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By: Umii, Mike Patterson
Nov 20 2007 9:23am
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Like everyone else, I've been playing Lorwyn release events for the last two weeks.  I've had good luck drafting the Giants tribe which didn't receive much hype before Lorwyn was released, and really enjoy how different it is to signal tribes instead of colors.  At heart, though, I am a constructed player, and I'm eager to start building decks featuring Lorwyn cards and tribes.  In this article, I'm going to give a brief metagame overview of Standard with Vanguard from before the Ravnica rotation, highlight which decks are losing significant cards in the rotation, and share some new deck ideas I have.

The Vanguard Metagame with Ravnica

In order to understand how the Ravnica rotation effects Vanguard, one must first have a basic understanding of the major decks before rotation.  Since Vanguard is a slightly different beast than Standard, I thought it might be helpful to review the common decks.

Tier One:

Mirri Control: The Mirri the Cursed avatar gives all of your creatures the ability, "Tap: Target creature gets -1/-1 until end of turn." Mirri control decks combine a swarm of cheap, mana-producing creatures to gun down opposing creatures, and a light counterspell suite to protect themselves from sweeper spells like Wrath of God.

Dredge decks: Dredge decks are almost direct ports from Standard.  They can take two flavors in Vanguard, either using the Momir avatar or the Dakkon Blackbade avatar.  The Momir Vig, Simic Visionary avatar provides an easy discard outlet, an essential ability for Dredge decks.  The Dakkon avatar allows decks to play sixty spells, allowing dredge decks to include the best dredge cards from green, blue and black.

UW Dakkon Control: The Dakkon avatar allows decks to play spells as lands, and allows control decks to never miss a land drop.  Blue White Dakkon decks play traditional Blue and White control cards as well as sideboard cards like Disenchant in the maindeck.

Chronatog Free Stuff: The Chronatog avatar allows you to draw three cards at the cost of skipping your next turn.  While skipping turns is normally bad, this avatar plays "free spells" like the alternate-cost spells of Coldsnap (e.g. Commandeer) or the Pacts from Future sight.  The deck also includes Angel's Grace to avoid actually paying for pacts.  I covered both a Blue White Dakkon deck and a Chronatog deck in more detail a month ago.

Tier Two:

Braids Fat: The Braids, Conjurer Adept avatar allows you to put lands, artifacts, and creatures into play for mana costs of two, three, and four respectively.  Braids decks take advantage of this ability by including powerful artifacts like Akroma's Memorial and creatures like Bogardan Hellkite. I covered this deck in more detail in my last article.

Oni Aggro: The Oni of Wild Places avatar gives all your creatures haste, with the "drawback" that you must return one creature each upkeep to your hand.  Oni decks are traditionally among the fastest in the format, allowing you to play undercosted creatures like Phyrexian Soulgorger and Sheltering Ancient while avoiding their upkeep costs. Previous versions of Oni included storm combo aspects like Empty the Warrens and Haze of Rage to end the game as quickly as turn two.

Heartwood Blink: The Heartwood Storyteller avatar reduces the cost of all creature spells by one colorless mana, while making your opponent's non-creature spells cost one mana more.  Decks in this archetype feature a lot of bounce and land destruction in the form of creatures like Venser, Shaper Savant and Avalanche Riders, which can be reused with Momentary Blink.  These decks are particularly good against control strategies but vulnerable to creature-based decks.

RG Dakkon swarm: A late addition to the metagame, this deck is a port of the Standard RG swarm decks.  It features token creating spells like Scatter the Seeds with creature pump like Gaea's Anthem.  I covered this deck in more detail in my last article.

UW Loxodon Plans: The Loxodon Hierarch avatar allows you to sacrifice a permanent to regenerate a creature.  While apparently useless at first glance, this ability combined well with Hatching Plans to draw cards and Magus of the Disk to clear the board repeatedly.

Squee Plans: The Squee, Goblin Nabob avatar allows you to have three extra cards in your starting hand, a godsend for combo decks.  The Squee Plans decks are almost direct ports of the Pyromancer's Swath + Grapeshot decks from Standard.

What the top decks lose

With that brief overview of the metagame, it's possible to look at how decks will be effected by the rotation.  Like in any format, the rotation of Ravnica will kill certain Vanguard decks, while only mildly effecting others.  Rather than cover each individual deck, I think it would be more profitable to consider three things: dead decks, the rotation of Ravnica lands, and minor tweaks to existing decks.

