Great Looks at Great Decks

Posted in Top Decks on August 26, 2010

By Mike Flores

This past weekend crowned a number of new 2010 National Champions. Even better—especially for you at home, who were not lucky enough to view the action in real life—we have some awesome new looks at some of our favorite archetypes ... plus a couple of brand new ones! One of the most diverse—inspired even—Standard formats in years continues with names you might already know, like Mythic Conscription and Pyromancer Ascension, plus soon-to-be favorites like Dredge-uh-Vine and Soul Sisters. Let's go!

    Mythic Conscription

Josh Utter-Leyton's Mythic Conscription

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Our first look at an old—and resurgently dominant—favorite is your 2010 U.S. National Champion Joshua Utter-Leyton with Mythic Conscription. Already a great deck, Utter-Leyton's look is unique in how streamlined it is. One of his Top 8 opponents, John "Conrad" Kolos, praised the deck by saying that it is like other Mythic Conscription decks ... but with none of the "bad" cards.

In that sense, the deck is both curious and wonderful by what it doesn't have. A great many Bant decks (including the successful builds from other Nationals!) these days are hybrids. The lines between Next Level Bant and Mythic Conscription (and even Naya) have, by and large, been blurred; blurred as well by further hybridizations including everything from planeswalkers to Fauna Shaman strategies. Champions of "the Blue, the Green, and the White" have been pitching Vengevine to find their Sovereigns of Lost Alara, cutting back on the actual copies of Eldrazi Conscription. In some places they are even adding Squadron Hawk for both future Fauna Shaman fodder and as a self-contained re-buy for the Vengevine.

Utter-Leyton's deck has none of that.

This is a deck that has returned to the fundamental strengths of the Mythic strategy. Lots of lands. All the mana accelerators ... and a pair of Explores! He wanted to get his lands out in order to hit his threats. He really wanted to get his lands out to hit his threats.

And what about those threats?

Utter-Leyton's configuration is unambiguous in its single-mindedness.

Four copies of Knight of the Reliquary.

Four copies of Sovereigns of Lost Alara.

No melting pot of Rhinos or Angels or anything else. His next best option with his copious mana was just to hit Elspeth and Jace, the Mind Sculptor. Along with the addition of Mana Leak, the refocus towards a planeswalker offense rather than a creature-forcing one gave Utter-Leyton the subtle ability to play White-Blue Control's game, albeit a much faster variation of it thanks to all that acceleration.

From the sideboard ...

Bojuka Bog: A singleton that works in concert with Knight of the Reliquary, Bojuka Bog is the utterly available sworn enemy of Vengevine, Extractor Demon, and Call to Mind.

Celestial Purge: A mana-efficient answer to everything from Putrid Leech to Hell's Thunder to Pyromancer Ascension.

Linvala, Keeper of Silence: Utter-Leyton's deck is somewhat less vulnerable to Linvala because he "only" gets his Birds and Elves shut off. But because of all his lands and Explores, he is in far less trouble than, say, a deck that needs Fauna Shaman online to look good. At the same time, the combination of fourteen accelerators and four copies of Linvala can make for serious problems going the other way. Sorry Birds/Elves/Hierarchs/Shamans/Sparkmages/etc.


Brad Nelson's Dredge-uh-Vine

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David Ochoa's Dredge-uh-Vine

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Who has inherited the bounties of the graveyard? Fauna Shaman.

The Dredgevine decks of previous seasons already played Misty Rainforest and Verdant Catacombs to power up Hedron Crab. But now those green-fetching options are going for—believe it or not—actual Forests! The secret to this deck's synergy is that Fauna Shaman can set up the same kinds of absurd draws that Merfolk Looter and Enclave Cryptologist did in the past ... but actually aim.

Your goal with Dredge-uh-Vine in front of you is to flop Vengevines and Extractor Demons into the graveyard however you can, then haste them into the battlefield, hopefully crashing forward at the same time with Renegade Dopplegangers.

Same as it ever was, right?

