April 11 2016 Monday at 03:10 PM

Magic Duels Diaries 4-11-2016 - Welcome to Innistrad!


We got the new cards, which is all I could ever ask for, and we got them on the big day in question.  Hallelujah!

OK, deep breath, where to start?  I have so many things to write about I have to break them into multiple posts, and this post will probably still run long.  That’s what happens when you give me new cards to play with!  I both love and dread these posts, because I know I could go on and on about so many things, but I want to present them in a manner that isn’t overwhelming or reveals my OCd-meets-ADHD tendencies when it comes to my favorite hobby, so let’s set some ground rules for both our sakes-

This post is about new cards, decks, and the meta.

A future post will be about Bugs, Priority, Gold, and other controversial topics.

Another future post will discuss individual cards that I are better or worse than I thought they would be.

If you have burning comments on these later two topics, you are welcome to sound off, but know I am will not be addressing them here.  Let’s get into new cards, decks and the meta!

I am very excited about this card pool.  Many things are good.  Many old ideas are no longer very good, while some remain good.  It is very hard to tell what is great, and that will define who the best player are.  You can build a “good” deck in almost any color combination and put up results on any platform.  What will be hard to tell is what is really great among these decks, and hopefully that is where playtesting with talented friends and competitive events will come in, to separate the good from the great.  Now I’ll spout my observations from week one, where I reached rank 40 within 72 hours (the exact count I am not sure of) and also battled other streamers and competitive players on XB1 and iOS.

Thing One - The Second and Third turns just got important.  

For the last nine months, Duels has been all about turn four.  Unless you are Red Aggro, turns one through three are spent generating some easy value (Elvish Visionary), removing threats with narrow spells (Twin Bolt) or casting horrible creatures that hopefully gain something from the later drops (allies, Elves, Thopters).  Then on turn four you cast something powerful that actually effected the board (Pia/Kiran, Acid-Moss, Languish) and the game proceeded from there.  Well, that meta is gone.  Now there are tons of great creatures, particularly in Green and White, that will give the player a must-answer board presence early in the game.  Duskwatch Recruiter sets up explosive future turns while digging for more threats.  Bygone Bishop and Tireless Tracker apply pressure while setting up future value.  Sylvan Advocate gets right to work while still playing defense.  This small change affects the format in many important ways, and understanding how this works should effect your card choices for your new decks.  Ramp now gets significantly punished for ramping, and cleaning up the mess with Radiant Flames and Rolling Thunder isn’t as easy as it was because the creatures have higher toughness.  Red Aggro runs into a pile of Green and White muscle or Red removal much more frequently than before.  We will get into more specific deck and card discussions soon.

Thing Two - Three is the new Two.  Three power or three toughness is almost required to play on turns two and three.  Three toughness makes removal tough.  Three power battles three toughness successfully.  It all makes a 2/2, 2/1 or 1/1 creature look pathetic.  

Scourge Wolf looks like a great upgrade to Red Aggro decks and would have been an auto-include a month ago.  Today it never feels playable.  It can’t get around Sylvan Advocate, Ayli, Stormchaser Mage, Thopter Engineer, Ravenous Bloodseeker, flipped Duskwatch Recruiters, Jaddi Offshoot, or just about anything important.  Yesterday I played against a Red Aggro deck that played turn one Goblin Glory Chaser, turn two Scourge Wolf, turn three Flaring Flame-Kin, turn four enchant Flame-Kin.  This poor Red Mage never even attacked me once, because I played a creature of larger power/toughness every turn (on play, Sylvan Advocate, Bygone Bishop, Woodland Wanderer, Outland Colossus), and even the enchanted Flame-Kin had no good attacks because at that point he was playing defense against a 5/5 Wanderer, a 6/6 Colossus, and an about to be 4-5 Sylvan Advocate.  This may sound like a perfect curve-out from my deck, but jamming power and toughness on the table at great rates is a lot easier than it used to be, it happens reasonably often, and I believe it will be what the format is about.

Thing Three - Being right isn’t as right as it used to be.  

