Metagame in Motion

Posted in Feature on March 13, 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."

Extended first: The week's Top 8 finishes...

Green-White ‘Wisp
Death Cloud
Mono-Red Burn
Assault Loam
Domain Zoo
Blue-Green ‘Tron
Enduring Ideal
Previous Level Blue
Black-Green-White Midrange
Gruul / Crusher
Weiss Spice

All in all an interesting thirty-two deck lists...

Blue envelopes go to Death Cloud, Green-White Tallowisp, Dredge, Loam, and Mono-Red Burn; interesting paths for all of these decks. Death Cloud has probably never seen the level of popularity that it "deserved" in this metagame, but it picked up a blue envelope in one of its two Top 8 appearances. Green-White 'Wisp has quietly become "a real deck," picking up a win where two looks at the same deck faced off in the finals for the Hollywood invitation. Dredge remains one of if not the most decorated decks of the season , picking up another win, albeit via its only Top 8 appearance of the week (strange in and of itself). Mono-Red Burn Shrapnel Blasted its way to its second (to the best of this writer's knowledge) North American invitation in a week, where it, too, was down representation (at least compared to a few weeks ago). No deck posted more than one win.

So what can you expect? There will be PTQs this weekend, not to mention the much anticipated Grand Prix–Philadelphia, this spring's glittering gem in the City of Brotherly Love.

Last week, Blue-Green 'Tron was the only double PTQ winner.... This week, it was tied for the most Top 8 appearances, but had no blue envelope. First turn Invasion sacrifice land? How do you know if it is TEPS or Enduring Ideal? Right now, I would bet on TEPS... It was one of the most popular decks in terms of Top 8 appearances, twice as popular as old buddy Enduring Ideal. Domain Zoo, a consistent Top 8 performer since the first week, eclipsed TEPS and Goblins (with four Top 8 appearances each); everything else, including recent Grand Prix winner Previous Level Blue, was pretty scattered.

How Not to Beat Previous Level Blue

Okay, what about our title this week? How don't you lose to Previous Level Blue? (Hint: Thinking about playing Previous Level Blue? Don't get sloppy!)

I was recently asked by a former PT player who will remain nameless if two Ghost Quarters didn't just flat-out beat the blue deck du jour. Missing something? All of the deck's obvious finishers—those four Tarmogoyfs and that gigantic Rude Awakening that sticks out like a sore thumb in every list—are green. While the deck technically has a fair bit of access to green with eight or so Onslaught dual lands, in terms of physical green sources... there are typically only the two Breeding Pools:

Michael Robinson

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Ghost Quarter
There are a couple of issues here; certainly if you can contain the first Tarmogoyf, managing to take out both Breeding Pools may be an issue for especially the sloppily unprepared Previous Level Blue player. However if the opponent has even a little foresight, you're probably not going to be able to catch him, thusly, with his green jeans down. If you're the Previous Level Blue player and you have an open shot to break your Polluted Delta—and your opponent has already shown you the willingness to trade Ghost Quarter to cycle you into your next Island—you might not want to go and get the other Breeding Pool even if he hasn't shown you a second 'Quarter yet. I know, I know, that's how you ran it in testing but every game is different (it says so right on the packs) and you have to alter your tactical game play on a situation-by-situation basis in order to not, you know, walk directly into the other guy's spider web.

So one of the reasons this is not an automatic win strategy is that the opponent can simply refuse to let you lock him this way. If it were me, I would wait until the turn I was planning to win with Rude Awakening to expose my other green source... at least if I could help it. I remember the old Sunday afternoons at Neutral Ground, in the days of the Grudge Match, when deck design in New York was at an all time high, watching Eric Kesselman over his shoulder playing his Eye-Go deck, refusing to play down lands against Fires of Yavimaya, discarding Counterspells and Vendettas rather than expose the lands in his hand, winning, refusing to make himself a target for the uncounterable Obliterate. Ugly Magic, maybe, but the kind of play that can cut off the opponent at the knees.

Say you have "the read" and you are going to run this game plan against Previous Level Blue anyway. Both the Breeding Pools are waiting to get Quartered and you have the juice.... You still have to play with follow through! Remember that Previous Level Blue has got seven main deck Control Magics, including the recurring savagery of Vedalken Shackles. Do not show the opponent a card he can use to win. Congratulations, Mage: Your plan is now likely to win by decking! Count 'em up before you go down the Ghost Quarter route.... An errant Life from the Loam might make winning a little harder than the automatic breeze boulevard you anticipated against the Breeding Pools.

