December 20 2015 Sunday at 10:45 AM

Duels Diaries Week 21 - Enough is enough, and it's time for a change!

Hello Duelers,

It happened, I completely snapped.  There is a crack in the glass on my iPad, not on the screen but across the bottom of the home button.  I had been trying to connect to a game for over three hours.  The screen just said Searching For Players.... and that red wheel just kept wearing it's tireless circle on the screen.  Then, hope, a light at the end of the tunnel, Waiting For Players To Join The Match... and then I was in, the cards where stacking up, it was a rank 12 (about the best I could hope for), and then...

The app crashed.  Go directly to home screen.  Do not pass go.  Do not collect 200 gold coins.  iPad, say hello to the ground!  Ok, I didn't spike it like a football.  I dropped it because I was walking down a hallway in the dark and my elbow bumped the wall.  My rage and frustration is not righteous or cool, just clumsy.

I have been playing with the idea of switching platforms since September.  The connection issues on iOS where a problem, but the aftermath has been worse.  It feels like a wasteland.  The games I do get are low quality and I doubt my opponents have more than a couple booster packs opened.  But I have already written about that.  What I haven't mentioned is that I care about this blog, I have grown quite fond of it, and I don't want the content to suffer because I can't play decent games of Duels.  I couldn't put off switching platforms any longer.

Welcome to the future.  I picked XB1 because I was a 360 player back in the day, so I already have an account and some attachment and familiarity with the system and some friends that play, and quite frankly because Hakeem is organizing a tournament for the platform.  We'll get into that some more soon.

This week's Diaries will be the first, and possibly not the last, cross-platform Diaries.  Some games were played on XB1, some on iOS.  Without further blah blah, let's hit up the meta and check out the decks I've been running.  Here's the meta data out of 299 games.

Deck Week 3 W3 Meta
Gruul 26 8.70%
Junk 25 8.36%
Golgari 22 7.36%
Dimir 20 6.69%
Red 18 6.02%
Sultai 18 6.02%
Green 17 5.69%
Selesnya 17 5.69%
Izzet 16 5.35%
Boros 15 5.02%
Azorius 13 4.35%
Rakdos 12 4.01%
4 and 5 Color 10 3.34%
Simic 9 3.01%
Orzhov 9 3.01%
Jund 9 3.01%
Esper 8 2.68%
Abzan 7 2.34%
Naya 6 2.01%
Blue 6 2.01%
Mardu 4 1.34%
Jeskai 4 1.34%
Bant 2 0.67%
Temur 2 0.67%
Grixis 2 0.67%
Black 2 0.67%
White 0 0.00%

 

 As I mentioned, I made the jump to XB1 partially because I was having a terrible time finding competition, and it shows in the 8% of decks that I labeled as Junk.  Let's cut the Junk out and stick to a top ten -

Gruul 26 8.70%
Golgari 22 7.36%
Dimir 20 6.69%
Red 18 6.02%
Sultai 18 6.02%
Green 17 5.69%
Selesnya 17 5.69%
Izzet 16 5.35%
Boros 15 5.02%
Azorius 13 4.35%

 

Gruul still runs the yard, and since the guild has so many good cards to chose from it isn't shocking.  They have the most obvious natural ties to Zendikar, which means most players will try Gruul to see how Zendikar cards perform.  Gruul will probably be a top deck until rotation.  

Red dropped back a bit, and has been steadily declining in play since it peeked at 15% of the meta.  The reduction in pure ramp, aka Acid-Moss in everything, and the increasing popularity of Retreats, Offshoots and Boros seems to have stifled the Red Deck's dominance.  Dimir Control is something I have been seeing more, and more, and more of.  I didn't have success with the deck, so I find that surprising.  The matchup with Boros is probably good, but I don't know about ramp, and I really doubt it does good against other control decks with green or white mana.  Seven of the ten decks in our top ten are guild decks, as in two color, so it seems players are moving away from complicated mana-bases in favor of consistency.  In fact, the biggest fall for the week was the 4 and 5 color decks, from 19 instances last week to 10 this week.  I would say it is a fear of Acid Moss, but Acid Moss has also declined in popularity each week.  Of course, the number of posts bemoaning the existence of the card in the game have not stopped, and perhaps the fear is more real then the card itself at this point.  All that said, I think Moss is the real deal as a card and since Red Aggro is on the decline I think this would be a good week to clean up with Acid Moss.

