My BabyKiller, Part 1

Posted in Feature on October 4, 2006

By Frank Karsten

Greetings! Today I have the usual Standard roundup and a lowdown of the Vanguard format in store for you.

This week, I have made a change to the table I always use to show you the 20 most popular Standard decks as seen on the Magic Online Premier Events last week. In the third column, instead of showing the change in rank, I will now show the change in popularity. The change in rank communicated confusing and inconsistent information. For instance, a change from 1st place to 3rd place is only -2 ranks, but it might entail a popularity change of -10%. Similarly, a change from 18th place to 7th place is a whopping +11 ranks, but it might entail a popularity change of +3%. Therefore, a large increase/decrease in rank does not necessarily mean a large increase/decrease in popularity. Since the change in popularity percentages is actually what it's all about, I decided to make the switch and give you more relevant data. I also highlighted the decks with the highest popularity swings with exclamation points.

Deck namePopularity Change in popularity from last week
Satanic Sligh■■■■■ ■■■■■ ■■■■■ (15%)+3%
Dutch Simic Aggro■■■■■ ■■■■■ ■■■■■ (15%)+4%
Magnivore■■■■■ ■■■■■ ■■ (12%)+12% (!)
Solar Flare■■■■■ ■■■■■ ■ (11%)-11% (!)
Sea Stompy■■■■■ ■■■■ (9%)+7%
Heartbeat Combo■■■■■ ■■■■ (9%)+9% (!)
Blue-Black Winterbalance■■■■■ ■ (6%)-2%
Snakes■■■■ (4%)+1%
Battle of Wits■■■■ (4%)+3%
Counterbalance Ideal■■■ (3%)-2%
Erayo Ninja■■■ (3%)-1%
GhaziGlare■ (1%)-6%
Izzetron■ (1%)-3%
Zoo■ (1%)-2%
Ghost Dad■ (1%)+0%
KarstenBotBabyKiller■ (1%)NEW
Random UR Snow■ (1%)+1%
Random UB Aggro■ (1%)+1%
Hand in Hand(0%)-3%

This week's major shifts can largely be attributed to the sheer dominance of Solar Flare that we observed last week. This inspired a lot of players to pick up decks that have a good matchup against Solar Flare, such as Magnivore (which attacks Solar Flare's fragile mana base), Heartbeat Combo (which exploits the lack of countermagic and overabundance of creature destruction in Solar Flare), and Satanic Sligh (which consistently gets ridiculously fast draws that Solar Flare cannot match). As a result, Solar Flare struggled to rise to the top, and its popularity was cut in half compared to last week.

If you want to try your hands on an online Standard tournament next week, I would certainly not recommend playing Solar Flare in this extremely hostile metagame. I also advise against playing a deck that is solely good against Solar Flare (I'm looking at you, Magnivore!), because Solar Flare does not make up the entire metagame by itself anymore. Heartbeat Combo would be a good choice, but only if you know how to play it correctly. With the proper amount of practice, Heartbeat Combo is awesome, but you really need a lot of experience with it. If not, then Satanic Sligh and Dutch Simic Aggro (with a personal preference towards the former) are also solid decks that won't disappoint. And today I also have a new recommendation for you:

KarstenBot BabyKiller – Standard

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From the Department of Redundancy Department.

The name comes from an awkward situation where I was confined in a bus together with Brian David-Marshall and Billy Moreno. They were making some ugly jokes regarding killing babies, and since I don't enjoy the ritual sacrifice of cute little babies, I couldn't really appreciate those jokes. If you thought that Mike Flores built this deck, you have been misinformed. That has been an elaborate joke. Of course I made the deck myself. It's even named after me! Okay, irony aside now, my deck is very good and if I were forced to pick a deck for a Standard tournament now, I'd go with KarstenBotBabyKiller. The major incentive of the deck is to accelerate into a turn 2 land destruction card. Turn 1 Llanowar Elves, turn 2 Stone Rain is a very strong opening. You can also substitute Boreal Druid for Llanowar Elves and Cryoclasm for Stone Rain and still get the same opening. This redundancy is what makes the deck good and consistent. Cryoclasm is a worthy maindeck card, by the way, since about 80% of the decks play white and/or blue; Satanic Sligh is pretty much the only deck without targets.