Unlike the last look at Dredgevine, Dredge-uh-Vine can actually castVengevine with Noble Hierarch, Birds of Paradise, or just plain Forest, reducing the number of awkward draws the former Blue-Black version could be subject to ... and in fact, turning those into synergistic opportunities for offense.

    Mono-Green Eldrazi Ramp

John Kolos's Mono-Green Eldraz

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Conrad Kolos made his second appearance in a United States National Championships Top 8, this time with a Mono-Green Eldrazi Ramp deck based on Pol Uros's from the Spain National Championships just a few weeks ago.

Conrad described his choice as being "a worse Primeval Titan deck than Valakut ... but a better Summoning Trap deck."

The reason his Summoning Traps can be so good is that if he can accelerate to six, Kolos could potentially Trap into not just a mere Siege-Gang Commander, but an Eldrazi giant such as Emrakul, the Aeons Torn or Ulamog, the Infinite Gyre.

I always considered this strategy to be powerful but ultimately a blunt object. Conrad, however, played it in quite a cerebral fashion. The decisions he made with Primeval Titan varied greatly depending on not just his opponent, not just the pace of the battlefield, but what he thought might happen in the near future.

For example, if he were getting beat down, Conrad might stall with multiple Khalni Gardens as "chump" blockers while he set up for Primeval Titan counterattacks.

If he were up against another Titan deck, he might grab two Tectonic Edges to take out Valakut before it could take out his Titan (or him).

And there were all kinds of different factors around when to get an Eye of Ugin. If he felt the Titan was not long for the world, he might get Eye of Ugin to rebuild offensively. Subtly, Eye of Ugin "essentially enters the battlefield untapped" so if he started off by finding two Eldrazi Temples on his own turn, his first attack with Primeval Titan might find Eye of Ugin which would discount the payment for an impending Eldrazi or All Is Dusteven though he couldn't tap it for mana immediately post-combat.

One of the limitations we have lamented for some weeks is the seeming randomness of ramp-on-ramp mirrors. It often feels like one mage has two accelerators and the other—especially on the draw—has his or her hands tied (or is forced to mulligan without a way to get big faster).

Out of the sideboard Conrad played a tiny Sol Ring, inspired by none other than Zvi Mowshowitz. Joraga Treespeaker lets the player on the draw (or any ramp in a sideboarded game) to start the acceleration game a turn sooner, and for that matter, to break serve.

For example, rather than being subject to the regular rules of ramp, the Treespeaker lets you level up on turn two, and immediately drop an Explore, Rampant Growth, or Everflowing Chalice on the same turn. Then, you can untap with five mana, and a likely shot at six for the Primeval Titan or Summoning Trap.

    Naya Homebrew

Eric Froehlich's Naya Homebrew

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Returning Pro Tour—and poker—superstar Eric "EFro" Froehlich dropped all kinds of thunder on the U.S. Nationals metagame with a brand new way to brew up Naya.

I, at one point, asked EFro what he was playing, and he listed a whole bunch of cards—Trace of Abundance, planeswalkers, Destructive Force—and the question became what didn't he have? Unlike many popular Naya decks, Froehlich's deck was thin on creatures. He only had the big, bomb-tacular, land-loving kind: Knight of the Reliquary and Primeval Titan.

The rest of his deck was acceleration, planeswalkers, and removal; the most important of which was Destructive Force.

This is a deck that can get a huge advantage from Destructive Force. Because it can hit seven mana quite quickly between the many Rampant Growths, Garruk activations, and so forth (and of course the freebie mana from Knight of the Reliquary), the Naya Homebrew can often literally cripple the opponent with Destructive Force, sending all his or her permanents to the grave in one fell swoop.

A Primeval Titan has 6 toughness (Destructive Force deals a mere 5 damage), and Knight of the Reliquary is sure to live through the chaos ... What that means is, if and when the red seven-drop resolves, Froehlich would be left with a huge way to win, and win well before the opponent could recover.

