Kool Ideas: Low Standards

I don’t know how the average Magic player feels when a new set comes out, but I experience a cornucopia of emotions. The overwhelming experience is much like a rollercoaster. I start excited- initially, a new set always gets my gears turning. As each card is spoiled, my mind races with applications for the perceived, soon-to-be staple. It’s an exciting time indeed, but it doesn’t last long. Soon, reality sets in- with a new offering comes a lot of work. And with work, comes the feelings of apprehension. What if the work doesn’t pay off? How am I going to perform at deck building compared to people that are actually good at Magic?! Quickly, the ride has dipped down and I am just in depression mode. New Standard is hard, and I am sad. Magic sucks.

Luckily, all rides come to an end. As quickly as my joy turned into despair, I find myself ready to get down and dirty, dissecting the new format. The old Type 2 is gone, and only the evolution of Zendikar Block plus Magic 2011 remains. Like any half competent MTGOer, I look to paper for inspiration.

Sometimes, the digital lag is a boon in disguise. You get to see other people try to fly before taking on the endeavor yourself. Being a pansy myself, I relish this short reprieve and switch fully into observation mode. So, let’s see what the real world has in store for us and build off some of their triumphs and tribulations! (Warning: I am awful at Magic. Maybe, I have a modest, approximately 1950 rating, but I am most assuredly horrible.)

Hurray for 5Ks

This last weekend, TCGPlayer.com hosted a $5,000 prize pool Standard event in New York City. Of course, Scars of Mirrodin is legal in paper Magic, so we can glean a glimpse of what to expect in the coming weeks! According to the Top 16 (and the greed of Magic players in the northeastern sector of the United States), Primeval Titan is our future€¦

The dominance of Primeval Titan isn’t a surprise. As far as I can tell, Rampant Growth is really the only casualty during the most recent rotation. Valakut Ramp also lost Siege-Gang Commander, but a threat can be replaced. This considered- just last week Eldrazi Green and Valakut Ramp were winning against the tuned machines populating Dailies every few hours and FNMs all over the globe. Decks that don’t lose many cards are almost always the new decks to beat.

If surviving without much loss of value isn’t enough, you can see what the decks gained. In the TCGPlayer Top 16, a few new cards made appearances. Valakut Ramp featured Koth of the Hammer, Wurmcoil Engine, and Memoricide out of the sideboard. Eldrazi Green featured Wurmcoil Engine and Ratchet Bomb (in the main and/or board). Koth, Wurmcoil, and Ratchet Bomb are not big surprises; all of these cards have been touted prior by gentlemen (and perhaps gentlewomen) with much greater clout than I will ever muster.

Of course, Fauna Shaman and Vengevine can still be found in cahoots. But they’ve lost the raw power of Shards of Alara, and only Trinket Mage into Memnite or chained Squadron Hawks remain to trigger multiple, hasting 4/3s. It is no wonder that the Shaman decks didn’t clinch a Top 8 berth- a toolbox isn’t enough to win a game in its own right. I am also sure that we’ve yet to see an optimal configuration€¦ toolboxes have options; these options require time to sift through the bad and find the good.

Blue control decks have also persevered past Standard’s change of guard. Jace, the Mind Sculptor is holding hands with Primeval Titan, and their relationship atop the price charts is far from over. Curiously, Scars of Mirrodin does not seem to impact this familiar archetype to too great of degree- just a miser’s copy of Elspeth Tirel or a few Ratchet Bombs or some sideboard additions- not much of note. This seems to always be the case with new formats- people are slow and scared to try new ideas out.

Finally, we have White Weenie€¦ kind of. Patrick Chapin and Todd Anderson have both sung the accolades of €œArtifact White,€ but the 5K had a more conventional approach- take out the cute artifact centric cards and replace them with traditional white attackers. It still plays the wonderful interaction between Quest for the Holy Relic and Argentum Armor; I am excited to see if this is even remotely close to Sovereigns of Lost Alara and Eldrazi Conscription in power.

And with an avalanche of new deck ideas, my little brain switched into high gear- I finally have a basis of expectations and can begin deck building. I have ideas to plunder and to use to shape other ideas.

Bad Ideas Abound

And so my reprieve ends. Immediately, I wanted to abuse some stupid green cards- Overwhelming Stampede and Beastmaster Ascension are at the forefront of these interests.

I ran (what I affectionately referred to as) blue-green trash in Standard a bit this past season; a small green dork deck with a combination of Overrun, Eldrazi Monument, Garruk Wildspeaker and Beastmaster Ascension. The deck was a ton of fun to play and brought me moderate success. So naturally, I thought I would revisit the brief moment of enjoyment.