Now, if you are a regular reader of this column, the pairing of Cryoclasm and Llanowar Elves might seem familiar to you. And indeed, I did feature the “8 Stone Rain deck” a while ago, so it's not a completely new concept. However, the 8 Stone Rain deck was red-green-blue, whereas KarstenBotBabyKiller is red-green. By cutting the blue, you open up your mana base to include Scrying Sheets. That is what makes this deck tick, and many card choices have been made with that snowy card drawer in mind. After destroying your opponent's lands in the early game, you will refill with Scrying Sheets in the middle turns. If you are lacking Scrying Sheets, Into the North will happily go and fetch it for you. You then draw into the snowy Ohran Viper or Stalking Yeti, play out those creatures, and finish with a Demonfire to the dome in the long game. If your opponent managed to resolve a big creature in the meantime, no worries. You play 4 Skred, which basically reads “: Destroy target creature, no questions asked” in this deck. That's marvelous! I enthusiastically recommend that you try out Mike's my deck.

Changes to the Constructed queues

Scott Larabee made the following announcement:

“On October 6, we are planning on making some changes to the constructed (Standard, Extended, Block, and Classic) 8-man queues concurrent with the price increase to online product. Starting October 6, 8-man constructed queues will cost 4 Tickets.

Prizes will be:
1st 4 boosters
2nd 2 boosters
3rd/4th 1 booster

The code for this will be deployed October 5 during the downtime. Constructed queues will be down all day Thursday and will be back up on Friday morning. No other changes to entry fees or prizes are being implemented.”

So because the price of boosters has been increased, the prize-cost distribution for 8-man Constructed queues will be changed accordingly. You might be wondering whether this change is for better or worse. Let's do the math:

Total prize payout before: 13 total prize boosters, $3.69 each = $ 47.97.
Total prize payout after: 8 total prize boosters. $3.99 each = $ 31.92.
Total entry fee before: 6 tickets per person, 8 total people, $1.00 each = $ 48.00.
Total entry fee after: 4 tickets per person, 8 total people, $1.00 each $ 32.00.

This gives:

Average long term gain per player before: ($ 47.97 - $ 48.00) / 8 players = -0.00 per player
Average long term gain per player after: ($ 31.92 - $ 32.00) / 8 players = -$0.01 per player

So after the changes, the prize-cost ratio has basically stayed at the same level. The new prize structure actually does not work out to be worse, and some players might be happy about it, since they only stand to lose 4 tickets now.

Into Standard with Vanguard

Vanguard is a Constructed format that grants abilities to the Magic Online avatars for use in gameplay. Standard with Vanguard uses the same card pool as regular Standard, with one exception: It requires a minimum 61-card deck that includes exactly one Vanguard card. When you start a Vanguard game, each person's Vanguard card is pulled out and put in a special Vanguard zone. Each avatar will affect a player's hand size and starting life total, in addition to having its own in-game ability. A Standard with Vanguard 4x Premier Event took place last weekend, so I figured this week would be the perfect time to cover the format. Let's take a look at what the metagame looks like.

About half of the decks in Standard with Vanguard are tried and tested Standard decks which use a very basic avatar to enhance their performance. Examples of those are Magnivore with the Prodigal Sorcerer avatar to improve their draws and Hand in Hand using the Akroma avatar for creature enhancement. Other decks have been retooled slightly for Vanguard, but they still use the skeleton of a popular Standard deck. For example, Izzetron using the Serra Angel avatar diverges from the Standard version by playing 4 Sensei's Divining Top. With one Top in play and one on top of your deck, you can play a Top for every mana you have, which translates to 2 life every time thanks to the avatar. Neat!

