Content, Character, and Kibler

Posted in Top Decks on February 16, 2012

By Mike Flores

The last time we had one of these Pro Tour-ish thingies, the 2011 World Championships, we talked about the importance of character over content in terms of making memorable moments.

This year's Pro Tour Dark Ascension was nothing if not memorable. First of all, it took place in paradise (my favorite Pro Tour ever, by the way, was Mark Herberholz's Pro Tour Honolulu... if you've ever been to one of these, in Hawaii, you would know why); secondly, Pro Tour Dark Ascension marked the beginning of a whole new level of online coverage for the million-dollar Black LotusMagic: The Gathering Pro Tour. If you appreciated the nonstop video coverage by Pro Tour Historian Brian David-Marshall; the never-ending enthusiasm of the voice of the Pro Tour, Rich Hagon; and the steady authority of Sheldon Menery (and every other awesome coverage person) make sure to let Wizards know.

I, for one, was devotedly glued to the feature matches by some of the game's legends (*cough* Jon Finkel *cough*) with every available second.

... and if the quick responses on Twitter and Facebook can be taken for anything, it is that thousands of you felt the same.


So... content.

Was Pro Tour Dark Ascension the greatest PT experience of all time?

If Twitter streams by enthusiastic judges and the chatter of on-hand reporters are to be believed, it was at least "certainly close."

I personally think a handful of Top 8s (at least) outdo the awesomeness of Pro Tour Dark Ascension, with its mix of young lions and triple Hall of Fame rings, but that doesn't stop this Pro Tour from setting a high bar.

If there is anything to be taken away, I think, it is less the content of the coverage itself but more in how spectacularly the presentation was delivered. We had more deck techs than you can shake a stick at (see below) and got to live the tense moments of Jon topdecking the Drogskol Captain or Kibler topdecking the second Whipflare. We saw Brian's snap-keep in the fifth game of the finals, knowing almost before seeing how his hand would play out that it was going to be the nigh-insurmountable fourth on the play: a double-accelerated Primeval Titan.

Primeval Titan | Art by Aleksi Briclot

But all that said, the content was still pretty great, with video feeding into text coverage and bonus coverage... I really felt like Greg Collins and staff took it to the next level on this one.

Did I mention to let everyone know if you liked it?


This leaves us with character.

What about that Samuele Estratti?

Before Pro Tour Dark Ascension, Estratti—despite being a Pro Tour champion—was not particularly feared or revered by opponents or fans.

But after getting to see the Pro Tour Philadelphia champ in action? People were talking about him like he was a Jedi Master, crediting him with one of the top twenty-five bluffs of all time, and, on camera, victimizing a Top 16 player from Estratti's own PT win.

What about the narrative that developed as the late rounds drew to a close?

There could be three Hall of Famers in the Top 8 (+PVDDR!) was all anyone could say.

And how about how that narrative evolved as the performing numbers narrowed? How could the last two matches have been characterized? Differently characterized?

Finkel against Kibler was almost a David and Goliath tale... With Finkel cast as the unlikely undersized shepherd, Kibler as the muscle-bound giant warrior. Finkel—generally considered the most talented Magic player of all time—was in "a bad matchup," with his back against the wall before the first spell was cast.

Then, unexpectedly, Jon took the lead... only to be thwarted by Kibler's topdeck.

And then, that last play?

Doesn't matter that none of the people at home making whatever comments didn't actually realize Jon was playing around Inferno Titan (much greater chance of that appearing than triple metalcrafted Galvanic Blasts). Everyone felt so close to the action.

And is Kibler over Finkel really that much of a surprise?

Someone hasn't read The Ten Greatest Battles of All Time (see #5).

If Jon had won, it would have been a very different story surrounding the finals.

    Old Versus New

Geist of Magic Past versus Geist of Magic Present.

The Nuevo-fanboys among readers might have even cast the final as a battle for Game of All Time, rather than "just" another PT title (as if a PT title weren't prize enough).

That would have been a pretty good story. Very character-driven.

But the story we got instead was like a refrain against how all the Pro Tours seem to have gone with significant Constructed components since Stoneforge Mystic met Jace, the Mind Sculptor. You know, the CawBlades and the Tempered Steels, and now the all-Huntmaster of the Fells-final.

The "real" story: "ChannelFireball dominates another Pro Tour."

