Rogue Decks in a Bind

Posted in Feature on April 11, 2007

By Frank Karsten

Hello and welcome back to Online Tech. Today I'll zoom in on the Magic Online Standard metagame again. As I explained last week, I am doing biweekly Standard coverage now, as opposed to weekly coverage, as I believe the larger sample size will cancel out random fluctuations and hence allow for better analysis. So this week it's time to cover Standard! In the following table I have listed the 20 most popular Standard decks as seen in the Magic Online Premier Event Top 8s of the last two weeks. The popularity percentage you see is simply the average over the last two weeks. The column "change since last time" indicates the change in popularity percentage of a certain deck since last time I covered Standard, i.e. two weeks ago. Click on a deck to find a decklist and short explanation in my deck-o-pedia forum thread.

Deck namePopularity percentageChange since last time
1. Dragonstorm■■■■■ ■■■■■ ■■■■■ ■■■■■ (20%)+5% (!!!)
2. Izzetron■■■■■ ■■■■■ ■■■■■ (15%)0%
3. R/G Aggro■■■■■ ■■■■■ (10%)+5% (!!!)
4. Dralnu du Louvre■■■■■ ■■■■■ (10%)3%
5. R/B Ignite the Warrens■■■■■ ■ (6%)2%
6. Angelfire■■■■■ (5%)0%
7. U/G PickleTron■■■■ (4%)-2%
8. G/B Dredge/Reanimate■■■■ (4%)-2%
9. Satanic Sligh■■■ (3%)0%
10. Mono Blue Pickles■■■ (3%)-2%
11. Mono Green Aggro■■■ (3%)1%
12. Solar Flare■■■ (3%)0%
13. Vore■■ (2%)-1%
14. Boros Deck Wins■■ (2%)0%
15. W/B Arena Control■■ (2%)2%
16. GhaziGlare■ (1%)1%
17. Zoo■ (1%)0%
18. B/R/W Arena Control■ (1%)0%
19. Black Rack Discard■ (1%)0%
20. U/R/B Tron■ (1%)-5% (!!!)

Grand Prix Kyoto has clearly left its mark, as many of its Top 8 decks have become a mainstay part of the metagame. Izzetron and R/G Aggro are prime examples of this phenomenon. Intermingled with these are decks that got their fame on Magic Online, like Dralnu du Louvre, R/B Ignite the Warrens, and of course the best combo deck around: Dragonstorm. U/R/B Tron apparently did not live up to expectations. I still believe the deck has potential to be strong, but perhaps I am just wrong in this.

Steam Vents decks are dominating, and the metagame is pretty control-heavy, but overall it feels like a healthy, varied format. Just make note of the overwhelming numbers of U/R decks and adjust your own favorite deck accordingly. Be sure to pack enough Shadow of Doubts, Persecutes, Circle of Protection: Red, etcetera so you have a solid fighting chance against Dragonstorm. And run Annex, Blood Moon, or Detritivore to prevent Izzetron from completing its Urza land dream. Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir is also a strong card in this metagame, stranding Remands, Mana Leaks, Lotus Blooms, and end-of-turn Gigadrowses. Or perhaps you could just win a tournament by simply attacking and burning for 20 points of damage as quickly as possible.

Yes, people will always show up with red decks aiming to attack you with little beaters and burn you out. This beatdown player's mindset is ever-present, and it is a perfectly viable strategy and playing style. Rather than running reactive control cards that answer the opponent's strategy and aiming for a long game, beatdown players just ask the answers themselves. "Here is my turn-one and turn-two creature and a hand full of burn spells. Find an answer fast or you've lost!" You may hate it, but it is a consistent strategy that just wins.

I am bringing this up in order to explain the recent popularity surge of R/G Aggro. The deck took a while to catch on, but recently we have been able to observe its power quite often. Red-green is the smart choice in the current environment, and most players run a version that is roughly identical to Katsuhiro Ide's Grand Prix – Kyoto Top 8 decklist.

R/G Aggro

Download Arena Decklist

This deck choice makes a lot of sense to me, especially in the "historic" context of beatdown decks. Players who like beatdown decks at heart usually went for Boros Deck Wins in the last couple months. Offering cost-efficient aggressive and hard-to-answer white creatures like Soltari Priest, along with top-notch burn like Lightning Helix, the combination of white and red was a beatdown player's favorite flavor. But the metagame had been shifting in the last couple months, making life harder and harder for these white creatures. The best white creatures all had one toughness; traditional builds run Savannah Lions, Soltari Priest, and Icatian Javelineers. With niche answers such as Desert and Sulfur Elemental around in full force, these efficient white creatures all basically had a bull's-eye painted on them. The answer was to run 2+ toughness creatures instead, and if you really had to run 1-toughness creatures then they should be any color except white. So the wise move was to replace the white creatures with red and green creatures. Instead of Savannah Lions, you have Kird Ape. Instead of Soltari Priest, you have Scab-Clan Mauler. And planning to smash your one-toughness creature (there's still Llanowar Elves and Tin-Street Hooligan) into a Desert? No problem with Skarrg, the Rage Pits or Stonewood Invocation.