The deck I played myself in the 4x Premier Event also falls in this category. I picked a regular Zoo deck, added the Rumbling Slum avatar, and made a few small adjustments. This was my deck:

Rumbling Slum Zoo – Vanguard Standard By Frank Karsten

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I know this deck is not very original, and I wasn't the only playing a deck with the Rumbling Slum avatar. In fact, Rumbling Slum–inspired aggro was probably the most heavily played archetype in the tournament. Most of those were two-color Gruul decks, but I decided to go for the three-color Zoo deck because playing more colors gives me access to superior cards like Watchwolf and Lightning Helix. Zoo has a less consistent mana base than Gruul, but I felt comfortable playing three colors because the Rumbling Slum avatar increases your starting hand size to 8. As a result, you are more likely to get the right colors of mana in your opening hand compared to a normal game of Magic.

Rumbling_SlumI think that my deck is very strong, because it is ridiculously fast and goldfishes on turn 4. I am playing 16 one-drops. To the regular suite of Isamaru, Hound of Konda, Savannah Lions, and Kird Ape, I added 4 Skarrgan Pit-Skulks. They are amazing in this deck because of Rumbling Slum's ability. The avatar reads “At the beginning of your upkeep, Rumbling Slum deals 1 damage to each opponent,” which makes sure that your creatures are always bloodthirsty and happy. Because you ping your opponent every turn, your Skarrgan Pit-Skulks and Scab-Clan Maulers are guaranteed to get some counters. Furthermore, this damage effect every turn fits right into the strategy of the deck. The plan is to deal damage with creatures for the first 3-4 turns, then when your opponent has better quality creatures, simply burn over the top for the win. Assuming that an average game lasts for 6 turns, your avatar effectively means your opponent starts at 6 less life, which is clearly amazing for this kind of deck where every point of life matters. As for my tournament experience, well, I started off 4-0 and then started losing, eventually landing outside the top 8. My games were not particularly exciting, so I won't bother you with a tournament report.

So much for the Vanguard decks that are merely normal Standard decks in disguise. The other group of decks, which are arguably better if you can work them right, are decks designed for Vanguard. An example of such a deck is one that abuses the Nekrataal avatar, which reads “Creature spells you play cost one black mana less to play.” This deck plays all of the 1-power creatures for one black mana available in Standard (there are 11, hence 44 cards), and fills up the remainder of the deck with 4 Glimpse of Nature, a couple Wojek Siren, and green-white dual lands such as Temple Garden to play those spells. This deck can get pretty sick draws involving a turn 1 Glimpse of Nature and 20 black creatures, which then proceed to attack for 40 damage on the next turn on the verge of Wojek Siren.

Another deck that is designed purely for Vanguard abuses the Loxodon Hierarch avatar with Shirei, Shizo's Caretaker and about every Zubera you can imagine. The avatar reads “Sacrifice a permanent: Regenerate target creature you control,” which allows you to sacrifice your team of Zubera at will. This allows for some ridiculous turns. Imagine that you get to draw 4 cards with Floating-Dream Zubera, force your opponent to discard his hand with Ashen-Skin Zubera, deal a bunch of damage with Ember-Fist Zubera, and get some tokens with Dripping-Tongue Zubera to boot. Shirei, Shizo's Caretaker recurring them at end of turn is just icing on the cake. This deck also cleverly packs Hatching Plans, which equates to three cards for two mana in combination with the avatar.

I also want to feature in detail two decks that caught my attention. First off is Th00mor's Chronatog deck. This deck was building up steam throughout the tournament. It looked awesome and extremely clever, and it seemed that everyone was rooting his creative deck. Th00mor held up to the hype. He fought through the field of 98 players and made it to the top 8, where he unfortunately fell at the hands of Gushex's Rumbling Slum deck in the quarterfinals.

