Aleco Pors

Mono Brew #2 – Ignoring Reality

It’s been a few months since the first edition of Mono Brew, which I ended with the promise that my next article would be a primer on my Modern pet deck, “Bringing Gifts” (five color [card]Gifts Ungiven[/card] with [card]Bring to Light[/card]). Much has changed in the world of Magic since then, as the release of Oath of the Gatewatch turned Modern season into “Eldrazi Winter”. I’m sure that most of you have heard more than enough complaints about Eldrazi decks in Modern as of late, so I’ll keep the section on how badly my Bringing Gifts deck got stomped by Eldrazi very short.

Bringing Gifts got stomped by Eldrazi.

Since I actually intend on winning a tournament every once in a while, Modern is now an unsafe format for brewers like me. I simply haven’t been able to find a deck that can consistently beat the Eldrazi menace, and from looking at the most recent Grand Prix results I’m not alone. So what do you do if you can’t beat them and won’t join them? Switch formats!

Greener Pastures

Greener Pastures

There may be no format more ripe for brewing right now than Pauper, thanks in large part to the recent banning of [card]Cloud of Faeries[/card]. Two decks which ran 4 copies of the card, Esper Familiar and Mono Blue Delver, were the undisputed kings of the format before the bans. After the ban of Cloud of Faeries, the Familiar deck is now completely gone and Mono Blue Delver has fallen to the same power level as the other tiered decks of the format.

Pauper is as diverse of a format as I have ever remembered it – its not crazy to say that 10 or more decks can be considered Tier 1 right now. A diverse meta is generally an excellent indicator that it’s a good format for brews, so when a friend told me about an upcoming Pauper tournament, Card Kingdom’s “Rags to Riches 3”, I put on my brewing cap and got to work.

 

Freed from the Real

Freed from the Real

Instead of going back to the drawing board I decided to revisit a [card]Freed From the Real[/card] combo deck that I was playing around with a few months ago. The deck’s plan was to enchant a creature that could tap for UU (such as an Axebane Guardian or an Arbor Elf under the right circumstances) with Freed from the Real to generate infinite mana for a massive Kaervek’s Torch. It didn’t take a lot testing before I saw that this strategy was just too clunky for Pauper’s high quality removal spells, as my mana dorks were rarely living long enough to be enchanted by Freed.

After some research I discovered that an alternative way to combo with Freed was to turn a land that can tap for UU into a creature with a [card]Wind Zendikon[/card] or [card]Lifespark Spellbomb[/card]. While a mana dork has to survive an entire turn before being enchanted by Freed, lands can be turned into a creature for the low cost of 1 mana and enchanted with Freed on the same turn! After ditching the mana dorks for land animation spells, I found that I could still goldfish a turn 4 win almost 50% of the time while making the deck much more resilient against creature removal.

When I was done testing and tuning the deck I had a really good feeling that I’d found a competitive deck, but I had absolutely no idea that I’d stumbled upon one of my most successful brews ever. Here it is:

[deck title= Freed from the Real Combo]
[Creatures]

*4 Drift of Phantasms

*2 Valakut Invoker
[/Creatures]
[Spells]

*4 Lifespark Spellbomb

*4 Wind Zendikon

*4 Freed from the Real

*4 Fertile Ground

*3 Sheltered Aerie

*4 Ponder

*4 Preordain

*4 Impulse

*3 Gigadrowse

*2 Train of Thought
[/Spells]
[Land]

*8 Island

*2 Forest

*4 Thornwood Falls

*2 Simic Guildgate

*2 Simic Growth Chamber
[/Land]
[Sideboard]

*4 Dispel

*4 Fog

*4 Pyroblast

*1 Gigadrowse

*1 Spore Frog

*1 Train of Thought
[/Sideboard]

[/deck]

I finished the tournament in second place, going 5-0 in the swiss before drawing my final two rounds into the top 8. The entire tournament was streamed on Twitch.tv and managed to make it on camera for three of my matches. If you’re interested in seeing the deck in action, you can watch round 3 right here, my quarterfinals match here and here, and the finals here!

