Archive for October, 2009

Black Control in Standard 1: The Cards

October 24, 2009

Now that I’ve covered the principles of control in black, let’s go over the tools available to us in standard, and see what is available.  My lists will by no means be exhaustive, just the cards that have been on my mind, and with them I’ll give you some deck archetypes to fiddle with next post..

First: Cards that give card advantage: Sign in Blood, Mind Rot and Mind Sludge (so long as they have cards in hand), Infest (against certain decks), Soul Stair Expediti0n, and Gatekeeper of Malakir, and the 3 spectres in standard

Sign in blood is an excellent card, and belongs in any monoblack control deck.  While many will disagree with me, I think Mind Rot is highly playable, but perhaps not a four maindeck.  Mind Sludge is the nuts against other control decks, and could be main deck in anti-control preboard builds, and solid sideboard material.  I really don’t like how long SSE can take to go active if drawn late game, but I’ve got my eye on it.  I’ll discuss gatekeeper in answers later below, and I’m skeptical about the reliability of spectres for card advantage.

Second: Answers: To answer planeswalkers, you can’t do much better than Vampire Hexmage, which is fortunate, as planeswalkers aren’t control decks best friend.  (Yes, I know. Hexmage also answers the issue of an ancient evil buried in 30 mana worth of ice, but that’s a different topic.)

Black is the go-to colour to answer those pesky creatures.  Doom Blade is always solid, although perhaps not a good fit even sideboard until the meta has shifted some, and the same can be said of Hideous End.  Tendrils of Corruption does double duty in monoblack, hitting even black creatures, and giving life to boot.  Wretched banquet and Infest also answer creatures, but only do so (and do so well) in a deck built for them.  They also suffer from Putrid Leech being a strong contender in the format.  Gatekeeper of Malakir, and to a lesser extent Fleshbag Marauder, are great at dodging protection from black, and Gatekeeper of Malakir grants card advantage to boot.  Consume Spirit is good in that it serves dual purpose, but it’s usually mana inefficient.  Finally, Vampire Nighthawk is a great way to answer attacking creatures, especially in control.

As for non-creatures… um… there’s Duress… and….

Moving on!

Finishers: Here’s where I’m not so sure.  Losing Demigod of Revenge is something I’m still sore about.  No one really can fill his place in my heart.  But here are the other people I’m considering to fill his shoes.  Ob Nixolis has some serious potential.  He has issues with dying to lightning bolt, but I’d definitely give at least two of him a spin in a black control deck.  Malakir Bloodwitch is no demigod, but she keeps baneslayer off your back, and beats just fine.  I ran Vampire Nocturnus in my MBC Deck last standard, simply for the efficient size/cost ratio (6o percent of the time) and now he has some friends to play with.  Salvage Titan can do some neat things, but not with all that much that you’d play in a black based control deck, and is otherwise a craw wurm, alas.  Less obvious is that 5/5 Zombie Giant token you keep getting in packs can do some serious damage, and make your opponent think twice about wrathing your bloodwitch if you’ve got the quest in your log.

Finally, there’s Guul Draz Spectre and Nyxathid.  In a deck with dedicated hand disruption, these two make having dead discard in your hand not so bad a situation to be in.

As for tempo control.  black’s life gain is a nightmare for traditional aggro decks like boros bushwhacker, and is never unwelcome.  Vampire nighthawk and Tendrils of Corruption are the best for this, but Child of Night might find a good home in the two-drop slot.

Next time: Possible deck archetypes.

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Roflthopters everywhere!

October 10, 2009

Buh!  It seems like everyone’s talking about the Roflthopter deck.  There goes my rogue “element of surprise”.  Oh well.  While I’m a bit disappointed that it’s everywhere, I am excited that I managed to come up with an extended worthy deck, even though it’s highly likely others came up with it on their own too.

As I’m starting to get more and more hits from people looking for decklists for the Roflthopter deck, I might has well share my experience with the deck, as I’ve been playing it for 3 months longer than almost anyone else.

Weaknesses:

Roflthopter is in a bit of a bad position, as it suffers from graveyard hate AND artifact hate.  Ancient Grudge is painful, Kataki doubly so.  A good counterspell or into the roil can keep kataki off your tail, but Ancient Grudge is bad news.  Remand will buy you a turn, mana leak won’t even do that.

