On The Shoulders of Heroes

In PV’s initial pre-prerelease overview of the set, he noted that grindy midrange strategies looked like they would get outclassed by either the extremely aggressive or the extremely top-heavy builds, and it seems like he was probably right. It took me a while to get a grasp on things, but I feel like I’m now confident enough to dispense some advice, so here it is.

I’ve done two sealed events and six drafts in the format. These are the results. I’ll talk about what I learned below.

Sealed (chose blue): RG midrange, minimal removal – 2-2

Sealed (chose black): BG Whip self-mill, 3-2

Draft: RG midrange, minimal removal – 1-2

Draft: UG Tempo – 2-1

Draft: BG Deathtouch Grind – 0-3

Draft: RW Heroic Burn – 2-1

Draft: UG Haymaker – 3-0

Draft: UR Tempo – 3-0

Sealed (chose blue): RG midrange, minimal removal – 2-2

Who doesn’t love a good RG beatdown deck? This was pretty basic with a solid curve, a bunch of 3/3s, a few pump spells, and two Time to Feed as my only non-combat removal. I played three copies of the 4/5 snake for 5 at the top of my curve, along with a Polukranos and an Anger of the Gods (the Slagstorm).

The Good: My spells on their own were very powerful. The 4/5 reach was hard to get through, and keeping a constant stream of pressure was solid.

The Bad: I could typically only cast one spell per turn. If my opponent was ever able to remove my new threat, I fell behind quickly. Without any flexible removal, I was completely unable to deal with a creature bigger than mine.

The Lessons / Bitching: The biggest lesson here is that Underworld Cerberus returns all creatures to their owner’s hands. I had to trade three creatures to kill the one my opponent attacked with, and should have gotten them all back in my hand, but thought that it was only their creatures. Should have won that match, but now I learned and you have too!

My other loss was to Tuffy, who basically had a better version of my deck, running out bigger threats that I simply could not kill. I just don’t think my sealed strategy was very good, and I’d much rather run something weaker with better removal.

Sealed (chose black): BG Whip self-mill, 3-2

This was kind of a gimmick deck. I had a whip to go along with my black prerelease promo, and wanted to play with both. I loaded my deck up with two copies of Commune with the Gods, along with two of the 2/4 centaur for 3B that mills four when he comes into play. Those, along with two copies of Grey Merchant of Asphodel allowed me to stall out most games long enough to find my bombs and sail to victory.

The Good: Commune also let me find the Whip, so it was pretty easy to get my engine going. Once it did, it was almost impossible to lose.

The Bad: The real problem was mana. A lot of five- and six-drops meant that I wasn’t doing too much other than stall until things got going. I also had problems with fliers, though I could typically race them with either one of my bombs.

The Lessons / Bitching: Fuck that monstrous blue kraken. One of my losses came to an opponent who had two of them. I played the -1/-1 enchantment that stops them from making their guys monstrous on his first, only to have him untap and play a second. I couldn’t kill it, and it wiped my board. Decks like this really, really need Sip of Hemlock, as your stall plan only works out if your end game is absolutely better than theirs.

My other loss was to an opponent who had Elspeth, Underworld Cerberus, and Stormbreath Dragon, which he played back-to-back-to-back. I think my overall strategy was very good here, but it certainly isn’t better than the “play all the bombs” plan.

Draft: RG midrange, minimal removal – 1-2

I just can’t pass a 3/3 for three. This deck was filled with underwhelming guys and almost no removal. It was a lot more aggressive that my sealed deck though, so I thought I might have a good game.

The Good: RG aggro is one of the most consistent strategies. You almost always go two-drop, 3-drop, drop, drop, drop.

The Bad: You need to have all the right cards. It’s easy to have your opponent to just play a 4/5 or 5/5 and not be able to attack for the rest of the game. You really need the burn spells and pumps spells to push you through, but those are in pretty high demand.

The Lessons / Bitching: First loss was to PK who had double Fleecemane Lion and played one on turn two both games. That card alone was better than everything in my deck, and I couldn’t come close to keeping up.

My second loss was the real lesson. Moriyama played the UW 2/2 that gets a +1/+1 counter and lets you scry for one when it’s targeted. He played two ordeals over the next two turns and absolutely crushed me. This really showcased the power of heroic for me, turning temporary boosts into permanent threats.

From this point on, I had much more respect for the ability.

Draft: UG Tempo – 2-1

This one was a lot better than the previous. Instead of 2/1 tramplers I was playing 2/1 fliers, and could consistently put a clock on while bouncing threats.

The Good: Blue is awesome. It does everything I want to be doing in the format – attacking and bouncing my opponent’s threats. Blue green also gives you the 3/2 for 2G that can become unblockable for 2U. That guy isn’t amazing or anything, but evasion matters a whole lot when you’re bestowing all the time.

The Bad: My creatures were all pretty fragile, so it was difficult to come back from being behind. I couldn’t really produce any good blockers and just got run over by aggro.

The Lessons / Bitching: My one loss was to RW aggro, which I think is a phenomenal deck. It has the strong creatures, it has solid removal, it has great tricks. It does have a hard time dealing with midrange guys, since your removal relies quite a bit on dealing damage, but it’s very strong. I could have been better prepared to beat it with things like omenspeaker, but instead my draft gave me nine three-drops, while I only played five of them. A lot of wasted picks on my end.

