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By: Umii, Mike Patterson
Dec 27 2007 11:14am
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(Vanguard is an online-only format of Magic, where each player has an "avatar" that grants special abilities.  Some of these abilities include giving your creatures haste, or the ability to play spells as land.  These avatars make the format different from vanilla magic, and enable unique plays and decks.  The complete list of avatars can be found here, and my archive here at puremtgo.com covers various avatars.  A Standard with Vanguard Premiere Event starts every Saturday at 11 AM EST.)

With the holidays here, Wizards is graciously running Open Premiere Events for all of their supported online formats, including Standard with Vanguard.  This past Saturday, forty six people played in the weekly tournament, and it looks like the metagame has become defined.  Since my last article a few weeks ago, Dragonstorm has flooded the scene.  It accounted for eight decks at this tournament, including five decks using the Squee avatar.  The other popular deck was Heartwood Faeries, in B;ue Black, Blue Green, and Mono Blue versions, which accounted for seven more decks.  Heartwood Elves and MonoBlue Pickles rounded out the identifiable metagame with three decks each.

My favorite deck of the tournament was a Forced Fruition deck by Dark_Tira.  Its gameplan was to deck opponents by playing Traumatize, Jace Beleren, Shelldock Isle, and Forced Fruition, using the Serra Angel avatar to gain life.  While it only went two and four, the junk rares I mentioned have a lot of synergy, and it was fun to see someone trying something new.  Perhaps with tweaking, decking could come back to competitive Standard.

My favorite play of the tournament came in round four.  renappel was playing Turbo Jhoira (see below) while Raven_1 was playing a Dakkon Rock deck similar to the one I featured in my last article.  Both decks specialize in attrition wars, and neither deck was able to gain purchase.  Near the end of the game, Raven_1 had twelve life, four lands in play, and a card in hand; renappel was in topdeck mode with two goblin tokens from an Empty the Warrens, a bunch of land including Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth, and two cards in his library.  renappel drew his card for the turn, activated Jhoira for a sorcery, and got a choice between Tropical Storm, Rats' Feast, and Last Stand; he obviously chose Last Stand, making Raven lose two life for every swamp, and killed Raven from nowhere.  I will cover renappel's deck later in the article.

Going into the tournament, I expected to see Heartwood, Dragonstorm, and Ashling decks in abundance, and wanted to have a deck that could compete with all of them.  I fooled around with building my own Heartwood Faeries deck, but did not like the prospect of facing Ashling decks with my deck full of x/2s (the Ashling avatar grants a modified Pyrohemia ability).  Of course, since Ashling was not played, this fear was unfounded.  I also toyed with the idea of playing a Braids deck, but as I outlined in my Ravnica rotation column, Braids has lost a lot of power since rotation, both in lands and in game-changing creatures.  I also have a distaste for playing vanilla Standard decks in Vanguard, which ruled out Dragonstorm (although I most certainly would play Dragonstorm in vanilla Standard).

In the end, I decided to go back to the Oni deck I talked about in my last article, with a sideboard more aware of the metagame.  I'm familiar with the deck, and it's the holidays so I figured I might as well play a fun deck.  For reference, here is the decklist:

Oni Aggro
by Umii

Lands (22):
8x Forest
6x Mountain
3x Gemstone Mine
4x Karplusan Forest
1x Pendelhaven

The Acceleration:
4x Birds of Paradise
4x Llanowar Elves
3x Boreal Druid

The Fat:
4x Phyrexian Soulgorger
4x Ravaging Riftwurm
4x Keldon Marauders
4x Sheltering Ancient
3x Lavacore Elemental

The Bulldozers:
4x Stingscourger


4x Volcano Hellion

 

In brief, this deck hopes to win by turn four by playing oversized creatures with haste

 

(due to the avatar).  My twist on the archetype is to include Stingscourger and Volcano Hellion to clear the red zone.  I hoped my creatures' size would trouble Heartwood decks, and that the deck would be fast enough to compete against Dragonstorm.