In a smaller card pool, small differences in decks can create big results.  I feel my success with Gruul Ramp in Battle for Zendikar was based largely on two cards that most players didn’t run or didn’t run enough of - 3x Rolling Thunder and 2x Outland Colossus.  Once I arrived at these numbers, they never ceased being right for the rest of the season, and many players eventually adopted them.  Sometimes when you are right, you are very right.  No longer.  With so many good and great cards introduced to the card pool, it will be very hard to determine which is wrong and which is right.  There are instead several of shades of good, which we use as we search for great.  It is week one, and we will likely nail this good/great tension down with more practice, but for now it is difficult to differentiate.  Walker of the Wastes is good, is it great?  Is it “gooder” than Outland Colossus?  Are either of those cards good in a traditional Ramp deck?  There are so many cards trying to get into Ramp now that are good, it is very hard to pick the right ones.  A month ago I was certain that Rolling Thunder and Outland Colossus were so much better than other choices, I had no doubts they were great.  Now I am very, very unsure, and Ramp in particular needs a lot of testing and work put in to adapt to this new meta.

Thing Four - Missing a land drop on turns three, four or five is often lethal. 

Now you can expect to see Walkers out of nearly every deck, and it is hard to deal with any Walker without mana.  This is why you see 26 lands in most of my Shadows builds.  I have found flooding to be annoying, but not lethal, since man-lands, Westvale Abbey and Rogue’s Passage can help keep my opponent’s Walkers under control, or I can just kill them.  I have had multiple flooded games that I have still won thanks to the utility of these lands.  I haven’t won many, if any, mana-screwed games.

So here is a sample of my week one results.  The data is far from pure, the decks got adjusted and edited as I played so the only thing solid is the general strategy.  Early in a format I don’t have time to work on everything.  There may be a great Esper Control list somewhere that everyone will be using soon, but I am not pursuing that because I find it far too hard to contain all the varied threats of the format at this time.  I have split my results portion of the post into two areas, decks I am still working on and strategies I have, at least for now, abandoned.

A note on win-loss records - I am not recording any wins/losses against decks I classified last season as junk, or players who are clearly too new to use their cards effectively.  Last season I had a junk column, this season I am not recording the results at all.  If I say a deck is 6W 0L, it means I have six wins and zero losses against decks that have a clear purpose, haven’t been mana-screwed or mulliganed to death, and play their cards well enough to not qualify as baby seals.  Also, if I say a deck is 6W 0L, it does not mean I only played six games with it, I could have played who knows how many junk games/decks with it.  On average last season, about 40% of my games qualified as Junk, so I likely played ten games to become six-and-oh.  Oh, and if I happen to lose to a junk deck or in a junk game such as a mana-screwed or flooded game, I still add it to the results no matter what.  If anything I am cherry-picking my wins, not my losses.  I hope you are still with me after all that...

Decks I am still working on -

Not Blue Planeswalkers Control - 13W 1L -


Four Color Superfriends lists offer Duelers the opportunity to run seven or eight planeswalkers with a reasonable manabase.  Trying to perfect this strategy will surely be a worthy endeavor.  This is one of the only decks I have that uses Sylvan Ranger, as it’s 1/1 stats don’t do anything but chump in the new meta.  The mana-base is reliable enough, and it is common to cast “walkers” from turns four and five on.  The challenge this deck has is in coping with our opponents and their second and third turn plays.  This deck can do a fully converged Radiant Flames, and perhaps another Languish is called for depending on the meta.  We fight fire with fire by running Ayli and Advocate ourselves, and I found it makes a huge difference.  Deathcap Cultivator is a big addition to the card pool, and likely should be in any deck with Green mana, regardless of whether or not you plan to use the Black.  Skipping ahead to turn four is a big deal.

UR Prowess - 1W 1L -


I plan to work more on this deck because of the success I have seen it have with others.  As you can see, I haven’t made more time for it yet, but I played against this archetype FIFTEEN TIMES in the first four days of the format, so I expect it to be popular.

RG Wolves - 6W 0L -


I didn’t expect to have a good showing with Wolves, but here we are.  It makes use of the awesome stats of the new Green creatures while adding the burn spells that kept Red great.  The lategame package of Bellower and Hydra is something you will see in many of my Aggro and Midrange decks.  I found very quickly that when both players are jamming creatures with good stats, the board gets gummed up quickly.  Bellower for Advocate adds ten power and toughness to the board and tips the scales quickly, while Hydra tutoring for Rogue’s Passage becomes a big green unblockable Fireball!  Flipping your Wolves at will can be tricky, so we needed more instants and flash cards.  I don’t know if Twin Bolt will actually last, two is the new three after all, but the instant speed has won out for now.  Why did it take me three days to figure out that Howlpack Resurgence buffs your werewolves when they are still humans too?  It will likely go up to three copies.

BR Aggro - 8W 1L -


I am calling it aggro because I have not liked the results of the all-in Vampire theme deck.  While I am winning, I am very unsatisfied.  Haste is a great ability that is hard for any player to plan for or deal with, and it is particularly devastating against control decks relying on sorcery-speed sweepers.  Still, I feel like I am a long way from the final list, but as the results show there is likely something strong here.

