Baltimore, Grim Lavamancer, and ShamanTwin

Feature Article from Michael Martin
Michael Martin
6/29/2011 8:38:00 AM
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This week, I'd love to write up a sick tournament report for this past weekend's StarCityGames Open in Baltimore; I placed 14th with TwinBlade and felt that I was playing, by far, the best deck in the room. It honestly feels like back in 2004 when I heard that Dimebag Darrell was killed. You see, I was never a Pantera fan growing up, but when I heard the news, I immediately started hearing about how insane of a guitarist he was, etc… So I started listening and immediately grew sad because I knew that I would never be able to hear the insanity that was being pumped into my eardrums in real life and had lost a chance to see something great.

That's how it feels now that I've played some sort of Blade deck. Yes, I tried fighting it for a while, and had mediocre success, especially before the printing of Deceiver Exarch/Batterskull with RUG. However, after playing TwinBlade, I realize that I lost an opportunity to play one of the most insane decks I've ever played. One of the things holding me back was the insistence that if you didn't know the mirror that you would have a hard time playing Caw; however, since I was able to “cheat” with the Twin combo, I actually went 3-0 against regular Caw and 5-2 overall versus the CawBlade variants. It didn't even feel fair. However, even though I'm slightly upset that I won't be able to play a great deck like that again, I will say that its good that they banned the Two-Headed monster, since if you guys didn't get the memo, TwinBlade was going to be the second coming of CawBlade. If you thought UW was dominant, UWR was just stupid…

Before I move to the more relevant part of the article, I will share an interesting bit; I was playing Wes Murphy who's grown to have a great understanding of his UW CawBlade deck and would probably win 9 out of 10 matches in the “mirror” with me, even though I feel UW CawBlade is a great match. I was obviously playing TwinBlade, and lost game 1 when I punted by attacking with a sworded (War and Peace type) Hawk and a naked Hawk then playing my last Hawk after combat, leaving me with 1 blocker against a Batterskull germ and a Colonnade at 7 life. Into the Roil showed me what was what... Game 2 was a Batterskull-battle until I get him to tap out and windmill slam Consecrated Sphinx. We go through the motions for 3-4 more turns, including me Jace fatesealing, before he scoops. Game 3 is the interesting game. We trade resources until all we have on board are lands and Sword of Feast and Famine on both sides of the table. Eventually he gets enough lands to activate Colonnade and equip, then drops Squadron Hawk to pull really far ahead. I just have a Splinter Twin in hand, so I'm looking pretty close to done. The next turn, I rip Jace, cast it, and am shocked to see it resolve. I Brainstorm and pass. He crashes and drops more hawks, basically having lethal the next turn. I draw my card for the turn, assuming I'm pretty much dead. I Brainstorm, and these end up being my six cards before I finish resolving Brainstorm:

Deceiver Exarch
Splinter Twin
Spell Pierce
Divine Offering
Jace, the Mind Sculptor
Scalding Tarn

I know he's going to tap out to activate colonnade and equip a sword to a Hawk, so my plan was to flash in Deceiver, tapping Colonnade. If he has removal, I can Spell Pierce and Divine Offering the sword would prevent him from untapping and allow me to combo him out. His turn plays out exactly like that (Deceiver – tap Colonnade – response: Dismember, Spell Pierce – Divine Offering) and I'm able to utterly steal a win that I had no business winning. Like I said, this deck is extremely unfair…

Anywho, we're past all that. 99.9999% of you are excited about the new standard, and I doubt Edgar reads this article anyway. Now everyone and their mom are writing about new standard. Well, I mean, what else are we going to write about? Everyone's been under the Oppression of CawBlade lately, even us writers. What COULD we write about? “Uh, play CawBlade if you want to win. You can try these other decks, you may have a little success, but in all reality, play CawBlade.” Who wants to read that??

So now for the next couple of weeks we have a relatively undefined metagame, something we haven't had for a number of months now. We have a general understanding of a couple of the pillars in this metagame, but even those decks are undefined, since they have to morph and adjust for the gaping hole in the metagame that Caw took up. This is one of those times that, if you're going to try to brew but you're not Conley Woods that it would be best to do so. You see, decks won't be refined to a scalpel-fine point like Caw was, and you won't be punished as hard if your list also isn't completely refined.

