Feature: The 3-0 Constructed Metagame

Posted in Event Coverage on August 13, 2005

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."

In case you missed it Friday, here is how the best players in the United States chose to go with their archetype choices:

Archetype Number Pct.
Tooth and Nail 45 25.57%
Aggro Red 36 20.45%
White Weenie 26 14.77%
UrzaTron Blue 12 6.82%
Medium Green 11 6.25%
Rats 9 5.11%
Flores Red 7 3.98%
Blue Control 6 3.41%
B/G Death Cloud 5 2.84%
B/G Rock 3 1.70%
R/G Medium 2 1.14%
U/G Rude Awakening 2 1.14%
Mono-Black Control 2 1.14%
4-5 Color Gifts 2 1.14%
Aggro Green 2 1.14%
Proteus Belcher 2 1.14%
Intruder Alarm 1 0.57%
B/G Beats 1 0.57%
Erayo 1 0.57%
5 Color [Long] Homebrew 1 0.57%

Contrast that with how the decks that did best fared… Here is a snapshot of what the 3-0 metagame (as opposed to the field as a whole) looked like:

Archetype Number Pct.
Tooth and Nail 6 28.57%
UrzaTron Blue 5 23.81%
Aggro Red 3 14.29%
White Weenie 2 9.52%
Rats 2 9.52%
Blue Control 1 4.76%
B/G Rock 1 4.76%
Proteus Belcher 1 4.76%

You might think that Tooth is at the top due simply to the sheer volume of Tooth and Nail decks, but don't be so quick to dismiss the what might be the best - certainly the most hated - deck in the Nationals field. It actually makes up a greater percentage of the 3-0 tables than it did the tables in general.

"I picked Tooth and Nail because it won like every tournament," explained rising star Adam Chambers. "The only unusual switch I made was to cut Eternal Witness and add a fourth Plow Under. At first it seemed weird to have only three - then two - Witnesses… I mean come on! It's Eternal WitnessBut it turned out to be right. A lot of the time I don't have one green mana let alone two. It doesn't matter how good a card is if you can't cast it."

Tooth and Nail

Adam's strategy is conservative and subtle. What many even successful Tooth and Nail players don't take into account is the razor-thin number of Forests in their decks. Few have been the successful monochromatic archetypes running as finite as seven basics in their primary colors. Adam's choice to de-emphasize the "automatic four-of" Eternal Witness might strike some readers as crazy, but a player at his skill level has to be more interested in consistently being able to play his basic game than to "win more" in the late game.

To that end, Adam ran a full compliment of Sylvan Scryings and Reap and Sows main deck. The former, especially, is great at snapping up Boseiju, Who Shelters All against any of the three counter archetypes at the top tables; both help a top-heavy deck with only 20 lands to come out with its expensive threats. "The only thing I don't like about it is that I have fewer 'Cartographers' against Molten Rain," he added.

Friday we looked at just one match played by the talented Neil Reeves and his Jushi Apprentice deck. Neil ended up the only Blue Control player undefeated after three rounds; his success in the constructed portion is a testament not just to his strong play… but networking.

"Basically Jeroen told me to play it."

On Friday, Randy Buehler joked that Jeroen Remie, reigning Dutch National Champion and Sam Gomersall, current English National Team member, were the two best players in the room. Jeroen and Sam are visiting here at U.S. Nationals to cheer on their friends before heading over to Gen Con next weekend.

"The blue deck is very good," Reeves said. "It doesn't have any 'bad' matchups. It's kind of 50 percent against everything, which means that if you have the tools, winning or losing is ultimately up to you."

If you checked in on his match against Joe Crosby on Day One, you know that Neil's Game 1 was a nailbiter that could have gone either way… even after Joe resolved the dreaded nine mana entwine that gives Tooth its name.

Neil's other two matches were a second Tooth and Nail and the Blue Control mirror. The winner of the match was not determined by cards, but strategies… it was like a classic Draw-Go out of 1997.

"He had Serum Visions in his deck," Reeves said. "Two turns in a row he played Serum Visions, looked at the top two cards, and put them back as they were. After those two Serum Visions, he still had four or five lands in play. Meanwhile I was discarding artifacts to my Thirst for Knowledge and going at it with Jushi Apprentice so that I would never miss a land drop."

Blue-on-blue aficionados know that not missing a land drop has historically been one of the most important elements of owning the mirror. This has never been more true than in Neil's deck; his endgame beaters are not Meloku, the Clouded Mirror or Keiga the Tide Star but the simple Spire Golem. By getting a ton of Islands out, Neil can eventually summon as many as four Spire Golems without tapping any lands. If there is a clear recipe for resolving your threats against another blue deck, Neil's emphasis on staying ahead in mana - even if it means getting rid of some action spells - seems a good place to start.