Draft: BG Deathtouch Grind – 0-3

Double 1B 1/1 deathtouch, double G 1/1 deathtouch, double 3BG 4/3 gravedigger, Keepsake Gorgon, a few removal spells, a few Read the Bones, and some durdly guys.

The Good: I should have complete inevitability if the game goes on long enough. I can trade all my cheap deathtouch guys to hold off the early game, and then loop them with my gravediggers. I’ve got a few removal spells, and the card draw to make the game go long.

The Bad: My stuff is expensive so I’m only playing one spell per turn. If that one thing gets blanked, I’m in trouble. If it happens two or more turns in a row, I’m dead. I also need to make sure I draw a lot of mana, but too much means I just die.

The Lessons / Bitching: See “the bad,” above. I lost to fliers, I lost to aggro, I lost to tempo. There are just too many ways to get through some overcosted creatures. This was probably the turning point in the format for me though. I learned how good scry was, I learned how to control the tempo of the games, and I learned when the best time to pull the trigger on versatile spells was.

Draft: RW Heroic Burn – 2-1

I lost in the finals of this one to Lewk. Triple Lightning Strike, double Titan’s strength, Gods willing, Magma Jet, Portent of Betrayal (threaten) with a second in the board. Lots of swarmy guys, a Firedrinker Satyr, two of the 2/3 for 2R that gets +2/+0 and first strike when you scry (very good).

The Good: Pretty much everything. I had early aggression, tons of reach, and a lot of broken draws.

The Bad: You have to mulligan to an aggressive draw. There are just too many decks that can punish you if they’re still at 20 after turn three. I think this is one of the best archetypes in the format otherwise.

The Lessons / Bitching: Scry. Seriously. Scry. I know it’s been around forever, and I know we all love it, but holy shit is it good. There were tons of times when I’d just turn Titan’s Strength into a lava spike on turn two to make sure I hit my third land drop or a three drop, and it paid off big time. Late game digging is very important, and scry is the key to that.

Draft: UG Haymaker – 3-0

This one was another big durdle deck, with a bunch of big fliers and the 4/5 reach snake, but the real key was my two drops.

The Good: Double Omenspeaker held off the early game while making sure I could draw my big guys without flooding too much, double 1G cantrip that fixes mana ensuring I can cast everything, double Commune with the Gods ensuring that I found the right pieces when I needed them. I had a few guys who valued my devotion to green. The lifegain four drop ensured that I could regain early ground, the 2G rare was always huge on turn four or five. I basically just had a ton of scrying and mana fixing to make sure that every draw was smooth and powerful. Oh, and a Polukranos. Is that guy good?

The Bad: Not much. I assume I still have the same problem of getting blown out if a few of my late draws get blanked by removal, but I have solid protection from fliers, good defenses, and even draws.

The Lessons / Bitching: Bounce spells! I’m seriously beginning to consider that Voyage’s End might be the best common in the set. It saves your guys, blanks a lot of theirs, eats a lot of time, punishes people from going all-in, etc. Griptide is also great, of course. Watching people draw blanks a few turns in a row is also great when you’re scrying all the chaff away. Don’t undervalue scry 1!

Draft: UR Tempo – 3-0

This was just last night, so I remember it pretty clearly:

Double Voyage’s End, Lightning Strike, double Titan’s Strength, Griptide, Sea God’s Revenge (is that the name of the bounce three guys?), the bad FoF, and the enchantment that draws a card when a creature dies or it ETB. Creatures were double R 1/1 with heroic of make a 1/1 with haste, double Welkin Tern, double Wind Drake with bestow (sorry, too many names), double 3/4  flier for 3UU, double 2/3 for 2U that can shock for 2R, the 2/3 for 2R that gets +2/+0 and first strike when you scry, and the big hexproof sphinx that scrys 3 when you attack, the 1UR Covnivore, and an Omenspeaker.

Relevant SB was another Omenspeaker, a Spark Jolt, and two more of the 2/3 for 2U that can shock for 2R.

The Good: Holy moly. I lost one game to Josh between rounds, but the rest didn’t even feel close. I had so much board control and consistent pressure while scrying away the unneeded crap that it just ran like a machine. My damage flow was just better than most of my opponent’s, and my quad-bounce spell package ensure I could get through when it mattered. Sea God’s Revenge always just ended the game on the spot, and my fliers were a huge problem for everyone.

The Bad: I believe I was the only one playing aggressive blue cards, so I think this was kind of an outlier draft. Aggressive white or green decks could be a problem, as their guys tend to be a little bigger, especially if they can handle my largest threats.

The Lessons / Bitching: Lots of cheap spells go the distance. I feel like I cast more spells over the course of a game than anyone. I usually got to six mana, and then just put every land on the bottom of my deck for the rest of the game. I’d let my opponent activate monstrous, bounce their guy, and basically time stretch for 1U. I even got to Griptide one of Travis’s bombs in response to a search effect, which seemed like a huge blowout.

So far it seems like the aggressive strategies are best, but they’re also the easiest to build. It should be interesting to see how the format pans out once people are fighting for the best cards during the draft itself, and once we learn how to build the best control decks to contain the fast starts.