Last weekend at GP Louisville, I failed to make Day Two with the exact same Esper list Reid Duke used to finish in 10th and William Jensen 8th. This is obviously quite a letdown, since they did so well with the deck and I couldn't even manage a Day Two. This is the first time I've missed Day Two in I think seven or eight attempts, which is distressing.
After that, I started grinding Magic Online, trying to brew a deck for the Standard portion of the SCG Invitational. Lately, I have been resting on my laurels and copying deck lists for each tournament I play, since I could do much worse than copying a great player's deck, but this reasoning is flawed. I know that this doesn't work for me, yet I choose to do it anyway. I'm most successful at tournaments when I play my own decks, or at least a deck with which I have a ton of experience. This might not work either, but I think it's a step in the right direction to believing in myself again.
I have a great process for preparing for tournaments and choosing decks, but recently I've chickened out and chosen the “safe” deck, and my results have suffered. Since I played Esper and did poorly, I told myself I desperately wanted to play an aggressive deck—which is a challenge to find. I started out with White Weenie with 4 [card]Boros Charm[/card] in the main deck, similar to the list that got 9th at the GP, but I quickly dismissed it. It didn't have a particularly good matchup against the mono-black deck that put three in the Top 8 (a deck I expect to be popular), and on top of that they had [card]Lifebane Zombie[/card] in the sideboard, which is unbelievably good against White Weenie. The only solutions I could come up with were trying to empty my entire hand before it got cast or hope they never drew it. This didn't work very often.
I then moved on to mono-red, very similar to the list I used to Top 8 the last SCG Open I played. The version with [card]Foundry Street Denizen[/card] and [card]Gore-House Chainwalker[/card] is brutally fast and the best version of red in my opinion. I like having the fastest clock available, and against a matchup like Esper [card]Fanatic of Mogis[/card] isn't even a good card since you always beat them if they don't have [card]Supreme Verdict[/card] anyway, and if they do then it's a 4/2 for four that deals 1 damage which is highly unimpressive. Mono-red is actually a great deck and I was winning with it quite a lot, I even noticed that other people were winning with it often since I'd see it pop up at 3-0 in Daily Events or 2-0 in the 8-mans.
I maintain the deck is still a fine choice but I dismissed it for 1 large reason: [card]Master of Waves[/card]. Not only is [card]Master of Waves[/card] a maindeck trump card in a widely-played deck, but they also have [card]Tidebinder Mage[/card] and [card]Frostburn Weird[/card] which are very hard to beat as well. Mono-red decks used to sideboard in [card]Frostburn Weird[/card] for the mirror match! Here is a card people put in their sideboard just to beat mono-red, and the blue devotion deck just gets to start with 4 maindeck. I would be putting it lightly if I said the matchup was an uphill battle. I tried to splash stuff like [card]Ultimate Price[/card], [card]Doom Blade[/card], and [card]Chained to the Rocks[/card], but in the end it made my mana base too inconsistent against the other decks, and I would still run into problems when facing the blue deck where I wouldn't draw black mana with my removal or I wouldn't draw removal with my black mana. It basically required a perfect storm of events to happen, and even then I felt disadvantaged because I lost the first game of the match so often.
White Weenie with [card]Boros Charm[/card]s is a great deck, but with [card]Lifebane Zombie[/card] played in the most popular deck, the obstacles are too great. I liked red a ton as well, but [card]Master of Waves[/card] is brutal since there is no good clean way to remove it in a 1-color red deck and splashing dilutes the deck too much. Since I knew I wanted to play an aggro deck and I already knew what a blue and green-based aggro deck would look like since they already exist, I tried black with good results. After playing from sun up to sun down with this deck, here is the list I recommend.
4 Rakdos Cackler
4 Tormented Hero
4 Ultimate Price
4 Pack Rat
4 Thrill-Kill Assassin
4 Lifebane Zombie
4 Hero's Downfall
4 Desecration Demon
4 Nightveil Specter
4 Dark Betrayal
3 Doom Blade[/deck]
Now this isn't your typical mono-black deck, since I've moved away from [card]Underworld Connections[/card] and [card]Gray Merchant of Asphodel[/card] for [card]Tormented Hero[/card] and [card]Rakdos Cackler[/card]. I think a lower curve build that just tries to kill the opponent as fast as possible is the best direction to take the deck, and with a fast clock, cards like [card]Thoughtseize[/card] and [card]Hero's Downfall[/card] become much stronger.
[card]Rakdos Cackler[/card] is one of the best reasons to play an aggressive deck in this format, and the reason why may surprise you. It's clear that a 2/2 for 1 mana is excellent—there's no denying that—but what makes [card]Rakdos Cackler[/card] so great is the fact that it cannot be killed by either [card]Doom Blade[/card] or [card]Ultimate Price[/card]. I play against the devotion version of mono-black, and when I have [card]Rakdos Cackler[/card] in my opening hand the only cards that can even defend against it are [card]Desecration Demon[/card] and [card]Nightveil Specter[/card], which match up poorly against removal spells. I've found that a turn 1 [card]Rakdos Cackler[/card] can easily deal 6 damage uncontested, and it can even get to 10 in normal games. The mono-black deck can't remove or block it in a timely manner, and you have [card]Thoughtseize[/card] and [card]Hero's Downfall[/card] to keep the train rolling. Once you have decided to build a black-based [card]Rakdos Cackler[/card] deck, the [card]Tormented Hero[/card] is a natural fit.
