December 06 2015 Sunday at 04:45 PM

Duels Diaries Week 19 - Coming around full circle

Hello Duelers,

It's that beautiful time of the week to check in and see what is happening with the Magic Duels metagame.  This week I've got some compiled metagame stats, a new brew, hopefully some insightful card discussions, and more of my ridiculous testing results.

For those who are new, or just forgot, I play this game on iOS.  Yeah, we still don't have an iOS, XB1 or PS4 version, Magic Duels B4Z is just for Steam right now.  So how do I play?  I use paper cards to build the decks and play what I think will be the most popular decks and matchups, and to try out new brews against the most popular decks.  When I finally get to play the real game, I'll release my actual results with the decks I build.  Until then, I test a lot, I tally up the decks I see played on YouTube, Twitch and in the NGA posts that list their results, I watch a lot of games.  I try to stay a knowledgable info source, because being Mr. Magic Duels is an odd mission in life but one I have accepted, but I really need to play this game!

So I have two things on my Amazon Wish List.  One is an Xbox One, in case that gets released before iOS.  I have a 360, I played a lot of Duels on the 360, so getting an XB1 would be an easy upgrade for me.  Far more controversial in my mind, I have a Windows PC computer on my wish list.  Let's keep the long story short, I use Macs and have for about a decade.  I don't miss a thing about Windows, but this lack of Duels is pushing my buttons.  I'll give Stainless two weeks, in two weeks I am buying a PC to play this game if an XB1 or iOS version isn't announced or released first.

OK, let's kick this party off with metagame stats.

Deck Week 2 W2 Meta
Red Aggro 38 14.23%
R/G Ramp 20 7.49%
R/G Monsters 19 7.12%
5c Converge 18 6.74%
Simic 12 4.49%
Azorius 12 4.49%
Thopters 11 4.12%
Dimir 11 4.12%
GW Ramp 10 3.75%
Rakdos 10 3.75%
Golgari 9 3.37%
Sultai 8 3.00%
Esper 8 3.00%
Orzhov 7 2.62%
White 7 2.62%
Abzan Control 6 2.25%
Elves 6 2.25%
Boros 6 2.25%
Jund 6 2.25%
Blue 6 2.25%
Bant 6 2.25%
GW Aggro 5 1.87%
Temur 5 1.87%
Naya 5 1.87%
Green 4 1.50%
Sultai Fog Mill 3 1.12%
Grixis 3 1.12%
Black 3 1.12%
Mardu 3 1.12%
Izzet 0 0.00%


We were able to collect a larger sample size this week, 267 games vs 172 last week, thanks to the NGA folks, Twitch players and YouTube posters for making the data gathering possible.

Recalling last week's top decks -

Red Aggro 15.82% 25
R/G Ramp 14.56% 23
Thopters 8.86% 14
GW Ramp 8.86% 14
Sultai 8.23% 13
Golgari 5.06% 8
R/G Monsters 4.43% 7
Simic 3.80% 6
5c Converge 3.80% 6
Green Ramp 3.80% 6


The only deck that really held up week to week was Red Aggro.  It seems even the mighty Acid-Moss is taking a breather, making up only 7% of the meta and only 11% of the meta if you count G/W Ramp as a Moss deck.  Converge, Simic and Azorius all had significant popularity gains, and each of those decks have a decent game vs Acid-Moss, but nothing loves Moss like Red Aggro.  Sure, spend your 4th turn killing my land, I'll attack you for 14 damage, GG!  

Now, one thing that isn't to be overlooked is that the meta looks pretty healthy.  The initial rush to play the Eldrazi in the most obvious way (R/G Ramp) appears to have worn off and now Duels players are settling in to try a whole bunch of different decks.  In this environment the best deck is a well rounded one that can play a reasonably pro-active game (that doesn't rule out control, it just means control should have some proactive plays) and deal with a variety of situations.  I think Esper Control ala Nevius fits the bill (DECK and Nevius' VIDEO playing the deck), but this is an environment where you can put work into most any brew and do very well.

