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By: Psychobabble, PB
May 15 2013 11:22pm
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I presented a number of decklists in my set review articles (Part 1, part 2) over the past couple of weeks. Most of these lists were just incremental iterations over pre-DGM lists with a few new cards included, or perhaps some speculation based on the inherent power level of the cards. The early hints I've been getting from testing for the upcoming pro-tour Dragon's Maze was that I might have been onto something in highlighting GW populate as a potentially strong option, but most of that testing is obviously happening behind very closed doors so it's a bit difficult to get a sense of what's going on there.

Today I'm mainly going to look at which cards from the set have either proved themselves in the first public outings of the new set in constructed (various SCG standard opens) and also based on my preliminary testing of the cards over the past couple of days. My testing, which has been in the tournament practice room, should obviously be taken with a grain of salt. With pro tour Dragon's Maze happening next week, all of the serious testers of block at the moment are either doing so in private/offline or in the (very bad EV at the moment!) 2-person queues. I haven't, for instance, run into any voice of resurgences yet, which is arguably the most powerful card in block at the moment; obviously the price point is scaring most people away (note: I'm in the same boat right now, although plan on getting my copies soonish. Neither of the lists below with voice have been tested). Anyway, I have managed to test against a decent mix of aggro and control, here's the cards which have attracted my attention, or which have proved themselves in the SCG opens, so far:

Around those cards, and a couple more that seem more at home in block, I'm going to look at four different deck ideas for RTR block; one old, one completely new, one borrowed and one blue.

Something Old: Rakdos Aggro

Prior to GTC providing mono red with a critical mass of good cards, Rakdos was the premier aggro deck in the format. Right now in standard, the best aggro decks are all playing a hasty 4-power 4-drop, and while we unfortunately don't have falkenrath aristocrat, we do now have a rough equivalent in Exava, Rakdos Blood Witch. Another hasty creature that hits very hard, Spike Jester had an outing in an aggressive BR aggro deck and they obviously fit here. With these new options, I think it's worth revisiting rakdos aggro. Having hasty creatures is an excellent way to punish blue decks that play sorcery speed removal (detention sphere, supreme verdict) and the sheer number of haste creatures that are now available in Rakdos colours might allow it to compete with mono red's burning-tree emissary chains. Here's a draft list:

DGM Rakdos Aggro
 
Creatures
4 Rakdos Cackler
4 Rakdos Shred-Freak
4 Ash Zealot
4 Gore-House Chainwalker
4 Spike Jester
4 Hellhole Flailer
3 exava, Rakdos Blood Witch
27 cards

Other Spells
4 Annihilating Fire
4 Dreadbore
2 Act of Treason
10 cards
 
Lands
4 Blood Crypt
10 Mountain
4 Rakdos Guildgate
5 Swamp
23 cards

Sideboard
3 Toil/Trouble 4 Skullcrack
4 Mugging
4 Pack Rat
13 cards
 
Exava, Rakdos blood witch

 

I've been testing this list as much as I can the last few days. My general impression is that it does what it says on the box - hits hard, and hits fast. So much of this deck hits at hasty speed - literally everything does if exava is on the field - which means it can continue to do so through disruption much better than mono red. One card which has surprised me is toil/trouble, which is absolutely brutal against blue control decks. Take a look at one example:

This is a way of doing huge damage against control without committing cards to the board into a wrath, typically doing 5-6 damage against the type of decks you bring it in against. It's also randomly a way of mitigating flood or a bad draw if necessary.

Here are a couple of points about the card choices. I initially thought blood scrivener would fit, but as anyone who has played with the hellbent mechanic from the original Ravnica block would know, trying to empty your hand in order to get a bonus is a really bad idea. Not only is it hard to turn on if you have any sort of mana issues (so it can't dig you out of a hole), but it encourages you to do things like flood the board into a wrath, waste removal on low priority targets and just generally set yourself up for getting blown out if your opponent has removal for your scrivener. Also, I initially ran 4x exava, but it really is awkward running a playset of a legendary creature. I had a 2nd one stuck in hand enough times that I cut back to 3. On a more general note, the deck is fairly weak against mono red, it has no massive trump blocker like boros reckoner or alms beast, and no long term inevitability or card advantage. You basically have to race and hope for the best, which is somewhat dicey. It's possible you want to look at some crypt incursion in the board if that becomes a big issue.

