Dos Rakis: Cannibalizing Standard

Well, the cards for Shoot to Kill didn’t get delivered in time for me to take a deck to Friday Night Modern, but I’ll have another opportunity in a month. Until then, I have a few weeks to work on my Standard deck. And I think I’m abandoning the U/B millgro concept I’ve been struggling with. Rather, I’m going back to my roots and resurrecting my Rakdos Deck Wins deck to see how much more competitive I can make it in a post-Gatecrash Standard.

At it’s core, the problem with Rakdos aggro is generic aggro can do aggro better. Look at the top R/B decks that claim to be Rakdos and note how many actual Rakdos cards they run. Almost none. Cacklers, maybe Dreadbore, and possibly a Slaughter Games in the sideboard, but that’s it. Much of the R/B aggro strategy is still stuck in the Innistrad block, using vampires as the engine of the deck. Get it while the getting is good, I guess. But I can’t argue with the picks in the decks that win.

1 CMC

1-drops in an aggro deck need to be able to pull their weight in the mid to late game and not just be a dead draw after turn 1 or 2. Stromkirk Noble is the premiere 1-drop for Red, and he gets out of control pretty quickly. Especially in a meta as jam packed full of Boros decks as mine is. You’d be surprised how many Humans hit the board once you start paying attention to what can and can not block your Stromkirk Noble. As for Rakdos Cackler, let’s face it: we’re not playing him as anything less than a 2/2 that can’t block. He may not be able to prevent incoming attacks, but that’s really not what he’s for. Cackler is pure aggression. For walling attacks, we have the 2-drops.

2 CMC

Naya, Boros, Bant, Azorius, Esper, Selesnya, Orzhov… all match-ups in which Knight of Infamy is relevant. Early game he can be a 3/2 for 2 with Exalted. Mid to late game he Exalts our bigger creature drops and walls the opponent pretty effectively. Ash Zealot is the real star in the 2cmc slot, though. She can be 2 damage from left field with Haste, and First Strike extends her chances of survival. If you’re running red aggro, always run Ash Zealot as a 4-of.

3 CMC

The best new addition to the red suite that Gatecrash as to offer, in my opinion. Boros Reckoner can trade with the best of them, and his ability to turn damage back around on the opponent is always a deterrent. I’ve heard of White deck players using him in infinite Life combos: give Reckoner Lifelink and make him Indestructible, put him in a pit fight with just about anything and have him direct the extra damage he deals to himself, which you get Life back for. Then, since he took damage, he deals damage to himself, which you get Life back for. Then, since he took damage… lather, rinse, repeat. Personally, I like him for the potential combo with Blasphemous Act, sweeping the board with 13 damage to each creature then having each of my Reckoners deal 13 damage to the opponent. But since so many other decks run a set of Reckoners as well, that’s sideboard tech at best.

4 CMC

Really, the only reason to run R/B aggro is Falkenrath Aristocrat. Aristocrat has evasion. Aristocrat can be fed to survive a Supreme Verdict. Arisocrat can be fed to survive a Blaspehmous Act, if I pull one off. Aristocrat can survive a pit fight. I’ve seen lists running Hound of Griselbrand in the 4-drop slot, but none of them splashed Black. Falkenrath Aristocrat is a real threat to the opponent. She’s so good that I don’t know what Rakdos is going to do once Innistrad cycles out of Standard.

5 CMC

A lot of thought had to go into what to include in the 5-drop slot, if anything at all. Careful not to overdo it on 5-drops because the RDW mentality of the Rakdos deck relies on smaller, cheaper creatures in larger numbers. Too many 5s and the mana curve gets screwed up. Especially since we are already committed to a set of 4-drops. There’s a lot of debate over which is better here: Hellkite or Zealous Conscripts. I tested with Zealous Conscripts for a while, and I decided that she’s not a bad card, but if I can’t play her, steal the opponent’s best creature and swing for game with everything, then I’m left with a 3/3 I feel like I overpaid for. Thundermaw Hellkite is at least a 5/5 flier all the time, and most other red aggro and midrange decks at my LGS run Hellkite so it’s nice to be able to match them. And if he lands on turn 5 or 6 he clears the way for my Aristocrats as well.

