MTG Long Form: Ban Reactions, Decklists, Tourney Report!

Reaction to the Ban
First, let me be clear that I was not an advocate of the ban. My thoughts on it ran pretty similar, not surprisingly, to Alexander Shearer’s as outlined in his blog post. (I disagree with Dr. Shearer on the degree to which Jund and CawBlade are skill-intensive, though, as I do think there really is a meaningful difference between the two on that score that goes beyond the dollar value of the cards.) However, I definitely agree on other stuff, in particular I don’t think Jace was the main problem and they could have gone a long way toward solving the CawBlade problem simply by banning Batterskull. Vampires and RDW have been getting better against CawBlade and with no Batterskull I think it’d be a tough match for CB, especially game 1.

I’d also point out that while the top tables at SCG Opens and Grand Prix may have been dominated by CawBlade, I didn’t see that at FNM. Since that’s almost entirely what I play—and I suspect a lot more players play FNM than either the Opens or GPs—I don’t think Standard was really as “broken” a format as many people said. I don’t play MTGO, but people tell me that it also was not dominated by CawBlade, either, for whatever reasons.

That said, I understand WotC’s reasons for the ban and I’m not up in arms about it.

What I am a lot more interested in than complaining (some other people need to get off that bus) is what the environment will be once the ban kicks in. I don’t think it’s at all clear what the “best deck” is. Maybe Valakut, but maybe not. Remember, we’ve had a few new cards come out since Valakut was king, and I think those will change things. RDW and Vampires are still viable, Exarch Twin decks seem very good and I think there are good decks out there yet to be found because they just lose to CawBlade, based on Tezzeret, Birthing Pod, and maybe even Tempered Steel that have a shot. It’s also an environment that will be extremely short-lived, since M12 will become legal just weeks after the ban takes effect. I think we’re in for pretty much chaos in Standard for a while starting July 1—chaos can be fun, too!

In fact, it’s got me brewing again…

Decklists
These are just deck ideas I’ve kind of thrown together in response to the ban. Got some help from @AuranAlchemist on the first one, which is my favorite of the two. I liked SuperFriends as a deck the last time around, and while I don’t think it’s quite the same without big Jace or Ajani Vengeant, it still has potential:

The sideboard is kind of thrown together—maybe too much Valakut hate—but I think the deck could be fun and might have some game. One of the things that Jace TMS taught us is that the current environment doesn’t have enough good answers to Planeswalkers, and with CawBlade going, I suspect there won’t be as much flying, so Walkers protected by Wall of Omens and Day of Judgment seems like a viable plan.

The other deck is a RUG Twin deck, but of course one without Jace.

Comments so far are that Mimic Vat seems kind of random and that might be right, but with Sparkmage/Collar, there are going to be a lot of dead things, and it makes your opponent’s removal so much worse. If your opponent kills your Exarch, if you have a Vat out, they haven’t solved the problem in quite the same way…

Anyway, it needs some testing and a sideboard, but seems like it might also be fun. The Vengevines give you a way to win without the combo, and the Sparkmage/Collar interaction should allow you to go the long game against any creature-based deck.

If anyone has any thoughts on either of these, I’d love to hear them! I’m likely to sleeve up some form of SuperFriends for the July 1 FNM.

Tournament Report
Hey, look, another Tuesday at Montag’s! I don’t let myself play the same deck twice in a row at Montag’s and last time around was CawBlade. Now, with the ban hammer coming down soon, I decided that “different” could be awfully similar in that it’s also a deck with Jace and Stoneforge Mystic, but there aren’t any Squadron Hawks and there’s a fun alternate (and immediate) win condition. Here’s the list I played:

I threw this together without playing it a single game first… I figured, as usual, that I’d learn it as I went. (And I wonder why I don’t win more, right?). I’ll talk more generally about the deck after the blow-by-blow.

Turnout was decent for a Tuesday (13 or so), so four rounds of Swiss and cut to top 4.

Round 1: Rolaund playing RDW
I’ve played against RDW a lot lately, but of course not with this deck. I kind of have a thing about RDW as being the one archetype that I never play (though we’ll see after M12 comes out. Grim Lavamancer? Really?) Game 1 I got turn 2 Stoneforge into Sword of War and Peace, and he didn’t have removal for the Mystic, so I flashed in the Batterskull that was in my opening hand. He clearly wasn’t expecting that, looked at it for a turn, and just scooped to it. Game 2 was sick. Turn 1 he played a Spikeshot Elder, I played land and passed, he hit me and played an Ember Hauler, my turn 2 I came back with a Spellskite. He attacked and I blocked the Elder. He added another Elder and passed. My turn 3 I played land (now had one of each color up) and passed. We went to combat and I flashed in a Deceiver Exarch, tapping down his Hauler, and he passed the turn. I untapped, topdecked a Scalding Tarn, cracked it for a Mountain, and got the combo on turn 4. Whee, magical Christmasland! We were done in like 10 minutes, most of which was me pulling my sideboard out of my deck after game 1 because I accidentally shuffled the whole thing in. Best RDW match ever.
1-0 matches, 2-0 games

