Infecting Standard with Rancor

Feature Article from Steve Guillerm
Steve Guillerm
6/27/2012 10:00:00 AM
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Far from the Lull I expected it to be, the world of Magic has been really hopping for me in the past week. Twitter and Facebook are abuzz as the ballots for the newest class of the Magic Hall of Fame are now out, M13 is just around the corner, and Duals of the Planeswalkers 2013 is out now. To top it all off, I'm practicing Legacy in preparation for GP Atlanta. Where to begin?

Oh, I dunno, maybe with that little Enchantment that could, the one that taught people that Enchantments don't have to suck. One mana for infinite fun, Rancor!

With the return of Rancor, I've been very excited to return to brewing Infect lists for Standard. For reference, here's the list I was working with last month:

UG Defiant Infect v2.0 by Steve Guillerm
Main Deck
Sideboard
4 Blighted Agent
4 Glistener Elf
4 Ichorclaw Myr
Creatures [12]
3 Artful Dodge
3 Gut Shot
4 Livewire Lash
4 Mutagenic Growth
4 Ranger's Guile
2 Titanic Growth
1 Unnatural Predation
4 Wild Defiance
Spells [25]
4 Cavern of Souls
9 Forest (242)
4 Hinterland Harbor
4 Inkmoth Nexus
2 Island (233)
Lands [23]
Deck Total [60]


4 Negate
2 Ratchet Bomb
4 Spellskite
2 Titanic Growth
3 Unnatural Predation
Sideboard [15]





Click for full deck stats & notes!


Beyond Rancor, M13 doesn't bring a ton to the table. Scanning the spoiler so far, we'd be grasping at straws for possible additions. In Blue, we have Tricks of the Trade, an Enchantment that gives the enchanted creature +2/+0 and unblockable, at the unplayable cost of 3U. This might possibly see play somewhere else, but it's too slow for this deck, and Vapor Snag's already a strong card against the Infect deck. Green's not much better; Bond Beetle gives a +1/+1 counter and leaves behind a 0/1 blocker, but even costed at G, it's not good enough.

Well, looks like Rancor's all we got, but what a doozy. This single enchantment alone will change how we might build the deck. For starters, I wasn't a huge fan of the Monogreen deck before now. Blue offered evasion in the form of Blighted Agent and Artful Dodge, and if you felt like digging deep, Ponder and Gitaxian Probe were worthy additions. Pre-M13, Monogreen gets stymied way too easily by blockers. Unnatural Predation grants trample, and Apostle's Blessing grants protection, but against multi-color decks, you're left leaning hard on only four sources of trample.

With Rancor, we can build our deck to assume that trample is more readily available, and take advantage of a more stable mana base. Wild Defiance is absolutely the core of the deck and remains a four-of, but Rancor does an excellent job of replacing Livewire Lash. The triggered ability on the Lash is hardly worth the extra mana to cast and equip it when compared to Rancor's trample and return clause. All the same, it provides random wins through board stalls by providing some reach, so one or two is worth including.

For Instants, Rancor's trample means that Titanic Growth gets bumped back to a full playset. I'd still much rather have Giant Growth, but 2 mana for what'll almost certainly be 4 damage straight to the opponent is efficient for a single card. Apostle's Blessing serves as a Swiss-Army Knife in this deck, functioning as both protection and evasion, but comes with an automatic 2 life payment, and it provides no pump. In comparison, Unnatural Predation and Ranger's Guile pump, and cost no life, but only do one or the other. In the interest of aggression, I'm inclined to put Ranger's Guile on the side in favor of Apostle's Blessing, and keep a few Unnatural Predations in the deck as well. Mutagenic Growth and Gut Shot complete the suite of spells, providing those fun Turn 3 kills where you land a Wild Defiance and then immediately pump for 0 mana.

The creature base is the weaker side of the Monogreen build, as I don't think Blight Mamba's Regeneration is much worth considering. Rancor on the snake is a beating, but holding up 2 mana to regenerate is a recipe for disaster. Still, it's the next best available creature with Infect, so it'll have to do the job of replacing Blighted Agent. Add in the Glistener Elf and Ichorclaw Myr, and we're good to go.

For the land base, I'm content to run a hyper-aggressive 21 lands. Livewire Lash is the only card in the deck that wants 4 mana, and the deck has no real mana sink to speak of. 4 Inkmoth Nexus comes along with 17 Forests to bring us to 60. If extra lands turned out to be necessary, I'd be tempted to slot in 1-2 Cathedral of War. The exalted ability makes up for its entering the battlefield tapped, and it's somewhat rare that you curve out so perfectly that it'll truly matter.

