Psychobabble's picture
By: Psychobabble, PB
Feb 26 2014 1:00pm
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Well, it took a while to kick off following the release of the new set, but I'm happy to say that a new meta is finally upon us in the world of block constructed! Even better, it appears to be a genuinely new metagame, not just the same old story with a couple of extra cards. In the mean time, I've been busy building a deck to fight yesterday's battles and I'm pleased to report I've found the deck to kill naya in the block metagame. If you're sick of losing to Stormbreath, Xenagos and friends, I have the deck for you. The trick might then be finding one to play against!

Metagame statistics

In the lead up to the release of BNG on MTGO, attendance in block dailies was beginning to drop off rapidly, no doubt inspired at least in part by the incredibly stale meta where frequently all, or nearly all, winning decks in a daily event were Naya. When BNG was released on 12 Feb, dailies actually stopped firing for the better part of a week, presumably because people were unwilling to invest in cards at inflated pre-release prices to play in a very uncertain metagame. Starting on 18 Feb, people slowly started dipping their toes back in the water, although attendance has been well down on where it was a month or two ago. That seems to be improving over the course of the last week, the daily on 23 February was the first with multiple 4-0 decks which is a good sign. In any event, there's enough data now to make a preliminary analysis of the new metagame:

We have a new top dog! During my set review, I noted a number of strong-looking black aggro cards including Herald of Torment and Spiteful Returned. It looks like I was on the money there, and a number of players are having success with a mono black shell that's much more focused on early game damage than trying to set up a late game Gray Merchant of Asphodel. The lists certainly aren't settled yet - some have four Gary's, some have none, some play Gild, some only play Hero's Downfall. But it's clear that the archetype is real and the power of black has massively improved now that it doesn't have to rely on the highly underwhelming Baleful Eidolon in the 2-drop slot. This is certainly a deck type I'll be looking at in the coming weeks.

Beyond that, it's good to see that the new set has drastically reduced the presence of GR and Naya. My suspicion is that this deck type has further to fall, and it's less about the specific answers that now exist to the deck type and more about the fact that the meta has gotten much more aggressive. Beyond mono black, there's also a healthy number of UW heroic and mono red decks, the latter tend more towards midrange than pure aggro but certainly are able to put up a lot of early pressure. I will be keeping an eye on developments over the coming week with keen interest, but the initial impression is that this metagame is wide open again and is following the usual pattern of the new set being dominated by aggressive strategies before control strategies work out what they need to attack and start putting up numbers.

The "other" category contains a number of interesting decks as you would expect. There's a couple of mono green decks, a WB heroic deck, a controll-y/midrange rakdos deck and a sweet 4-colour brew featuring plenty of scry lands and a playset of the new 3-cost mana rock, Astral Cornucopia. Interestingly enough, it also packs a full set of the new 7-mana, triple-white, wrath. I'm not sure if this has staying power but it's certainly got ambition:


4-Colour Astral
Typhodius (3-1) THS Block Constructed Dailyon 02/22/2014
3 Stormbreath Dragon
4 Sylvan Caryatid
4 Courser of Kruphix
11 cards

Other Spells
4 Astral Cornucopia
3 Bile Blight
1 Bow of Nylea
4 Elspeth, Sun's Champion
4 Fated Retribution
4 Gild
4 Hero's Downfall
15 cards
4 Temple of Plenty
7 Forest
6 Swamp
4 Temple of Silence
4 Temple of Triumph
21 cards

3 Glare of Heresy
1 Hythonia the Cruel
4 Mistcutter Hydra
2 Revoke Existence
1 Stormbreath Dragon
1 Bile Blight
3 Drown in Sorrow
15 cards
Fated Retribution


UB Control

Even though this might not be the right time for control decks to shine, ever since I saw the spoiler list, I've been excited to try out Nullify and Gild in a UB control list. This deck was always a fringe player in the pre-BNG meta, it suffered from a lack of sufficient answers to the variety of threats put up by the GR/naya deck and ended up having to play a bunch of narrow filler cards, like Baleful Eidolon or Pharika's Cure. BNG fixes that issue, and gives rise to the possibility of having a true control list in the metagame, really for the first time. Here's the list I've been working on:


