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Posts tagged “lewis laskin

Standards and Practices: Mo’ Colors Mo’ Problems

It seems the undead horde is relentless, evidenced as much by tournament results as by the increasing number of zombie movies directed by George Romero. (Seven “of the Dead” movies? Really, George? Seven?) For two consecutive weeks, American Grand Prix have been won by aggressive Rakdos decks featuring zombies, dragons, and devils that ride from the fiery pits of hell.

"Hi, mom!"

“Hi, mom!”

In times like these, one might think that streamlining their midrange and control decks, so as to be able to bear the brunt of the undead onslaught, is the correct course of action. “Surely,” quip the commentators, “Any sane man wouldn’t be caught dead playing more than eight shock lands when aggro decks dominate the format.” This is true; any sane man wouldn’t.

But I’m interested in decks built by the metaphorically insane.

Conley Woods

Brewmaster extraordinaire and Andre the Giant understudy Conley Woods recently piloted a four-color deck to the top eight of Grand Prix San Antonio, packing ten shock lands in his seventy-five.  The deck featured format staples like Restoration Angel and Thragtusk alongside aggro-hindering stalwarts like Loxodon Smiter and Huntmaster of the Fells to help brunt the initial rush of damage from an aggressive opponent, with Unburial Rites and Armada Wurm to pressure control decks after they’ve handed down their Supreme Verdict.

In Conley’s case, the life loss from shock lands is mitigated by the life gain from Huntmaster of the Fells and Thragtusk, as well as the fact that Loxodon Smiter and Restoration Angel present a sizable blocker against Rakdos and Selesnya decks predominantly featuring creatures with three or less power. The recent showing of midrange Naya decks as well as the Jund decks that appeared early in the format are a testament to those creatures’ strengths against the hyper-aggressive decks that have come to dominate the format in recent weeks.

However, adding a fourth color to an already solid deck helped Conley shore up the Naya deck’s main weakness: control. Bant control has become a driving force in the past few weeks, being piloted to money finishes by the likes of MTGO superstar Reid Duke and former Player of the Year Owen Turtenwald. The deck is very well-positioned against any and all midrange strategies, be they Naya, Junk, or Jund. Supreme Verdict is often a 2- or 3-for-1 against midrange decks, so Unburial Rites basically draws you a creature in the late game, allowing you to keep up on card advantage against the control player.

Lewis Laskin

While not placing in any large tournaments recently, Lewis Laskin’s “Not Black Midrange” deck has received a bit of buzz and seems very well-positioned against the current crop of aggressive decks. For those of you who haven’t seen it already, here is his masterpiece:

Not Black Midrange
Lands (26)
2x Clifftop Retreat
1x Desolate Lighthouse
2x Hallowed Fountain
4x Hinterland Harbor
1x Kessig Wolf Run
4x Rootbound Crag
4x Steam Vents
4x Sulfur Falls
4x Temple Garden
Instants (7)
2x Searing Spear
3x Sphinx’s Revelation
2x Syncopate
Sideboard (15)
1x Aerial Predation
1x Augur of Bolas
1x Blasphemous Act
1x Counterflux
3x Dissipate
1x Ray of Revelation
2x Rest in Peace
2x Rolling Temblor
1x Silklash Spider
1x Supreme Verdict
1x Tamiyo, the Moon Sage
Sorceries (10)
2x Bonfire of the Damned
4x Farseek
4x Pillar of Flame
Planeswalkers (4)
3x Jace, Architect of Thought
1x Tamiyo, the Moon Sage
Creatures (10)
4x Huntmaster of the Fells
2x Snapcaster Mage
4x Thragtusk
Enchantments (3)
3x Detention Sphere

Yet again we see ten shock lands shored up by the life gain from Huntmaster of the Fells and Thragtusk (a common trend with these four-color decks). If we look at this list as Bant control attempting to strengthen its aggressive matchup, the red splash helps with both the aforementioned life gain creatures as well as packing a full set of Pillar of Flame and two Searing Spears to blast any and all Gravecrawlers, Geralf’s Messengers, and Hellriders that might be getting too close for comfort.

However, we can also look at it as a Naya midrange deck trying to shore up its weakness to the over-the-top Bant control decks that win through repeated board sweepers and Sphinx’s Revelations. Jace is great at threatening a Bant player trying to win the long game, especially now that those decks have been trimming numbers on Detention Spheres and counter magic. Being able to steal the Elixir of Immortality from their deck can stop their grinding potential, and Rest in Peace out of the sideboard completely hoses that avenue of victory. Tamiyo’s emblem plus burn spells can also quickly end the game, though it does require you to play around Dissipate and Rest in Peace.

I will admit that the mana is stretched to the point of breaking, but any reasonable draw will keep you abreast of the format’s top strategies. I’m not the biggest fan of Syncopate right now, but Snapcaster Mage demands at least a few permission spells in order to be as Cryptic Command-y as he can be. Augur out of the sideboard seems cute but negotiable, and I wonder if the life gain on Aerial Predation makes it better than Crushing Vines, which has the added benefit of taking out errant Runechanter’s Pikes.

