Thirst for Knowledge: Keep Moving Forward



By the time the M10 rules changes were announced, my article from last week had already been submitted to my editors and I wasn't able to talk about the impact they'd have or offer my opinion on the issue. I suppose in the end it's all for the best, since I packed quite a bit of content into last week's article anyway, and I'm not sure if making it any longer was really something I wanted to do in the first place. I won't spend a great deal of time on the subject this week either, though, since just about everyone has already given it some thought one way or another since the announcement.

I'm not going to go into the details or specifics on what exactly changes with the rules update, but rather just say that I'm actually fine with what Wizards is doing (if for some reason you haven't seen the changes, by the way, you can find them here). My initial reaction was similar to that of everyone else ("they've killed the Combat Phase!"), but within an hour or so of reading the article I had come to my senses and was beginning to accept it for what it was. This surprised me, to be honest, since this was the first time that I had to deal with such an overhaul to the rules. You see, Sixth Edition had just been released shortly before I picked up the game, and my first taste of the game came from a Sixth Edition boxed set (well, aside from the Starter boxed set anyway). I was quite fortunate that the rules I learned when I started playing have lasted until present day, and I can easily see how it must've been very difficult for players that played before Sixth Edition to have had to adjust to an entire new layout of the Comprehensive Rules.

In any case, I'm alright with the rules update, despite this being the first time that something this monumental has happened to the game since I've been playing. The renaming of the zones was an obvious improvement ("battlefield" is truly the best word for "in play" even if it does sound pretty lame, and "exiled" is just fantastic), and the simultaneous mulligans change will greatly help competitive play. You lose some functionality with the new mulligan rule as you can no longer wait to see just how keepable your sketchy hand is (if they mulligan to four, your six-lander might be fine for example), but overall it's obviously a positive alteration. The "at end of turn" loophole was always a cute trick for more advanced players, and I'm fine with it being a lot more obvious now. Lifelink now functions how it always should have, as does deathtouch. These are all fine changes.


It's better!
Mana burn being removed was something we all saw coming, and I had personally been more than prepared for it. The game never really needed it, and I never felt as though it was that big of a game mechanic at all. The joke all along was that removing mana burn would make Mistbind Clique weaker, but they actually made it much better by making it impossible to float mana into the draw step. This is one twist I didn't see coming, and as a Faeries player I guess I can't help but be pleased about it. And, naturally, this is only the first of two reasons that Faeries becomes stronger as a result of the new rules (part two comes a bit later).

The "big one," of course, is that combat damage no longer uses the stack. The best way to explain why this is a bad idea was presented by Zvi Mowshowitz. In his article on the rules update, he said "If you understand the stack, then how is combat damage using the stack unintuitive?" I think his statement here sums up my feelings on the matter: if you're going to claim that the stack is too complicated and that combat would be simpler without it, how does it make sense to keep it around for the rest of the game? I mean, you still need to understand the stack in order to play Magic regardless, so why remove the concept from the combat phase? It really just doesn't add up from a functionality point of view, but I suppose it is far out of our hands.

A lot of people overreacted to the new rules, and I was one of the few who stood up for them in the forums here on MTGS. A number of members seemed like they were ready for war by the way they were posting, and I couldn't help but feel as though it was all pretty absurd. Let's be honest for a moment: no matter how much anyone complains nor how many emails Mark Rosewater gets, the changes are here to stay. Our combat phases just won't involve the stack anymore, and we're going to be dropping creatures onto "the battlefield" from now on. Magic is all about change, and this is just another one (albeit a rather large one). You still can pull off combat tricks, but now they're slightly more obvious. I think my largest beef with the way things work now is that regeneration is clunkier than ever. Before, when you put up a "regeneration shield," it always felt like it was only possible because of a rules "technicality," since it made no sense flavor-wise. Now, the only way to regenerate a creature is to put up said shield, and I think that just seems a bit archaic.


It's worse!
The bright side? Now that all combat tricks need to be played before the combat damage step, Putrid Leech becomes quite a bit weaker and cards like Agony Warp become a lot better. Now when we block with tokens on Putrid Leech (or, well, any creature), our opponent has to pump their creature just to keep it alive, allowing us to Agony Warp in response and keep our tokens alive (which was never possible before). This example has been brought up a number of times in the forums, and I think it's a great example of how the changes aren't all bad. Decks like Kithkin and other aggressive creature decks get weaker, and control decks such as Faeries get a slight boost. I know I'm more or less happy.

