EXTRA SWAPS #3: Standard Deviations

Mickleberry Posts: 48 Just Dropped In
edited June 2017 in MtGPQ General Discussion


So... Amonkhet Standard... yeah...

There are some good and some bad changes that have been made as a result of this new format that has crept into just about every PVP event, and even some PVE events, too. While it has prevented players from constantly seeing Olivia hijinks and Piggy ROFLStomps, Amonkhet standard has given way to a few more problems that may prove to be even more frustrating for a player trying desperately to grind their way to the top.

Most of the decks I've been seeing in Standard have been heavily reliant on the events of the week. "Fate is Rarely Fair" events means a lot of the same Vehicles being played over and over again, usually resulting in some serious blowouts via Koth, who's able to cast solid rare vehicles with a single red gem match. Admittedly, I've jumped on this bandwagon, not necessarily because I think it's fun, but because I think it's necessary in order to compete in Standard PVP events.

The other recurring builds I've seen have been either Kiora Cycle or White/X Disable. The first deck barely works when played by the AI, with the exception of the ocassional 5 or 6 consecutive turns of Floodwaters. The latter deck doesn't even have to try and the AI will shut you down, making you curse that Hixus with multiple shields stuck on the bottom corner of the board.  :(

With that being said, there are a few thoughts I had on the current standard format that I'd like to share. Some of these will probably be obvious, but I'm hoping that some of these thoughts will at least make for an interesting read.


To quote the text that pops up every time you start a match in Training Grounds, "The Training Grounds are the perfect place to test out your decks."


The Training Grounds are the only place to test out your decks.

Like with paper Magic, if you pit a competitive Standard deck against a competitive Legacy/Eternal deck, it would be a safe bet that the majority of the wins would go to the Legacy/Eternal build. The reason is simple: older formats have more access to degenerative synergy.

Heck, even the top Modern decks will mop the floor with the best Standard builds, and it's for the same reason: just not to the same degree.

We used to occasionally have two Training Grounds events running at the same time. Why not have two all the time, and make one of them Standard Format, or whatever the format of the week is depending on the other available events?

Even better, have Three Training Grounds running at the same time.

Training Grounds: Standard (Origins, Kaladesh, Aether Revolt & Amonkhet)
Training Grounds: Extended (Standard + Shadows over Innistrad & Eldritch Moon)
Training Grounds: Legacy (Everything)

Once the next block, Ixalan, comes to MTGPQ, we could start being able to do the following:

Training Grounds: Standard (Origins and two most recent expansion blocks)
Training Grounds: Extended (Origins and four most recent expansion blocks)
Training Grounds: Legacy (Origins and all expansion blocks)

If crystal market saturation is a concern for the developers, if I could have all three of these Training Grounds at all times. the fun factor of this app would go up, and I wouldn't mind if the rewards go down. Here's why:

1. It would give players an opportunity to build decks with cards they might otherwise not use in Training Grounds. This game already has its fair share of cards that have strictly better and/or worse counterparts, so having environments in Training Grounds where, in order to get a particular effect in your deck, you need to run inferior cards, then it makes players better at the game, as it would challenge them to think about card evaluation, deck construction, and metagaming more critically.

2. It would help slow down power creep.
Allowing certain mechanics like disabling creatures, gem conversion, or destroying supports to fluxuate over time (either more efficient or less efficient) will make for a more sustainable game. Its these changes over time that has allowed paper Magic to remain successful for nearly a quarter of a century.

3. It would give new players a safer playing environment. 
I can only imagine how frustrating and discouraging it must be for a new player to enter training grounds and get destroyed by the same group of cards they can't acquire because the associated packs aren't available in the vault. A standard environment where the majority of the packs in the format (or more ideally, all of the packs) are available in the vault means that a new player can immediately and more greatly improve their decks in a more constricted playing environment by buying packs. You know what way is the quickest to buy packs? Spending money on crystals.

4. It would give players a reason to unlock additional deck slots. 
If there are three Training Grounds with different formats running simultaneously, players would have a good reason to unlock deck slots so they have a Standard, Extended, and Legacy deck for their favorite planeswalkers. One of those slots costs 45,000 runes? Grind for a while and you'll get there. The other slot costs 200 Mana Crystals. You know what way is the quickest to unlock a deck slot? Spending money on crystals.


We all desperately want to see more variety in decks during PVP events, both to play with and play against. But to be fair, I don't think we'd have to fight or use the same decks so much if the secondary objectives for ribbons weren't so parasitic. I understand that events such as "Fate is Rarely Fair" or the Trials want you to play with cards from specific sets in order to encourage players to purchase packs from those sets. However, when the 2 ribbon objective for each node is "Cast 5 or more Vehicles in a single match", it means that the players that already have a fleet of vehicles in their collection are going to get the most ribbons. Meanwhile, the players at the bottom and middle aren't going anywhere unless they can figure out a way to stretch a game long enough until they can cast the only vehicle they own 5 times in one game.

