The Future

Posted in Top Decks on February 17, 2011

By Mike Flores

Last week I had reason to revisit probably my favorite article from my second or third run at The Dojo (Sci-Fi Channel version, Chris Senhouse's), which was entitled "The Rogue Theory." It opened with this imaginary vignette:

"Picture This:
'You are sitting across the table from a pair of 3/1 high flyers, controlled by Bob Maher, Jr., reigning Pro Tour Player of the Year, winner of last year's PT Chicago, incredibly nice guy, incredibly unstoppable. There is no one you would like to play less, except maybe Finke l ... or that Finkel-slaying, Teva-wearing, Rith-Awakening, Underground mizer, Kibler. Nice-guy-Bob is calm and cool and holding three cards.

Think Think THINK

Counter/control is to Maher what mana acceleration is to Mowshowitz; even the aggressive Tinker deck that Bob used to mize Player of the Year last year sided Rising Waters and Miscalculation ... and no one needs to mention his Grand Prix Kansas City and GP Seattle and PT Chicago Ped Oath performances ... You watched him mize the Disrupt last year. You watched him crush the overpowered free spell deck with no permanents in play. Bob swings savagely. It stings. He passes the turn. God, he has three cards in hand.

You stare intently at the pair of Airships still lying sideways in The Red Zone. You knock lightly on your library. He's just a Blue Skies deck. You knock lightly on your library. You draw whatever you needed. God, he's Bob Maher. God, he has three cards in hand. You need a cover spell for that Longbow Archers or Wrath of God or whatever it is. You watched him mize the Disrupt last year. You watched him crush the overpowered free spell deck with no permanents in play. You can smell the Thwart now. You wait a second. You plan ahead. He's just a Blue Skies deck. You pass the turn.

The only thing is, Bob doesn't have the Thwart. He never will. Instead, he untaps, and then taps his Airships, and then taps all your permanents with Tangle Wire. Or he makes all your land disappear with a Parallax Tide. Or he Washes you right Out of the tournament. Sorry chum, you just lost to the best worst deck in the tournament. You just got Rogued.'"

I was reminded of Bob's no-countermagic Rishadan Airship deck when looking over the Top 8 of Pro Tour Paris—Bob missed out on probably the greatest Top 8 of all time—with the "weak link" in the Top 8 being Jay Elarar (also with a Mono-Blue Rishadan Airship deck); there are so many parallels between that Chicago and last weekend.

The Chicago Top 8 Bob missed featured:

  1. Kai Budde
  2. Kamiel Cornelissen
  3. Brian Kibler
  4. Rob Dougherty
  5. Jon Finkel
  6. Michael Pustilnik
  7. Zvi Mowshowitz
  8. Jay Elarar

Of these, Doctor MikeyP is one of—if I recall correctly—only two triple-crown Magic Champions (individual Masters, Pro Tour, and Grand Prix; the other being Maher), yet is one of only two players in the Top 8 who are not already in the Pro Tour Hall of Fame! For his part, Elarar is a two-time Canadian National Champion among other accolades. Truly this is the most stacked Top 8 of all time.

I wonder if we won't be talking about Paris 2011 in a similar way ten years from now.

No, there is no Budde (busy making Top 8 of the Grand Prix, actually), nor Finkel in the Paris Top 8, but it seemed like a flag had been planted and something had changed in the world over the course of the first Magic weekend. If Paul Rietzl—who missed Top 8 of the concurrent Grand Prix by one Swiss point (the result of having to play one of his Pro Tour Top 8 matches)—had won maybe two more total games of Magic in Paris, he would probably be a lock for the Hall of Fame this year. Can you imagine how mighty?

The last time Paul did this well we got the best tournament report in ten years; I can't wait to see what he will cook up over at TCGPlayer this time around.

Ben Stark has long been regarded one of the game's elite players; I think the win in Paris—while it certainly doesn't lock him into the Hall of Fame—it certainly does get the ChannelFireball contributor into the conversation.

And what about a guy who was already in the conversation? Patrick Chapin has made a point to not use his massive popularity as a columnist at StarCityGames to his advantage in Hall of Fame voting. My guess is that with this feather in his resume's cap, he isn't going to have to this year.

