Rotten to the Core

Feature Article from Christopher Morris-Lent
Christopher Morris-Lent
7/13/2012 10:05:00 AM
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Funeral Pyre

So the M13 prerelease has come and gone, and, rather than show up at midnight Friday, like a child who takes “Christmas morning” to its logical conclusion, I waited until Sunday evening. The presents had been unwrapped anyway, by means of myriad spoiler sites, and they looked to be checks for trivial amounts, from parsimonious relatives, if not tube-socks and lumps of coal. I'm just kidding! M13 is alright – it's not M11; but it's also not M12! And the prerelease was fun; perhaps the most convenient excuse for my persistent mediocrity is: I enjoy having my *** handed to me.

I went 2-2 on the day, opened up two prize packs (containing, if you will, socks and underwear), and then drove home. Two wins - alright. But the most important victory I won had nothing to do with a top-decked overpriced Fireball, or anything like that. Rather, I successfully resisted the urge to run to the nearest convenience store, purchase a pack of cigarettes, and Smoke them in suicidal succession.

Quitting – by the time you read this, I'm nine days in – has been a horrible trial. It's just meaningless suffering (and all suffering is, of course, meaningless). I have nothing interesting to observe about it; and, although he tried, neither did Christopher Hitchens (see: “On the Limits of Self-Improvement.”) Other sources of quit-wit include David Sedaris (“hard to write without my preferred tools, but impossible without a cigarette”) and Mark Twain (“quitting smoking is easy; I've done it a thousand times”). I will say, Tolstoy's epigram be damned, that there are infinite varieties of happiness, but all suffering is the same. So bear this in mind when you write your next novel, or pick up a second Bronte volume expecting it to be at all different from its kindred. And, for the love of Cicero, don't start smoking - not for 'moral' reasons or anything like that, but because it quickly becomes miserable and quitting is even more so. At this point, the only thing worse than not having a cigarette would be having one.

Magical Thinking

On to Standard. Though my creativity is temporarily dampened (nicotine, for all its baleful health effects, is a potent stimulant), I have had a lot of time to scour the Internet and talk to people more dedicated to the format than me. I will have an original idea at the end, but first, I'd like to defer to my friends.

Having two Core sets legal at the same time is like a fling: stuff that isn't meant to be together is brought together, and, though the interactions are dangerous and exciting, it all ends in a few months. I recall the genesis of “Get ‘er Dungrove” with M12: the hexproof Treefolk was best of friends with M11's Overwhelming Stampede. I expect he will also get along with M13's Rancor, but everybody already knows that. My colleagues on this site have done an excellent job coming up with a number of baroque lists (and I highly recommend you read each of their articles), so I have something simpler to offer: mono-colored brews. With the mana in Standard equally horrible with a few months ago (with the M10 lands reprinted), why not slough off the rough fixing options, and focus primarily on one pocket of over-powered cards?

First up: red. At SCG Seattle, local ringer Frank Stanley said: "What if Krenko got together with Goblin Chieftain?"

Frank Stanley Goblins by Christopher Morris-Lent
Main Deck
4 Goblin Arsonist
3 Goblin Fireslinger
4 Goblin Wardriver
4 Krenko, Mob Boss
3 Mogg Flunkies
4 Spikeshot Elder
Creatures [22]
3 Arc Trail
3 Flames of the Firebrand
3 Goblin Grenade
3 Krenko's Command
3 Shrine of Burning Rage
Spells [15]
3 Hellion Crucible
20 Mountain (242)
Lands [23]
Deck Total [60]

2 Arms Dealer
2 Chandra's Phoenix
3 Koth of the Hammer
4 Pillar of Flame
4 Smelt
Sideboard [15]

Click for full deck stats & notes!

(Sidenote: I haven't tested this list. I haven't tested any of these lists. How the hell can anyone test without M13 on Modo? No matter: the purpose of this article isn't to provide polished seventy-fives - it's to stimulate creativity by showing what is possible with the new format; which archetypes gain boosts, maybe even how the metagame will shift. I thereby excuse myself from the hard work of optimizing. Anyway …)

This list is halfway in between two archetypal Goblins lists of yore - on one hand, Mirrodin Besieged Standard's Kuldotha Red (fast, fragile, inconsistent, explosive); on the other, Legacy Goblins (slow, resilient, consistent, inexorable). I don't think the Kuldotha Red approach is appropriate right now: it was largely a metagame deck designed to prey on Caw-Blade (as it shaved copies of Day of Judgment to beat the mirror), and it was bad against stuff like my Naya mid-range deck, which people seem to like these days. Blade Splicer and Strangleroot Geist will simply cause such builds to fizzle. Without Goblin Bushwhacker to provide an additional "anthem" and wins out of nowhere, the blitz conceit becomes even weaker. Also, Bonfire is a thing.