This leads to the players that already have a vast collection to get the top prizes, meaning the new/casual players will get discouraged and not want to start spending any money and the ones with the most cards will get top prizes and not need to start spending more money.

The metagame needs to be determined by the players' ingenuity, not by the objectives in events.

How do you fix it? By making the secondary objectives not reliant on block specific keywords or mechanics. Instead, have secondary objectives that are attainable with or without, but would be easier to attain if players use specific mechanics.

For instance, instead of an objective that says "Cycle 3 or more cards in a single match", we could have an objective with "Draw 20 or more cards in a single match". Sure, the number of cards to be drawn in a single game would have to be pretty high to be challenging, but at the same time, it could be won by any deck by simply having the game take long enough that you draw 20 or more cards before you win, or by playing a deck that draws a lot of cards via spells, or by packing the deck with cards that have cycling.

Another example would be an objective with "Summon X or more creature tokens in a single match." You could play with a whole bunch of different planeswalkers and easily satisfy the objective, you could use older planeswalkers and make a thopter-centric deck, or you could bring back creatures with embalm, all of which are viable strategies.

A last example is an objective with "Match X or more activated gems in a single match." There a whole bunch of cards with activate abilities, which means there are plenty of interesting options, but when it comes to creatures, those with exert would give you the best opportunity to match your activated gems.


Here me out on this one:

In our current standard metagame we have a plethora of decks containing cards that disable your creatures for at least your next turn, if not indefinitely. Primary culprits in Standard include:

Hixus, Prison Warden
Cast Out
Suppression Bonds
Aetherstorm Roc
Deadlock Trap

Vizier of Tumbling Sands, cast or cycled, can save you from a slow painful death from a cornered Hixus, a Roc that's Overloading like an extra-wide semi-truck, etc. etc. It gives you an out from a strategy that's absolutely miserable to play against. It breaks a board stall that makes the game decidedly un-fun. It's an actual answer that helps to keep the standard metagame at least somewhat in check, provided he's a regular inclusion in blue builds.

This is an auto-include in all of my blue decks, and it's because it answers to an archetype that blue on it's own can't deal with. It helps the play environment in a way that has been desperately needed for quite some time. Sure, other colors have ways of getting rid of supports, but with as many supports as there are and the existence of fabricate makes random support destruction unreliable and downright frustrating.

If you haven't played with the Vizier, definitely give him a try. Regardless of whether your deck is cycle-centric When you run into Hixus, you'll be glad you have him.


After reading this one, you'll probably be thinking: "Wait: doesn't this go against your complaint of 'Hixus and Floodwaters Slugfest' AND the Drake/Perspectives combo?"

Yep: it sure does.

That, and what I'm about to say almost serves as a point in its own right. Because of the current condition of the game, there are certain archetypes that are presented where you either have to play with the understanding that when you run into one of those strategies you're most likely going to lose, or you put in cards that deal with that specific strategy and lose to the other builds because they are more synergistic, or you build a deck that both uses a popular winning strategy while having an edge in the mirror matches. Dovin Baan, in my opinion, gives you the best opportunity to do just that.

While I don't doubt the power of Kiora, Saheeli or Tezzeret, Dovin Baan seems to be the best planeswalker simply because it has access to the most effective pool of cards available. He's crazy versatile: you can build all sorts of different decks from Blue/White Zombies to Cycling Combo to Overload Control and the list goes on.

The fact that Dovin's first planeswalker ability means that you can cycle through a bunch of cards and then gain mana when you run out (assuming you don't have New Perspectives on the board yet) puts him over Kiora in my book. Sure: Kiora has Shefet Monitor and can gain mana too, but what Kiora can't do is efficiently lock down your opponent's army. When you go up against final tier encounters in Trial Events, you are almost certainly dead unless you can disable creatures indefinitely.

Here's a deck to consider, one that both allows you to have your cake and eat it, too... in this case, having "cake" is having creatures you can attack with and "eating" is... ugh... just look at the deck.


Creatures (3)
Curator of Mysteries
Oketra's Attendant
Vizier of Tumbling Sands

Spells (3)
Hieroglyphic Illumination
Renewed Faith

Supports (4)
Cast Out
Drake Haven
Hixus, Prison Warden
New Perspectives

The obvious strategy with this deck is to lock down your opponent's critters, cycle like mad, and swing with either a massive Drake or a massive Zombie Attendant. The other cards help to either supplement this strategy when you can't draw the others or to beat the same strategy, causing a standstill that concludes with the cycling of everyone's new favorite cycling card, "Vizier of Tumbling Sands" :-)


For the last few months, I have been pondering on what I would do if I had the ability to change this game for what I believe would be the better. It's this "pondering" that resulted in my first "EXTRA SWAPS" Discussion on these forums.

Recently, a position as a Content Designer for Magic: The Gathering Puzzle Quest has been posted by Hibernum (Thank you to @majincob  for letting me know about it). I love this game, and I would be floored if I could design cards and implement the ideas that I have for this game and see it grow. That being said, what matters most to me is that they pick the right person for the job, and if that isn't me, then it's not a problem: I want this game to flourish, and it's going to take the right person to do just that.

