Friday, June 22, 2012

Deck Tech of the Week: Legend of the White Wolf

Every player has a certain card or deck they despise. They hate playing against it; they hate the power level/advantage a particular card generates, etc. I rarely play the consensus “best deck” partially due to this reason. Usually the culprit has some singular card that just offends me. 

Few have ever done this on the level of Primeval Titan and the Valakut/Wolf Run menaces he spawned. At the beginning of the current Standard season, and up until AVR, I played B/W Tokens, and would spend much of my time staring at the ugly titan menace across the table. He and his ilk offended me, not just because he was a 6/6 with trample, but because the deck he enabled seemed incredibly unfun both to pilot and to play around. I knew if there was one deck I wouldn’t play in Standard, it would be one with Prime Time.

…Until I ate my words and dove into a different variant of Wolf Run. I had seen White Wolf Run do well in events previously, but it was a fringe strategy I didn’t check out very well. Then, while waiting for the bus one day to go into the city, I brewed up the beginning of a deck idea. Restoration Angel had been spoiled, and I thought a deck abusing her would be absurdly powerful. So I started to think where she would fit well. My thoughts led me to the former boogie monster of the meta, Wolf Run. I thought about the tools the deck possessed, and it dawned on me. It wasn’t the same linear ramp strategy that R/G Wolf Run was. It carried a much heavier control element, and seemed to have the tools to also stand against Delver and Naya Pod, the two decks that stood at the top at the time. 

 So I sucked it up, and over the next weeks, threw the deck together. I got excited about it as I took it to FNM and smashed my way through the decks I played. However, reality set in the next day at an SCG IQ event I took the deck to. I had won the last one with Tokens, and thought I had the best deck in the room. That is, until I ran into Naya Pod, which thrashed me in two games. It wasn’t even close. I finished the event, and went home unhappy with how the deck performed. I wasn’t done with it however. Over the past month and a half, it’s gone through several iterations, arriving now at the following list:

Wolf Run White
The big thing to realize when looking at this list is that it has a much more varied set of tools than a typical G/R Wolf Run deck. Part of the attraction I have to the archetype is that, in most cases, the cards it has access to are simply BETTER than their red counterparts. Whipflare and Slagstorm? Nah, I think I’ll play Day of Judgment and Terminus.  Inferno Titan? Elesh Norn and Gideon Jura are better than he is. 

 However, even playing with White as the secondary color, we ARE a ramp deck, with 26 lands and 16 ramp cards. We can afford to keep red in the deck, and at a larger capacity than just Kessig Wolf Run. Bonfire of the Damned is one of if not THE best card of the format, and it is truly degenerate in a ramp deck. At a recent GPT, I got to cast it for game by tapping out for 19. It’s that powerful that you really don’t mind opening with a copy of it, knowing that around turn 5 or 6, you’ll be able to wipe anything but a Titan off the board. Along with Bonfire is a pair of Huntmasters in the main that round out our Red. He’s such a powerful card that he is capable of keeping us alive when we shouldn’t even be in the game, and the advantage he churns out over a long game can be insane. He also is the best 4-drop available to Green Sun out, and that helps us dodge his red mana cost if for some reason we’re being screwed on fixing.

While I mentioned Restoration Angel above, she is absent in both the main and the side in this list. There is a reason for that. Simply put, she was too much of a “cute” card. In Magical Christmas Tree Land, I was bouncing Titans for double Triggers, or resetting a Huntmaster from a removal spell and getting free advantage. In reality though, she would either come at the most inopportune times, or be a dead card in hand I desperately wished was something else.
 The sideboard plan gears primarily towards beating Delver, Esper Control, and aggro strategies. Dismember is very good right now at beating the new forms of Delver, especially since you can cast it for a black mana or two off of Birds and Sphere, and you have more life gain than any other deck in the meta.  Crushing Vines has gone from a trash bin staple to a viable sideboard card, and it has a versatility that is great in the Delver matchup. I hated siding in Grudge, because it didn’t do enough too often in the matchup. Crushing Vines, however, gives you the ability to blow out a Restoration Angel, or deal with the Sword of Feast and Famine that is hanging over your neck. To round out the sideboard, we have Terminus and Timely Reinforcements to beat back aggressive strategies such as Naya Pod and Zombies, while Cavern of Souls, Surgical Extraction, and Karn round out your ability to knock Sun Titan decks for a loop.

