Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Experimental Expendables: Goblins, Izzet and Epic Experiment in Return to Ravnica Standard

Here we go!

Return to Ravnica is now officially Standard legal.  No more Phyrexian mana, obnoxious cantrips and poison!  Boy, I’m happy to see rotation this time around.  Innistrad and RTR together should provide a bunch of opportunities for interesting interactions.  RTR looks like a stronger Constructed set in general, though, so don’t be surprised when mulit-colored brews dominate the tribal-themed stacks of Innistrad goodness.

I’m writing this post after the first sizeable tournament of RTR Standard, the Star City Games Cincinnati Open, but what I’m going to TALK about is the Friday before.  Standard was untested, new…green.  Although people speculated about Zombies still being a thing (they are) and the idea of salvaging Delver post-Ponder (you can’t), the field was wide open for all new decks to fill the ranks. 

Our story began last week; as I sorted the cards I’d gleaned from the Prerelease, I was poring over what I had and what I could actually make for my first Standard outing on Friday, October 5.  As I’m not one of those people who pre-orders my cards or buys boxes at a time, I have to work with what I’m given. 

More so than usual, RTR cards were hard to come by before the release.  At the Prerelease and the couple days after, the RTR cards you’d need were hard to come by, and even some commons couldn’t be found.  This left me in a bit of a bind for some of the prospective decks I was courting. 

Before RTR officially released, I’d studied the spoiler and crafted sixteen deck shells that I could make depending on the stuff I pulled in the Prerelease and any subsequent packs/trades.  Basically every color combination was accounted for, but each had the common theme of aggro.  Well, except for one…

As soon as this guy was spoiled, I saw the potential, as I’m sure most people did.  A Grey Ogre that Shocks your opponent any time you, well, you Shock your opponent!  Chopping off a tenth of your opponent’s life total at a whack while providing a mildly relevant body in a supported creature type seems fairly decent.  I already had three of those, so why not?

With Guttersnipe as the engine, I needed gas.  Good efficient burn seemed nice, and another spoiled Goblin seemed to interact well with him.

Before long, the deck was scribbled out, and I was dying to try it out. 

On Friday, I had glanced through my binders and pulled everything I had that I’d need, and Kevin Klotz, who I’d been texting with that day, was at the shop early and bartered the rest of the deck for me for my Angel of Glory’s Rise.  With that, it was settled. I finalized the decklist and looked over it. It was a simple and exciting gameplan.  Chancy, swingy, and exciting.  Here’s the list I came up with.

Experimental Expendables

Creatures (12)

4 Goblin Electromancer
4 Guttersnipe
4 Snapcaster Mage

Spells (25)

4 Izzet Charm
4 Syncopate
4 Krenko’s Command
3 Brimstone Volley
3 Thunderous Wrath
3 Think Twice
2 Bonfire of the Damned
1 Burn at the Stake
1 Epic Experiment

Lands (23)

4 Steam Vents
4 Sulfur Falls
3 Izzet Guildgate
6 Island
5 Mountain
1 Desolate Lighthouse

Sideboard (15)

4 Delver of Secrets
4 Pillar of Flame
2 Annihilating Fire
2 Chandra, the Firebrand
2 Talrand, Sky Summoner
1 Hypersonic Dragon

Deck Tech – Creatures

Goblin Electromancer, Guttersnipe and Tiago Chan

With 25 spells that trigger the Guttersnipe, his role is clear in the deck, but the Electromancer actually plays a very special, subtler role.  Reducing instant and sorcery costs by one helps you cast things more easily and sooner, sure, but it does something else important; it gives X an extra point of value.  With an Electromancer out, Syncopate becomes Force Spike, Thunderous Wrath is an instant, more flexible Lava Axe, and it slims Bonfire to hard-castable levels.  My ace-in-the-hole, Epic Experiment, also loves this card, giving it more reach in targets and in depth of digging.  The Snapcasters seemed nice with counters and burn and he’s also nice as an extra, instant body.


Burn Suite

These are fairly straightforward, but they interact well with the deck.  Miracle-ing is likely with instant draw power, and each spell benefits from the Electromancer’s reduction.  Brimstone Volley and Thunderous Wrath become very attractive when their cost is reduced just a little bit, and the Bonfire also benefits from the reduction.  Also, in a squad of little guys, powerful burn can help protect your fragile board state or soften up the opponent so you can smash through.  In a pinch it can provide the last ounce of ouch, too.  Nothing much to say here – this is how you’ll kill ‘em.