Verdict: There is a real question as to whether this is better than mono red aggro. I think it's going to come down to the meta. If the meta has a lot of blue-based control decks in it, then I'm pretty confident in saying that this is a better way to attack them due to its improved reach and haste. However if the main threat is GW based token/midrange decks, then mono red's speed and ability to trump creature-based defenses with firefist striker, legion loyalist and boros reckoner is probably going to be superior. In short, I think this decktype has the potential to be a top tier aggro option again, it'll just depend on how the meta plays out.

Something New: Bant auras

WotC has been pushing auras pretty hard for the past few years, either because they see "voltron" strategies as a good niche for combo in constructed or just because they add an interesting element to limited play and need to be very good to be playable in limited. Whatever the reason, aura-based decks have started making waves in both ISD block, standard and modern constructed in the past 18 months or so, but it hasn't yet been a viable strategy in RTR block constructed. Well, the block is still critically short on hexproof creatures but I think it's safe to say that we now have a critical mass of very playable auras, many of which are being included in the standard version of the deck. These are the options to consider in block as far as auras go:

ethereal armor gift of orzhova Deviant Glee forced adaptation Holy Mantle Madcap skills pursuit of flight righteous authority Way of the Thief Alpha Authority

Looking over that list, GW is obviously the best colours to form the base of the deck. While madcap skills and even deviant glee are pretty nice cards, they're not enough to push us into those colours. The bant auras deck at SCG played 4x unflinching courage and ethereal armor, and gift of orzhova is a decent substitute for spectral flight. Unfortunately the other aura that's legal in standard is rancor, which is one of the better auras ever printed. We don't have any substitute for that in block, but some combination of righteous authority, if going into bant colours, for card advantage and forced adaptation for cheapness might be the way to go. Holy mantle could also be worth considering, although most of the guys you suit up are going to win combat anyway.

Which brings us to the creatures. The critical problem with this deck in block is the almost complete absence of hexproof; there's exactly three with it naturally, one of which (Lazav, Dimir Mastermind) has a very tough mana cost and is probably in the wrong colours and the other (rubbleback rhino is too expensive to warrant serious consideration. Luckily the third, which is from dragon's maze, fits into the deck perfectly:

This is one of the main reasons I'm even considering this deck as a possibility. It's no invisible stalker, but it's not a bad approximation especially given the almost complete lack of flying creatures in competitive block decks. Given that we probably want playsets of at least the other creatures in the deck, we need to look at what other good and preferably cheap options there are to suit up:

Fencing Ace precinct captain metropolis sprite elusive krasis cloudfin raptor drakewing krasis

Both Voice and fencing ace make the cut in standard, so they're obvious inclusions here. Voice is absolutely perfect for the deck, doubly punishing any attempt to respond to you playing an aura at instant speed, and still giving some value if it's destroyed at sorcery speed the following turn. Fencing ace obviously doubles any power bonus that he gets. The others all have various things going for them. Precinct Captain's first strike helps him to win combat when suited up, and is a roadbump for aggro. Metropolis sprite can, at high mana expense, turn any toughness boost from an aura into a usually more-relevant power boost, and has evasion to boot. Cloudfin raptor, drakewing krasis and elusive krasis have evasion, the difference between them is basically how had they are to kill and when they come down. Finally skylasher has protection from the omni-present (azorious charm), and detention sphere as well but is otherwise pretty poor against the rest of the field; it might be better as a side-board option to substitute in in the right matches.

The only other part of the deck to think about is support spells. With so few naturally hexproof options, I think that a full set of simic charm is important and even some of the much cheaper mizzium skin might be worthwhile. With that in mind, here's a sketch of the deck:

DGM Bant Auras
 
Creatures
4 Fencing ace
4 Voice of Resurgence
4 Drakewing Krasis
4 Ascended Lawmage
16 cards

Other Spells
4 ethereal armor
4 Unflinching Courage
4 Gift of Orzhova
2 Righteous Authority
4 Simic charm
2 Mizzium Skin
20 cards
 
Lands
2 azorius guildgate
4 Hallowed Fountain
4 Breeding Pool
4 Temple Garden
2 Selesnya Guildgate
3 Forest
5 Plains
24 cards

