Thank You, Sudden Shock: The Second-to-Last Page

Posted in Feature on March 15, 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."

The book is almost closed on the 2007 Extended PTQ season, but not quite. As the format approaches its final weekend, we can begin to see a mature metagame with clear best decks rising out of the vast sea of Tier 2 cards. There is still diversity to be sure – and even this late in the game new innovations, color combinations, and decks are finishing Top 8 – but I do think that the cream is rising and that a couple of decks are pulling away from an otherwise flat array of available options.

Here is the breakdown for four North American PTQs from the weekend of 10 March 2007:

Gaea’s Might Get There
Aggro Flow
U/W Post
Scepter variants
Tenacious ‘Tron
Boros (+ Caller)
Chapin Four-color Red
Enduring Ideal
Goblin Bidding
The Rock
U/G ‘Tron

Loam at (or near) the top, and collecting its weekly win, is nothing new for this season. I think that because the value of the various decks is so close that it took a while, but Loam – at least at the PTQ level – has to be the standout deck of the season.

It should come as no surprise that Gaea’s Might Get There took top Top 8s this week (including a win of its own) given its back-to-back Grand Prix wins in the hands of Hall of Famer Raphael Levy. I don’t know, if the format were to stretch beyond this next week or so that Gaea’s Might Get There, would be able to sustain top numbers, but the deck was, and probably still is, on the up-swing.

Terravore If you are playing in one of the last Extended PTQs of the season, I highly recommend that you test against these two decks. For the time being, at least, Gaea’s Might Get There is the beatdown deck of choice. It is slightly less stable than regular Boros Deck Wins, but the upsides are monumental for the deck, including the possibility of a third-turn kill (there is more than one possible scenario but just imagine the simplest one, being Boros Swiftblade and two Gaea’s Mights). Loam is the “other” deck... It is probably best cast as a control deck with a combo finish, like traditional Psychatog. Loam can draw tons of cards with namesake Life from the Loam, and easily deal 30+ damage in a single turn, either with a relentless Seismic Assault fed by the aforementioned Life from the Loam, or set ups Terravore + Devastating Dreams, which (ideally) erases both sides of the table of anything but the Terravore, which in turn kills the opponent in 1-2 swings.

Here are the winning Loam and Gaea’s Might Get There decks for this week past:

Gaudenis Vidagiris

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Alex Kim

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For more on these decks, I refer you to the past several weeks of Swimming With Sharks.

As I suggested earlier, this format (as it was designed and developed to do) remains a breeding ground for new deck ideas and new looks at archetype decks. Ideas can be infectious, and in Magic, players can adopt new “defaults” to their favorite decks very quickly. For instance, at the beginning of the season, the default U/W deck had Solemn Simulacrum and Fact or Fiction, but today, the card drawer of choice in nearly every version is Tenacious ‘Tron’s Gifts Ungiven.

Jim Davis showed the world that the little Red men can compete in this format (again), and others have run with the Goblin to the tune of three Top 8 appearances. Following are two of the more interesting takes:

Landon McDaniel

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The innovation here is obviously main deck Blood Moon. Blood Moon does three things relatively well in Goblins. First, the format is dominated by Ravnica Block dual lands. Blood Moon smashes any and all with essentially no collateral damage. You might not be able to use a Ghost Quarter... But under Blood Moon, why would you want to do that? Second, Blood Moon gives even non-Red opponents Mountains. Goblin King gives a Red player Mountainwalk. See the tag team yet? Blood Moon not only disrupts the opponent’s mana base, it makes your Goblins unblockable! Third, and subtly, Blood Moon is a fine combination with Chrome Mox. Blood Moon isn’t very good in every matchup, and it makes a fine imprint when you don’t necessarily want to see it.

Christopher Pauly

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If you haven’t seen a Goblin Bidding deck played perfectly, you are missing out on great spectator Magic. Here’s how it goes... The Goblin Bidding deck is an almost equivalent Goblin beatdown deck, but instead of the regular Goblin deck’s frills, the Goblin Bidding deck has an unstoppable endgame. Patriarch’s Bidding is just useful against mass removal (Damnation and Wrath of God), but that isn’t the only reason it is played in the deck. What Pauly might want to do is to get a ton of Goblins in play, including Goblin Sharpshooter and Skirk Prospector (though Goblin Sledder works in a pinch). Then the deck is about sacrificing all the non-Sharpshooter guys, which create untap opportunities. Most Goblin decks can run their Sharpshooters this way, but Bidding is special. You get them all back!

