One Metagame—One Million Angles

Posted in Feature on June 21, 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."

Following is your 2007 Regionals wrap-up. I am going to do a couple of new things differently this time, in part because we have a rich, if not perfect, amount of data and we can crunch the numbers to take some interesting looks at how the various decks performed.

Let's start off with the Swimming with Sharks classic and apply our usual top-down analysis to the reported U.S. Regionals results. The format for Regionals this year was cut to the Top 8 for a single single-elimination round. After a grueling number of Swiss rounds (New Jersey was nine before the break), it all came down to one battle per man: winners go to the National Championships, losers... well... lose, go home with their tails tucked between their legs, relate bad beat stories to their friends all night during the depressing car rides home, &c. As usual, blue boxes indicate a qualification (that is a win in the round of eight) and white boxes indicate a Top 8 finish but no blue envelope (and no resultant blue box).

Four (or so) Slots to Nationals

Gruul Deck
Solar Flare Variants
Project X
Zoo variants
U/R/W Solar Fire or Angel Fire
Chapin Korlash
The Rack variants
B/W Control
Beach House Variants
B/G Discard
Pickles variants
G/R Gargadon
Sliver Variants
B/W “Orzhov Suicide Squad”
U/G/W Blink
Hatching Plans
B/R/W Angel
U Snow
B/W Aggro
Mono-Black Mid-Range
U/G Aggro
Glare variants
Red Deck Wins
U/W Control
Goblin Storm
The Legends of Team CMU
Sea Stompy

I wanted to use this as the baseline gauge to measure our pre-Regionals Decks to Beat. How did the big decks perform?

#1: Gruul Deck

The hands-down big winner of the weekend, Gruul was second in raw volume of Top 8 finishes and first in blue envelopes. Blue envelope count is actually the only thing that matters as it is the primary—and least arbitrary—measurable for this tournament series, and Gruul edged Dragonstorm out. I actually think that Gruul's performance is even more impressive in that it did not lead the archetypes in number of Top 8s. Some analysts, most prominently Ben Goodman, claim that in the absence of exact metagame breakdown numbers, gross Top 8 appearances are something like 80% indicative of what showed up in terms of decks, not necessarily what is the best. In this case, if there were more Dragonstorm decks in the Top 8, that would probably just mean that there were more Dragonstorm decks played. Also consider that Dragonstorm swung for less than 50% whereas about two thirds of Gruul Deck players battered their opponents silly.

One thing I tried to stress in the pre-Regionals roundup was the customizability of Gruul versus essentially every other deck style. Despite a potentially wide overlap of cards, the plans espoused by one Gruul Deck versus another are not necessarily congruent.


Kurt Burgner

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Adrian Nestico

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I picked Kurt Burgner's deck among the numerous successful Gruul Deck options for two reasons: 1) Kurt is a Hall of Fame–eligible former superstar and deserves the tip of the hat, and 2) he played just about the most vanilla Gruul Deck possible. Kurt's deck is about what you'd expect given the card pool, some lands, the solid drops available to the deck style (with no Tarmogoyfs—too meta!) and a little fire. Given the presence of Dredge in the format I'd have liked a fourth Rusalka, but it is what it is.

Still on 22 lands, compare to Adrian Nestico's deck. What a hateful mother! Main deck Riftsweeper! No Aeon Chronicler for you! Main deck Stonewood Invocation in green-red... He wants his last threat to close games. Main deck Magus of the Moon, sideboard Blood Moon... These cards are more statement than anything else. This is a man who is willing to sacrifice card quality for the potential to blow out a control opponent.

