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The More Things
The more things change, the more they stay the same.
I speak, of course, of the Type 2 environment following the injection of Planeshift. It was obvious from the get-go that the only Constructed deck that was going to get a boost from Planeshift was Fires. U/W Control got nothing, Rebels got nothing. Skies got nothing. Even Nether-Go couldn't pull anything out. True, some of these decks were able to benefit from Gainsay, but that's a sideboard card and probably won't radically change anything... The winners for Constructed, as far as Planeshift was concerned, were almost all green. Shivan Wurm. Horned Kavu. Thornscape Battlemage. With the addition of Flametongue Kavu, which isn't green but nevertheless is almost certain to pop up in the same decks you'd see the first three in, you have the four cards to make a major impact out of Planeshift. There are some others, such as Tahngarth, standing off to the side waiting for their entrance. Whether they will get one remains to be seen.
If anything, Planeshift has dramatically increased the dichotomy between R/G/whatever and the rest of the field. I speak of the turnout at the Saturday night Magic tournaments I attend, which seem to be corrobated by reports from elsewhere. To avoid confusion, though, I'll offer the disclaimer that these are my observations only and may not be relevant to your experiences at the place where you play. Having gotten that out of the way... The week before Planeshift, U/W control (and in this case, I lump both Angel control and Counter-Rebel under that heading) were at least as prevalent, if not more so, than Fires and its derivatives. Flash forward two or three weeks... My God. Coastal Tower has dropped off the face of the map. In its place we have just about every other deck, if not more, sporting eight mana critters and plenty of fat, including (always) the venerable Blastoderm. The people who aren't playing green are generally playing some sort of rogue deck, usually with a red and/or black component. I can't remember the last time I saw a mono-white Rebel deck. There's one Skies holdout, I think, but she's been playing that deck since November and it seems to work for her... why stop now?
This presents an interesting crossroads for me as a player. Half of me is jumping up and down for joy because evil control is in remission and because Wizards just printed the best red creature in four or five sets (even if it doesn't really fit into my deck at the moment.) The other half reminds me that green mages are evil and must be punished. Once upon a time, Green was our friend. It had River Boa, Spike Feeder and other cool cards. Then Green got Blastoderm, so now it's a color of evil second only to blue. But that is neither here nor there... back to the current situation.
What do you play?
On the one hand, you could play Fires. It's probably easier than ever to play a Fires deck and mindlessly win with it. Even someone like me, who compulsively puts four Lumbering Satyrs in every Fires deck he builds on Apprentice, could probably do well with it right now.
You could just go ahead and try to keep playing one of the other major archetypes. It depends on whether you think that people are shying away from them because they aren't that good in an environment dominated by Fires and people would rather try their luck in an endless string of mirror matches... or you think people are mindless lemmings who instinctively gravitate towards the hot deck. I personally don't buy too much into the second explanation-- it doesn't really explain what I'm seeing-- so I would be hesitant to pick up an unpopular archetype right now. On the other hand, you might think that you can play well enough or rebuild the deck to overcome whatever disadvantage exists. If so, more power to you. I'll be watching for your tourney report.
The problem I personally have with these two choices is that they just feed the same old cycle... that of trying to find the best decks among the menu of choices offered us every few months by whoever it is that comes up with the decks... the pros or Internet writers or whoever you're currently blaming. There are three or four different decks (less in some formats, more in others) that dominate. People shift back and forth between these decks and try to figure out which one is the best. Generally speaking, there is no one claimant to this title. Some just win against others, some get hosed by others, and on a good day any one of them can probably beat any of the others. But people talk about it anyway.
Why are these decks good?
Obviously, they're good because they can win against each other. When they're what most of the field consists of, winning against the other decks in the top 4 is obviously a strong selling point. They're also good because they're solid enough to have a good chance of beating any random deck that happens to show up. U/W has board control and counterspells, Fires has the tools to beat you senseless before you can do anything threatening, and Skies has a little bit of both elements. While it's certainly possible to build a deck that utterly destroys one or more of the dominant decks, you probably leave yourself wide open to another one of them. In this way the decks perpetuate each other by making it unhealthy to play anything that targets only one of them.
