Friday, June 3, 2011

Probing Standard

It's rare for me to do a strategy piece, but I really wanted to talk for a bit about the relevance of this card.  In New Phyrexia, a new Peek entered standard in the form of Gitaxian Probe.  It refills itself, it's an instant, but most importantly, it can be played without any color dependency.  Git Probe begs the question- does it go in every deck?

Didn't they use one of these on
Cartman once?

The trouble is, that if you're a good enough player that you can benefit from the information the Probe provides, then you should also be good enough to know the decks you're playing against.  For example, you know that a cawblade player will try to drop a tapland or Preordain on T1, a Stoneforge Mystic if they have it, Squadron hawk if they don't, and flash something in on T3 with a Mystic, or play a sword, hawk or magnet if they don't have it.  On the fourth turn, if these plays weren't disrupted, they can do pretty much whatever they want.  EVERYONE who's played standard in the last couple months knows this.  They all know to expect a creature that costs W1 on turn 2, and if that doesn't happen, then the cawblade player clearly hasn't made good mulligan decisions.

They should have given this guy a
trenchcoat and a boarded up van.

So how valuable can Gitaxian Probe possibly be beyond Street Wraith?  There isn't really a reactionary deck in this standard environment, at least not a popular one, so you know from the get-go exactly what an opponent's deck is supposed to do.  Occasionally, it'll let you know something like an opponent withholding a second or third copy of a planeswalker, but that's about it, and there are better ways to know that information.  In the current standard, there are so many ways to know what an opponent's hand holds, whether it's your doing or your opponent's, that Probe really isn't necessary.

Cards that let you know what your opponent has:

-Gitaxian Probe
-Jace, the Mind Sculptor
-Inquisition of Kozilek
-Goblin Guide
-Sorin Markov

Cards your opponents play that let you know what they have:

-Squadron Hawk
-Stoneforge Mystic
-Dark Tutelage
-Sarkhan the Mad
-Oracle of Mul Daya
-Mul Daya Channelers
-Lead the Stampede
-Sylvan Ranger
-Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas
-Pilgrim's Eye
-Fauna Shaman

So basically, this card farts on a scroll,
and the spell pops back into your mind?
I know it's not a definitive list, but you get the point.  Very rarely does a game go on when you don't know what your opponent's holding onto.

The reality is that Green and White are the only two colors that don't already have a way to view what an opponent has, and in a way, Green can still manipulate an opponent's hand with Noxious Revival (for that matter, any player can), but the real power comes in Black with its powerful discard suite.  G/W isn't a reactionary deck at all, and thus really doesn't need the Probe.

Duress, Despise, and Inquisition are the real power when it comes to examining an opponent's hand.  Not only do these cards give the full view, but they help answer what an opponent has, disrupting their tempo.  With the Probe, sure, you get to look at their hand, but that means nothing if you have no way to interact with their plan.  Sure, the card may replace itself, but I would think that you'd just be better off having more slots for disruption in your deck, since as I said earlier, you should already know what they're planning after their first turn play.

The one deck that I can think of that really benefits from the probe in standard is Elves.  Now, you can find out from T1 on if your opponent really has that sweeper or not.  It becomes much easier to overextend when you know exactly what they have for disruption, and in a way it's like you're not doing much overextending at all.  For any other deck, either play black, or stop worrying about what they might have in their hand.  You know EXACTLY what they have in their hand.

One hot tip before I leave- for players who don't have a large suite of hand disruption, but are still taking a peek thanks to cards like JtMS or Goblin Guide, remember not just the cards that they're adding, but how many of the cards in their hand were from their opening hand.  You can make logical assumptions on what the mystery cards are based upon the rest of the hand they kept.

Strangely good control creature.
Just sayin'.
For example, if you're playing a CawBlade player, and you've swung with GG three times, revealing no lands and the opponent hasn't played any Preordains, you know everything but probably three cards in their hand- they've already cast a spell and played three lands out of their starting 7.  You know that with no Preordains, Halimar Depths, or whatever, it would be very unlikely for them to keep a 4 land hand- not unless they had a SFM and a JtMS.  If your opponent hits their fourth land drop without still drawling a land, even if they don't cast that Jace, it's safe to assume that one of the mystery cards is the big boy himself.  By the same token, if a Cawblade player keeps a two-lander with no preordain, expect them to have the nuts- i.e. at least one SFM, probably two, a JtMS, possibly a Hawk, and then a bunch of disruption, cards like Spell Pierce or Mental Mistep and Condemn.  They won't have a Gideon in that hand, that's for sure, and probably no equipment, keeping a hand with equal or more SFMs than equipment in your deck is usually a bad plan.

Ugh, sorry about this.  I meant to talk more about other archetypes, but it's hard to talk about much other than Caw nowadays and be taken seriously.  Anyways, you get the gist of the article- that there's enough information provided right now that you can safely assume the rest without needing a Probe to confirm it.  Decks without black, however, still have some use for the probe, provided that the information they need is a less consistent part of their opponent's deck.  For example, if you're playing against RUG Twin, you know they have disruption, so there's no point in wasting the probe for that.  However, if you're playing a deck that NEEDS to know how much of the combo they've assembled, THEN you may have use for Probe.  If you're playing against an Emeria, the Sky Ruin control deck, and you want to know if they have the lands to trigger Emeria, of course they will.  They've been drawing em and drawing extra cards and dropping Pilgrim's Eyes and all that stuff.  If you want to know if they have the Sun Titan, or if they have a second Sky Ruin if you Tec Edge the first, THEN the probe may come in handy.  However, these are rare situations, and often even if knowing it is important, it still won't change your line of play.

If you have a local meta where you expect a varied and diverse field, then Probe seems okay, because it lets you know how to use your limited disruption, or to play around what your opponent has for kill.  However, you'd always side it out after the first game for more specialized hate (or more well protected beats).  It's a versatile card, in that it does the same thing no matter the matchup, but that doesn't necessarily mean it's a good card.  Whether or not you see their hand, you'll still be digging for answers for the current gamestate with it, so you might as well just run more answers once you know what they're playing.  For most tournament environments, that means hate for Jace decks in your main.  At FNM level, however, this card could be an all-star.  Just don't try to carry that over to more serious play.

This was Yo Mama, saying eat your vegetables or you'll get no dessert!

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