Coming out of the Nationals Grinders, White Weenie was a big surprise in its success. The third most popular deck archetype played in Nationals itself, White Weenie was the worst represented at the 3-0 tables. But after six rounds, at least, Mike Patnik was one of only two players - and a White Weenie player at that - vying for an undefeated Day One record. What made his version so effective when 92.31% of his fellows picked up at least one loss?


"One thing is that I have Worship main," Mike began. "It's really good main. Some decks side it in, but a lot of the time the opponent has Terashi's Grasp or something and they can destroy it… but not in the main deck."

As a matter of fact, Mike's main-deck Worship allowed him to take down Tooth and Nail, of all opponents!

"I played Damping Matrix and Worship and he really didn't have an out," he said.

Typically, Tooth and Nail can eliminate every creature with Mephidross Vampire + Triskelion, Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker + Duplicant, or just Oblivion Stone… but the Damping Matrix kept any of those plans from being operable.

"It's a good thing he didn't have Viridian Shaman starting," Patnik added.

Aggressive decks absolutely mauled the Meatgrinders this year, with Red Deck Wins beating up even more players than White Weenie. The second most played in the tournament, Red Deck Wins had only three representatives at the undefeated tables after three rounds, just one more than White Weenie despite 10 more participants. PTQ superstar Pat Sullivan was one of those three, and has good reasons for his performance, despite the less strong opening salvos of his fellows in the archetype of choice.

"I'm better against the creature decks. I have four Vulshok Sorcerers main and no land kill. If the board stalls, I can get out of it with Pulse of the Forge or Shrapnel Blast," Sullivan said.

Patrick also has an innovative sideboard. Though he has a couple of Sowing Salts to deal with the powerhouse UrzaTron decks, what his big weapon against basic Forest? Furnace Whelp - "It's not like they can block it."

Another way to look at deck performances after the Constructed portion of Day One is undefeated decks over the total number of decks played in that archetype. We hinted at this when looking at the beatdown decks, but the numbers are even more dramatic when looking at the blue decks:

Archetype 3-0 Total in Field Pct.
Proteus Belcher 1 2 50.00%
UrzaTron Blue 5 12 41.67%
B/G Rock 1 3 33.33%
Rats 2 9 22.22%
Blue Control 1 6 16.67%
Tooth and Nail 6 45 13.33%
Aggro Red 3 36 8.33%
White Weenie 2 26 7.69%

Out of only 12 players, five of the UrzaTron Blue mages - nearly half - won all three matches on Day One. One of the most innovative versions of UrzaTron Blue was tuned by Gerard Fabiano and company.

"Three players played our version," said Antonino De Rosa. "Two of us went 3-0 and I went 2-0-1. Undefeated."

Antonino's draw kept him from a perfect day, but he still finished in first place on Day One at 6-0-1. "Gerard deserves the credit," he said.

"Adding Black makes our sideboard better," De Rosa continued. "We bring in 10 cards in every matchup."

Cranial Extraction

The Black touch UrzaTron Blue has a lone Swamp, but four Talismans of Dominance and three Solemn Simulacrums to set up its black mana.

"We have Cranial Extraction. A lot of the UrzaTron decks are ahead but get stuck with these counters in their hands when the opponent has Boseiju. We just Extract decks with Plow Under a turn before they can even cast it."

All of that said, the most dramatic 3-0 of the tournament has to be Justin Drew and his Proteus Belcher deck. Justin was one of only two players who ran the deck, which they call "Blue Deck Wins." He credits Grinders graduate Teddy Wyly with his listing.

"It's a fun deck. My friend grinded in with it, so I said 'Okay, I'll play that in U. S. Nationals!'"

Justin played against White Weenie, Aggro Red, and an UrzaTron Blue deck in the first three rounds. With his many Threads of Disloyalty and Vedalken Shackles, White Weenie was easy to beat. Aggro Red is a matchup where he lets the opponent hit him with Slith Firewalker a few times, then steals it once it has become too big to deal with. But it was in the UrzaTron Blue matchup where he got a chance to out-play a deck that had all the tools to win.

"He thought it was the mirror and eventually tapped out for Triskelion. Then I went for Proteus Staff."

Once Proteus Staff is in play, Justin can activate either his own Blinkmoth Nexus or a stolen creature to search up the only creature in his own deck, a Darksteel Colossus. The big 11/11 can come in for the win in two hits… but that's not all.

"You can staff the Colossus again. It comes back into play untapped and is the only creature in your deck. This lets you stack your deck for Goblin Charbelcher. Other than that, it's just a Blue Control deck."

Other than that. Justin also has Twincast in his sideboard, and can bring in a Mephidross Vampire/Uyo combination for Tooth and Nail.

"They're hard counters against a control deck… For , you counter their counter."

Good luck to Justin and all the 3-0s. It will be interesting to see how these players pick up their superb constructed records after Round 10 for the grueling last four before we cut to the Top 8 of this year's U.S. National Championship!

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