wrote about an exciting new combo deck built around Pyromancer Ascension last week. I knew the deck was very powerful and I played a version of it at a 296-player Pro Tour Qualifier in Edison, New Jersey. I made a few play errors in round one and lost to a Mono-Red player. I rallied and won my next seven matches in a row. I drew into Top 8 and won my quarter and semi-final matches without dropping a game. I made some play mistakes in the finals and my opponent played exceptionally well. I was a bit upset with myself over the play mistakes, but it was exciting to do so well with a deck that was originally designed for my column.
This week I'd like to discuss another new archetype that has become possible with the release of the new core set. Liliana's Caress is the latest version of Megrim. Megrim has always been a favorite amongst casual players. Both the 2010 and 2011 core sets are legal until fall; this means we can play a deck with eight copies of this type of effect. Cards like Burning Inquiry suddenly become very powerful when you get to play with eight Megrims.
Another new card from Magic 2011 that hasn't seemed to get the attention it deserves is Dark Tutelage. I can assure you that control decks are very much alive. A spell with this type of effect seems like it creates a lot of unwinnable positions for your control opponents. Against players with more aggressive curves you can simply sideboard them out for Burst Lightning. I prefer packing Dark Tutelage in the main and the Burst Lightnings in the board, but if your area seems to be flush with aggressive decks I don't think there's much of a downside to playing the Burst Lightnings in that slot.
Burning Inquiry seems like the most powerful effect available in a deck like this. With two active enchantments a single Burning Inquiry deals 12 damage to our opponent. With three enchantments, Burning Inquiry fires off an 18 point blast directly at our opponent's life total. Burning Inquiry isn't just a damage spell, though. A lot of opponents use their early turns to mold their hand into a winning combination by way of Jace, the Mind Sculptor. Burning Inquiry randomly nabs three cards from your opponent's hand. Their hand probably won't look the same after you cast the one-mana sorcery.
Blightning is an obvious inclusion here. Blightning is one of the most powerful cards available in today's Standard and I would be crazy not to run a full playset in a dedicated discard deck. A lot of people seem to be scared of Obstinate Baloth, and with good reason. The new core set's Loxodon Hierarch is especially dangerous when you're packing cards like Blightning and Mind Rot. Luckily for us, the new White-Blue Control decks seem to trounce green decks with enough consistency that you probably won't have to fight against Obstinate Baloths too often. If you do run into an opponent with Obstinate Baloth it isn't the end of the world. You can always use a spot removal spell.
Mind Rot is essentially Blightning five through eight. We want to play enough discard to make our Liliana's Caress and Megrim worth the slots.
Sign in Blood is one of the most underplayed cards available in today's Standard. Last time I checked, the ability to draw two cards for two mana was absolutely ridiculous. This type of effect is especially powerful when your spells have such a high variance of actual value depending on your enchantment situation.
Lightning Bolt is obvious. There isn't anything quite as good. I've been shoving this in just about everything since it was reprinted last year. As it turns out, there isn't a deck that wouldn't be helped by playing a set of Lightning Bolts. It does everything you want a card to do. It kills creatures and opponents with a startling level of efficiency.
Terminate seems like another obvious inclusion. Sometimes your opponent plays a creature and it changes the race math. Having a card like Terminate allows you to interact with your opponent when it becomes necessary. I wanted a fifth Terminate after playing a few games with the deck so I decided to include a Doom Blade.
Here's the list after I mash it all together:
If you've been lucky enough to open any Dragonskull Summits or Lavaclaw Reaches then you can replace some of the non-basics here with those. The sideboard hasn't been worked on much at this point, but I'd like to have some number of Deathmark, Burst Lightnings, and a few copies of Chandra Nalaar or Liliana Vess.
I played a few games with the deck to see how it fared against the new Standard metagame.
I lose the roll and keep Liliana's Caress, Megrim, Mind Rot, Akoum Refuge, and three Swamps. My opponent plays a Celestial Colonnade and passes the turn. I draw a Terminate, play my Refuge, go to 21, and pass the turn. My opponent plays an Island and passes the turn back. I draw a Blightning, cast a Liliana's Caress that gets countered by Mana Leak, then I pass the turn. My opponent plays another Celestial Colonnade and passes the turn. I draw Dark Tutelage, cast Megrim, and it resolves. I pass the turn. My opponent plays a Tectonic Edge, casts Elspeth, Knight-Errant, makes a Soldier, and passes the turn. I draw another Mind Rot, cast Mind Rot (I choose not to redirect to Elspeth from Megrim), my opponent discards two cards and goes to 16. My opponent plays a land, gives his token +3/+3 and flying and comes in for 4, casts Oblivion Ring targeting my Megrim, and passes the turn. I draw a Mountain and decided to empty my opponent's hand with the second Mind Rot, I cast Dark Tutelage and pass the turn. My opponent gives his token a pump again and attacks for another 4, putting me at 13. He passes the turn. I reveal a Lightning Bolt and draw a Liliana's Caress. I cast the Caress, and pass the turn.
