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By: Lord Erman, Nafiz Erman
Feb 17 2009 1:28am
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ROGUE PLAY: Riddles In The Dark

by Nafiz Erman

Hello everybody. The new set is only a few days away from the online Magic playing community. It will most certainly effect almost all formats, but I'm here to talk about how it will shape the very block it belongs to; the Alara Block.

I have played in lots of Block tournaments and I can easily say that the format is fast, mean, aggressive but at the same time fun to play. There are no Tier-1 control decks and no combo decks at all and all that is being played, is this or that kind of aggro deck. First let's talk about the current State of the Program format (Hi Hammy!) and see what it looks like now and then talk about the new cards that will have a strong impact on the format.


Naya is the majority's favorite shard and deck type as it can play all the three planeswalkers easily as they all fit very well into the aggro strategy of that shard/deck. During the very first days and weeks, Naya was all about smashing and bashing with effective creatures such as Woolly Thoctar, Battlegrace Angel, Wild Nacatl and Ranger of Eos who was getting more Wild Nacatls and the game finisher Feral Hydra. Combined with the power of planeswalkers such as Ajani Vengeant and Elspeth, Knight-Errant, the deck was an obvious choice for many players (of course it still is).

But then the Naya strategy evolved a bit as players realized the devastating effect that Realm Razer can have on the board. Armageddon was WW aggro players' best weapon in their arsenal for years, and thus it wasen't surprising to see that Realm Razer becoming so popular among the Magic playing and nature loving cat folk; the Nayans.

Of course Naya isn't the only popular deck. In fact, for a long period, the most ferocious aggro deck style was the good old Mono-White Aggro. With zero chance of getting mana screwed between three different colors, the deck is fast, focused and deadly and it's easy to understand why most people prefer to play it.

You know what they say; there is always power in simplicity...

Players also play a lot Jund. Jund isn't that fast as a whole strategy, but it is tricky to play against. It has many nice cards and does almost everything you need fom a deck; it draws cards, kills creatures, makes the opponent sacrifice their own creatures, it burns, plays fatties and it creates tokens; I mean what else do you need?!

And finally we have Bant. I won a lot with Bant during the early days so I know the power of that deck as well as its weakness. Bant, due to its nature, plays only one card per turn. For example when it reaches three mana, it plays Rhox War Monk and when it reaches four mana it plays Rafiq of the Many or Elspeth, Knight-Errant and when it reaches five mana it plays Battlegrace Angel.

But the other decks do more! For example Jund creates a Goblin token, sacrifices it for Bone Splinters, kills your Battlegrace Angel and then plays a Sprouting Thrinax in the same turn. That's a lot more than a Bant deck can handle. But still, Bant is a good deck and players still do play it.

So, we're more or less done with the Tier-1 Alara Block decks. There are of course some Tier-1,5 decks which shouldn't be taken lightly such as Esper Control or Grixis/Jund Ultimatum decks but unfortunately they are, as I said, Tier-1,5 decks. 

It will be very off-topic but I have to say that I always thought that the fate of Tier-1,5 decks is a little bit sad. They are the king of Casual Room, and while playing those decks you feel like you're the best Magic player ever existed (because you win, win and win and then win again!). But the real casual players in that room always damn you and curse you for playing such a powerful(!) deck. Then you take it to the Tournament Practice Room and that "King of Magic" feeling fades away very quickly and after a few games you start thinking that you must be the worst Magic player ever existed (because you lose, lose and lose and then lose again!).

I spend my entire Magic-life (whatever that is) building and playing such Tier-1,5 decks, so I know that feeling very well (just look at the name of this column again please and you'll understand). I can tell you that being a rogue deck builder is a hard life. (Note to myself: Maybe I should write an article about my funny experiences as a rogue deck builder and player. Readers will definately be ROFL for a long period after reading many of them).

Anyway... Back to topic.

(not so far) FUTURE

So what new goodies does Conflux offer us? Many in fact. But I will not talk about all of those good cards. I will only talk about the ones that might (and most probably will) change the meta.

I mean, if you looked at the spoilers you know how powerful Path to Exile is. Or that Noble Hierarch is an excellent mana producing creature. These are all true for sure but neither Path to Exile nor Noble Hierarch are cards that decks will be build around. Surely they will be in almost all the decks but those decks will use them as a tool; a tool that leads to the greater goal.

