At the Gathering: Conflux Congregations

The prerelease has passed us by, and Conflux is in your hands, but not yet legal. It's that awkward time, when everyone has the info, and we're all trying to find the best way to utilize it. As I write this, Conflux is four days away from becoming legal for sanctioned play. What that means is, we have a lot of new cards coming in, and some of them look like they are definitely worth playing. Let's start off by looking at the draft format.

I had the opportunity during the prerelease to play in three drafts. Two of them were 8-man pods, and then one main event. I'll break down each draft with the archetype I decided on, and then some sample matchups.

In the first draft, I was receiving a lot of confusing signals, and I saw a lot of good domain cards going late. I decided to try out the Domain deck, and see what I could make work. At first glance, Domain seems to work best as a base RG deck, splashing for the remaining three. This is for a few reasons. First, RG has the most domain cards to use. Naturally, this makes it an easy base. Second, Exploding Borders is awesome. Rampant Growth and Tribal Flames stapled together. Both cards separate are good, and together, they do not disappoint. If you already have domain when you cast it, feel free to search up another Mountain or Forest, as you may need more than one. I splashed Blue a little more heavily than Black or White for Worldly Counsel, another good card. In the end, I ended up with a Banefire, 4(!!) Exploding Borders, and 3 Worldly Counsels to go with some regular R/G aggro cards. The plan was to use early R/G beats, and then Exploding Borders and Banefire as finishers, with Worldly Counsel to sift through the deck and grab the best cards. In the first round, I played a Green fatties deck. I got a few early beats, then used the awesomeness of Tukatongue Thallid to stall the ground, then finished him with Exploding Borders into Scepter of Alara burn, into Banefire. The second game went much the same, except it took a few Worldly Counsels to get it set up, and I didn't have the scepter. MVP of the match would be my 1-drops, Tukatongue Thallid and Toxic Iguanar. They definitely held their ground long enough to leave me with plenty of life at the end of the game.

The second round I played Mark, running Esper Flyers. The first game I should have probably mulliganed. I had 5 lands, Tukatongue Thallid and Exploding Borders. However, I had 4/5 domain lands in hand, so I knew my Exploding Borders would be good for 5. I ended up flooded, seeing only 7 spells compared to 12 land that game. Needless to say, I got pounded. The second game, I boarded in my third Ember Weaver, and he couldn't get there fast enough before I Alpha Struck, then Banefired for 7 to finish him off. The third game, I took too long to get to a finisher, and his removal outnumbered my Ember Weavers. My ground stall certainly can't do much here.

Round three, I played a Naya Aggro deck. Game one involved all three of my Tukatongue Thallids chumping like nobody's business, then using Exploding Borders and Banefire to finish, pretty typical. In the second game, I struggled a little, having to Worldly Counsel for three, and finding only Nacatl Outlander. However, he had only green creatures, and the Outlander got in for 8 damage before Exploding Borders showed up to finish things off.

So, what lessons did I learn in this draft? Domain can be useful, but you really need to make sure you get some guys with reach or flying. A dedicated Esper flyer deck can really wreak havoc on you. In fact, I took that lesson to heart in my next draft...

...And drafted Esper Flyers. This was the second 8-man draft before we fired off the main event. I started off with a Noble Heirarch, thinking I would go Bant, but the Blue and Black artifacts just kept coming. So, I went with it, and drafted a disgusting UBw Esper artifact deck. I had two Esperzoas, one Sludge Strider, and 3 (!!) Esper Cormorants. A pair of Worldly Counsels also reared their ugly head, as well as a few Unsummons and plenty of Wretched Banquets. But the best part of the deck comes from Kaleidostone. I ended up with two of them, and wasn't even planning on playing them till I had a few minutes during construction to test a few ideas. I quickly put them in, and never looked back. Have you seen the interaction yet? Let me break it down for you. Esperzoa plus Kaleidostone equals massive card advantage. During your upkeep, Esperzoa returns the Kaleidostone to your hand. You then recast it for two, and draw a card. I was always hitting land drops, and always full of gas throughout all three rounds. It's amazing. I honestly don't remember too many of the details of this tournament, just that I never lost a game, going 6-0, and I never felt like I wasn't in complete control of the game. One last cool interaction, Esperzoa also would frequently bounce my Court Homonculus, leaving just Esperzoa in play on my side, which then let me double Wrethced Banquet their board away. So good in limited. I do know the third round I played a Green fatties deck, but it was never really close, as I just had massive card advantage from the Esperzoa/Kaleidostone interaction.

