Since I have a limited budget for grinding the MTGO queues, I’ve turned to Block Constructed as my format of choice. Over and above the low barrier to entry price-wise, Block gives you a chance to try deck-building in a relatively virginal format, as well as acquiring the likely-staple cards of future Standard/Extended formats before they absolutely skyrocket in price. Today, we’re going to take a look at the current SOM Block metagame, and see what’s running good up in there. Once we’ve had a look at what’s seeing play today, I’ll get into some cards from the upcoming New Phyrexia expansion (all of which were recently spoiled) which will fit well into existing archetypes.
I’m going to talk in depth about some of the top decks currently being played in the Block constructed dailies and PE’s on MTGO. The metagame looks fairly diverse – there are 16 distinct archetypes that made the top 8 of a PE or 4-0’d a daily in the last week (as of April 20th). However, upon closer examination, some of these decks are clearly outliers. As such, I’ve lumped everything with less than 4 good finishes into a catch-all “Other” category, since they do not – at this time – require our attention while preparing to battle in the block format. Bask in the warm electron glow of my epic chart:
Done basking? Good. Let’s have a look at these decks.
Tempered Steel Aggro
At the top of the heap with an approximate 26% share of the high finishes last week is Mono-White Tempered Steel aggro. This deck uses quick, aggressive men and sports between 1 and 4 copies of Hero of Bladehold in the maindeck to bat cleanup. Hero is their scariest card, and I think lists that start less than 3 are, well, not optimal. But nonetheless, for an aggro deck like this one to have a stranglehold on the top position in the metagame is not unusual in small formats. Games with Tempered Steel typically play out with a flurry of zero and one drops (Memnite, Signal Pest, Glint Hawk) followed by anthem effects (Tempered Steel, Hero of Bladehold) and Chimeric Mass.
In my experience, Big Red is a rough ride for the aggressive White decks, because all of the Red cards are pretty good against 1/1’s and 2/2’s. Slagstorm is a serious kick in the groin, especially when a Red mage has the wherewithal to force the aggro deck to extend into one with the various tools at their disposal. I believe Tempered Steel is currently so successful because it absolutely mauls the unfocused, “weird” decks that still show up in the MTGO Block metagame. As the format matures, expect it to lose some of its share of the winning spots in tournaments.
MrSkyBlue – Tempered Steel Aggro
New Phyrexia will give Tempered Steel some tools it can definitely make good use of. (Note that for the rest of the article, I’ll be using (pB), (pU), (pW), (pR), (pG) to represent “Phyrexian” mana.)
Tap target creature.
Metalcraft – If you control three or more artifacts, exile that creature instead.
Dispatch slots right in here, and of all the decks in the format to date this one has the easiest time getting Metalcraft going. The card will go a long way in fighting opposing Wurmcoil Engines and other fatties that are currently difficult for the aggro deck to handle.
Artifact – Equipment
Equipped creature gets +4/+4 and has vigilance and lifelink.
3: Return Batterskull to its owner’s hand.
One of the more talked about cards in the new set, Batterskull may find a home here if the deck changes to live a little higher on the curve. As it stands now, most of these lists run 20-21 mana sources, making a 5 mana equipment a very tough sell.
Hex Parasite 1
Artifact Creature – Insect
X(pB): Remove up to X coutners from target permanent. For each counter removed this way, Hex Parasite gets +1/+0 until end of turn.
Sword of War and Peace 3
Artifact – Equipment
Equipped creature gets +2/+2 and has protection from red and from white.
Whenever equipped creature deals combat damage to a player, Sword of War and Peace deals damage to that player equal to the number of cards in his or her hand and you gain 1 life for each card in your hand.
Obvious statement is obvious, but this card is bananas.
Realistically, I expect Tempered Steel to adopt Dispatch and Hex Parasite for sure. It should at least sideboard Sword of War and Peace, since it’s good in the mirror and good against the deck’s worst matchup. Batterskull is probably a no-show unless the deck evolves to where it works higher on the mana curve, but we’re talking about a different (and probably worse) deck altogether at that point.
