Cramer’s Corner: Weekly Mailbag Style Comments on All Things Magic

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

Cramer’s Corner: Weekly Mailbag Style Comments on All Things Magic

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.

Greetings all, In an effort to provide a lot of thoughts on a variety of topics that might not be big enough for an article, I’ve decided to put together a weekly mailbag-style column that addresses questions I get asked throughout the week. If you’re interested in asking a question, comment below or send an email to mtgzach@gmail.com. Let’s get into it!

Which iteration of Modern has been your favorite?

My friend Chase asked me what my favorite iteration of Modern is and after a bit of thought, I think the format that was the most fun for me was the Summer before all the Modern bannings. I remember doing very well on a weekly basis alternating between Dig through Time, Scapeshift and 4C Pod variants making sure to be prepared for UR Treasure Cruise Delver. For me, Modern is about having access to your old Standard decks and doing powerful things. I love Birthing Pod. When I started playing Magic seriously, Pod was Standard Legal and the first deck I ever built. While Siege Rhino altered some of my more cheeky Pod builds (shout out to my boy Vengevine), I felt like the deck was a lot of fun to play and its challenging play patterns were rewarding to learn. Overall, the dominance of these decks may have ultimately been a bad thing if they had been allowed to exist for longer than they did, but, golly was it a fun summer to have access to a wide variety of powerful midrange, combo, and aggro decks. This also speaks to my appreciation of formats where everyone can do the types of things they like, even if they aren’t at the front of the metagame.

What cards from Rivals make it into Modern?

I think Rivals is a staggeringly poor set in terms of what it brings to Modern, unfortunately. Some of these are a stretch but here are a couple of my ideas for what might make the cut:
Golden Demise for BW Tokens seems interesting in terms of wiping opponent’s blockers and dealing with other go wide decks. Storm the Vaults might not fit into an existing deck, but, it seems immensely powerful with a little bit of tooling, perhaps an adaption on an eggs strategy. Blood Sun seems to fit into Tron sideboards reasonably well if you’re in the market for that. Jadelight Ranger seems incredibly powerful to me and although it doesn’t seem to have a home in Merfolk, I could easily see it fitting into Reveillark Chord decks or potentially GW Value Town’s Collected Company plan. Dire Fleet Posioner and Dire Fleet Daredevil both offer really dynamic abilities on Humans, which always helps. I’ve actually heard a lot of people looking at Poisioner in a Faeries shell. Kumena’s Awakening may replace something like Temple Bell in the Time Walk decks as they often have a lot of lands in play, though, at 4 mana it might just be too expensive. Form of the Dinosaur may make its way into Enduring Ideal Combo decks. Blazing Hope offers an interesting option to some white based Death’s Shadow decks, though, that seems too cute. Ravenous Chupacabra offers another nice option to Chord decks, particularly in Reveillark and Eldritch Evolution shells. Merfolk Mistbinder, Legion Lieutenant and Dusk Legion Zealot all offer interesting tribal capabilities as well. Rivals of Ixalan is unsurprisingly a set that will increase the playability of various tribal decks and generally impact creature decks more greatly than spell combo variants. I’m very excited to see how these creatures help fair decks fight the rise of big mana and degenerate combo.

What’s the best deck in Standard?

Week One, I’d definitely be sleeving up UW God-Pharoah’s Gift. The deck’s number one enemy was Ramapaging Ferocidon and Graveyard hate should be slow out of the gate. I think, although trite, The Scarab God decks are excellent. Looking at Grixis Midrange or UB Chart a Course are solid thoughts. The Wizards mentality for Standard is usually creature oriented so looking for the next midrange deck seems like a fair place to start. A list of established Standard decks (criteria being I can find a list on the MTGO 5-0 list from the last two months or from a Pro Tour) would look something like this:

UB Chart Midrange
Ux(x) Gift
UW Approach
UB Control
G(x) Dinosaurs
R(x) Aggro
Mardu Vehicles
Grixis Midrange
GB Snek
UW Cycling
Mono White Vampires

I’m not impressed with Merfolk or Pirates as of yet, but, time will tell.

What’s your stance on competitive diversity in Modern? Specifically, do you think Modern would be better off with a definitive top deck or two like some pros want? Or do you think the current meta is best with no clear top deck and an open field of decks? Also, feel free to include some Modern PT Predictions.

My dream for Modern is a play environment with 2-5 dominant T1 decks that are not oppressive enough that they completely keep down the 25-30 interesting old standard decks with new toys from occasionally Top eighting a tournament. I’ve thrived in this most recent Modern format for the last year and think it’s in a very healthy place. The key is really pushing the narrative that Modern is a competitive/casual format. You will just lose to random decks. The best way to fix this is by printing a good pile of Standard legal hate cards that help certain Modern decks fight dominant T1 decks or macroarchetypes (Big mana, Creature Swarm, Graveyard etc) and I think that’s been happening to great effect in the last 6 months (Ceremonious Rejection comes to mind here). I think Modern is best suited to be played at the SCG, GP, and LGS level and I’m not convinced it’s a good Pro Tour format. I think a big mana deck or Burn will win the PT. Modern is a format about metagames and the exciting take away from the tournament will likely be the decklists that went 7-2 rather than the decks that Top 8. I do think it’s a bad idea to get Modern back on the PT, but, I’m excited to see some games.

