Leagues Ahead

Posted in Feature on July 11, 2007

By Frank Karsten

Hello and welcome back to Online Tech! Today I will go over the online Time Spiral Block Constructed metagame. Also—in line with the current Sealed Deck week—I will talk about online league play. But first, I will feature the special 3x prize events that have been held in recent weekends. Scott Larabee wanted to try out something with these Classic, Prismatic, and Singleton events by dropping the entry fee to 4 tix. The attendance has been decent (50-70 players), so it should be interesting to give these formats some short exposure and to see what decks came out on top.

Classic 3x, # 985756, Sunday June 24, 70 players

The card pool of online Classic format includes all sets and promotional cards; nothing is banned or restricted. Dangerlinto covered the tournament very well in this report, and I can't top his exhaustive and informative article. Summarizing, Flash Hulk was the best performing and most popular deck in the room, propelling three players to the Top 8. mikeman29 made it to the finals with this list:

Mikeman29's Flash Hulk

Sideboard (15)
4 Aether Vial 1 Carrion Feeder 2 Chain of Vapor 4 Quirion Dryad 4 Sulfur Elemental

This deck tries to Flash a Protean Hulk in play; it dies and then you search up the win. This particular version chooses to win with Disciple of the Vaults, some zero-cost artifacts, and an Arcbound Ravager to trigger the Disciples. With maindeck Counterbalance and Sensei's Divining Top, and a transformative creature sideboard, this was the best performing Flash Hulk decklist. Other decks in the Top 8 included Boros Deck Wins (with Fireblast) and blue-white anti-combo Fish (with Brainstorm and Swords to Plowshares). Evidently, Classic offers something different from Extended, which makes it an interesting format overall.

Prismatic 3x, #985762, Sunday July 1, 50 players

Prismatic_LensPrismatic is a five-color casual Constructed format for fans of big multicolor decks, with the following deck construction rules:

  • Your deck must contain at least 250 cards.
  • Your deck must contain at least 20 cards of each color. Multicolor and split cards count as one color or the other, not both.
  • You can use cards from the entire Classic card pool, but there is a big banned list, which includes many tutor/search spells (they are too good with as many as 250 cards to choose from), and broken stuff like Battle of Wits.

Furthermore, there is a special mulligan rule. If your starting hand has 0, 1, 6 or 7 lands in it, you can take a "big deck mulligan" for free; that is, you can get back a fresh hand of seven cards. After that, you may mulligan as normal if you don't like your hand. Note that if you take a "big deck mulligan," your opponent has the opportunity to take one too, for "free." Same goes for you if your opponent takes a "big deck mulligan."

A key deckbuilding challenge in this format is the mana base. You have to be sure to run enough lands, get the balance between colors right, and improve consistency with cards that fix the mana or draw extra cards. Furthermore, clever inclusion of split cards or hybrid cards in order to fill up the quota for a certain color is also important.

The Top 8 showed two Zoo aggro decks (including the eventual winner), two good stuff control decks, two Flash Hulk combo decks, and two others. The Top 8 players gave me representative decklists of the major archetypes.

Inv_Shaver's Prismatic 5C Zoo

The goal of this deck is pretty obvious. It's the same as aggro decks in other formats; make a creature on turn one, then another creature on turn two, start attacking and clear the way with burn spells. The strange part of the Prismatic aggro strategy is that you can get the strangest draws; how about turn one Grim Lavamancer, turn two Dark Confidant, turn three Gaea's Skyfolk? That's what the five color requirement does. Fortunately you have dual lands, otherwise it would never work out (I don't want to know how many tickets this deck is worth, though).

wildermischling's Prismatic Flash Hulk

We have just seen Flash Hulk in Classic. Well, it works in Prismatic too. A combo deck is inherently worse with 250 cards, since the probability of drawing a combo piece is approximately 4 times lower than with 60 cards. Furthermore, all the good tutor spells (like Vampiric Tutor) are banned. So running combo seems like a questionable choice in Prismatic. However, there are still a lot of mediocre tutors left. Diabolic Intent, transmute cards, Fierce Empath, etcetera. They may be embarrassing compared to Vampiric Tutor, but they still get the job done and collect the combo pieces. All you need is one Flash and one Protean Hulk, and Disciple of the Vault will go in for the kill. With the amount of—admittedly weak—tutors available, this will actually work most of the time.