UB control (BNG)
4 Prognostic Sphinx
4 cards

Other Spells
4 Thoughtseize
4 Nullify
4 Hero's Downfall
2 Bile Blight
3 Gild
3 Voyage's End
4 Dissolve
2 Whelming Wave
2 Read the Bones
1 Divination
2 Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver
31 cards
4 Temple of Deceit
4 Temple of Mystery
7 Island
10 Swamp
25 cards

2 Dark Betrayal
2 Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver
2 Gainsay
1 Shipbreaker Kraken
2 Read the Bones
4 Pain seer
1 Whelming Wave
1 Bile Blight
15 cards
Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver


While I haven't seen any versions of this deck appearing in daily events, I've tested it fairly extensively in the practice room and 2-person queues (unfortunately the current block daily event scheduling doesn't work for my time zone), and I have a good handle on the strengths and weaknesses of the deck so I think it's worth discussing.

First of all, there's the disruption package. The real beauty of the deck is that such a huge proportion of it is disruption. These cards can really be split into two parts in my mind - cards that hit planeswalkers and those that don't. This creature-light deck type has inherent difficulty dealing with planeswalkers in the early to mid game, and Xenagos and Elspeth are particularly common in at least the pre-BNG metagame so dealing with them is of paramount importance.

Hero's Downfall Thoughtseize Dissolve

voyage's end

The big additions to the deck from BNG come in the second category, but that means that you can focus the first group more closely on their targets. In particular, Nullify and Gild give you great answers to huge singular threats like Stormbreath Dragon and Polis Crusher which were annoying to deal with pre-BNG. The exact mix of disruption that you run is very much a metagame call. I initially started with the full four Gilds and no Bile Blights, but I was finding much more weenie aggro than GR/Naya midrange being played so I adjusted accordingly. Whelming Wave is an interesting card. Against bigger creature deck it's normally just a desperation play, buying you time in hope that you find an answer. But it does even in that situation have some benefits - killing tokens (particularly from Xenagos if you've killed it with downfall), re-enabling a late game Thoughtsieze and potentially giving you another turn of Ashiok ticking up. Where I've found it indispensible is against the various heroic aggro decks. It's pretty amazing against a board full of 1-power creatures with +1/+1 counters and enchantments on them, although (Hero of Countless Battles) and other bestow creatures do work against that somewhat. It's frequently one of your best cards in those matchups though, so it deserves its position maindeck.

The second part of the deck is the card advantage package:

Read the Bones divination temple of deceit Temple of mystery

I queried in my set review whether Read the Bones was just strictly better than Divination, but I've actually been liking a split. The life loss from Read the Bones really does add up, particularly when you combine it with Thoughtseize and the metagame is relatively aggressive right now so protecting your life total is relevant. Also, Read the Bones can't dig out of a black-mana screwed hand while Divination can, which might be a statistically improbable situation, but it has come up for me. The Temple's are genuinely important to your deck's functioning. You don't have any big instant speed card draw to play, and only three small card advantage spells, so you need your deck to deliver you a greater stream of answers than your opponent has threats somehow. Plus, you have some fairly annoying mana costs to deal with, so scrying for the right lands is relevant.

Finally you have the win-cons:

Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver Prognostic Sphinx

Prognostic Sphinx is still a house. It's an almost unkillable threat, card quality machine and planeswalker sniper - and it blocks a non-monstrous Stormbreath Dragon as a bonus. The mana cost is a huge problem though, given that this deck has more counterspells than re-active answers, you really don't want to play it without two or three mana up if you can help it. Gild actually helps ramp you to that situation fairly well, but I've found that having some number of maindeck Ashiok is important as it's a threat you can play out with counterspell backup when you're on 5-6 mana instead of 7-8. Ashiok is often fairly mediocre, partly because its ultimate is so underwhelming (I've lost a few games after ultimating it), but it's particularly good against GR/Naya midrange decks because the creatures you threaten to make with it are so scary, even if you can't monstrous them. Holding a Stormbreath Dragon under an Ashiok as an answer to Elspeth if you don't have any other way to deal with is a good option, and if you play it very early and hit something big then you can often play a tempo game with your disruption and ride that threat to victory.

