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By: stsung, Jaroslava Stefankova
Sep 12 2017 11:00am
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Historical data

Some time ago one of the 100CS players was surprised that Stoneforge Mystic is banned. This mention lead to a huge discussion about the current banlist which is not currently curated by Wizards of the Coast since they decided to let the format go. During that time I tried to explain my point of view. There isn't a good balance among decks and as a player that played different singleton formats for years at a highly competitive level and also as someone who likes to brew I can see this imbalance quite clearly. I may not have a good judgment on the actual bannings or unbannings of cards but I can see what implications specific bannings or unbannings would have. In the recent past the 100CS community started to discuss possible banlist changes once again. This time it was initiated by Lowman02 who shares the same feeling about the format not being balanced - creature heavy and green based decks are very favored while any blue deck or combo decks are very restricted by the current banlist. 4c Blood is the deck to beat .

Lowman02 tried all kinds of decks but is restricted by the banlist and it is difficult to come up with something entertaining and fun that could stand a chance against 4c Blood, Gx based decks or even RDW (I tried and failed and that takes the fun from it, also it does not motivate me to try something new). While we were talking about this, he mentioned that he put together a 5 color aggro. I remembered that I played a great deal of events with a 5c Aggro/Midrange and was wondering how different our two decks could possibly get. I started looking for the old decklist of mine with which I won many events (meaning there should be some record of it) but found out the decklists are gone primarily because mtgpulse.com does not exist anymore. I remembered though that Magic Card Market had a German Highlander decklist section and I actually found my decklist there. After that I got very curious about other decks of the time (2011-2014 mostly). That is why I decided to dig decklists up from our events and compare the lists. 100CS follows the trend of German Highlander from the time when Stoneforge Mystic was banned in both formats (soon after which both formats started to wane). German Highlander on the other hand continued in evolution. Here is a summary of my observation of some of the decklists I dug up which you might find interesting. More comparison will follow later after I introduce my deck.

 

After staring at creature based decklists I realized that many of those creatures would hardly stand a chance today. Especially in multicolored decks we find very powerful creatures nowadays and it was a shock that my deck from few years ago could win an event. When I started playing with 5c Aggro deck we didn't have fast lands, nor Mana Confluence or other lands that could fix mana bases for an aggressive deck (well, without fetchlands and dual lands it would be impossible to play it). Also at that time there weren't that many multicolored and good creatures in either allied or enemy colored shards. This meant that it was very difficult to create a 3 color base for the deck which can be easily done today. My deck had a green-white base but the rest of the colors were more or less equal in terms of color sources needed and the mana base could hardly support that especially in a format where people played Blood Moon, Ruination, Hall of Gemstone and Back to Basics on a regular basis. This way my mana base got even more diluted by running 4 basic lands (I couldn't afford playing more than 34 lands)

When looking at combo decks though the story was totally different. Oath/Tendrils, High Tide, TPS, Reanimator were decks that hardly changed through the years. While we got a few new cards that help the consistency of the deck the cards weren't really that important in a format where good tutors are allowed. What many of these decks needed were unique cards like Snap for example and we don't get such cards anymore. It didn't change the turn when these decks could combo off (Oath and Reanimator got way better targets in the form of Griselbrand and Emrakul, the Aeons Torn. Griselbrand is also a card that was often played in Storm decks)

Control decks on the other hand changed considerably over time. When I was introduced to this format in 2004 or so there were people playing mono blue and blue-back control decks that at that time were really good. Years later they disappeared completely because there were many unfair creatures printed and the decks couldn't keep up in the hands of not so skilled players (often those decks died to one Extraction effect). Later though with the creation of a new card type - Planeswalker - control decks started to emerge again. They didn't follow the traditional draw-go control approach but were rather value-based tapout control decks or aggro-control decks. Many decks started eschewing control cards and replacing them with high impact cards. This way we played less cantrips, less counterspells but more removal, planeswalkers and creatures. Since white got very nice removal spells it started to replace black. The base was usually blue-white and people either decided to play black as a third color for tutors, more disruption and removal or red which moved the deck more into aggro-control type. UWR Control decks soon changed to tempo decks because there was no way to put together a pure control deck in those colors and not die to the aggressive decks of the time. It was easier to take on the role of an aggro-control deck and just beat them sooner.

