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By: brandonQDSH, Brandon Tsark
Jun 22 2011 2:52pm
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I. Introducion: An MTGO Planeswalker Strategy Primer

Hi. Thank you again to the Community Cup team for their hard work. And thanks to everyone who read the first article in this series, which broke down the current metagame for MTGO Planeswalker. Getting a feel for the metagame, and choosing the right deck(s) and gauntlet to begin playtesting is the first step to success. However, the tournment is only about a week away, and for all those aspiring to go undefeated for 4 rounds of Swiss, there is still much work to be done. In order to have the best shot at winning, you must know the nuances of strategy that define the format in question. Getting you up to speed on that quickly is my goal in this article.

II. The Golden Rule: MTGO Planeswalker is, at Heart, a Limited Format

What I mean by this is that all games are fought over interaction between creatures (either creature combat and/or removal), and the vast, vast majority of games are won via Combat damage. This is a very important factor in deck design, as unless you run into the occasional mill deck, you want to have a good way of dealing with creatures that enter the Red Zone. And even then, a lot of mill decks play defensive cards like Walls and Platinum Angel, so a lot of your removal will still be live.

LIMITED BOMBS ARE PLANESWALKER BOMBS

Sphinx of Magosi Martial Coup Dragon Roost Hellkite Overlord
         
Moreover, while aspects such as card redundancy and the tempo of the game will more resemble Constructed, cards that are considered Limited bombs will often be bombs in Planeswalker. Of course there are cards like Broodmate Dragon and Baneslayer Angel that overlap. But a card like Dragon Roost is much too slow for any Standard environment, as you need to spend 13 mana to make your first, inferior Shivan Dragon. However, it was an absolute bomb when drafting 10th Edition, and the exact same is true for Planeswalker. It is an absolute beating if you can get it to stick in a Control match-up. And it will usually win you the game if you can survive long enough to get it going. A good rule of thumb to keep in mind if you're looking for some finishers and key cards to close out matches is that if you can remember playing it as a Limited bomb, it will most likely still get the job done in Planeswalker.

REMOVAL IS STILL KEY

Into the Roil Lightning Bolt Terminate 

You can never be too young or too rich. And in Limited, you can almost never have enough removal. But while you don't want to overdo it in Planeswalker, any and every successful deck in the format needs a way to get rid of opposing creatures. Hideous End isn't the windmill slam first pick that it was in Zendikar draft, but it's still very good. It's preferable to have removal that can interact with creatures outside the Red Zone, as there are highly problematic creatures such as Nath of the Gilt-Leaf that don't need to attack to wreak havoc on your plans. It can sit there all day long enchanted with a Pacifism while it rips copies of Condemn right out of your hands. Having the right amount of removal is key to your deck's success. You don't want to be choking on it and sending it to your Graveyard against the wrong opponents. But a timely removal spell is relevant in all match-ups. In my opinion, any successful deck will never want to dip below 4 dedicated, creature-removal spells (in a 60 card deck). Having more than 8 will mean you will have some dead cards (or at least cards with minimal relevance) in some of your match-ups, but it is very necessary to keep yourself alive against Beatdown. 

Exception: You want to maindeck Artifact and/or Enchantment Removal 

Naturalize Solemn Offering 

The biggest exception to Planeswalker being like Limited, in my opinion, is that you want to play Artifact and/or Enchantment removal in your starting 60. In Limited, you could rely on having a contingency plan in your Sideboard if you saw a bomb like Masticore or Umezawa's Jitte in Game 1. But that option is not available to you here. Every color has problematic Enchantments that you will need to deal with: White has Luminarch Ascension, Blue has Persuasion, Red has Dragon Roost, Green has Blanchwood Armor, and even Underworld Dreams and Sanguine Bond can start to look scary if your life total is precarious. And everyone can run the common Artifact bombs such as Howling Mine, Loxodon Warhammer, Razormane Masticore. Sorry to Mono-Black players in that you will either have to get lucky with your discard spells or be forced to race them. But Solemn Offering, Dispeller's Capsule, Shatter, Naturalize, Negate, and Boomerang/Into the Roil + Cancel are available to all other colors, so play them accordingly. My advice is that unless you're going to just ignore their game plan by playing a deck like Goblins, you want about 2-4 pieces of Artifact and/or Enchantment hate in your deck. Note that sweepers such as Planar Cleansing can be a catch-all solution to your problems, just watch out for Regeneration, which leads me to my next point.