I will talk about those "greater goals" this time.


The "Nicole-was-a-nice-girl-but-her-brother-Nicol-is-a-real-a%#hole.dec"

Nice deck name isn't it? Of course if I were a man without any imagination, I might call it the Grixis_Control.dec or simply Nicol_Bolas.dec too. Oh and by the way here's that not-so-nice brother of Nicole in the rare case that you haven't met him yet.

Joking aside, Nicol Bolas is definately the most powerful card from the new set. So the first deck I will build will be a deck that uses him as its centerpiece. Nicol Bolas is just too good to be played as a card that helps your other strategy, whatever that might be. He and him alone should be ALL your strategy! He's just that good.

So basically I will start with something like this:

24 Lands
3 or 4 Nicol Bolas
4 Obelisk of Grixis

and build the deck from there. Most probably I will also have the following cards in the deck:

Blightning : For discard, for direct damage to either my opponent or his/her planeswalker.
Grixis Charm : Mostly because of the -4/-4 ability but bouncing back that Ajani Vengeant who just reached 7 loyalty tokens would also be nice every now and then.
Volcanic Fallout or Infest : One of these cards will be 4x in the deck. Only testing will tell which one (or both perhaps?).
Banefire : Another excellent card from the new set. It kills creatures, it kills planeswalkers, it even kills opponents and most probably I will have three or four copies of it in deck depending on the results I'll get from testing.
Cruel Ultimatum : This card just got better as it has finally a real home to shine! It will be my card drawing engine, my discard engine as well as my win the game engine.
Courier's Capsule : Card drawing is always needed in a control deck.
Cancel and Countersquall : Self-explanatory cards.

I will also test Resounding Thunder, Executioner's Capsule, Agony Warp and maybe two copies of Covenant of Minds in this deck. By the way you do understand that it will be a creatureless deck, right? I mean why would I need one when I have so many direct damage in deck? After all, even the harmless looking Countersquall lowers my opponent's life total!

As I said, this will be the first deck I'll try after the online release of the new set. I will test it very heavily and try to make it a tournament viable deck. In case I achieve this, I'll most definately let you know about it through this column. But in case I fail, I still got plenty of deck ideas to work on. Such as the next one.


The "Naughty-Elspeth-the-Locker-Room-Girl.dec"

Does the name of the deck not make any sense to you? How so? Elspeth and locks dosen't ring any bells? No? I mean, you are aware of the soft lock you can enable with Elspeth, Knight-Errant, aren't you? Aren't you? You know that you can prevent you opponent ever dealing combat damage to you? You know that one right? Right?

Oh God, where were you during the last couple of months?

Okay fine, here it is:


Basically, you create a Soldier token with Elspeth, Knight-Errant every turn while getting her up to eight loyalty and then sacrifice that token to Knight-Captain of Eos during your opponent's turn and so he/she deals no combat damage regardless of what kind of scary monsters he/she has on table.

Yes it's a little bit fragile at first, but once you manage to get Elspeth, Knight-Errant to eight (or preferably nine) loyalty, your Knight-Captain of Eos becomes indestructible and then you just wait to draw your finisher... which until the new set was this one:

Now I'll most definately try this deck too and it will start something like this:

24 Lands
4 Elspeth, Knight-Errant
4 Knight-Captain of Eos
4 Path to Exile
4 Oblivion Ring
3 or 4 Celestial Purge
2 or 3 Martial Coup
4 Courier's Capsule

and build the deck from there. 

By the way I'm sure that you had to click on the link for Celestial Purge to see what it does. And still after seeing what it does, you don't understand why I add such a card to the main deck. I mean, come on! Think! Other than Mono-White aggro and pure Bant decks, there always will be a target for this card. Ajani Vengeant, Broodmate Dragon, Sarkhan Vol, Woolly Thoctar, Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker... and the list goes on and on. The list of cards it cannot touch is ten times shorter than the ones it can kill. So why not play it in the maindeck?

Looking at the list above again, you'll notice that so far it is White-Blue as its colors. But of course it will not stay like that. So after I get my new cards, I will try two versions:

1- Esper Version
2- The old Bant Version

Both versions might work and only testing will tell which is better. Both has access to counter magic such as Cancel and Hindering Light which is very important to protect your Knight-Captain of Eos. But Bant gives me Empyrial Archangel and Bant Charm. And Esper gives me Esper Charm as well as access to black's removal.

