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Cramer’s Corner: Week 3

Written by Zach Cramer on . Posted in Competitive Magic, Modern

Cramer’s Corner: Week 3

Zach Cramer

Zach is a Northeastern Magic grinder who specializes in eternal formats. When building decks, he has a strong preference to Blue cards, toolboxes and combo decks. With a recent RPTQ finish just short of an invitation, Zach hopes to take his skills to the next level and play on the Pro Tour.

Hey everyone, I’m back after a hiatus to pick up on an article. Some of these questions might not make sense in the context of the bannings, but, I think that makes it kind of interesting!

“When will BG/x be moderately playable in modern again?” (circa Feb 4th)

Via 2/6/18
My friend Ryan asked me this question and then immediately predicted my answer to be:

“When they ban tron lands. Next question”

I was going to write 200 words on the tensions of big mana and swingy bombs in a context of aggressive decks that struggle with cards ripped off the top, but, yeah, he basically nailed it…before the Bloodbraid unban.

In all seriousness, Black Green midrange decks that focus on attrition and discard spells are always going to be in an okay spot. Modern is a wide and diverse format and the cards Thoughtseize and Inquisition of Kozilek put you in a solid spot to succeed against any field, especially when paired with a proactive clock. However, BGx has been in a difficult spot since the return of RG Scapeshift, GB Tron, and the emergence of Eldrazi Tron. Adaption is a key to Modern and that can be seen through various strategies moving away from 3 colors to play more Tectonic Edges, Field of Ruin or Ghost Quarter, maindeck Fulminator Mage or speeding up their deck with Goblin Rabblemaster or something like that. I recently wrote an article about shaping your archetypes in order to match metagames and since there’s no denying that Dark Confidant, Tarmogoyf, and discard spells are powerful, it’s really about tuning the remaining spells to either fight big mana well or accept that big mana might just be a chink in your armor (though, with its current prevalence, one might suggest its more of a gaping hole in your armor).

2/14/18 addendum
The unbanning of Jace and Bloodbraid Elf give Thoughtseize a new lease on life! The ability to cascade into sideboard cards like Fulminator Mage, Kitchen Finks, and Collective Brutality, aside from strong removal spells, really improve Jund’s matchups while keeping them proactive. I think it’s time to sleeve Raging Ravine again soon. Make sure to add a 25th land and probably make it a Treetop Village. I’m really excited to see where Bloodbraid Elf takes Jund and how they can bounce back from their recent decline.

When Wizards uses creature types do they think really strongly about adding utility on to them due to the popularity of tribes? With the rise of Human tribal in both modern and legacy, do you think this philosophy is going to pay as much attention to Humans as a whole as they would, say, Merfolk, Elves, or Faeries? Or to put in another way, do you think Humans being a deck in modern and legacy will change their thought process on card creation?

I think card creation and creature types are a product of world building more than anything. We need to have humans so that we can see ourselves in the fantasies. That means that there are always going to be humans and not always going to be certain other tribes. I think because of this, popular tribes like Humans usually get more goodies and that has definitely come to roost in the last few years. I think the play design team will do work to curtail every card of a certain tribe being busted, but, I do think that as Modern grows, all tribes will slowly get new tools, maybe just not as fast as Humans.

Is 5C Humans the real deal?

Absolutely yes. Recently on Twitter, noted Merfolk aficionado Ondřej Stráský said “btw Merfolk is dead in Modern. Humans is just infinite times better.” And while this might be hyperbolic, I believe his claim. Humans pairs a powerful swarm aggression with multiple lords and additional disruption. The mana is powerful and despite losing powerful lands like Mutavault, the multiple colors and rainbow lands allow for them to cover every part of the color pie to reach out for more answers and more angles of attack. Humans, to me, is still in its infancy. Some players have opted to replace Mayor of Averbruck with Phantasmal Image, others have abandoned Vial for Collected Company, and Strasky himself played a Restoration Angel at the Pro Tour! The levels of innovation are still to come and I’m excited to see where the most played deck at the Pro Tour ends up in the coming months.

Do you ever feel that deck experience wins mirrors more than deckbuilding decisions do?

This is an awesome question! The first time I thought about it, I definitely thought the people who come up with “the tech” are the people who win. If Dredge or another linear mirror is going to be the dominant part of the winner’s metagame, Leyline of the Void or some linear equivalent is likely much better than the most skilled mirror work. However, if you look at something like Modern Jund or the Grixis Midrange Standard mirror match, someone coming with one or even several extra 2-1 mechanics could pale in comparison to someone who sculpts the game to minimize windows where they’ll be open to 2-1s. Compounding this, the most important thing you can do to win a match of Magic is build your deck correctly in games 2 and 3, which means sideboarding. If you’re playing Jund and you leave in your discard spells, I don’t care if you have 15 Bituminous Blasts in your Sideboard. You’re not going to win that game. Being able to know the matchup in a way that allows you how to be aware of how to approach each matchup (which is how I usually come up with “the tech” anyway). Brad Nelson is touted as the best Standard player because he plays so many games and can come up with a configured 75 to address matchups the way he wants them. Especially in Standard where there aren’t traditional hosers, this is what will give you the edge. To reiterate: Outside of situations where you’re playing circles around your opponent, linear matchups are often about the tech and non-linear matchups are about the preparation.