Round 2: Danesh playing Grixis Twin
I’d never played Danesh before but I hope I get to do so again, as he was a really fun opponent. I wasn’t sure how this matchup would go and it’s pretty intense. Game 1 was a lot of back-and-forth trying to establish some kind of control and build up mana on both sides to try to be able to combo off… I did get a Stoneforge, but she ate a Go for the Throat and the Sword I got was blown up eventually as well. He finally got ahead enough to combo off. Game 2 was another long, drawn-out affair. I Probe’d him early (ouch!) to see two Exarchs and two Twins in his hand, yikes. I managed to get Jace on the board for a couple turns before losing Jace to the legend rule, but that was enough to put some removal in my hand. I bluffed counters and kept him from going off, and got out a pair of Exarchs and got one Sworded up (Feast and Famine) and he eventually got there, but it took considerable time since he had an active Tumble Magnet and a Spellskite that I took a long time to get rid of. Whew! We started game 3 with only a few minutes left and tried to play quickly to get a resolution, but neither of us were able to combo off, though he did get me down to 7 with a Creeping Tar Pit, it wasn’t enough.
1-0-1 matches, 3-1-1 games

Round 3: Joe, playing CawBlade
Ah, Joe, one (if not the) store’s strongest player, and one against whom I have a terrible record, was 2-0 and got rounded down. We did some early draw-go and I got to Probe Joe to see that he had no Mystic or Hawks in hand so I knew I had time. He Jaced and I Pierced, and he Pierced back, giving him Jace but tapped out. I came back with Inferno Titan to kill Jace, which surprised Joe—I don’t think he was expecting the Titan. He Dismembered an Exarch at some point, bounced the Titan with Into the Roil the next time he came out, and they killed it with Day the time after that, but the 3s were adding up and I had a Sword out which I equipped to a Colonnade and that got me there. Game 2 he did the full CawBlade thing and had Jace and Hawks and was Brainstorming fresh cards each turn and I could not get through to Jace or get much going. I did hit a Sword with Divine Offering, but I was too far behind. I did get an Exarch out and had mana to pay for a Leak and tried to go off, but rather than Leak he had Into the Roil and two mana to pay for the Pierce I had in my hand, so that failed. When he dropped Sun Titan to get back his Sword, I was done. Game 3 he got little Jace out and I had to tap out to activate a Colonnade to kill it, and he followed that up with Big Jace, and again I had to tap out (nearly) to bring the Colonnade to kill it. However, I had Probe’d him (ouch!) and I knew he didn’t have anything major after that, just a Hawk and a Leak. He did brainstorm into another Jace and had two Hawks out, but I was up to 8 land with the combo pieces in hand, flashed in an Exarch with Pierce backup, untapped and Twin’d him up for the match. Whew, very intense match.
2-0-1 matches, 5-2-1 games

Round 4: Tony, playing JunkPod
Tony and I were 1-2, but there were 5 people with 6 points, one who got rounded down and was playing someone with 4, so I was not guaranteed to be in if we drew, so we played it out.

Before getting into it, a few words about Tony’s deck: it’s outstanding! Almost every card in the deck (other than the Birthing Pods, a little removal, and the equipment) is a creature with an ETB or leaves play effect, and it has a full curve up to 7 mana: Birds of Paradise, Stoneforge Mystic, Squadron Hawk, Mirran Crusader (ok, no ETB there), Viridian Corrupter, Cadaver Imp, Phyrexian Metamorph, Kozilek’s Predator, Entomber Exarch, Acidic Slime, Massacre Wurm, Wurmcoil Engine, Elesh Norn. I know some of those seem subpar, but trust me, it’s quite effective. I’m probably missing something, and of course many of these are 1-ofs. If you cannot keep Pod off the table it’s a massive beating, very flexible.

