Information Overload

Posted in Feature on August 7, 2008

By Mike Flores

Michael Flores is the author of Deckade and The Official Miser's Guide; the designer of numerous State, Regional, Grand Prix, National, and Pro Tour–winning decks; and the onetime editor-in-chief of The Magic Dojo. He'd claim allegiance to Dimir (if such a Guild existed)… but instead will just shrug "Simic."

Here at magicthegathering.com we billed the weekend past as "A Weekend of Champions" ... and with good reason. For Standard afficionados, four different National Championships were decided. For those slugging it out in the Block Constructed PTQs and unsure what to run this weekend... a Japanese Grand Prix tells us the answer (yet again).

Up first:

U.S. National Championship Top 8

 
Mono-Red Demigod
Elves
Faeries
Quick 'n Toast
Red-Green Predator Aggro
Reveillark
Blue-Green-Red Rogue

Mono-Red, Demigod of Revenge

The Mono-Red Demigod of Revenge deck was the only archetype to feature two copies in the Top 8 of U.S. Nationals... and one of those belonged to newly crowned Champion Michael Jacob (who upgraded himself from "mere" team member just one year ago).

Michael Jacob

Michael's deck is highly reminiscent of the recent Japanese attack deck played by Nakamura and Saito. Michael "left in" the defining creature in this deck—Ashenmoor Gouger—one that was chosen for its resilience in the metagame, despite experimentations (elsewhere) with Boggart Ram-Gang and other options at that drop. Jacob echoed Saito's original explanation of Ashenmoor Gouger, that it withstands most of the commonly played removal (bigger than a Nameless Inversion, Lash Out, or Incinerate; can't be targeted by Terror or Shriekmaw) and additionally pointed out that even when Faeries steals it with a Sower of Temptation, Ashenmoor Gouger won't block for them, either. Now everything nice that can be said about Ashenmoor Gouger applies (defensively) to the quite offensive Demigod of Revenge, which shares its 4 toughness and "being black" special abilities both.

Unlike some red decks with slightly more burn—just have a look at U.S. National Team alternate Marsh Usary's deck, below—Jacob played with a relatively light burn package, only the eight top flight burn spells... But unlike Usary, Jacob put his Snow-Covered Mountains to work, employing the mighty Skred as point creature removal.

Marsh Usary

Demigod of Revenge is again featured prominently here; this card is a nearly peerless threat in the format, and rather warping (wait until we get to Mark Herberholz, a little down the line).

Elves

Sam Black

Garruk Wildspeaker
Superficially Black's Elves deck looks to be built on the same model as the one Charles Gindy used to win Pro Tour–Hollywood earlier this year, but there are some key differences to the main deck; specifically, Black's deck list is down a Chameleon Colossus, a Civic Wayfinder, and all its planeswalkers.

In exchange, this deck is much more defensive than most; rather than debating three Terrors versus four Nameless Inversions or three versus four Profane Commands, the Elves deck Black played had seven pieces of main-deck point removal as well as the full load of Profane Commands. While this positioning may have served Sam earlier in the tournament, the no Garruk Wildspeaker / heavy black point removal setup put him at a disadvantage against eventual champion Michael Jacob; lots of Slaughter Pacts and Nameless Inversions is exactly what Michael wanted to play against with his Ashenmoor Gougers and Demigods, and Jacob even commented that Garruk Wildspeaker is one of the more effective Elves cards against his version (he can't punish it explicitly due to playing Skred rather than more burn that can hit one of the opposing planeswalkers).

Faeries

Paul Cheon

Shadowmage Infiltrator
Lone Faeries proponent Paul Cheon very nearly repeated as the U.S. National Champion, a title he earned just two years ago. While Faeries is generally considered the most talked-about deck in both Standard and Block, Paul's version has some twists, keeping it interesting as well as effective for the tournament.

Specifically, there are some key Faeries missing. We normally assume four Spellstutter Sprites... but this deck? Only three. The really eye-opening change, though, is zero copies of Scion of Oona, exchanged for four Shadowmage Infiltrators! This is a card that we haven't ever really seen in Faeries before, but its inclusion seems inspired.

