Thursday, 27 July 2017

BFZ to Hour of Devastation threat analysis

Wussup my glipglops!

I'm in a chat group with a few guys from Melbourne who are qualified for the Standard RPTQ in August. It's two weeks after Pro Tour, Hour of Devastation. Even though it's inefficient to brew and test before the PT, we're doing it anyway cause it's fun.

Rather than type on my phone and lose everything to the chat elevator, I'm writing my ideas in article form. Bear in mind that all these ideas are fluid and I want you to challenge them, preferably in person so we can discuss them; specific cards, specific interactions, metagame calls, everything.

This article is already going to be huge but to reduce it, I'm only going to be focusing on the 'good stuff' cards or the 'jund' deck. Here we go!

FILTERS
Ok, so it's standard, all sets from Battle for Zendikar to Hour of Devastation. The way I approach standard is to identify the powerful cards, which I call 'filters' and use them to eliminate all the unplayables. If a card matches up poorly against a filter, then I disregard it or consider it a sideboard option. Below is my list of filters for BFZ-HoD and a little explanation of how they each filter. Bear in mind that sometimes these cards don't have decks to support them or the metagame may be in a spot where they aren't getting played, in which case it's ok to play cards that they filter:

Glorybringer
A huge filter. It's filtering effect is two-fold, it filters what removal is playable (all removal must be able to kill Glorybringer) and also what creatures are playable. <3cmc creatures are fine because even going second you can hold up removal once your opponent hits five mana. Any >3cmc creature with <5 toughness I won't consider. There are exceptions: Thought-Knot Seer is ok because you can take the Glorybringer from their hand, however if they have two or they top-deck a second later on, then that's bad. Kalitas used to be a powerhouse but is now nearly unplayable. Glorybringer forces players to use cards differently, for example, Gideon, Ally of Zendikar now emblems immediately against a potential Glorybringer. Angel of Invention needs to fabricate every time.

Chandra, Torch of Defiance
Similar filter effect to Glorybringer, however she comes down a turn earlier, so any <4cmc, X/4 or less creatures which provide no other value, is vulnerable. Chandra is one of the reasons you don't see creatures like Olivia, Mobilized for War, Drana, Liberator of Malakir and Aerial Responder.

Thraben Inspector
Makes any ground attacker with one toughness bad.

Liliana, the Last Hope
A huge filter. Any X/1 is basically unplayable thanks to Liliana. I was initially excited about Glory-Bound Initiate until I realised how bad it is here. Toolcraft Exemplar, Crypt Breaker and Dread Wanderer have had success because Liliana hasn't been popular, which baffles me. Liliana is the card I most want to play at the RPTQ. Note: Nimble Obstructionist is an X/1 but it's still ok because you can cycle it.

Scrapheap Scrounger
If you are not an aggressive deck and thus are unable to race Scrapheap Scrounger, then any blockers you deploy need block really well. For example, a one-drop which trades is fine, two-power first strikers are great, X/4's are great, as are creatures which give you some other value, like Pia Nalaar.

Rogue Refiner
>2cmc creatures need to trade favourably with this guy.

Shock/Galvanic Bombardment/Magma Spray
It's ok to have your two-drop die to one of these; Falling one mana behind isn't a big deal. However, losing a >2cmc creature to Shock for no value is a game losing event. I consider Tireless Tracker to be a four-drop, that way even if she gets shocked, you still got the clue. If you can afford to, wait until you have five mana so you can hold up clue mana against Shock.
Even though these two damage burn spells apply a filter to the format, doesn't mean I like them. There are so many creatures they don't kill.

Unlicensed Disintegration/Murder/Stasis Snare
One of my rules of thumb for evaluating a creature is they musn't trade worse than one-mana difference with removal. In this context, catch-all removal costs three, therefore non-value >4cmc creatures like The Gitrog Monster are bad. Gearhulks however, are good because you get the trigger. Avacyn is also fine, although it's complicated so I'll explain: They want to attack into your team and kill Avacyn when you flash her in, this is bad for them since they'll lose creatures to your indestructible blockers, therefore they won't attack; then EOT you either flash her in and they kill her, in which case you gained life by them not attacking, or you simply don't cast her and they'll need to make the same play the following turn.