REMOVAL

Tap dudes, deal damage. That’s the simplest version of the strategy. Opponent creatures make that hard to do, so we run a suite of spells to remove them as obstacles. Pillar of Flame is 2 damage that exiles, so no more Undying Strangleroot Geist or Pyreheart Wolf. Searing Spear for instant speed answers to creatures. Both are good for finishing a game off for that last 2 or 3 points of damage I need for a win. Mizzium Mortars is for larger threats, and can sweep if I need it to. Dreadbore is just a great all purpose removal that can safely eliminate an opponent Reckoner or Planeswalker.

SIDEBOARD

The sideboard really just tool boxes the removal suite to whatever deck I might be playing. Opponent exploiting Indestructible? Auger Spree and/or Act of Treason (which then provides Aristocrat chow). Need more card advantage or precision removal? Rakdos’s Return and/or Slaughter Games. Pesky Deathrite Shaman? Annoyed by Trading Post? Getting aggro rushed? Rakdos Charm. And Blasphemous Act to combo with my own Reckoners, for when I can get away with it.

We’ll have a few opportunities to take this to FNM Standard before the next Modern tournament, so stay tuned for how well we do.

MURDER WEAPON
Creature (25)
4x Ash Zealot
4x Boros Reckoner
4x Falkenrath Aristocrat
4x Knight of Infamy
4x Rakdos Cackler
4x Stromkirk Noble
1x Thundermaw Hellkite

Instant (3)
3x Searing Spear

Sorcery (9)
3x Dreadbore
3x Mizzium Mortars
3x Pillar of Flame

Land (23)
4x Blood Crypt
4x Dragonskull Summit
12x Mountain
3x Swamp

Sideboard (15)
2x Act of Treason
3x Auger Spree
2x Blasphemous Act
3x Rakdos Charm
2x Rakdos’s Return
3x Slaughter Games

Competitive Burn

If I can find the time, and the cards get here by then, I will be taking this to Friday Night Magic this coming week. I am nervous about this endeavor as attending FNM in the past has not gone well for me. I knew the learning curve would be steep, but it has been steeper than I anticipated, and every time I think I’ve made progress I go back and learn that I have in fact not. So one of these days I expect I’ll get it right. Until then I’m just going to keep tuning and keep going back.

The burn deck has undergone some major overhauls since the day it was conceived of. Since then I’ve learned that the goal of “20 to the dome as fast as possible” isn’t entirely on target. The actual goal is to deal 20 damage to the opponent, in about 4 turns, using 5 to 7 spells and spending only 7 to 9 mana. Slightly more specific, but that makes all the difference. I’ve also learned since then that my deck can pack exactly four different “lightning bolt” spells, being spells that deal three damage for 1 mana, and that if I’m not running a full playset of each then I’m not playing burn properly.

Lightning Bolt, Lava Spike, Rift Bolt (always Suspended), and… Bump in the Night? But that’s a black card! A burn deck that isn’t mono-red was totally alien to me a few months ago, but suffice it to say I’ve had my scope broadened a lot. By running each of these as a 4-of I’ve armed myself with sixteen 3-for-1 damage spells, and that forms the entire engine for the damage dealing potential of this deck. Anything that supplements that needs to be similarly cost efficient. And since we’re pretty much tapped out of “bolts” available to us in Modern, anything that costs more than 1 mana needs to be able to pull double duty.

First black and now white too? What the hell is going on here? Boros Charm and Lightning Helix are worth splashing that third color for. Boros Charm deals 4 damage for 2 mana, and that’s as efficient as 4 damage gets. It’s other modes are almost never relevant. Lightning Helix is 3 damage with 3 Life gained, and the Life gain will never be unwanted. Skullcrack I’m actually torn on. The preventing life gain and making my damage unpreventable is an obvious boon, but Incinerate prevents creatures from regenerating. So until I play test with both I’m not committed to either.

Searing Blaze raises an interesting point, though. I don’t want to overdo my Searing Blazes because they rely on Landfall to not be garbage. And since I have such a skinny mana curve, I want to exploit the chance to run fewer Lands and more burn, so I can’t rely on Landfall being consistent. But in the future I can look to the Zendikar fetch-lands, Arid Mesa and Scalding Tarn, and that will make Searing Blaze a more viable card. Fetches in my graveyard will also have some nice synergy with Deathrite Shaman, should I choose to add him as well, which will necessitate splashing a fourth color (Green) to use to his fullest potential.

