Set the Target. Be the Man.

Posted in Feature on October 26, 2006

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."

Champs is this weekend.

I know, I know. Some Champs tournaments were actually last weekend, but for this article's purposes, let's just go with "Champs is this weekend."

For most players, Champs is not just the opportunity to defend their local turf and swing big for bragging rights... It's the first chance to play with Time Spiral in sanctioned Standard. Most years, players come into Champs fairly cold, relying on skeletons of decks from the previous year's Standard, or cribbing from the immediately preceding Block Constructed PTQs... and Ravnica Block didn't have any of those. Theoretically, with the tidal wave of Time Spiral crashing into the already diverse landscape of Ravnica-influenced Standard with its multitude of dual lands, the format should be more random than ever. Fear not, wary traveler! Swimming With Sharks has something special for you. Last weekend, the stage was set by a couple of Standard tournaments around the world. We have a couple of deck lists that should serve as benchmarks, punching bags... and hopefully inspiration.

You may have caught a blog entry in the Kobe coverage that contained what Ted Knutson called "this season's debutantes." Here they are again:

Hiroki Otsuka

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This is a hybrid beatdown deck somewhat reminiscent of 8StoneRain.dec. The difference between Otsuka's deck and that Sea Stompy variant is that it goes white for Watchwolf and support cards, rather than blue for Trygon Predator and counterspells.

The land destruction theme here is fairly light, but with drops like Kird Ape and Watchwolf, any pronounced tempo in the early game can prove fatal for the opponent. Otsuka's deck has seven one-mana accelerators to facilitate his second turn Stone Rain or Cryoclasm; Avalanche Riders is a redundancy, potential threat, and, oftentimes, a Fog for dangerous creatures.

Loxodon Warhammer seems an odd choice, but with sufficient mana, it can turn almost any creature into a legitimate threat. One thing to remember with this deck is that with the white splash, Thornscape Battlemage can kill Signets, not just bears, so that the card is useful both against little beaters and as a semi-redundancy on the mana control theme.

Toshihumi Hanaoka

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This deck takes the typical Blue Snow theme and splashes Red for Skred, a card that was called the best card of the previous Standard. Hanaoka's mana base is actually more robust than it might initially seem, with its strange-looking three Scrying Sheets and the atypical Steam Vents (which are not Snow lands) supporting a minor Snow theme. Unlike some Snow decks that play all Snow lands and many Snow creatures, this one is actually a one-for-one permission deck that can certainly profit over time when it has spare mana but has other avenues for card advantage (Careful Consideration and Think Twice are both self-contained card advantage and a combo with one another).

The Skred splash makes the deck much stronger against opponents like Zoo than most decks of this stripe, but even with Repeal and quick Phyrexian Ironfoot, this deck isn't looking for the aggro matchup. The fact that it can stick and protect a Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir helps to resolve Rimefeather Owl, a sure game winner... if quite expensive.

Kunihiro Yano

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This is a fairly straightforward Firemane Angel control deck, albeit focused on board control like certain of the PT Charleston versions, rather than breaking Zur's Weirding long game with Firemane Angel or trying to take "true" control like Kamiel's Top 16 deck from PT Honolulu.

While it does not play permission or lock elements, the Yano deck has tons of card drawing and even more creature kill. Between Condemn, Lightning Helix, Faith's Fetters, and Wrath of God, beatdown decks are in a lot of trouble. Story Circle can force the opponent to overcommit... and then BAM! Wrath of God gets card advantage. Evangelize (with two in the sideboard) give this deck a nice out to Akroma, Angel of Wrath, which is ironic from a flavor point of view but delicious otherwise.

Ken’ichi Abe

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This may be the first look at Boros Deck Wins I've ever seen that has more burn spells than creatures... And what an unusual creature mix we have! I actually don't really understand the numbers on Leonin Skyhunter (2) versus Skyknight Legionnaire (3) or the absence of Boros Garrison, but besides these individual tweaks and odd balance on the proactive elements side, Abe's deck is a straightforward implementation. The Lions and two-drops (and three three-drops) soften the opponent up, then you put the scoundrel out of business with one or a flurry of those 23 burn spells. Threaten and Demonfire are particularly suited to the job, Threaten because it invalidates the control "tap out for a monolith" defensive strategy and Demonfire because, hell, it's Demonfire, and not even Honorable Passage or Circle of Protection: Red will save you.

Ryosuke Adachi

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The Rack
Adachi's deck has a massive amount of discard. He has Stupor and Castigate... and eight of his creatures for discard. Now sometimes a discard deck can get the advantage in the early game, but because most of black's cheap creatures are nothing to write home about offensively, the opponent has a chance to draw out of the disruption or even get ahead if he is blue.

Welcome to The Rack! The Rack helps to cut down the number of turns the opponent has. If you get him down... he's staying down. Beatdown decks especially have problems fighting The Rack. The dilemma is that an opposing beatdown deck that has been halted in the short term is almost necessarily losing the race to The Rack... but playing out threats to fight back just makes The Rack better . On the other hand, holding back non-essential lands makes the discard better. It can be miserable.

In previous formats, and for about the past seven years even through Extended, beatdown decks - certainly the kind like we have in Standard with 3/3 creatures for two and a lot of card advantage and efficient burn spells - could race because the discard creatures suck(ed) in comparison, but The Rack really changes that math.

