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Aburame Shino

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Aburame Shino's Corner

Analyzing the Metagame Part 1
May 9, 2006

    Everybody has problems beating the top decks in the format. No player can possibly beat every single opponent that is thrown against them in their life; otherwise the game would have the same World Champion every year. However, that doesn’t mean that you can’t at least try to perfect your skills to give yourself a better chance against the decks you have trouble with. It takes a long time to figure out how to beat the top decks in the format, and only masterful players can figure out to a science what cards they can use to win.

As you probably know, Magic Regionals are coming up in a couple weeks. That means players from all around are going to try and win invitations to their country’s National Championships. This is by no means an easy feat, as players will be using the top decks in the format from Firemane Weirding to Roxodon Hierarchy to try and accomplish this. If you are going like I am, then it will be your job to try and figure out how to defeat these decks. Of course people need assistance in figuring out how to defeat these decks, which is where I come in. Below is a list of a good number of the decks that your opponent may throw at you. The list discusses the main strategy of the deck, along with cards that you can use to beat these decks. Please note that these are suggestions, not concrete strategy killers, so remember that as you read this.

The Zoo/Gruul Beats

Both these decks are really similar in strategy, so I decided to make it easier and group the two decks together. The Zoo and Gruul Beats are built to drop a lot of quick creatures early in the game like Scorched Rusalka, Kird Ape, etc. and back them up alongside bigger creatures later in the game like Loxodon Hierarch and Burning-Tree Shaman, then proceed to attack the opponent as fast and as often as possible. To make sure it’s creatures stay as huge and as dangerous as they already are, the deck runs Moldervine Cloak, which can turn even a lowly Savannah Lions into a 5/4 powerhouse. Because of their powerful creatures and the rate they can play those creatures, The Zoo and Gruul Beatdown are decks you should watch out for.

Now how do we beat these decks? There’s actually a multitude of ways to beat them. The main card that wins against them is Wrath of God. Because both decks have a tendency to empty their hands quick in an attempt to win, chances are they won’t be able to recover quickly if a Wrath of God resolves. Kindle the Carnage also works pretty well if you’re not afraid of getting rid of cards in your hand. Pretty much any mass-removal card can get the job done against Zoo and Gruul Beats, as long as any of them that do damage don’t have too low of a damage ratio, such as Pyroclasm. That card is better saved for Orzhov Control-Aggro.

Orzhov Control/Aggro

This deck can be a huge nuisance if you’re not prepared for it. The main thing that makes the deck such a threat is its ability to make the opponent lose their hand quickly with cards like Shrieking Grotesque, Ravenous Rats, Hypnotic Specter, and Cry of Contrition. Back up those cards with spot removal in the form of Mortify and Last Gasp and threats like Ghost Council of Orzhova, Dark Confidant, and a certain equipment that everybody loves to hate (you know what one I’m talking about), the deck is a threat that you will get eaten by if you’re not prepared.

The main problem that this deck faces is that all but one of its creatures has a toughness of two, so a well-placed Pyroclasm could shut down the deck’s aggressive nature. To combat the discard effects, unless you are going to be using a Hellbent-Oriented strategy, I suggest you run a couple copies of Pure Intentions in your sideboard as continuous discard-fodder to opposing discard effects. Since Pure Intentions returns itself to your hand every time you discard it from an opponent’s card effect, you can always select that card as a discard target except if you’re hit by Hypnotic Specter, and you will not burn through the cards in your hand unless you let yourself empty your hand. One other card that you could use to defeat the discard effects of Orzhov Control/Aggro is Bottled Cloister. Since your hand will be removed from the game, your opponent will have no way to get rid of any of the cards in your hand. Plus, you’ll be netting an extra card every turn. Just be careful, because you can lose your entire hand to a Terashi’s Grasp if you’re not careful.

Another obstacle that Orzhov Control-Aggro faces is against larger creatures such as Kokusho, Yosei, etc. As I stated before, the only creature in the deck that has toughness over two is Ghost Council of Orzhova, so the deck will automatically have a problem getting rid of these larger creatures. The only foolproof strategy for them to defeat these creatures is to massively pump their smaller guys with Umezawa’s Jitte and remove your bigger creatures with Mortify, and if the killed creature is a Dragon then it might not be worth it for them to destroy it in the longrun.