Yes, these were two titans of the game, packing Titans.

Two of the best players on the Pro Tour today—one of them already a storied Hall of Fame player—on the same team, playing (essentially) the same list.

I don't know if a lot of people talked about this, even, but...

No matter who won, one of these guys was going to be a two-time Pro Tour champion.

When the dust settled it was the mighty DragonMaster—who made his first Pro Tour Top 8 by smashing fellow Hall of Famers Jon Finkel and Zvi Mowshowitz with Rith, the Awakener enchanted with Armadillo Cloak, who won Pro Tour Austin by declaring Baneslayer Angel the best large creature of all time—who once again produced a winning result with a red-green deck with a gigantic fatty top-end.

And no offense to either the Invasion Dragon or the lovely Baneslayer Angel, but I think this fatty has them both beat:

There were many good decks to show up at Pro Tour Dark Ascension, but I think only two of those decks will—at least in the short term—form the boundaries of the Standard metagame. One of those two decks (and I think the more popular in the near term) will of course be the deck that lay stacked on either side of the table in the final match: Red-Green Wolf Run Ramp.

Brian Kibler's Red-Green Wolf Run Ramp

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Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa's Red-Green Wolf Run Ramp

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It is not precisely true that Kibler and PV played a true mirror in the finals—Kibler played a second copy of Garruk, Primal Hunter in his sideboard, while PV went with a second copy of Combust.

By now, you probably know how this deck operates. Lots of mana acceleration in Birds of Paradise, Green Sun's Zenith (for the Birds of Paradise), Rampant Growth, Sphere of the Suns, and even Solemn Simulacrum ramp the deck to six mana.

And once it gets to six mana...

You know what time it is?

Prime time!

Primeval Titan searches up Kessig Wolf Run and Inkmoth Nexus and—if the rest of the deck doesn't do you in—Inkmoth Nexus can quickly put 10 poison on the enemy, often in just one or two swings, due to the massive amount of mana the Wolf Run deck can put into play.

The Pro Tour Dark Ascension ChannelFireball deck differs from earlier builds (this one is based in large part on the deck Jun'ya Iyanaga used to beat so many ChannelFireball members back at Worlds) in a couple of ways:

  1. More sweep—The ChannelFireball deck plays five main-deck sweep cards: all four Slagstorms and a Whipflare (with an additional Whipflare in the sideboard). Sweep cards are powerful in a format so largely defined by small creatures like Delver of Secrets or Champion of the Parish. That second Whipflare was the defining topdeck of Pro Tour Dark Ascension, staving off Kibler's elimination and setting up the eventual win over Finkel in the Top 4.
  2. Huntmaster of the Fells—This card is the major addition to Wolf Run from Dark Ascension, and it is a doozy. Not only is Huntmaster of the Fells like Loxodon Hierarch (4 total power and 4 toughness plus life gain for four mana), but it spreads that over two bodies (to make for better blocking). In addition, Huntmaster of the Fells is a Werewolf that flips into Ravager of the Fells (which is awesome). What is odd for this card is that you often want to see Ravager of the Fells transform back into Huntmaster of the Fells. You get more life, you get a Wolf, and you can skip your next turn to transform it back into beast mode (with its complimentary ping and ping).

Generally, I think this is going to be the super big deck in Standard. Be prepared.

"The Other" Ramp Deck:

Mamoru Nagai's Wolf Run Ramp

Download Arena Decklist

Mamoru Nagai played a different Wolf Run/Primeval Titan deck, with black as the secondary color, which was modeled on Conley Woods's Grand Prix-winning deck from Orlando.

In the black version we see a rededication to removal (Doom Blade and Go for the Throat are good against other Titans, Black Sun's Zenith and Ratchet Bomb are great against little guys).

In addition, this deck has the capability for Glissa lockdown. Specifically, you can use Green Sun's Zenith to find Glissa, the Traitor, and then use Ratchet Bomb to set up an "infinite" Ratchet Bomb defense.

Despite having black as the secondary color, the Woods-cum-Nagai deck still has a spot of red—good enough for Kessig Wolf Run activations and a sideboard splash of Ancient Grudge.

    Delver of Secrets

The other big strategy in Standard is going to be Delver of Secrets.