Behind the hyper-aggressive Tempered Steel decks with about 19% of the metagame is a holdover from the single-set Block format. Mirrodin Besieged has brought some new tools to Big Red: Slagstorm, Mortarpod, and Sphere of the Suns are all showing up in numbers maindeck, as well as Burn the Impure and Into the Core out of the sideboard. The formidable creature elimination suite, when paired with Kuldotha Phoenix, Precursor Golem, and Wurmcoil Engine, presents a serious challenge for beatdown decks. Against control, Big Red can be the beatdown thanks to Koth and Kuldotha Phoenix having “haste”, and close games with burn thanks to Galvanic Blast, Red Sun’s Zenith, and (surprisingly often) Slagstorm to the dome(s). Red is also very good at killing opposing planeswalkers, which is a big deal against the various U/B and U/B/x Tezzeret decks floating around out there.
That being said, there are some huge, glaring problems with Big Red as it stands right now. In a nutshell, if you’re in a PE or a daily and don’t get paired against Tempered Steel, you are battling hard for every game. Not surprisingly, Red lacks good ways to kill anything with toughness greater than 3, usually requiring two cards to get it done. You’re not a huge underdog to Tezzeret, but if you stumble on lands and they don’t, it’s usually impossible to come back. Since the Red deck’s only source of card advantage comes from 2-for-1’s, drawing your way out of a hole is tough to do. Likewise, Mono-White Control can give the deck fits. Arrest and Revoke Existence trump Wurmcoil Engine, and Sunblast Angel is bigger than anything else Red plays. In a nutshell, Big Red does better and better the more white aggro there is for it to chew on.
cypenguin – Big Red
So how does Big Red fare in the new set lottery?
Add RRRRRRR to your mana pool. Spend this mana only to cast artifact or creature spells.
This seems really good, potentially enabling shenanigans like turn 3 Wurmcoil Engine (or anything, really) and giving the deck some real explosive possibilities. I’m not 100% on this card yet, but people did play Seething Song in similar decks to make turn 3 Arc-Slogger a reality. Time will tell.
Gut Shot (pR)
Gut Shot deals 1 damage to target creature or player.
I love this card, but it’s not really something Big Red needs. I mean, sure, free spells are cool, but anything with one toughness against Red is already living on borrowed time. Things could change where this is amazing, but I’ll believe it when I see it.
Moltensteel Dragon 4(pR)(pR)
Artifact Creature – Dragon
(pR): Moltensteel Dragon gets +1/+0 until end of turn.
Imagine playing this handsome fellow on turn 4 (or 3, with some acceleration). You’re at 16 life. On turn 5 (or 4…), you can attack for as much as 16. I like the knockout power of this card, and it deserves consideration for its ability to end games on the spot.
Whipflare deals 2 damage to each nonartifact creature.
Another (albeit situational) sweeper is not an unwelcome addition. Instant speed is excellent, but there are a large number of played creatures in this format that simply ignore this spell. Its utility will depend entirely on what the metagame develops into when NPH is actually released.
Volt Charge 2R
Volt Charge deals 3 damage to target creature or player. Proliferate.
Mycosynth Wellspring 2
When Mycosynth Wellspring enters the battlefield or is put into a graveyard from the battlefield, you may search your library for a basic land card, reveal it, put it into your hand, then shuffle your library.
I really like this one, mainly because I tend to prefer searching for lands over playing vulnerable and often-destroyed artifact mana like Sphere of the Suns in this format. It doesn’t accelerate you at all, so it would be fulfilling a very different role than Sphere, but if Big Red were to incorporate more artifact-sacrifice cards at some point it would provide a source of card advantage the deck is currently without.
As an additional cost to cast Artillerize, sacrifice an artifact or creature.
Artillerize deals 5 damage to target creature or player.
See: Mycosynth Wellspring. I’m not sure I want to pay 4 mana for Shrapnel Blast, but this does a fine job killing 5-toughness dudes, which is something Red decks struggle with currently.
