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Archive for October, 2009

Woolly

Big and dumb can be pretty dangerous.

 One of my favorite decks is Naya Zoo. Yeah, it is a tier 2, at the moment,  but I think the deck has the potential to break into the top tier.

I’ve been playing Naya Zoo for quite some time now, and it seems pretty solid. That being said, I cannot say much about how it matches up in today’s metagame. I haven’t played consistently enough against the same sort of decks you would see at a major tournament.

What I can tell you is what the deck does well. It plays cheap and powerful or cheap and potentially powerful creatures and turns them sideways. Yes, it is a beatdown deck. However, it has a few tricks. Naya Zoo generates card advantage with cascade and Ranger of Eos, a pretty nice trick with all of the removal out there. It also has a bit of removal too, for things like those pesky Baneslayer Angels.

As much as a dumb monster deck as Naya Zoo is, you cannot just throw things out there without thinking and expect to win. I know this from experience. Naya Zoo still requires brains. I would have to say 50% of my losses with this deck were due to user error.

Here is a build I went 5-2 with last Friday.

Naya Zoo

 
Creatures
3 Scute Mob
4 Wild Nacatl
3 Woolly Thoctar
4 Knight of the Reliquary
4 Bloodbraid Elf
4 Ranger of Eos
3 Enlisted Wurm Planeswalkers
2 Ajani Vengeant

  

Instants
4 Path to Exile
3 Lightning Bolt
2 Naya Charm

Lands
2 Mountain
4 Plains
4 Forest
4 Jungle Shrine
4 Arid Mesa
4 Rootbound Crag
3 Oran-Rief, the Vastwood
Sideboard
3 Qasali Pridemage
3 Dauntless Escort
3 Volcanic Fallout
3 Great Sable Stag
3 Journey to Nowhere

Again, I can’t say a whole lot about the matchups. I only played a few decks what I would consider “mainstream”. However, I can briefly discuss some of the cards  and how they perform.  

Scute Mob: Some say he’s great, others say he sucks, but his board presence is undeniable. He has to be answered eventually, or he will quickly get out of hand. Yes, all removal kills him, but you only paid one G. Maybe he’s a 1/1, maybe he’s a 9/9.  

Knight of the Reliquary: The best trick with her is to blow up a plains and then look for an Arid Mesa. You can figure out what to do next. Not only does this help her grow by 2 each turn, but it helps to thin your deck out too. Block and do it before damage is dealt.  She can be a lot of work, and I would suggest boarding her out in control matchups where the chances of your hard work paying off are minimal. Against other creature decks with little removal, she’s a superstar.

Enlisted Wurm: Cascade is insane, and to keep up with something like Jund, you need to be able to “cheat” in as many free monsters and spells as possible. Not only can the wurm do that, but he has a solid body as well.

Naya Charm: I only saw this a few times, but it was a monster each time I did. All of the charm’s abilities are pretty relevant. The least useful ability is the 3 damage. The charm’s other two abilities are what really makes it shine. In a standoff situation, it will win you the game. It also counts as “extra copies” of spells or creatures already in the graveyard.

Oran-Rief, the Vastwood: Sometimes, 4/4 Nacatls are really useful. The extra point of power and toughness can sometimes make a huge difference.

Sideboard: Was terrible, except for the Journey to Nowhere. Sometimes a little extra removal is necessary against those big finishers.

After Friday, I made a few slight changes to the mainboard, and quite a few changes to the sideboard. Here’s the new makeup.

Naya Zoo Two

Creatures
3 Scute Mob
4 Wild Nacatl
3 Woolly Thoctar
4 Knight of the Reliquary
4 Bloodbraid Elf
4 Ranger of Eos
3 Enlisted Wurm 

 Instants
4 Path to Exile
4 Lightning Bolt
3 Naya Charm

Lands
2 Mountain
4 Plains
4 Forest
4 Jungle Shrine
4 Arid Mesa
4 Rootbound Crag
3 Oran-Rief, the Vastwood
Sideboard
3 Captured Sunlight
2 Luminarch Ascension
2 Uril the Miststalker
2 Volcanic Fallout
3 Dauntless Escort
3 Journey to Nowhere

Ajani sucked in all of my games. If I saw him, that was. Even in control matchups, there was always a sphinx or sodding Baneslayer Angel flying over my head to kill him if I didn’t have a path. However, an extra bolt or Naya Charm would have won me a few games, so I added them in.

