[Modern] In Testing: Flash Delirium

When Snapcaster Mage was previewed at Pro Tour Philadelphia earlier this month, it was the talk of the tournament floor. Personally, I was excited to fit it into as many decks as possible. I already had Modern on the mind (it being the format of the Pro Tour), so the wheels were immediately turning in that direction.

I was already testing a Previous Level Blue style deck with the Punishing Fire + Grove of the Burnwillows combo, but was somewhat unimpressed. The manabase felt clunky, and the Punishing/Grove combo was not as strong as I’d expected. Not to mention the fact that the deck was clearly too slow for the then-current environment, which was saturated with blazingly fast combo decks that made it difficult for a control deck to thrive.

The bannings announced on September 20 changed all that. The loss of a key accelerant (Rite of Flame) plus the two best one-mana cantrips in the format (Preordain, Ponder) should significantly slow things down, providing an opportunity for control to get a grip on the format.

I decided to dismantle the deck I was testing and start from scratch, using various Previous Level Blue decks and Mystical Teachings decks as inspiration. Here’s what I ended up with.

Flash Delirium:

4 Mana Leak
3 Path to Exile
3 Spell Snare
4 Cryptic Command
14 Instants

3 Vendilion Clique
4 Snapcaster Mage
2 Ninja of the Deep Hours
3 Spellstutter Sprite
1 Venser, Shaper Savant
13 Creatures

3 Sword of Feast and Famine
3 Engineered Explosives
2 Vedalken Shackles
8 Artifacts

4 Hallowed Fountain
1 Watery Grave
1 Steam Vents
1 Breeding Pool
4 Mutavault
4 Misty Rainforest
4 Scalding Tarn
1 Academy Ruins
5 Island
25 Lands

The result leans towards Aggro-Control, something like a pre-Bitterblossom Faeries deck (did those even exist? Sure they did. Just ask Zvi). The amount of synergy in this deck is somewhat staggering. Not only are the individual cards powerful on their own, they work together to provide quite a bit of versatility. This is my kind of deck.

Of the 35 non-lands in the deck, 27 of them can be cast at instant speed (or pseudo-instant speed in the case of Ninja of the Deep Hours‘ mid-combat ninjutsu ability); hence the name, “Flash Delirium” (the name of one of my favorite MGMT songs).

Speaking of Ninja of the Deep Hours, its inclusion may seem questionable, but it fuels one of the trickiest (and, frankly, coolest) interactions in the deck. With so many flash creatures with enter-the-battlefield abilities, Ninja acts as a one-use Riptide Laboratory that draws you a card (sometimes more than one) and allows you to return and reuse any of the other 11 creatures. Value! For the moment I’m going with the Ninja, but another idea I had (which doesn’t have to be mutually exclusive) is to play a copy or two of Familiar’s Ruse, which gives you a similar effect without the need to attack.

Moving on to the sorcery speed portion of the deck, Sword of Feast and Famine should be no surprise to anyone. With this many instant speed options, the deck is able to fully capitalize on the Sword’s untap trigger, while the protection the Sword offers can facilitate ninjutsu in a pinch, or help a Ninja slip by and draw you a card.

  

The manabase is built to take full advantage of both Vedalken Shackles and Engineered Explosives. Nearly every land is an island (or can fetch one), ensuring that the Shackles fit any creature you might encounter. The inclusion of all four blue Ravnica-block dual lands allows you to go to the full 5 Sunburst counters if necessary. Mutavault, while not an island, is a faerie, which can be relevant alongside Spellstutter Sprite (as anyone who plays Legacy or who played Standard when Lorwyn was legal will tell you). Lastly, Academy Ruins is there to pick up any broken Swords, Shackles, or dead Explosives that might have found their way into the graveyard.

This is still a rough and somewhat untested list, but it’s what I’m currently working with. I haven’t yet come up with a sideboard (it sort of depends on how the format shapes up), but I’ve got my eye on the usual players: Thoughtseize; Krosan Grip; Pithing Needle (and possibly Trinket Mage to fetch it; can also grab Explosives); Wrath of God; Lightning Bolt (or possibly Helix, but it might be a stretch). I’m also considering an Elspeth, Knight-Errant or two.

Thoughts? Ideas? I’d love to hear ’em.