Radiant Flames/Sweltering Sands/Flaying Tendrils/Kozilek's Return
These don't have a huge filter effect because they're rarely maindecked but they do invalidate go-wide strategies which are unable to transform post-board. Note: Sweltering Suns cycles, so it's more likely that players will maindeck it.
Elder Deep-Fiend makes Kozilek's Return really scary. I want to avoid go-wide strategies.

Fumigate/ Hour of Devastation/Hour of Revelation/Planar Outburst/Descend upon the Sinful/Chandra, Flame Caller
These force midrange decks to diversify their threats. Scrapheap Scrounger against all these. Vehicles against Fumigate and Hour of Devastation. Planeswalkers against Fumigate. Gods against Fumigate and Hour of Revelation. In general, flash creatures are good against sweepers. When threats are very diverse (like now), I don't want to be playing sweepers maindeck.

Archangel Avacyn/Torrential Gearhulk/Heart of Kiran/Samut
Similar to Glory Bringer: they make sorcery speed removal bad.

Whirler Virtuoso
This guy makes bears bad. The thopter token also reinforces how bad X/1's are.

Abrade
Makes all >3cmc artifacts unplayable unless they have some value, e.g. Gearhulk and Skysovereign.

THREATS
Well that concludes my list of filters. Now begs the question, which threats have come out on top? I'm only going to list cards which don't require much setup to play. Once you go into synergy based strategies, e.g. delirium, then it opens up more playables for you, however you also open yourself up to hate. Omitting the synergy based threats is a huge oversight but we're talking first level analysis here:

One drops:
None.
This is a little controversial but I don't believe there are any "generally good" one drops. There is no Llanowar Elves for example. Thraben Inspector is close but she's only one power.
Only in synergy based strategies can you make one-drops work, i.e. artifacts matter with Thraben Inspector, Toolcraft Exemplar and Inventor's Apprentice or zombies matter with Crypt Breaker and Dread Wanderer.
Once you start using extreme strategies like the ones above, then you open yourself up to effective hate cards, so it's a risk verses reward thing. If you think your extreme strat is off-radar, then go for it.
At the moment players are using the lack of generally good one-drops to improve their mana, e.g. ETB tapped creature lands, Attune with Aether, Evolving Wilds, Oath of Nissa and Traverse the Ulvenwald.

Two drops:
Ayli, Eternal Pilgrim
Duskwatch Recruiter
Forerunner of Slaughter
Lambholt Pacifist
Servant of the Conduit
Gifted Aetherborn
Stalking Drone
Winding Constrictor
Sylvan Advocate
Voltaic Brawler
Grim Flayer
Kari Zev, Skyship Raider
Scourge Wolf
Heart of Kiran
Scrapheap Scrounger

Many of the above don't necessarily perform well in combat against the format's filter cards but they still have utility outside of combat and are therefore playable, e.g. Servant of the Conduit. Also, you'll notice that some of these don't see much play due to their heavy colour requirements.

Three-drops:
Nimble Obstructionist
Always Watching
Rogue Refiner
Renegade Freighter
Catacomb Sifter
Cultivator's Caravan
Pia Nalaar
Spell Queller
Rishkar, Preema Renegade
Whirler Virtuoso
Kambal, Consul of Allocation
Aethersphere Harvester
Liliana, the Last Hope
Matter Reshaper
Nissa, Voice of Zendikar

I've been pretty brutal with my filtering of three-drops. Always Watching, Rishkar and vehicles require lots creatures and the rest have difficult casting costs. Even Liliana and Nissa require decent support with removal spells to protect them against Heart of Kiran and Glorybringer.

