Grand Prix Manchester Champion – Theros Block Constructed on June 1st 2014
Winner of ‘the other’ Theros Block Constructed tournament was Fabrizio Anteri playing a powerful BUG Midrange deck. This deck is the flip side of the Elspeth, Sun’s Champion coin and as such runs the means to beat it rather then join it. As was proven at Pro Tour Journey into Nyx that the battle lines were drawn with the majority taking sides between either Elspeth and Prognostic Sphinx then jamming in the formats Green acceleration package.
In this format the most commonly played cards it turns out are a pair of Green mana accelerants which most likely are going to become the dynamic duo come the next Standard season. This decks ideal opening lies with a turn one Scry land into a turn two Sylvan Caryatid followed by a turn three Courser of Kruphix before making your land drop. That provides the deck with the possibility of rushing out that early five drop which is where the deck plays into. The main avenue of attack lies in the Prognostic Sphinx which was discovered to be the main foil to Elspeth as it not only will fly over her ground forces but also is able to skirt her destroy creatures ability by virtue of being not too powerful. There is also additional beatdown provided by Reaper of the Wilds which sports great stats as a 4/5 for four mana able to protect itself if necessary, but also provides some added bonus with a Scry whenever another creature dies. A pair of planeswalkers are included with Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver doing a lot of heavy lifting by not only milling away possible threats and answers from the opponent but also stealing some of those threats away, and Kiora, the Crashing Wave which can add extra draw and acceleration, lock down a particularly troublesome creature or even ‘Call the Kraken’ if allowed to build up enough loyalty. As this deck chose the Midrange route instead of Control the only disruption in the deck is provided from a set of Thoughtseize to not only strip them of their most bothersome card but also provide you with all the information about their plans so you are able to set yourself up properly. Then we have the removal suite which is as robust as they come. Centering around the formats best there is a full set of Hero’s Downfall to rid the board of creatures or planeswalkers alike, a trio of the pseudo-sweeper in Silence the Believers which can often hit two or three necessary targets, a pair of Bile Blight that is extremely good at taking care of an army of Elspeth tokens, and a misers Unravel the Æther to deal with any troublesome artifacts or enchantments including Gods as they are shuffled back into the library. A solitary Read the Bones provides the deck just a tiny bit of draw power to help dig for the cards it needs.
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.
I had an interesting discussion with someone over the weekend about a previous article I wrote. I have long maintained that getting into Modern doesn’t have to be overly expensive, as I have explained in a previous article right here on Three Kings Loot. However, people still don’t seem to believe me. So, I set myself a little challenge to show another, different way to get into playing Modern.
The Duel Decks, for those that aren’t familiar, are a pair of themed decks sold together with the intent of being played against each other. This is for those players who are somewhat familiar with the game play of Magic, but aren’t really comfortable building their own decks yet. The nice part about the Duel decks, particularly those built around Planeswalkers, is that there is a surprising amount of value and very playable cards contained within each. You can’t argue when decks contain foiled Planeswalkers, solid cards like Underworld Connections, premium creatures like Hellrider and Reaper of the Wilds, and splashy counter magic like Remand. So, I periodically pick up these Duel decks, sometimes because of the sweet alternate art on the cards, or because I’m actually pretty jazzed about the cards that they contain. The only issue with the Duel decks is that, because they are pre-constructed, they contain a large number of single cards as opposed to the more powerful 3 or 4 of certain cards that get used in other constructed decks made by players. This means that your deck has a high degree of variance each time you draw. This is fun if the other deck has an equal amount of variance, but if the deck is more concentrated and loaded with high powered spells then the reality is that you are likely to get blown out. What can you do about this?
My solution has been to take two of the Duel Decks and to mash them together to see what I can brew up as the best deck. My starting point was to take the Tibalt deck from Sorin vs Tibalt and then to take the deck made for Vraska out of Jace vs Vraska. This means that you get R/B/G deck in terms of colours, which is normally referred to as Jund. Now, my limitations were that I could only use the cards contained in the decks. You’ll see I violated this a little bit, but that I’ll explain what I did and I don’t really think that I violated the spirit of the deck. I will also go through some of the options you could make in order to spice up this new deck that I have affectionately taken to calling Jund Mash-up.
First off, let’s review the deck list for each of the decks I’m using for the Mash-up.
