May 09 2016 Monday at 04:28 PM

Duels Diaries - May 9th 2016

The Steam Showdown 2.0 and XB1 Fight Club are deep into round one (fight!), and there are only a few outstanding matches.  It is as good a time as any to start checking out the results and trying to figure out this nutty meta.

The major archetypes are all in a deadlock near the 50% win/loss ratio.  Abzan, Superfriends, Esper and Bant, Tutelage, White Aggro and Ramp all hover within a win of five-hundred.  Blue-white Aggro has had a decent round one, with Izzet Prowess being the biggest loser thus far.

The great news is that after round one, none of the hyped-archetypes have “broken” the meta.  It is likely that Tutelage, Esper, Superfriends, Abzan and Bant can hold their own against each other, the the winner will be the player who recognizes the weaknesses in their list and tunes appropriately.

Some folks out there have real issues with my opinions for my last post, and typically it is some kind of response to my comments about their deck.  I’ll address this - it’s my frickin’ opinion.  Disagree if you want, that’s fine.  Have I been wrong?  Plenty of times.  Ask Grimric.  Will I be wrong again?  Likely.  If I am wrong, time will prove me wrong.

Since I did a pretty heavy write-up on Friday, I will keep today pretty straight-forward.  I have been watching a lot of the tournament footage, and jotting down my thoughts as I do.  I’ll copy-paste the best snippets from my notes for your entertainment -

WARNING - this blog is full of spoilers, so if you want to watch a spoiler-free match you better click the links before you read., Abzan vs 4 Color Walkers.

That is some ugly midrange Magic.  To sugarcoat it, I think it is often forgotten how hard midrange brawls are.  A small misplay can spiral out of control.  Being too cautious gets you trouble, so does being too aggressive.  Some takeaways here - Removal is king.  How long did Kalitas sit on the table in game three?  Planar Outburst kept Chang in game one much longer than should have been possible.  How great was Grasp of Darkness?  Make room for spot removal.  Conversely, how bad are big monsters?  It felt like Outland Colossus, Woodland Wanderer and Gaea’s Revenge spent too much time doing too little, even with a Rogue’s Passage to back up the first two, while Tireless Tracker, Kalitas, Sylvan Advocate and Ayli proved to be the real stars.  Oh, and Avacyn of course, but you already know about her by now.  Final note from this match, man-lands.  When to use, when not to use.  I found 2fast’s use of man-lands to be pretty poor, and his pacing of the game was too conservative in general.  It felt like he was always playing from behind even when ahead, until the Avacyn attack when it really mattered.  I believe these kind of midrange grind-fests are not nearly as much about top-decks and luck as they will be about skill, and this is just the first of many such battles to come in these tournaments.  Fascinating to watch, stressful and taxing to play. - T-shirt vs Blazin, Black/White vs Prowess.  I think this match speaks more to the variance that the prowess deck suffers from, a land flood and a failure to draw red mana on time.  Also, Kalitas, man this card can take over a game.  If there isn’t removal, things spiral out of control quickly. - A lot of misplays, mana troubles for ghost, and it felt like his deck was clunky and underpowered from the small limited sample size of these two games.  Hopefully ghost can bounce back and his deck can put up a better showing. - Allies vs Delerium - Behold the power of synergy!  In a world...where most mages are jamming four colors and all the mythic walkers they can find, one man will organize the allies against the Superfriends menace.  Well, the allies got a warm up against delirium.  Those Alter’s Reaps look pretty ugly in game one.  Game two is the case for delirium, pretty much a God draw, and hopefully it isn’t the only one of the event.   Game three once again looked very lopsided with Allies taking it down, and Alter’s Reap looked awkward once again.  If Allies can hit the explosive draws in two out of three games it will be tough to handle, I look forward to seeing what the motley crew can do. - Abzan vs Bant Ramp. The flood was intense in game one, but games two and three showed the head-scratching plethora of options that Abzan lays out in the midgame.  A lot of paths to take and Kryder was able to find the W in both games. - White/Blue/Eldrazi aggro vs 4 Color Walkers - In about sixteen hands with DJ’s deck I got the mana to work out one time.  DJ gets the mana to run decently 2 out of 2 games, and Smoke mostly ramps and Oaths to nowhere.  Reprisal doesn’t look terrible vs Linvala as it nukes half of smoke’s big payoff.  Archangel of Tithes is nuts. - Big White vs Fevered Tutelage - this match was paced incredibly slow and plagued by technical issues, making it very tough to watch.  I find it surprising that the Visions deck couldn’t keep a handle on a slower-than-average white deck that is better positioned to beat aggro builds.

