Where's the Beats?

Posted in Feature on April 26, 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."

Soltari Priest
Last week in Online Tech, fanatic Frank "sick as hell" Karsten told the story of a Magic Online Premiere Event that featured eight copies of White Weenie in the Top 8! For many players, this was a clear signal: as far as Time Spiral Block Constructed and the (then-) upcoming Pro Tour goes (went?), White Weenie was not just a, but the Deck to Beat. For those players and pundits who paid attention to that Top 8, the elimination rounds of Pro Tour–Yokohama had to have been a surprise. In a complete reversal of what seemed "known," there was not a single White Weenie deck in the Top 8. In fact, there were only two White Weenie decks in all the Top 50!

So what happened?

For the answer, check out this little number by Pro Tour Hall of Famer Raphael Levy, unstoppable of late. Raph backed up his induction with a pair of Extended Grand Prix wins, and backed his Extended Gaea's Mights up in Yokohama with a Top 8 this weekend past:

Raphael Levy

Download Arena Decklist

Sulfur Elemental
As you can see, Raph's deck should be hell on White Weenie. Four Sulfur Elementals main deck. Goodbye Soltari Priest; sorry, Icatian Javelineers. No matter how many Sacred Mesa tokens the opponent produces, one Sulfur Elemental will kill them all. On top of that, Raph has Blood Knight and Wildfire Emissary both. He's not likely to lose a fistfight, well, ever. Two more Wildfire Emissaries in the sideboard... next to four Serrated Arrows. The hate never ends for the little white men.

This is pretty significant. because Levy was "just" playing a Red Deck. This isn't a deck with Damnation and Tendrils of Corruption. Historically, White Weenie—no matter how awful it may have been "objectively" in some metagames—has always been good for a win over the Red Deck. Not when they're set up like this one, though. Not in this Pro Tour.

When playing against someone other than poor White Weenie, Levy's deck is largely a burn deck. He has only 18 creatures, and four of them are the Cursed Scroll-like Magus of the Scroll and four others are the Lava Axe-reminiscent Keldon Marauders. Keldon Marauders is two mana that typically gets in 5 damage. No one wants to trade with it, not when it is going to die "anyway," and Levy packs 18 burn spells to finish the job. One of the things I really like about his deck is the mix of Molten Slagheaps and Fungal Reaches. If the opponent doesn't know his deck list, he might be confused seeing one or the other or both, not sure what Raph's second color is (he doesn't have one). Either land pumps up a giant Disintegrate.

Tomoharu Saito

Download Arena Decklist

Levy's Quarterfinals opponent was Sea StOmPy-innovating Pro Tour Champion Tomoharu Saito, with "Pizza StOmPy." In the commentary for the Top 8, Pro Tour Historian Brian David-Marshall joked that Saito doesn't know what StOmPy is, merely assigning the nickname to any deck with a 5/5 for four mana. Tomoharu's Juzam in this deck is big Timbermare. While Saito has 20 creatures over Raph's 18, Timbermare itself acts like a Lava Axe... that potentially keeps on coming.

Though Saito defeated Levy in their quarterfinal meeting, Raphael indicated that he thought the matchup would be in his favor. Levy brought in the dangerous Greater Gargadon, and Saito would want his four copies of Dead to deal with that giant monster. The catch? Saito would have to hold back Dead for fear of the Gargadon, and might not be able to utilize Stormbind or lose the long game.

Like Levy's, Saito's deck is a very aggressive green-red, very different from some of the other decks in the Top 8.

Rather than playing the most aggressive red or red-green deck possible, many players opted for big mana threats. Sebastian Thaler played a black-touching green-red that was Randy Buehler's favorite deck of the Top 8, and one of the "top two or three deck lists in the tournament" according to BDM.

Sebastian Thaler

Download Arena Decklist

Thaler's deck plays a massive amount of mana. On top of 24 lands, he packs Wall of Roots, Search for Tomorrow, singleton Weatherseed Totem, Prismatic Lens, and Mwonvuli Acid-Moss (which doubles as mana control and mana acceleration). Due to the land destruction sub-theme and tons of extra mana, Sebastian doesn't have room for a lot of threats... Each one of his has to be significant. With Bogardan Hellkite, Spectral Force, and Disintegrate in the lineup, Sebastian's threats fit that bill.