WATCH OUT FOR HEXPROOF, SHROUD, and REGENERATION

Bloodghast Troll Ascetic Deft Duelist

Okay I know Bloodghast technically doesn't have Regeneration, but it's close enough. Even Drudge Skeletons is borderline playable in this format due to the power of Regeneration in Limited-esque environments. As I mentioned in my first article, Hexproof is king, and Shroud is pretty-darn close. Unlike in most Constructed formats, creatures with these abilities range from very good to bomby. As long as you're smart enough to leave 1G up, Troll Ascetic is nigh-unkillable in Planeswalker. And Beatdown decks will have a very difficult time attacking into one or more copies of Deft Duelist. The power-level of Shroud in Planeswalker is so high, that even an innocuous 2/1 like Deft Duelist can fell the mightiest of Control players if they carelessly let their blockers get taken out; they will be beat down 2 life at a time, while they have a pile of burn and targeted removal cluttering their hands. Either make sure you can race these abilities, or pack some outs. 

III. Understanding Tempo

"Do you want to play first?" (Hint, it's not really a question)

Gemstone Caverns

It's too bad Tsuyoshi Fujita's "Unluckyman's Paradise" isn't legal in Planeswalker because it would definitely shine here!

Do you want to play first? The only correct answer to this "question" is to always, ALWAYS play first! There are of course exceptions to every rule, to be sure, but given this format, with this cardpool, it is safe to say that it is correct 99.999% (if not 100%) to play first when given the choice. If you're playing any of the Tier 1 decks, (heck this is probably true even if you're playing any random deck) your win percentage will swing dramatically up if you're on the play.

WIN THAT DIE ROLL!

Winning the die roll guarantees that, unless you win 2-0, you will play first in 2-of-3 games, which is a huge advantage. It's somewhat of a shame that there is this significant luck factor involved in all your matches, but those are the ropes. Even in match-ups like the Mono-Blue or U/X Control mirror, where games will last well-over a dozen turns and in theory the extra card granted by drawing first should prove to be an advantage, I still want to play first. The first reason is that yes, tempo is still really that important. But also, you have so many sorcery-speed card drawing options available to you, that you will almost always be able to cast one in the late game to even things or take the lead in terms of card advantage. In the early game, it's much more important to hit your land drops, and not fall prey to tempo plays like Thieving Magpie, Shadowmage Infiltrator, and Luminarch Ascension.

YOU NEED A BALANCE BETWEEN POWER AND TEMPO

Remove Soul Troll Ascetic

You need to play cards that, while sub-optimal in terms of overall power-level, will help you recoup lost tempo. This is true especially when you're on the draw, otherwise you will simply be punting matches away. As an example, picture the following:

You are playing a Blue Control deck in a match against Jund. Your opponent wins the die roll (lucky him) and chooses to play. For the first two turns, both of you play land, go. On Turn 3 he plays his third land and taps out to put Troll Ascetic on the stack . . .

Scenario 1

You have no response, and end up scooping several turns later, while muttering to yourself that things would have been different if you were on the play. You would have been able to play a third land, and your Cancels, Put Aways, and Counterbores would have been ready for that dumb troll.

Scenario 2

You came prepared, and were able to counter with Remove Soul, and thus save yourself three damage per turn over the next several turns, allowing you to bury your opponent in a mountain of card advantage and bombs.    