I hated Magma Jet at first. It only deals 2 damage and it costs 2 mana. Slowing down my hostility that much wasn’t worth the Scry ability to me. But after dozens of games playing in top deck mode for the last few critical turns, and losing I don’t know how many times because I spent two or three of them drawing off Land instead of the last burn spell I needed, Magma Jet’s scry is growing on me. The ability to fix my top deck gives me something red just doesn’t give you that often: card advantage.

Creatures in the burn deck need to double as burn cards and not just act as bodies. I like Goblin Guide because it’s a 2/2 with Haste for 1 mana. Dropping him on turn 1 is always a bad time for the opponent, and getting to see what the opponent is going to draw helps me try to forecast their plays. I prefer Goblin Guide to Grim Lavamancer as a matter of personal preference. I know there’s a lot of debate between the two, and some of it is downright flaming, but I just like the Goblin Guide more. He’s a 2/2 body and can affect the board the turn he hits it.

Hellspark Elemental is either a bolt on a stick, or recurring creature removal. He’s also currently the weakest card in the deck and will likely be the first to go in favor of Deathrite Shaman once I obtain the fetches I want. Similarly, I’ve never trusted Vexing Devil to be consistent. But he’s either 4 to the dome, or he fishes out a removal spell. I realize it’s almost never a body, but really he’s there to try and force the opponent’s hand. I’d consider it the be the second weakest card in the deck, but by a much wider margin than I’d consider giving Hellspark Elemental the pink slip.

And now the mana base…

In obvious addition to basic Mountains, Blackcleave Cliffs provides me with black on the first turn without forcing me to take life loss like I would if I were running Blood Crypt. I’ve chosen the Cliffs over Dragonskull Summit because it’s guaranteed to be untapped on turns 1 and 2, and after two lands there’s nothing in the deck I can’t cast anyway. City of Brass and Gemstone Mine are simply there for color fixing, and running Lightning Helix helps offset the life loss from using City of Brass. Once I upgrade to fetches, I’ll have to revisit the mana base. Blood Crypt, Sacred Foundry and a Stomping Grounds (for my green splash) are fetchable with Arid Mesa and Scalding Tarn, and come into play untapped when fetched for, which circumvents the ETB condition of playing the shock lands from my hand. I will likely sac the Gemstone Mines first when it comes to that.

Shoot to Kill (v2.0)

Instant (19)
4x Boros Charm
4x Lightning Bolt
2x Lightning Helix
4x Magma Jet
2x Searing Blaze
3x Skullcrack

Land (18)
4x Blackcleave Cliffs
4x City of Brass
3x Gemstone Mine
7x Mountain

Sorcery (12)
4x Bump in the Night
4x Lava Spike
4x Rift Bolt

Creature (11)
4x Goblin Guide
3x Hellspark Elemental
4x Vexing Devil

Shoot to Kill

Some day, I’ll post about something other than Magic. I know the original intent of this blog was to talk about gaming in general, but my hobbies drift around and right now I’m into this game.

Let’s talk about some revisions to my favorite deck strategy: Red. There are those who will lump Burn and Red Deck Wins into one category, but in my opinion they are very different decks. Burn is a fast, aggressive deck. Usually mono-red but other variations that splash a second color do pop up from time to time. Rarely do burn decks acquire a third color unless they can be paid in Phyrexian mana (mana that can be paid for with either a single point of the appropriate color, or with 2 Life). Twenty damage to the dome as fast as possible. That’s burn. Red Deck Wins (RDW), on the other hand, is an exploitation of the mana curve. RDW seeks to use all your mana optimally every turn. RDW creatures have a Power equal to or greater than their casting cost, or do something other than simply attack and block, and almost never do nothing the turn they enter play. RDW decks are often mono-Red as well, but also like burn decks they sometimes splash second (but rarely third) colors. The end result is very much the same, though. Twenty damage as fast as possible. The difference is in the math.

