Yin Yang and the Slide at the Great Wall
By Sean DeCoursey on July 4th, 2007 · Filed in Standard (Type 2) · Comments not available just now
I just flew back from China, and boy are my arms tired! *cymbals crash*
(wait for laughter)
(wait some more)
(wait for everyone to get their ham sandwich)
Okay, but seriously, I did just get back from China and I'm absolutely shocked that no one seems to publicize the greatest tourist attraction in the entire frickin' country. And what is that attraction you ask? It's the Slide at the Great Wall.
For those of you who haven't been there, the Great Wall sits atop a very high ridge that runs across some small mountains. You can either take a cable car up to it or walk up something like one thousand stairs to get there. [Research seems to suggest that this part was deliberately constructed with exactly one thousand steps. Surprise, education! -ed.] Once on the wall, there isn't that much to do besides look at the scenery, turn down the guys selling beer and postcards, and realize how bad it smells. That is, until you get to the slide.
It's amazing. No way anything like it could exist in the U.S. because every tort lawyer in the country would converge on it so fast that everyone on Earth would be deafened by the collective sonic boom when they all broke the sound barrier. However, in China, to quote the immortal Cheng-Fu Wu (he's immortal because we took a picture of him next to a street with the same name. and because he often goes by "Fu-Daddy"), "Too many people in China, government gives you award if you kill one." Which means that insanely dangerous and fun amusement rides can be freely used with large amounts of glee. So you get to this slide and pay 40 RMB (pronounced yu-en) and they give you a toboggan-like thing with a handbrake and instructions that all accidents and collisions are the fault of the rear rider. If you look to your left, you'll see some guy happily sawing away on the brake of a toboggan exactly like the one you're about to ride on with a hacksaw. Then you'll see him put it on the stack of ones to hand out and grab a new one. But that's okay, the best part about this slide is going all Ricky Bobby and just flooring it the entire way down. The second best part is calling anyone you catch up to a sissy loudly and repeatedly for the hikers going up the stairs next to you to hear.
But this is a Magic article right? Don't worry, we'll get there. Another thing I saw in China was the Beijing Zoo. Reminded me of the KC zoo in the early 80s. I haven't seen that many insane animals in such small cages since the last Oz marathon on HBO. Wolves missing limbs, everything with fur mangy, frantic pacing, bears eating their own poo, you name the bad zoo cliché, they had it. But because this was China, they also had a bunch of pandas. And housecats, which were in like three exhibits. I really couldn't figure that one out. But anyway, pandas, much like the yin-yang symbol, are black and white. Which is also a pretty nifty color combination in Magic.
One thing that I really like about this deck is that it almost looks like it might still be viable post Lorwyn, given that many of its engine and power cards are from Coldsnap and Time Spiral block.
If Cemetery doesn't come back in Xth,I take a pause from the article for testing ... realize that as much as I want the Martyr of Sands/Grim Harvest combo to work, it just doesn't ... cast about for a new deck ... find ... remember it's by far my favorite extended color combination ... add in the availability of Glittering Wish ... switch decks mid-article ...
I'm a shoe in for some deck!
Okay, so now I'm writing about Green/Black/White control, which is always the worst best deck in any format, and like usual, it's horrible for two reasons. 1) The deck has answers to everything, which means that frequently you'll find answers to the wrong questions. 2) The mana base is about as strong as a platypus' analytical interpretation of string theory. Why a platypus? Because it's a funny animal. Seriously, have you ever seen one?
Currently, Beach House has three things going for it that really help address the deck's two big weaknesses. 1) Due to planeshifted cards, the deck finally has the pure draw power it's always craved. 2) Due to the versatility of some of Ravnica's multicolored removal, the deck draws "dead" answers far less often than previously. 3) I'm working on the mana base now. That last statement's a little arrogant, but it's okay because I have a high opinion of myself.
Let's start with a build that did well recently, Evan Erwin's.
