Friday, December 14, 2012

This Post is Tier 3

In my roster of EDH decks, I try to keep a broad range of deck types and power levels. I don’t want to be the guy that only builds grindy, value-oriented control decks, or what have you. I also like to be able to, if I just completely steamrolled a table, to switch to another deck that is more in line, power level-wise, with what everyone else is doing.

When playing new people, I usually default to playing one of my better decks, because I don’t want to wind up getting shut out of the game early and having to sit and watch. I’d rather win the first game, and then scale down if needed. So, when I played at the new LGS that isn’t all that local the first time, I went for Thraximundar and Maelstrom Wanderer – two of my more competitive and powerful decks. Now, neither of them are cutthroat, or meant to be tournament-caliber competitive. They’re just naturally strong for a casual-oriented deck.

I didn’t win the game I played with Thraxi, but to be bluntly honest, I punted that game by making more than a couple of misplays. The deck was still fairly new and untested with a whole lot of Return to Ravnica cards I’d never used at all, so I was more focused on just doing cool shit with Mercurial Chemister and stuff like that, rather than winning. And, frankly, it was worth it – the game was fun and I made big, splashy plays that scared my opponents and made them scramble to react. Eventually, though I just got sloppy and overconfident and handed the game to someone else. I’m not complaining – if I’d truly been focused on winning I’m reasonably sure I would have, but the game might have been less fun overall, even for me.

The Maelstrom Wanderer game I won, and I’ve already talked about that here, but suffice it to say, MW is a Tier 1 general hands-down. It almost doesn’t matter what you put in the deck. If you have: a) ways to get to 7 mana, and b)spells that cost 7 or less that do things, you should be in great shape. My list is far from tuned “optimally” if such a concept even applies to EDH, but it is still one of the most dominant EDH decks I have. It makes huge, epic plays that are hard to stop, and killing Maelstrom Wanderer is like reloading my shotgun for me. I actually swing MW into Acidic Slimes and Vampire Nighthawks all the time, daring my opponent to block. You’d be surprised how often they choose to take 7 to the face! Anyway, the decks I chose that day seemed a bit above the curve for that group of players – not that they were totally outclassed, just lagging a little behind. I could most likely have played any of my weaker decks and still had a good chance of winning.

At the other end of the spectrum is Stonebrow. My Stonebrow deck is one of my go-to decks for those times when I feel slightly like a dick for the game I just played. When I realize I accidentally brought a gun to a knife fight, Stonebrow is one of my “knife” decks. It has gotten a bit sharper over time, but it’s still basically just a big, dumb aggro deck. I’ve tuned it over time to be able to handle a Wrath or two, but beyond that, it’s unlikely to recover from a sweeper-heavy game. If sweepers are getting cast every other turn, I have little chance of winning. But, at its core, all the deck really wants to do is turn guys sideways, so it’s easy to interact with and keep in check. So, the next time we went to that store to play, I played Stonebrow and Edric, two of my lower-powered. Those decks are still about as good as I can make them while still adhering to their theme and purpose, but pound for pound, they just aren’t capable of the same powerful things Thrax and MW are. In the end, to my own surprise, I managed to win both of those games, but unlike when I played MW I never felt like I was clearly the dominant player in either game. Stonebrow had an amazing run, but it was only because two other players made themselves bigger targets early on that I was able to survive long enough to get momentum. Stonebrow has a very weak early game, unless I get really lucky on the opening draws.

In between is stuff like Vish Kal. White tends to have cheap aggressive creatures, and black has removal out the wazoo, so mid-range aggro/control is just a natural, organic place for a White/Black deck to be. And power-wise that is also where the deck sits: right in the middle. Keep in mind this spectrum is based solely on my own current decks, not the format as a whole. Even my best decks would be at most middle-tier decks – true “Tier 1” decks would eviscerate mine easily.

Anyway, within my own roster and among my own local play group, I’d rank my decks as follows:

Tier 1: Maelstrom Wanderer, Thraximundar, Ghave

These are my most dominant decks. I tend to go for these when I need to break a losing streak or the group I’m playing with is a bit more powered up. Ghave is probably the single strongest token deck in the format (not saying MY list, just the Ghave archetype in general). Even though I went out of my way to avoid infinite combos, it is just a big synergistic value machine. BAD Ghave decks can usually wreck other decks, and mine isn’t bad. MW is just disgustingly overpowered as a general. I almost have to be trying to lose a game with this. Not ramping fast enough, or horrible cascades are basically the only weaknesses. My current Thraxi list is not the strongest Thraxi list I’ve played. It’s a bit too focused on playing cards that are new and cool, but not necessarily the most powerful. That said, so much of the decks strength resides in its general that it’s still a very strong performer. It’s good at controlling the board and keeping the red zone clear for Thraxi to get in there and do his thang.

