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Sublime Time

Written by LegitMTG Staff on . Posted in Competitive Magic, Standard

An impressive amount of decks are viable in Standard. I won’t call it an amazingly diverse format, because in all honesty, it is a metagame of creature decks that have shut out the control decks. This means we should just play the best creatures on curve as possible, and we want a way to draw more creatures and make our current ones better. Cue Domri Rade.

Naya Midrange rose in popularity some weeks ago with Willy Edel’s second-place finish at Grand Prix Guadalajara. Edel is a mastermind, and his own deck primer left the door open for tuning, with Brian Braun Duin recently listing his take on the deck. Both lists have a direct and proactive game plan that involves building up the curve and topping out with Thundermaw Hellkite. Edel’s list is meant to be a bit more aggressive, but beyond this, they both do their jobs well.

I enjoyed Naya Midrange last year, and took it to a Top 32 SCG Open finish after the release of Gatecrash. I have been testing this deck since Edel’s list (and his awesome primer) appeared. One of the first things I identified was the need to define the list, which needs to be either midrange, playing the best cards on curve; or aggro, playing synergistic creatures like Experiment One. A better Naya Aggro came out recently, and Naya Blitz is still around. If you want to play an aggressive strategy, I suggest you go that route. The midrange builds, however, thrive against many of the aggro decks and Loxodon Smiter is bigger than just about anything their deck does in the first few turns.

I played in a bunch of events and tested weekly to tune this list for the Star City Games Columbus Open:

Card Choices

Ghor-Clan Rampager

This was the kick the deck needed. Players started adding them recently, and they solved the main issue I was having with this deck: its identity. I didn’t want to play the Experiment Ones and Flinthoof Boars, but other four-drops were not working. Huntmaster of the Fells was not pulling its weight in the aggro matches and is downright terrible against Reanimator. Enter Ghor-Clan Rampager. The body is really relevant, and it has upside against the aggro decks. They can’t Pillar of Flame it or Searing Spear it away like Huntmaster, and trample is very good against the Lingering Souls decks.

But let’s not forget what makes the beast so impressive. The bloodrush ability is second to none, and it allows you to close out games that the original version was unable to. It can do this in two ways. The obvious way is essentially as a burn spell to kill creatures or get in the last few points of damage, but it also makes Domri Rade much better. Fighting creatures postcombat with your bloodrushed guy means you can essentially kill anything. You can bloodrush your Loxodon Smiter, for example, and during your second main phase, make your 8/8 elephant fight your Boros Reckoner.

Restoration Angel/Sublime Archangel

Willy Edel has discussed why Restoration Angel is important, but it really doesn’t have a ton of synergy with the deck. It is great mid-combat for sure, and it also resets Thundermaw Hellkites when needed, but overall it doesn’t add very much. The other problem is that it is awkward on curve. If you have played against this deck, you should know how to play around Restoration Angel. Did my Naya opponent leave four mana up and is realistically only playing two instant spells (Restoration Angel and Selesnya Charm)? Guess I play around Restoration Angel.

In decks with Huntmasters and Thragtusks, definitely play Restoration Angel, but Sublime Archangel is better in this list. I played just one copy in Columbus, and after casting it, I wanted another. She dies to Searing Spear, which is a negative, but her upside is enormous with the number of Azorius Charms in the format is at an all-time low. In most games, you have three creatures in play (a mana guy, a two- or three-drop, and her) when you cast her, which means your Voice of Resurgence, Boros Reckoner, or Loxodon Smiter gets a Giant Growth upon attacking. A 6/6 Boros Reckoner is unfair and makes combat rough for your opponent. This also has the upside, much like Ghor-Clan Rampager, of making your Domri Rades that much better. The bigger your guys are, the better his Arena ability gets. Sublime Archangel also has a strong effect against aggressive strategies. She allows you to attack with one massive guy, while keeping everything else back to block.

Bonfire of the Damned/Mizzium Mortars

As much as I like BBD’s take on this deck, I can’t get behind Bonfire of the Damned right now. Last summer, the card was a house for multiple reasons:

  • You had access to eight mana guys that you wanted to play. Arbor Elf is no Birds of Paradise and just isn’t nearly good enough with this manabase to be a four-of. Eight mana guys makes casting Bonfire of the Damned better and easier.
  • The creatures played at the time succumbed to Bonfire much easier than the current ones do. Huntmasters were awesome to kill, but now it is too common for your opponent to have a Boros Reckoner in play, making Bonfires awkward and painful.
  • You needed the reach. Sometimes a Bonfire was all you had to close out games. Thundermaw Hellkites and Domri Rades go a long way in closing that gap.