Here is Tibalt-
Now, for Vraska.
These two decks give us quite a number of options to take any Mash-up in, but there are some very obvious cards that are too good to pass up. First off, Tibalt and Vraska need to make the cut because they both offer us some very powerful abilities. Both of these Planeswalkers get a bit of a bad rap, but only because there are others out there that are far more powerful. That doesn’t mean that these two can’t be solid additions to a deck such as this. Next, Underworld Connections is too good a card to leave out simply because of the card draw ability. Reaper of the Wilds and Hellrider are extremely powerful 4 drops that can’t be ignored. Terminate is an extremely efficient removal spell and Browbeat allows you to do two things you want: either draw cards, or make your opponent take damage. So let’s take a look at what I slotted in here to make up the 60 cards in the Mash-up deck.
Jund Mash-Up deck
So, there is the 60 card list. You’ll notice that the only additions I made were to add an extra Reaper of the Wild, because I had an extra, an extra Treasured Find (for exactly the same reason). I substituted Night’s Whisper and replaced it with the improved Read the Bones. Finally, Last Kiss was replaced with the virtually identical Pharika’s Cure. For the Read the Bones I was prepared to pay the extra colorless mana to Scry 2 and then draw 2 meaning my card selection was vastly improved. For Pharika’s Cure I decided that the double black in the casting cost was preferable to paying three mana (2 colourless and a black) because I could have access to it earlier.
So, with only minor substitutions I have created a Jund Mash-Up deck that can do a little bit of everything. The heavy creature removal package pretty much assures everything dies to my spells. The Underworld Connection and Browbeat and Read the Bones allow for additional card draw to keep up the pressure. Blightning is the only real source of hand disruption, but with the ability of Treasured Find I could replay this card and make use of the ability again…and I could go and craft a sideboard out of the remaining cards that will assuredly pack some pretty good discard options. Lastly, the curve of creatures is pretty reasonable. Jund decks have the ability to get out early and this deck is no different. With a number of 2 drops early pressure is almost a guarantee and by 4 mana the real heavy hitters are hitting the battlefield allowing you to really take charge. All in all, the build “feels” pretty decent, if still a little high on the variance order due to all the single cards in the deck.
The easiest way to spice this deck up would be to tinker with your land base. Now, I’m not going to go for pricey lands because you may not have the high price lands like Shocklands from Return to Ravnica. However, there are still a number of options available to you still in the form of Guildgates, namely Rakdos, Golgari and Gruul. The issue becomes if you add in these 12 Guildgates a lot of your land comes into play tapped…which is a perfectly valid observation…but with a tri-colour deck such as this you may put more of a premium on the lands that produce 2 colours instead of just playing basic lands. It also means Tainted Wood may not be a strong choice because you may not control a swamp to allow it to produce green and black mana. Other options are more of the Zendikar life-gain lands like Kazandu Refuge or Akoum Refuge. These inexpensive lands still give you access to both colours of mana, but at least you get a life when it enters the battlefield. Of course, you can keep going on down the line and find plenty of expensive lands if you want, but if the goal is to try and keep your deck cost down and at a reasonable level these choices are perfectly acceptable.
For those interested, the Duel Decks themselves run about $25 for either the Sorin vs Tibalt or the Jace vs Vraska decks at your local game shop, so you would need to shell out about $50 in order to put this together. All in all, that’s pretty decent value and gives you a starting point from which to begin to build your Jund deck to make it more competitive. This shell will give you enough of the key ingredients that you can play and not look out of place, but as discussed, you will miss out on the consistency due to the much higher degree of variance in the cards in your deck. Still, it is a beginning and a fun stepping stone to get you into Modern and ready to play…and gives these Duel decks a new lease on life outside of just being decks primed to face off against each other.
So, before you turn your nose up the next Duel Deck you see, take a second and give it a deeper look. Is there something more you could be doing with this collection of cards? What pieces could you put together in order to maximize what you get out of these deck lists? The possibilities are just about endless even with such a limited card pool and it won’t break the bank…and has plenty of fun available when you play.
Thanks very much and if you guys have any feedback or suggestions on things you would like to see me explore, I’m all ears and would love to hear what you guys want to see me dig up and bang on next.
So, until next time, Keep it fun, keep it safe…Keep it Casual.