And the second question then will be how to finish the game. Bant's option is obvious but If I choose the Esper version then I can't play Empyrial Archangel as my beater but thankfully that problem is solved even before it becomes a problem with this new card:

This dude costs one more than the Archangel but for a long time I will be so busy with setting up my lock as well as removing every single threat my opponent plays, so that one more mana won't matter.

Of course first I have to test this deck (both versions) against every possible aggro Block deck and see what it can do (and can't do).

And don't take this deck lightly; it is even now a Tier-1,5 deck. What it lacks was a good mass removal and that hole was filled with the new set. And do I have to mention that Martial Coup's tokens are Soldier tokens?


The "Hasta-La-Vista-Baby.dec"

"Hasta la vista, baby" is a famous phrase from the movie Terminator 2 (1991). In that movie Arnold Schwarzenegger was a robot who was trying to protect a human against other robots. It was a movie full with action.

And the next deck I will talk about is also a 100%-high-speed-action-guaranteed robots decks. The new set gives us many nice Esper cards, but some are really interesting and allow us to build an aggressive deck using THE colors of control. That sounds odd I know. It's like saying Red-Green Control. But strange things come with the new set and White-Blue-Black Aggro is one of them.

A 4/3 flyer for three mana is not something you can disregard too easily. Especially if the new set also offer these nice little mechanical buggers:


We're talking about a one mana 2/2 creature and a two mana 3/1 flyer here! And for this deck the cards I will consider are:

1- Ethersworn Canonist : A perfect card to stop opponent from playing multiple threats each turn allowing a strong board dominance for the Esperian player. 
2- Faerie Mechanist : Yes it's a little bit costly for an aggro deck but as all aggro decks, this one too will run out of ammo in a very short time and this creature helps us to overcome that problem.
3- Glaze Fiend : I already have a Pauper-Affinity deck build around this one, so I know what troubles it can cause to my opponent. A perfect card for this deck.
4- Master of Etherium : An obvious choice.
5- Parasitic Strix : I'm not sure whether or not I'll have this creature in my final decklist but at least I will try it. Actually this one I will also try in my Pauper-Orzhov Blink deck but that's another topic.
6- Sanctum Gargoyle : At least two copies will be in the final decklist.
7- Tower Gargoyle : Either this one or that Fae I mentioned above will fill my 4-mana slot. Only testing will tell which one.
8- Tidehollow Sculler and Tidehollow Strix : Both are excellent cards and at least one of them will be in the deck. I'm not sure now, but maybe I'll play both.

As for the "Other Spells" section, I will consider Path to Exile, Oblivion Ring, Esper CharmCourier's Capsule and Bone Saw.

I'm not sure about the full list of my "Other Spells" cards right now but this one definately will be there. It has great synergy with many of the cards in deck such as, Glaze Fiend, Court Homunculus and it helps paying the upkeep cost of Esperzoa for zero mana.

The final decklist will be something like 24 Lands, 12-14 Other Spells and 24-22 Creatures.


The "Devil's-Advocate.dec"

Why it's the Devil's Advocate? Because it's all about Grixis. But not the whole Grixis. No, the softies are not allowed! This deck is the pure evil itself; it doesn't eat, drink, sleep and think! Thinking is for cowards. This deck is all about agression.

This deck is all Red & Black.

What is the weakness of Mono-White Aggro? Or any aggro? That it is very powerful in the early game but if the opponent manages to repel the raged wave of creatures, the aggro deck starts running out of ammo and enters the top-deck mode which then leads to an inevitable defeat.

So why this Red-Black deck is not affected by this fact? Because of its "this creature comes into play and goes then into graveyard with Zombify build on it" ability!

Please just look at these beauties(!):


Add Blightning, Goblin Deathraiders, Kederekt ParasiteBanefire, Dark Temper and Resounding Thunder to the mix and you have the Pandora's Box... waiting to be opened by the next poor victim (which is also defined as the "opponent").

But that's not all! How can we forget this new addition which fits perfectly to this deck:

You do realize that her tokens do not disappear at the end of turn, right? Pure evil, pure insanity, pure heat!


The "Bant's-Tourism-Agency.dec"

From pure evil, let's switch to pure goodness and kindness. 

This fifth and last deck I will talk about, is actually neither meta-changing nor format-breaking. But still I want to talk about it because I want some feedback from you on how to make it a better deck.


