Checking Out the Opens

Posted in Feature on January 5, 2006

By Bennie Smith

Bennie Smith began playing Magic in 1994 and started writing about it shortly after. A Virginia State Champion, he enjoys few things better than winning at tournaments with home brews. Bennie has a weekly column on He also recently published The Complete Commander. Follow him on Twitter, on Facebook, and the occasional Commander games on Magic Online under the handle "blairwitchgreen."

Hello everyone, I hope the holidays were good to you and yours, and that everyone has fully recovered from any New Year's celebratory activity! 2005 was a great year for Magic and the signs are there for 2006 to be even better. For Magic Online, the much anticipated Version 3.0 is on the way and you can rest assured we will share with you details about that right here in this column as they are made available. The Magic Invitational should be hitting sometime soon. Then we get to see the rest of the Ravnica guilds in Guildpact and Dissension, Cold Snap hits sometime over the summer, and a new block begins this fall with “Snap.” And, with the success of Mirage's debut in the aether, speculation on Visions joining the mtgo lineup is reaching a fever pitch. Who knows what other goodies Wizards will unveil in next 365-odd days? I'm certainly looking forward to finding out!

I spent some time Christmas break thinking of ways to improve this column. The Magic Online community has always been very helpful in making suggestions, and Scott Johns and I will be working on addressing many of those in the coming weeks and months. One thing I thought deserved more attention was coverage of the constructed Open events that are held several times a month. My vision is doing a snapshot of the players and decks of the Top 8 (best-guessed based on watching game reviews) and any of the winner's thoughts he or she may want to share. I'd also like to invite other Top 8 players to post their decklists and comments in the forums. Got a great performance you'd like to share with the community? Shoot my email a decklist and a paragraph or two on how it went and you could have your name in the bright lights!

4x Standard with Vanguard 12-31-05

One tournament I was particularly interested in going over was the Standard Vanguard tournament. The last one I checked out was dominated by Hell's Caretaker, and with the changes implemented to that avatar since then, I was curious how that would affect the metagame. In the poll I put up right before the holiday break, a sizable percentage felt Akroma, Angel of Wrath was poised to become the deck to beat. It turns out that an Akroma deck did win the event, but I wouldn't necessarily call it a dedicated Akroma Vanguard deck. As you'll see from the comments by the winner below, he started with a solid deck and then chose an Avatar to enhance its performance, as opposed to starting with the Avatar and building a deck around it.

The big winner in the new metagame appears to be... the default avatars in general, and “Tim” (AKA Prodigal Sorcerer) in particular! Check it out:

1st place: FelixLeong2 (Akroma, Angel of Wrath) BUG Aggro Control
2nd place: Kangoo (Prodigal Sorcerer) 4-Color Greater Good
4th place: Oelgart (Erhnam Djinn) Aggro Scion Elves
4th place: Slider37 (Prodigal Sorcerer) U/B Control
8th place: cartman st (Higure, the Still Wind) White Weenie w/Red
8th place: Melvy.JP (Serra Angel) U/B/W Control (Glimpse, Howling Mine)
8th place: mtg simulacrum (Prodigal Sorcerer) G/W/B Greater Good
8th place: nandas (Elvish Champion) G/w Glare of Subdual

What I find encouraging here is that R&D appears to have successfully leveled the power level to the point where the default avatars are competitive, no small accomplishment given how completely wild this format can be. That's good news to players who may not have had a chance to play in many release events and might not have a huge selection of Vanguard avatars to choose from. Prodigal Sorcerer is particularly well suited for improving consistency in control decks, keeping answers—and mana—flowing as needed. It's also a solid boost for combo decks looking for the right pieces of their puzzle.

Melvy.JP had some clever action working with his Serra Angel deck. Using Howling Mine to fuel cheap spells to gain lots of life from Serra, he set up a great little life-gaining engine once he found two Sensei's Divining Tops. He'd tap one to draw a card and put the Top back on his library, then tap the other to draw the first Top and play it to gain 2 life, and repeat for as much mana as he had lying around that he wanted to sink into gaining life. I'd be curious to hear from Melvy.JP whether that nice combo was an integral part of designing his Serra deck, or whether it was a nice side benefit to choosing that avatar for a pre-existing deck idea.

