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The Valakut flora

April 10, 2011

It’s the time of the year when it’s time to really start paying attention to Standard. The Philadelphia PTQ season starts at the end of the month and National Qualifiers have already started to bloom out across the globe. And a little further down the stretch we have Nationals during the summer. That means there is a lot of attention for Standard during the near future even if you are not residing in the land of Star City Games Opens.

Boom goes the dynamite!

Therefore a majority of my (scarce) time playing Magic recently have naturally hinged around Standard. And as my standard testing procedure (when I have a lot time before the actual events) goes, I have recently just grabbed a bunch of “tier 1 decks” and slinged with them. You know, run the decks through the ye old filter and see if anything sticks out.

Eventually I found myself playing with the previous Standard format’s big bogeyman, Valakut. As I was scourging the web for a lists to pick up I was puzzled how different one Valakut deck to another is. I mean, it’s a deck with a pretty streamlined idea. Sure enough, a majority of them have the same fundamental base:

  • 4 Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle
  • 23-24 Other lands, ranging between 10-12 Mountains followed by some combination of fetchlands, Raging Ravines and Forest.
  • 4 Primeval Titan
  • 16-20 Spells of ramp character (with 4 of them always being Explore)
  • 4-8 Summoning Trap and/or Green Sun’s Zenith (aka tutors)
  • 4-8 Removal and/or extra win conditions

But exactly how these pillars are exactly structured changes widely when you look at recent lists floating around the web. Why I find this so strange is how otherwise tuned and similar most of the other tier 1 decks people play right now. Look at a Caw-Blade deck from a Top8 of a recent event. While most Caw-Blade lists are never 75 card a like, the highest difference you see is about 6-10 cards between the main deck and the sideboard for list to list. A similar consensus can’t be found when you skim Vakakut lists.

A partly answer to why that is can be found if you peer into Gatherer and looks for cards that can ramp your mana currently in type 2. You quickly discovers that there are a tons of options in that department!

If I’m just listing cards that I have seen people play the lists gets quite long: Overgrown Battlement, Lotus Cobra, Joraga Treespeaker, Oracle of Mul Daya, Ondu Giant(mostly a one-off for Green Sun’s Zenith, but still), Explore, Khalni Expedition, Sphere of the Suns, Harrow, Cultivate and Growth Spasm. And as mentioned, this is just the tip of the iceberg. There are more than a handful of more cards one could play to ramp ones mana. I won’t comment what I think about all of them, but there are couple I want to make shutouts for:

  • Sphere of the Suns: A card (recently promoted by Lino Burgold in the GP Barcelona coverage) which I think has a lot going for it. It doesn’t require green mana to cast which is quite attractive in a deck with so relatively small amount of green sources comparing to the number of green mana symbols of the decks cards. Those who have played some Valakut knows that it happens more than once that you get a really sweet hand without green mana. It’s also very nice that it can’t be bounced by JtMS like Overgrown Battlement or Lotus Cobra can (so annoying…). The fact that it can only be tapped thrice for mana isn’t that big of a deal. I mean, you are playing a deck with 27 to 28 lands in it. Getting to 6 mana isen’t hard. It’s getting 4GG in your mana pool as fast as possible that is tricky.
  • Growth Spasm: Often left in the shadow of both Harrow and Cultivate, this card is never the less quite good. What’s so great with Growth Spasm is that it gets you to 6 mana (granted if you have another untapped land in hand) on it’s own on turn 4. Needing only a single card to accomplish this task is nothing short of great. The token is also relevant in the manner of blocking guys wielding either of the swords.
  • Oracle of Mul Daya: You don’t see this fancy lady too often in Valakut but I’m personally a huge fan (both in Valakut and in general). She(?) is both good early as late, ramps you and helping you peer through the deck, is a extra creature for Summoning Trap shenanigans… What’s not to love?
  • Khalni Expedition: A card that I don’t personally like although it’s very popular. I initially hated it but eventually I and Khalni Expedition found a mutual understanding for each others as I was playtesting for Worlds last year. It’s very powerful in conjunction with Primeval Titan and enables very quick kills. The reason why I dislike the card is that it doesn’t do anything on it’s own. It’s a ramp spell that need additional ramp spells to function, causing it to be very smelly top decks later on in the game. And it doesn’t help you out if you are stuck on lands either. All in all my point is that I think Khalni Expedition is very overrated.

Moving on to the Summoning Trap versus Green Sun’s Zenith battle, I personally am (at least currently) leaning on the Summoning Trap side. In a vacuum, Green Sun’s Zenith is certainly much more powerful. But actually playing against human beings with countermagic? That changes things. The fact that Summoning Trap can find a Primeval Titan faster (6 mana instead of 7) shouldn’t be discriminated even if there is a change of “fizzling” when casting Summoning Trap.

In the removal slot, the most common cards you see here are Lightning Bolt, Tumble Magnet and/or Slagstorm. Slagstorm is the most powerful one against aggressive decks in general, but since those kinds of decks aren’t doing too well at the moment usually Lightning Bolt or Tumble Magnet are more common to see. Tumble Magnet is better against people trying to hit you with different kinds of swords but can’t handle annoying guys like Lotus Cobra or Fauna Shaman (or Leonin Arbiter from the side) like Lightning Bolt can. It’s a give or take there.

There is another option as well that you found quite common is no removal at all. The common reasoning is that removal is so weak against Caw-Blade decks (which you know are quite popular at the moment for good reason) that it’s just better to focus on landing a powerful threat as fast as possible (with as much backup as possible). Worth to consider.

A majority of the lists you see also have some amount of extra threats in addition to Primeval Titan. These are great for several reasons. They make your deck more consistent by not having to solely rely on Primeval Titan. Often a quick Avenger of Zendikar or Inferno Titan is just as powerful as casting the Primeval Titan. It also makes the deck more robust against cards like Memoricide (or even Sadistic Sarcrament that I occasionally see people playing). As mentioned, Avenger of Zendikar and Inferno Titan is the most popular choices of secondary threats but I got to give Precursor Golem some credit here.

Granted, not as good as AoZ or IT against aggressive decks (specially sporting Lightning Bolt) but it’s quite amazing against Caw-Blade decks. I have earlier mentioned why Precursor Golem is good in general but there is an additional dimension with Precursor Golem in Valakut decks. You see, everybody playing against Valakut have their focus on when their opponent hits 6 mana. Before that, they don’t really care what they do and don’t mind tapping out for Jace, the Mind Scultor or what nod. Therefore it’s easy to caught someone off guard by laying a such potent threat already at 5 mana. And even if they have something like a Day of Judgement, that means that they are naked for a Primeval Titan or Summoning Trap finding titan on the following turn.

The purpose with this piece wasn’t to directly sculpt the “perfect” Valakut list. There are a tons of options how to exactly build a Valakut deck and I wanted to shed some lights on those options. It’s very well possible that the Valakut list that guy played isen’t the best 75 for you to play.

Until next time…

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