How do you introduce a new player into Magic?

This is an awesome question! I’ve mostly deferred to some articles that have already been published on the topic but I think the best way to teach someone Magic comes from building decks to suit the way you want to teach. I’d start by building decks with only vanilla creatures. Play a few games with mono colored decks and more lands than you would typical add to a deck. From there, feel free to add sorceries and enchantments followed by instants and creature cards with text. Learning core combat and the stack is more important than learning the specific mechanics of the most recent standard set. I think the other important key is to have fun and be relaxed. Magic is a game and involving someone in the fun ups and down and reducing things like mana screw, technicalities and the like are important to early play.

Chris posted this list and asked for comments:

First off, I think this deck looks pretty great. I think Dinosaurs features a lot of powerful creatures and I like that this list puts you on a quick clock. I think I’d consider swapping Savage Stomp numbers with Reckless Rage, particularly if the format becomes The Scarab Gods, other Dinosaurs, and Angel of Invention Zombies. I think I’d split Deathgorge Scavenger with Thrashing Brontodon for Game 1 rather than have 4 Thrashers. I also think between Commune, Drover, and Thunderherd Migration, you’re in great territory to splash a 3rd color, if only very lightly. Brennan DeCandio recently streamed a RGu Dinosaurs deck that features a splash of Negate in the sideboard. I think cutting the Unclaimed Territory for an Island and adding some Spirebluff Canals is a super low cost to giving you game against decks like Approach and Gift. Being able to allow yourself to add more dimensions and protections than simply beating down is a great boon to your deck and will give you more game especially in early weeks. I also wonder if there’s a space for Abrade over the 3rd Heroic Intervention or the Dinosaur Stampede.

What are decks that you hope are good in standard, not Tier One, but interesting decks you think would create enjoyable games of magic and be a strong contender in the new metagame?
Alright, so I recently posted the following list into a community page with the heading “If they ban Rogue Refiner, I’d probably play something like this”

This deck offers a tremendous amount of value, utilizes some of the coolest cards out of Rivals of Ixalan, and lets you perform the incredibly tremendous loop of Gonti into Journey, cast another Gonti to legend rule your original Gonti and loop them beating your opponent with their own cards for the rest of the game. There’s only one problem: The manabase looks absolutely heinous. I’m not thrilled with 2 color manabases in this format and I wonder if going for a BUG deck that could play The Scarab God, Hostage Taker, and Champion of Wits offers more punch for the same mana cost. But, this is one deck I’d love to see being good. In another vein, as a Faeries player in Modern, I’d love to see a return to tribal Standard. We already have two viable control decks, standard will always have midrange creature decks, the big thing we’re missing is synergistic aggro decks. I think tribes accomplish this well and a UB Pirates deck that gave us a convincing reason to play Siren Stormtamer or Fathom Fleet Captain or *sighs* Dreamcaller Siren would be a welcome delight. I think a larger frustration about Standard is that I hasn’t offered “dynamic” gameplay. I don’t believe this to be true. I thought Mardu versus Saheeli was awesome and although Marvel mirrors were…interesting, I think a way to get the larger player base on board with Standard would be to give them hybrid decks that accomplished linear goals in interactive ways.

How do you improve a local Magic community? Does only jamming competitive formats like Modern/Standard in a LGS build a community or build grinders?

This is the last question I have for this week and I think it’s a great one. First off, I’d like to say that the “Magic Community” has really been faced with some hardships in recent months, which is to say the frustrations that have existed for years have finally made their way into the public discourse. At the forefront of this is a dialogue about in-game and in-store conduct. Many players have written articles about language in Magic, inclusive communities, but, there hasn’t been much from male voices about how to fix communities in disrepair. I recently commented on Twitter how frustrating it was to go to a pre-release and have only negativity come out of player’s mouths. I think the problem stems from groups being fragmented. Stores have Commander Night, Pauper Thursday, and Frontier Tuesday but those groups are different than the people who play in the store’s 1ks later that month. I think finding a way to bridge the gap within the community and get people talking to one another is a huge step. The spikey grinders at the top tables need to not hold the casual commander players across the room in contempt for the store not to feel toxic. I think cross-promotion is important for this, but, also for store leaders (front desk or top tables) being positive change is the best way to fix a store. Having someone call out rudeness or spite from budding players is the best way to improve the environment of your store in a real way. More to your question, giving casual events real prizes might be an interesting way to involve people if there are stipulations in place that level the playing field a bit. Pauper Night, Unstable Draft, $8 Modern (Google this one, it’s sweet), or Throwback Standard might really get people in the mood to play formats that aren’t readily netdecked and offer a more casual vibe that could get players out of their shell. Building grinders is great. I want to have a good testing group within my LGS experience, but, I think it’s important that the grinders you’re building are ones that remember where they came from and I think fun and imagination are at the center of that.

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