6/4/2012 10:41:00 AM
Last time we joined our intrepid adventurer, he was in Anaheim, battling in a block constructed Grand Prix with the following monstrosity:
In the comments, some people asked if it was possible to turn this into a Standard deck, and I decided to take on the challenge.
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Whenever you're looking to port a deck, it's important to take a look at what the deck's actually trying to do, and what parts are actually necessary. Let's take a look at the deck's game plan:
Step 1: Don't die. By way of spot removal and sweepers, maintain a positive life total. Note that not every deck actually has this as part of the game plan. Control decks often operate with a motto of, “If I'm not losing, I'm winning.” Aggro decks often prevent death by virtue of another motto: “If they're dead, they can't kill me!”
Step 2: Use draw spells and card selection to find combo pieces. Forbidden Alchemy
and Think Twice
do the heavy lifting, digging deep through the deck to find what we need for later.
Step 2a: Fill the graveyard for later. This is more incidental than part of the plan.
Step 3: Resolve Arcane Melee
. While we can certainly win without Arcane Melee
, it is really, really hard. The core of this deck is the interaction between Mystic Retrieval
and Runic Repetition
. Assuming Runic Repetition
in hand, Mystic Retrieval
in the graveyard, and a resolved Arcane Melee
, we can execute the following loop:
R: Mystic Retrieval
U: Runic Repetition
returning Mystic Retrieval
1U: Mystic Retrieval
returning Runic Repetition
That's a Regrowth
(well, Call to Mind) with buyback for 1UUR. Establishing this game state quickly becomes a lock when you've got a few removal spells in hand. Without Arcane Melee? The loop costs 7UUR, and so you're spending all your mana each turn for a single Regrowth
Other advantages to Arcane Melee? Forbidden Alchemy
costs U, flashback is 4B, Doom Blade
s cost B, etc.
Oh yeah, Step 4: Kill your opponent. Quite incidentally, once you've got the game locked up, you find yourself with tons of mana, and you might as well aim a Devil's Play
or Pillar of Flame
at the opponent a few times.
So, the core of the deck:
3 Arcane Melee
3 Mystic Retrieval
1 Runic Repetition
You really only ever need 1 Runic Repetition
, and it's optional. Arcane Melee
is crucial, but the second one is much, much worse than the first. By the time you hit 5 mana, you should have found one. Mystic Retrieval
is also a late-game card, and you're going to be discarding it to Faithless Looting
more often than not, as its flashback cost is cheaper. Again, great to draw one, but multiples don't add much.
3 Think Twice
3 Faithless Looting
4 Forbidden Alchemy
2 Amass the Components
is huge in this deck, and I'd probably run 6 or 8 if I could. It functions closer to a draw-3, as you're likely getting a card you want, plus 2 in the bin for flashback. Faithless Looting's pretty good, but inherent card disadvantage early on. We run out of cards quickly before we hit “combo mode,” and if I draw 2, I'm definitely discarding one to the other. Think Twice
is a solid role player, but a little slow when trying to execute Step 1 (don't die!). Amass the Components
was a bit of an experiment; it's pretty powerful, and an extra land back into the deck is just as good as discarding. Tapping 4 mana at sorcery speed is a bit much, though, and one got cut from the Standard version.
Of these core components, there aren't really better alternatives in Standard compared to Block. We're inherently looking for cards with flashback, and that's obviously restricted to Innistrad and Dark Ascension. However, our removal can definitely improve:
3 Sever the Bloodline
2 Devil's Play
2 Tribute to Hunger
4 Pillar of Flame
3 Blasphemous Act
2 Devastation Tide
4 Galvanic Blast
2 Blasphemous Act
2 Devil's Play
1 Sever the Bloodline
2 Doom Blade
2 Burning Vengeance
The block version runs 16 spells that function as removal, and the Standard version is a bit fewer, at 15. First on the chopping block was Devastation Tide
. With additional testing, this probably would have been cut from the Block version of the deck; it's a huge disappointment to cast Devastation Tide
with Arcane Melee
out. Their pressure and hate go away, but you then have to replay the Melee
, pass the turn because you've used up your mana, and they just replay their board.