Before I start covering his deck, let me pose a question: What is the most important part of a turn? Beatdown players might answer the attack phase, whereas control players might opt for the draw step. I think that those answers are both wrong. In my opinion, the most important part of a turn is the untap step. Thanks to the untap step, you get to draw mana from your lands every turn, allowing you to keep on playing spells throughout the game. Untapping allows you to reuse your cards. Yosei, the Morning Star's leaves-play effect was considered to be a “Time Walk” for this very reason. With that established, let's take a look at the Chronatog avatar. Here it is:

Drawing three cards is of course amazing, but skipping your turn – and your untap step in particular – is harsh. But what if you didn't actually need your untap step? What if your deck didn't actually need lands to play spells? Then the loss of a turn would not be that cruel at all. Th00mor had this exact same idea, and made the click when the Coldsnap pitch spells became available.

Chronatog Free stuff! – Vanguard Standard by Th00mor

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Since almost all of his cards have alternate casting costs, he will simply activate his Chronatog avatar every turn and pitch an Autochthon Wurm to Nourishing Shoal for 15 life, throw out Genju of the Realm and Transguild Courier to play Commandeer, pitch a Witch-Maw Nephilim to Shining Shoal or Sickening Shoal, and play a Soul Spike for good measure as well. All at instant speed, of course, since you weren't taking turns! Then when your opponent has too many creatures out, you finally decide to take a turn for a change and play Sunscour. Or, if you already had an Island out, you can still play it on his turn with the help of Quicken and keep on activating Chronatog. When you have firmly established control of the game, then you can go for the kill. This deck still needs a couple lands and a kill spell to win, because winning with merely the pitch cards won't work; you'd need four Soul Spike and an opponent who keeps on walking into Shining Shoal, which is not the best plan. Instead, Th00mor came up with Cloudhoof Kirin. Directly after playing the 4/4, you pitch your expensive stuff for a 15-point Shining Shoal or a 12-point Sickening Shoal, and mill your opponent's entire deck in one swoop. Against control decks, you can go for a Boseiju, Who Shelters All–powered Persecute first to ensure that the Cloudhoof Kirin will resolve. Th00mor even had a Selesnya Signet and Selesnya Sanctuary in his sideboard, which allows him to play Witch-Maw Nephilim or even Iname as One as alternate win conditions in case everything else fails. Yes, this deck is absolutely awesome!

The next deck I will feature surprised me by playing the Momir Vig, Simic Visionary avatar outside Momir Basic. But mikeman29 got it to work and eventually split in the finals of the Premier Event.

Momir Vig, Simic Visionary Dredge – Vanguard Standard By mikeman29

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Defense Grid
When I spoke with him, mikeman29 told me that he wanted a deck that could beat Gruul with the Rumbling Slum avatar, as he expected (rightfully so) that that would be the most popular deck. Thanks to Loxodon Hierarch, Wrath of God, and Umezawa's Jitte, the deck should hold its ground against aggro. Then, against control, he figured he'd win based on random Momir Vig creatures. He turns the discard cost into an advantage by discarding Firemane Angel and dredge cards. Firemane Angel in the graveyard works particularly well with Zur's Weirding, since if you have two angels in the ‘yard, you can deny all of your opponent's draws, essentially locking him out of the game. Discarding a dredge card and then dredging it back fills up your graveyard with lands for Life from the Loam and creatures for Golgari Grave-Troll. Life from the Loam advantage allows you to beat control, because you can turn those three lands into three creatures with the avatar. mikeman29 also thought of some funny tech versus Th00mor's Chronatog deck, which he was planning to drop the sideboard Loaming Shamans for: Defense Grid. Chronatog has no answer to it, and you force him to play out his stuff on his own turn, which essentially takes out the avatar's card draw.

That concludes my venture into the land of Standard with Vanguard. As long as creative decks such as Momir Vig Dredge and Chronatog Free Stuff are around, it's a nice format. The bad part of Vanguard is that there are some bizarrely fast creature decks around that can kill by turn 3: The Nekrataal deck with 7 one-power creatures on turn 1, or the Rumbling Slum deck with an amazing turn 3 kill draw. This prevents slow, fun, creative decks from really shining, and that's a pity. Apart from that, Vanguard was a fun experience.

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