In the past, I have not done tournament reports, but rounds two through four of this tournament illustrated the strengths and weaknesses of this deck:

Round 1: Darvids0n with MonoG Braids

The Braids avatar allows you to play lands, artifacts, and creatures for two, three, and four mana respectively.  Darvids0n is playing a homebrew version of the deck using Green mana creatures to accelerate into Braids creatures.  The only non-mana creatures I saw were Bogardan Hellkite and Magus of the Moat.  He also included the cute Mosswort Bridge, although getting a free spell with ten power of creatures in play is usually a "win more" situation.  I was pretty happy with this matchup, because while a normal Braids deck can disrupt Oni decks, Oni can often win before Braids has a chance to set up.

Game 1: He plays a Llanowar Elf on turn two, which I bounce with Stingscourger.  His use of mana-elves is one place where I have a significant advantage, since I have eight creatures dedicated to clearing the board.  However, he has a turn three Akroma's Memorial which will stop me bouncing his creatures, since my bounce is red.  This leaves me with only twelve creatures he cannot constructively block, and my hand is full of red cards.  After a little bit of fighting, we go on to game two.  I sideboard in three Ancient Grudge.

Game 2: He doesn't draw Akroma's Memorial, and I win easily.  He gets a 3-for-1 with a Bogardan Hellkite, but it is not enough to stem the onslaught.  His Magus of the Moat gets bounced to his hand.

Game 3: Ditto. (Aren't you glad I'm doing a tournament report?)


Round 2: Scabs with Squee Dragonstorm

The Squee avatar allows you to start with three extra cards in hand, at the cost of four life; this makes assembling the Dragonstorm or Pyromancer's Swath combos easier.  The Dragonstorm matchup is one I was concerned with.  He has plenty of Shocks, Tarfires, and Incinerates to kill my mana creatures and even Lavacore Elemental.  On the other hand, his sixteen life requires me hitting him with only three creatures.  Both decks are fast, and going in I had a feeling this would be a race.

Game 1: He wins the die roll and suspends two Lotus Blooms on turn one. Basically I need to get a ton of mana acceleration and win by turn three.  I do not, and he only needs to use one Lotus to cast Dragonstorm.  I sideboard in four Thorn of Amethyst and two Ancient Grudge.  Only two Grudges because I do not want to draw them in multiples, and I need to keep most of my deck intact.  I side out all four Stingscourgers and two Boreal Druid (in retrospect I should have sided out two Volcano Hellion rather than Boreal Druid).

Game 2: Going first, I have the advantage.  He mulligans to eight (this is probably the only article you will ever read that).  I win easily on turn four, using Keldon Marauders, Phyrexian Soulgorger, and Ravaging Riftwurm.  While this may seem like a trivial win, but there were three small keys to victory.  First, I had one of my two-drops deal five damage, or a third of his life; this was not essential, because Soulgorger only has to connect twice, but....  Second, I played Ravaging Riftwum rather than Phyrexian Soulgorger on turn four to kill him.  Since he's playing Squee, he may have artifact kill in his sideboard, and Riftwurm avoids that small risk.  Third, my creatures are burn-immune.  If any of them were x/2 he could have shocked them before they attacked and survived until turn four and won.

Game 3: He is going first, so I need a hand that can win on turn three, or one with Thorn of Amethyst.  My first seven are four land, Birds, Soulgorger, and Marauders.  This is not bad, and I would normally keep, but I need a turn four win.  My six card hand has only one land, and no action, so I mulligan again into a mediocre five card hand.  As in the first two games of the match, the game ends in the first half of turn four, with the loser just missing a turn four kill.  I'm not sure what can be done to improve this matchup besides winning the die roll.  If I had drawn Thorn of Amethyst at any point in game 3, I would have had a chance.


Round 3: Vindicate01 with Dakkon Dragonstorm

The Dakkon avatar allows you to play spells as lands.  Dakkon differs from Squee in that it may have a more difficult time comboing off on turn four consistently, which is to my advantage.