 

Primer


 

Though the deck might appear a bit complex at first, its actually a pretty straightforward combo to execute. Here’s all pieces you need to combo off:

 

  1. A land which can tap for UU. This can be either an Island or a GU dual enchanted with a [card]Fertile Ground[/card], or any land enchanted with a [card]Sheltered Aerie[/card].
  2. A [card]Wind Zendikon[/card] in hand or a [card]Lifespark Spellbomb[/card] on the battlefield.
  3. A [card]Freed from the Real[/card].
  4. A [card]Valakut Invoker[/card] or a [card]Train of Thought[/card]/[card]Drift of Phantasms[/card] to go find one.
  5. Access to 5 total mana.

 

As I said previously, this deck goldfishes a turn 4 win about 50% of the time. A typical turn four win might look like this:

 

  1. Play Island, cast a cantrip.
  2. Play Forest, cast Fertile Ground on the Island.
  3. Play a tap land, cast one or two cantrips.
  4. Play an untapped land (5 mana available), cast Wind Zendikon on the Island enchanted with Fertile Ground (4 mana left), enchant the same land with a Freed From the Real (1 mana left), untap the land (0 left), generate infinite mana. Transmute a Drift of Phantasms for a Valakut Invoker, play Valakut Invoker, deal infinite damage.

 

The challenge in playing the deck comes from being able to properly sequence your cantrips and knowing when its time to pull the trigger on the combo. [card]Gigadrowse[/card] can make the later decision trivial at times, so let’s start out with how to sequence the cantrips and tutor effects:

 

  • The ultimate goal with our cantrips is to find our missing combo pieces, so it is best to sequence the cantrips in such a way that you get to see as many cards as possible. As a rule of thumb this means you should cast Impulse (4 cards) before Ponder (3 cards) before Preordain (2 Cards), but two Ponders/Preordains in the same turn will generally let you see more cards than a single Impulse.
  • In matchups where Gigadrowse is good you want almost every copy of the card you can find. You should very rarely pass up a Gigadrowse when looking at it with a cantrip as you may end up needing to cast two or three Gigadrowse in a single game.
  • When you have a Wind Zendikon or a Lifespark Spellbomb in hand its generally safe to use additional copies of Spellbomb to draw a card. Against decks that run hand disruption you may want to hold on to additional copies of this card.
  • Drift of Phantasms can be used to find three out of the four pieces of our combo, and is almost always a card I am happy to put into my hand with a cantrip. Unless you have multiple copies of Drift in hand, you generally want to wait on transmuting Drift until you are only missing one piece of the combo. I view Drift as a win condition in the deck, as once we have infinite mana we can transmute it for Valakut Invoker and win the game.

 

Once we’ve successfully assembled the combo in our hand, how do we know it is safe to go for it? Our combo relatively fragile in that is interrupted by a single piece of removal or permission. We rarely get more than one opportunity to combo in a game so its very important that we pick our spots. Attempting to combo against untapped blue, black, or red mana is generally not a good idea unless we are about to die. Its obviously safe to go for the combo against a tapped out opponent, but those pesky control players will know better than to tap out against you after game 1.

 

Enter [card]Gigadrowse[/card], the best card in our deck:

 