 Krenko, Mob Boss
Store QTY Price  
Card Board Tables 1 $1.00
Cheese Boy Cards 1 $1.46
Deathrite Games 1 $1.63
The Battle Garden 1 $1.75
Serenity Games 3 $1.79
Vans Cards 1 $1.85
Mindspirals 1 $1.99
CC Magic House 1 $1.99
Buy Sell PLAY 1 $1.99
FORC Arizona 2 $2.00
Magic MTG Card
Magic MTG Card Krenko, Mob Boss Magic MTG Card
Magic MTG Card

I therefore propose a more mid-rangey form of Goblins: the creatures and spells all either provide value or crushing efficiency. The creatures are self-explanatory in the way that Tribal decks always are. Four copies of Krenko (preferably in Italian) are mandatory, in the same way you might run four Thalias in a Modern deck - he's so strong, and such a lightning rod for removal, that it's way worse to draw zero than it is two. The burn suite, in keeping with contemporary practices, is all sorcery-speed - sure, it's likely to interfere with your "curving out," but so is overpaying for three damage whenever. If your meta has a lot of poison or other decks that need to be dealt with at instant speed, I can see running a few Shocks or Incinerates (or Dismembers!), but Arc Lightning and Arc Trail are both so much more powerful - especially in today's weenie-dominated environment. Rounding out the spells are Goblin Grenade, which kills everything but a Titan, provides a great deal of reach, and plays well with Krenko and Krenko's Command; and Shrine of Burning Rage, which is one of the finest red spells ever printed (in the same way that Goblin Guide is the most efficient burn).

Though this deck is designed to overwhelm opponents with Goblins in the mid-game more than it is to get a few quick hits in and burn opponents out, its strategy is still linear and thus vulnerable to "problem cards." The sideboard is an attempt to address these cards: Smelt is for Sword of War and Peace, Pillar of Flame is for Strangleroot Geist, Arms Dealer is for Restoration Angel, and Koth and Chandra's Phoenix are an attempt at providing a repeatable threat to trump sweepers. In the absence of these cards, Goblins should do very well. Dungrove Elder isn't the biggest deal when you're making tons of tokens each turn; neither is Thragtusk. Vapor Snag is poor against us. Lingering Souls only buys a little time. They shouldn't have enough time to stick Elesh Norn.

UG Poison had a very high ratio of wins to dollar cost; Frank Stanley Goblins might, in that regard, be even more efficient. Maybe we can do even better:

Nick Rosas Goblin Storm by Christopher Morris-Lent
Main Deck
3 Krenko, Mob Boss
4 Myr Sire
2 Priest of Urabrask
Creatures [9]
4 Battle Hymn
2 Burn at the Stake
1 Devil's Play
4 Faithless Looting
2 Infernal Plunge
4 Krenko's Command
4 Kuldotha Rebirth
2 Past in Flames
4 Reforge the Soul
3 Shrine of Burning Rage
3 Wild Guess
Spells [33]
18 Mountain (242)
Lands [18]
Deck Total [60]

4 Grim Lavamancer
2 Hellrider
2 Manabarbs
3 Mental Misstep
2 Nihil Spellbomb
2 Smelt
Sideboard [15]

Click for full deck stats & notes!

I credit Nick Rosas, an employee at my LGS, for the original conception that became this. I should also mention AJ Kerrigan, whose RW Storm build on SCG was far more consistent, and therefore far less terrible, than what Nick and I had been toying around with.

The Monored version of this deck played such trash (contextually trash, as these are obviously very powerful cards) as Memnite and Mox Opal; the White version sacrificed consistency for playing slightly better cards in Gather the Townsfolk, Timely Reinforcements, etc. With M13, we can meld the consistency of the mono-Red version with the power of the White splash. Krenko's Command fills in for Gather the Townsfolk, and Krenko himself will very often let you "go off" if you untap with him: make a bunch of Goblins, generate a ton of mana with Battle Hymn, draw 7 with Reforge the Soul, cast Past in Flames, and so on - like all Storm sequences, interesting to see the first time, extremely boring thereafter.

Meanwhile, Wild Guess is more digging in Red. In the sideboard, Smelt is stronger than Ancient Grudge-with-awkward-Green-splash, and Grim Lavamancer is just terrific. This is one of the few decks that can support him without fetchlands; he lets you play the long game against weenie-oriented decks, so long as they're not packing Bonfire of the Damned. Sadly, Bonfire is rather popular. But I remain pretty happy that I was able to get through two Red lists without even mentioning Thundermaw Hellkite (I pass over the fact that I just mentioned him here).