Scenario 1 serves as a good example of why playing first is so paramount in this format. If you have the role of Beatdown in a match-up, you are able to execute your strategy that much faster, forcing through extra damage or comboing off sooner. If you're the Control, then it prevents the above Scenario 1 where the opponent exploited a momentary weakness in your defense in order to steal the game. However, you will have to win games on the draw in order to win matches, so it's important to play cards that gain you tempo. In Scenario 2 you able to steal tempo away from his opponent by playing the more limited, but tempo-oriented Remove Soul. Using it to counter your opponent's Turn 3 spell, you are able to untap, drop a land, and get the bulk of your spells online. By negating your opponent's advantage of going first, you have pretty much guaranteed yourself the match win.

Counterbore Violent Ultimatum

Of course this lesson in tempo cuts both ways. You could stuff too many tempo-oriented spells in your deck, and thus run out of gas. That Remove Soul that was worth its weight in gold on Turn 2 looks miserable on Turn 8 when your opponent wrecks your board or triple Stone Rains you with a Violent Ultimatum. Now is where a late-game bomb like Counterbore really shines. Of course, not being able to Sideboard makes this whole process of having the right balance of tempo and power very difficult to get right across all your match-ups. Thus you have to play a little of both, and hope for the best. Although, in my experience, I see a lot of players loading up on bombs and not enough tempo-oriented spells.

Bottom line: because you don't have access to a Sideboard, you need to make sure your (main)deck achieves the proper balance between tempo and power in order to maximize your win percentages across all match-ups, both when you're playing first and on the draw.

IV. Match-up Philosophies and Tactics

Just as your deck needs to a balance between tempo and power, it also needs to strike a balance between attacking the main archetypes: Aggro, Control, and "Combo." As long as you pick up any Tier 1 deck, you can crush any one archetype or dominate certain match-ups if you dedicate enough maindeck hate. The trick is being able to put up strong and consistent numbers against the entire field. That being said, here are some of the best Beatdown hosers (minus the extremely obvious stuff like Wrath of God):

Pyroclasm
Pyroclasm

This is an incredibly strong option against all Aggro and Weenie decks. They will be hurt, and you will gain card advantage for a mere two mana. However, this is dead against over half the field, mainly the Control mirrors. Any Control deck playing Red should have a very good reason for not playing at least one copy.

Deft Duelist
Deft Duelist

While the range of deck's that this can be played in is obviously very narrow, having the full playset will guarantee that you will Quash any Beatdown strategy. Goblins and Vampires do not want to attack into one, let alone multiples, of this card. As for Green, as long as you can untap and prevent creature pump, i.e. Giant Growth, and aura, i.e. Blanchwood Armor, shenanigans, you'll have all the time you need to set up your winning endgame. The drawback to playing the full playset is that it can get awkward when you want to clear the board via Wrath of God and Martial Coup. But having at least one is well worth it.

Sprouting Thrinax
Sprouting Thrinax

Again, this option is limited to Jund players. But if you really fear the Beatdown, running the full playset with at least 6-8 removal spells will make it difficult, if not impossible, for any Aggro player to breakthrough with combat damage. Beware letting the game stretch too long against Goblins and RDW, as they have a tremendous amount of Reach. The drawback to play multiples of this card is that it is fairly weak in the Jund mirror. Sure it's never a bad card. But it's pretty depressing to cast a Sprouting Thrinax only to watch your opponent untap and respond with some ridiculously bomb like Hellkite Overlord. The jump from the 3 mana Sprouting Thrinax to the 6 mana Broodmate Dragon/Rampaging Baloths is not that far off in terms of the mirror, so it will be quickly outclassed. But at the same time, that duration is an eternity against a well-oiled Aggro deck, so plan accordingly.

Black stuff
Nekrataal Tendrils of Corruption

Nekrataal is an nice option for anyone running Black. Similar to cards like Terror and Hideous End, he scales in power depending on how prevalent Black is within the metagame. If no one else is playing Black, then he's Terminate on a stick, a very useful 2/1 First Strike-ing stick that's great on both offense and defense. As of right now though, Black is very popular. Running multiple copies is good as long as you don't run into another player with Swamps; otherwise he's just an overcosted Youthful Knight. Really, it's a toss up between Nekrataal and Tendrils of Corruption. But in my opinion, the decks that I play that include Black would rather have the option of a 2/1 First Strike-r rather than the more flexible, life gain spell.