It all boils down to this: The best ideas have been found. Unless you find a better idea (unlikely) you're restricted to either using the best ideas or trying to beat them. But they're so widely spread that you can't beat all of them at once, and if you try to beat just one of them the other ones will come up from behind and whack you, so trying to beat them is probably a bad idea. Therefore, guess what most people do... they use them.
What about using an idea that we know isn't the best, though? To put it in Magic parlance, how about using a Tier 2, or even Tier 3 idea?
It would seem that, at least for someone in my situation (and probably for many of you as well), the time is unusually ripe to play a rogue deck. Rogue decks are usually not by any means superior to the established deck types in any given format-- in fact, if anything, they are typically inferior. Their advantage lies in their element of surprise and their ability to disrupt the balance of power. It is for precisely this reason that I have never played a "normal" deck in a Magic tournament. It's not because I think my decks are better (I know they're not) nor is it because I want to use unusual decks for their own sake (that may be why I build the decks, but it's not necessarily why I choose to play them in tournaments.) No, my choice stems from the fact that I want to deny my opponents the benefits of foreknowledge. If I play a known deck, then they know the matchup, they know what to do, and they know what to bring in against me. That's no fun. What's more, I'm not kidding myself-- they'll probably do it better than I do. I have a very hard time achieving the necessary level of instinctive knowledge with a deck that I did not build myself, and as a result I would often rather take my chances with a creation of my own.
As I said, the field where I play has largely broken up into Fires and rogue decktypes. What's more, Fires (or perhaps I should say G/R) doesn't always win. And I'll just bet you that Mr. Rogue is having more fun and learning more to boot.
I see the Fires players. They know what to do. They know to play the Fires on turn 2. They know to play a Blastoderm and turn it sideways. They know to play a Shivan Wurm and turn it sideways. They know to play a Saproling Burst, make three tokens, then turn the tokens sideways... They do it all with what seems to me like a blank, glazed stare.
I see the non-Fires G/R/x players. They have to think a bit more, it seems. They have to think of what to target with the kicker on their Thornscape Battlemage or whether to hold their River Boa back for blocking. Occasionally they play a Blastoderm, and just for a moment there's that blank stare... but it's not as bad and it's quickly gone.
I see the rogue players. They do whatever their deck is designed to do. I have yet to see the blank stare in one of their eyes.
Think about it.
While you're thinking, here's something else for you to read. Again I procrastinated on writing my tourney report, so again it got merged with my column... but this time I didn't use it as an excuse not to really write a column. Yay. Anyway, I'll be relatively brief.
The place was the Battlezone, same as always. If you want the city, state, etc., go look it up in one of my previous tournament reports. Here's the deck.
RACHEL.DEC (R/b/g NeoSligh)
4x Kris Mage
4x Flailing Soldier
4x Mogg Toady
4x Chimeric Idol
3x Lava Runner
2x Kavu Aggressor
1x Hate Weaver
1x Fallen Angel
1x Crypt Angel
4x Rhystic Lightning
4x Scorching Lava
2x Hammer of Bogardan
4x Geothermal Crevice
2x Archaeological Dig
2x Darigaaz's Caldera
1x Keldon Necropolis
4x Agonizing Demise
The only real change is the addition of a random Hate Weaver. You see, I discovered shortly before the tournament that I had misplaced one of my Kavu Aggressors. It was embarrassing needing a Kavu Aggressor and not being able to find one... but I finally decided to go with this instead. It's another 2-drop, and it made the cut over Firebrand Ranger due to having an ability that might hypothetically be useful at some point. Anyway. I'm happy to report that I've finally located my Perishes, and they'll be going in the SB next week. Yay.
Round 1: Some Asian guy ("Fires")
This is the most embarrassing match ever. If you think you have played a more embarrassing match, you are wrong. I say "Fires" in quotes because this deck's only claim to that name is the fact that it includes the card Fires of Yavimaya. The similarity ends there.
Here's a list of the highlights of this guy's deck.
-Verdeloth, The Ancient
None of these cards are bad in and of themselves, but you do not play them in a Fires deck, please. At least, you don't if you don't already have Birds, Elves (the good ones), and Blastoderms in there. This is not being rogue. This is being stupid. I managed to lose to him, though, so maybe I shouldn't talk...
