Almost Finale

Posted in Feature on March 20, 2008

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."

ThePro Tour–Hollywood-feeding PTQ season is not officially over (there are maybe one or two weeks of qualifier tournaments peppering the schedules hither and thither) but this past weekend has essentially capped it off with a gigantic double Grand Prix whiz bang sendoff. Top players and relative unknowns shared Sunday spotlight space in Philadelphia and Vienna both, with surprising new and old faces—and decks—jockeying for that last bit of premiere event daylight. When the dust cleared in Grand Prix half a world apart, we saw two Top 8s that couldn't have been more different:


Barra Rock
Death Cloud
Domain Zoo
Next Level Blue
Spirit Stompy
Blue-White ‘Tron


“Polish” Level Blue
Enduring Ideal / Draco
‘Folk Rock
Blue-Green ‘Tron

In Philadelphia we saw a Top 8 with eight different decks, ranging from favorites from across the season like Luis Scott-Vargas's Next Level Blue or Tyler Mantley with unrelenting Top 8 machine Doran to new looks at old favorites, like Adam Yurchick's "Retro" Blue-White 'Tron or ultimately champion Gerard Fabiano's resurrected Barra Rock.

On balance, Vienna's Top 8 was half one deck, the dreaded Extended boogeyma Dredge (headlined by Player of the Year Tomoharu Saito), a slugfest anything but diverse... but where the Islands and Ancestral Visions were ultimately victorious.

Gerard Fabiano - Barra Rock

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If this deck looks familiar... It should. According to one of Fabiano's best friends—the decorated U.S. National and three-time Grand Prix champion Antonino De Rosa—the night before the tournament, Gerard decided that Giulio Barra's take on The Rock from the Top 8 of PT–Valencia was pretty great and that he wanted to play it. However he did not like Chainer's Edict and replaced them with two copies of Gerrard's Verdict... because his name is Gerard!

Gerrard's Verdict
In all seriousness, Gerrard's Verdict is an absolute windmill slam against some of the beatdown decks in the format, attacking them with a combination of brute force and potential recovery sometimes very early in the game that they often cannot handle. Not only does it automatically punish land-light and card drawing–poor attack decks like Affinity or Domain Zoo, but think about how a Domain Zoo player structures his first two turns of land fetching to match his gold cards... One Verdict can completely undo careful planning and quash the aggro pilot's planned efficiency. Fabiano played only 23 lands and decided to run a single "miser's" Sensei's Divining Top that always seemed great for him when it came up. In more than one match, topdecked, it almost played Ancestral Recall.

The Barra Rock deck is one of the most balanced choices available in the Extended format. It was largely disregarded during the PTQ season in favor of the faster Doran deck, but that doesn't mean that the Barra Rock didn't—and doesn't continue to—offer some significant advantages over other more popular options. Though slightly slower on offense due to missing the unique threat of Doran (no small concession, especially in a format with a viable Cranial Plating Affinity build), Barra Rock tends to have the edge in midrange mirror matches due to the presence of the full four Eternal Witnesses and full four Pernicious Deeds; additionally, it has Sakura-Tribe Elder over Birds of Paradise. Again, a slower choice, but a more consistent one when a deck is not under direct turn two pressure as well as a vastly superior acceleration tool in a format with Bridge from Below.

Elsewise, Barra Rock is a classic look at The Rock (if upgraded somewhat by the presence of some slightly more efficient white gold cards); this is a progressive card advantage deck with light disruption and superb mid-range creatures, including the captain of four-drops, Loxodon Hierarch.

Mateusz Kopec

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Spell Snare
The Vienna Champion went with the tongue-in-cheek "Polish" Level Blue, a descendent of Next Level Blue (Counterbalance, Vedalken Shackles) with a touch of Previous Level Blue (Ancestral Vision, Rude Awakening).

By the end of this year's Extended season, all the levels of Blue (Next, Previous, Polish, Mid-Level, Point and Clique, even Ninjas) became very difficult to play against tactically due to the universal adoption of some and different one mana counterspells. Kopec's deck ran three each of Force Spike and Spell Snare main, three Stifles in the sideboard. What to do?

It sucks to get Force Spiked; it sucks worse to get your first land Stifled! Spell Snare is almost impossible to play around., and even though it sucks to get Snared most of the time, usually you couldn't have done anything about it except maybe baiting (but even then you are usually even on a trade where you spent twice the mana he did).

Kopec's deck seems structured, at least a little bit, on a Trinket Mage theme (two Engineered Explosives, three Sensei's Divining Tops, one Tormod's Crypt main) despite playing zero copies of that popular three-drop. However note his mana base: Mateusz built a redundancy with two copies of Tolaria West... which can not only search up a particular answer (usually Tormod's Crypt or Explosives), but find the lone Academy Ruins to blow up the world (or empty the opponent's graveyard) as many times as you need.

Another asset of this mana base (and I understand it has appeared in some PTQ decks as well) is Miren, the Moaning Well. With this, Kopec's Vedalken Shackles got even better! Mateusz could steal one of your creatures, eat it with Miren, the Moaning Well, and then find another victim with which to abuse the top the next turn... and forever, until you run out of minions... Another playmate of Tolaria West.