Esper still was the most controlling deck that performed the best but was lacking something. When Sensei's Divining Top and Mystical Tutor were legal, the win condition was often Entreat the Angels. Later it was replaced with Helm of Obedience and Rest in Peace and the deck became traditional control again. With the help of very powerful planeswalkers the deck could still win in another way than with the combo that was easy to disrupt. In the past two years though this deck fell out of favor and was replaced by Izzet aggro-control and BUG Midrange (control). Those are two very different decks but are the most controlling decks in the past two years' metagame.

Midrange decks were usually falling under the creature decks because the true value decks did not exist at that time yet even though they slowly started to be a thing. Many aggressive decks were more denial decks and were punishing players for casting more expensive spells, using activated abilities or running more colors than necessary. Midrange decks were more of aggressive decks whose curve was higher and these decks tried to grind other decks out while being fair. Bant blink was one such a deck, but with stronger and even stronger creatures being printed this decks started losing to 4c Blood and midrange decks started simply running strong cards rather than abusing utility creatures or synergy. The format nowadays is full of midrange decks because we have creatures whose power is something we could hardly imagine back then and also because of planeswalkers that are often even stronger than those creatures and create value each turn.

 

5c Aggro - little bit of history


Years ago, when playing paper Magic I played German Highlander which is a variant of 100 card singleton. The difference from Magic Online 100CS is the banlist which is less restrictive than the 100CS one. 100CS also uses the sideboard while German Highlander does not. German Highlander was a format I started playing while on my search for a format I'd enjoy after a certain fiasco with Vintage and Legacy that made many people leave the format. I missed the good old times and this format allowed me to experience Magic in the way I liked. I always looked for a deck that would reward the player for playing well and punish them for playing badly. While I was looking for a blue control deck, I found out that a non-blue deck was able to let me experience what I wanted too. It took a while for me to discover that deck.

 

At the local German Highlander Series, I started with a BUG Aggro-Control deck (featuring 31 lands!) but later switched to Naya Zoo. Naya Zoo was way too aggressive for me even though it was far from the most aggressive Naya deck out there. It didn't satisfy me because it didn't allow me to make as many decisions as I liked. I also had the tendency to change Red for Blue. That is something I did. There were still red cards like Ajani Vengeant that I wanted to run though and I was always tempted to run Black cards. That would allow me to run Demonic Tutor and the best removal spells after Swords to Plowshares. I tried for a long time to figure what color combination was the best and were on the aggro-midrange spectrum I wanted to be. I was trying all kinds of combination of Bant, Dark Bant, Naya, Dark Naya, Junk, 4c Blood decks but I always felt the need to play 5c instead of 4c. My brain though didn't want me to try 5c since that wasn't really a deck, at least at that time and 5c mana base seemed really clunky.

One day I forgot my deck at home when going to one of the events. I couldn't come back to fetch it, but fortunately for me I had Holiday Cube on me (one day I decided to sort all cards I have - I lost my job and wanted to see what I can sell - and in the process I decided to see if I own all the 720 cards in the current iteration of Holiday Cube, because I wanted to keep that).

My sorting of cards started with me taking boxes full of cards and emptying them on the floor. If this idea ever comes to your mind, forget about it. Don't ever do that! I took this picture after 2 weeks of sorting cards full time. The other photo shows the Cube double sleeved - if you ever decide to double sleeve 720 cards, ask friends to help you.

I arrived early enough to build a deck out of the Cube. I just went through all the powerful cards shuffled together and started taking cards I liked out of the Cube. In the end I had about 120 cards I wanted to play from which I needed to cut some cards in order to end up with 100 cards. The cards were from all colors and the choice of playing certain cards was certainly very greedy! That's how Delver of Secrets found its way into a mostly creature deck, and Mana Drain and Jace, the Mind Sculptor were among other cards like Wild Nacatl and Falkenrath Aristocrat.