Flayer vs Donachaid - Blue Ramp vs Blue Ramp - I usually hate mirrors, but game two was crazy to watch, and came down to a few big turns and a few wrong taps or poor decisions.  A heck of a game to view live, very tense, and a good showcase for one of the more unique decks in the event.

Gemini vs Barney - WU Fliers vs Esper Eldrazi Control -

It is hard to watch Thought-knot Seer and Planar Outburst do a poor job of teaming up.  Game one, too slow.  Game two, Languish on time.  Game three...weirdness, Thought-Knot into Thought-knot into Planar Outburst is Gem’s line and Barney draws a Reflector Mage for Linvala right on time.  Brutal.  That is why I don’t put creatures I don’t want dead in my Esper list, but it isn’t that Thought-Knot is bad.  It really improves the control and ramp match-ups, but it was hard to watch this series of events in this match.  There is a key turn near the end of the game where Linvala fails to gain life because Gem failed to realize Barney had the same life total as he did.  Always check the facts of the game, try not to assume something will work.  Those last few turns where very crucial ones. - Prowess vs 4C Walkers - The prowess consistency problem shows up again and the flood becomes real.  A heartbreaking sequence of ripping three straight lands off the top, a true heartbreaker. - Bant SoSo vs Fevered Tutelage - My concerns with Bant are that no matter how much the pilot wants to talk it up, it is a big sack of meat on a shaky manabase.  In the midgame, you are playing awesome creatures at decent prices with great abilities.  If your opponent has no way to deal with these, you will win, and you will win many many games on ladder and potentially in tournaments this way.  Where the deck comes up short is where the opponent is equipped to deal with a long line of creatures by either outclassing them on the battlefield (Kalitas) or destroying them all (Languish, CHANDRA!).  You can argue about how well positioned the deck is, but these are the weaknesses, if they are exploited the deck isn’t as well positioned as one may hope. - Mardu Control vs White Aggro - Batman has chops on commentary, bravo.  Sadly GTFL didn’t have the White Aggro draw that you need, no Always Watching or relevant Thalia’s Lt. and no Avacyn blowouts.  The white deck just folded to a couple or removals followed by a walker, and that is not going to be the last you will see of that play pattern. - Geistramp vs Bant Aggro.  Geistramp requires Jaddi or Radiant Flames near the top of the deck to have any shot at keeping up.  Pore over the Pages is almost a dead card without something buying the time. - Superfriends vs Izzet Prowess - That Kalitas block in game one...I don’t think I hate any block in recent Magic history as much as that one.  Imagine how much faster the game could have ended if he started putting Retreat counters on Kalitas the following turn.  Maybe StepUp just doesn’t know what a prize Kalitas is.  He is not your chump blocker!  Game two...tapped land, tapped land from the aggro deck and no board presence on turn two on the draw, not good. - Abzan vs GW Midrange- The patience with Kalitas pays off early in game one.  Now that we have Unmaking and Grasp in the format, double-blocks work out a lot less than normal and are typically a bad idea.  Take the hit if you are at 20 in that spot.  At least if Outburst happens, Kalitas is off the table for while.  I’d rather fight the zombies.  Missed opportunity at 8:00, use Pulse on end step to get Kalitas back!  Pact is having a horrible time dealing with it as things are.  More Kalitas, that’s my prescription.  He does it a turn or so later, likely no harm, no foul, but he could have Anguished or eaten a zombie the turn he actually Pulsed.  Unused mana, when there is a good use for it, is wasted mana.  At this point, the video gets too laggy and I can’t watch what has been an interesting game so far for any longer.  So much content but so much lag, it makes me sad.  I skipped ahead to the end of game one and whatever happened near the end of game two.  Man, seeing a Tireless Tracker hold off Gaea’s Revenge reminds me of how things have changed.  Paying seven mana for an 8/5 haste shroud used to be awesome.  Now it trades with a three drop that generated a ton of card draw in the process.  Yikes! - Superfriends vs Abzan