Not if he keeps putting out decks like this Tezzeret build:

Patrick Chapin's Tezzeret

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This deck is the opening salvo for what we can only assume to be about two years of Tezzeret awesome sauce in Standard. I already think that Tezzeret will probably grow into the "#1 card in Standard" title when Jace, the Mind Sculptor rotates; there is no better testament than the fact that Chapin—the world's first and most vocal Jace booster—himself played only three copies of The Mind Sculptor, but four copies of the Agent of Bolas in this landmark list.

    How Does This Deck Work?

The deck revolves around mana acceleration and powerful planeswalkers. There are four copies of Everflowing Chalice, three copies of Sphere of the Suns, and a pair of Mox Opals. The Tezzeret deck works very hard to untap with one of the four-mana planeswalkers on the battlefield on turn three, at which point it's on.

Tezzeret can Impulse through the deck, generating card advantage while making spells like Galvanic Blast better. It locks down groups of creatures with Pyroclasm and Slagstorm, and forces the opponent to commit to the board with Tumble Magnet.

There are beautiful quirks and synergies to this deck: One Treasure Mage and one Wurmcoil Engine for it to get ... a Kuldotha Rebirth to block the opponent's Kuldotha Rebirth tokens after he hands you a Jinxed Idol. Plus, just a brutal Plan B: The eighteen main-deck artifacts make Stoic Rebuttal more consistently attractive than it is in other decks, plus a stack of Spreading Seas and Duress in the board, just for the fistfights.

Chapin's Tezzeret deck was played by Player of the Year hopeful Guillaume Matignon. He has more to say about the—ahem—innovative build in this video:

Though he didn't make Top 8, PT superstar Martin Juza also played an inventive Tezzeret deck, opening with a perfect 5-0 record to start the tournament:

Martin Juza's Kuldotha Forgemaster

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While also a Tezzeret deck—rather, a deck with four copies of Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas and many of the same cards—Juza characterizes the deck as a Kuldotha Forgemaster deck. He argues that if you can untap with Kuldotha Forgemaster on the battlefield, you will be able to find the win.

There are three huge cards that the Forgemaster finds:

  • Blightsteel Colossus
  • Myr Battlesphere
  • Mindslaver

  • In addition to attacking large itself, Myr Battlesphere is an ample source of Kuldotha Forgemaster fodder. Mindslaver and Blightsteel Colossus are each potential one-card wins, one of them literally so.

    Juza explains more here:

    Despite our detour to Tezzeret-land (and some deck lists and features with some of the best players in the game) the real story of the tournament was Caw-Go, or CawBlade as it is now being called. The reason I was initially reminded of the Great One, Bob Maher was Top 8 competitor Naoki Nakada's look:

    Naoki Nakada's CawBlade

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    Nakada's version of CawBlade—we certainly can't call it Caw-Go for reasons that will become immediately obvious—was the sole deck to post 28 points in the Swiss, leading all Constructed players prior to the Top 8.

    It is not so much a thing of beauty as it is a testament to his guts.

    Why did it remind me of Bob Maher in Chicago 2000? Like Maher way back, Nakada cut all the countermagic!

    Imagine playing against this deck in the Swiss. You have seen all kinds of Americans knocking around the top tables with similar lists—Squadron Hawks and Stoneforge Mystics grabbing up Sword of Feast and Famine—and you've, of course, seen Brian Kibler's Worlds deck from just a few months back.

    It's called Caw-Go, no?

    I really wonder how many matches Nakada stole over the course of the first two days just because his opponents were playing around countermagic that wasn't even there.

    That stones on this guy.

    So if he didn't have countermagic, what did he have?

    Nakada played a veritable Planeswalker family. He had Jace and Gideon like everybody else, but involved Elspeth Tirel in the main deck ... and Venser, the Sojourner, too! He played Tumble Magnets and Spreading Seas and Sun Titan to win the game.

    But what he had more than anything else, was an edge in the information war that he had to give up in the Top 8.