Sideboard 2

Naya does horribly against the stupid mono-red decks out there. They burn your creatures, hit you with earthquake a few times and then Spire Barrage you to death. I wished for some Captured Sunlight, which I had in the original sideboard but took out. It will also help you get back some of your burned monsters. Uril the Miststalker should be great in removal-heavy matchups, and as an added bonus, bigger than anything Jund has. The Luminarch Ascensions should help with control matchups.

Here are a few tips on how to play Naya Zoo.

Your deck is best at 5 + lands. Never keep a hand with less than 3 lands in it. I am willing to bet I’ve lost most of the games I’ve tried it with fewer.

Unless you really need guys on the field, use Bloodbraid Elf and Enlisted Wurm as if they were removal; cast them when there’s something you need to get rid of. Cascading into a path when you don’t need it sucks, and being able to get a free one and a monster is great.

Scute Mob should be dropped on turn one, if you have it in your opening hand. They’ll have to get rid of it eventually, and even if you only get in for a couple points before you have to hold it back or it gets removed.

In a control match-up, play Ranger of Eos whenever they don’t have the mana to counter, even if you don’t think you need the guys. You will. Playing a Bloodbraid Elf or Enlisted Wurm into a counterspell is okay. They’ll have to choose.

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Inquiring Minds

I see that I’m averaging around 50 hits per day and I’m interested to find out how people are finding my website. I’ve made this little poll to find out. Feel free to leave a comment if you wish. In fact, if you vote “other”, I would love to know what “other” is.

 

Also, www.wizardscupboard.com sells Baneslayer Angel for $35, if they’ve ever got them in stock.

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When a block rotates out and a new one steps in, there is a rare moment when the metagame is a relatively clean slate. Here there is a chance for real innovation. New cards come in, old cards previously not “good enough” are suddenly look a lot better and strategies that just didn’t make it in the old metagame might get the chance to shine in the new one.

Lets take a look at some of the post-Zendikar decks that didn’t have a strong showing at the Starcitygames Phillidelphia 5k, or are still in the “development” phase.

Cruel Control
Bant
Naya
Soldiers
Cascade
Other Control

*Each highlighted deck link is a different version of the discussed deck.

Traditional Cruel Control (and varients)

Cruel Control has been a popular deck for quite some time now, starting as Quick n’ Toast first and slowly evolving to what we know now as Cruel Control (as almost every variant runs at least two copies of the namesake sorcery). This deck usually ends up on top sometime due to its ability to play all of the best cards in the format, no matter what the color, and can thus have an answer to most everything in the metagame. However, the deck usually has lull periods when the best cards in the format and the “enemy” are yet to be defined, such as right now, when the meta is in flux.  
At it’s core, Cruel Control is just as it says; a control deck. It keeps the board squeaky clean with the best removal, sweepers and countermagic; drawing cards in the meantime and waiting until the right moment to drop an efficient threat like Broodmate Dragon or Baneslayer Angel or cast its flagship card, Cruel Ultimatum.
Right now, the biggest changes to the deck are the loss of countermagic (not Cryptic Command = teh suck for many) and the addition of fetches (no more Reflecting Pool or vivid lands). What the deck gained is Wrath of God (Day of Judgment) and a nice finisher in Sphinx of Jwar Isle.
The deck still plays the same, just different spells. Kill, counter, cast a finisher or Cruel Ultimatum. What remains to be seen is what the deck will have to include to counter todays threats and if the old card choices are as effective as they were pre-Zendikar.

Other variants exist, such as Cascade Control. Here, the idea is pretty much the same; control the board, but with less countermagic and more creature removal, as cascade doesn’t play well with counters. Cascade control is a little more pro-active, if you ask me, if only on the back of the free cards generated by the  nine or so Cascade cards.

Other varients of Cruel Control exist too, but they all pretty much play the same way, with the choice of finishers or the inclusion of a few extra counter/kill cards being the only difference.

