Where is the Damnation? (Planar) Chaos in Kyoto

Posted in Feature on March 22, 2007

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."

Dralnu, Lich Lord, with a big red X in front of him.Before proceeding with the content of this article proper, I just want to stress how jealous I am of the Japanese for Grand Prix – Kyoto. I know that the last Two-Headed Giant Grand Prix broke the floorboards with its attendance, and we East Coasters have got that format for Boston... But I love me a Standard.

So... Kyoto... Standard Grand Prix. This event was an eye-opener with great lists and surprising consequences for the standard Magic: The Gathering format, Standard. While there were two decks similar to what Frank himself posted in last week's Online Tech, the well known Standard archetypes, Dralnu du Louvre (called "the best deck in Standard"), Dragonstorm (World Championships winner winner), Boros (four undefeated Day One decks at Worlds), Mono-Green Aggro (recent MTGO darling)... Not a one showed up in the Top 8 of Grand Prix Kyoto.

Instead we see a combination of repositioned, semi-forgotten, if top flight, decks, a couple of new Planar Chaos cards, and some triumphant returns from old favorites. Let's get to them, shall we?

Yuuya Watanabe

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It was nearly prophetic that Kenji Tsumura, probably the best Constructed player in the world right now, called Nabe as a potential winner on Day One (he's "really good at Standard"), even though Yuuya was on amateur status. It just goes to show that even though Tsumura didn't make Day Two, he has a sharper eye than many or most.

Watanabe's deck is a look at an old favorite, U/R UrzaTron. Like most Blue-based UrzaTron decks, Watanabe's can function as a "regular" control deck, but becomes super-charged when he has Urza's Mine, Urza's Power Plant, and Urza's Tower all in play simultaneously. He can buy back Spell Burst, hard cast Commandeer, pay retail for Bogardan Hellkite, and end games with massive Demonfires. Most 'Tron decks are built to control the board while simultaneously assembling the proper lands, and Watanabe's is no different. He is constantly digging not only with Compulsive Research and Tidings but has a stack of cantrips including Remand, Electrolyze, and Repeal to control time and play unfair simultaneously.

Sulfur Elemental
The defining element of the deck, though, is the inclusion of four main deck-Sulfur Elementals. At first I found these to be very odd... A metagame call against Boros? Reading over blisterguy's coverage, though, I realized that Sulfur Elemental is an amazing innovation. These creatures, besides killing Icatian Javelineers and Savannah Lions for free, have Split Second and essentially cannot be countered. Watanabe can summon such a Sulfur Elemental at the end of turn, get his threat down, and just use his blue spells to protect his 3/2 for six swings (Time Walk thanks you, Ravnica Block); with Electrolyze and Demonfire, he might need fewer. Sulfur Elemental represents one of those queer situations where a card comes in for one reason – like Ancient Grudge versus Isochron Scepter in Extended, say – and ends up being really effective, maybe even better given the metagame, in a totally different matchup.

Watanabe's is also a subtle nod to the Japanese tradition of repositioning and hybridizing decks. Depending on the version, U/R 'Tron comes down between board control ("Prison" or "Weissman") and "Tinker"... but here the ability to quickly play a threat and protect it in control-on-control gives an otherwise controlling, powerful, and mana-hungry deck the ability to "play Counter-Sliver," as it were, repositioning itself somewhat on the metagame clock in-context. Think of this as a deck that is usually Paper being able to sometimes mimic a pair of really blunt and rusty Scissors when faced with another Paper deck... Hey, it's still scissors.

If you didn't understand what was going on in the preceding paragraph, I refer you to the popular classic Finding the Tinker Deck. Some of the examples are a bit dated, but the concepts remain workable more than half a decade later.

Yuusuke Iwasaki

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Iwasaki's deck is a take on Project X, a rogue design that was played by Hall of Famer and recent phenom Raphael Levy and others at the 2006 World Championships. This archetype can operate as a regular, if poor and inefficient, creature deck (see the bit about the Scissors being blunt and rusty and still quite capable of cutting Paper, above), but really shines in that it can gain infinite life or create infinite tokens under certain conditions as well.

Saffi Eriksdotter and Crypt ChampionThe simplest version of the combination is Essence Warden, Saffi Eriksdotter, and Crypt Champion. With the first two lovely ladies in play (or one in play and one in the graveyard, actually), summon Crypt Champion. Crypt Champion will look up from his Skullmead Cauldron and query if any red mana has been paid for him. Birds of Paradise turns away and chirps in another direction; none has. Well then, says the Champion, I'll be going, then. Not so fast, cautions Saffi. I'd like you to come back; she herself exits. Crypt Champion leaves. Crypt Champion is back! Look, he's brought Saffi along with him! Pass the Skullmead Cauldron! No, no time for that. No red mana again? Forget this noise. Wait... Come back, Crypt Champion! Saffi is that you? Where is that Human Scout? Oh there she is! Crypt Champion brought her along.


That's because mortal minds are very bad at managing very large or very small numbers. In this case, we are dealing with, well, infinity. Saffi sacrifices herself with Crypt Champion's triggered effect on the stack so that when he leaves, he'll return from the grave, bringing back Saffi, who will again target the Crypt Champion with his trigger on the stack, creating a giant loop. Essence Warden just tallies the number of times they come back for purposes of, you know, infinite life gain.

