Innovation in Preparation

Posted in Feature on August 14, 2008

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."

Despite coming late in the season, Grand Prix–Denver this past weekend has revealed some very exciting new and different strategies, including at least one genuinely amazing cluster of innovations that can be utilized in the last weeks of this summer's Block Constructed PTQ season. Yes, yes; Faeries and Kithkin, too. But before we get into specifics, the Top 8:

Quick 'n Toast
Black-Blue-Green Control

There is an awful lot to talk about in this Top 8, but we might as well start out at the top, with the Quick 'n Toast ("Justice Toast") variants played by Grand Prix Denver Champion Gerry Thompson and Justice Toast compatriot, Antonino De Rosa:

Gerry Thompson

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Antonino De Rosa

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These decks are quite similar—and share in a key finisher innovation designed to take on the onrushing metagame—but Thompson's deck has a couple of really something specials that set Justice Toast apart from previous five-color control decks in Lorwyn / Shadowmoor Block Constructed.


Runed Halo

When I heard those two words waft into my ears I had to pick my jaw back up off the ground. The implications of this card—especially as a Constructed main deck spoiler—are as unbelievable as they are topical. You see, Grand Prix Denver occurred a week after the U.S. National Championship, where Michael Jacob stood atop a heap of burned bodies, surrounded by unkillable Demigods. Demigod of RevengeRorix Bladewing's faster, somehow more unstoppable, little brother—is a serious problem for control decks. Many players talk about being able to beat one Demigod, but not the dreaded "Demigod draw" where multiple copies show up. The reason is that a control deck can counter one Demigod, but the second one—even if it is countered—brings the first one back, and it is all 5 power of haste smashing the control player in the face. How inconvenient.

In Standard, Mark Herberholz respected this threat so much that he even added Condemn to his Quick 'n Toast deck specifically to help deal with Demigod of Revenge (Condemn puts the Demigod on the bottom of the opponent's library so it will not return to play when a second Demigod is played). However, in Block, while many of the same exciting cards that made Michael Jacob's deck so good—and so good all over the world the same weekend—there is no Condemn to fight of Demigod of Revenge out of the sideboard.

But there is Runed Halo.


Demigod of Revenge
This card is so elegant. One copy is a perfect solution to all the Demigods the opponent might present, a kind of damage-preventing Pithing Needle. Moreover, we saw in the Denver coverage that when the opponent has a Tattermunge Maniac draw, and the five-color deck is a little slow to start (as it often will be), Runed Halo is a perfect second-turn spell to slow down the opponent's forward momentum and keep the 'Toast deck's life total nice and fluffy. This can give the control enough time to draw into the card advantage necessary to take over during the middle turns... instead of getting battered for 6 or even 10 damage, which would make opposing burn that much more immediately dangerous.

More than just red deck defense, there are some specific threats in Block Constructed that really don't like to mess with Runed Halo. To wit:

Mistbind Clique... Not only are you safe from the typical Faeries deck's biggest beater, when the opponent successfully Champions Mistbind Clique into play... it will have to tap its controller out!

Oona, Queen of the Fae... Not only will Oona be unable to damage you in combat, because Runed Halo actually gives you Protection from Oona, Queen of the Fae, you can't be targeted by this card, so she can't point her Millstone ability in your direction, meaning no danger from decking... and moreover no tokens, meaning no attacks from Oona tokens, either. Annoying!

The other main point of differentiation between the Justice Toast version and typical Quick 'n Toast five-color control is namesake Archon of Justice. Archon of Justice is a versatile "tap out" control threat that also happens to be particularly effective against Demigod of Revenge. You can tap for Archon of Justice on or about the same time the opponent can play Demigod of Revenge... and the matchup between the cards is pretty favorable for the Archon, all things considered; an Archon can tangle with a Demigod, trade, and slow down the next one by removing a land from play (or remove a more relevant permanent from play, of course). Or big Justice can tangle with a pair of dreaded Demigods, trading with one in combat and removing the other permanently (with the loss of 5 life)... a little painful, but probably worth it. All-in-all, Archon of Justice is a powerful tempo card that can give the offensive opponent pause, and cause him or her to reconsider the plan of action, even as it plays a little Serra Angel.