Blue stuff
Remove Soul Boomerang Evacuation  
Unsummon Summoner's Bane Sleep

You may be tempted to scoff at these as Limited chaff, but trust me, if your deck has no better options, i.e. Mono-Blue, Turbo Fog, U/G, etc., these cards are vital to protecting your life total against Aggro. Evacuation is a nice, instant-speed sweeper that can be played at the EOT step. If you can spare the tempo Summoner's Bane is good at providing card advantage, as the 2/2 it leaves behind will often be able to trade with an opposing creature, thus saving you a Counterspell, and/or a small beater. Boomerang is a good back up to Into the Roil if anything should happen to slip past your defenses, as it can also hit lands, preventing it from being a dead card in certain match-ups. But if you're having trouble against Aggro, by all means, pack an Unsummon or two. Blue has such a wealth of ways to gain card advantage, cheap tempo spells like Unsummon and even the horrible looking Fountain of Youth can buy you just the amount of time you need.

If your problem is Control, then here are some cards to keep in mind:

Luminarch Ascension
Luminarch Ascension

There are a variety of decks that sport at least one copy of this card, from White Weenie, to U/W Control, to G/W and G/w/r Midrange. It does a great job of hosing Blue players, and forcing them to find a bounce spell or succumb to an endless swarm of 4/4s.

Counterbore
Counterbore

As previously stated, this card is a beating against nearly everyone. Tempo is very important in MTGO Planeswalker and bombs are at a premium, so to be able to strip away multiple copies with one card is simply amazing. Being able to take a free peak at their hand and the possibility of card advantage are just added bonus that push this card over the top. Counterbore is particularly amazing at neutering Turbo Fog and milling archetypes, which can be some of Blue's tougher match-ups if they build with the Control mirror in mind. This card used to be Restricted, so I still like the idea of playing at least one copy. However, I feel like the format is much too fast for most deck's to consider running the full playset.

Green hosers:
Troll Ascetic Eyes of the Wisent Gaea's Herald Karplusan Strider
Great Sable Stag

The cream of the crop, in my opinion, is Troll Ascetic. He's the perfect threat against most Blue decks if you can get him to stick. Great Sable Stag and Karplusan Strider are obviously good against the colors they are meant to hose, but U/W and U/R will find them almost laughable, as they can be taken out quite easily with targeted removal (Condemn, Lightning Bolt, Burst Lightning, etc.). Gaea's Herald, in my opinion, is a waste of time since all decks already come packing targeted and/or mass removal, making its ability largely irrelevant. If you really hate Blue, you can maindeck Eyes of the Wisent; just be careful about playing too many, as it is a dead card against a large portion of the field.

In addition to dedicated hosers, Elvish Visionary, Farhaven Elf, and Civic Wayfinder are great tools to combat Control. As help you recoup some card advantage while providing a cheap body to threaten them with. 

Red hosers:
Kiln Fiend Seismic Assault

Obviously if you're playing RDW, you'll be running Kiln Fiend. But he's worth thinking about in your Goblins builds because he forces your opponent to have that spot removal ready on Turn 2 or Turn 3, or risk losing the game on the spot. You really only need to connect with him once in order to gain enough virtual card advantage to put a possible comeback from your opponent out of reach. Seismic Assault can be effective in the right type of deck, but I wouldn't play more one or two copies. Decks that could benefit, like U/R Control might be better off making extra land drops, and most RDW and Goblins builds don't run enough land to make this card worthwhile anyway.

V. Summary and Conclusion

Well there you have it. This completes your MTGO Planeswalker primer. Now all that's left is for you to commit to a deck, tune it, and test against the metagame. Remember that balance is key. You only win extra prizes for going undefeated (3-1 is just as bad as 0-4), so you need to make sure that you have at least decent win percentages against even your weakest match-ups (especially when you're on the draw), no matter how small a part of the metagame they are. Thanks for reading. And good luck on July 3rd. 