My deck was a mystery for both me and my opponents since I did not even know what cards I put in the deck and my opponents didn't know what to expect either. Nonetheless while I was struggling with my lands a lot I somehow won all the matches winning the whole event with this Cube deck.

I was sure that my opponent wouldn't anticipate getting their Mystic Confluence countered, especially after checking my previous decklists when I usually chose to omit blue from my decks. All the cards my opponent saw suggested that I was on Junk Midrange, but I wasn't. I was running 5c!

 

In the following events I decided to stick with the deck and see how the deck can possibly evolve (I was obviously a bit lazy about that, so it took a while for me to take out Young Pyromancer or Delver of Secrets). One opponent once asked me if I forget about my Delver trigger all the time, that was after my Delver stayed 1/1 for ten turns. It eventually won the game thanks to Delver of Secrets but it was clear that the card could find a better home. Even though I ran more instant and sorceries than creatures, it wasn't enough.

This deck was a rather strange deck since it pretended to be an aggro deck but also ran a high number of blue cards including counterspells. Some of the blue cards also had UU in their mana cost meaning that I couldn't efficiently play cards costing GW or GWB etc. The cards were very powerful though and won me many games - Jace, the Mind Sculptor, Mana Drain, Vendilion Clique, True-Name Nemesis. The deck was often in beatdown mode but it was a midrange deck that was changing tempo depending on the opposing deck.

This is how my deck looked when I decided to try it against lowman02. I loaded the decklist I dug up and switched some cards around keeping the original idea intact which resulted in a slightly different list from lowman02. When I was adding new cards I wasn't particularly thinking about 100CS metagame but rather updated my decklist being suited for German Highlander. Even though the formats are fairly similar, the German Highlander metagame is more varied - it contains more deck archetypes. In 100CS combo decks are rather rare. The other difference is that German Highlander events are very competitive in nature and players tend to come with decks that are efficient and likely to win the event (a lot of money is usually at stake). Since the official 100CS events were canceled on Magic Online only the people that wanted to play the format for fun came to play it. Lowman02 mentioned one day that Chainsaw Massacre, a 100CS player run event, has a very low EV and thus doesn't usually interest people much even if they would be willing to try the format (there are many Vintage and Legacy players that started playing EDH Leagues to get their singleton fix, even though they prefer 100CS. EV plays a big role for many players on Magic Online. That's the reason why Vintage player switched to Legacy Leagues). No matter what are the reasons why there isn't that many players playing 100CS, it means one thing, the power level of decks in the CSM is very varied.

If you would compare my and lowman's decklist you'd come up with this list of cards. The first is the list of cards I do not run, and the second column is what lowman02 doesn't run. This list is not extensive but the difference in the playstyle of the decks is actually huge. This is something that is often seen in Vintage, but in 100CS it is true as well.

1 Elves of Deep Shadow 1 Dryad Arbor
1 Mother of Runes 1 Sakura-Tribe Elder
1 Duskwatch Recruiter 1 Scrapheap Scrounger
1 Gaddock Teeg 1 Snapcaster Mage
1 Lotus Cobra 1 Blade Splicer
1 Sylvan Advocate 1 Spell Queller
1 Sylvan Caryatid 1 True-Name Nemesis
1 Doran, the Siege Tower 1 Thragtusk
1 Savage Knuckleblade 1 Primeval Titan
1 Shardless Agent 1 Ajani Vengeant
1 Tireless Tracker 1 Sorin, Solemn Visitor
1 Bloodbraid Elf 1 Force Spike
1 Queen Marchesa 1 Spell Snare
1 Shriekmaw 1 Evasive Action
1 Burst Lightning 1 Mana Leak
1 Ghastly Demise 1 Miscalculation
1 Go for the Throat 1 Zealous Persecution
1 Kolaghan's Command 1 Lingering Souls
Reflecting Pool 1 Natural Order
Arc Trail Green Sun's Zenith
  Basic Lands

When I was playing in the German Highlander metagame I needed to deal with early threats and stop or slow down combo decks. My deck was able to win by turn 4 unopposed but there were combo decks winning on that turn too. I needed to get at least two more turns to win. Without enough disruption in the deck I would simply lose. Often, I needed a way to deal with a 4-drop that I could Force Spike and win the game because of it. In Chainsaw Massacre events though there is no need for such disruption and that is most probably why lowman02 didn't probably even consider running countermagic (he can comment below, I didn't ask him about this). That is also the reason why I switched from Dark Bant/Bant to Junk Midrange (after always boarding out all the blue cards) that is more suitable for the CSM metagame as it keeps the deck more streamlined and focused on beating the opponent.

