Posted in Top Decks on March 17, 2011

By Mike Flores

There are a lot of different ways to tell the story.

Affinity was an unbeatable Mirrodin Block deck, and so dominating in Standard that it not only took all eight spots in many a Regional Championships, but many of its components were later banned in that format (Arcbound Ravager, Disciple of the Vault, and even Ancient Den, which had never hurt anyone) and others (Æther Vial). But at the time of the Extended-format Pro Tour Columbus, it was just a deck that everyone knew was going to be one of the best possible options.

Vampiric Tutor was legal.

Energy Flux was legal.

You could play one Energy Flux and find it with the Vampiric Tutors you were playing already.

So not long afterward everyone had Energy Fluxes. There were so many Energy Fluxes that it wasn't fun to try to play Affinity any more. So no more Affinity in the gauntlet; gauntlets. End of story, right?

Not even close. The Energy Fluxes left the sideboards! I mean, no one could possibly play Affinity. No one in his right mind, right?

... That's what everyone thought; almost everyone, anyway. It was like there was one big, giant, back office handshake. "Pinky swear that no one plays Affinity. Let's all play awful versions of The Rock, instead!"

Um. That's not what happened at all. Sure, there were tons and tons of terrible The Rock decks (none in the Top 8 though)... but rookie sensation Pierre Canali tore through the Pro Tour with his Affinity deck. It was Pierre's first Pro Tour, if memory serves. He had a good version of one of the best strategies, and defied the prevailing forces of Pernicious Deed at every turn. Canali had not yet acquired his PT win (obviously) or Rookie of the Year titles, but I, personally, was pretty sure he was going to win the Pro Tour when I saw him put about a googol modular counters onto one dude and smash through for lethal... with an Energy Flux on the battlefield.

"You can't really be that surprised," Randy Buehler said from The Booth(tm). "I mean Affinity is the best deck in Standard."

I kind of feel the same way about Brandon Nelson's PTQ-winning Extended deck from Madison, Wisconsin:

Brandon Nelson's Red-White Aggro

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We have seen considerable format crossover in recent weeks. White-Blue Caw-Blade was the best deck in Standard at Pro Tour Paris, then the same kind of deck started to perform in Extended. Why not its opposite number from the Pro Tour final table?

Nelson's deck has elements of both today's red-white deck and last year's Boros Bushwhacker. For those of you who don't quite remember that version of Red-White Beatdown, Ranger of Eos can get a whole bunch of different one-drops: Goblin Guide, the formidable Steppe Lynx, old favorite Figure of Destiny... and of course the singleton Goblin Bushwhacker.

The Goblin Bushwhacker is an awesome beater, especially when the opponent is tapped for a Day of Judgment or similar. Every single Plated Geopede and Steppe Lynx will hit very hard—and immediately—so that you can play a bit like a combo deck.

Nelson's deck is a mix of old and new. In addition to last year's Boros deck, he has a lot of this year's favorite cards. Stoneforge Mystic can find the solo Sword of Feast and Famine, or marry Cunning Sparkmage to Basilisk Collar.

All in all, a nice surprise out of the team of Red-White Aggro.

Speaking of an old strategy that you might not have expected out of Extended, Robert Withrow brought back White Weenie with little word or warning:

Robert Withrow's White Weenie

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We haven't seen a deck like this in Extended... maybe in years. Even the performing White Weenie deck from Paul Rietzl's Pro Tour Amsterdam was differentiated by its speed and Steppe Lynxes. Withrow's deck is a stone's throw from a Block Kithkin deck. Of its twenty-four creatures, eighteen are Kithkin, four are Kithkin-sympathizing Cloudgoat Rangers, and only Ranger of Eos (who, can you know, find more and more Kithkin) is a legitimate off-brand beater.

The deck has some additional old favorites: for instance, Spectral Procession + Windbrisk Heights. Windbrisk Heights isn't as dramatic as it is in the Green-White Summoning Trap deck, but it can still represent a savings against a Cloudgoat Ranger (or just an extra card).

White Weenie—especially White Weenie with a ton of Burrenton Forge-Tenders—isn't what we have been conditioned to expect so far in the format, but it can certainly be strong in the metagame... especially if Red Decks rise and blur the line between Standard and Extended metagames as have some other builds.

The Wisconsin PTQ that showcased the above Boros and Kithkin decks also featured two essentially identical RDW decks.

Mike Zeimentz's Red Deck Wins

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Chris Osinski's Red Deck Wins

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Hot on the heels of Patrick Sullivan's Open Series win in Edison, NJ with his Standard Red Decl Wins comes a near-win on the part of Ziementz and a pretty clear statement for local deck performance. My guess is that these decks—this deck really—are pretty good. Twenty-two lands, four of everything save two crammed-on-top Ball Lightnings, and a pretty streamlined spell suite including four Searing Blazes and four Volcanic Fallouts.