The rotation effectively kills two decks: Dredge and Squee Plans.  Dredge decks are obviousy dead due to the rotation of the dredge cards themselves.  The Squee Plans deck also loses its titular card, Hatching Plans, but also loses other key elements like Repeal and Remand.  While the Grapheshot plus Pyromancer's Swath combo appears to be dead in vanilla Standard, it may still persist in Vanguard If people can find alternate card-draw and protection, like Telling Time and Pact of Negation.  Alternatively, Squee-based decks may want to pursue other combos, although there are none in Standard at the moment to draw inspiration from. and

The most pervasive effect of the rotation will be the loss of Ravnica dual lands for manabases.  Many popular Vanguard decks featured two colors and splashed for a third, like Blue Greenx Mirri decks, or Blue Whitex Heartwood Blink decks.  For some of these decks a simpler mana base will be no problem; Mirri decks' power comes from the avatar's abilities and not from their spells.  In contrast, Heartwood Blink decks may have to narrow their strategy, and rely simply on blue bounce creatures and not splash for red or black.

The other, less obvious, land-related loss from Ravnica are the karoos.  Dakkon decks relied on karoos to allow them to play late-game spells as lands during the early turns, which they then could bounce to their hand later.  Similarly, Braids decks, like the one I featured last week, used karoos to achieve a land-density they could not otherwise.  Braids decks need to have four land-drops in play by turn thee, so they can have four mana available to activate their avatar.  Braids decks previously could get away with playing about twenty five lands and eight karoos, but now may need to include thirty lands to guarantee hitting land drops.

Finally, there are a class of decks suffering minor losses.  The Red Green Swarm decks included the Ravnica token generators Fists of Ironwood and Scatter the Seeds. This may not be significant given the number of token generators in Lorwyn, especially the Elves.  Loxodon Hierarch decks lose both Hatching Plans and Dark Confidant, but retains Magus of the Disk.  Besides losing the karoos, Braids also loses two of its key threats, Angel of Despair and Blazing Archon.  Finally, sideboards will miss cards like Suppression Field for Mirri matchups, and Leyline of the Void for graveyard hate.

Avatar power in an open metagame

One way to look at a metagame following a rotation is to consider the decks that are not losing key cards.  In my analysis of the Ravnica rotation, I did not mention Oni, Mirri, and Chronatog decks, which at most lose minor cards. I would not be surprised if these decks gained popularity.

In designing Vanguard decks, however, it may be more important to consider what the best avatars are, and design around them.  Unlike cards, avatars do not rotate.  In my opinion, it is fairly clear the three best avatars are Oni, Mirri, and Heartwood.

The Oni avatar allows you to play undercosted creatures while avoiding their drawbacks.  For the past year, Oni decks (and formerly Dragonstorm) have determined how fast the format  will be, with a goldfish win of turn four.  In designing Oni decks, you have two main goals: winning as quickly as possible, and protecting your creatures.  The original Oni decks were Blue Green decks that feature reusable counterspells like Mystic Snake and Plaxmanta.  Once the synergy between Primal Forcemage, Rite of Flame and Empty the Warrens was discovered, the decks switched to trying to win as fast as possible.  Oni deck designs moving forward may continue to try to win quickly using red and green creatures, or may switch back to the original design.

In thinking about Mirri avatar design, the key aspect of the deck is its inevitability.  Mirri only needs two or three growing creatures to win, and simply needs to protect those creatures, whether by counterspells or other means.  Obviously, Mirri decks have great matchups against any other decks relying on vanilla or small creatures (most importantly Oni and Heartwood).  The only downside to Mirri is its low starting life, leaving it vulnerable to burn or combo decks.

While Mirri decks may have problems with combo decks, Heartwood decks have their best matchup against them.  The avatar's creature acceleration and delaying of opponents' key spells give Heartwood decks a distinct advantage over slower control decks, or combo decks that require setup.  Heartwood's downside is that it has bad matchups versus Oni and Mirri.

If you consider these three avatars as a group, they create an interesting dynamic.  Oni decks define the speed of the format, but have bad matchups vs Mirri decks.  Mirri decks feast on all other creature decks, like Oni and Heartwood decks, but have problems with decks slower than themselves.  Finally, Heartwood decks can beat the slower decks of the format, but fall prey to Oni and Mirri.  The relevant parts of this analysis for deckbuilding may be similar to what I mentioned in my first article: be fast enough to stop Oni, don't rely on creatures Mirri will kill, and make sure that Heartwood decks don't put all of your land in your hand.

Deck ideas for the new metagame

Having considered a lot of theory, let's get more concrete with two decklists.  First, I'll present the deck I've tested more:

Momir and Squee Get Mad

Momir Vig, Simic Visionary

17x Swamp
4x Graven Cairns
4x Dakmor Salvage

Reanimation Suite:
4x Dread Return
2x Akroma, Angel of Wrath
3x Bogardan Hellkite


Discard Package:
4x Dark Withering
4x Nightshade Assassin
3x Squee, Goblin Nabob

Haakon Package:
3x Haakon, Stromgald Scourge
3x Nameless Inversion

4x Damnation
4x (Goblin Harbinger)
1x Cairn Wanderer


Old versions of Momir decks, before Bridge from Below became popular, used to feature an almagamation of strategies including the Urzatron lands, Life from the Loam, madness, and reanimation.  While somewhat clunky, they were great at fighting attrition wars, as they could easily get two for ones with the madness cards, turn useles tokens into Akroma with Dread Return, or simply reload with Life from the Loam.  Since Squee was included in Tenth edition, I have wanted to build a deck around him, and he fits in perfectly with Momir.  You can start discarding him on turn one, and he provides a never-ending source of creatures.  However, Squees in multiples are not very useful, so I only run three of them and include Goblin Harbinger to provide extra copies of Squee.