Finally—and this is awfully important given that you likely have to win via decking unless you can contain the Control Magics—Previous Level Blue can just set up to win with Ancestral Vision(s). Those suspend sorceries are usually there to help the blue mage get ahead in cards and keep his hand full of annoying responses, but in a pinch, he can direct one or more in your direction to finish you off Extended 1999 style.

AKA Spirit Stompy

Matt Hansen

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Shane Houston

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Hansen's Green-White 'Wisp beat Houston's in the Wichita final.

So how does this deck work?

The central character in this Selesnya drama is Tallowisp. Many of the archetype's card choices—from metagame bomb Phantom Centaur to unusual defensive measures like Otherworldly Journey—are crafted around the Tallowisp's specific ability. The 'Wisp will typically find Armadillo Cloak (which makes Phantom Centaur unkillable and solves all the problems on Troll Ascetic) but can also set up the Griffin Guide singleton to send one of the deck's monsters to the air or defend against even Dredge's Akroma, Angel of Wrath with Temporal Isolation... at instant speed.

Remember, changeling Chameleon Colossus is also a Spirit! Early in the season, many Doran decks were sideboarding Mystic Enforcer for the mirror match. Between Phantom Centaur and Chameleon Colossus, the Green-White 'Wisp deck has a ton of protection from black to match and even dominate creature decks like Doran on the ground. Add Armadillo Cloak to Chameleon Colossus (and get an untap)... Don't be surprised to see a 22-point life swing!

Both decks pack the maximum number of Gaddock Teegs, which make the deck very difficult to beat for certain combo or control decks that rely on four-mana spells (Fact or Fiction, Dread Return, Wrath of God); Hansen's deck packs even more than the usual four, with Living Wish giving him access to a virtual six, as well as main deck access to Spike Feeder and Yixlid Jailer against Dredge, Harmonic Sliver against artifacts and enchantments, and Selesnya Sanctuary in a mana pinch.

All in all, this archetype has been sneaking up on the metagame for most of the season, but it actually seems well positioned against many of the other top decks in the format. The Death Cloud matchup is probably rough even with Gaddock Teeg (Pernicious Deed in addition to spot removal), but it doesn't take a lot of imagination to see Gaddock Teeg and the sideboard dominating Dredge, Armadillo Cloak burying Mono-Red Burn, and so on. Definitely underplayed on a national level.


Kyle Larson

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Well... Why not?

With Scion of Oona and Cryptic Command, this deck is probably just as strong a racer against the Extended beat down decks as its Standard counterpart. It isn't hard to see how the deck's tempo and many cheap Counterspells would be hell on much of the combo field.

An interesting choice from Larson was deciding to play no dedicated anti-Dredge—no Tormod's Crypts in this deck, nor Engineered Explosives. However, check out those four copies of Echoing Truth... With two mana open—and provided his hand hasn't been wrecked by a triad of flashed Cabal Therapies—Echoing Truth is a very serviceable answer to Bridge from Below and its never-ending cadre of Zombie tokens (for one turn, at least).

Richard Townley

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We've seen Domain Zoo decks all season, and this week, the strategy remained one of the most popular. However, even when these decks have played Gaea's Might (usually three copies) they have erred on the side of Dark Confidant and Vindicate... We have seen few if any of the Boros Swiftblades that helped buy Hall of Famer Raphael Levy his back-to-back Grand Prix wins.

Well, that trend ended with Richard Townley's deck from Burlington, VT. Townley not only played the full four Gaea's Mights, he borrowed a couple of Red Deck Wins's Reckless Charges and laid them down next to his returning Boros Swiftblades for even more erratic explosiveness. Imagine... It's turn three and the opponent is tapped out from removing your Tarmogoyf. You lay down Swifty, tap another , and bam! Eight to the face!

Armadillo Cloak has been a pretty common card this season, good in all kinds of decks (and certainly a nice pairing with Tallowisp, as we saw above), but the card has rarely been more devastating than when applied to Boros Swiftblade, turning that already dangerous creature into a Spirit Linked Ball Lightning, and better, every turn.