Follow me on Twitter @affinityforblue.

UPDATE: A lot of people have been asking about the list, and while it is my intention to write up a full post after some more testing, I figured I’d throw out a few updates. After discussing the idea with Mike Flores, we both determined that the deck is likely lacking two things: more power/pressure, and probably more card draw as well. I’ve shaved some numbers, cut the Ninjas from the deck entirely, and added Tarmogoyf and the Punishing/Grove combo back into the deck (as Shaheen Soorani pointed out in his recent article on SCG, the format is looking fairly aggro-heavy). I’m currently playing with 2 copies of Familiar’s Ruse as well, which has been stellar. Next on my agenda is to get a few copies of Thirst for Knowledge into the deck. Theoretically, Snapcaster Mage will mitigate the downside of discarding spells off of a Thirst. I’m considering shaving a land, because it feels like the deck gets a little flooded more often than I’d like. More details to come.

Advertisements

Jace, Memory Adept – Under the Hood

It’s been a while, but I wanted to drop a quick post with a few initial thoughts on the latest Jace to (potentially) grace Standard, since the Mind Sculptor has been banned and the original will be rotating in October.

If you haven’t yet seen it, here it is:

Jace, Memory Adept

Yeah, seems…neat.

To me the obvious comparison is Venser, the Sojourner. At the same converted mana cost, their first abilities are comparable, as typically with Venser you’re blinking Spreading Seas and Wall of Omens, etc. Venser’s starting loyalty is lower, but both ‘walkers can immediately go to 5 loyalty, so that’s a wash. On the following turn though, Venser hits 7 loyalty while Jace only reaches 6. This could be very relevant if you’re attempting to reach the ultimate against attacking creatures or a deck with burn. While Jace’s +1 is more “guaranteed” (since you actually need something decent in play to blink with Venser), Venser has the slight edge here in my opinion for the versatility. Blinking a Sun Titan, or any Titan for that matter, often gives you more than a single card’s worth of value, and having to option to blink-“untap” a land in a pinch is useful more often than you might think. There’s a plethora of options here to find interesting permanents with enter-the-battlefield abilities that can be used (and hopefully abused) with Venser.

Skipping the middle ability for a sec, both planeswalkers reach their “ultimate” in the same amount of time (4 activations if left unchecked), and both should win you the game. However, while Venser gives you an emblem that applies for the duration of the game, you only get one turn with the cards from Jace before you need to discard back down to 7. Drawing 20 cards is immensely powerful, don’t get me wrong, but if you can’t put those cards to use the majority of that advantage goes to waste. Not only that, but you have to be careful, since there’s a nonzero chance that you deck yourself. Keep in mind: Using Venser’s +2 for three turns puts him at 9 loyalty, meaning that he sticks around for more blink action after you get his emblem. Jace has to survive an additional turn if you want him to stay in play after his ultimate.

The middle ability on Jace, Memory Adept is probably the most interesting one. In the context of the current Standard, it is “just” a milling strategy. No question, if you let your opponent keep Jace around for too long, he has the potential to be a killer, but it has no real effect on the board, and if this is the route you’re going, you’ve got to worry about protecting Jace. However, all signs point to Innistrad (the fall 2011 set) as a graveyard-based set. It’s exciting to consider whether in the future we will have a reason to want to mill our own library. This is a common thing in Legacy (Dredge, Breakfast), but not usually in Standard. Flashback has already been confirmed (via D12) as a returning keyword in Innistrad.

For the moment, it seems like you can get more value and versatility out of Venser, but if there’s a reason to want to stock our own graveyards, Jace, Memory Adept could be where it’s at. Also, if there are hardcore good milling strategies coming down the pipe, Jace could actually be a staple in those sorts of decks. The Eldrazi giants are rotating, and WotC loves to create tension in their strategies, so pushing milling as a win condition seems to fit perfectly into a graveyard-based block. That’s my prediction anyway.

Be careful to avoid the trap of comparing this new incarnation to Jace, The Mind Sculptor. It’s a different card with different applications, and should be treated as such.

It’s stronger than it looks at first glance. Playable? Maybe, maybe not. But remember, Wizards wants planeswalkers to be playable; Aaron Forsythe even admitted that Chandra Ablaze was a failed design. This Jace’s power may not be immediately apparent, but that doesn’t mean it’s not there. It may just be waiting for some friends. (Remember Stoneforge Mystic before Swords?)

