Rise of the Robots


Rise of the Robots                  2/6/11

By Geoff Fletcher

For those of you who don’t already know me, I’m Geoff Fletcher: a long-time tournament Magic nut and deck building enthusiast. My claims to fame are having played on numerous Pro-tours and GP day twos (with a top 64 and top 16 finish amongst them), all while playing decks of my own devising. I’m well known for my love of all decks Bant in any format, no matter how poor their prospects may look - something which causes my friends both amusement and depression in almost equal measure. What I want to focus on in my articles is innovation and creativity across all formats (with an emphasis on Standard), and the determination, stubbornness, vision, and often-seeming stupidity it takes to achieve something new and different. Every time I get told a format is all about X or that you can’t win without doing Y it is like a red rag to a bull and I simply have to find a solution to the problem - break the mould - especially if it involves green, white and blue cards.

When Geoff goes on holiday...

In Standard the current top dog/super villain is Caw-Blade and its Dark-Blade cousin. This pair of decks has proven so dominant especially in Top 8’s that some have even said if you go to a standard tournament and haven’t chosen to play one of these two decks you may as well go home.  Yet this was not the story by any stretch at our very own National Qualifiers held here in Auckland. The event was won by Jacque Van Eeden, a good friend of mine who sparked my imagination nearly two weeks ago by asking me if a Tempered Steel deck could be any good post New Phyrexia with all the “great new cards” it had available. To be honest I thought the ‘Hawkward’ deck was just trash before (no offence intended to Sam Black many of whose ideas I’m a big fan of) and almost dismissed the idea out of hand but Jacque was earnest in his question and it got my mind ticking. The whole process made me think how Magic players/people in general (including myself) are sometimes all too quick to dismiss or ridicule new ideas for not seeming instantly awesome or just because they seem likely to be worse than well researched branches of thought that already exist. I looked at the list Jacque proffered, which was pretty similar to Sam’s in its Esper aspirations, with the difference being that he had Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas firmly in the main and no Glint Hawk Idol. I immediately questioned a load of the card choices, like why W/U/B  not just W, and stated that I hated Signal Pest and Contested War Zone outside of Kuldotha Red where they have cards that actually generate multiple creatures. I appreciate decks like this want to act aggressively but I don’t feel this has to come at the cost of having no chance in a long game or surviving a sweeper effect. I also couldn’t understand the lack of love for Porcelain Legionnaire, especially since with a little help he can really help mitigate an active Batterskull.

Here is the ‘Hawkward’ list for reference:

Hawkward

Featured by Sam Black on 2011-05-15 (Standard)

Main deck:

 Artifacts

4 Glint Hawk Idol

1 Torpor Orb

 

Artifact Creatures

4 Hex Parasite

4 Memnite

4 Ornithopter

4 Signal Pest

4 Steel Overseer

4 Vault Skirge

 

Creatures

4 Glint Hawk

 

Enchantments

4 Tempered Steel

Instants

2 Dispatch

 

Legendary Artifacts

3 Mox Opal

 

Basic Lands

7 Plains

1 Swamp

 

Lands

2 Contested War Zone

4 Marsh Flats

4 Seachrome Coast

 

Sideboard:

1 Torpor Orb

2 Dispatch

3 Unified Will

3 Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas

2 Duress

4 Darkslick Shores

In critiquing this list so hard I started to realise the parts I hadn’t slated actually looked really awesome. With Caw-Blade being forced to become progressively more ‘inbred’ to fight mirrors, near mirrors or other Jace matches, many lists have cut Gideon Jura and Day of Judgment almost entirely from the main list. I thought that in this world a deck that dropped a load of fast aggressive drops that are able to become increasingly bigger threats throughout the game thanks to Tempered Steel and Steel Overseer.  It would find itself positioned pretty well to off-balance the blue Planeswalker menace and keep pushing for the finish line. The cards in this deck were not only cheap enough to worm their way under permission, not lose tempo to a Jace bounce and had the resilience to stay threatening for a long time, maybe even outgrowing Titans (this happened in testing and during the qualifier tournament!).

                                                                                                                         and soldier beats hawk (but what about ninja?)

