ow is a pretty exciting time to be working on Constructed formats. We've just had a Pro Tour in Standard, a pair of Grand Prix (Hanover and Singapore) in Extended, a Legacy GP, and in the weeks and months to come there will be both qualifiers for Nationals (Standard) and work for Pro Tour–Honolulu, which is Block Constructed. That pretty much covers us for formats!
When there are a lot of events going on, it gives us the opportunity to check out what the great and the good of the game feel is the best solution to a Constructed format, and conveniently lays out a metagame that we can attack. Sure, it's pretty sad when your delicate little snowflake gets gazumped by Nassif playing it at the Pro Tour, meaning that all of a sudden everyone knows about it, but it is far easier than building in a vacuum.
While normally Going Rogue tends to look at Standard, this time around, we're going to cast our net a little wider, including Extended in the mix. Even if you regularly only play the one format, there are useful lessons to be learned from building under different sets of restrictions, and having these tools in your arsenal can only help, no matter what format you choose to turn your hand to.
Given that Conflux is the most recent set in the mix, I'll be paying particular attention to what it affords us to play with, and the windows of opportunity that it opens up.
Friday Night Magic is probably my most played tournament these days, and what with it typically being the Standard format, it makes sense to start there. I lapped up the coverage from Kyoto, and was excited to see Gabriel Nassif showing us all how it's done on Sunday with his Five-Colour Control deck. Mike Flores pointed out the similarities of this latest iteration of Five-Colour Control to Brian Weissman's "The Deck," at least conceptually. For those of you unfamiliar, Weissman, back in 1994 was the guy that really laid a lot of the paving stones for card advantage, with his blue-white control deck that looked to overwhelm opponents with answers. It would win by gradually eking out an advantageous position with counterspells, mass removal, and discard. A lot of the time players would focus on the fact that it only had a pair of Serra Angels with which to actually kill people. In fact, while Serra would be the death knell, often opponents were well finished off before the angel ever hit play. So it is with Nassif's Broodmate Dragon plan. A few hard-to-deal-with threats are enough to win the game, especially when things have already been locked up well before.
With such luminaries as Flores, Nassif, and Weissman as inspiration, I felt that it might be worth looking at another take on building "The Deck." Going back to the original, I was less interested in that pair of angels than I was in one of the other cornerstones of its construction: Disrupting Scepter. Weissman himself suggested that the very first build of the deck was aimed at abusing Mind Twist too, which just felt "too unfair" to play against, and was a card that he eventually boycotted over the internet. Mind Twist has turned into Mind Shatter, and Disrupting Scepter has returned as Scepter of Fugue, and while the decks that we are playing against now don't follow quite the same pattern as back when Brian was beating everything with The Deck, I felt that Conflux had produced many of the missing pieces to go about creating something of an homage.
Discard decks can be a little awkward to build, as they need to run quite a high number of discard spells that are of limited utility once you have successfully done a number on your opponent's hand. They need to get a clock going to, or be able to derive some extra value from their discard slots. Hypnotic Specter can quite happily attack and reinforce a position where opponents are empty handed, where another topdecked discard spell cannot.
Continuing my look at The Deck, I wanted to have a good resilient finisher or two. Conflux had the card I was looking for. Inkwell Leviathan is a monster that I have a lot of time for. While it is super expensive to cast, it has everything that I'm looking for in a finisher. It is a quick clock, which is very difficult to remove or deal with. Shroud is one of the more powerful abilities around, and Simic Sky Swallower from Ravnica block showed us just how good it is on an evasive fatty. Paying full price for this guy is not out of the question for the deck, but often it is not quick enough to be able to compete. Conveniently though, we have another option. With Makeshift Mannequin, we can put Inky into play nice and easily, at instant speed. It's not as if we're not going to have an issue getting our finisher in the graveyard, as there's plenty of discard we can use on ourselves if necessary, and it is highly unlikely that the drawback on Makeshift Mannequin will ever be a problem thanks to that untargetablility.
Where we will be departing from the original plan of The Deck is that there will be rather more proactive cards. Back in Weissman's day, the aggressive "Sligh" mana curve was firstly a pretty new idea, and secondly sported such all-stars as Ironclaw Orcs. Put frankly, aggro has just got better. We'll still have removal and counters, but by backing them up with a few more utility creatures, at least we'll have more blockers with which to make it to that ever-important late game, where we are set up to dominate.