prolepsis9's Prismatic 5C goodstuff control

This is a typical control list (particularly geared towards beating Flash Hulk), and as expected there is some countermagic (for example, Counterspell), some creature control (for example, Wrath of God), and some big win conditions (for example, Decree of Justice). This deck also holds a lot of cards that illustrate how card valuations change when you turn to Prismatic. For example, Panglacial Wurm never made it into 60 card decks, since the odds of drawing it (awkward) were too high. You don't want to draw it, you want to keep it in your deck. In Prismatic, the odds of actually drawing it are pretty small, and thus it becomes better. Another example is Arc-Slogger. You can easily shoot all 20 damage to your opponent and still have some cards left in your library. And Etched Oracle also gets a lot better when your mana base already easily supports a sunburst of four.

Protean Hulk
I talked for a bit with Little_Shaves, and he felt that the format came down to Flash Hulk beating Aggro, Aggro beating Five-Color Goodstuff Control, and Five-Color Goodstuff Control beating Flash Hulk in turn. So it is rock-paper-scissors to some extent (even though there are of course some other decks that exist). But the big three should all be pretty close in power. Control was the weakest of the three according to him, but it does beat Flash Hulk the most convincingly out of all the other matchups, so which deck to play is a metagame call. Right now the metagame seems fairly balanced between the three.

Singleton 3x, #997497, Saturday July 7, 69 players

Singleton is a format with one special rule: your deck can only contain a maximum of one copy of any card except basic land. I looked at Singleton a couple weeks ago (so I'm not going in depth now), and in that article I stated that there are two distinct archetypes that always put up good finishes: green-red aggro and blue-black control. The Top 8 of the Singleton 3x tournament was dominated by blue-black control strategies (four in total, including the eventual winner), with only one green-red aggro deck. Top 8 finisher Little_Shaves shared his take on blue-black control.

Little_Shaves's Singleton Blue-Black Control

Little_Shaves told me that he liked the format right now, because the games go incredibly long and there are a lot of decisions, which rewards the better players. A downside is that at the same time, all the good spells are incredibly important: Decree of Justice and Upheaval in the control matchups, and Sword of Fire and Ice and Umezawa's Jitte in the aggro matchups, and since you can only play one, this can make the games somewhat draw dependant. Lastly, Little_Shaves felt that aggro still has a good fighting chance, even though this particular Premier Event didn't make it appear that way.

Time Spiral Block Constructed

Let's take a look at the average metagame in the last two weeks.

Deck nameTotal popularity week 26 and 27Difference with week 25
1. U/B(/w(/r)) Teachings Control■■■■■ ■■■■■ ■■■■■ ■■■■■ ■■ (22%)0%
2. W/G Tarmogoyf Aggro■■■■■ ■■■■■ ■ (11%)-10%
3. Mono Blue Pickles■■■■■ ■■■■ (9%)0%
4. U/G Tarmogoyf Aggro■■■■■ ■■■ (8%)8%
5. Wild Pair Slivers■■■■■ ■■ (7%)5%
6. White Weenie■■■■■ (5%)-1%
7. U/W Pickles■■■■■ (5%)5%
8. W/G/r Tarmogoyf■■■■■ (5%)-1%
9. B/U/w Korlash Teachings■■■■■ (5%)4%
10. B/R(/u) Void Control■■■■■ (5%)-3%
11. Virulent Sliver beats■■■ (3%)3%
12. U/B Pickles■■ (2%)2%
13. R/G Scryb&Force■■ (2%)2%
14. R/G Big Mana■■ (2%)2%
15. Mishra■ (1%)1%
16. Reanimator■ (1%)1%
17. Red Deck Wins■ (1%)-9%
18. Mono Black Discard Fatties■ (1%)-3%
19. Tabernacle Bust■ (1%)1%
20. Turbo Relic Control■ (1%)1%

I can make a couple observations:

Coalition_RelicBlue-Black-White Teachings is still the best deck. I wrote about this in my previous article and I still believe that this deck has the most powerful cards available. In my opinion, the last couple slots in the deck are not all that important. Whether you play with or without Cancel, with or without Korlash, with or without the Brine Elemental lock, with or without a red splash, with or without lots of Coalition Relics and big cards, with or without Gaea's Blessing, etcetera, it doesn't really matter. At the end of the day, it's all the same deck—Damnations and card draw—so just choose a version that you like. The Korlash version seems to be a bit on the rise though; there were no Korlash versions in the Premier Event Top 8s in week 26, while there were significant amounts in week 27. I have nothing against Korlash, but if I had to choose, then would I personally still prefer my version with Cancel that I posted in my last article. The only change I would make is to add a couple Shimian Specters to the sideboard, as I saw multiple mirror matches being decided on this tech in the Premier Events online.

The best aggro deck is green and runs Tarmogoyf. Note that I did not state that the best aggro deck is definitely white-green, just that it is green. While everyone's eyes may have been on the white-green version that won Grand Prix–Montreal, Antonino de Rosa's blue-green Tarmogoyf build may not have gotten due attention. The two players playing this deck in Montreal both got a Top 16 finish, and it has been posing good results in the online tournaments. I honestly don't know which Tarmogoyf version is better, but it seems pretty close to me. The blue version can play the tempo game better than the white version with Snapbacks and Riftwing Cloudskates, easily trumping the white Griffin Guides. Furthermore, Cancel against Damnation and Pongify against Tendrils of Corruption should give it a good fighting chance against Blue-Black-White Teachings. This is Antonino's decklist for reference (if I recall correctly, Antonino said after the Grand Prix that his decklist was close to perfect, just that the sideboard Wall of Roots were unnecessary).

Antonino de Rosa's U/G Goyf

Virulent Sliver
Slivers are viable. Wafo-Tapa made a masterful Wild Pair Sliver deck for Grand Prix–Montreal, and it has been doing fairly well online. Key elements are Frenetic Sliver against all the Damnation control decks and Telekinetic Sliver against all the Tarmogoyf beatdown decks. But the brand new Sliver rage is Virulent Sliver beatdown. Such a deck might seem like a pile, but don't forget poison just won the Two-Headed Giant Pro Tour. The strategy—stupid as it may be—can work and win games. I have even seen Summoner's Pact and Homing Sliver in the replays for more poison Sliver fun, and people getting poisoned quickly after attacks with multiple Virulent Slivers and a Two-Headed Sliver to get them through. I unfortunately don't have a decklist yet, but be wary of those Virulent Slivers.

Magic Online Sealed Deck Leagues

League play is a form of Sealed Deck, which runs over a period of weeks instead of hours. A typical league runs four weeks, and it has a lot of nice things going for it.

First, leagues offer constant evolution. You begin the league with one tournament pack and two boosters to build your deck. You purchase an additional booster to add to your league deck each week beyond the first. As a result, your Sealed deck will get better and better as the weeks progress.

Second, you get to spread your matches over the weeks. Each week, participants can play up to five matches that count towards their league rating (not towards their Magic Online Limited ratings). At the end of the league, players are awarded prizes based on their league rating. You can play more than five matches each week, but they only count towards your tiebreaker points.

Third, leagues are a good inexpensive place to start if you want to get used to competitive Magic play in a more casual environment. It is not expensive to join; for the cost of a tournament pack and some boosters you get as many games as you can find the time and opponents for, weeks of fun, and tons of practice with various evolving sealed deck builds. And don't forget, you are building your collection in the meantime.

Fourth, leagues are perfect if you have a tight schedule. You can spread your matches over the week as you please, playing one match a day if you'd want, although I advise playing on the day when the new packs are added. That way you can avoid sharks with very good decks that typically camp in the room for tiebreaker points later in the week.

To join a league, click Leagues in the Main Room. In the first part of the Leagues room is a list of leagues that are running. Look over the list to find one you want to join (choose one that is in its first week), select it, and then click "Go To" to enter the room for that league. In that league's room, click Join. You'll be taken to the Deck Builder screen to put together your league deck, and off you go. Once your deck is done, you can click "Play" in the league's room and set up a game. For frequently asked questions on leagues, go here to read more.

In order to keep with the current Sealed Deck week theme, I signed up for a league as well. This is the card pool I received:

League Pool