Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Back to Winning


Spoiler alert: 4-0 tournament report ahead. :)

Okay, so I had a really good time with the Naya Midrange/Superfriends deck I picked up last week, so I did some tweaking to it and ran it at the Tuesday Win-a-Box at Mox. Here's what I brought:

Land (25):
2 Forest
3 Mountain
4 Sacred Foundry
4 Stomping Ground
4 Temple Garden
4 Temple of Plenty
3 Temple of Abandon
1 Temple of Triumph

Doodz (22):
4 Sylvan Caryatid
4 Voyaging Satyr
3 Keening Apparition
4 Courser of Kruphix
3 Polukranos, World-Eater
4 Stormbreath Dragon

Spells (5):
2 Selesnya Charm
3 Mizzium Mortars

Superfriends! (8):
3 Xenagos, the Reveler
1 Chandra, Pyromaster
2 Ajani, Mentor of Heroes
2 Elspeth, Sun's Champion

Sideboard (15):
3 Magma Spray
2 Unflinching Courage
1 Flames of the Firebrand
1 Heliod, God of the Sun
1 Purphoros, God of the Forge
3 Mistcutter Hydra
2 Fiendslayer Paladin
1 Hammer of Purphoros
1 Deicide

I figured the Anger of the Gods was too strong a non-bo for this deck. I rely pretty strongly on my mana dorks to fix my mana, and the three-toughness body on Caryatid is too good to just sweep away. So I tried Flames as a substitute. I also decided that the mana dorks plan is crucial enough to warrant the full playset of each. Here's how the matches went:

Nemesis of Nemesis of Mortals?
Round 1: vs. B/G/r Dredge/Midrange
He didn't really get the greatest draws, and I was able to stall with token-chumps long enough to let my planeswalkers and monsters take over.
Win, 2-0. Record: 1-0.

Chained to the Rocks? Nope. Banishing Light? Nope. Block with Boros Reckoner? Sorry....
Round 2: vs. W/R Midrange
Nice person, but a relatively inexperienced player. I had to tell her bad news repeatedly about how her deck doesn't really interact with Stormbreath Dragon.
Win, 2-0. Record: 2-0.

This is important. This means something.
Round 3: vs. G/R Monsters
Okay, this was a "real test." Game one, I lost to an onslaught of Stormbreath Dragons. I was able to Mortars one, but the second one and an overloaded Mortars of his own did me in. Second game, I slammed a turn-three Polukranos and a turn-five Stormbreath and he was conceded pretty soon after. Third game was the best actual game, a somewhat grindy affair that involved both of us getting our "engines" set up (mana dorks, Coursers, planeswalkers). However, my setup was much more resilient to an overloaded Mortars than his was, and I rode an Elspeth emblem to victory.
Win, 2-1. Record: 3-0.

Mentor of Dragons?
Round 4: vs. G/B Constellation
Also known around the store as "Rock Stars." This was another interesting matchup. Pretty grindy with some back and forth. I was a little nervous one game when he took out my Ajani with a Boon Satyr'd Doomwake Giant, but a Keening Apparition and a Mortars (overloaded, I think) evened it out. We traded satyr tokens for enchantment snake tokens for a while, but eventually he ran out of gas. In one game, I was able to flip all four Stormbreaths with Ajani's help, and threatening multiple Monstrous activations with Xenagos's help (fueled, flavor-wise-oddly enough, by Elspeth tokens).
Win, 2-0. Record: 4-0.

So .. yeah! 4-0. Feels pretty good, I'm not gonna lie. But I'm also not gonna lie and claim that I won through superior play skill against a difficult gauntlet of top-notch competition. I only played against one "real deck," and I suspect that that one could have gone either way if my draws in one of the second two games had been worse than his. Nonetheless, I feel good about the deck, and I'm having a lot of fun with it.