Now look at this intricate puzzle innovated by Grand Prix Champion Steve Sadin:

Steve Sadin

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I actually broke decks like Steve's out from the Gruul genpop because—despite that wide overlap of 50+% of his deck—it plays much more like a Time Spiral Block strategy than a conventional Standard Gruul Deck. Steve originally just wanted to splash Stomping Ground for Kird Ape... But believe it or not, Martyr of Ashes was better in the deck given the low number of Forests Steve played. The Martyr can blank Bridge from Below, even if the opponent has main deck Leyline of the Void (he deals with the Zombies as well as the Bridges). The big threat, and the "puzzle" that Steve works towards as he manages attrition fights and resources through the early and middle turns, is Greater Gargadon. All his card choices—especially ostensibly substandard two-drops like Mogg War Marshal and Keldon Marauders—feed the Beast. Tarmogoyf was a late addition, and a fairly strange play over Kird Ape in this kind of a deck, but it is just so good, especially with Greater Gargadon managing permanent types in the graveyard.

I am a big fan of Steve's sideboard. It's just so aware. He got Riftsweeper from Red Deck juggernaut Pat Sullivan ("I wish I could play just four Riftsweepers in my sideboard and everyone else could also only play four sideboard cards"); Threaten is there to invalidate control tap-out blocking and intimidation strategies, specifically Aeon Chronicler out of Korlash and Go-Sis and the transformative Tombstalkers out of the resurgent black-red beatdown archetype (see Rakdos, below). Unlike the conventional beat 'em and burn 'em offense typical of Gruul, Steve's deck is designed to set up a series of powerful, surgical, and potentially lethal offensives while mucking up the board and piling onto the opponent's fundamental turn.

#2: Dragonstorm

Dragonstorm finished at slightly less than 50% in matches that ultimately mattered, but you can't take away the fact that it was the most popular deck in all Top 8s, and probably the most popular deck overall. Just a couple of blue envelopes down river from Gruul Deck, Dragonstorm definitely backed up its spot in the Decks to Beat with a very respectable count.

#3: Dredge

I would consider Dredge's performance this Regionals disappointing. Though it finished fourth in overall Top 8s (again possibly or even probably just a function of its popularity in being played), the deck's known actual blue envelope performance was somewhat subpar. Dredge is an extremely powerful strategy, capable of quick wins, insurmountable offense, and grinding long games... But it is also highly vulnerable to foils and is more matchup- and draw-dependant than almost any other deck.

All that said, one of the impressive lists was Rob Hinton's from Lincoln. Rob didn't lose a game all day with Dredge (6-0 / 12-0), despite the fact that it was "supposed to be hated out." He credits his version's resilience with numerous small tweaks.

1) Six basic Islands

The deck is fundamentally weak against Blood Moon and Magus of the Moon; this also defends against Ghost Quarter.

2) Two Darkblasts main

Key in the mirror, additional Dredge options.

3) No Lore Brokers

Key in the mirror... Lore Broker actually helps the opponent more than it helps you a good amount of the time, but the liability is pronounced against opposing Dredge.

4) Golgari Brownscale in the sideboard

Key against beatdown, where Brownscales both develop the Dredge deck's game plan (by Dredging) and hurt the beatdown deck's game plan (by chump blocking, potentially trading, and consistently gaining life).

5) Verdant Force over Blazing Archon

The additional point of toughness is difficult for aggressive decks to pass; Saproling production serves much the same purpose as the Archon.

Rob actually passed on his Nationals invite (he is credited with fifth place), meaning Dredge did a little better statistically than it might look at first glance, though not as well as Gruul Deck, and certainly not as terribly as...

#4: Dralnu

I decided to group all the black-blue Teferi/Teachings decks together as "Dralnu" despite the fact that today most of these decks don't play Dralnu, Lich Lord at all. This archetype's performance in U.S. Regionals was flatly miserable, finishing with only one more Top 8 than Pat Chapin's Korlash deck, and only one invitation... These statistics only hold at all because I grouped Alex Kim's halfway rogue black-blue in with the rest under a common Dralnu umbrella. Here is Kim's deck from Memphis Regionals:

Alex Kim

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Alex has a lot of interesting things going on in this deck. A big deviation is the addition of Shadowmage Infiltrator as his primary source of card advantage. Jonny Magic has both his plusses and his minuses when weighed against Think Twice. What I really like, though is the Tombstalkers. This is actually the perfect archetype to play main deck Tombstalker... They are basically 5/5 flyers for and a cause for serious concern for most Gruul Decks.

