Block, with Everything

Posted in Feature on August 1, 2007

By Frank Karsten

Hello, and welcome to another installment of Online Tech. Today I will do the usual Time Spiral Block Constructed metagame roundup, and then I will analyze Block deck matchups.

I found eight Block Premier Events on Magic Online last week, and I compiled the Top 8 results in the following table. The method I use to rank archetypes is the following. For a normal tournament, I give three points to a deck that finishes in place 5-8; decks that finish in place 3-4 get four points; and decks that make the finals get six points. Then I add up all those numbers for every deck, and I divide by the total amount of points to arrive at the popularity percentage. You can click on a deck name to find a representative decklist in my deck-o-pedia forum thread. Decks in red are on a downswing; decks in blue are on an upswing.

Deck namePopularity PercentageChange from last week’s average
1. Blue-Black-X Teachings Control■■■■■ ■■■■■ ■■■■■ ■■■■■ ■■■■■ ■■ (27%)12%
2. Mono-Blue Pickles■■■■■ ■■■■■ ■■■■■ (15%)-1%
3. White-Green Goyf Aggro■■■■■ ■■■■■ (10%)-1%
4. White-Green-Blue Goyf Blink■■■■■ ■ (6%)5%
5. Black-Green-White Discard Goyf■■■■■ ■ (6%)6%
6. Mono-Green Aggro■■■■■ (5%)5%
7. Black-Red-Blue Void Control■■■■■ (5%)-1%
8. Blue-Green Goyf Aggro■■■■ (4%)-12%
9. Blue-White Pickles■■■■ (4%)3%
10. Reanimator■■■ (3%)3%
11. White Weenie■■ (2%)-2%
12. White-Green-Red Tarmogoyf■■ (2%)0%
13. White-Red-Blue Control■■ (2%)1%
14. Blue-Green Shifter■■ (2%)-1%
15. Red Deck Wins■ (1%)-6%
16. Red-Green Big Mana■ (1%)0%
17. Turbo Relic Control■ (1%)1%
18. Blue-Black Pickles■ (1%)1%
19. Blue-Black-X Korlash Teachings0-1%

Blue-Black-X Teachings (including versions that splash green, red, white, or multiple colors; that is what the "X" stands for) has taken control of the format in impressive fashion this week, while Mono Blue Pickles and various Tarmogoyf decks are also putting up quite some numbers. I am wondering what is up with that recent surge in Mono-Green Aggro decks though; even with Primal Forcemage plus Uktabi Drake or Groundbreaker to hit hard the turn after a Damnation, and tech like Safe Haven versus Tendrils of Corruption I honestly cannot imagine this deck being good. It feels like an underpowered budget option to me.

Regarding Goyf decks, the rise of Blue-Green Goyf has not continued. In fact, Blue-Green Goyf appears to have a week off. But perhaps this can be explained by the appearance of new builds that also use Tarmogoyf. Maybe the Blue-Green Goyf players have switched over. There is a new "mix and match" white-green-blue build which uses the best of all three popular colors together, and which can also run Momentary Blink. Furthermore, there is a relatively new black-green-white build which leans heavily on discard spells.

I was hoping to catch some of the online players who piloted these archetypes to Premier Event Top 8s and ask them for their decklists, but for this article every single time I did that I was not able to find anyone online or responding (probably because I could only be online for a short time due to tight planning on my part, but last weekend's National Championships in the U.S. and Great Britain could also have had something to do with it). So instead I will show you some Pro Tour Qualifier lists in order to give you an idea of how these new Goyf decks look online. Incidentally, these new decks generally started appearing in online Top 8s only after these PTQ lists came online, which might indicate that the online players simply just copied them, so it would make sense to show the PTQ lists anyway.

Kyle Baldonado's BGW Goyf Discard

This deck features sixteen discard spells, which should fill up your graveyard just as quickly as your opponent's. The synergy with Tarmogoyf and Mystic Enforcer is obvious. The Flagstones of Trokair plus Smallpox combo is also present, and the deck doesn't run that many creatures, so you should usually be able to time Smallpox at a moment where your opponent is the only player with a creature in play, thereby breaking the symmetry of the card. Note that the deck is mostly black, with just a light touch of white and green.

