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PV’s Playhouse – T2 With Innistrad

Hello everyone!

Originally, this article was going to be about my sweet UB control deck and how it beat everything. Then I played with it a little bit more and, well, it turned out it didn’t exactly beat most stuff, if you get what I mean. So, instead of writing exclusively about a deck I don’t think you should play, I’ve decided to give an overview in Standard and to talk about some things that people have been doing.

When I first saw the new set, my immediate impression was that a Wafo-Tapa kind of control deck would be very good. For those of you who are new, Wafo-Tapa control decks have 35 counterspells and 1 kill condition that usually has Flash so you don’t even have to tap out for it – and here I am thinking mostly of the Mono Blue from Krakow that put both him and Amiel Tenembaum in the t8. Two factors contributed for me to think this deck had potential again:

1) You now have real sources of card advantage that can be played at Instant Speed in [card]Think Twice[/card] and [card]Forbidden Alchemy[/card], as well as “kicked” [card]Visions of Beyond[/card] later on. Those draw-go decks cannot work properly if they can’t draw more cards than the opponent, so you are just trading 1 for 1.

2) [card]Snapcaster Mage[/card] is at its best in a deck that has multiple counters and doesn’t want to ever tap out – it serves as additional permission and additional removal, and it is a flash guy that is eventually going to kill them.

Here was the first list I built:

[deck]4 Darkslick Shores
2 Inkmoth Nexus
2 Nephalia Drownyard
4 Drowned Catacomb
5 Swamp
9 Island
Creatures
4 Snapcaster Mage
3 Grave Titan
1 Go for the Throat
1 Wring Flesh
1 Tribute to Hunger
1 Dismember
4 Forbidden Alchemy
4 Think Twice
4 Mana Leak
4 Dissipate
4 Visions of Beyond
1 Doom Blade
2 Ratchet Bomb[/deck]

The removal is pretty randomly spread out, but I like to build first drafts like this so I see which one I like more (and there is definitely value in having different spells when you’re Snapcasting). [card]Grave Titan[/card] is my one exception to the tap out rule because I couldn’t bring myself to play [card]Spire Monitor[/card], and I thought I would have to race certain kinds of permanents. The [card]Nephalia Drownyard[/card] is mostly to target yourself, which is definitely worth it with Snapcaster, [card]Think Twice[/card], [card]Visions of Beyond[/card] and [card]Forbidden Alchemy[/card], but also doubles as a kill condition if you need it to. [card]Inkmoth Nexus[/card] is mostly to block and to poke away Planeswalkers.

It quickly became apparent that I was going to face problems Wafo-Tapa hadn’t had to, back in Krakow – namely Shrines, Phoenixes and Planeswalkers, which I pretty much couldn’t beat. Also, my kill condition wasn’t exactly the best – there wasn’t much room to play it against Solar Flare since they could just Wrath it away, play their own Titan or even copy it with [card]Phantasmal Image[/card]. Mono Red was a total nightmare, since they attack you on three different fronts – creatures, Koth and Shrine – all of which can kill you single handedly and require radically different kinds of answers. Often my opponent would play early guys and steamroll me, or just play Shrine and blow it for 10. In one particular game he played t2 and t3 Shrine and I took 20 from those despite dealing with every other card he played.

I decided to change my approach a little bit – if I wanted to play real draw go, then I should play real draw go. That was when, in what I thought was a surge of brilliancy, I found the [card]Nether Spirit[/card] of this format – [card]Reassembling Skeleton[/card]. It seemed to do everything I wanted from a guy – it blocked all the pesky 1/1s from Red, it was indestructible, it didn’t need me to tap out AND it could be played from my graveyard very conveniently. With Skeletons, I decided I could add Lilianas since I would have enough ways to capitalize on the +1 ability. This is what I came up with next:

[deck]4 Darkslick Shores
4 Drowned Catacomb
2 Inkmoth Nexus
7 Island
2 Nephalia Drownyard
6 Swamp
3 Reassembling Skeleton
4 Snapcaster Mage
4 Mana Leak
4 Dissipate
4 Forbidden Alchemy
2 Go for the Throat
3 Liliana of the Veil
1 Sorin’s Vengeance
3 Think Twice
3 Ratchet Bomb
1 Doom Blade
3 Visions of Beyond[/deck]

It fared about as bad as it looks like it would against Red – even Skeleton wasn’t much help because it was very slow to recover (you’d play it, they kill it and then you have to spend turn three to bring it back and it doesn’t even block there) and without Titan Shrine was just unbeatable, despite the [card]Sorin’s Vengeance[/card] that I tried as my “life gain/kill condition”. It is pretty sweet that you can flash it back with Snapcaster for the full 20, but it just wasn’t fast enough. Also later on I found out other people were playing Skeleton too, so I wasn’t even a genius or anything of the like.