When I created (and then revised) Full Devil Jacket, the object was the same as any other burn deck. I had the right idea, but not the most refined way of achieving it. Chandra and Charmbreaker Devils were too slow. Dual Casting and multiple copies of Quest for Pure Flame were dead draws under most circumstances. Seething Song was plentiful, but I had no cards to cast with it. Hellrider never got a chance to really deal some damage because I wasn’t relying on creatures. Vexing Devil and Browbeat were inconsistent; never damage when I wanted damage, never a body or a draw when I wanted those. You add them to your deck thinking “Yeah, I’ll take either effect”, but in the middle of a game you develop a preference based on circumstance, and the opponent always picks the other one. Revisions fixed some of these problems, but not all of them.

And then Seething Song got banned. Dropping a turn 5 play on turn 3, they decided, broke the game too much. But Valakut the Molten Pinnacle is still legal. That makes scant little sense to me, but I’m not connected to the worldwide metagame so I will bow to the wisdom of those who are. Regardless, my acceleration is out the window, so much of my strategy needs to be revised. I found that during much of my game, before the banning of Song, I spent in top deck mode. Reforge the Soul was great when my hand was empty, but it was a dead draw in the early game, as well as off Browbeat, and an auto-mulligan in my opening hand. So, knowing that much of the time will be spent only being able to play what I draw, it’s a smarter move to try and maximize my top-deck.

    

These cards are staying. They do the most damage for the least mana. Automatic 4-ofs, and I need more of them. Twelve isn’t enough.

Searing Blaze is admittedly garbage unless it’s cast on Landfall. But if it is cast on Landfall then it’s basically a double Lightning Bolt. Rift Bolt is a Lightning Bolt that goes off next round. If I’m in a pinch I can hard cast it, but I’d much rather pay the Suspend cost. Staggershock is just a dick move. Four damage for 3 is still worth it.

I’m still kinda torn on the choice here. Flamebreak deals three to everyone and every creature without flying. On the one hand, it’s 3 damage to the opponent and his non-evasive board. On the other, none of my creatures can walk away from that either. Volcanic Fallout is less damage for the same price, but it’ll deal with Geist of Saint Traft pretty effectively. Again though, all my creatures are subject to it as well. Slagstorm is a sweeper or a Lightning Bolt, but not both. For now I’m going with Slagstorm because that’s the only one of the three that I own.

And believe it or not, that’s the main bulk of the deck. I still need creature control though, and even though I’m playing a burn deck I will take a note from the RDW manual for this issue.

Goblin Guide wrecks boards. Dropping him on turn one is bad news for the opponent as he can usually get a few rounds of damage in before they can deal with him. Initially I was skeptical of Goblin Guide giving my opponent a free draw off a Land on top deck, but I’ve researched other peoples’ experience with the card and almost unanimously they recommend running four of him. A 2/2 with Haste for 1 mana is no joke, and in a well built burn deck the opponent won’t have time to capitalize on drawing off the extra lands. Hellspark Elemental is a Lightning Bolt on a stick, and I can let it sit in the graveyard for an opportune time to Unearth it. And Keldon Marauders is a perfect example of RDW in action. A 3/3 for 2 that guarantees 2 damage, and might deal 5 damage. Even as a chump blocker he’s big enough to take out a significant attacker.

Shrine was kind of an after thought to replace Quest for Pure Flame. Unlike Quest, the Shrine continues to grow as a threat even when you’re forced into playing defensively. Quest only earns counters when your damage gets through. Though Quest can set you up to deal more damage all at once, Shrine is more consistent. Always pick what’s more consistent.

Shoot to Kill
Instant (15)
4x Incinerate
4x Lightning Bolt
4x Searing Blaze
3x Staggershock

Artifact (1)
1x Shrine of Burning Rage

Land (22)
22x Mountain

Sorcery (10)
4x Lava Spike
4x Rift Bolt
2x Slagstorm

Creature (12)
4x Goblin Guide
4x Hellspark Elemental
4x Keldon Marauders

I’m feeling a little better about this deck than it’s previous iterations. I’d love to get my hands on a set of Arid Mesas and Scalding Tarns to fetch out my Mountains and thin the deck as I play, which even further maximizes my top decking, but at $20-$30 a piece… just have to be a little patient on those.

