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By: SpikeBoyM, Alex Ullman
Sep 16 2007 1:30pm
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PDC is an all player run format on Magic Online.  It consists of competitive games using exclusively commons cards.  Games can be found in the "/join pdc" room and events can be found on the Magic Online official message boards.  For more information please visit paupermagic.com

As I touched on in my last article, PDC can be a blisteringly fast format. With Saps in Standard and Burn Range in Classic, the games of all commons competitive truly start on turn one. These hyper-aggressive decks act more like combo in many respects than aggro: if they draw the right cards in the right order, unmolested, they will win in short order- much shorter than aggro. This point has been hotly contested in the past but I still feel that these decks fit an aggro-combo mold more than anything else- they can with through beats of by executing their combo (which is usually facilitated by said beats). With these decks being so fast, how does one prepare to face them, let alone coming out victorious?

The answer lies in aggressive defense. Being able to apply pressure from a defensive stand point goes a long way in defeating the hyper-aggressive decks. This concept is not myo wn, and draws heavily from the works of Mike Flores (in case you have not figured it out yet, I draw a lot of my influence from Flores, as well as most other good theorists).

Let us say we are playing against Burn Range. The Red player (let us call him Dan) wins the roll starts off one Karplusan Wolverine followed by Keldon Marauders. You can safely assume that the next creature Dan will play will be an Oxidda Golem. What is the most aggressive defensive play in this situation?

This little bear firmly establishes the caster in a control role against Burn Range. The message broadcast is clear: “Your attacks will no longer be optimal.” While the control player will still be taking damage, the fact the Knight is on the board will mean that Burn Range will be playing dead cards. Suddenly, Marauders deals only two damage as opposed to five, and numerous burn spells are useless against a rather strong wall. However, this is not enough for the Azorius player to beat Dan. As predicted, the next turn yields an Oxidda Golem. What is the optimally aggressive defensive play for us to make at this time?

The bird will negate at least two spells and also sets you even more firmly in the control role. The message is: “You might deal me twenty, but I can take more.” Dan now has to go into the tank and figure out a way to fight past these cards (because there will be more of these defensive gems).
Aven Riftwatcher

These plays are actively defensive- they will set up a defense while also implying that there will be pressure coming. After all the resources of Dan are gone, the Knight is likely to be standing, ready to whittle away Dan's life total. The Riftwatcher will die for the cause.

There may be some who think that what has been described is actually pure reaction- a defense. What happens if we switch the die roll? Suddenly, Knight comes down against the Wolverine and more damage is stopped; Riftwatcher comes down and still negates two spells while also providing a blocker, firmly planting Dan in a less than favorable position. Even better, the Azorius mage can slowly go on the offensive with these seemingly defensive cards.

The defense was not reactive, but rather aggressive-using cards that not only protect your game plan, but actively reduce the effectiveness of an opposing strategy. These cards represent a serious threat even from the defensive position. On top of that, they curve into each other, creating a string of defense starting on turn two. This is defensive speed in PDC: how fast you can set up your defenses with out sacrificing an overall game plan.

Often in Magic with uncommons and rares, defensive speed against aggro decks is measure by how fast you can successfully cast a Wrath of God. This can be turn four or early (as we have learned, thanks to Signets). This tends to work for slower formats- aggro decks might be put at a stop thanks to a well timed Wrath. If the format becomes faster, such as the Onslaught-Mirrodin Standard, where the speed of the format was determined by Ravager Affinity. As such, the relative defensive speed had to be much faster, and splashes for Oxidize were much more common. Bringing back to PDC, in the era of unchecked Affinity, maindeck Electrostatic Bolt was the norm in RG aggro to give a defensive speed of turn one against Affinity. In the above example, the Knights and Riftwatchers are turns two and three respectively. In Standard, defensive speed is not as fast and easy as a lone Martyr of Ashes sadly.

Whereas Burn Range will play between one and three threats a turn, Saps can often play out five a turn and all at instant speed thanks to Scatter the Seeds and Sprout Swarm. Saps will play like a combo deck, Convoking out an army if left unchecked. Keeping it in check is another story altogether. In order to use an active defense against Saps, the deck itself must be crafted to take advantage of a removal curve. In this case, again, the speed of defense has to start on turn one but then curve up matching each potential drop from Saps. The goal is to stall their engine long enough to get a sizable threat online. In Standard, the best bet for this is a Mono-Black deck splashing for a sizable threat, such as Errant Ephemeron. The removal would be able to start at one with Feast of Flesh and curve up to Tendrils of Corruption. This is an active defense because in addition to disrupting the combo in Saps, it is stalling their win through significant life gain.

