Last week I went into some detail on some of the stories of Double Masters 2022 Season. The final weekend challenges of the season were won by established decks Gate Blade and Red Blitz but Grixis Affinity, and more importantly the Affinity shell, put up good numbers.
There are a lot of interesting threads woven through the past nine weeks, but if I had to pick the most important it would be that red is likely the best color in the format right now.
Let’s go back to the first few events after Monastery Swiftspear was downshifted. Red Blitz put a new pressure on the format due to its ability to consistently present a game ending threat on the third or fourth turn of the game. What made Blitz so dangerous was that it did not rely on Lightning Bolt and similar effects to get the job done and instead is built on cheap spells that either replace themselves or have some other benefit.
Take Lava Dart for example. Trading a Lightning Bolt for a Quirion Ranger against Elves is often correct but never felt great as a red player. Lava Dart wants to be spent early so it can be “free” later for the combo turn. Crash Through and Ancestral Anger both give evasion while drawing cards and like all other spells in the deck add to the damage output. Red Blitz is a deck that is more than the sum of its parts but requires one of its spouts to function. Compare this to traditional Burn which is a deck where each spell will almost always fulfill its purpose regardless of the other cards in play or in your hand.
But then there’s Grixis Affinity. Part of this decks strength resides in its resilience with Blood Fountain but this deck also has a very “red” angle of attack thanks to Makeshift Munitions. Converting otherwise useless resources into damage, even a single damage, is enough to end the game eventually. While Affinity can kill quickly thanks to Myr Enforcer and Gurmag Angler teaming up with Galvanic Blast, it has become a red deck far more comfortable in the latter turns of a game.
So for one of the first times in Pauper’s history red has the ability to kill you fast or slow. The kind of cards that are good against fast red are not as strong against slow red and vice versa. Even cards that are somewhat powerful against fast red, like Weather the Storm, are somewhat useless in the face of Temur Battle Rage.
Fast forward four weeks to the first dribs and drabs of Battle for Baldur’s Gate on Magic Online. The set almost immediately makes an impact thanks to the pairing of Sacred Cat and Basilisk Gate in Gate Blade. This damage engine catches on in Boros Bully, adding Lunarch Veteran as another source of life gain. Now there are decks capable of pressuring life totals early and often while also bolstering their own in the face of red decks. Lunarch Bully caught on quickly, perhaps because it was proactive or perhaps because the shell already existed. This past weekend Gate Blade won on Saturday and was the most popular Top 32 deck on Sunday. And it did this in part by being a traditional White-Blue Control deck in a field of red.
So where does that leave the format in the wake of Dominaria United? While the set looks interesting nothing jumps out as format shaking. Instead we already saw a bit of a course correction on Saturday with an increase in Gruul Cascade decks running Thermokarst and Mwonvul Acid-Moss, possibly as a way to hit Gates and possibly due to how good Annoyed Altisaur is against Counterspell. If I were trying to level the metagame for this weekend, I would look at a way to fit white into the Cascade-Ramp engine as a way to preserve my life total.
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