2004 United States National Championship Feature

Posted in Event Coverage on June 19, 2004

By Paul Sottosanti

Ah, Sunburst. While it pays to be skeptical of mechanics that require you to play with three or four colors, it seems like the Pros aren't quite appreciating the efficiency of these cards quite yet. It's common to see Skyreach Mantas traveling all the way around the table into the lone Sunburst player's eager arms. Yet you can hardly say the cards aren't powerful. A 5/5 flier for five mana, a 4/4 for four that casts Ancestral Recall when it dies, and an artifact that kills two or three of your opponent's creatures are all cards that you can reasonably expect to pick up in Fifth Dawn.

Gabe Walls showcased the power of Sunburst when he was one of seven players to go 4-0 in yesterday's draft. In fact, he did it without losing a single game.

Gabe Walls

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Viridian Acolyte, Journey of Discovery, and Dawn's Reflection provided mana-fixing to power out the three Skyreach Mantas and the ridiculousness that is Bringer of the Blue Dawn. Dawn's Reflection is a card that doesn't get a lot of respect, but when you think about it, it's actually fairly comparable to Explosive Vegetation from Onslaught. It's sometimes better because you can get the mana immediately, but on the other hand you're not actually thinning the lands out of your deck. The deck also included Pulse of the Fields, an Anchorite, a Mystic, and a Bola to buy time for the expensive but devastating Rude Awakening.

Zvi Mowshowitz has also been talking up Sunburst (and Leonin Bola) all weekend. While the rest of his draft was out-shadowed by his controversial Bola over Fireball pick, his deck combined the mechanics of both Darksteel and Fifth Dawn with Sunburst, Cogs, and Modular all making an appearance.

Zvi Mowshowitz

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The Sunburst came in the form of double Skyreach Manta, Etched Oracle, and Opaline Bracers, which can be surprisingly good when pumped the full amount. The key to the deck, though, is that only five of the cards had any colored mana in their cost. This ensured that he could stay in the game no matter what lands his deck offered up. The other important synergy was the ability of Trinket Mage to search up Leonin Bola. Few decks could stand up to the barrage of small creatures combined with the constant tapping. Zvi finished his pod with a 3-1 record.

Gerry Thompson also managed a perfect 4-0 record with a bit of a crazy mana base, although this time it could be referred to as "triple-double" rather than Sunburst. Between the double red of Grab the Reins, the double green of Tangle Spider, and the double white of Pulse of the Fields, his deck looked anything but consistent.

Gerry Thompson

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Sideboard (2)
1 Unforge 1 Conjurer's Bauble

The only surprise was the omission of the Conjurer's Bauble from the maindeck. Not only would it have worked perfectly with the Leonin Squire, but it would have also served to dig for all the bombs. In any case, none of his opponents could stand up to the sheer power of the cards contained within this deck. There's something to be said for power at all costs.

Ion Storm

As often happens in relatively new formats (especially ones that haven't been released on Magic Online yet), there are a number of cards that seem to be underappreciated. Leonin Bola is turning out to be the Viridian Longbow of this event, in that it was a piece of Equipment that everyone was taking fifth or sixth, yet suddenly the good players are taking it first or second. While most players don't agree with Zvi that it should be picked over almost anything, popular opinion is now saying that it's better than Barbed Lightning.

Baton of Courage is another card that's severely underrated. As Mike Turian put it, "It seems like it always just wrecks your opponent the turn you play it, and then it sticks around and just wrecks them again." Either that, or they have to play around it for the entire game, at which point it should be hard for you to lose.

Objectively, though, it's a Giant Growth for decks that normally won't have access to one, which means that your opponent won't expect it. It can pump multiple creatures in a single combat, and the pumps are all individual so that you won't often lose a creature to a burn spell in response. When you're tight on mana, you can run it out there on end step and just leave it as an on-board trick. And finally, even when it's been used up, it sticks around for Affinity and as food for Atogs and Thermal Navigators. I can't say enough good things about this card. Even two color decks should be picking it highly.

Morgan Douglass just recently tabled Ion Storm at his draft this morning. He's using it in combination with Mirrodin's Core, Energy Chamber, and a number of modular and sunburst cards to systematically dismantle his opponents. There are very few people who realize how good this card is right now, but the abundance of counters in this format means that the cost is rarely a problem. And frankly, when a card says, "Deal two damage to target creature or player" without a tap symbol in sight, it hardly matters what crazy things you have to do to get it to work. The other benefit of the card is that it's virtually unkillable in this format, so you can build a deck around it without worrying that your central card will be destroyed on sight.

In conclusion, even if you've had some bad experiences with Sunburst, don't be afraid to keep trying it out. The effects that you can get from the cards are nothing short of insane, and we're currently in a time where you can pick up the pieces much later than you probably should. And don't forget to grab the Bolas and Batons. You won't regret it.

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