Thursday, November 8, 2012

Nayacrush – A Versatile Answer in Return to Ravnica Standard

I love nature.

I’ve never been a hunter, a fisherman or rock climber, but one of my favorite things in the world is to be in the woods or on a hillside and feel nothing around me but the living, breathing, moving earth.

I particularly like naturally flowing water; rivers, streams, lakes, ponds, even an evanescent surge after a rainstorm.  It’s like watching the lifeblood of the earth course around you.  No two bodies of water are the same.

 I love finding an unusual creature amongst the organic and chaotic swath of the forest.  Considering even a simple mushroom and the course of its day is an enlightening and humbling practice.

Seeing nothing but what the world itself brought about is a very relaxing prospect, and I wish more people would take the time to see it.  I wish that we as people could slow down from our technologically inundated lives to feel the primordial pulse of the world around us.  Taking a moment and feeling the breeze sidle through the trees and listen to the hiss of countless leaves overhead.  Watching as the sunlight flickers through the branches.  Observing a bird or a squirrel go about his quotidian calling.  These are all things that help me relax and refocus.

Nature is a force to be respected; its forces have shaped the world on which we live, and it continues to do so to this day.  Even the sturdiest monuments and the best and brightest inventions of humanity can be moldered by the transformative power of nature.

What happens when you try to harness this concept in a Magic card?

Bramblecrush is a straightforward, no-nonsense card that can destroy any permanent but a creature.  A spiritual successor to Creeping Mold, this card has often been relegated to sideboards in Limited and very little else.  After all, it doesn’t kill your opponent’s primary win condition, does it? 

But what if we reexamined this four-word sorcery to be something a little more enticing?  Bramblecrush has the potential to cripple an opponent’s combo, slow them down to a sluggish, insurmountable crawl, or efficiently deal with an otherwise unconquerable threat.  This sorcery can do it all.

When I was in college, I often shuffled up a fun (for me) deck that featured a foursome of one powerful and since unprintable sorcery.

The deck was built around Stone Rain and other “I hate your land” cards.  The deck focused on a playset of Stoneshaker Shaman, forcing permission opponents to sack a land or take mana burn while I had firebreathing creatures and other mana sinks to keep my own lands.  As grief-y as it sounds, in a multiplayer game, it wasn’t too bad.  That being said, the Rain could be backbreaking.

In today’s Standard, Bramblecrush can effectively cost three mana, and it pays to utilize the inherently red nature of the land destruction plan to pursue that.

Do I need a third color?  Farseek and other accelerants are a little less impressive when they get…a Mountain.  Black offered little to advance this game plan, but the other two colors did.

Both provided legitimate ways to get to the goal of a turn 3 four-drop (preferably a Bramblecrush), and going into RUG territory would give me access to other interesting and synergetic spell options.  Alternatively, White gives me Avacyn’s Pilgrim and Temple Garden, legit paths to get to four mana on three.  With two forms of ramp (mana dork into a Farseek, perhaps), a five on three was even possible.  Although I actually built and playtested RUG first, I changed fairly abruptly to Naya, and I’m glad I did.  I prefer RUG a lot more for my playstyle, but this deck needed white.

In a drive to support the noncreature destroyer, I came up with this list.


Creatures (18)

3 Arbor Elf
2 Yeva, Nature’s Herald
1 Wayfaring Temple
3 Huntmaster of the Fells
2 Restoration Angel
3 Thragtusk
3 Centaur Healer
1 Armada Wurm

Spells (19)

4 Bramblecrush
3 Farseek
3 Call of the Conclave
3 Brimstone Volley
3 Bonfire of the Damned
2 Garruk Relentless
1 Chandra, the Firebrand

Lands (23)

4 Temple Garden
4 Rootbound Crag
4 Sunpetal Grove
5 Forest
2 Mountain
1 Plains
1 Kessig Wolf Run
2 Gavony Township

Sideboard (15)

3 Pillar of Flame
2 Silklash Spider
1 Collective Blessing
1 Predatory Rampage
3 Purify the Grave
1 Chandra, the Firebrand
1 Garruk, Primal Hunter
1 Sigarda, Host of Herons
2 Devil’s Play

Deck Tech – Creatures

Arbor Elf

Originally Avacyn’s Pilgrim, I had traded mine away and hadn’t been able to trade into them, so these filled in.  Arbor Elf is a perfectly respectable one drop.  With any kind of luck, you’re pulling a turn two Centaur Healer and a turn 4 Bramblecrush, so he’s an essential part of the mill plan.  He takes counters from the Township well, and even getting in for a point of damage on an empty board can make a difference.  I still just wish it was Llanowar Elves, but…oh well.