Burning-Tree Shaman
If you are used to Boros Deck Wins, then you might notice that this deck focuses more on creatures – less on burn – and that its curve is higher, with a bump at three mana. An important underlying reason for that is Llanowar Elves. This little green creature offers three mana on turn two, so Call of the Herd and Burning-Tree Shaman fit perfectly in that picture. They are included instead of the heavier burn package that Boros might offer. Another interesting thing of note is the sideboard, where a lot of power lies as well. It starts with Tormod's Crypt, a backbreaker against the G/B Dredge deck. Blood Moon attacks many of the format's crazy mana bases with Urza lands. Sulfur Elemental is (one of) the best sleeper cards coming out of Planar Chaos, as I just illustrated. I'm not sure why Krosan Grip is needed, as the top Standard decks don't rely on artifacts or enchantments, but it's a nice catch-all answer just in case. The sideboard is rounded out with green creature boost for mirror matches alike. In other words, the sideboard looks just as powerful as the maindeck, and that's an important asset.

Don't underestimate the importance of a good sideboard. I probably think of this because I am playtesting a lot of Time Spiral Block Constructed games for Pro Tour—Yokohama nowadays. The number one sin of playtesting is not playing enough after sideboard and not paying enough attention to a well-tuned sideboard, and unfortunately this rule is still broken too often everywhere. It's much simpler and less cumbersome to just test 60 card maindecks. But you will definitely gain a big deck advantage if you change your ten-game pre-board playtesting sessions to four games pre-board then six games post-board. You will gain experience with the way matchups play out after board, you will find the best sideboard strategy, and you won't play a deck that loses to everything after board. If you want to prepare thoroughly for an upcoming big tournament then heed this advice. But I digress, and this topic is best left for another time. I'll just move to my conclusion that if you are a beatdown player looking for a solid Standard deck for a serious tournament, your best bet is G/R Aggro.

How about Rogue Deck Choices?

Of course, not everyone likes netdecking. It is a somewhat unoriginal approach to winning games, and I can imagine it usually feels more rewarding to get a win with a creation of your own. However, netdecking does work. If you don't have enough time to put in work on an own creation and/or if you just want to have the best shot at winning the tournament, it may be wise to copy a deck that a pro has won a tournament with. On the other hand, building and tuning a deck is fun in itself. Even though many deck ideas will miss, for every ten bad innovations, there is one good one that actually performs well.

Spencer A. showed me his Stormbind-centric deck at a Grand Prix recently, and it looked like a good attempt at abusing an interesting mechanic, certainly worth showing in my article. We always need some rogue ideas.

G/R/W Stormbind

Download Arena Decklist
Sideboard (9)
3 Calciderm 3 Tormod's Crypt 3 Krosan Grip

Spencer's deck aims to abuse Stormbind in combination with Life from the Loam. It's a pretty obvious and potentially powerful combo, analogous to Life from The Loam plus Seismic Assault in Extended. The deck has some defense against fast creature decks in Wrath of God and Loxodon Hierarch.

I have to admit that the deck probably is too slow and too clunky to make it to the top tier deck ranks. I also don't know how it can beat Dragonstorm, so I would be very surprised if a Stormbind deck would become the next cutthroat deck that dominates the Standard metagame. However, the deck has something interesting going for it, and it is a fun rogue choice that can certainly win some matches.

This time seems perfect to write about general deck building skills and advice. I am frequently asked to play deck doctor, and when someone shows me a deck, I often use the same rules of thumb when looking for suggestions. Why don't I show you what I mean and then see how they apply to the above deck?

Have a plan and focus: You should choose an aggressive or a control or a combo strategy. Figure out what you want to do and choose a plan you want to build your deck around. Then focus on that. Spencer's plan is to win the late game with Life from the Loam and Stormbind (or perhaps a big creature after Wrath of God clears the board), while keeping the fort early on with anti-creature defense. Every card in his deck matches that global game plan, with no real stray cards (a Savannah Lions would be out of place, for instance) so the foundation is in place. The execution might be improved upon, so let's continue.

