Arms Race

Posted in Top Decks on February 18, 2010

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."

Tomorrow a couple hundred of the greatest Magic players in the world are going to ram their Blightnings into each other's Kabira Crossroads, their Putrid Leeches into each other's Sprouting Thrinaxes, in Pro Tour battle. Sphinx of Jwar Isle will shroud the skies beneath the shadows of its seemingly inviolate wings ... at least until that Baneslayer Angel shows up and shows it just who is the real king—or queen as the case may be—of the feathered 5/5 set. Landfall triggers will stack up as Arid Mesas pile down in the graveyard. Planeswalkers and Scute Mobs will warp the battlefield ... at least so long as they can weave and dodge around a pesky squad of Vampire Hexmages. Eldrazi Monument will pave an invisible road across the sky, giving us a window into a future world where Eye of Ugin might matter ... a lot; and, somehow, inexplicably, and unbelievably still, Lightning Bolt will remain Standard legal.

As usual, this PT is going to be a war. And like any good war, ultimately an arms race.

The best deck designers in the world are going to be putting their shoulders to the boulders, too, pushing archetypes to the imaginary apex with a little help from Worldwake, hopefully, to the pinnacle of deck design possibilities.

Of course you should be checking the official coverage here on nonstop tomorrow (and through the entirety of the weekend ... I suggest ctrl+r) to absorb any and all future Friday Night Magic technologies, but probably the most exciting part of the whole shebang will occur on Sunday as Brian David-Marshall welcomes Rich Hagon into the Top 8 webcast booth. Worlds 2009 was the grand send-off for my old webcast partner Randy Buehler, but I have a feeling that Brian and Rich are going to do a bang up job when Andre Coimbra repeats his Worlds performance this weekend (you know, just a guess).

You can check out the Pro Tour webcast on Sunday. Until then you can view the last of Randy's work; I for one am hoping for a repeat of the "haymaker" Magic that defined the Worlds Top 8.

... But—haymakers or no—what can we expect from the Constructed portion of this, the first Pro Tour of 2010?

With its second-set-driven Standard format, you can expect this Pro Tour to feature a tall stack of known quantities; and as with any good arms race, the decks will be bolstered with some of the new toys Worldwake has whipped up.

Jeff Akers - Vampires

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Vampires has recently raised its fangs as one of the premiere decks in Standard. The tribe's combination of power (fifth-turn Mind Sludge), synergy (anything plus Vampire Nocturnus), and creature hostility—all while avoiding the distractions of a lot of other colors—make Vampires a contender.

But what could make the tribe just a little bit better?

What about a lot bit?

Lookie What I Got:

Dead Reckoning

True story: Unnamed Pro Tour champion, testing for tomorrow's Pro Tour. Uncharacteristically, with a creature deck. Opponent runs out a Dead Reckoning; the target is something small, a Birds of Paradise perhaps. That's not the important part ... or the important creature in this exchange. What are you getting? queries the unnamed. His opponent isn't quite sure yet, shuffles through the available cards ... one of which is Gatekeeper of Malakir.

Oh, never mind. Next game! He concedes.

Red Decks

Petr Brozek has got to be the most upright member of the Boros community since Tsuyoshi Fujita, or at least Agrus Kos, Wojek Veteran.

Brozek was already the grandpappy of the deck that came to be known—via the dubbing dexterity of one Brian David-Marshall—as Barely Boros (his X-1 standout from the World Championships).

Petr Brozek, 5-1

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But with Worldwake in play, he brought us this:

Petr Brozek - "Brozek Deck Wins"

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Forget about the fact that this is an "Extended" deck (an Extended deck Petr used to crack a Grand Prix Top 8 less than one week ago) ... the vast majority of its cards—including 12 of its 13 creatures, 19 of its 24 "other spells" and the majority of its mana base—are Standard-legal.

To answer your question ....

Lookie What I Got:

Searing Blaze

To answer your next question (with a question), if Searing Blaze can tear through a room full of Tarmogoyfs and indestructible 20/20 tokens, what do you think it is going to do to a room full of comparatively teenie-weenie Nissa's Chosens, Great Sable Stags, and Emeria Angels?

Those Hateful, Hateful Basic Plains

Will Cavaglieri, 5-1

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William Cavaglieri shocked the world with his Top 8 appearace at Worlds—bereft of It Girl Baneslayer Angel no less—piloting his Mono-White creature deck.

Months have passed wince William's standout finish at Worlds, and individual players have further customized white creature decks, never missing a chance to play Devout Lightcaster in the sideboard, and even White Knight in the main! Take that, black!

But what is more hateful than a whole lot of anti-black cards is one superb anti-red option:

Lookie What I Got:

Kor Firewalker

Will Kor Firewalker prove a game changer for white? Every color already had the option to play Dragon's Claw, and white creature decks in particular have the option for Harm's Way or Refraction Trap; the difference that Kor Firewalker brings is simply 2 power. This is a card you can drop on the second turn, confident that it is burly enough to hide behind ... but one that can also attack, either "right back" or preemptively.