Game 1: He wins the die roll, which puts pressure on me to win by turn three.  I mulligan twice.  He begins playing his lands and shocks the Boreal Druid I play turn one.  I figure he is going to shock my mana-elves on whatever turn I play them, so I might as well try to do damage with them while I can.  On turns two and three I play Sheltering Ancient and Ravaging Riftwum bringing him down to twelve life.  He has six cards in hand on turn four, and I expect to die when surprisingly he concedes.  I had a turn six kill on a mull to five, and got lucky.  One advantage of this Oni deck is that you can still get turn four or five kills with a mulligan to five, since the important creatures are large and redundant.

Game 2: I fan open a hand with Thorn of Amethyst and two lands and keep.  He sets up for a turn four kill with two suspended Rift Bolts before I play Thorn of Amethyst.  I go down to twelve when they come into play, and am somewhat concerned that he may be able to burn me out, but he does not enough.  He dies two turns later.


Round 4: al8ert.dk with Dakkon MonoU Pickles

I had not tested the MonoU matchup since only a few people play the deck.  In the abstract I think it is a poor matchup for Oni decks since Pickles can literally counter almost everything.

Game 1: al8ert is playing a more tempo-based MonoU build, including Boomerang.  He plays turns two and three Boomerang, turn four Venser, Shaper Savant, and turn five Riftwing Cloudskate.  I have a chance if I draw mana creatures but I have only one Birds of Paradise.  He wins easily.  During sideboarding I side in four Thorn of Amethyst to make countering spells more difficult, siding out Stingscourger since most of his creatures have good comes into play abilities.

Game 2: I get an opening hand with double Thorn of Amethyst, two elves, and land.  I keep.  I play out the two Thorns, making his counterspells cost an extra two mana, but I have mana problems myself, as three of my lands are Gemstone Mines, which eventually get depleted, leaving me with only a Llanowar Elf for green mana.  Once the elf is returned to my hand, he wins fairly easily.  While normally one might think aggro decks should give fits to counterspell based decks, Oni has no burn, and constantly has its creatures returning to hand.  My version of Oni especially has many three and four mana creatures which can be difficult to resolve versus counter decks.


Round 5: Dark_Tira with Fruity Angel
I mentioned Dark_Tira's deck at the start of the article.  We were both 2-2 at this point, but this should be an extremely easy matchup for me.

Game 1: According to plan, I have a turn four kill, and Tira has no disruption.  I once again sideboard in four Thorn of Amethyst and two Ancient Grudges.

Game 2: This game is more of a fight, as Tira has Delay for my first creature and uses Wrath of God to clear two more. I am able to back them up with even more creatures, and Tira succumbs.


Round 6: VanFem with Ashling GBw Mana Control

In scouting out decks during the first round, I came upon this deck, and did not really understand where it was coming from.  His deck includes Rain of Tears and Mwonvuli Acid-Moss, but does not really seem to follow up its mana control with any other strategy.

Game 1: In twelve cards I draw six land, four mana creatures, Sheltering Ancient and Keldon Marauders.  He destroys a few of my lands, but cannot kill my important creatures and I win easily.  I side in three Ancient Grudges for his mana artifacts.

Game 2: I keep a mediocre hand with two Grudges and he casts Thoughtseize to pry my only action.  However, he is stuck on two swamps and a Grudge on his Coldsteel Heart wins the game for me.


At the end of the tournament, I am 4-2, going 3-0 versus homebrew decks, and 1-2 versus two Dragonstorm decks and Pickles.  If I had won the die roll against the first Dragonstorm deck I could have easily gone 5-1, but then again I would have faced tougher decks.  I am not sure I will play this deck in the future, since it may have too many mediocre matchups like Pickles and Faeries, and the Dragonstorm matchup is the definition of a coinflip match.  Perhaps a better sideboard would help, maybe including Hurly-Burly for Faeries or Quagnoth/Scragnoth for pickles.