Grixis Rising

What I learned from the Gatecrash pre-release, and then confirmed at the launch party, is that Dimir sucks out of the box. The best Dimir decks will me not unlike the best Rakdos decks: best supported by other sets and Guild mechanics. Both mill and control are terrible strategies in a sealed format, in a meta as aggressive as it is now. Experimenting with a splash of White didn’t go as well as I’d hoped. Tools like Supreme Verdict and Detention Sphere are powerful cards for control, but more often than not I found that the bigger problem was what to do after the opponent was able to put threats on the battlefield. Card advantage doesn’t mean much if one thing gets through and wins it for them. Unsummons only work as temporary solutions, and it’s a careful balance between maintaining board control while leaving enough mana free to counter with. I need more aggression out of the deck to play in this meta. Aggro is heavy, so I need more focus on breaking aggro.

Sorcery (17)
2x Dreadbore
2x Hands of Binding
3x Mind Grind
4x Mind Sculpt
2x Rakdos’s Return
4x Sleep

Instant (4)
4x Psychic Strike

Land (22)
1x Blood Crypt
2x Dragonskull Summit
4x Drowned Catacomb
10x Island
1x Steam Vents
4x Watery Grave

Creature (15)
4x Consuming Aberration
3x Duskmantle Guildmage
2x Invisible Stalker
4x Jace’s Phantasm
2x Lazav, Dimir Mastermind

Planeswalker (2)
2x Jace, Memory Adept

This is just a start, clearly, but this time it’s less about control and more about milling and aggro. In lieu of White, I’ve splashed Red for some more powerful removal and some disruption that doubles as burn. Dreadbore and Rakdos’s Return, along with a set of Slaughter Games in the sideboard, are arguably the best things to come out of the Rakdos guild. Also in the sideboard are copies enough of Rakdos Charm to take the place of Dimir Charm if it starts to fail me. I’d like some different options for the dual lands to get that mana from, but until I know if this is even going to be a worthwhile endeavor I don’t want to commit to investing in anything I don’t already own in the department of non-basic Lands. Not when I’ve got a shopping list full of Affinity cards still yet to purchase.

Dreadbore is there not just for removing their prize beater. Dreadbore is there to kill Gideon, Tamiyo, Jace or whoever else they’re trying to drop on me. Dreadbore is the single most efficient way of dealing with an opponent’s Planeswalkers. Even at Sorcery speed it’s worth running a set of. Rakdos’s Return destroys card advantage and burns at the same time. Every card that goes to the graveyard helps me for one of my win-cons, and it forces the opponent into top-deck mode. And sideboarding in Slaughter Games for game two helps cut their win-conditions out before they even draw them.

Psychic Strike is my new favorite card. I can’t believe it’s is a common, nor that it only costs 3 mana. And Sleep is the best form of board advantage I can find. It only works on Sorcery speed though, so it’s not as advantageous as I’d like. I have a few Blustersqualls on standby in case it becomes something I need to do during their turn instead, which I’m already leaning towards it being. Alternately, I have Hands of Binding, which turns out to be a pretty solid removal tool when ciphered onto an unblockable like Invisible Stalker. And Jace’s Phantasm is just a great blocker for this deck.

The mill engine of the deck comes in the flavors of Mind Grind and Mind Sculpt. Sorceries, yes, but combine they can potentially deck my opponent. And even if they don’t, they add fuel to my primary win-con: a gigantic Consuming Aberration.

It occurred to me that the real advantage to running Lazav is that he can copy an opponent’s creature as I mill it out of their Library, not just when it dies on the battlefield. Alternately, if they do manage to remove my enormous Consuming Aberration, Lazav can replace it right away.

As a secondary win condition, I still have the combination of Duskmantle Guildmage and Jace, Memory Adept. Jace mills 10 as soon as he hits the table, and the Guildmage’s first activated ability makes sure they hurt for it even if the Guildmage is tapped. Even if the Guildmage isn’t around, or I can’t get his ability off, Jace makes my current (or next) Aberration 10 points larger.

All in all, I have no idea how well this is going to fare against the current Standard. In my experience, it’ll never be enough, but maybe this is a start. Who knows? I’ll update after playtesting.

Gatecrash: The Pre-Release

Gatecrash is going to change Standard in good ways, I think. I am happy that control is a more viable thing in the format now. Boros will shortly be replacing Rakdos as the new aggro deck to play, and Gruul just made Naya midrange hard to put down. But having done Rakdos rush for Return to Ravnica, I wanted some variety in my life. So I chose House Dimir hoping to build a fair control deck. Here’s what I put in my deck, what I learned from playing the cards, and what I plan on doing with them afterwards.