He also had a Skyhroud Elf in there. He got a game loss for that one. I think it may have been a proxy for a Quirion Elves. I won't even go into how bad it is if you have to proxy a Quirion Elves.
How did I lose?
Final Fortune. That's how I lost.
I refused to shake his hand after the match. I also refused when he asked if I wanted to play for fun. It was probably unsportsmanlike of me, but I didn't care and I really still don't... If you're going to beat me, fine. But beat me with a deck that makes sense. If it had been an original deck, I would have been fine. If it had been a good Fires deck, I would have been fine. But it was a bad Fires deck.
I'll shut up now and move on to the next round.
Rounds: 0-1 Games: 0-2
Round 2: Daniel Bates (U/R)
Daniel is a Battlezone regular and a pretty cool guy. He was playing a deck of his own creation. I saw Tahngarth, Air Elemental, Kris Mage, some burn, and of course mad counters. Also Rushing River, which people are starting to realize is a pretty good card. Anyway, I crush him. He gets manascrewed both games and I just beat him down before he can draw enough land to stabilize. Not much else you can say when your opponent draws one land in game one and three or four land in game two... We play a few more games for fun, and in the last one he finally gets his mana problems worked out and gets Tahngarth on the board. I win anyway, but it's much closer. His deck had 24 land and mine had 21. Go figure.
Rounds: 1-1 Games: 2-2
Round 3: Francisco Arevalos (G/r/w, with no Fires that I saw)
Again a very nice guy. I believe I've seen him around the shop before, but hadn't really met, in competition or otherwise. First game he seemed to be light on land, more specifically basic Forests. I keep burning his Birds off the table and force him to use painlands for his green mana, which combined with a dearth of blockers on his side of the table reduces him to burn range in short order. Turns out my win was just a fluke... In game 2, he gets an excellent jump on me, using River Boas and Thornscape Battlemages to their full advantage. It didn't help that I had a substandard draw. He paid both kickers on a Battlemage at one point, killing my Idol and a random weenie creature, and we both have to laugh. I'm not quite dead until he starts his Dust Bowl action on my nonbasic lands. That probably made the game, as I had a Crypt Angel in my hand that would have swung things back in my favor, but which I didn't draw until my black mana was all gone. Third game is even more of a rout. I have to mulligan twice and then use my Mage to burn away two Birds in a row. It turns out he was trying to get me to do this-- he apparently thought that the Mage was creating a disadvantage for me, especially after the mulligans. I'm not sure I agree (Birds are bad) but I lost, so maybe I shouldn't argue with him too much. Blastoderm finally makes an appearance (I had begun to wonder whether he had them) and after it is joined by a friend on the next turn, I scoop in short order.
Rounds: 1-2 Games: 3-4
Round 4: Logan Zickefoose (Warped Devotion)
I had seen this guy playing earlier. I thought he was playing Mercenaries, as I saw a Rathi Intimidator and a Spineless Thug. Turns out he was playing Warped Devotion with a Mercenary engine for the kill... go figure. Anyway, first game starts out with me getting down a Mage and a Lava Runner, joined later by a Toady and beating him down. Warped Devotion makes its appearance and he frustrates me with some bounce, but not too much. When he Recoils the Toady, I discard it and something else, and when he Boomerangs the Runner, I just discard a random card and lay it down again on the next turn. He saw virtually no creatures, what he did see got burned off the board, and the Runner put him in Rhystic Lightning range after he tapped out for something. Second game he doesn't even see the Devotion, and I see all three of my Lava Runners and enough burn to clear a path. I'm not sure if he had Wash Out... all I saw was targeted bounce. Lava Runners are some good here, I guess. Nice guy, though.
Rounds: 2-2 Games: 5-4
I miss the top 8 despite the relative small size of the tournament. Oh well, it's not like I really expect to be there on any given week...
Props to the Battlezone. Without them, I wouldn't have a place to play... 'nuff said.
Props to my Fallen Angel. I shouldn't have to explain why.
I'd give slops to my first round opponent... but who cares... I'm happy right now and I don't feel like giving slops. Actually, I feel like going to bed. Slops to me for staying up so late to finish this article.