Well, that plan worked so well for me that time that I decided I'd try it again in the main event. We only had 16 show for our main event, because half of them had to work, and had been drafting all morning/afternoon. This draft started out well, with me opening Martial Coup, and then being passed another one second pack by my neighbor who opened it with Foil Knight of the Reliquary. On top of that, the Esper was still flowing, and I ended up with double Esperzoa, double Kaleidostone again. I mowed through the first three rounds pretty easily, destroying a bunch of Green, Red, and/or White strategies. It looked like U/B had been massively under-drafted at my pod, but over-drafted at the other pod. I do remember a few cool plays, like bouncing my own Esperzoa, leaving Kaleidostone in play, then using Martial Coup to wipe their board and give me 5 tokens. I also was using Sludge Strider to very good effect, paying an extra two with each Kaleidostone bounce/recast to give a 4 point life swing in the late game. However, in the finals, I had some difficulties. In game one, I kept a hand I should have mulliganed, and ended up land flooded again. I admit, I was feeling a little cocky with the deck, and basically felt invincible. In the second game, I got everything going, and Martial Coup came in to swing the game to my control. A few flyers later, and we were on to a third game. I kept a good hand, with Esperzoa and Martial Coup, as well as 2 Sludge Striders and three land. However, he used Asha's Favor on a Beacon Behemoth, and managed to Path to Exile both of my flyers. I gave a good fight of it with my Martial Coup to wrath and give me tokens, but he came out with another critter and another Asha's Favor, and I couldn't find any flyers fast enough. I would like to note that I never saw any of my Kaleidostones or Worldly Counsels that game. I'm not sure it would have made a difference, but a timely Unsummon would have certainly been a big boon.

So, those are my draft stories, and I definitely think that Esper Flyers is a very good way to go right now. Obviously, any form of evasion is good, and the interactions are very strong. Plus, I think those colors, specifically white, got some very strong limited cards, like Martial Coup and everybody's favorite, Path to Exile. In fact, I think Esper may even be a viable archetype for Standard.

Speaking of Standard, I'm now going to introduce some very rough decks that I've been brainstorming. I want to state a few things, though, before I introduce them.
1) These decks have not been tuned or tested. They are purely my mental ideas of things I would want to test, if I had the time and team to do so.
2) These decks may not even be very good, as there may be a hole or angle I'm missing. However, I am putting them out there to start the process. Many players can take my mediocre to decent idea, and turn it into something great. Heck, I usually tweak existing decks to work better for me, so hopefully I can be the inspiration this time. My idea here is to create some thoughts in you, the players, that you can then tune and tweak into a true fighting machine.

So, since I was so hung up on Esper, let's start there. Obviously, Faeries are already a strong player in 2/3 of Esper's colors, so we know the color has some strong interactions. This first build is a disruption based deck, designed to clear things out long enough for your efficient beats to win the game. It's almost Esper Rock. Well, at least that's what I'm calling it.

Esper RockMagic OnlineOCTGN2ApprenticeBuy These Cards
4 Master of Etherium
4 Court Homonculus
4 Tidehollow Sculler
3 Ethersworn Cannonist

4 Thoughtseize

4 Path to Exile
4 Esper Charm
3 Cryptic Command

Back-breaking Enchantments
4 Bitterblossom

3 Loxodon Warhammer

4 Arcane Sanctum
4 Reflecting Pool
4 Vivid Creek
3 Sunken Ruins
3 Mystic Gate
2 Adarkar Waste
2 Underground River

Some healthy artifact interactions, with Master of Etherium as a healthy fatty. There's quite a bit of disruption as well, coming from a number of different angles. Discard, Counter, Creature and Enchantment removal, and a Rule of Law effect for good measure. I imagine there's some improvement to be made, but given that Black and White have some great options for disruption right now, I think they might be the new Standard Rock shell.

After I conjured up that deck, I wondered how well you could go hardcore with a full Artifact deck. One of my local players is trying it out with Scarecrows, but I don't think that's the way to go. Here's a first glance at a hardcore Artifact deck for Standard.

EsperfactsMagic OnlineOCTGN2ApprenticeBuy These Cards
4 Master of Etherium
4 Etherium Sculptor
4 Salvage Titan
4 Esperzoa

4 Loxodon Warhammer
4 Springleaf Drum
4 Kaleidostone
4 Obelisk of Esper

4 Path to Exile

Back-breaking Enchantments
4 Bitterblossom

4 Reliquary Tower
4 Arcane Sanctum
4 Reflecting Pool
5 Island
3 Swamp

Obviously, this deck rolls over to Hurkyl's Recall, but that card isn't seeing a lot of play right now. Perhaps the hate will build up, but we'll see. A cool interaction that I like is bouncing the Kaleidostone, then playing it for one (or zero, potentially) if you have 1 or more Etherium Sculptors out. Again, Master of Etherium is the big finisher, but Salvage Titan can also get in there quick and fast if the hand is right. Hammer gives you a way through, as well as some nice life to survive Bitterblossom if the game stalls out. You would probably want to think long and hard about your sideboard cards, because they will make all the difference. Salvage Slasher seem like a potential, and of course, you are in Blue, so countermagic could be an option as well.

