The Road from Online Champ to National Champ

Posted in Feature on August 23, 2006

By Frank Karsten

Thanks to everyone who has made me feel welcome in my first week! I received many kind words and support from those who took the time to comment in the forums, and from those who sent me an email or messaged me online. The other side of the medallion was the vocal group that expressed their dislike of the column angle change. Whereas I can certainly understand that people might be upset about the drift away from casual formats and the online community, I’m afraid that changes happen and that you are stuck with me. I do promise to add information and love for the casual players occasionally, in addition to those things that are specific to MTGO, such as trading aspects, community info, etc. However, this column is not Into the Aether anymore and therefore it won’t be my main focus. This column is Online Tech and its focal point is the state of the competitive Constructed formats on Magic Online. Standard is the most popular format and therefore it will remain a fixed part. However, I’m aware that there are other formats besides Standard and I will look into them regularly as well. Last week, I put up a poll in order to learn what you would like to hear about. Let’s take a look at results:

What would you like to see covered more in Online Tech in terms of Magic Online content?
Competitive formats - Extended 1441 33.9%
Competitive format - Sealed deck 655 15.4%
Competitive format - Block Constructed 609 14.3%
Hot topics on the forums 365 8.6%
Casual format - Multiplayer 261 6.1%
Casual format - Tribal 253 6.0%
Casual format - Momir BASIC 211 5.0%
Online community 136 3.2%
Casual format - Singleton 123 2.9%
Casual format - Vanguard 105 2.5%
Casual format - Prismatic 91 2.1%
Total 4250 100.0%

That’s a big push for Extended. Note the competitive formats all getting the three top slots and garnering more votes than the rest of the options combined. Judging from these results, the column has gone in the right direction, since most people are apparently happy with the new focus on competitive formats. My plan for the column is to cover Standard each week, sometimes an in-depth update and sometimes just a quick mention. Furthermore, I plan to cover Extended roughly once a month (check in for Extended coverage next week) and I will cover my experiences in a Sealed Deck league once Time Spiral is released online. Block Constructed (and Classic, which I regrettably forgot to put into the poll) is something I will look into every two months or so. And I plan to delve into the casual formats, community aspects, and hot topics and issues from the forums roughly once a month. The first time I will address that topic is in two weeks from now.

Last week was an odd one, since the Coldsnap release events were taking the place of the Constructed Premier Events. Therefore, I was unable to track a metagame or comment on the latest tech of last week. Instead, I have something else for you, which isn’t necessarily related to last week, but it is surely connected to Magic Online. Today I have interviews with two Magic: The Gathering National Champions lined up. These players had playtested their winning Standard decks in Premier Events a couple weeks ago, out in the open, and went on to take the titles at their Nationals. Their decks had been building up steam on Magic Online prior to winning their National Championships. If my column had been around at that point to catch on to those decks, I could have covered them here, allowing you to put that information to good use before anyone else had even noticed them. My point is that closely monitoring the Magic Online metagame can give you a big advantage. Both of the decks that I’m about to cover are very powerful, they have proven themselves online (and offline as well), and they are wholeheartedly recommended for anyone who wishes to compete in a Standard tournament.

German Nationals: Erayo-Ninja

Roughly two weeks ago, a creative rogue deck made it to the semifinals of Premier Event #796283 (a Standard 2x event with 58 players). It was an interesting creation based around Erayo, Soratami Ascendant. The deck used cheap cards such as Ornithopter, Repeal and Birds of Paradise to quickly reach the 4-spells-in-a-turn mark needed to flip Erayo. The 0-power flyers filled another role as well: enabling a turn 2 Ninja of the Deep Hours. A typical ideal game would go like this:

Turn 1: Ornithopter.
Turn 2: Attack, then when your opponent raises an eyebrow, you swap it with Ninja of the Deep Hours.
Turn 3: Play Erayo (1 spell), play Ornithopter (2 spells), play Repeal on Ornithopter (3 spells), replay Ornithopter (4 spells, flip!). Oh, and attack with the Ninja for another card.
Turn 4: Opponent scoops up cards in disgust.

