Thursday, July 19, 2012

A Standard Renaissance

A Renaissance of Deckbuilding – Two Post-M13 Standard Decks

I love my cats.  I always had a cat when I was younger, so they’re a permanent fixture throughout my life; I don’t remember the name of my first cat, to be honest with you, but the affection I felt for him when he died (due to a bite from a rabid neighborhood cat, if you wanted to know) is still within reach inside my emotional filing cabinet. 

In many ways, Magic decks are like pets.  You have to care for them by getting them what they need, making sure they’re safe and secure in the environment in which they live, and as you do that, you become attached.  It doesn’t matter what format the deck is used in; maybe your “pet” is a specific deck you play with just your friends that’s been unchanged since 8th grade.  Perhaps your deck is special to you because you won a tournament with it or you met a long-time friend or even a romantic partner while playing with it.  It doesn’t matter what it is, if a deck is special to you, it’s special to you.

If you haven’t guessed, I’m a pretty sentimental person.  I keep a lot of small mementos from my life that physically connect me with a momentous and/or happy memory.  At my parent’s house, a bulletin board in my old room is filled with concert and event tickets, photos, notes from friends and even food wrappers that connect me with times before college and moving out.  Whenever I go home to visit, I’ll take a moment when I’m in my room to remember some of these events.  Even if at the time they weren’t that special, nostalgia and reminiscence colors them in a youthful, untainted way.  I’ll never be there again, so who will prove me wrong on how I’ve recalled it?

I feel that way about some of my Magic cards, too.  Although about 99% of the cards in my binders and boxes are up for trade, there are a few special cards that hold special significance.  For example, I will never trade Circu, Dimir Lobotomist, as this was in the first deck of Magic I ever owned that I purchased in Edinburgh, Scotland in 2006.  I’ll never trade my foil black-bordered 9th Edition Japanese Serra Angel because I bought it at a card shop in Tokyo the following year.  A college friend signed a Birds of Paradise and gave it to my as a wedding gift and as a memento of our great Magic games in college.  I have a Dragon Broodmother from Alara Reborn that I’ll never trade because I got it on our honeymoon.  Even recently, I’ll never trade my stamped Olivia Voldaren I obtained in the Top 8 of the SCG Cincinnati Draft Open earlier this year. 

Have you ever thought about the cards you’ve gained and lost over the years?  Maybe it was that first rare you pulled, or the first planeswalker you got?  Everyone likes to own a piece of history; it’s part of our own stories, and for many people, that is a worthwhile pursuit.

OK, now that I’ve gushed about my past, let’s look at the present.  Out with the old, and in with the new, right? 

A lot of people in Standard tournaments in which I have played have been looking for something interesting and new to play; the metagame is fairly biased towards blue for Delver and for Naya colors for Naya Pod, R/G Aggro and Mono Green Aggro.  Black’s not getting much love these days at the top tables on a national or on a local level.  Mono-black may be viable now that M13 is out, and my previous forays into MBC were less than successful, so I’d like to look at two decks that hinge on black while utilizing a complementary color in this format.

The deck came to me while I was flipping through my Innistrad binder in search of something fun and interesting to do in Standard.  I was looking to improve/change my Dungrove Mono-Green deck as it had gotten pretty stale for me.  I never used it in a tournament, and I hadn’t had a lot of fun playing with it on the sidelines, either.  It rarely had the blowout plays and lost to a lot of matchups, so I felt like it was time to shelf it.  It didn’t take long before I came across a card that I’d really wanted to see play.  The potential was impressive and in the presence of ebbing graveyard hate, it looked awesome.  Folks, it was time for a Renaissance.

The da Vinci Mold.
The flavor!  And the card advantage!

OK, so to make this interesting sorcery work, we’d need three things.  First, we’d need a way to get things into the graveyard without much loss or, if possible, for profit.  Second, we’d need them to be mostly permanents, so the permanents would need to do things that instant and sorcery spell slots would normally fill; that way, once spent, they could be recovered en masse.  Finally, we’d need something that benefits from having other cards in the graveyard in the first place.

For both flavor reasons and practical reasons, black seemed to be the best color to pair with this effect.  I’d need to limit nonpermanent spells, so I’d be limited to creatures, enchantments, planeswalkers, lands and artifacts.  Planeswalkers always seemed like a strong mode for Creeping Renaissance, and I wanted to make sure they were present too, as much as I could financially afford, anyway.

Creatures with enter-the-battlefield abilities along with solid bodies bolstered by planeswalkers and the occasional nonpermanent spell seemed to be the best route. 

I built this deck in its first draft about two weeks ago and took it to a casual Wednesday tournament at Bluegrass Magic on the 4th of July.  Here’s what I shuffled up for this event.