Terramorphic Expanse and Search for Tomorrow make splashing colors easy for Thaler's deck. He went in an interesting direction and played a semi-transformative sideboard with a blue splash via one Island for four Aeon Chroniclers. These are big threats that are also great against control.

In contrast to Saito's aggressive little package, a deck like Thaler's can't actually play Stormbind. He invests tons of time and mana into getting to a point where he can run out 8/8 for five or the world's biggest and flyingest Flametongue Kavu. The last thing he wants is to accidentally pitch one of these cards to deal 2 damage.

Guess who's still here?

Masashi Oiso

Download Arena Decklist

Masashi Oiso, once considered the most technically proficient player on the Pro Tour, completed a half dozen Pro Tour Top 8s with his finish in Yokohama. Oiso snuck into Level 3 in the Pro Tour Players Club and showed the world that—concentrating on school instead of Magic or not—he still has it.

Here is a deck that, like Thaler's, can't afford to play Stormbind. It is all about mana ramp and big threats. Because of this, Oiso can play out lots of lands in the long game and take advantage of multiple copies of Urza's Factory. Running around black-blue decks with a stack of 2/2 Assembly Workers was instrumental in his making Top 8.

Paulo Carvalho

Download Arena Decklist

Different again from any of the previous versions, Paulo Carvalho's take on red-green combines multiple elements: It has a 2/2 for two and pairs Scryb Ranger with Spectral Force... but it still finds room for Stormbind. The key? That 2/2 for two is Radha, Heir to Keld.

A second-turn Radha allows Carvalho to take any number of explosive early turns afterward. The simplest—and the best justification for Stormbind in a deck like this—is that he can play a second turn Radha, a third turn Stormbind, swing with the Heir to Keld, and use the she produces to activate the Stormbind and eliminate a potential blocker before leaving the declare attackers step. Second-turn Radha, third turn face down creature is probably just game over unchecked. If Paulo hits his fourth land drop, both ladies—and they are both ladies—will undoubtedly hit the red zone, where Radha's will quickly help reveal Akroma, Angel of Fury.

Radha can play vanilla mana accelerator right next to Wall of Roots, too. Turn-two Radha makes turn-three Mwonvuli Acid-Moss or turn-three Harmonize easy.

Kazuya Mitamura

Download Arena Decklist

Brine Elemental
About half the Top 8, give or take a deck, was in the red deck or green-red camp; the other side was essentially black-blue, taking advantage of the expected tag team of Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir and Damnation. Within this general framework, multiple control strategies are possible—straight control, control with combo elements, Mystical Teachings "Napster"-style Silver Bullets, and probably others. Finalist Kazuya Mitamura elected to transplant the Standard "Pickles" combination to block in his take.

Pickles differs from other black-blue in its inclusion of the tricky Brine Elemental and Vesuvan Shapeshifter. Brine Elemental plays Exhaustion when turned face up, and Vesuvan Shapeshifter can duplicate this ability every turn. While not a "hard lock" by any means, the Pickles combo is rewarding because Brine Elemental is a pretty huge 5/4 and doesn't take very long to win once it has a little attention (especially when joined by a friend).

Mitamura's Pickles is a strong metagame choice in a format with a great deal of control, where greedy players are likely to spend a lot of mana on their own turns for cards like Careful Consideration, Aeon Chronicler, and Damnation. It is probably less robust against beatdown because of no strong Tendrils of Corruption defense.

Guillaume Wafo-Tapa

Download Arena Decklist

The greatest irony of the tournament clearly belongs to Guillaume Wafo-Tapa, Yokohama's eventual winner. Guillaume is one of the finest deck designers on the planet, particularly when he turns his eye to blue control decks. He was the man behind Niv-Mizzet, the Firemind at Pro Tour–Honolulu last year (Top 16), and his blue-red control deck, called "Wafo-Tapa" by most, was among the most successful archetypes of the Charleston PTQ season. A staunch supporter of the sometimes maligned Rewind, Guillaume went on to design the Standard Dralnu deck for this past World Championship... a deck that consistently hovers around the most popular choices on Magic Online every week.

So what is the irony?

