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Format Unsolved?

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[Note: Due to a lapse in editing (Sorry, Gregory!), you'll get to enjoy an extra article this week from Gregory Marques! -Dylan]

Whoops! I took a bit of an unintended break from writing. I have been very busy with work and some other things.

Last time, I promised something about Knight decks... and I partially wrote that article, but the decks just weren't very strong. I may still finish that article in the near future, or I may save it for after New Phyrexia.

In making those decks I found a pretty good W/B build, and that in turn led me to test more and more Black. Eventually this led to the Red / Black deck I played at Regionals on the 16th. I'm really happy with this deck. It was fun to play and it's a totally new deck I can be proud of. Wanna see?

Here's the list I played:

(The sideboard is not recommended, see below for the better SB)

The strategy of this deck is to hose Jace six ways from Sunday, then win via Inferno Titan or a Planeswalker. It's pretty good at hosing Jace. More or less all the cards help you get rid of him. Hexmage, Duress, and Koth being the most effective, with everything but the Doom Blades and Sarkhans being capable of handling it.

Maindeck Cards Explained

Lightning Bolt - Playing Red? Then you are playing this, obviously. In this deck it kills early creatures and midgame Planeswalkers. It's rarely used for finishing off the opponent, but of course that can still happen.

Inquisition of Kozilek & Duress - I split 4/3 instead of 3/4 because I left most of my anti-aggro-Red stuff in the board, but it could go either way. Both are the nuts against Caw-Blade, robbing them of planeswalkers (almost always take a Gideon over a Jace), Swords (after their turn 2 Stoneforge), and removal. Inquisition mostly nabs SFM, Squadron Hawk, and the Sword they fetched up or drew in their opener. I tended not to take Mana Leak since I could play around it easily enough, unless they had no other good targets.

Vampire Hexmage - This card was intended to be a pretty forceful Planeswalker answer. I have found it pretty much is. While you have it out the opponent is taking 2 a turn, and has to burn removal on it before they can cast a Planeswalker. Caw Blade is really in a tough spot, because when they spend turn 4 on Day of Judgement it gives you time to followup with Koth of the Hammer or Goblin Ruinblaster, plus that's removal they won't have for Inferno Titan later on. I was very happy with it, as it took out a couple of Gideons and Jaces for me, a Koth, and even took down a Jace simply by attacking in one game. It has first strike, so it's not embarrassing main deck (and quite good against aggro decks). The only problem in this deck is that you don't always have BB on turn 2. It's not too troublesome when used as a pure Planeswalker killer, because you can cast it turn 4 or 5, by which time I always seemed to have 2-3 black sources in play.

Kargan Dragonlord - One of the must underplayed Red creatures, considering how powerful it is. Yeah, it's not exactly wearing a scarf, but if it survives you will win the game. Very few other creatures can stand up to it (Pretty much only Eldrazi), and Trample + Firebreathing? I did 22 with it in just 2 turns to win one game. Amazing vs Hawks, sword-carrying or otherwise, and a faster clock than Inferno Titan.

Manic Vandal - When Jay Schneider tested the deck out he recommended cutting down to 3 Hexmages from 4, and asked for some other small creature. I chose Manic Vandal because there are very few decks without critical artifacts. I was rewarded with a critical Vandalization of a Sword in my first match of the tournament. This card should see more and more play in the future, and I could see moving more of them into the main deck.

Goblin Ruinblaster - This card is so very good against many decks in the format, especially Caw Blade (noticed a theme yet?). It also gives you some much-needed game against Valakut, though I haven't tested that match up sufficiently to be certain of who's favored. Always board them out when facing Boros, RDW, Elves, and similar, of course. In game 1 against those decks just run it out as a 3-mana guy and trade with anything you can. Depending on your local metagame I could easily see 2 or all 4 of these in the sideboard and more aggro-defense main. If you move them out I suggest you swap in the Vandals to the main, or perhaps two of the Arc Trails.

Inferno Titan - I shouldn't have to explain this. I sometimes wanted a 4th and sometimes didn't. More testing is necessary. (Also, perhaps the 4th one should be a Grave Titan or a Wurmcoil Engine.)

Koth of the Hammer - I found 9 Mountains to be exactly enough. I have always had one in play before I cast Koth. Do be sure to plan your land drops so that a Mountain is on the board by the end of turn 3, or else you won't be able to attack with it on turn 4. Koth is a wrecking ball that usually clears the way for you to win with other cards, and often deals 8 or 12 damage to the opponent. I never got the ultimate off, but my opponents had to spend multiple cards or turns to get rid of him, and that gave me the advantage I needed to win the war.

Doom Blade & Go for the Throat - any mix is probably fine. I'm confident in the total of 5, as I always seemed to be holding one when I really needed to kill an opposing Titan (and boy did I ever doom a lot of them).

Sarkhan the Mad - Jay Schneider suggested this card because he felt the deck needed a little more card-power and card-drawing. Usually I just drew 3 cards with it and won with those cards. I recommend attacking with a Lavaclaw Reaches, pumping it, and then turning it into a Dragon. I did that one game, and went on to finish my opponent using Sarkhan's ultimate. Yeah, that's right, Sarkhan the Mad told all my dragons to bite my opponent, IN THE FACE! He was a great sport about it too.

Lands - this mix worked fine for me. If you feel queasy about it you can swap a Tectonic Edge out in favor of another colored source.