The other difference is in mana base. Lowman plays a very streamlined one that is probably ideal for the deck. When I was playing with this deck I was playing in an environment in which I really needed access to basic lands since nonbasic land hate was very common and in 100CS is not. My deck could usually operate in GW mode which was winning me way more games than my basics losing games (that was happening as well, but rather rarely). I was fetching as soon as I could for a Forest and then Plains (my decklist features Mountain instead of Forest, I'm not entirely sure how that happened, I used to run Forest since my lands usually turned into Mountains). Green Sun's Zenith is one of the cards that was actually helping to find a mana dork so I could play more cards (or Vithian Renegades, the second most searched card). The card though is not that awesome in CSM where it slows me down and often could be replaced simply by another -1 mana cheaper threat. I wasn't running Reflecting Pool because when my Savannah or Scrubland got hit I often was left with cards I could simply play (not good with basics either). This doesn't mean that one mana base is better than the other one, each has its pros and cons and experience made me want to use this one in German Highlander. As you can see though lowman02 opted for different approach and I agree that this is a better one in the CSM events.

My list running 34 lands features Thragtusk and Primeval Titan. Wonder why? If you look closer you will notice that there is Natural Order in my 115 cards. This card is currently banned in German Highlander because the card was winning more games than was healthy for the metagame. If you cast Natural Order (and usually look for Primeval Titan) you are very likely to win because that card advantage is huge. That is also the reason why my deck usually featured 2 creaturelands that I could look for. This is also something that slows me down but casting Natural Order wins games and having access to creaturelands against control decks was also winning a small percentage of games I couldn't win otherwise. I wanted to have those options available to me. Usually one match out of 5 was won in such way. That is huge!

I like lowman02's choice of cards and some of the cards are ones I decided not to include. For example Mother of Runes is a nice card and one would think it is good in decks featuring many creatures. During all the time I was running Naya Zoo, 4c Blood and 5c I realized that I don't need that kind of protection and I'd rather run either mana producing creature (which has a huge impact on the game, Lotus Cobra missing in my list is a mistake!) or noncreature spell. Gaddock Teeg is a card I used to play but I moved it to the sideboard for CMS because I also run Green Sun's Zenith, Natural Order and planeswalkers. Doran, the Siege Tower is a huge creature that for some reason I do not really like and that is why you probably won't ever see me play it. My deck used to feature creatures with power/toughness similar to 3/1 which wasn't good when Doran was around. On the other hand Doran was often the only creature in play when I was trying to play the card. Savage Knuckleblade is a card I always wanted to play in a deck but its mana cost is a problem for my deck. The cards in my deck should have GW or WB in their mana cost and then cost 1 more addition color or two. Cards costing double color are already a problem and casting something with two offcolor mana symbols is actually a big problem for my mana base.

 

The cards that create card advantage are sweet but I was never really sold on Bloodbraid Elf in my deck and I would look the same about Shardless Agent. The cards are also badly costed for me. Queen Marchesa on the other hand is an ideal card I'd love to put it in my deck. Being a Monarch for a turn or two can decide the game. So if you ever see someone play Palace Jailer in Legacy, Vintage or Queen Marchesa don't laugh. The cards are very powerful. Try them out if your deck can support them.

 

In practice my deck is a midrange deck. Against more aggressive decks (4c Blood for example) it is taking on the role of a midrange deck that can keep up in early game and go over the top mid-game. Against control decks this deck works like a tempo deck that can eventually land a threat that is not answered. Against combo decks it either goes hyper aggressive or tempo depending on how fast the deck is. Lowman's deck though is a creature based aggro deck that often doesn't have much of a choice to change a role because it is not built for that. It makes the deck more focused and more efficient at beating with creatures. That means the deck is not that well suited against certain other archetypes. Both of our decks would have different win percentages against different deck archetypes. If we were building a deck with the same metagame in mind our lists would most probably be very similar with just few cards different because I would also go for more aggressive approach.

