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By: Psychobabble, PB
Oct 24 2014 11:00am
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As of the latest downtime, there's a brand new constructed format being supported on Magic online - Khans Block Constructed! While the format has been available in the filters, now that the set is officially "released" (no, I don't understand why the pre/release events go on for 3 weeks on MTGO either) the powers that be have now properly launched the format. The event is being supported with the full bevy of events: 2 and 8-player on demand queues and three daily event tournaments each day. These competitive block constructed events are why this column exists - I'm a huge proponent of playing block constructed on Magic Online for a number of reasons:

  • It's the best entry-level format into competitive events on Magic Online. Block constructed is a great format for players who are coming onto MTGO for the first time. This is particularly the case when it's a single-set block format, as it is now, because you only need to pick up cards from a single set. While (some) pauper decks may be cheaper, pauper is much less supported with online events and block lets you play with cards from the most recent set, which everyone is drafting, talking about and building standard decks with.
  • It's a great stepping stone into standard. Building up a block deck and cashing in block dailies is a great way to start building up a standard deck. Particularly in the current block, many of the standard decks are substantially built around cards from KtK so you are buying key parts of standard decks without having to buy expensive cards from across all current standard sets. And block constructed invariably sows the seeds for future standard metas. We saw that with pro-tour M15, where the decks in the finals (GW aggro vs UW control) mirrored the decks that played off in the finals of the RtR block constructed pro tour the previous year and the RG monsters deck which just won GPLA which was effectively a port of a dominant Theros block deck. History shows that buying into block constructed gives you the pieces to help you build standard decks in the following season.
  • It's a fun format, with plenty of opportunity for deckbuilding skills. Block Constructed flies a lot more under the radar than formats that are supported in paper magic. The relative lack of coverage means that the format is ripe for brewing. Over the past two block formats that I've been covering in this column, there's been extensive brewing of successful rogue decks for almost all of the respective format's lives. In addition, there's a lot of room for "spikey" deckbuilding metagaming, the pool of cars is relatively small and known so you are able to build tools to very precisely attack the winning strategies. Block rewards people who are able to tweak a deck or sideboard to attack specific metagames, and again, meta-game shifting like this has been a constant feature of the block formats I've covered in detail.

With that plug for the format aside, today's article will give an insight into the early days of the competitive metagame. While as of writing there are no posted event decklists, I've been playing and stalking the tournament practice room and 2-player queues, and I also watched a bunch of replays from one of the very first daily events that fired so I'll be doing a detailed breakdown of that event along with the sole 4-0 decklist from it which I've tracked down (spoiler: you read it here last week, almost!).

KTK Block Constructed early metagame overview

In the week leading up to the launch of events for the format, games started firing in the tournament practice room so I was able to get an early insight into the types of decks that people have been brewing. As expected, most of the decks seem to be built around the three-colour Khan combinations with one notable exception. Here's a quick description of what seem to be shaping up as the main competitive decks in the format, in rough order of their apparent power. One thing to note before I start is that previously, block constructed events have begun as soon as the "pre-release" events finished and the "release" events started. This is typically a time when prices of cards are still very inflated and so you used to see a lot of budget lists initially. The  extra three-weeks forced wait here should have mitigated that a lot because prices have come way down, so I don't think budget will be a major consideration in too many of the lists I've been seeing.

Abzan

I expected this to be top dog, and it seems my expectations are going to be met. The colour combination has a lot going for it. In my opinion, Wingmate Roc and Siege Rhino are clearly the most powerful cards in the set. In addition, planeswalkers have historically been strong cards in block constructed and Sorin is both a decently strong 'walker and one of only two in the set. In the set review, I was very high on Wingmate Roc but had one question about Rhino, which was whether there would be an aggro deck where the huge stabilisation of a pretty big body and lifegain would be necessary. It turns out that there are two such decks - BW warriors and Jeskai tempo - making the Rhino a huge player in the format. I'll speak about this deck in a little more detail later on, but if you're wondering whether you can play your standard Abzan deck in block then the answer is absolutely yes.

BW warriors

This is a deck that I expected to see, but being so strongly synergy based I wasn't quite sure how powerful it would be. Turns out the answer is "very", and the deck can easily make a claim to be the best in the format along with Abzan. The deck has access to a lot of warriors, including the exceptionally annoying Bloodsoaked Champion, Mardu Skullhunter, Mardu Hordechief along with Chief of the Edge and sometimes Chief of the Scale as well to buff. Those creatures seem to form the core of the deck, I've seen a number of additional options too including Bellowing Saddlebrute, Take Up Arms and Herald of Anafenza who, while not a warrior himself, does make warrior tokens. I'll feature this deck at a later date, for now I'll just note that it's a very strong aggressive deck that tries to take advantage of the slower 3-colour mana bases in the format.