Sever the Bloodline
was great, but it's just a bit too slow in Standard. I do like that it exiles, turning off Undying, Unburial Rites
, death triggers like Viridian Emissary
and Solemn Simulacrum
. When push came to shove, I couldn't bear to cut the last one, but its 4 mana cost dictates that I probably shouldn't play more.
Pillar of Flame
got cut for Galvanic Blast
; I decided that instant-speed is a worthy trade-off for the exile clause. Tribute to Hunger
became Doom Blade
, and to deal with pesky Invisible Stalker
s and Geist of Saint Traft
joined the team. Blasphemous Act
dropped to only 2; sometimes you need a Wrath, but it's rarely castable until turn 5, so I didn't want to have too many dead cards in the opener.
Finally, Burning Vengeance
joined the team relatively late in my testing. I'd been relying solely on Devil's Play
to function as a finisher, but Burning Vengeance
does a good job of letting me kill while also executing my normal plans. That said, a pair of Devil's Play
for 10 across 2 turns still works fine, and I'm unlikely to cut it. The spell has versatility, such as a turn 2 “Devil's Play your mana dork.”
With the space I cleared, I upped the mana rocks to 3, and converted from Vessel of Endless Rest
to Sphere of the Suns
. You're definitely a lot more free to tap out on turn 2 than on turn 3, and you definitely need the acceleration to help see an early Arcane Melee
. All the same, Sphere feels so incredibly dead (more dead than a land) in the later game, so in the interest of seeing only 1 early, I stuck with 3.
With regard to the mana base, the core set dual lands help smooth the mana, and I cut the Desolate Lighthouse
. By the time I've got 4 lands out there, I've usually got card velocity, and there are better things to do than looting with the Lighthouse. The deck's mana hungry and color-intensive, so reducing colorless lands was a plus.
The sideboard remained relatively intact, with the biggest change being the addition of 3 Ancient Grudge
after running into a Frank Lepore-style Tezzeret deck online. Maindeck Grafdigger's Cage
AND Nihil Spellbomb? Geez. I didn't much want to shell out for an online copy of Tamiyo, and it was otherwise shaping up to be quite the budget deck, so she got cut as well. By the end of the week, this was my deck:
How did it do? I'm glad you asked! In initial testing, before I'd fully refined it, I went 5-4 in two-person queues on MTGO. One of those losses was to that aforementioned Tezzeret deck, and another was to a horrible misclick. Game 3, cast Forbidden Alchemy
against Bant Hexblade, and I pick from the 4 an Island rather than a Blasphemous Act
. I like to believe I went 6-3, but my pack count says otherwise.
I took the deck to the local store's Wednesday night Standard event after that. Round 1, I was paired against Marco, playing Esper control with Sun Titans. Game one was a grindfest, in which I was rebuying Whipflare
s every turn to trade with half of a Lingering Souls
. I finally ran him out of spells and stabilized with about 15 lands out. Devil's Play
for 11 on one turn, Devil's Play
for the rest on the next. Somewhere around 4 cards left in the library.
Game two, Lingering Souls
did the dirty work again, but this time I couldn't stabilize. Rather than drawing Whipflares, I was finding spot removal, which just doesn't cut it.
We went to time in Game three, and I had to make some decisions. He was turn 1 of extra turns, and did very little of consequence. Deciding to go for the win, rather than the draw, I tapped out completely on my turn, setting up victory on my next turn. I was punished when he top-decked a Sun Titan
, bringing back 2 Phantasmal Image
s and a Nihil Spellbomb
. He then killed me on turn 5. Given extra time, I believe I could have played more conservatively, and set up a lock with the Dissipate
s that I'd boarded in.
