Playing Ketchup

Posted in Feature on July 17, 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."

Do you mean playing with ketchup?

This was always very confusing for me. I would just think of the little Heinz packets—okay they were probably some kind of non-Heinz generic catsup packets—in the cafeteria. You know, next to the little paper packages of salt or pepper for your fries? Do they still have those?

What the teacher meant was that some children were always behind, not paying attention behind their serial killer glasses, whatever, had to "catch up" ...playing ketchup.

That's what we're doing this week, not because we weren't paying attention, but more because we were busy paying attention to the near future of Eventide. However, we are still in the middle of a Constructed PTQ season, damn it, and there are two weeks of results to be analyzed.

Week of June 28

Quick 'n Toast
Red-Green Aggro
Red-Green Mana Ramp
Mono-Red Shamans
Black-Green Elves

Week of July 5

Quick 'n Toast
Black-Green Elves
Five-Color Shamans
Red-Green Shamans
Solar Flare

What is clear from the last two weeks of PTQ results is that Faeries has gone from a legitimate contender to completely Constructed unplayable. Faeries seems like one of the worst possible choices to play in this metagame!

Certainly you are too clever to consider playing Faeries (its performance being so weak, with so few Top 8 appearances and a commensurately pitiable number of Pro Tour invitations acquired), but in the unlikely case that you might find yourself paired against someone five or six weeks out of date (remote as that possibility may be), you may want to consider some of the recent developments in this nearly forgotten archetype (you know, in the off chance that a black cat crossed some wretch's path and he accidentally found four Bitterblossoms and had no other cards to play)... but probably not.

Gavin Verhey

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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

Main deck, Gavin went to 26 lands, up from the 24 of the early season (unless you count Robert Seder's accidental 28 in Hollywood). Additionally, he made the full leap, cutting all copies of the under-performing Broken Ambitions, replacing all four with Thoughtseize. Thoughtseize is superior in the Faeries mirror, allowing the active player to remove Bitterblossom from the opponent's opening hand even on the draw; perhaps more importantly, Osyp Lebedowicz points out that this swap is key in Faeries beating the rogue Green-White "Little Kid" deck (Thoughtseize can get rid of Gaddock Teeg before he hits play, whereas Broken Ambitions is just another card blanked by Gaddock Teeg).

Out of the sideboard, Gavin played two different cards that are very effective in the Elementals matchup (Elementals being one of the most successful non-Faeries decks this season):

Faerie Trickery

Probably just the best option in the format for any blue deck against the card Reveillark. Reveillark has not yet been leveraged in an infinite combination in Block (unlike Standard), but it is still a potent source of card advantage, especially with the Faeries deck down in main deck permission; Faerie Trickery erases it forever.

Faerie Trickery
Puppeteer Clique

Puppeteer Clique

Basically the most impressive possible spell against the evoke mechanic. Draw two cards, eh? I'll draw two as well... and thanks for the body! Take 2!

All kidding aside, Faeries was hands-down the most successful deck of the last two weeks, and nothing seems to be in position to challenge it for top spot in Lorwyn / Shadowmoor Block. There is really only one deck that can claim a legitimate and sizable advantage in the Faeries matchup, with most other decks caught playing ketchup against the card advantage of a Bitterblossom and the versatile potency of Cryptic Command.

We've highlighted Faeries—and more or less every article regarding this format has highlighted Faeries—from the beginning... So let's focus on some of the other qualifying and all-around interesting decks from around the Internet.

Daniel Hanson

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Like many Doran decks, Hanson's has a nice synergy between Treefolk Harbinger and Forest (specifically Murmuring Bosk, which can help play the challengingly-colored Doran)... and Treefolk Harbinger and Doran itself.

Manamorphose is a convenient way to help play Doran, the Siege Tower, and that two-mana cantrip effectively lifts this Doran to (a virtual) 25 lands.

A lot of players like Doran due to its ability to play lots of different kinds of instant speed targeted removal; Nameless Inversion remains the gold standard at two mana, working nicely with both Treefolk Harbinger and Wren's Run Vanquisher, but Eyeblight's Ending is the unusual black removal that can nix Oona, Queen of the Fae, and in a pinch, Crib Swap crushes any and all.

A card that is seeing more and more play is Scarblade Elite. In this deck it is mostly a small but efficient body, but don't discount the long run ability to extract additional value from Chameleon Colossus, Crib Swap, and Nameless Inversion all.

Anthony Wilson

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Offensively, it actually seems a little slow, but I just love lots of the cards in this deck.

Festercreep can help keep the deck in the game even against a large number of Bitterblossom tokens.

Murderous Redcap

Shriekmaw has been called the best creature in the block; Murderous Redcap doubles up the Nekrataal / Flametongue Kavu angle.

None of these three creature-hating creatures is going to win any land speed records... but Demigod of Revenge might. The absolute best kind of a long-game threat in a format full of black removal, dominated by black and blue, Demigod of Revenge resists permission and kills very quickly, in the air.

Wilson's spell suite is a study in efficient instants... Everything but Incendiary Command that is; take 4, by the way.

Michael Rooks

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In the same Top 8 as Wilson's black-red overload deck was this Mono-Red Shamans deck by Michael Rooks.