Flagstones of Trokair
The deck looks fun on paper, but I feel it is somewhat underpowered. I do not like decks that are oriented towards discard as a main strategy. I would happily play against a deck like this with Blue-Black-X Teachings; I'll discard a Mystical Teachings and a land to Stupor, and then easily refill with Careful Considerations again. And in the late game Blue-Black-X Teachings can topdeck so many game breaking cards, and discard spells cannot stop topdecks. A couple discard spells combined with aggressive creatures is a fine strategy in my mind (think back to Extended Aggro Rock with Cabal Therapy and Duress), as long you don't go overboard on discard. Adding too many relatively weak discard spells like Augur of Skulls, Funeral Charms, etcetera does not work in my experience. Eventually you will keep on drawing discard spells while your opponent is empty handed.

The Mono-Black Rack decks in Standard and the Mono-Black Fatty discard decks (which is in fact this deck in disguise; you just have Tarmogoyf and Mystic Enforcer instead of Tombstalker and Nihilith) never really ended up working well, so I naturally have some doubts regarding this deck. However, the results indicate that it can win, and I don't want to dismiss it completely. If you want to give this deck a try, I'd recommend taking out some of the discard spells and adding cards that put on pressure in order to make the deck more balanced—maybe Phyrexian Totem or Call of the Herd, something like that. Probably Phyrexian Totem because you don't have to sacrifice it as a creature to Smallpox.

Anyhow, now may be the time for Dodecapods to find their way into your sideboard again.

Blue-green-white decks have come in different varieties. There are base green-white builds with Momentary Blink that just have one Island to flash it back. There are versions with Wild Pair. And there are base green-blue decks that splash for Blink, like the above one. The latter is the most common. It looks very similar to your typical Blue-Green Goyf list. But instead of Call of the Herds and Snapbacks, the deck adds Mystic Snake and Momentary Blink. Blink is a great card in the current metagame, as it is perfect for fighting Tendrils of Corruption and Temporal Isolation. Note that you can attack with an Isolated creature, stack damage, and then play Blink in order to have your creature deal combat damage. This is because due to timing rules, damage is always put on the stack regardless of whether it's going to be prevented and when Isolation is no longer there when damage is about to resolve, it cannot prevent anything. Mystic Snake is a perfectly acceptable inclusion for this type of deck anyway, and it elevates Momentary Blink from just a pinpoint removal fighter to a two-mana Counterspell with flashback. Momentary Blink also works wonders with Riftwing Cloudskate and Venser, Shaper Savant in order to keep ahead in a tempo race.

I really like this deck. It has good synergy and powerful cards, and Momentary Blink truly shines in this deck. There are only a couple things I don't like all that much: the lack of Chromatic Stars (it is often played in two-color Goyf decks, and this three-color deck needs the mana fixing even more), and lack of maindeck Mystic Enforcer (they are in the sideboard of this deck, but the deck should be able to support at least two in the main, since they are such strong monsters). I would personally cut the two maindeck Pongify (seems more like a sideboard card to me), and perhaps a land (24 seems like a bit much, especially when adding Chromatic Stars), and then some other cards to make room.

Comparing Magic Online with the PTQs

Virulent Sliver
If we compare this week's Magic Online results with last week's American Pro Tour Qualifier results, then there are some striking dissimilarities. First, even though Blue-Black-X Teachings was also the most popular and best performing deck in the Pro Tour Qualifiers, it did not blow out the other decks as much as online. Furthermore, in the paper events the numbers of White-Green Goyf (2%) and Blue-Green Goyf (9%) were almost the exact opposites of their respective numbers in the online events. And I also saw no Mono-Green Aggro decks in the Pro Tour Qualifier Top 8s, indicating that this is mostly an online phenomenon. Lastly, in the paper events Korlash-based control, Blue-Green Shifter morph, and Poison Sliver decks were much more popular than online.

