Musings On The New Standard

Posted in Feature on March 14, 2007

By Frank Karsten

Constructed Premier Events have resumed on Magic Online as you read this, so it’s time to find good decks for Standard with Planar Chaos. In the last months, we saw that Standard was dominated by Dralnu du Louvre, Dragonstorm, Mono Green Aggro, U/G Scryb&Force, Angelfire, and U/W Tron. Dralnu du Louvre in particular appeared to be the most popular deck. What changes will Planar Chaos bring?

First, I think that these decks will remain top tier decks. There is nothing in Planar Chaos that invalidates their strategies. There are even some potential improvements to be found. For example, Timbermare may find a place in Mono Green Aggro (it also works well with Scryb Ranger) and Damnation may be included in the sideboard of Dralnu du Louvre (I don’t think it belongs main deck, as Dralnu du Louvre is a counter deck built to work at instant speed, so this sorcery that interferes with that “everything in the deck can be cast at instant speed” strategy should only be seen as a sideboard card against very fast creature onslaughts).

We may also see brand new archetypes. There are a lot of cool new cards in Planar Chaos, and who knows what crazy cards like Harmonize and Null Profusion can bring, for example? But the Planar Chaos card I am most interested in is Boom/Bust, and today we will do some deck building.

Boom Bust

Armageddon has always been an amazing card, and even at a price of six mana it should remain devastating, and I think it should make a splash in Standard. The best home for this card would be an aggro-control deck that plays Signets (as it allows you to ramp up to 6 mana quickly and also ensures you have some mana left after all lands are destroyed) and Flagstones of Trokair (always nice to target it with Boom). I like to play Boom/Bust in an aggro-control deck that has some good mid-range creatures, since you want to set up a situation where you have a board advantage. The plan is to have a decent creature in play on your side, while your opponent has nothing but lands. At that moment you want to destroy all lands with Bust, sealing the game by making sure your opponent can’t easily find his way out of the situation. After all, you both won’t be able to cast spells for a while, but you don’t mind that as much as your opponent, since you are the one who is attacking.

When trying to find a good home for Boom/Bust, I quickly arrived at Angelfire. Ever since I made the deck for the World Championships it has remained a pet deck of mine, so I set out to build a good version of Angelfire with Boom/Bust for the Standard with Planar Chaos environment. I wrote about the deck before and you can review it here. When I made my Angelfire version for the World Championships, I expected a lot of Solar Flare, GhaziGlare, Izzetron and Boros Deck Wins. That was a somewhat reasonable prediction back then, but things have changed. The metagame is completely different nowadays, and the consensus best deck – Dralnu du Louvre – used to be a bad match-up. They just counter everything, you don’t have that many threats, and they even have Commandeer for the hellbent Demonfire.

Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir

So updates had to be made. Cards that cannot be countered or are very hard to be countered are good against Dralnu, mainly because that invalidates the overload of counter magic in that deck. Instant-speed cards like Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir are quite good for the same reason, since you can play when they tap out for Mystical Teachings. If Teferi resolves and sticks, you will definitely beat Dralnu du Louvre. Running Teferi allows you to set up a counter-battle in their turn. Imagine you go for Teferi at the end of their turn. They counter, you Remand, they counter back. Teferi doesn’t resolve, but now they are tapped out. Know what you do in your turn? Blow up all the lands with Bust! By running this tandem of big threats, you will surely improve your game against Dralnu du Louvre. Teferi also happens to be quite good against Dragonstorm, effectively countering Lotus Blooms and ensuring you cannot easily get Gigadrowsed out of the game.

But just Teferi isn’t enough; we may need more uncounterable threats. Enter Detritivore. Of course the creature itself can be countered, but all the countermagic in the world cannot stop you from suspending it and destroying a land every turn. With the help of a Signet, you can easily suspend it for X=2 on turn five. You destroy two storage lands of theirs, and then they still have to handle the creature somehow. Detritivore also seems very good against any control deck with bounce lands (the mirror match-up comes to mind) and against U/W Urza. Breaking up the 'Tron is important, and even something like Spell Burst cannot stop it. And did I mention that Detritivore can grow into a Terravore-reminiscent size after the 6 mana part of Boom/Bust?