Sideboard Cards Explained

Arc Trail - I always put them in against Boros and RDW, but rarely drew them. I hear it's a really good card.

Cunning Sparkmage - this guy was terrible for me. Red has too many ways to kill it, and it doesn't help enough against Caw Blade. I would not run them again. UW's guys aren't the problem, it's the equipment. Manic Vandal exists for a reason!

Manic Vandal - I wanted one more here. I lost a game because I couldn't find one to rid the board of a Bonehoard.

Vampire Hexmage - at the last minute, Zaiem Beg stopped me from playing Memoricide, so I threw this into the sideboard. It shouldn't be here, but it was better than nothing.

"Friends don't let friends run Memoricide." -Zaiem.

Ratchet Bomb - to fill the other vacant Memoricide slot I flipped open the trade binder I had with me and saw a foil Ratchet Bomb on the first page. Sold! It was most impressive. More please! This deck is controlling enough on its own that a Ratchet Bomb can sometimes sit around for a long time accumulating counters. In one game I used Ratchet Bomb to clear an opposing Koth to make room for my own.

Nihil Spellbomb - I didn't need these, but they are here to fight all Vengevine decks, and anything else that might care about its graveyard. I wonder if they're good or useless against Pyromancer's Ascension. Probably irrelevant since the deck includes Vampire Hexmage.

Mark of Mutiny - I put these in for use against RUG decks, but I didn't face any. More testing may prove it to be great or that a different card is better.

I ended up a disappointing 4-3. Still, I'm recommending this deck. "What's the deal," you ask? News flash: I'm not a highly skilled Magic player. I'm a Magic player of moderate skill. I have much more potential as a deck designer. I certainly felt that were my play tighter I could have won games that I threw away or somehow couldn't squeeze out. I faced three Caw Blade decks, two Boros, the Red midrange deck Johnathan Job played at GP Dallas, and RDW. I beat two of those Caw Blade decks with ease. Against the third I made a foolish play by Tectonic Edgeing them far too aggressively in game 1. Several small mistakes added up game 2 (though I'm not sure I could have won anyway). I know I would have had a chance in the third game, had I made it that far. I lost a critical game to RDW because I mistakenly held a doom blade and used my Ratchet Bomb when I should have done it the other way around. Naturally, there were likely some mistakes I'm not even good enough to recognize.

So what would I play now? The same maindeck (possibly moving 2 Ruinblasters to the side in exchange for 1 Ratchet Bomb and a second Manic Vandal in the main), but with this Sideboard:

And in most cases I would sideboard like this:

Caw Blade:
-2 Doom Blade
+2 Manic Vandal

(The point of the main deck is to beat UW control decks.)

RDW:
-4 Goblin Ruinblaster
-2 Sarkhan the Mad
-1 Doom Blade
-1 Duress
+4 Arc Trail
+3 Ratchet Bomb
+1 Wurmcoil Engine (or Grave Titan)

Boros
-4 Goblin Ruinblaster
-2 Sarkhan the Mad
-3 Duress
+4 Arc Trail
+2 Manic Vandal
+1 Ratchet Bomb
+1 Wurmcoil Engine (or Grave Titan)

RUG (not tested enough)
-1 Manic Vandal
-1 Duress
+2 Mark of Mutiny

Vampires (not that anyone plays it anymore, also not tested)
-4 Goblin Ruinblaster
-1 Duress
-3 Doom Blade
+4 Arc Trail
+1 Wurmcoil Engine (or Grave Titan)
+3 Ratchet Bomb

That Kuldoltha Pheonix deck I mentioned earlier
-4 Goblin Ruinblaster
+1 Wurmcoil Engine (or Grave Titan)
+1 Ratchet Bomb
+2 Manic Vandal

Kibler's Poison (a total guess)
-3 Doom Blade
+2 Manic Vandal
+1 Grave Titan or Arc Trail

Eldrazi Green (a well-educated guess)
-3 Duress
-3 Vampire Hexmage
+2 Arc Trail (+2 Manic Vandal if they use Everflowing Chalice and board in Wall of Tanglecord)
+2 Ratchet Bomb
+2 Mark of Mutiny

Valakut (a guess)
-3 Vampire Hexmage
+2 Mark of Mutiny
+1 Wurmcoil Engine or Grave Titan

Vengevine Decks
-3 Duress
-4 Goblin Ruinblaster
+4 Arc Trail
+3 Nihil Spellbomb

Conley's Dredge deck
-3 Duress
-3 Vampire Hexmage
-2 Goblin Ruinblaster
+2 Manic Vandal
+3 Arc Trail
+3 Nihil Spellbomb

So what's all this I hear about the format being so stale and solved? I can barely keep up with all the decks to sideboard against. Plus at Regionals I saw a cool Elves deck that went at least 7-0, and a cool Black / White Mimic Vat deck (also running Hexmages). I didn't have time to test it yet, but I also think there's a pure Black deck that could be quite strong (yes, even in the face of Sword of Feast and Famine). I just watched Mike Flores's videos of his mono-white Eldrazi deck... the decks just don't stop coming!

So I have two big takeaways from this experience: First, there are always more decks to find, at least as long as R&D has as strong of a development team as it has now. Second, you can sculpt a deck that beats Jace without Jace pretty easily if you put your mind to it. Later, peeps!

Gregory Marques

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