipie for certain doom. If those monsters are the meat of the deck we then find the fine wine pairing in the foursome of planeswalker to accompany them. The main player is party animal himself Xenagos, the Reveler who not only brings his satyr buddies with him but also helps acheive Monstrosity fast with his ramping ability. Next to join the party is Ajani, Mentor of Heroes who has a dual purpose between pumping up your creatures and digging into your deck to find more threats, but also when protected can threaten its ultimate to bolster a diminishing life total. There is also a major contribution from Elspeth, Sun’s Champion with her legion of soldiers following her, but be wary of her second ability as your bombs tend to be destroyed as well as the opponents. And why not a misers Chandra, Pyromaster as well to add a little card advantage to the deck and her first ability helps slip your big boys past their chump blockers handily. The rest of the deck is rounded out by some varied pieces of removal. There is Keening Apparition which is able to destroy any enchantment the opponent presents to the board such as Chained to the Rocks or even Underworld Connections. As a great sweeper Mizzium Mortars is able to be overloaded to deal four damage to all the opponents creatures and cast aside any would be blockers for your giant monsters. Then the last piece of the puzzle comes with the flexible Selesnya Charm that can either pump and grant Trample to a creature to rampage for a win, exile a creature that has power greater then five, or even add another threat to the board with a vigilant knight token.
So here we find that the GR Monsters deck which has already been a force in Standard continues to have room to grow and adapt as it proves it is a major player in Standard. What really interests me with this list is that the core of the deck is all from Theros Block and will undoubtedly continue to be a force into the next rotation of Standard. If you are looking for a deck to invest in as a long term prospect then this is undoubtedly the one.
One of the shining pillars of the Theros Block Constructed format is the awesome White planeswalker Elspeth, Sun’s Champion though that doesn’t necessarily lend itself easily to just White deck choices. This deck was one which realized how to harness that incredible power while finding support for it in other colors. What emerged was a Gruul based Naya deck that went down a very Aggro beatdown route. There are strong ramp elements to power out monstrous creatures and incredible planeswalkers working hard to seal the deal as fast as possible. And although there are different combinations to build this deck there are key elements which emerge from all of them.
It all starts with the trio of ‘mana’ dorks with Voyaging Satyr and Sylvan Caryatid into Courser of Kruphix. These three are crucial to the plan of deploying huge Midrange threats well ahead of the curve, and those threats come in the form of some truely monstrous beasts. The first of which we find Polis Crusher which is a fine beatstick as a 4/4 for four but also has a relevant ability in this format with Protection from Enchantments, and when you activate his Monstrosity becomes a 7/7 that destroys enchantments the damaged player controls which with its Trample should connect often. The next step on the Monstrosity curve comes with Stormbreath Dragon which with Flying and Haste will often be a surprise to skirt around sorcery speed removal, and against control style decks blasts to the dome of your opponents equal to their cards in hand when he becomes monstrous. There is also a one of Polukranos, World Eater as a value five power four drop that can go monstrous to act as additional instant speed removal for the deck. Yuuki chose to run with a trio of planeswalkers but it all centers around a full set of the decks namesake Elspeth, Sun’s Champion which unchecked by the opponent will easily start to dominate the board with its soldiers, remove large threats en masse or even beef up and raise your entire army to the air with her emblem. He also went with a pair of Ajani, Mentor of Heroes to strengthen your soldiers, it can gain some advantage by finding any of the decks 28 creatures or planeswalkers, and given enough time even gain you 100 points of life. The other planeswalker we find in the deck is Xenagos, the Reveler who’s ramping ability in conjunction with the decks dorks will help power out the big monsters quickly unless you need him to bring some of his satyr friends to the party, or if you do get to ultimate with him with 45 creatures and lands in the deck the top seven is bound to share a bounty of wealth. The deck is wrapped up simply with White based removal using the catchall enchantment answer Banishing Light to remove a plethora of permanent threats and also Chained to the Rocks which is the reason why we find the deck with a substantially larger amount of Mountains then in similar decks of this style.
There was also another RG Elspeth list by Andrea Mengucci which finished in sixth place. While it did follow the same line of attack there are some fundamental differences starting with the manabase where Andrea not using Chained to the Rocks opted for much less Mountains and went for Temple of Triumph instead of Mana Confluence and a singleton Plains. In order to add in a varied array of spells he cut a Voyaging Satyr and the singleton Polukranos from the creatures but was able to pack a more robust removal package. He decided upon only two Banishing Light and then went with direct damage with a set of Lightning Strike, a trio of Destructive Revelry and a singleton Magma Jet. He also opted to forgo Ajani to go up to three Xenagos instead. While neither list is necessarily better then the other they do play along a slightly different line and you should run with the one you feel compliments your style of play better.
I have very little doubt that we will see this as one of the top decks at the Grand Prix in Manchester. We have already seen in Standard that this combination of Green and Red monsters is a winning style. And with the addition of Elspeth to that equation there is little to prevent the raw power of this deck from shining. I expect that we will see this not only as a superstar in the Block format but also continuing into the next Standard season as well. I would definitely stock up on the cards for this deck if you enjoy this style of Midrange monster beatdown.