Why I’m excited for Venser (and you should be too).

I mean, first of all, it’s freaking Venser.

Remember how good the original Venser was a few years back? Of course, the new Venser has little to do with his previous Legendary incarnation, aside from representing the same character. However, this version may have even more of an impact on Standard than the Shaper Savant.

Venser, the Sojourner was the first major card spoiled from Scars of Mirrodin. Being a huge fan of the first Venser (shocking, I know), I was super excited to see what his planeswalker self would be capable of. However, to be honest, I was sort of let down at first.

A Sorcery-speed Momentary Blink? Hm, okay, what else?

Make my creatures unblockable? What creatures? Baneslayer? Celestial Colonnade? They don’t really need it, being that they have Flying.

What’s his ultimate? Exile stuff. Seems spicy, but so does every other planeswalker’s ultimate ability. To be playable, his non-ultimate abilities need to have an impact in case he never reaches his ultimate.

So, with my initial impression out of the way (“he’s okay, but really needs to be built around to be any good”), I moved on to other Scars of Mirrodin spoilers, which were pouring forth at an alarming rate. Elspeth Tirel, Koth (KOTH!), Mox Opalman, Elspeth seems so good!Geez, how am I gonna deal with this Koth guy? Should I just play red?

But when I stopped for a little while, for whatever reason, Venser kept scratching around on the inside of my skull.

So I took a (figurative) page out of Patrick Chapin’s book (Next Level Magic, which you can buy here!) and took another look at Venser from a different perspective: What would make this card good?

I sketched out a list based on an amalgamation of Next Level Bant and U/W Sun Titan Control, trying to get the most possible advantage out of Venser while not relying too much on him. (Looking back, I was definitely overcompensating for Memoricide and therefore wanted to diversify my threats.)

2 Preordain
2 Condemn
4 Mana Leak
1 Journey to Nowhere
4 Wall Omens
4 Sea Gate Oracle
3 Jace Beleren
2 Tumble Magnet
3 Day of Judgment
1 Jace, the Mind Sculptor
2 Sphinx of Lost Truths
3 Venser, the Sojourner
1 Elspeth Tirel
1 Baneslayer Angel
2 Sun Titan

4 Celestial Colonnade
4 Glacial Fortress
6 Island
5 Plains
1 Arid Mesa
1 Scalding Tarn
4 Tectonic Edge

Here is the (entirely unedited) e-mail I sent to Bigheadjoe (my co-host on my podcast, Yo! MTG Taps!—but you knew that already, right?) in the wee hours of the morning on September 10:


○ Condemn, Mana Leak, DoJ, Journey, Tumble Magnet – disruption
○ Preordain – card quality + cantrip
○ Wall, Oracle, Beleren – cantrips, blink targets
○ Sun Titan – gets back all the cantrip permanents, also gets back Journey and Tumble Magnet (if destroyed or discarded to SoLT or something). Sick blink target.
○ Sphinx of Lost Truths – can throw just about any of that stuff into the ‘yard & then I can just get it back w/ Sun Titan. Another blink target.
○ Venser – can blink almost everything to good effect (Wall, Oracle, Sphinx); resets Beleren and Magnet too.
○ Elspeth T. & JTMS – to assist & be alternate win conditions (considering how many cards I’m drawing, I’ll see them fairly often, but don’t need them to win)
○ BSA – because the only relevant ability she lacks is vigilance, and with Venser in play, she has it 🙂 Another win condition.

The interesting thing is I built the deck around Venser, but he’s not the win condition, so the deck is inherently strong against Memoricide (a lot of diversity).

There are a whopping 14 win conditions!:
Titan x2
Sphinx x2
Venser x3
Elspeth x1
JTMS x1
BSA x1
Colonnade x4

Tumble Magnet + Walls and Oracles force over-extension into DoJ or Elspeth’s ultimate. I can DoJ on turn 4, then on 5 do any number of things: SoLT, BSA, Elspeth; with a Condemn in hand, I can play Venser, blink-untap a land, and if a haste creature tries to attack the unprotected Venser, I have mana up for Condemn. Turn 6 a Sun Titan starts bringing back whatever creatures of mine that I may have wrathed away on turn 4.

