Post Fifth Dawn

Posted in Feature on July 19, 2004

By Alex Shvartsman

Every time a new expansion set becomes legal in constructed, it shifts the metagame and re-shuffles the power level among archetypes. This constant flux is what makes Magic so much fun. Usually big sets like Odyssey or Mirrodin affect the metagame in a profound way, while smaller sets like Judgment or Darksteel have relatively minor impact upon the metagame. Fifth Dawn is acting as though it was a stand-alone!

While many of the archetypes you've come to know well over the last couple of months are still viable, the banning of Skullclamp in addition to the introduction of Fifth Dawn are forcing them to change. In addition, there are a few new archetypes and some old ones making a comeback. Here is a rundown on the decks you need to know in order to compete in today's Standard tournaments.


This is the deck players love to hate. It was kind of annoying before Darksteel, and absolutely ridiculous after. Removing Skullclamp should have helped quite a bit – except one major problem… Fifth Dawn introduces an artifact that – in this particular deck – is as broken as Skullclamp was. Cranial Plating is absolutely sick when every permanent you play happens to be an artifact. It would not be uncommon for an Ornithopter to attack for seven or eight points of damage on turn three.

It is safe to say that if you take your current Affinity build and just replace Skullclamps with Cranial Platings, the deck you end up with is going to be tournament quality. Of course, you can tune it a little more to account for this change. Be sure to play with four Ornithopters if you weren't doing so already, and Blinkmoth Nexus becomes an incredibly attractive option. Murray Evans played four copies of Night's Whisper in his Affinity deck at Canada Nationals, earning a second place. He also played main-deck Mana Leaks – a good call when the metagame is pretty set on beating you with ridiculous cards such as Furnace Dragon.

Murray Evans, 2nd place, Canada Nationals

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Once upon a time Tooth and Nail did not play Elves. It was a deck that accelerated itself via cards like Rampant Growth and Explosive Vegetation. Then green mages came over to the dark side after discovering the joys of Skullclamp. Elf and Nail was pretty clearly a superior build, but it was one of the decks that simply could not survive the loss of Skullclamp. The archetype was not about to die out however – it simply went back to its roots. Tooth and Nail decks now rely on a variety of mechanisms to accelerate their mana development. Perhaps the most solid are the Urza lands, when combined with Sylvan Scrying to find the missing piece of the puzzle. John Ormerod navigated one such build to victory at England Nationals recently:

John Ormerod, Winner, England Nationals

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For a while this was a tier two deck. Blue-White Control decks have always relied heavily on Wrath of God, but Skullclamp allowed weenie decks to recover too well for this powerhouse sorcery to be effective enough. Now the Wrath's back and so is this archetype.

There are many, many ways to build U/W control and only time and tournament results will show which build is superior. Silver Knights and Pristine Angel with Worship is one way to go. Eternal Dragon and Decree of Justice is another proven path to victory.

Mike Viner, 6th, Canada Nationals

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You can play Blue-White as a control deck, but you can also play it as a combo deck! Mauro Kina won his National championship with a Proteus Staff deck that was able to trade up a Raise the Alarm or Decree of Justice token creature to a Darksteel Colossus. This build's strength is that it retains virtually all control elements of U/W Control but its victory condition is more powerful. This deck's weakness is that it is forced to play some cards that are dead outside of the combo or when you draw them – such as your second Proteus Staff or a Darksteel Colossus you draw. Thirst for Knowledge is an answer to both scenarios – a way to get rid of the undesirable cards in your hand while digging deeper into your library.

Mauro Kina, Winner, Argentine Nationals

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Dark Ritual has change colors and its name is now Seething Song. You might not be able to get out a turn one Hypnotic Specter, but will you settle for a turn three Rorix or turn four Furnace Dragon? Mono-Red control is capable of doing just that. I played this deck in U.S. Nationals and, of course, it was pre-sideboarded to beat Affinity. In the current metagame I would move 4 Damping Matrix and 4 Furnace Dragon into the sideboard, replacing them with the eight land destruction spells.

Alex Shvartsman, 9th, U.S. Nationals

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This is a brand new archetype born of Fifth Dawn cards. Krark-Clan Ironworks inspired all kinds of artifact builds. Some attempt to win off a giant Fireball, others work with Mind's Desire, and others yet try to make enough creatures with Myr Incubator to win in one attack. Scott Wills played the list below at his Nationals. Problem is, any Ironworks deck has yet to make a single Nationals top 8. Is this deck not strong enough, or has it simply gotten unlucky so far? The next few weeks with more Nationals championships on the horizon will give us the answer.

Scott Wills, 43rd, England Nationals

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Blue-Red control is the latest fashion in March of the Machines builds. Indestructible permanents, March and Obliterate is something that feels like it belongs more in a local Friday Night Magic tournament than a Nationals top 8 – but appearances can be deceiving. Jingpeng Zhang won in Canada using just such a deck, and there was another Obliterate deck in the top 8 just to prove it was no fluke.

Jingpeng Zhang, Winner, Canada Nationals

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There are many other viable decks, and plenty of room for improvement to the existing ones. The metagame will remain in flux for a while. The next Ormerod, Mowshowitz or Sullivan is out there. Can you be the first to create the next original deck? Study the Fifth Dawn cards and look out for possibilities.

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