Blake on Block: Various Three Color Green Decks of Theros

Blake on Block: Various Three Color Green Decks of Theros

May 23, 2014

This week marks the high water mark for interest in Block. DEs are regularly hitting 80 – 90 and as Pro Tour decks gradually get adopted there’s quite a lot of diversity. Yes indeed, there are lots of Courser of Kruphix, but it’s getting played in both Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver decks and Stormbreath Dragon / Elspeth, Sun’s Champion decks. Grand Prix Manchester still to come gives the paper world one last chance to influence the decks players will choose to run in four round events.

First, I’ll go through the three new major decks that made it into the PT Top 8 – Chapin’s Junk Creatures, BUG control and Junk Constellation (all Green Black base decks enabled by Temple of Malady.) Then I’ll talk about two lists featuring a card that’s very well positioned against these three decks.

One giant proviso is that the MTGO metagame is not going to be like the PT metagame. It will take quite some time for Mono Black Aggro players to give up the ghost (if the metagame dictates that they should). Reanimator will still be placing in events. During my first Daily Event after the PT I hoped to get some games in against new decks only to promptly lose Round 1 to Mono Black. Perhaps being in the losers’ bracket had something to do with my subsequent rounds against Mono Red Aggro, White Blue Heroic and Junk Reanimator.

A quick aside: the reduction in the number of DEs and the fixed timetable has made it extremely difficult for me to play competitive Block online. I live in the UK, so the events are at midday, 10 PM and 3 AM. This means that if for any reason I can’t set aside 10 PM – 1:30 AM to play Magic, I cannot play meaningful Block matches. 8 man events just don’t fire and you have to achieve an extremely high win rate to break even in 2 man events (where you face a disproportionate number of aggro decks).

Chapin Junk Midrange

Patrick Chapin won the Pro Tour by building his deck to beat a Hero’s Downfall metagame. Playing the full 4 Mana Confluence and attempting to curve Fleecemane Lion into Brimaz, King of Oreskos into Polukranos, World Eater, he taxed a Black deck’s removal spells before Elspeth, Sun’s Champion hits the table. He still had Thoughtseize and spot removal to get his creatures through, but he started his curve a turn earlier and curved out more regularly with Confluence providing him more ETB untapped lands.

There’s no reason this deck won’t continue to perform on MTGO. It’s the most expensive deck in the format as I write this, with Mana Confluence and Brimaz on top of the normal Courser / Temple / Elspeth entry fee to Block. In the first few days more BUG decks placed in published events, but this is a small sample size and may be related to card availability.

BUG Control

Both the two largest super teams arrived at BUG control lists, with only minor differences. The Pantheon played 26 lands, two four drop creatures, maindeck Drown in Sorrow and more expensive spot removal. Channel Fireball played maindeck Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver, the fourth Kiora, the Crashing Wave and more cheap spot removal. I suspect that there will end up being no correct way to build this deck from week to week in any kind of reasonable metagame. The White based Heroic decks and Mono Black Aggro are dissimilar enough that the answers required to beat them will change in value. Here’s what I think is the best list I’ve tried so far:

BUG Control

by Luzkikon (4-0) // THS Block Constructed Daily #7095595 on 2014-05-21

Lands (24)
Forest
Island
Mana Confluence
Swamp
Temple of Deceit
Temple of Malady
Temple of Mystery

Creatures (14)
Courser of Kruphix
Prognostic Sphinx
Reaper of the Wilds
Sylvan Caryatid

Spells (22)
Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver
Bile Blight
Drown in Sorrow
Hero’s Downfall
Kiora, the Crashing Wave
Read the Bones
Silence the Believers
Thoughtseize
Unravel the Aether
Sideboard (15)
Agent of Erebos
Bile Blight
Dark Betrayal
Dissolve
Drown in Sorrow
Gainsay
Psychic Intrusion
Read the Bones
Unravel the Aether
Worst Fears

I expect this deck will largely replace Esper as the control deck of choice. Unfortunately, from my limited experience, the mirror matches can quickly descend into “Who has the most Prognostic Sphinx in play?” Turn 3 Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver +2 hitting one, then putting it into play t4 with another play is a brutal opening, but the deadlocked games are all too common as well. At least in Esper mirrors you had Elspeth, Sun’s Champion as another threat, the Sphinx is often all that matters Game 1 in these matches. Ashiok assisted mill is not impossible. One thing to be said is that for professional durdlers like myself, attacking with a Prognostic repeatedly with Courser of Kruphix in play is paradise.