 

Temur Midrange

The midrangey-est of midrange decks, and the only deck I've seen that plays any mana acceleration; I had thought Abzan might play Mystic as a 2-mana elf, but that hasn't proven necessary. One for one, Temur's creatures mostly beat Abzan's, the trouble is that Abzan has better (and instant speed, exiling) removal options and also Temur doesn't have an answer to Wingmate Roc outside of a Windstorm or something. Still, if it curves out well, it can put up a lot of early damage and then finish the game off with Crater's Claws, haste creatures or a well-timed Icy Blast.

Jeskai

There's a spectrum of Jeskai decks going around out there. On one end is the hyper-aggro version, playing a bunch of prowess creatures (including the ones pictured above along with Jeskai Elder and Jeskai Windscout), with cards like Crippling Chill, Suspension Field and Ride Down to push damage through and boost the team. This is a deck that has highly intensive mana requirements but if it comes together can do some really powerful things. There's also more controlling versions (sometimes this is the post-board plan) that win off Dig Through Time and Pearl Lake Ancient, leaning on End Hostilities and spot removal to get to that stage of the game. A big spanner in the works for the controlling Jeskai list is Rakshasa Deathdealer which they literally cannot remove with a single spell if the Abzan player has open mana. To add insult to injury, the deathdealer can block the control deck's wincon all day...

Mardu

There's a couple of flavours of Mardu floating around, and I'm not 100% sure whether either has staying power. The more midrange version is somewhat similar to Brad Nelson's GPLA top 8 deck, built around the synergy of token producers (Hordeling Outburst, Sorin) and Butcher of the Horde. Butcher of the Horde also has some neat synergy with Jeering Instigator, Grim Haruspex and Ashcloud Phoenix, which is a decent shell to build a deck around. It's somewhat slow and inconsistent though, and leans pretty heavily on Butcher to close out games. There's also another version which is essentially BW warriors splashing red for Crackling Doom, War-Name Aspirant and maybe a few other cards.

I'll be taking a closer look at these and other decks that emerge over the coming weeks, for now I'll put the spotlight on one of the early daily events from the new format and the abzan list that 4-0ed the event.

KTK Block Daily, 23 October 2014

Unfortunately replays of daily events are only up for a couple of hours after the event and decklists are only published once a week, so it's a little bit difficult to get hard information on the format. I did manage to catch replays of a bunch of games from one event that fired on the first day of the format. There were 16 people in the event, and the decklist breakdown was as follows:

  • BW warriors - 4
  • Temur - 3
  • Abzan - 3
  • Mardu - 3
  • Jeskai - 1
  • BWRU - 1

By the end of the tournament, there were five 3-1 decks - two BW soldiers and one each of Temur, Jeskai and Mardu. One 4-0 list stood on top of the standings, an Abzan deck piloted by _Rickster who kindly posted his list on the MTGS forums. He beat WB warriors, mono red (all the cheap red creatures and Hordeling Outburst), Jeskai (aggro pre-board, control post-board) and Temur midrange playing Icy Blast as a brutal falter/finisher.

Because it won, and because I have a copy of the list, I'll do my first deck spotlight of the format on Abzan midrange. Being very much a "goodstuff" deck, it's not too surprising to see that the one which was successful was quite close to the list I posted last week. Here it is:

Abzan midrange
_Rickster KTK Block Constructed, Daily Event 23 October 2014 (4-0)
Creatures
0 cards

Other Spells
4 Heir of the Wilds
4 Rakshasa Deathdealer
4 Anafenza, the Foremost
4 Abzan Charm
4 Sorin, Solemn Visitor
4 Siege Rhino
3 Utter End
4 Wingmate Roc
4 Sandsteppe Citadel
4 Scoured Barrens
4 Jungle Hollow
4 Blossoming Sands
4 Despise
4 cards
Lands
4 Windswept Heath
2 Forest
2 Plains
1 Swamp
9 cards

Sideboard
4 High Sentinels of Arashin
1 Necropolis Fiend
4 Death Frenzy
4 End Hostilities
1 Utter End
1 Empty the Pits
1 cards
Siege Rhino

The maindeck is boring but effective. Heir of the Wilds, which made an appearance in the standard "aggro" version of the deck, is secretly the all-star of the deck. There's enough aggressive decks in the format that you need effective early plays, and Heir is just that. You might think that Rakshasa Deathdealer is what you want but there's so many one and two drops that can't be safely blocked by a 2/2 (Swiftspear, Seeker, Elder, opposing Heirs that have had ferocious triggered) that to be an effective blocker you need to leave up mana with Deahtdealer, which throws you off your curve and is awful in the face of something like a Crippling Chill or Utter End. Heir blocks anything early out of the aggro decks, and is also a superb answer to Savage Knuckleblade and Sagu Mauler in the Temur decks as well as anything else big and dumb on the ground.

