Modern’s new wunderkind

I came home from GP Madrid excited to play a lot of Storm online. The deck felt great and I already knew some ways to improve the list as I mentioned last time. The following week was an online PTQ and I was going to Grapeshot my way to the top of it. Then reality slapped me in the face as it is wont to do. I rarely got above 3 wins in the leagues I played and by Saturday morning I wasn’t feeling confident at all. I was in sort of the same spot leading up to Madrid, but then I decided that it was just variance and the deck was still good.

This time I had a harder time convincing myself. Then I happened to look at the league leaderboard and noticed that the leader, Selfeisek, had more than twice as many trophies as number two. That big of a gap couldn’t be just variance and hours played, so I went through the published decklists and found several entries from this guy. Some were recent, some were from as far back as October, but all of them were the same deck and almost identical lists; Mardu Pyromancer.

Mardu Pyromancer

Creatures (10)
Monastery Swiftspear
Young Pyromancer
Bedlam Reveler

Spells (31)
Lightning Bolt
Burst Lightning
Forked Bolt
Inquisition of Kozilek
Thoughtseize
Faithless Looting
Lightning Helix
Dreadbore
Terminate
Lingering Souls
Kolaghan's Command
Blood Moon
Lands (19)
Bloodstained Mire
Wooded Foothills
Marsh Flats
Sacred Foundry
Blood Crypt
Mountain
Swamp
Blackcleave Cliffs

Sideboard (15)
Blood Moon
Kambal, Consul of Allocation
Dragon's Claw
Wear//Tear
Leyline of the Void
Fatal Push
Shattering Spree
Pithing Needle

I tried it out and immediately went 5-0. I guess this would be my deck for the PTQ then. My confidence and hopes for the tournament were back up and they went up further when I beat THE sandydogmtg in round one. Then I faced burn twice more, got killed and was brought back down to earth. I still really liked the deck and decided to keep working on it. The matchups are roughly as follows:

Creature decks (devoted druid decks, humans, affinity etc.): These are great as you might have assumed from the roughly one million removal spells we play.

Spell combo (Ad Nauseam, Storm): Also great as you have lots of discard and can combine it with a reasonable clock.

Burn: Pretty bad. You have few ways to gain life or negate their spells and it’s often hard to not take damage from your lands. Games are usually close, though.

Death’s Shadow: Very close. Lingering Souls is obviously great but you have very few ways to kill their guys.

Eldrazi Tron: Bad. They go over the top eventually but your aggressive draws have a decent chance of getting there.

Control: Good. You have value creatures and discard. You do have to keep pressure on them, which not all your draws are capable of.

Tron: Horrible. You need discard and Blood Moon and a fast clock and the mana to play all of them.

Boggles: I was about to call this unwinnable but then I beat a guy who play a total of one aura in two of the three games. If you value your time more than your record, just concede the match.

 

The first thing I changed was a Sacred Foundry to a Godless Shrine. I sometimes found myself wanting both black and white from one fetch and the second foundry is unnecessary. Next, I had a chat with Peter Ward after we played the mirror and he suggested changing Lightning Helix to Collective Brutality. Helix might be great against Burn but it often forces you to fetch and shock to cast it which means it effectively only gains you one life. Brutality fits perfectly in the deck and I am actually surprised that Selfeisek isn’t playing it. Both the discard and -2/-2 modes fit with the rest of your deck and you have cards that you can discard either for profit or minimal cost. These are the only things I feel made the deck straight up better and I don’t see anything I would want to change regardless of the metagame.

So the time came to try and fix the bad matchups. I got really tired of losing to Tron and Burn. Burn was easily fixed by having the full 4 Dragon’s Claw in the board and now I actually look forward to facing people with so much disregard for interactive games of magic that they would sleeve up Lava Spike and friends. Unfortunately, some people have even more disregard for the intricacies of ‘good’ games of magic and decide to play tron lands and Karn Liberated. Even more unfortunately, I haven’t figured out how to punish them for this disregard. I realized that Blood Moon is just not enough, especially against Eldrazi Tron, so I tried Fulminator Mage. Blood Moon wasn’t cutting it against Eldrazi Tron because it means you spend turn 3 not doing anything so making their Thought-Knot Seer and Reality Smasher a turn or two later to the party isn’t enough. It’s also worth noting that even though we are playing red, Blood Moon can still be quite a nuisance.