In Round two, I played against Charlie, who was rocking the UW Delver. Hmm, rogue deck versus the deck-to-beat. This will end well! Game one, he managed to get me down to 6 before the beatings finally halted. He'd already taken a fair amount of damage from Gitaxian Probe
s and Vapor Snagging his guys back in response to removal, so I managed to Dispatch
him pretty quickly with Galvanic Blast
after Galvanic Blast
Game two was an ugly, brutal affair. I guess from Charlie's perspective, a well-performed execution. The only marks to his life total were Phyrexian mana costs, while I died in 3 swift attack steps.
Game three was a bit more drawn out, and we actually went to time on this one. He only ever managed to get me to 18; Whipflare's pretty good against Delver, I hear! Devil's Play
did quick work in turns once I'd finally run him out of cards, and knew the coast was clear.
Round three was perhaps the worst, in terms of time management. I was playing against David, who was piloting a Bant Pod deck, splashing black for what I assumed to be Unburial Rites
. Game one, I was not even exactly sure what he was playing. Lots of elves and birds populated his side, and I expected an Elesh Norn or Craterhoof Behemoth
for sure. Instead, he managed nothing fiercer than a Razor Hippogriff
to return Solemn Simulacrum
. By the time he drew anything scary, his army had been taken by a Blasphemous Act
, and that was that. Going to the sideboards, I still hadn't seen Birthing Pod
, though I suspected such due to that Hippogriff.
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Game two was nearly mine. So very close. Throughout the game, I was wasting precious card advantage earned on the dual lives of Strangleroot Geists, and taking hits here and there, finally stabilizing at 4 life, and aiming a Devil's Play
at his dome to bring him to 10. I had nothing to fear; he had no burn, and even if he sacrificed a top-decked Strangleroot Geist
to the Pod, it still swings for only 3. Dave drew for the turn, smiled, and cast Havengul Lich
. Having gone this late into the game, he still had somewhere around 10 lands untapped. Strangleroot Geist
s did their best Vengevine
impression, and like that, I'd lost.
Game three never came, there was about a minute left on the clock, and we didn't have enough time to even start it. No matter, since neither of us can kill within 5 extra turns anyway! As Dave was 2-0 going into this, and I was 1-1, I scooped him the win so that he could earn store credit. I dropped afterward, frustrated not so much with the deck as the pace of it.
It was only on Thursday that I added the Burning Vengeances, and they seem to have given the deck that little extra “oomph” that it needed. I'm finding that the deck's actually not terrible to play online, which is a departure from my normal attitudes toward MTGO. Generally speaking, I think of MTGO as “fake” or “incomplete” Magic (a topic for another time), but this deck benefits from it. If opponents are baffled, they're on their own clock, rather than the shared round clock. Cost reductions are automatic, tapping lands is fast, and legal targets for spells like Mystic Retrieval
In all, I'm pretty sure that I would not recommend taking this to a serious tournament, but it's a ton of fun to bring to an FNM or more casual event. For one thing, it's the closest thing we've got to a “real combo deck” in Standard right now. It's also very budget friendly. However, even with tight play, you're sometimes just a little too slow against the most aggressive decks, and getting Arcane Melee
countered really hurts.
As far as continuing work on the deck, I'll probably revisit it post-rotation in October. The deck loses very few of its essential parts, and I expect core set staples like Doom Blade
and Shock to remain. The departure of Mana Leak
will be welcome, and the deck will only benefit further from possible reprints like Pyroclasm
or Ravnica Signets. Tapping 2 lands for a signet on turn 3 (leaving up 2 mana, including the signet) is a strong play for this deck that is currently not available.
I'm probably going to go back to testing and refining Wild Defiance
Infect for the near future, but you'd better believe I'm keeping the Arcane Melee
deck sleeved up. If you pick it up and have success with it, I'd love to know. Possible brew ingredients that I've heard, but haven't had a chance to test yet include Tamiyo, the Moon Sage
and Past in Flames
. Maybe those are the missing pieces that could bring this deck to the top tables. Be sure to give the deck a test drive, it's a blast to play, and sometimes that's actually more important than winning.
@steveexplosion on Twitter and MTGO