You can use the Skirk mana to play Bidding (well, you still need ), get back a graveyard full of Goblins. Provided you have Warchief access, you can start all over again (or you can just keep the same Sharpshooter before and after Bidding). Situations like the one I just described are generally bloodbaths capable of dealing 50+ in a single turn. Forget about any of the opponent’s creatures leaving the turn standing.


Patriarchs Bidding
Bidding has never been a force in Extended, though the strategy has always been more powerful than regular Goblins in Standard. The reason is that, historically, formats that allowed for Goblin Bidding decks were already densely populated with regular Goblin decks, and Bidding was a liability (the opponent gets all his Goblins back, too). Moreover, the requirement is no small matter for a deck with such early red mana requirements. Bidding’s presence now is part of an overall theme, defined, believe it or not, by Sudden Shock.

You see, while it is not the most popular or “best” card in the format, Sudden Shock is arguably the most important. It does one thing on an ongoing basis, whether or not it is seen in the most popular decks: Sudden Shock keeps the Psychatogs from showing up. Loam is arguably the best deck in the room... Nope, it can’t perform very well against the current crop of ‘Tog decks. At this point, Gaea’s Might Get There could probably compete with Psychatog (Alex Kim’s version runs two Sudden Shocks main), but Psychatog decks have traditionally been popular at least in part because the namesake creature is so effective against generic beatdown and burn decks (though not necessarily those with Arcbound Ravagers or certainly Goblin Piledrivers). This is not to say that ‘Tog has in any way lost viability, just that knocking Dr. Teeth down from his Tier 1 pedestal has helped to open up the format. This, in my opinion, is the single most important element contributing to the format’s vaunted diversity.

I think that if ‘Tog were still the fearless best kill card that any control player could ever want that we wouldn’t see very many U/W “big mana” decks, let alone the evolution to Crucibles and Gifts and Chalices, or the arguments over which kill cards are right... The answers would have been there from the onset. Exalted Angel? Platinum Angel? Razormane Masticore? Triskelion? Just shut up and play Psychatog!

That said, check out these variants on similar themes:

Kai Davis

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I mean with a name like “Kai” of course he was going to win the PTQ!

Davis’s deck is a prime example of a different look at what is a foundational archetype of the format. As late as the second-to-last weekend of the season, it is still not clear whether UrzaTron or Cloudpost is the better big mana option. Moreover, Davis’s choice of kill cards – triple Pristine Angels – is another unusual choice. Pristine Angel is a powerful card, more-or-less invincible, and gives the opponent countless opportunities to err.

Kai’s sideboard is what is really special in my opinion. He has six Piracy Charms and Porphyry Nodes, 150% the potential number of Dwarven Blastminers any opponent would be able to play. Porphyry Nodes is of course just a strong creature defense measure in the abstract, but as a one-mana spell, it is of particular effectiveness against the quick danger of a Blastminer.

Phil Napoli

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Probably my favorite new deck of the week is Phil Napoli’s Top 8 deck from New York. You may have heard of PNaps as Osyp Lebedowicz’s intended Two-Headed Giant partner; he is an intimate member of the Pro Tour Venice’s circle and playtest group. This time he is showcasing a tight and innovative look at big mana.


Moments Peace
In the abstract, this deck is just Tenacious ‘Tron with green rather than white. The swap allows for Moment’s Peace over Wrath of God... and oddly enough, Moment’s Peace is actually stronger than Wrath of God against the dominant Gaea’s Might Get There. It’s one thing to actually kill some Kird Apes on a glacial fourth turn, but the control ends up at relatively low life while trying to stabilize against an opponent with Tribal Flames for 5. Moment’s Peace essentially counters Gaea’s Might with buyback, and in the short term, erases creatures. The deck doesn’t need card advantage so much as time, and Moment’s Peace hands over the latter... with flashback.

Phil’s Gifts Ungiven is much stronger than the Tenacious default... and that’s saying something. He can get Life from the Loam, and he doesn’t have to mess around with Chalice of the Void. This allows him to run a small engine with Lonely Sandbar and Cephalid Coliseum singletons, giving the deck another angle of attack. The endgame is the same as everyone else’s... Huge creatures or Mindslaver recursion with Academy Ruins (which he can, of course, defend with Life from the Loam). Again we see Piracy Charm to battle Dwarves, Seal of Primordium against Destructive Flow.