The Fulminators didn’t make enough of an impact though. I figured that you could also get them back with Kolaghan’s Command but even the ‘ideal’ case of turn 3 mage, turn 4 get it back, turn 5 replay it isn’t necessarily going to win the game against either tron variant, and you spend almost all your mana for 3 turns on it. If the best case scenario for a plan doesn’t destroy a plan as linear as Tron, we should be able to do better. So I took Brian Demar’s idea of Molten Rain and Surgical Extraction. It doesn’t hurt you mana like Blood Moon or take up too much mana like Fulminator, and if you kill a tron piece turn 3 and the extract it, regular Tron will have a very rough time. Eldrazi Tron will still be able to play a game most likely but here it matters that you deal 2 damage and trigger prowess or make an extra 1/1 token. I’m not sure it’s the best way to deal with the big mana decks and I’m sure it’s not enough to turn it into a positive matchup, but it’s the best I’ve got for now.

After these considerations my list currently looks like this:

Mardu Pyromancer by Anders Gotfredsen

Creatures (10)
Monastery Swiftspear
Young Pyromancer
Bedlam Reveler

Spells (31)
Lightning Bolt
Burst Lightning
Forked Bolt
Fatal Push
Inquisition of Kozilek
Thoughtseize
Faithless Looting
Collective Brutality
Dreadbore
Terminate
Lingering Souls
Kolaghan's Command
Lands (19)
Bloodstained Mire
Wooded Foothills
Marsh Flats
Sacred Foundry
Blood Crypt
Godless Shrine
Mountain
Swamp
Blackcleave Cliffs

Sideboard (15)
Molten Rain
Dragon's Claw
Wear//Tear
Leyline of the Void
Fatal Push
Surgical Extraction

Keep in mind that this list, the sideboard in particular, is quite skewed towards Burn and Tron since I seem to face them in every single league I join. For a bigger tournament like a Grand Prix, I probably wouldn’t play 3 claws and 4 molten rains.

Since a lot of the deck is discard and burn, I don’t think it’s the hardest deck to play so I don’t have that much profound insight, but here are a few things I’ve learned so far:

 

  • Obviously Lingering Souls is a good discard to Faithless Looting but so are excess lands. This means that you usually want to keep one land in hand in case you draw looting. Keeping more than one can bite you if you draw a Bedlam Reveler though.

 

  • If you have more than one reveler in hand, all but one are ‘free’ discards to looting. Against some decks like BGx midrange, you can keep two to protect against Thoughtseize because reveler is your best card against them. Kolaghan’s Command can count as revelers too in this regard; if you have one of each, you can discard the reveler and get it back later with the command. If you are in a hurry to get reveler into play, you can discard the command instead.

 

  • It is tricky to decide what to play turn 1. I tend to order it Monastery Swiftspear > discard spell > looting on the play. On the draw, if they played a one drop, killing that can easily be top priority, and if they don’t but you are low on removal for an important two drop, discard can jump swiftspear as well.

 

  • Your land sequencing and fetching also requires some thought. You only need white for Lingering Souls so black and red are obviously more important. If you have neither Swamp nor Blackcleave Cliffs, you will often want to fetch Blood Crypt. At some point you then want to get one of the white shocks. If your life total is under pressure and you have ways to discard souls if you draw it, you can get away with fetching a mountain instead of having to shock Sacred Foundry.

 

I encourage you to try out this deck, it seems great for the format and it has a lot of play to it. Also, casting Bedlam Reveler empty handed is just a great feeling. Enjoy, and thanks for reading.