I tried many different versions to try and beat Red – I added more Vengeances, I added Red for [card]Engulfing Flames[/card], I added Red and Green for [card]Ancient Grudge[/card]s – nothing worked very well. The best results I got were when I started approaching the Solar Flare decks, embracing the entire tap-out aspect. So, long story short, I tried many versions of draw-go and couldn’t ever beat Red with any of them, so unless I am missing something if you want to play control you’re better of with the tap-out-big-monsters kind.

That, of course, does not mean all my trouble was for nothing – learning that something is bad is still learning something. It also gave me enough knowledge on the format as a whole that I feel a lot more confident making certain claims, such as:

Mono Red is actually very good

A while ago, I answered some questions for Brian David-Marshall to put on an article about Innistrad. Among them, there was one that asked what I thought was going to be the most successful deck in the immediate tournaments, and Mono Red was a very easy answer, because Mono Red is always the most successful deck in the beginning of a format. The main reason for that is that most decks are very rough at first, whereas Mono Red is often tuned to almost perfection within a week of the set’s release, since you just follow the same basic algorithm every single time – cheap creatures, burn, land, ta-da.

This time was no exception – Mono Red has been doing better than most other things in most tournaments. SCG Indianapolis, for example, had two Mono Red decks in the finals. Part of that is really due to the fact that most decks are clunky, but part of it isn’t – it turns out that, even if you take out the untuned factor, Mono Red is still very powerful in this format. For reference, here are the two lists that made the finals of the SCG tournament:

David Doberne

[deck]4 Shrine of Burning Rage
3 Chandra’s Phoenix
2 Goblin Arsonist
3 Grim Lavamancer
2 Hero of Oxid Ridge
2 Spikeshot Elder
4 Stormblood Berserker
4 Stromkirk Noble
4 Brimstone Volley
3 Incinerate
3 Koth of the Hammer
3 Arc Trail
23 Mountain
Sideboard
1 Sword of War and Peace
2 Perilous Myr
2 Hero of Oxid Ridge
3 Manic Vandal
4 Vulshok Refugee
1 Arc Trail
1 Traitorous Blood
1 Mountain[/deck]

Scott Tompkins

[deck]4 Shrine of Burning Rage
3 Chandra’s Phoenix
3 Furnace Scamp
3 Grim Lavamancer
2 Hero of Oxid Ridge
4 Stormblood Berserker
4 Stromkirk Noble
4 Brimstone Volley
4 Gut Shot
3 Incinerate
3 Shock
2 Arc Trail
17 Mountain
4 Rootbound Crag
Sideboard
3 Nihil Spellbomb
1 Hero of Oxid Ridge
4 Vulshok Refugee
4 Ancient Grudge
2 Dismember
1 Arc Trail[/deck]

This brings me to the next point:

This format is bipolar, and Mono Red and Solar Flare are the two poles

So far, everything points to this format being extremely bipolar – on one side you have the fast aggro decks, Red and to an extent Tempered Steel, and on the other you have Solar Flare. I believe those are by a wide margin the most powerful decks we have so far, and the most important ones to take into account when you try to build anything else. Most of what is in this article is going to count on this premise being true. Again, just for reference, here is the highest placing Flare list:

William Malman

[deck]1 Wurmcoil Engine
1 Consecrated Sphinx
1 Phantasmal Image
3 Snapcaster Mage
3 Sun Titan
3 Oblivion Ring
3 Doom Blade
4 Forbidden Alchemy
3 Think Twice
1 Tribute to Hunger
3 Liliana of the Veil
3 Day of Judgment
3 Timely Reinforcements
3 Unburial Rites
4 Island
5 Plains
2 Swamp
2 Darkslick Shores
3 Drowned Catacomb
4 Glacial Fortress
4 Isolated Chapel
1 Seachrome Coast
Sideboard
2 Wurmcoil Engine
1 Oblivion Ring
2 Stony Silence
2 Dissipate
2 Surgical Extraction
2 Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite
1 Day of Judgment
2 Revoke Existence
1 Timely Reinforcements[/deck]