The Sultai and Golgari decks have a lot in common most of the time, and I am still surprised to see them get so much play because I don't think they are equipped to deal with the best decks available.  Fleshbag, Perilous Myr and Bone Splinters aren't the types of removal I want to rely on right now.  They kill a lot of things, but you have to go through hoops to get F-bag to take out Ulamog, Gaea's Revenge, Plated Crusher, and Omnath.  In addition, most of those removal cards can't mess with planeswalkers and the spot removal and F-bag become weak against token generators like Gideon, Retreat to Emeria and From Beyond.  I don't like the positioning of these Zombie Control strategies, and I believe Abzan and it's White removal options can really help.  I'll get to that soon.

I spent the week playing Jund Crats, Dimir Draw-Go, UW Draw-Go, Simic Tempo, Temur Tempo, Abzan Control, Red Burn and UW Tempo.  Results and lists to follow -

Jund Crats -

4 x Blisterpod
1 x Vampiric Rites
4 x Bone Splinters
2 x Perilous Myr
1 x Despoiler of Souls
2 x Carrier Thrall
4 x Elvish Visionary
2 x Evolutionary Leap
1 x Liliana, Heretical Healer
3 x Fleshbag Marauder
4 x Nantuko Husk
4 x Act of Treason
2 x Smothering Abomination
2 x From Beyond
5 x Swamp
1 x Mountain
4 x Forest
2 x Smoldering Marsh
2 x Cinder Glade
2 x Woodland Cemetery
2 x Rootbound Crag
2 x Dragonskull Summit
4 x Evolving Wilds 

I love this deck, it is fun to play and does ridiculous things.  Jund Crats finished 9-2, with both losses coming to linear aggro decks, which I consider to include Thopters, Allies, Devoid/Ingest and Elves.  Saucemaster wrote on NGA that he lost one game to an Elf deck with an amazing draw.  The deck doesn't have a way to punish a curved-out aggro deck like Languish or Radiant Flames, and all the removal is typically one for one, so the deck is vulnerable to great draws by synergistic decks.  My data shows that the most common deck style that I play against is linear aggro, so that does put a ceiling on this deck's performance, which is too bad.  I don't think this deck should add sweepers, so I think you just have to leave it on the bench if you play against a lot of Thopters, Allies and Elves.

For funzees, let's just look at the deck styles I face most often -

Linear Aggro - 28

Blue Control - 26

Green-based Ramp - 24

Red Aggro - 16

Midrange - 13

Junk - 26 (Sad, but I'm not trying to hide it)

Other types including Tempo, Red Aggro, Non-Blue Control, Non-Red Aggro, 4/5 Color decks and Aristocrats - 31

It isn't shocking to see Linear Aggro on top of the most played deck types, tribes are popular in Magic and the decks tend to build themselves (just throw all the elf stuff into a deck with 24 lands!!), and that makes them very beginner-friendly decks that aren't hard to pilot but still put experienced players and complicated decks to the test.  I haven't been seeing the ramp others have, and I really haven't seen the Red Aggro others have, but they both made the top five.  I hate playing against so many bad decks, aka Junk.  Hopefully when I get into the thirties on XB1 I will be able to find a higher level of competition to report on.  I also seem to be running into so much more blue-based control than average.  This includes Esper, Dimir, Sultai and so on, usually distinguished from other deck types by a reliance on counterspells.  If you are interested, the deck styles I have lost to the most is a tie between Ramp and Linear Aggro at 4 losses each.  And I haven't lost to a Junk build yet, fingers crossed, because if I do I have vowed to myself and now to you that I will report it to the world.