Heartbeat Maga

Whether you love ‘em or hate ‘em, there is always at least one combo deck in every format. Vintage has IT and GrimLong, Legacy has Bomberman and Solidarity, Extended has CAL, and Standard has Heartbeat Maga. How the deck works is similar to its Legacy counterpart. With a Heartbeat of Spring in play, the Heartbeat player taps all of their lands then uses an Early Harvest to untap all of them, which allows him to float an incredibly high amount in his mana pool. Back it up with another Early Harvest, a Drift of Phantasms, and a Maga or Invoke the Firemind and you’ve got yourself a nice and dangerous twenty points of damage to the face.

There’s little that you can do to stop the combo as it is going. Trying to Mortify or Seed Spark the Heartbeat of Spring doesn’t accomplish much, as the opponent can simply transmute for a new one. However, that’s not to say that there aren’t ways to stop you from losing. The main way is to get rid of their kill conditions. Board in a couple copies of Hide//Seek, and then game two spring it on your opponent and remove their Maga, Traitor to Mortals from the game. This disruption strategy is viable because if you can remove both of their kill conditions they will concede, but you need to perform it quick, otherwise the opponent will simply go for an Invoke the Firemind and win with that instead.

Another way you can beat Heartbeat Maga is to throw the damage from their X spell back at them. How do you do that? With a little card called Parallectric Feedback. Because X is always whatever you paid for it while it is on the stack, if the opponent tries to make their Invoke the Firemind or Maga lethal, you can use Parallectric Feedback to make them take more damage than that spell would’ve dealt to you. The best part of that is the Invoke or Maga will not be able to resolve if Parallectric Feedback kills them, so you will win before the opponent has a chance to. This strategy does work, but in order for it to work you have to make sure the opponent doesn’t have any counters like Hinder or Muddle the Mixture for backup, otherwise you won’t be able to stop the opponent.

Owling Mine

This is probably the silliest deck I have seen in my competitive magic career. Nobody has been able to abuse Howling Mine and Kami of the Crescent Moon better than this deck has been able to. Alongside cards such as Exhaustion and Gigadrowse to keep the opponent’s cards tapped well into their next turn, there is little you can do to stop them. There are different color mixtures for this deck, but the best combination in my opinion is Blue/Red which uses Sudden Impact as another way to kill the opponent. Another build uses Black for Megrim and Underworld Dreams, but that deck is trickier to keep going with cards like Mortify in most of the competitive decks, so I’m sticking with the U/R build.

There are multitudes of ways to keep the opponent from smacking you around, although the prime strategy is the same. Empty your hand as fast as humanly possible. If your opening hand against Owling Mine is three lands and four birds, keep it. If you keep your hand low on cards, then there is little they can do to damage you until they get a ton of Mine cards into play. So a card like One with Nothing would be a great card against this deck, even though the logic behind it would be flawed.

Another card that completely wrecks the Owling Mine strategy is Peace of Mind, because it turns all of those extra cards you get from Howling Mine into life. Not only does that mean you’ll never have seven cards in your hand to have an Ebony Owl Netsuke hurt you, but the life gain at that large a level cripples cards such as Sudden Impact, as you only need to feed two cards to Peace of Mind to offset the damage.

U/R Magnivore

There are only three people that I have met that have used this deck, and let me tell you that the deck is a doozy to deal with. A second turn Eye of Nowhere followed by a third turn Stone Rain, fourth turn Demolish, and backed up with card draw like Compulsive Research and Tidings make sure the Magnivore is huge by the time he gets ready to attack you. And beating this deck is especially hard if you’re going second, which in some cases can mean you will never get more than one land into play.

If you’re going first, there’s plenty you can do to stop the Magnivore deck from going insane on you. For example, if you’re playing Green, a first turn Birds of Paradise followed by a second turn Kodama’s Reach makes it difficult for them to stop you as they won’t be able to destroy or bounce enough lands to offset the ones that you replace every turn. As for keeping your hands from getting crushed, I suggest you go with Life from the Loam. Don’t attempt to use Sacred Ground, because if the opponent knows what he is doing he will simply get your Sacred Ground off the field with a Boomerang or Eye of Nowhere and then use a Wildfire. Life from the Loam is a much better strategy, because even if you can’t get them back into play as quick you can at least make sure you don’t run out.

