December 30 2015 Wednesday at 02:35 PM

DJ picks up the tempo

We received comments on Sunday's Duels Diaries post from DJ0045 with two new brews for me to play with.

DJ is active on NGA, and we've had some fun battles on iOS.  I know he takes a methodical approach to building, and he has a history of dropping some fun-but-good lists on the community.  Last week he gave me a Sultai Husk-Abomination-Tutelage combo deck about half-an-hour before I challenged Hakeem on Twitch, and it provided one of many memorable moments that evening.  If I have peeked your curiosity, and you didn't check out the stream or the video from Sunday's Diaries, you can see it in action here -

http://www.twitch.tv/hakeem928/v/31328390 - the game in question starts at 09:42

This week DJ wants to get into the blue tempo game, and he doesn't feel like using just one color, or just two colors, be he wants three colors.

Let's get the decklists out here right now -

Jeskai Tempo

1 x Kytheon, Hero of Akros
3 x Dauntless River Marshal
4 x Felidar Cub
4 x Clutch of Currents
1 x Jace, Vryn's Prodigy
4 x Disperse
3 x Jhessian Thief
3 x Whirler Rogue
2 x Abbot of Keral Keep
4 x Mage-Ring Bully
4 x Touch of the Void
3 x Roil Spout
3 x Plains
5 x Island
3 x Mountain
2 x Prairie Stream
2 x Clifftop Retreat
2 x Sulfur Falls
2 x Glacial Fortress
1 x Izzet Guildgate
4 x Evolving Wilds

Bant Tempo

1 x Kytheon, Hero of Akros
3 x Dauntless River Marshal
4 x Felidar Cub
1 x Gideon, Ally of Zendikar
4 x Clutch of Currents
1 x Jace, Vryn's Prodigy
4 x Disperse
1 x Retreat to Coralhelm
3 x Whirler Rogue
1 x Nissa, Vastwood Seer
2 x Woodland Wanderer
3 x Skyrider Elf
2 x Veteran Warleader
3 x Bounding Krasis
3 x Roil Spout
3 x Plains
5 x Island
3 x Forest
2 x Lumbering Falls
2 x Canopy Vista
2 x Prairie Stream
1 x Hinterland Harbor
2 x Glacial Fortress
4 x Evolving Wilds

Let's dissect like a high school science class.

Both decks have a blue core with the following -

4 Clutch of Currents, 4 Disperse, 3 Whirler Rogue, 1 Jace, 3 Roil Spout.  

It seems the serious question on DJ's mind is this - What is the best way to take advantage of all these bounce spells?

Green gives some converge beasties like Skyrider Elf, Bounding Krasis and Woodland Wanderer.

Red gives you prowess dudes like Mage-Ring and Abbot, along with some burn/removal.

Both decks have Dauntless River Marshall, still among the best two-drops we have, with Felidar Cub and Kytheon.  

You can read threads about these decks on No Goblins Allowed, but I want to say that I have not read those threads.  Some of what I mention may be covered, disputed and debated there, but I like to analyze in a vacuum.

I am also going to set expectations - I play games to win them.  My goal with any deck that I plan to put a lot of time into is Tier 1 status (which is subjective) and a 90% win ratio (which is objective if I can keep my game on point).  I don't know what DJ's goals where when making these decks, or if they are in alignment with mine, but if you want my opinion on a deck, please understand I will use the goals above to from that opinion.

My opinion here isn't very rosy.  I have a lot of playtime with a three color tempo deck, a Temur list that I have written about and feel is a strict upgrade to the popular Simic Tempo list.  Temur has a problem, however.  Mana.  While our lands in Duels are the best they have been right now, there are still not enough reliable duel lands to build the type of mana base we need to play three colors and cast our spells without stumbling.  The mana bases I have found that work in the format for three color decks are typically a very light splash, like last week's Sultai list from DJ with Tutelage as the only blue card, or they are a control deck that runs plenty of mana fixing and plans to make up for early-game stumbles with late-game power.

Tempo decks cannot stumble on their lands.  Such behavior is punishable by death.  When we talk about tempo, we often talk about bounce spells and tap-down creatures like Frost Lynx and Bounding Krasis.  However, every deck uses tempo every game.  A enters-the-battlefield tapped land like Evolving Wilds is a tempo-negative play - you give up tempo on your turn to have better mana the following turn.  With three color decks, the chances of having awkward starts is dramatically increased.  This is why you just don't find many aggressive three-color lists that work consistently, and I haven't found one that gets close to 90%.  Three or more colors is generally reserved for combo decks, control decks and ramp decks because they are happy to forfeit early tempo for late power.

This problem was manifested both by my Temur Tempo deck and by DJ's Bant Tempo deck when I played them against Simic Tempo.  Over multiple games, even on the play, my three color deck stumbled on mana or had a tapped land at the wrong time, or missed a color all together.  The Simic deck reliably cast their threats, bounced the powerful creatures that took me longer to cast, and easily won the race.  In this testing session, Temur was 50/50, Bant was 30/70.  While a head-to-head with Simic isn't meta defining, the question is why not just play Simic (or UW, another tempo deck I have been doing well with)?  You can play three color decks and pack in better cards, pound for pound, but a 2/2 is better than a 3/2 if you can't cast your 3/2 reliably in a tempo deck.