Yeva, Nature’s Herald

Everyone that’s read my previous articles about Yeva knows that she’s one of my favorite ladies in recent Standard to build around.  Here, nearly every creature is green and so she fits right in.  Although not surrounded by as many creatures as she’d normally like, she still does fine for herself and is a relevant, haste-ish body that can two for one your opponent.  This slot was originally Wolfir Avenger in the RUG build, but its transition to Naya made her a bit better.

Wayfaring Temple

Rubble trouble!
OK, this one was admittedly a loose inclusion.  With the wolves and Beasts I’d be making, though, I wanted to see if he was any good at all.  I figured he wouldn’t hurt as a singleton…right?  With Yeva, he was also a huge instant wall (in the right circumstances).

Huntmaster of the Fells

You look ravaging tonight...
The Huntmaster is the “midrange” push I’d need to stay afloat against hyper-aggro matchups, and his one-man army mentality was just what I needed in a fairly low creature count deck. 

Blink/ETB Suite

This quartet of creatures became available as I moved into white.  Although I played Thragtusk in the RUG build, this build would let me use the Angel for maximum synergy.  These were all good creatures that pulled their weight after resolving. 


Nothing particularly unusual in the spell department; I liked Call of the Conclave as another three copies of Centaur Healer (body-wise), and the ability to copy it with Chandra was cute.  The planeswalkers were chosen to fill in holes I might need, Garruk with removal and one-man-armyness, and Chandra with reach and value.  Just like with previous deck’s I’d used with her, she can make a hand-cast Bonfire just as big as a Miracled one.  I didn’t have room for two in the mainboard, as I preferred Garruk and needed to keep my sorcery count high, but one in the sideboard would come in during the longer matches.

The lands are also uninspired…man, that was a boring deck tech.

For the sideboard, I needed the Pillars to answer early or out of control dudes like Deathrite Shaman or any of the myriad Zombies that I couldn’t otherwise permanently deal with.  Silklash Spider, a card that is made for green sideboards, is in there for the Entreat the Angels/Lingering Souls decks that this deck has trouble dealing with outside of a Bonfire.  The rest, honestly, was slop thrown together at the last minute.  Predatory Rampage and Collective Blessing both acted as alpha against a grindy creature deck.  Everything else should make sense alongside the maindeck.

When it came time to try it out at Tuesday Night Magic at Something2Do, I had a couple backup decks ready, but this one was the closest to fleshing itself out, so after a hustled sleeve-up, I was ready to battle!

Round 1 – Dylan (Bant Control)

Dylan was a fairly frequent opponent for me in the shop, and he often lingered with pals playing Legacy.  His chops extend to Standard, though, so I was excited to give the deck a shot against a strong opponent. 

I won the die roll and got off to a fairly solid start, hitting on-time threats and two Thragtusks.  He sweeped them up with his Supreme Verdict’s and started resolving Jace and Tamiyo, putting me in a pretty hard way.  As I longed to hit one of my Bramblecrush playset, I didn’t.  He resolved an Angel of Serenity and without a lot of way to deal with it, I folded up pretty quickly.

In Game Two I just sided in more creatures and Devil’s Play, which I thought’d be the easiest to overload with Chandra for the win.  Although I got another aggressive start, taking him to 11, he dealt with my resolved Chandra (with the Devil’s Play for lethal in hand) with a Detention Sphere.  My drawn Bramblecrush smacked the Sphere and revived Chandra, but he then resolved a Thragtusk and another Sphere.  Beyond that, he outclassed each creature I played with something very juicy of his own.

0 – 1

Not a great way to start, but the Bramblecrush I drew in game 2 was very helpful, and I just needed, like 16 against his deck.  Oh well.  Round 2!