The top eight was:

1x Squee Storm
1x Heartwood UB Faeries
1x Heartwood MonoU Faeries
1x Heartwood UG Faeries
1x Turbo Jhoira
1x MonoU Pickles
1x Mirri GW Weenie
1x Heartwood Elves!
 

One more faeries deck missed Top Eight on tiebreakers.  Somewhat predictably, the Mirri deck won the whole event by beating all of the Faeries decks in the Top Eight.

Heartwood Faeries was obviously the archetype of the tournament, putting almost half its players into the Top Eight.  It has a good matchup versus Dragonstorm and random control decks.  The decks it is vulnerable to creature control strategies, namely Ashling and Mirri decks, but those two were virtually unaccounted for in the tournament.  I won't present a Faeries decklist since it's rather easy to piece one together from Standard decklists.  Just remember to include Thorn of Amethyst in the maindeck or sideboard.  Trying to beat Faeries should be fairly simple if you are aware of the necessity of doing so.

The interesting deck in the Top Eight is the fast lady Jhoira:

Turbo Jhoira
by renappel

Lands (25):
4x Treetop Village
3x Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth
4x Llanowar Wastes
4x Gilt-Leaf Palace
6x Forest
4x Swamp

Mana Creatures:
4x Birds of Paradise
4x Llanowar Elves
4x Wall of Roots

Other creatures:
3x Phyrexian Rager
2x Riftsweeper
3x Quirion Dryad
4x Shriekmaw

Other spells:
4x Damnation
3x Dark Withering
4x Harmonize

 

The Jhoira avatar is similar to the Momir avatar: it lets you discard a card to cast one of three random sorceries, or one of three random instants.  renappel calls it Turbo Jhoira because the deck's goal is to start casting literally random spells from turn two until the end of the game.  The desire to have three mana on turn two motivates the inclusion of the mana creatures instead of less vulnerable Rampant Growth effects.  Phyrexian Rager and the mana creatures can also chump block.  Harmonize provides some essential card draw.

Since activating the avatar requires three mana, what you do with land you draw depends on the board situation.  If you are at six mana and need to deal with something, you would discard a land for a random sorcery.  If, however, are at six mana, but two of the mana comes from mana creatures, you may want to play a land so that you can guarante having six mana in play.  How you play land also also depends on matchups: versus aggro decks you may want to discard land and play mana creatures to block, whereas versus control decks you may want to discard mana creatures and play land to develop your mana.

I talked to renappel about his deck, and he had put a lot of thought into how it could beat popular decks.  Against the ubiquitous Faeries decks, he mentioned the key being able to kill all their creatures with Damnation, Dark Withering, and Shriekmaw.  He only ran into trouble when they had two Scions of Oona.  Against Dragonstorm, renappel hoped to luck into mana denial with random Jhoira sorceries, or shuffle away Lotus Bloom with Riftsweeper.  Against both of these decks, he would focus on playing sorceries instead of instants.

Against MonoU decks, however, the game revolved around Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir, which messes with Jhoira's ability.  renappel would cast instants at the end of his opponent's turn to tie their mana up so that he could resolve his own spells.  His sideboard included as many as twelve cards for the MonoU deck, including Sudden Death, and Terror to kill Teferi, and Quagnoth to deal damage.  The Phyrexian Ragers are peculiar stars against MonoU as they can be played on turn two and start dealing damage.  Obviously to win with Jhoira, you need to get a little lucky, like playing Last Stand with ten swamps in play, but renappel beat two MonoU decks on the way to the Top Eight.  His running joke was the Jhoira was the type of girlfriend who cheats for you not on you.