Take care of synergy: A deck's power is more than the sum of its parts. A good deck works together as a well-oiled machine. Every cards works well in combination with other cards. Life from the Loam in this deck is the prime example of synergy. We have already seen Stormbind. But you also have to make sure to have a use for Life from the Loam in case you don't draw a Stormbind. Fortunately, Spencer's deck has taken care of that. It can put Life from the Loam to good use along with Terramorphic Expanse and Boom // Bust, which both send lands to the graveyard. And when dredging Life from the Loam, Mystic Enforcer will get closer to threshold, and perhaps you may dredge up a Call of the Herd or Firemane Angel. This all seems fine, and you could even add something like Ghost Quarter or Resurrection to the deck to add even more synergy with Life from the Loam.

Play your good cards 4x: You should always play the best cards in your deck as four-ofs. Statistically this makes sense. You want to maximize the chance of drawing your best cards, so you should include as many as possible. That's why there are 4 Life from the Loam and 4 Stormbind. You should have a good reason to play a card less than 4 times. Valid reasons for this encompass a situational silver bullet tutor target (for example Mountain for Terramorphic Expanse), legendary cards (for example Akroma, Angel of Fury), global effects that you'd rather not draw in multiples (for example Boom // Bust, which is mainly there for the Armageddon effect, which is a once-per-game shot), or a pure late game card that will just clog up your hand early on so you don't want many (for example the expensive Firemane Angel). Of course there are exceptions—I often play decks with many one-ofs and two-ofs for extra options—but let's stick to the basic rules first. And now take a look at the Stormbind deck. I don't see a valid reason not to play four copies of Call of the Herd, Loxodon Hierarch, or Mystic Enforcer. If you think these cards are good, then make room for four of them. It's not bad to draw these cards in multiples, as they are good against every deck, they are cheap, and they are never bad. It seems smart to just pick the best cards out of this bunch and turn them into four-ofs. In my opinion Akroma, Angel of Fury and Mystic Enforcer are overall the worst cards, so I'd prefer to cut them and play the others as four-ofs.

Have a streamlined mana curve: You want to use your mana in every turn of the game, and having a good spread of your cards among all mana costs helps. The current deck seems a bit too top-heavy, with many expensive cards, almost nothing that costs 2 or less, and has a bump at four mana. An obvious solution to this is to add some early drops, preferably mana acceleration cards like Birds of Paradise or Farseek. Birds of Paradise doesn't go well with Wrath of God, and with the large amount of four-ofs a Farseek seems perfect for acceleration purposes. Even then, the current amount of 14 four-mana cards is still too much, and the deck would get smoother draws with more cards in other mana curve slots.

Play enough mana sources: Beatdown decks usually need around 22-23 mana sources. Control decks usually need around 26-27 mana sources, sometimes even more, depending on the average casting cost. It all depends, but I see the mistake of not running enough lands far too often. This deck has 24 mana sources, which is a tad on the light side. It's tough cutting nice cards for lands or mana cards (in this case Farseek), but it has to be done. And of course the mana base has to be adjusted when cutting red cards for green cards, etcetera.

Take care of the sideboard: The current sideboard has Calciderms, which I don't really understand as they are not particularly great against a certain deck. Furthermore, the deck is already full of four-cost cards, and the last thing you'd want to do is add another one. I'd cut Calciderms and look for good cards to fill the remaining slots that are good against the current metagame. We want cards against Dragonstorm, Izzetron, R/G Aggro, and Dralnu du Louvre (I made that list just by looking at the metagame table at the start of this article). A look through the available cards gave me the following: Against Dragonstorm your best bet is probably to go all-in on Circle of Protection: Red and then hope they don't find a Gigadrowse before you win the game. That admittedly is an unlikely scenario, but fact is that non-blue non-black players don't have a lot of good disruption against combo. Against Izzetron and Dralnu du Louvre I think the best plan is Detritivore to attack their mana supply. Lastly, against R/G Aggro you add Faith's Fetters, as it cancels out a threat on the table and a burn card in their hand at the same time.

The version I'd end up with is this:

G/R/W Stormbind

Download Arena Decklist

Again, in my mind this deck does not have the tools to defeat Dragonstorm or Izzetron, but it looks like fun to play. I am aware I have just briefly touched upon the topic of deck building here, but I hope you may have learned a thing or two from this introduction. Let me know in the forums what kind of topics you'd like to see covered in this column.

Magic Online Tips & Tricks

Often you may want to share a decklist you have made with someone else on Magic Online. Too often people use the cumbersome way of typing out all the card names and numbers for that. The fastest way to get a decklist to a buddy in Magic Online is the following. Go to the deck editor and load the deck you want to give to someone. Then press "Save as," choose the "Save as type" option for .txt, and save your deck in an easily accessible place—for example, on your desktop as decklist.txt. Then navigate there and open the file. Select everything, press CTRL+C, move over to the Magic Online chat window, and press CTRL+V to copy/paste everything over. Efficient and handy!

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