Junk Constellation

The last of the new Green Black Courser decks is the only one to use the card in a synergy based deck. Junk emerged as the best Eidolon of Blossoms deck for the tournament. Most of the playable enchantments are in Green Black, but the deck splashes White for Elspeth, Sun’s Champion and Banishing Light. This is unfortunately the only deck I’ve had no real testing with, so how effective it will be moving forward is unclear to me. I expect to try any number of Eidolon of Blossoms builds over the next few months and years, so in the name of thorough testing I’m going through the other lists first.

What’s Next?

After seeing the way games played out and the decks that dominated at the Pro Tour, my thoughts turned to how to beat this metagame. As already noted, it’s likely that the decks played on MTGO will never resemble those played at this PT. The aggro bias may be overstated – during single set Theros Block Constructed, there were certainly times when 80% of the cashing decks were Red Green Elspeth. (It has to be noted that we only ever see information on 3-1 or better decks on Magic Online and we only see one single Daily Event per day.)

With that said, I do not hold much hope for the aggressive decks. As grinders become more familiar with the control decks and tune their lists to react to the differences online, there is every chance they can eliminate all but the most dedicated aggro players. Sylvan Caryatid, Courser of Kruphix and Black removal spells make it too easy to incidentally win Game 1s against aggro. In Standard and in fact most formats, the linear and proactive decks rely on occasional free wins as Midrange or Control opponents keep inappropriate hands for the match up and can’t catch up to a fast start. In Block, the starting hand I want to keep against BUG is the same starting hand I want against Aggro – the aforementioned Caryatid and Courser. There are no creatureless decks, so there’s no tension in how many spot removal spells to play.

All this makes going underneath the midrange decks almost impossible. Stanislav Cifka’s Red White Heroic deck does a good job of going wide around the x/4 green creatures and it’s capable of genuinely explosive draws to overwhelm the expensive Black removal. The mana is unfortunately bad enough that a four round tournament is about the most you can realistically hope to sweep. Instead, I want to look at opportunities to go over the top.

The Pro Tour Top 8 matches featured an enormous number of incredibly developed boards. The creatures almost all have higher toughness than power and there’s very little efficient evasion. The card advantage is slow and incremental and even in a world where you can play 4 copies of Elspeth, Sun’s Champion there is very little that’s more expensive that justifies the cost.

Worst Fears

Black decks have access to one trump – Worst Fears. I’ve seen Reanimator, BUG control and Junk Constellation decks playing this in the sideboard. Yuuya Watanabe even played it in the sideboard of his Naya deck just relying Mana Confluence and Sylvan Caryatid for Black mana. The particular reason this card is so attractive is that it provides an answer to Prognostic Sphinx. You cast it, get your opponent hellbent with the hexproof ability, perhaps create an advantageous combat for yourself, then on your turn you can remove the Sphinx.

If you’ve played with Mindslaver, you know the downsides of this card. It’s extremely expensive, it’s situational and if you’re behind on board it gets much worse. Usually the inherent risk to 8 mana sorceries is that they’re weak to counterspells, but those are almost non-existent in this format. Esper was not played much at the PT and few BUG lists are running more than one copy maindeck. This lack of counterspells also makes one other expensive card a possibility: Fated Retribution.

Fated Retribution

A recurring theme of commentary over the Pro Tour weekend was “There’s no Supreme Verdict in this format to punish the Courser decks”. This is absolutely true – decks are built around Prognostic Sphinx and Reaper of the Wilds, creatures that kill slowly and incentivise you to overextend. The BUG control decks play a single maindeck Dissolve and will routinely play out two Sphinxes and a Planeswalker against your Caryatid and Courser.

There are a few problems with making this card work in Block. Firstly, it is not a combo with Courser of Kruphix. When you routinely reveal all but your first couple of drawn cards it gets a lot harder to get your opponent to play into a 7 mana wrath, even if it is instant speed. I had a very interesting game against a BUG opponent where I was attacking with a Prognostic Sphinx for several turns in combination with a Kiora, the Crashing Wave +1 on my opponent’s Prognostic, allowing me to float the Retribution second from top. On the turn I cast it, I drew for the turn, -1ed the Kiora to draw the Retribution and wiped out my opponent.

This scenario reveals another problem with the card – how can you avoid playing permanents of your own before Turn 7 in Block? To some extent you can play Planeswalkers that give you value, especially cards in hand. A monstrous Fleecemane Lion works perfectly with a wrath, especially at 7 mana. You can play Divination or Read the Bones alongside spot removal to avoid committing cards to the board. Gods are interesting, but few of them are really playable in the normal course of things and in Block they’re not even too hard to deal with. Banishing Light, Deicide and Unravel the Aether are all commonly maindecked cards. In the coming weeks, I’ll try to come up with an Eidolon of Blossoms / Fated Retribution control deck to see whether the win condition problem can be solved.

