Bring on the Bad Guys

Posted in Feature on August 9, 2007

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."

Has it really been almost a month since the last installment of our Time Spiral Block Constructed reviews? As I understand it, archetypes like Poison Slivers rose during our time spent on strategy and Standard... and have already disappeared, never to be heard from again (or at least until the next time somebody brings up the Two-Headed Giant Pro Tour). The decks that remain... well... They don't look a hell of a lot different from the ones we were looking at before Magic Weekend, U.S. Nationals, &c.

Some PTQs from the last three weeks:

Mono-Blue Pickles
Green-White Aggro
Relic Big Mana
Blue-Green Aggro
Blue-Green Pickles
Blue-Green-White Blink Hybrid
Bad Kitty
Bridge Reanimator
Black-Blue Control
Black-Blue Teachings
Green-Red Big Mana
Green-White-Red Predator
Mono-Black Discard
Rites / Walk
Blue-White Blink
White Weenie

Chester Li

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Brine Elemental
After playing a deck based on the work by Kenji Tsumura and Josh Ravitz, handed to me by my apprentice Julian Levin, with a sideboard innovated by Osyp Lebedowicz, I have come to the conclusion that Mono-Blue Pickles is the hands-down best deck of this format. It has a lot of things going for it; Pickles can play the straight blue control game plan, dominating tempo and cutting of options with Teferi (how Tsuyoshi Fujita set up his deck in Yokohama) or it can go for the Vesuvan Shapeshifter plus Brine Elemental combo end game, locking down mana and making life miserable for anyone without a Serra Avenger or a Scryb Ranger. Many games for Pickles are simple... You flash out Teferi, allowing you to manage the opponent's ability to bluff and develop, then run out Brine Elemental the next (end of) turn, then play Vesuvan Shapeshifter with Delay mana (not necessary for your own turn, of course). But the real reason I like Mono-Blue Pickles? It beats other blue decks.

My group found Pickles to be a nearly impossible matchup for decks like three- or four-color Mystical Teachings. Barring a third-turn Shadowmage Infiltrator, it seemed like Teachings would rarely if ever win the first game. The Teachings deck would spend as much as ten mana to do less than an Ancestral Visions on the first turn could accomplish, with very little increment coming out of the additional colors. Why is a Bogardan Hellkite scarier than a Brine Elemental? A Vesuvan Shapeshifter? Sometimes Pickles would just have more counters than Teachings would have threats.

Yi Cheng

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That said, here is a Teachings-like (if not "Teachings") PTQ winner from Yi Cheng. Cheng's Montreal PTQ winner uses a combination of Shadowmage Infiltrators, Foresees, and Aeon Chroniclers to approximate Mystical Teachings card drawing, accomplishing the namesake spell's card advantage and more, but demanding far less mana.

The Cheng deck does a good job of showing how Coalition Relic can quickly ramp -- and fix -- mana. If you drop the Relic on the third turn and tap it for a counter, just hit your land drop and you can drop a Haunting Hymn. Miss, and you still have Void mana. Profligate middle turns threats like Take Possession have almost meaningless costs when you think of them in the context of a fast Coalition Relic, certainly multiple Relics. Cheng's deck can finish quickly once it takes a lead... A pair of Disintegrates can end the game even with a reasonable amount of distance between the opponent's life total and zero; get a couple of licks in, and this deck can play like the Standard Lightning Angel-into-Demonfire finish that always has heads hot, laughing at supposed plans.

Daniel Kramer

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Riddle of Lightning
This deck breaks big costs from two different Angels, excuse me, angles. Kramer can open on Radha, Heir to Keld, follow up with a face down creature (Akroma of course) then swing and flip that creature the following turn, thanks to Radha's combat mana ability. Akroma is an expensive spell, of course, making for a perfect compliment to Riddle of Lighting... Perfect, that is, if not for the even better fit in Greater Gargadon. Greater Gargadon is one of the best threats in the format, especially as it can fizzle Tendrils of Corruption, but in a Riddle of Lightning deck? Greater Gargadon can strike for half the opponent's life total... God forbid you have drawn two Riddles...

