[Prologue - The Introduction]
Hello, Magic-players! Welcome to my first article for magiccardpro.com! My name's Jamie. Most people in the Magic community refer to me as "Flez." [Long story.] If you play in New England, we've likely seen each other at tournaments - I'm easy to spot due to the having-purple-everything clause I try to adhere to.
Now, I know a lot of you are viewing the format as a stale midrangey grind-fest where you have to either play Thragtusk or beat Thragtusk to get anywhere in any tournament, but what if I were to tell you that you really CAN have it all in Standard? Would you believe me? Would you believe that a deck exists that A], has excellent matchups against both aggro and control, B] is fun to play, C], doesn't scoop to Thragtusks/Centaur Healers, and D] costs less than $200 to build? That precise deck, my friends, has been designed!
[Chapter 1 - The First Meeting]
My near-and-dear friend Anders Simpson-Wolf and I were having a discussion one night, around the start of the new Standard season. We were already bored of the current Standard, as midrange decks are less fun to build if midrange is everywhere, and Zombies didn't suit our play style. Add to the fact that the midrange realm I live in, Naya, is missing two of its three guilds, so I'm hesitant to build anything Naya-colored just yet. We were talking about possible interesting options - a Bant delver deck that uses Call of the Conclave and Selesnya Charm as both dudes and cards that fuel Delver/Runechanter's Pike, a black-red Rakdos aggro deck with Deathrite Shaman as a bootleg Grim Lavamancer - but unfortunately none of them really panned out the way we wanted to in our respective tesing sessions.
Fast forward a couple weeks to my first FNM since RtR. I was in the draft while Anders was playing monored in Standard [our store runs both formats for FNM]. In my awkwardly-9-man pod, I was the only Izzet drafter at the table. I could probably type up the whole decklist if I took a few minutes to remember...*shrug!* The important things about the deck were that it contained two Inspirations, an Inaction Injunction, two Annihilating Fires, three Cancels, three Explosive Impacts, and three Goblin Electromancers.
I went 3-0 with one of the most fun draft decks I've played in quite some time.
After regaling Anders with a colorful cornucopia of stories from the draft [mostly about how awesome Goblin Electromancer is if you build around him], he had a "eureka!" moment: what if we played the Electromancer in Standard?
After shooting several theoretical decklists back and forth, we finally came up with the final version of the rough draft. I sleeved it up [well, tried to - I had to borrow most of the cards and couldn't get them all] and went 3-1. I was feeling rather smug that I scored some store credit with an incomplete deck, but there was obviously a ton of room for growth. We kept refining our lists, and I've won credit with the deck every time I've played with it. Obviously, the competition is looser at a local game store than it is at a PTQ, but I think this deck is the real deal.
[Chapter 2 - The Deck]
Without further ado, I present to you...
Through the Fire and Flames, a Standard deck by Jamie "Flez" Syed and Anders Simpson-Wolf
4 Goblin Electromancer
It's the dawn of a new age. An age where you no longer have to live in fear of Geralf's Messenger, Gravecrawler, Thragtusk, or Sphinx's Revelation. An age where you can win the game by swinging with a Snapcaster Mage and an Augur of Bolas for a few turns and backing it up with some Shocks and Lightning Bolts. An age where unicorns ride rainbows down to your doorstep and everything is right with the world*.
[*Probably not, actually, but A MAN CAN DREAM, DAMMIT.]
[Chapter 3 - The Gameplan]
The gameplan for this deck is pretty straightforward - at the end of your opponent's turn, burn away what they played, or draw some cards. If they cast something nasty, counter it instead. Once you get an Electromancer in play, the party starts! Do you know how cool that guy is? Let me tell you how cool that guy is: he cheapens regular costs AND alternate costs, so casting both halves of a Think Twice or Desperate Ravings only costs you 3 mana, not 5 - so much better than a boring old Farseek! Overload also counts as an alternate cost, so you can Mortar or Cyclonic Rift your opponent's entire team at a discount, as well. You get to set X-spells higher [for example, you can Syncopate a spell for 2, then tap only two mana for it with an Electromancer in play], and he's the life of the party when Rewind comes to town! Resolving a Rewind actually NETS you mana with an Electromancer in play, so you can respond to spells with draw spells like Think Twice before countering it with Rewind for maximum mana value. My personal favorite Rewind play involved responding to a Thragtusk with a Searing Spear on my opponent’s Beast token, Rewinding Thragtusk, and casting Thoughtflare at end of turn. That was a good game for me. Another awesome thing about Electromancer is that having one in play is what makes the deck tick [although I’ve won games without him], but having a second one is hardly necessary except as an additional body.
The first rule of counterburn is that you never talk about counterburn, and by that I mean creatures with more than two power. The deck has more than enough burn spells to make a few swings with a Snapcaster Mage lethal territory for your opponent. The plethora of burn can finish someone off from 20+, if you draw enough Snapcasters/the Guttersnipe/you don't have to burn anything away. A story about the deck before I get into card selection: I'm playing against WUR Control. I have nine lands in play, and a Goblin Electromancer. He plays his 11th land and passes. End of turn, I play Think Twice, flash it back, hit Snapcaster, play it, and flash back Thoughtflare to tap out. He responds with an 8-point Sphinx's Revelation, bringing him to 22. We resolve our spells and his cleanup, and go to my turn. I swing for four, play Guttersnipe, and cast Searing Spear, Searing Spear, Pillar of Flame, Desperate Ravings, Desperate Ravings for the last 18[!] to kill him. “Surprise!”