 Overall, the deck has been an absolute blast to play for me. A strategy I always hated became much more control-oriented, and I rarely feel that I’m in a situation my deck can’t pull me out of. In the last month, it has gone undefeated in four FNMs, as well as 5-3 at a GPT, placing 26th out of 185 players (two losses to Delver matchups, and one to a Ramp matchup where the opponent got away with a less than savory move).  This weekend I’ll be attending a PTQ with some friends and plan to pilot this build, and I expect it to have a great matchup against the field. 

 Any questions or thoughts on the deck? Post in the comments, I would love to hear from you!

The 10 Cards You Should Be Playing In Standard

With Avacyn Restored previews starting next week, we've finally come upon a metagame that has stabilized. Since September, we've had a roller coaster ride through a variety of top decks. At present, three have established themselves as the ones to beat: U/W Delver in all its variations, Pod decks, and R/G Aggro. Following close in their footsteps are Zombie, B/W Tokens, U/W Humans, Wolf Run, and Esper/UB Control variants.

    Since we know that the majority of our matches will take place against the first three decks, and a large percentage of the rest are made up of the tier 2 decks listed, we have valuable information for building our decks. We know the stock lists for these decks, so we can prepare our own decks to crush those decks, or at least significantly improve against them post-board.
    For this piece, I originally had decided to showcase the 5-10 cards I thought were well-positioned to take advantage of this settling of the meta. However, I found that each color had 2-3 very good cards they should be playing, so this will showcase 2 cards in each color I believe should be seeing use right now.

    Few cards seem as well-positioned right now as Arc Trail. A former all-star uncommon, this card has game against every deck in the meta. Delver of Secrets dies to this card no matter which side it is. Frites, Pod, and R/G decks all rely on mana dorks. Tokens, Humans, and Zombies all have goals to beat you down early with a swarm of smaller creatures.

    Enter Arc Trail. With this, you have the versatility of knocking out almost any early creature your opponent can play. This loss in tempo is huge for most aggro decks currently. Setting Frites or Pod back on its mana acceleration can often seal you the game right then and there. It is also one of the few pieces of removal that can trade with at least half of Lingering Souls. Any deck with Red in it should be fitting this in to their 75 due to how versatile it is currently.
    This fella has all but disappeared from the spotlight, overshadowed by a certain other Hero from Mirrodin. However, aggressive red decks  might want to give him another look. As mentioned above, Lingering Souls is quickly on its way to being recognized as the format-defining card it is. Any deck running White or Black is finding a way to squeeze this card in, and some deck are finding ways to cram it in even if white or black is found nowhere else in the deck. It is that good.
    Enter Hero of Oxid Ridge. This guy not only lets himself through your opponents wall of weenies, he lets your entire team come along for the ride too. Against Tokens, Frites, R/G Aggro, and some Esper lists, this can be that final nail in your opponents coffin. And did I mention he even throws in a Battle Cry for you!?
    While I don't see him as maindeck material for anything other than Naya Pod variants, I think he is an ace out of the board in several matchups right now.
    Black currently is at a low ebb with hand disruption. While Despise and Distress and both standard-legal, neither have been a factor due to the relatively small impact they make to your opponents gameplan. Simply put, your loss of a card means more than the potential hit you might have on one of theirs. However, Memoricide brings something to the table that neither Despise or Distress do. It not only has the potential for hand-ripping, it also rips all copies of said card from your opponents grave and library. And then exiles them.
    The second part of that might be as important as the rest of the effect. It exiles the cards. Surgical Extraction is seeing a high amount of play in sideboard due to this very fact. Cards such as Delver of Secrets, Primeval Titan, Birthing Pod, Huntmaster of the Fells, Lingering Souls, Mana Leak, Dissipate, Geralf's Messenger, and Elesh Norn are focal points of top strategies. Besides the mana cost, the big difference between Memoricide and Surgical Extraction is that Memoricide lets you be preemptive in your use of it. You don't have to wait for your opponent to play a Titan, kill it, and then extract it after it's fetched a Kessig Wolf Run. Deal with them all permanently before it even hits the table.
    The matchups where this shines the most are R/G Aggro, Wolf Run, and Zombies. R/G Aggro without its Huntmasters is a significantly weaker beast. Same with Wolf Run and no Primeval Titans, or Zombies without Geralf's Messenger.

