Pro Tour Journey into Nyx in Atlanta did not go so well for me. A mix of things including a mediocre draft deck and some outside stressors really put a damper on my performance. I started the draft 0-2 and was feeling pretty demoralized but I knew that I could pull out a match win in round three. Unfortunately, I made an incredibly greedy play by scrying a land to the bottom of my deck after playing a turn one Temple of Epiphany. I had three other lands in my hand and was fairly confident that I would draw a fifth. Of course I didn't draw the land I needed and lost the match.
After the draft I was feeling terrible and didn't even want to play anymore. Frank Lepore and Raphael Levy did what they could to get my confidence back up and I felt ready for the Constructed portion. Our team had a great deck and I knew that I had a very decent chance at going 5-0. Unfortunately, with some bad matchups and poor draws all I could muster up was a 2-2 so my dreams of making day 2 were over and I dropped before the final round of day one.
Despite my horrible finish at the Pro Tour, Team Revolution had a really unique deck and I would recommend the deck to anyone playing in GP Manchester this weekend. I'm not going to talk about the deck today because Raph already wrote a great report and matchup analysis here.
For reference, here's the decklist.
What I am going to talk about today is how this deck evolved during out testing and how it can translate into Standard.
When this deck first came about, it reminded me a lot of the UB Heroic deck that had some minor success online. Pain Seer and Springleaf Drum were the all-stars of the deck, and with lots of ways to tap, untap, and target your guys, the deck felt more like a combo deck than an aggro deck. Here is a list that finished in the Top 32 of GP Beijing a few months ago. Keep in mind that this was before Journey into Nyx came out.
This deck became popular very quickly and then pretty much dropped off of the face of the earth after a short time. I even attended the TCGplayer Diamond Open 5k in Orlando a few months ago, and this deck was everywhere. I played against it in round one and it seemed like a copy of this deck was at every other table. After round four or so, this deck wasn't present at the top tables at all. The problem is that the deck was too cute. It was trying to be an aggro deck but playing awkward cards like Retraction Helix and Triton Tactics. I get that we want to trigger our heroic creatures but we are playing weak cards in a deck that is trying to be aggressive. Draw too many of these situational cards and you will find yourself falling very far behind in your match.
Don't even get me started on Hidden Strings. Sure, this card is great if you can target an Agent of the Fates with it, tap their guy, make them sac their dude, attack, and then untap Pain Seer after the second copy resolves. Honestly, that is a lot of work. You could instead cast something like a Hero's Downfall. It does roughly the same thing without the requirement of controlling an Agent of the Fates, and you will always be able to kill a creature or Planeswalker with it.
Our original Pro Tour block deck had all of this cute stuff. We were playing Disciple of Deceit with a bunch of random one-ofs like Hour of Need, Boon of Erebos, and Retraction Helix in order to trigger our inspired. As we learned in our week of playtesting, playing cards that were always good, like Hero's Downfall, Thoughtseize, and Bile Blight was much better than playing all of these situationally bad spells.
Some of the cards in our deck may have looked weak but were actually very powerful. I mean, it's hard to justify playing a deck with Omenspeaker when you could be casting a much more powerful creature like Polis Crusher or Doomwake Giant. But these underwhelming cards worked very well in accomplishing what we were trying to do.
Daring Thief was an all-star in the deck. We would either attack with it or tap it via Springleaf Drum, then when we untapped it on our turn or with Triton Tactics, we could do some pretty powerful things. We could exchange our Drum for their Whip of Erebos, our Omenspeaker for their Polukranos, our Ashiok for their Elspeth. The list goes on. Earlier versions of our list even played Pin to the Earth. It may not seem obvious, but you can exchange the Pin for any of the enchantment creatures like Courser of Kruphix, Doomwake Giant, and even Gods. We ended up cutting Pin in favor of better removal. Unfortunately, Daring Thief is nowhere near as good in Standard as it is in Block Constructed. Not only are the creatures much better, making in nearly impossible for you to attack, but the removal spells are better too. Not to mention how embarrassing it is to be facing down an army of Pack Rats when your follow up play is a three mana 2/3.
On the other hand, Agent of the Fates is actually pretty good in Standard. Most decks are planning to kill you with one or two big threats like Desecration Demon or Stormbreath Dragon, and edict effects are much more powerful. In block, a three mana 3/2 was too slow against the super aggro decks like Monoblack or UW Heroic and Agent of the Fates matches up very poorly against Elspeth, which is a staple of the format.
You may notice that neither of the aforementioned lists played Thoughtseize in the maindeck. I'm not really sure why the Standard Heroic deck didn't play it but I can tell you why our block deck didn't play it. Thoughtseize is arguably the best card in block, but we simply had no room for it in our deck. Our strategy revolved around Daring Thief and we needed to play as many permanents as possible. We also needed to play removal so that we didn't get run over by aggro. We did play three copies of Thoughtseize in the sideboard and they were definitely our MVPs, but we really couldn't afford to play them in the maindeck.