It was an amazing weekend of Theros at the latest stop on the Pro Tour showcasing both the draft format and Block Constructed. As has become tradition at the Pro Tour after the release of the final set of the block they debut this fresh and largely unknown constructed format. For those that aren’t familiar with Block Constructed your card pool is limited to just the cards from the three sets, or in the case of the Lorwyn Block four, from that particular block only. You follow regular deck construction rules with a minimum 60 card deck that has no more then four copies of any card other then basic lands and a sideboard of 15 cards or less. You can imagine that with this restricted selection of cards that you would find only a very few deck types dominate but the top 8 had five distinct archetypes which is what you would expect to find at any other constructed elimination.
Aside from this deck there was also what emerged as the two pillars of the format with BUG Control and RG Elspeth, Boros Heroic and the other finalist who’s Junk Constellation deck just couldn’t hold up against Patricks creation. The benchmark for power was widely accepted to be Elspeth, Sun’s Champion which led to the flipside of Prognostic Sphinx as her natural foil since it conveniently skirted the destroy ability on Elspeth, was able to fly over the top of most defenders and with the ability to gain hexproof on a whim resilient to other removal spells. The other power combination arose from Green with the excelerent duo of Sylvan Caryatid and Courser of Kruphix which are both conveniently strong walls against Aggro decks and fast mana to help quickly power out Midrange or big monster strategies.
Patrick chose to go with the power player of Elspeth in a marriage with the Caryatid/Courser combo and then tacked on Black for its strong removal. In order for the deck to pull ahead to solidify distinct advantage your early creature plays always want to be the Sylvan Caryatid which provides you with any color mana to fight against any deficiency your lands might throw you and Courser of Kruphix that while it does provide information to your opponent will often net you additional cards whenever you’re able to play a land off the top, not to mention the very relevant additional points of life you’ll grind out over the game. The beatdown then starts with Fleecemane Lion which is a solid 3/3 for two mana able to attack through opposing Caryatids and eventually able to go monstrous transforming into a near unremovable beast. Next we find the regal cat Brimaz, King of Oreskos who brings with him some of his pride of soldiers whenever he attacks or blocks ensuring that you continuously clutter the board with more and more creatures. The other creature found in the deck is another legendary character with Polukranos, World Eater which doubles as removal with his Monstrosity ability and usually turns into a humongous threat that demands removal or a long line of chump blockers. The next step after starting with some creature threats usually ramps up into an Elspeth, Sun’s Champion who when protected will undoubtedly finish off the game with her combination of creatures, removal and eventually even an over the top pump. We then get into the krux of the black in the deck from the removal which includes the blocks best from Hero’s Downfall which is amazing instant speed against both creatures and planeswalkers alike, and Silence the Believers which with the ramp from this deck can quite easily hit two or sometimes even three targets if necessary then exile them so if the target happens to be indestructible that’s just too bad. As a catchall against other permant problems there’s a misers copy of Banishing Light to exile anything from enchantments or planeswalker to creatures or artifacts, even if it’s a god you need to deal with. As far as one ofs in the deck the only real draw comes from one copy of Read the Bones which does a little digging into the deck before drawing, but is also backed by full sets of all the on color Scry lands and to a lesser extent Courser as well. The final cog on the wheel is found in disruption with Thoughtseize which can not only strip your opponent of a very valuable card but also provides you with information about what his plan is going forward.
So there we have the birth of a new Block format from Theros. While the Block constructed isn’t usually a very widely played format there is going to be a Grand Prix stop in Manchester at the end of the month which is the other big tournament for this format. The interesting facet that we can extrapolate information for is that Block does help act as a precursor for the upcoming Standard landscape after the next rotation. While it is ofcouse not a fully accurate portrayal since M15 and Khans of Tarkir will also play into the equation, there is still a wealth of knowledge and forsight we can study to get some advance preparations. It will also be interesting to see if the Grand Prix continues to tweek the metagame or if the pros solved everything in Atlanta. But I can’t wait to see if any of these strategies are good enough to hold up or if new mechanics will shake up everything. Only time will tell and there’s still four months left to go…I can hardly wait.
The opening strategy is focused on your mana dorks to come and ramp to the fatties. We find full sets of Elvish Mystic, Sylvan Caryatid and Courser of Kruphix all of which can speed you plan up by several turns. Also, removal aimed at them means less removal to deal with the big boys. As far as those ‘big boys’ are concerned there is Polukranos, World Eater and Stormbreath Dragon who’s ability to become Monstrous will often spell certain doom for your opponents well before they’re ready to deal with them. Then there are a few support creatures with Reaper of the Wilds with a Scry ability helpful when the opponent is removing your creatures or chumping with his, Ghor-Clan Rampager which can turn a game saving chump block into a game ending surprise, Scavenging Ooze with incidental lifegain and graveyard hate, and Xenagos, God of Revels pushing the beatdown plan into high gear. Speaking of Xenagos we find the same standard package of Planeswalkers as in Gruul with Domri Rade and Xenagos, the Reveler which both are invaluable in a creature heavy deck both accelerating and digging for them while also working hard to control the battlefield. The addition of Black is what allows an interesting one of Vraska, the Unseen which can spell certain doom if her assassins are able to infiltrate through the enemies defenses but will most often be used as removal of various types of threats. And speaking of removal the deck is completed with a minor removal suite which consists of a pair of Dreadbore and pair of Mizzium Mortars but is also somewhat supplemented by the Monstrous ability.
1st Place at StarCityGames Standard Open on 2/22/2014