The card is still impressively powerful, and testing revealed how impressive it is seeing one on top after a Domri activation. That allows you to try and craft the best board state while knowing that the apocalypse is coming. But this still wasn’t enough to make me want to play it.

Mizzium Mortars is the spell you need on Turn 2. It is the two-drop besides Voice of Resurgence, and against the aggro decks, it is always removal that is on time. The hands without a mana dork really need a Mizzium Mortars to ensure a smooth curve into our powerful three-drops. Bonfire will generally never be there on time, and you can’t say This hand is awesome if I hit an early Bonfire. Bonfire also leads to a lot of mulligans because having two in any hand is pretty much an auto-ship.

I understand BBD’s original sideboard plan accommodates both, but testing showed that losing Game 1s to aggro decks, especially if they were on the play, could negate this sideboard plan. You can still lose Game 3 on the play to nut draws and Bonfire of the Damned gives up as many Game 1s as the miracle cost wins.

Sideboard Options

Edel’s original sideboard was more of a catch-all, whereas BBD’s sideboard is much more streamlined. Both have their merits, and I sided with BBD’s for this event, with the small change of Ray of Revelations. Hexproof decks necessitate some kind of answer, and that is the best we can do. Unflinching Courage is fine against them, too, but it is still hard to win races.

I included Zealous Conscripts because it tested so well in the mirror and against Jund, but it may be better to go back to either Garruk, Primal Hunter or Assemble the Legion. The sideboard leans heavily on Boros Charms for the control matchup, but those and Garruk Relentless were fine, and will be if the metagame stays relatively control free. Three Rest in Peaces may be overdoing it, because Junk Aristocrats might be a flash in the pan; it does not do nearly enough against Act 2 and it may be right to try out Electrickery to better combat Lingering Souls.

The Open

I took my list to a 7-3 cash finish, but I feel could have finished higher after starting 5-0.

Round 1 — Jund Aggro, Win 2-1 (Sublime Archangel was brilliant here, allowing me to finish Game 3 without overextending)
Round 2 — Red/Green Aggro, Win 2-1
Round 3 — Bant Hexproof, Win 2-1 (This match involved a crazy Game 3 where I had to bloodrush an Angel token to Selesnya Charm it to go to 1. This matchup is rough, but winnable.)
Round 4 — Red/Green Aggro Win 2-1
Round 5 — Jund Midrange, Win 2-1
Round 6 — Naya Mirror, Loss 2-1 (This came down to who drew the most Hellkites on the play. He did)
Round 7 — Naya Mirror, Win 2-0
Round 8 — Naya Blitz, Loss 2-1 (He won the roll, and I mulliganed to five in Game 3. Unflinching Courage really does some work.)
Round 9 — Act 2 by Gerry Thompson, Loss 2-1 (This was a fake feature match that came down to a tense moment in Game 3. I could bloodrush for the win, but was terrified of Tragic Slip. It was the wrong card to play around.)
Round 10 — Naya Mirror, Win 2-0

Like all of the Ohio opens, this was a massive almost 600-player affair. Although 7-3 is nothing to scoff at, I definitely feel it could have been better. Losses to decks like Blitz and Hexproof (which I managed to beat!) are always possibilities, but I never felt out of it against any other opponent. You will notice a lot of 2-1s in my round list, which is a testament to how powerful the aggressive strategies are right now — but this deck has the ability to hold them off.

Notice I did not play against Reanimator. The strategy is still around, though the aggressive decks are keeping it down. This is good for us because the matchup is not positive. Rest in Peace doesn’t do enough work against it, sadly. Selesnya Charm is still awesome, and flipping Garruk Relentless flipped is big game, but it may be right to experiment with sideboard options if your local meta features a lot of Unburial Rites. Thalia, Guardian of Thraben may be the right answer, though she is awkward against four-color Reanimator.

Going Forward

This deck seems well-positioned in a control-light format, and I made minor changes to the list. The sideboard is, as always, adaptable. Here is the list I will be running, now with more Sublime Archangel!

These changes are nominal, but you gain the element of surprise by fully cutting the Restoration Angels, because your opponents will play around them. You can play aggressively while bluffing a card that you have cut. Sublime Archangel will allow you to dictate combat against unsuspecting opponents. When I played a Korean version, it was satisfying to have opponents who were unfamiliar with the card asking for Gatherer text from judges before sagging in their seats.

— Mike Keknee
Twitter: @Big_Tears
Podcast: @AtYourEndStep

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