    Once he faced off against Ben Stark in a quasi-mirror—where Ben knew Nakada didn't have countermagic—the amazing edge Naoki had in the Swiss evaporated, and he fell to the eventual Champion:

    Ben Stark's CawBlade

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    Tom Martell's CawBlade

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    There is no other way to say it than—this was the best deck of the Pro Tour.

    Not only did two copies make Top 8 (Martell's main differs from Stark's by exactly one Misty Rainforest), but also there were three copies in the Top 16! Eric Froehlich (9th), Luis Scott-Vargas (10th), and Owen Turtenwald (12th) were all a mere one point out of Top 8. Erik Landriz finished two points out in 16th, with a substantially similar build as well.

    Oh yeah, and their deck both locked Player of the Year and won the motherloving Pro Tour!

      How Does This Deck Work?

    CawBlade is an update and an upgrade to Caw-Go, the Squadron Hawk-splashing White-Blue Control variant played by Brian Kibler and Brad Nelson at the World Championships. The deck finds remarkable improvement via the inclusion of Stoneforge Mystic, or more precisely Sword of Feast and Famine from Mirrodin Besieged.

    You see, White-Blue could have always played Stoneforge Mystic ... but they didn't. Now they can play four copies essentially to find one Sword (and a bullet Sylvok Lifestaff). When Sword of Feast and Famine is on the battlefield, the CawBlade deck literally transforms into another animal. The presence of Squadron Hawk always let the deck play a kind of "fish" aggro-control game (hassling from turn two or three), but Stoneforge Mystic allows the deck to transform into a tap-out deck ... simultaneous to being a true control deck!

    That has always been the divide.

    Do I want to tap out?

    When Meloku, the Clouded Mirror and Keiga, the Tide Star were legal in Standard, the answer was a bold, resounding, yes. Yes! Tap out! En route to his Pro Tour Honolulu Top 8, Osyp Lebedowicz pointed out that there was almost nothing anyone else could do that was on par with a resolved Keiga. Why not tap out? In these strategies, it was about having bigger and better threats, and and the countermagic was used more for controlling the tempo of the game.

    On the other side of the table is true control, where countermagic is used to protect key permanents, White spells are used to remove threats, and resources are built up and accumulated over time, until a massive imbalance in card advantage eventually results in the control victory. In the old days, that would have been Disrupting Scepter, Moat, and Serra Angel; today, the key permanents are largely synergistic planeswalkers.

    However when Sword of Feast and Famine is in play, you can play like a threat-focused tap-out deck ... but then untap all of your lands so you can sit back on countermagic like a true control deck!

    Until you've seen the full regalia in action—Gideon Jura, Jace, the Mind Sculptor, and Sword of Feast and Famine—you might not fully realize how dominating this strategy can be. Gideon Jura was already amazing at protecting his buddy Jace, the Mind Sculptor (remember how a few months ago, Kyle Sanchez said it "feels impossible to lose against pretty much any deck"?). But with Sword of Feast and Famine in play, getting everyone to attack Gideon also means getting all the blockers out of the way so you can stick the Sword hit!

    In this deck, Squadron Hawk serves three core purposes. The first one is as an early mana dump that can generate card advantage (albeit less spectacularly than some of the deck's other routes). You can play it early and block; it makes a great Sylvok Lifestaff-holder for purposes of blocking Vampire Lacerators or Pulse Trackers ... As a card advantage engine, Squadron Hawk is quite good but not really world-shattering... Until you add in Jace, the Mind Sculptor. In a long game, the two can combine to make Jace even more impressive.

    In this second function, you play a Squadron Hawk, get more Squadron Hawks, and then put some back into your deck with Jace, the Mind Sculptor. Then you can play a Squadron Hawk, draw back the Squadron Hawks you put back, and get a free shuffle with your deck.

    Lastly, Sword of Feast and Famine would not be much without a body to carry it into battle. Squadron Hawk gives you four such bodies.

    Over the course of the Top 8 commentary, there was some debate over whether the Nakada or Stark style of CawBlade should be what you are bringing with you to Friday Night Magic; my guess is that the Stark version will be the more enduring. Not only has it got the cachet of a PT victory, but as we said before, Nakada's deck loses some of its value with the loss of its no-countermagic surprise value.