There are a couple of other cards to consider for Big Red, such as Vulshok Refugee (3/2 Red guy with protection from Red) and Urabrask the Hidden (who has the hilarious side-effect of killing opposing Sunblast Angels). Urabrask feels like a “Build around me” card though, and I’m not sure that he’s at his best in this deck. The Refugee is cute, and probably an okay sideboard card, but it’s no help in the matchups that actually matter. I expect to see Moltensteel Dragon and Volt Charge making their way into these decks, and maybe Geosurge as well. In any case, the embarrassment of riches coming the way of Red mages is an excellent development, and I look forward to brewing with these cards.
Enters the battlefield guys, Thrun, and mana. These decks basically exist to smash all your artifacts and stick a hard to kill threat, subsequently riding it to the finish line. To be honest, I don’t like this archetype at all. It can’t be discounted as outright bad – it is posting some 9% of the top finishes right now, after all. It’s just too fair. Too rock-y. It’s far and away the best home for Thrun, though, and he is definitely the hardest to answer threat in the format.
I don’t see how you can reliably beat a Tezzeret deck with this; you’re not fast enough to get in under the countermagic (‘cept Thrun, obvs.), and have no reach to close once U/B takes control of the game. For now, that’s probably not the worst problem to have in the world since the two Tezz-based archetypes taken together compose about 10% of the metagame, but I would expect Tezzeret to gain in popularity with the release of New Phyrexia, as it acquires some new ways to solve its problems with Tempered Steel.
Watchwolf92 – GW Hate
G/W makes out pretty well in NPH. It probably loves Sword of War and Peace as much as any deck out there today, but there are some other new toys to explore as well.
Exclusion Ritual 4WW
Imprint – When Exclusion Ritual enters the battlefield, exile target nonland permanent.
Players can’t cast spells with the same name as the exiled card.
It might cost 6, but it does a hell of a job dealing with otherwise troublesome permanents (specifically Planeswalkers) for pretty much ever, since Red and U/B together have little in the way of options with respect to removing an Enchantment from the battlefield. Probably too expensive for what it does, but needs to be kept in mind.
Beast Within 2G
Destroy target permanent. Its controller puts a 3/3 green Beast creature token onto the battlefield.
I like Vindicate at instant speed, and I don’t care about the drawback. This card is really, really good and will see play in Block and probably Standard, too.
Melira, Sylvok Outcast 1G
Legendary Creature – Human Scout
You can’t get poison counters.
Creatures you control can’t have -1/-1 counters placed on them.
Creatures your opponents control lose infect.
Now that is a hateful card. Dies to everything, sure, but hate bears are what this deck wants more of, right?
Noxious Revival (pG)
Put target card from a graveyard on top of its owner’s library.
I think this little number will be a sleeper hit. No need to keep mana open for it means that reloading on Thrun at end of turn after your opponent spent infinite time and effort killing it may end the game right then and there.
I haven’t had as much experience with G/W as with some of the other decks in the format, but I’m assuming that it would like to play with Vindicate, and that it would also probably like to play with 2/2’s for 2 that just switch off Infect as a strategy. Probably Sword of War and Peace, too. Exclusion Ritual is actually pretty badass, but 6 mana is almost certainly too much. Oh well.
U/B Control (And U/B Infect)
While these two decks kill you in quote-unquote different ways, they both revolve around generating card advantage and holding a lead with countermagic. As such, I’m gonna lump them together and just point it out when I’m talking about something that applies to one but not the other. In general, U/B Infect plays a bunch of utility artifacts that draw cards, tap your guys, or ramp its mana, followed by Tezzeret to turn them into 5/5’s, although some versions play fewer artifacts and a higher traditional creature count (see below). It also has the option of 2-shotting you with Inkmoth Nexus, but I have yet to be dispatched in this fashion after playing many matches against it. Alternatively, it’ll hit you a few times with little infect dudes and proliferate you to death with Contagion Clasp. The non-infect subtype of U/B eschews the power of Tezzeret entirely, focusing instead on the frustratingly difficult to kill Neurok Commando and Consecrated Sphinx, each drawing absurd quantities of cards and enabling U/B to win the long game by grinding out cardboard-starved opponents with a preponderance of counterspells.
