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By: thescale99, Todd Holmes
Mar 22 2007 9:00pm
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Exploring the World of Casual Standard Play


by Todd D. Holmes



It was mentioned in a recent PureMTGO article that one should always look at the effects of a spell as an opportunity to gain advantage beyond the spell itself.  Truer words may never have been spoken in the realm of deck building.  Discard effects can pack graveyards just so – ‘return to your hand’ effects can save you or your critters from imminent demise – the list is endless.  Most of the truly powerful plays are seen when a top notch mage prepares his/her deck for exploiting cards and effects in a way that exponentially increases the value of the other cards.


What we’re talking about here are not simply combos:  Vesuvan Shapeshifter/Brine Elemental is only the latest in this ongoing search for establishing two or more cards in tandem to break the opponent in any of a thousand ways.  Combos are like little nuggets of gold – one digs through the mud and earth of commons and ‘useless rares’ in hopes of discovering something nobody else has, and with a bit of polish and hard work, come up with something very valuable.  Combo’s work when, well…you set up the combo.  They can be fun (at least for you), but not a lot of the truly great decks these days (or in years past) are combo decks.  The inherent randomness of games of chance and the savvy of a patient and intelligent opponent prevent them from dominating the Meta.


Instead, what we’re talking about are cards that work in concert to support (rather than rely upon) each other (the latest term being thrown around the MTG world for this is ‘synergy’, but ‘spell harmony’ and ‘symbiosis’ are just as apt).  The idea is much more subtle and, I think, much more difficult to master.  One needs to identify cards that stand on there own as effective and worth your draw (the value of your draw is a topic I will discuss at a later date), yet hold the potential for multiplications of power when used with other cards.  WOTC handed this over on a silver platter in a very imperfect way with the Sliver build, though 35 Slivers and 25 lands obviously won’t win many games.


What this all boils down to is that one should always keep in mind the central idea of synergy when choosing cards for your deck.  Plenty of us want to go out and slap together 60 ‘power cards’ and rock on.  And there is no doubt that if your deck is full of Umezawa's Jitte’s, Wrath of God's and Dark Confidant's that you will win a good number of games.  But a mage needs more than that if they want to find a way to take their game to the next level…


So, with all this in mind, we consider:



Phyrexian Meditation

Standard Deck

 by Todd D. Holmes (thescale99)

 75 cards


 Land: 23

Other Spells: 25


5x Snow-Covered Plains

4x Phyrexian Arena

1x Snow-Covered Mountain

2x Searing Meditation

1x Snow-Covered Swamp

4x Lightning Helix

1x Kher Keep

4x Faith's Fetters

2x Mouth of Ronom 3x Hide/Seek
2x Ghost Quarter 1x Nightmare Void
1x Terramorphic Expanse

3x Wrath of God

2x Sulfurous Springs

3x Void

2x Caves of Koilos

1x Demonfire

2x Battlefield Forge  
4x Tresserhorn Sinks  Artifacts:  7
  4x Orzhov Signet

Creatures: 5

3x Spectral Searchlight 


3x Firemane Angel

Sideboard:  15

2x Ghost Council of Orzhova 

3x Moratorium Stone


3x Shadow of Doubt 


3x Circle of Protection: Red


2x Pyroclasm

2x Circle of Protection: Black
1x Demonfire
1x Hide/Seek


Searing Meditation
Lightning Helix

Phyrexian Arena

       The centerpiece for this deck is, of course, Phyrexian Arena.  Building from this card, we look for ways to mitigate disadvantages, and (later) exploit advantages.  The Arena is a strong card on its own - few other cards in Standard provide so much for so little ("a drop of humanity for a sea of power"...makes your skin crawl, eh?).  But life loss is a problem (duh...), so we start to look for answers to that problem. 

        I approached the problem this way: a bleeding warrior can patch the wound and keep fighting, or go for the quick kill before he dies.  So, if we're going to build around the Arena, do we build a speed black deck or a mid/long game control deck?  I enjoy control (though I despise all-counter decks), especially with my eye on Searing Meditation.  Thus, we look for ways to compensate for the life loss through life gain.