U.S. Regionals—Other Decks of Note

Solar Flare

Last year's darling of the Championship Season came out swinging at the 2007 Regionals. The B/U/W board control strategy and its variants picked up nearly as many invitations as Dragonstorm!

Cedric Phillips

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Cedric played a very tight version of Solar Flare with no spot removal. Instead he ran main deck Castigate, Remand, and Persecute to interact with the opponent up top and perhaps disrupt one of the format's combo decks. Solar Flare is very strong against aggressive decks in general, drawing cards with Kird Ape stop sign Court Hussar, sliding into the middle turns with the black holes for beatdown, Aeon Chronicler and Skeletal Vampire.

Project X

This deck's performance was superb, winning more than two thirds of its Top 8 matches. Frank mentioned this yesterday], but I think it bears repeating—people were under-prepared for Project X because no one wants to play it online (the infinite clicking is annoying).

One of the advancing Project X decks to hit Nationals ran over, well, me. I forgot that he could make infinite tokens with Teysa, Orzhov Scion + Crypt Champion + Saffi Eriksdotter, thinking that all he could do was gain infinite life. I tapped wrong, and the next turn there were 1,000,000 attackers. This is Seneca Hobler's deck, second in New Jersey:

Seneca Hobler

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One of the new toys that Project X decks can play is Glittering Wish. Seneca used the Wish to run a toolbox sideboard... All of Seneca's extras but the perhaps necessary Leyline of the Void were gold cards.

Chapin Korlash

Patrick Chapin

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This is a new deck that my friend Pat Chapin has been working on for the past couple of months. It is great that he not only placed well at his Regionals, but actually won the whole thing! This deck is a card advantage machine—Compulsive Research, Foresee, Persecute, Detritivore, Aeon Chronicler, Korlash itself—capable of winning almost every attrition fight. The absolute coolest synergy is Dimir House Guard + Rise. You hold the Rise until after you've transmuted the House Guard. From this point, it is an out in almost any game that you can actually win (Rise bounces the opponent's Call of the Herd and your House Guard... You go and get whatever it is you need).


The old black-red beatdown came out of hibernation to accomplish one of the finest smash-and-grab jobs in recent memory. Though operating on a relatively small scale—only two Top 8s—we have to assume that there were only a small number of Rakdos decks played across the Regionals, meaning those few who scored earned their blue envelopes at many times the rates of the more popular archetypes. Anyway, even if only two copies made Top 8... they both qualified. Here is Kai Davis's deck from Oregon:

Kai Davis

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Sideboard (15)
4 Stupor 3 Yixlid Jailer 4 Tombstalker 4 Sedge Sliver


This deck is a superb metagame foil. It is set up very well against the top decks in the field, specifically Gruul Deck, Dragonstorm, Dredge, and Dralnu. Dredge is a virtual bye over three games. Even the fiercest Dredge adherents will tell you that the matchup is an absolute nightmare, as Rakdos combines the best elements of Gruul (enabler removal) and black (graveyard hate) with a wicked clock. The Dralnu matchup is largely a waiting game where Rakdos can get a little tempo, Dralnu has to make a move, the two decks trade cards (the Rakdos cards being pointed at the Dralnu player's face), and the last card is a hellbent Demonfire. Dragonstorm is Dragonstorm... But there isn't much more you can ask of an aggressive deck than Rise plus Rakdos Augermage plus more discard in the sideboard in a deck that is about as quick on the goldfish as Gruul.