I really think that Thoughtseize defines Standard and the powerful discard spell actually makes certain strategies unviable. Thoughtseize is the reason we don't see decks like Chromanticore or Junk Reanimator more often. With Thoughtseize defining the format, you can bet that our UB Inspired deck will be playing a full set of four. I have a hard time believing that we could ever lose after a start of turn one Springleaf Drum, turn two Pain Seer plus Thoughtseize, turn three untap with Pain Seer, get a free card.
Here is the core of our deck:
4 Thoughtseize 3 Springleaf Drum 4 Pain Seer 4 Agent of the Fates
We absolutely need to play these cards but figuring out the rest of the creatures is trickier. With Supreme Verdict in the format, we definitely want to play four Xathrid Necromancer. All of our creatures are human and this deck is just cold to mass removal. We need some kind of insurance for when a Wrath effect is cast against us. I also think that Artisan of Forms is very good. Our creatures are really small, so being able to copy one of our opponent's bigger threats can be very good. The card is much worse against control but if we are able to copy a Pain Seer or Xathrid Necromancer then at least the card is not useless.
UB Inspired is an aggro deck, so one drops are very important. Four Tormented Hero is a given as it has a good heroic ability and is just a solid 2/1 for one. Gnarled Scarhide is a recent addition to the deck. The card is just excellent here because it can be a one drop if you need one but later in the game you can bestow it onto your Agent of the Fates or other heroic creatures. It can even remove one of your opponent's blockers if you need it to.
I am not sold on Nivmagus Elemental. It can do some very powerful things but you need a lot of help to make it work. For example, if you have an Agent of the Fates out already, you can target it with a spell, put the heroic trigger on the stack, then remove the spell to give your Nivmagus Elemental two +1/+1 counters. There are not many situations where you will want to remove your spell if you don't have Agent of the Fates in play, so I'd rather just play something better than Nivmagus Elemental.
Disciple of Deceit is a card that can be very good in this deck. It's not very often that we get to play with tutors in Standard, so when it happens you can believe I am going to take advantage of it. It's not only a great blocker, but the options you are given with this card are endless. You can pitch a Thoughtseize when your opponent is out of cards to tutor up a creature or a Boon of Erebos, or you can pitch a Springleaf Drum to get a Thougthseize if you need one. Against control, you can pitch your Agent of the Fates or Hero's Downfall for a Xathrid Necromancer. Playing Disciple of Deceit allows you to play one-ofs without fear of never drawing them. Hour of Need is one card that comes to mind. It can be pretty bad in the early game, but on turn five or later, turning your outclassed creatures into 4/4 flyers can be game winning. The fact that it doesn't cost any mana to tutor up a card only makes it that much better.
Here's our creature base:
4 Tormented Hero2 Gnarled Scarhide 4 Pain Seer2 Disciple of Deceit 2 Artisan of Forms 4 Xathrid Necromancer4 Agent of the Fates
For spells, the "cute stuff" has to go in favor of more focused cards. We need to play removal so a few copies of Hero's Downfall and Ultimate Price will make our deck for sure. Triton Tactics was the best card in our block list. It does just about everything you want it to, whether it's trigger inspired or heroic, save a creature from burn, or tap down an attacker for a turn. We played four copies at the Pro Tour, but I don't want to play a full playset here. It's dead in some matchups like control, and with that deck being very prominent in Standard, I'd only want to play two at the most.
Boon of Erebos is another great card in this deck. The main reason it's there is to save a guy from dying, but casting it on an Agent of the Fates to remove an opposing creature is also a great play. Regenerating the creature also taps it which is another way to trigger inspired.
Here's our final decklist:
The deck is much more focused without the semi-useless Hidden Strings, Retraction Helix, and Mizzium Skin. Don't get me wrong, these spells do have their uses, in fact I've even played Mizzium Skin in my Monoblue Devotion deck before, but we don't want our cards to ever be dead and we never want to draw them at the wrong times.
There are only 20 lands in the deck which is very low, even for an aggro deck. Springleaf Drum helps tremendously in those games where we only draw a couple of lands, and combined with Pain Seer, you will have no trouble hitting your land drops.
UB gives us a very flexible sideboard. We have Duress and Negate to deal with spells such as those in Esper, UW Control, or Monoblack Devotion, and Desecration Demon in case you just need a big dude. Red decks usually struggle with the Demon because their guys are just too small and they need to use multiple burn spells to kill it. There is also extra removal spells for the creature-based decks including Bile Blight as your way to stop everyone's favorite creature, Pack Rat.
Our last sideboard slots are dedicated to King Macar, the Gold-Cursed. This guy, like Daring Thief, was an essential creature in our Block deck. There were some decks that just couldn't deal with it, and with a Springleaf Drum in play, you can just kill a creature every single turn. This guy is amazing against midrange or against creature based decks that play very little removal, such as Monoblue Devotion or GW Aggro, but we really can't afford to play it in our main deck because it's awful against control and red decks. King Macar is a creature that you just have to see in action to understand how powerful he is. I wasn't sold at first either.
That's all I have for this week. I loved our block deck at the Pro Tour and I'm looking forward to testing out the Standard version for my next Standard event in a few weeks. This weekend I'm looking forward to battling at the TCGplayer Limited State Championships in Florida. As always, thanks for reading.
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