Moving up the curve, Anafenza has proven quite effective. As well as being a solid body, some little synergies with her are quite nice. Turning on ferocious for Heir of the Wilds is one side benefit, much more important is the exile ability. This hoses Bloodsoaked Champion, Ashcloud Phoenix and Grim Haruspex, all of which have come up for me in games. Anafenza's body often forces your opponent to overcommit to the board, playing into your post-board wrath and then the exile ability hoses all of the ways your opponent was trying to neutralise your mass removal. She has ended up being the only three drop creature in the deck. Hooded Hydra just doesn't cut it in a meta full of Abzan Charm, Utter End and Anafenza herself. It's also exceptionally slow against aggro - I can't really see a future for it in the format, although I thought it may have a chance initially.

At four you have Siege Rhino who needs no further introduction. Sorin has in my opinion easily earned his spot, giving you card advantage in grindier games, stabilising life gain in aggro matchups and playing very nicely with your wrath plan post-board. The wind drake he makes may seem irrelevant, but it blocks against aggro, forces a 2-for-1 in topdeck situations and creates a crucial turn-4 attacker for the real superstar of the deck - Wingmate Roc. When you trigger raid, the Roc is virtually unbeatable in this wrath-lite format. It provides two great blockers against aggro, relevant lifegain against all sorts of deck and a game-ending threat in midrange mirrors. Temur, in particular, is very weak to the flying threat. It only has one flyer of its own, Ashcloud Phoenix, and that particular flyer matches up very badly against the Abzan removal suite.

The sideboard plan is interesting. Against BW soldiers, you bring in no less than eight wrath effects, although four of those are conditional. Despite being conditional, Death Frenzy has the advantage of sometimes being a one-sided wrath, the sweetest kind (see the screenshot below, with Anafenza's exile ability doing double duty too). When you're bringing in wrath effects, you start having difficulty setting up boardstates where you trigger Wingmate Roc's raid, so that comes out to make room, along with some of your slower spot removal ie. Utter End.

In the mirror you also want to bring in 4x End Hostilities to keep your opponent honest and answer Wingmate Roc - although I recommend taking your own copies out. Given that you're bringing in wraths, and have a lot of spot removal the games get super-grindy, making Despise bad, and Anafenza gets too easily outclassed so I like shaving at least a couple of copies. Flyers are still really good in the mirror though, so High Sentinel and Necropolis Fiend come in as flyers which are better stand-alone threat than an un-raided Wingmate Roc. Speaking of Wingmate Roc, its presence in the format is a big reason to break your normal habit of waiting until the block phase before using instant speed removal - do it in your opponent's begin combat phase to ensure they can't trigger raid. Finally, there's Empty the Pits which may not be the mirror breaker, but is a great way to end the game at instant speed against the Jeskai control deck, where you need to be taking out your discard and removal in favour of a higher threat density.

So, how do you beat Abzan? There's no clear answer, which is why it's arguably the best deck. Aggro seems to be the best answer, hoping they don't curve out and just beat them with small, boosted creatures. That's where the BW soldiers deck and Jeskai aggro come into the picture. Beyond that, counterspells and Dig Through Time are quite a good plan, although that deck is horribly weak to Rakshasa Deathdealer which may be fatal to its chances. Finally, if you can't beat em, join em - an Abzan deck with lots of mirror tech like Duneblast, Suspension Field and over the top stuff like Dead Drop may have a chance. It's hard to say though - I'll be watching with interest to see what the format's deckbuilders come up with.

Conclusion

As decklists start getting officially published, I'll begin a deeper analysis of the metagame, but I hope this has given you an early insight into the emerging format and some tips for playing the current deck to beat. Until next time...

13 Comments

I am glad to see you writing by Paul Leicht at Fri, 10/24/2014 - 16:18
Paul Leicht's picture
4

I am glad to see you writing again. You provide some interesting insights into not just block meta but how that meta shapes up from set to set.

However, it does not take THAT much work to correct the broken links created by Jam's not inputting the new set in his deck editor.

