"You Can't Stop the Top" - Understanding IBC at PT Tokyo

Posted in Event Coverage

By Adrian Sullivan

Coming into the tournament, three of the most expected decks were Green/Red Beatdown, Black/Blue/Red Control, and Black/Red Control, and for the most part they didn't let anyone down. Opinions varied on what would be the deck to beat, however.

"We thought that Black/Red/Blue would be the most popular deck," said Zvi Mowshowitz. "Our deck was made to make that deck miserable." Fellow Pro Pete Leiher agreed. "Agenda-based Black/Red/Blue is what I expect to see here more than anything. Red/Green will be big too, but it's Black/Red/Blue that will be at the top.

The most common deck at the tournament didn't end up being Black/Red/Blue Control, however. Black/Red Control and Green/Red Beatdown easily stood as the most popular of decks, as well as the most successful. The real surprise from control decks ended up being a successful group of players from various different parts of the world playing Dromar-based counter-control. What makes the format tick, however, can easily be summed up by a comment by Mindripper editor Scott Johns:

"Sometimes you just can't stop the top!"

Scott's exasperated cry could be heard by numerous spectators as yet another player drew a Ghitu Fire or Yawgmoth's Agenda from the top of their library, and cast it immediately.

"The format is all about parity," said deckbuilder Brian Kowal. "You both develop, and all the cards in the best decks strip the other player down to nothing. Eventually, you're both just peeling away at your library looking for the better spell."

Dave Williams, playing Kowal's Black/Red Control deck concurred. "That's probably why I'm doing so well. I force my opponent's to have to draw something."

The most successful decks in the format (Green/Red, Black/Red, and Black/Blue/White) all have this element in common, but they take advantage of it in a few different ways. The Red cards that are probably most important for both Red-based decks are Flametongue Kavu and Skizzik. Both cards are able to immediately change the board situation, capable of thrusting the caster into a more aggressive position. Green/Red is able to add both Raging Kavu and Thornscape Battlemage to this equation. Black/Red gets to add Crypt Angel to win top-deck wars, increasing the deck's ability to draw threats. Top-decking a Ghitu Fire in a late game war was just gravy for both of the decks.

The best card in any top-deck war is probably Yawgmoth's Agenda, however. The Black/Blue/White decks and Black/Red decks both have access to this powerful card. With every play almost certainly useful, it doesn't matter if the Agenda player only draws land - they always have their graveyard to access. The Black/Blue/White decks also have access to card drawing and Recoil (often a great draw in a top-deck race). While Black/Blue/Red also has access to these cards, they lacked Rout, one of the most efficient spells to whittle any creature-based opponent down.

It's not too surprising, the top of the field saw these decks rise. While Domain decks could be theoretically powerful, their only real "top-deck" card power came from the heart of the deck: Allied Strategies. With only four Strategies in the deck (and occasionally a few Restock), well-placed countermagic or discard could keep the deck from being able to get going, and fast Red/Green had access to numerous outs as well, including Urza's Rage, Ghitu Fire, Overabundance (providing mana to push past a Collective Restraint, as well as adding additional punishment to a deck that already was likely to have taken early beats), and enchantment attack in the form of Thunderscape Battlemage or Tranquility after siding. Theoretically, these decks could do quite well, but the best of these decks need to exploit the "topdeck" principle of this Pro Tour.

As we move towards Day 2 and a Top 8 for Day 3, I don't think it is too rash to predict the Red heavy field of Black/Red and Green/Red continuing towards the Top 8, with the scattered Dromar decks also pushing for slots. While another deck, such as the Blue/White Aggro-control deck developed by John Ormerod's team, might make a splash, don't expect to see a very big one.

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