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, the summer Pro-Tour has come and gone and we have seen the full evolution of Standard. The match play was terrific with some hugely entertaining matches both at Draft and at Standard. Congratulations must go out to all the players, and especially Ivan Floch for his display of prowess and winning the Pro-Tour with his Blue/White control deck. It is no small feat and he had to play some tremendously high caliber matches to win the title.
As cool as the pro-tour was to watch, I have to admit, I was a little disappointed that it was Blue/White control that was the winning deck. I have no problem with the strategy and can clearly see that it is effective, but there were a number of really interesting decks running around that were much fresher and newer. I would have loved to see one of these newer decks win the day simply for the novelty, but at least it wasn’t Mono-Black Devotion. There was plenty of variety in the Top 8 decks, which was nice, but still, to see an archetype that has been as consistent from last Fall to now still prevail is a little bit…I don’t know…I guess boring. However, the days of Blue/White control in Standard seem to be coming to a close, so get your fill now folks because I suspect we may not see it for a while.
This first portion of my article today is strictly a prediction. I have no inside source at WoTC or anywhere inside the Magic community. However, based on a few observations I can pretty safely declare that Blue/White control or U/W/x control will be taking a back seat. We will be watching as Return to Ravnica rotates out of Standard in about 7 weeks leaving two HUGE holes in the U/W control strategy. The first gap is Sphinx’s Revelation. Sphinx’s Revelation is a major key to the strategy because it just allows for massive card advantage and life gain allowing the control player to reload their hand with answers and gain valuable life. I would be shocked if something comparable was printed in Khans for the simple reason that it is such a powerful card. Notice I say “powerful”, not “broken” because I fundamentally feel that Sphinx’s Revelation is a fair card and a player who casts it can still be beaten, but it is a very powerful card that can turn the tide of the game very quickly. I would expect some measure of mass card draw, or life gain, but NOT both together the way that Sphinx’s Revelation does it. No, the days of easy living on Sphinx’s Revelation will be drawing to close at Standard for a while.
The other piece is a little trickier, and that’s Supreme Verdict. For ages now we have just come to accept that there will be a 4 mana sweeper in white. Please see exhibit A- Wrath of God. Exhibit B- Day of Judgement. However, when they printed Supreme Verdict they raised the bar a touch. 4 mana sweeper…and can’t be countered. Well, that’s a big upgrade and pretty much makes Verdict the Cat’s Ass of wrath effects. However, since Supreme Verdict was released there has been steady trend. Removal has got progressively more expensive. Think about it…in Theros we were given a large number of removal spells, all of them quite pricey (thank you Sip of Hemlock). Inexpensive removal consists of things like Hero’s Downfall…which is still a 3 mana removal spell. Sure, it hits Planeswalkers too, but in most situations it is used to wipe out a creature. Bile Blight is a thing, but it is also conditional because if the creature is too large, Bile Blight just shrinks it (and you hope to heavens you can block the creature profitably). Ulcerate is 1 mana…but costs you 15% of your life total just for casting it. Fated Retribution, Planar Cleansing and Mass Calcify are other removal type spells…and cost 6 or 7 respectively. Even Red has not been spared. Apart from Lightning Strike, Red has started to see burn spells creep up in cost as well. Bottom line, the price of removal is getting a tad higher. So, combine the fact that Wizards has already given us the Cat’s Ass of mass removal, and that removal is getting more expensive, I would honestly be surprised to see a 4 mana sweeper once Khans of Tarkir is released. There will be mass removal of some sort, but I would expect to see the coverted mana cost climb to 5 , or if it is staying at 4, would require all three colours from the respective wedge. In either scenario, the requirement to cast the spell has just increased. This slight increase, coupled with the loss of Sphinx’s Revelation might be enough to knock U/W control down from a top tier deck to being a reliable but somewhat lacking tier 1.5 deck that just won’t command the same level of respect at any given event during the Standard season.
So, U/W may be taking a back seat for the next while, but there will absolutely be a control strategy of some sort that will come around. It’s a bit tricky to try and pick up on what exactly that strategy will look like, but I am prepared to take a look at some new options, and one in particular, that you might be interested in keeping an eye on as Khans of Tarkir starts to be spoiled in the next couple of weeks. For many a season now we have seen U/W/x be the dominant control strategy but what if we removed the White from that mix and instead replaced it with Black? We would move away from the Esper or Jeskai (did you notice the new wedge name?) and move towards Grixis as a potential control strategy. Let’s explore this strategy a tad.