Bonus section: Building on a Budget

If I were limited with the contents of Planeswalker Pack 1 as my cardpool. I don't recommend playing a Blue deck because you're missing many of your most important tools (Divination, Into the Roil, and the splashy U/X spells, to name a few). I don't recommend Mono-Red or Mono-White because you lack the tools, mainly decently-powered one drops, to be a true Beatdown deck, and are faced with some pretty mediocre Midrange options that might be able to trump a slow start from Aggro, but simply won't get the job done against a dedicated Control build. These are the decks, in no particular order, I would most likely want to pilot:

JUND

Rampant Growth Blightning Broodmate Dragon Violent Ultimatum

3 Sprouting Thrinax
4 Farhaven Elf
4 Civic Wayfinder
1 Nekrataal
1 Nath of the Gilt-Leaf
1 Broodmate Dragon
1 Kamahl, Pit Fighter
1 Hellkite Overlord

4 Rampant Growth
4 Incinerate
2 Naturalize
2 Terror
4 Blightning
1 Mind Rot
1 Eyeblight's Ending
2 Violent Ultimatum

12 Forest
6 Swamp
6 Mountain

Having access to 4 Evolving Wilds would lessen the strain on the mana base considerably, and the tempo boost of Harrow would be welcome as well. Being able to cast Violent Ultimatum on Turn 7 or 8 is tricky, so plan your searches and time your drops carefully. The build above is skewed towards shoring up your Aggro matches with Sprouting Thrinax and added removal, but it is a bit light on bombs to close out a match against Control. Earthquake would be a nice addition, as it serves double roles here. If you wanted to skew the other way, you could remove some of the aforementioned cards for Elvish Piper and extra fatties like Vigor, Shivan Hellkite, and Verdant Force. Extra copies of Broodmate Dragon and a Rampaging Baloths or two would be a welcome addition. But the list above is capable of closing out matches with some luck.

B/R DISCARD

Ravenous Rats Mind Rot Blightning Abyssal Specter

4 Ravenous Rats
2 Dragon Fodder
1 Royal Assassin
1 Cinder Pyromancer
2 Abyssal Specter
1 Nekrataal
1 Mortivore
1 Kamahl, Pit Fighter
1 Ascendant Evincar
1 Shivan Hellkite

4 Incinerate
2 Terror
4 Blightning
4 Mind Rot
2 Eyeblight's Ending
2 Blaze
1 Mind Shatter
1 Dragon Roost

14 Swamp
11 Mountain

Overall, B/R Discard is still a good deck. Losing Blazing Specter and Liliana's Specter and having to play 8 copies of Blightning (Mind Rot) means that you will sometimes end up with a pile of dead cards in your hand. The main problem is having ways to close out the match once you've established control (stripping the opponent of cards and reducing them to topdeck mode). You can add the powerful Dread and Hostility if you like, but getting the mana to work without 4 Evolving Wilds is tricky enough, even moreso here than in Jund. Even though the mana is trickier, I would still recommend B/R over Mono-Black in this case simply on the power of Blightning. But you also have access to much better finishers and beaters like Dragon Fodder to put a clock on opposing Control players.

ELVES

Blanchwood Armor Talara's Battalion Elvish Champion Imperious Perfect

3 Elvish Eulogist
1 Talara's Battalion
2 Elvish Visionary
4 Elvish Warrior
4 Elvish Champion
1 Imperious Perfect
4 Civic Wayfinder
1 Jagged-Scar Archers
2 Troll Ascetic
1 Lys Alana Huntmaster

2 Giant Growth
2 Naturalize
4 Blanchwood Armor
1 Loxodon Warhammer
1 Coat of Arms
2 Overrun
1 Howl of the Night Pack

24 Forest

If you want to eschew the Blanchwood Armor plan, you can splash Black for Nath of the Gilt-Leaf, (Rhys, the Exiled), Lys Alana Scarblade, removal, and possibly discard.

