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By: Rasparthe, R.A. Sparthe
Oct 16 2007 1:44pm
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‘Time Spiral Block seems close to forgotten.'

I wrote that in my last article.  Despite the fact that the statement is absolutely true it seems that not everyone has ignored the format.  I recently spent the required hour waiting in an eight man Block Constructed queue.  Fortunately, I managed to make the finals with a B/R/u Void Control deck.  My opponent in the finals was playing a mono-green aggro build.  That is right, mono-green aggro.  It featured Ashcoat Bear, Dryad Arbor, Scryb Ranger and the usual green suspect of Spectral Force.  It was quick and it was nasty.  I managed to take one game and likely should have won the third game as I had him down to one life but as is my usual operandi I misplayed and he ripped the Might of Old Krosa that took the match.  I had never played a mono-green aggro outside of the casual rooms so what can you do.  Isolated incident I’m sure.

 Or is it?  The 2x Block Constructed on Oct 2 was won by an odd deck.  If you didn’t guess it was a mono-green aggro build then, well, I hope it was because you skipped the previous paragraph.  This was not the same build that took the eight-man I played in.  It was even faster and even nastier.  Most games were over in less than four minutes and not many were losses.  I was not able to get the deck list for it but it most likely was close to this:

Lands

4 – Llanowar Reborn
4 – Horizon Canopy
12 – Forest

Enchantments

 4 – Gaea's Anthem

Instants

 4 – Stonewood Invocation

Creatures

 4 – Tarmogoyf
4 – Llanowar Mentor
4 – Scryb Ranger
4 – Riftsweeper
4 – Thallid
4 – Thelon of Havenwood
4 – Uktabi Drake
4 – Groundbreaker

I didn’t see much of the sideboard since each game was pretty solidly won by the main deck but did notice Heartwood Storyteller was brought in against the creature-light control decks like U/B Teachings.  Timbermare also made an appearance but whether it was a sideboard card or a main attraction I couldn’t tell.  The deck intrigued me.  It had made a appearance early in the Block season but to only limited success and it never included the mighty Tarmogoyf.  So I built the deck using the above as a template and set about making a few changes.

First the Riftsweeper provided more disadvantage than advantage.  Riftsweeper is spectacular against Mono-Red (Greater Gargadon, Rift Bolt, etc) and Mono-blue (Ancestral Vision, Riftwing Cloudskate, etc) but both of these decks look to have disappeared into the vortex of time from whence they came.  Instead the Riftsweeper would usually end up putting a Strangling Soot or Mystical Teachings back into my opponent’s deck.  I moved the Heartwood Storyteller into the main since at least when it was killed by Tendrils of Corruption it replaced itself.  Still, three casting cost may be too expensive, as odd as that sounds, for this deck since it can run on two lands for most of its spells.  I’m not entirely sold on the Uktabi Drake either but left it in because it is such a surprise hitting the board. I also can’t decide what to replace it with.  The first creatures that come to mind are Mire Boa or perhaps Whirling Dervish. Either would be a house against a Teachings deck.  Maybe the correct choice is Epochrasite since Shadowmage Infiltrator tends to create a real card advantage problem when playing Blue Black Teachings.  I would love to hear anyone’s opinion on it.

I spent ten games with deck putting it through its paces in the Tournament Practice rooms.  Of course the quality of the games can sometimes be suspect in those rooms but I never had an eight-man Constructed queue fill up in three attempts.  Can the deck beat Blue Black Teachings?  Yes.  Is it a magnificent sleeper hit?  Well, no.

I won eight of the ten games I played.  I won each game - five in total - I played against Teachings decks.  It is a curious deck to playFirst, it must be mulliganed aggressively in order to get a good starting hand which should contain a one drop, a two drop and Gaea's Anthem and at least two lands.  It gets destroyed by mass removal and absolutely p-l-u-n-d-e-r-e-d by Void since almost every card is one or two casting cost and might get caught with a mit full of cards you are sandbagging to play around DamnationIt can easily run out of gas which is helped by Horizon Canopy but might be better served by Harmonize which would just blow out the curve.  Still, the deck is capable of quick kills even on turn four and five with some consistency which is why the Teachings decks have so many problems against it.  It is simply too fast for them when it hits the curve properly.  When it doesn’t, well it really doesn’t.  It is capable of surprising amounts of quick damage, with hasty Groundbreaker and Timbermare pushing through the last amounts of damage when needed.

It is a fun deck to play and it is always amusing to see the pause on your first turn when you lay a forest and then a Thallid.  You can see the mental wheels a-turning as they try to place the deck.  More testing would likely improve not only the deck itself but the proper way to play it.  It is much harder to play correctly then I first suspected as there are many subtle decisions to make concerning what to play and what to hold on to. 