Piloting this deck was mBracht. The man behind this account is Maximilian Bracht – one of the best German players. A couple days later, the results of the German Nationals rolled in. Can you guess who the winner was? If you said, “Maximilian Bracht, playing that strange Erayo-Ninja deck,” you were correct. I checked in with Maximilian and talked to him about the deck.

Maximilian Bracht

Download Arena Decklist

OnlineTech: Hi Maximilian, congratulations on your victory! Judging from your result at Nationals, the semifinal appearance at that Premier Event lately was no fluke. It seems that the Erayo/Ninja deck is actually amazingly competitive!
mBracht: Yes, it was just the best deck. I only lost once in Constructed.

OnlineTech: How did you come up with such a bizarre deck?
mBracht: A friend of mine, Andreas Müller from Regensburg, played it at Regionals. He went 7-1 with a very bad build. I basically only took the Erayo thing and Ninja of the Deep Hours, and I changed the entire sideboard and about 20 cards in the maindeck. I started working on the deck because of Ninja of the Deep Hours. It is my favorite card. Last year, I built a deck around Ninja of the Deep Hours and it promptly won the 2005 German Nationals. This year I wanted to try to win my National Championships myself with the Ninja.

OnlineTech: Where did you test and tweak the deck?
mBracht: Only on Magic Online. I started testing it like two weeks before Nationals, just in 8-man Standard queues and a couple Premier Events, plus some games against players on my buddy list. The last tweak I made was the addition of Disrupting Shoal. Without a doubt it’s the most lovely (“lekkerste”) card in the deck.

OnlineTech: What are the good matchups?
mBracht: Magnivore, Izzetron, Heartbeat - basically all slow control decks, are virtual byes. A flipped Erayo is a huge pain for them. Their development is halted and their main ways to win the game (expensive cards, such as Wildfire and Tidings) won’t resolve for a while. Furthermore, those decks are too slow to deal with a turn 2 Ninja of the Deep Hours.


Threads of Disloyalty
OnlineTech: How about the bad matchups?
mBracht: I don’t have many, the deck is actually pretty good against the field. Even the matchups that are not in my favor aren’t worse than 40-60. Solar Flare can range from good to bad, depending on the decklist. Against Boros/Gruul/Zoo, you have to be lucky. In game 1, you have to hope to draw a lot of bounce, but usually they’re too fast. They are not impressed with a flipped Erayo or a Ninja, since they will just attack with efficient creatures and burn you out. After sideboard it gets much better. It basically comes down to drawing three lands and then you’ve won. Threads of Disloyalty and Carven Caryatids are so good.

OnlineTech: Okay, that gives an impression of the strengths and weaknesses of the deck. I still have some doubts on certain card choices though. Are you sure you have enough win conditions in the deck? You can only win via Ninja beatdown - isn’t that dangerous?
mBracht: I never had problems with win conditions. It might take a while before you eventually win a game, true, but once you have established control not much can go wrong anymore.

OnlineTech: Can the Umezawa’s Jitte in the sideboard trigger often enough good enough with so many 0-power creatures? Often you’ll look at a board of Ornithopter and Umezawa’s Jitte and cry. Have you considered Loxodon Warhammer instead?
mBracht: I tried Warhammer before, it was simply not good enough. Jitte is fine in my experience. Don’t forget it also kills opposing copies.

OnlineTech: Do you think you have to mulligan aggressively to a hand with Erayo?
mBracht: No. Mulligans are your death with this deck, don’t take many. The exception is when you have a great matchup, such as Magnivore. Then you can afford to take more risk.

OnlineTech: The deck should even get better with Coldsnap’s Mishra’s Bauble, right?
mBracht: Yes, you can probably cut 2 Boomerang, 1 Higure the Still Wind, and 1 land for it. Mishra’s Bauble will make it much easier to flip Erayo quickly.

OnlineTech: All right, thanks for your insight!