But of course I have some post-mortem follow-up thoughts:
  • This time, Xenagos was my MVP. I didn't like him much in my Elephants deck, because 2/2 bodies are pretty mediocre, and he didn't really do much to synergize with the rest of the deck. In this deck, he fuels some great, explosive plays. If I don't have anything "big" to do, I'm fine just letting him poop out satyr tokens. But I'm also fine letting him fuel an overloaded Mortars, or summon forth a Dragon. Good stuff.
  • The synergy between Xenagos and Elspeth is pretty cool, too. Again, the mana ability combined with Elspeth's tokens makes for some awesome explosiveness. And even if they kill the Monster, they gotta deal with Elspeth and Xenagos eventually. Or if I have Ajani out, he'll just dial up another Dragon. Or just make Xenagos's tokens into 5/5s. It's all good.
  • I'm really curious to see how this deck plays out against mono-blue and mono-black. I didn't do that great Friday, but I suspect turn-two Pack Rats are difficult for just about anybody. I read Justin Crandall's article on Star City, and it seems like the way to beat it is to try to keep the rats at bay, and deal with them via Elspeth. And then grind them out with card advantage. I've also been told that Underworld Connections is another key to this matchup. Because of these things, I'm thinking I probably should have the third Ajani and/or third Elspeth in there somewhere.
  • In the aforementioned article, Crandall mentions Setessan Tactics as a candidate for inclusion. I like it as a fun-of to bring in against creature decks. I'm also thinking a singleton Wear // Tear might be warranted to deal with potential opposing Pithing Needles.
  • One game, I wanted to play a turn-three Courser, but I lacked the requisite GG to cast her. That Temple of Triumph should probably be a Temple of Abandon per Crandall's winning list (I was lazy and didn't want to pull it out of my Commander deck).
  • So the latest tech for Control: No D-Spheres or B-Lights. This makes the Keening plan much worse. I just hope it doesn't catch on. :) Otherwise, that's what Heliod and Purphoros are for.
Oddly enough, as much as I love judging, part of me is excited to bring this to an actual tournament and see how it does. Stay tuned!

Until then, thanks for reading!

Monday, June 9, 2014

Adventures in Netdecking


As much fun as I was having with my Chromantenchant deck, I may or may not be playing in a Standard $5K this weekend, so I figured I should have a somewhat competitive deck. This lead me to scouring the latest Standard-winning decks. I looked squarely at the winning deck from SCG Indy, saw it was Naya Midrange, and was pretty much immediately sold. I purchased the handful of cards I needed to finish it up (1x Ajani, 1x Stormbreath), subbed Aurelia for one of the Ajanis (because .. Aurelia), seasoned the sideboard to taste, and sleeved it up:

25 Lands

4 Sylvan Caryatid
3 Voyaging Satyr
3 Keening Apparition
4 Courser of Kruphix
3 Polukranos, World-Eater
4 Stormbreath Dragon
1 Aurelia, the Warleader

3 Xenagos, the Reveler
1 Chandra, Pyromaster
2 Ajani, Mentor of Heroes
2 Elspeth, Sun's Champion

3 Mizzium Mortars
2 Selesnya Charm

3 Magma Spray
2 Anger of the Gods
1 Hammer of Purphoros
3 Mistcutter Hydra
2 Unflinching Courage
2 Deicide
1 Fiendslayer Paladin
1 Wear // Tear? (I forget what my 15th sideboard card was)

So, without playing any real matches, I took it to F and/or M. Here's how it went:

Still really good against Blue.
Round 1: vs. Mono-Blue Mill/Control
Nice guy, cool idea, but mono-blue control is just not something that works in Standard right now. There just aren't enough good ways to deal with resolved permanents. Especially a Mistcutter Hydra .. or two.
Win, 2-0. Record: 1-0.