Delver of Secrets feeds into a lot of the things many Magic players love about the game: fast, powerful cards like Delver of Secrets and Snapcaster Mage, lots of options (Ponder and Gitaxian Probe), tempo, and the ability to hold a lead once you have it (Vapor Snag, Mana Leak, etc.).

Matthew Costa played a "standard" Standard Delver list to make Top 8:

Matthew Costa

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What might be the more popular Delver deck, though, is the one played by two Hall of Famers in the Top 8:

Jon Finkel's Delver

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Jelger Wiegersma's Delver

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This deck takes the standard Delver strategy, adds black, and takes it from there.

Black is in the mix in the form of Darkslick Shores and one Swamp (with Evolving Wilds) to pay the flashback cost on Lingering Souls. Lingering Souls, like the already mighty Moorland Haunt, makes Spirits. Drogskol Captain buffs Spirits.

Now things get really crazy. Dungeon Geists is also a Spirit. Not only does it get the hookup from Drogskol Captain, but Dungeon Geists is pretty good at locking down a Titan.

You know what non-Spirit is great with Drogskol Captain?

Phantasmal Image.

You can copy Drogskol Captain with Phantasmal Image and... All of a sudden not only is Drogskol Captain now hexproof, Phantasmal Image—which is normally super-un-hexproof—is also hexproof!

Oh, and all your Spirits are like 8/8s or whatever. Attack, you.

Here is Jon’s Deck Tech video:

Denniz Rachid played a white-blue deck that isn't precisely "Delver," although it does play four copies of Delver of Secrets:

Denniz Rachid's Humans-Delver

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Rachid played kind of a Humans/Delver mashup, with Champion of the Parish buffed not by Lingering Souls but Gather the Townsfolk. In addition, he played one copy of the previous-level Lingering Souls, Midnight Haunting.

Of all the cool things we have seen decks like Humans and Delver do since the printing of Innistrad, I think the new interaction of being able to pump Champion of the Parish at instant speed—with a Snapcaster Mage—might be the coolest (or at least cutest).

Rounding out the Top 8 was Lukas Blohon, who dissented from the two mainline strategies. But like the ChannelFireball finalists, he managed to jam four copies of Huntmaster of the Fells into his Birthing Pod deck:

Lukas Blohon's Birthing Pod

Download Arena Decklist

This is a green-white Birthing Pod deck.

It can get a quick Birthing Pod into play (even second turn, on a Birds of Paradise—especially against Control), and then use Birthing Pod to pay 1–2 mana per turn to step up to more and more powerful cards, turn after turn. Michael Jacob once compared Birthing Pod to Jace, the Mind Sculptor—both cost four, both give you lots of options, both can buy you a card per turn (or save you some mana). The card is certainly quite powerful.

Here is a potential path for Blohon's build:

  1. Birds of Paradise
  2. Strangleroot Geist
  3. Blade Splicer
  4. Huntmaster of the Fells
  5. Acidic Slime
  6. Wurmcoil Engine
  7. Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite

Along the way, Strangleroot Geist, Blade Splicer, Huntmaster of the Fells, and Wurmcoil Engine all leave bodies to keep helping. Acidic Slime destroys a land (or maybe someone else's Birthing Pod!) when it enters play, and those Wurmcoil Engine remnants are 5/5 while the opponent's creatures might be swept entirely. Any of the token creators can give Lukas the opportunity to re-start his Birthing Pod chain if he would like, zero to one.

Strangleroot Geist, of course, isn't just a great undying option for Birthing Pod, but a great offensive creature. Hi-yah!

As I said earlier (and repeatedly), Pro Tour Dark Ascension was a first in terms of the quality of video coverage. Extending past matches to great Deck Techs with top players and interesting lists.

I leave you with a variety of these from Honolulu. Of particular note would be Raphael Levy's deck. Of them all, I think Raph's has the greatest chance of putting a monkey wrench into the guts of the projected metagame: fast like Delver, huge like Primeval Titan!

Soul Control with Orrin Beasley

Tezzeret with Shouta Yasooka

Frites with Raphael Levy

HippoBlade with Caleb Durward

Mono-Black with Jasper Johnson-Epstein

Birthing Pod with Gaudenis Vidugiris

Mono-Green with Todd Anderson

Black-White Tokens with Rob Dougherty

Wolf Run Ramp with Eric Froehlich

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