That leaves Gruul itself. Most pundits will tell you that Gruul should be favored, but in my experience that is not the case. Davis employed a half-transformative sideboard with Tombstalker innovated by Gavin Verhey of Soggy Pickles fame. He switched out Epochrasite for Sedge Sliver, but followed the same principle. Basically the default Gruul v. Rakdos matchup is a faux mirror where Gruul has natural card advantage due to having fewer lands and the two decks trade on threats and answers, with Gruul ending up on top thanks to Call of the Herd and generally better threats. The Tombstalker plus Sedge Sliver or Epochrasite half-transformation repositions the Rakdos deck as more of The Rock with red removal rather than a fragile burn / creature deck. Tombstalker is cheap because the decks are geared towards early game attrition... Rakdos will trade anything. Sedge Sliver turns the board to muddy Waterloo and Tombstalker not only trades for two or three cards, it wins very quickly. Note that this sideboarding strategy is dismal against a Threaten sideboard like Steve Sadin's; Rakdos is following a kind of false trump strategy, and the (g)/R deck can pick a spot to crush on tempo and damage. If Scorched Rusalka or Greater Gargadon is in play, all the better for Threaten.

The first chart was dedicated solely to U.S. Regionals finishes. What I did for the next one was to tally all the Top 8 or reported finishes just in terms of bodies. The differences are pretty enlightening.

Gruul Deck
Solar Flare Variants
Zoo variants
U/R/W Solar Fire or Angel Fire
Project X
Chapin Korlash
B/W Control
Pickles variants
The Rack variants
Hatching Plans
Red Deck Wins
Sliver Variants
(g)R Gargadon
Mono-Black Mid-Range
B/G Discard
Glare variants
Red Storm or Goblin Storm
U/R Tron
Sea Stompy
U/G/W Blink
B/W “Orzhov Suicide Squad”
U/W Control
B/R/W Angel
U Snow
B/W Aggro
Blink Riders
Boros Deck
The Legends of Team CMU
U/G Aggro
U/G Tron / Pickles
U/R Control

Gruul pulled away from Dragonstorm a fair amount to claim first prize. What is really interesting is that with just Top 8 information, you would never notice a weak performance like Dralnu's, when the pressure is on; you can't differentiate between blue-white with two Top 8s but no wins and the double Ace of Rakdos. That said, this kind of a chart is very informative about what you might hit in an upcoming Standard tournament. Be ready for Gruul Deck. Be ready for Dreagonstorm. Solar Flare, Dredge, Dralnu, and Zoo are going to be right behind... The format is diverse enough that you probably can't count on 2-3 copies of the same opponent, but your best chances are against Kird Apes or Bogardan Hellkites. One of Pat's goals was to get his deck to about the same level of popularity as a minority but known archetype like Project X... He's about there; that said, X seems to be the real deal, a resilient vanilla deck with Hierarchs, a recovery-capable deck with Crypt Champion, a potential control killer with Dark Confidant... and an infinite combo deck. Repetitive on Magic Online or not... Be ready at Nationals and in Standard for the rest of the summer.

Lastly, here is a breakdown of all the cards, deck and side, that were played at Regionals:

  Main + SB     Main     Sideboard
573 Island   573 Island   260 Tormod's Crypt
537 Mountain   537 Mountain   192 Extirpate
424 Swamp   424 Swamp   192 Leyline of the Void
418 Remand   416 Remand   147 Trickbind
373 Forest   373 Forest   141 Krosan Grip
290 Rift Bolt   286 Rift Bolt   130 Martyr of Ashes
275 Char   275 Char   126 Ignorant Bliss
264 Stomping Ground   264 Stomping Ground   106 Persecute
261 Tormod's Crypt   259 Seal of Fire   105 Detritivore
260 Seal of Fire   259 Steam Vents   96 Blood Moon
259 Steam Vents   244 Kird Ape   94 Sulfur Elemental
244 Kird Ape   232 Watery Grave   93 Circle of Protection: Red
232 Watery Grave   226 Scab-Clan Mauler   86 Last Gasp
226 Scab-Clan Mauler   214 Plains   81 Riftsweeper
225 Extirpate   212 Shivan Reef   80 Cryoclasm
215 Plains   208 Compulsive Research   79 Repeal
212 Shivan Reef   197 Karplusan Forest   71 Shadow of Doubt
208 Compulsive Research   191 Bogardan Hellkite   64 Riptide Pilferer
204 Persecute   184 Rite of Flame   62 Bottle Gnomes
200 Castigate   183 Seething Song   61 Tin Street Hooligan
199 Sulfur Elemental   182 Lightning Helix   56 Faith's Fetters
197 Karplusan Forest   179 Temple Garden   55 Moldervine Cloak
195 Leyline of the Void   177 Sleight of Hand   53 Honorable Passage
193 Bogardan Hellkite   176 Lotus Bloom   51 Saffi Eriksdotter
191 Damnation   174 Castigate   45 Mortify
184 Rite of Flame   171 Damnation   43 Magus of the Moon
183 Seething Song   168 Tarmogoyf   38 Darkblast
182 Lightning Helix   166 Scorched Rusalka   37 Pull from Eternity
179 Temple Garden   165 Godless Shrine   37 Tendrils of Corruption
178 Giant Solifuge   163 Wrath of God   36 Sudden Death
177 Sleight of Hand   155 Telling Time   34 Disenchant
177 Wrath of God   154 Dreadship Reef   34 Seal of Primordium
176 Lotus Bloom   153 Sacred Foundry   31 Pyroclasm
174 Tarmogoyf   152 Dark Confidant   30 Unknown Cards
171 Repeal   152 Dragonstorm   29 Word of Seizing
170 Scorched Rusalka   152 Giant Solifuge   27 Pact of Negation
165 Godless Shrine   150 Aeon Chronicler   27 Volcanic Hammer
156 Aeon Chronicler   150 Court Hussar   26 Castigate
155 Dreadship Reef   147 Gemstone Mine   26 Deathmark
155 Telling Time   135 Gigadrowse   26 Defense Grid
153 Sacred Foundry   131 Llanowar Elves   26 Giant Solifuge
152 Dark Confidant   130 Dimir Signet   26 Leyline of Lifeforce
152 Dragonstorm   120 Flagstones of Trokair   26 Temporal Isolation
151 Trickbind   117 Overgrown Tomb   25 Rewind
150 Court Hussar   113 Snow-Covered Island   25 Stupor
150 Gemstone Mine   109 Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth   24 Loxodon Hierarch
148 Martyr of Ashes   108 Call of the Herd   24 Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir
141 Krosan Grip   107 Azorius Signet   23 Nightmare Void
138 Detritivore   106 Blood Crypt   20 Damnation
138 Gigadrowse   106 Snow-Covered Swamp   20 Threaten
131 Llanowar Elves   105 Sulfur Elemental   19 Phyrexian Arena
130 Dimir Signet   105 Urza's Factory   18 Blazing Archon
128 Ignorant Bliss   104 Birds of Paradise   18 Greater Gargadon
125 Tendrils of Corruption   103 Hallowed Fountain   18 Hide
124 Call of the Herd   103 Horizon Canopy   17 Condemn
120 Flagstones of Trokair   100 Wall of Roots   17 Jotun Grunt
117 Loxodon Hierarch   98 Persecute   16 Call of the Herd
117 Overgrown Tomb   94 Korlash, Heir to Blackblade   16 Glare of Subdual
113 Faith's Fetters   93 Loxodon Hierarch   16 Griffin Guide
113 Saffi Eriksdotter   92 Repeal   16 Slaughter Pact
113 Snow-Covered Island   88 Tendrils of Corruption   16 Worship
113 Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth   88 Watchwolf   16 Yixlid Jailer
108 Urza's Factory   84 Breeding Pool   15 Annex