One card that we see in Eric's sideboard—and echoed over a few with red mana—is Ricochet Trap. This card is useful in a number of different situations, obviously primarily against blue mages. For example:

    Pyromancer Ascension

Tim Sussino's Pyromancer Ascension

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We will spend more time on the Pyromancer Ascension archetype later in this article, going over the Germany National Championship. In terms of this deck list, Sussino went with Burst Lightning in the main deck (essentially pre-sideboarding against decks like Bant and Naya, while giving himself another way to cheaply power up the Ascension), as well as the Halimar Depths / Treasure Hunt two-card combination that we saw from France Nationals.

A dilemma that all Pyromancer Ascension players (myself included) faced coming into this past weekend was how to deal with sideboarded games. Pyromancer Ascension is generally considered to have the strongest Game 1 expectation of any deck, but is perhaps the most vulnerable to sideboarding. For example, it can have problems with everything from Relic of Progenitus to Celestial Purge to Manabarbs. Truly mean-spirited options like Ricochet Trap, and, of course, countermagic (up to and including Flashfreeze) also hamper it.

What's a mage to do?

In this case, Sussino went with a main plan of Echo Mage and Inferno Titan. Echo Mage allows an Ascension player to produce an Ascension-like effect without falling victim to surprisingly narrow splash damage like Celestial Purge or Negate, and can steal wins if the opponent has sided out all his creature elimination. Inferno Titan is a durable hatchet-man, somewhat in the vein of Sphinx of Jwar Isle from previous lists, but with a much poorer attitude when applied to Birds of Paradise or Noble Hierarch. While not as slippery as the Sphinx, Inferno Titan rides the same "I am assuming you don't have creature kill in his deck anyway" train of thought that can add such value to "Surprise!"-style sideboards.

    Red Deck Wins

Anthony Eason's Red Deck Wins

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Nothing to see here. Nothing special. Ho hum. Just the Red Deck. Red Deck wins again!

Runner-up Eason came within inches of the U.S. title with the straightforward—but still deadly consistent—Red Deck. Twenty-four lands, four of everything he wanted to play. Specific decisions:

Four Earthquake / Four Staggershock: This is somewhat of a change relative to earlier lists. Many Noble Hierarch / Lotus Cobra lists are particularly vulnerable to the Earthquake versions. Eason didn't play any copies of Quenchable Fire; the world is now just too blue.

Devastating Summons / Goblin Bushwhacker in the sideboard: Anthony went with the more predictable "Red Deck" rather than the "Devastating Red" para-combo main ... But left himself the option to explode in Games 2 and 3.

Ricochet Trap: Again with the Ricochet Trap! Most Time Warp combination players have no interest in seeing what a Red Deck can do with a few extra turns.

    White-Blue Control

Gerard Fabiano's White-Blue Control

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I certainly would not have anticipated playing against zero copies of Path to Exile and Day of Judgment out of White-Blue Control had I been sitting across from Gerard Fabiano ... would you?

Gerard's deck list is a surprising one, full of feints and gambles (one Cancel, two Flashfreezes) that—deck list sight unseen—might make for remarkably poor decision-making, especially since he could make good use of Preordain to fix and fidget with his draws.

Gerard's sideboard continues the theme with an eclectic threat mix. Meddling Mage and a lonely Relic of Progenitus against combo, Calcite Snappers that can both protect planeswalkers and crack back for 4, Linvala to lock down Birds and Hierarchs.

All that said, it's not like Gerard is in any way compromising on power level. Elspeth, Gideon Jura, and the Jace brothers are all busty threat spells; and even in the absence of a traditional sweeper, Oblivion Ring and Into the Roil can do quite a lot against quite a lot.

    Soul Sisters

Though it didn't actually make Top 8 of this tournament, the new Soul Sisters deck bears a mention. Played by "first pick" Gavin Verhey, (typically) Naya master Tom "the Boss" Ross, and the patron saint of rogue decks Conley Woods, Soul Sisters is like the Cobb salad of the attack phase. Just as the Cobb is the salad option for those that love cheeseburgers, Soul Sisters is the White Weenie for beatdown players who love to gain life rather than maliciously take it away.