Bantddvzzkt636_EN

Bant is a deck people have been trying to work on since Shards of Alara was printed. However, the archetype has only seen limited success, usually with aggressive decks riding on the back of Rafiq of the Many or Finest Hour.
Bant is an interesting combination of cards, featuring a little bit of muscle, combat trickery and countermagic.  The deck operates as an agressive or mid-range creature deck, getting in for some early damage and then keeping the board clean until it can get in with a power hit after dropping Rafiq, Finest Hour or both.  The deck can even deal with a few things larger than itself with some countermagic. However, the deck never seems to get there. Some of the coolest creatures and best removal are in Bant colors, yet the deck just never seems to get there constantly. I do not know why, but I can speculate; the cards in the other decks are just a bit better. With no cascade, card drawing, or direct damage, it seems Bant has no real way to come back once the game starts going south either.  
Still, Bant is one of my favorite color combinations. Perhaps with the additional white removal or with a few creature changes, Bant can make a stronger showing  in the new Metagame.

Naya

Naya is another second-string deck that, like Bant, just doesn’t seem to have gotten there yet, despite great cards. Also like Bant, there seem to be different versions post-Zen; aggressive versions and a mid-range mana-rampish version. The former version is one I have had experience with. The deck usually throws out some quality one drops like Wild Nacatl and now Goblin Guide or Scute Mob, then picks up the pace with the cascade triggering Bloodbraid Elf, the powerful Woolly Thoctar or the card drawing Ranger of Eos, keeping the board and hands full. Some versions run Ajani Vengeant. The deck also runs with some removal like Path to Exile and Lightning Bolt. The extent of the Naya strategy is to bash to victory and hopefully get good draws from the elf and enough guys from Ranger to survive sweepers, which the deck was originally pretty immune to (before they reprinted wrath).
The second version, Naya Lotus Angel, uses Lotus Cobra to ramp up to Baneslayer Angel, Rampaging Baloths or Enlisted Wurm quickly. It also plays many of the same creatures  Naya Aggro runs, such as the one drops.
Naya is now adding critters like Dauntless Escort and Knight of the Reliquary, dropping some of the bigger vanilla monsters. Good move, I say. Perhaps the deck just needs some fresh cards.

i72a96xvxh_ENSoldiers

Soldiers, the token white weenie deck of the format. Play lots of dudes, power them up with other dudes and the white-only enchantment Honor the Pure. Play more dudes and overwhelm your opponent. Not a lot of innovation here. Captain of the Watch is great for six mana. Brave the elements is great for either protecting your guys from a damage-dealing sweeper or surprising the opponent by giving your guys protection from thier guys and swing in for lethal damage.  Removal is usually limited to path, and maybe a few combat tricks with Brave the Elements or Harm’s Way.
Question: why do soldier decks playing Ranger of Eos and Captain of the Watch not play Kor Skyfisher? A 2/3 flying soldier for 1W. Return the ranger or the captain to your hand to cast them again for their CIP ability.

Cascade

Everybody knows how powerful cascade is; you get cards for free doing something you would normally do; cast a spell. It is no wonder so many powerful decks have a bit of cascade built into them, such as Cruel Cascade and Jund. Some decks are trying to capitalize on this by adding the best of the cascade cards to a single package, though the effectiveness of this idea is yet unknown. Give it a shot.

Other Control

Control is a popular strategy, and no wonder; some kind of control deck usually ends up pwning the formate eventually. Right now, aside from Cruel Control, there are quite a few other control strategies out there. Time Sieve, for example, keeps your opponent from doing any real damage before you either a.) kill them with animated artifacts, or b.) take 20 turns before killing them with animated artifacts. It seems like a dumb idea, but it works pretty well. The version linked above is a little strange, as it doesn’t run much removal or counters, but it can still be deadly.
Other combo decks include this new innovation here. According its creator, the deck’s strange spell choices might just come out of left field. but are great in today’s meta. Personally, I like Swerve, especially with cards like Mind Sludge and Blightning running around. It can switch the target of a Malestrom Pulse nicely too, saving your planeswalker. Magosi the Waterwell ain’t too bad either. Drop a counter when the opponent doesn’t make a play, let him take the next turn and then do something stupid like draw 7 with Mindspring and take another turn. 
Mono White control is also trying to make a showing, likely due to the new “wrath” and Lumiarch Ascension. It is not as hard as it seems to get that sucker online.  Iona, Shield of Emeria can shut down games fast, and Emeria, the Sky Ruin can bring back fallen Baneslayers and Knight of the White Orchid.