One of the main differences between Standard and Block Faeries is the presence (in Standard) of Ancestral Vision for card advantage. This can be important, because outside the "Dismiss" factor on Cryptic Command, Faeries has surprisingly little card advantage. Its plays are mostly one-for-one; Ancestral Vision is a reload that gives Faeries the ammunition it needs to continue to play an essentially one-for-one game while the free Bitterblossom tokens start working up a bad attitude. Shadowmage Infiltrator is potentially very good in the Faeries model because, even though Faeries is a control deck, it does not play Damnation main (instead controlling the board with fast one-for-ones). Shadowmage Infiltrator therefore has no Damnation to worry about from its owner (something Time Spiral Block Infiltrators wouldn't have been able to claim), and instead can play a refill game, keeping the one-for-ones—both permission and removal—flowing, and with no additional mana expenditure.

Quick 'n Toast

Mark Herberholz

I got a chance to chat with Mark about his update to this popular deck.

While Mark shaved the fourth Kitchen Finks to fit a smattering of miser's one-ofs, the most exciting—and very different—of that crop has to be Nucklavee. Brainchild of Innovator Patrick Chapin, Nucklavee (in Quick 'n Toast) is kind of like a 4/4 Tidings that always draws Wrath of God and Dismiss (in fact, the only red sorcery, main or side, that Nucklavee can return is Firespout). Unfortunately, Mark was never in a position to Makeshift MannequinNucklavee, but I'm sure that would be been very exciting, especially mid-combat.

Nucklavee

What the Pro Tour–Honolulu Champion thought was the real innovation to the deck was the addition of Condemn in the sideboard. Mark actually thought he was a favorite to beat Jacob's red deck in sideboarded games, but did not have the draws to beat multiple copies of Magus of the Moon, back-to-back. Condemn is an important innovation because it can deal with problem creatures like Chameleon Colossus, or really deal with the gigantic problem of Demigod of Revenge. Historically, very few control decks have been able to contain Demigod, especially in multiples, but Condemn, rather than destroying the Demigod, puts it at the bottom of the other guy's library, where it can't as easily hook up with friends.

Red-Green Predator Aggro

The Cinderella story of the Top 8 belonged to Grinder winner Carl Dillahay.

Carl Dillahay

This deck is two lands off of Tsuyoshi Fujita's legendary 20/20/20 model... but I suppose you need a couple more lands when your mischievous burn spells are chomping up lands along with their mana.

This deck has two unique elements worth mentioning, one main, one side... Main deck, Carl played Grove of the Burnwillows and Kavu Predator, a combination rarely seen outside the red-green-white Predator.dec. Kavu Predator's trample is valuable in the format simply due to the presence of cards like Bitterblossom; it is a nice proactive way to "deal with" the strength of the life gain from some elements (Kitchen Finks) without being reactive. A big surprise for many of Carl's opponents out of the side was Firespout! Firespout is the kind of card you usually see opponents defending themselves against decks like Carl's... So when Carl matched up with other aggressive decks... they often walked right into his surprise removal, in fact.

Reveillark

David Sharfman

This five-color version of Reveillark has many significant differences when compared with the base white-blue versions you may have seen before. First of all... it's five colors! Like many decks, Reveillark has gotten on the Firespout bandwagon. Green isn't a requirement on this spell (or on Kitchen Finks), but it can help the otherwise red sorcery knock Faeries out of the sky. Black is present for a fair amount of discard out of the sideboard.

Firespout

The simplest Reveillark combo for this build is Greater Gargadon, Body Double, Reveillark, and Murderous Redcap. With Greater Gargadon suspended, and Body Double and Murderous Redcap in the graveyard, play Reveillark. Sacrifice Reveillark to Greater Gargadon... but don't quite take that suspend counter off! There is a Reveillark trigger first. Return Body Double (copying Reveillark, now in the graveyard) and Murderous Redcap. Send 2 points to the opponent's forehead. Still with that Suspend counter on the stack, sacrifice Murderous Redcap sufficient times to get him into the graveyard; respond by sacrificing Body Double... which will trigger and return itself (as Reveillark) and Murderous Redcap, ready for the next of potentially infinite iterations. Rinse, repeat, kill.

Blue-Green-Red Rogue

Shaheen Soorani

The ever creative Shaheen Soorani (Blink Riders, the Masterpiece) put on his thinking cap to produce yet another unique deck; this one is a fundamentally green-blue creature-based control deck with a red splash just for the ground side of Firespout. While today's dual lands are nicely conducive to Shaheen's red splash, Rampant Growth is also helpful; check out that single Mountain.

