... Almost Got There

Posted in Top Decks on December 18, 2008

By Mike Flores

With wins in Kuala Lumpur (Jon Finkel), Hollywood (Charles Gindy), and most recently Berlin (Luis Scott-Vargas), the good old U.S. of A. was mere inches from closing out every Pro Tour win in 2008.

In the team event, the American trio led by U.S. National Champion Michael Jacob did their job, with Pro Tour superstar Paul Cheon and Sam Black knocking down all necessary pins to emerge team champions. The U.S. were once again at the top of the teams.

The team format this year was broken down into three different Constructed partitions, with each national team sending a representative in each of the Standard, Extended, and Legacy formats.

    Extended

All eyes will be shifting to Extended soon for the upcoming Pro Tour Qualifier season, and the team competition is a rich source of Extended technology (these numbers are all pulled from the teams Top 4 deck lists).

Elves1 Win
Black-Blue 'Tron 2 Top 4
Death Cloud1 Top 4

Sam Black - Extended - USA

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Sam's Elves list was heavily metagamed... He had an Orzhov Pontiff starting for Elves mirror matches. If the opponent started to go off, Sam could ride Wirewood Hivemaster to several Insect tokens generated by the opponent's Elf plays. These he could use to set up a Chord of Calling to banish the opponent's entire squad with the aforementioned Pontiff, even if he were "tapped out."

Interestingly, Sam played both Predator Dragon and Mirror Entity as kills despite the Scott-Vargas win in Berlin on Grapeshot. Predator Dragon was the most popular kill in Berlin (assemble lots of Elves, Chord of Calling or Birchlore Rangers to make a Predator Dragon—which has both trample and haste—eat lots of little Elves and Insects, attack for ~200); Mirror Entity was a less popular but arguably more elegant path to victory. The Elves can produce massive amounts of mana with Heritage Druid by tapping one mana to grant everyone all creature types, thereby allowing the Insects to play Elf and set up . This mana goes into the Mirror Entitiy, and anyone who started the turn on the Elves' side can crush for huge amounts of damage. Why is it arguably more elegant? In addition to a pure high-power kill, the "all creature types" clause allows this version of Elves to pick up Wirewood Symbiote—as it's now an Elf—to break the "play this ability only once each turn" rule. This makes for massive mana production and life gain in concert with Essence Warden.

Masashi Oiso - Extended - Japan

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Aaron Nicastri - Extended - Australia

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Of the two Black-Blue 'Tron decks in the teams Top 4, I prefer Masashi Oiso's to our newly crowned Rookie of the Year's ... at least for an Elves-defined Extended metagame. Nicastri's deck is capable of a fast (turn three or so) Night of Soul's Betrayal (which can certainly put the brakes on Elves), but Oiso's interaction suite is much more varied and synergistic (again speaking to an Elves-defined Extended).

First of all we see four main-deck Chalice of the Void. These can be set to one, making it impossible to play all those one mana Nettle Sentinels, Heritage Druids, and so on that make Elves so impossible to overcome. Chalice of the Void is also an artifact, so you can pitch it to Thirst for Knowledge if you don't want to play it.

But the other big incentive to a Black 'Tron deck comes from not just Night of Soul's Betrayal (which Oiso's deck packs), but Persecute. With Chrome Mox and Dimir Signet, Oiso's deck is capable of a fast Persecute, which can cripple many decks. We've seen how terrible Elves decks can look after eating one Thoughtseize ... But the whole hand?

Vagner Casatti - Extended - Brazil

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I absolutely love the look of Vagner Casatti's Death Cloud deck. It just has so many cool things going on and I can see this being a starting point for a "new" dominating PTQ season strategy. Kitchen Finks? Dies to Death Cloud ... comes right back! Darkblast is an absolute powerhouse here. It can start working the Elves over from the first turn, and dredging it turn after turn will help to set up lands in the graveyard plus Life from the Loam. Raven's Crime is unstoppable in this deck in most long games.

There is lots more Extended to see!

Make sure you check out the undefeated Extended decks before the PTQ season starts.

Mono-Blue Faeries in particular seems like it will grab the reins from Elves moving into the PTQ season.

