Damnation Everywhere

Posted in Feature on March 28, 2007

By Frank Karsten

TheMagic Online Standard players have now had a week to incorporate the Grand Prix Kyoto results, and combined with well-attended IPA Qualifier tournaments we have quite a few interesting metagame changes and new decks to digest. After I cover Standard I will also shortly talk about Time Spiral Block Constructed.

In the following table I have listed the 20 most popular Standard decks as seen in the Magic Online Premier Event last week. Click on a deck to find a decklist and short explanation in my deck-o-pedia forum thread.

Deck namePopularity percentageChange since last week
1. Izzetron■■■■■ ■■■■■ ■■■■■ (15%)+14% (!!!)
2. Dragonstorm■■■■■ ■■■■■ ■■■■■ (15%)2%
3. Dralnu du Louvre■■■■■ ■■ (7%)-9% (!!!)
4. U/G PickleTron■■■■■ ■ (6%)1%
5. U/R/B Tron■■■■■ ■ (6%)2%
6. G/B Dredge/Reanimate■■■■■ ■ (6%)+4% (!!!)
7. Angelfire■■■■■ (5%)0%
8. Mono Blue Pickles■■■■■ (5%)2%
9. R/G Aggro■■■■■ (5%)+4% (!!!)
10. R/B Ignite the Warrens■■■■ (4%)-1%
11. U/W Tron■■■ (3%)-2%
12. Satanic Sligh■■■ (3%)3%
13. Vore■■■ (3%)3%
14. Solar Flare■■■ (3%)3%
15. Mono Green Aggro■■ (2%)-4% (!!!)
16. Boros Deck Wins■■ (2%)-1%
17. DemonGhaziGlare■■ (2%)2%
18. R/W/B Arena Control■ (1%)-2%
19. Black Rack Discard■ (1%)-1%
20. Zoo■ (1%)1%

Dralnu is no longer dominating the online Standard metagame, and Mono Green Aggro is also taking a plunge. The Japanese decks have created quite a buzz, and they offer a wind of fresh air to a format that was getting somewhat stale. Yuuya Watanabe's Grand Prix–winning deck has taken the online tournaments by storm; Izzetron is all over the place now. The other Grand Prix – Kyoto Top 8 decks that can be played online (U/G PickleTron, Angelfire, Mono Blue Pickles, Solar Flare and R/G Aggro) are also showing up in numbers. I won't go in-depth on these "new" decks – if you're interested, read Mike Flores's article or Brian David Marshall's article from last week – but these online results certainly prove that these Japanese decks are real contenders.

It is undeniable that the GP Kyoto results are very influential, but let's not forget the innovativeness of creative Magic Online players. First, let's take a look at a new Urzatron deck. Before Planar Chaos, we had U/R Tron and U/W Tron. Now online player kairan has made a new creation, which has black instead of white or red. kairan has placed in as many as 4 (!) Premier Event Top 8s last week, which should be a clear statement to this deck's power.

UBR Urzatron

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A base blue deck that runs the Urza lands isn't new. The goal is to assemble the Urzatron: one Urza's Tower, one Urza's Mine and one Urza's Power Plant. Tron decks need blue for card drawing; Compulsive Research and Remand are perfect to draw into the required Tron pieces. Furthermore, Spell Burst is a good blue way to lock down a game once you find one of each Urza land.

The new thing about this deck is the colors that are played in addition to blue: mainly black, splashing red. In fact, this seems like it is a logical step from the U/W Urzatron deck that Katsuhiro Mori made for the World Championships. Mori played white mainly in order to have an answer against fast beatdown in Faith's Fetters and Wrath of God. But the introduction of Damnation has opened up the possibility of replacing white with black. Damnation replaces Wrath of God, Last Gasp replaces Faith's Fetters, and you even gain Persecute for the control/combo matchups and Skeletal Vampire as a wonderful finisher. In the current metagame where control decks are more defining than aggro decks, having access to Persecute appears to be more important than having access to Faith's Fetters, so I like the change.