Round 2 – Brian (Bant Control)

I’d seen Brian around the shop plenty, and I helped me get my last Call of the Conclave I needed before the starting bell.  Playing a list similar in color, but not in design, to Dylan’s list, we went to work and I got a good start.  An on-time Call of the Conclave kept the pressure up, but his Miracled Terminus kept me from dealing a significant scratch.  He developed his board with a Thragtusk and an Entreat the Angels token.  I was able to widdle him down a bit further, but eventually, he cast Tamiyo and locked down my only creature left, and I was toast before long. 

In game 3, I got the dream start; turn 3 Bramblecrush his green source into turn 4 Bramblecrush his Hallowed Fountain.  This was admittedly pretty aggressive, but I had sided in more creatures to deal with the sweepers and Tamiyo, so I thought I could outrace him.  Restoration Angel appeared for me as he started to recover, and with a fairly imposing board presence, he was a bit on the backpedal.  A Miracled Entreat for 4 joined his board, and my healthy 24 life seemed a little more meager.  Tamiyo locked down my Angel, and he swung for 12, cutting me in half.  As he was representing lethal and I had eight mana up for my Bonfire in hand (I’d need 9 mana to flatten his Angels), I had to start considering some mediocre combat situations.  I had to swing with everything, which was a Thragtusk, a Centaur Healer and an Arbor Elf.  He blocked correctly, as I expected him to, and I cast Bonfire for 3, bringing him to 3.   If I had one more mana, I would Bonfire for 4, sweep away his blockers, and swing for 8.  Very close, but a loss is a loss.

0 – 2

I was pretty frustrated at this point, as most people would be after 0-4’ing, but I was resigned to play the deck out for my dignity’s sake.

Round 3 – Megan (G/W Aggro with Lingering Souls)

Megan was a new face for me, but she was eager to play.  She’d had a similarly rough night with her deck, and she, like me, was wavering on the concept of the deck at all.  We went to work after she had to mull down to five on the draw.  I got a great start, ramping out perfectly into a Huntmaster.  She did about the same, getting into a Sublime Archangel a turn behind.  The Huntmaster’s wolf got a lick in, but it was quickly Oblivion Ringed.  Lucky for me, I had a pair of Bramblecrushes ready, so I brought the Werewolf back from exile, gaining more life and making another Wolf.  Soon, though, the Archangel was hitting me to hard and I had to cast my Garruk Relentless and punch the Angel (that’s what I call his fight ability).  She O-ringed the Werewolf again, and I broke it the following turn.  Without any more creatures to block, the Wolves finished her off.

In game two, I got an exceptionally powerful start.  I Bonfired for two pretty early and went pretty much unopposed for the rest of the game.  The Avacyn’s Pilgrim I hit was the second white source she needed.

1 – 2

We looked over her deck afterwards and she asked for suggestions; each that I gave her was one she had herself considered, and her deck was very strong and consistent.  I think I just got a more intense draw each time, and I matched up favorably against her with the red splash.

If you lose your first two matches at Something2Do, you’re pretty much out of prizes barring some very unusual situation.  That was OK, though, I’d gotten a win against the deck I had intended to!

Round 4 – A Kind and Upstanding Gentleman (G/W Elf Aggro Craterhoof?)

My final opponent had a name, a fairly regal one, I’m sure, but I didn’t catch it.  He was very polite and professional, I’ll say that much.  My deck got aggressive again, hitting Call of the Conclave on time off a one-colored land keep (!) and with Healers and Huntmasters on either side. This was a pretty straightforward match.  After a would-be-lethal attack, he was forced to chump-block with his smaller Elves, and  Brimstone Volley to the dome did the job.  This match, I pretty much lived sideways.

After siding into nothing for game two, I got stuck on three lands after keeping a fairly loose hand (no Forests, but non-basic green sources and a Call of the Conclave), but I sacked out and played what I could from my hand.  A Miracled Bonfire for two helped pushed my Centaur token and Centaur Healer through, and just like before, a chump-blocker brought Brimstone Volley online for the kill.

