March 10th, 2004 Death Rides a Dark Cloud (and a spike in your head)
Considering the schizophrenicís nightmare that has been Magic: Online this last week, weíre going to be changing gears here for a bit. Once again, we are starting to creep slowly towards that fateful day that comes every year for us Magic players, the day that (at least in our area) everyone comes out to play, where speculation on decks runs more rampant than Augustus Gloop in the chocolate factory. The longest tournament of the entire year for most people. The second-worst event of the year (compared only to States) in terms of fun had and odors whiffed.
Iím talking, of course, about Regionals.
We know some of the major players in the field already, like Goblins and affinity. But what else is out there? People have been trying a lot of new things, but hereís a pretty basic summary of what theyíve found:
10 There is no control deck any more, except Slide
20 NO SKULLCLAMP, NO VICTORY
30 GOTO 10
(I will now submit myself for beatings for the horrific pun)
Skullclamp has become one of the few defining cards in the format today. Every deck that isnít busy cycling all of its cards is probably running four of these; if they arenít, then be prepared to listen to someone complain for the entire day at Regionals about how their opponent kept having a Ďclamp out while they didnít.
Some people I know, however, wanted to try to see what else could be done to abuse the Ďclamp, and maybe to try and see what else could be done to press that card advantage even further. At the same time, they wanted a hard lock in place so they could hammer the nails on an opponentís coffin, a lock that really doesnít exist in standard today.
The list Iím about to give out is approximately comparable to a beta release of software; while itís been through a few events (either winning or getting at least to the top 4 in all of them), it hasnít been put through an intense testing regimen. But playing it has made for an absolutely fantastic initial impression.
It doesnít have a name yet; Iím accepting suggestions for one.
4 Ravenous Rats
4 Chittering Rats
2 Crystal Shard
3 Soul Foundry
4 Solemn Simulacrum
4 Death Cloud
4 Talisman of Dominance
4 Talisman of Indulgence
4 Polluted Delta
4 Blinkmoth Nexus
4 Echoing Decay
3 Emissary of Despair / Trinisphere
3 Oblivion Stone
3 Withered Wretch
2 Mind Bend
For aggression, this deck really is lacking; 22 creatures, four of which are lands most of the time? Seems a little odd at first glance, like I left a little something outÖ
Take a closer look, though. There are plenty of targets for Skullclamp, the best single card in the format, and every single one of those targets takes a card of some kind away from your opponent or garnishes some sort of additional card for you when it comes into play. Adding the cards you get from Skullclamp to the list just make it a bit silly.
Rather than focus on individual cards, letís take a look at a few of the interactions of cards in the deck:
Shard/Foundry + Rats
While the Shard has proven to be fairly mediocre in play, it definitely has some use. Both of these cards enable you to create a form of a soft lock by preventing your opponent from being able to hold any significant number of cards in their hand. Eventually, as a game goes on, you can use Foundry and Chittering Rats to trap your opponent with a land on top of their deck by using the Foundry at the end of their draw steps. This is an extremely optimal situation, but all of the creatures in the deck combo with both of these cards, and they are all ways to abuse the card-advantage machine.
Talisman + Death Cloud
Death Cloud is the long-term key to winning just about every game you play. While your opponent struggles to build their board with creatures, theyíre going to be suffering from having their hand ripped apart as well. Laying two Talismans, then following it up with Death Cloud should probably clear the board of all land and creatures, as well as empty at least their hand. This is as close to a Wrath-effect as black will get for the time being; it certainly does everything that you could imagine for an X-spell. Being able to use your Talisman to recover from the Cloud just makes for an unfair set of circumstances when they have nothing of the sort.
Skullclamp + men
Unlike many of the other decks that utilize the Ďclamp, you arenít trying so hard to push ahead with creatures to attack; youíre probably sitting back to set up an optimal Death Cloud or Foundry and working back up from there. In essence, you are the control deck in the format, though lacking most of the normal tools of a control deck (like counters or dedicated mass-removal spells). You donít need to recklessly throw away creatures to the Ďclamp to get ahead if itís not necessary; you want to make sure your opponent canít press home an obvious advantage of some kind. Unless youíve got your guys coming out of that big factory in the sky (Foundry, obv), thereís no need to just toss tem away.
With that being said, a few words about the sideboard. Obviously, itís in an early state; however, the Echoing Decay and the Mind Bend are pretty solid cards and serve definite purposes. Mind Bend deals with Karma and very little else; Karma, however, can put an end to your day faster than just about anything else. While the Nexi and the Talismans make up for that, itís still pretty important to be able to deal with this particular threat.
Another card that has turned out to be surprisingly good is the Echoing Decay. This is actually a candidate for the main deck, as it does quite the number on the aggressive decks. Banishing is also a very fair consideration here, but the Decay is cheaper and a bit more flexible.
The other slots are all up for consideration; the Emissaries arenít the best in the world, while Trinisphere doesnít effectively slow them down until after they cast many of their relevant spells. Oblivion Stone is a good general-purpose problem-solver, but is it really necessary? Same thing for the Withered Wretches there; most games shouldnít go to that sort of slow recursion where Wretch would be important. Death Cloud should solve that problem already.
Iíll hope to give a more detailed result of testing after I spend more time with the deck; right now, though, this deck sure gives white weenie and Goblins some real troubles. Slide doesnít really appreciate losing all of its lands, so this could be a pretty strong answer to both of these decks. Iím not saying this is necessarily a ďbestĒ deck, but itís definitely something to consider in your Regionals gauntlet.
For now, Iím out. Next week, more PTQ reporting, and a look into team sealed (I hope).
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