Kuro, Pitlord
Early in the tournament there was some buzz on a Loxodon Hierarch deck would animate a Kuro, Pitlord with Goryo's Vengeance, pay life to sweep the board, smack the opponent for 9, and then use the sacrifice ability of the avatar to sacrifice Kuro and put a regeneration shield on some random permanent so Kuro could go back to the graveyard for future reanimation. I didn't get to see his deck in action, but I'd assume the idea works great for the Kamigawa Dragons as well.

One of the top 8 players, mtg simulacrum, also provided some entertainment with copious grousing about the lone Frenetic Efreet player, how bad that avatar is, how lucky the player got, etc. Particularly amusing was how parallel it ran to the very vocal outrage by many tournament players to the actual card Frenetic Efreet back when Mirage first came out. Bad beats tales of a lone Frenetic and his coin defying the odds and dodging numerous Swords to Plowshares and Lightning Bolts were staples in the strategy newsgroups. This was even before we had the phrase “damage on the stack” that likely makes Frenetic even more difficult to play against today.

At any rate, for those of you who may have shied away from Vanguard in 2005 because of the degeneracy that kept cropping up, I think it's safe to say “Come back, jump in—the water's fine!”

Akroma BUG (1st Place, Standard with Vanguard) by FelixLeong2

Download Arena Decklist

Name: Leong Baojie Felix
Nick: Felixleong & Felixleong2
Age: 22
Country: Singapore
Online clan: Diplomats
Magic resume includes 9th at PT Los Angeles 2005, 5th (team) Worlds 2005
Has been playing magic since Revised, and MTGO since Mirrodin.
Favorite formats Online: 90% of the time I am playing constructed events, and I like Standard, Extended and most of all IPA Sealed!!

Battle of Wits
“I worked with my clan mates in diplomats for this event. We first came up with a Vanguard Battle of Wits deck using the Birds of Paradise avatar and containing all the good removal spells like Lightning Helix, Putrefy, Pyroclasm, and mana accelerators like Sakura Tribe-Elder, Rampant Growth, Kodama's Reach, Farseek, and being able to Gifts Ungiven for Reclaim, Recollect, Battle and something else. It was like Gifts and Enduring Ideal rolled into a Battle of Wits deck.

“But I felt that when playing a big deck like BOW it's easy to get unlucky and lose to random decks. I was running BUG in the 8 man standard tournaments and it's quite consistent, so I thought of running it for this event. We looked at all the Vanguard avatars and decided that Akroma, Angel of Wrath worked best; the extra card improves the deck's consistency since a turn 1 Birds or Elf is really important. The extra 7 life also helps to offset the pain from the lands.

“The things I've found the Standard BUG deck fears are early Pyroclasm and other removal like Last Gasp,Putrefy, Shock, etc. on the turn 2 Cutpurses and Specters. Akroma can help by randomly giving my creatures the Protection from Black and Red needed to sneak past their removal spells. A turn 2 Specter with Haste and Protection is really solid, and with Mana Leaks and Remands backing it up it's an easy win.

“The metagame didn't turn out as I expected. Some tough matches I faced were White Weenie with the Higure avatar, and another tough match-up was Elves with Erhnam Djinn. I didn't expect so many aggressive decks; I thought there would be more combos like 5-color Myojin deck with Etched Oracle, or more control decks.

“I would like to thank my clan mates the diplomats for helping me for this event! To read more about us, stop by our homepage.”

4x MTGO Classic 12-24-05

Classic was another format I was curious about. What would Extended look like when you toss back in all the banned cards, then added the promo cards and Mirage? Extended's banned cards are banned for a reason, so it's a pretty good bet you start with the banned list and go from there. Aether Vial and Goblins are two great tastes that go nuclear together, so it's easy to see how two of the Top 8 sported those elements. The incredible Skullclamp made an appearance in mtg simulacrum's Elf and Nail deck. MaDCaTxEs' winning deck decided to go with Entomb to fuel a Reanimation strategy.