Creatures (25)
4 Birds of Paradise
4 Blood Artist
4 Strangleroot Geist
3 Wolfir Avenger
3 Splinterfright
2 Briarpack Alpha
2 Skinrender
3 Acidic Slime

Spells (13)
4 Mulch
2 Barter in Blood
2 Creeping Renaissance
2 Garruk Relentless
2 Liliana of the Veil (borrowed)
1 Spider Spawning

Lands (22)
11 Forest
6 Swamp
4 Woodland Cemetery
1 Grim Backwoods

Sideboard (15)
3 Dead Weight
2 Curse of Death’s Hold
3 Dismember
1 Spider Spawning
2 Gnaw to the Bone
4 Beast Within

Round 1 – Chad (W/U Delver)

Chad is a genial, talented player who’s at the shop on as many days as I am, and it didn’t take long before I figured out what he was playing.  In game one, I got off to a nice start with some Strangleroot Geists, his Delvers had trouble flipping, and my Blood Artists finished him off, the last nail being a Grim Backwoods sacrifice after he took combat damage to 1.  In game two, he was able to assemble a much better force, and my sideboarded Dead Weights eluded me.  They did the same in game three, which was much less close.


Round 2 – Matt (B/R Vampire Aggro)

Matt, a gentleman I had played in the past at Bluegrass, was playing a different stack this time, as opposed to the W/U Delver I’d played before.  He had land trouble pretty early in game one, and I put him down without seeing much of his deck.  In game two, he got a jump on me, and I buckled quickly against an aggressive squad of vampires.  In game three, I saw our old friend Tibalt, but he seemed to hurt Matt’s deck more than help it, as he often discarded survival spells and his Reforge the Soul combo piece.  Most of the time, I ignored Tibalt and bashed against Matt himself.  An awkward mana situation for him sealed the deal.


Round 3 – Lyle (USA Miracle Delver)

In a battle with a deck similar to my MiRUcle deck, I started off a bit shaky.  A squad of Delvers got me pretty hard and his card advantage won out in the end.  In game two, I hammered back with Strangleroot Geists and cleverly placed Wolfir Avengers and Briarpack Alphas.  In game three, I assembled a massive army of Spiders to block his Delvers and Restoration Angels.  With me sitting at a precarious 6, he luck-sacked and topdecked the Bonfire for exactsies. 


This was a pretty small tournament with only three rounds.  I won at least one game in each match, and with a pinch better luck, maybe I’d even win two games per match. 

Out of this list, there were some underperformers, Acidic Slime being one of them.  I sideboarded him out in every match and after some tweaking, that’s where it lives now.  Briarpack Alpha was merely average, being a high price for what amounts to a possible-blowout combat trick.  Wolfir Avenger did the job much more efficiently, and the mana price point was perfect.  I added an Avenger and removed the Alphas. 

On the other hand, Blood Artist and Strangleroot Geist proved to be very powerful, especially in concert.  A late game Blood Artist made combat difficult or impossible for my opponents, especially with a resolved Spider Spawning.  The fact that he couldn’t hit my opponent for anything in combat was a bit of a downer, but my original consideration (Falkenrath Noble) would have been much too clunky, in my opinion.  Barter in Blood was also an extremely welcome inclusion and I always drew it in the nick of time.  Plus, with a Blood Artist out, that’s an 8 life swing AND kill two of his (probably not undying) dudes.  One time, I had two Artists working and this went off for a 16 life swing.  The game was almost immediately over.

Spider Spawning was also just a straight win condition against decks when it resolved (and combat remained relevant).  Creeping Renaissance, believe it or not, only went off once, but it helped me stabilize and win over the course of the following turn or two.  Mulch was a nervous inclusion based on the fact that the card itself, not its effect, is a sorcery and not a permanent.  Still, I happily cast it every time I drew it and gained either card advantage or a graveyard full of Spider targets or Renaissance targets.  What it showed me, though, is that I didn’t need as much mana.  Flooding was surprisingly common for a 22-lander.

After a little tooling, I made these changes.

-3 Acidic Slime
-2 Briarpack Alpha
-1 Forest

+1 Wolfir Silverheart
+2 Druid’s Familiar
+1 Wolfir Avenger
+1 Spider Spawning
+1 Skinrender

+3 Acidic Slime
-1 Spider Spawning
-2 Beast Within

I liked the interaction with Druid’s Familiar better, as it provided a permanent pump in exchange for flash, which seems fair to me.  So far, I’ve been very pleased with him in playtesting.

Now with M13 out, there are tons of excellent options for this deck, mainly in the form of a green creature that rhymes with “Shragmusk.”

He is a sir.
Until I obtain the Lilianas I need, I have replaced the proxies with the newly-reprinted Vampire Nighthawk.  So far, I’ve been pleased.  It feels pretty good to go turn 1 Bird, turn 2 Nighthawk, turn 3 Druid’s Familiar, hit you for four evasive lifelinking damage.  Liliana is still better in that slot, in my opinion, but Darkwing Duck will do for now.

This was a fun deck to try out, and I still enjoy it – it playtests well against a lot of niche decks and it’s still a ball to play.  Give it a shot if you’d like to try something new!

This post was written alongside my next post, so you will see the other one within just a few days.  See you then, and until then, don’t forget to untap!

- Matt H

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