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By: HydraLord, Charles Sutphin
Jan 31 2008 12:34am
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Lorwyn Block Constructed is a bit of a strange format. There is only one set at the moment. We may have a while - weeks? months? - until the next set is released, so even the very limited format of Lorwyn Set Constructed is at least somewhat relevant. In any event, lots of fundamentals of the format can be found by looking at just the first set and the strategies that come out of it. We'll break this down by looking at the big threats and the most important answers. In the next article, we'll go over the abilities of each color, and some of the decks that come out of that. There's a lot of ground to cover, so get ready.

Fundamental Threats
First up here are the Planeswalkers. All of them. They're all very, very powerful, and are all over the place online. There aren't a lot of removal spells that answer them, meaning that they're especially powerful against control decks. Without a lot of creatures, resolving one (or more) of these will often give you a huge amount of card advantage. At least at the moment, the Planeswalker are certainly among the most important cards in the format.

Ajani Goldmane - I think this is the most underplayed of the five. That says something. Ajani's abilities are awesome. In control decks, it keeps you alive by giving you a couple life every turn. And if they want to take it out, it probably saves another five life. That's a great gun in the control decks holster against beatdown. That's just the first ability! After a couple of turns, you can fire off the ultimate ability and make a HUGE guy. Roar!  That isn't even all the tricks Ajani has. He can be the top of your curve in a White Weenie deck, and just fire off a string of super Surge of Thoughtwefts for four turns to help seal the deal. Playable in multiple decks on all parts of the tempo spectrum, Ajani should definitely be getting more love than he is at the moment.
Ajani Goldmane

Chandra Nalaar
Chandra Nalaar - I think this just might be the wrong format for Chandra to make a big splash. Most of the incentives to play red are cheap, aggressive creatures. Chandra doesn't neccessarily mesh with that plan. That said, the abilities on this bad girl are pretty saucy. Her charge-up isn't great, but it's something. Her other two skills are much more exciting. One turns Chandra into a multi-target Flametongue Kavu, which helps lock up the game against beatdown decks. I'll kill whatever guy you play for at least the next three turns. I don't fancy your odds. If you don't have to run that plan, she can fire off a nuclear holocaust on your opponent's face. I don't know if you've ever had the full force of a nuclear warhead directed towards your head; you don't do to well afterwards. Don't mess with Chandra.

Garruk Wildspeaker - Definitely the best of the bunch for Standard, Garruk should transition well into Block play. I'm not sure what kind of deck most wants it, but it really could be anything. Elves, maybe. Can you imagine Overrun with all those idiot 1/1's? Most of all, Garruk is fast. He's ready to steroid pump your team next turn. I would try to put this in some sort of Blue Green deck to abuse the untap ability for a while and setting up to blitz the other guy. Time will tell, but I'm sure Garruk belongs in the mature metagame.

Jace Beleren - Jace is clearly powerful. It provides a persistent source of pure card advantage. It doesn't do nearly as many things as other Planeswalkers. All you're going to do is draw cards, at least most of the time. I don't know if that will wind up being good enough. This is increasingly developing as a format defined by powerful effects, and I don't know if Jace will cut it in that world.

Liliana Vess - If blue and black are the best colors, then Liliana is the best Planeswalker. All her abilities are awesome. She has one of the best power ups, particularly in control mirrors. Vampiric Tutor is also good, obv. Lastly, she has probably the most insane ultimate. Chandra burns them for ten and bins all their guys...Liliana pulls everything back into play. I bet you can pull off a win after that. Excellent in all three modes, my vote is on Liliana for best Planeswalker.

The rest of the things in this category are other things that I've seen a lot of online, plus some things that I think should be seeing more play than they are. Take some of these things with a grain of salt. With some of the more conjectural things, I am really trying to be coprehensive rather than make statements about the current crop of decks. I see a card like Austere Command going unplayed, and am unsure what to think. Clearly the card is powerful. It's motherloving Wrath of God. While I might be totally off-base with that, I would much rather be wrong that it had potential than be wrong that it was worthless.

Brion Stoutarm - I could be wrong on this one, but he seems really powerful. At the moment, I don't think that the field is right for him. Brion facilitates some sort of midrange aggro or midrange control red/white deck. The format is currently full of counterspell-packing true control decks. That isn't a good matchup. Nevertheless, these things change. This is like a Loxodon Hierarch, and that's too good to ignore. Check back after Morningtide comes out.

Doran, the Siege Tower - At this point, everyone knows that this guy is like a Jordan almond. It's nuts, and comes with sugar coating. Sometimes that coating is a 3/3 Treefolk Harbinger; sometimes its making their Shriekmaw a 2/2. It's insane in every format it touches, and this one is no different. While I will withold judgement on the Treefolk deck people want to run after Morningtide comes out - at least until next week - this guy doesn't exactly need a support crew. Doran will kill you. Pack answers. This is possibly the single most powerful card in the format, though I don't know if it will wind up being the most important.