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The post-Zendikar standard metagame is starting to shape up, and though there haven’t been a whole lot of of standard events (one, actually) to draw decklists from, a few have begun to appear. Sure, plenty of people have great ideas for new decks when we get our hands on brand-spanking new cards, but while we’re experimenting (I’m obsessed with Bloodchief Ascension myself) with new ideas, it’s nice to see what is actually racking up the wins.

So far, the Starcitygames Phillidelphia 5k is the first standard event since Zendikar’s release. Let’s take a look at what the top 8 decks were comprised of:

5  Jund Aggro!
1 Boros Bushwhacker
1Vampires
1Red Deck Wins

sprouting_thrinax

We all knew this guy would see play eventually.

Jund hasn’t changed alot; neither losing or gaining anything of great importance, which is likely why it is so popular right now. Jund is easy to build, fairly easy to play, and pretty high on the power scale thanks to insanely efficient creatures, strong removal and the practically broken cascade mechanic.  
So what is new with Jund? Sprouting  class=”hiddenSpellError” pre=”Sprouting “>Thrinax has taken the place of Boggart Ram-Gang/Kitchen Finks. He is a bitch to deal with; there is no good way to kill him unless you are playing white.
A few versions, including the 1st place winner, ran a few copies of Resounding Thunder, as well as a few copies of Garruk Wildspeaker. Both cards can cinch the long game, wether with an uncounterable 6 damage to the dome or a herd of 4/4 saproling tokens.  

Boros Bushwhacker

Boros Bushwhacker is a balls-to-the-wall  class=”hiddenSpellError” pre=”balls-to-the-wall “>aggro deck, consisting of cheap creatures, burn, and a smidge of removal. While I haven’t played with or against the deck, but I’ve heard it is said bushwhacker operate very quickly with great consistency. Many of the decks small creatures, such as Plated Geopede and Steppe Lynx get a boost from landfall triggers, and as inexpensive as they are, an army can appear on a clear board, hasted and ready to go thanks to Goblin Bushwhacker. Add a land drop to the mix and perhaps bounce the bushwhacker (or land) back to hand with Kor Skyfisher (not a bad card at all) and you’ve got some mean combatants in a jiffy. Ranger of Eos can grab whatever you need too, since nearly every creature in the deck costs only one mana.

VampireHexmageVampires

Vampires is the auto-build deck we all saw coming as soon as the tribe was spoiled on the internets.  The deck doesn’t have a lot of tricks but it is rather consistent and the creatures are relatively inexpensive but boast a wide range of useful abilities. The deck seems to really shine when Vampire Nocturnus is on the board giving the tribe (and itself) +2+1 and flying. Without the lord, the rest of the clan can still be quite troublesome, especially the constantly recurring Bloodghast and the incredible Malakair Bloodwitch. Aside from the creatures, the mono-black deck has some tricky kill like Tendrils of Corruption and can even draw a few cards with Sign in Blood to keep the tank full.

Red Deck Wins

Not a lot to talk about here. Red deck does the same thing red decks have always done; attack with hasty, cheap creature and cast burn spells. Ball lightning can smash through early defenses for some serious damage, and the Hellspark Elemental and Hell’s Thunder operate in much the same way, but can come back for a second attack thanks to the uncounterable Unearth mechanic. Plated Geopede and Goblin Guide provide some lasting attack power.  Also seen in RDW, along with the Boros Bushwhacker deck, is the use of Teetering Peaks to provide not only mana, but a landfall trigger and a power boost. A turn two Geopede is a 4/4 first striker on turn 3; not too bad at all.

Several other decks made a showing at the Philly 5k. To see the list of the top 16 decks, go here. These, however, do not the definitive post-Zendikar lists. The standard meta is quite young, and many old favorites are being fine tuned to combat some of the newer archetypes, and new ideas are still being tested.

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The other day I looked at some of the rare and mythic cards in Zendikar I thought will be deck building staples, or at least have potential. Now, I would like to mention a few of the commons and uncommons I think have a good chance of showing up in some sort of standard deck.