Could you discuss the idea of a “coherent 60” and “building a 75?”

See how I got my questions to lead into each other this week? Pretty slick, huh?

Anyway, this was a question that I got about a concept I really like referring to when talking about Magic Deckbuilding Theory. It’s important to build decks considering how you’re going to play them. At its most basic level, when you’re playing a deck with a 60 card maindeck and a 15 card sideboard, you should make sure that those cards are cooperating with each other. If you’ve ever had the experience of turning to your sideboard and thinking “I don’t have enough cards to take out” or “I don’t have enough cards to bring in”, that’s a symptom of an incoherent 75 card deck. A 75 card deck should feature an acceptable 60 card configuration for every matchup you expect to face. Meaning: if you have 6 maindeck cards you don’t like versus a certain deck, make sure you have 6 cards to bring in! If you have 8 cards to bring in and only 7 cards to take out, strongly consider what the weakest card is and if it has a purpose in another matchup you hope to improve. Something people are unwilling to admit is that if you try hard enough, you can beat ANYTHING. A matchup being good or bad could be swung by 2-3 cards changing. In a digital era, decklists emerge from a list of 75 cards online. Oftentimes, players will pick a list with cards they own, cards they like, and sideboard bullets they’re familiar with. Looking at these intricacies sometimes leads to some limited thinking. Magic is absurdly complex and offers a near infinite number of ways to try and accomplish the objective of winning the game and you can begin to experiment so many more of those ideas once you break out of choosing to ignore your 60 card main deck and 15 card sideboard as a non-uniform entity.

What is the worst decks you’ve ever played to success?

For our decklist section this week, I got an awesome question to recall the two worst decks I’ve ever played to success. Now, I’m going to use success loosely because I could say I won a PPTQ with BW Martyr Proc or I top 8’d a 2k with Nic Fit, but, I figured I’d get a little more crazy with some decks that I’ve done well with:

BANT SÉANCE: Immediately following the Birthing Pod, Treasure Cruise, Dig through Time banning, I brewed up a deck that was meant to crush the two emerging decks after the banning (Jund and Burn). I took this list to several FNMs after top 8ing a week 1 PPTQ with a list that looked very close to this:

The reason for Avacyn’s Pilgrim over Noble Hierarch was a budgetary one.

Contextually, Reddit was talking about a Séance deck that was pretty terrible in my mind. My secret tech was to tutor for the Séance targets I wanted: Cast Gifts Ungiven. Having Gifts piles that dug up the cards I needed and were all, for the most part, 2/Xs to be picked up by Reveillark. Yeah, now you’re figuring out why Aven Riftwatcher was there. This list had so much life gain, so much grind potential and so many ways to loop Mulldrifter. Much later, Zach Elsik would pilot a far more improved Esper or 4C Séance list to great success. There’s a lot of pitfalls of this deck that make it laughable, but, I won a lot with it, because, it leveraged my ability to take the games to a grindy, value oriented conclusion.

Obligatory: What Does Modern look like now?

So, this is a rough approximation of what I think happens to Modern in the immediate future:

Jace becomes the center of the format (not in an overpowered way but basically as the litmus test for deckbuilding:
You’re either going under it with aggro or combo (Thalia and Humans, Living End, Storm etc)
You’re playing it or some 4 drop equivalent (control decks, blue midrange, BBE)
You’re going big (big mana, tron, scapeshift, etc)

Some other effects being:
-A resurgence of control decks being able to have access to Jace and to combat that, there will be a lot of aggressive decks trying to fight sweepers (freebooter, thalia, cursecatcher etc.)
-Lightning Bolt effects will re-emerge in popularity because of their ability to pressure Jace Storm and still kill aggressive threats. I think Jeskai rises in prominence.

I don’t love Shadow in this field. Path to Exile and other ways to have early pressure for delve threats/combined with middlegame Jace bounce on a delve threat feels pretty brutal. The bounce effect feels especially bad against Shadow because without Stubborn Denial you can’t really interact with Jace and the cards that you’d want cost a lot of extra mana (K Command defends well against a Jace that minuses first, but, it requires you to play more lands)

Decks that aren’t slow will require you to want to run Pushes and Bolts, which make you not want to flood, despite being pulled the other way in how you want to address the control matchup. There’s been a lot of talk about what decks get better and worse, but, I think looking at Jace’s impact holistically will be the best tool to address the broad metagame rather than the Jace decks themselves.

That’s all for this week! Tune in soon for more thoughts on Jace, new Magic: Online data and all of the crazy stuff that’s happening with Magic! See you soon!

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