  • In many matchups, Gigadrowse can essentially be viewed as a necessary piece of the combo. Tapping all of your opponents mana during their end step sets up the majority of our wins, so knowing when and how to cast Gigadrowse is key to winning with the deck.
  • Prioritize getting as many blue sources into play for Gigadrowse as possible throughout the course of the game, as we should never need access to more than one green mana at a time. This means you should always cast Sheltered Aerie on a basic forest when possible.
  • Against decks with permission you’ll often want to target the same permanent more than once with Gigadrowse. Keep this in mind when using Gigadrowse to target your opponents creatures to prevent lethal combat damage. If we’re playing UB Delver and we cast Gigadrowse targeting each of their lands only once, they can use a Counterspell to counter the copy that targeted a black mana source and still have access to Ghastly Demise on our turn to blow us out. This is why drawing multiple copies of Gigadrowse is generally good, as we can use the second one to tap out our opponent during our first main phase and combo off on our second main phase.
  • Gigadrowse should very rarely be used to tap our opponents creatures proactively to gain life. If our opponent is tapped out on our turn and we have the combo in hand, it doesn’t matter if our life total is one or one million.
  • Though it is sometimes correct to use Gigadrowse on our opponent’s upkeep, I prefer waiting until the end step to use it. Our opponent can still play an untapped land after a Gigadrowse on upkeep which is sometimes enough to disrupt our combo. Our opponent might even use some of their mana to cast a spell on their turn, making it even easier to tap them out on their end step.

 

Matchups


 

I’ve found that this deck basically has three kinds of matchups: no Gigadrowse matchups, 1 Giagdrowse matchups, and multiple Gigadrowse matchups.

The matchups where we don’t need to see Gigadrowse to win range from 50/50 to slightly in our favor. Mono green decks and many creature creature based decks simply lack the tools to interact with us on our turn and don’t need to be tapped out for us to combo off. That said, many of these decks still have the ability to kill us before we can combo. I’ve found that I rarely lose these matchups when winning the die roll, but there are still some nut draws for Elves, Slivers, and Boggles that can kill us before our turn 4. Though I’ve yet to have this happen to me, keep in mind that Stompy decks are able to use [card]Vines of the Vastwood[/card] to counter our Freed from  the Real.

The matchups where we only need to cast Gigadrowse once to win are our easiest matchups. Many control decks such as Mono Black, Mono Blue, and Acid Trip lack the tools to interact favorably with Gigadrowse, tend to play the game at sorcery speed, and give us lots of time to cast cantrips and find our combo pieces. All we need to do in these matchups is find a single copy of Gigadrowse to keep our opponent off instant speed removal spells.

The matchups where we need to find multiple copies of Gigadrowse to win are our hardest matchups, ranging from 50/50 to unfavored. These decks tend to be mainly blue with main deck permission spells, splashing a second color for removal and aggressive threats. UB Delver, Kuldotha Jeskai, and Izzet Blitz all meet this description. Our deck struggles against opponents that apply early pressure with threats like [card]Delver of Secrets[/card], [card]Kiln Fiend[/card], and [card]Gurmag Angler[/card], while still having enough mana to interact favorably with Gigadrowse. Most of the games I win against these decks are the ones where the opponent fails to apply early pressure, giving me enough time to find multiple copies of Gigadrowse. There really isn’t much our opponents can do if we tap all but one of their lands on their endstep, then tap their final mana on our turn with a second Gigadrowse.

I’ve found that this deck has many more favored than unfavored matchups, as it simply isn’t being accounted for in sideboards yet. If Freed Combo manages to gain any popularity, I’d imagine that land destruction and enchantment removal would become slightly more popular in sideboards.

 

Sideboarding


 

The biggest area that the deck can be improved on is its sideboard. The sideboard feels as if it is only 10 cards, the 4 [card]Fog[/card], 4 [card]Dispel[/card], 1 [card]Gigadrowse[/card], and 1 [card]Spore Frog[/card]. Though I managed to dodge mono red decks throughout the tournament, I never sideboarded in a single copy [card]Pyroblast[/card] or [card]Train of Thought[/card]. Pyroblast overlaps too much with Dispel, as we only fear what mono red decks can do to us at instant speed. The Train of Thought was meant to come in for the matchups where we didn’t need Gigadrowse, but these matchups were also creature based decks that wanted access to Fog, and the 2 Train of Thoughts in the main were always the first cards to come out during sideboarding.

I never boarded in more than 5 cards at once throughout the tournament, which made sideboarding with this deck relatively simple.

