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.
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.
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
We had on one side of the Theros Block coin the RG Elspeth deck and other White based decks like Patrick Chapin’s winning Junk Midrange running the powerful planeswalker Elspeth, Sun’s Champion. But the flip side of that coin has the decks which were able to figure out its natural enemy was Prognostic Sphinx. That second pillar which emerged in the format was BUG Control which used the Sphinx to attack into Elspeth through her natural defense, ramp up quickly with the staple Green creatures and dipped into Black for efficient removal. This is definitely going to be a player at Grand Prix Manchester.
It is no surprise to see that as a Green deck the creature package starts with both staples of the format in Sylvan Caryatid and Courser of Kruphix there to help ramp quickly into an early Sphinx or getting multiple planeswalkers out. The only other creature is Prognostic Sphinx who’s main goal is to fly over defenders to beatdown Elspeth and conveniently skirts her destroy ability, not to mention is already able to protect itself well with its Hexproof granting ability. Moving into planeswalkers there is first Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver that while there is a low threat density in the deck from creatures can often steal one of the opponents fatties to bring down the beats upon them. The other is Kiora, the Crashing Wave who plus is able to lockdown the biggest threat on the other side of the board, can do a fantastic impersonation of Explore, and realistically will be able to create an emblem to ‘Free the Kraken’ if you can offer he a bit of protection. The title is a bit misleading as it does not play a big permission role as a Control deck but more of a board control through removal which is why there is only the misers copy of Dissolve in the main deck. As far as removal though there’s a full set of Hero’s Downfall to smash either creatures or planeswalkers, the pseudo-sweeper Silence the Believers to banish at times two or three nuisance creatures, Bile Blight which is an excellent way to rid the board of an overwhelming amount of Soldier Tokens or any other creature they have out in multiples, and also Unravel the Æther which will save you from enchantment or artifact alike especially an Indestructible god that’s ruining your day. It wouldn’t be right for a Control deck running Black to not include some discard and for that we have a full set of Thoughtseize to not only strip away the opponents most relevant threat but also to provide you with some extremely valuable information about their game plan.
It’s going to be very interesting to see what configuration of this powerful deck emerges as the most dominant. I’m sure we will see some tweaks shake out to mold to the expected meta. As three different copies were able to make the top 8 at Pro Tour Journey into Nyx I would be surprised if it doesn’t show itself in Manchester. Definitely going forward into the next Standard season this is well positioned to be a powerplayer there as well.
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.
The final pairing at the Pro Tour consisted of two Junk decks, this one and that of the champion Patrick Chapin. For those that aren’t aware Junk is a three color combination consisting of White, Black and Green. While the two decks both went for similar packages of removal, ramp and included Elspeth they went in different directions with the focus of their creatures. Nam Sung decided instead of going for raw power from monstrous creatures to work with the synergy of enchantments from Constellation.
The deck focuses itself around the card drawing engine from the Constellation ability on Eidolon of Blossoms and the 19 enchantments in the deck where Eidolon will draw you a card whenever you play an enchantment with it in play. There is also the formats standard Green excelleration package consisting of the two awesome anti-Aggro ‘walls’ Sylvan Caryatid and Courser of Kruphix which happens to also be an enchantment for the Constellation engine. The beatdown plan comes in the form of another enchantment with Herald of Torment who is either able to Bestow itself to beef up one of the other creatures or just go to town itself, which is very relevant in the format as a Flying threat and possible blocker against Prognostic Sphinx. Another enchantment Brain Maggot is there as part of the disruption package in conjunction with Thoughtseize to strip away those hard to deal with threats and gain valuable information about the opponents game plan. It wouldn’t be right for a White Midrange deck to not play one of the most powerful cards in the format and we find the decks lone planeswalker Elspeth, Sun’s Champion to provide additional threats to the board, destroy any creature which are too powerful, or even create an emblem to pump your entire team into a Flying horde. The deck rounds itself out with an robust suite of removal with a full set of Hero’s Downfall to kill creatures or planeswalker threats, a pair of Silence the Believers to banish a few pesky creature threats in one shot, and also Banshing Light which not only hits a wide range of permanent threats but is also an enchantment to trigger Constellation. While the deck is already strong on draw, when you stick an Eidolon, it does also run all three sets of on color Temples to Scry through the deck as fast as possible.
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.