Sideboard
3 Detention Sphere
4 Centaur Healer
4 Selesnya Charm
4 Skylasher
15 cards
 
Ascended Lawmage

 

The mana base of the deck is primarily GW, as blue isn't needed until 4 or 5 mana. Most of the rest of the deck builds itself, with the only real question as to which 3-drop you pick (I went with the reliably aggressive option) and whether you want another couple of auras instead of mizzium skin/charm (maybe 2x forced adaptation, or way of the thief). Sideboard's basically just a guess, with better creatures to sub in for others in specific matchups and selesnya charm because obzedat is almost impossible to race. It's possible it could use a couple of extra auras in there to bring in against decks which won't interact with your creatures very much.

Verdict: While I think the aura suite is easily good enough to support the deck as a real contender, a critical weakness of the deck is the lack of a cheap hexproof creature. If there were a silhana ledgewalker (missed reprint opportunity!) or even just slippery bogle or sacred wolf then I'd feel much more confident of this deck's chances. Even so, I do think that it could be at least a fringe competitor in the upcoming meta.

Something Borrowed - UB Madness

Early on in DGM spoiler season, I ran across an article discussing, in my opinion, one of the most potentially exciting combo decks in RTR block. The combo involves notion thief + whispering madness. The idea is that if you can flash in notion thief unopposed on your opponent's end step, you can untap and then play whispering madness. Thanks to notion thief, both players discard their hand but your opponent draws nothing while you get to draw double what you would otherwise be allowed. If you somehow don't like the grip you drew, then you can potentially attack in with notion thief, cast madness again from the cipher and draw double what you just did. If you haven't found a way to win the game by then, you're doing something wrong! I've been tinkering around a bit myself to make it slightly more resilient against aggro, here's where I'm at right now:

DGM UB madness
 
Creatures
3 Nightveil Specter
4 Notion Thief
2 Ætherling
9 cards

Other Spells
4 Warped Physique
2 Cyclonic Rift
4 Devour Flesh
2 Ultimate Price
2 Psychic Strike
4 Syncopate
4 Whispering Madness
4 Jace, Architect of Thought
1 Far/Away
27 cards
 
Lands
4 Watery Grave
4 Dimir Guildgate
8 Island
8 Swamp
24 cards

Notion Thief

 

From my limited testing, this deck just monsters control. Its instant speed removal suite is second to none, and can just sit back and wait for an opening to setup the combo. And when it does, well, this says it all:

The funny thing is that my opponent topdecked a sphinx's revelation the next turn which highlights the power of the lock, especially compared to most other hand destruction strategies. I really can't see a way for a control opponent to come back after you've destroyed their hand, drawn 10+ cards and put a creature on the board which stops them from drawing extra cards. Obviously with that fact in mind, the game becomes one of them trying to stop you from doing that, but you have at least as strong a counterspell suite as any other control deck, other than perhaps UWR with counterflux, and no threat other than (Ætherling) is going to be of any real concern to you.

As for weaknesses, Slaughter games will probably pose some concern. It can name either of your combo pieces or aetherling to make it a lot tougher to win the game. There's not much you can do about that, the RWB deck which typically runs the card isn't going to put too much pressure on you with all of your removal, and perhaps you can eke out a win with nightveil specter and psychic spiral once the game is under control. Another card to consider might be consuming aberration which closes out a game pretty fast after whispering madness hits, and further diversifies the deck's wincons.

The aggro match looks ok on paper due to the decks unrivalled spot removal suite and stable, almost painless, mana base. However the lack of a sweeper long term "I win" stabilizer in the form of obzedat does really hurt the deck. I think there's two sideboard strategies you could go for. One is to side out your 8 combo pieces, and keep in counterspells while bringing in crypt incursion and (Ætherize) to keep you alive up to the point where you can resolve an (Ætherling) and start taking over the game. The other option, which I'm trying out at the moment, is to cut back on counterspells and try to stabilize with removal, wight of precinct six and jace to the point where you can do a big bounce (with aetherise and/or cyclonic rift) and resolve your notion thief/whispering madness combo. It seems riskier on the surface, but the deck is pretty good at staying alive early and this at least it gives you a late game plan which actually wins the game, whereas it's still entirely possible for your opponent to go around an aetherling. It's a shame that crypt incursion and wight are such a nonbo, otherwise they might be able to combine together as a good stabilization plan.