Moving away from Esper, at least a little, I wanted to swing back to my favorite Legend, Doran, the Siege Tower. I started playing with Doran the moment Lorwyn came out, and every month or so, I always try to see if there is a niche he can fill. So far, not so much, but I keep looking. Right now, with all the color fixing in Standard, I thought this particular deck might be viable.

Doran's Pancake BreakfastMagic OnlineOCTGN2ApprenticeBuy These Cards
4 Birds of Paradise
4 Noble Heirarch
4 Treefolk Harbinger
4 Scattershot Archer
4 Rhox War Monk
4 Doran, the Siege Tower
3 Chameleon Colossus

4 Path to Exile
4 Bant Charm
3 Esper Charm

1 Elspeth, Knight Errant

4 Murmuring Bosk
4 Gilt-Leaf Palace
4 Rupture Spire
3 Wooded Bastion
2 Llanowar Waste
2 Brushland
2 Seaside Citadel

Some sideboard ideas for this deck, right off hand, would be Gaddock Teeg, Thoughtseize, Firespout, Bitterblossom, Garruk Wildspeaker, Cloudthresher and Tidehollow Sculler. I'm not sure how well this would hold up, but this is one I will almost definitely sleeve up and test out in my basement for a little while, just to see if it's competitive. The basic idea is to use Doran with Pancake Flipper to get some pretty beefy opening draws. It's light on land, but has Eight 1-drop mana fixers. Path to Exile and Bant Charm are both great removal right now. It feels like White is no longer the weak color for Doran like it was for previous builds. Esper Charm is the only card draw, but also disruption and Enchantment removal (for faeries). Scattershot Archer seems incredibly strong vs. Faeries and B/W Tokens, but I'm not sure if that's good enough to warrant the chance of taking out your own Birds. I guess it depends on your local meta, but I wouldn't maindeck it in mine right now. Your mileage may vary. I have always loved Treefolk Harbinger to either tutor up a Doran (making him an effective 3/3 for one) or a Bosk, if needed. Colossus gets you through any Black Creatures floating around, and can be a great place for some pumping to finish. I have a Miser's Elspeth in there to see if she does what I need. I may default into one of the other appropriate colored planeswalkers, I guess we'll see. The ultimate ability seems strong, especially given that this deck definitely rolls over to a resolved Wrath. Gaddock Teeg may also warrant maindeck consideration if your local meta is rife with Wraths and Cryptics.

Finally, I have a deck I'm putting together for a friend of mine. He actually got me into Magic, way back at GenCon in '93, and he dropped away for a little while. (Since, you know Ice Age. Does that count as a little while?) Well, he had nothing to do on Saturday, and played in the Pre-release, and liked it well enough. So, I'm putting a deck together for him, and I wanted to show it to you guys. Before I do, though, a note about new, or re-new, players. Keep in mind that these players have a mountain of learning to do. My friend asked if there were still Interrupts. It's a fair question, so think hard about how much assimilation he has to do, even for Standard. Now, imagine what a new player has to go through. So, when giving them a deck, give them something that does two things.

1) K.I.S.S- Keep It Simple, Stupid. They need a deck that thy can handle easily. They are going to learn all about the other stuff by playing against people who are using it. Planeswalkers, priority, response, etc. They have enough to learn from their opponents, make sure their deck is fairly straightforward.
2) Be Competitive- They won't stick around if all they do is get kicked in the face by somebodies random deck every round. They need to feel they have a chance to win, even if they don't. They have to see a light in the tunnel.

So, with those in mind, here is what I threw together for his first FNM, one weeks from today.

Stupid Red BurnMagic OnlineOCTGN2ApprenticeBuy These Cards
4 Spark Elemental
4 Hellspark Elemental
4 Mogg Fanatic
4 Hell's Thunder

4 Shard Volley
4 Incinerate
4 Flame Javelin
4 Volcanic Fallout
4 Banefire

4 Blightning

4 Sulfurous Springs
4 Graven Cairns
12 Awesome Dave Kendall-Signed Mountains

Pretty straightforward deck, just aggro Rawr with some re-buys. (That's what we've taken to calling Unearth, it feels just like a rebuy in a Poker tournament.) I'm hoping Banefire for 5 or more is enough for him to finish some games, but I'm not sure he'll get to 6 mana. Sounds like we need more testing! I'll let you know how he does with it after he plays a few sanctioned matches with it.

That's all for this week, folks. Feel free to post in the forums how you like the decks, and what you would do to them. I'd also love to hear your prerelease stories.

This is Jeff Phillips, reminding you: Don't make the Loser Choice.


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