Ali Aintrazi

This article would not be complete without discussing the mad scientist himself. Ali Aintrazi is quickly becoming the spiritual successor to Conley Woods, known for such off-the-wall decks as Turboland and Blue-Black Heartless Summoning, as well as the Custom Cube he and Justin Parnell created. However, his most recent creation is probably his craziest, recently piloted to a 15th place finish at Grand Prix Charleston:

3 Doors Down
Lands (27)
1x Blood Crypt
3x Cavern of Souls
1x Dragonskull Summit
4x Glacial Fortress
2x Hallowed Fountain
1x Hinterland Harbor
2x Isolated Chapel
1x Kessig Wolf Run
4x Overgrown Tomb
1x Steam Vents
2x Sunpetal Grove
4x Temple Garden
1x Vault of the Archangel
Sorceries (14)
4x Farseek
3x Lingering Souls
2x Rakdos’s Return
2x Ranger’s Path
3x Supreme Verdict
Sideboard (15)
1x Abrupt Decay
1x Cavern of Souls
4x Centaur Healer
2x Duress
2x Rest in Peace
3x Slaughter Games
2x Tragic Slip
Planeswalkers (4)
1x Garruk, Primal Hunter
1x Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker
1x Tamiyo, the Moon Sage
1x Vraska the Unseen
Creatures (6)
1x Angel of Serenity
1x Griselbrand
4x Thragtusk
Instants (5)
2x Abrupt Decay
3x Sphinx’s Revelation
Artifacts (3)
2x Chromatic Lantern
1x Door to Nothingness
Enchantment (1)
1x Oblivion Ring

After further testing, Ali posted the updated list on his recent article on StarCityGames.com, including an explanation for his deck choice and the changes he made after Charleston. I’ve been testing the updated list for the past week and plan on playing it in Baltimore this weekend:

3 Doors Down v2.0
Lands (26)
1x Alchemist’s Refuge
1x Blood Crypt
3x Cavern of Souls
1x Dragonskull Summit
3x Glacial Fortress
2x Hallowed Fountain
1x Hinterland Harbor
2x Isolated Chapel
1x Kessig Wolf Run
4x Overgrown Tomb
1x Steam Vents
2x Sunpetal Grove
4x Temple Garden
Sorceries (14)
4x Farseek
3x Lingering Souls
2x Rakdos’s Return
1x Ranger’s Path
4x Supreme Verdict
Sideboard (15)
1x Abrupt Decay
1x Cavern of Souls
1x Curse of Death’s Hold
1x Door to Nothingness
3x Duress
1x Rakdos’s Return
2x Rest in Peace
2x Slaughter Games
2x Tragic Slip
1x Ultimate Price
Planeswalkers (3)
1x Garruk, Primal Hunter
1x Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker
1x Tamiyo, the Moon Sage
Creatures (6)
1x Gisela, Blade of Goldnight
1x Griselbrand
4x Thragtusk
Instants (6)
2x Abrupt Decay
3x Sphinx’s Revelation
1x Ultimate Price
Artifacts (3)
3x Chromatic Lantern
Enchantments (2)
1x Curse of Death’s Hold
1x Detention Sphere

That’s a grand total of twelve shock lands with nary a Huntmaster in sight. To supplement the requisite Thragtusk-and-Sphinx’s Revelation pony show that is the mainstay of every Bant control deck, Ali dipped into the Block-banned Lingering Souls to help prevent some early beats as well as provide a threat against the slower control decks. “So,” you may ask, “What’s the point of adding two additional colors to a deck that already has a proven track record of success? What do you gain?”

Everything.

Playing five colors means you can play every card in the format, so long as you can hit all your colors. The benefits of this are twofold; the first and most obvious benefit is that you can adjust your deck with any number of cards to prey on the suspected meta of the next big tournament. Aggressive decks expected? You have access to Supreme Verdict, Pillar of Flame, Sphinx’s Revelation, Thragtusk, Huntmaster of the Fells, Centaur Healer, and Curse of Death’s Hold in the same deck.  So long as you can insure being able to cast these spells in a timely fashion, five color control lets you play the most powerful answers and threats in any given format.

The second benefit is more subtle but equally important; five-color means your opponent has less information about what cards are in your deck. When you play Rakdos aggro or Bant control, there is a finite number of cards that are useful to either strategy, so your opponent knows what to play around. When you play five colors, the only cards your opponents can be sure are in your deck are Farseek and Chromatic Lantern. Everything else is basically good stuff dictated by what colors of mana your lands produce.

Going into this weekend, I can’t lie that I have some reservations about playing greed.dec. However, this is the type of deck I love to play. I expect there to be a rise in decks designed to beat Rakdos aggro, most of which will be midrange strategies upon which this deck preys. This is what Chapin calls level two; playing a deck that beats the deck which beats the deck to beat. I can only hope I’ll be able to show my opponents the Door.

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