I hope that the short comparison of two similar decks and little observation about evolution of decks will show some of you that we shouldn't limit ourselves. Especially in an eternal format where many cards are legal we want freedom, something that many other formats do not offer. Unbanning cards or balancing certain archetypes does not mean the end of the world. It can go wrong with a wrong banlist management but it can also help the format to be more healthy, more divers and more complex. In our region - Germany, Austria, Czech Republic and Slovakia - German Highlander was a format that gave us the freedom. It allowed us to play the decks we liked in the past that are no longer viable, it allowed us to play with cards we like and are not usually legal in other formats. Some cards are either too powerful or too weak for those formats in which they are legal but in 100CS or German Highlander we can still play with them. We can make use them. Legacy Painter players can't play the deck anymore, Vintage TPS players are struggling too, hard control players don't have a place where to go. All I and other also wish is that all the players can have a format where they can enjoy what they like and have equal chances of winning, or at least have a reasonable chance of winning.

Explore the format, brew and pit those decks against other decks. Do this even within bounds of your collection (and see if there is need for other cards you don't own). It will open your eyes. With experience you will understand why Bribery is not Natural Order or why Birthing Pod is an overpowered card. This doesn't mean these cards should get banned but other cards should balance them and there are none so far. You may understand why Stoneforge Mystic was banned and why it may actually be fine to unban it nowadays or in the near future. You have to look at the metagame objectively and not subjectively based on your preferences of play style, deck archetypes, or cards.

Take it easy, thank you for reading

S'Tsung (stsung on MODO, stsungjp on Twitter)

Chainsaw Massacre 3.46

For those that made it this far, here's a bonus. At first, I wanted to write a report from the event but since all the games didn't really go as planned for a nice report, I decided to discard the idea. Lowman02 was interested in seeing my matches though and honestly when watching him watch me I also wondered what was in my hand and it took me a while to figure that out. So I decided to just upload them too. You will see my struggles with being proactive or reactive when the CSM events usually dictate proactive and that also leads to my downfall. The games were very high variance games which is not actually that usual for this deck. This is not a good representation of how the deck normally works, so bear that in mind. All of our tournament matches from CSM 3.46 are up so you can watch them. Lowman was commenting other matches in between rounds which I wasn't (maybe next time!) even though I watched them too (the idea didn't come to my mind).

5c Aggro piloted by STsung

5c Aggro piloted by Lowman02

Decklist

And if you wonder what deck I played and was talking about in this article, here is the deck in a text form (and can also be downloaded from MTGOTraders).