        Gaining life is nice, especially in a world of Boros Wins and Mono Green Agro (and the outstanding Green Deck Wins by Sebastian Park).  These decks wither in the face of life gain and mass removal.  Faith's Fetters and Lightning Helix seemed obvious.  These two cards alone easily make up for the Arena (casting all eight equals provides 28 life - and yes, it does happen), and feeding the Searing Meditation is just gravy.  But what else can we find to build synergy?

        Ghost Council of Orzhova seemed to be another obvious choice, though its legendary status limited its numbers.  The Ghost Council begged for synergy with Searing Meditation, but with so few creatures, the "comes into play" effect seemed limited to only the initial casting.  Thus, we find Kher Keep.  Nothing like a chump blocker, ready for sacrifice, at the low low price of 3 unused mana.

       Firemane Angel was the other straightforward and appropriate creature.  Once cast, the Angel will provide one life (and hopefully 2 damage) each turn unless removed from the game - tough to deal with.  At six mana its a bit steep, but the fact that a counterspell is almost a welcome event (one less to deal with, after all) made it worth three slots.



Dralnu, Lich Lord
Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir

        Hide/Seek is an underrated card anyway, and in this deck (and in the current Meta environment) it screams to be included.  It hunts Dralnu, Lich Lord and Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir with extreme prejudice, and is the best spot removal going for enchantments and artifacts (no Academy Ruins for you...).  These decks are effectively beaten when those cards are removed from the game.  Hide/Seek can also respond to a finishing Demonfire or Bogardan Hellkite (as can Lightning Helix), and can hold you out long enough to play into Wrath of God or Void against speed decks.  Nightmare Void and Demonfire simply give blue mages fits, and we exploit the Nightmare Void dredge ability with Firemane Angel - again, always looking for any effects that become benefits.

Orzhov Signet
Spectral Searchlight

        Furthering the hate against Boros Wins and Agro Green, Void most typically eats two and three mana critters/spells in play and in hand.  Again, we see Void as an opportunity to multiply an effect presented to us, but in this case it is the Metagame that is being exploited.  The above decks don't run many cards beyond 3 mana, and Void often eliminates 1-2 creatures in play and another 1-3 spells in hand.  It is also selective - your Ghost Councils and Angels can dance around the smart bomb that is the Void (On the other hand, sometimes you just need a nuke - still love you, Wrath!).   Void also blesses  you with two other benefits.  First, it can be cast to eliminate troublesome artifacts (Triskelavus, Muse Vessel, Totems).  Second, it allows you to look at an opponents hand!  This often overlooked advantage will usually let you to play with impunity for at least a turn or two - this can be a key to sealing the game.

        However, Void also necessitates that our artifact mana be diverse; thus we load up on Orzhov Signet and Spectral SearchlightSpectral Searchlight dodges Spell Snare, and also allows us to "ping" our opponent directly with a colorless source of damage at the end of his/her turn - I've lost count of the number of games where I've dealt the last 4-7 points of damage with "The Lantern Razor".

Battlefield Forge


Sacred Foundry

        While on the topic of mana, let's look at our choice in land.  What may be most surprising is the absence of Ravinca duals.  There are three straightforward reasons for this.  One, only the Terramorphic Expanse dictates that we hunt for "basic land", so the value of the "Mountain/Plains" land type is less valuable from cards like Sacred Foundry.  Second, I have found that the ability to avoid 2 damage when using mana the turn I drop the land is important - taking two or four life loss from land drops just furthers the erosion from Phyrexian Arena.  Over the course of 50+ games with this deck, I have found the pain lands to be a bit less painful than Ravinca duals would be.  Third...I can't afford $15+ per land (9th Ed. pain lands are pricey enough - if your style and pocketbook allow for Ravinca duals, knock yourself out).  Finally, three mana decks only allow for a limited number of colorless lands, so the split became 2 Ghost Quarter's (for killing Urza's Factory), 2 Mouth of Ronom's (uncounterable direct damage) and the aforementioned Kher Keep.