My opponent attacks with the single token and makes another one. I reveal Liliana's Caress and draw Dark Tutelage, then cast the Dark Tutelage and pass the turn. My opponent attempts to pump a token and I shoot it with Lightning Bolt. He attacks me down to 8. I reveal Burning Inquiry and a Mountain, and draw Sign in Blood, I cast Liliana's Caress, play my land, cast Sign in Blood to go to 6 and draw a Lightning Bolt and a Terminate, and pass the turn. My opponent attempts to pump the token and I shoot it with my Terminate, my opponent has a Deprive for the Terminate and I take 4 and go down to 2 with two active Dark Tutelage on the table. I reveal Burning Inquiry and a Swamp and I'm alive at 1. I draw another Lightning Bolt, cast both copies of Burning Inquiry, my opponent has a Deprive after the first one resolves and I lose the game to my Dark Tutelage the next turn.
I win the roll and keep Swamp, Mountain, Terramorphic Expanse, Mind Rot, Megrim, Terminate, Lightning Bolt. I play the Terramorphic Expanse and pass the turn. My opponent plays a Raging Ravine and passes the turn back. I pop my Expanse for a Swamp on his end step. I draw Blightning, play my Mountain, and pass the turn. My opponent plays a land and casts Fauna Shaman, I Terminate it at end of turn. I draw a Liliana's Caress, cast Megrim, and pass the turn. My opponent plays a Knight of the Reliquary and passes the turn back. I draw a Swamp, cast Liliana's Caress, cast Terminate on the Knight, and pass the turn. My opponent casts another Knight of the Reliquary and passes the turn.
I draw a Lightning Bolt then cast Mind Rot—dealing my opponent 8. I Lightning Bolt the Knight of the Reliquary and pass the turn. My opponent hits his fourth land drop and casts a Bloodbraid Elf, he flips into an Oblivion Ring, which removes my Megrim and he passes the turn after his attack. I draw a Doom Blade then cast Blightning. Blightning gets my opponent's last card and, together with Liliana's Caress, deals 5 to him, I then pass the turn. My opponent attacks for another 3 and passes the turn. I draw a Liliana's Caress, cast it, and pass the turn. My opponent casts another Bloodbraid Elf off the top, reveals Fauna Shaman, attacks for 6, and I Doom Blade one of the Bloodbraids. On my turn I draw Sign in Blood, cast it, draw Burning Inquiry and a land, cast Burning Inquiry and win the game.
I lose the roll and keep Swamp, Swamp, Mountain, Mountain, Mountain, Blightning, Blightning. My opponent casts a Ponder, shuffles his library, and passes the turn. I draw a Dark Tutelage, play a Swamp, and pass the turn. My opponent casts a See Beyond and passes the turn again. I draw a Liliana's Caress, cast it, and pass the turn. My opponent casts a Pyromancer Ascension and a Ponder to put a counter on the Ascension. I draw a Mind Rot, cast Blightning—dealing my opponent 7 damage—and pass the turn. My opponent casts a Call to Mind returning Ponder and casts Ponder getting a second counter on the Ascension before he passes the turn. I draw a Terminate, cast another Blightning, my opponent goes down to 6, and I pass the turn. My opponent plays his fifth land, casts Time Warp, takes two extra turns, and starts his next turn. He casts a Preordain and copies it. He then casts another Preordain and copies that. Then he casts a See Beyond and copies it. He begins his next turn and casts another Time Warp for two extra turns. During his next turn he casts Foresee and copies it. He then casts a Call to Mind and I concede to his infinite turns.
Things didn't go as well as we might have hoped, but having access to eight Megrim effects will make this deck a boogeyman until the rotation. I've always liked discard strategies, but something seems to be lacking here. I'm not sure I love having a discard deck that wants to play other spells before its discard. The opponent has an opportunity to play their hand while you're casting spells like Liliana's Caress and Megrim. By the time you start casting your Blightnings and Mind Rots they have already played a good portion of their hand. With more testing and a more finely-tuned list this deck could be a force in the Standard metagame. I'd love to hear your improvements in the forums.
I've been receiving an unprecedented amount of email in reference to last week's column. I'm sorry if I didn't get the chance to respond to emails you may have sent me this past week. A lot of you have asked for my non-budget decklist for Pyromancer Ascension. Here's what I played to a second place finish at the PTQ last weekend.
Standard - 2nd Place - PTQ for PT–Amsterdam in Edison, NJ
My sideboard wasn't very finely tuned, if I had to play with the deck again I would probably play with Matignon's sideboard from the French Nationals. The Ascension deck has proven itself to be a tier one deck in today's Standard. I hope you all enjoyed this week's exploration of the double Megrim strategy.