 Jacque was stubborn to my arguments initially and persisted in building up the original version of the deck which we tested against Caw-Blade. Much to my smug sense of self-satisfaction the mana proved massively awkward with both Tempered Steel and Tezzeret stranded in hand at all manner of awkward moments by a lack of WW or UG variably. However, this didn’t help building a good deck yet and confirmed my suspicion the original list was pretty sub-par. So I needed to find a way to gain mid-game reach in a white deck without wanting to spend too much mana…. Enter Stoneforge Mystic and his equipment chums Batterskull, Sword of Feast and Famine and Sword of War and Peace. They sure do combine pretty well with men of all shapes and sizes especially cheap ones (seems like someone else I know). This would give the power I wanted while importantly fixing all the colour woes in one fell swoop. At the time I had no idea why no-one had done this before (it turned out in the coming week Brian Kibler would suggest something pretty similar in one of his articles) since it didn’t seem like anything ultra-clever or complex. I can only assume people got as far as the idea then stopped because ‘no-one better had told them it was good’.

Testing my new WW build as listed below:

Steel-Blade

Artifacts

2 Shrine of the Loyal Legions

1 Batterskull

1 Sword of War and Peace

1 Sword of Feast and Famine

 

Artifact Creatures

3 Phyrexian Metamorph

4 Memnite

2 Ornithopter

3 Porcelain Legionnaire,

4 Steel Overseer

4 Vault Skirge

 

Creatures

4 Stoneforge Mystic

 

Enchantments

4 Tempered Steel

           

Instants

4 Dispatch

 

Legendary Artifacts

3 Mox Opal

 

Basic Lands

8 Plains

 

Lands

4 Tectonic Edge

4 Marsh Flats

4 Inkmoth Nexus   

 

Sideboard:

3 Torpor Orb

4 Phyrexian Revoker         

3 Spellskite

4 Divine Offering

1 Shrine of the Loyal Legions

 

 

I quickly started to post a positive record against the Caw-blade menace, during which I swapped in and out a number of cards in order to attempt to discover the optimal combination of power and speed. The deck works by resolving 1-3 threats then just back-footing the opponent until they die, waiting to resolve your better threats until they attempt to deal with the pressure you already have. Every time they spend mana to stabilise, an opportunity presents itself for you to put the nail in the coffin by troubling them with a Mystic, Overseer or Tempered Steel.  These often  lead to an insurmountable advantage in a game where you’re already ahead. At the very least the opponent must often answer immediately if they hope to ever recover. This build is not as lightning fast as the original but the excellent pay-off here is that it can even win very long games where your equipment will eventually trump theirs thanks to Sword of War and Peace being unblockable to the opponent but blockable by your colourless creatures preventing the opponent pushing through with Sun Titan or Batterskull. It is quite often that your own army ends up larger than Titans in an attrition war, plus Inkmoth Nexus means you can poison through any life total in 2-3 hits!!!

                                                                                                                                      Combine to form...Voltron!

To spotlight some individual cards: Dispatch gains loads of tempo while allowing you to take on Deceiver Exarch, I think 4 is undoubtedly the correct number. The board helps a great deal also against the Deceiver combo since it has stacks of - albeit temporary – disruption, but temporary is all you need when you can win really fast. Phyrexian Metamorph acts as your Stoneforge Mystic 5-7 or their Titan for a tiny 3 mana! Lastly we found Shrine of the Loyal Legions to often present a simply absurd threat level at instant speed and will be moving that from the board to the main going forward. The deck is not just a ‘meta-brew’ either: its general power level is very high since it is quick and has an awesome ‘nut draw’ (turn 2 Tempered Steel or turn 1 Stoneforge Mystic) plus can build a huge board. I would certainly recommend this moving forward with the possible exception of everyone starting to play excessive spot or enchantment removal. I was so confident on Saturday morning that I went and told Matt Rodgers that Jacque would win and that he did. Congratulations Jacque; you deserved your win but more than that I hope people who are fed up of seeing the Caw-Blade dominate take hope and have the confidence to follow their own ‘crazy’ ideas to fruition. Good luck to everyone for the PTQ (though it may be after that by the time you read this). Please do post your comments and I will try to answer any reasonable query or rebuttal as soon as I can.

 

Geoff Fletcher

 

(Editor: Well the PTQ has passed us by and Jacque piloted to top 8 again, check

Here for the top 8 lists)

 

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