Used for better retro art.
This is a nice reprint; Mana Leak’s rotation leaves a huge hole in blue decks everywhere, and Syncopate, although not as intrinsically good, makes up for it in increased flexibility.  Syncopate has the flexibility to stop a turn 2 drop and a turn 11 drop.  Using Syncopate effectively is a bit of a science, but careful calculation is what makes blue, blue.  Reducing the X is especially relevant in this deck.  Syncopate is admittedly weak against control matchups, as they’ll always seem to have that counterspell ready when you tap out into a high X count with yours.  Regardless, it's a nice standby to have when you’re fully untapped, and he seemed like the right card for this job when you’ve just gotta stop it.

Izzet Charm

Electrostatically delicious!
Arguably one of the better Charms for the colors it’s in, Izzet Charm gives you tons of options, and the situation in which they’ll be appropriate is usually apparent, making it a low learning-curve Charm.  Having him makes you feel very safe, as you can kill a Rancor-aimed target, counter that crucial Planeswalker, or find that win condition or answer a little more easily.  It’s a great Snapcaster target, too, but the Mana starts to get pretty intense, so keep that in mind.  This is never a dead card, and I’m happy to play a whole set for their utility and versatility. 

Krenko’s Command

Actual "goons."
As fun as just burning your opponent is, you do need some men on the ground to push through extra damage or to buy you time.  The fact that they are Goblins was once relevant in the initial design (Krenko himself made an appearance), but I’m rarely unhappy to cast this card.  It’s a nuisance for your opponent, who can’t just invalidate your spell with a burn or bounce of their own, and it still adds two power to the board for 1R (or R with a turn 2 Electromancer).  Nothing fancy, but I have won a lot of games off turn 2 Command, turn 3 Command. 

Think Twice

I say "Think Thrice" when I cast it and flashback right away.
I've always loved this card, and I've found it is highly synergetic with this deck.  It becomes, effectively, an instant Divination with the Electromancer out and a fifth of their health with a Guttersnipe.  It also could trigger Miracles and provide something to do when they don’t play into my Syncopate or Izzet Charm.  There are a lot of decks where Think Twice is just filler, but I love it here.

Burn at the Stake

"Oh, look, it's the Hunchback of Notre Dead!"
This little number from Avacyn Restored has me intrigued.  In a deck with a bunch of little guys, this seems like an awesome alternate win condition.  The Krenko’s Commands provide the ammunition, and the other Goblins either reduce its cost or let it hit a little harder.  A finisher for five mana, this can completely catch your opponent off guard and just steal wins.  Turn 2 Electromancer, turn 3 double (or triple, if we're being greedy) Krenko's Command, and a turn 4 Burn at the Stake will hit them for...21?.  Even with a playset of Commands, I still think this is just a singleton; it’s still pretty risky, and it’s kind of a rotten topdeck unless you’re in a locked board.  Still, I just need it to hit once. 

Epic Experiment

"Explosions!  MORE EXPLOSIONS!" - Mekgineer Thermaplugg
The impetus of the deck, this solitary X spell is also like Burn at the Stake; if you’ve planned for it and you successfully resolve it, you will win.  X should be at least 6, and any Electromancers and/or Guttersnipes you have out make this thing all the sicker.  Remember, you cast each of these, so Guttersnipe will trigger for each cast spell.  23 lands and four reduction permanents should let you get this off fairly reliably, so once you find that copy, get ready to flip.


Although it is strange for Islands to impose over mountains, I rely more on having Islands open than Mountains when it comes to preserving the game state.  Also, my sideboard is fairly heavy blue, and so to avoid the awkwardness of putting land in my sideboard (I’ve done it before,) I’ll start it off right. 