[card]Pack Rat[/card] is a card that has picked up steam recently and I'm glad to see it have a home in Constructed. We all know it's amazing in Limited, but the fact is that it's good in Limited because it's just a very powerful Magic card. It's a threat that can win the game on its own, and after a small window it becomes resistant to removal. It has problems with cards like [card]Detention Sphere[/card], [card]Supreme Verdict[/card], and [card]Mizzium Mortars[/card], but when you aren't facing down removal it can singlehandedly take over the game regardless of the rest of your draw is. I like [card]Pack Rat[/card] in this deck because it can be the only threat you draw and be great—when you pair it with only [card]Thoughtseize[/card] and removal spells it isn't surprising that it can close out the game. I like it because I need more cheap creatures in the deck, and my alternatives are quite poor. Also it's one of the best cards against mono-black, so having a maindeck card that's very problematic for what I expect to be the most popular deck in the field is nice. I also like [card]Pack Rat[/card] because you can use [card]Mutavault[/card] to give them +1/+1 since it counts as a Rat, having four lands that can also function as [card]Glorious Anthem[/card]s is incredibly powerful.
[card]Thrill-Kill Assassin[/card] is highly underrated since it has a nice body, can block well if you find yourself behind, and is very hard to beat in combat. What does a red-green deck do if you put [card]Thrill-Kill Assassin[/card] into play on defense? They can't fight it with [card]Domri Rade[/card] or [card polukranos, world eater]Polukranos[/card], that's for sure. Mono-blue devotion can't realistically block it with any creature they have in their deck, so it's either take 2 a turn or double-block it. This card was also a quick addition when you realize that, in Standard, if you want a 2-casting cost black creature the options are few and far between. I toyed with [card]Blood Scrivener[/card] for a while, but it's just too weak of a card to be considered.
[card]Lifebane Zombie[/card] is critical, since it functions as a good solid creature that beats down while also giving you insane value in some matchups. I quite like how it gives you a good clean consistent answer to [card]Blood Baron of Vizkopa[/card], which is a card that basically wins the game on its own against the deck.
I expect Mono-Black Devotion to be the most played deck:
[draft]4 Lifebane Zombie
[draft]4 Dark Betrayal
4 Nightveil Specter[/draft]
The most important cards in this matchup are [card]Pack Rat[/card] and [card]Nightveil Specter[/card]. [card]Nightveil Specter[/card] is incredibly powerful when both players are the exact same colors, because its ability becomes almost literally drawing a card instead of milling the opponent for 1 randomly and hoping you hit a land. I used to play with cards like [card]Doom Blade[/card], but I lost to [card]Nightveil Specter[/card] too many times to count, since it blocks every cheap creature I have and I cannot block it, so it just takes over the game with card advantage. [card]Lifebane Zombie[/card] is a fine threat, but I have to remove something from the deck and [card]Nightveil Specter[/card] is simply a better three-casting-cost creature.
I expect Esper to be the second-most played deck:
[draft]4 Ultimate Price[/draft]
This plan is simple but very effective, the matches I play against Esper are usually a total blowout in my favor or a very close game that comes down to topdecking. When you have 8 copies of [card]Duress[/card] in your deck along with cheap creatures, you can close out the game very quickly while ignoring [card]Supreme Verdict[/card]. I also like how their Jaces are weakened—when you have a 2-power creature in play, if the opponent has Jace in hand his options are limited greatly, since he can either +1 the Jace and get no value against a [card]Hero's Downfall[/card], or he can choose to -2 it and have it die to being attacked.
Mono-Blue Devotion will be heavily played but not as much as mono-black or Esper:
[draft]3 Rakdos Cackler[/draft]
[draft]3 Doom Blade[/draft]
This matchup can be difficult, but I would estimate it's about 50/50. I have 8 removal spells that kill [card]Master of Waves[/card] and other problem creatures, but it's all about drawing the right mix of lands, threats, and removal, which can be tough with no card filtering. I sideboard out [card]Rakdos Cackler[/card] here because it's a red creature by coincidence and gets blanked by [card]Tidebinder Mage[/card], I have also had situations come up where it just gets blocked by [card]Master of Waves[/card]. I also dislike the super small creatures in this matchup because the opponent can just plop down a [card]Frostburn Weird[/card], totally halting your offense.
Lastly, I expect Red-Green in large numbers. I don't know what their exact list will look like in any given matchup, but it's easy to assume they have mana acceleration, large creatures, and planeswalkers.
I haven't quite figured out what to sideboard out in this matchup, but I know I would like to add 3 [card]Doom Blade[/card]s. My gut says to remove [card]Rakdos Cackler[/card] again because it's so bad against [card]Sylvan Caryatid[/card], but [card]Tormented Hero[/card] just gets blocked by [card]Voyaging Satyr[/card] and [card]Elvish Mystic[/card], so maybe that's the card to go. I could see [card]Pack Rat[/card] being too weak as well. Here you really want to draw [card]Lifebane Zombie[/card] as he is easily the best clock and can remove a [card polukranos, world eater]Polukranos[/card] from the opponent's hand.
I like this deck a ton and I have been winning with it almost non-stop on Magic Online, but it is tailor made for a specific metagame. I recommend it as long as you expect a field of the four decks I listed. I would love to hear from anyone who plays with the deck in the comments section as I'll be constantly trying to improve it.
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