Simic Tempo finished the week at 11-2, losing in the mirror match and to a Green ramp deck.  The game vs ramp was sad, I was on the draw and I had turn two Gnarlid, turn three Krasis, turn four Rogue, but it wasn't even close regardless.  My opponent had Offshoot, some ramp spells, Nissa's Revelation and various huge Eldrazi.  I don't know that I even got the opponent under twenty life.  Still, eleven wins isn't a failure, and the deck has some legs.  I prefer some of the other tempo decks I will get to shortly.  Here is the list -

3 x Scythe Leopard
3 x Clutch of Currents
3 x Undercity Troll
4 x Snapping Gnarlid
3 x Skyrider Elf
3 x Titanic Growth
3 x Bounding Krasis
2 x Scatter to the Winds
4 x Spell Shrivel
3 x Whirler Rogue
2 x Guardian of Tazeem
2 x Drowner of Hope
2 x Lumbering Falls
2 x Hinterland Harbor
4 x Evolving Wilds
9 x Island
8 x Forest

The changes from last week are some minor 4 to 3 trims to make room for Drowner of Hope, who is, in my opinion, the real deal in a midrange or tempo deck.  I have not cast it and lost the game.  It has either ended the game on the spot or finished things on the following turn.  As you'll see, I am trying to find room for The Drowner in other decks.

Dimir Draw-Go Control - If you are going to talk victories, it is only fare to talk defeats.  This deck went 1-2, and I pretty high hopes for it.  Maybe I'll revisit it someday, but I found the games a struggle and I don't know why I saw promise in the deck.  That said, I'm not alone, I saw a lot of Dimir Control this week on both XB1 and iOS.  Not posting a list because clearly it isn't good enough.

Temur Tempo - 15 wins, 2 losses.  I really enjoyed this deck, and I see it as an upgrade to Green/Blue tempo.  The cards are pretty great.  I never lost a game where I got the mana to work.  Both losses involved missed land drops early in the game, despite running 26 lands mana screw still happens.  If you can't stand losing games to bad mana, you can stick with a two color tempo deck, but I honestly feel that this Temur build is flat-out stronger card-for-card than Simic Tempo, and in my opinion it is far more fun.


3 x Scythe Leopard
3 x Fiery Impulse
3 x Clutch of Currents
2 x Abbot of Keral Keep
3 x Snapping Gnarlid
3 x Skyrider Elf
3 x Bounding Krasis
2 x Spell Shrivel
2 x Exquisite Firecraft
1 x Akoum Firebird
2 x Woodland Wanderer
2 x Brutal Expulsion
1 x Coastal Discovery
2 x Outland Colossus
2 x Drowner of Hope
3 x Island
4 x Mountain
4 x Forest
2 x Lumbering Falls
2 x Cinder Glade
2 x Rootbound Crag
2 x Hinterland Harbor
2 x Sulfur Falls
1 x Izzet Guildgate
4 x Evolving Wilds

A tweak I made at the end was cutting and Island for a Moutain.  It is weird, because blue is the most represented color, but green and red both have double color cards, so I if you get one blue source you are probably good for the game.  Coastal Discovery is an interesting card, and I can't nail down the spot.  It could also be a Kiora, it has been a Guardian of Tazeem.  Sometimes I think it should be Touch of the Void, Nissa or Gaea's Revenge.  Season to taste.

Next up is UW Draw-Go.  I feel like I took some criticism on this list for some of the numbers and the low win-con count (which I have found is a go-to complaint for some).  I did take some of the NGA forum advice, and I made some changes from the list I posted last week before putting it through double elimination.  The deck went 8-3 in testing with DJ last week, and combined with those results the deck is now 19-5, or 11-2 from this week's double elimination run.  I feel the deck is solid, and most of what I said about it last week still rings true to me, but I don't think I have completely solved the control puzzle.  The meta is so wide-open that I don't know what the best control deck/colors are, but this should be a contender.  Here is the updated list -

3 x Felidar Cub
1 x Jace, Vryn's Prodigy
1 x Reprisal
1 x Gideon's Reproach
3 x Celestial Flare
1 x Horribly Awry
1 x Disperse
3 x Telling Time
2 x Scatter to the Winds
4 x Spell Shrivel
1 x Calculated Dismissal
4 x Inspiration
1 x Countermand
3 x Bone to Ash
1 x Gideon, Ally of Zendikar
2 x Hixus, Prison Warden
1 x Disciple of the Ring
2 x Planar Outburst
5 x Plains
5 x Island
2 x Prairie Stream
2 x Glacial Fortress
3 x Foundry of the Consuls
4 x Azorius Guildgate
4 x Evolving Wilds

