Posted in NEWS on January 28, 2014

5. Forest

Poor forest. It just seems like it can't find a home. With the Big Three Decks representing plains, islands and swamps, and red seeing play in both Devotion and Young Pyromancers builds, the only place green can find success of late is in Green-Red Monsters. That deck was a minor factor in Day 2. Colin Millar was a match win away from putting Mountains in the Top 8, but Forests didn't even get that close.

It had great aspirations in Makihito Mihara's Colossal Gruul at the beginning of the season—casting powerhouses like Polukranos, World Eater and Garruk, Caller of Beasts. Travis Boese, who was 9-0 after Day 1, played the Colossal Gruul build which he thought was positioned particularly well to clean up. But alas, the Forest fell short yet again. Perhaps Young Pyromancer, or Fanatic of Mogis, or Stormbreath Dragon should really be in this fifth spot. But no, we're giving it to the Forest. Poor, poor Forest.

4. Nightveil Specter

Appearing in both Mono-Blue and Mono-Black, the Little Specter that Could is a card-advantage machine. Until Theros was released, this card was sadly ignored. But when the devotion mechanic became a viable strategy, every deck that could afford to play the Specter would do so. Not only does it add three devotion to either of the Dimir colors, but all the while it flies over the heads of opponents snatching cards from their library and acting like a Treasure Trove that you don't have to pay for.

Even Control decks would side into this beast to get the card edge when other decks would side out their removal. Have you ever stolen another player's Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx? I have, and it's gross. The popularity of Last Breath has put a dent in its dominance, but he was still winning games all weekend, and I have a feeling he won't stop doing so after Born of the Gods is released.

3. Elspeth, Sun's Champion

Elspeth grew up, and she got mean. She is the finisher of choice in Blue-White Control because she is so versatile. Her swarm of soldiers provides roadblocks against aggressive strategies. With her in play, the control deck has the luxury of casting Supreme Verdict and being immediately ahead on the board. She also kills remarkably quickly, so that even as the last card in hand, Elspeth can steal games. In a pinch, her minus ability deals with two very important cards: Desecration Demon and Stormbreath Dragon.

She is so powerful that the Black decks that had been splashing white for Blood Baron of Vizkopa have started playing her as well. In fact, many pundits think that the Black Control deck with those two white creatures is just superior to the Mono-Black Gray Merchant of Asphodel build. I mean, you can still play your Pack Rat? So why not play the better game-closer?

2. Thassa, God of the Sea

Thassa does a lot for a little mana. If you hit the devotion threshold, she is a superpowered killing machine. Her scry ability smooths out your draws, the better to execute an efficient game plan. She can make your creatures unblockable, meaning your opponent cannot stave you off with creatures. The Mono-Blue deck makes good use of all these abilities, and in particular, the fact that both Thassa and Mutavault are immune to Supreme Verdict. This means that Mono-Blue can often close out games against a control deck by sneaking through the last few points of unblockable damage. This was how Peter Sundholm won his clutch second game in the quarterfinals just before Vasovski could take control.

In fact, Thassa is so good, Ryan Bemrose, who was 9-0 after Day 1, played her in a deck that could barely turn her into a creature and barely played any creatures worth making unblockable. He was playing an odd little brew of Azorius Control, and had two copies of this card, that 90% of the time just scryed for one every upkeep. Oh so long ago, Brian David-Marshall suggested that a mere Think Tank—Thassa without the creature attached—could be good enough given the right circumstances. Bemrose's deck, and this environment, finally proved him right.

1. Archangel of Thune

Grand Prix Vancouver all came down to this card—a small bit of tech out of the Azorius Control sideboard. The dealers noted that the card was selling all weekend, but couldn't quite pinpoint why. According to eventual winner Alex Hayne, the "why" is because it takes the Mono-Blue Devotion match for Azorius Control from "bad" to "good."

In the final game of the weekend, two copies of Archangel of Thune dealt over 30 damage in a few precious turns and ripped the game right from the jaws of finalist Peter Sundholm. With four toughness, Archangel stops almost every blue attacker in its tracks, and when combined with the Soldier tokens from Elspeth, Sun's Champion, Azorius Control can stop an entire Elemental Army from Master of Waves with nary a Supreme Verdict or Detention Sphere in sight.

The best part about the Archangel is that it shows how refined this Theros Standard format is. Seven Grand Prix in, and the finals are decided on a huge, swingy piece of tech that completely changes the nature of the match-up between two of the decks that have been around since the beginning of the format. The format was evolving up to the final crowning moment.