So if the argument is to be two colors instead of three, let's flip the coin and talk about the positives -

What does Red add to Jeskai to make it better (aka why not Azorius Tempo)?

2 x Abbot of Keral Keep
4 x Mage-Ring Bully
4 x Touch of the Void

Prowess creatures are really good bears, and they are upgrades as far as turn two plays go.  The first thing I think I have to dispute is Touch of the Void.  We don't have enough red to use Exquisite Firecraft, strictly better, which is unfortunate.  A three mana, sorcery speed removal spell doesn't even make the cut in my mono-red decks most of the time.  In this deck I am confident it should be Fiery Impulse.  Tempo isn't just about casting small creatures on time and bouncing big ones, it is about getting more than you pay for.  Touch is three mana, three damage.  Impulse is one mana, and in this deck, always two damage and potentially three damage, and it is instant speed so it creates blowout potential with the prowess guys that you may otherwise lack.  The deck doesn't have as much instant speed as one might hope.

So if we cut the prowess guys, what do we have?  Renown guys.  Topan Freeblade and Consuls Lt. could fill the roles.  How do they stack up?  Renown guys have to connect to be 3 power, prowess guys require you to cast a spell before damage to be 3 power.  In this deck, the cards are actually very similar.  Abbot has the card advantage potential, Lt. has first strike and the potential to pump up others.  Topan has vigilance where bully has to attack.  The back-and-forth mostly comes out as a wash.

So how good is Fiery Impulse/Touch of the Void?  If you face a lot of small creatures trying to get aura'd up, Impulse is great.  Touch?  Not that great because the one-drop may already be out of range by the time you try to cast it.  Against little Goblins trying on too-big-for-them auras, I would argue that you have bounce spells that are already very well positioned.

4 Clutch, 4 Disperse, 3 Roil Spout is already a ton of tempoesque removal.  Impulse is a fine addition because it can hit tiny creatures that you don't want to bounce too badly.  Can we fill the void with other blue or white cards?

I would argue that you could replace Touch with Frost Lynx, or Impulse with Gideon's Reproach depending on what you expect, and have a more stable, consistent and tough to beat tempo deck.

I think it is also worth mentioning that Gideon is excluded from the Jeskai list, likely because of mana concerns, and that is a big cost.  Yes, it is just a one-of, but it is a one-of that wins games one his own, and I can't say that for the red cards we have.

On to Bant.  I like Bant better.  When I look at this deck, I see a Simic Tempo deck that added White, so let's look at what White gives us -

1 x Kytheon, Hero of Akros
3 x Dauntless River Marshal
4 x Felidar Cub
1 x Gideon, Ally of Zendikar

2 x Veteran Warleader

3 x Roil Spout

Looking at this list I bet you can already see the that White added a lot more to Bant than Red did to Jeskai.  

Kytheon is fine if you draw and flip him, I think we all know he is good but not reliable, I don't see him as irreplaceable.  You could use Scythe Leopard or Snapping Gnarlid and not think much of the switch.

Dauntless is pretty great if you can reliably drop on Island and cast him turn two.  That has been an issue for this deck, getting a turn two Marshall isn't hard, getting a turn two Marshall and Island reliably isn't so great.  Still, he is a tough one to replace.  I would go with Undercity Troll.

Felidar Cub isn't a four-of in my mind, he is good, and I play him in almost everything white, but I don't think he is a reason to play white.  This could be Snapping Gnarlid or Reclamation Sage if the enchantments are the huge concern (I would side with tempo as the concern).

Gideon is awesome, but not always easy to cast.  Kiora is not in the same weight-class, but it is easier to cast and can dig you to more land drops and creatures.  Guardian of Tazeem is a mana more but capable of winning games on his own.

Veteran Warleader is an interesting card that I never got sold on in my testing.  Sometimes it was great, but he suffers from a lack of Allies and this isn't a dedicated creature swarm approach.  I would say he is easy to replace.  Eldrazi Skyspawner comes to mind.

Roil Spout is a good card, but we can get the same early game effect from Anchor to the Aether.  The lategame effect would be missed.  Perhaps a better replacement is Coastal Discovery since the lategame effect is so much more significant.  Frost Lynx is probably best, a 2/2 is no 4/4, but as the 4/4 costs six without haste, seven with, Lynx may get two or three hits in before you could have awakened the Roil.

Can you play three color aggro/control decks with lots of cool cards?  Heck yes.  Should you if you want the best possible outcome the most possible times?  I don't think so.  Take your aggro/control deck and make a control, midrange or ramp deck, or make your tempo deck two colors and more consistent.  That's my take on things anyway.  Thanks so much to DJ for putting his creations out there, and I hope you enjoyed the post.

<3 CCB