I think this is a deck that wants to compete with Acid-Moss by raising it's dual land count, so we added all the gates and wilds.  This isn't the right approach with every deck, but I think it is correct here.  The use of one or two Calculated Dismissal is something I think most blue decks will want to employ.  In Duels Origins, the fourth turn was the crucial turn.  It was the turn to cast Whirler Rogue, Kird Chieftain, or win the game with Red Aggro's nut draws.  The only deck that wasn't reliant on turn four was Golgari, but now Acid-Moss has changed that, and turn four is bigger than ever.  Blue decks fall behind too easy, and in a mana-hungry format like this you don't like countering ramp spells but you almost have to.  If you don't your Spell Shrivels wont shrivel anything except your spirits before long.  If you have a few Calculated Dismissals you don't feel so bad firing them off on ramp spells, and if you are on the draw your odds are good to be able to counter all the dreaded four drops.

So then I played Black Barney-style Red Burn.  I have heard Barney not-quite-humble brag about this burn deck performance, and he did tear up Hakeem's janky allies deck on Tuesday night's stream.  So let's put this strategy to the test.   I'll keep it brief - 8 wins, 2 losses, and I hated almost every minute of playing it.  Good on Barney for his success, I can't replicate it.  Some players can do amazing things with decks and strategies that most players dismiss, and who I am I to argue with their results?  But this is not the deck for me, and it probably isn't the deck for most people.  I won't post a list, because I never had a sure one, I built it out of cards I saw on Twitch and in Barney's posts.  Barney, I know you read this, you are welcome to post a legit list in comments.

On to Abzan Control.  I have been on a mission to find the right home for the Golgari Control shell from Origins.  There are no shortage of options, but identifying the right mix of removal, threats and card advantage spells is not an easy process.  The deck finished a fantastic 20-2, going 5-1 against blue control decks and 4-0 against Green-based ramp.  Somehow the deck played 22 games without facing Red Aggro once, so I can't speak to the matchup.  I'd love to hear about the experiences of others.  Here is where the list ended up, but it still fluctuates a lot.

3 x Gatecreeper Vine
4 x Elvish Visionary
2 x Evolutionary Leap
1 x Liliana, Heretical Healer
1 x Complete Disregard
1 x Nissa, Vastwood Seer
4 x Natural Connection
1 x Read the Bones
1 x Suppression Bonds
2 x From Beyond
2 x Languish
4 x Mwonvuli Acid-Moss
1 x Gideon, Ally of Zendikar
2 x Planar Outburst
2 x Angelic Edict
1 x Ob Nixilis Reignited
1 x Greenwarden of Murasa
1 x Oblivion Sower
1 x Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger
4 x Evolving Wilds
2 x Woodland Cemetery
2 x Isolated Chapel
2 x Sunpetal Grove
2 x Canopy Vista
2 x Shambling Vent
4 x Forest
4 x Plains
3 x Swamp

Some of the old ideas that I think are out of place now - Perilous Myr, Fleshbag, Bone Splinters, Reclamation Sage, and perhaps Tragic Arrogance.  They don't answer the cards we see now that Languish and Planar Outburst don't already answer.  When you already have these great sweepers, what we need are things that solve other problems.  This includes planeswalkers, indestructible creatures and cards with painful death effects.  What we want are spells that can target walkers and spells that stop creatures without killing them (exile, Suppression Bonds).  The threats we want are exactly the threats we have taken steps to deal with - planeswalkers and hard-to-kill creatures.  Emeria Shephard and Gaea's Revenge are both cards that are frequently going in and out of the deck, and I have settled on leaving them out for now to have a wider answer array.  Moss is Moss, but this deck doesn't just need ramp, it needs help killing man-lands and awakened lands.  Moss matters.  Again, I never played a Red Aggro deck in my twenty-two games, and that is the deck that really punishes a multi-moss draw.  The mana base is selfish, there are a lot of double white, double green and double black cards, so Natural Connection isn't needed as much to ramp as it is to fix.  This has made me wonder if I should run Pilgrim's Eye instead, but the Acid-Moss recovery plan of Natural Connection into your own Moss has been very good, and I have gone 4-0 vs Ramp partially because of it.