One of the marquee metagame clashes.   Wow.  ULAMOG goes WAY over the top.  If I had to pick a change of lines for random, I wouldn’t have Anguished Unmaking on Nissa.  I thought his board position was rather superior, and Arlinn could provide hastey pressure or bolt Nissa, letting Lionheart draw a few cards would likely be OK as long as you don’t lose to Sorin or Ulamog.  I saw some other games where Unmaking got held until the last moment, and in many situations I feel that is the right play since it is instant-speed Kill Anything.  A bit more patience.  Random could have always Called up Sorin to deal with Nissa.  Next game, Gideon right on time on the play and a Declaration for Kalitas.  Some fun sparring between Gaea and Gideon.  Ulamog shows up for the bailout and this time Unmaking is handy, so the game isn’t just over.  36:00 - I am confused why Random isn’t attacking with 6/7 lifelink Shambling Vents.  The lifegain could be critical, even if they just trade with Quagmire something has to, and at least you can life.  Once the Advocates die the Vents get a lot worse.  I suppose he may be playing around Unmaking or Grasp, but I think Gaea would attack if Lionheart had that.  Sorin eventually shows up and Advocates start dying, making the Vent attacks worse.  Random’s next turn he lacks the black mana to power up both Vents and take out Sorin while gaining eight life.  He never cast a red spell that game, so the mana bit him a tad.  Ouch, Sorin + Revenge, that brings some pain! - Temur Ramp vs Geistramp

I have found that Geistramp usually loses the ramp battle, as traditional ramp and it’s huge monsters are often a turn or two faster, and Ulamog can wreck Geistramp’s mana base.  In game one both decks ramp up smoothly, with just a quick pause to Geistblast a Tireless Tracker (I would have cast Veggies and played Tracker later when I could get some clues off him).  It doesn’t look like Telling Time is doing what Ay Jay needs, both decks are falling into that staring match/ topdeck war.  Then Chandra shows up and Pro_mode has something pretty to stare at instead.  Sadly for Chandra, the Rolling Thunder/Geistblast combo hits for lethal the next turn.  Game two, Arlinn Kord dials up some uncontested early pressure and gets Ay Jay into lethal burn range.  Game three, Ay Jay has to use a Rolling Thunder early on Tireless Tracker who is putting on the pressure, and it leaves him without the pieces to combo later.  Pore over the Pages, Telling Time and Jace team up but can’t find the answers, and Binderato swings for lethal. - Esper Control vs Abzan

I don’t like Oath of Jace very much.  It seems turn three was spent only marginally improving the hand and discarding two very decent cards that pure wouldn’t mind having.  It’s all OK, the pressure coming from the other side isn’t much to worry about, but I would rather not have cast Oath at all in that place where all the cards are good.  One thing I am curious to watch for is how often Suppression Bonds does something awesome.  I hate letting the counter-shields down to play Jace, Bonds.  Too many things can go wrong, like Grasp Jace, Unmaking on Bonds, then you have a hand of counters and no answer to Wanderer.  Things work out, Jace is Languished but then we enter counter hell.  That doesn’t keep Vents from working on the life total though.  I adore Confirm Suspicions.  Counter something, draw three at your leisure, amazing, and if you build your deck to survive early skirmishes it is great.  It doesn’t work on Gaea’s Revenge though!  Great awaken play by Pure, he knows he needs a land to block the Vent after Outburst to survive.  I am confused, however, by the Anguished Unmaking that cannot target a land, and the no block for lethal.  What just happened?  Next game.  Living the control deck dream curve, on the play with Awry, Scatter and Anguished Unmaking, and the lands to do it.  This had better work out!  I like Scatter into Ob, nasty stuff can happen if you don’t counter Vegetation.  At 22:40 I would Outburst in a heartbeat, get the board cleaned up and pit his man-lands that require mana investment against your Ob, drawing an extra card each turn for free.  It sure would have made the Kalitas top-deck less awkward.  An attack from Kalitas left Ob exposed to man-land lethal, I would just just sat back with my three-four lifelink.  No reason to be aggressive really, turtling up wins you a long game through Ob advantage.  Anguished Unmaking makes it a mute point in this case, and so does a top-decked Unraveler of Secrets.  Ulamog eventually shows up and cleans up the mess.  Game three is slow paced, some light sparring where Jace draws Unmaking and Wanderer goes Horribly Awry, Gitrog gets unmade, and then Suspicions hits Linvala and the card advantage war is won.  Naturally, Suspicions draws another Suspicions, paranoia breeds paranoia.  I’m curious why Pure lets his clues sit around on end step of the following turn.  Crack em’ like crab legs!  The game drags on for a long long time, and almost gets interesting near the end when Ob and Gideon show up on the abzan side.  Sadly, they are too late, and the game ends via Abzan decking. Green Ramp vs Superfriends