Norwegian Nationals: Satanic Sligh

I bet that when I say “wefald burn” only the die hard Online Constructed players will know what I am talking about. It is Rakdos Aggro-burn deck and the name stems from the person that popularized it: wefald, who goes by the name Øyvind Andersen in real life. He made it to the Top 8 of two Premier Events roughly a month ago, piloting his deck, which he prefers to call Satanic Sligh. Since then, wefald had been hitting up the 8-man Standard queues instead of the Premier Events in order to keep his deck under the radar. A week ago, Øyvind went on to win the Norwegian National Championships with his Satanic Sligh deck. Here is the decklist:

Øyvind Andersen

Download Arena Decklist

The deck has the same basic philosophy as a Zoo/Gruul/Boros aggro deck: play quick creatures, get some damage in, then finish it with burn spells. However, Satanic Sligh differentiates from Zoo/Gruul/Boros on a couple key points. First off, its main color is red, which allows Satanic Sligh to support Genju of the Spires. Genju gives the deck late game staying power and makes sure you don’t roll over to Wrath of God or lifegain. When a Solar Flare plays an early Dragon, a Boros player might need a lot of burn right there to deal with it. Satanic Sligh just laughs hysterically before attacking with Genju of the Spires. Or perhaps casting an even better answer: Hit // Run! Dark Confidant is another black goodie, and if left unchecked, he will generate enough card advantage to win the game by himself against slow decks. I found Øyvind online and talked to him about the deck.

OnlineTech: Hi Øyvind, congratulations on your victory! How did you come up with the deck?
wefald: A guy online called Caleb made the very first draft of the deck. It was a more streamlined burn deck with Lava Spike and such at first. I played his first version in a 2x Premier Event, and went 5-0-2 in the Swiss rounds before losing in the quarters. I then changed things around quite a bit, played it some more, and I made it to the semifinals of a 4x Premier Event, going 7-1 in the Swiss.

OnlineTech: That was about a month ago, right? But since then I haven’t seen the deck around in the Premier Events anymore.
wefald: Yes. That's when I knew this could end up being a very good deck with enough tweaking. So I started playing it a lot in 8-man Standard queues - no more premier events, since I didn't want people to see my replays. I tried to keep a lid on it. When people came to ask for the list, I downplayed it with a cover-up, saying that I'd just been lucky in the Premier Event. I only gave the list to the few people who helped me tune it, like Paul Cheon. I owe him a big thanks for his last-minute tweaks. I took the deck to the Norwegian Nationals and I also gave the list to a friend of mine, Thomas Refsdal. I won the tournament and he made Top 8, so every Satanic Sligh deck in the tournament made it to the playoffs.

Why did it have to be Snakes?

OnlineTech: What are the good matchups and bad matchups of the deck?
wefald: Anything with tokens is bad, so Snakes is unwinnable. GhaziGlare (with Selesnya Guildmage) and Ghost Husk (with Promise of Bunrei) are also pretty bad. That is because in creature matchups in general, Satanic Sligh should take stance of a control deck (you even board in the Bottled Cloisters) and plans to go one-for-one with removal on their creatures. If they have token producers, you will run out of removal quickly and you will never be able to clear a path for Genju of the Spires. I used to have Rakdos Ickspitter in the board, which was great against those matchups, but eventually I streamlined the deck to just beat the more popular decks.

OnlineTech: How about the matchups against those decks then?
wefald: Solar Flare and Izzetron are close to byes. My record against Solar Flare, combining online and in real life, is 15-2 and counting. Heartbeat and Magnivore are 50/50 matchups, mostly depending on the die roll. Hand in Hand, well, that just depends on their build.

OnlineTech: A big problem for your deck appears to be Paladin en-Vec, since it has protection from both of your colors. Aren’t you afraid of that card?
wefald: Paladin en-Vec by himself is no big deal, since it usually has to stay on defense and I can kill it with Cruel Edict or Hit // Run. Paladin en-Vec plus Umezawa’s Jitte or multiple Paladin en-Vecs are problematic though.

OnlineTech: Why did you choose Yamabushi’s Flame over Demonfire or Flames of the Blood Hand?
wefald: Demonfire isn’t good in this deck, Genju of the Spires eats lands. Flames of the Blood Hand cannot affect the board and against creature decks I need burn to take out their creatures. Yamabushi’s Flame was simply the best burn spell left.