Also, there really aren't any super-relevant events before M12 is released, at least not for me. So it's pointless for me to try to brew without thinking about M12 and the changes that will come with the new core set. Everyone is excited about Grim Lavamancer, as they should be. The card is insane in Legacy even to this day, why wouldn't you play it in standard? You even have fetchlands to turn the Lavamancer on quickly. The question is, which direction do we take Lavamancer decks in the “new standard”?

Well, first we have Burn. You can build red decks different ways, but with the format's defining turn being turn 4, you want to try to win before that or have “essentially won”. With that in mind, we can start with this list:

4x Goblin Guide
4x Grim Lavamancer
4x Plated Geopede
4x Kiln Fiend

4x Shrine of Burning Rage

4x Lightning Bolt
4x Searing Blaze
4x Incinerate
4x Staggershock

4x Scalding Tarn
4x Arid Mesa
2x Teetering Peaks
4x Tectonic Edge
10x Mountain

3x Vulshok Refugee
3x Koth of the Hammer
3x Act of Aggression
4x Dismember
2x Shatter

With this list, you're trying to play the maximum amount of fetchlands to take advantage of Grim Lavamancer, so Plated Geopede is an easy inclusion. Since you're playing 16 burn spells, Kiln Fiend becomes rather insane with the expected metagame; sure, Bolts will be around, but they're going to need to bolt your turn 1 play (Guide/Lavamancer), leaving them open to a turn 2 Beast (Geopede/Fiend). Shrine gives you a great lategame and plays really well with Staggershock (as does Kiln Fiend). I'm almost half-tempted to cut the Peaks, as hitting land drops on time, untapped, seems like it may be more important; however, it's a Shock attached to a land! We'll see…

Notably absent is Koth in the main deck; against the decks we're expecting, Koth isn't where you want to be at. Valakut? Tapping 4 simply for 4 damage looks silly after they've just cast a Primeval Titan. We're able to cut down to 23 lands because of the low curve, but that also makes Koth a casualty. Against Control, we want to bring in some number of Koths, but right now I don't think the metagame is friendly towards Koth.

Another direction we could take is Goblins… why you might ask? Goblin Grenade. That card is actually insane.

4x Goblin Guide
4x Grim Lavamancer
2x Spikeshot Elder
4x Goblin Bushwacker
4x Goblin Wardriver
4x Ember Hauler
4x Goblin Chieftain

4x Lightning Bolt
4x Goblin Grenade
2x Searing Blaze

4x Teetering Peaks
4x Tectonic Edge
4x Arid Mesa
4x Scalding Tarn
8x Mountain

The awesome thing about Goblin Grenade is that it gives you a build in way to handle the Splinter Twin combo in your maindeck. While not as fast as the burn list, this one eschews fragile cards like Plated Geopede and Kiln Fiend in favor of tribal synergy. Between Goblin Wardriver, Goblin Bushwacker, and Goblin Chieftain, you get some serious “pump” action going, and the games can end quickly with a turn 1 Guide followed by anything resembling “action”. Goblin Grenade grants a level of reach previously unseen in this type of list. Keep in mind that this list is incredibly vulnerable to Mental Misstep which may see some play post-ban since it counters Preordain, Bolts, Guide, Steppe Lynx, and Goblin Grenade. Remember that you still have to sacrifice as an additional cost to play the spell, so you still lose your guy. Be wary of Mental Misstep if you know they have it; otherwise, I can envision quite a few Mistep-induced blowouts…

Grim Lavamancer is that good; he's better than anything else in this list, so he gets the nod because he's that good; that's the reason for the fetchlands again. Lavamancer also plays well with Tectonic Edge, as the disruption and board control goes hand in hand.

Another direction we can take Lavamancer is putting him in control lists. He's a card that you can drop on the first turn that, if unanswered, can put the brakes on aggro decks with the swiftness. Imagine if that Goblins list was staring down a turn 1 Lavamancer without a good answer.