First off, land. This colour combination could very well have the appropriate land base to make a go at it. There are Temple of Deceit (U/B) and Temple of Malice (R/B) and Temple of Epiphany (R/U) from Theros block to give you at least 12 on colour Temples to start your deck off. From M15 we also have Shivan Reef, meaning that you are pushed to 16 total on colour dual lands for your deck. Add in Mana Confluence and you could be as a 20 lands for your deck to cast your spells and have access to the right mana. So, the land looks good.
Next, you have your removal package which is still very strong. With access to Hero’s Downfall, Bile Blight, Ulcerate, and Silence the Believers you have a pretty robust suite of removal with which to handle most creatures that are on the table. I agree, this is all targeted removal and not a sweeper meaning Hexproof creatures or other creatures that are difficult to interact with could be a problem. The solution would appear to be, in the absence of a true sweeper, sacrifice effects. Devour Flesh may be rotating out, but there will undoubtedly be another sacrifice type effect that could at least be sided in if the need arises. I’m hesitant to include In Garruk’s Wake, the 9 mana sorcery that is an asymmetrical board wipe, but if you are playing a control deck you could get there in a long game and then drop this thing to just devastate an opponent. I’m skeptical myself, but it warrants some investigation. Red would also give you access to Lightning Strike, Anger of the Gods, and Magma Jet and Magma Spray meaning you would have a pretty beast set of removal spells to lock your aggressive opponents out of their creatures.
Lastly we have the permission package and M15 gave us a sweet option. Dissolve is a very solid 3 mana counter spell, but now with the addition of Dissipate we have as many as 8 hard counters to use. That could be pretty devastating to deny your opposition of a crucial spell or to protect some resource of your own.
I can think of very few creatures that you would be truly excited to play in this deck because control decks are usually pretty light in the creature department, but those that they cast can protect themselves. Aetherling played such a role perfectly for months after it arrived on the scene from Dragon’s Maze, but Prognostic Sphinx could play a similar role. The 3 power makes it JUST small enough to avoid getting killed by Elspeth, Pillar of light or other spells. The high toughness means it survives most burn spells. You can even grant it Hexproof to help protect it. And the best part is the Scry 3 whenever it attacks basically ensures you can draw exactly what you need. Other options could include Indulgent Tormentor because the triggered ability is useful in all three modes, or Chasm Skulker because the more cards you draw to bigger it gets…and when it dies it spits squid tokens everywhere making it a real pain to contend with.
The last consideration is Planeswalkers and the Grixis control standard colour combo could have some good ones. Chandra Pyromaster is the best Chandra yet printed and she could be extremely useful in this deck. Lilianna Vess is another viable option and her ability to tutor up an answer makes her invaluable. Jace, the Living Guildpact could also be a very solid control card and offer some very good versatility to filter your draw and bounce permanents. The last is Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver who might be an ideal Planeswalker in this sort of deck to give you a true win condition of milling out your opponent.
So, the pieces sort of fit and so I have put together a rough list of a deck that start down the Grixis control standard path for when Khans of Tarkir is released. It is not going to be perfect because it only includes cards that are from Theros and M15. Without knowing exactly what Khans could hold for this deck it’s tricky, but I figured I would give it a stab and see what i can put together as a framework for the deck and add when Khans is released.
There we have our shell for a Grixis control deck. Of course, this is not written is stone but is something that you might be willing to brew up and test out. I haven’t put together a sideboard yet either because you might have your own direction you want to take it in. The beauty of this time of year, as we prepare for the Brave New World post rotation, that anything is possible and lots of interesting new twists on decks could emerge.
Let me know what you think about the deck. What would add? What would you take out? Would you go another direction all together? Some of the beauty of playing Magic is that the possibilities are endless, so let me know what possibilities YOU see. Send me a tweet and let’s exchange some ideas.
Thanks for reading and until next time keep it fun, keep it safe…keep it casual.
by Bruce Gray – Casual Encounters
@bgray8791 on Twitter
by Bruce Gray – Casual Encounters
Since I started writing for Three Kings Loot back in February I’ve highlighted a fair number of decks. The one thing that most of these decks have in common is that I would describe them all as being “budget” decks. This means that I am interested in trying to find a relatively inexpensive way to build a deck that is still powerful and presents a number of problems for my opponents. These decks aren’t usually Tier 1 competitive decks, but they can surprise someone who underestimates what the deck can do. Today, I’m going to showcase some budget substitutions that will allow you to build your own budget deck and help you to keep your cost down. We’ll look at land, creatures, and lastly other spells in an effort to briefly touch on all the key elements of your very own budget deck.
