Minor Sideboard Change
That said, I did change my deck list a little bit, removing Electrickery from the board entirely. The issue is that Electrickery serves a very specific purpose, wiping tokens and possibly clearing the board in a mirror match. I already have a set of Legion Loyalists to ignore tokens, and killing creatures in the mirror match is a defensive move, which seems like a terrible idea with this super aggressive deck. If I'm really worried about tokens, it's worth running something that has wider applicability. I decided to go with Weapon Surge - at the cost of an attack, Weapon Surge can accomplish the same goal as Electrickery, but it can also help deal with bigger blockers or be used for another 2-4 damage in a successful combat phase. It has greater utility, so I think it's a stronger choice.
Aside from that change, the list that I took to last week's Friday Night Magic was the same as before:
3 Ash Zealot
4 Burning-Tree Emissary
4 Firedrinker Satyr
4 Foundry Street Denizen
3 Goblin Shortcutter
4 Legion Loyalist
4 Rakdos Cackler
2 Rubblebelt Maaka
4 Lightning Strike
2 Magma Jet
4 Titan's Strength
4 Madcap Skills
2 Peak Eruption
2 Seismic Stomp
2 Weapon Surge
Holy crap, life gain
Last week's FNM was an even smaller affair than the previous one, with only 8 people in attendance. As such, we only played three rounds. I finished with a disappointing 1-2 record, falling pretty spectacularly to a couple decks with significant life gain abilities. Some details:
Round one pitted me against a red white deck that dominated me 0-2. It was actually the same midrange red player I had beaten the week before, but he had made a number of important modifications. Most notably, Spark Trooper and Warleader's Helix. As soon as either of those spells resolved, the game was effectively over, as the six point life gain from the Trooper and the 4 life plus removal of the Helix each put him solidly beyond my reach.
In round two, I defeated a mono blue devotion deck 2-1. Weapon Surge really shines in this matchup (and really any matchup without much spot removal), as I was able to use it to blow him out in game three. I think his deck list was a little stronger than the mono blue deck I played a few weeks ago, but it still didn't give me a whole lot of trouble - my one loss was the result of really weak draws during the game.
The final round brought an unexpected green monster deck featuring a number of planeswalkers, which knocked me down 1-2. Post-board, Seismic Stomp and Act of Treason do a good job dealing with Sylvan Caryatid and Polukranos, but Scavenging Ooze's life gain proved too much to handle. In each of the games I lost, I was able to get my opponent down under 3 life, but the Ooze allowed him to stabilize and counter any burn I might throw at him.
Despite the frustrating loss in round three, I took the close games as a great sign: my $25 deck was still pretty competitive against a deck that cost well over $100. I think that's a good indication that you don't need to drop a ton of money to succeed in a given standard environment (at least at the FNM level), you just need to have a pretty finely-tuned deck.
The two big concerns I had noticed in the past - mid-game life gain and Boros Reckoner - are still significant problems for this deck. I unfortunately didn't get to test any recent changes against Reckoner, so I still have some hope that more aggressive play can help mitigate the minotaur's damage. On the other hand, the deck undeniably needs better tech against life gain.
I think there are two major options for dealing with that problem. The first is to run more answers to those specific threats. Stick Skullcrack and Shock in the main deck and plan to leave mana up for the relevant spells once my opponent is able to cast their unfortunate life gain spells. A secondary benefit of such changes is that I may be more likely to win game one against Esper or Azorius control decks, but it comes with a pretty damning downside - playing like this seems like it would slow me down quite a bit, making it harder to compete with most decks. I don't think it's a great option in its entirety, but it might be worth running a couple Shocks in place of a couple Lightning Strikes in the main deck.
The second option is much more appealing but certainly not without its disadvantages as well. Running Akroan Crusader could help build a strong board state relatively quickly and cheaply; Dynacharge could push through a few extra points of damage or end the game in a hurry, if it reaches that point. Really the idea here would be to lower the average converted mana cost of the deck (which is already 1.5) to try to force more damage through earlier.
While this kind of modification might be able to deal more damage more quickly, I doubt that it would work out to be as consistent as the list I've been using (I'm too lazy to work through the math on that right now). I'm a fan of the Dynacharge bit, though, so it might be worth investigating as an alternative to something like Madcap Skills.
Basically, it seems like I need to come up with some clever way of dealing with life gain. I'll probably only get one more shot with this deck before the next expansion, Born of the Gods, hits shelves, so here's hoping I can solve this life gain problem soon!