A Journey in Brewing

Posted in How to Build on March 28, 2017

By Quinn Murphy

Quinn has been fascinated with Magic ever since Revised Edition. When he is not spending time with his lovely wife and amazing son, he's constantly brewing decks for, playing, and writing about Magic.

Where does a brew's life begin?

I like to think it starts with an obsession: love for a particular deck style, infatuation with a certain combo, the undying belief in a special card. That combination of stubbornness and dreaming are typically where brews begin.

Let me tell you about my obsession lately.

It seems like belief in the Eldrazi menace left with Emrakul, but I still believe . . . or, I want to. Reality Smasher is a wrecking ball of a card—a 5/5 trample haste monstrosity that forces card disadvantage to get rid of it. When you can hit with it on the fourth turn with ramp, Smasher feels almost oppressive. It feels like a card that should see more play. I have been toying around with shell after shell, trying to find the perfect one for the destructive Eldrazi. Every idle moment had me tweaking a list or running mental lines of play.

Every brew starts with this kind of obsession I think, but the important question is this: How does a brew come to life? For that matter, what is a "live" brew?

A live brew is a brew that uses a new strategy to demonstrate competitiveness with the established metagame. Live doesn't mean popular, it doesn't mean winning every tournament. When that starts happening, a brew has become part of the metagame! Congrats, your brew is all grown up.

But to get to that point, a brew needs to pay its dues. Brews that do well aren't just brews that explore an interaction or effect; effective brews try to solve the puzzle of the metagame in their own unique way. Good brews exploit synergies, but great brews solve problems.

So, uh . . . what problem was I going to solve with Reality Smasher?

The Triangle

Metagames are complex beasts that evolve in small and large movements. It's impossible to keep an exact record of every trend. At some point, you need to use a model, make a guess, and then refine through study.

Looking at Standard, I saw this triangle:

There are many other decks outside that triangle waiting to get in. Many of these decks are great and very, very close to being inside.

We want to brew something that will be able to get into the triangle, and to do that I have to think about how I play against each of these decks with a deck using my darling Reality Smasher. Here are my general approaches against each deck:

  • Four-Color Copy Cat: accelerate out large threats and have answers for planeswalkers and instant-speed creature removal
  • Mardu Ballista: big creatures combined with lots of removal
  • Temur Tower: play larger creatures than most removal can easily deal with, disrupt with discard, have answers for artifacts

The goal is not to be perfect against all three, but to be good against one and have enough sideboard game to have solid game against the others. I wanted my Smasher deck to be very good against Saheeli and able to sideboard into a decent match versus Mardu Ballista.

Armed with all this theory, I made this list:

Blue-Black Smasher

Download Arena Decklist

I went blue-black because Eldrazi Skyspawner and Elder Deep-Fiend are amazing and great companions for Reality Smasher and Thought-Knot Seer. The Skyspawner can provide turn-four Reality Smashers that can be very difficult to deal with, while the Deep-Fiend can tap an opponent's defense to set up a lethal swing.

Eldrazi Mimic was an idea I had to generate massive turns. Turn-two Eldrazi Mimic, turn-three Eldrazi Skyspawner, turn-four Reality Smasher equals massive damage output that the opponent must stop.

Scrapheap Scrounger, Walking Ballista, and Heart of Kiran need no introduction, I hope!

Baby Steps

My first steps after getting a list put together were to get into a practice room on Magic Online. Here I am not looking for specific matchup information. What I want to know with my first three to five matches is:

  • Does my mana base work?
  • Do I have enough mana?
  • Does my curve work?
  • Is the deck doing what it should? How often?
  • What cards are underperforming?

After games versus a Blue-Black Tower deck, Red-Green Energy Aggro, Red-White "Self-Driving" Vehicles, and Temur Tower, I had some good feedback.

My mana base was decent for two colors, but I had too many expensive cards. Elder Deep-Fiend was too hard to cast and spent a lot of time not contributing.

Reality Smasher was consistently game-winning. Eldrazi Mimic could pair up well, but could also sit by itself rather unimpressively.

I also felt I wanted to have more cards in hand.

Last, I made a mental note that Dynavolt Tower is a large problem for this deck.

After some more fiddling, it was time to get right into a Magic Online League.

My First League

I jumped into a Friendly Standard League soon into the process because it's the first step of getting the stiff opposition a brew needs to grow or be abandoned. If I leave it to my own devices, I tweak and tweak and theorize without end. But all that theorycrafting isn't a result; it isn't feedback.

I don't join the League to 5-0, though I do play to win. What I am looking for is feedback. Is the deck fun to play? Does the deck show promise? Can it be "live"? No matter what my result, this League helps me determine where to go with it in the future.

With that in mind, I jumped into a League with this spicy number:

Blue-Black Smasher, Revised

Download Arena Decklist

The Eldrazi Mimics had to go because they were just consistently underperforming. They are horrible top decks in the mid to late game. Fortunately, I found a new Mimic:

In my test games after the change, Metallic Mimic plus Ruins of Oran-Rief created huge Thought-Knot Seers and Reality Smashers. Metallic Mimic into Eldrazi Skyspawner alone could put 7 power on the board turn three.

Tezzeret's Touch was an idea I had to boost the artifacts the deck ran, while also providing me with a way to keep the artifact after a Release the Gremlins or Unlicensed Disintegration. It also happened to create some abusive-looking curves sometimes. Heart of Kiran becoming a 5/5 vigilant flier on turn three could be too much, too soon for an opponent sometimes.

The Journey Ends . . . and Begins Again

I said I wasn't tracking results, but I know you want to know . . . how did I do? I went 2-3 in that first League, but what was most important for me was that two of my matches were against Four-Color Copy Cat, my main target. My first game I won 2-1, creating critical masses of creatures too large and too early for my opponent. I lost the second 0-2, but each was very close. It felt fixable.

My Tower matchup is bad, but you can't win them all. I didn't get to play against Mardu at all, but I feel it should be winnable (only playing will be able to determine for sure, though!).

So, am I going to keep working on the brew?

Absolutely! The deck is fun and worth tweaking. Maybe Amonkhet will give it some new tools!

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