Thursday, January 16, 2014

Evolving Five-Color Control in Theros

When I went to play last Friday night, I had recently written my last blog-post.  When I arrived, I had placed myself in a mindset where I wanted to play multiple colors, and again take advantage of the oh-so-innocuous nylea's presence.

Pack one pick one, then, provided me with a conundrum as the two best cards on offer were pharika's mender and hammer of purphoros.  After I popped these two to the front, I swished them back and forth for a good minute, trying to decide whether I should take the more powerful card in the color that I hate (and difficult to splash, as well) or the green card that was a decent body and usually good value.

In the end, I took the gorgon.  With ten people at the table, I was optimistic that I would see a good amount of nylea's presences, as more packs would be opened and the card generally isn't highly valued.  Here's how my deck ended up:

2 Traveler's Amulet
2 Nylea's Presence
2 Returned Phalanx
1 Leafcrown Dryad
1 Reverent Hunter
1 Nessian Courser
2 Nimbus Naiad's
2 Time to Feeds
1 Agent of Horizons
1 Erebos's Emissary
1 Insatiable Harpy
1 Mnemonic Wall
2 Nessian Asp
1 Pheres Band Centaurs
1 Pharika's Mender
1 Lash of the Whip
1 Sip of Hemlock

Round one was against Anthony, a top-tier drafter at the store.  He had been sitting a few seats to my right, and had picked up on blue being open at the table.  His g/u deck featured a ton of evasion and enough bounce to play an awesome tempo game.  Vaporkin and Horizon Chimera combined with griptide to take me to a quick 0-1 record.  I had sat across from him during deck-building, and specifically saw his as a deck I would have trouble with.  My deck was built to build up to powerful turn 4-6 plays, while his got damage in quick.  My plan to stabilize with nessian asp was not great against a tempo strategy.

Round two was against Jeremy, a less frequent drafter.  Game one was a quick trouncing, as he played an evasive threat, cavalry pegasus probably, and suited it up with an ordeal of Heliod.  I played it out for as long as I could; long enough to see his Heliod, god of the sun.

Game two and three, however, I was able to bring in both glare of heresy and last breath, as my fixing was sufficient (I brought in one plains as well).  The extra removal proved key as these early plays helped draw the game out to the point where I was able to land a nessian asp.  Two nessian asps plus a pharika's mender meant that both game two and three just turned into a nightmare of snakes for him.

It's incredible the amount of psychological damage that Nessian asp can produce.  The first time I played it, Jeremy audibly groaned, and his clear emotional signs of concern showed me that he would have trouble dealing with it.  There were points during game two where I believe it would have been correct for him to attack, but just having nessian asp plus any potential pump spell paralyzed him; with me ending the game in my favor at five life, it's possible that I could have easily been knocked out 0-2 very early on with what I thought after deck building was a pretty solid deck.

Thankfully I was 1-1, and moved on to face Cody.  Like Anthony, Cody is a very skilled drafter, and in my matched against him, he usually seems to have drafted a very solid aggro deck.  No exception here, as he took me out in three games.  The one game I was able to take from him, he simply didn't hit his lands and he gave me the time I needed to bestow an insatiable harpy with some bestow creature.  When he was able to hit his lands, he quickly emptied his hand in ways which dealt the maximum possible damage, with fanatic of mogis playing the role of designated hitter, always punching through.  It's possible that in one game I might have had more of a chance if I had held back a creature in case of minotaur skullcleaver, which he had, but it's difficult to say.  A tricky match-up that was close to winnable but very, very difficult.

At 1-2 I dropped, which was perhaps a mistake.  That last loss left a bitter taste in my mouth and had me questioning my pack 1 pick 1.  Should I have just gone with the hammer instead of committing myself to playing green/x midrange?  I resolved to stay more open to different archetypes in the future.

What failed with this deck?  Looking back, I can see one key weakness: lack of deathtouch.  Five color (or less) green decks really rely on having intimidating blockers with deathtouch.  I was unable to pick up a single baleful eidolon or sedge scorpion, two cards that would have really helped me in the aggro match-ups that I faced.  In addition, one or two nylea's disciples would have been huge to buy me time against the g/u fliers deck that wanted to tempo me out of the game.  Furthermore, the deck only had two nylea's presences.  Traveler's amulet is a very poor substitute.

I continued to draft online, and have had more success with G/x.

Here's an example of a more restrained splash, which could easily have no blue at all.  However, with the fixing I do have, adding the powerful blue spells was clearly worth it: horizon chimera helped me race to victory in the third round of this 3-0 draft.  There were times when it was correct to board out blue.  When I was faced up against a b/w aggro deck, bringing in shredding winds against his fliers and tormented hero as another early play made the added consistency too important to ignore.  We can see that this deck, unlike my 1-2 offering, has multiple good early deathtouchers.  Indeed, many of my spells can be cast for just two mana, helping me get my defense up right quick.

Here is another example of bg with a minor splash, this time being red.  While not quite as successful, going 2-1 in the queue, it still has a better game than that first deck, in my opinion.  While it lacks the early deathtouch creatures, having a pair of keepsake gorgons is just incredible value, and having ways to bring them into play early, with the unicorn or the voyaging satyr, makes it a reasonable card against aggro decks.  Still the lack of scorpions or baleful eidolons did hurt, as my one loss was to the hyper-aggressive red/white heroic deck.  Again, fanatic of mogis provided him with the combination of reach and aggressive creature that was key while I was only able to play one spell per turn. With this deck in particular, I have left good cards in the sideboard, and I'd be interested to hear how people might have built it differently.

Getting ready to draft this Friday, I feel like midrange strategies such as the ones illustrated are still well-situated, despite their susceptibility to aggro decks.  I'm less eager to try and force four or five color than I was before, although taking fixing to enable a powerful splash still seems excellent.  Prioritizing blockers, stabilizers, and card-advantage are all key during the draft portion, as well as fixing.  With so many different priorities, getting the mix just right can be tricky.  Still, it seems more reliable than trying to draft aggro in Theros, where doing so can just lead to too many packs where none of the cards available to you are that beneficial to your strategy.

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