OnlineTech: Why do you only run 1 Giant Solifuge maindeck? One copy seems kind of random.
wefald: Giant Solifuge doesn't really fit main, since it's too expensive. Two of the big decks play Wildfire and the correct strategy against that card is to never play a fourth land if you can help it. On the other hand, four Genju of the Spires was not enough. I needed an extra hard-to-kill win condition, and therefore I chose Giant Solifuge as the necessary evil, the 5th Genju if you will. I also like the psychological aspect of one-ofs, since opponents will think you have more in your deck and then they’ll play around it.

OnlineTech: Yes, I know what you’re talking about. I have used that misinformation aspect of one-ofs regularly as well; I love it. Does Coldsnap improve your deck? Perhaps Cryoclasm could be a decent sideboard card and Martyr of Ashes could replace Frostling, but those are longshots. What do you think?
wefald: Cryoclasm could be a good sideboard card, but it depends on the metagame. Martyr of Ashes is decent against Snakes or something like that, but if Snakes becomes popular, I’d rather play a different deck altogether.

OnlineTech: That makes sense. Anything else you’d want to mention?
wefald: A big thanks to Shark Pool, the MTGO clan I’m captaining. And I have to give out a warning that the deck is much harder to play right than it appears at first glance. It has zero margin of error and to play the deck optimally is very tough. Mulliganning is also hard. Ideally you want Genju of the Spires or Dark Confidant in your starting hand, or any combination of creatures and burn and 2-4 lands, but you can’t get those every game.

OnlineTech: I know what you mean. These decks are usually mislabeled as "easy." It’s true that even though you can pick up the deck and score some wins easily, it takes a great player to put up great results. Well, thanks for your thoughts on the deck!

Keeping A Promise…

Last week I promised to come back to a crazy deck that I merely described as “Tidespout Tyrant Urza”. Here it is:


Download Arena Decklist


Tidespout Tyrant
The above list came from choppers777, who had piloted it to a Premier Event Top 8. At first glance, this deck looks similar to Izzetron, the Red/Blue deck that runs all 12 Urza lands. The main difference is that the above deck is mono-blue. Instead of the red cards, it runs a crazy engine: Tidespout Tyrant and Sensei’s Divining Top. If you get a Tidespout Tyrant in play – and it’s not too hard to pay the expensive casting cost once you assemble all Urza pieces - plus two Sensei’s Divining Tops, you can start to bounce your opponent’s entire board. It works like this:

Step 1: You have Tidespout Tyrant in play, Top #1 in your hand, and Top #2 on top of your deck.
Step 2: You play Top #1 and bounce a permanent.
Step 3: You tap Top #1 to draw a card, so now Top #2 is in your hand and Top #1 is on top of your deck.
Step 4: You play Top #2 and bounce a permanent.
Step 5: You tap Top #2 to draw a card, so now Top #1 is in your hand and Top #2 is on top of your deck.
Step 6: Go back to step 1, rinse and repeat.

So basically, for every mana you have, you can bounce a permanent. If you have the Urzatron out, you should have enough mana to bounce your opponent’s entire board in one huge turn. The deck is an interesting twist and exceedingly fun to play. If you compare the deck to Izzetron, you notice that it gives up Wildfire and Demonfire for the Tidespout Tyrant engine. This might make the deck slightly worse against creature decks, since the red burn cards helped to keep the fast creatures at bay, but the deck surely is a blast to play!

Alright, that’s it for week 2. Thanks for reading, I hope you enjoyed it. Keep on sending me your ideas and decklists! I saw a lot of interesting decks in my inbox. That was wonderful, even though I couldn’t go over them all, as I have to pace myself. I can’t swamp you guys with information each week. But don’t worry, I haven’t shoved all those great deck ideas aside - I plan to cover them in future weeks. Next week, I will also go over the wonderful world of Online Extended, so if you have been doing well in the Extended events and want to share your decklists, ideas, or tech, shoot me an email!

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