So why does this matter? And why is this concept not as simple as saying playing cards that hurt your opponent and help you at the same time? Well, it is not quite that simple. Wrath does not necessarily help you as much as it stem or stop the bleeding, usually before the control player swoops in to take, well, control of the match. Similarly, in PDC, using Martyr to wipe the board is usually the indicator of a large threat looming. Defensive speed can also be seen as how fast you can turn tempo in your favor.

Force Spike

It was not until relatively recently that Force Spike became standard fare in Mono-Blue Control decks. This was mostly because the format had sped up so much that the defense needed to be turn one fast. This meant that the Spike became a necessary part of the plan: setting up the counter wall until Spire Golem could come down and dominate. Spike provided that speed, that tempo shift, which would give the MUC player the edge needed in certain aggro matchups. Since the rest of MUC's tools come online on turn two, this boost was important. From this we can see that when a format speeds up, the analogous defensive speed must also increase.

The reason Knight and Riftwatcher are strong examples of defensive speed is because they are not totally reactive. Instead, they are a form of proactive defense- they are legitimate threats from the defensive end. This is important because in PDC, without large sweeping effects such as Wrath, our answers need to be threats more often than not. In the MUC example, the answers are in fact threats when used in a proactive manner- countering any spell presents a very real threat that the spells that do get through will be answered by the threat MUC can muster, most likely a Spire Golem.

This concept is also very different from pure reaction. Many PDC decks are built with purely reactive cards either main or sideboarded, and this can often be a waste if the deck cannot afford to devote spots to a purely reactive card. Take Swirling Sandstorm- one of the best Wrath effects available in PDC. However, not every Red deck runs them sideboard- you are most likely going to find this card in decks that are paired with Blue because A) Blue-Red decks tend to be a blend of board control and pure control (when they are control) and B) Blue card draw makes up for the devotion to a purely reactive slot. RG Aggro cannot afford this luxury, as its overall plan does not allow sitting back and waiting; here Martyr is a better fit as it can alternatively provide a small amount of beatdown.

Pure reaction is rarely right for the non-control deck, and yet many PDC decks make this mistake. For example, my consistent argument against Guardian of the Guildpact, a fine control beater. However, he has a relatively slow defensive speed of turn four. Yet still, players are playing him in aggressively minded Boros decks as a four drop, when on turn four these decks should be holding back burn or more efficient creatures. This is wrong not only because it messes with a curve, but because the ideal of Guardian is fundamentally different than the ideal of Boros (in the Platonian sense of ideal). In aggro decks, Guardian is purely reactive because he does not fit the ideal.

When reactive cards are placed in decks that cannot handle them, the deck's plan of attack is skewed away from the target. Suddenly, the deck that should be the beatdown is waiting to play a clunky reactive card. While there are times these cards are necessary (such as Circles of Protection against certain style Big Win decks), more often than not they should be in the sideboard as a form of targeted aggression: Circle of Protection: Red is actively good against Kaervek's Torch; Guardian not so much.

So we can see from this that defensive speed, when properly used, can improve a deck's ability to win. While Guardian might be good against quite a few decks, it is bad in the general sense, and there may be one card omitted that is better against the predicted field that has better defensive speed.

This is important to understand: defensive speed for a given format will change from week to week, meaning that understanding the speed is contingent on understanding the metagame. If there Dan is not running Burn Range, then Galina's Knight is not as close to being the right call as it was if Dan was running Red spells. This means that in any properly constructed PDC deck and sideboard, there needs to be cards that are active on the metagame.

Let us take two successful examples from PDC history. In PDC Season Three (way back in Spring 2005), I had a good amount of success with MBC running Vicious Hunger. This was because at the time, Affinity was a big factor in the metagame, increasing the speed of the format (this was before the time of Phyrexian Walker remember). The Hunger was key in hitting the early Frogmite. This was incredibly important because it would allow me to go up on life- a vital resource against Affinity- and also stall their development by a full pseudo-land. In this matchup, the defensive speed was based entirely off of Frogmite. Using this, I was able to use MBC to post very strong numbers against Affinity (pre-board, post-board they would often have Scale of Chiss-Goria).