Graveyard hate can also break up your combo.  Relic of Progenitas in the right time can take you from “going off” mode to “let’s find another one of those damn swords” mode.  You rarely have enough time to find it.

Extirpate targeting the sword checkmates the deck, unless you have another in play.  If your opponent has extirpates in their deck, you have two options: don’t start making thopters until you have a second sword, or risk being shut out of the game for one black mana.  Neither are good options, luckily, extirpate isn’t kicking around that often.

I’m still trying to find the perfect time sieve number.  Against some decks, like Tron, you want four in your deck.  Against Wizards, its rarely an issue.  I’m currently running 3 main and one in the board.

Sideboarding advice:

The Wizards deck is a pushover if you can get the thopter foundry to stick.  This can be hard, as their goal is to stop you from doing *anything*, and a savvy player will pick up on the keystone of your deck and focus on it.  A bad player will counter the sword.  Gigadrowse during an opponent’s end step is by far the best answer to this.

Zoo can be a bit terrifying.  It’s clock is about half a turn faster than mine, typically.  I’m testing lethargy trap in the board, to see how this does.  Generally, if your opponent doesn’t meet the trap conditions, you don’t need to cast it yet.

I really don’t see any need to sideboard against affinity specifically.  Every so often they’ll nuke you before you’re ready, but it’s a really positive matchup.

While I haven’t played against hedron crap dredge yet, it’s theoretical clock is about the same pace as mine.  Not sure I want to devote any sideboard slots to this or not, may just want to duke it out.

Most builds of hypergenesis are a joke if you have counterspells in your deck.  I just happen to have some.  There’s a blue-centric one I’m worried about though.  Every once in a while, hypergenesis lets you go off faster than planned.

Dragonstorm needs to start running gigadrowse or the like.  Until it does, a well-placed counter can really mess them up, even if it’s just a remand.

I haven’t seen a scapeshift build that adequately answers counterspells yet.  But the potential *is* there.

Ultimately, this may not be the year for Roflthopter, with all the artifact hate running around.  But time will tell.

Black in Control Decks

October 10, 2009

Black is a frequent player in control decks, usually paired along with blue or occasionally white.  As standard turns further and further away from blue, and black keeps getting more and more appealing control cards, black is poised to usurp blue in the current standard as the control color of choice*.

To see black’s strengths and weakness, let’s explore its ability to play upon the principles of control.

1: Card advantage: This is typically black’s stumbling point.  While black has a long tradition of (usually good) card draw in exchange for loss of life, there are rarely more than 2 such cards in standard, and a similarly small number in extended.  Black also has access to discard, which is an excellent and often overlooked means of card advantage.  The downside of this is that, if an opponent is out of cards (such as aggro decks often hope to do), discards become dead cards in one’s hand, and thus card disadvantage.  However, discard is a vicious tactic against control decks and many combo decks, meaning it’s a good fit for the right meta, or as a sideboard option.  Recurring cards from your graveyard can often be a source of card advantage, and  Black has a tradition of sweepers of various quality.  Infest is currently black’s best sweeper, and is only good against certain decks, but can generate massive card advantage if played right.    Finally, black has big, efficient creatures in exchange for drawbacks.  Being able to block and destroy your opponents creatures, or simply make them irrelevant on the battlefield, is an often overlooked source of card advantage.

2. Answers.  If you want to answer your enemy’s creature, black is the color to do it.  Black is even decent at killing cards with protection from black, via edict-styled effects.  After this, however, black starts to have issues.   Black doesn’t have any answers to artifacts OR enchantments once they hit the board, and the same is true for instants or sorceries.  Cards like Duress can answer these cards, and nonspecific discard can occasionally force these cards into an opponents graveyard where they belong.  Control decks as a rule have trouble with planeswalkers, and while blue can counter a planeswalker, and white can oblivion ring them, black has only the very specific Vampre Hexmage to lean on.

3. Finishers.  Black has plenty of big creatures, often with evasion and some sort of protection.  Malakir bloodwitch, Ob Nixilis, or even Vein Drinker are all great monoblack finishers.  And one can’t overlooks a large consume spirit.