Control (or at least "Islands")

One of the puzzling perceptions of Standard, both Zendikar-driven and now Worldwake-enabled, is the position of blue. Is it now "back" with certain card drawing options from the new set? Was it ever actually the worst?

Personally, I find blue's bad reputation unfounded.

Originally I was on the blue-bashing bandwagon, a big fan of unmatched threats Bloodbraid Elf, Baneslayer Angel, and Ranger of Eos ... but relatively late developments with proactive Grixis, Esper, and "American Control"-style card combinations had me wondering.

In fact, blue might have already been the best!

I mean look at how blue can borrow an Ajani Vengeant, for instance:

Luis Scott-Vargas - UWR Control

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This is a Standard update that the incomparable Luis Scott-Vargas (high five!) used to win a Star City Games Standard Open just last month.

Powered by maybe the most underrated two-mana spell in the format—Spreading Seas—this deck does a great job of negating an opposing Jund deck's removal while winning via traditional "blue" routes to victory: card advantage, (light) permission, and monolithic late-game threats.

So what did blue get?

Lookie What I Got:

Jace, the Mind Sculptor

Already the darling of the pundits, Jace, the Mind Sculptor (along with Treasure Hunt) form the vanguard of Worldwake's blue renaissance (though, again, I am not 100% sure that blue was in the market for a renaissance so much as a rediscovery).

Jace Beleren has fallen at least somewhat in popularity over the recent months, alternating with Divination in many decks (if not being supplanted entirely by Divination) ... so don't look for a lot of which-Jace competition. My guess is that, especially with Treasure Hunt acting as a Brainstorm beneficiary, the Mind Sculptor will prove the more popular of the two Jaces.

Conley Woods - Charmed, I'm Sure

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This (again Extended) deck by the world's current leading rogue deck designer, Conley Woods, is the first home we've seen for Jace Version Two Point Oh. One thing that I have happened upon with this deck (plus Treasure Hunt) is to use the {+2} ability to set up a minimum two-for-one (by checking that a land is on top of your library), rather than the {0} "Brainstorm" option. The main incentive with the {+2} ability is that, while it is clearly less powerful, it adds loyalty to your planeswalker, helping to set up for an Ultimate kill.


Lookie What I Got:

Raging Ravine

Ah, the boogeyman.

Under the radar, much?

This is a deck that has avoided the hype surrounding Jace and Treasure Hunt, the flash of Kor Firewalker, and the unexpected success of an Extended Boros deck. Given its persistent popularity, I would guess that while probably not a 30+% component of the metagame, Jund will remain one of the most popular decks in the Pro Tour room.

Already possessed of a fragile mana base, the addition of a new dual land may be a welcome one for Jund; I have found Raging Ravine to be useful primarily at the end of a long attrition fight, the last 3/3 necessary for deal-closing. I say "may" because the inclusion of the new Worldwake creature-lands is a challenge for balance. On the one hand they are dual lands, generally welcome in three-color decks; on the other, they come into play tapped and can make for slow and sometimes awkward opening draws.

Lookie What I Got:


While Putrid Leech might be the third-best card in the average Jund list, we are living in a time where that notorious two-drop has been exchanged for everything from Rampant Growth to Siege-Gang Commander. For more ramp-oriented Jund lists, Explore might be an option or Rampant replacement. It acts like a Rampant Growth on turn two, and filters what might otherwise be a dead draw on turn ten. And heck, dropping a Raging Ravine is actually quite appropriate, suddenly unequivocally un-awkward.

Lookie What I Got (maybe):

Abyssal Persecutor

The X-Factor.

Ramp-style Jund decks especially are going to want to take a long look at this unique four-drop. At the very least, collateral requirements will give you something to do with all those excess Terminates and Maelstrom Pulses when you are squared off against Sphinx of Jwar Isle!

Naya Lightsaber

What about the champ?

Andre Coimbra, 4-2

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The Standard deck that boasted the best threats in the format—Bloodbraid Elf, Baneslayer Angel, and Ajani Vengeant—might have just found something even better to do with its Ranger of Eos.

Lookie What I Got:

Dragonmaster Outcast

Just one or two copies will be enough with four Rangers ... and while it is a turn slower than the preexisting Scute Mob, an unchecked Dragonmaster Outcast will pour out game-winners like no other threat.

Excited to see what happens with all the new toys yet?

Check back Friday to see if Dead Reckoning can keep an Outcast down, or if Dragons can rule the sky before Baneslayer Angel can show off her anti-Dragon aura. You might not be able to "See the World" from your seat at home ... but you can certainly kick back and watch the butt-kicking battles!

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