Post-sideboard, the plans against each archetype change dramatically. I’ll talk about them in the sideboarding section.
[Chapter 4 - The Recipe]
Time to talk about the ingredients used to make this counterburn cocktail. First off, an overarching explanation of the numbers: there is a LOT of digging power in this deck. Before we count Snapcasters, we have 12 dig spells, 7 of which already have flashback. In the average game, I draw about half my deck and get up to 7-8 mana. Sometimes I can get the quicker “combo kills” with Guttersnipe, but since the conniving Goblin is always 3 mana, it’s still tough to kill my opponent in any sort of timely fashion with it anyway. It’s bad form [and a misplay] to tap out during my main phase beyond turn two, and I want to make sure I get at LEAST two triggers off Guttersnipe before he says goodbye. This, coupled with the fact that he’s bad against aggro [you’re using your resources way earlier than you would against control so Guttersnipe doesn’t do a whole lot most of the time], make him just a 1-of in the main. By the time you draw him in most games, you’re ready for the flurry-of-burn-and-Guttersnipe-triggers kill.
Augur of Bolas and Desperate Ravings being 3-ofs are purely a playstyle choice - they’re definitely necessary, but they’re my two least favorite cards in the deck. I board out one or the other against control or midrange. Full explanations will be in the sideboarding section.
Thoughtflare and Rewind are my favorite cards in the deck, but due to their slow nature, it’s tough to justify playing more than two. The Syncopates aren’t fantastic, but sometimes your opponent taps out when you have two mana [or one mana and an Electromancer] up.
Flames of the Firebrand is in the main, because it’s tool #1 against aggro, with Augur of Bolas being a close second. Dealing with threats is much easier when you can kill them two at a time. The fact that it’s a sorcery hinders the main gameplan of the deck, unfortunately, but it’s still better than trying to 1-for-1 aggro all the time.
The Annihilating Fires used to be Brimstone Volleys, but they didn’t deal 5 damage nearly as often as I liked, so I ended up switching them out for a burn spell with some more utility against dudes - Zombies, in particular.
That’s it for the main deck - time for the sideboard!
[Chapter 5 - The Substitutions]
When sideboarding against aggro and control decks, the ‘board is divided neatly down the middle, except in the case of Zombies:
2 Inaction Injunction
*Against Zombies, Unburial Rites decks, or Strangleroot Geist, this is an obvious upgrade to a Searing Spear. Against other aggro decks, like UW Humans, having the cheaper spell is better.
Against aggro, you take out the three Desperate Ravings, the Guttersnipe, and two counterspells. I normally remove both Rewinds, as they’re a little slow. Cut one Searing spear if you’re bringing in the Annihilating Fire. The gameplan is to use your new removal suite to 2-or-more-for-1 them on the board, and eventually run them out of cards. From there, you’re on the Derpy Dudes Beatdown Plan, backed up with whatever burn spells you have lying around. The Ravings, in my eyes, are wretched against aggro, because you have to carefully plan the use of each spell. It’s more akin to a game of chess than any other matchup I’ve played. Random discard never has a place in this gameplan, which makes the card lackluster at best.
This is the matchup where you’ll run out Electromancer on turn 3 or 4 with counter backup whenever possible. Your counterspells are present to take out removal spells or noncreature haymakers like Garruk, Primal Hunter. You can’t rely on being able to counter any creatures due to Cavern of Souls, but sometimes you can nab that Geist/Thragtusk, and that feels sweet. The awesome thing about this deck is that it can absolutely win from 2 or less Thragtusks on your opponent’s side [3+ is something I haven’t defeated yet]. Also, be wary of Restoration Angel from the white players - a 4-toughness creature with flash is tough for us to play around.
Control is the entirely opposite side of the spectrum. You bring in eight cards [for those who don’t want to scroll up: 2 Negate, 2 Dissipate, 2 Volcanic Geyser, 1 Cyclonic Rift, 1 Guttersnipe] and take out all the Augurs of Bolas, the Pillars of Flame, and the Flames of the Firebrand. Augur is not an impressive body, and you want as few sorceries as possible against control. The plan here is to bide time while you build up mana, sculpt a hand full of burn, counter all of their important spells, and eventually resolve a Guttersnipe for the magic Guttersnipe combo kill [as described above]. Volcanic Geyser is a new card I’m testing. Those two slots used to be Brimstone Volleys too, just for the extra Incinerates. I realized an X-spell would be better, but tapping out on my turn is awful, so I went with the inferior-but-instant-speed variant. Plus, it still has flashback! Thanks, Tiago!
I haven’t done any testing against the WUR midrange deck, but I feel like the matchup’s pretty bad. They play out similarly to us, except they also have Geist of Saint Traft and other nasty things we don’t like to see. In a near-future article, I’ll give you the low-down on how to handle that deck, as well as have concrete gameplans against GW midrange, Jund, and Reanimator. I have a loose gameplan against the latter two, but it’s not at all refined via diligent testing yet. You basically bring in the better burn [Geyser and Mortars] and the Dissipates, and take out Pillars and other stuff. I like to keep in all the dig spells against midrange, because since they can attack from different angles AND have a lot of haymakers, you need different specific answers each turn. I also go up to the two Guttersnipes in an attempt to kill them faster. The longer the games go