4.  Tempo obstruction.  Typically, the process of answering your opponents threats is enough to slow down their clock long enough for you to bash them with a finisher, but not always.  Luckily, black typically has the most relevant life gain: that which also kills your opponent’s stuff.  A good tendril’s of corruption or consume spirit can buy you lots of time against an aggressive deck.

So, black has the tools it needs to fill out control docket all on its own, but there are lots of “buts”.  One needs to find a good suite of removal spells that manage to cover all of your bases, as black kill spells tend to have conditions.  Inability to deal with artifacts/enchantments can often push monoblack out of a format, or force it to splash a different color.  Sometimes infest is simply not enough.  Also, when faeries where rampant in standard, black’s shortage of instant speed removal was damning.

Monoblack also is in the odd bind of having the creature removal to beat aggro decks but do poorly against many control and combo decks, and the hand disruption to really mess up many control decks, but can be dead against aggro.

Smart sideboarding can help you alleviate this, having an anti-control build and an anti-aggro build, post board, with your maindeck being a hybrid of the two.

Stay tuned for next time, when I meddle with the monoblack control tools of standard.  You know, unless I change my mind

Building Combo, Part 2: Putting the deck together

October 3, 2009

So, from our previous investigation, we’ve discovered that Thopter Foundry plus Sword of the Meek equals power, and Time Sieve on this equation equals a very unhappy opponent.

There are basically 2 types of combo decks.  There are the decks that can win through some other way, and just happen to have combo cards in them, and there are decks entirely devoted to getting a combo to go off.  The first is typically preferable, being that if your combo is disrupted or doesn’t show up, you can still win otherwise.

The strength of the second type is that you can devote more cards in your deck to getting your combo to show up, and protect it from being derailed.

I decided to take the second route for two reason.  First is that my three combo pieces are underwhelming on their own, especially time sieve, and will only hinder a decks other win condition.  Second, is that this in an exceptionally easy combo to assemble.  All three pieces of the combo are artifacts, meaning they can all be tutored for with fabricate and similar effects.  Also, they can be played in blue/black, a color pairing with good tutoring effects, counterspells, and plenty of good dual lands.  Finally, all three pieces cost 2 mana, so they can all be tutored with the same transmute spells, extremely playable as we’re already in blue/black.

After a seach of good deck filtering options, I decided that I’d want ponder, serum visions, dimir infiltrator, and muddle the mixture to go find my combo pieces.  Muddle the mixture was chosen over other tutor effects due to its ability to double as a counterspell.  Dimir infiltrator can be a creature in a pinch (but let’s hope it doesn’t come to that).

I now have a deck that can get its combo pieces incredibly reliably, and hopefully do so fast enough.  However, we need to then leave magical christmas land and enter the world of real magic, where people are going to be doing their hardest to keep me from going off.  Luckily, I’m in blue.  4 mana leaks, solid counters in extended.  4 remands.  When you’ve got such a powerful effect when the clock strikes, stalling a spell for a turn is more than worth two mana.

Next up comes the mana base.  First things first are the blue and black mirrodin artifact lands.  They can be thopterized in a pinch, which is really handy if the sword of the meek gets stuck in the graveyard, making the deck more resiliant against discard.  Next is at least 1 Academy Ruins, to fish other artifacts out.  I’m going to want some basic islands so I can use repeal like effects post board in case of blood moon.  Now come the dual lands.  I have plenty to chose from, and the choice isn’t easy.  Normally, the default for such a deck would be 4 watery graves and some fetches, but I’m nervous about giving away that much life in extended.  Aggro and lightning bolt decks have very fast clocks, and paying too much life for my mana can push their clock ahead a crucial turn.  Furthermore, I’m not made of money, and don’t want to buy those lands if I don’t need to.  River of Tears is one card I have my eye on.  I only need black on rare occasions, and never on my opponents turn.  I can see this card occasionally being a nuisance, but worth a shot. Finally, Sunken Ruins fix my mana with no cost of life.  Don’t want to run too many, for risk of no colored mana in my opening hand, but 2 should be fine.