Control decks with permission:

  • In: 4 Dispel, 1 Gigadrowse
  • Out: 2 Train of Thought, 1/2 Wind Zendikon, 1/2 Preordain

Control decks without permission:

  • In: 1 Gigadrowse
  • Out: 1 Train of Thought

Creature based decks:

  • In: 4 Fog, 1 Spore Frog
  • Out: 2 Train of Thought, 3 Gigadrowse

 

Potential Changes


 

The highest priority for the deck is finding what to do with the 5 “unused” sideboard slots. I think that some number of [card]Relic of Progenitus[/card] might be correct, while additional one mana counterspells such as [card]Turn Aside[/card] and [card]Spell Pierce[/card] also warrant some testing.

The only thing that I would change about the main deck are the 2 copies of Train of Thought. If you’re boarding out a card almost every single time in game 2, there’s a good chance that it shouldn’t be in the main in the first place. One suggestion that I really liked was [card]Elvish Spirit Guide[/card], which allows the deck to potentially win on turn 3. You could also try out 2 copies of Brainstorm as additional cantrips, and moving the 4th copy of Gigadrowse from the sideboard to the main.

Another idea would be to add some one of cards that can be tutored for with Drift of Phantasms. [card]Capsize[/card] is CMC 3 and another win condition for the deck, while [card]Crusher Zendikon[/card] is a 3 mana enchantment that turns our lands into creatures. I tested with both of these cards before the tournament but wasn’t overly impressed by either.

 

What’s Next?


 

Another weekend, another Magic tournament. I’ve got a few Standard PPTQs coming up in the near future so my next few weeks will be focused on testing and tuning my Abzan Tokens deck. If it puts up some promising results, you can be sure to hear about it in the next edition of Mono Brew. Until then, I encourage all you brewers out there to take a look at Pauper. Please feel free to email me (Aleco.Pors@gmail.com) or find me on twitter (@Aleco_P) if you have any suggestions or questions about the deck or the article!

Until next time,

Aleco Pors

 

Mono Brew #1 – A Brewer’s Manifesto

No matter the stakes, no matter the format, the only thing you’ll find in this player’s hands is a brew. It might be the pet deck they’ve been tweaking and tuning for months, or it might be something new and spicy every week. Either way, playing a popular or “tier 1” deck is completely off the table for this kind of magic player. In the competitive magic scene you might call this kind of player insane, but for the sake of simplicity I’ll refer to them as a “brewer”.

If you’re an active member in your local magic community, chances are good that you can picture several players who fit this description. If one of those players is you, then you’ve come to the right place. This article series will be all about testing and analyzing brews with competitive promise. Being a brewer doesn’t disqualify you from being competitive, it just means that for one reason or another you simply have to win with something different.

Do you have a reason for being a brewer? Is it pride? Budget? A desire to be unique?

For me, brewing has always been an elementary decision.

My Magic Origins


I learned to play Magic in 4th grade while attending a small private school. Almost half of the boys in my class would play Magic during recess. I remember that my only decks were mono green 7-drops and five color slivers, that Spiritmonger dominated the recess meta, and not much else from this era.

spiritmonger

In 6th grade I moved to a larger and significantly less nerdy school, where none of my new classmates knew how to play Magic. Without other kids to play the game with me, I spent the majority of my formative magic years designing new decks and posting them on internet forums. Brewing decks and arguing with strangers on the internet was the only way for me to stay in touch with the game I loved, so that’s what I did.

Since I spent more time designing decks than actually playing the game, I completely lacked the context for which strategies and cards were effective in practice. My first question when looking at a new card wasn’t “is this good?”, it was “how can I break this?”. I was a brewer without a cause. Consequently, I tended to build linear, fragile, and complicated decks that were fun to goldfish but rarely competitive. Though I’ve since shifted my focus towards competitive decks, deep down I’m still the kid who’s wondering “how can I break this?”.