    This card is a Block standout, and one that has seen fringe play in Standard by many control players. It fulfills a few roles currently that black mages should be very happy with.
    First, it can deal with Tokens in a way few other cards can. It also does a great job at remove Undying creatures such as Strangleroot Geist and Geralf's Messenger, two cards that normally give control deck fits. Along with this is the added bonus of flashback, so when your opponent rips a lategame threat, you have an answer for it waiting in grave. If Tokens and Zombies see a rise in play, this is a great card to have in your binder.
    Here's a card with a checkered past. Banned in one format because of how much it warped competitive play, Mental Misstep hasn't seen real play in Standard since the days of Caw-Blade. However, right now could be a great position for it in a wide range of decks.

    Simply put, this is a card that has uses against any top deck. It protects your Delvers, mana dorks, and Champion of the Parishes from Gut Shot or Tragic Slip. It also stops Gut Shot and Tragic Slip. Vapor Snag becomes a back-firing combat trick, and Frites doesn't have to worry as much about Nihil Spellbomb or Surgical Extraction ruining its day.While it may not be to the level of maindecking, it's something that is extremely versatile right now and can be great to see in your opening hand.
    Few mythics were looked at with as much disdain by the Magic community as this big fella here. With the way the community talked, you thought he was as bad as the dragons that somehow made their way to a plane that was inspired. However, look at the stats on this beast! Yes, he is 7 mana. However, a 3/5 flying double-striker is nothing to sneeze at. Oh? He has lifelink?....AND he draws me a card every time I gain life?
    I don't think any card in DKA has as much potential as this one. He is an absolute Timmy, who is in one of the easiest color combinations to build in. There is a truckload of great lifegain cards currently in Standard: Timely Reinforcements, Pristine Talisman, Chalice of Life/Death, Sorin, Wurmcoil Engine, Batterskull, Vault of the Archangel. Add that he is in what is probably the most powerful Innistrad tribe, and you have something brewing.
    So how does he apply to the current meta? Well, for one, the only things that are real threats to him are removal spells and Vapor Snag. As you are in blue, you have a few options available to you in the form of counterspells, as well as Drogskol Captain. Giving this guy an additional +1/+1 and making him hexproof is pretty harsh. Token decks have no way to deal with that besides DoJ, and they can't go over you. R/G Aggro has to pray for a Sword of War and Peace, and even then, they probably can't race you. Naya Pod probably has the best answers, but for a finisher, I think this might be one of the best a control deck can break out right now.