And Now for Some Matchup Percentages

Magic Online Premier Events are useful for analysis purposes, most importantly because you can watch the Top 8 replays. However, there is more data to be gained from them. While Premier Events are running, you can also watch replays of the current round and see every round's match results as they finish. By watching replays of every player it is easy to note down what everyone plays and put that information in a table. I copy-paste all the match results, combine it with the who-plays-what table, and with some handy usage of Excel I then replace all player names by the deck archetype they play, and add those up.

The end result is a bunch of matchup data that can indicate a deck's strengths and weaknesses and its overall performance. Over the course of the last two weeks, I tracked this data for four Time Spiral Block Constructed Premier Events (#1001827, #1003309, #1001830, and #1000563) and added everything up in the following tables. I chose to only show matchup information for the eight most popular deck archetypes in these tournaments. If I added more decks, the table would explode, so I like to make some global abstractions. I did not track mirror matches, as these are 50-50 by definition.

In the first table, a cell value has two numbers. The first number is the amount of times the deck in the corresponding row won in this matchup. The second number is the amount of times the deck in the corresponding column won in this matchup. For example, Mono Blue Pickles and Blue-Black-X Teachings played 27 times total, of which Mono-Blue Pickles won 13 times and Blue-Black-X Teachings won 14 times. Naturally, all entries above the diagonal are the inverse of all entries below the diagonal. In the second table, these match win amounts have been transformed to match win percentages. A cell value is the percentage of time the row deck beat the column deck. So, in the case of Mono-Blue Pickles and Blue-Black-X Teachings, Mono-Blue Pickles won 48% of the time.

(row deck wins – column deck wins)Mono Blue PicklesWG(r) GoyfUBx TeachingsUG GoyfRed Deck WinsPoison SliversBRu VoidUGW BlinkOther
Mono Blue Pickles8-1413-147-87-57-44-24-413-17
WG(r) Goyf14-89-157-29-77-55-83-423-15
UBx Teachings14-1315-97-96-87-124-91-935-16
UG Goyf8-72-79-72-42-51-44-18-6
Red Deck Wins5-77-98-64-23-10-31-112-12
Poison Slivers4-75-712-75-21-30-42-09-5
BRu Void2-48-59-44-13-04-02-22-5
UGW Blink4-44-39-11-41-10-22-211-6

(row deck win percentage)Mono Blue PicklesWG(r) GoyfUBx TeachingsUG GoyfRed Deck WinsPoison SliversBRu VoidUGW BlinkOther
Mono Blue Pickles50%36%48%47%58%64%67%50%65%
WG(r) Goyf64%50%38%78%56%58%38%43%61%
UBx Teachings52%63%50%44%43%37%31%10%69%
UG Goyf53%22%56%50%33%29%20%80%57%
Red Deck Wins42%44%57%67%50%75%0%50%50%
Poison Slivers36%42%63%71%25%50%0%100%64%
BRu Void33%62%69%80%100%100%50%50%29%
UGW Blink50%57%90%20%50%0%50%50%65%

Note: Mono-Blue Pickles also includes Blue-White Pickles variants; UBx Teachings includes all variants, with white, with red, including Korlash builds, etc.; and WG(r) Goyf encompasses straight-up white-green builds as well as versions with a red splash. I combined these because the decks are very similar and increasing sample size increases accuracy.

With this table, one can not only get some ideas about which deck is favored in certain matchups (although note that often the sample size is too small to make definitely conclusions), but also assess the total performance of archetypes. An obvious way to do this is to take all the wins and losses for each deck out of the first table and add them up:

DeckTotal RecordMW%
BRu Void Control34-2162%
UGw BlinkGoyf32-2358%
WG(r) Goyf77-6455%
Mono Blue Pickles81-6854%
Poison Slivers38-3552%
UBx Teachings89-8551%
Red Deck Wins40-4149%
UG Goyf36-4147%