Guillaume didn't like his package against control, and stated that he would not have played the Academy Ruins + Triskelavus combination if he had the tournament to run again, instead going with something along the lines of a second Urza's Factory, or incorporating Phyrexian Totem with Plague Slivers out of the side. Again... What's the irony? The Academy Ruins may well have bought Wafo-Tapa his Pro Tour win. Semifinals opponent Mark Herberholz fell to the Triskelavus recursion even after sticking a Haunting Hymn and Extirpating all of Wafo-Tapa's Cancels. Heezy lost to damage, but was forced to play a particular way because of the Academy Ruins... it would have surprised no one if Mark had just been decked.

Mark Herberholz

Download Arena Decklist

Speaking of Mark, Yokohama marks Heezy's fourth Pro Tour Top 8. As in Philadelphia, this tournament saw Herberholz playing an intricate deck in a Block Constructed event. Superficially, Herberholz's deck seems very much like Guillaume's... but with decks playing a lot of mana, card drawing, and especially Mystical Teachings, even small changes can make massive difference in how a matchup plays out.

The biggest difference setting Heezy's version of black-blue control apart from most others is the dedication to white in the main deck. Though Wafo-Tapa plays a Plains in the sideboard for Pull from Eternity, Temporal Isolation, and Disenchant, Mark plays all three of those cards main... as well as maindeck and sideboard Teferi's Moats. Teferi's Moat was a key card not just against the purely aggressive White Weenie or Red Decks, but in places you might not expect. For example, Heezy's Quarterfinals opponent Masashi Oiso, who was playing what amounted to a control-style version of green-red, had almost no outs to a resolved Teferi's Moat. He can't get rid of it, and has to win on red cards at range.

Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth
Another card that might seem strange is Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth, particularly, if the land has the drawback that it does (Legendary Land status), why would both Guillaume and Herberholz play all four copies? Check out Mark's deck. Tendrils of Corruption is one of his first lines of defense... but three Swamps? Urborg corrects this and actually makes his Tendrils unbelievable. If he assembles the two-card combo, any kind of beatdown is hard pressed to win. Wafo-Tapa? Only one Swamp. Both decks have land destruction sub-themes with Detritivore... With 26-27 lands, you often have extra lands to burn. The dream is to get a Strip Mine out of a Tomb of Yawmoth, preferably with another one in hand to replace it... Sitting back on two Urborgs just because someone else has one is like a double mulligan; it's just so 2003.

Extirpate has a very special role in this Mystical Teachings bullet deck. Mark can trade early and lose a counter war to Cancel... and then wait around, eventually resolving a Mystical Teachings. When he wants to make a big play, Mark will let the opponent stock up, maybe even let him Mystical Teachings for multiple Cancels, and then run out the Extirpate, simultaneously eating all the Cancels (card advantage!) and almost ensuring that the next spell will resolve.

With this finish on top of winning Honolulu last year, not to mention previous Top 8 accomplishments, Heezy has cemented himself as a true Constructed master. Subtle singletons like the maindeck Pull and certainly inexorable Teferi's Moats imply that there is perhaps no one in the game better at finding "the soft spot" for a format. He proved it with Heezy Street, and though he lost to another superb strategist with a similar deck in Yokohama, Mark showed us once again how impressive he can be. Goofy Price is Right pinball lush? Free-wheeling, philandering, um, lush? Mark is the guy who outplayed Kai Budde and knocked him out of the Skins Game and figured out how to make little red and green men dodge past Faith's Fetters and Wrath of God. Somebody make this man the Resident Genius!

Latest Feature Articles


November 15, 2021

Innistrad: Double Feature Product Overview by, Wizards of the Coast

More monsters! More horror! More drafts! More of everything you love about Innistrad arrives January 28, 2022, with Innistrad: Double Feature. Available at your local WPN game store,...

Learn More


November 12, 2021

The Legends of Innistrad: Crimson Vow by, Doug Beyer, Ari Zirulnik, and Grace Fong

We managed to get ahold of the guest list for Innistrad: Crimson Vow, and it's looking kind of wild! We've got faces old and new, fanged and un-fanged, human and . . . uh . . . slime mons...

Learn More



Feature Archive

Consult the archives for more articles!

See All