    This card has seen play before, in the sideboard of G/W Aggro decks when Neo Flare was the rage. It gives green mages a great answer to two things they traditionally have no way to deal with: counterspells and targeted removal. Being able to safely land a planeswalker or push through with a beatstick is usually the crux of games against these decks, and Autumn's Veil lets you do that. It also has an added benefit in that it gives your creatures protection from targeted black and blue effects and counters for the entire turn, so you can push through several spells without any fear. If you play in a U/B Control-heavy meta, this can be a godsend for a green player.
    This card is a bit more pidgeon-holed than the others on this list; however, it provides a keyword no other card can give. Namely, hexproof. With targeted removal the name of the game in the current meta, this can be invaluable in protecting Huntmaster, a Titan, or Elesh Norn.
    One of the biggest issues for white decks is the threat that equipment can pose to it. While Oblivion Ring is probably the best overall removal spell in Standard, some decks are able to shrug off the loss of one piece of equipment or an artifact, and simply throw out another. This isn't something white is well-equipped to handle, and something like Pod can tutor up an answer to O-Ring.
    Stony Silence, while not getting rid of problems, stops them from being useful. Decks such as Tokens and U/ W Humans, who can struggle against a resolved Pod or sword, benefit the most from siding this. They also run few if any artifacts, so there isn't a conflict of interests. If Naya Pod and equipment-heavy versions of Delver continue to be dominant in the meta, this card could be the best way white has to combat those strategies. Short of naturally drawing an Acidic Slime, Pod can't answer it, and Delver can only answer it if they happen to be running Oblivion Ring.
    Speaking of now have none.
    If Stony Silence is problematic for Pod and equipment, Paraselene is a downright nightmare for Token decks. The deck runs at minimum 8 enchantments, and most builds main around 10. This absolutely crushes the deck, and terrifying spirits turn into small, unimpressive 1/1's once again.
    Another application can be its uses for Delver against Control decks. Curse of Death's Hold pins down 80% of the deck, and Delver struggles with it traditionally. Paraselene also comes with the upside of giving you a few life for the investment, and those couple points can make all the difference in the matchups it is useful in.
    Don't expect this card to ever be more than a meta-call piece of tech, but make no mistake, it wrecks the strategy of one of the top decks in the format, and is playable in Frites, Delver, and Humans. 

    There you have it: ten cards that combat the top decks in the meta. So. What did I miss? Have suggestions? Post them in the comments and let hear if you think I forgot something!

Editor's Note: This is ported over from the old version of my blog, which I no longer have access to. It was written in mid-April, so it is a bit different than the current meta!

Welcome to Swing For Game!

Hello all.

This is the second time I've started a gaming blog. The last attempt was several years ago, and life wound up such that I drifted away from it.

A little bit about me. My name is Barrett. I've been a game player of one type or another since I was 4 and my grandfather started to teach me how to play checkers and chess. When I was six, I got thrown into the world of videogames with the brand-new, totally high-tech GameBoy Color (complete with Donkey Kong Country 3 and Frogger!).

My first foray into card games came with Pokemon, around the same time. While my friends simply wanted to collect them all (a feat several of us invested all of our then-meager funds on), I wanted to play with them. Unfortunately, I was never able to find someone to play with, but the concept intrigued me. Fast forward a few years, and Yugioh! hit the U.S. Here, I found a game that I was looking for. My friends and I had watched the show rapturously, and the idea of getting to duel with our own Dark Magicians and Blue Eyes prompted us all to run to the Wal-Mart and buy decks.

Throughout high school, I dabbled in both Magic: The Gathering and Yugioh!. However, Yugioh was my first love, and it quickly became the game I played above all others. By 2006, the tournament scene was decently established for the game, and I began my forays into competitive tournaments. While you won't find my name on any SJC champion lists, I was well-skilled and a good competitor, and was able to play on the level of many of the old pros. I found a love for out-of-the-box decks, and for playing against the meta.

By the time I came to college, my playing days were behind me. My cards were all in my closet at home, and they were nothing more than good memories. However, the love for the game never dies, and freshman year of college I discovered Yugioh again with the help of a hallmate. I ventured back into the competitive scene (although not on the level I once committed to it) and over the past two years, have shifted from Yugioh primarily to Magic. I've fallen in love with much of the game I hadn't seen as a teenager.

This blog is a compilation of both of these loves. While it currently will be much, much more Magic focused, Yugioh will be mixed throughout with decent helpings. Anything and everything is up for discussion, whether it be a metagame article, dech techs, tournament reports, or just life in general. I hope to help the Magic community and be a resource for people both new and experienced with the game. Welcome to Poke For Game. Enjoy the ride!

~ Barrett