HOUR OF RED
Pro Tour Hour of Devastation is in the books, and we’ve got a second victory in a row for budget decks, which I’m tremendously happy to see.
Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa’s Ramunap Red list took down the tournament, with Ramunap Red decks as a whole forming five of the top eight and about 30% of the decks that made it to Day Two. It’s been a long time since we’ve seen budget-ish “Red Deck Wins“-style aggro decks with a presence in Standard — the last time was in 2015, that halcyon era before those $600-$800 four-colour ORI-BFZ decks. And, I mean, look at those prices. When was the last time you saw a sub-$200 deck Top Eight a Pro Tour?
As is tradition, Wizards works on a two-year timeline (roughly), and it looks like their efforts to make Standard more affordable — including the Masterpiece Series cards and seeding RDW cards and budget answers in the last few sets — are paying off.
Now if only they’d do a better job with the Planeswalker Decks…
USING THE METAGAME CLOCK
So, I had a problem in my Commander meta, and then I solved it, and the solution created more problems, so I’m solving those now, and since the minutiae of my life are fascinating to everyone I figured I’d share this process with you.
Specifically, I’m making use of the Metagame Clock to solve this issue, and the Metagame Clock is an important Magic concept that I haven’t talked about here which you may find useful.
Most of the time, when I’m playing Commander with my friends outside the store, I’m playing with two folks who we’ll call Aggro and Control.
Aggro plays a variety of decks, but the main one is a terrifying Alesha re-animator. Aggro swings at you, and it hurts, and then Alesha pulls some card out of the graveyard that says “When this creature enters the battlefield, destroy target opponent’s hopes and dreams,” and then all my sunshine lollipops and rainbows are crushed and broken and Aggro’s still swinging because they dealt 21 commander damage to my will to live.
Control typically bounces between Kruphix and Sen Triplets, but even when they’re playing a Boros deck they still somehow find a commander that says “Pay 2 life: Search your library for target silver bullet and somehow have it in your opening hand, oh and also have like a million lands on the battlefield, how y’all doin’ “. And somehow those lands are never tapped when I’m T-minus two turns from winning the game.
If it is difficult to tell from my hyperbole, I was struggling.
Normally, I like to measure my success on any given Commander night by the number of times I threaten to win. Winning itself is difficult in Commander, with its 25% win percentage on average, but if I’m at least threatening to win in every game — if there’s a point at which only a counterspell or the right removal will stop me — and my opponents had a good time playing against me, I’m pretty happy.
(Take note of those two criteria for a successful game — 1. Threaten to win, and 2. Make sure my opponents have fun. We’ll come back to them later.)
But I wasn’t even doing that. I was durdling in the corner until someone else won. Or I was amassing a pretty great boardstate until someone dropped a wrath effect and then won. Or — and here is my great weakness — I was once again obsessed with making voltron work, and I’d build up to the point where I could one-shot Aggro or Control, and then the other one would play literally any bounce spell and I was done.
I was falling victim to the Metagame Clock.
If you don’t have the time to read those two linked articles in full — although I really do recommend them — the short version looks something like this: Aggro > Control > Combo > Aggro. When built well, aggro decks will generally beat control decks, control decks will generally beat combo decks, and combo decks will generally beat aggro decks.
I gave my friends those very apropos names for a reason — they’re super-apropos. I’m 90% certain Control develops a twitch in their left eyelid if they don’t have blue mana open, and while Aggro uses a variety of strategies that don’t always employ the battlefield, most of them involve me dying to damage in short order.
So I needed to pay attention to the Metagame Clock. If I wanted to have a decent shot at winning in a world of Aggro and Control, I needed to enter the dreaded realm… the realm of Combo.
So I did.
- I re-worked my Shadowborn Apostles deck from being a WBG toolbox deck under Karador to a BW Apostlestorm deck under Athreos, featuring the newly-printed Aetherflux Reservoir.