107 Azorius Signet   82 Mana Leak   15 Aven Mindcensor
106 Blood Crypt   78 Angel of Despair   15 Phyrexian Ironfoot
106 Last Gasp   76 Golgari Grave-Troll   14 Empty the Warrens
106 Snow-Covered Swamp   76 Rewind   14 Putrefy
104 Birds of Paradise   76 Stinkweed Imp   14 Sundering Vitae
103 Hallowed Fountain   75 Ghost Quarter   14 Take Possession
103 Horizon Canopy   74 Chord of Calling   14 Wrath of God
101 Blood Moon   73 Dimir House Guard   12 Commandeer
101 Rewind   72 Dread Return   12 Delirium Skeins
100 Wall of Roots   72 Narcomoeba   12 Harmonic Sliver
97 Mortify   71 Bridge from Below   12 Hypnotic Specter
96 Riftsweeper   71 Orzhov Basilica   12 Ignite Memories
94 Korlash, Heir to Blackblade   71 Rise   12 Ivory Mask
94 Volcanic Hammer   69 Mystical Teachings   12 Quagnoth
93 Circle of Protection: Red   69 Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir   12 Seize the Soul
93 Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir   68 Glittering Wish   12 Spell Snare
88 Watchwolf   68 Spell Snare   12 Withered Wretch
85 Mana Leak   67 Volcanic Hammer   11 Loaming Shaman
84 Breeding Pool   63 Lightning Angel   11 Mystic Enforcer
84 Tin Street Hooligan   62 Graven Cairns   11 Ronom Unicorn
80 Cryoclasm   62 Saffi Eriksdotter   11 Sacred Ground
80 Phyrexian Arena   61 Phyrexian Arena   11 Shock
80 Spell Snare   60 Caves of Koilos   10 Orzhov Pontiff
79 Angel of Despair   60 Hunted Dragon   10 Teysa, Orzhov Scion
79 Ghost Quarter   60 Magus of the Bazaar   9 Akroma, Angel of Fury
77 Sudden Death   60 Snow-Covered Mountain   9 Congregation at Dawn
76 Golgari Grave-Troll   57 Faith's Fetters   9 Crime
76 Stinkweed Imp   56 Burning-Tree Shaman   9 Rumbling Slum
74 Chord of Calling   56 Demonfire   9 Shadowmage Infiltrator
73 Dimir House Guard   55 Savannah Lions   9 Shattering Spree
73 Mystical Teachings   54 Calciform Pools   9 Tombstalker
72 Dread Return   54 Underground River   8 Calciderm
72 Narcomoeba   53 Orzhov Signet   8 Golgari Brownscale
71 Bridge from Below   53 Pendelhaven   8 Parallectric Feedback
71 Moldervine Cloak   52 Mortify   8 Serrated Arrows
71 Orzhov Basilica   49 Skarrg, the Rage Pits   8 Willbender
71 Rise   49 Think Twice   7 Blackmail

(Click here to see the whole chart!)

Bottle Gnomes
I just thought you'd get a kick out of this. More Rift Bolts than Forests. More Extirpates than Plains! I actually like how there were more Tormod's Crypts than Plains... and 260/261 of them didn't make main deck. The comparison between Regionals and States/Champs for largely the same format is pretty stark. Wrath of God was by far the best card at States, with Demonfire arguably the best finisher (followed, again arguably, by Akroma). Come June, Wrath of God has taken a back seat to Damnation, its mother basic is ten slots south of vanilla Forest, Demonfire misses the Top 100 and Akroma falls more than 20 positions below... Bottle Gnomes.

I think that this is part of the reason why Standard has always been my favorite format. It's always shifting and changing. You can't get behind one Goblins or Long.dec like in other formats and play the same narrow game plan for years and years consecutively. I feel like Standard is a format where you are always learning and constantly challenged from multiple angles to not just find a powerful strategy, but wiggle and dodge your way past the opponent's best cards and big turns. With Tenth Edition coming up soon and the annual (read: Elf and Nail / White Weenie / Solar Flare) metagame breaker that has preceded U.S. Nationals almost every time... let's just say that there isn't much chance of the format getting less interesting any time soon.

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