Duels Diaries Week 18 - We have seen the meta, and the meta is ramp.
Now that my regular readers have more insight into my professional life (hint, it involves tee shirts on the internet), I don't mind dropping a little behind-the-curtain info - this week is a long one for yours truly. The busiest eCommerce weekend of the year is upon us, and I am right in the middle of it, going crazy trying to keep all the ducks in a row. In times like these, it would be easy to write off Magic and Duels as a hobby, something that needs to take a backseat to the pressures of the "real world", making a living and providing for your family and all that. My personal experience doesn't and shouldn't apply to everyone, but since it is just me and a few friends here, I have to tell you all that this is when I need that so-called hobby the most. I love my work, don't get it twisted, but I love Magic more. The things we do in their purest form are the best. Not only do I not play or write about Magic for money, I shamelessly put money into it again and again and again. And when the grind of making and saving money becomes too much, I need a place to go that has nothing to do with making money. In my world, I need Magic. I'm competitive as possible in business, and while I am competitive in Magic as well it is a different kind of competition. In business, I feel very much like it is me against the world. In Magic, I believe truly it is me against myself. Like the new movie Apollo, boxing the guy in the mirror, the true opponent. Yes, there is an opponent, but the questions I ask myself after a game of Magic include "why wasn't I prepared for this" and "why didn't I play to the best of my ability".
All this to say, regardless of the eCommerce chaos I swim in for my livelihood, I am still making time for Magic, and especially for Magic Duels because this is the best time for it. New cards, new cards, new cards. Is there really a better feeling in the DotP universe than new cards? While my platform of choice, iOS, hasn't received an update, I at least know what cards will be in it. I have also become more of a Twitch user than I ever have been on release week before (probably because I am watching instead of playing) and I am trying to use that info to size up the meta. For the rest of this post, I'll be summarizing what I see in the meta, what I think are the strong decks and what I think is falling off, and I'll provide some updated lists and some brand new ideas. If your looking for something new to play, I've got that. If you want updates and tweaks to existing strong decks, I've got that. If you want to know which decks you should be prepared to beat, I've got that. Just stay with me as I dump another ridiculous amount of content into this blog.
A quick sum up of what I see all the time in new formats - something has changed, but we rarely know what or how much. It is common for very good players to struggle with new formats because we build lists based on what we think will be good, not on testing (how could you test?) and we are often displeased with the results. It is rare to be the kind of player who can instantly drop a well-tuned deck on a new metagame. I am certainly not that guy, as anyone who tried last week's new deck ideas will testify to. All of this is normal. I have played Magic on-and-off for twenty years and have seen a ridiculous amount of cards come and go from formats, and rotation is always exciting, and it is always frustrating. What discourages me is seeing good players from the last format struggle with the new format, and then they end up despising the game, the card pool, their luck, the opponent, whatever, instead of accepting that this is part of the process. Watching Twitch for the last week, I have watched players that I consider better-than-average win and lose many games, and it is often hard to keep a record better than five-hundred without well-tuned deck lists. That is the destination folks, well-tuned lists, without them winning 80% or better of your games is a silly notion, and we are not their yet. But every journey begins with a single step, so let's take a nice big step forward today.
I have two results that I am tracking. One is my own play-testing and the other is the results of games I have watched on Twitch and YouTube. Since the level of play and deck building skills vary so much on Twitch and YouTube, I don't focus so intently at the wins and losses as I do at what people are playing. I also created a NGA post HERE in my quest for more data. Here are the top ten most played deck types on Steam based on the data I have gathered -
So it looks like we have our primary gauntlet for next week, Red Aggro, R/G Ramp, Thopters and Sultai Control. Why not G/W Ramp? I don't like having decks in the gauntlet that do similar things. If I am building a non-ramp deck, and I want to see how it handles ramp, will it attack G/W Ramp dramatically differently than it attacks R/G Ramp? I am willing to bet the answer is no. If I had to guess about G/W Ramp's meta position, without having tested but having watched multiple games with it, I believe it is a better deck against G/R Ramp. Both decks get Acid Moss, but G/W has Planar Outburst and Tragic Arrogance vs G/R's Fiery Impulse's and Radiant Flames. Emeria Shepherd also adds another level of recursion and value to G/W Ramp, so it seems logical that G/W ramp is more likely to win a long game with Gruul Eldrazi at the cost of being a bit slower against the rest of the field.