There are a couple of different directions you can take control decks that play Lavamancer. The one that excites me is UWR Control; in fact, the color combination works out really well because you can either 1. Run the Splinter Twin combo or 2. Have your opponent play around the combo that you're not even playing. I like option number 2, since I'd love for my opponent to Overload on Spellskites and combusts.

However, with that being the case, Baneslayer Angel gets a lot worse. In fact, I don't see a return to Baneslayer over Batterskull simply because of the sheer number of Combusts being played for the Exarch combo. However, I'll welcome all the Combusts in the world when I play Frost/Inferno Titan. Combust doesn't do anything to Grim Lavamancer, Venser, etc… I don't have a good list yet, since I've yet to get in some serious post-ban testing (too busy learning a deck that was banned the moment I put it down; real useful, eh?). Also, it's impossible to accurately tune a control deck to an undefined metagame.

Another direction you could go post-ban is Shaman Twin. Even though, at this point, everyone else has now “created this deck” and other writers are using those “original lists” as inspiration, I still keep tweaking my own list. I didn't include Birthing Pod pre-ban because of all of the artifact hate. It was tried and quickly dismissed, as the slots could be better used. Now that the bans have happened, I do expect artifact hate to Diminish slightly (though I don't think that it will die away completely like some other authors). With that, if you can keep a Pod on the table, you win the game. It's like Fauna Shaman 5-8; only sometimes better. With M12, you get (you guessed it) Grim Lavamancer (once again with 8 on-color fetchlands). Lavamancer also works well with Pod/Shaman, which each work to fill up the graveyard (though obviously Vengevine is a non-bo).

With that, here's an updated list for (what we know is in) M12.

4x Birds of Paradise
3x Grim Lavamancer
4x Fauna Shaman
4x Deceiver Exarch
3x Vengevine
3x Acidic Slime
1x Trinket Mage
1x Hex Parasite
1x Inferno Titan
1x Precursor Golem

3x Splinter Twin
4x Birthing Pod
4x Spreading Seas

4x Raging Ravine
4x Copperline Gorge
4x Misty Rainforest
4x Scalding Tarn
3x Forest
3x Mountain
3x Island

This list needs some practice/tuning, but without CawBlade to deal with, you don't have to worry about things like Manic Vandal. I haven't had much time to play with Birthing Pod (It never seemed to live long…), so I don't know if it's better to have more bullets or more consistency. Right now I'm somewhere in the middle, so some testing will give me an idea. Post-board we'll have access to cards like Obstinate Baloth and Arc Trail for the aggro decks.

Like I said, it's hard to advocate a control deck, at least at first. You have to be able to attack two different combo decks that require vastly different answers as well as blazingly fast red decks and disruptive aggro in the form of Vampires. Additionally, there will be Fauna Shaman decks and every rogue brew that people have been waiting to bust out up until this point. With that, I think it's best to be the player presenting the question, not to one trying to find answers; in other words, I think at first you're going to need to play either an aggro deck or an uninteractive combo deck that doesn't care what the opponent is doing, you just win if you hit your combo.

Also, remember that if you're playing a combo deck that the cards Memoricide and Surgical Extraction are likely to see a spike in play, at least at first. Everyone knows to gun for Valakut and Twin, and removing a central piece from those decks will nearly cripple the deck completely. Sure, they play ‘backup plans', but you don't play a deck because of the backup plan. So be wary of that when playing against Black decks (though Extraction could be played anywhere, which may come up with Tectonic Edge on Valakut, Surgical Extraction…)

Either way, it looks like I won't get in much practice before the weekend of the 23rd/24th of July when there are PTQs in Richmond then the SCG Open in Pittsburgh followed by Nationals. I plan on hitting all three weekends in succession as well as drafting M12 as much as possible, as I need to get up to speed as much as possible before Nats, since I don't just want to scrub out due to lack of preparation. Sure, doing decent at a SCG event is cool, but SCG Opens are to Pro-level events like triple A baseball is to the Major Leagues; the level of skill jumps significantly. I need to be ready, and I'm going to work towards it…

Thanks for reading! Be aggressive, don't give your opponent time to get their rogue deck online, and spread some volcanic seas! See you guys around! (Oh, and if you came up and said “Hi” in Baltimore and talked about my writing, thanks! Good to know people actually read these!)

Shoctologist on MTGO

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