[card]Daybreak Ranger[/card] is very bad

Sorry Kibler/Brad, I couldn’t disagree more with you this time. Don’t get me wrong, I can certainly appreciate the fact that this card is deceptively much better than it seems, but that is not very hard because it seems horrendous – it is, in fact, just bad. There can certainly be a place for it somewhere, maybe in a very near future, but I doubt there is a place for it now. The reason for that is that both the top decks – Flare and Red – punish durdling like nothing you’ve ever seen. With those decks, you just can’t afford to play a guy that doesn’t do anything! In fact, I would say you can’t afford to play those durdly guys period. Imagine this against Red in the best case scenario of you having a turn 1 Birds (because, if you don’t, the only reason you won’t be chumping with this the moment you play it is that it is a Human and therefore can’t block [card]Stromkirk Noble[/card]) – you play it on turn two and then on turn three you pass, ready with your Mountain and your 4/4 to destroy their team. Then, on their upkeep, with the trigger on the stack, they [card]Shock[/card] it. There, gone, all your troubles for nothing.

Against Solar Flare, this guy is easily outclassed by, well, everything – Titans, Wurmcoils, Preators, Demons, whatever your weapon of choice is you will not have trouble with this. They also have cheap removal, [card]Liliana of the Veil[/card], and [card]Day of Judgment[/card]. The way the game is going to go is probably that they will kill all of your guys one way or another and then on turn 6 play a guy you can’t deal with. This is not a problem that [card]Daybreak Ranger[/card] has by herself (it’s a woman, right?) but one shared by every card you’d think of playing in a [card]Daybreak Ranger[/card] deck.

There are basically two decks I can see Ranger being good against – Tempered Steel and the Ranger Mirror. Against Tempered Steel, it’s good because the unflipped side will still kill stuff, but it’s really going to depend on whether they have targets for you (which right now they should), since they have [card]Dismember[/card] and/or [card]Dispatch[/card] and counting on it flipping might get you blown out like getting blown out by Red would. Also, if they land a [card]Tempered Steel[/card], then it doesn’t do much anymore, even flipped. AND, of course, I also think Steel is just a bad version of Red, as I always have – I would rather play against Steel with any deck other than Red and Steel themselves, and even that might change after board.

[card]Geistflame[/card] is very good

This card is insane and it’s weird to me that neither of the Mono Red decks that made the finals were packing it (though one had [card]Gut Shot[/card]). It is obviously good in the Red mirror, since most guys have 1 toughness, but it is also very good against [card]Snapcaster Mage[/card], every guy from Tempered Steel, Mayor, most Humans, Birds, etc. Even against a control deck it is no worse than [card]Shock[/card] that adds two counters to Shrine and has to be countered twice. If I were to play Mono Red today, I would 100% play four of those. In fact, it’s so good that [card]Devil’s Play[/card] might not be out of consideration, especially if you can -2 Koth and hit them for LITERALLY A BILLION when they tap out for Titan.

[card]Day of Judgment[/card] is very good

Right now, almost every deck is creature based to some extent. Red has a decent amount, humans/Rangers/Tempered Steel is all dudes, even the control deck has a ton of big guys, many of whom come with other guys included, and you want Day against all of them. I think 3 is a very decent number, and 4 might not be out of question.

Koth is much better than Hero

[card]Koth of the Hammer[/card] and [card]Hero of Oxid Ridge[/card] have been competing for the same slot for a while in Mono Red decks, and each has been better in different occasions. In this format, I think Koth is much better, because, since most decks are creature based, most decks will as a consequence have more removal. [card]Snapcaster Mage[/card] decks especially want cheap removal that they can Snapcast back, and even if they don’t have that they can just block the hero with the Snapcaster! Koth is immune to all this, and he lets you play a major threat that does not die to [card]Day of Judgment[/card].

Here is my current Red list, which is almost exactly the one Patrick Sullivan built and Chris Mascioli played to top 8 some tournament:

[deck]4 Stromkirk Noble
3 Furnace Scamp
3 Spikeshot Elder
2 Grim Lavamancer
4 Stormblood Berserker
4 Koth of the Hammer
4 Shrine of Burning Rage
4 Geistflame
4 Incinerate
4 Volt Charge
24 Mountain[/deck]

I think Volt Charge is better than the new removal spell, since you have Noble, Berserkers, Koth and Shrine and it’s going to do more damage on average. Even without fetches, I think Lavamancer is still fine – you don’t have to activate him many times for him to be good.