Next, for your delectation, I have an equally mono-dimensional deck, suggested by a friend of mine from Modo:

Josh Blackborow Primal Surge by Christopher Morris-Lent
Main Deck
4 Arbor Elf
4 Avacyn's Pilgrim
3 Craterhoof Behemoth
3 Elvish Archdruid
3 Elvish Visionary
4 Llanowar Elves
2 Palladium Myr
3 Soul of the Harvest
Creatures [26]
3 Garruk, Primal Hunter
Planeswalkers [3]
4 Gilded Lotus
3 Primal Surge
3 Shrine of Boundless Growth
Spells [10]
15 Forest (246)
2 Gavony Township
4 Razorverge Thicket
Lands [21]
Deck Total [60]

1 Acidic Slime
3 Gutter Grime
1 Melira, Sylvok Outcast
3 Stingerfling Spider
4 Thragtusk
3 Viridian Corrupter
Sideboard [15]

Click for full deck stats & notes!

I would not have been interested in this conception had Travis Woo not caught my eye with a Facebook post a few days ago: "Green Summer," it pretentiously proclaimed. As a lover of Green, I was immediately enraptured; no matter that I hate decks like Modern Bant, where you get all the power of playing eight one-drop dorks, all the joy of mulliganing hands without them and having the worst top-decks ever in pretty much every game. So there's no card quality here (Green Sun's Zenith doesn't count), but there is a lot of card draw: Soul of the Harvest, cribbed directly from Travis' list. Gavony Township provides a really powerful mana sink - one that was quite popular at the beginning of Innistrad Standard, but has grown less so with the rise of Delver.

The point of this deck isn't Gavony Township, though, nor is it Soul of the Harvest. Instead, the Soul (along with his buddies, the Elvish Visionaries) is supposed to help you draw into Primal Surge. At which point, you win on the spot! Unless you're really unlucky. One thing that attracts me to this deck is that it can also win without the Surges - should your opponent not be sweeper-oriented, you can easily just "get there" with your mana and bombs.

I would say that the sideboard is cribbed from Travis, but, since I mentioned him, I guess it wasn't "plagiarized" - merely "borrowed."

And so we go on from my favorite color to my least favorite:

Mike Morris-Lent Merfolk by Christopher Morris-Lent
Main Deck
4 Augur of Bolas
4 Delver of Secrets
4 Snapcaster Mage
3 Talrand, Sky Summoner
Creatures [15]
4 Gitaxian Probe
3 Gut Shot
3 Mana Leak
2 Mutagenic Growth
4 Ponder
2 Runechanter's Pike
3 Thought Scour
3 Vapor Snag
Spells [24]
3 Inkmoth Nexus
18 Island (234)
Lands [21]
Deck Total [60]

Click for full deck stats & notes!

When my dad and I first started playing Magic, I assembled a deck from a Fourth Edition starter pack and a few boosters of Tempest, while he made one out of … a pre-constructed, called "The Dominator." Though Mike had nothing to do with the making of this deck, I'd still like to dedicate it to him. Things have really changed since the heyday of "Capsize with buyback" or, God Forbid, Forbid.

When you think of "Delver," you think of all the cards that are so good, at any point in the game; all the card advantage, all the cantripping, but also all the softness, the lack of raw power. With this deck, I've tried to keep all the advantages of Delver while breeding out the weaknesses. So we have a focus on the cantrips, a greatly improved mana-base, and two new cards.

Augur of Bolas is an easy one: he loves instants and sorceries off the top as much as our most flagrant violation of the color pie. (I added an extra land to accommodate the Augurs, since he ships lands to the bottom.)

Talrand requires a little bit of thought. Is it worth it to replace Restoration Angel with him? My answer is: it absolutely is. Restoration Angel is a phenomenally strong card, with fair and unfair applications across Standard and Modern; but it is not a great card in Delver. The ETB interaction is more or less limited to Snapcaster (unless you count saving Geist of Saint Traft, which I don't), and that ETB interaction is pretty lame: if you hold the 3W up during your opponent's turn, you can't even flash back Ponder or Gitaxian Probe. So all we really have is a 3/4 flash/flying that necessitates that we play another color and sometimes buys back a spell that costs U. Good enough for "The Dominator," but kinda weak after Mistbind Clique et al. were making people flip tables and collections.

Talrand, on the other hand, oozes continuous value. As soon as he resolves, without passing priority, you can cast Probe or whatever, and make a Drake. It's such a spectacularly broken card that my friend Sam is thinking about shelving his stupid Edric EDH deck in favor of Talrand. "More people will want to play with me," he says. Well, I don't know about that.

One final note. I called this deck "Merfolk" because I originally intended to toss in a few of the farm-raised fishes. But then I realized that they were terrible. Merfolk Looter is way too fair in this deck. Scroll Thief just gets blocked. And Master of the Pearl Trident is a pathetic Grand Architect - at least for now. When the Architect and his horrible block rotate out, the Merfolk will be compared with himself - and he'll be found less wanting. Unless there are no Merfolk in Ravnica. Can we get a Rusalka lord, anyone?

Join me next week for a look at poison, as well as a Burning Vengeance / Gravecrawler build that will make Sam Black quiver with the delight of having his ideas ripped off.

Thanks for reading!
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