I put a bit of work into the sideboard for the deck, but it's obviously in flux while the metagame is sorting itself out. The biggest point to note is that the maindeck is primarily built to fight creature battles, so you need a lot of slots in the sideboard to bring in for the control matchups. I was initially worried that you might have a fundamental problem winning the game in the mirror, given that the deck is playing anywhere up to 10 counterspells (including Gainsay) for Prognostic Sphinx, and has Dissolve and Hero's Downfall for Ashiok. Then I remembered how the esper decks broke open the mirror in RtR block constructed - cheap creatures that generate card advantage. There's two options here - Siren of the Silent Song and Pain Seer. I eventually settled on the latter, simply because it's cheaper and still gives you card advantage if your opponent is hellbent. Having a cheap card advantage-generating threat like this is very important in these mirror matches, it forces your opponent to react to you in the early game, stretching their answers for your other win-cons, and it potentially allows you to protect a threat with counterspells that will take over the game.


So what's good about this deck? I'm pleased to report that it deals with GR/Naya fairly handily. You now have sufficient answers for basically all of their threats, and they have far more dead topdecks than you do (mana dorks, burn spells). An early Ashiok backed with disruption is often difficult for them to deal with, unless they immediately have two burn spells to kill it. Nullify and Gild are as good against the GR/Naya deck as I thought they would be. On 5 mana, gild allows you to kill a dragon or whatever that was played last turn and still keep up Nullify, or even on four mana you can cast it + Thoughtsieze and just hope your opponent doesn't topdeck anything scary.

The biggest problem I've found is tha the deck is pretty much fighting yesterday's battle. I feel like it would have been very good in the pre-BNG metagame, but right now there's too much aggro floating around for it to shine. Cards like Favored Hoplite, Meletis Astronomer and (Hero of Countless Battles) really give this deck fits, either hitting hard and early or being card-advantage machines. (God's Willing) is also frequently brutal. To beat these kind of decks, you really need 1-mana removal (like a Disfigure), or more 2-cost reactive answers, or even better a proper sweeper. Drown in Filth theoretically could fill that role, the issue being that the heroic decks make all of their creatures bigger than 2 toughness so quickly that it doesn't really do the trick. When your 3-mana "sweeper" doesn't even kill your opponent's one drops, you've got problems. Bile Blight helps to a degree, but not enough realistically, and the double black mana cost can make it difficult to case on turn 2 - it quickly loses relevance after that for the same reason as Drown in Filth. I'm sure with further tuning, the deck could become better against aggro, but right now I think you want the metagame to settle down a bit before going deep with this control strategy.

Next week I'll begin looking over some of the decks that are rising to the top as the metagame sorts itself out and seeing exactly where BNG cards are having their impact.


I've been playing something by MarcosPMA at Wed, 02/26/2014 - 18:48
MarcosPMA's picture

I've been playing something like this in the Tournament Practice room, although it's UBw (for Elspeth). The mana is not the best, but it still can beat GR/GRW just fine, and Elsepth gives you game against UW Heroic since you can just chump for days while you look for a way to win the game. The problems I'm having with control is that it doesn't have a good wrath and it doesn't really have card advantage. I've been playing a miser's Thassa just for scry 1 to make sure I don't flood out in the lategame. Fated Retribution is too expensive as a wrath so you have to be on heavy spot removal to even stand a chance. Elspeth is kinda like a wrath with its +1 since the 1/1s just invalidate a lot of the creatures, acting like a psuedo wrath. If the mana was better I think UBW could be the top deck, but I don't think anybody wants that after RTR Block XD