The Goblin Harbinger helps to set up the other "combo" of the deck, Haakon + Nameless Inversion, where a Haakon in play allows you to replay Nameless Inversion from your graveyard.  When Lorwyn was spoiled, many people were excited at this possibility, but it does not appear to be especially popular in vanilla Standard.  Momir makes playing the combo easier because you can always put Haakon in your graveyard.

The other cards in the deck are relatively straitforward.  Momir has problems with creature rushes, so including Damnation is obvious.  The singleton Cairn Wanderer is included as both Akroma number three (if Akroma is in your graveyard, he is a 4/4 Akroma), and as a tutor target for Goblin Harbinger if you already have Squee.  Some other possible ideas for the deck are Mind Stone for acceleration into bigger Momir-droppings, a red splash for madness cards like Fiery Temper or Reckless Wurm, or more discard enablers like Lightning Axe, Hidden Horror, or Razormane Masticore.  One card to watch for in sideboarded games is Extirpate.

The other deck I have been thinking about is a different flavor of Loxodon Hierarch deck.  The elephant may be my favourite avatar since I made my first top eight with it back when Kamigawa-block Zubera's were powerful.  For the past year, UW Loxodon decks have been occasionally making top eight, featuring Hatching Plans and Magus of the Disk.  Trying to come up with an alternative card drawing source from Hatching Plans, I discovered Colfenor's Plans, and came up with a deck idea:

New Plans

Loxodon Hierarch

24x Land
4x Mind Stone
1x Prismatic Lens

Colfenor's Cards:
4x Colfenor's Plans
4x Pact of Negation
4x Slaughter Pact

4x Sower of Temptation
4x Krovikan Whispers
4x Persuasion

3x Foresee
4x Damnation


This deck plays as a sorcery-speed Blue Black control deck.  Colfenor's Plans lets you draw seven cards, but with three severe drawbacks: you skip your drawstep; you can only play one spell per turn; and you don't draw the cards, they're actually removed from the game.  The Loxodon avatar allows you to deal with the first problem by simply sacrificing the Plans to the Loxodon avatar when it's no longer useful.  I designed around the Arcane Laboratory aspect of the card by including pacts which you can play immediately after playing the Plans.  Finally, I included some card draw in Foresee to allow the deck to draw cards while the Plans are out.

In parallel with the Plans, the thievery cards act as your win conditions that double as removal.  If someone were to Naturalize your enchantment or Shock your Sower, you can simply sacrifice the stolen creature.  An alternate way to take the deck is to use red to steal your opponent's creatures with Threaten or Word of Seizing.

Hopefully I've given you some things to keep in mind when designing Vanguard decks, and some ideas for the future.  I haven't even mentioned designing decks along tribal themes.  The Loxodon Hierarch may actually be a boggart in disguise given its synergy with the Circle of Death.  The Oni avatar lets you play harbingers every turn for whatever card you want.  Maybe the new Mirror Entity avatar will fuel swarm strategies once again.  By the time you read this, constructed Premiere Events should be in full swing.  As always, Standard with Vanguard premiere events start on Saturday at 11AM EST.


A nice break down by hamtastic at Fri, 11/23/2007 - 12:24
hamtastic's picture

I haven't played Vanguard since they were giving away BoP avatars for the very first Van tourney.

It seems like you have a really good handle on the meta and what decks are doing what.  I know that one of the big concerns of the format is the 'brokenness' of the decks.  Is that much of a concernt to you?

Good article all around though! 

by Umii at Fri, 11/23/2007 - 13:17
Umii's picture

I should preface this by saying that I like playing Vanguard because the decks are broken, so my idea of TOO broken may be different from yours.

I think the time you are talking about is when people combined the Undertaker avatar (which allows you to sac a creature to bring one back from the graveyard) with Kamigawa dragons to lock the game on turn 3.  Over the past year, things have been more fair.  Dragonstorm, Oni, and Mirri were all nerfed, losing a card each.  There are no degenerate combo decks right now.  Oni is still the fastest deck (I think), and wins on turn 4ish, so you have time to play your cards.

Normally, I would say the best way to get a sense of the format would be to stop by on Saturday and watch games, but with replays down that's not possible.  Another way may be to watch games in the Tournament Practice room where some people play on Friday night/Saturday morning. 

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dungdung's picture

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