February 01 2016 Monday at 01:07 PM

Duels Diaries Week 27 - How to live and die in an Acid-Moss forest

Hello Duelers,

This is Duels Diaries, where I write about the meeting of my two favorite pastimes - Magic: The Gathering and video games!

What’s happening in Duels this week?  Well, the Hakeem invitational and iOS Duels tournaments rage on, but that only affects a handful of the Duels players and readers.  If you are just out there brewing decks and enjoying the game, there hasn’t been a lot of changes on the Duels front.

In terms of the HAKI, round four is not quite over.  Gemini has until midnight to accept my challenge and battle me to conclude the round.  Once that game happens, we will have pairings and standings going into the fifth round, which will decide who makes the top eight playoff for $140+ in prizes.  You will likely see a different post when pairings go live to discuss the HAKI results and preview the next round.

Before I launch completely into this week’s post, a quick setting of expectations - it is likely that Duels Diaries will be posted on Monday afternoon instead of Sunday afternoon going forward.  Why?  Well, I am realizing I have a lot of Sunday conflicts coming up.  WWE PPV parties, Grand Prix and Pro Tour coverage, and a genuine laziness on Sundays.  I think Monday will be better, because I don’t like working on Monday morning anyway.  It is the time of the week when I have the most email, but I get the fewest responses to emails sent on a Monday because everyone else is trying to dig out of email.  So I am testing a habit change that started last week, sleeping in on Monday and then writing, and then working...maybe on the working part...we’ll see :)

This week is a head scratcher because it is hard to find something new to say about Duels.  We are in a long winter hibernation as Duels players.  We have been promised Oath of the Gatewatch and Shadows Over Innistrad in April, which could potentially double the card pool, creating almost an entirely new game.  In the meantime, I feel like the meta for Duels B4Z season is very defined and that the best decks are known.  Let’s recap that and discuss the state of the B4Z season a bit, including why some decks/cards are so good and what the April update can do to fix it.

B4Z decks, Top Tier -

Ramp, of all kinds of colors

Red, of all kinds of aggro strategies

Middle Tier -

A whole lot of things.  Golgari and Abzan control, Thopters, Simic Tempo, Azorius Tempo, Husk/Crats decks of all kinds, Blue Control (Esper, Azorius, Dimir, Bant, ect), Rakdos Aggro, Selesnya Tokens, Boros Tokens, Elves, and on and on and on.

Bottom Tier -

Synergy strategies that didn’t get enough cards, like Allies and Lifegain.  

As always, this is how I see it, calling it like I see it, it is OK to disagree.  I write from my perspective, and I play well over 100 games each week on iOS and XB1, and I probably watch more Steam games on Twitch and YouTube than the average Dueler plays.

So what makes ramp so very very good right now?  Here is a list of all the cards that ramp decks seem to agree on regardless of their color combination -

Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger

Oblivion Sower

Omnath, Locus of Rage (if red)

Nissa, Vastwood Seer

Nissa’s Renewal

Mwonvuli Acid-Moss

Greenwarden of Murasa

Jaddi Offshoot

Gaea’s Revenge

From Beyond

Ramp Spells - Natural Connection and/or Nissa’s Pilgrimage

Sweepers - Planar Outburst, Radiant Flames, Rolling Thunder, Displacement Wave

So breaking it down, we have five really awesome-but-expensive mythics that the ramp deck gets to make use of, and we have a plethora of rares to help it get there.  When I look for a top tier deck in Duels, I really try to look for the commons that enable it.  Commons are rarely powerful (see what I did there?  Rare, rarely, common, get it?  Yeah, I know, lame), so when I common is good enough to be a four of, it is often adding to the consistency of the deck and enabling the two-of rares and one-of mythics.  The list above only had two/three commons and two uncommons -

4x Acid-Moss

4x Natural Connection/Pilgrimage

3x Jaddi Offshoot

3x Rolling Thunder

Let’s talk about the green elephant in the room, Acid-Moss.

This card has been the subject of a lot of discussion on No Goblins Allowed, and it gets mentioned in almost every thread about the game at some point.  It actually lost to Gideon in a recent Magic_Duels Twitter poll asking something like “which card do you least want to play against?”, and I can see why it finished second because Gideon is so hard to beat, but the fact that a common that rarely saw paper play at any level went head to head with Gideon is news in itself.  I have seen plenty of Reddit posts asking that the card be banned, or removed from the Duels game entirely.  Arguments between myself and fellow HAKI competitor Peepy Squeeps aka TibaltTown95 on Twitch have become rather enthusiastic.

It raises the question of why?  It is clear to most players coming from paper magic of almost any level that Moss isn’t a good card, and one might gloss right over it in their Duels starter box when building a Green ramp deck.  How did this card come to be a four-of in the most commonly played top tier archetype in the B4Z season?  There isn’t a simple answer, but let’s just ramble for a minute about what makes Acid-Moss so format defining in Duels -

- The format has few, very VERY few impactful cards that cost less than four mana.  