I attended only one constructed tournament before returning to Magic during RTR block, it was an Onslaught/Mirrodin standard event the week after Mirrodin’s release. As a 12 year old with virtually no practice against real opponents, I was thoroughly convinced that the deck I had stumbled on was completely unbeatable. Over a decade later I still remember the tournament like it was yesterday.

Some of you old school players might remember the deck I brought. Its goal was to make infinite mana with Wirewood Channeler, an elf, and a Pemmin’s Aura, then use some combination of Aphetto Alchemist, Viridian Longbow, and Wellwisher to deal infinite damage or gain infinite life, and Xanthid Swarm to protect itself.

wirewoodpemmin

Though I didn’t win the tournament (I believe I finished 2-2), I had tasted the sweet joy of going infinite against an unsuspecting opponent. In a weird way, I enjoyed the deck I played that day more than I enjoyed the game of Magic itself. It felt like my opponents were playing Magic the way it was intended to be played, while I was meddling with something entirely different and more nefarious. Piloting the deck made me feel like an evil villain that was building a doomsday device, and I loved every second of it.

To me, the game of Magic and the act brewing are inextricably tied. I played a janky brew at my first ever competitive tournament, and have played janky brews at every competitive event since.

Winning with Brews


Can you truly be a brewer, and a spike? Let’s start with the facts.

Fact #1 – The majority of top magic professionals only play tiered decks at tournaments.

Most of today’s top players will test, tune, and practice almost exclusively with decks that have already proven themselves to be winners. The logic here is sound – if you aren’t spending your time on designing and testing new decks, you can get in way more reps with the established deck of your choice.

Without question, playing tiered decks is the safest and easiest way to take down a tournament. I’m not here to convince anyone to be a brewer by outlining the competitive benefits of brews, because that would be foolish. A true brewer requires no convincing to eschew conventional wisdom.

Fact #2 – Brews win major tournaments.

At Pro Tour Battle for Zendikar, Sam Black and his team played a Bant Tokens list of his own design which posted the single highest win percentage of any deck at the Pro Tour. Let that sink in, a brew was the best deck at the most recent Pro Tour. True to his form as a brewer, Sam was making changes to his deck all the way up to the morning of the Pro Tour.

Sam’s Bant Tokens deck isn’t the only brew to put up results at a big tournament, nor will it be the last. To provide another recent example, Zac Elsik took down Grand Prix Oklahoma City with his Lantern Control deck. Though they’ll never account for as many tournament wins as tiered decks, brews are unquestionably capable of bringing home a trophy.

Fact #3 – Some of the world’s best Magic players are stubborn brewers.

Sam Black, Patrick Chapin, Jeff Hoogland, and many others successful pros design their own decks, bring them to tournaments, and post strong results with them.

Patrick Chapin, known as “The Innovator”, has arguably had a much larger impact on the game of Magic with his deck construction skills than with his tournament results. Patrick is well known for his ability to discover powerful cards and play them in decks of his own design long before they gain popularity. This gives him a serious edge on the competition in open metagames, especially after a new set is released.

After several strong finishes with his Grixis Control deck Patrick’s former brew is now a mainstay of the Modern metagame, and Gurmag Angler is a multi-format force to be reckoned with. In my own opinion, introducing a new card or deck to the zeitgeist of competitive Magic is a far more impactful accomplishment than winning a GP. To accomplish both in one fell swoop, as Zac Elsik did with his Lantern Control deck, is the brewer’s wet dream.

gurmag

Can you be a brewer and spike? Absolutely. The real question is a little more complicated that. If you’ve already made the decision to be a brewer, how can you leverage that into a competitive advantage?

The Brewer’s Edge


In a recent Standard PPTQ I played a brew which I registered as “Esper Green Tokens”, and finished the tournament in 2nd place. The deck was similar to the Esper Tokens list that is currently played in Standard, but splashed green for 4 maindeck copies of Abzan Charm.