Sealed format is likely the only time the Guildgates will ever be considered valuable. I greedily added both of the gates I pulled without a second thought, but in a constructed format I’d be using them as coasters while I surfed for the best values on a playset of Watery Grave and Drowned Catacomb. Thespian’s Stage was an afterthought, adding it because it wouldn’t hurt my acceleration and because there’s an odd chance someone might drop a Land I feel like copying. I used it to copy an Island in one game when I couldn’t draw one to save my life. Aside from that, there’s likely a better use for it than “just in case”.

These creatures made up the meat of my battlefield support. Deathcult Rogue was the game winner in everyone’s Dimir deck, as well as the prime Cipher candidate, but I see him taking the back seat to Invisible Stalker. Consuming Aberration was the promo card for the Dimir guildpack, and while mill was a scattered tactic at best, he still got his licks in and late in the game was absolutely the finisher almost every time. However, early in the game he was always a dead draw. Balustrade Spy was an unexpected star, but on average he only milled one or two cards. Gutter Skulk is a black Grizzly Bear and was a great 2-drop, but otherwise unimpressive. Corpse Blockade ended up being enough of a deterrent to keep attackers at bay about half the time, especially if there was a threat of chumping the attacker. Nightveil Specter is a fine flyer, but people didn’t often let it get through. I got to capitalize on it’s ability in only one game, milling a Simic player first for a Forest (which I played to keep my mana acceleration up), and then for her Master Biomancer (which I cast with mana from her own Forest).

Slate Street Ruffian was an interesting dude. He was good for a round or two of 2 damage in lieu of the opponent being forced to discard, but as soon as he gets Ciphered the discard suddenly becomes an acceptable loss. Shadow Alley Denizen was the 1-drop to block Deathcult Rogue, and giving Intimidate to something almost never gave me an advantage. Though played in the late game on a Consuming Aberration would have been cute. I thought I was going to get more use out of Incursion Specialist than I did, but I hoarded my cards and my mana for the scant few control cards I had available. Leyline Phantom is just not a very good card, I’m afraid. Five mana is way too much to pay for him.

Psychic Strike was an excellent card for countering. I wish I’d pulled more than one. Call of the Nightwing ciphered onto a Deathcult Rogue guaranteed I always had a chump in the air. Undercity Plague was, realistically, overpriced for what it does, but it stacked nicely with everything else I was Ciphering on to the Deathcult Rogue. Voidwalk was not as useful as I had hoped it would be, but there is almost certainly a use for it. Hands of Binding, however, was excellent. It’s a Crippling Chill that keeps coming back. Playing the mirror, it almost always came down to who got a Deathcult Rogue and a Hands of Binding out first.

Death’s Approach is useless for removal in the early game, and ended up not being very useful in the late game either as milling was unreliable. But it can sit on a creature until it does the trick. I got a lock off a few times with Contaminated Ground. Almost everyone splashed a third color and I used it to eliminate their access to that mana, or to keep them from playing half their deck if they were having trouble getting one of their basic Land types out. Midnight Recovery helped get my blockers back after Ciphering it onto Deathcult Rogue. Spell Rupture was not as useful as I would have liked, but it worked out a few times. The issue was that by the time I got anything with a significant Power on the board, they could afford to pay the difference. It worked best after dropping a Gutter Skulk on round two.

I splashed green for some buffing. Forced Adaptation was good, but slow. Burst of Strength was fast, but a one time effect. And I thought I was going to use Bioshift move the counters from Forced Adaptation around, but it never came up. Bioshift disrupted Simic players though, but not very well.

Now for the cards I rejected and why:

A 1/1 inflatable for 3 wasn’t worth it to me, and but I did see Gateway Shade get used and it kinda made me wish I had boarded it in. Syndicate Enforcer was just not worth the mana to play or use Extort.

Skygames would have tied up precious mana and can’t be used when I’m on the defensive. Keymaster Rogue is unblockable, but I’d rather my 3/2 4-drop not bounce my own creatures. Frilled Oculus could have been a fine chumper. Probably would have made a better drop than Leyline Phantom. Scatter Arc is a counter that replaces itself, which is pretty sweet. But 4 is a bit pricey. I might have been able to make it work though. Sapphire Drake was out, as I have few methods of spreading +1/+1 counters around.