Ajani sez: Help, get me out of Detention!
Round 2: vs. Bant Midrange/Superfriends
Which is better, blue or red? That was the question posed by my worthy opponent after the first game. Turns out ... I dunno. Probably too close to call. I had Stormbreath, but he had Sphinx's Revelation. I had Xenagos, but he had Kiora. It was a pretty cool match, though. Tons of back & forth, lots of building up and tearing down, and big swings of momentum. Classic midrange matchup. I think it really came down to who drew better. It seemed like the key moment in game three was when he Sphinx'd for some number and drew a bunch of lands. The two all-stars of this matchup were Keening Apparition and Ajani. Apparition was great at freeing up my powerful cards, and Ajani was great at digging for more and more gas.
Win, 2-1. Record: 2-0.

The first one says, Do you have a removal spell? The second one says, Can you kill me this turn? The third one says, Where's my win condition?
Round 3: vs. Mono-Black Aggro
I got run over pretty badly in the first game. I had a really slow draw, and he had all the 1-drops, and just enough disruption to keep me from gaining any traction. The second and third games, I brought in all my removal, had much better draws, and ground him out with ease. Once I stuck a doubple-Courser, it was just a matter of digging for a win condition.
Win, 2-1. Record: 3-0.

Still pretty much game over if cast on turn two and left unchecked.
Round 4: vs. Mono-Black Devotion
I offered the split, but the match next to us had a third 3-0 player, so we had to play it out. Oh well. It was a pretty rough match, mostly because I had such a difficult time with Pack Rat. Two games he landed it on turn two, and I had no answer for it. The one game I did win, I honestly got pretty lucky. He had a turn three or four Pack Rat, and was going off with it. I was facing down lethal Rat beats when I tapped the top of my deck and flipped a Mizzium Mortars. And I had just enough mana to overload it to wipe his board. Xenagos and Elspeth played mop-up.
Loss, 1-2. Record: 3-1.

Sadly, I didn't have the greatest breakers, so I fell to 5th place. But still, not bad for the first time playing a deck.

And now, for the obligatory post-mortem bullet-pointed list of random musings:
  • Keening Apparition. What a card. It's a Seal of Cleansing that can attack for two. Or with some mentoring, five.
  • Speaking of which, Ajani played the Mentor role very well. He was always a great play on turn four on a relatively empty board, as he always immediately replaced himself. Okay, most of the time. I think I whiffed once, and several other times, the Hero he found was a Caryatid. But still. Tons of value. And the 3-counters ability had great utility. One time I was able to use it on a Satyr and a Courser to gum up the board against a threatened ground assault. I never bothered with the ultimate, because that's just silly.
  • Aurelia. You know, as much as I love what she did in my Elephants deck, I don't know if she's quite the right fit here. She does combo great with Ajani, but I found that most of my non-Monstrous creatures weren't really interested in attacking at all, let alone twice in one turn.
  • Similarly, I don't think Xenagos, God of Elephants is quite right for this deck. Giving an already-hasty Satyr +2/+2 and haste isn't that exciting.
  • Similarly, Domri is awesome, but as you can see above, I'm just not running that many creatures.
  • The deck seems to rely on the upper half of the curve to stabilize and win games. For this reason, it's probably that Aurelia should be a fourth Voyaging Satyr, Mortars, or maybe something else. I'm leaning towards a fourth Satyr, because dropping a 4-drop on turn three is awesome, as is dropping a Courser and flipping a land.
  • Magma Spray out of the board was pretty sweet, just like the 2x Shocks were when I played my Elephants deck. Not being able to go to the dome is a non-issue since I really only need to clear out creatures.
  • Watching the SCG Open this weekend, it looks like U/W Control without D-Spheres or B-Lights might be a "thing" now. This could make things awkward if the deck relies too heavily on Keening Apparition to beat Control. Similarly, if Planar Cleansing sees more play, the Planeswalkers plan might need to be tweaked. I'm thinking maybe a singleton Heliod and/or Purphoros out of the board might be good.
But yeah, I like the deck. Anything that leans heavily on Planeswalkers, and succeeds in doing so, is pretty alright in my book. I've got some room for tweaking, and I hope to get a few more reps in before the $5K this weekend. It's possible that I may end up Judging at it, though. I know at least one judge had to pull out. We'll see.

Okay, well that's it for now. Thanks for reading!