This deck commands numerous two-card combinations, synergies properly, of which Radha and Akroma, or Gargadon and Riddle of Lightning, are just two examples. What about Greater Gargadon and Mogg War Marshal? You can block several times and take as many as three counters off your Gargadon. Fiery Temper and Gathan Raiders? Gathan Raiders is supposed to have a drawback, but with Fiery Temper, it seems to have very little downside, going positively Mongrel while clearing a path. Like Cheng's deck, Kramer's can end it with a Disintegrate... on top of the gigantic Riddles, I guess.

As with basically every deck up to and including four-color Teachings, Kramer plays Tarmogoyf. Unlike most, his Tarmogoyfs actually "make sense" (this is an aggressive green deck) and look like they fit. Additionally, Greater Gargadon allows for cleaner Tarmogoyf management (you can sacrifice land at any point, for instance).

At U.S. Nationals a few weeks ago, recently crowned Pro Tour Champion Chris Lachmann came up to me with a card and asked me to build a deck around it. I looked at the card and had to read it, as I did not know what it did. "Why would I want to build a deck around this?" I asked after reading this puzzling rare. Chris said he just liked it; I shrugged. The card was Rites of Flourishing, and Guillaume Daoust beat me to it.

Guillaume Daoust

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It took me a second to figure out how this deck wins... Here goes.

Rites of Flourishing costs exactly as much as an Exploration and a Howling Mine; how quaint. The central card allows you to draw enough lands early and get them into play via rule-breaking. Dauost gets ahead with Edge of Autumn and Search for Tomorrow... then starts sacrificing his lands to Walk the Aeons. The Daoust deck keeps returning lost lands with Gaea's Blessing, draws lands with Rites of Flourishing, continuously ensuring that Walk the Aeons mana will flow. It can take many turns, get way ahead, amass an army of Factory Workers, or ultimately deck the opponent with Gaea's Blessing (if it doesn't manage to close with Teferi, concession, or some other avenue first).

AJ Fields

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Maelstrom Djinn: Cute with Blink, I suppose.

Epochrasite: Is this really the first we've seen of this (or at least is this the first time I've noticed?)? Epochrasite was already one of the best creatures in Future Sight. With Momentary Blink cheating, it seems positively Erhnam.

Shapeshifter + Calciderm? Stonecloakers for even more cheating?

Spell Bursts in the board for Pickles decks?

This one is definitely worth a look.

Let's finish on two different takes on a proactive black deck, Ian Duke and Cory Treichler, both from Milford, MA.

Ian Duke

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Mirri the Cursed
Duke's deck is a Mono-Black Bad Moon deck, long on the haste for a black deck, strangely deep in the disruption—playing both Dash Hopes and Psychotic Episode—at least for this environment. I previewed Mirri the Cursed, which seems like a monstrous closer in this deck, Bad Moon making her a faster discreet kill, but the creature that really caught my eye in this build is Dunerider Outlaw. I thought about it for a second and realized... If Tarmogoyf is the defining creature of this format, is Dunerider Outlaw really that strange of a choice? Not only does any sized Dunerider Outlaw hold off any sized Tarmogoyf, the possibility for growing up and actually dominating the board is there, if somewhat remote. Moreover, if you draw a second Dunerider Outlaw, you can probably hold off multiple creatures with your piddly 1/1 for two mana, and send in the other to start the growth process.

Treichler's deck, on the other hand, is just loaded with discard spells. Augur of Skulls, Stupor, and Mindstab are all there to deplete the opponent's hand; he finishes with The Rack.

One card that is really powerful but hasn't really been discussed this time around is Smallpox. While Smallpox is symmetrical—something, at the base, many players will call "card disadvantage—it seems quite potent as an Edict synergistic with the discard theme. You don't have to play a creature down, and you can snag a Tarmogoyf on the second turn quite savagely. Korlash, Heir to Blackblade seems Future Sight's opposite number to Tarmogoyf, the other "impressive power and toughness" of the set, but don't discount Tombstalker. The delve flyer actually seems very 'Goyf-like ('Goyf-ish?) to me, feeding on the graveyard, a powerhouse with stats disproportionate to his cost. In this deck Smallpox is like a free Dark Ritual, and any of the discard attrition plays make the endgame approach more quickly. On top of that, there is a legitimate threat via The Rack; I'd guess this deck is faster and more brutal than it might first look.


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