The sideboard has changed drastically with the deck’s original plan; originally, it was full of Goblin-matters cards; Arms Dealers, Krenko, Mob Bosses, and a couple extra copies of Burn at the Stake.  Since then, though, I’ve shifted to a more spell-friendly sideboard.  Delver of Secrets was a last minute decision.  Boarding into Delver is vastly underrated, and there are some matches (perhaps even EVERY match) where having a good chance of opening with Delver will win you the game.  Red decks suffer from not having persistent threats.  Sure I can burn you, but any life gain completely nullifies my cards.  Creatures plug away turn after turn, so life gain isn’t a permanent solution.  Delver provided that imminent threat I need to give my deck some extra teeth in a match where I had to hurry.  Pillar of Flame and Annihilating Fire are both my safety nets against Zombies, the predicted deck-to-beat in the new Standard.  Zombies in every color give me the creeps, so packing these is good insurance; plus, they provide additional targets in case of a slightly anemic Epic Experiment. 

Chandra, the Firebrand has come to be one of my favorite planeswalkers, providing infinite possibilities with her -2 and giving a steady concern with her +1 and -6 at the ready.  A good option for grindy control matchups, she works very well in conjunction with any of my over-the-top spells like Burn at the Stake, Epic Experiment, or even just a take-half-your-life Brimstone Volley.  No red spell-based deck should be without her.  Talrand was very good in the Delver mirror and would be a great option against control or non-sweeper decks.  Although missing his “free” spells now, he still seems perfectly reasonable here.  The singleton Hypersonic Dragon is in here as a bit of a lark.  Sure, he’s a relevant hasty threat that can put away the game in a turn or two, but I also couldn’t shake the idea of casting an Epic Experiment in response to my opponent’s game-winner.  One day, maybe.

Tournament Report

After Kevin kindly brokered the trade I needed, I playtested the deck furiously, securing the Steam Vents I’d need to sleeve up the deck completely.  Kevin and I playtested several matches’ worth of games, and the deck was a bit shaky.  The highlight was resolving an X=6 Epic Experiment and hitting 5 burn spells with a Guttersnipe out when I would have otherwise been dead next turn.  I was eager to try it against all kinds of decks.  This deck, except for the Noxious Revival synergy, was very much like my somewhat successful MiRUcle deck from a few months ago.  Perhaps it’d see the same success again.

Round 1 – Ryan (B/G Control)

The game room was packed with about thirty eager players ready to test their decks in the new environment.  The excitement was palpable, and it tasted pretty good.

I sat down across from Ryan, one of Something2Do’s faithful employees and long-time fixtures.  An exceedingly polite, professional but easy-going guy, he expressed that he had the urge to play in an event and he looked forward to trying his newly minted stack.  With his bright pink sleeves undoubtedly sheathing a subtle threat, we started up.  During game one, I went kinda nuts on the miracles, hitting back to back Thunderous Wraths.  My board developed slowly, but his was glacial compared to mine.  Resolving a Thragtusk still couldn’t save him, and I was able to overwhelm him with burn and some piddly creatures the following turn.  In game two, he got a much more impressive start, Abrutply Decaying my relevant threats while resolving a Vraska safely on his side.  My sideboarded Pillars of Flame looked pretty silly in my hand, and it wasn’t long before a Vampire Nighthawk and Thraggy were breathing down my neck.  Game three saw Ryan mull to 5, and he never really got off the ground as Delver plugged him again and again.  Counters kept me safe, and I sailed over with the Insect for the win.


I was amazed to beat Ryan, but grateful I had survived my first RTR match.  I had gotten fairly lucky hands and Ryan was a bit unlucky, but that’s the nature of the game.  

Round 2 - Josh? (Five-Color Séance)

To be honest, I do not remember my opponent’s name for this match, not even a little.  It was a bit of a blur, so I’m just not recalling what his name was.  I’m sorry, “Josh,” if you read this.

My opponent was significantly younger than me, perhaps a high-schooler.  Something2Do does attract a slightly younger crowd of Magic players than BluegrassMagic, but most of the time I didn’t end up playing against them.  Not today!

As we set up for game 1, I got a fairly sluggish start with a Krenko’s Command and not much else.  He didn’t seem to be doing much either – Faithless Looting and some discarded big fellows.  Perhaps it was a reanimator deck…

On turn four, he resolved a Séance, and I realized his plan all too late.  He exiled value creatures and gained tons of board advantage, and a Craterhoof Behemoth in the yard came back in as a copy and rumbled his team across for an initimidating amount.  In game two, I made a mistake by developing my board and not protecting against Séance, which he safely cast.  Once it was on the table, I could do very little to interact with either it or the graveyard.  On my turn, he sat at 13 and I had two Electromancers and some Krenko tokens, and he had reanimated a Geist-Honored Monk on my upkeep.  I swung with everything, staring at three Brimstone Volleys in hand.  As he dipped to ten, I Brimstone Volleyed him once, then I could not resolve the other two through back-to-back Syncopates.  His Craterhoof would reanimate on his turn, so I scooped it up.