Weiss Spice

Adam Boyd

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Quiet Speculation
This deck is a look at an archetype Brian David-Marshall featured in greater detail in a recent edition of The Week That Was. Essentially a Mind's Desire combo deck, Weiss Spice simply goes about the storm setup in a different way than TEPS or Heartbeat.

While the deck has Rite of Flame, Seething Song, and Lotus Bloom, similar to TEPS, Weiss Spice has a unique method of generating storm copies: Quiet Speculation. You can Quiet Speculation for, say, three Lava Darts. The turn you want to go off and win, you set up with your mana, then flash the Lava Darts (possibly with Pyromancer's Swath already on the board), then play Mind's Desire or whatever storm card you want (with the Swath down, Grapeshot might just be game). The Lava Darts not only deal damage but produce as many as three incremental storm copies at no mana cost... You just have to sacrifice some Mountains, but the game isn't going to last the next turn anyway, the Mountains are in all likelihood tapped already.

Sensei's Divining Topinto Sensei's Divining Top offers another fairly unique opportunity to generate Storm copies; Final Fortune is there to smooth out what looks like a low-margin game into a story for the grandkids.


In getting excited over this week's Extended Grand Prix in Philadelphia, I almost forgot that there was a Standard Grand Prix last week!

The Top 8:

Black-Blue Faeries
Reveillark Blink
Black-Green Aggro Elves

The finals this time around was a Black-Blue Faeries mirror between Grand Prix overlord Olivier Ruel and eventual winner Yuuta Takahashi.

Yuuta Takahashi

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Olivier Ruel

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It should come as no surprise that Faeries—already a solid archetype—has been improved by Morningtide. Both the winner's deck and the finalist's were upgraded with Bitterblossom, kind of an aggressive Faerie Phyrexian Arena. Bitterblossom can generate a steady stream of threats compatible with "Lords" like Scion of Oona and set up big prowl spells like Notorious Throng, even when it looks like the deck is completely locked down with permission or mass removal. Don't forget that against bigger creatures, Bitterblossom tokens can block, allowing you to trade 1 life for the much greater chunk of your total that an aggressive Tarmogoyf or Countryside Crusher might demand.

Ruel went absolutely crazy with his Morningtide improvements, adding Oona's Blackguard and Notorious Throng in addition to Bitterblossom.

Apparently, Bitterblossom is so good, you can run it outside of Faeries, in a three-color mid-range aggressive deck:

Shintarou Ishimura

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Ishimura's Bitterblossoms could combine with the "Overrun" from Garruk Wildspeaker or the fear from Profane Command... and it's just good enough to run on its own merits.

The really exciting deck if you haven't seen it yet is a Reveillark combo deck played by former Player of the Year Kenji Tsumura, as well as standouts Akira Asahara and Kazuya Mitamura. This deck can play like any other Blink deck... but Reveillark can play another, extremely compelling, combo.

Imagine that using your copious Careful Considerations and Mulldrifters, you have got Reveillark in the graveyard and a Body Double in hand along with Mirror Entity. Provided you have something productive in your graveyard (a Riftwing Cloudskate, say, or simply an evoked Mulldrifter) you can "go off" with this deck. The next step is to activate Mirror Entity for zero as many times as you'd like, all in response to one another. When you finally let the first Mirror Entity roll, what happens is that everyone dies, including the Reveillark and the Mirror Entity. When the 'Lark bites it, return the Body Double copying Reveillark (and something productive) and let the next Mirror Entity activation resolve. Now reverse it and pick up the original, and so on interchanging the two 'Larks, then repeat until you've returned all of the opponent's cards, drawn your deck, whatever you like based on the cards available to you... provided it can be accomplished via repeated access to two 2-power creatures. Your advantage on the board at the end of it all should be massive one way or another, plus the deck will often be in a position to win with a single attack powered by Mirror Entity.

Ryohei Masuno

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Taischi Fujimoto

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Finally, the Top 8 was rounded out by a pair of Black-Green Elf Aggro decks, each with a unique addition from Morningtide. Masuno's was the more obvious, with Bramblewood Paragon powering up a succession of Civic Wayfinders and Imperious Perfects, whereas Fujimoto's pair of Wolf-Skull Shamans interacted nicely with every non-Tarmogoyf creature in his deck.

Next Week: The Grand Prix aftermath, in detail. I plan to be there! You can catch it all here on all weekend in the Tournament Center.

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