So yeah, you read it here, play what you want.  If it is a good, smart design and you put some work into tuning it, you will probably be successful.  Now me being the Spike I am, I want to make sure I have a good matchup against what is clearly the most popular deck, Red Aggro.  I wrote earlier this week about a Bant Control list that did well against Ramp and stayed about 50/50 against Red Aggro (HERE).  As much as I like that deck, I wouldn't play it while Red Aggro is this popular.  There are better options.  Let's deck-by-deck with some of the builds I am testing and talk about some trends and card choices.

Red Aggro (updated list HERE)  This latest update is less about the Auras and more about the burns to the face.  Twin Bolt is a card I have come full circle on (it will be a theme this week), I think the Duels Origins meta played around it so much that it wasn't worth running all the time.  Post B4Z, so many decks are trying to be fast and furious that they don't play around Twin Bolt anymore.  That includes the Red vs Red mirror, where the deck that runs Twin Bolt is at a big advantage.  Touch of the Void is a card I don't love, but it does what is needed here, exiling resilient blockers and going to the face.  This deck has draws the feel unbeatable.  Sometimes you just go first and smash the opponent, despite a removal spell or some chump blockers, in four turns.

Now Red Aggro isn't new, and I didn't consider it a top tier deck in Duels Origins.  The deck did not get a ton of new B4Z cards (I even cut Slide-runner, not that great), so what gives?  Why is it suddenly such a handful?  I think at least a part of the answer lies in the Origins metagame.  Red has a real tough time with midrange decks that either (a) use cheap removal to get to the mid-game, or (b) swamp the board with power/toughness in the form of a ton of synergistic creatures.  Now what decks did/do that?  Gruul Monsters, for sure.  And Thopters.  And Elves.  Those most-played and top-tier Duels Origins decks kept Red Aggro from running everyone over.  Duels B4Z launches, and those decks fell off a lot.  Thopters got mostly nothing.  Gruul Monsters got mostly nothing and players switched to the big brother, Gruul Ramp.  Elves?  They've sailed into the west for the most part.

This week we saw a comeback for Gruul Monsters.  In case it is unclear, a deck is counted as Gruul Monsters when it runs cards like Kird Chieftain and Zendikar Incarnate, as well as early removal like Twin Bolt, and is counted as Gruul Ramp when it runs cards like Acid-Moss, Nissa's Renewal Jaddi Offshoot that try to skip the mid-game altogether and reach the late game where we cast Eldrazi, Omnath and similar mega-monsters.

Gruul Monsters made up the same estimated percentage of the meta as Gruul Ramp, meaning R/G combined made up 15ish percent of the meta, about the same as Red Aggro.  I think the big choice here is how good you want to be against Red Aggro.  Gruul Monsters, in my testing is over 75% to win against Red Aggro.  R/G Ramp is about 50/50 to beat Red Aggro, and the draw usually involves turn one Jaddi Offshoot and/or Radiant Flames.

THIS is my current Gruul Monsters list.  Rolling Thunder, as was mentioned by many readers, is fantastic, and it gets even more fantastic with Embermaw Hellion.  Oran-Rief Hydra is great, in the late-game there are times when you should save Pilgrimage and Evolving Wilds to use with a Hydra.  I have gone over-the-top of a Desolation Twin with Hydra trample damage.  I am back on Twin Bolt because of Red Aggro's presence in the meta.  The Woodland Wanderer converge in this deck may be too greedy, since I am running Canopy Vista and Smoldering Marsh instead of basic lands that can be fetched with Wilds and Pilgrimage/Nissa.  I am keeping an eye on that, and it hasn't hurt me yet, and Radiant Flames for three or Woodland Wanderer for three has come up.  I treat the converge like a treat, if you have turn four Wanderer for just a 4/4, you should do it.  Converge is nice to have, but I don't wait around for it.  I think Gaea's Revenge gets better with Rolling Thunder in the deck, since you can curve your Hasty Revenge turn into a massive Thunder for lethal or to remove any/all chump blockers from Revenge's path.