Anyway, the games. Game 1 was pretty crazy. I got an early Stoneforge and then more of them later, and got to the point where I had a germ token wearing a Batterskull and both Swords. That’s when he fetched up a Predator, making two Spawn tokens, which are colorless and can be sacrificed before damage, meaning they can block something on the ground with whatever swords and vanish before damage to prevent the life gain. Now, I had gotten through with the just the Batterskull once and with the Sword of Feast and Famine on the Batterskull once and I was at 26 life, but Tony got the Corrupter to kill one Sword, got it back with the Imp to kill the second, and despite going down to 1 life, managed to keep himself alive and gradually grind me out. It was ugly. Game 2 I kept a hand with 4 lands, a Jace, and 2 Preordains. Both Preordains yielded… more land. I drew into another Preordain, which yielded… land. The game was over quickly, ending with me having seen 9 lands and six non-lands, three of which were Preordains. Not going to win many games like that.
2-1-1 matches, 5-4-1 games

Now, in a strange twist, the 2-1 who got rounded down lost, so I made the top 4 in 4th, behind Tony and the two 3-1s. Unfortunately, that meant my semifinal match was… Tony. Ugh.

Semis, Tony… again
Game 1 I got early Mystic and Batterskull pressure, and then a Jace to fateseal, but he got out a Pod and Hawk into Corrupter killed the Sword and eventually the Batterskull, but I managed two Exarchs on the table, Jace at 9, and two Splinter Twins in hand along with an Inferno Titan… and only one Mountain in play. I had to start brainstorming with Jace, and not only could I not find a fetch or a Mounain in several turns of that before Jace died to a Crusader, I never found a shuffler to get me another shot at it. Dying with the combo and a great answer to half his deck in hand because you’re color-screwed is… frustrating. Game 2 I finally drew a sideboard card, but not the right one: Pyroclasm. I had a Stoneforge on the table and a Batterskull in hand, which I bounced to avoid a Corrupter the previous turn, and he had a Bird, a Pod, and the Corrupter out, so I Pyroclasm’d and activated the Mystic in response to put the Batterskull back in play to his creatureless board. I also had the combo in hand, but again, only one red source on the table (four lands), so I figured even if he dealt with the Batterskull I had him in two turns. Here was his play: Corrupter cast from his hand to kill Batterskull, sacrifice Corrupter to Pod up Entomber Exarch to kill the Splinter Twin in my hand. I of course next drew a second Mountain but had no Twin, and Tony killed it anyway, saccing Exarch for Acidic Slime, then Slime into Wurmcoil into Elesh Norn. Well, that was fun… not. I was pretty aggravated with my deck since I definitely had the first game if I could have drawn just one out of 10 red sources still in my deck, with several turns to hit it and even a deeper dig with a brainstorm. Would have been nice if somewhere in the two post-board games I had ever drawn an Offering, too, but not meant to be.
2-2-1 matches, 5-6-1 games

I got like $10 for coming in the 3-4 slot, so at least I got double my entry fee back. Got some Puresteel Paladins for post-rotation; we’ll see how that goes.

Comments on TwinBlade
This kind of hybrid deck is weird, it’s like a bad CawBlade deck fused with a bad Exarch Twin deck, so it’s not really as good at the main plan as either one in purer form, but of course it has a different way to win than either of the pure forms. All of my opponents save the RDW player in round 1 commented on how difficult it was to sideboard against this deck, because most decks just cannot afford both the full anti-Caw and anti-Twin package. It’s a little weird to play, too, since a lot of the decisions involve which game plan you want to pursue. That decision isn’t always hard—sometimes the opening hand makes that very clear—but sometimes it isn’t clear. The deck also sacrifices some permission (only two Leaks and two Pierces) and you cannot play the control game like with the purer forms of either deck, but you can still bluff it credibly. The lack of Hawks is also weird, since you have absolutely no defense against anything in the air other than tapping with a flashed-in Exarch.

Were I playing it again at FNM or in a PTQ before the ban kicks in, I would definitely change a few things. First, the mana base. I played only one Colonnade, figuring that wasn’t the way you wanted to win with this deck anyway. Wrong, wrong, wrong; Colonnade is still a great answer to an opposing Jace or your own board that is empty save for a lone piece of equipment. I’d go up to two or maybe three, and I’d cut one of the Islands for a 4th Mountain, too.

The other thing I would change is the sideboard. Mental Misstep is awful; I’m not sure what I was thinking there. Well, I know, it’s there to stop Spell Pierce, Duress/Inquisition, and Goblin Guide. This just isn’t good enough. What I really want in that slot, maybe even main deck in place of all the other permission, is Dispel. The main answer in most decks to your big hitters—both the equipment and the combo—are instants, e.g. Divine Offering, Into the Roil, Dismember, Go for the Throat, permission, etc. (Combust still hoses you, but neither Spell Pierce or Mana Leak help there, either.) Now, Dispel would not have helped against the Birthing Pod deck, but neither does Mental Misstep. The only solution there is to counter the Pod or Divine Offering it, or of course just have two red sources so you can actually combo off.

I would probably keep the Inferno Titans. They have good surprise value, are amazing vs. a lot of the field, and give you another reasonable target for Splinter Twin that does not die to Dismember or Combust.