Hoofprints of the Stag - I haven't really seen a lot of this card, and I just don't understand that. The control decks are full of removal and counterspells...it can be difficult to stick a threat on the table. Hoofprints comes down on turn two, under the counterspell wall. It pops out a legitimately threatening creature, and - more importantly - does it more than once. And let's not even talk about the synergy with Mulldrifter. I think this is criminally underplayed...somebody should fix that.

Horde of Notions - For those who haven't observed the format online, here's an important lesson. The mana is awesome. With Vivid lands, you can pretty much run whatever you want. The Horde epitomizes this strategy. It can recurse Shriekmaw, Mulldrifter, and Nameless Inversion, all of which are very powerful the first time around. I don't know what kind of deck this wants to go in. There are really two approaches. You can run it in a dedicated Elemental deck, accelerating it out turn three with a Smokebraider after tutoring it up with Flamekin Harbinger. That seems gimmicky. Another possibility is running it in a more standard control deck, just to get additional value on Shriekmaw etc. I haven't actually seen much of that, but it seems like it could be gas.
Horde of Notions

Masked Admirers - Increasingly, Blue Black decks are splashing green for Elvish Harbinger, Nath of the Gilt-Leaf, and an Admirers. While not the scariest guy by himself, he represents a recursive threat and a recursive soure of card advantage. He just never goes away. You can even get him back with an evoked Mulldrifter. Even if it gets countered. There just isn't a lot most decks can do long term against this. Obviously, these also get played in dedicated Elf decks, but those are much less common.

Militia's Pride - This and the next card are critical to the Weenie/Kithkin archetype. Militia's Pride provides you with a significant number of additional attackers, which is highly relevant when they're trying to kill all your guys. Much like Hoofprints, most decks don't have answers for the Pride.  The thing to remember about this card is that it isn't the kind of thing that helps you get back into the game. You need some nontokens around to fire it up. I've seen some forum posts implying that Militia's Pride gives you late game power. That's really not true. It helps you kill your opponent before they get to the late game. That's valuable, but it's different. Keep that in mind when building your decks full of small white men.

Mirror Entity - This card haunts me from beyond the pale draft queue, where it ensures that I will be in W/u/b Faeries/Merfolk and lose every time. Even when I draw the stinking Mirror Entity. Anyway. This takes your regular team of creatures and turns them into the Justice League. You can actually get some foolishly fast draws with this card...kill turn four much? It gets better with the addition of Preeminent Captain. Making it even sicker is the fact that Mirror Entity can serve as a white Fireball, at worst. Hands down the best card in most decks that run it.

Nath of the Gilt-Leaf - As mentioned above, Elvish Harbinger into Nath is a big innovation in Blue Black control decks. Nath represents a major, probably game-breaking threat which can't be removed by Shriekmaw, Nameless Inversion, or Eyeblight's Ending. Yes, those would be the top three black removal spells. Seems good, huh? This may secretly be the most important creature in the set. No lies. Whatever Doran...you're not an elf. And you need all kinds of weird mana. Pshaw. Discard a card.

Sower of Temptation
Sower of Temptation - A popular answer to Nath. Not sure how you go about tempting someone who thinks that they're perfect, but anyway. Not a permanent answer to whatever creature, but it gets it out of the way for now. You may have to work to leverage that into a win, but its especially powerful when your opponent has gone all in on the board. Having to topdeck a removal is an excellent way to put to burden on proof on your opponent. Lastly, it's really the nail in the coffin of your Kithkin opponent. Good luck removing it.

Thoughtseize - It might seem weird that I'm calling this a threat, but it serves as a potent proactive answer to planeswalkers. Or whatever else they might be holding. I think that this card is highly overrated - it only really belongs in aggressively minded decks - but it helps weaker decks keep up with things with more powerful things. Indeed, in this very limited format, this is one of the few ways to take the gas out of the hands of a control deck.

Now we all know that these threats are not the end of the story. Not only are there others, but there are also plenty of answers. Historically speaking, answers have been where it's at in Block Constructed. Last season, Teachings was the best deck. Before that, there was Gifts. And Control Red (at the Pro Tour, anyway). And Slide. This makes me think about pushing towards control decks in my building. Here are some of the major answers that those decks will be looking to include.

Austere Command - Not that popular, but undeniably powerful. In addition to being a Wrath of God, Austere Command can randomly take out enchantments (or artifacts?) that might be giving you trouble. Whatever the in Block Wrath is tends to get played...I see no reason that this should be an exception.