One thing that Iwasaki's deck has going for it, other than the infinite life gain (or token generation using Teysa), is that it is full of good cards. Not a soul really likes playing against a Loxodon Hierarch, certainly not Boros or Gruul, and that goes double for Ghost Council. Castigate can break up anything, and Putrefy can blow up whatever snuck past. This deck can side into a Glare of Subdual deck, handy with the token generation.

Watch this deck. Besides his second place finish, Iwasaki was one of two players in the Kyoto Top 8 who finished Day One with a flawless record.

Motokiyo Azuma

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I remember testing for a Pro Tour last year and having my friend Josh Ravitz complain that it didn't matter what our best two decks were. Surely the Japanese would find them and play them together in one deck! Azuma's Pickles variant has one foot in the control spot, the other in combo. His can play Draw-Go with two more permission spells main ¬– not counting Willbenders – than Andrew Cuneo ran in the original late 1990s version (and Azuma has four Rewinds, a Whelk, two more Willbenders, and two copies of Shadow of Doubt in his sideboard), or he can play a Pickles game plan of Brine Elemental + Vesuvan Shapeshifter.

The Pickles combo is well known in Standard by now. Between the two key morphs, Azuma can prevent the opponent from untapping almost indefinitely; a Brine Elemental doesn't take very long to win the game. By playing essentially only one color, Azuma's was the only deck of the many blue-intensive decks in the Top 8 that could effectively run Desert.

Tsubasa Tomii

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For a short window last summer, Solar Flare was the dominant Standard deck... About half the players at US Nationals ran the deck, and even more impressively, it not only won the tournament but took one of the other team spots. Variants on Solar Flare, including Snow lands, Smallpox, and Haakon draw engines, have gone on to dominate a variety of formats from National to State Championships.

Solar whatever is back.

In addition to Court Hussar and Compulsive Research, Tomii played tidings for card draw; he supplemented the usual two Persecutes with main deck Castigate; in addition to six Signets, Tsubasa found room for a Phyrexian Totem. I have no idea how he found room for creatures!

Among those creatures, unusual and updated choices, is Body Double; though he can pay retail for his Angels, reanimation has always been a Solar Flare sub-theme. Body Double has the advantage over Zombify that, while Tomii has to pay an extra mana for it, it can target a card in the opponent's graveyard instead of just his own.

Naoki Shimizu

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In addition to leading the Swiss, Naoki finished Day One undefeated with this look at U/G Pickles.

U/G Pickles works basically the same way as B/U or straight Blue Pickles, only with, you know, Green. On top of the usual morph combination, U/G allows for Vesuvan Shapeshifter copying Thelonite Hermit, which sets up not only a mess of Saprolings, but mid-combat, a gaggle of 3/3 tokens.

When I make my 'Tron decks, I try to be very aware of the colored mana requirements of my cards. Even in Shimizu's deck, 12 of his 23 lands produce colorless mana. So how is it that he can play cards like Mystic Snake and Brine Elemental and or even cards like Harmonize and Chord of Calling? Wall of Roots is just gorgeous in this deck. Unlike U/W or B/U 'Tron decks, green offers no Wrath of God equivalent. However, green is good at creatures, and Wall of Roots blocks. Wall of Roots is really special – a colossal early game blocker, a mana accelerator essentially twice as powerful as a Signet, and in-context, a juggernaut of green fixing. To play Wall of Roots, you need a green mana. Wall of Roots itself makes green. That is how you get your third turn Harmonize. Chord of Calling works the same way... but you can also convoke green very easily. Therefore the mere presence of Wall of Roots implies the ability to produce the necessary for Chord of Calling.

Ren Ishikawa

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Atsushi Wada

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Ishikawa and Wada played U/R/W decks similar to what Frank Karsten posted on Online Tech last week. U/R/W Lightning Angels is a well-known strategy that did well at Worlds; even chumps like yours truly can win a Champs with the powerful combination of the best cards in the format.

Here are some of the new innovations that the Ishikawa and Wada decks displayed:

Sunhome, Fortress of the Legion
This card has been around since Ravnica, City of Guilds, but has to date produced almost no real estate in serious decks. Why did it suddenly appear in not one but both good color control decks in this Top 8?

Wada's deck has massive incentives, including both Numot, the Devastator and Riptide Pilferer. Bang! No... Bang bang!

The perfect compliment to Flagstones of Trokair, this card is also quite saucy with Wada's lone Ghost Quarter.

Detritivore represents a brand new way to get manascrewed. Besides regular manascrew, mana flood, and Wonder-screw in the U/G mirror, Detritivore advantage promises to he one of the most important components of the new Standard. What is scary is that this card is so draw-dependent, and its effect can't easily be countered.

Aeon Chronicler
This is like a non-interactive, top-down, and probably less powerful Detritivore. This creature can still generate a massive advantage in a long game against another control deck.

Katsuhiro Ide

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Katsuhiro played the lone beatdown deck in the Top 8. There's nothing much to say here... Ide's deck is at its essence an update to Heezy Street, albeit playing more burn. Ide said that Seal of Fire was among his most important cards.

With all the new decks, updates to old decks, hype, and conspicuously absent Damnations, I thought it would be fun to count up all the main-deck mana symbols to see how the colors break down in the new Standard. I was trying to be practical based on how people actually play most of the time (Boom // Bust is despite having and both available; I counted Detritivore as instead of ).

Here's how it looks in broad strokes:

Graph of results

For now, draw your own conclusions.

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