Venser can also move the Journey to more relevant creatures if I want, and can blink himself to dodge Elspeth’s ultimate. Tirel also destroys Journey and Magnet, but Titan brings them both back. With a Venser in play, on turn 6 I can play Titan, get back a Wall or an oracle, blink the Titan, get back another Wall or Oracle. Plenty of protection for Venser and meanwhile filling my hand with spells for if/when I can use his ultimate. Tectonic Edge w/ Sun Titan & Venser is just sickening. Kill 2 nonbasics a turn. Then start exiling lands with Venser’s ultimate.

I’ve got a confession to make: I have yet to actually try this list, although I still feel it may have potential (I think it’s at least worth trying). Side note: If anyone actually does give this a try, I’d really love to hear your feedback.

So, that was 3 weeks ago, and since then I’ve come to the realization that Venser doesn’t actually need to be built around. Sure, you want to have targets for his blink ability, but the great thing about Venser is how well he already fits into the synergies of U/W Control! The most recent iterations of classic U/W are already playing cards that have a natural affinity for Venser’s blink ability: Wall of Omens; Sun Titan. Give your Baneslayer (or Wurmcoil Engine) faux-Vigilance, or save it from the Day of Judgment you’re about to cast. Move your Journey to Nowhere onto a more relevant target. Untap a land to keep counter-magic or removal mana open.

It only takes three activations to put him on his ultimate. Forget about the minus ability (although it’s there if you can capitalize on it). If you can protect Venser for just three of your opponent’s turns—not such a tall order if you consider the type of cards you’re likely already playing—you’ll be exiling permanents every time you cast a spell (whether that spell resolves or not).

Here’s a rough list, which I’ll be testing a bit this weekend:

2 Condemn
4 Preordain

3 Sea Gate Oracle
4 Wall of Omens

1 Negate
4 Mana Leak
1 Deprive
1 Stoic Rebuttal
2 Journey to Nowhere

4 Jace, the Mind Sculptor
3 Day of Judgment
2 Venser, the Sojourner

2 Sun Titan
1 Wurmcoil Engine

4 Tectonic Edge
4 Celestial Colonnade
4 Glacial Fortress
6 Plains
8 Island

No sideboard as of yet, but I’d expect to play the usual suspects: some number of Flashfreeze and/or Celestial Purge, and possibly Oust (for Fauna Shaman and other problem creatures that don’t tend to attack and thus are not susceptible to Condemn).

Other cards to consider (main or side, probably main) are Into the Roil and Ratchet Bomb. Into the Roil seems like it would be particularly strong in an unknown metagame as a nice catch-all. Ratchet Bomb is retrievable with Sun Titan and seems like just the type of card that you might want to reuse.

Whether you like Venser or not, Scars of Mirrodin has brought with it a TON of options, in addition to pushing some huge players out of the format (remember Bloodbraid Elf?). Now is a great time to not only look at the new cards but to also take a look back at the cards that might not have been as practical in a format like AlaraM10Zendikar Standard. There may be some hidden gems amongst the cards we all passed over while trying to fight against a turn-two Putrid Leech. I know a certain Dragonmaster who’s been eyeballing a modern-day Ophidian for its new-Standard potential…

On Mana Leak.

Wow. Considering the fact that for the past several hours, whenever I think about the fact that Mana Leak has been confirmed in M11 I’ve been pretty much speechless, I probably shouldn’t be attempting to write about it. Nevertheless, I’m going to tilt the pitcher and see what pours out.

First off, we haven’t seen Mana Leak in Standard since 9th Edition rotated out in 2007.

Three. Years. Ago.

Back then, it was often seen hanging around with cards like Compulsive Research, various blue Signets, Mystical Teachings, and the Pickle twins, Vesuvan Shapeshifter and Brine Elemental.

There was no such thing as a Planeswalker card. By the time Lorwyn hit the scene, Mana Leak had been gone for nearly three months.

Remember Faeries? No? Let me help you out:

   

See, Faeries didn’t have the help of Mana Leak. And anyone who played during Lorwyn’s time in Standard will tell you: Faeries didn’t NEED Mana Leak. Faeries had their own version of Mana Leak in Spellstutter Sprite, not to mention one of the best blue spells (and probably my favorite) ever printed, Cryptic Command. And that’s not all. Scion of Oona was around in case anyone tried anything funny, like attempting to somehow remove your Mistbind Clique or Bitterblossom. (Ah, yes…Bitterblossom. That’s a story for another day.)

