Wearing dice on my head since 2008 Programmer, engineer, scientist, critic, gamer, dreamer, and kid-at-heart. Randomly amazed.

Deck Building for an Unknown Metagame

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magic-the-gathering

This coming weekend is the release of Shadowmoor. As with any new set coming in, this means a new environment with an unknown metagame, and is especially true for the large set Shadowmoor. It’s an opportunity for those of us who believe we have some modicum of deck-building skills. I plan to be playing Standard on Saturday, one day after set release so I will try to build a deck to take advantage of the wide open field.

Of course it’s not entirely true that the metagame is unknown. We have the carry-over decks from the past metagame to consider. And from there we try to predict what the opponents for the upcoming metagame are.

For this exercise, I will consider two decks to be the primary “prey”:

  • Blue-black Faeries, the undisputed best deck of pre-SHA standard. A lot of players have Faerie decks, and with the short time frame between SHA release and the Saturday tournament, it’s reasonable to assume many will simply carry over their Faerie decks with minimal modifications
  • Red decks of all varieties, another popular choice pre-SHA, gains a powerful host of uncommon with the coming set; given how many people were looking for Tattermunge Maniacs and Flame Javelins during the past two weekend tournaments, it’s reasonable to assume there’s gonna be a good number of shards being volleyed this Saturday.

Those decks are the enemy; having determined that I look at the current pool I have available to determine what options are open to me. I look over the SHA cards available, including those from friends who played in the Prerelease. I see that we already have four Wooded Bastions, 2 Wilt-Leaf Lieges and a full playset of Wilt-Leaf Cavaliers and Kitchen Finks. I’ve always been a fan of midrange, so my first plan is to go White-Green.

Thinking about the cards, the obvious creatures are the 3-drops: Wilt-Leaf Cavaliers and Kitchen Finks. Both of these are great against red decks, often requiring 2-for-1 exchanges, and in the case of Kitchen Finks it’s potentially a 4-for-1 exchange (trade with two creatures, and the four life is equivalent to two cards from the red deck). For red decks, their main problem is running out of steam. These 3 drops make it much harder for them to have enough burn left over to take you from 20 to 0.

So we start with:

4 Wilt-Leaf Cavaliers

4 Kitchen Finks

Given that, we can toss in Wilt-Leaf Lieges for the bonus. I only have 2, and am unsure if I can acquire more before Saturday, so we go with two. To compensate and further cement the red deck matchup, I can put in 3 Primal Commands. Against red decks, 7 life is like 3 cards, and it also allows me to search for the Liege.

4 Wilt-Leaf Cavaliers

4 Kitchen Finks

2 Wilt-Leaf Liege

3 Primal Command

The three-drops are important, so I’d like to include eight one-drop accelerators. Birds get the nod over Boreal Druids since the snow guys can’t produce Cavaliers on turn two. I also assume 23 lands.

4 Llanowar Elves

4 Birds of Paradise

4 Wilt-Leaf Cavaliers

4 Kitchen Finks

2 Wilt-Leaf Liege

3 Primal Command

23 Lands

That’s 44 cards, leaving us with 16 slots to fight the other matchup: Faeries. For Faeries, the traditional green answer has been Cloudthresher. However, I’m a bit partial to Spectral Force, which just plows through Bitterblossom tokens like there’s no tomorrow. (And I only have 2 ‘threshers) So I can add them as follows:

4 Llanowar Elves

4 Birds of Paradise

4 Wilt-Leaf Cavaliers

4 Kitchen Finks

2 Wilt-Leaf Liege

3 Spectral Force

2 Cloudthresher

3 Primal Command

23 Lands

11 Slots left.

The problem with Force or Thresher against Faeries is Sower of Temptation. Fortunately, they still need to tap out for Sower, so I’d like to have some cheap removal to take out the Sower. Ideally, it would be instant-speed as well to make it good against Scion of Oona and manlands. Green is hopeless in terms of removal, so I scoured the White cards in gatherer and found the following candidates:

  • Oblivion Ring – not cheap and not instant speed, but a lot more flexible, can take out Planeswalkers, Bitterblossom, Loxodon Warhammers, etc.
  • Condemn – very narrow, after the first Condemn they would simply not send their Scions or Sowers into the red zone. Excellent against Mutavaults, Treetop Villages and Faerie Conclaves. That might be enough.
  • Last Breath – cheap, instant-speed and can take out both Sower and Scion, and can hit Mutavaults and Faerie Conclaves as a bonus. Very narrow, but may be viable.
  • Sunlance – cheap and strong, but sorcery speed. The “nonwhite” part only matters in the mirror and against Kithkin.
  • Crib Swap – not cheap, but it’s an instant and strongly unconditional. Sometimes the shapeshifter matters, but it walks so we can block it.
  • Swords to Plowshares – cheap, strong and instant-speed; the best option, but not Standard legal.

The decision is very tough. For now I go with 4 Sunlance and 3 Oblivion Ring.

4 Llanowar Elves

4 Birds of Paradise

4 Wilt-Leaf Cavaliers

4 Kitchen Finks

2 Wilt-Leaf Liege

3 Spectral Force

2 Cloudthresher

4 Sunlance

3 Oblivion Ring

3 Primal Command

23 Lands

So far: 23 creatures, 10 spells.

For the last four slots, I’m looking at the following cards:

  • Scryb Ranger – solid against Faeries and Merfolk, untaps the Force and also helps acceleration. Works best if there are Warhammers involved. Requires significant forest commitment.
  • Griffin Guide – additional evasion and anti-Wrath
  • Loxodon Warhammer – solid, but may not be necessary here (and not worth it as a 4-of)
  • Shield of the Oversoul – Is it worth it in constructed? Maybe, but probably not. Still, it implies 5/6 flying indestructible vigilant attacker on turn four.
  • Mercy Killing – apparently I still haven’t had enough of this probably bad card. Imagine that your opponent plays Shriekmaw on Spectral Force. In response, Mercy Killing on the Force, netting eight 1/1 green and white elves. On my turn, play Liege and swing for 24. Fun, but probably not a serious contender.
  • Glittering Wish – I have a playset that I’ve wanted to put into a deck for the longest time. With Shadowmoor being a hybrid set it might be worth it now. Viable wish targets: Vexing Shusher, Oversoul of Dusk, Gaddock Teeg, Firespout, Teferi’s Moat, Fiery Justice. Are there any others?
  • Riftsweeper – Rift Bolt, Lotus Bloom, Riftwing Cloudskate. I can’t think of anything else it could hit.
  • Squall Line – improves the Faerie matchup and serves as instant-speed finisher.

    Boggart Ram-Gang – post-Wrath beats

  • Garruk Wildspeaker – generally a good card

  • Tarmogoyf – I only have one!

  • Disintegrate – comes out of nowhere!

That’s a lot of choices, and I’m sure there’s more I’m not thinking of. For now I’ll go with +2 Squall Line, +2 Loxodon Warhammer. Glittering Wish is another possibility, but to do that I would need to flesh out my sideboard first.

After that I fill in the lands. I go with ten duals, four manlands and basics for the rest. I can’t afford any colorless sources if I want to consistently get Wilt-Leaf Cavs on turn 2, so no Desert or Mutavault for now. Actually even Treetop Village is a bit iffy here since it’s a turn slower than just a basic forest, but we’ll see how it goes.

The final decklist:

I’ll probably tweak the above list before Saturday, but it should be a pretty good idea of where I’m going with this. Next: I need to think of the sideboard. And if I actually manage to find some time before Saturday, maybe some actual playtesting. Probably need some sort of sanity check as well, to make sure I haven’t designed a pile of actual garbage!

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