It is said that Bant's landscape is perfect. And now that the shards start to converge, the tourism in Bant must explode! Many strange folk will enter the borders of Bant and there is one lady who is more than willing to guide them. To where? Now that is a good question.

Actually it is much easier to build a deck around this card in Standard. But I will nevertheless try to build one in Block with the limited cards there are. Even if I can't build something close to a Tier-1 deck, I will definately build something to entertain me in the Casual Room.

Now if I were a good law-obeying and tax-paying Bant citizen, I would be using her Tap ability, get some lands in the yard, pump her once or twice this way and then start attacking with it.

But that would have happened if I were a Bant citizen. But I'm not.

I'm an Esperian...

And in case you wonder, yes, my arms are made out of etherium as well as some of my other body parts too (well my chest and my feet of course; which other part did you think I was talking about!).

This is me doing some Samba and Cha-Cha-Cha with my new girlfriend in a nightclub in Esper.

So I don't have to obey those dogmatic and boring rules. I can cheat. My black part and even my blue part allows me to do that. And in this case, I surely will cheat.

I have no desire to play the Tap ability of Knight of the Reliquary. No way! That would be too boring. I will think of a deck that pumps her right away, and does Cha-Cha-Cha in one single turn.

Actually my decklist for this deck is not ready yet. This is the deck I will start testing a bit later than the others I mentioned above and there are still some peaces missing in my head regarding this deck.

But the things I'm considering are these:

1- It will be a like 40 land/ 20 other cards deck,
2- At some point I will play Ad Nauseam to draw tons of lands as well as one or more Countersquall in case the opponent tries something funny,
3- I will use Armillary Sphere to get more lands into hand,
4- I might run a few Frontline Sages too, to get some lands to the graveyard,
5- I might even consider Malfegor. But that would mean bye bye to Ad Nauseam, so I'm not sure about it actually,
6- Rotting Rats would be nice too as it disturbs the opponent, gets a land in the graveyard and can be played in a deck with Ad Nauseam,
7- And finally to clear the path for that one single 20 damage strike, I will use Naya Charm's tap'em all ability.

Or I might as well forget about this deck as a whole, apply for Bant citizenship and be a law-obeying and tax-paying citizen who hates Cha-Cha-Cha and plays Magic to earn some sigils!


I have really high hopes for my Grixis Control deck. I think I can turn it into something that wins at least some 4-mans if not big tournaments. And that control deck build around Elspeth, Knight-Errant would also be playable. And finally I think that there is also hope for that Red/Black deck and the Esper-Aggro deck I introduced to you.

But what will happen to the old decks? And won't there be any other new decks?

Well, Naya is just getting even better and bigger with the addition of Apocalypse Hydra. Bant will start playing Rhox War Monk on turn two and Rafiq of the Many of turn three thanks to Noble Hierarch (are you aware how crazy that opening would be? If allowed, that is ten damage on turn three not to mention the ten life gain). Mono-White is getting even more boring to play against as they'll get Lapse of Certainty. And Jund now has a turn one threat which can reach to a ridiculous size if left unchecked; the so called "Mr.Blob" Bloodhall Ooze.

And finally there will be a lot of players who will try to break this one:


Of course if you're lucky enough, you can even have Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker on table on turn four with this card. It's just insane! Eventhough I can't think of a good deck that abuses her ability, I'm sure skilled deck builders will surely do.

Also with the new additions, I'm sure many will also try an Esper Control deck and some will also try to play the mighty Progenitus through Mayael the Anima's ability. So the Block format is getting more exciting and more "juicier" with the new set.  

And now it's time to say goodbye. I always liked the way Mark Rosewater ends his articles. You know, that "Join me next week" ending. Normally I hate copying others, but this time I will make an exception. So...

Join me next week... whoa whoa, wait a second! I won't be writing an article next week.

Okay then let's start once again.

Join me...

Actually I got a better idea.

I will not write my "Join me" message but I will make you hear it. Yes! That's nicer.

You can listen to my "Join me" message by clicking here (don't worry, the link leads to a fun "Join me" audio file).


See you online
Nafiz Erman, aka Lord Erman


This is fun. by bigalw1414 at Tue, 02/17/2009 - 05:38
bigalw1414's picture

You are crazy, and I like that.

And he is... by BLU (not verified) at Thu, 02/19/2009 - 11:19
BLU's picture


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