I am excited to see the only Green Ramp deck in action and see how it stacks up.  Game one we see no removal from Superfriends and Sylvan Advocate runs pretty wild.  What the heck is the Superfriends deck sitting on?  Five turns of almost nothing, eventually we get Avacyn, and then Planar Outburst blows Avacyn up.  Not sure about that line.  Birthing Hulk shows up and isn’t a complete doormat vs Chandra AND Planar Outburst.  Take that haters (including me).  The Chandra minus that follows is potentially the worst misplay I have seen in a while in competitive play.  I wish I had a smelly shoe trophy I could send out for that one.  Just plus Chandra, deal 3 damage, and Chandra surives the following attack, regroup next turn with a Chandra and a 4/4 in play.  The rest is mop up.  Game two.  Ruin into Tracker/clue into Smasher into Hydra into Hulk, what a curve!  Call the Gatewatch all you want, there is PRESSURE coming for your Gideon.  I think this game could have been played more aggressively by the Ramp player, too much clue cracking when the mana could have been spent on more monsters.  How about that Sorin plus?  Seems a little too hopeful when you are so behind on the board and in cards in hand.  You end up minusing Nissa for a chump blocker when you could have killed the Tracker and drawn a card off Nissa anyway.  At around 27 minutes we have three giant creatures vs three walkers, and a fourth shows up off the top with Ob trying to pull the Green Ramp deck back into the game.  Couldn’t Green Ramp have Hydra’d up a Rogue’s Passage like a million turns ago to invalidate these chump blockers?  You may get the impression that I am yelling at the screen, I am.  33:00.  What is your plan to beat the Sorin Ultimate?  I am guessing the answer is nothing, so why not attack both creatures at Sorin?  Concession from Green, wow, a game I think he should have won in about ten different ways ends in a concession.  *Stares at screen, hands on head, mouth open.

Game Three.  Green mulls to five, keeps a hand that needs some kind draws and the deck is kind indeed, granting the players every wish.  Recruiter into Pilgrimage into Veggies into awesome stuff, will it be good enough this time?  Tarquin plays Endbringer and Sower into Outburst when he could have played Hulk that could survive Outburst, come on!  Kozilek restocks the hand but Suppression Bonds threads the needle to keep Kozi from rumbling.  Here comes Tireless Clue Machine again!  Tarquin likes making clues more than playing another Hulk, I guess I can agree with that.  Radiant Flames picks off Tracker because he also played a Reshaper and couldn’t use Clues to get Tracker out of range.  At this point the hand is stocked, but Superfriends still has a grip.  Endbringer finally goes uncontested and starts causing trouble, and Duskwatch Recruiter with 13 mana goes ballistic.  When did green become the color of card draw?  It all seems so strange.  Nice Avacyn pick on the Thought-Knot, a pair of Pulse of Murasa lack meaningful grabs but they extend the game even longer.  Nice Ulamog targeting to find the lethal line.  I think I pulled out more of my own hair during this match than any other, fine entertainment but come on, let’s tighten up that play!

indibidiguidibil vs. deusx_ophc, Superfriends vs Fevered Tutelage

No Fevered Visions and no Tutelage makes for a hand I don’t think Deusx can afford to keep.  Go to six bro, nothing good will come of this.  Even Sylvan Rangers can kill you without your marquee cards.  Turn three Temper to the face at twenty life, Deusx didn’t win the game but at least he sent a message.  Game two, double unmaking.  Brutal.  Now would be the time to point a lot of Fiery Tempers at the face.  It was not to be, and Chandra proves her worth and ends the game in a hurry.  Man, Catalog and Oath of Jace looked awkward, getting any meaningful madness off them didn’t work in these games.  

So some wrap-it-up observations - Big dumb animals like Outland Colossus, Woodland Wanderer and Gaea’s Revenge seem to have limited effectiveness.  Kalitas is the boss.  Tireless Tracker, Sylvan Advocate, Ayli and Duskwatch Recruiter seem to be the creatures you want to play.  If you are spending four, five or six mana on something else, you may as well make it a Planeswalker or Avacy, they are harder to kill.  Ulamog is still the big dog, he goes over-the-top of all the other format shenanigans and demands an immediate answer.  You don't necessarily have to ramp him out, as games go long and grind on and on, you just get there.  Aggro held it’s own in round one, will White and Blue White be able to keep up?  Can Prowess recover?  Who will win the Bant/Superfriends/Abzan/Esper scrum?  Stay tuned.

<3 CGB

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