1. In the rich text editor there is an insert link button (looks like a globe with a chain link) 2. and if you high light text with the cursor all you have to do then 3. is provide the url which is fairly easy. You a) go to MTGOTrader's site and b) search for the card and c) then copy the url of the page that comes up. d)Paste that into the open text box in the popup and viola! Newly linked card. Yes it is easier to have the deck editor do it for you but since that is perennially broken when it is most crucial for it to work, you can still accomplish what you want that way.

Either that or don't link any of the cards.

I look forward to your next article.

I'm well familiar with html, by Psychobabble at Fri, 10/24/2014 - 19:19
Psychobabble's picture

I'm well familiar with html, I write all my articles in notepad with manual html tags. I was up till past midnight trying to get this article in before the deadline, I wanted to get it up ASAP so people interested in playing the format over the weekend could get an early glimpse of the metagame and one of the top decks. I've been manually linking cards in my previous weeks articles, didn't have the energy to do so late last night.

Note too that as I write block, I'm far more affected by new sets taking so long to be updated in the system than other writers as the vast majority of my cards are affected. I've offered in the past to Josh to help with the data entry or coding for new sets but I've been told that isn't practical.

I hear that. I have thought by Paul Leicht at Mon, 10/27/2014 - 04:12
Paul Leicht's picture

I hear that. I have thought about making my own deck editing app but haven't gotten around to it yet.

Spurred on by your complaint I have cobbled together a temporary deck generator:

http://outofthebrokensky.com/mtgo/decklistgen/deckgen3.html

It doesn't sort and doesn't connect to mtgotraders.com but it does access gatherer.wizards.com which at least means your links will be consistent.

Thanks, I'll be sure to check by Psychobabble at Mon, 10/27/2014 - 04:28
Psychobabble's picture

Thanks, I'll be sure to check it out next time.

OK cool, I probably should by Paul Leicht at Mon, 10/27/2014 - 05:20
Paul Leicht's picture

OK cool, I probably should mention you will need the css part to make the rounded corners, and gradients work.

Paul, I really, really by Psychobabble at Sun, 11/02/2014 - 05:48
Psychobabble's picture

Paul, I really, really appreciate what you've tried to do with that, but I'm writing my next article and getting tons of bugs. First list I tried is below, it throws up a bunch of "undefined" links in the middle, and with other lists I'm getting errors like randomly duplicated cards, some cards not showing or formatting randomly dying. Sorry, but I'm not able to work through it for my next article.

3 Flooded Strand
1 Island
5 Mountain
4 Mystic Monastery
3 Plains
4 Swiftwater Cliffs
3 Wind-Scarred Crag

4 Mantis Rider
4 Monastery Swiftspear
4 Seeker of the Way
2 Crater's Claws
4 Defiant Strike
3 Feat of Resistance
4 Hordeling Outburst
4 Jeskai Charm
2 Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker
3 Singing Bell Strike
3 Treasure Cruise

3 Arc Lightning
3 Disdainful Stroke
1 Erase
1 Jeering Instigator
1 Mindswipe
2 Ride Down
4 Suspension Field

Yeah just like Jam's this one by Paul Leicht at Sun, 11/02/2014 - 06:28
Paul Leicht's picture

Yeah just like Jam's this one separates the list into main and sideboard based on the first empty line. So remove the empty line between wind-scarred crag and mantis rider. That wasn't generated by MTGO so you must have done that by accident.

Paul Leicht's picture
Thanks, glad I checked back by Psychobabble at Mon, 11/03/2014 - 06:50
Psychobabble's picture

Thanks, glad I checked back before posting the article :).

:D glad you did too. Let me by Paul Leicht at Mon, 11/03/2014 - 08:16
Paul Leicht's picture

:D glad you did too. Let me know if you have any other issues.

I'm happy Block Constructed by Mundisv at Mon, 10/27/2014 - 09:53
Mundisv's picture

I'm happy Block Constructed is back and I'm even happier your articles will be back too! I believe, I have found the reason, why reading your articles is so satisfying ;) Most articles I read are focused on Standard and after some time they become repetitive. You, on the other hand, cover an unexplored area, which is always intriguing. In addition, the structure of your articles is beautiful, I wish I could write so smoothly. Keep up the great work!

Thanks, really appreciate the by Psychobabble at Mon, 10/27/2014 - 17:14
Psychobabble's picture

Thanks, really appreciate the feedback. I too like that I can write about a relatively under-explored/talked about format, I hope it starts to pick up a bit more steam thought because already I see block daily events not firing which is a worrying sign so soon in the format's life. There's some crazy decks out there though, this week's article should be an interesting one :).