The Great White Hope

Posted in Top Decks on September 4, 2008

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."

I am looking to the left, looking to the right, and seeing as how Shards of Alara previews start next week (go ahead, start salivating), I am pretty sure we are done with Lorwyn / Shadowmoor Block Constructed PTQs as of this past weekend.

The format leaves us much as it began... Some would say it came a bit full-circle, with the earliest best deck finishing off the format with a bonzer weekend, the only double-qualifier of all decks (at least in tournaments we had the data to study). Faeries remained quite viable until the end, finishing the PTQ season once again as the Top 8 leader, albeit with no actual blue envelopes (really the only things that matter when the dust settles) to its name or little wings... at least not this week.

This is not to say that we have seen the last of Bitterblossom and its associated mischief. The Tokens deck was only just getting started in Block (another Top 8), and the various Tokens strategies were quite impressive in Standard, if at a smaller scale than some of the other decks; surely they will continue to compete when the seasons change (even if they have no Gargadon). And as for Bitterblossoms actually stamped Faeries, surrounded by Scion of Oona, medding with Mistbind Cliques... you have the odd Nostradamus already dictating Faeries dominance in Extended of all places with the recently announced shakeup (R.I.P Sensei's Divining Top).

But before we get too far ahead of ourselves, that last Lorwyn / Shadowmoor Block Constructed tangle of Top 8s:

Kithkin 11 Top 8s, 2 wins
Quick 'n Toast variants 7 Top 8s, 1 win
Kelpie 1 Top 8, 1 win
Painter’s Servant Combo 1 Top 8, 1 win
Faeries 12 Top 8s
Merfolk variants 3 Top 8s
Demigod 1 Top 8
Tokens 1 Top 8
Mono-Green 1 Top 8
Doran 1 Top 8

Let's start with the (current) top of the metagame, Kithkin. Here are the two qualifying lists from the final week of PTQs:

Frank Graquinto

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Matthias Dean-Carpenter

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Both of these decks played 25 lands, which is a fair count for beatdown decks in the modern era... but maybe still a little thin for Kithkin decks specifically. Kithkin has become more mana-intensive if anything with the addition of Eventide, as Stillmoon Cavalier and Figure of Destiny can be very mana-hungry.


Stillmoon Cavalier
Figure of Destiny

On the note of playing many lands, keep in mind that Mutavault—once an automatic four-of in Kithkin decks—has been reduced to one or two copies in the most recent successful lists. Stillmoon Cavalier and Figure of Destiny require very specific mana (kind of... but Kithkin decks can't typically make black or red), so the modern Kithkin decks need Plains more than they can use Mutavaults for operating mana. Unmake, which can rise to as much as a main-deck four-of, is yet another super colored-mana-intensive card that can't lean on Mutavault mana.

Each of the winning Kithkin decks played Mirrorweave... but only two of them. Instead of the one-time defining card of the archetype, they moved into Ajani Goldmane as a complimentary two-of.

Ajani is stong in the mirror match, and is a difficult permanent for some types of decks to remove, especially those long on mass creature removal (which Kithkin doesn't like), but short on combat (for "free" planeswalker suppression).


Ajani Goldmane

Reveillark (for example in Frank's sideboard) is not a combo card as it is in some Standard decks. However, it is a powerful intimidation card ("scaring" an aggressive deck into not attacking) and is a very useful recovery spell when facing large amounts of removal (Reveillark will usually be good for better than a two-for-one from the middle turns onward).

Kithkin's perseverance throughout the PTQ season has been extremely impressive. It went out almost as high as it came in, despite advancements in many other parts of the metagame. If you have ever seen its best draws in action... Goldmeadow Stalwart on the first turn followed immediately by the Crusade-esque Wizened Cenn, then on down the line... You can bet that this strategy will survive past the PTQ season and into the next Standard, at a minimum.

Doug McKay

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This is a pretty cool deck, I think you will agree... Different, and just one match out of the blue envelope.

Doug McKay's mono-green deck was heavy on the mana acceleration, and capable of deploying some pretty serious hitters. Not just the (arguably) best card in the Block (Kitchen Finks), or gigantic Faeries-killer Cloudthresher, either. Woodfall Primus is like nothing many opponents will have ever seen. A huge mana cost (eight!) makes Woodfall Primus unattractive for most players, but if it sticks against a positional board- or card-advantage deck like Quick 'n Toast? Ka-blooey!

Woodfall Primus is gigantic, bigger than almost every other commonly played creature. Even if you put a Cloudthresher in front of it... Is that good? There goes another Vindicate. If you put something else in front of it? You can't really chump Woodfall Primus out of the game; it's too big and it has that magic one-word first line: trample.