The final deck of the week, which is still in the driver's seat, is Azorius Tempo.  I don't have a lot of love or respect for a tap dancer-style deck, but this deck seems to have a lot more game to it.  I am currently 16 - 1, and still rolling, and the only loss was the result of some terrible misplays on my part.  This isn't theoretical, knowing what I know about the cards in the game all I had to do was play more intelligently and I would have won.  The deck is doing great and feeling great against control and aggro.  There has only been one game against ramp, but it was a pretty easy victory.  Here is the list -


1 x Kytheon, Hero of Akros
3 x Elite Vanguard
3 x Clutch of Currents
2 x Knight of the White Orchid
3 x Dauntless River Marshal
2 x Felidar Cub
4 x Topan Freeblade
1 x Jace, Vryn's Prodigy
2 x Scatter to the Winds
4 x Spell Shrivel
3 x Roil Spout
1 x Archangel of Tithes
3 x Whirler Rogue
1 x Gideon, Ally of Zendikar
2 x Guardian of Tazeem
1 x Drowner of Hope
8 x Plains
7 x Island
2 x Prairie Stream
2 x Glacial Fortress
2 x Foundry of the Consuls
3 x Azorius Guildgate

In my opinion, the best thing about this deck is the awaken cards being at their finest.  Awaken cards are best when they are a good play without awaken and great with it.  It seems obvious, but when a control deck runs Roil Spout I am not sure if it is "great" to top-deck a threat card on turn three, tapping yourself out and lowering your shields to do anything at instant speed.  It is great, however, to top-deck a threat in an aggro deck where you can get some hits in while stalling the opponent's plans.  Now, if you get to six or seven mana and also get a 4/4 out of the deal, it is like casting two impactful spells in one turn.  When to play stuff and when to hold up countermagic is a skill that takes some practice, but when in doubt I try to remember that turn four is often the key turn in this format.  On the draw, going into turn four, I usually hold up countermagic.  Going into turn three on the play, I'll normally deploy more threats.

Jhessian Thief is an interesting card, and a card I like, but it doesn't make the cut right now in any of my tempo decks.  Three mana is such a tough spot to compete for, and the difference between being on the play and on the draw feels huge.  It is a high variance card that doesn't exactly pack a huge punch, and it spends a lot of time on the sidelines in my builds as a result.  I thought the card deserved some discussion because I see it often, and it is popular.

Here's the current top five for the decks I have played this season -

20-2 - Abzan Control

17-2 - Not Black Control

16 -1 - Azorius Aggro

16-2 - Gruul Ramp

15-2 - Temur Tempo

I'll try to keep that up as we go through the season.

Changing topics, I was thrilled to see THIS -  an XB1 tournament!  This is something that has really been missing from the Duels world.  We can toss decklists back and forth all day, but for someone who loves analyzing data and matchups like myself, this event will give us a chance to really see the best decks rise to the top.  For a coverage nerd like me, I can't wait to dissect the matchups and decklists.  

Of course, I am now part of the XB1 universe, and I have been known to enjoy tournament play, so I'll be entering the event.  I plan to write all about what decks I am considering, and then I plan to write about my matches as well as those of others.  Part of the mission of the event is to get as much coverage as possible, so Hakeem has invited as many YouTubers and Twitch streamers as he can find.  I have tested a Twitch stream myself, and I may make that happen more in the future.  Having a tournament where you can actually watch the games seems like it will be a big step forward for those of us that want to play Duels in a more competitive way, and I am really excited about it.

How excited?  Hakeem has put up a $50 Xbox code to the winner, and I am happy to announce that my host company, Haunted Flower, will match his offering, turning the prize into $100 in Xbox codes at the moment.  Of course, I plan on taking it down myself, but to the person who climbs the ladder, you now have a three-figure pot of gold at the top.  Now, I have read comments that there shouldn't be a prize, and I am going to weigh in on this because this is my blog.  Not only should there be a prize, it should be a good prize, because it motivates players to finish the tournament.  I don't know how many times an event has been attempted, and some have concluded with a champion, but many have not.  A light at the end of the tunnel, something to play for, gets people to sign up, sign on, and battle where they otherwise might realize they have something else to do.  Now, let me get off that soap box and get back to being excited!