So, in the end, the best way to cope with the rules update is just to accept it. You can't change it. I have faith that Rosewater and his team know what they're doing, and this change might actually be pushing the game in the right direction. Their goal is to keep moving forward, making the game better and better, and I don't doubt that they have Magic's best interests at heart. For now I'm just going to cross my fingers and see how things unfold. It is my sincere recommendation that you all do the same.

***

Since I knew talking about M10 would take up a good deal of article space, I thought I'd spend the rest of the article talking about the most popular deck right now, BG Elves. Elves had a second coming in Standard recently because it's one of the few decks that can not only beat Faeries (the "best deck" once again), but also put up a solid fight against the rest of the metagame. It doesn't take a genius to figure out that the metagame will swing back the other way in not too long, but while Elves is on top I think it's as good a time as any to jump in and talk about the deck. But first thing's first, my list:

BG Elves
As suggested by Chris JobinMagic OnlineOCTGN2ApprenticeBuy These Cards
Lands
4 Treetop Village
4 Gilt-Leaf Palace
4 Llanowar Wastes
4 Mutavault
2 Twilight Mire
3 Forest
3 Swamp

Creatures
4 Llanowar Elves
4 Wren's Run Vanquisher
4 Putrid Leech
4 Imperious Perfect
3 Civic Wayfinder
3 Chameleon Colossus
2 Cloudthresher

Other Spells
4 Maelstrom Pulse
3 Thoughtseize
2 Profane Command
2 Eyeblight's Ending
1 Nameless Inversion



I'm really liking this list, I must admit. I was initially a bit skeptical about playing four Mutavaults in a deck with Putrid Leech, but I quickly found that it really isn't that relevant. In most cases, you're going to be keeping a three-land opener anyway, and when you don't you usually have a Llanowar Elves (and you obviously wouldn't want to keep a hand with no black sources unless you had a Civic Wayfinder). The beauty of this deck is that Putrid Leech is not always the best second turn play, and so if you can't get the mana to work for it until the third or fourth turn it's usually fine since in the meantime you're going to be beating down with Wren's Run Vanquisher or you'll be Thoughtseizing/killing a creature.

I decided not to take the Wilt-Leaf Liege and Noble Hierarch approach, as I feel that Imperious Perfect is a lot better in the mirror. I realize that this version of the deck is a bit more susceptible to Pyroclasm effects, but I'm not sure if it's a big enough weakness to be concerned with. Your Putrid Leeches and Vanquishers survive regardless, and the trade-off of pumping Mutavault to a 3/3 (that's a pretty important number right now, after all) and spitting out tokens is well worth it.

The other choice I want to talk about is Cloudthresher. Considering that UW Reveillark is almost impossible to beat consistently, I think playing BG Elves without at least two Cloudthreshers maindeck is pretty suboptimal. You want to have a chance of actually beating a Sower of Temptation before sideboarding, and so I think playing the 7/7 main is the best way to approach the match-up. It's never a bad card in any of your other match-ups, and it's actually clutch vs the token decks as well as, obviously, Faeries.

Here's a brief sideboarding plan vs some of the top decks:

Faeries
-4 Maelstrom Pulse
+2 Cloudthresher
+1 Thoughtseize
+1 Loxodon Warhammer

I know that this plan might seem a bit odd, but I've found that Maelstrom Pulse is pretty weak in the Faeries match-up. It's pretty terrible at killing tokens, and it hardly even actually kills Mistbind Clique (it's far easier to deal with that card via Thoughtseize and Eyeblight's Ending). You don't need to use it to sweep the board as you have four Cloudthreshers, and I think overall it loses a lot of value here. I think on the play I'd keep one or two in to hit Bitterblossom on turn three, but otherwise I think this is the best way to approach things.

Jund Aggro / 5CB
-3 Thoughtseize
-2 Cloudthresher
+3 Kitchen Finks
+2 Deathmark

Pretty standard fare here. Cloudthresher, while a good man, isn't that relevant in this match-up, and Thoughtseize is pretty terrible. We bring in some lifegain and some stellar removal, as well as possibly the Loxodon Warhammers in place of the Profane Commands. That much is up to you, though I could even see taking out all the Imperious Perfects instead of the Cloudthreshers and Profane Commands in order to create a deck that's far more resilient to their sweepers. I haven't tried that personally, but I could see it working.

