How Many Wizened Cenns?

Posted in Top Decks on March 24, 2011

By Mike Flores

Last week's PTQ Top 8 results were pretty unbelievable if you ask me. More or less since the release of Ravnica: City of Guilds this column (and its predecessor, Swimming With Sharks) has tried to promote the idea of diversity in competitive metagames.

... But I don't know if I ever anticipated a set of performances like last week's!

Last week we saw five different decks winning the five PTQs reported here at And what's more, not a one of those decks was Faeries or even Naya! Instead we saw everything from Steppe Lynx to Arbor Elf at the one, Primeval Titan cleaning up with its clomping feet and heavy hands, and, believe it or not, Flickerwisp and Lone Missionary paving the way—or should I say clearing the path—with Mortarpod and Day of Judgment.

And on top of those, the week saw some familiar names with some (sometimes) unfamiliar decks, updates to existing winners, and two or more combo decks stapled together by Manamorphose.

Let's begin.

    Bant Aggro

buuchan's Bant Aggro

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There were five different Bant aggro decks in last week's Top 8s; buuchan's was the one that won the 3/13 online PTQ.

One of the things that I like about Extended Bant decks is that they can be so good at so many different things. Traditionally we have seen decks with Rhox War Monk and Mana Leak; great offensive (even offensive / defensive) options, plus the ability to say "no" if necessary.

The version that buuchan played ran a pretty decent amount of land given its inclusion of eight one-drop accelerators... but Birds of Paradise and Noble Hierarch can also be useful for powering up Celestial Colonnade and Stirring Wildwood.

The accelerators can send Bant from one mana straight to three, making Knight of the Reliquary and newcomer Mirran Crusader essentially into two-drops. Great Sable Stag coming in against Faeries would fit into essentially that same advantageous mana utilization model.

As with many successful decks these days (and only the first of several distinct archetypes in this very article), the current crop of Bant aggro decks are hip to sharpening a Sword. Stoneforge Mystic makes the color combination's already awesome creatures into even more significant threats; Sword of Feast and Famine and Sword of Body and Mind make even Birds of Paradise into a viable threat creature.

While Bant—being creature-focused—isn't overwhelmingly powerful in the sense of planeswalker overload, Elspeth, Knight-Errant is always pretty awesome (especially when laced together with something as big and nasty as, say, a Mirran Crusader), and no one has to convince anyone about Jace, the Mind Sculptor. But above and beyond everything else, this deck plays arguably the best card in the current Extended, Cryptic Command.

All in all, pretty good at everything.

    Boros Bushwhacker

Bryan Hawley's Boros Bushwhacker

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As far as two-color aggro decks go, Boros is proving to be pretty flexible and customizable.

Hawley's version focuses on a couple of different creature-based two-card combinations:

Cunning Sparkmage + Basilisk Collar: Bryan played four big copies of Cunning Sparkmage. Sparkmages are awesome in a lot of matchups even when going around in the Emperor's New Clothes, with no Basilisk Collar in sight. Examples of things that have big problems with Cunning Sparkmage: Birds of Paradise, Noble Hierarch, Steppe Lynx, Bitterblossom tokens, other Cunning Sparkmages... But when you add Stoneforge Mystic for Basilisk Collar, Cunning Sparkmage can also easily kill: anything.

Ranger of Eos + Goblin Bushwhacker: The classic(-ish) combination for this color combination, Goblin Bushwhacker is about the best post–Day of Judgment play imaginable. Ranger of Eos (great with everything from Steppe Lynx redundancy to the conditionally crushing Burrenton Forge-Tender) lets you play just one Bushwhacker. Out of nowhere you can easily find yourself crushing for 10+ damage with a single swing, essentially off a single card.

Stoneforge Mystic and Ranger of Eos give Boros a number of additional superpowers. For one, the White 187s simply make the deck more card-advantageous. The ability to search up extra cards just makes it easier to win attrition wars (and it doesn't hurt that they can be high quality threats as Figure of Destiny and the like). But we also see effective sideboard singletons like Bonehoard, which helps ensure Hawley will win a creature-trading brawl, or the aforementioned Forge-Tenders, that leach so much Red Deck will to live with every seemingly innocuous tap of White mana.


Chris LaVassaur's Elves

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While the strategy has roughly a bazillion one-mana accelerators (Arbor Elf is essentially a Llanowar Elves in this deck) to put you into the position for a second-turn Elvish Archdruid or Imperious Perfect, the powerhouse mana engine—same as ever—is Heritage Druid + Nettle Sentinel.