Jesse Clark

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Not long ago, if you had presented a first-turn Irrigation Ditch and suspended a Lotus Bloom, I’d have gone tunnel vision into whatever anti-TEPS strategy I had prepared for the tournament. The recent Grand Prix changed that somewhat, with Balancing Tings as another option for the goofy lands; Tings could benefit from confusion, being mis-identified as TEPS. Rule of Law... Gilded Light... to a lesser degree Trinisphere have no effect on Tings.

What about Enduring Ideal?

Here is another deck that uses a similar collection of mana cards, but finishes on a much different – yet still extremely powerful – end game.

The goal is to jack mana to seven and resolve Enduring Ideal, setting up epic. The first enchantment is going to vary from matchup to matchup, but Ideal will generally want to grab Solitary Confinement and stall into Form of the Dragon. In a pinch, Form of the Dragon will kill very quickly while defending on the ground. Dovescape can prevent the opponent from being able to counter epic copies turn to turn. You can stack Solitary Confinement and epic, replace the first Confinement before failing to pay for it. Honden of Seeing Winds will pay for Confinement for the rest of the game (short as it will inevitably be). After sideboarding, Boseiju, Who Shelters All, Who Shelters All, makes the first Enduring Ideal uncounterable against control; ideally the counter-breaking Dovescape will do the rest.


Enduring Ideal
One important note is that Clark played Sensei’s Divining Top, which helps to prevent drawing key enchantments before and after epic. His deck has very few ways to actually win, so drawing Form of the Dragon – especially if he is already under epic and can’t play it – is a real, if subtle, danger.

As one of the decks that has come out late in the format, it is not clear how good Ideal is in relation to the other top decks of Extended 2007. What is obvious, though, is that this deck is versatile, and powerful as well. That said, many of the standard anti-strategies (Blastminer, Destructive Flow, disruption, and to a lesser degree, Counterbalance and permission) hold up against Ideal. On balance, most opponents will have a stack of Ancient Grudges an inch thick in their sideboards, but one or fewer copies of Ray of Revelation. If the Enduring Epic hits, ideally it will stick.

It’s Echo Week, and even though the goal of this column is – first and foremost – to deliver data and analysis for competitive Constructed, I thought that I’d throw in my all-time favorite echo story. I am just excerpting this from previous effort The Ten Greatest Battles of All Time back from 2002. Enjoy.

4. Steve OMS (Monoblack) vs. Mike Long (B/g)

Even if you didn’t know that Steve OMS is a popular guy on the Pro Tour, you would probably be able to infer that for yourself if you watched the Top 8 draft of 1999 PT-LA. Urza’s Saga was a Limited set “blacker than Torment“ according to some, but Steve OMS’s monoblack deck was protected by what has been understated as “friendly drafting.” With Deadguy friends Worth Wollpert and Jon Finkel dedicating themselves to G/R and U/W, Steve had free reign to pick up nothing but Befouls and Corrupts. History tells us that Steve and his perfect black deck prevailed over Jon Finkel in the finals, but along the way, his most impressive match was against Mike Long.


Mike had drafted some powerful black and green cards. In addition to the undisputed best color of Urza’s Saga, Long had added some of green’s fastest and most efficient creatures. Oddly, though, Mike left two copies of Befoul in his sideboard, starting off-color cycling cards instead of them... As flexible as Befoul normally was as a removal card, in order to get past his quarterfinals opponent, Long could not afford to have overcosted Stone Rains in his main deck.

Steve’s deck performed brilliantly in the first two games, but Mike battled back in Game 3, allowing Steve to start in Game 4... and what a Game 4 it was.

Steve played a swamp and passed the turn.

Mike played a forest, and threatened with a Pouncing Jaguar. The Jaguar, a 2/2 for only , would be a devastating clock against Steve’s powerful – but slow – black deck... if only it would stay in play.

Just as Mike played that Jaguar, I remember the thought passing through my head: I wonder if Steve plays Dark Ritual...

My question was answered on OMS’s second turn, as he played Dark Ritual, and cast the four-mana Befoul on Mike’s only land. Not only was his forest gone, but Mike would not be able to pay echo on the Pouncing Jaguar... he was down to no permanents! A couple of turns later, Mike had a forest once again, and played Acridian, another undercosted echo creature – a 2/4 for 1G. Once again, Steve had the Befoul for Mike’s only green source!

The next several turns... Steve’s Duress on Mike’s Corrupt, his taking complete control of the board with Pestilence and Hollow Dogs, simply formalized a game that was won in the first four turns. It is rare that you see that kind of domination in a Limited game.

Then again, it’s pretty rare to see a draft deck nearly as good as Mr. OMS’s.

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