Even though Abzan Charm was the only green card in the deck, my opponents would look at the lands I had in play and put me on Siege Rhino, making game decisions as though Rhino was all but guaranteed to be in my hand. How am I so sure this happened? A couple of my opponents that day asked me about the Rhinos that never came while we were between games, perhaps hoping to gain some sideboarding insight. 

“Did you not draw any of your Rhinos that game?” asked one opponent after a long and grindy game one against Abzan.

“Yeah, didn’t draw any Rhinos that game.” I replied, truthfully.

There are several key advantages to fielding a brew over tiered decks. The largest of which is the practice advantage you will have against the majority of your opponents. When your opponent has never played against your deck before, they are much more liable to make poor strategic decisions. It’s easy to know who’s the beatdown when you’ve played a matchup several dozen times, but how do you confidently make that evaluation when you don’t even know what cards are in your opponent’s deck? Incorrectly evaluating your role in a matchup can lead to critical strategy errors, and critical strategy errors can be easily leveraged into a victory.

Another major advantage to playing brews is the lack of knowledge your opponent will have on the individual cards in your deck. Even if you’re only playing a modified version of an existing deck (like my Esper Green Tokens list), opponents of a brew are forced to play around a wider range of cards. This is especially true after sideboarding, and its all too common for me to hear my opponents remark that they lost a game because they played around the wrong card.

Brews force your opponents to make uncomfortable decisions, and uncomfortable decisions lead to mistakes. As a lifelong brewer, I can confidently say that these mistakes have accounted for several points of my overall competitive win percentage. In competitive magic, a couple of percentage points is all it takes to separate the good players from the great ones.

The Brewer’s Dilemma


In reality, most brewers probably don’t consider the competitive advantages and disadvantages to brewing when choosing their deck. To play Magic is to brew, prevailing wisdom be damned.

I justify my competitive brewing habits by my belief in this principal:

The “best deck” to win a given tournament does not currently exist. If the “best deck” does currently exist and can be prepared for, then by definition it is no longer the best deck to win a tournament.

This so-called “best deck” will almost never be a tier 1 deck, since tier 1 decks are thoroughly expected and prepared for (possible exceptions to this might be pre-ban standard decks such as Affinity and Caw Blade, where the power level of certain cards were simply too oppressive for other decks to keep up with). In the abstract, the best deck to take down a tournament is always dependent on the current state of the metagame, and will employ the strategy that attacks the highest percentage of decks that will be at the tournament.

As a thought experiment, imagine a meta that consisted only of Infect decks. The best deck in this meta-from-hell wouldn’t be a tiered strategy with a plus matchup against Infect, it’d be some funny pile of cards that main-decked 4 copies of Melira, Sudden Shock, and Pyroclasm. See where I’m going with this?

Herein lies the brewer’s dilemma. If you believe there’s always a better deck out there than what currently exists, will you really be the one to find it? If you can find it like Sam Black did at Pro Tour BFZ, there payoff is there. If you can’t, then you probably would have been much better suited playing an established deck. For every Bant Tokens list there’s a long list of brews that fell flat.

Mono Brew #2? 


I hope you enjoyed my brewer’s manifesto! Going forward, Mono Brew will focus on analyzing, dissecting, and testing brews with competitive promise. I’ll pick a brew, test it against the top decks in the meta, and give my opinion on whether or not it can hang with the tier 1 overlords. Feel free to shoot me an email at Aleco.Pors@gmail.com if you have a Modern or Standard deck you’d like me to consider for this series.

What constitutes a brew? To borrow the supreme court’s definition of pornography, I know it when I see it. As a general guideline, hop on to mtggoldfish and check out the first page of decks. If you don’t see the deck you’re thinking of then it’s probably safe to call it a brew.

In the spirit of the holidays, I’ll be “Bringing Gifts” to Brainstorm Brewery very soon. Stay tuned for a full primer on my Modern pet deck – 5 color Gifts Ungiven with Bring to Light!

Happy Brewing,

Aleco Pors