So far we have added Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir, Boom/Bust, and Detritivore to the deck that Tiago Chan piloted to the Top 8 of the '06 World Championships. I also want to add a Signet (going up to 7), because we are adding mana-intensive cards and because they are mana sources that survive Bust. The question is, what do we cut? The metagame appears to have shifted from beatdown to control, so cards like Lightning Helix, Wrath of God, and Remand are not all that valuable anymore. I think it is safe to cut one of each, perhaps moving these copies to the sideboard. Mono Green Aggro and U/G Scryb & Force are still fine match-ups, even after these changes. Especially after sideboarding, your Wrath of God, cheap creature removal, and dominating Lightning Angels should do the trick. I think we can also get rid of some Demonfires, going down to just two, as they conflict with Bust. Trying to achieve a large X and blowing up all lands at the same time doesn’t compute. Lastly, I want to remove Sacred Mesa and Bogardan Hellkite, since we have added top-heavy cards and we want to balance out the mana curve.

Putting all of this together, this is the list I have right now.


Riptide Pilferer
As you could see, some new changes have been made to the sideboard, some of which are courtesy of Tiago Chan. Instead of Annex against control or combo decks, I now have Riptide Pilferer. It seems like a plan to play them on turn 2 and force the opposing deck to slowly discard his hand, especially against Dragonstorm. Speaking of which, I turned the original Ivory Mask protection against Bogardan Hellkite into Shadow of Doubt. This change is related to the addition of Teferi to the deck. Shadow of Doubt traditionally didn’t work because you would just get Gigadrowsed out of the game. With Teferi, that should happen way less often, so Shadow of Doubt has become superior. I also have added Teferi’s Moat to the sideboard. Mono Green Aggro is quite popular online, and being a mono color deck, Teferi’s Moat can shut down almost the entire deck. You just have to save some removal for Scryb Rangers.

I can recommend this deck for the Magic Online Standard tournaments. Most of my changes are based on theorizing, but I have played a couple 8-mans with it and the deck performed well in these. I am not going to Grand Prix Kyoto next weekend, so that’s why I have no qualms about writing about this deck. However, if I had bought a plane ticket, then I certainly would have picked this deck. I honestly believe that my changes greatly improve the match-up against Dralnu du Louvre, which is very important. Lightning Angel is still very good and the card drawing makes the deck very consistent and mulligan-resilient.

Bah. All this talk about Dralnu du Louvre. The Magic Online Premier Events showed that it probably is the best deck in Standard right now. But is it fun to play against a deck full of countermagic? Most of you will answer that question with a sound ‘no’. Don’t worry then; I have some more “tech” in store for you today.

In case you really, really have a deep hate for blue mages…

You should check out the next deck I came up with. I know many people hate to play against countermagic. I view countermagic as a part of the game that belongs, but I can certainly understand that it is annoying to play against. It’s not particularly enjoyable when you try to pull off fun combos and your opponent just says ‘no’ to everything.

Now let me just quickly talk Magic theory, in particular about dead cards. A dead card is a spell whose effect does nothing against the opposing strategy. An example could be Wrath of God against the Extended TEPS Desire deck. TEPS Desire does not play any creatures, it just tries to play a lot of rituals in one turn and then Tendrils of Agony. So Wrath of God will never do anything relevant. Another example is the card Disenchant. If you play a deck without artifacts or enchantments, Disenchant is a dead card against you. It is easily seen that when your opponent is holding many dead cards in his hand and you are just playing threat after threat, he cannot deal with them so you’ll probably win the game. This is why cards like Disenchant are usually just sideboard cards; most decks don’t run targets main deck.

Now … imagine that we could somehow turn opposing counterspells into dead cards. That would be neat, since decks like Dralnu du Louvre run like 15 counterspell cards. Invalidating almost an entire deck sounds good. But how are we going to do that? A counterspell card is almost a perfect example of a card that can never be dead. A counterspell can deal with any kind of card, and there isn’t a deck that doesn’t run any spells. What are we going to do, run 60 lands?

Watch…and weep.

Counter This!

A couple cards that cannot be countered have always been lurking around in Magic. Scragnoth is a classic example, but more recently we have also gotten Petrified Wood-Kin and Wreak Havoc. However, that was not enough to build a deck full of uncounterable cards. We had to reach a critical mass of playable cards before we could undertake this. We cannot even play a single card that can be countered, since that would merely give our opponents targets for otherwise dead cards. No, the deck has to consist of only lands and uncounterable cards. Fortunately, the Time Spiral split second cards helped out. You can’t play spells in response, so counterspells can’t target them either. Word of Seizing, Stonewood Invocation, and Sudden Shock are all fine spells. The latter two have actually showed up in “normal” Constructed decks as well. I actually tried to make a completely uncounterable deck a couple months ago when Time Spiral rolled out, but even then it was very hard to find enough playables.