Dramatic Entrance
Woodfall Primus

McKay played Dramatic Entrance—the maximum number in fact—in order to take some of the edge off of Woodfall Primus; because Dramatic Entrance is an instant, that could make combat pretty disgusting. Use your imagination.

While McKay's deck was more or less mono-green, his eight (or so) red dual lands allowed him to murder the ground with Firespout; in a cool twist we haven't really seen before, Doug could run the Flame Javelins out of his sideboard as a "colorless" spell, or reduce the mana cost a wee bit with his light red support.

Daniel Neeley

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Hallowed Burial
Since GerryT's win in Denver, Quick 'n Toast has risen a couple of places from one of a couple of viable choices to a legitimate metagame powerhouse alongside the Faeries and Kithkin linears.

Most of the Quick 'n Toast decks since, certainly Daniel Neeley's, are reminiscent of the Chapin "Justice Toast" model from Denver; as you can see, this deck played a pair of Archons and a 2 + 2 full set of Runed Halos.

Just take note of the Hallowed Burials main; while not as versatile as Austere Command, Hallowed Burial shaves a massive mana off of the secondary sweeper. Against the fastest Kithkin draws, that one mana can be the dramatic difference between a low-margin game win and a complete blowout going the wrong way. Hallowed Burial is also significant in that it gets around the annoying Persist mechanic, something that Quick 'n Toast isn't necessarily the best at fighting with its limited sources of card advantage.

I am pretty excited to see where this archetype goes once we are back in the Standard swing of things.

James Herdman

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How far would Kelpie have gone if it had had more time, as an archetype, in the metagame?

If you aren't familiar with this deck, it has some nice blue-black control elements... a fair number of permission spells, and good removal, and is built on a bit of a Mannequin model (full loads of Mulldrifter, Shriekmaw, and Makeshift Mannequin all). The unique stripe of the deck, though, is the interaction between River Kelpie and the graveyard suite of this deck, but Raven's Crime in particular. If you've played with blue card drawing, well, ever, you know that cards like Mulldrifter can give you an extra land or two in your hand that you don't necessarily need (at least right now). With Raven's Crime you can transform that land into one of your opponent's cards... but with River Kelpie in play, you get to actually profit instead of just trading for one of the other guy's pieces of materiel.


River Kelpie
Raven's Crime

With all those Puppeteer Cliques, the Kelpie deck has some great tools for battling other people's Mulldrifters. Have you ever played against Puppeteer Clique with Mulldrifter? It's actually miserable. This jerk is riding your card advantage and you can't even do anything about anything. What are you going to do? Trade with it? It's just headaches laid on top of headaches... and no (and it goes without saying), you probably won't win.

Alex Artese

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The Block Tokens deck combines so many things that are Lorwyn / Shadowmoor with such unexpected and wonderful synergy. Check out the mana base on this... All kinds of Vivid lands and Reflecting Pools, almost like a Quick 'n Toast deck, but proactive instead of defensive. The tokens—specifically the full boat of Spectral Processions or the prepackaged combo creatures Marsh Flitter and Cloudgoat Ranger—interact with Windbrisk Heights just like the best of the Kithkin builds.

Is that Makeshift Mannequin? It's pretty good with Kitchen Finks, but the Tokens strategy has half a Mannequin suite anyway, with access to four Shriekmaws, at least after sideboarding. The same deck has Thoughtsieze to nab someone else's Bitterblossomand Runed Halo to shut off Oona or Demigod of Revenge. It's kind of disgusting, if you think about it.

Oh, and then there is the main line set of Red fives, Furystoke Giant and Torrent of Souls, either one of which will typically end the game (if not that turn). I'm all about the little edges, so my favorite aspect of the strategy is that Torrent of Souls can sneak in an extra three points of damage. The Bitterblossom token that came into play this turn gets haste as well as additional offense, a small but critical additional packet of damage. Ping.

Marsh Usary

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The most exciting deck of them all, though has to be Marsh Usary's winner from Richmond.

Marsh, coming off his U.S. Nationals Top 8 with the red deck spells put an amazing additional layer on top of a solid, Kithkin-esque beat down strategy.

In addition to hard-to-handle creatures like Stillmoon Cavalier and Oversoul of Dusk, Usary added a Vintage favorite, Painter's Servant. In Vintage, Painter's Servant combines with Grindstone to immediately deck the opponent (all the cards that Grindstone reveals are the same color, so it only takes one activation to win the game); in Block, the combination is not quite so fast, but it is no less lethal.