I tried playing both Bant and Junk Fated Retribution decks and the card was not that exciting. Junk had more spot removal and felt like a pure control deck, but you can only play 4 Elspeth, Sun’s Champion and I felt threat light. You’re bound to have to kill your own Elspeth every now and then and when up against Thoughtseize / Hero’s Downfall decks you end up running out of ways to win. Bant was more of a ramp deck, I tried Peregrination even, but I felt like jumping through these hoops against Thoughtseize is not where you want to be. I did, though, find the core of a deck I liked.

As with every new list, each time I play a DE I end up changing a few cards. This is the version I’m playing at the moment.

Bant Midrange

Creatures (20)
Fleecemane Lion
Sylvan Caryatid
Kiora’s Follower
Courser of Kruphix
Polukranos, World Eater
Prognostic Sphinx

Spells (15)
Ajani, Mentor of Heroes
Banishing Light
Dissolve
Elspeth, Sun’s Champion
Kiora, the Crashing Wave
Unravel the Aether
Sideboard (15)
Annul
Arbor Colossus
Bow of Nylea
Dissolve
Fated Retribution
Glare of Heresy
Mistcutter Hydra
Nylea’s Disciple
Unravel the Aether

I think there is certainly a build in these colors that’s more akin to Chapin’s Junk deck. You can play 4 Mana Confluence and Brimaz, King of Oreskos, but something has to give, you can’t play all the 4 and 5 mana spells too. You don’t have Thoughtseize and efficient spot removal to get these creatures through. The strength of Bant is, in my opinion, that you get to play the best midrange threats. It’s a strange world where Green White decks play Black cards for interaction or Blue cards for additional threats, but here we are indeed. Elspeth, Sun’s Champion, Kiora, the Crashing Wave, Prognostic Sphinx, Fleecemane Lion, Brimaz, King of Oreskos, Polukranos, World Eater and Ajani, Mentor of Heroes are all at your disposal. The new Green White planeswalker is one card that hasn’t really delivered on the moderate promise it had when spoiled, but it has pleasantly surprised me in this deck.

Ajani, Mentor of Heroes

I’ve played this card to mixed results in other decks in Standard and Block. For pure card draw he feels 1 mana too expensive for what you get. In retrospect, I’ve often played him in decks that were too short on cheap creatures. The card improves when you have bodies in play and he can protect himself reliably the turn you cast him. Almost half this deck hits on his search ability, so his +1 abilities are both legitimate options. You can’t often risk putting counters on your Sphinx for fear of an Elspeth minus ability, but against BUG control pumping one to 6/8 is often enough to win the game alone.

You approach the problem of Hero’s Downfall in a different way than Junk – you play 4, 5 and 6 mana spells that are hard to deal with or provide immediate card advantage. If they use removal on your Fleecemane Lion or Courser of Kruphix, you have a bigger, better threat to follow up. Your removal is much worse, so your aggro match ups are probably worse, but they’re still favourable. Red White feels the hardest since you can deal with a wide attack backed up with burn and Fanatic of Mogis.

I spoke to Pro Tour Return To Ravnica Top 8 competitor Eduardo Sajgalik (@Walaoumpa) about the format in advance of GP Manchester. Among many recommendations including manabase tips that helped form the list above, he commented on Dissolve and how it’s at odds with a deck that wants to tap out each turn. My experience is that the midrange mirrors go incredibly long, especially against BUG. You will get to the point where you have 10 lands in play because your Courser of Kruphix has survived and it is not uncommon to cast an Elspeth, Sun’s Champion with Dissolve mana up. You’re playing Bant and your removal options are pretty weak, so the tempo potential of countering an Elspeth, Stormbreath Dragon or Strived Silence the Believers is too appealing to me. It too having a bad interaction with Courser is certainly a problem.

Next weekend is GP Manchester, so I’ll be writing about any implications the results have on Magic Online. I’ll be particularly looking to see whether anyone manages to find a way to go over the top of this crop of mostly Black Green midrange decks. Best of luck to Eduardo, too!

As this is just my second column for Casting Commons, if anyone has any feedback, I’d love to hear it. My contact details are below, feel free to send me a message on Twitter or Magic Online (BlakeNJudge). In particular I’m interested to hear thoughts on the structure. Do you like me looking at the format in general with a couple of decklists and then one of my own? Would you like more or less of anything?

Blake Campbell (BlakeNJudge)
Twitter: BlakeNJudge

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