Nobuhito Ohmichi

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Ohmichi's is pretty close to the default Rakdos 60 for Standard. This archetype is hell on anything relying on Birds of Paradise and Llanowar Elves due to Shadow Guildmage, and can burn out decks that deploy turn four Akroma, Angel of Wrath with surprising defiance. I think that Nobuhito's deck is short maybe 1-2 lands (probably the fourth Rakdos Carnarium should be there), and I personally have had no luck whatsoever with Gemstone Caverns, which, by the by, is atrocious in multiples. You really want to hit on turn one and on turn two, because that is what your vital early game drops cost to play. Shadow Guildmage gets worse as the game progresses but really retards a green deck's game plan if you can hit it on the first.

Makoto Shiotani

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Shiotani's deck is almost Heezy Street, but with Avalanche Riders on haste four in lieu of Giant Solifuge. I can see the attractiveness of this choice in a world of Karoos, but Mark would not approve.

The switch of Frenzied Goblin and Scorched Rusalka into Llanowar Elves gave Shiotani an excuse to cuts lands (specifically the Skarrg, the Rage Pits) and also a more explosive Burning-Tree Shaman and Call of the Herd early game. Otherwise, this deck echoes the PT - Honolulu Champion's deck (efficient beatdown drops in the early-to-middle turns), but with a greater emphasis on burn cards to improve the control matchup Game One.

Tsubasa Kai

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Finally we have the tournament winner! In case you didn't notice, the Japan Top 8 was largely creature decks, and G/W Glare of Subdual specializes in beating creature decks. Kai (You've got to love that name for a tournament champion!) upgraded Wood Elves to Yavimaya Dryad for this version and added a host of new cards: Saffi Eriksdotter, one Akroma, Angel of Wrath, Stonewood Invocation, and four big Thelonite Hermits. The inclusion of the Hermits echoes old style Deranged Hermit + Opposition decks, and gives Kai's version a "9/9" threat to win quickly after tapping down potential defenders.

Overall this deck is straightforward Glare of Subdual with no dedicated search (Chord of Calling or Congregation at Dawn, a.k.a. "Three Stupid Elephants"), instead focusing on a quicker, almost guaranteed, kill via Stonewood Invocation. This is a superb choice for creature metagames but possibly a gamble if the guy on the other side of the table is Solar Flare.

Meanwhile, at the Mother to Presidents, Star City Games held a pre-Champs cash tournament that may be more influential, especially for American players aiming for the tournaments formerly known as States.

Nathan Twigg – Zoo

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We have been saying for some time that even if Zoo isn't The Deck to Beat, it is the deck THAT beats. Make sure you test against decks that can go first turn Kird Ape, second turn Watchwolf if you want to be a Champs winner. Giant Growth may not be that exciting in the abstract, but there are few ways to get a more realistic idea of how good your deck is than battling against the red, white, and green monsters backed up by burn.

Brian Smith – U/W Control

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Here is an example of what classic U/W control might look like in Time Spiral Standard. The defense robust with Faith's Fetters, Condemn, Wrath of God, and copious permission. The endgame is simply the best in the format, albeit requiring eight main phase mana, in Akroma, Angel of Wrath. The innovation, or alternate kill at least, is Sacred Mesa. With this down, Smith's deck can overwhelm another control player or run a frustrating defense for creatures that forces over-commitment into Wrath of God.

Chris Woltereck – G/R LD

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This is a solid look at a post-Kamigawa, Time Spiral-legal version of the deck Frank talked about in My Babykiller, Part 1 and other articles. The interesting delta to me is removing Into the North and sideboarding Skred for main-deck Stormbind and Rumbling Slum. I actually quite liked Into the North because it allowed the deck to play only one Mouth of Ronom and increased the frequency of hitting Scrying Sheets (which Woltereck has reduced to three copies). Like the U/R deck we saw above, this one runs a de-emphasized scrying sheets engine but can benefit over many games whenever it has spare mana (Boreal Druid, Ohran Viper, and Stalking Yeti bolster the mana base).

Mike Mihealsick – B/W/r Firemane

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Out Compulsive Research, in Phyrexian Arena. Out permission, in discard. Out Zur's Weirding, in, um, Phyrexian Arena again.

The Arena serves multiple purposes here. First of all, it is the new draw engine over blue. It is vastly inferior in that it costs you life and doesn't discard Firemane Angel, and superior in that it is an essentially neverending supply of card advantage without mana requirement long game, rather than a three mana single shot at your next land or a raw +1. While it lacks the obvious synergy with Firemane Angel that Compulsive Research has, Phyrexian Arena has what we call in the trade "a sick combo" where Firemane Angel essentially erases the Arena's drawback, setting the deck up for a robust anti-control long game and mitigating the potentially disastrous investment against beatdown by some margin.

Void is a card Mark Herberholz and I have been trying to break for close to a month. Mihealsick has an admirable redundancy over Wrath of God here. His deck seems really nicely set up against creatures in the short term and has numerous ways to annoy control and win long games. I would not like to have to out-think his Rix Maadi, Dungeon Palace in a twenty turn game.

Yeah, yeah. I think Mike just wanted to hit both sides of Hide // Seek, too.

Adam Bowles – Fader

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We have seen Dimir House Guard engines many times in the past. Adam's features Plague Sliver, Faith's Fetters, Persecute, the underrated Bottled Cloister, and of course Wrath of God as key targets. Otherwise this is a straightforward B/W control deck that plans to win a long game after generating incremental card advantage in the middle turns. Along with another deck in this Top 8, the only deck that was expressly more successful given Bowles's second place finish, Fader features Ravnica Block Constructed superstar Skeletal Vampire in what is sure to be an illustrious Standard career over the next twelve or so months.

Chris Huff – U/G Beats

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