In my first article for this site, I wrote about a metagame Dakkon UW deck that I played to Top Eight twice before rotation.  The Dakkon avatar is a great avatar in the abstract, but an even better avatar in defined metagames because you can include narrow sideboard cards in your maindeck.  A few weeks ago when the metagame was relatively wide open, it was impossible to decide which sideboard cards belonged in the main deck.  Now that Faeries and Dragonstorm have emerged as the decks to beat, it is easier to build a deck to beat them.  One of my deck design collaborators played a Dakkon hate deck at this tournament, but did not run into Faeries or Dragonstorm, and only finished 3-2-1.  I don't have his specific decklist, but this is an outline of what I'm thinking of running at the next Premiere Event:

Dakkon Hate.dec
adapted from a small child

Mana:
4x Fertile Ground
4x Coalition Relic
4x Birds of Paradise

Faeries Package:
4x Pyroclasm
4x Hurly-Burly
4x Cloudthresher
4x Hurricane

Dragonstorm Package:
4x Trickbind
4x Luminesce
4x Rule of Law

Generic Good Stuff:
4x Garruk Wildspeaker
4x Bogardan Hellkite
2x Aeon Chronicler
4x Harmonize
2x Call of the Herd

 

This deck should practically have a bye versus Faeries or Dragonstorm decks.  Against other decks, the Good Stuff should be able to carry the day.  Obviously, testing will show what cards are most essential.

Due to the holidays, Wizards has not scheduled any more Standard with Vanguard events through the end of the year, but they should start up again next year.  Happy holidays!

*I wrote this article during the tournament, and presumed that Dragonstorm would dominate the Top Eight.  Given that, I had originally titled this article "Winter Has Come" for the GRR Martin, combo winter, Storm mechanic triple entendre.  Alas, reality did not cooperate.

0 Comments

by a small child (Unregistered) 68.189.175.127 (not verified) at Tue, 01/01/2008 - 19:33
a small child (Unregistered) 68.189.175.127's picture

woah sorry for the multipost there... i was getting server errors but i guess the post got through anyway. Mods, feel free to delete the excess!

re: my deck by a small child (Unregistered) 68.189.175.127 (not verified) at Tue, 01/01/2008 - 19:32
a small child (Unregistered) 68.189.175.127's picture

For what it's worth, my maindeck was pretty different from what Umii has up there -- I didn't think to run Rule of Law or Luminesce, both of which are obviously good against dragonstorm.

I ran wall of roots over BoP because BoP dies to all of the pyroclasm type effects that the deck runs, and wall is a nice blocker vs. oni and such. 

 I prefer squall line to hurricane mainly beacause the faerie draws that actually beat you involve multiple mistbind cliques/pestermites during your upkeep. The mites usually don't hurt too much, but T3 Clique, T4 Clique can be devastating. Being able to respond with a wrath effect allows you to beat those draws. You won't be able to stop T3 clique on the draw, but with fertile ground you can stop it on the play and you can certainly stop t4 clique. 

 On a random, unrelated note: I hate Jhoira decks with a passion. They can be good, but they are so random and unfun to play against. I find playing with them to be awful too as when you win it's usually because you got lucky and hit the jackpot whereas when you lose it's often because you whiffed one too many times. Basically, I think Jhoira should be banned, smashed, burned in a fire, reconstituted, disintigrated, reconstituted again and finally shot into the sun.

List of Vanguards available by Major Havoc (Unregistered) 72.183.118.72 (not verified) at Sun, 12/30/2007 - 14:07
Major Havoc (Unregistered) 72.183.118.72's picture

The vanguard page does not list all of the avatars, it does not get updated in a timely manner. You can see the whole list in your collection though, go to the VAN tab and set number owned to >=0 instead of the default of just >0.

re: my deck by a small child (Unregistered) 68.189.175.127 (not verified) at Tue, 01/01/2008 - 19:32
a small child (Unregistered) 68.189.175.127's picture

For what it's worth, my maindeck was pretty different from what Umii has up there -- I didn't think to run Rule of Law or Luminesce, both of which are obviously good against dragonstorm.

I ran wall of roots over BoP because BoP dies to all of the pyroclasm type effects that the deck runs, and wall is a nice blocker vs. oni and such. 

 I prefer squall line to hurricane mainly beacause the faerie draws that actually beat you involve multiple mistbind cliques/pestermites during your upkeep. The mites usually don't hurt too much, but T3 Clique, T4 Clique can be devastating. Being able to respond with a wrath effect allows you to beat those draws. You won't be able to stop T3 clique on the draw, but with fertile ground you can stop it on the play and you can certainly stop t4 clique. 