For a sideboard, Mental Misstep is looking really good as a four-of. The deck's main weakness is early removal when we tap out for a guy on turn 1 or 2, and Vapor Snag. Misstep handles all of those for 0 mana, and has side uses such as countering mana birds and elves to keep those Green decks from cluttering the board. The fourth Gut Shot makes the grade, along with a few Ratchet Bombs to clear out a token swarm. Pistus Strike is a solid choice to handle the popular Restoration Angel and Delver of Secrets. Carrion Call's been suggested as a possibility against counter-heavy decks, and while it feels slow, I'm willing to give it a shot. Because it costs 4 mana, an extra Forest in the sideboard seems worthwhile to help ensure we hit 4 mana on time.

Monogreen Infect by Steve Guillerm
Main Deck
Sideboard
4 Blight Mamba
4 Glistener Elf
4 Ichorclaw Myr
4 Rancor
Creatures [16]
4 Apostle's Blessing
3 Gut Shot
2 Livewire Lash
4 Mutagenic Growth
4 Rancor
4 Titanic Growth
2 Unnatural Predation
4 Wild Defiance
Spells [27]
17 Forest (242)
4 Inkmoth Nexus
Lands [21]
Deck Total [64]


3 Carrion Call
1 Forest (242)
1 Gut Shot
4 Mental Misstep
3 Pistus Strike
3 Ratchet Bomb
Sideboard [15]





Click for full deck stats & notes!


If you can't bear the thought of playing without Islands, here's a rough draft of a U/G list:

UG Defiant Infect by Steve Guillerm
Main Deck
Sideboard
4 Blighted Agent
4 Glistener Elf
4 Ichorclaw Myr
4 Rancor
Creatures [16]
3 Apostle's Blessing
2 Artful Dodge
4 Gitaxian Probe
3 Gut Shot
4 Mutagenic Growth
4 Rancor
2 Titanic Growth
4 Wild Defiance
Spells [26]
10 Forest (242)
4 Hinterland Harbor
4 Inkmoth Nexus
4 Island (233)
Lands [22]
Deck Total [64]


2 Carrion Call
1 Gut Shot
4 Mental Misstep
3 Negate
3 Pistus Strike
2 Ratchet Bomb
Sideboard [15]





Click for full deck stats & notes!


The Gitaxian Probes will give you a bit more information and help you dig through your deck, but you might have troubles with mana. I'm not sure that the addition of blue is worthwhile, but it certainly doesn't hurt to test both.

So what else does M13 bring to the Standard environment? Stuffy Doll's a good start. It's a complete and total griefer/joke deck, but maybe someone will find a way to make this core work:

4 Stuffy Doll
4 Spiteful Shadows
4 Blasphemous Act
4 Into the Maw of Hell
4 Harvest Pyre

On a more serious note, Tormod's Crypt arrives just in time to keep graveyards honest after Nihil Spellbomb's gone. Door to Nothingness provides an interesting kill condition, but won't be spawning any new decks. Slumbering Dragon, though. That's a neat guy. He clearly fits in a control deck, discouraging early attacks while you build up toward something absurd like Nicol Bolas. Toss in a dash of Magmaquake, and suddenly Red's shaping up to be pretty good at the control game.

On the flipside, Thundermaw Hellkite is about as close to an unblockable hasty 5/5 as Red might ever get. Mono-Red fans, when rotation comes around, it might be time to show off the power of the Mountain. Searing Spear's technically a downgrade from Incinerate, but Wolfir Avenger is just about the only time that matters. Flames of the Firebrand costs one more than Arc Trail, but though Arc Trail is rotating out, Lingering Souls is here to stay. Along with Gather the Townsfolk, Krenko's Command puts Red/White Tokens in a good spot, with Rally the Peasants as a pretty good finisher. We haven't seen a Pyroclasm reprint confirmed yet!

For the Blue control mage, Augur of Bolas is just about perfect. Sea-Gate Oracle was pretty sweet in its day, and this does nearly the same for one less mana. You'll need to run 20-24 Instants and Sorceries to reliably get value, but that's not too hard. For added spice, mix with Venser, the Sojourner for the next 3 months.

From a financial point of view, it's worth noting that for the fourth year in a row, the M10 dual lands are in the core set. Despite being printed 3 times, these lands are still in demand. Over the summer, if you don't already have them, be sure to pick up a set of each for yourself. It shouldn't be hard to get them in trade for around $2 when everyone's cracking tons of M13 packs. Even if the rumors of Ravnica shockland reprints pan out, you'll still want to be playing these, as they actually work really well with the Ravnica lands. Over the past few years, the prices rise and fall like clockwork, and summer's the best time to pick them up.