My usual Rafiq lists would qualify as Tier 1, but I’m working on a whole new paradigm for Rafiq that will be noticeably less powerful than what I usually do.

Tier 2: Wrexial, Savra, Vish Kal

Among my most-played decks, these are quite competitive within my playgroup, but not overly dominating. Wrexial can have some very Tier 1-esque games but not consistently at all, and while it does lots of insanely powerful things, I usually have a hard time actually winning a game with it. Vish Kal, as already noted, is firmly Tier 2. It’s honestly not as strong as it looks on paper, and how I built it, it comes with some key weaknesses. It overly relies on tutors to smooth out its rather shaky draws. Some games I either draw all my card-drawing effects  or none of them. Some draws are all creatures, no removal, while other draws are all removal, no threats. Kal himself is a fantastic general in a vacuum, but I have games where he’s basically a blank. I’ve also had games where I have like a million life, and then just die to general damage. Overall, though, I’m happy with where the deck is at, and don’t have any real desire to increase its power level, but I would like to find a way to make it more smooth and consistent, without pushing the power envelope. Savra is making a strong case as of late for being promoted to Tier 1. I’m actually looking at ways to scale back a tiny bit to keep her Tier 2, but my natural inclination is to push power up not down, so we’ll see.

She’s also, currently, my favorite deck to play – the Golgari are more fun than you’d expect. Here’s a bit of irony: Prime Time being banned made the deck better. Okay, that statement clearly deserves qualification. The very first incarnation of the deck was actually really weak. It’s one strong game plan centered on Griselbrand. He was so damned powerful that he alone made the deck viable. His banning hamstrung the deck pretty badly and it had to undergo a pretty big paradigm shift to compensate. Afterwards, the deck was firmly a Tier 3 deck, occasionally powerful but horribly inconsistent and fragile. Then Prime Time got banned as well, and I really thought that would all but kill this deck. Fortunately, Kokusho reentered the format at the same time Primeval Titan exited, so I tried using Kokusho to patch the hole. This led to subtle but important changes in the deck, which when combined with the Golgari’s presence in RtR, the deck is now actually better than it ever was with either Griselbrand or Prime Time in it. Those two cards just overshadowed whatever else the deck might want to do, to the point that they suffocated the deck. I guess that’s why the both got banned. While I still mostly disagree with Prime Time’s ban (Griselbrand, as much as it saddened me ABSOLUTELY deserved his ban), I can see the argument for it a bit better now. Unfortunately, other decks like Maelstrom Wanderer are actually worse off without Prime Time.

Tier 3: Gisela, Edric, Stonebrow and Rith

This tier has a lot of room for argument, but I feel these 4 decks are my weakest at the moment. Gisela has an insanely strong game plan, but between clunky, awkward draws in many games, and an inherent weakness to Artifact hate, it’s almost unheard for me to win with this deck. It tends to come out of the gate faster and harder than any deck in my groups metagame, but the early aggression draws too much hate and I wind up trying to win long games with 2/2 doublestrikers. Rith is a neat deck, but Ghave just does tokens so much better, and honestly I just haven’t played Rith enough to know how to tune it correctly. I really want this deck to be more reliable, but right now Tokens are just all over my group’s meta, so I don’t play this or Ghave much. Edric is built firmly with the intent to look harmless and non-threatening. As such, it has very few reliable ways to win games, and is almost impossible to play proactively. It’s a sit back, wait and react kind of deck. Finally, Stonebrow seems to be performing much better than average as of late, but it still needs a lot of work to rise above its janky, uber-casual status, and I’m not all that interested in putting in that effort. It’s a deck that is actually more fun for being kinda bad. Focusing so single-mindedly on casting and swinging with dudes that Trample is fun, even when it loses.

Ideally, I’d like to have the majority of my decks in the Tier 2 category, with a couple of 1’s and 3’s for times when more power or less power are called for. I think I need to focus on scaling Rith up a notch and keeping Savra more in check. I love having powerful decks and I like occasionally winning a game that I was in control of right from the start, but that’s not the default experience I’m looking to have in this format. Usually, I don’t much care if I win or lose as long as I got to make some cool plays and be part of the cool stuff other players do. So, it’s valuable to me to have a broad selection of decks to choose from, as I begin to player more EDH outside my normally insular play group.

I also like to have a variety of decks ranging from aggro to mid-range to control, and a variety of different themes. Having multiple EDH decks lets me tailor each deck to provide a different play experience for me, and hopefully, for my opponents as well.

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