Adam Yurchick - RetroTron

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Philadelphia's second place finisher, Adam Yurchick, plowed through everyone but Gerard Fabiano himself with this "retro" look at Blue-White 'Tron. Just when it seemed Blue-Green was the 'Tron of choice thanks to Ben Lundquist and Zack Hall, Yurchick came back with the original Extended favorite. And when I say original... This deck packed not a Gifts Ungiven, and even ran an Exalted Angel / Meddling Mage creature suite out of the sideboard!

Okay, so how does this deck work? How is it different? First of all, everything proceeds from the mana base here. This an UrzaTron deck, meaning that it is naturally able to play more expensive spells than other decks due to the ability to hit seven mana with only three lands. This magic number—especially in concert with, say, a Mox—makes cards like Sundering Titan or Mindslaver very reasonable. With four copies of Tolaria West, Yurchick could assemble his lands more easily, plus find the Tormod's Crypt.

The major concession to the format here is Oblivion Ring. Gaddock Teeg is a notorious threat against any 'Tron deck because their goal is to play really expensive bombs, especially in Game 1. Even the Repeals that many 'Tron decks—despite the fact that they were supposed to come out at three mana—were stopped before they ever even happened due to Gaddock Teeg. However in Oblivion Ring, the 'Tron deck gets a reasonably fast removal spell that can conveniently answer the Kithkin Advisor.

Exalted Angel is just a great threat that we haven't seen a lot of this season. She is a breaker against many creature decks and absolute hell for anyone foolish enough to remove their removal for the second game. Chris Pikula's Invitational card, Meddling Mage—after an entire season of being overshadowed by Gaddock Teeg—showed once again why he is one of the most popular sideboard cards in Extended history. Two Words: Dread Return. You might not be able to shut off every four automatically, but you will be able to turn off the one that counts (and it will vary from different deck to different deck) by saying "NO!" all in capital letters well before the opponent plays the nefarious target.

Gianluca I Bevere

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Bevere's Enduring Ideal deck functions much the same way that most of the Enduring Ideal decks that we've seen this season function. He gets a bunch of mana from Invasion sacrifice lands, Lotus Blooms, and so on, to play Enduring Ideal by turn four or even earlier. From there, it is just a matter of what Ideal finds, strategically, and in what order (Dovescape, Form of the Dragon, etc.) to lock down the opponent's ability to interact or attack, ultimately blasting for five four times.

The difference in this deck (and you've probably seen it in some pre-PT–Valencia builds) is Draco and Erratic Explosion. Don't get me wrong: Insidious Dreams is very strong in and of itself: an Ideal player can use this tool to find a missing combo piece (usually a mana source or one of the non-Burning Wish copies of Enduring Ideal itself), but also to put Draco and Erratic Explosion on top if Bevere decided to dump a pair. The next-to-first card on top of his deck would be Draco, with Erratic Explosion at the very top. Then he would draw the Erratic Explosion, point it, flip over the most expensive card in the format, and send 16 at the opponent, right there! Thanks to Onslaught and Ravnica dual lands, 16 is a lot like 20 in Extended.

Andris Nagy

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Treefolk (the "'Folk") Harbinger is a central feature of this look at The Rock. While the card might seem underpowered at first, it is one with numerous interesting and largely unexplored benefits. Consider...

Nagy only played 20 lands. Is that crazy with four-drops like Loxodon Hierarch and bigger spells like Profane Command? No! Treefolk Harbinger can put a Forest on top of the deck—any Forest—meaning that it can fix mana by picking and choosing. On the first turn, Nagy could keep a two- or maybe even one-land hand, and ensure land topdecks; in the midgame, though...

Treefolk Harbinger
Doran, the Siege Tower is a Treefolk. In many matchups—most notably Affinity—Doran is the breaker that determines favorability or unfortunate blowout. Running a set of Treefolk Harbingers is basically doubling the frequency that you will see Doran when you need him (or at least within a turn of needing him). Doran isn't exactly easy to cast—he is in fact about as difficult to cast as a three drop can be—but with Treefolk Harbinger, the colored mana is a piece of cake.

Treefolk Harbinger is an early game speed bump. A 0/3 on the first turn will keep Kird Ape at bay indefinitely. Ditto for almost every aggressive drop in the format, minus Tarmogoyf. Later in the game, though, with Doran out, Treefolk Harbinger is a de facto Rogue Elephant. Ka-pow!

Treefolk Harbinger works just as well with changelings as with Treefolk! That lone Chameleon Colossus is more than eligible for Treefolk Harbinger selection (I would have liked to see a Nameless Inversion, too, but maybe that's asking too much of this deck).

Doran as a card and a strategy has come under heavy criticism this season for being absolutely horrendous against Vedalken Shackles (zero power); Nagy's solution, and it is quite an interesting one, is Brooding Saurian. Sorry Vedalken Shackles! Sorry Sower of Temptation! Part efficient beater, part ruiner of blue mage days... This is not a card eligible for Treefolk Harbinger selection, but one that can certainly make the day difficult for a large number of blue opponents (i.e. basically all of them) where they may have anticipated a soft matchup thanks to multiple Control Magic effects.

So for those of you lucky enough to still have a PTQ or two that you can attend this season, that is your Swimming With Sharks almost finale for the format, 2008. Doran continues to be a Top 8 machine; Dredge is part warhammer, part thunderclap, but in this case a bridesmaid; blue decks Previous Level to Polish remain near the top of the metagame... and if Philadelphia is any lesson... basically everything is viable, almost everything can be good, and the oldies might still be goodies, clashing in the finals of the tournament, dusting the it girls and a fair number of Tarmogoyfs, too.

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