You know those white-blue decks with the Stoneforge Mystics and the cross-format swashbuckling success? You can't quite burn every creature that they draw to death in response to every Equipment equip (because, you know, Kitchen Finks can be a jerk like that), but between twenty removal cards, some of which kill more than one dude, with more Arc Trails and Magma Sprays out of the board? You can come pretty close! And the red dudes are so fast and have such bad attitudes that you might be able to win before you get called on it.

Tunnel Ignus?

Scapeshift-style decks are still out there:

Rob Marquardt's Red Deck Wins

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Blue-centered Valakut decks still need Prismatic Omen on the battlefield but are otherwise still awfully good at winning. The combination of Ponders, Preordains, green acceleration, and one-card combo wins via Scapeshift is, in sum, still awfully good. Cryptic Command solves most problems, and the deck's toolbox including everything from Firespout to Primal Command can fill in a lot of holes.

Speaking of toolboxes:

David Gleicher's Reflecting Pool Control

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It's nice to see a five-color deck back in Top 8 position.

At the beginning of the season, starting from Day Three of Pro Tour Paris, various builds of four- and five-color control were popular among the best players on Tour. We saw everything from Sunblast Angel to Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker defining different builds. Gleicher's is pretty interesting.

Though it has the mana base and overall trappings of a Five-Color Control deck (starts on Vivid lands and Reflecting Pools and plays everything up to and including Cruel Ultimatum), David battled with planeswalkers aplenty: Ajani Vengeant; Elspeth, Knight-Errant; Jace, the Mind Sculptor; and even Gideon Jura! This is a deck that seems like a five-color but probably plays like a Red-White-Blue Planeswalkers deck from circa last summer.

More blur.

Similar colors; couldn't be more different:

Zach Jesse's Reflecting Pool Control

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Zach Jesse ran what looks like the greatest hits of blue and red, with Creeping Tar Pit and Crumbling Necropolis in the mana mix primarily for sideboard cards (Countersquall, Anathemancer).

Yes, this deck has a lot of cool stuff going on. Demigod of Revenge in a control deck, big burn next to Counterspells... and a Time Warp! But I can't help but feel like some of it looks incomplete. It is a little surprising to see these colors, the potential to hit seven mana, and Cryptic Command... but no Cruel Ultimatum. Even just one Pestermite? You instinctively scour the deck list for a Splinter Twin, but find neither.

Of course there is no reason you have to play Cruel Ultimatum or Splinter Twin. The cards overall are very good, and Demigod of Revenge is probably even better in a deck that can draw into re-buys with Jace or Preordain instead of just topdecking and crossing its fingers.

Rounding out this Top 8 was the ever-popular Green-White Summoning Trap deck, mono-creatures this time instead of any Swords or planeswalkers:

William Nichols's Green-White Summoning Trap

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We spent about a third of last week's article going over a similar deck, so at this point let's blur over to the Standard format to close out this article:

No secret that Caw-Blade is one of the best decks —if not the best deck—in Standard. Recent updates to Caw-Blade have included red-white-blue adding Lightning Bolt and Cunning Sparkmage. The red-white-blue deck, especially when it first came out, offered a powerful edge in the mirror. The next step seems to be moving from red to black:

Gerry Thompson's White-Blue-Black Caw-Blade

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Doom Blade and Go for the Throat give the black version a similar array of spot kill to the red version's Lightning Bolts, but the black versions can also take out Gideon Jura and Celestial Colonnade.

In addition to an upgrade to dual land (at least for the purposes of braining an opposing Jace, the Mind Sculptor) the biggest plus sign that the black deck has for it is Inquisition of Kozilek. In addition to giving the deck something good to do, early, Inquisition of Kozilek is a superb long-game hold. You can keep it in your hand until you need to resolve something (checking for countermagic) or before you want to start attacking Jace (to check if the opponent has some kind of removal for your Creeping Tar Pit).

At the same time (excepting the loss of Tectonic Edge), the White-Blue-Black Caw-Blade deck, like the Red-White-Blue version, can do most everything that the original awesome deck did. While losing the Edge (and usually a goodly number of counterspells) can spell trouble against Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle, the black version can borrow Memoricide to gobble up Primeval Titan a turn or two before the opponent can cast them.

Black looks to be the Caw-Blade build of choice at the moment—and given its Top 8 performance in the hands of a player of the caliber of Gerry Thompson, it is probably one that you should be aware of, if you are in fact planning to prepare for Standard.

If you are like me, you must be loving the ever-changing face of these metagames, across the different formats. Players jockeying for an edge while staying with an engine or deck philosophy they know works (White-Blue Caw-Blade to Red-White-Blue CawBlade to White-Blue-Black and so on)... and you can flip over to Extended and see from the dominance of Faeries, to the rise of White-Blue Caw-Blade (there too), to a PTQ Top 8 like Madison's where we see neither deck. Tons of opportunity, tons of chances to customize your deck and even "go your own way."

One thing's for sure: If you're preparing for Standard or Extended right now... You won't get bored.

Good luck this weekend (if applicable)!

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