Honestly, I tried to make an amalgam of Beastmaster Ascension and the Tempered Steel white deck. I haven’t figured out how to make it work, but I feel like crapping zero cast artifact creatures and Beastmaster are a match made in heaven. Anyway, I chickened out of my personal test and just rehashed this old pile. Maybe some more Ornithopters and Memnites belong In blue-green Beastmaster, but the deck should definitely feature Mana Leak or Unified Will.

I added Vengevine and Fauna Shaman in a hope that the deck will have a smidge of power, but I know that they most likely don’t belong. The deck needs a bit of power beyond the four Beastmaster Ascension, but probably a few Garruks or Monuments will suffice. Perhaps, the deck would benefit from more Trinket Mages or Sea Gate Oracles.

By now, you’re probably aware that I wasn’t kidding when I entitled this section €œBad Ideas Abound.€ What awful deck decision discussion would be complete without allies? Not this one.

I always thought that Naya Allies was a silly deck, but I have lost to it a few times more than I would care to admit to. Without Bloodbraid Elf, I do not see the why I should stay true to red as an addition. Also, blue has an interesting idea to explore- proliferate! This particular exercise features Thrummingbird as a way to lend additional power to your ground forces. I should probably include a Trinket Mage package or some Planeswalkers for additional power; for now, I just threw in a set of Overwhelming Stampede.

While both blue-green aggro and allies seem more cute than good, I know a quick, non-red deck will eventually rise successfully. And when it does, I will most assuredly test it- these single-minded strategies can be surprisingly solid against unprepared opponents.

Decency is Demanded

Before I stop this miniature ramble, I’d like to offer one deck idea that might just make some sense- Vampires. I know that I will have next to no idea how to assemble the proper configuration, but I can try!

The exact numbers cannot be right, but I think I got a few things right- splashing blue for Mana Leak and more than a bit of removal to aid Gatekeeper of Malakir. Doom Blade or Smother might be better than Urge to Feed, but I wanted to try out a tad of tribal synergy.

The sad thing about vampires these days is that the tribe really isn’t needed for a black aggro deck to prosper! Vampire Hexmage, Bloodghast, Vampire Nighthawk and Malakir Bloodwitch all do justice to their ilk, but Abyssal Persecutor, Skinrender, Lilianas Specter and a host of artifact or blue creatures could fit the bill. Maybe even Nantuko Shade is playable in the new Standard!

Looking Forward

Sadly, even through all of my misguided musings, I have no idea what I need to buy come October 15, on MTGO. I know that I want to snag a play set of Koth of the Hammer, Molten-Tail Masticore, Ratchet Bomb, Wurmcoil Engine, a complete 20 of these spiffy new lands, and a singular Chimeric Mass. Beyond that, I will be watching with bated breath for the real players to tell me where my thoughts should be. MTGO Prereleases start October 15, 2010- I’ll see you there or the following week during normal release!



  1. I don’t think Vampires are a deck, the tools are just not there.

    Allies I do look forward to seeing. I wonder if they can make it. Proliferate definitely seems like it will work very well with all the +1/+1 counter allies. Would be cool if an Ally deck ‘got there’.

  2. A deck with four Ornithopters and four Memnites would make me a pretty happy guy. That reminds me of a casual deck I built in 1996 with four Ornithopters, four Roterothopters, and four Brass Mans (it used Tetravus, too). That deck used Infinite Hourglass, since we didn’t have anything like Beastmaster Ascension that was actually, like, good.

  3. Per the black vampire deck, without a vampire lord, you are just better off playing a good stuff black deck over a “vampire” deck. Grave titan is to good to not be in there. Between skinrender, doom blade, and grasp of darkness (which is far better than smother), you can maintain some board state even against fast aggro. Grasp is nowhere near as good as agony warp was, but it may be enough and it is mono black. Bloodwitch isn’t good enough against non-white to be a 4 of. It is probably a sideboard card at best. Bloodghast just isn’t that good either with wall of omens and the Vengevine hate in the sideboards. Now throw in Nocturnis, and the cards were really good. Without a good lord though, their power level just isn’t high enough.

    I have been playing UB for a long time now, and Scars has added some really good cards. The loss of agony warp is tough, and I really have to see how I will do against RDW without it, but it can be good. I haven’t written Carnifex demon off yet either, especially in a control style UB where you won’t have a lot of your own creatures on board to eat the counters as well. I think it is better than Persecutor, because dedicating an extra 4-6 cards to remove him ( after the 4 gatekeepers) was just to many. Ratchet bomb can help against planeswalkers and eldrazi monument. You are probably still stuck running into the roil for now, but maybe ratchet bomb or volition reins can get there. I hope I don’t have to resort to going to white just so I can exile artifacts and enchantments, but it may come to that.

  4. suggestion – Demon of Death’s Gate seems pretty unbeatable in a weenie Vampires list against ramp & midrange strategies (assuming “cheated” in turn 2-3).