Final Revels - The other board sweeper, for one mana less. Against the decks you want it, it's basically a Wrath. Alternatively, you could put it into an aggressive deck and use it as a terribled overrun that can be savage in the mirror. I don't think that's really a great use of it; aggro mirrors may be quite the rare thing. But who know. Stranger things have happened.

Broken Ambitions - This card is living proof that people will play any counterspell they can get their grubby blue mits on. Really quite poor, but it's there. And that's all it takes a lot of the time. Probably best against aggro decks or early in the mirror. Late...it just doesn't have the bunch I look for. Notably, this is the only counter that takes a single blue mana. In a world full of Vivid lands, that's important.

Faerie Trickery - Another fairly terrible card that you have to play. I hate it even more then Cancel, since it can't hit lots of cards you care about - mostly Nameless Inversion. Again, you don't have many choices blah blah blah.

Cryptic Command - Now this is a good card. What? You say you knew that? Well fine. Just be careful with UUU in the mana cost.

I don't know if you picked it up from those descriptions, but I don't have much respect for the counterspells in this format. I just don't think they're nearly good enough to warrant inclusion, particularly in the number that I've been seeing them. I much prefer proactive control strategies, like evoking a Shriekmaw. Really, why would you stake your game plan on a bad Power Sink? A really bad one, actually.

Oblivion Ring - Another very important card. At leat 75% of that importance comes from the fact that it's one of the few answers to a Planeswalker. That's awfully good. I'm grateful that  this is a common, since otherwise it would doubtless be quite expensive.  At least for the moment, you don't even need to worry about the fact that it might be removed. Very few decks are packing enchantment removal, other than  their own Rings, of course. Probably the biggest incentive to white in a control deck - possibly even over Austere Command - which is saying something.
Oblivion Ring

Shriekmaw - Unless you've been living under a rock buried somewhere in the mantle of the Earth, you know this guy is awesome. You play him. You kill something. You Makeshift Mannequin him back. Any opponent planning on attacking FTW starts crying. THE defining removal of the format. It makes it a lot more tempting to try to only run black creatures, just to blank these on your opponent's side.

Eyeblight's Ending - The first of a trifecta of one-for-one removal spells, each of which serves a slightly differnt purpse. Mostly, these things are differentiated by the things that they can and cannot kill. Eyeblight's Ending hits everything except Nath, Masked Admirers, and Mirror Entity. That's pretty good. Costing three is obviously a downside, but I can live with it. Killing Doran is big props, since Shriekmaw and Nameless Inversion can't really do that.

Nameless Inversion - Speaking of which. Inversion is only really notable because it costs two. That's good. Sadly, it doesn't remove some important threats. Nath and Doran are both out of reach.  Fortunately, it kills most creatures in the beatdown decks. I mean really. Who has more than three thoughness? Not much, at least not before Morningtide comes out.

Crib Swap - The universal answer. It kills whatever. That sounds pretty good, and it really is. There are two drawbacks. First, it gives them a 1/1. That's a definite non-zero cost. It might not seem like much, but sometimes it attacks your Planeswalker. That's annoying. Or sometimes you're on three against the goblins...and you get Tarfired out. Second, it's white. White isn't exactly the best color to be if you want to be universally included in control decks. Even Oblivion Ring doesn't manage that, and that's a lot more powerful.

Profane Command - This is my favorite card in the set. I'm not sure whether to call it a threat or an answer, since it does both. And it's awesome at both. Killing their Doran and bringing back Mulldrifter is about the worst that can happen. That's some kind of card. I simply cannot say enough good things about this card. You really have to experience it to believe it. Five stars.

This concludes my discussion of threats and answers in Lorwyn. Obviously, there are other cards in both categories. I only talked about the things that I felt were the most important. Before I sign off for the day, let me put in a few words about color fixing in this format. It's awesome. The Vivid lands are insane. They've steadily increased in value in Limited, to the point where I will third pick one without too much hesitation in a weak pack. There's a good reason for that. Especially in a control deck, coming into play tapped is a very small cost. You can do some very strange things with your mana base, especially since there are a lot of good cards with only a single colored mana in their casting cost. The only really notable exception to this is the Planeswalkers. You kind of have to play the color for real to get those.

One final thing. It's surprisingly difficult to get an edge on mana development in this format. Most of the ways to do it are green, which is a shame. The only others are Smokebraider (ewwww) and Scattering Stroke (aka Suurrrre. You'll win the clash.) I think this gives the beatdown decks a valuable angle to pressure the control decks - they can't really accelerate ridiculous cards. I'm not sure how to exploit it, but it's definitely something to keep in mind.

That's all. (Folks).
Charles Sutphin
charles dot sutphin at gmail dot com