Four-drops:
Tireless Tracker
Bristling Hydra
Chandra, Torch of Defiance
Thought-Knot Seer
Gideon, Ally of Zendikar
Gonti, Lord of Luxury
Woodland Wanderer
Nahiri, the Harbinger

Pretty short list. Once again there are restrictions on most of them; Gideon isn't what he once was; He now needs to be around lots of creatures in case you need to emblem immediately. Woodland Wanderer was unplayable against Reflector Mage but may now see play if there's a four-colour deck out there. Gonti is pushing it, even with the exiled card trigger he can be quite inefficient against Scrapheap Scrounger. Chandra, Torch of Defiance and Tireless Tracker are the only two 'go in everything' four-drops.

Five-drops:
Archangel Avacyn
Bring to Light
Cloud Blazer
Goblin Dark-Dwellers
Reality Smasher
Ulrich of the Krallenhorde
Verdurous Gearhulk
Skysovereign, Consul Flagship
Glorybringer
Ob Nixilis Reignited
Liliana, Death's Majesty
Jace, Unraveler of Secrets
Nissa, Vital Force
Mirrorwing Dragon
Cultivator of Blades
Angel of Invention
Glyph Keeper
Regal Caracal
The Scarab God
The Scorpion God

This is the spot on the curve with the most options. There's a card here for any deck. There are a few things of note: The two gods are bad if Stasis Snare is popular. The planeswalkers aren't great against Glorybringer but they still take two hits to kill, so you'll have a turn to save them. The token makers, Angel of Invention, Regal Caracal and Cultivator of Blades will need some way to make the tokens useful if their mother dies.

Six-drops:
Chandra, Flamecaller
Combustible Gearhulk
Drowner of Hope
Linvala, the Preserver
Noxious Gearhulk
Oblivion Sower
Sorin, Grim Nemesis
Torrential Gearhulk
Hazoret's Undying Fury
Balnoth Null
Greenwarden of Murasa
Ajani, Valiant Protector
Ajani Unyielding

Six mana is getting to shakey territory. We're talking control and ramp decks here. Also, these are just terrible against counterspell decks, with the exception of Oblivion Sower and Torrential Gearhulk.

7 mana and greater:
Dragonmaster Outcast
Sphinx of the Final Word
Worldbreaker
Nicol Bolas, God-Pharoah
Omnath, Locus of Rage
Nissa, Steward of Elements
Kozilek, the Great Distortion
Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger

Only for the most extreme control and ramp decks.

ANSWERS
Ok, so that's all the threats, now for the answers. It is very easy for control decks to blank answers. There is always a control player willing to go even grindier than you. If you are comfortable making metagame calls with how grindy to make your control deck, then go for it. I personally don't like making that call and therefore I stick to proactive decks and only play removal which kills the 'must-kills' of the format. A 'must-kill' is a permanent that if unkilled, will win the game. To list all the answers we must first list the must-kills:

Spell Queller
Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet
Thought-Knot Seer
Archangel Avacyn
Angel of Sanctions
Angel of Invention
Gisela, the Broken Blade
Glorybringer
Thalia, Heretic Cathar
Vizier of the Menagerie
Tireless Tracker
Torrential Gearhulk
Elder Deep-Fiend

Now, what kills all those?

Harnesed Lightning
Grasp of Darkness
Stasis Snare
Murder
Unlicensed Disintegration
Cast Out
Hour of Glory

Not many! But at least they exist.
Harnessed Lightning must be in an energy shell in order to take down X/4's and Grasp is double black but those two are by far the best. Whatever deck I play at the RPTQ I want one of those in it. Maybe both :P

COMPILING
Once I have my rough list of good threats and answers, I sort them all by curve in a spreadsheet. Then I identify where on the curve is slimmest and begin with those cards, filling out the rest of the curve with the cards which best compliment. I try to keep my decks as few colours as possible provided that the curve and playables are all there. I also look for colour combinations which can best utilise value lands.
The mana of the format is also super important and heavily influences what your curve can look like. I've neglected mana in this article because there was already too much to write about. I really should've included mana since it can eliminate some cards from playability but ah well. Obviously trending decks at the time are a huge influence on my deck choice as well.

That'll do for this article. I hope you got something out of it. If you're Q'd for the RPTQ in August, hit me up for some practice. Always keen to jam games provided you don't ask me to travel far :P

Mulch

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