Posted in Learning Curve on March 3, 2004

By Brian David-Marshall

Brian David-Marshall is a New York–based game designer who has been involved with Magic since 1994, when he started organizing tournaments and ran a Manhattan game store. Since then, he has been a judge, a player, and one of the longest-tenured columnists on, as he enters his second decade writing for the site. He is also the Pro Tour Historian and one of the commentators for the Pro Tour.

Shhh…Don't tell anyone but Regionals is coming.

There was a little bit of a fuss in the forums after last week's article that demanded information about the state of Standard. I agreed with the poster since I was pretty curious myself. The idea behind this column is to talk about the current metagame in various formats and help you prepare for tournaments in your area.

I spent the initial weeks of Swimming with Sharks delving into the Pro Tour Qualifier scene. With Regionals on the horizon the constructed aficionados out there clamored for information about the new Standard post Darksteel. The only problem was that there were no tournaments to dissect, no results to analyze, and--most importantly--no decklists to bring you.

I will be providing coverage of Grand Prix: Hong Kong here starting Saturday on the second leg of a journey that saw me working the keyboard in Kobe, Japan this past weekend. I am sitting in the business center of a hotel in rainy downtown Hong Kong with some pretty serious tech on my hands.

The night before Pro Tour Kobe was scheduled to begin there were four invitations that still had to be given away. Over one hundred and thirty competitors jockeyed for those slots in the Last Chance Qualifier. The format for their battle was post-Darksteel Standard—the first significant event in that format's very short existence so far.

The decklists from the Top 8 of that event were typed up and posted on the web along with all of the other coverage form the weekend. But, the Last Chance decklists only found their way onto the Japanese coverage page. Unlike the decklists from the actual Pro Tour, the almost exclusively Japanese player pool in the LCQ wrote their lists out in Japanese characters.

I managed to set the decklists aside and track down a weary Ron Foster on Monday morning. He was gracious enough—or too sleepy to protest—to translate the decklists for me so I could post them here today. After eight rounds of Swiss play there was a cut to a Top 8 followed by one cruel elimination round with four players advancing to play on the Pro Tour. As a result there is no “winner”, just a jubilant Top 4 and a shell-shocked 5th –8th.

Taisuke Ishii could stake a legitimate claim as the tournament winner. He went 8-0 during the Swiss rounds and won the crucial elimination round against Masao Sandou to boot. His deck was a sixteen land Ravager Affinity build. It bore a passing resemblance to the deck Ben Stark piloted to the Top 8 of the Pro Tour and with the exception of four Pyroclasms in the sideboard the deck was Mirrodin Block Constructed.

Taisuke Ishii

Download Arena Decklist

Taisuke scratched out his initial sideboard, which featured Terrors and Chain of Vapor, for his transformative sideboard. He could go from being a blue-back deck to blue-red with an answer for the Tooth and Nail decks that were tinkering out Leonin Abunas and Platinum Angel.

The deck I was most excited but was piloted by Hajime Fujii. I had the opportunity to watch the deck in action for a couple of rounds and I went to bed confident that Hajime would be playing on the Pro Tour come morning. He went 6-1-1 in the Swiss and pulled out that last crucial victory over Loys Le Goff.

Hajime Fujii

Download Arena Decklist

This deck revolves around the three-card combination of Genesis Chamber, Auriok Steelshaper, and Skullclamp. Each time you play one of the free creatures in your deck you get to put a token creature into play with the Genesis Chamber. Thanks to the ability of the Steelshaper you can equip that token with a Skullclamp for free. Two cards for free? Sounds like an engine revving up.

The turn you have those pieces in place the deck basically draws itself. If you stall out at all you can Chain of Vapor your Frogmites and Enforcers back to your hand and jumpstart the card drawing. Once you draw a second Skullclamp you are able to get four cards out of every Frogmite and Ornithopter for free. If you happen to have a Ravager in play you can also cycle through all your Frogmites, Enforcers and Ornithopters. Once you have drawn up your deck and have enough spells under your belt you can fire off a lethal Brain Freeze.

I talked to a number of Pros who were admiring the deck on Thursday. Many teams claimed to have tested out the interactions between Steelshaper and Genesis Chamber in Block. Without the Brain Freeze the deck simply dumped tons of power onto the table and hoped to attack on the next turn. They preferred to play a more consistent base of mana and rely on the Ravager/Disciple of the Vault combo instead. Ishii managed to go 9-0 with a Disciple deck while Fujii only went 7-1-1 with the Steelshapers.

Regardless, I found it to be an exciting deck to watch. The deck is capable of winning on the third or fourth turn of the game and appeared very consistent in the games I had the opportunity to observe. On the downside the deck can do nothing but hope for the best against a blue-white deck with access to Stifle and Gilded Light. Regardless, the raw power this deck wields means I know this one is going to show up in my playtest rotation for Regionals.