- I built Food Chain Zegana, which could combo off with Food Chain via a number of tutors and made nice, big, stompy green creatures I could protect myself with in the interim. (Or blue creatures — Sakashima the Impostor and Progenitor Mimic are wonderful things, let me tell you.)
- I built Volrath, who scratched my voltron itch and my newfound combo itch by one-shotting opponents in difficult-to-interact-with ways.
- I even put the venerable Rest in Peace combo in Gwafa, so that the Godfather could occasionally know victory as well as joy.
I built those decks keeping in mind the points Douglas Buel makes in the first linked article above about playing multiple positions on the Metagame Clock. Apostlestorm is a combo deck… unless I’m playing against control, in which case I can tutor up Mirror Entity and go wide like an aggro deck. Food Chain Zegana is a combo deck… but if I see a lot of open blue mana, I can just pull out Rogue’s Passage or Thassa and make with the stomping. Volrath is a “combo” deck — I often one-shot people — but if conditions outside the City of Traitors aren’t favourable, I can bide my time discarding my opponents’ worst nightmares and then re-animating them. And so on, and so on.
And I began winning.
Now, I wasn’t winning all the time, but I was winning enough. More than enough. I was pleased with my new found success! Finally, a taste of sweet victory alongside these good times with my friends!
Whenever I won, I noticed that the experience was… unsatisfying for Aggro and Control. Rarely was it a hard-fought battle full of counter-magic, steeled nerves, and tales to remember. Instead, I became something they were racing against. Can they amass enough resources and round the corner in time, or am I just going to pull out Drift of Phantasms into Food Chain and make infinite mana again?
And those were the good games. More often — too often — it was, “I cast Aetherflux Reservoir. Game 2?”
Not good. I mean, winning is good. But I’m not just here to win. That’s not what Commander is about. I’m here to have good times with my friends. And if my friends aren’t having good times, that’s not a win.
So, what’s the solution? I need to meet two criteria, remember — I should threaten to win, and I should make sure my opponents have fun. How do I do that while paying attention to the Metagame Clock and remaining in the world of Combo?
James LaPage presents four possible ways of dealing with this in his excellent Metaworker column “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Sailor“. I had Tinker-Tailored my way into being a decent combo player in my meta. Soldiering now was unacceptable. Sailing, too — I like my friends! I needed to Tinker-Tailor my way into being more fun to play against.
The solution here is to find decks that still win the game, but allow for more counterplay and points of interaction. “Just winning” is boring. Successfully fighting through a hail of counter-magic, or being foiled by the perfect top-deck, my friend’s only hope — now that’s a story!
So I’m working on two decks now — a Marath, Will of the Wilds deck built around Primal Surge and Epic Struggle, and a Wydwen, the Biting Gale deck that will win with either Doomsday, or a bunch of Specters pecking you to death and discarding all your cards. These are still combos, but they require more of a battle to make work, and there’s plenty of ways Aggro, Control, and whomever else I play with can interact with them.
I’m not going to take apart my other decks — they’re at a power level and of archetypes that I’m happy with. But I think switching it up in this way will result in more fun for all.
This is a living column. I don’t know if this will work. But it sure seems like it might. And I wanted to share this process with you, because what I did here — look at my meta and then myself through the Metagame Clock and the Tinker/Tailor/Soldier/Sailor metric in a constant process of self-examination — is, I think, second only to open communication in its effectiveness at solving problems in one’s Magic life.
And that’s a fascinating thing, I think.
ENOUGH NAVEL-GAZING, MACKENZIE, MAKE WITH THE EVENTS
First things first, the August board game camp is coming up. I spoke about how board games helped me in this column two weeks ago, but I can’t say enough — this is going to be a wonderful experience for your kid. Take a look at the program, talk to Scotia at scotia(at)amusengames.ca, I think you’ll like what you see.
That’s it for now — see you at the store!
Jesse Mackenzie is a regular contributor to A Muse N Games. He may or may not still be inordinately proud of making “Apostlestorm” a real thing. Tune in every two weeks for The Mana Dork, his column about all things Magic!