I mean just look at this deck list:

Gavin Verhey's Soul Sisters

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Planeswalker (3)
3 Elspeth, Knight-Errant
Sorcery (4)
4 Survival Cache
Instant (4)
4 Brave the Elements
Enchantment (2)
2 Oblivion Ring
60 Cards

So much lifelink.

So many Soul Wardens.

Now there is an eclectic lineup including (according to Tom) "the Tarmogoyf" (Ajani's Pridemate) to "the Baneslayer Angel" (Serra Ascendant)—presumably Ranger of Eos is the "Fact or Fiction."

I actually playtested against this deck a fair amount (albeit after the tournament) and found it remarkably difficult to wrap my head around. There never seemed like anything worth spending countermagic on ... and then I would die with three Mana Leaks in my hand. Or I would underrate the card quality of the deck, only to fold when it ran out what seemed like a "real" card (say an opportune Oblivion Ring or Brave the Elements).

Over the course of several games I built up a respect for the deck's overall play. I mean, of course this deck should blow out Red Deck or Boros Bushwhacker, but something bigger? Or maybe a combo deck? Turns out it's pretty good there.

Soul Sisters is a great example of synergy overcoming a seeming gap in card power. All those Soul Wardens team up with all those other little guys in more than one way—at the same time. Elspeth, Knight-Errant doesn't just make a 1/1 ... she gears up "the Tarmogoyf" and the "Baneslayer Angel." Ranger of Eos doesn't just grab a pair of "Baneslayer Angels", it can set up a Soul Warden board that allows the deck to literally explode with life points the following turn.

This deck plays for a surprisingly long-term game, and litters the board with cards that many players won't deign to interact with ... until it's too late.

    Red-Green Valakut Ramp

Dennis Johannsen's Red-Green

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The German Champion went with a red-green look at Primeval Titan.

Primary plan on this deck is to accelerate into Primeval Titan and start swinging, then the Mountains and the Molten Pinnacles start hitting the 'field—in some cases dealing enormous clumps of damage immediately. Because Primeval Titan can search up not just the Mountains you need, but multiple copies of Valakut as well—all at the same time—death can often come in just one or two trampling swings.

The backup plan? Thanks to Avenger of Zendikar and Rampaging Baloths? Tons and tons of huge monsters.

Johannsen's unique sideboarding wrinkle comes in the way of one Swamp and four copies of Thought Hemorrhage; with the multitude of mana-fixing in his deck, a third turn Thought Hemorrhage, particularly against combo, is very realistic.


Jörg Unfried's Jund

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Twenty-seven lands. Siege-Gang Commander and Master of the Wild Hunt main. Sparkmage/Collar combo out of the side. Heavier removal, including Bituminous Blast.

Sebastian Potyka's Jund

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Twenty-seven lands. Main deck Obstinate Baloth and Grave Titan. Medium removal, top end Sarkhan the Mad.

    Pyromancer Ascension

Tobias Gräfensteiner's Pyromancer Ascension

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Daniel Gräfensteiner's Pyromancer Ascension

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Tobias and Daniel Gräfensteiner played hybrid Pyromancer Ascension combo/combo decks.

The most notable difference between their decks and what you may have seen online is the presence of Khalni Garden in the main deck, along with some slightly compromised card choices (say three Time Warps).

This version of Pyromancer Ascension gives up a little bit in the Ascension category (a lower likelihood of casting Ponder and Preordain on the first turn, for instance) ... but gains something strange and wonderful and very big out of the board.

The Gräfensteiner list literally transforms into a different combo deck!

Remember when we were talking about how each Pyromancer Ascension player has to think about how he can avoid or beat a hateful sideboard? That first-turn Relic of Progenitus? That damnable Leyline of whatever (Sanctity? The Void? You know, "whatever")?

Different mages have opted for little Jace, or chasing down with Kiln Fiends. These, however, went with Spawning Breath and Emrakul, the Aeons Torn.


The irony? Polymorph may actually be the faster combo!


Tobias Dreger's Polymorph

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Sideboard (15)
1 Jace Beleren