Here is a video starring my good buddies—and a pair of Pro Tour Champions—Randy Buehler and Jake Van Lunen, talking about Gabriel Nassif's version of Mono-Blue Faeries. Make sure you pay attention to the part about Spell Snare. It's a hoot.


    Legacy
Dreadstill1 Win
Green-Blue-Black Tempo Control1 Top 4
Loam1 Top 4
Mono-White Prison1 Top 4

Paul Cheon - Legacy - USA

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What a cool deck!

Former U.S. National Champ Paul Cheon ran a deck reminiscent of Next Level Blue (from Extended) grafted onto LandStill (from Legacy). The result is a controlling deck that draws lots of cards and runs about three soft combinations.

The typical strategy of this deck is to control the board with conditional permission, and get in there with 2/2s: Trinket Mage and Mishra's Factory. Sounds simple, right? But those aren't actually very powerful things to say. This deck generates advantages with its soft combos.

Sensei's Divining Top + Counterbalance

The classic. Against an opponent with a tight array of mana costs, this combination can counter basically everything.

Standstill + Mishra's Factory and Wasteland

Paul's deck can go on the offense with Mishra's Factory or disrupt the opponent's board with Wastelandwithout every having to play a spell. On the play this combination can be an absolute nightmare for an opponent who did not play a threat on his first turn.

Phyrexian Dreadnought + Stifle and Trickbind

Stifle and Trickbind are powerful reactive spells in the format due to the many "fetch" lands played from Onslaught ... plus they shut down storm combo decks. But in addition, you can use these spells to
remove the trigger on Phyrexian Dreadnought ... 12/12 for two anyone?

The first two soft combos generate the card advantage that lets a deck with conditional counterspells and mostly 2/2 creatures compete in a format full of, well, much more powerful effects. The last soft combo is the Dreadstill deck's own powerful forward-moving play, allowing it to win in as few as two attacks!

The guys at the Tournament Center did a great Deck Tech with Paul Cheon of Team USA on-site. Check out BDM and Paul walking through his Dreadstill deck:


Akihiro Takakuwa - Legacy - Japan

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This is one of the coolest decks I have seen in some time. The beater is Magus of the Tabernacle, which has a gigantic rear end for blocking, and can eliminate any and all opposing creatures provided there is no land ... Conveniently, the deck is full of land-eating Armageddons.

The Armageddon defense is everywhere. Flagstones of Trokair gives the deck an immediate land back. Crucible of Worlds works overtime, and also locks arms with Dust Bowl and Wasteland. Why Mox Diamond instead of Chrome Mox? Crucible of Worlds again ... They work as a team.

Over time, a soft lock of Smokestack and Crucible of Worlds can eat all the opponent's permanents but keep the Prison deck with just enough to stay not, you know, locked itself. In the mana-poor environment generated by this deck's spells and strategy, Magus of the Tabernacle and Ghostly Prison can keep this deck from ever being attacked successfully. Actual victory, though, will probably take a while.

Luiz Michielli - Legacy - Brazil

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This deck is very similar to CAL and Loam decks we have seen in Extended over the past couple of years. It has a nice quick kill with Countryside Crusher or Terravore into Burning Wish for Devastating Dreams ... Or it can play a longer game based on Life from the Loam card advantage and a Seismic Assault kill.

The one lift this deck gets over the Extended version is Mox Diamond (similar to Akihiro Takakuwa's Crucible of Worlds) ... Mox Diamond has essentially no drawback in a Life from the Loam deck.

Justin Cheung - Legacy - Australia

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Cheung's deck is similar to the Legacy Threshold decks of old: light permission, tons of cheap spells like Ponder and Brainstorm to fill the graveyard. In this deck, not only does Tarmogoyf cost two... but so does its black cousin Tombstalker (and Tombstalker has the added bonus of being invulnerable to Snuff Out, a free spell Cheung himself played).

Any given threat in this deck is going to be very significant, so the game plan will be to successfully drop one, then use Daze and Force of Will to keep it alive, using a combination of removal and disruption (all of which is cheap in this deck, if not free).