Let’s pretend that a Standard ramp deck added Acid-Moss and took it to a current Standard tournament.  Our theoretical ramp player is getting ready to cast Moss on turn four, and on turn three our theoretical opponent casts Anafenza (4/4 for three mana).  Hmmmm.  Well, our Acid-Moss player can still blow up a land and ramp, but now this play costs our ramp player four life.  That is a much larger cost.  Would you play Moss if it had the text “lose 4 life” on the bottom?  Now imagine it getting worse.  Say the opponent also played a turn one Warden of the First Tree and pumped it on turn two, making it a 3/3.  Anafenza also gives Warden a +1/+1 counter when attacking, and Warden has already attacked for seven damage prior to turn four.  Now in our theoretical game, casting Acid Moss on turn four from a board state of 13 life, about to take 8 damage because you tapped out for a four mana sorcery, you can see how Acid-Moss is NOT a good play.  

Back into the Duels universe.  We don’t get 4/4’s for three mana.  We don’t get 3/3’s for two mana.  What is the best curve we can have?  Well, it is possible to get a 2/1 for one, a 3/2 for two, and a 2/1 and a 3/2 or 3/1 for three.  Do you see the difference in this scenario?  The low toughness is very vulnerable to Twin Bolt and Radiant Flames, and in that story we committed four creatures to the board, almost our whole hand.  In the prior scenario, just two creatures, Warden and Anafenza, applied all the pressure and neither are in Twin Bolt or Radiant Flames range on turn three.  The Duels scenario also assumed our mana worked out perfectly, which brings me to the next point that makes Moss so good.

- The mana in the format is not reliable.

Don’t get me wrong, I know we have come a long way from the decks with no dual lands, or just four Evolving Wilds, but we still aren’t that good or reliable enough.  An aggro deck that wants to play two colors and cast spells starting on turn one often can’t run guildgates or Evolving Wilds, so it mulligans more, so it is less consistent.  And even if you hit your sources just right, Moss threatens to blow up the one Island you needed.  This leads into the next point -

- Almost every powerful spell in Duels requires double colored mana.  I could go down a list, but if you haven’t thought about this before, make your own list.  Write down all the cards you like to play, the auto-includes in your deck. It doesn’t matter what color it is.  Write down the most powerful cards that make up your deck.  How many cost double colored mana?  If Moss blows up one of those colored sources before you get to cast it, will you be able to find another source of that color in time?

- Good removal is rare and/or expensive.  It is really hard to kill a big threat with little mana, especially if you get your double-colored mana messed up.  Cards like Jaddi and Gatecreeper mess with Fleshbag, and you need double white for Celestial Flare.  What else can you even do about Gaea’s Revenge or Plated Crusher if you are on four mana?

So mana-bases are tough to build compared to other formats, most of our good spells are double-colored, and it is tough to curve out and pressure the opponent before turn four, which makes turn four land destruction more disruptive in Duels than it is in other formats.  None of this has even touched the other half of Moss, all of this could be said about any four mana land destruction spell.  Demolish could be a main-deck card in this format.  But Moss gives you more.

- Moss can fetch battle lands, giving you a Cinder Glade or Canopy Vista.

This fact makes the mana better for Gruul, Naya and Selesnya, which turns out to be very important since the best pure ramp spell, Nissa’s Pilgrimage, only fetches basic Forests.  It lets you keep hands like Forest, Forest, Forest, Pilgrimage, Radiant Flames, Acid Moss, Gaea’s Revenge, because you know Moss will set up the Flames.  Only getting two of each battle land reduces their impact on Duels, because unlike Standard and Modern, we can’t fetch the battle lands, except when it comes to Acid-Moss.  Moss has the ability extrapolate the issue of bad mana in Duels by disrupting the opponent’s mana base and improving our mana-base with two colors at the same time.

- Moss ramps us from four mana to six mana, or from five to seven with the Pilgrimage/Natural Connection hands.

This is a big one.  While six mana is a nice curve into Nissa’s Renewal, and then leads to Ulamog, Renewal being rare and Ulamog being mythic keeps this from being a reliable curve.  Like I mentioned with Duels, when looking at the top tier decks I like to look at the commons and uncommons.  What kind of mana curve-out can we build from only commons and uncommons?

Turn 1 - Jaddi

Turn 2 - Gatecreeper

Turn 3 - Nissa’s Pilgrimage

Turn 4 with 5 mana - Acid-Moss, AND Fiery Impulse WITH Spell Mastery

Turn five with 7 mana - Plated Crushed, or after Pauper rules, Gaea’s Revenge or Omnath.

Turn six, with 8 mana - Rolling Thunder away all your blockers if you had any, swing for nearly lethal, probably win the game.