Demonfire
Why the red splash in the deck, you may ask? Well, first note that Tron decks actually want to play around 6-8 Signets. They need the mana acceleration, and they need to be able to keep hands with just Urza pieces and artifact colored mana. Four in-color Signets are a given, but then what? Katsuhiro Mori played 3 Dimir Signet and 1 Mystical Teachings in his U/W Tron deck. Yuuya Watanabe played 2 Dimir Signet and 1 sideboard Mystical Teachings in his Izzetron deck. If you have to play some off-color Signets, then you might as well play a card that can put that mana to use.

Now back to kairan's Tron deck. He figured that a Blue-Black Tron could, first of all, use more Mystical Teachings, since the flashback is easy to pay if black is a main color. But what to do with the other Signets? You can run Azorius Signet, Simic Signet, or Izzet Signet and perhaps splash a small number of cards of that color. Looking at the available Standard cards, I agree that red is the best option. Demonfire is so incredibly strong in combination with Urza lands; it is the finisher of choice in the Izzetron deck for a reason. And while we're at it, we might as well also include two copies of Detritivore in the sideboard, which definitely is a wrecking ball versus control decks. This way, he has combined all good elements of all previous Tron builds into one. Color-wise, it all works out, and I expect that with a little more tuning this deck might turn out to be very good. If I were to enter a Standard tournament now, this is the deck I'd go with.

The list isn't fixed yet. It's in its early stages of development, and kairan told me about his early version where he tried to include Shadowmage Infiltrator, Spell Snare, and more Repeal instead of Mana Leak and Tidings. Right now, he was thinking of putting Last Gasp maindeck (probably instead of Repeal), because Sulfur Elemental out of Izzetron is very annoying and hard to deal with.

The good matchups are Mono Green Aggro, Dragonstorm, Dralnu du Louvre, and Blue-White Tron. Bad matchups for this deck are Izzetron and Gruul Aggro.

Now onto an existing deck with some new twists.

G/B Dredge/Reanimate

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I've talked about this deck archetype before. The goal of this deck is fairly obvious: use Greenseeker or Delerium Skeins to discard a card with dredge, then dredge your graveyard full of goodies, and finish with a fat Golgari Grave-Troll or Svogthos, the Restless Tomb. Llanowar Elves and Birds of Paradise have multiple purposes in this deck. First, they obviously act as many accelerants. Second, they can beef up Golgari Grave-Troll later on. Third, they can be used to flashback Dread Return, giving you an Akroma, Angel of Wrath or Bogardan Hellkite in return.

Fa'adiyah Seer
The above build seems streamlined and it has an important new Planar Chaos card that has made the deck more consistent: Fa'adiyah Seer. Before Planar Chaos, it was often hard to get a dredge card into your graveyard quickly. A Greenseeker or Delirium Skeins in your opening hand was required; otherwise you would seriously have to consider a mulligan. Planar Chaos offers Fa'adiyah Seer, which is a perfect fit for the deck. Do you have a land on top? Sure, fine, that's card advantage. Do you have a dredge card on top? Ding! Now we can get going. Fa'adiyah Seer may not look like it will make a big difference, but going from 8 good dredge enablers to 12 is an increase of 50%. If you look at it that way, it adds up to much more opening hands that you can happily keep now, so comes to no surprise that G/B Dredge climbed up to this week's number 6 spot.

The Online Time Spiral Block Constructed Metagame

I am in an awkward position here. As you may know, Pro Tour – Yokohama is in less than a month, and the format is Time Spiral Block Constructed. Naturally, I am playtesting the format quite a bit together with my Dutch friends, trying to break the format and finding the best deck for the Pro Tour. We're working on some promising decks, but I don't want to give away my tech, since that would hurt my chances at the Pro Tour. On the other hand, Time Spiral Block Constructed is a popular online format, with multiple well-attended Premier Events every week, and I would not be doing my duty as a columnist if I avoided it. Many players have asked me to write something on this format, and I would disappoint them if I didn't do that. But how do I combine my role as a columnist with my role as a pro Magic player here? The best solution I found is to simply show what the most popular decks in the Magic Online Premier Events are. I will just try to give solid objective analysis, showing you a representative gauntlet of decks that (a) are good and popular decks that you can pick up and post a good record with, and that (b) you should test your own new deck creations decks against. When the Pro Tour is over and the Block Constructed PTQ Season starts, I will happily tell you everything I know about the format without reservations.