Here's a link below if you want to see the job posting:


Best of luck to all who apply!


What do you think should be done with this game now that Standard is a format for events? Feel free to comment.

In the meantime,

Peace, Love and Extra Swaps to all,
Mick, a.k.a. "Mickleberry"


  • Corn_Noodles
    Corn_Noodles Posts: 477 Mover and Shaker
    edited June 2017
    So... this is your blog now?


    Devs, I'm begging you... steal this.

    Please refer to the legals section of the website: "D3Publisher likes to hear from you. However, please bear in mind that D3Publisher does not accept or consider any unsolicited creative ideas or suggestions."
  • Mickleberry
    Mickleberry Posts: 48 Just Dropped In
    edited June 2017
    So... this is your blog now?
    @Corn Noodles I guess it is, for lack of better word, a blog. I always have MTGPQ stuff on my mind, and I like talking about it with others.

    Generally, I like talking about Magic, both paper and Puzzle Quest. Whether its about speculation, strategy, combos etc., I love it all.

    I have a passion for the game, and I want to share that passion with others.


    Edited so as to not encourage a legal battle... anything else that needs to be edited?

  • Mainloop25
    Mainloop25 Posts: 1,896 Chairperson of the Boards
    Most of this stuff has already been brought up a few times in various threads. I encourage you to read more of the other threads in this forum if you don't want to retread old ground. Good luck with the job application. 
  • shteev
    shteev Posts: 2,031 Chairperson of the Boards
    I'm getting a bit bored of people posting 'their new cycling deck!!!!!' which features New Perspectives, Drake Haven, and 8 cycling cards.
  • babar3355
    babar3355 Posts: 1,128 Chairperson of the Boards
    edited June 2017

    I for one appreciate you taking the time to construct and post your ideas on the forums.  Don't be surprised when you are greeted with a few snarky remarks. That's what us forum trolls do =)  I do think you would get more viewership and positive response on your EXTRA SWAPS "blog" if you contributed to other people's threads on the forums and were a more well known voice. 

    Anyway, on to your thoughts:

    1. Training Grounds: Totally agree on your first one.  It's hard to gauge how well your event decks are playing out if you are running into infinite loop Kiora decks, deploy decks, etc.   Give us the ability to choose the format.  D3 doesn't even necessarily need to up the prizes you can earn (although that would be nice)... just give us more options.

    2. Event Objectives: I don't necessarily think that newer players should be able to get all objectives. Good games require some progression, and we don't really want newer players immediately able to compete for top prizes in PvP events.  There are other ways for them to progress like story mode, PvE events, or just progression in PvP.  However, I do agree with you that event objectives should be fun.  Casting 5 vehicles isn't fun.  Casting 5 vehicles and ending with 20 or less life in enraged is just terribly un-fun. 

    I actually think the objectives in Trial of Strength (the intended ones) and Trial of Ambitions are quite good.  My only gripe is that they get repetitive.  In the original Terror in the Shadows, the colors would rotate around the wheel each week.  So sometimes you are casting spirits in white, sometimes in blue, etc.  This added a lot of variety and kept the game interesting.  You rarely had perfect scores in the first month or two that the event ran.  I have no idea why they abandoned this concept, but I wish they would bring it back.

    3.Vizier of Tumbling Sand - Erm... I disagree.  To me it is just a solid sideboard against white decks.  But the reality is in cycling decks you almost certainly are running support destruction, you probably can 1 shot them with a drake or GR stack, and Vizier is not a powerhouse engine like Shefnet Monitor.   I would argue he isn't necessarily any better than horror of the broken lands.  Regardless, the RUN AWAY best card with cycling is Cast Out.  It's not even close.

    4.Dovin Bane - Again, I tend to disagree.  DB is great for locking down certain opponents, and of course he can cycle forever.  But nothing about him makes him stronger than Kiora except the use of cast out.  However, if you are running monitor, draven, cycle deck... you will never even give them a chance to do anything.  You can pretty much go infinite.   Kiora also has a lot more recoverability and variety with the cards she has access to, including another powerhouse card Rishkar's Expertise.  I do like DB... but I don't trust him like I do Kiora. 

    Oh, and good luck with your Hiberium interview.  We could use some inside help =)

  • Steeme
    Steeme Posts: 784 Critical Contributor

    Hixus does not belong in your deck.  Swap it for Lay Claim.

  • Mickleberry
    Mickleberry Posts: 48 Just Dropped In
    Steeme said:

    Hixus does not belong in your deck.  Swap it for Lay Claim.

    You are 100% correct. I just pulled Lay Claim and it is incredibly useful against the latter tier matches in PvE events.

  • madwren
    madwren Posts: 2,210 Chairperson of the Boards
    Kudos for your patience in writing all of this, but yeah, it seems like basically a "this week on the MTGPQ forums" summary, most of which we've already seen/read.  You'd also be better served starting separate topics instead of creating a lengthy laundry list in each post. For example, your opinion about Dovin Baan being the most powerful could be its own separate thread.