    Brad Nelson secured his Player of the Year title with CawBlade. More on this:

    Amazingly, the Paris Top 8 dealt a third version of CawBlade!

    Shintaro Ishimura's CawBlade

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    Ishimura's deck diverged from the others in a couple of different places. The most surprising was that all of his "Caws" were in the sideboard. Instead, he focused more on Stoneforge Mystic for creature-based card advantage, going and getting one of two copies of Sword of Body and Mind as well as Sword of Feast and Famine main deck.

    Ishimura also played a more aggressive creature mix ... Student of Warfare and Mirran Crusader lack some of the virtues of a Squadron Hawk, but they certainly hit much harder, especially when equipped.

    Paris gave us two very different versions of Boros beatdown in its Top 8, including Paul Rietzl's repeat with Steppe Lynx:

    Paul Rietzl's Boros

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    What might seem odd for a deck that is almost wholly focused on aggression is the twenty-six lands. That's a lot of lands for a deck with nine attack-oriented one-drops!

    However, not only does Paul have a fairly expensive high end with Hero of Oxid Ridge and Koth of the Hammer, he has a ton of landfall triggers from Steppe Lynx to Plated Geopede to Adventuring Gear ... So the extra lands give the deck function as much as they do mana.

    As with the White-Blue counterparts, these Boros decks feature Stoneforge Mystic to get Swords, and Squadron Hawks to carry them. Paul's deck retains the Cunning Sparkmage +1 Basilisk Collar combination (the latter facilitated by Stoneforge Mystic) as a dynamic duo out of the sideboard.

    Vincent Lemoine

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    Lemoine came in just under Rietzl, with twenty-five lands in his build, so still pretty heavy on the lands.

    The spiciest card in this main is Bonehoard, a kind of Lhurgoyf-Equipment that can ensure long game victories against other creature-based decks (especially given its ability to keep brawling and brawling after whatever was wearing it previously dies), and as a follow up to Day of Judgment.

    Lemoine eschewed the Cunning Sparkmage combo, citing the prevalence of Arc Trails. He played more, and better, anti-control cards, including more copies of Koth of the Hammer, and a three-of commitment to Luminarch Ascension.

    Nico Bohny

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    Rounding out the Paris archetypes was Nico Bohny with his second PT Top 8, playing Green-White Quest.

      How Does This Deck Work?

    Any Quest for the Holy Relic deck can just play super-aggressive.

    First turn Razorverge Thicket, Quest for the Holy Relic, Memnite, Ornithopter.

    Second turn, some combination of more Memnites and Ornithopters and maybe a Kor Skyfisher thrown in. Point being, if you had a zero on turn one, you can be attacking on the second turn with Argentum Armor online, and victory almost assuredly assured.

    The Quest decks can play like more vanilla White Weenie decks. As with some of the other White decks, we see Squadron Hawks (incidentally great for setting up Quest for the Holy Relic) and Stoneforge Mystics. Stoneforge Mystic can actually go and get Argentum Armor, slap it onto the battlefield at a deep discount, and then move it onto a potential attacker with a Kor Outfitter.

    Green adds a great deal of spice to the strategy.

    Fauna Shaman allows you to throw a bunch of Vengevines into the graveyard, and buy them back with super cheap Memnites and Ornithopters. You can find a singleton Stoneforge Mystic to get the Equipment you need, or a singleton Kor Outfitter to put it where you want. Plus, you are just playing with Fauna Shaman, and it is awesome, and it can get you any number of bullets from the sideboard—Linvala, Keeper of SilenceWar Priest of Thune; and so on.

    It's hard to find a more explosive beatdown deck, while Vengevine + Fauna Shaman shares quite a bit of staying power.

    As you can see from these numerous deck lists and videos, despite the apparent break by CawBlade variants, there are quite a few options to play in post-Mirrodin Besieged Standard. Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas gives us a new flagship, Sword of Feast and Famine redefines how blue can play while bolstering beatdown at the same time, and Boros returns to a position very near the top of the field.

    But ...

    Um ...

    What happened to Valakut and Vampires?

    I figure Primeval Titan was just taking the weekend off. He'll be back.

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