But us, now, in 2010? We could really use a Mana Leak. Counterspells nowadays are either incredibly narrow, terribly situational, costed too highly, or some combination of the three. What used to be Scion of Oona is now Hindering Light.

Alongside Deprive, blue mages now have a realistic opportunity to play a GOOD counter-suite. In the early game, Mana Leak is essentially Counterspell; and in the late game, Deprive fills the same role.

The question now becomes whether it is worth it to counter a spell in the current Standard. We’ve become overrun with creatures and planeswalkers as of late. Generally, we’d rather deal with creatures in another way (Day of Judgment, instant-speed spot removal if necessary) since we have ways to remove them after they’ve hit the table, and summoning sickness gives us the opportunity to do so without giving the creature a chance to make an impact. The exceptions to this are creatures with haste and those with enter-the-battlefield abilities.

So, what creatures are we seeing in Standard that would fall into those categories? Wall of Omens, Sea Gate Oracle… Do you really want to spend a counter on those? Sphinx of Lost Truths, sure, that’s one I’d counter. Ranger of Eos, too. Bloodbraid Elf? No. And as much as Mike Flores wants me to “admit” it, I do not want to counter a Vengevine.

Okay, so that leaves Planeswalkers. I am perfectly happy spending a counterspell on a Planeswalker, as even though it seems like a one-for-one, we all know the card advantage that ‘walkers provide. But if the only spells worth countering in Standard are Planeswalkers, wouldn’t it be acceptable to just run Negate and take the risk of facing the occasional Sphinx or Ranger? Why do we “need” Mana Leak?

The truth is, permanents—creatures, specifically—have become so powerful that even “good” counterspells have lost a step. We need our counters to be versatile or they’re not worth running at all (see also: Standard). I’m beginning to wonder if that hasn’t been Wizards’ plan all along: Weaken the counterspells, then make creatures better and better until “classic” counterspells are balanced. Are we reaching a point where Counterspell itself would be a fair card to reprint? Think about it. No one expected Lightning Bolt to come back. (Hell, I remember being excited to see Incinerate come back in Tenth Edition!) Creatures were pushed to a degree that made Lightning Bolt no longer the powerhouse it once was, hence the return of the most classic burn spell ever printed.

Is it so crazy to think that perhaps Wizards is pushing the game to a level where Counterspell is balanced?



Be sure to check out the latest episode of Yo! MTG Taps! over on StarCityGames.com!

On Deprive

If you haven’t yet heard, the following is a card rumored to be in Rise of the Eldrazi (unconfirmed; rarity unknown):

EDIT: Confirmed.

Initial thoughts:

What makes this better than Cancel?

1) You can play it on turn 2.
2) You can play it late-game effectively as “Counterspell.”

In the first example, playing it on turn 2, you’re now behind; yes, you traded with their 2- or 3-drop, but now on turn 3 you need another counter to deal with their 3- or 4-drop, which is likely better than whatever card they played on turn 2. So do you play ANOTHER Deprive (assuming you have it)?

Honestly, I don’t even think this is worth playing on turn 2.

Let’s say you don’t play it on turn 2, but you hit your first three land drops and then want to counter something. What’s better in this situation? Cancel or Deprive? Cancel, obviously. Deprive leaves you with 1 mana open which will likely go unused. In the meantime, now you’re set back a turn and you’ve likely wasted any advantage that Deprive provided you.

So, okay, late game then. This is where Deprive is at its strongest. But when is it really going to be that much better than Cancel? Really only when you’re returning something like Halimar Depths, as far as I can tell. It allows you to tap all but 2 land, unlike Cancel, but is that really such a huge deal?

For the moment, I’m going to predict that if Deprive sees play in Standard decks akin to UW Chapin Control, it’s going to be in numbers less than 4, as its early game drawback just seems like too much for a deck whose strengths lie in getting to Stage 3. However, I can see it being a possible staple in some sort of UG deck that can recover from the tempo loss using the myriad of mana accelerants available in Standard.