So what to do with this new information… and how to use it to be better off in play than the already powerful aggro and midrange players. That’s really what we’re asking here. We need maximum power board control to keep up, if that’s how we’re going to spin it. So let’s have House Dimir strike an alliance with the established masters of board control so we can splash White.

  Motion Denied 
Land (21)
4x Drowned Catacomb
4x Glacial Fortress
5x Island
2x Nephalia Drownyard
2x Swamp
4x Watery Grave

Instant (13)
2x Dimir Charm
4x Psychic Strike
3x Thought Scour
4x Unsummon

Sorcery (10)
2x Hands of Binding
3x Mind Grind
2x Paranoid Delusions
2x Supreme Verdict

Creature (11)
2x Consuming Aberration
3x Duskmantle Guildmage
4x Invisible Stalker
2x Lazav, Dimir Mastermind

Enchantment (2)
3x Oblivion Ring

Planeswalker (3)
3x Jace, Memory Adept

More board control, more mill, more denial. All to hold them off long enough to get one of the win conditions out. Either Consuming Aberration is out of control, Duskmantle Guildmage works together with Jace Memory Adept for a one-turn kill, or I simply mill them out. Here’s hoping my alliance with the Azorius Senate bears fruit.

Domo Arigato, Mr. Etched Champion

Alright, had a good night’s sleep and a nice cup of coffee, so time to get down to business. The Gatecrash pre-release tournament is in four hours, and that promises to be a totally different ballgame. But as I learned last night, Modern is a wide open book of options to build a deck from. So flipping through my long box of old cards I’m just going to pull out a few that catch my eye. This guy was on top.

Etched Champion has a lot of promise. He’s a 2/2 for 3, but his Metalcraft ability is really what puts him over the top. A 2/2 with Protection from all colors for 3 is a damn fine bargain. One I can build a deck around. And as we saw last July in Columbus, Affinity can be a winning deck if played right. But if it’s going to be played right we absolutely have to have the mana base staples in order, and those I’m going to have to go buy outright.

Thank god it’s tax time!

Inkmoth and Blinkmoth work in synergy to either satisfy Metalcraft in the early game or to provide an alternate win condition with Poison counters and -1/-1 counters to get me around Indestructible creatures if necessary. Glimmervoid is obviously useful, but we’ll have other sources of colored mana as well. Darksteel Citadel is the only Artifact Land available in Modern, so we’ll take four please.

Now for the meat of the deck. We need cheap Artifacts to power Metalcraft. Luckily, there are a lot of cheap Artifacts that fit this bill.

Memnite and Ornithopter are gas for Metalcraft, and bait for Arcbound Ravager later on. Between these and Darksteel Citadel I can almost guarantee affinity on turn 1, and Mox Opal is almost the new Black Lotus at that point. Springleaf Drum just helps guarantee I can cover the spectrum when I need to.

Signal Pest lives up to it’s name, buffing my attackers when they swing and being harder to take out than it has any right to be. Vault Skirge can be a 1/1 flyer with Lifelink for 1 mana, because Lifelink can pay you back for the Skirge. Steel Overseer just adds to the stack, honestly. Arcbound Ravager can break apart and pump Etched Champion when it dies. Cranial Plating is an obvious staple here as well, and Etched Champion is a prime candidate to equip it.

Just a few more cards to round it out. Galvanic and Shrapnel Blast for cheap removal with big effects, and Steelshaper’s Gift to fetch whatever I need most at the time. And here’s the decklist…

RDW (Robot Deck Wins)
Creature (25)
3x Arcbound Ravager
4x Etched Champion
4x Memnite
4x Ornithopter
3x Signal Pest
3x Steel Overseer
3x Vault Skirge

Instant (7)
4x Galvanic Blast
4x Shrapnel Blast

Land (15)
3x Blinkmoth Nexus
4x Darksteel Citadel
2x Glimmervoid
3x Inkmoth Nexus
2x Mountain
1x Plains

Artifact (11)
4x Cranial Plating
4x Mox Opal
3x Springleaf Drum

Sorcery (2)
2x Steelshaper’s Gift

I’m not sure how sold I am on this deck. On the up side, I really like the concept, and I know there are nuances to it that I will need to learn about. And it’s a niche deck idea that I didn’t see anyone else running last night. On the downside… it’s a niche deck idea that I didn’t see anyone else running last night. Additionally, I think I pretty much just ripped off Jacob Maynard’s deck from last summer… (*checks*)… Yeah, I did that with very little variation, in fact. And I think this is going to run me about $400 to put together, which on the one hand is a huge turn-off for a deck I don’t know will even compete, but on the other hand is an investment I’m just going to have to be willing to make when it comes time to commit to a deck.