        Overall, the deck plays fairly smooth and straightforward.  It is strong in the Meta, devastating to Dragon/Warrenstorm, Dralnu/Tefari, Boros Wins and Aggro Green.  The deck has the most trouble with UrzaTron White/Blue (as only two Ghost Quarter's can do little to break up the Tron), though those decks are not seen quite as much as a month ago, and the stucture does hold up well against a counter strategy.  The big question mark is how Boom/Bust will affect the game.  If you can drop the Phyrexian Arena soon, you can survive.  If not, say "goodnight, Gracie".  Also, the coming of Harmonize allows Mono Green Agro to mitigate its greatest weakness - recovering from mass removal and the accompanying card disadvantage.  How any mono-green mage could pass up on the ability to reload with Harmonize is beyond me - as a one shot draw mechanism, it certainly seems to be enough to force the second wave of attackers into a win.  Beware....

         (Being my first article for PureMTGO, I look forward to all your comments and suggestions.  Every deck can get better - post a reply and let me know what you think.  Thanks for reading!)









reason for snow lands (Re: Tempesteye) by N_i_g_h_t_m_a_r_e (Unregistered) (not verified) at Sat, 03/24/2007 - 17:46
N_i_g_h_t_m_a_r_e (Unregistered)'s picture

Snow lands are required to use the activated ability of Mouth of Ronom

by Lord Erman at Fri, 03/23/2007 - 08:17
Lord Erman's picture

The "echo" of the comment system is funny! In case you don't understand the first time you read a comment, pay the echo cost and read the "echo comment" so you got it :). Anyway... 3 comments of mine got deleted(6 actually with the "echoes") but all I was saying was that this is a good article, solid deck and I want to see/read more from you.

by tempesteye at Fri, 03/23/2007 - 08:38
tempesteye's picture

Looks good, I have something similar. But why are you using Snow lands if you're not using the Scrying Sheets engine or Skred?

Consider this card... by Joe (Unregistered) (not verified) at Fri, 03/23/2007 - 08:48
Joe (Unregistered)'s picture

Extirpate from PC. I would recommend this over Hide/ Seek. It still allows you to pull Dralnu and Teferi, but allows you to find and remove 4 counters as well. I currently play UR, and this surprised me in how devastating the card can be used properly.

I like the deck... by Dreager_Ex at Fri, 03/23/2007 - 15:46
Dreager_Ex's picture

It does seem to really mimic the Firemane Control decks from when TSP was FIRST released... only difference to me seems to be in the focus of a searing meditation combo over straight Firemane Beats..

by Anonymous (Unregistered) (not verified) at Fri, 03/23/2007 - 20:03
Anonymous (Unregistered)'s picture

I like it, especially since you plainly stated that you chose not to use Rav. duals because of their price although I think they are sorely needed. I'm skeptical about the life loss from them being a concern in a deck with so much life gain. Weird that one Expanse makes the dual lands "bad".

Over the course of 50+ games you must have a matchup analysis and sideboard strategy. That kind of information would be great to hear before I built this deck. What is CoP Black for? Very sad that you did not include Sunforger, its a pet card of mine. Sunforger + Keep is great fun.

"but not a lot of the truly great decks these days (or in years past) are combo decks. "
I have a bit of trouble with that statement. Wasn't there a period of magic called "Combo Winter"? isn't Dragonstorm enough of a meta contender to warrant sideboard cards? Solidarity and Grimlong are staples in Legacy. Heartbeat did well last season in both STD and EXT, and TEPS isn't that bad in Extended. Combo is one of the 3 pillars of the magic meta. Without combo, the magic experience wouldn't be as interesting or diverse.

Comment system by mtgotraders at Fri, 03/23/2007 - 08:07
mtgotraders's picture

I think it's broken. I'll try to get Mitch to fix it asap. Sorry everyone who's comments got deleted i'm very sorry about that.

A Word on Mana Distribution by thescale99 at Fri, 03/23/2007 - 08:10
thescale99's picture

After a quick count, we find that the deck has 17 cards that can produce white mana, 17 for black, 14 for red and 2 colorless. The deck has 21 cards that need white mana, 13 that need black, and 16 that need red. Aside from perhaps droping a Plains for a third Battlefied Forge, I think it hold up.