THE MANA DORK—The Planeswalker Deck Challenge, Part 2
Well, I did better than I expected, but still not good enough.
In the last installment of the Mana Dork, I said I would be taking the “Planeswalker Deck Challenge” — competing in Aether Revolt Game Day with only an Aether Revolt Planeswalker Deck and the contents of the two booster packs that came with it.
I’m doing this because, as much as I love Magic and I love the idea of Planeswalker Decks, I think Wizards of the Coast can do a much better job of setting new players up to succeed with these introductory products.
In preparation for Game Day, I picked up both the Tezzeret and Ajani Planeswalker Decks and did some preliminary testing with both. I felt it was important to give myself the best chance to succeed, in order to give the Planeswalker Decks the fairest possible showing.
In testing, the Tezzeret deck seemed inconsistent. Some games, I’d spam out a bunch of cheap artifacts, get out the Efficient Construction I found in one of the packs, and win off of a Tezzeret activation or thopter beatdowns. Other times, I’d spam out a bunch of cheap artifacts, get out an Improvise finisher like Wind-Kin Raiders, and watch it eat a removal spell before I died.
When I opened the booster packs from the Ajani deck, this happened:
Alright, RNG gods, I’m listening. Ajani it is.
The Ajani deck played better, too. It wasn’t as flashy as Tezzeret’s, but the simple aggro strategy of getting out good small creatures and pumping them up was much more consistent than casting Implements and praying with my shiny metal claws.
If you’re curious, here is my final decklist. With six or seven pick-ups from the booster packs—including the second Ajani, a Greenwheel Liberator, and a Daredevil Dragster—I aimed for a more consistent set of creatures, and greater ease in triggering Revolt when I needed it.
So, how’d I do?
ROUND 1: GRIXIS TOWER CONTROL
(Quick side note: “Grixis” refers to the colour combination of Blue, Black, and Red, and is named after one of the Shards of Alara. If you’re unfamiliar with some of the slang terms for colour combinations, here and here are excellent resources!)
In this match-up, I found out that Torrential Gearhulks are a thing. Also, why they are a thing. Also, holy Bolas they hurt a lot!
My opponent was on a control gameplan, so they were happy and content to take damage from my small, efficient creatures while they built up Energy counters and sculpted the perfect hand. I often saw them Disallow an Armorcraft Judge or Prey Upon, then flash in a Torrential Gearhulk to counter an Ajani’s Aid with a Disallow from the graveyard… and, at least once, Ajani himself. (Sadface!)
In the end, even though their Gearhulks couldn’t block my Audacious Infiltrators, I lost both games, and couldn’t get them below 10 life in either one.
Round Record: 0-1. Games Record: 0-2. (I’m an Ornithopter!)
ROUND 2: GREEN-BLACK SNAKEWALKERS
(Quicker side note: I am aware that GB Constrictor is an established top-tier deck, but this did not look like that deck. Also, how can I pass up a chance to call something “SNAKEWALKERS”? C’mon.)
This match-up was a lesson in value — getting more than one card’s worth of value out of a single card.
This was a common boardstate in the two games we played. I’d have a couple of small, efficient creatures, and they’d have a Winding Constrictor and a whole mess of Planeswalkers and tokens.
Planeswalkers give you excellent value when they can stick around. Many produce tokens and other small blockers, and when I’m facing them down, I have to choose between attacking my opponent—which brings me closer to winning—and attacking their Planeswalkers, which brings me closer to a neutral boardstate, but not much closer to winning.
While Winding Constrictor doesn’t interact directly with Planeswalkers, it did work nicely with all the tokens my opponent’s Nissas were putting out, as well as the Energy counters that were feeding their Longtusk Cubs and Glint-Sleeve Siphoners.
In the end, even though I was able to get an Ajani out, I again lost both games.
Round Record: 0-2. Games Record: 0-4. (I’m a Jeering Homunculus!)
ROUND THREE: BLUE-BLACK SECRET HEDRONS
Hedron Alignment decks got a huge boost in Aether Revolt with the printing of Secret Salvage. Does this mean my opponent has a shot at winning with one of Standard’s unlikeliest methods?
But wait! I got both Ajanis in my opening hand! Double Ajani, what could it mean?
Oh, no! A wild Sphinx of Magosi has appeared! I didn’t even know that was legal in Standard! (It is, thanks to the Welcome Decks!) Does a huge flying creature mean my sweet, sweet Ajanis are doomed?
Yes, yes it does. Along with my boardstate.
I ended up winning game two when they failed to find a finisher, but my opponent was successfully able to beat me down with the Sphinx in game one, and took game three with a Hedron Alignment win.
Round Record: 0-3. Games Record: 1-6. (I’m a Fortress Crab!)
ROUND FOUR: MONO-BLUE AETHERFLUX ENGINE
Paradox Engine has been the subject of much debate in EDH communities online. A 5 CMC artifact that goes in almost any deck — capable of untapping mana dorks and rocks for more spells, or creatures to block after an alpha strike — is quite powerful, and seems destined for the banlist.
But in Standard, it’s somewhat less powerful. There are fewer good mana rocks and dorks for it to interact with, and if you’re piloting a top-tier deck, you’re likely running Planeswalkers, which means even fewer things that tap.
My opponent’s strategy here was similar to that of the Tezzeret deck I mentioned above, but with better cards — power out a bunch of cheap artifacts, cast a Paradox Engine, then power out more cheap artifacts and card draw off the Engine’s untaps until they can land an Aetherflux Reservoir and win with a gargantuan 50-life laser kill.
Unfortunately, their plan never quite fired, and their reliance on non-creature artifacts meant there was nothing to block my small, efficient beaters. I took both games 2-0 for an unexpected round win.
Round Record: 2-0. Games Record: 3-6. (I’m a Maze Sentinel!)
CONCLUSIONS AND NEXT STEPS
I will be honest: I wasn’t expecting to even win a round, especially after the first three. I cannot imagine how I would have felt as a much younger or newer player, going into the fourth round with that record.
And while we’re being honest—that I was able to take a round against a homebrew deck with a complex win condition speaks well for the Planeswalker Decks as they’re constructed currently. It shows that Wizards is on the right track.
However, I still think an ideal Planeswalker Deck would have allowed me to win another odd game or two in the previous rounds, as well as a round win. In the next edition of the Mana Dork, I plan on proving that point by building my own “Planeswalker Deck” and competing in an A Muse N Games Standard event.
THAT WAS A BEAUTIFUL SEGUE INTO THIS NEXT PARAGRAPH
Speaking of which, if you’re interested in playing or trying out Magic’s Standard format, have we got the promotion for you!
A Muse N Games is now running the Standard Spring 9-Week Challenge. Wizards has challenged the store to hold 15 Standard tournaments before April 17th, and there’s some very, very nice promos for people who come out and participate!
On top of the regular Standard events Tuesdays at 7 PM, AMNG will be holding bonus tournaments on March 5th, March 12th, and April 15th. As well, we’re hosting On-Demand Standard—whenever there’s four people in the store and they want to play Standard, AMNG will sanction the event for a $6 entry fee and offer prizing!
For more details, check out the official post here.
See you in the store!
Jesse Mackenzie is a regular contributor to A Muse N Games, and considers himself more of a Disruptive Student than a Maze Sentinel. Tune in every two weeks for The Mana Dork, his column on all things Magic!