How about those Thopters? My play-testing results seemed to indicate that Thopters couldn't pull it off anyone, but the meta doesn't agree with me...yet anyway. I saw a more burn-heavy build on NGA and I may change my gauntlet build to that. Anyway, let's move into my play-testing results from last week and talk about the decks. We'll start with Thopters -
Thopters (updated list HERE) - 13 wins, 19 losses, about 37% win/loss ratio. The Vile Aggrigates didn't last, and neither did Nettle Drone or Aligned Hedron Network. The deck honestly has nothing to show for itself from B4Z, but that doesn't stop it from showing up in the meta. My results showed a deck that really isn't top tier, but the players may still be figuring that out. The deck had a promising 4-1 record against G/W ramp, and that may justify it's place in the meta, but it went a disappointing 0-5 vs Converge and 0-5 vs R/G Monsters.
Let me take a moment to explain the difference in my testing between R/G Monsters and R/G Ramp. While many cards may overlap, I feel like Kird Chieftan, Grove Rumbler and other Landfall creatures are a defining characteristic of R/G Monsters, while Ramp tries to skip over these 4 mana creatures all together and get straight to Oblivion Sower, Gaea's Revenge, and more Eldrazi. Both are types of midrange decks, but I think that R/G Monsters won't do well in the current meta because in midrange vs midrange, the deck that can go bigger usually wins, and that is without question the R/G ramp deck.
Let's see the R/G Monsters results while we are on the topic (updated list HERE). 18 wins, 22 losses for a 45% win/loss ratio. Pretty disappointing for a deck that used to be head-of-the-class. His big brother, R/G Ramp, has arrived and put Mr. Monsters in his place. Testing saw a 1/4 record vs Converge, a 1/4 record vs GW Ramp and a 1/4 record vs Abzan Control. It seems that any deck equipped to go to the late game on this deck has the tools to beat it there. On the plus side, we saw a 5-0 record against Thopters. For updates, I cut the landfall monsters like Grove Rumbler and Oran-Reif Hydra. While casting them was rarely a problem, having and wanting the excess lands to pump them up wasn't reliable. I have added Ravaging Blaze. Since folks seem to have dialed back the Evo Leap, this card can be a removal/burn spell reliably, and it is one of the only cards that gives Monsters a shot in the late game. Honest though, this is not a deck I plan to battle with any time soon, Ramp is just too prevalent.
So how about that almighty R/G Ramp deck? My testing has this deck at 17 wins, 18 losses, about a 49% win-loss ratio. This isn't dominant, but the kind of power draws this deck can put together means it can beat almost anything. Of course, when those draws don't come together, plenty of decks have a shot. These numbers are also potentially twisted because I have been using it as a gauntlet deck all week, and I am not running decks that I think will get crushed by it, I am running decks precisely to see how they match up with it (same with Red Aggro which I'll bring up soon). HERE is my list for G/R Ramp at the moment. I am really satisfied with the numbers here, very few spots feel debatable. Gaea's Revenge is one of them, but I feel like I write about the bi-polar nature of that card every week, so for now I'll just say it stays in. Barrage Tyrant may raise some eyebrows. I'll just say that is gives you a way around Fog, a way to interact with your opponent at instant speed and get value out of Desolation Twin at instant speed, Tyrant is an Eldrazi that costs five, so you can use From Beyond to fetch him if you are stuck on lands and need a play, and I have had multiple games that involve casting Desolation Twin for ten lands, then on my next turn casting Barrage Tyrant and flingin' twenty damage at the opponent with 11 lands. Win more? Maybe, but I have been in enough spots where I didn't feel comfortable attacking but I could just win the game flinging. For now I'm not moving him. The mana base is great, and hasn't let me down yet. I started with cards like Evo Wilds and Guildgates, but I am convinced they are unnecessary and have the potential to cost you tempo on important turns. One Canopy Vista is in the mana base because you can fetch it with Acid-Moss and it enables the rare-but-not-irrelevant Radiant Flames for 3. Some notable match results with R/G Ramp -
Abzan Control beat R/G Ramp 4 - 1. Good control decks are the natural enemy of ramp decks, but that hasn't been working out so far on Steam from what I have witnessed on Twitch. I think part of the problem is that it takes longer to tune and become proficient with a good control deck. B4Z gave us a lot of new answers to threats, but how to answer the Eldrazi threat has been vexing. Counter? Exile? Sweepers? All the above? The Abzan Control deck had a lot of success grinding out the Ramp deck, but it was hard, and each game took a long time, and each game had a lot of opportunities to make mistakes. I think there is a very good Golgari-based control deck out there, and perhaps it is Abzan, time and more testing will tell.