BW Tokens
-2 Profane Command
-3 Thoughtseize
-1 Chameleon Colossus
+2 Loxodon Warhammer
+2 Cloudthresher
+2 Pithing Needle

The game plan in this match-up is to force damage through, and so Loxodon Warhammer definitely comes in. Pithing Needle shuts off a number of cards in their deck, and Cloudthresher speaks for itself. Thoughtseize isn't that strong against the token deck, and Profane Command's Fear-granting mode is bad against a deck with Bitterblossoms (the Fireball effect is why we keep it in vs Faeries, though I've taken it out in that match-up before as well). Maelstrom Pulse really helps this deck's match-up with BW, though they can still overrun you if you aren't careful.

Cascade Swans
-3 Maelstrom Pulse
+2 Pithing Needle
+1 Thoughtseize

Egh, this match-up is pretty awkward. Thoughtseize really helps, as does the fact that BG has a pretty fast clock, but you're basically hoping to draw a Pithing Needle and riding Cloudthreshers at the end of the turn into big swings for the win. If you expect a lot of Swans, I'd suggest sideboarding more Pithing Needles and possibly Everlasting Torment.

Five Color Control
-1 Nameless Inversion
-2 Maelstrom Pulse
+1 Thoughtseize
+2 Loxodon Warhammer

Since 5cc has so many sweepers, a reasonable sideboard plan is to simply make each creature you play into a large threat on its own, and the best way to do that is with Loxodon Warhammer. The rest of this match-up is pretty reliant upon the maindeck, which is already favored vs Sweeper.dec.

UW Reveillark
-3 Chameleon Colossus
-2 Maelstrom Pulse
+3 Necrogenesis
+2 Cloudthresher

The idea here is to take out the cards we can't deal with on our own and don't want stolen from us, and bring in cards to attack Sower of Temptation and their graveyard. I think this sideboard plan works pretty well, and I've been having a moderate amount of success with it overall. It doesn't go a terribly long way in making the match-up "good," but you can't beat every deck.

The Mirror
-2 Eyeblight's Ending
-3 Thoughtseize
-2 Cloudthresher
+3 Kitchen Finks
+2 Deathmark
+2 Loxodon Warhammer

Eyeblight's Ending is obviously pretty loose in the mirror, and Cloudthresher and Thoughtseize just aren't as good as creatures like Kitchen Finks and blowout cards like Loxodon Warhammer. This sideboarding plan also applies to the Doran match-up, although you might want to consider not bringing in Loxodon Warhammer as it loses a lot of value when a Doran is in play.

***

Like I said earlier, soon this deck will fall out of favor as the token decks pick back up again and Faeries is pushed more or less to the side, but until then Elves is pretty much a great choice to play at a PTQ. It's worst match-up, UW Lark, has been seeing more play lately, yes, but not enough to justify shelving this deck. I strongly suggest playing all eight manlands, as this alone improves almost all of your match-ups, and Putrid Leech is just the stones right now (at least until July 11th). You're playing a ton of strong cards versus the metagame, and the sideboard is more or less open to do whatever you want with. More Pithing Needles for combo, less Necrogenesis if Reveillark is less popular, and more lifegain cards like Primal Command (or the fourth Kitchen Finks) if you're expecting lots of aggressive decks.


***Bonus Section: An Update to UW Reveillark***

Here's my latest list of the deck I talked about last week:

UW Reveillark
As suggested by Chris JobinMagic OnlineOCTGN2ApprenticeBuy These Cards
Lands
4 Mystic Gate
4 Adarkar Wastes
8 Island
5 Plains

Creatures
3 Meddling Mage
4 Kitchen Finks
4 Sower of Temptation
4 Mulldrifter
3 Reveillark
2 Glen Elendra Archmage

Other Spells
4 Cryptic Command
3 Wrath of God
3 Path to Exile
2 Counsel of the Soratami
4 Mind Stone
3 Fieldmist Borderpost



The only thing I want to make a note of is Counsel of the Soratami: it's good. The idea is to have two more Mulldrifters, as you just want to always have that play on the third turn. I've also considered the Ponder approach with this setup, as it will increase the frequency of not only the "turn three draw two," but also the second-turn Mind Stone (something else you desperately want). The only issue is that in order to run Ponder I'd have to cut Path to Exile, something I just can't do (mostly because of Faeries). I'm also considering Clone and Tidings, but haven't found a way to work them in quite yet. Just some food for thought!


Until next time,

Chris "Shinjutsei" Jobin

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