So why was a mono-green deck that is good but certainly not a powerhouse manage to win a 2x PE?  The MGA has a fairly good match against Teachings and the U/B Control has been showing up in even larger numbers than earlier in the season.  I have tracked all the Premiere Events from Sept 26 through to Oct 6.  I scored them in the Frank Karsten manner of six points for a first/second place finish, four points for a third/fourth and fifth through eighth nets three points.  Adding all the points up and dividing the score of each deck results in the following distribution.  No surprise that the Blue Black Teachings decks still dominate the scene.  Now seems the time to capitalize on decks that can post good results against Blue Black Teachings decks or can pack a lot of hate without compromising their overall game plan. 

Deep into the Block

There are literally dozens of set reviews floating around out their in cyberspace and most are better than I could ever provide.  Still I feel the need to talk about some portions of the new set but from a different angle.  Some of the previews are done by color or by tribe and it makes it hard to get a grip on the characteristics of the block.  (Other than the overall obvious theme of tribal).  The tribal theme seems to require creature-heavy decks so what better to examine more closely then the new Block’s mass removal. 

Ashling the Pilgrim: This is an interesting card.  Not only does it have a powerful pumping effect, 1R is pretty good for a permanent +1/+1 counter, but you can turn it into a board sweeper.  It is quite expensive at 3RRR but it does fire at instant speed which is useful if Ashling the Pilgrim becomes the target of a removal spell provided you have the mana open.  Its biggest weakness is of course the fact it comes with a tiny 1/1 body that can be easily removed.  Fortunately, it doesn’t have to stay 1/1 long and can turn into quite the beater in it own right.  This card by itself could win games through early beats and then activating its ability to finish the job.

Austere Command: Lorwyn Block’s Wrath of God.  In utility it far outstrips the benchmark Wrath of God but it comes at a greater two mana price tag.  Nothing says “I win!” like the ability to destroy an entire Kithkin army and all of the Oblivion Ring and Militia’s Pride enchantments while leaving your own army of larger Treefolk untouched.

Brigid, Hero of Kinsbaile:  This is one mass removal that is fairly conditional.  Brigid herself can take down a four power creature without even blinking thanks to the first strike but they, of course, have to attack or block.  Still it is a powerful ability in the right deck, one that wants to attack no matter the cost, like perhaps a white Kithkin swarm type deck.  At least she is the right color.

Chandra Naalar:  Chandra’s third ability is one of the more powerful board sweepers that doesn’t say Wrath of God or Damnation especially since it isn’t symmetrical like Ashling the Pilgrim.  It is made even more powerful since cards like Austere Command and Nameless Inversion do nothing to remove the threat.  A good first ability makes the board sweeper available on the third turn after Chandra hits the table.  This will, of course, paint a large target on Chandra but at six loyalty she will be hard to burn out or even kill through combat damage if you have any blockers of your own.
 

Cloudthresher: This is a very large creature that features a two damage Hurricane effect.  It makes the damage effect very situational and down right futile if your opponent is not playing any flyers.  The evoke cost of 2GG makes the effect slightly more cost effective but the massive 2GGGG to keep the creature may make it unplayable in all except for mono-green decks.

Final Revels:  Surprisingly, as a five drop this is one of the cheapest mass removal spells in Lorwyn, which isn’t saying much.  It has the bonus of removing regenerating creatures but only if they have two or less power.  It does have a degree of versatility but at sorcery speed it certainly won’t aid much in surprising your opponent in combat.

Hurly Burly: This is the winner of cheapest mass removal in Lorwyn.  It is too bad it only does one point of damage.  This is half as powerful as Pyroclasm or the Rough of Rough/Tumble but costs the same.  Surprisingly it may turn out to be effective against some decks.  There are forty-eight one toughness creatures in Lorwyn and that is without mentioning cards like Gilt-Leaf Ambush or Guardian of Cloverdell that produce 1/1 tokens in bulk.

Incendiary Command:  Another of the Command series of cards.  It isn’t nearly as effective as the Austere Command because it only deals two damage to each creature but it does cost one mana less.  Still, paying 3RR for Pyroclasm is harsh.  If only the first ability could target a creature as well as a player perhaps it could garner some respect.

Thundercloud Shaman:  A mass removal spell packed into a 4/4 body.  It will deal at least one damage and more if you are playing a Giant-heavy deck, but why would you play a Giant-heavy deck.  With only one other Giant in play it is as effective as Incendiary Command, cost the same and leaves a good beater behind.  Except, if you didn’t read above, it belongs to the tribe of Giants.

So what does it all mean?  There are nine mass removal spells in Lorwyn.  Two of them are conditional, Thundercloud Shaman’s Giant restriction  and Cloudthresher only hits fliers.  Brigid, Hero of Kinsbaile’s ability can be neutered by just not attacking or blocking with all your creatures, this  may actually be detrimental to you winning the game but it will dodge Brigid’s ability.  There may be decks that shine with these three but their conditions make them unreliable or even impotent.