This deck looks to be absolute hell on Faeries. In addition to Cloudthreshers and Squall Lines, Shaheen played the forgotten bomb that can turn off all the flash in the room... Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir.

France National Championship Top 8

 
Mono-Red Demigod
Black-Red Tokens
Merfolk
Quick 'n Toast

Christophe Peyronnel is the 2008 French National Champion. His deck is very similar to the one Michael Jacob used to win U.S. Nationals...

Christophe Peyronnel

The main differences in Peyronnel's deck are five comes-into-play tapped lands over Jacob's two, and the fact that Christophe played ordinary Mountains instead of Snow-Covered Mountains (this facilitates Shock rather than Skred as the one-mana burn spell). Essentially the only other difference is Mogg Fanatic over Magus of the Scroll as the second one-drop (both champions agreed on Figure of Destiny).

Figure of Destiny

The sideboards of the two champions' decks were quite different, though, with Peyronnel playing Faerie Macabre against Reveillark and Manabarbs against the middle turns. Christophe had a fair number of point removal spells (Puncture Blast being a semi-solution to Kitchen Finks), whereas Jacob had a sweeper in Sulfurous Blast and no analogue to cards like either the Macabre or Manabarbs.

Christophe was joined in the Top 8 by a veritable sea of red... three more Demigod decks:

Pierre Malherbaud

Frédéric Courtois

Gaetan Lefebvre

...and two Black-Red Tokens:

Alexandre Rivière

While both Riviere and Canonici have what we would think of as "Black-Red Tokens" decks, their builds feature a number of different techniques. Riviere's is just a deck... He has some good cards, and some synergies for the archetype, including Threaten for his Gargadon and Fatal Frenzy for the surprise kill... but he also has Ashenmoor Gouger, like a "regular" red deck in this format.

Contrast with Canonici:

Jean Baptiste Canonici

This version is much more focused on being a tokens / Gargadon deck, and bolsters the deck's existing synergies with Grave Pact main! Grave Pact in conjunction with Greater Gargadon, Nantuko Husk, or even just Marsh Flitter gives Canonici's deck a source of recurring Diabolic Edict action, where he can trade tokens—with value—for the opponent's real creatures. Think about adding Threaten to that mix!

Olivier Ruel

It looks like Oliver Ruel had a very similar idea to Mark Herberholz regarding Condemn in Quick 'n Toast. That addition makes weathering Demigod of Revenge much less difficult.

The interesting thing about this deck is that 61st card: Platinum Angel. This is an archetype—and a deck in particular—rife with miser's singletons, but if there were ever a card that really could dig you out of an insurmountable hole, Platinum Angel is it.

Italy National Championship Top 8

 
Torrent
Elves
Faeries
Mono-Red Demigod
Quick 'n Toast
Swans

There are two decks that I want to discuss from the Top 8 of Italy's National Championship. The first one is the Swans of Bryn Argoll combo deck played by Tommaso Chiodi:

Tommaso Chiodi

Swans of Bryn Argoll
The basic combination here is to get Swans of Bryn Argoll into play with Seismic Assault, and a land in hand (optimally Dakmor Salvage).

You discard a land to Seismic Assault to deal 2 points to the Swans, instead drawing two cards. When the land you discard is Dakmor Salvage, you can get the Salvage back with dredge in place of one of the draws. In this way, you will never run out of lands to discard to damage the Swans. So even though this deck has 27 lands, how do you prevent deck exhaustion? Easy! Gaea's Blessing is there to re-shuffle your graveyard; Gaea's Blessing might not seem like a very good combination with dredge, but think about how the two graveyard abilities work together in this deck. You want to re-shuffle your graveyard, or you might run out! You can't really run out of Dakmor Salvages.

So you dig to Salvage with regular lands, or you have Salvage for dredge (and eventually dredging Gaea's Blessing) purposes. You are simultaneously netting one card per discard. Eventually you should be able to acquire ten total lands... Rather than being sent to the poor Swans, these go to the opponent's head.

The other exciting deck from Italy was Torrent, designed and played by 2008 Italian National Champion William Cavaglieri.

William Cavaglieri