Perfection through Consideration
Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to play at FNM this week. I was at GP Pittsburgh vending. I had a really great time working and having absurd and unique conversations that I wouldn’t have had otherwise. But, that doesn’t mean that I don’t have a sweet brew for you this week. Breaking out of my restriction of fifty bucks feels great, and I can feel my creative juices flowing already.
I chopped Top 4 of the January “BIG” FNM with the pre-Gatecrash version of the Bant Aura deck, going 4-0-1 and the highest seed going into Top 8.
The deck has since fallen off the face of the planet for a variety of reasons, including to the increasing use of Devour Flesh and Liliana of the Veil in Jund decks.
But, quite frankly, I don’t really care about those cards with a deck like Bant Auras. Standard is not Legacy; I actually have more than one creature and have the choice of what to sacrifice, if I am aware of my opponents capability of playing such cards and playing around them. Don’t get me wrong, in certain situations, your soul is crushed when your opponent plays these cards. But, cards that your opponent plays that give you a choice of what to do are generally less effective than cards that don’t. Searing Spear wouldn’t be as good if an opponent got to choose the target, and that is essentially what Liliana’s -2 and Devour do. That said, when you don’t have a choice, you don’t have a choice. A turn 2 Liliana on the play is much better than a turn 3 Liliana on the draw.
Obviously, the goal of this deck is to play a creature (preferably hexproof) and slap a bunch of Auras on it. From there, the race is on. You must evaluate whether or not you can beat your opponent before they beat you. Piloting this deck well requires knowledge of what you are doing paired with knowledge of what your opponent is capable of. This deck isn’t the only deck in the format capable of killing your opponent on turn 4. Sometimes, you have to slow down a bit and play some defense.
I see players leaving damage on the table so many times. It’s hard to expound on this without an actual example, but even one point of damage not inflicted upon your opponent can lose a match for you. The knowledge of what an opponent is going to do on his or her next turn allows you to make an attack that has the chance of winning you the game. Playing to what is in your deck is something that takes players a long time to learn how to do correctly, but when that skill is developed, their win percentages go up even further. The consideration of what remains in my deck that will let me win the game if I draw it allows me to play the game in a more intelligent way than just hoping that I draw something.
It’s hard to compare and contrast the power level of mechanics (Mark Rosewater has a scale for mechanics that goes from 1-Storm), but I think Extort is high up there. Blind Obedience brings an addition to the deck with two functions. The tapping of opponents creatures assures we can’t die as easily to hasted creatures and clears the path for our creatures to get in there without attacking into good blocks. But, there are also times when you get your opponent to just a few life, and they somehow manage to stabilize. Blind Obedience will simply end the game, especially with Rancor returning back to hand when it would be put into the graveyard. There are situations where Blind Obedience is a bit awkward, and you almost certainly don’t want to be casting on it your second turn. Rather, you want to cast it after establishing a threat and your opponent is behind. Casting a Geist on turn 2 and following with a Blind Obedience and Bloodrushing seems like one of the best plays possible with only one creature staring back at you.
Ghor-Clan Rampager brings out the essence of the deck—making your opponents miserable. Many of your games will be not interactive, and you will be mindlessly turning your guys sideways. We have to work with the tools that Wizards has given us. I absolutely love Ghor-Clan Rampager to begin with, but when I played with the old version of the Bant Auras deck, I occasionally would have the board wiped and draw enchantments without anything to stick them on. The two Rampagers take then spots of the two Increasing Savagerys the old deck played. I quite often won the turn you cast Savagery before and often lost when I was topdecking and drew it. A topped deck Rampager will almost certainly keep you in a game where both sides are trying to recover. A 4/4 is gigantic in a metagame where 2/2s remain the most popular.
Gift of Orzhova also brings a new addition to the deck, taking the place of Spectral Flight. I believe that Gift is the correct choice, especially in our local metagame. There are just so many decks that want to kill you as quickly as possible, and lifelink is huge against those type of decks. A single Revelation often turns the tide for decks, and I’m pretty okay with gaining life every turn of the game while also bashing my opponent for bunches. The only disadvantage is that a jumped Geist does now only trade with a freshly played Olivia or Restoration Angel whereas Spectral Flight would keep our Geist alive while killing the opposing creatures. I believe the synergy with Blind Obedience makes Gift correct against most matchups still, but I wouldn’t disagree too much with switching to Flight if the format turns into tough fliers.
Another wonderful addition from Gatecrash—better mana! Having good and correct mana can win or lose you a game, and this deck kills so quickly that we don’t mind paying the extra two life here and there to ensure a win. After all, it doesn’t matter what life you are at when you win because you’ve already won! Because we are playing so many shocks, I was almost tempted to play Arbor Elfs instead of Pilgrims. But, having a Pilgrim instead of an Elf makes more of our hands keepable and allows us to play more lands of the colors we are splashing for. Elf only untaps 8 of our lands, and Pilgrims will always produce white mana.
Lands and mana are one of the most peculiar aspects in Magic. You don’t have to talk me into playing a deck with a lot of colors, and I really enjoy the challenge of building a mana base properly. Having mana that allows you to play all the splashes in your deck with ease is tilting to opponents. Looking across and seeing four different basic lands on turn 4 makes the game feel more luck-oriented than it really is, and there is something to be said about using this to your advantage. Some opponents will throw their hands in the air and sigh while you cast all the spells you like while they struggle to play their fourth Mountain in their Mono-Red deck. Look for opportunities where opponents will be making mistakes in this situation. Exploit your opponents playing loosely and not realizing what is going on over on your side because they are focusing too highly on their own.
I told a friend of mine that he has a “tell” when he wants to play a spell. For instance, if he plays a creature and has mana left over for a trick, he will organize his lands into two piles. He will tap his lands for the creature and then touch the lands he wants to use for his trick, fixing their crookedness. These things are all subconscious things that each of our brains and personalities produces naturally. We barely realize we are doing it. If though, we know our opponent knows these things about us, we can use these things to our advantage.
Evaluating your own game is a fine way to get better, but the help of fellow players makes us even better. I get so frustrated when people ask me what I think of their deck and refuse to listen to criticism about how to improve. That happens to me a lot. I give reasons why I believe something is bad, and all of my suggestions and insight are dismissed with no reasoning. If you take the time to read articles such as this or articles by established professionals, you almost certainly want to improve your game. The construction of the deck I have suggested this week addresses changes to an older version, and I keep consideration to why my choices might be incorrect. Changing a winning formula to fit a personal style could be genius or a huge mistake. But, I know why I put cards into a deck or not. I have reasons besides “that card is bad.” I haven’t just heard that is bad, but instead, I have a reasoning and understanding as to why.
Understand why you put cards into a deck. Understand their role. It will make your deckbuilding skills superior to what they were, and you will also become better at sideboarding. You can easily ruin a good deck with terribly sideboard decisions and get run over the next two games. The knowledge of what your purpose your sideboard serves can win or lose you a match.
If you want to get into the red zone quickly and often, I would suggest putting this list together. Change it up if you want, but understand why and what your changes will do. Post comments about what changes you think are advantageous, and until next week, whether it’s the feature match or the kitchen table, have fun and keep brewing.