Sultai Fog beat R/G Ramp 3 - 2. This matchup is a lot harder than a Mill player might expect. My deck has the wrinkle of Barrage Tyrant, which did matter in the R/G wins, but Ulamog is by far the biggest challenge. It is important enough that I almost never played more than one Tutelage at a time unless I could get the second one out on turn 4. This is another match that is hard to play with a lot of opportunities for mistakes.
G/W Aggro lost to R/G Ramp 1 - 4. This matchup felt terrible, I wouldn't play G/W Aggro right now. After this match I don't want anything to do with Sunblade Elf, Citadel Castilian or anything of that sort.
Dimir Husk beat R/G Ramp 4 - 1. I just finished this match before writing this article, and I tell you, it felt like a good matchup.
Red Aggro (updated list HERE). 15 wins, 15 losses, 50% on the nose. Another deck that is both format defining and very beatable, but with the right draw it is 50% against almost everything. There are a few ways to build Red Aggro, two of them are going wide (Goblin Fodder, more creatures) and going big (auras like Call of the Full Moon with Flaring Flame-Kin). I am confident that going big is the right approach because of the amount of chump blockers in the format and the presence of Jaddi Offshoot. I even added two copies of Goblin Warpaint to the deck because I so often wanted an aura for my creatures. The play of five lands + Flaring Flame-Kin + Infectious Bloodlust or Goblin War Paint is a game stealer when the game drags out. Looming Spires works great with Call of the Full Moon because you get a spell effect without casting a spell, letting you make your attack better and cast another creature or pump spell the same turn. I tried 24 lands because I thought it would be worth it with Makindi Slide-runner but I lost too many games to flood, so we are at 22 lands now. Blighted Gorge is junk. Foundry of the Consuls is the same card but better, because if you use it on end step it is very likely that the evading Thopters will deal two damage and then stick around for the opponent to find a way to cope with. The real reason I think we will keep seeing red is this - if it is 50% against almost everything, you can usually complete two games in the amount of time other decks complete one. If you need to grind gold to buy more Zendikar packs, red seems the obvious way to go, so if you are playing in this meta you have to be ready to play red. Some decks showed great promise -
Sultai Fog surprised me and won 3-2 against red aggro. The new updates to the deck, especially Jaddi Offshoot, really helped.
Dimir Husk put up a 4-1 against Red Aggro, and I felt like that matchup was very good for Dimir. Considering that my Dimir deck beat Red and R/G Ramp, I feel compelled to write more about it. Read on.
I haven't settled on a Sultai Control list I love yet, so I will work on that in the coming week. Here are last week's brews that put up notable results -
5 Color Converge (decklist HERE). 9 wins, 1 loss, 90% win/loss ratio. 5-0 vs Thopters, 4-1 vs G/R Monsters. The deck hasn't played against R/G Ramp or Red Aggro yet, and that is what is on the menu this week. I am hoping for a close to .500 ratio against Red Aggro, and I am very curious to see how it challenges R/G Ramp. Kryder has a version of the deck he seems happy with, and he plays Natural Connection. I thought that Pilgrim's Eye would be better because of the chump blocker/Fleshbag sac fodder it provides, but I like the way Connection matches up with Acid-Moss because it is instant speed, and I can see that making a difference, so I will be testing that change this week. The matchups I have played so far have felt very one-sided, and I am curious how far we can take this five-color control strategy.
Sultai Fog Mill (updated list HERE). 6 wins, 4 losses, 60% win ratio vs R/G Ramp and Red Aggro. Sultai Fog did get better with B4Z, especially in the mana base. Jaddi Offshoot is also a big deal for the deck. Probably the biggest deals are the planeswalkers, who make every Fog so much better. They also add versatility. I won three games where I never drew Tutelage, something that was almost impossible in the past. However, with Ob Nixilius, Nissa, Jace and Kiora in the house, we can play the game of casting a 'walker, plussing it every turn and protecting it with Fog, Skaab-Fog until it ultimates. I have won games with Jace's ultimate, Kiora's Ultimate and Ob's ultimate, and I know Nissa can join the part because I used her -7 a lot last season. That said, don't be afraid to -2 Kiora in the right moments, getting Nissa, Jace, Skaabs and Visionaries as well as hitting land drops is a good use of Kiora's loyalty, and on Twitch I have yet to see anyone tick her down.