1st Place: MaDCaTxEs, Reanimator
2nd Place: Octopus Disco, Vial Goblins
4th Place: bobthedog, B/W Dark Confidant
4th Place: FelixLeong2, Vial Goblins
8th Place: Meikel, Vernal Bloom Green
8th Place: PITStop, Tooth and Nail
8th Place: mtg simulacrum, Elf and Nail
8th Place: filipe, unknown (dropped right after top 8 pairings)

Watching the replays from bobthedog's games, his deck reminded me an awful lot of Chris Pikula's Legacy deck from Grand Prix Philadelphia, minus the Sinkholes and Hymns, of course. The “big green” decks that filled out the 8th place finishes were a pleasant surprise, though I also found it interesting that adding Dark Ritual and Lion's Eye Diamond to the format didn't push a Storm combo deck into the top 8.

The winner, Goncalo Pinto (MaDCaTxEs) was kind enough to send us his decklist and some quick thoughts on it.

Reanimator (1st Place, MTGO Classic) by MaDCaTxEs

Download Arena Decklist

“I decided to play this deck because I always loved to play Reanimator, and I was playing it in extended so I already had lots of cards for it.

“Here are some thoughts on the match-ups I faced:

Affinity: I guess it's a 50/50 match-up but multiple copies of Kataki in the sideboard help a lot (note that I don't play Polluted Delta to have 8 fetch lands that get Blue White and Black).

Tooth and Nail: A good match-up, just have to reanimate Petradon

Goblins: Reanimate Akroma in the first few turns is usually enough... later could be too late. Engineered Plagues in the sideboard make the match-up very good.

Boros: I thought this match-up was good for me, but then I realized that it must be the hardest match-up!”

He also told me online that he'd made a few changes to the deck since then and sent along his revised build:

Reanimator with Mods (MTGO Classic) by MaDCaTxEs

Download Arena Decklist

By trimming a few counts from the sorceries he's now able to add a Mystical Tutor engine. Here's a rundown of the changes:

Maindeck: -1 Buried Alive, -1 Duress, -1 Cabal Therapy, -1 Stitch Together, -1 Symbiotic Wurm, -1 Visara the Dreadful, +4 Mystical Tutor, +1 Coffin Purge, +1 Duplicant
Sideboard: -1 Duress, -3 Pithing Needle, +2 Echoing Truth, +2 Coffin Purge

He's also apparently concerned about graveyard strategies with addition of Coffin Purges in the main deck and sideboard, despite being the only graveyard strategy in the Top 8. I didn't have a chance to ask him about that prior to publication, but perhaps he'll comment in the forums.

Wall of Roots
When it comes to Mirage cards floating around outside of Dark Ritual and Goblin Tinkerer, I also saw an old favorite make an appearance in the Tooth and Nail deck: Wall of Roots! With Stampeding Wildebeests effectively reprinted in Stampeding Serow, perhaps we could see a revival of Stupid Green Deck in Classic? Wall of Blossoms is back—sorta—with Carven Caryatid, and there's also the crazy synergy with Eternal Witness. Aether Vial could give deck a nice boost, too, perhaps playing some of the role of Eladamri's Vineyard.

Speaking of Mirage, I thought as a public service to fans of Tribal I'd list all the creature types that got a population boost from Mirage. Obviously, the Human tribe went nuts, but there are also some nice gems here. The Cobras did indeed turn Snake, giving Seshiro and the gang an alternative win condition with Poison counters. Kamigawa's Spirit themes got a bumper crop of spirits to mess around with; I imagine a few players might be horrified to see three Zubera sacrificed to Lifespinner and Spirit of the Night jumping into play all hasty. The Wizard tribe also got a lot of new toys, not least of which include the awesome Guildmages. I also can't help but wonder what Ichorid-inspired madness might be “dredged” up with Tombstone Stairwell for Zombie decks. Oh yes, I'm definitely plotting that one!

One last thought— rutabagas! Could Dwarven Miner finally bring a critical mass of playable Dwarves to enable a Dwarven Bloodboiler deck? Might it be time to fetch the pestridder, Paka?

Have a great week, and here's that creature type list for your referencing pleasure.

Tribal: Mirage Creature Types

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