Religion in Magic

I am an atheist. Don’t close the tab yet, this isn’t an article about actual religion, I just wanted to put it out there. This article is about subjectivity in Magic and why you should be aware of it. You can view it as a response to point 4 of Brian Demar’s recent article for ChannelFireball but I actually first thought about it when I read an article by Sam Black a few years ago.

Both of them argue that a decision in Magic (mostly deck choice, but Sam takes it all the way to in-game decisions) can be right for one person and wrong for another person based on their play style. As I see it, there is only one way this can be true; if your play style will influence your other decisions in the game in a way that deviating from that style for one play has so little synergy with your other plays that it will actually reduce your chances of winning. But in that case, you should look at your entire play style and if there is a better one, adapt that. Essentially, their point of view is for players who don’t want to change their play style.

For completeness’ sake, note that two plays can actually have the exact same ‘value’ in which case you are free to pick whichever you like, or it can be impossible for us to discern the actual value of the plays because they depend on information you cannot possibly know (as was the case for Frank Karsten’s awesome analysis ). But this doesn’t mean you just get to say that your play was correct because we don’t know better.

Magic may, as Sam suggests, be art, but Magic strategy is a science. Sometimes science doesn’t know the answer to our question, but the answer is still out there somewhere. I am a Magic scientist in the sense that I am interested in finding the correct answer to as many questions as possible so I can be the best player possible. I (probably) won’t become the perfect player that always gives myself the highest possible chance of winning, but I refuse to limit my potential with shortcuts like the ones suggested in the first two links.

I don’t blame you for doing so; maybe you are just playing for fun (I don’t mean the word just in any demeaning way, it is a perfectly legitimate reason for playing), or maybe you want to win a Pro Tour or Grand Prix before you die of old age and don’t have time to try to figure out the optimal play in every scenario, so focusing on one archetype may yield better results.

While there is surely a (large) narcissistic part of me that wants nothing more than to be holding a trophy, I try to focus on the process of learning and improving. I don’t care where it ends or how many times I’m wrong along the way, as long as I keep striving to improve.

Wow that was quite the rant, let’s get a bit more specific. The easiest way to get punished for focusing on your strengths is forcing archetypes in draft. It’s pretty easy to imagine someone going into an Ixalan draft knowing all the ins and outs of the Merfolk deck only to have the person on her right drafting Merfolk. The result likely won’t be pretty.

Now, you could do as Ondrej Strasky (sorry buddy for not having the correct characters for your name on my keyboard) and learn several archetypes to increase the chances of one of your archetypes being open, and indeed it might be your best chance of doing well in a tournament. In the end, though, you are limiting yourself because while you managed to steer clear of Merfolk and found the open Dinosaur deck, there might have been a Vampire deck that would have been even better for your seat if you only knew to look for it.

I want to emphasize that this isn’t the same as favoring one archetype over others because you think it is simply better. Sometimes Merfolk is just so good that it is better than Vampires even if the latter is much more open than the former. This rarely happens and often the power level discrepancy between archetypes is useful only as a tiebreaker for close picks.

It’s also often in coverage that they talk about a decision made by a player and say something along the lines of: “He likes to be aggressive, so this is the type of line he likes to take”. If the player later loses, the commentators sometimes go as far as excusing that loss with their play style. This makes sense for the Cedric Phillips school of coverage where it’s all about building appealing storylines, but for those who watch coverage to get better at the game, it’s actually detrimental. I don’t have any examples of this and maybe my memory has gone biased but at least keep an eye out for it.

We like to have answers. It’s much more comforting to have answers to all the questions you care about than to have a bunch of them be mysteries. I don’t blame you for striving for this comfort, and I especially don’t blame you for taking shortcuts for short term gains (I’m sure I will be taking some leading up to the Pro Tour). But don’t mistake the easy way for the right way. That’s how you end up with Trump as president.

Did that last sentence need to be included? Probably not, but remember the immortal words of the great Nicholas Cage.


Maybe there are very few people who play Magic for the same reasons as I do, and maybe the rest of you got nothing out of this article, but at least now you know how I approach the game, and that should make it easier to relate to my future content. And you got reminded that Nicholas Cage movies exist…