There are problems with using this statistic, though. Imagine that a deck only got paired against its good matchups and never against its bad matchups. Then it would naturally win a lot, but that would not have to mean it is actually good against the metagame as a whole. This statistic also doesn't take note of mirror matches. We can try to solve this as follows. If we incorporate an estimate of the metagame that is based on the average online metagame of the last three weeks (which is more accurate than just using one week's data as this balances out random fluctuations; I used—taking note of recent trends—a metagame of 17% Blue-Black-X Teachings, 15% Mono-Blue Pickles, 10% White-Green-(red) Goyf, 9% Blue-Green Goyf, 4% Black-Red-Blue Void Control, 4% Blue-Green-White Goyf Blink, 4% Poison Slivers, 4% Red Deck Wins, and 33% other) then we can calculate an expected match win percentage against the field, by multiplying the win percentage against a deck with the percentage of that deck in the metagame, then summing over all decks:

UGw Blink Goyf 58%
WG(r) Goyf 56%
Poison Slivers 55%
Mono Blue Pickles54%
UBx Teachings54%
BRu Void Control52%
Red Deck Wins50%
UG Goyf50%

There are problems with using this statistic as well. Imagine that a deck actually has a good matchup against the most popular deck in the field, but only played against it once and lost. The eventual match win percentage against that field would then be inaccurately sensitive to that one game. For instance, Black-Red-Blue Void Control had a 2-5 record against "other." As always, these statistics are just that: numbers. They can lead to interesting observations and I will leave most of it open to your own interpretations, as there is definitely some information to be gained from them. However, don't forget that metagames vary, some numbers are unreliable due to the small sample size, and these statistics abstract away from playing skill and superior deck versions. I just observed some players play lots of matches in the Premier Events and reported the result; that is all.

But Let Me Try to Draw Some Conclusions From All This

The matchup data I gathered indicates that Red Deck Wins and Blue-Green Goyf are not the best choices. Furthermore, Poison Slivers posted a positive record, so it is certainly not the worst deck. The Blue-Green-White Blink Goyf deck that I covered earlier not only looks good, but it has won a lot in the events I watched as well, so if you want to bank on some new tech, this is the deck I would recommend the most. Also, Mono Blue Pickles and Blue-Black-X Teachings show average results: not particularly high, not particularly low. Nonetheless, these two decks still appear like the two best and most feared control decks to me. I will personally continue playing Blue-Black-White Teachings if I join an 8-man for fun, because experience and comfort with a tuned deck is more important than just picking the deck with the highest win percentage presented here.

Venser, Shaper Savant
Some off topic deck rambling: I have added a maindeck Venser, Shaper Savant in order to fight Take Possessions, as well as a Sudden Death and a Spell Burst against Mono-Blue Pickles to my GP–Montreal version. I have cut Take Possession, Temporal Isolation, and one Tendrils of Corruption (going down to 3 Urborg, Tomb of Yagmoth in the process) from my deck due to the large amount of bounce (Riftwing Cloudskate, Venser, Shaper Savant, and Snapback, not to mention Momentary Blinks) in the format. I put back the good old Haunting Hymn and a Draining Whelk in place of Take Possession, so that the deck still has some powerful big spells to accelerate into. I also added a Tormod's Crypt in the board since it great against the rising reanimator decks and can be tutored with Tolaria West. Hopefully these thoughts can help you to tweak your deck.

Lastly, the Black-Red-Blue Void Control deck had a great overall match result in the matchup statistics. I have never talked about this deck in detail, but it was popular enough in the events I watched to earn a category of its own, so let's take a look. These decks are highly similar to Blue-Black-X Teachings in that they run Damnation and blue card draw. The main difference is that these decks run heavy red. Not just 1 Bogardan Hellkite as a Teachings target, or 2 Void tossed into an otherwise base blue-black deck as an afterthought. I'm talking about playing around eight red cards—including triple-red cards—instead of Mystical Teachings, Cancels, and Shadowmage Infiltrators, complemented by multiple Graven Cairns and Molten Slagheaps. The distinction between Black-Red-Blue Void Control and Blue-Black-X Teachings is often quite hard to make based on a couple replays, so I always just make my best guess and hope I'm right.