I’m going to leave my sideboard for until after I’ve tested a bit.  I’ve got my eye on lethargy trap, to buy me a turn against zoo, and spell snare.  Cranial Extraction would be wonderful to rescue me from some of the brutal cards running around people’s boards, even if I expect it to be too slow.  Into the Roil or Remand can give me the turn I need to play without blood moon or night of soul’s betrayal, and Hyrkul’s Recall is a potential against affinity, if the need arises.

Here’s my trial deck:

ROFLTHOPTER:

4 Sword of the Meek

4 Thopter Foundry

4 Time Sieve

4 Ponder

4 Serum Visions

4 Muddle the Mixture

4 Dimir Infiltrator

4 Remand

4 Mana Leak

4 Seat of the Synod

4 Vault of Whispers

2 Academy Ruins

2 Sunken Ruins

4 River of Tears

8 Island

Please feel free to comment with critiques, suggestions, ect.  I’m curious to see what you think.

Building Combo, Part 1: Spotting a combo

October 3, 2009

[UPDATE: I’m getting a large number of google hits to this post, for people looking for thopter foundry decklists.  If it’s the list you’re looking for, it’s at the end of the next post.]

After seeing my extended combo deck go off, people often ask me how I found the combo.  The answer is pretty complicated, and I thought it’d make a great blog post.  I’m going to attack this from a more general approach, but with the specific example of building my combo deck.

The first thing you need to make a combo deck from scratch is to know what sort of interactions to look for.  There are a number of interactions that have been abused often throughout magic’s history.  Reading about classic magic decks is a great way to learn to spot such things.

It’s not in my skill level or patience to give an exhaustive list, but I’ll give you a quick rundown of such abilities: Cards that untap other cards, especially multiple other cards, or do so without themselves tapping.  Cards that produce more than one mana by tapping.  Cards that have powerful abilities with no mana or tapping cost.  Cards with drawbacks you can use to your advantage, or drawbacks you can negate.  Cards that return permanents to your hand, cards that reduce the cost of other spells, and cards with just plain strange or unique abilities.

These are the kinds of things you should just keep an eye out for.  Whenever you’re looking at cards, put a mental flag on a card if it strikes you as having something abusable or just weird.  The best process is to write such things down, but I’m rarely that organized.

So it’s with this in mind that I noticed the card Sword of the Meek was pretty interesting.  It returns itself from the graveyard for free.  Now, I couldn’t come up with a way to churn out 1/1s, but I know being able to get a card, any card, for free, from your graveyard over and over again was powerful.  However, this isn’t the type of card that gets to the graveyard on its own.  The most obvious solution, is to sacrifice it for profit.

This brings us to the second thing you need to do when building a combo deck.  You need to have a familiarity with the cards available to you.  This will help you come up with synergies, and think of cards that pair well.  Reading articles, decklists, drafting, and just playing magic are perhaps the best way to do this.  I have a coworker who plays as much magic as me, so the result is we talk about it *lots*.

The most obvious sacrifice an artifact card was time sieve, a card with a powerful and unusual ability with a severe drawback.  It occurs to me that I might be able to use the sword to help make the drawback less severe.

This pairing is synergistic, but certainly not gamebreaking.  And if I want to make an extended deck, I need something gamebreaking.  Still, I keep the idea in my head of “artifacts that are good to sacrifice” and keep an eye out for such things.  Eventually I started mentally putting together a time sieve deck with such cards.  I then realized I needed another sacrifice engine for this deck to be at all viable.

This brings us to the third thing one needs to do when combo hunting.  You need to look at the cards, see them again, refresh them in your mind.  Some people scour the cardlist in gatherer or other webpages.  I find scouring my unsorted boxes of cards a great way of achieving this.

When looking for cards that sacrifice artifacts, I noticed thopter foundry.  Thopter foundry is a new card, one I’d explored possibilities with before, but that was before sword of the meek was on my radar.

Woah.

Those two cards went WELL together.  They basically added up to “1: Gain one life and put a 1/1 thopter with flying into play, equip sword of the meek to it”.  That’s GOOD.  Add a time sieve to that, and you can easily lock your opponent out of TURNS.  Three card combos are generally bad news, but when it’s a two card combo that’s incredibly powerful, and the third  is effectively a game win, this bears exploring.