The rest of the Justice Toast deck is built on a versatile control model... It boasts a hefty land count, multiple routes to card advantage (essentially all self-contained), a touch of speed thanks to evoke, sweepers in Austere Command and Firespout, and a fair permission suite including the best of breed, Cryptic Command. Quick 'n Toast is a deck that can literally do everything. Unlike most modern control decks, it actually has recursive elements thanks to Makeshift Mannequin (Antonino played all four), and even main-deck life gain thanks to Kitchen Finks (De Rosa's deck bolsters the Finks—both ways—with Primal Command out of the board). All in all, a superbly innovative and rich winning deck.

Kyle Bundgaard

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Budgaard's deck is built on similar foundations to Quick 'n Toast, but shares a lot more with Faeries colors rather than spreading into white for the numerous cards we discussed in the previous section.

As such, Bundgaard focuses on very different high-end cards; Oona, Queen of the Fae is still probably the scariest end-game card, and he packs a pair of the expensive legendary Faerie Wizard. Soul Snuffers is a powerful card that is especially useful in Spectral Procession suppression but has applications across the various creature decks. Soul Snuffers and Sower of Temptation help to make up for the missing Austere Command in this essentially nonwhite take.

Hunter Burton

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We have seen many Doran decks over the past several weeks, from Shaman-based decks with Wolf-Skull Shaman and Leaf-Crowned Elder to robust mana bases that can support weenie-slaying Firespouts. This deck takes a very different—and compelling—route to board control. We often talk about Magic as being a game of great two-drops... Check out Burton's two-drop.

No, no, the other one:


Scarblade Elite

Scarblade Elite is a nice little source of self-contained card advantage. If you're scratching your head saying "But there are no Assassins in this deck..." don't forget about changeling. In the graveyard, Chameleon Colossus, Crib Swap, and Nameless Inversion are all eligible out of the main deck. So Hunter could shoot down a Boggart Ram-Gang with a Nameless Inversion, then tap his Scarblade Elite to take out its friend Ashenmoor Gouger.

The rest of the deck is pretty self-explanatory; Treefolk Harbinger either gets Murmuring Bosk to set up colors or Doran, the Siege Tower for beats (or Chameleon Colossus, to plow through black).

Again we see the Soul Snuffers in the sideboard. Doran is very good at holding the ground—just check out the quality of creatures in Burton's deck—but even with Cloudthresher, it can potentially fall to a well-placed Spectral Procession; Soul Snuffers is a perfect solution to that part of the game, simultaneously knocking around the small Kithkin creatures. Soul Snuffers of course does double duty against Flame-Kin Harbinger, Smokebraider, and much of the red-style Shaman suite in both the Rage Forger deck and much of Elementals, simultaneously nixing opposing aspirations to persist.

The last deck I want to highlight from this Top 8 is Kenny Castor's multicolor Merfolk deck:

Kenny Castor

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This deck intersects Merfolk and changelings to great effect.

For example, Castor could play second turn Stonybrook Banneret... then untap to deploy Chameleon Colossus. This can be very surprising for an opponent anticipating the conventional Merfolk front line of generally tiny and inoffensive attackers. A lot of what we've said about the 4-toughness red (or really red-black) threats holds true for Chameleon Colossus, too, except you really can't kill it with black removal.


Stonybrook Banneret
Chameleon Colossus

One of the things that is really great about the Grand Prix–Denver Top 8 is that even though Lee Steht put up the second place he did with Faeries (plus A.J. Sacher with a second copy), we really got to see some other decks do well. PTQ players: I would definitely expect to see more five-color control, and certainly some Runed Halos across the table this week, and probably for the rest of the season.

Rounding it out:

Lee Steht

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AJ Sacher

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Sorcery (4)
4 Thoughtseize
Instant (4)
4 Cryptic Command
Enchantment (4)
4 Bitterblossom
Tribal instant (6)
4 Nameless Inversion 2 Peppersmoke
60 Cards

Nathan Elkins

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Planeswalker (2)
2 Ajani Goldmane
Sorcery (4)
4 Spectral Procession
Instant (2)
2 Mirrorweave
Tribal instant (4)
4 Crib Swap
60 Cards

(Check out all those Stillmoon Cavaliers!)

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