Mid
Low
 Thundermaw Hellkite
$5.47
$3.00
Store QTY Price  
Trade Up 1 $3.00
jaymz games 1 $3.00
Wonderland Market 1 $3.25
OmahaMTG321 3 $3.34
CC Magic House 1 $3.50
The Gamer's Haven 2 $3.87
The Gypsies Den 1 $3.89
Game Cave NY 1 $3.92
The Sleek Geeks 2 $3.95
Tapped Out Magic 1 $3.95
Magic MTG Card
Magic MTG Card Thundermaw Hellkite Magic MTG Card
Magic MTG Card



Over on the digital side, Duals of the Planeswalkers 2013 has come out, and it's even better than its predecessors. For years now, this series has been the best way to teach new players how to play Magic. The original one from 2009 got my wife playing Magic even though I failed at teaching her with physical cards. Even if you're an accomplished player, it's still a ton of fun, and now that it's on the iPad, it's even more portable! While the game isn't quite as complex as real Magic is, they've been making great strides toward making it very close without being too complicated for casual players. Best of all, it's a free download and you only need to spend money to unlock the full version. If you've got a friend who wants to learn, point them toward this game.

On Monday, Wizards of the Coast put up the revamped statistics page for the Magic Hall of Fame. If you're into stats at all, it's worth looking at. In addition to the expected numbers like total PT top 8s and total Pro Points, there are also interesting ones like median finish, and one real gem: 3-year median. This one exists to essentially look at how good a player was at their peak. Median finish punishes players for having started off weak before hitting their stride, or continuing to play in Pro Tours once they've stopped being quite as serious. Totals inherently favor those with longer careers. 3-year median is a long enough time to smooth out factors like one very good year, but short enough that it captures the best of a player's career.

Though I'm not on the selection committee, I think it's still interesting to consider who ought to be elected to the Hall of Fame. Of the currently eligible class, Paulo Vitor Damo Da Rosa is the closest possible to a lock. 9 Pro Tour top 8s, including a win in only 31 events. That's truly an absurd Conversion ratio. Despite his youth, he's also racked up a staggering 358 pro points, more than anyone else up for contention. Also largely considered locks for the Hall of Fame are Japanese players Kenji Tsumura and Masashi Oiso. Each have 6 Pro Tour top 8s, having played in 29 and 31 events, respectively. Neither have won one, but making the top 8 of a Pro Tour one in five times? Wow.

Beyond those three players, people are more divided. Four names seem to stand above the rest, but alas, there are only 5 spots on a ballot, so two must be left off. A name more familiar to contemporary players is Patrick Chapin, who is eligible for the first time this year. With 4 Pro Tour top 8s, he's definitely worth considering, and his contributions to the community are myriad. He writes a truly prodigious amount of content, works as a tournament commentator, and even put out a Magic-themed rap album.

From a numbers perspective, Scott Johns seems to make the cut. Five Pro Tour top 8s in only 27 events puts him near the same Conversion rate as Tsumura and Oiso, and he does have a first place finish. Unfortunately for him, he seems widely disliked within the Magic community, and that hurts his chances.

While his numbers might not stack up as well, William “Baby Huey” Jensen is a perennial contender that many are pushing this year. With four Pro Tour top 8s in 34 events, including one win, his stats may not impress compared to Johns. However, many big names like Jon Finkel and Kai Budde are pulling for him, making his case on the intangibles like his contributions to the community and his work as part of a team. The Hall of Fame isn't just about numbers alone.

Finally, there is a case to be made for Justin Gary, perhaps better known today as the creator of the board game Ascension. While Gary has only 3 Pro Tour top 8s, including one win, he was consistently excellent. Gary finished within the top 32 in twenty of his forty-four Pro Tours, and his 3-year median is 25th place! That's better than anyone else that I've listed, including PV. While the Pro Tour Hall of Fame is often about the successes, there ought to be room to celebrate someone who could be consistently great, even if the top 8 often eluded him. Remember, the difference between top 8ing and not is often a single match.

If I had a ballot, I'd vote for PVDDR, Oiso, Tsumura, Jensen, and Gary. Johns seems largely like a wasted vote, and because Chapin is still active within the community, he has time to work toward his inevitable induction.

I'll be getting on a plane soon to head to Atlanta for the Grand Prix. If you like a format with only 10% Delver and 100% awesome, you should be going too! If you see me there, be sure to say hi.

-Steve Guillerm
@SteveExplosion on MTGO and Twitter



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