Of the six remaining spells only three can kill creatures with three power or greater.  There is always quite a bit of talk of the ‘magic’ number or the toughness at which a creature is safe from most direct damage removal and will survive combat with the majority of other creatures.  In Time Spiral the general consensus was the number was four.  Just by looking at the mass removal in Lorwyn that number may have fallen to three.  The only serious board sweepers belong to White and Red.  Austere Command, likely the most effective mass removal spell, costs 4WW.  Without acceleration Chandra Naalar can’t use its third ability until turn seven.  Ashling the Pilgrim is in the same boat, its 3RRR activation cost may prove too cumbersome to rely on.  All in all, that is pretty slow.  It also means that targeted removal will be relied upon heavily and the control players may have a tough time getting rid of the hordes that will be stampeding into the red zone.  The next set, Morningtide, may provide its Sulfurous Blast, Pyroclasm, Pyrohemia or other cheap mass removal but I wouldn’t hold your breath. 

How much does it cost to seize one’s thoughts?

Thoughtseize looks to be the high priced card of the set for Lorwyn and it is leading a great deal of people to curse and shake their fists in the air, gnash their teeth and kick puppies.  The big question seems to be why move this Duress/Cabal Therapy imitator into the rare slot where its predecessor’s were all non-rare.

I don’t pretend to know the complete answer to this question.  The easy reason is that it is better than either Duress or Cabal Therapy.  Is it that so much better that it deserved a Rare slot?  Perhaps, but I have a theory.  I will premise this with the note that many people tell me I have a theory on everything and will on occasion roll their eyes skyward when I propose one.  (Aside: Like, for instance have you noticed that although the price of gasoline has skyrocketed it actually takes longer to pump it.  The only real benefit to have the price of gas double and even triple is that it should theoretically take you half the time to pump twenty dollars worth into your tank.  I’m not saying that a gas cartel/company would actually slow the pumps down so that is seems like you are getting more for you money, just that it is odd.  But it is just a theory.) 

In the case of Thoughtseize it seems a simple case of human behavior and economics.  Each set needs a chase rare to keep people ripping open packs.  Imagine for a second if every rare card in a set was worth $5 and every pack was worth $4.  Why would you ever stop opening packs?  Open the first.  Sell the rare and buy another pack.  Sell that rare and keep the silver cellophane flying.  You even make $1 on each recursion so you can eventually buy each rare back.  Wizards would love it, the players would love it.  All would be right within the planes.  Of course there is no way for this to happen, the supply would soon outstrip the demand and the prices would tumble.

What Wizards can do, however, is ensure that at least one or more cards is worth chasing.  If the highest priced rares in a set are $2 or $3 there is no incentive to rip open the extra boosters you might acquire.  How many extra packs do you think Wizards sold because of Tarmogoyf?  Imagine that you win a 4-3-2-2 draft or an eight-man Constructed and you receive your payout of TSP-PLC-FUT-FUT.  You have enough for a draft with a pack to spare.  Now you can sell that booster for two tickets (I am concentrating on MTGO but it roughly transfers over to paper as well) but that pack might just hold good ol’ ‘Goyf.  You know he is in there, sitting all pretty just waiting to pop out and say ‘good rip, hoss’.  He might even be all shiny.  Ohhh…shiny.  What’s the matter?  Too chicken to open me up?  Are you scared?  You know he is in there and you know he is laughing at you.  Taunting you. Making fun of your mother.  He wants to be let out.  Don’t you want to let him out?

You might get lucky most likely you will not.  You might not have the Cajun-accented voices I hear in my head but your subconscious did weigh the benefits versus the costs.  You can guaranteed get two tix, maybe three or even be one third of the way towards an additional draft, but what is two tix compared to the twenty five to thirty that Tarmogoyf is going for.  How many extra packs were opened just because of the Tarmogoyf?  Or for Damnation?  I’ll bet it was more than just one.  If the set provides nothing to chase and the boosters are worth more then the costliest rares, the boosters will sit until needed for that draft or that league or just sold.  Look at Time Spiral boosters, they sell on MTGO for six tix.  Why would you rip open a TSP pack? The highest price rare is a $4 Call of the Herd or Gemstone Mine.  I don’t see many people buying ten boosters of TSP just to rip open.  That doesn’t make Wizards any additional money.  Now, have I heard of anyone buying ten boosters of Future Sight just to rip open?  Well, they only cost three tickets, right?

That is why Thoughtseize made it into the rare slot.  I am willing to bet that there is no one at WotC scratching their head in confusion saying, “Jeez, how did that become a rare…I could have sworn we had that slated for uncommon.”  Nope I would bet it is more like Mister Burns under his nuclear powered lights rubbing his spindly hands together and mumbling maniacally, ‘Excellent.”  But, hey, it is just a theory.

‘Til next time, see you around the Block.