Simon Görtzen's BRu Void Control

I chose to show a decklist that I watched in action myself a couple weeks ago at a local PTQ. The idea of this deck is fairly similar to what I ran in Pro Tour–Yokohama; good red and black kill spells, including the powerful Void, lots of mana artifacts, expensive finishers, and then some blue card draw. Coalition Relic shines in this type of deck. Foresee is Careful Consideration if you can't easily afford double blue. Without Mystical Teachings to search, the deck simply runs 3 Haunting Hymn to battle control decks.

The main rationale behind choosing this deck is Akroma, Angel of Fury and Void. Akroma's protection makes it awesome versus Blue-Green and Mono-Blue Pickles because it evades counters and bounce, but it also excels against Mystic Enforcer. Void is very good against Tarmogoyf decks and White Weenie, because a Void for two can act as Damnation, and it gives an easy way to deal with creatures like Mystic Enforcer and Calciderm, which are otherwise hard to kill. However, many decks have diversified the mana cost of their cards over the entire spectrum, which was the main reason why I eventually shied away from Void decks and opted for Blue-Black Teachings instead. Red-Black-Blue Void Control can still be a good metagame call. It certainly holds enough powerful cards to compete and the amount of wins in my data set is promising. Some ideas for this deck that I saw in similar builds are Molten Disaster against Frenetic Sliver, and—tech alert—Quiet Disrepair. The latter should be viewed as a life gaining machine versus Red Deck Wins; just put it on your own Prismatic Lens or Coalition Relic and gain 2 per turn. I think it is better than Aven Riftwatcher in decks with four Relics.

Zooming in on the "Other" Category

I construed my matchup percentage tables with the eight most played decks, and lumped all others in a general "other" category. While the decks in this 'other' category were not played by enough players to draw meaningful matchup data, I can still share the wins and losses for the decks that played 20 or more games in my data set. It's not much, but some information is better than nothing. The most common decks in the "other" category were:

DeckTotal RecordMW%
UG(r) Shifter13-1448%
Mono Green decks13-1645%
UWR Angel Control8-1142%
White Weenie10-1639%
RG Goyf Aggro9-1833%

Evidently, the reanimator decks deserve a closer look.

Justin Atwood's Reanimator

This deck uses Bonded Fetch, Gathan Raiders, Careful Consideration and Looter il-Kor to discard Bridge from Below (an important asset against removal) and expensive fat creatures. Then it plays Dread Return or Body Double to return Bogardan Hellkite or an Akroma version back in play. Bridge from Below gives you strong game versus Damnation. The base of the deck is blue-red (it can even start hard-casting Hellkites if the game goes wrong) and it easily splashes Dread Return with Urborg, Tomb of Yagmoth and Graven Cairns. Even if you draw no black mana, you can easily discard Dread Return to a looter and then flash it back with Mogg War Marshal. And when I think of Mogg War Marshal, I think of Greater Gargadon, and of course it is present in this deck as well. All in all, this gives the deck lots of angles. It can look like Red Deck Wins, with turn-one Gargadon, turn-two Marshal, turn-three Raiders. It can chain a Looter into a turn-four Dread Return to look like a pure reanimation deck. And Blue-Black-X Teachings has a hard time beating Bridge from Below. That's a lot of stuff for the opposing deck to handle at the same time. Not all versions run the Gargadon plus Mogg War Marshal package—instead they may fiddle around with Magus of the Bazaar, Momentary Blink, or Tarmogoyf—but this build is the most common one online and also looks the strongest, because it can attack from so many directions.

Magic Online News

Masters EditionYou may want to take a look at the refreshed design of the official Magic Online page. The server status window is back, and you can also find information on a "Guru" Basic Land promotion there, as extra prizes for Premier Event participants. Furthermore, the V3 open beta is returning, so you may want to check out the blog and try it out.

And finally, the big news is the release of Masters Edition, a Magic Online-only set. It is planned for a September 10 release and will feature many great cards from Magic's pre-Mirage past for the Classic format. I will cover this in more detail in next week's article, but in the meantime you can watch the Card of the Day on, because every card you see there is going to be available in the new set!

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