Planar Chaos offered the last pieces the deck needed: it gave a couple extra playable uncounterable cards. Sulfur Elemental is split second and conveniently may also steal some wins versus Boros Deck Wins. Savannah Lions? Soltari Priest? Dead, please. Akroma, Angel of Fury is expensive, but it’s game winning and cannot be stopped with countermagic. Voila, the above deck is the result.

The deck wants to play a lot of land – after all, you’re playing 7 and 8 mana creatures – so I quickly arrived at Scrying Sheets and snow lands. It feels like a perfect fit. Mouth of Ronom is snowy creature removal that is, of course, unstoppable by counterspells.

Now I have to admit that this deck was mostly thrown together as a joke and it won’t beat a beatdown deck, even with a 15 card sideboard full of Savage Twisters, Spike Feeders, and the like. I did beat a Dralnu du Louvre deck in the Tournament Practice casual play room (even then it didn’t feel like a walkover match-up, since your cards are all so awkwardly bad), but it can feel very good to unleash any hatred for counterspells that's been cropping up over the years. When you send in your Scragnoth for the kill and they type “good game” as they reveal their hand full of countermagic, you just get this fuzzy feeling that speaks “finally, after countless years of blue repression, finally I got you back good.”

Blue mages, you are warned. People may just randomly copy this deck list for fun.

Diving into the mailbag

I’ll conclude today’s column by answering some of the interesting emails I got.

I've been wondering why the Dralnu decks in Standard don't play Tron. It seems like a perfect fit -- Mystical Teachings is mana hungry, and Rewind untaps your Tron lands, which is pretty abusive. Another thing I was thinking about is Fatal Frenzy. In Legacy, the popular plan with Affinity is to Fling big things at your opponent, or in some builds Berserk them. Do you think this new Planar Chaos card will be a good addition to the Extended Affinity deck?
-Gábor L.

Dralnu decks don’t play Tron because (a) it would make their mana base way more inconsistent, especially since they don’t play Signets you will only have about 12 colored mana sources left, which is a shaky proposition (b) they would also have to cut Desert, which is very important against beatdown decks (c) they don’t actually run that many cards that work well with Urza mana, just Mystical Teachings, the rest of the deck is relatively cheap (d) the deck doesn’t run a lot of pure card drawing – just Think Twice – and Mystical Teachings can’t search for the Tron, so finding all three pieces is hard.

As for your second question, Fatal Frenzy is a fine addition in my opinion. I only played Legacy once in my life for Grand Prix Lille (over a year ago), but I finished in the money there with a Berserk Affinity build. I experienced there how good Berserk plus Atog can be, and I think that removing Shrapnel Blast from traditional Extended versions for extra Atogs and 2-3 Fatal Frenzy is good. I want to remove Shrapnel Blast, because Fatal Frenzy fills a similar role as a finisher, and because you should always keep enough artifacts in an Affinity deck. In generally, if I add non-artifact cards, I try to remove non-artifact cards.

I have a quick question. I notice a lot of the decks have "rock" in their name (gifts-rock, for example). I looked through the cards but can't seem to figure out where the "rock" comes from. Do you know why the deck is named as it is?
--Justin Bednar

The origin of this name is a G/B deck featuring Phyrexian Plaguelord and Deranged Hermit, originally made by Jelger Wiegersma many, many years ago for Urza Block Constructed PTQs. It was plucked from the internet by Sol Malka, who tuned and popularized it and named the deck “The Rock and its Millions”. Jeroen Remie (the world’s most renowned rock expert) explained that this name came from a WWE wrestler named The Rock (he later became an actor). His special gimmick was that he channeled the power of all of his fans, so that was The Rock and his Millions. In terms of the Magic deck that borrowed the name, The Rock refers to Phyrexian Plaguelord and his Millions, which refers to Deranged Hermit. People then played this “The Rock and its Millions” deck for a long time, and the “Rock” part of that name stuck even after the namesake cards were removed. People started associating “Rock” with any mid-range Green/Black deck, not just the Phyrexian Plaguelord version. And over the course of the years, “Rock” has become a synonym for any Green/Black mid-range deck.

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