White

Brave the Elements
Brave the Elements might take the place of Burrenton Forge Tender in white weenie sideboards, but it isn’t nearly as good. It doesn’t have a body and it won’t save you from a lightning bolt aimed at your head.

Journey to Nowhere
A creature only Oblivion Ring, Journey to Nowhere might make an appearance in decks needing a little more removal without running black or red.

Kazandu Blademaster
Allies might not be all that great yet, but the blademaster is a superstar on his own. He takes the place of Knight of Meadowgrain, trading lifelink for vigilance. Also, the more blademasters you play, the bigger they get, which is a nice bonus. Finally, he is a soldier, so he gets a bonus from Captain of the Watch. Look for him in soldier decks.

Blue

Spell Pierce
Spell Pierce will find a home wherever there is blue on blue action, should true control ever return to standard.

Into the Roil
Into the Roil will be useful for bouncing anything with counters about to pop and nets you a card in the meantime. I can also save your own bombs from destruction, with the same bonus.

Trapmakers Snare
It might not be today, it might not be tomorrow, but someday there will be a wicked trap deck. Trapmakers Snare will work as extra copies of whatever trap you want it to be, giving you the option of grabbing whatever you want just as its requirements are being met. See Mystical Teachings.

QuestfortheGravelord

Is there a horse in there?

Disfigure
Elegant removal and combat trick for the mono-black player. 

Gatekeeper of Malakir
I’m not so sure about this guy. He isn’t Shriekmaw, and it is likely games will involve many creatures. It gets around shroud, which is a plus, but I don’t think he is as good as everybody says he is.

Vampire Hexmage
The hexmage will be the bane of planeswalkers everywhere. The first strike is just icing on the cake.

Quest for the Gravelord
The casting cost is right and netting yourself a 5/5 after a Day of Judgment (or keeping him on tap waiting for one) seems okay. Three critters in the graveyard isn’t hard to achieve and it might cause the opponent to do funny things like not kill your guys if they can’t handle a big zombie dude.  Don’t forget, you can pop him in whenever you want, like at the end of your opponents turn.

Vampire Nighthawk
A 2/3 flier with lifelink and deathtouch. At the very least, he kills practically everything and gives you two life in the process, which isn’t bad.

Red

Burst Lightning
Burst Lightning is what I consider a good example of the kicker mechanic. For one mana, you get Shock. Pay five mana, and you get Flame Javelin. It seems a bit overcosted, but the value comes from having the option to do either in one card.  

Goblin Ruinblaster
A 2/1 with haste who blows up a non-basic when it comes into play seems pretty good, especially in a set where non-basic lands do a whole lot more than just make pretty mana. The ruinblaster cascades off Bloodbraid Elf nicely, and yes, you can pay kicker from cascade.

 Goblin Bushwacker
Not so sure about this guy either, but his ability to give all creatures haste and +1 might prove useful. In the future, I see red being a lot of little guys again, and he has a good chance of beefing them up for the final strike.

Plated Geopede
I like this guy a lot more than I like the hyped Steppe Lynx. The bug has at least one point of power to chip away at the enemy with if I can’t trigger landfall, and first strike is huge.

Unstable Footing
If some sort of fog deck becomes popular, Unstable Footing might see some action. Paying one R to make damage unable to be prevented for a turn is nice, but having that option and 5 to the face for R4 is better.

Zetkar Shrine Expedition
This might be nice for the same reasons Quest for the Gravelord might be nice. Having a Ball Lightning on tap and ready to go at a moments notice seems like it might take some playing around.

RiverBoaGreen

Mold Shambler
Expensive, but green’s only real answer to a planeswalker.

River Boa
River Boa is back to pester people who like to play islands. A 2/1 for 1G with regenerate is pretty cool, but the islandwalk makes him even more of a dick for control decks. Wrath of God Day of Judgment won’t even kill him.

Vines of Vastwood
Vines of Vastwood remind me a bit of Stonewood Invocation, without the split-second. Might be useful, but even the latter didn’t see all that much play.

Artifact

Khalni Gem
Things that make more than one mana, especially colored mana, always seem to find a home. Khalni Gem’s drawback might help with the landfall triggers.

Overall, Zendikar is full of powerful cards waiting to find a home. It will be interesting to see which of these find a home and which ones end up being left out of competitive play.

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