Verdict: The threat of something like this might end up scaring blue-based control decks out of the meta which ultimately hurts its chance of finding a place. I haven't yet tested, but it likely has a pretty rough matchup vs GW midrange, they have enough creature-based pressure to stretch all of the 1 for 1 removal in the deck and loxodon smiter or advent of the wurm potentially punishes any attempt to go off. Ultimately I think the narrowness of the deck is going to limit its success, but the possibility of something like this will, in my opinion, stop sphinx's revelation from dominating the block meta in the future as much as it has in the past.

Something blue - bant flash

Another of the decks that popped up in the SCG opens was bant flash, which featured one of the more obviously powerful rares of Dragon's Maze - Advent of the Wurm. The deck played nothing that wasn't an instant or flash creature, other than a few copies of augur of bolas and supreme verdict. The aim was to play a heavy counterspell suite to interact with your opponent, and then punish them with a surprise worm on their end step if they didn't do anything relevant. Sam Black wrote about a similar deck idea in his column on the mothership, the biggest difference being that he built it with plasm capture in addition to rewind as a big, punishing, counterspell. While block doesn't have quite the same ability to play an entirely instant-speed game, with no snapcaster mage or wolfir avenger/restoration angel, I think there's a possibility that the deck type could do something in block.

DGM Bant Flash
 
Creatures
4 Voice of Resurgence
3 Ætherling
7 cards

Other Spells
4 Advent of the Wurm
3 Plasm Capture
3 Render Silent
3 Syncopate
4 Azorius Charm
4 Sphinx's Revelation
4 Selesnya Charm
2 Supreme Verdict
27 cards
 
Lands
4 Temple Garden
4 Breeding Pool
4 Hallowed Fountain
4 Simic guildgate
4 Island
3 Forest
3 Plains
26 cards

Sideboard
2 Supreme Verdict
2 Trostani, Selesnya's Voice
2 Dispel
3 Centaur Healer
2 Renounce the Guilds
4 Skylasher
15 cards
 
Advent of the Wurm

Voice of resurgence fills a similar role to augur of bolas, being a meaningful way to interact with aggro on turn 2 and get a little bit of extra value at the same time. The deck has two main ways to take advantage of a big plasm capture, in aetherling and sphinx's revelation; either is likely to end the game if played on turn 5 after a capture for 4. Renounce the Guilds seems like a pretty good sideboard option here, as yet another way to take out an opposing Obzedat, Ghost Council, Sire of Insanity or loxodon smiter at instant-speed, while hitting very little if anything on your side of the field. Skylasher seems like a nice little annoying sideboard option against other blue decks, particularly those that might try to tempo you out with (lyev skyknights) and the like.

Verdict: Draw-go control in block has one huge potential advantage over standard in that there's no "cavern of souls naming beast/angel" to completely ruin your day. This particular list might be a little too slow getting started against aggro to be viable, but I think the concept might have legs and plasm capture is a really strong way to completely own the midrange matchup and get an edge in control matches if you can win the counterspell war.

Conclusion

I hope you're all as excited about Pro Tour Dragon's Maze next week as I am, I can't wait to see what sort of tech comes out of that and how the meta shapes up. My expectation is that GW midrange/populate will be fighting esper control for top deck of the format, but there's every chance that new deck types could crop up. I hope the decks in this article give you some inspiration to build new decks in the meantime, and I look forward to playing these and others in the new meta over the coming months.

1 Comments

Glad you enjoy it, it really by Psychobabble at Thu, 05/16/2013 - 19:08
Psychobabble's picture

Glad you enjoy it, it really is incredibly fun. I get "ohh, nice" or some variation from just about everyone that I pull the combo off against in practice games, I love it. And I'm finding the combo is still surprisingly good vs aggro decks once you've stabilised. It just becomes a source of huge card advantage and cycling away dead cards even if you're not discarding much or even anything from your opponent's hand.

While I'd love to run sweet stuff like lazav and mirko, the latter seems way too slow unfortunately. Best case your opponent has out like 7 lands by the time you play him, assuming they have 24 lands it's still going to take him 5 hits to actually kill your opponent. Aetherling does it in 3, less if you have a notion thief hitting too.