Next up was a third Affinity based deck. Doomsayers may now feel free to run about the room pulling their hair and screaming like Chicken Little. Keep in mind that these players were attempting to qualify for the Pro Tour and were probably playing very similar decks to what they played the next morning.

Hideaki Maeba deck was red-black-blue and sported three copies of Slobad, Goblin Tinkerer between his main deck and sideboard. His maindeck was three Mana Leaks shy of being Block Constructed. He also had three Stabilizers and a pair of Sulfuric Vortex in his sideboard. Hideaki was the fifth seed at 6-1-1 coming into the elimination round to 4, where he defeated fourth seed Shin'ichiro Eto.

Hideaki Maeba

Download Arena Decklist

The final deck to qualify a player for Pro Tour Kobe was a deck foretold in many a post-Darksteel Standard preview. Hiroyuki Miyaoka's main deck only contained nineteen cards that would be legal for play the following day in Block Constructed—fifteen of them were Mountains and Swamps. The final four were, of course Skullclamp. The dreaded Clamp Bidding announced its presence with a 6-1-1 record during the Swiss and a victory over Yuki Yamasaki in the elimination round:

Hiroyuki Miyaoka

Download Arena Decklist

This was already a powerful deck comprised mostly of cards from the previous block. The addition of Skullclamp gives the deck a terrifying jolt in the arm between card drawing and stockpiling your graveyard. Even if you decide not to play this deck at Regionals, you had better be prepared to face it. My guess is that it will be the most popular archetype that weekend. It is a deck that many players already have most of the pieces for and they can simply slot in the four Skullclamps.

So that was your Top 4. Of the sixteen possible Skullclamps there was the full allotment—four by four—advancing their owners to play on the Pro Tour. There is a reason this uncommon was selling for more money than many of the rares from Darksteel at the dealer tables in Kobe.

As for the four disappointed warriors who only earned themselves a sound night's sleep after eight rounds of Swiss culminating in a loss in the Top 8 here are their decks to chew on.

Yuki Yamasaki was the third seed going into the Top 8 before falling to the Miyaoka's Bidding deck:

Yuki Yamasaki

Download Arena Decklist

The most interesting card in this deck is the Oversold Cemetery in the board. It is definitely an intriguing card although it may not be better or faster than Genesis Chamber. There have been a number of green-black Cemetery decks that abuse Skullclamp bandied about on the net but it had not occurred to me prior to seeing this decklist that the black enchantment could have a place in an Affinity approach. It will certainly be a possibility that bears testing for me.

Shin'ichiro Edo's goblin deck is the first decklist without Skullclamp. It doesn't even run Bidding. It's not straight up Goblins though. Call it Goblins with a twist, Edo's decklist included Slith Firewalkers and eight land destruction spells. With so many decks (read: Affinity) running under twenty lands it is no wonder that Edo got as far as he did.

Shin'ichiro Edo

Download Arena Decklist

Loys Le Goff sat in seventh place after the Swiss and was sporting yet another iteration of Affinity. The big departure in Loys's deck from the versions listed above was the swap of Ornithopters for Arcbound Stingers.

Loys Le Goff

Download Arena Decklist

The final deck was the eighth seed coming into the Top 8 and the only deck with a 6-2 record to make the cut to elimination. Masao Sando's deck bore a passing resemblance to the TwelvePost deck that Gabriel Nassif piloted to the finals of the Pro Tour. Masao's deck was not running Cloudpost though, instead favoring the Urzatron set:

Masao Sando

Download Arena Decklist

Before I left for this trip I noticed quite a few players testing out variations of Tooth and Nail with either Cloudposts or Urza lands—and in one case with both. Coupled with the success of TwelvePost on the Pro Tour you should expect to see quite a few variations on this theme at Regionals.

So there are the Top 8 decks from the first major Darksteel Standard event. They featured twenty-four out of a possible thirty-two Skullclamps. There were also five Affinity decks out of the possible eight.

The format is still in its infancy and there are a few factors to consider before accepting this as your model for the meta-game however. The event was feeding into Pro Tour Kobe and the players participating were likely using decks that were close to the decks they were hoping to play on Friday.

Also, the tournament was taking place in Japan. While the Japanese have become recognized as innovative deck designers it is a widely held belief that they march to their own drumbeat when it comes to deck design. I don't know what these decks had to face in the Swiss rounds to emerge on top. My guess is that was likely a very different field from what you should expect to face at Regionals if you are not playing in Japan.

While there were five Affinity decks in the Top 8 of the Last Chance there were only two in the Top 8 of the Pro Tour itself. None of the six non-Affinity decks were running Skullclamp. If the decks that were featured in the Top 8 of the Pro Tour have any influence you could see more decks that resemble the mono-red and nearly mono-green decks give Affinity a run for its money.

As Regionals loom closer we will continue to look at an increasingly defined meta-game in order to select a weapon from the arsenal that is Darksteel Standard. For those of you looking for more info about the current PTQ season, don't miss our live coverage of Grand Prix Hong Kong this weekend.

Brian may be reached at

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