Abzan Control (updated list HERE). 10 wins, 5 losses, a 66.7% win/loss ratio vs G/R Monsters (4/1), Red Aggro (2/3) and R/G Ramp (4/1). I love the R/G matches, but we need help against Red Aggro. 2/3 isn't terrible, and needs time to keep testing. The big dilemma I face is with win cons. I like having 2 From Beyond and Ulamog in this deck to win the late-game, but I really like having 2 Woodland Wanderer and the 4th Elvish Visionary in the early/mid-game. Wanderer felt like my best chance against Red Aggro, and cutting it for From Beyond is a big loss of speed. I flip-flop on which set-up is best all the time, and I am still looking for the right build to settle on. As mentioned before, this deck can be a grind to play, and there are a lot of opportunities for misplays, so be patient with the deck and with yourself if you try it out.
Dimir Husk (decklist HERE). 8 wins, 2 losses, 80% win/loss ratio, 4-1 vs Red Aggro and 4-1 vs R/G Ramp. I really like the red matchup here, I always feel I can swamp the board with creatures and make their attacks hard. Drowner of Hope is a card that is great against the red auras, and I don't know if everyone has found this guy yet. Don't be afraid to sac Scions to get it out faster. Husk + Smothering Abomination is the engine, if you have Mortuary Mire or Liliana you want to use those cards to get back one of these two creatures to keep the engine running. I tried Dispell in the deck to protect Husk from instant-speed shenanigans, but it hasn't come up enough to warrant the spot. I have watched a few players stream with this archetype, and they have a pretty bad matchup with Red. I don't feel that way. A few adjustments that keep the matchup good are the lack of ingesters, no Alter's Reap because it stinks, and the lack of counterspells. Yes, we have Salvage Drone, but that is mostly to keep the curve close to the ground. We don't have any cards that care if we ingest at all, we just want to dump our creatures onto the table and either run the opponent over (ramp, control) or gum up the board and combo them out (aggro, midrange). I feel like I have said this a lot tonight - the deck has a lot of play to it, a lot of complicated decisions. If you run it, be patient with the deck and yourself, I am confident it can win a lot of games but it isn't easy to do.
Also rans - I'll just give a quick blurb on these decks.
G/W Ramp (HERE) 5 wins, 5 losses - Discussed a bit already, I think it exists mostly because it can go big on most decks and go grindy on R/G Ramp. I am not settled on a build I like yet.
Esper Control (HERE) 4 wins, 6 losses - I keep changing this deck, and the build (depending when you read this) is not final at this time. It needs more win cons. It needs more appropriate answers to threats. It needs lots of instant-speed interaction, hence all the flash creatures, Foundry of the Consuls and counterspells. Tightening Coils...really...is where I am at for my low-cost removal right now. There are a lot of options (Reave Soul, Celestial Flare, Reprisal) but I feel like Coils gets the job done at almost every point in the game, against all types of creatures. I also keep taking Gilt-Leaf Winnower in and out, and Coils combo's with that. It also combo's with Complete Disregard, if you consider one-for-two'ing yourself a combo, but sometimes you've gotta do what ya gotta do. List is not great, deck is not done, still a work in progress.
R/G Landfall Aggro (HERE) 5 wins, 5 losses. The deck felt bad the entire time I was playing it. If you want aggro, I recommend mono red. If you want Gruul, I recommend ramp. It is a shame since Landfall is a pushed mechanic and I was excited to have two-drops that don't stink.
Rakdos Aggro (HERE) 6 wins, 4 losses. I am not settled on the list, I think I can cut if more aggressive, and I played five games against ramp without drawing one of the three Act of Treasons I am testing out, so don't make too much of this week's results, I will get back to working on it later. Forerunner of Slaughter was adept at eating a Fiery Impulse and Dominator Drone was either crazy good on a super aggro hand on the play or pathetic in a midrangy hand on the draw.
B/W Allies, Ally Converge and G/W aggro aren't even getting a decklist/link from me, they felt bad, I'm not touching that for a while. Someone will have to prove they belong in this meta for me to consider working on them again.
So that's where I find us, the meta is all about Red Aggro and Ramp with Thopters and Sultai Control lurking around. I look forward to finding a good Sultai list, I have it as a to-do for next week. Now here are this week's notebook brews for all you players who want to try something different. Please keep in mind that these are untested, they just look interesting to me on paper.
Next week I'll try to make time for another post that reviews Twitch and Youtube content, a post that highlights a single deck (suggestions) and a Duels Diaries post before the end of the week. Hopefully I'll see an iOS version soon, and we can really kick the results back into high gear. Until then, have fun you Steamers.