 On a random, unrelated note: I hate Jhoira decks with a passion. They can be good, but they are so random and unfun to play against. I find playing with them to be awful too as when you win it's usually because you got lucky and hit the jackpot whereas when you lose it's often because you whiffed one too many times. Basically, I think Jhoira should be banned, smashed, burned in a fire, reconstituted, disintigrated, reconstituted again and finally shot into the sun.

re: my deck by a small child (Unregistered) 68.189.175.127 (not verified) at Tue, 01/01/2008 - 19:31
a small child (Unregistered) 68.189.175.127's picture

For what it's worth, my maindeck was pretty different from what Umii has up there -- I didn't think to run Rule of Law or Luminesce, both of which are obviously good against dragonstorm.

I ran wall of roots over BoP because BoP dies to all of the pyroclasm type effects that the deck runs, and wall is a nice blocker vs. oni and such. 

 I prefer squall line to hurricane mainly beacause the faerie draws that actually beat you involve multiple mistbind cliques/pestermites during your upkeep. The mites usually don't hurt too much, but T3 Clique, T4 Clique can be devastating. Being able to respond with a wrath effect allows you to beat those draws. You won't be able to stop T3 clique on the draw, but with fertile ground you can stop it on the play and you can certainly stop t4 clique. 

 On a random, unrelated note: I hate Jhoira decks with a passion. They can be good, but they are so random and unfun to play against. I find playing with them to be awful too as when you win it's usually because you got lucky and hit the jackpot whereas when you lose it's often because you whiffed one too many times. Basically, I think Jhoira should be banned, smashed, burned in a fire, reconstituted, disintigrated, reconstituted again and finally shot into the sun.

by Umii at Fri, 12/28/2007 - 15:28
Umii's picture

Re: Hurricane vs Squall Line: both may be the best.  I played a few test matches, and with the Heartwood ability, Squall Line becomes a 4 mana spell, which may be too slow.  On the other hand, Hurricane can't kill activated Faerie Enclaves which can be dangerous over the ten turns it takes Dakkon to win.  And if you overload on Faerie hate, you risk losing to random decks.

 Re: The metagame, I actually think it's simplifying.  I really dislike a few avatars which have narrow abilities like Heartwood beating midrange and control decks, or Mirri beating all creature decks.  I feel you about drawing multiple hate cards.  Thorns are just useless in multiples.

 Thanks for the nice words about the article, if people really like more detailed match and game recountings, I may do that in the future.

by Anonymous (Unregistered) 24.206.193.137 (not verified) at Thu, 12/27/2007 - 16:50
Anonymous (Unregistered) 24.206.193.137's picture

Wouldn't Squall Line be better than Hurricane vs Faeries, since you can play it during your eot, after they tap out for a creature?

by iceage4life at Thu, 12/27/2007 - 18:27
iceage4life's picture

Think this was one of your better articles.  As far as Ashling goes I think three people played it.  My UB fearies list played against it twice...  One won by Primal Command for 7 life+ashling activation as many times as it takes.  If I had spent more time on my sideboard I would have included Extripate and that would have been winable.

The worst match was loosing to Dragonstorm which should be a bye.  However when you draw 2x Pithing Needle and 3x Thorn it is REALLY hard to put a clock on them.  The singleton event had started by this time so I think with tighter play I might have been able to win that.  I think I went to heavy on the hate cards and next time I run a Heartwood deck I will take that into account.

by iceage4life at Thu, 12/27/2007 - 18:29
iceage4life's picture

Oh an as far as improving Dragonstorm matchup you can run Riftsweeper and Pithing Needle think you'd just want Riftsweeper.

Yeah the people running Mirri made a very good call.  Beats Heartwood and can sideboard to beat Dragonstorm.  That said Dakkon control beats both...  Seems like we have quite the complicated metagame.