When Orzhov was on the rise in Classic, Tom innovated Jolrael's Centaur for the RG Aggro sideboard. This creature had a quick defensive speed in that format, since the removal run by Orzhov costed at least two, and most costed three or more. The Centaur was not only a good man for the Red Zone, dominating most combat phases because of Flanking, and rendering much of the removal without a good target.

Vicious Hunger

These previous two examples show how cards that are seemingly defensive can also be utilized as tools for furthering a game plan. This is one reason why I advocate Stone Rain in many decks that are aggressive with disruption: they further your game plan while simultaneously stalling the opponent- playing the tempo game. This is incredibly important: defensive speed is altering cards in the maindeck to match the speed of the metagame, attack the given metagame, and steal a tempo advantage from your opponent. This is not a new concept.

But it is something that many PDC players need to grasp. To often, we fall in love with our decks. We have crafted them, tuned them, loved them as it were. And then we bring them to an event only to have our dreams smashed by a deck that was off the radar and instead of adapting the maindeck, PDC players will often just throw together a sideboard with some answers and hope to draw them in game two. With the concept of defensive speed; of active defense, the maindeck becomes a place for work to be done, not a sancrosanct realm that is unphased by the changes in the metagame.

So the next time your opponent goes Mountain Mountain, smile, and lay down that Galina's Knight, in game one.

Keep slingin' commons-


by Gloinoin at Wed, 09/19/2007 - 17:51
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Funny you should mention that Evu, Spike came up with the idea of a UW silver bullets list and we then worked using the Zvi list as a basis to show what one looks like then adjusting it for PDC. Obviously Zvi's deck could be more focused and even maindecked crimson acoloyte, but we had to make certain concessions due to as you mention a much more random meta.

by Evu at Wed, 09/19/2007 - 15:23
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I think Saprolings is absolutely aggro/combo.  Burn Range I don't think of as aggro/combo; rather I think of decks that aren't as fast as Burn Range as "bad aggro".  :P

The idea of maindecking Galina's Knights in today's Pauper environment reminds me of the story of Zvi Mowshowitz, who (if I'm remembering the details correctly) won an Invasion-era Pro Tour with a Blue/White deck built specifically to counteract the Red decks that were expected to be popular.  The only problem with the idea is that Zvi could be much more assured of facing those Red decks than we can be of facing Burn Range at a Pauper tournament.  Any given deck, no matter how dominant, rarely accounts for more than about a quarter of the field.  I sometimes think that if Paupers were more serious about winning, it would be easier to beat them.  :)

@ Aggro-combo by Me5794 (Unregistered) (not verified) at Mon, 09/17/2007 - 15:40
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I do believe that There are a number of Decks that could be Aggro-combo, or be aggro decks that have "built in" combos.

But i wouldn't think of them as combo's in the traditional sense. i would think of them being able to do something or have large effects in a single turn. With Burn Range you have to worry about a 1-2 of burn and creatures doing 6-8 damage in a single turn. And anyone that has played against saps with a mycoderm out knows what that "combo" would feel like.



by Yakk372 (Unregistered) (not verified) at Tue, 09/18/2007 - 03:28
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When I played with a BDWesque deck, I played GotG, and it seemed to work fine as an almost unstopable threat.

by SpikeBoyM at Mon, 09/17/2007 - 11:50
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Your Boros deck has a problem I find quite often in these decks: it does not know if it wants to be defensive or offensive.  Both strategies are viable (Boros Mid-Range is a good deckconcept that was prevalent in Pre-Ravnica PDC) and would run the four drops you have, as well as some others.  However, your inclusion of cards that are supposed to be aggressive (such as Unicorn and Skyknight) show me that you are torn between aggro and Mid-Range.  When I say Boros, I meant aggro Boros, not midrange RW control. 

Basically, choose what you want the deck to do, then build it, not the other way around.


by SpikeBoyM at Sun, 09/16/2007 - 16:07
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Without the benefit of a list, I (and the rest of the readership) have no idea if running Guardian is a right or wrong call. 


by Dreager_Ex at Sun, 09/16/2007 - 18:21
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by Dreager_Ex at Sun, 09/16/2007 - 15:53
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I don't particularly agree that GotG is a purely reactive card, I run boros, a lot actually and I've found numerous times that I can't get damage through with my creatures and I win purely on the power of Guardian and Burn