5c Aggro
by STsung, 588tix
Creatures
1 Anafenza, the Foremost
1 Avacyn's Pilgrim
1 Aven Mindcensor
1 Birds of Paradise
1 Blade Splicer
1 Butcher of the Horde
1 Dark Confidant
1 Deathrite Shaman
1 Edric, Spymaster of Trest
1 Falkenrath Aristocrat
1 Fleecemane Lion
1 Geist of Saint Traft
1 Grim Flayer
1 Grim Lavamancer
1 Huntmaster of the Fells
1 Kitchen Finks
1 Knight of the Reliquary
1 Leovold, Emissary of Trest
1 Loxodon Smiter
1 Noble Hierarch
1 Primeval Titan
1 Qasali Pridemage
1 Restoration Angel
1 Sakura-Tribe Elder
1 Saskia the Unyielding
1 Scavenging Ooze
1 Scrapheap Scrounger
1 Siege Rhino
1 Snapcaster Mage
1 Spell Queller
1 Tarmogoyf
1 Thalia, Heretic Cathar
1 Thragtusk
1 Tidehollow Sculler
1 True-Name Nemesis
1 Voice of Resurgence
1 Wild Nacatl
38 cards
Other Spells
1 Abrupt Decay
1 Ajani Vengeant
1 Bitterblossom
1 Brainstorm
1 Dismember
1 Evasive Action
1 Fatal Push
1 Fire/Ice
1 Force Spike
1 Green Sun's Zenith
1 Inquisition of Kozilek
1 Lightning Bolt
1 Lightning Helix
1 Lingering Souls
1 Maelstrom Pulse
1 Mana Leak
1 Miscalculation
1 Natural Order
1 Path to Exile
1 Ponder
1 Preordain
1 Sorin, Solemn Visitor
1 Spell Snare
1 Swords to Plowshares
1 Thoughtseize
1 Tribal Flames
1 Vindicate
1 Zealous Persecution
28 cards
Lands
1 Arid Mesa
1 Badlands
1 Bayou
1 Blood Crypt
1 Bloodstained Mire
1 Breeding Pool
1 Dryad Arbor
1 Flooded Strand
1 Island
1 Mana Confluence
1 Marsh Flats
1 Misty Rainforest
1 Mountain
1 Overgrown Tomb
1 Plains
1 Plateau
1 Polluted Delta
1 Sacred Foundry
1 Savannah
1 Scalding Tarn
1 Scrubland
1 Steam Vents
1 Stirring Wildwood
1 Swamp
1 Taiga
1 Temple Garden
1 Treetop Village
1 Tropical Island
1 Tundra
1 Underground Sea
1 Verdant Catacombs
1 Volcanic Island
1 Wasteland
1 Windswept Heath
1 Wooded Foothills
34 cards
 

2 Comments

Thanks by lowman02 at Sat, 09/16/2017 - 17:49
lowman02's picture
5

S'tsung,

Thanks for the cool article on a great format. Think it's interesting for beginners of the format and veterans alike to always review the vast difference a few cards 10-11 (and arguably far more different once mana bases are accounted for) in two decks can make in how a deck can play out. You're 100% right, just looking at both lists mine trades off flexibility, value, role selection, and top end power, all of which tend to be the hallmarks of the midrange, for greater coherence, consistency, and efficiency (more so hallmarks of aggro). Both have power, but carried in different ways, and relevant really in a comparative way once you start looking at an expected meta game--in the midrange mirror I'd take your build any day of the week, vs control I'd prefer my own, and I think both decks are fairly well armed vs. other aggro decks of the format (White Weenie and Red Deck Wins). From a pure fun perspective I'd expect most players to enjoy the variance of games that I think your deck is more likely to expect given card selection, i.e. not every game will play out the same. With my more focused build of this "archetype" (this term is loosely applied here because despite both decks running rainbow spectrum spells and being within 10-11 cards or so, they play out vastly different) the deck is expected to play pretty prescriptively: T1: Cast hand disruption, removal on mana dork, or cast my own mana dork; T2: Resolve an on curve threat; T3: Resolve an on curve threat; T4: Remove their most relevant threat, cast an off-curve threat; T5: cast 1-2 off curve threats, remove if available their most relevant threat...kill them. The difference in mana base is chiefly an accepted risk in support of my game plan (I run no basics); I can present 2-3 relevant threats before they can resolve blood moon, back to basics, etc, and if they do this, then although I'm not casting my most relevant spells on the next turn, I just effectively got a time walk turn (because none of these cards really do anything to independently end the game, nor do they change the past, ie what I've previously resolved). So if a new player checking this out would want to try either of these cool decks in a tourney; I think either would be a good recommendation, but would depend on the sort of deck they enjoy playing; S'tsung's build is certainly far more interactive and has expectations to fight beyond the midgame...player decision making has a higher probability of leading you to victory or failure with the deck. My build is more of a clock, its sequencing, land selection (off of fetchlands), keep selection (given knowledge of matchup), are your most crucial decisions outside of evaluation of opposing threats for removal options, because the deck is more focused on winning the board to kill the opponent, but does not have many viable answers for powerful spells that do not interact with the board or indirectly impact the board. Here's the list I brought to the event if anyone is curious: http://gatherling.com/deck.php?mode=view&id=50468

Thanks for the exposure for the format; and if you're interested make your way out on Saturdays through the link that Sensei included above.

Take it easy you all.