Ok, let's start with the mana base. Notice anything in particular about it? There are only six basics, twelve of the lands deal damage to you, and thirteen of them potentially come into play tapped. So your mana is slow, and it hurts you, and it's really, really, really vulnerable to Blood Moon effects. Yeah. So maybe a more basic-centric mana base would be good, if we could keep the mana counts at least roughly similar?
Awww, c'mon, somebody play me.Next up we have the win conditions. Teneb, the Harvester. Really? Look, I wanted to like Teneb, I really did, he's big, he flies, he's reasonably priced, he reanimates stuff. But the truth is, he sucks. Like a tornado in Texas. Why? Well, first, let's look at his competition. Mystic Enforcer. Costs two mana less. Same Size. Doesn't reanimate stuff, but has protection from black. Quick question: in general, which is better, a creature with protection, or one that lacks haste and has an ability that triggers on combat damage? Pretty sure we all know the answer to that one. So, at least 90% of the time, Teneb is strictly inferior to Enforcer.
What else? Lets look at high end / high cost win conditions, where we have Akroma, Angel of Wrath, Angel of Despair, Crovax, Ascendant Hero, Skeletal Vampire, and Quagnoth, all of which have tournament-relevant abilities besides being big. Look, Teneb is bad for most of the same reasons Roar of the Wurm is bad - yeah, it's big, but it dies to and gets chump blocked by everything. (Yes, there was a time Roar was awesome. That time has passed, sorry.) Sometimes being big is enough, but when you're relying on just a few win conditions, you take a big hurt when it isn't. I know Evan says Teneb was his critter MVP and most common Wish target. That tells me, much like looking at the decklist does, that the deck is severely lacking in win conditions. There are only seven win conditions main, three of which have no evasion and die to both Char and Sudden Death. In that kind of situation, of course Teneb was his MVP. Replace one or both of the maindeck Tenebs with any of the big critters listed above, and I'm pretty sure you'd hear a different opinion. I know that's definitely what my testing revealed. In a deck with 30+ mana sources and lots of stall, Akroma > Teneb. A final point on Teneb: the best way to think of him is the same way you think of Spiritmonger. Great creature in a vacuum, often horrible creature in practice. There's a reason people sport tags with phrases like "Friends don't let friends play Spiritmonger." Finally, in a deck with 30+ mana sources, Vitu-Ghazi is way, way worse than Urza's Factory. 1/1 or 2/2. Not the toughest choice in the world there.
Next, we come to draw power. Here we have three Phyrexian Arenas, four Glittering Wishes, and a Dimir House Guard. First of all, the Guard. Why run him over Diabolic Tutor? Is the one extra mana to find any card in your deck really that difficult? Secondly, you know how likely you are to run Diabolic Tutor in a good deck that doesn't feature Cabal Coffers, so why run a worse version of it in here? Phyrexian Arena is good if you have ways to keep your life total up and protect the enchantment, since against any kind of aggro deck, you're drawing yourself a card every turn, and drawing and casting a Lava Dart for them every turn. Three Loxodon Hierarchs isn't exactly what I'd call a good, solid, recursive life-gaining plan. Also, with absolutely no Harmonizes to speak of, the deck is pretty reliant on actually drawing (and keeping in play) a card that's a three of and isn't tutorable.
Now for the removal. Three Sudden Death and two Mortify? Sudden Death kills Teferi dead, I get it. But what exactly does Teferi do to this deck that's so horrible? There are a grand total of five instants here, three of which are dedicated to killing Teferi. Why, so you can cast your other four instants any time you want? Teferi is just an annoying 3/4 with flash here, while Venser is a far greater threat than Samuel L. Jackson's clone, mainly because Venser actually does something relevant in addition to being a body. Death also kills Dralnu's Batman dead, dead, dead, but so do Putrefy, Damnation, and Seek.