I must ruminate on this. For now, Gatecrash. Stay tuned…

The Deep End

I came. I saw. I played Modern format. And let me tell you… it was like bringing a knife to a gun fight. I got crushed! But I had fun and learned a lot about the Modern meta, and let me tell you, it’s Magic with the gloves off. Here are my experiences while they’re still fresh on my mind.

ROUND ONE
Opponent was a new player and practically shaking with nerves. I went out of my way to be a nice guy to him and he seemed to relax after a hand. He was playing G/W creature beats, featuring Garruk, Primal Hunter and his token buddies. I misplayed by not reading Garruk and I let him get his ultimate off. Seven 6/6 green wyrm tokens ended it. For game two I boarded in the Slagstorms but ended up with two mulligan hands, which ended up hurting me. The three 3/3 beast tokens and a Predator Ooze did me in after he dropped an Oblivion Ring on my fully charged Quest for Pure Flame. What I learned was basically what I already knew: when Green gets out in front of me there isn’t enough board damage in the world to save myself.

ROUND TWO
Opponent played all-American control. He had answers for my burn spells and round one went to Geist of Saint Traft and the angel token. I chose to keep a hand I should have mulliganed, letting the experience from round one taint my judgement. Round two was a loss to the Geist and a Lightning Helix. He simply out controlled me. What I learned: R/W/U takes a few rounds to get off the ground, but I don’t think racing is the answer there. What I really lost to was Geist’s hexproof. Slagstorm would have been a way around that had I drawn one and gotten it through uncountered.

ROUND THREE
Opponent played dredge combo, heavy on G/B but splashed blue and red as well. It was quite an exchange. Deathrite Shaman kept his head above water for the most part when all I drew off were Cacklers and Vexing Devils. He kept my hand empty with Raven’s Crime, which fueled into Life from the Loam and triggered Burning Vengeance, all of which he made sure he could get set up with Faithless Looting and Liliana of the Veil. Burning Vengance burned me out in the first game. In the second game I boarded in the Valakuts and dumped the Lightning Axes. That worked until Liliana split my board and I had to choose between four Mountains, or two Mountains and Valakut. He was at three life, so I gambled and kept the Mountains. I drew Reforge the Soul, cast it on miracle, and drew… no burn. Three Mountains, two Vexing Devils, a Browbeat and a Seething Song. No saving it, he smoked one of my Devils, then Deathrite Shaman ate it out of my graveyard to basically negate the damage the other one did, then Burning Vengeance got me. But I had him at 2 life. What I learned: dredge takes forever to set up. I have a window of opportunity to damage race him until everything he needs is in his graveyard, but once that happens I have to back off and play smart. I need to smoke Deathrite Shaman, keep Liliana under a lid, and burn faster than he can.

ROUND FOUR
I got a bye. Anticlimactic, I know.

As to the decks I didn’t get picked to play against, I only watched a few in action. All-American control played to a 1-1 draw against Tron in two rounds that collectively took the full hour, plus an additional 15 minutes to finish up their second round. Valakut Ramp made it’s way around the room and pissed everybody right off. I saw no Affinity decks, but that doesn’t mean one wasn’t there. There was no Infect at all. Nobody feared Ghost Quarter or land destruction, as there were very few basic Lands being played. They were all dual and fetch. Three-color decks seemed to be standard, barring Tron of course, which was completely colorless. But most notably, what I noticed was a stark lack of anyone that took 3 hands to win. Everyone who won did so in two.

Unprepared as I was, I still learned a lot about Modern format this evening. I’m just as happy that the rumors were false; Modern in my town is most certainly not the Standard players’ joke. We are definitely not fooling around. And next time I’ll know what to expect, and what kind of guns to bring to the table. So in the next couple of days I’ll be posting random thoughts about the two decks I think I’ve narrowed it down to: Robot Affinity, and Eldrazi Tron.