Extra copies of Talara's Battalion and a lower CMC average would be nice. Also, Drove of Elves would be a nice addition to the deck, due to its having Hexproof. All in all, Elves is a pretty good choice. Your match-up against Beatdown is pretty good, but it's the Control match-ups that I'm most worried about. Spot removal on your Lords is a problem. Sweepers are big problem. If you can get a fast start, try to swarm, forcing as much damage through as possible. If you have a slow start, try a stick one or two big threats at a time to avoid getting blown out by a board reset. If you are really worried about these match-ups, you can play extra copies of Troll Ascetic and hope to stick one backed up by Loxodon Warhammer and/or Blanchwood Armor. This is your fastest clock against them.

 

 

5 Comments

What cards are available in the format? by 2of1 at Thu, 06/23/2011 - 04:18
2of1's picture

What cards are available in the format?
Is there a list somewhere?
and link at the start of the article would be a nice addition to this article.

Agree with 2of1 by mattlewis at Thu, 06/23/2011 - 07:48
mattlewis's picture

This is the 2nd primer in the past week and I still don't know what cards are in this format.

Links by brandonQDSH at Thu, 06/23/2011 - 10:29
brandonQDSH's picture

Here is the entire cardpool, as well as an inaccurate B&R List (but I think it is still being updated occasionally):
http://community.wizards.com/go/thread/view/75846/25288009/Planeswalker_...
The official and very, very outdated B&R List can be found at the Mothership:
http://www.wizards.com/magic/magazine/article.aspx?x=mtg/mtgonline/plane...

Pack 1 Decks? by chann23 at Fri, 06/24/2011 - 00:16
chann23's picture

I'm making a deck using only Pack 1 and am currently testing a hybrid of your elves/Jund. Basically a combo with aggro elves (Elvish Champion, Imperious Perfect) with mana finders (Farhaven, Wayfinder, Rampant Growth) to get to the bombs (Hellkite Overlord, Flameblast Dragon, Broodmate Dragon). Could this deck work, and do you have any thoughts on what your version might look like? I've packed in some removal through Terrors, Shock/Incinerate, and Naturalize (with Violent Ultimatum too), but never seem to get to the Naturalize against the mill decks. Otherwise, it's been good in testing, but I've gotten mana screwed/flooded a decent amount of times (running 10 Forests, 9 Mountains, 4 Swamps).

@chann23 by brandonQDSH at Fri, 06/24/2011 - 10:58
brandonQDSH's picture

Hi. Ultimately, while I think the deck could have some pretty good games, I don't think it could work consistently enough for me to want to pilot it in a tournament, mainly due to your last comments about the mana.

The Jund mana is just horrible (not yours in particular, just the general framework). In terms of 10 Forest, 9 Mountain, 4 Swamp, this helps you get the RRR part of Violent Ultimatum, but having 13 non-Green sources means that you will often times be stuck with several mana fixers and no access to Green mana. The solution would be to cut a few Mountain and go up to maybe 12-13 Forest. But then you run into mana issues the other way, i.e. not being able to cast your bombs timely.

Also, having to use and rely on 10-12 mana-fixers is both a blessing and a curse. It's great in Turns 2-4, but when you topdeck a Rampant Growth or Farhaven Elf in the late game, it feels horrible. Once you have your mana base set, whatever is left of the dozen fixers are basically pseudo-lands. So even though you've already put 7-10 land into play, your mana-to-spell ratio is still probably close to 40%, which explains the late-game flooding when your bombs fail to win the game immediately and the game goes long.

Moreover, starting with less than 40%, in this case 38%, with an average CMC of 3-4+ is a recipe for mana screw for at least 10-20% of all games.

In theory, I think replacing the discard elements (4 Blightning 1 Mind Rot) with 5 Elf Lords is a viable strategy. Although, the Elf count is pretty low. And without a plethora of Elves, Perfect is still good, but Champ is just an over-costed bear (there will be games where you will draw 1-2 Champ, 1-2 Rampant, 0 Elves). But the main reason why I like to play Jund, other than its fantastic bombs, is Blightning. This is probably why I like B/R Discard more than Jund.