Eminent Domain

This deck has pretty much fallen off the face of the earth, but I know that somebody is going to at least attempt to revive this deck for the Post-Dissension Regionals, so I feel it’s necessary to cover the mind spawn of Adrian Sullivan, the current Wisconsin State Champion. With cards such as Annex, Confiscate, and Dream Leash to steal the lands, Icy Manipulator to tap down any lands that they haven’t stolen yet (along with help Dream Leash), Wildfire to make sure the opponent doesn’t get to keep any lands he does have under his control, and a big fat finisher like Kokusho or Keiga, Eminent Domain was a powerhouse at the beginning of the season, and could possibly make a return if built correctly.

Beating Eminent Domain is easier than it appears. The main reason the deck is a powerhouse is because of its ability to accelerate with the lands it takes from you. However, if the opponent doesn’t get to keep the lands that they steal from you, there is no way they can accelerate as quickly. So I propose running either Tempest of Light or Primeval Light (preferably Tempest of Light) to make sure you get your lands back when the opponent tries to use your lands as Wildfire food.

I’d get more into detail on this deck, but chances are low that it will return with all of the faster decks in the format.

Firemane Weirding

Firemane Weirding is a deck that has really perked my interest the last couple days. The deck is All-American (Red/White/Blue) and is built around the annoying combination of Zur’s Weirding and Firemane Angel. The combo really simple: Get two Firemane Angels either into play or in your graveyard, that will let you gain 2 life every turn, then you can deny your opponent a draw with the life you gain every turn via Zur’s Weirding. The kill condition in the deck is the deck’s four Firemane Angels, which are not only huge for their casting cost, but near impossible to keep off the field because of its built-in revival ability.

The way you can beat this deck is to deny them of their kill conditions and their combo pieces. By removing the Firemane Angels from the game with Shred Memory or putting it on the bottom of the player’s library with Condemn, they will not be able to deny you of your draws forever, which will give you a good chance of winning in the process. As for decks, if you’re playing Owling Mine against Firemane Weirding, this is an automatic win for you. The lock is completely moot with all the draw effects you will have in play, and you’ll have a lot of them in play. You can also completely bypass the ability of Zur’s Weirding by having a copy of Dark Confidant in play, which will let you net a card even though you don’t get a draw step. You can also destroy the Weirding with Naturalize, Seed Spark, etc. to simply shut off the lock.

Enduring Ideal

This entire deck is built around running the most powerful Enchantments in the game and getting them into play from your deck every turn. Confiscate can take control of the biggest threats on the opponent’s field, Privileged Position makes sure you can’t target any of their enchantments as they play them, Ivory Mask makes it so you can’t target them, and Form of the Dragon makes it impossible to attack them if you’re not running any of the Kamigawa Dragons or big fat fliers. Backup strategies in the form of Genju of the Realm and Zur’s Weirding make sure the opponent doesn’t go after you with the same strategy every game.

There are three cards in the format that completely cripple this deck. Those cards are Cleanfall, Primeval Light, and Tempest of Light, all of which destroy multiple enchantments instead of spot-removing them. Spot-Enchantment Removal does squat against Enduring Ideal decks because they can simply go for two Privileged Position to make sure you can’t target the threats they put against you. Plus, you’re not guaranteed to have enough removal to deal with everything the opponent uses against you. However, if you resolve a Cleanfall, Primeval Light, or Tempest of Light at just the right moment, the opponent will more than likely concede due to the lack of a win condition in play (and more times than not because you can kill them without their Form of the Dragon to protect them).

Too… much… information…

Don’t even begin to think that I’m done yet. While I may have covered quite a number of decks today, this is just a drop in the bucket compared to the entire format. The current Standard format is so incredibly diverse that anything and everything is playable if built correctly. I’ll cover more decks in the next article, most of them involving cards that can, may, and probably will be used from Dissension. And hopefully this information will greatly impact how you do at Regionals.

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