The creatures have been chosen for their ability to do something as soon as they hit play (making them great backup Makeshift Mannequin targets), but at the same time they perform a convenient secondary function that didn't become evident until testing. There aren't many ways in standard of killing off a lone Inkwell Leviathan. Most involve forcing the sacrifice of creatures. Having even one sacrificial lamb (or rat or whatever) ready to go means your Inky is that much more likely to go the distance.
Check it out:
Given the amounts of discard in this deck, it is naturally well set up against control, and with the Conflux addition of Nyxathid, we have the potential to be able to just smash in for decent amounts of damage fast. If anything, the place where this deck has the potential to have a tougher time is against the better aggro decks in the field, which can deploy a lot of threats and keep piling on the pressure. They can even be somewhat resilient to our discard by having things like Reveillark, Siege-Gang Commander and Ranger of Eos with which to topdeck out of trouble. This is the reason for the fairly heavily anti-creature spell-base. There is definitely the temptation to include Bitterblossom with which to stall into the mid/late game, but to begin, I was keen to try out some of the new Conflux cards.
The other deck that I've been giving some love of late is exalted in Standard. With the addition of Noble Hierarch and Ancient Ziggurat, this deck goes into overdrive! All of a sudden, casting scary three-drops on turn two is terrifyingly easy, and with that additional exalted creature, it is that much easier to commence smashing.
The build that I've been running of late in the tournament practice room is not quite the same deck that did well in Kyoto. Ever since Scott Johns did his thing gunslinging in Berlin (as highlighted in my last article), I've been messing around with Cephalid Constable as the three-drop that I really want to be connecting with in exalted fashion. If you can cast Cephalid Constable on turn two and swing for more than 1 on the third turn, then it is possible to lock the game up then and there. Having the Constable on side makes my version of the deck very keen to ensure that it really does get to hit opponents, and as such it takes a slightly different look at how to work with the exalted mechanic.
Here's the list I've been playing with lately.
Making a Connection
The big thing that I want to talk about with this list is the addition of Steel of the Godhead and Treetop Bracers. Traditionally creature enchantments are not a great choice for Constructed, as one runs the risk of losing multiple cards to a single removal spell. In my experience with this deck though, especially with Cephalid Constable around, the amount of value you can gain from getting just one hit in with an enchantment on is worth all the risk. Rhox War Monk only needs to be able to attack for a single turn with Steel of the Godhead to make racing impossibly tough for most opponents. When you start looking at Rafiq of the Many, things get even harder. The deck is rare-heavy, but hugely fun to play, and the one that I'm most enjoying playing at the moment, even including various silly Elder Dragon Highlander decks that I have on the brew.
I had a lot of fun at GP–Hanover checking out how the pros chose to build for Extended, but alongside that, there was the ever present lure of wholly new ideas using the latest set. These were the things I found myself pondering in the flight home, and in the weeks that followed.
The one idea that interested me the most was using Proteus Staff to put Progenitus into play. In the same way that Inkwell Leviathan is a hard threat to answer in Standard, Progenitus is a tough nut to crack in every format. When I saw it snuck into play by what in essence was a blue-white control deck, I knew that I had to work out a list of my own.
I had been testing various versions of Kenny Öberg's Tezzerator deck for some time, but due in no small part to my own lack of experience with the deck, I was having a little trouble actually winning with it. I would hesitate to say that this is a problem with the deck itself—Tezzerator is simply quite hard to play, as it requires a good idea of how each matchup plays out and what needs to happen when. With a little changing around, I found that I could add in the Progenitus / Proteus Staff angle, and be able to get the kind of "free wins" that characterize some of my favourite decks in Extended.
Here's the list I've been playing with.
This deck feels kind of classy to play. You take control of things with a bevy of lockdown artifacts, and at some point you slap a Progenitus into play using Proteus Staff, ideally off a stolen creature thanks to Vedalken Shackles. Alternatively, Guardian Idol and Mutavault can happily make nice as a big, scary, "protection from everything" threat. Once Progenitus is out of your deck, any Proteus Staff activations mean that you can stack your entire deck.
In the nightmare scenario that Progenitus is in your hand, you even have a pretty hilarious out. You can activate Proteus Staff to stack your deck, making sure that Thirst for Knowledge is on the top of your deck, on top of Mutavault or similar. Then when you draw into it, you can cast Thirst to both draw into the Mutavault you need to be able to use Proteus Staff again, and be able to discard that monster of yours right back into your deck. The "pseudo-creature" count is still a work in progress, but the deck is definitely a lot of fun to play. Try it out!