While Gruul Monsters can pound on little red men all day long, Kird Chieftain only runs the yard until big brother shows up.  Gruul Ramp really trashes Monsters, because their mid-range fatties just don't compare with an Omnath going off or Eldrazi hitting the table, and small red burn spells like Fiery Impulse and Twin Bolt don't deal with the Eldrazi and generally lack targets in the matchup.  I have run almost 100 test games with R/G Ramp, mostly playing decks that I hope will beat it, and I really believe it is the pound-for-pound best deck in the format right now.  Especially now that I recognize Rolling Thunder.  Last week I would have posed that other ramp decks like G/W, Simic and Abzan could go bigger and use planeswalkers to get way ahead, but Rolling Thunder can just steal games away.  If another ramp or control deck wants to win the late-game against R/G Ramp, they have to counter Thunder, and that limits your deck building choices, which hurts your game against Red Aggro and many other deck types.  HERE is the link to my Gruul Ramp build, the only changes since last week were removing the two worst cards left in the deck (Barrage Tyrant, Woodland Bellower) and adding Rolling Thunder.

I heard an interesting theory on why ramp is so good in Duels, and while it isn't the only reason for sure it is worth thinking about.  IF there is a Stainless shuffle, and IF it favors feeding you more lands than a typical Magic game, Ramp actually makes the most use of all those extra lands rather than just coping with them.  Interesting point, if we are all going to land flood thanks to Stainless we may as well play cards that benefit that right?  The argument assumes an unproven premiss that opens a whole other can of worms, clearly at this point I am just begging for more comments :)

Tier One Decks for week 19 of Duels (week three for B4Z) -

Red Aggro

Gruul Monsters

Gruul Ramp

Each of these decks occupy a role in a paper-rock-scissors meta (Monsters beats Red, Ramp beats Monsters, Red beats Ramp), and all of them have good matchups against most other decks in the field.  If you haven't played one of these decks, you should be taking it for a spin just to get a feel for how it works.  Tier Two decks include most everything else.

Here are decks that are either (a) over-achieving in testing, but I haven't seen them enough online, or (b) I see them a lot online but I don't see them consistently beating the top decks.

Thopters - Good against Red and control, bad against Gruul colors in general.

Golgari/Abzan/Sultai Control lists built around Evo Leap and Fleshbag Marauder - I haven't found one that competes well with ramp, and the red decks still run these over about 50% of the time.

Esper - I feel like Esper is about 50/50 against the best decks, and strong against most everything else.  A few tweaks or tunings may make this deck strong enough for the top tier, but I haven't found what those tweaks are.

Bant - I wouldn't run it around this much Red Aggro.

Non-Gruul ramp - I think we are all playing second-fiddle to Gruul in Ramp terms, because Green and Red have the best things to do with a ton of mana aside from the Devoid Eldrazi.

Elves - My beta Sultai Elves deck did great against Red Aggro but got smashed by G/R ramp and monsters.

Rakdos - The steal/sac strategy against ramp rarely works out how one would like.  Lifegain from Jaddi and Nissa's Revelation into Gaea's Revenge and Rolling Thunder can put a crimp in your strategy.

Azorius Fliers - Too vulnerable to Radiant Flames and Twin Bolt for my liking.

OK, here are what I would call the next-ups to Tier One, decks that are showing good testing results, that do well online, but I just don't think the lists are well-tuned yet.  These decks are on the edge of a breakthrough and I will be playing them next week and I think you should too -

Simic Aggro-Tempo (Decklist HERE) - Changes include cutting Kiora, Nissa, and Harbinger of the Tides for a card I almost never, ever run - Titanic Growth.  In testing I was amazed how often this deck got to within 4 life and couldn't finish the job, so Titanic Growth went into testing and I am been nothing but impressed.  In testing against Ramp and Red Aggro this deck went 8-4.