The disruption in Cheung's deck is not inconsiderable. He supplemented Wasteland with the seldom seen but always excruciating Sinkhole. This tag team is hell on certain mana-poor strategies. Additionally, Justin had Thoughtseize to keep the opponent off his game, or simply to protect a Tarmogoyf or Tombstalker in play.

    Standard
Black-White Heights1 Win
Faeries1 Top 4
Five-Color Control1 Top 4
Vengeant Reveillark1 Top 4

Michael Jacob - Standard - USA

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Michael Jacob's Black-White Heights deck ran all manner of token-generating creatures and spells, including Marsh Flitter, Cloudgoat Ranger, Spectral Procession, and the ubiquitous Bitterblossom. These all generate three or more creatures immediately (save Bitterblossom, which creates more than three creatures, but not immediately), making for superb synergy with Windbrisk Heights.

Many top players are now touting Ajani Vengeant as "the best card in Standard," but with no access to red mana, Michael went with the classic Goldmane version of Ajani. This Planeswalker could increase the size and stature of his token creatures in much the same way as a Glorious Anthem, turning his zillions of 1/1s into much more dangerous creatures.

The Black-White Heights deck is very rich in disruption. In addition to a quartet of Tidehollow Scullers main, Michael ran a pair of Thoughtseizes, with two more in the side. Head Games is a card we haven't really seen since the 2007 U.S. National Championships, but that Persecute stand-in, though more expensive, can really ruin the opponent's hand when it gets in.

All-in-all, a strong new deck that is not the same-old Fae and Five-Color Control, Kithkin and Demigod decks ... A nice change of pace that can compete with the top of the metagame.

I think that Black-White Heights (also called Black-White Tokens) is going to be an emerging strategy in Standard as it is quite good against the Demigod of Revenge-based decks and plays loads of powerful synergies that give it game in many matchups. So I made a video about this new deck, which you can view here:


Yuuya Watanabe - Standard - Japan

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This article has an absolute ton of Faeries in it ... so I am going to skip commentary on Watanabe's deck for now, saving discussion for Champion Antti Malin and returning superstars Karsten, Tsumura, and Asahara in the Top 8 section.

Brandon Lau - Standard - Australia

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Lau played a Vengeant Reveillark that looks suspiciously like his teammate Aaron Nicastri's undefeated Standard deck from Day One.

The Australian contingent took some of Osyp Lebedowicz's suggestions after last week (adding Spectral Procession) but removed Knight of the White Orchid, leaving Murderous Redcap and Burrenton Forge-Tender.

The deck is essentially the same "Boat Brew" we have discussed on two or three other occasions, one of the strongest decks in Standard (albeit not that popular due to a middling Faeries matchup), and arguably the preeminent Ajani Vengeant deck in the format. Its flexibility is there, able to go offensive with Figure of Destiny and Mogg Fanatic from the first turns, or it can play a methodical card advantage game around Ranger of Eos and Reveillark, with Siege-Gang Commander to finish.

Willy Edel - Standard - Brazil

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Five-Color Control decks have arguably the greatest flexibility of any decks in Standard at present due to their many Vivid lands and Reflecting Pools—plus high mana counts—which allow them to play essentially any spells.

Case in point, Edel ran a red-white planeswalker, a blue planeswalker, a green-white two drop, and a triple-colored-mana blue-black six as his creatures in the same deck as both Cruel Ultimatum and Jund Charm. The remarkable thing? No one bats an eyelash. That's just how these decks are set up.

Note the Bitterblossoms in Willy's sideboard...

    The Top 8
Faeries1 Win, 4 Top 8
Five-Color Control1 Top 8
Blightning Beatdown1 Top 8
Kithkin1 Top 8

In individual competition, Sunday morning initially looked bleak for American fans. The lone American in the Top 8, Jamie Parke, was driving a deck that even he joked put him in a challenging position for days two and three; Jamie posted only a 2-3-1 record on Day One with a Five-Color Control deck designed by Gabriel Nassif ... and New York based friends Jon Finkel and Steve Sadin rounded out more and more weak records for the deck.

Jamie Parke

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