I haven’t tested it exhaustively, but I feel like the only thing keeping these decks from dominating the format outright is Tempered Steel. Big Red is not a bye, but it’s definitely favourable for Tezzeret. The G/W matchup seems about the same, but Thrun is a serious problem for the infect version if the Tezz player can’t get one of its 5/5’s to stick around and block him. What I would love is to actually own 4 Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas so that I can test some more with the infect deck, but my impressions from the other side of the mat are really all I have to work from right now. C’est la vie.
Malteko – U/B Infect Control
Incidentally, New Phyrexia has a ridiculous number of good Blue and Black cards. The Infect Tezzeret decks gain an unblockable guy to get things rolling, and a 1U hard counter in the mid-to-late game in addition to everything else. Look for U/B to really surge in popularity once NPH is legal. I know I will be.
Mental Misstep (pU)
Counter target spell with converted mana cost 1.
The internets are already buzzing with hype for this card, and I’m about as excited as anyone else. This is just one of the awesome tools U/B is picking up against Tempered Steel. Countering Signal Pest and Glint Hawk is all it needs to do, and it will. However, there are only so many slots in decks, and this one may not make it into the main. Time will tell.
Tezzeret’s Gambit 3(pU)
Draw two cards, then proliferate.
U/B Infect also loves this card. +1 your Tezzeret, draw two cards, and deal 2 damage for 3 mana and 2 life? Probably.
Target opponent reveals his or her hand. You choose a creature or planeswalker card from it. That player discards that card.
Wow, is this card ever good. Gives U/B a way to preempt Thrun, opposing Koths, and Hero of Bladehold.
Geth’s Verdict BB
Target player sacrifices a creature and loses 1 life.
Jacked up Edict is good, too. More ways to kill Thrun.
Life’s Finale 4BB
Destroy all creatures, then search target opponent’s library for up to three creature cards and put them into his or her graveyard. Then that player shuffles his or her library.
Might cost 6, but resolve this against a creature deck and you not only get the 2- or 3-for-1 you’d expect, but reduce their outs going long.
Torpor Orb 2
Creatures entering the battlefield don’t cause abilities to trigger.
Possible sideboard card against decks packing Scrapmelters, Viridian Corrupter, Leonin Relic-Warder, and other ETB dudes gunning for your artifacts. Of all the decks in the format that could play this, it’s probably best here where it also just happens to be a 5/5.
Beyond that, Mycosinth Wellspring is definitely a card that could find its way into U/B, along with Hex Parasite (both of which I’ve talked about elsewhere already). It’s really difficult for me to say with certainty how Tezzeret will change to incorporate some of these new cards, but I’m certain that Despise and Life’s Finale have a role to play, here. Infect will want to rock Corrupted Resolve as well, since a 2 mana hard counter is a good thing to have.
There are a few decks on the graph which I’m not going to talk about in-depth, namely Red Aggro, Mono-Black infect, and Mono-White Control. They are posting some results, yes, but they aren’t individually making up a significant share of the metagame. That being said, don’t count these tier 1.5/2 strategies completely out. After all, they do have good matchups among the highly played archetypes in today’s Block Constructed format. What’s more, they all see some big gains from NPH; it remains to be seen, though, whether those gains can make up for whatever weaknesses they suffer from today.
I must say, overall I’m enjoying this Block thing more than I’ve enjoyed playing Magic in general for months, if not years. It’s a nice change being able to work on a format that isn’t already more-or-less set in stone. The games are interactive, and there are lots of options for creative design (and play) to get an edge on the competition. Next time, I’ll be back with some potential brews (New Phyrexia-empowered and otherwise), and a closer look at why some of these fringe decks don’t work as well as they otherwise might. Thanks to Taylor Putnam for suggesting (demanding?) an article on Block, and I’d really like to see it in the comments if anyone thinks I’ve overlooked something absurd from New Phyrexia.
Until next time,
Craig Cameron-Weir (@crlachlan)
fact0rficti0n on MTGO
craigcameronweir at gmail dot com