Painter's Servant
Chaotic Backlash

Just think about what happens when you name "white" with Painter's Servant, and turn five rolls around. Now you've got five lands to play your Chaotic Backlash... How many permanents does the opponent have in play? Four or five lands? A couple of creatures? A handful of Bitterblossom tokens? You are looking at 8 to 10 damage, probably, at a minimum. Any beatdown at all on the way will probably have the opponent dead and buried with one Chaotic Backlash.

Painter's Servant even without the second half can be very useful. Turning everything white makes Stillmoon Cavaliers that much better; and if you are up against Kithkin (a deck that has natural resistance to Oversoul of Dusk), you can declare blue, turn the Dusk back on, and still have a little something set aside for the Backlash.

The Cream Rises

In addition to the last week of PTQs, this past weekend saw reigning World Champion Uri Peleg roll up his sleeves for Israeli Nationals. Uri wasn't quite able to accomplish the Katsu Mori follow-up, but he was still able to achieve a coveted Nationals Top 8.

Seismic Swans
1 Top 8, 1 win
4 Top 8s
2 Top 8s
1 Top 8

That sure is a lot of Reveillark!

Peleg made Top 8 with a straight white-blue version of Reveillark credited to Gabriel Nassif:

Uri Peleg's Nassif Lark

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This version is reminiscent of earlier points in the Standard metagame, before Greater Gargadon was applied to Reveillark... here Reveillark is basically just applied "as a good card" to a White-Blue Blink model with a significant upside, sure, but not an infinite Body Double combination.

Niv Danieli's Pickles

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We haven't seen Pickles in the Top 8 of a big event in some time. For those of you who have forgotten, Pickles—this version at least—plays like a white-blue control deck, but with a twist. The combination of Brine Elemental and Vesuvan Shapeshifter allows Pickles ("brine" ...get it?) to lock the opponent out of his untap indefinitely. You can flip Vesuvan Shapeshifter every turn, and when you turn it face up (aiming for the Brine Elemental), you get the benefit of the Brine Elemental's morph trigger. In this deck Fathom Seer combines nicely with Vesuvan Shapeshifter as a recurring source of card advantage, a great way to drag out games or dig for the combo.

Asaf Shomer's Seismic Swans

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Israel's winner came to play with the mighty Swans combo, which we have discussed at length a couple of times already this year. As a special treat, here is a short interview with the new Champion, care of Orr Bildner and my The Week That Was colleague Brian David-Marshall (Brian was originally going to cover Israeli Nationals tomorrow, but you will be glad to know that he is making Hall of Fame announcements instead); thanks guys!

Interview with Israeli National Champion Asaf Shomer

Q: So how many years have you been playing?

Asaf: 5

Q: How did you start playing?

Asaf: I don't remember exactly, a few friends found out about the game and taught me. I started playing in a small league at a store.

Q: When did you start playing more competitively?

Asaf: I started playing competitively gradually. First Prereleases, then drafts, then JSS.

Q: What would you say was your first meaningful achievement in your Magic playing career?

Asaf: Top 4 at a PTQ, format was Ravnica Sealed.

Q: What was the goal you set for yourself for this championship?

Asaf: Not make misplays; losing to bad luck is out of my hands.

Q: Did you believe there was a chance you'd win it?

Asaf: Yes, I knew statistically the odds were slim, but they existed. I thought more about winning every match.

Q: What did you think halfway through when you were 5-0?

Asaf: Try not to screw it up, like taking it for granted that I'm in the top 8.

Q: What was the single most important factor for you winning the championship this year?

Asaf: A really good Constructed deck.

Q: What goal do you set for yourself for Worlds this year?

Asaf: Play as well as possible, hopefully that will get me in the money.

Q: What do you think about Israel's team this year, and is there a chance to duplicate last year's achievements?

Asaf: On the personal level, of course not, 'cause Uri's win last year can't be paralleled. I guess Uri will do again what Uri does and will win a lot. As for the rest of us peasants, just hope for the best. On the team level, it's quite possible to do well, I hope to redeem the mistakes we made (mostly I made) last year.

Q: What tip would you give newcomers who want to get better at the game?

Asaf: Play for fun, always keep an open mind, and don't keep one-landers.

For those of you who really love Reveillarks and Demigod of Revenge, the rest of the Israeli Nationals Top 8:

Niv Shmueli's White-Blue-Red Lark

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Orr Bildner's White-Blue-Red Lark

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Amit Lipitz's Mono-Red

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Eviatar Olpiner's Mono-Red

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Shai Buzaglo's Five-Color Lark

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