Three Wrath of Gods and two Damnations. Ok, let's look at the deck's casting costs. We've got double black in Persecute, Phyrexian Arena, Dimir House Guard, Damnation, and Sudden Death. We have double white in Wrath of God. So if we're always trying to get double black for all these other spells, wouldn't it make more sense to run the full set of double black Damnations before we ran our first double white Wrath?
The sideboard also has some issues. There are nine wish targets in the board. Some of which are really, really redundant. For example, Harmonic Sliver and Mortify. Why is Harmonic Sliver there? You could run Mortify and Putrefy, which gives you the same ability to deal with both artifacts and enchantments, while also giving you the ability to Wish for critter kill twice, and to kill regenerators such as Batman.
Shadow of Doubt. Um, really? Why? You think the Dragonstorm player won't see you go get the Shadow when you cast Wish, which is a sorcery, and realize that he has to tap you out before he goes off? It buys a turn or two, maybe, but that's all. Seek is excessively better as an answer, since it takes out a Hellkite, removing five damage from the storm, and gives you eight life, making it effectively a thirteen-point gain against a deck that's designed to deal 20 damage, maybe 26 in a pinch, all at once for the kill. The Hide half of the spell also grants a bit of a bonus in being able to banish a Blood Moon if you have available (you get the red from a converted Mountain).
Angel of Despair, Teneb, Loxodon Hierarch, Debtors' Knell, and Grave-Shell Scarab. Exactly how many times in a game do you expect to Wish for a win condition here? Wouldn't one, maybe two, of these be enough? I mean, if it's a good enough win condition to Wish for, shouldn't it be good enough to, you know, actually win the game?
Now, that was a pretty rough job on Mr. Erwin's deck. I'm not saying it's a bad terrible horrible deck, it did very well in its tournament, taking a top-eight slot, but the above analysis hopefully helps you to see just how many hidden problems a seemingly good deck can have. So this is my "fixed" version of Beach House that addresses most of these issues and named Dirt in honor of Finn's GWB Legacy deck. (I think)
First, the choices that I know everyone will hate. Three Harmonizes and two Arenas. You know what? This deck puts a lot of pressure on its own life total, and doesn't have the lifegain to compensate. Plus, it's inherently vulnerable to burn strategies. So any time the pressure on the old life total can be reduced, that's a really, really good thing. Also, over anything less than four turns, Harmonize will net you more than Arena.
Terramorphic Expanse over other lands, if you want basics and color fixing in a multi color deck, it really doesn't get any better in Standard than this guy. Edge of Autumn over Wall of Roots. This deck has a tendency to mana flood, and Edge fixes your mana, thins your deck, and trades for a useless card mid-late game. The only time it's bad to draw Edge is when you have five to six lands in play, which makes the decision on whether or not to off one and cycle the card a lot harder. If your meta is flooded with aggro, then Wall may be a better choice for you; if it's control heavy, then definitely give Edge a shot. I've been extremely happy with it so far.
Lots of three-ofs. You're going much more for versatility here than raw power. That works wonders on the "right answer, wrong question" issue mentioned at the top of this article.
Eat it Trokair!No Flagstones of Trokair. White is a splash color, not a main one, and you don't have enough Plains slots to run both these and enough Plains to make them useful. Also, in this deck I'd run New Benalia before I ran Flagstones anyway.
On the sideboard, outside of the wishable cards, I believe this deck should board for five specific matchups: Dredge, Tron, Burn, Discard, and LD. Unfortunately, with the room the wishboard takes up, you've only got room for three of those. Crime // Punishment, Putrefy, and Void are the wishable removal suite and each deals with a different kind of problem. They're also useful because you'll often want to Wish for removal more than once a game. Scarab beats up on removal heavy decks, and Knell provides long term recurring lifegain via Hierarch and sacrifices. Resolving a Seek on a Hellkite is generally enough to win the game versus Dragonstorm, and the Castigates and Persecutes often help stall long enough for the Wish chain to work itself out.