There are two directions you can go with the sideboard – either you play [card]Manic Vandal[/card] or you play [card]Ancient Grudge[/card]. Vandal is better as an incidental artifact killer, if you want it against [card]Birthing Pod[/card] or [card]Spellskite[/card], but [card]Ancient Grudge[/card] is better against decks you actively want artifact removal, Tempered Steel and any [card]Kuldotha Forgemaster[/card]/[card tezzeret, agent of bolas]Tezzeret[/card] shenanigans (and also [card]Wurmcoil Engine[/card]). If you play [card]Ancient Grudge[/card], you can fit some Green lands in the main – you can likely afford four or five without hurting your explosiveness or Koth ultimates. The +x/+0 land is passable too if you have Green, but you can’t overload on them – you could play for example five Green sources and one or two [card]Kessig Wolf Run[/card]s and that would be pushing it a bit already. It might be that just going all in on Mountains and playing Vandals is the better approach anyway.

While I’m on the topic of Green cards, I absolutely do not understand the new [card garruk relentless]Garruk[/card] being played in Mono Red. I understand that you can play him because of duals, but why would you want to? He seems much worse than Koth to me. Even if Garruk cost 3R, I would still play Koth over him any day – you don’t want a recurring source of small threats, you want to smash them into oblivion before their 6 and 7 drops can take over. By the time Garruk has dealt 2 damage, Koth has dealt 8. If you play guy, guy, Garruk and they Wrath, then next turn you have a wolf and have done zero damage – with Koth you have done 8. Koth’s ultimate lets you kill them through Titan/[card elesh norn, grand cenobite]Elesh Norn[/card]/[card wurmcoil engine]Wurmcoil[/card] even, Garruk will never do that – by playing Garruk you are playing right into their game, the long game, and you will be outclassed. AND it doesn’t pump Shrine!

[card]Think Twice[/card] is not that good

When [card]Think Twice[/card] was first released, almost no deck played it – only the draw-go type of decks did. Nowadays it seems like everyone wants to put [card]Think Twice[/card] into their decks, and I am not sure why – I think people see “graveyard” and “extra cards” and just can’t pass on it. [card]Divination[/card] offers the same number of extra cards for two less mana, and it is Snapcaster-Mageable (nice word uh?) if you want it. Simply put, most decks do not have interest in casting Think Twice, and the fact that they might randomly end up there through [card]Forbidden Alchemy[/card] is not enough to make the card good. If you want to play draw-go, by all means play [card]Think Twice[/card], but in a deck like Solar Flare just don’t bother – if you’re going to tap out, tap out like a man!

[card]Snapcaster Mage[/card] is good, but not in every deck people are playing him

Though obviously much better than [card]Think Twice[/card] and certainly an awesome card, [card]Snapcaster Mage[/card] does not seem to be a four-of in most decks people play him. Many of the instants and sorceries people want to flashback have flashback anyway, and many are too expensive to be worth it. In the Flare deck that I posted earlier, you can get [card]Doom Blade[/card], [card]Timely Reinforcements[/card], [card]Day of Judgment[/card] and the 1 [card]Tribute to Hunger[/card] – that is not a whole lot when you consider that Day is kinda pushing it at 6 mana. More importantly, versus control there is nothing you really want – it’ll always be a 2/1 flash for 2 that takes some mana off your Alchemy flashback. The stats on him aren’t bad, it is a fine blocker and a fine Liliana attacker, but I don’t really think you want him in that deck. If you do play him, you certainly need Mana Leak – that would make him much better against other versions of control. Without Leak, I don’t think you play him at all, and even with Leak you probably don’t play four – more like 2 or 3.

Despite believing Mono Red and Flare are the two most powerful decks, I think Flare is going to be the better of those once people find the best versions, since right now they’re kinda even but one has a lot more potential to grow. I still have to play a lot more with Flare, since I have so far been unable to determine even which big guys I want, and I think that ends up dictating everything else (for example, Sun Titan versus Grave Titan should change how you build the rest of your deck). Maybe we get back to Flare again next week, when I feel like I have found a better version – or at least one I am more confident about rather than the guesswork I have right now.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this, see you next week!
-PV

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