If you routinely stop by here on The Bag of Loot you know that I have a thing for land. Basically Magic is entirely dependent on the land you draw. I don’t care how many awesome spells you have in your library, if you don’t have the land to cast them you are likely sunk (unless you’re playing Legacy/Vintage in which it seems possible to play with no land). Without access to the correct land it doesn’t matter what spells you have, you’re likely to lose. As a result, this is one of the few areas where you really can’t skimp too much. You can use things like Guildgates and Life Gain lands from Zendikar if you aren’t fussy on format, but most people want to play Standard. If you want to play Standard you need the lands. It becomes even MORE apparent in the realm of Modern where Fetches and such are super expensive. Bottom line, unless you play Casually and you and your friends don’t mind you mixing in different things, you’re probably on the hook for having the “right” land for your deck. Temples. Shocks. Mana Confluence. Nykthos. Guildgates. Pain Lands. There is a large variety of lands available, some more expensive than others, but if you want to play you need to get the right ones for you and your deck and cheaping out and just running basics just won’t cut it usually.
While you can’t cut corners on your land, you most certainly can make up ground with the suite of creatures you opt to run. Basically, at almost each and every converted mana cost along the curve you can run a variety of choices. Now, the creatures that are very expensive in a given format are expensive because they are the optimal creature for that converted mana cost in that colour. That doesn’t mean that alternatives don’t exist. These alternatives are typically much cheaper and can help keep your cost down. Don’t believe me? Let’s look at a few examples.
Let’s start with Stormbreath Dragon. 4/4 flying for 5 mana and has haste, protection from white, and a Monstrosity ability. There’s no doubt this is a premium creature and well worth the $15 a card you’ll pay as a single. However, there are other options available to you if you really wanted to run a creature at the 5 spot that was more inexpensive. Hypersonic Dragon is the same 4/4 with haste and 5 mana (although a blue and red are part of its casting) meaning it could fit the bill. Scourge of Valkas from M14 fits those stats pretty well too and is still a dragon. Both of these options are red, can fill the same hole in your deck and cost you significantly less in terms of money to pick up.
Blood Baron of Vizkopa is another 5 mana creature, this one is 4/4 with protection from white and black, lifelink, and can trigger some ridiculous bonus if you have enough life, or your opponent is running low on life. Some other options at 5 cmc are Serra Angel (which is unexciting, but still perfectly viable), Keepsake Gorgon, and Celestial Archon. These are all very playable at five and are even in Black and White so they can hold a spot in your deck. Don’t let me fool you…Blood Baron is the optimal choice, but if you’re budget is tight, these guys are viable options.
Polukranos a 4 mana for 5/5 hydra with a ridiculous Monstrosity ability. This one is tough to replace because 5/5 for 4 mana AND has an ability is pretty ridiculous. However, there are a few options available like Deadbridge Goliath. This is probably the closest from a statistical standpoint, and isn’t a bad card and makes a suitable alternative. If you can splash another colour, Reaper of the Wilds is another solid option and much cheaper as well. A 4/5 for 4 mana is pretty close and the abilities on it make it a tricky critter to deal with…and costs a fraction of what Polukranos costs.
Soldier of the Pantheon– The aggro decks out there are not immune from having some pricey cards too. Soldier of the Pantheon is a $2 card that is a 2/1 for 1 mana. There is no doubt that they are an optimal 1 drop to kick start your beatdown with an aggro deck, but $8 for four 1 mana creatures leaves me scratching my head and my wallet empty. You could opt instead to run Favoured Hoplite or Satyr Hoplite, both 1 drops that can lead the beat down band wagon for you in place of the Soldier. They need a little more work than the Soldier, but with their Heroic triggers might give you a bigger beat stick with which to bring the pain. If you really wanted the 2/1 for 1 you can instead turn to RTR block and grab the Dryad Militant as an inexpensive option.
Boon Satyr – This super awesome 4/2 for 3 mana is a staple in Green decks, but can also Bestow for a very reasonable 5 mana…oh…and has flash. There is really nothing else that approaches this level of versatility, explosive damage, and just being down right nasty to play against. No wonder it’s $1.50 a card. However, you could run Feral Invocation if you were looking for the Flash aura effect. If you wanted the Flash effect on a creature, Briarpack Alpha probably comes closest as a 3/3 for 4 mana and a fun Enter the Battlefield trigger.