Sultai Fog (Decklist HERE) - I really like where this deck is right now.  You can play turn three Tutelage and just roll to victory, or you can set up Planeswalker + Fogs and go ultimate.  With all the Red going nuts, I don't think we can afford Read the Bones, but I might be convinced to trade Hydrolash for Scatter to the Winds if the format settles into more midrange, ramp and control.  Scatter won't do you favors against red, but it can support you in matchups where they can remove your Tutelage.  Ramp isn't a gimmie, you have to formulate a plan to not get decimated by Ulamog, but there is no reason to scoop to him either.  Build up your Vials and hold Ulamog back while finishing your mill strategy, and for the love of pete don't cast a second Tutelage if Ulamog will be coming down in one or two turns unless you are sure you can finish the opponent's deck off.  Similar to Esper, this deck has good matchups against top tier decks, but testing puts they matchups around 60/40 instead of 50/50 for Esper.

Dimir 'Crats and Jund 'Crats - Both of these decks are good, but I don't feel they are tuned.  They are also decks with a lot of options, and they require skill and focus to play optimally.  Nevius just took my Jund list for a spin on Twitch, and every game featured complex decisions.  HERE is that video, we get into Jund about six hours in.  Yeah, SIX HOURS.  To the credit of the mighty magician Nevius, he is very fast and very good when he pilots his own deck as opposed to when he is six hours into a stream piloting a new CovertGo Blue creation that is as complex as a conflux mana-base.  I felt like every game hinged on some hard decisions, and with practice and more tuning the Jund list could be legit.  Maybe I'll write more about that deck this week, I still haven't posted a list on NGA but I did put up the list in the Twitch chat.

Five Color Converge - Kryder of NGA has been putting in work with this deck, and he also just launched a YouTube channel you can check out HERE (just mute the audio and put on some Rhianna dance remix's, the commentary is probably very similar to Shut Up and Drive).  Like my initial re-work of the deck, he is late-game focused.  The early game is about setting up the mana, the mid-game is about sweeping the board and drawing cards with Brilliant Spectrum, the late-game is about the best bombs the game can offer since you have all five colors to draw from.  I would use his list HERE if you want to try this strategy out.  He goes HAM on the ramping and fetching, and Emeria Shepherd provides a recursion engine if the opponent has the ability to deal with the deck's many threats.  

In running the deck myself, I got into a lot of situations where I was doing nothing useful for several turns, playing big threats into big threats, and hoping my opponent lacked answers like Rolling Thunder to blow me out.  Reprisal on my Shepherd was also an unwelcome site that kept my lategame from going as planned, and it was just as bad to draw Shepherd with nothing to get back from the yard or with no more land in hand or in the deck.  I had wanted to try Tutelage Converge for a while, so I cut White from the deck and pulled back on the top-end threats to run Tutelage, a converge card-draw engine, a Jaddi/Kazandu life-gain engine and still have an Ulamog endgame.  In the end, things didn't feel that greedy.  I swapped Planar Outburst for Rolling Thunder, which isn't great against big creatures but is great against planeswalkers and opponents with a life total lower than your land count.  The deck may need more basics to get full value off Gatecreeper, 3 Jaddis, 3 Retreats, 3 Natural Connections, 2 Nissa's Renewal, and I know Kryder would tell me run more lands anyway, but what to cut?  Suggestions welcome.  HERE is my Nephilim 4 Color Converge Tutelage deck.  It has gone 20-5 (That's Twenty and Five folks) against Red Aggro and R/G Ramp.  I'd love to play it more against the rest of the field.  Hint about playing Red - don't block with Jaddi except as a last resort unless they are tapped out, make them point burn at it.  Hint about playing against not-red - Put a +1+1 counter on your creature instead of gaining life whenever possible. 

So if you haven't played with the top tier decks, Gruul Ramp, Gruul Monsters and Red Aggro, I recommend getting some games in.  If you want to be on the next big thing, I recommend Jund 'Crats, 4 Color Converge, 5 Color Kryder Converge, Sultai Fog and Simic Aggro, and let me know what changes you would make to the lists.

What am I missing?  Which deck has a good matchup with these three top tier decks and should be considered Tier One?  Let me know in the comments, and if you have a deck you just can't seem to lose with please send me the list, I'd love to try it out. 

 Until next week, may your lands enter the battlefield untapped and your Nissa's Revelations never come up empty.

<3 CGB