In this curve we gained six life, blocked multiple threats, killed their best 3-toughness-or-less dude, disrupted their mana-base, fixed our mana, thinned four lands out of our deck to improve our future draws, got seven lands into play by turn five, and played a huge threat that is hard to interact with.

I challenge my readers to draw up curves made up of entirely commons and uncommons that can either kill that draw or at least get back to parity with that draw.  Post your pauper curve-outs in the comments.  You will see it is not that easy.  All the commons and uncommons in the curve make it a very consistent opening to pull off.

I’ll make one curve for you, and it explains why red aggro is on the top tier list.

Turn 1 - Foundry Street Denizen

Turn 2 - Mage Ring Bully, attack for two.  18

Turn 3 - Dragon Fodder, Titan’s Strength.  attack for 10.  8

Turn 4 - Twin Bolt, Call of the Full Moon.  attack for 12.  -4

All of this is done with commons, the order of some of the spells can be changed, some commons like Fiery Impulse can be substituted, Act of Treason is a great wrinkle.  The mono red mana base is just Mountains, so it can’t be disrupted by Moss.  When you pair it against the other pauper curve of Ramp, whether or not Red Aggro actually won the game depends on if and how Jaddi Offshoot blocked, and what got Fiery Impulsed, and who went first.

So play the game readers, what curves can you make out of commons that can compete?  How consistent are they, ask in, how many colors and double colors does it require to pull off?  How does it line up against the Red Aggro and Green Ramp curves?  Once you complete this thought exercise, and you see how hard it is to do, you will see why Moss and Goblins are so dangerous.

I don’t think Red Aggro is considered a problem in the format.  Sure, it is a gut-check to see if your deck is too slow, but that is good to have.  Moss is different, and after a few months of B4Z season I can comfortably say that it was a mistake to put Moss in this game.  You could call Acid-Moss the Mwonvuli Fun-Police, because many of the “cool” decks in the format really suffer against it.

Why aren’t four and five color Woodland Wanderer and Skyrider Elf decks more common?  Because Acid-Moss messes with the mana and goes over the top of it with Ulamog.

Why are so many types of synergy and combo decks bad?  Because none of those synergies or combo decks really come online before turn four, and Moss screws up the mana and puts the ramp player in a better position to break of the synergies by setting up a Rolling Thunder or Planar Outburst.  Control decks are also extremely sensitive to mana disruption, even a two-color control deck really needs to hit land drops.  It is odd that we got mechanics like converge, tribes like Allies that are in every color, and yet we can’t really enjoy them because double Acid-Moss, a freakin’ common, usually means the game is over before we did anything.

Yeah, if I had the power I would pull Acid-Moss from the game.  It is hard to say this, but it really is overpowered in this very limited, very specific format.  Also, it is unclear if this will end.  While we haven’t seen many cards from Shadows Over Innistrad, we can look at Oath of the Gatewatch and I don’t see many, if any, commons and uncommons that change the equation.  We may actually be stuck in the Moss Meta for sometime.

So what can you do about it?  The common curve test above is one thing.  Consider the curves of Red Aggro and Green Ramp when you build your deck, and try to build a curve that can compete.  I also recommend thinking about Moss when you consider mulliganing your opening hand.  Since the first mulligan is a freebie, I will toss it anytime it doesn’t pass the Moss test and look for a better curve.

If you are playing an aggro or midrange deck, make sure you can apply pressure that gets over/around/through Jaddi and Gatecreepers before turn four.  Examples include Bounding Krasis, Eldrazi Skyspawner, Dauntless River Marshall, Nantuko Husk.  

If you are played control, make sure you have low-cost answers to big threats and/or a plethora of counterspells.  One reason I prefer UW control is because the mana is more reliable, so I can run four Celestial Flare which is the one common removal spell that can break up that Ramp curve (not so great against Red sadly).  I also run eight three-mana counterspells to break up the ramp and either stop Moss or what comes after.

Run more lands.  Falling behind a land is bad enough, but if you lack the land to replace it you are dead in the water.  Many of my midrange decks run 25 or 26 lands, depending if they have cards like Gatecreeper or not, and my control decks typically run 26 lands.  Even the one-ranks on XB1 know to play four Mosses now, so you have to expect it.

Stay calm.  Don’t tilt when you see a Moss.  Or a second Moss.  Or a third.  On a recent stream I had a game where I was Mossed at least three times, but I resolved a From Beyond using Blisterpod Scion mana and every turn after that I cast spells off with my Scions.  Even though the opponent was beating me up with a very big Eldrazi, I won the game with two mana in play after using scions to cast Traitorous Instinct.  Keep calm, eat the Moss, carry on.

I am calling a wrap on this week, I hope you found the Moss discussion helpful, but I really do want to see everyone play the pauper curve game.

I promise I will write more about decklists, the middle tier decks, and other fun and exciting nonsense in the near future.

<3 CGB