Brimaz, King of Oreskos– King Kitty is a huge threat at 3 mana and the abilities packed on him are just full on value…no wonder he’s $20 a card. However, if you wanted a card with just about as much devastating punch, Fabled Hero runs you about a $1 and packs double strike and heroic. Things can get out of control very quickly with our Hero…and the extra money you saved will bring a smile to your face as well.
Now, these are just some suggestions for substitutes in your deck to help keep the cost down. All the substitutions have significant drawbacks compared to the optimal creatures in the deck. I fully admit that a Serra Angel doesn’t stack up with Blood Baron very well, and that Fabled Hero is a poor substitute for King Kitty. However, if you’re wallet can’t handle the $80 to pick up a playset of Brimaz, Fabled Hero can do in a pinch.
Spells are a little tougher to replace. The super expensive spells and staples of a format are that way because they don’t have a substitute…or at least not exactly. The thing is spells don’t leave behind a body that can be utilized after they have been cast, so you need the impact of the spell itself to be pretty terrific. However, there are a few options for some of the spells.
Thoughtseize– This Legacy playable piece of hand disruption just crushes decks by stripping away all the most important pieces of your opponent’s hand. It really is crippling…and it is going to be in rotation for another 14 months! Yikes. However, at $20 a card is a little steep. Duress is probably the closest option and is regularly reprinted. It is a little more limited in terms of what it hits, but let’s be honest, you are almost always going to take an instant or sorcery spell from your opponent because you can find other answers in your deck to deal with creatures and planeswalkers. So, Duress is a reasonable substitute. Brain Maggot is another possible route, and it even gives you a body. Sin Collector is the last option, but for 3 mana is significantly slower and not as optimal.
Supreme Verdict- Premium 4 mana wrath effects are always key to a control player’s strategy. Supreme Verdict really has no equal because it also can’t be countered…meaning that you hit it and your opponent cries every time as they watch their board disappear. However, at $8 a card this can burn a hole pretty quickly in your wallet. The only REAL option is Planar Cleansing…but it’s a 6 mana sorcery…which feels kind of yucky. Fated Retribution is another option…but it’s 7 mana (although thankfully at instant speed). These can do in a pinch if you really want to play the control game, but you may have to alter you game strategy because you’ll need to get to at least 6 mana to have either of those spells come online.
Sphinx’s Revelation- Ok, there is no equal to this card. Mass card draw AND life gain is a Control player’s dream come true. However, the most important piece is always the card draw because it gives you access to more resources. Divination is the cleanest way to get access to some of the card drawing power of Sphinx’s Revelation, but Jace’s Ingenuity from M15 will be another option that draws 3 cards for 5 mana at least at instant speed meaning you can jam it on your opponent’s turn. After that, you can play poorer spells like Inspiration, or the more expensive Opportunity, but you’re still longing to get a Sphinx’s Revelation and run it.
Hero’s Downfall- Instant speed spot removal of creatures AND Planeswalkers is huge. However, Black has lots of good removal right now ranging from Ultimate Price to Bile Blight to Doom blade. This means that Black decks should have no issue dealing with creatures…pick your removal spell of choice and go to work. Planeswalkers are tougher, but you can always resort to fighting them directly which always gives you at least one option.
Planeswalkers- I have no substitute for a Planeswalker. Honestly, they represent 3 (or 4) potential different spells and abilities that you just can’t replace in your deck. You can try but prioritizing which of the abilities are most pertinent to you and your deck and substituting for cards that recreate that effect, but you still need to pay for it while the Planeswalker can replicate that effect for free turn after turn. No, there’s no real option to playing these guys if you want to emulate a Tier 1 deck, but lots of decks can also run just fine without a Planeswalker (just look at Mono-Black Devotion decks that typically run no Planeswalkers).
Well, there we have some options to help limit the damage done to your bank account while still allowing you to play and have fun with some solid decks. Of course the options available go up significantly when you start shifting formats from Standard to Modern, but so do the price tags on the optimal cards. I hope this was helpful to you guys and that it gives you a few options to go out and brew some of your own decks using some of these alternative pieces.
Thanks for reading and until next time Keep it fun, keep it safe…keep it casual.
Bruce Gray @bgray8791
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 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.
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.