2 – 2

An even 4-4 game tally, I was glad the deck performed as well as I’d hoped it would against the Aggro metagame I’d seen last time.  The deck performed very poorly against control, without enough creatures or pressure to race sweepers and Thragtusk.  Although the deck was flexible and offered several lines of play, most of them turned about to be defensive at best, and the pilot can be blamed for several of them.  Bramblecrushing two lands when I saw Brian use Tamiyo last round?  Loose…

On that topic, Bramblecrush did its job very effectively.  It always had a nice target, and I never sided a single one out.  The ability to be flexible enough to hit an Oblivion Ring, a Tamiyo, and a Gavony Township is no joke.  The card may be a little too slow for serious play; it’s no Beast Within.  Still, I’m glad we have an effect like this in Standard.  If I’d had my head on straight, I would have made a Bramblecrush deck back when we had 8 R/G sources in Standard and Beast Within.  Who knows, though, Beast Within might see a Core Set sometime.

The strongest players in the deck where the Thragtusks and Bramblecrush.  Garruk didn’t really do much, and none of my sideboard cards did a whole lot, either.  Chandra did a bit of work, but Thragtusk is just a busted card.  In this format and with all the enablers that assist Big Sexy, there’s just not a better five-drop.  I was always always happy to have a Bramblecrush in hand, as it gave you a good feeling of security on every turn of the game.

Although Wolves did seal up my last game, Huntmaster is not the card he once was.  In a format of X/3s, the Werewolf has lost a lot of his steam.  With Gruul around the bend, though, he may still have a chance to get there, and I hope he will!  I would say Armada Wurm was also underwhelming, but never drew him in all four matches.  That’s what you get for only playing one, but I wanted to test him.  There was never really a time he would have turned it around for me, though.  I would have probably just wanted Thragtusk any time I drew it.

And now for a bit of metagame analysis.  With mana being as good as it is now, with Shocklands, ISD and M13 duals, and the Keyrunes and Chromatic Lanterns floating around, Standard decks seem to be one of two things: blinding fast aggro and everything else.  Super aggro/Sligh style decks can still hit really hard, but the “everything else”, which encompasses literally anything that can’t have you dead or basically dead on turn 4, can overturn that deck very effectively.  The “midrange,” “reanimator,” and “control” lists I’ve seen really are just control decks more than anything else.  Most of the “everything” else decks can be collectively described accurately as “three-color good stuff decks.”  Depending on the colors chosen, there are particular high power threats and answers that you play.  Playing Jund?  Use Olivia Voldaren, Thragtusk and Rakdos’ Return!  USA?  Entreat the Angels, Sweepers and Angel of Serenity!  Bant?  See the above list, but add Thragtusk!  There’s basically a continuum of threats that you’ll pick from based on the lands you’re playing.  This manifests itself as a fairly contrived gameplay experience for someone like me.  I’m sure they feel very different to pilot, but they don’t feel very different to play against.  The cards that the top control decks use are really high impact, and so anything but the most grindy of control mirrors will create overwhelming advantage for the control player.  Super Aggro just cares about smashing your life total, but if anything else requires even a bit of board presence, you may be out of luck against one of these leviathans. 

I say this with a hint of frustration but more so with a hint of confusion.  I’m not sure how best to combat these “midrange” monsters.  The decks I’ve crafted to play in RTR standard have almost all been subpar, my best performing being the defender deck, and I’m not sure how to effectively answer these threats without just doing a live-sideways style hyper aggro deck.  I don’t mind playing those, and I probably would in a big tournament, but those aren’t the decks I like to play.  I consider the decks I make like paintings while those hyper-aggro four-of lists are like pencil sketches; sure, the sketch does its job, but is it as pretty or well-made?  This is no way an attempt to say that my decks are “works of art,” because they’re not.  They’re full of holes, misinterpretations, poor judgment and poor execution.  But they’re attempts at art, and that’s what I’m after.  Bramblecrush didn’t let me down, and the deck construction had a good starting point, but I’m not sure this deck has a place in Standard right now; it’s on the bad end of “everything else.”

This hasn’t stopped me from crafting.  Last night I finished crafting a fun deck from my original stack of decklists I made at before RTR’s release, and after playtesting it last night, it proves to be quite effective while maintaining my synergetic values.

I’d love to hear about a way you guys can think up to break Bramblecrush.  I love the card and I want it to get some love.  Any ideas?  Let me know in the comments, and be sure to follow me if you like what you read.

Thanks again for stopping by, and I’ll be back next week with a fun brew with a lot of heat!

Until then, don’t forget to untap!

- Matt H