The Flores File: The Field Narrows, the Noose Tightens

Posted in Event Coverage on March 4, 2006

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."

Playing on Day Two of a Pro Tour, let alone Day Three, is a totally different animal than Day One. Even as certain decks move forward at whatever rates, and we can track them across major archetypes, by advancement percentage, specialization and differentiation become increasingly important. Subtle differences between similar seeming archetypes can yield devastatingly different matchup results. "Are you the Shoal guy?" was heard in the Feature Match area more than once.

Promise of Bunrei

Take Round 14. Across three players' backs under the big lights, you had Michael Diezel in third place, his opponent Olivier Ruel in sixth place, and lucky charm Ben Goodman in thirteenth place the next match over (playing against Olivier's brother Antoine). All three players - Diezel, Ruel, and Goodman - came to Honolulu playing aggressive B/W decks, and in fact, all three are playing Plagued Rusalka in their decks.

They look nothing like one another.

Deceptively playing out Isamaru, Hound of Konda and Kami of the Ancient Law in the first turns of the game, Diezel is playing a Promise of Bunrei deck that strikes for twenty out of nowhere with Nantuko Husk. His Rusalka can get a Promise going when the opponent is, understandably, reluctant to brawl in the Red Zone, and can turn the three mana enchantment into a machine gun come midgame.

Ruel's deck has many of the common Orzhov beatdown creatures, the Ravenous Rats, the Shrieking Grotesques… but unlike most, packs Knights from both sides of the color wheel. Saviors of Kamigawa's ruthless Hand of Cruelty trots "hand in hand" with Ninth Edition Wildfire hoser Paladin en-Vec for perhaps the first time in Oliver's deck. When the Paladin comes across the Red Zone, it's Kick! Wham! Stunner! What do you think the chances are that there is another deck in the tournament that can stack two points of first strike before flipping the three power Okiba-Gang Shinobi into the opponent's face?

Then there is Goodman, one of several Day Two pilots using the Tallowisp deck we discussed yesterday. His Eight Shoal Weapon of Choice(tm) searches up Pillory of the Sleepless - a card most players probably didn't have in their "playables" box - and was two rounds out of a Pro Tour Top 8.

When the dust cleared three rounds later, two aggro-Orzhov decks made the break to Top 8. Alongside superstar Olivier Ruel is Ruud Warmenhoven. Ruud's deck is a very straightforward implementation, with a full compliment of Ravenous Rats, Shrieking Grotesques, and Dark Confidants, but a totally different Ninth Edition reprint: Hypnotic Specter.

Bathe in Light

As we've said a dozen times, Honolulu is the most diverse Standard field in some time. For beatdown decks, that diversity stretches beyond one Guild. Gruul is being represented by two distinct gangs of brawlers. The Top 8 features both Craig Jones, who has finally sloughed his Constructed curse, and American standout Mark Herberholz. Craig's "Zoo" deck runs White for cards like Lightning Helix and Bathe in Light, while Mark's deck is a straight r-g with Scab-Clan Mauler in the "Watchwolf" slot. Craig's deck is packed to the rafters with fourteen burn spells. Conversely, Mark's deck is tons of creatures and a couple of Moldervine Cloaks; he runs four Chars and three Flames of the Blood Hand only. Both decks run four Umezawa's Jittes in the sideboard.

Two decks that don't want anything to do with the beatdown are Tiago Chan and Antoine Ruel, both running u-r "Owling Mine" decks. Their archetype, geared to crush control, uses Howling Mines and Kami of the Crescent Moon to force the opponent to draw a ton of cards. Reminiscent of the Turbo-Stasis decks of old, the Owling Mine constrains resources with spells like Exhaustion and Evacuation until finally unloading with Sudden Impact and Twincast for a burn kill. Believe it or not, Ebony Owl Netsuke is a key spell and workhorse in this deck.

As good as the Owling Mine deck is against control, it tends to be vulnerable to beatdown… Antoine's sideboard options for quarterfinals opponent Craig Jones are pretty slim. He decided he could either devote a ton of space to beatdown or ignore it. Assuming he would lose most of the time anyway, Antoine went with just two Pyroclasms and not a lot more; this may sting Antoine in his Top 8 matchup with burn heavy Craig Jones.

Tiago went the opposite route. His sideboard is heavily anti-beatdown, with Threads of Disloyalty in addition to Pyroclasm, and an alternate finisher in Meloku the Clouded Mirror. A really interesting innovation in Tiago's deck is Blood Moon. This card can lock a Zoo deck out of being able to play its creatures - especially the multicolored ones - ensuring the opponent's hand will be nice and fat for the Sudden Impact.

Maga, Traitor to Mortals

This Top 8 features two aggressive Orzhov decks, two Ebony Owl decks, two more-or-less Gruul beatdown decks… and two degenerate mana decks. Osyp Lebedowicz followed up his Day One 8-0 with second place standing after the Swiss. Osyp's deck is a U/R UrzaTron build with a ton of card drawing (Remand, Electrolyze, Compulsive Research, Telling Time, Invoke the Firemindand Tidings) that he uses to assemble the 'Tron. When Urza's Mine, Urza's Power Plant, and Urza's Tower combine their forces with Izzet Signet, Osyp's deck can play a monolithic Blue Champions of Kamigawa Legend and leave up counterspell mana. His quarterfinal opponent will be fellow American Mark Herberholz.

Rounding out the Top 8 is Maximilian Bracht with his Heartbeat of Spring deck. The main goal of this deck is to get Heartbeat of Spring into play and then use Early Harvest to make a huge amount of mana, which in turn powers out a lethal Invoke the Firemind or Maga, Traitor to Mortals. Maximilian's deck is like a showcase of Dimir tutors, with both Muddle the Mixture and Drift of Phantasms main. The Muddles can protect his Early Harvest combo or search up his other Harvest… the Weird one. Weird Harvest can load his hand with Drift of Phantsasms, search up Maga, or both. The three mana spot is a sweet one for Bracht's deck; Drift of Phantasms can grab Heartbeat of Spring, Early Harvest, Kodama's Reach, Compulsive Research, Recollect, or his kill card, Invoke the Firemind. With what might be the perfect sideboard, Maximilian can morph into a ten creature deck. Bracht's Muddles continue to be effective post boards… Maximilian can grab Pyroclasm, Umezawa's Jitte, or the unique Savage Twister "because Pyroclasm doesn't kill a Rumbling Slum."

Tune in to tomorrow as we see how this diverse Top 8 plays out. I will be in the commentary booth with Randy Buehler and Brian David-Marshall. If the first two days of this Pro Tour are any indication, the Honolulu elimination rounds should be as amazing as the weather.

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