So we're off. I'd say that the online Block Constructed metagame mainly consists of three global deck archetypes: a Damnation deck (30-35%), a Spectral Force deck (20-25%), and a Calciderm deck (30-35%).

Damnation
Spectral Force
Calciderm

By far the most dominating deck archetype in the last two weeks has been blue-based Teferi control. Here's a representative decklist:

Ubr Control

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This deck runs many of the best cards in the format, and is considered by many the "deck to beat." It has Damnation to contain an early creature onslaught. It has Cancel to slaughter slow control/combo decks. It has Teferi for the mirror matchup. It has card advantage in Think Twice and Mystical Teachings, ensuring that the deck will never run out of gas. In the meantime, all these flashback cards make the deck extremely mana-hungry, which is solved to a certain extent by playing artifact mana accelerants and storage lands. Bogardan Hellkite is the best win condition around. Vesuvan Shapeshifter is very powerful as well, for example copying a Spectral Force and trading, copying a Bogardan Hellkite as it comes into play, or destroying an opposing Teferi with the legend rule.

Other typical control decks are Mono Black Control, Green-Black Control, Red-Black Control, and Blue-Black Control in all varieties. I've even seen a deck with Mishra, Artificer Prodigy and artifacts. But the binding element is Damnation, that's the one that that pretty much all of these control decks have in common. Your creature decks better have a plan against this four-mana sorcery.

G/R Scryb&Force

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Spectral Force is another defining card of the block. In combination with Scryb Ranger, it poses a threat that you'd better answer quickly. Call of the Herd, Harmonize, and mana acceleration (Wall of Roots and Search for Tomorrow) are other important reasons to run green. Spectral Force decks come in many varieties; the most common ones are Mono Green, Blue-Green, and Red-Green. Some are more control-minded, others are very aggressive. Mr.Page opted for a midrange red version, which offers awesome starts like turn two Radha, Heir to Keld, turn three morph, turn four attack with both and unmorph Akroma, Angel of Fury. Boom // Bust is also quite potent. Bust seals the game when you are ahead, and Boom has synergy with Scryb Ranger and Terramorphic Expanse. Did you know that if you target your own Terramorphic Expanse and your opponent's Plains and then sacrifice your Terramorphic Expanse in response, Boom will still resolve as much as possible and destroy your opponent's Plains?

White Weenie

Download Arena Decklist

We all know what a White Weenie deck tries to achieve: overwhelm the opponent with cheap white creatures before they find Damnation. Mana Tithe can counter Damnation, Griffin Guide gives you a 2/2 flyer afterwards, and a Calciderm the turn after Damnation still gives you some game.

Many of the creature choices are obvious in this deck, it seems. The only major decision point appears to be Slivers or no. Some versions opt for Benalish Cavalry and friends instead of the Sliver package, whereas other versions go overboard on the Slivers and even include red for Cautery Sliver, Bonesplitter Sliver, and Sedge Sliver. Well, I guess such a deck would not really classify as White Weenie anymore. That's more of an all-in on Slivers theme, but even those Sliver decks often include Calciderm.

Oh well, whether you run Cautery Sliver or Knight of the Holy Nimbus, it doesn't really matter. Both constitute a white creature deck with strategies that are at the core very similar.

Concluding...

Terramorphic Expanse
Well, there you have it. A Damnation deck, a Spectral Force deck, and a Calciderm deck. That is the state of the online Block Constructed metagame as it is right now. All of these decks are fine, and I would be surprised if these types of decks would not show up in Yokohama. What is the best deck in the format? Actually, I'm not even sure yet (that's not a lie). But we'll probably find out in roughly one month. For now, I'll leave you with a prediction: Terramorphic Expanse will be the most played card in Yokohama, excluding basic lands.

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