Basically everyone is a Shaman, meaning that when Rage Forger hits play a little later in the game, the offense will go Biggie Sized. Incandescent Soulstoke pumps every creature, Crusade-style, but I don't think that its "you can't counter me" / haste angle gets as much play as in the more traditional Elementals deck.

Again, the spells are all kinds of efficient, all Standard- (or even Extended-) quality. Take 4.

Blair Simpson

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The main innovation in Simpson's look at Quick 'n Toast is the inclusion of Devoted Druid. This little Druid's presence is there to play a faster Mulldrifter or Shriekmaw (turn three) at full value, or to steal a little extra from Mind Spring.

Christopher Pauly

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Sideboard (15)
1 Cloudthresher 2 Firespout 4 Wispmare 4 Shriekmaw 4 Negate
Fulminator Mage
On the subject of wild Reflecting Pool decks, check out Christopher Pauly's Five-Color Shamans!

This deck hybridizes many of the various Shamans synergies that we have seen in the past, both from the Red side (a Rage Forger splash) and from the green side (every good green Shaman from Wolf-Skull Shaman to Leaf-Crowned Elder to Doran, the Siege Tower!). More-or-less everything is a Shaman in this deck, save Cloudthresher... but we'll give Pauly a pass on that one seeing how good an instant two point Hurricane is in the Faeries format. With so many Shamans, Wolf-Skull Shaman and Leaf-Crowned Elder should have very solid batting averages, making for quite a bit of threat advantage.

Even though this deck is very decidedly "Shaman" in tribal theme, Primal Beyond has a lot of solid synergy. Elemental or no, it is a great combination with Reflecting Pool, and several of the Shamans in this deck are either Elementals as well (Fulminator Mage) or changelings (Chameleon Colossus, Nameless Inversion), so Primal Beyond will rarely be stranded as a colorless producer... Anyway, Pauly's deck has nine more Elementals out of the sideboard.

Overall, I think this is my pick for the most exciting new deck.

...Though that title could easily go to Pat Chapin's Witch Solar Flare, a unique contraption if ever there was one in this format:

Patrick Chapin

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Mistmeadow Witch can point in either direction, but in a deck like this one, with all kinds of Mulldrifters, Shriekmaws, and Reveillarks, the potential for card advantage abuse is considerable. Did you notice Reveillark plus Doran, the Siege Tower? That's right, as busty as Doran is in the red zone, this particular Legendary Treefolk Shaman has zero printed power.

Playing Doran in this sort of a deck also gives Patrick the excuse to run Murmuring Bosk. We think of Murmuring Bosk as a "green" card, but two of the three colors it produces are black and white, two colors both central to the traditional Solar Flare. In this case, green is mostly gravy.

Evan Erwin

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Last but not least, I just wanted to highlight the Nashville appearance of last year's Storyteller, Evan Erwin, in the Top 8 with Kithkin. It's nice to see Evan doing well, and to see that Kithkin—onetime leader in this metagame—are still making Top 8s, even with the clear ascendancy of Faeries.

A Little Taste of Standard

In addition to a Faeries-full PTQ weekend, the Saturday-Sunday combination of June 28 and 29 brought us a Standard Grand Prix in Buenos Aires. Here is how the Top 8 broke down:

Black-Green Elves
Black-Green Mana Ramp
Green-Red Mana Ramp
Knoll Storm
Quick 'n Toast

Francisco Braga

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As an echo of the Standard Pro Tour in Hollywood, the day was won by Black-Green Elves.

Olivier Ruel

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Pro Tour superstar Olivier Ruel racked up yet another Grand Prix Top 8 with a Quick 'n Toast-esque Reflecting Pool control deck playing an interesting sixty-first card... Platinum Angel! A pair of Mind Shatters started out up front, alongside a pair of Pact of Negations. Not a lot of downside to those Pacts with Platinum Angel in play; Ruel liked the seven drop so much, he sideboarded a second.

My favorite deck from the Buenos Aires coverage was the Mono-Red deck played by Tomoharu Saito and Shuuhei Nakamura; both Japanese players finished in the money, albeit out of the Top 8.

Shuhei Nakamura

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Ashenmoor Gouger
The defining card of this deck is clearly the Ashenmoor Gouger. Nakamura said that he would have rather run Tattermunge Maniac because the deck didn't have sufficient fast drops, but let's not discount the Gouger. Constructed is notoriously light on blocking, and Ashenmoor Gouger is never going to offend from that side of the table. Ever. More importantly, he is invulnerable to Slaughter Pact, Shriekmaw, and Terror, and highly resistant to Nameless Inversion, Lash Out, Firespout, and Incinerate. Lastly, Ashenmoor Gouger is bigger and faster in a red deck than the typical green play, often even up a mana. Combined with its myriad defenses against typical removal, Ashenmoor Gouger seems like a fine offensive drop.

The "other" black card in this deck is Demigod of Revenge, probably the best threat in its cycle of highly impressive five-drops. Being black, Demigod of Revenge is resistant to many of the same removal spells, and having 4 toughness makes up a lot of the difference (as with Ashenmoor Gouger). Unlike its 4/4 three-drop cousin, the jury is not out on Demigod of Revenge. This one just roars and roars until opponents are dead.

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