The three Extirpates are for Dredge. Hit either Bridge or Dread Return, or better yet both, and the deck collapses. They also splash nicely against Mystical Teachings. And, oddly enough, LD. Zap their first Stone Rain after you lose a land and the LD player has significant problems LDing you enough. Detritivore is for disrupting Tron's long term game plan, and is also effective against decks with large numbers of non-basics, such as the mirror, Dralnu, and Angelfire. Quagnoth is a house against discard and other aggro. Ravenous Rats, Funeral Charm, and the like are significantly worse when they don't actually make you lose a card. Burn and LD are the two decks that you don't really end up boarding for, but LD is pretty rare in the meta right now, and Burn is more of a supplemental strategy to most aggro decks.
This deck, because of the unique nature of its wishboard, will sometimes side its wishes out. An example of when to do this is the mirror match, where your sideboarding goes: +2 Quagnoth, +3 Detritivore, +1 Hide/Seek, +1 Grave-Shell Scarab, +1 Debtors' Knell, +1 Crime/Punishment, -3 Glittering Wish, -3 Persecute, -3 Castigate. That might not seem like the correct way to go, but the mirror is all about who has the most win conditions and the most mana. Wramnation is the only spell either player has (barring some wishable Hit // Run tech) that can kill Quagnoth, making him an extremely tough out for your opponent. Detritivore really helps as well since it works as both win condition and mana denial. The discard is less effective than it seems like it would be in the mirror due to the deck's large number of draw spells and effects. Of course, given that I was only able to test the mirror match twice because it is so lightly played online, this could be completely wrong.
Dralnu is tough game one, but games two and three are pretty much a cakewalk. +3 Detritivore, +2 Quagnoth, +3 Extirpate, -3 Persecute, -1 Akroma, -1 AoD, -1 Damnation, -1 Mortify, -1 Castigate. Your uncounterable spell count goes way up, and your very counter-fishing Persecute count goes way down. Your main Wish priority should be Seek and using it to nail their Vampires. After that's done, simply wait for them to play Teferi, then drop Quagnoth and race to smash face. Blowing up all their lands with 'Vore is a good plan too.
Aww, I suck again.Against Gruul you have to be focused on preserving your life total at all costs. Every time they lay a critter, kill it. Don't be afraid to use Damnation on only one critter - you need to do everything you can to not take damage. Punishment for one is a great play since it kills Seals, Apes, Rusalkas, and Elves, and only costs three mana. It's like a cheap Wrath. You can also cast it for 0 and take out elephant tokens. Generally speaking, in this match up if you have the choice between casting Castigate or mana accel, go with the mana acceleration. Getting to your most powerful spells as soon as possible is much more important than slightly disrupting your opponent.
I entered this into the PE Sunday night and went 4-1-1, earning a top-eight berth, where I promptly fell asleep and timed out vs. Lord Corwin, who split in the finals. I beat MGA, Dralnu, Zoo, and Gruul, while losing to Rakdos (actually, mainly lost to the Hit half of Hit // Run). In none of the matches except Rakdos did I think that Wall of Roots might be better than Edge of Autumn, and in the Rakdos match it was mostly because Wall would have been saccable to Hit. Quagnoth was a rockstar against aggro, often coming in for Persecute, while Extirpate came in for Castigate. Quagnoth is awesome because he's a big blocker that stops anything that doesn't fly and isn't named Spectral Force from attacking. Extirpate is used to shut down the opposing burn suite; just simply keep nailing all the burn spells every time the first one hits the graveyard. I also ended up boarding out the Arenas versus most aggro decks, and the times when I didn't, I wished I had.
By Sean DeCoursey on July 4th, 2007 · Filed in Standard (Type 2) · Comments not available just now
About Sean DeCoursey
Sean Decoursey is a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom where he served with the 2/124th Infantry from 12/02 through 03/04. He attended Truman State University where he was a member of the rugby team which ranked in the top ten nationally three times. Sean graduated with a degree in Justice Systems and now lives in Kansas City, where he works as a Financial Advisor.