That was a tough loss, as I just had very little way to interact with the combo; narrow as it was, any kind of graveyard hate would have been great.

Round 3 – Mike (Bant Midrange)

Mike, also a pseudonym for my opponent whose name I cannot recall, was a recently reinstated Magic player; most recently a WoW TCG player, he had played Magic back in his youth and had only played again starting with the RTR Prerelease where he performed admirably.  His deck was a borrowed stack, and I had no idea what it was.  As he ran out an Arbor Elf and a heap of Forests, I assembled the best board state I’d seen all night; pairs of both Electromancers and Guttersnipes were flanked by a pair of Krenko tokens, and after a fairly average combat, a pair of Brimstone Volleys shattered his Thragtusk-padded life.

Game two saw his actual deck play.  I thought it was just mono green before, but here each color shone.  It played Geist of Saint Traft and Lyev Skynight, each of which produced a good amount of pressure.  Hitting some slightly awkward Bonfires of the Damned and the occasional good burn spell, I was able to stave off most of his offense, though.  After a particularly poor combat for him, I decided to go off with my Epic Experiment.  It was actually pretty awful, hitting four lands, a Snapcaster and a Brimstone Volley.  Still, eight combined damage from the Guttersnipe and the Volley itself was enough.  On a sidenote, we played for fun afterward, and his deck actually combo-ed Thragtusk and Deadeye Navigator for maximum value and he swarmed me. 


Before the final match, Kevin and I were chatting about the final round; we were each 2-1, so there was a chance we’d meet in the final round.

We did.

Round 4 – Kevin (Izzet Stuffy Act)

I’m not sure what he actually calls his deck, but I was fairly familiar with Kevin’s list.  He and I had playtested a shell of it before it was Standard legal, and he’d fine-tuned it since then.  In game one, a resolved Talrand and pressure from a Chandra kept me on the backfoot, and I never stepped forward; his deck managed superior card advantage very effectively.  In game 2, I was more aggressive with my burn, and I’d sided in Delver to actually give his Izzet Charms some other targets.  He had resolved three Stuffy Dolls that game (with the fourth in hand, he told me later.)  I knew he had the Blasphemous Act in hand from an Auger of Bolas reveal, and we both knew we’d have a counter war on our hands, so he played his creatures out to shrink the cost of his Act.  I dumbly played a Delver on my turn, giving him the magic number of 2R to cast his Act.  I had three counterspells ready; two Izzet Charms and a Snapcasted Syncopate, but he had the Redirect for the final counterspell.  The Act resolved, and I took nearly twice my starting life total to the face.


Without the prospect of prizes, I packed up and headed out, mulling the deck over in my head.  In retrospect, it turned out the deck was too cute to really play out.  I build decks like this all the time on paper (most of the sixteen decks I brewed are like this), and I don’t often have a chance to play with them. Tonight was an exception. 

Mostly, I think the deck turned out to be too non-interactive to flourish.  I had a lot of trouble dealing with un-burnable permanents, and I had no bounce to speak of to disrupt a gameplan.  The only time I resolved Epic Experiment it only hit one instant, which was a huge letdown.  I never got to live the dream and copy it with Chandra, either.

The problem with this deck is the problem with every incarnation I’ve done of U/R since it’s been legal; burn is its primary win condition.  This is, in the end, a mono-red deck with some counterspells.  Mono-red is probably a thing-to-come, but not thanks to burn.  The new mono-red will be efficient aggressive creatures supported by a dash of burn.  A format full of Thragtusks and lifelink makes straight burn pretty unattractive, and this deck often couldn’t seal the deal.  I think I’ll be setting down Izzet for a while in favor of some other color combos.  Perhaps I’ll have a bit more luck with those.

The format is still pretty open.  I’m looking forward to seeing what creative minds will conjure for this season of Standard.  Next time, I have a very brew-tastic list that's sure to satisfy the quirky deckbuilder in you.  Don’t miss it!

Until then, don’t forget to untap!

- Matt H

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