UWX Aggro - 6W 0L -

I am not ready to write or share this list yet, because I feel I am still very far away from a finished product.  For a good example, see Hakeem928’s list HERE.  Basically, Eldrazi Displacer, Reflector Mage, and 55 other cards that work well together and keep you from dying or beat the opponent to death.

UB Reanimator - 10W 1L -


I have been really impressed by the performance of the deck so far.  I expected it to get steam-rolled by aggro, and I did play plenty of games against Izzet Prowess which will likely be a competitive aggro deck.  I tried to set the game up like this - turn two removal or bounce spell, turn three Pieces of the Puzzle, turn four Languish or more removal/bounce, turn five or six, Reanimate something.  The strategy worked great, and Pieces of the Puzzle was awesome at finding my Languish whenever I wanted it, and reanimator spells whenever I didn’t  I really like the card.  Rise from the Tides isn’t an amazing stabilizing play since the zombies can’t block, and it doesn’t work with Thing in the Ice at all.  I am considering Whirler Rogue and/or Drowner of Hope instead since they fit into the strategy better, while also being Ever After and Summons targets.  I didn’t expect this deck to win this many games, and I look forward to working on it more.

Jund Crats - 7W 1L -


My initial testing had me very worried about the future of Jund Crats.  I was lacking Perilous Myr and I didn’t have the Shadows cards.  Turns out that cards like Tireless Tracker and Duskwatch Recruiter let the deck play a beatdown game while will generating value, and if Duskwatch flips you can have some fun turns.  And then there is Westvale Abbey!  I feel like Chandra’s Ignition is still needed because it can save the deck from unreal situations.  However, the mana is tricky.  You can’t play tap-lands on turns one and two and expect to win, you just fall too far behind.  This deck cuts it close on red with the theory that it doesn’t need Ignition to win very often, but when it does nothing else could save it.  We’ll see if I ever feel red-short when I want to cast that Ignition.

Other decks I am working on but haven’t worked on enough to write more about it -

Red Aggro, UR Mill, UW Control, Elves, UR Madness Control, Boros X (X means Eldrazi to me), GW Aggro, White X Aggro, Abzan Zoo, Colorless, Not Black Control, Red X, UG Tempo, Thopters, BW Control, RG Ramp.

Decks I have tried and am not pursuing further -

Green X - I made a video of this, and I see the potential in it, but I don’t see much room for innovation, there isn’t any incidental lifegain which feels important in the format, and there isn’t much interaction.  I think that UG and GW will be better.

Temur Mill aka Thing in the Fog - This deck got destroyed, not recommended.

Bant Walkers - I am choosing to focus on either two color midrange decks and four color Planeswalker decks, and not in the middle, because I feel like the middle wedge decks like this will get squeezed.  Either the two color decks will take advantage of their mana woes, or the four-color decks will have a thicker density of high-power cards.

Grixis Zombies - This evolved into my Dimir Reanimator deck which is just much better.

Naya Tokens - Tokens in general have trouble getting around all the good two and three drops that are out there now.  This deck also suffers from tough mana.

Blue Ramp - This deck will miss Acid-Moss the most, and playing a straight ramp-tempo game is pretty bad against cards like Reflector Mage and other great creatures.

G/B Delirium - I failed miserably to make this into a deck, and I strongly prefer Jund Crats if these colors are your favs.

GW Rampchantments - This deck got a few new toys, but nothing that changes the tough matchups.  It still struggles against fliers, bigger Ramp decks, and Planeswalkers.  It also has a nasty new nemesis in Nahiri.

Esper Control - The mana still gets you into binds, and there is a lot of tension between countering things and sorcery speed cards like Oath of Jace.  I am focusing on BW Control and UW Control instead because I feel like both colors have access to the necessary control elements.

Bant Midrange - This deck looked really strong and was very appealing, but it didn’t have enough interaction and once again, if you go tapped land, tapped land you have a hard time winning in this format.

In general the meta shows a healthy amount of variety, but a few deck types have clearly risen to the top in week one as far as being the most played - UR Prowess, RG Ramp and miscellanies Ramp builds.  Unlike the last format, I have had no problem dispatching these decks with all kinds of builds, and I think that is a sign of a healthy meta to come.

I am going to put a bow on this post and call it a day, as I have already spent four freakin’ hours compiling win-loss info (I had to make a new spreadsheet, always the time suck) and writing about the game.  Now I just want to go play!

<3 CGB

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