So if you are interested, get on NGA, or reach out to Hakeem.  The timeline isn't set yet, but I am sure it will be soon, as well as the rules.  I'll be posting updates and doing coverage, as well as writing about my preparation for the event.  I think there is the potential to make this a great event, and hopefully we can duplicate it on iOS and Steam one day.

More stuff from this week - 

Hakeem is certainly back.  He has been very involved on NGA, Twitch and YouTube this week.  His Tuesday night deck-testing stream was good, and I think it is a great idea, even if he did get his Orzhov Allies deck slapped around quite a bit.  Sometimes you don't know how bad something is until you try it, and I do not like Gain/Drain Allies.  Near the end of the night he built up a Naya ramp deck that shows promise.

Hakeem also created a thread on NGA about a deck he was interested in, something he hasn't done in some time.  HERE is the thread.  The deck is interesting because it walks the line between ramp and enchantment-tokens.  A common build of this includes Sigil of the Empty Throne and Valor of Akros.  Both are cut from this build, in the case of Sigil it is easier to ensure you have more lands to make creatures than it is to ensure you have enchantments.  In the case of Valor, you want the enchantments you play to create threats (tokens), and the enchantments here all have the ability to take over a game by themselves if left alone.  What I dislike about the deck is a lack of interaction, but at least we are not at zero.  We have Suppression Bonds and Planar Outburst, plus we can build a big board quickly and gain life, so linear aggro and red aggro doesn't get a free pass to victory.  I played against this deck twice yesterday, both with control decks, and I got brutally beaten.  Control just isn't ready to handle so many enchantments, any of which can crush you.

There is an ongoing debate in the thread about From Beyond vs Evolutionary Leap.  Hakeem downplays From Beyond in the way someone would only do if they haven't played with it enough, the card is legit and he dismisses it to easily in my opinion.  My solution is both.  It is easy and not very detrimental to the deck to trim 1 visionary and 1 gatecreeper and play all four of the killer enchantments, and it seems to further tighten the death grip the deck has on foes without enough enchantment hate.  The deck also requires Evolving Wilds.  With so much landfall effect available, it shouldn't be a debate, and the deck has a flat curve (oxymoron!) so mana efficiency isn't available, let alone required, as often as with more aggressive decks.  You don't actually need color fixing, you want double land-fall triggers.  If the Wilds are messing with you, you can probably go from four to three without too much lost effect.  Here is where I would take the deck.

3 x Jaddi Offshoot
3 x Gatecreeper Vine
3 x Elvish Visionary
2 x Evolutionary Leap
1 x Nissa, Vastwood Seer
3 x Retreat to Kazandu
1 x Natural Connection
3 x Nissa's Pilgrimage
3 x Retreat to Emeria
2 x Suppression Bonds
2 x From Beyond
1 x Gideon, Ally of Zendikar
3 x Zendikar's Roil
2 x Planar Outburst
1 x Oblivion Sower
2 x Nissa's Renewal
1 x Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger
5 x Plains
11 x Forest
2 x Canopy Vista
2 x Sunpetal Grove
4 x Evolving Wilds

Twitch and YouTube have felt pretty quiet in Duels terms these days, perhaps because of the holiday havoc.  We got a Sultai Fog deck from Mobius, and I think he has some good ideas about the deck.  Kryder keeps churning out various ramp videos, honestly they bleed together a bit and I think we need some variety on that channel.  Boros Allies really jumped in popularity, both in what I saw played and what I played against, and I think that is Legend's fault because he made a video of that deck.  Apologies to fans of The Legion, but I hate that Boros deck.  The Allies are screwed in my opinion, it is all about the Eldrazi.  I think that is enough for the week, time to keep breaking in my XB1.  If anyone wants to battle, friend me on Xbox Live, Covertgo Blue.  I'd love to duel.

<3 CGB