With multiple Nettle Sentinels out, you can potentially net mana by casting a cheap green spell (say a one-mana Elf), then untapping your Nettle Sentinels, re-tapping them for more mana via Heritage Druid, and so on. No one ever really gets out of being hit by a Primal Command, and in this deck, Primal Command can go and get either a small card to keep the mana flowing, or the one Regal Force to almost guarantee ongoing velocity once you already have the other components on the battlefield.

The potentially not-obvious one-turn kill works via LaVassaur's one copy of Ezuri, Renegade Leader.

Basically you want to have at least one Elf o that can actually attack this turn, make a ton of mana using Heritage Druids (which don't actually require that your Elves have been hanging out for the full "I'm no longer summoning sick" turn), which you use to go and get Ezuri, either by natural means or some tonnage or manipulation. With enough mana, you can easily get your potentially attacking Elves big enough to trample the opponent to death using Ezuri's "Overrun" ability again and again.

Which is not to say you can't nickel-and-dime your opponents, just develop on the battlefield with more power (Elvish Archdruid and Imperious Perfect), and play a traditionally progressive offense (say Bramblewood Paragon into Joraga Warcaller), because you certainly can. Just be aware of Elves as a dual-nature creature deck and combo deck.

Brandden McDonough's Elves

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Though LaVassaur has the pedigree via his PTQ win, you might want to be aware of the slightly different approach by McDonough in the Seattle Top 8. Where LaVassaur had the mighty Primal Command and the new Green Sun's Zenith for spells, Brandden played only three copies of Lead the Stampede. In a deck of essentially all creatures, Lead the Stampede seems like an avenue well worth considering... especially for a deck that gets so much out of repeatedly playing cheap creatures.

    Green-Red Valakut

Nicholas Verrall's Green-Red Valakut

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Despite the greater attention for the most part being paid to Blue Valakut decks (Wargate and non-WargatePrismatic Omens builds alike), don't forget that there is still a borders-blurring Green-Red Valakut option available in the format.

Not too much to say here about Verrall's Fargo winner, but a tip of the hat to his inclusion of Kozilek, Butcher of Truth in the sideboard.

Speaking of gigantic creatures in the Fargo Top 8, Voice of the Pro Tour Rich Hagon placed third in that event, with Green-White Summoning Trap:

Richard Hagon's Green-White Summoning Trap

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Hi Rich!

    Mono-White Control

Moving from a big White deck that we have talked quite a lot about in this column this season to one that probably none of us would have thought to talk about, check out Jeremiah Haney's Mono-White Control winner from Seattle, WA:

Jeremiah A. Haney's Mono-White Control

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Sorcery (4)
4 Day of Judgment
Instant (4)
4 Path to Exile
Artifact (3)
3 Mortarpod
Enchantment (4)
4 Oblivion Ring
60 Cards

Jeremiah certainly wins the creativity award for viable deck choices!

This is a deck with quite a few things going on, and one that probably most of you have never seen in action (I know that I fall into this camp). I will try to do the build justice.

All the creatures have some kind of "enters the battlefield" ability. Of these, the most unusual (of, frankly, an unusual bunch) are Flickerwisp and Glimmerpoint Stag. Even on their own, these creatures can remove Bitterblossom tokens permanently, but when combined with other cards, they can help the squad overall build value. For example, Flickerwisp and Glimmerpoint Stag can reload a Mortarpod or reset an Oblivion Ring or Runed Halo... or get it going with any of the other sixteen "enters the battlefield" creatures in the deck.

A mono-white deck might theoretically have issues with card advantage relative to a blue-based control deck, but Haney's weapon of choice played four copies of Pilgrim's Eye and four copies of Wall of Omens. Together, all of these help draw more lands and help the deck play lots of lands, such that it can eventually get sufficient Plains in play to make Emeria, the Sky Ruin interesting.

Sun Titan remains Sun Titan, one of the most indomitable finishers in the format. Though here if you get rid of the first one you will very often have to deal with it again, eventually, due to Emeria shenanigans. And while there are no Mountains or Swamps in sight, Arid Mesa + Sun Titan can play a very Primeval Titan-like combination of cards that, again, works more land onto the board for those inevitable Emerias.

Even Lone Missionary can become an annoying source of repeatable life gain, between Emeria, the Sky Ruin and repeated work with the Mortarpod.

Overall, the deck has a ton to frustrate attackers and voluminous creature removal, much of it quite efficient.

It will be interesting to see if this deck, so unusual next to what we "usually" see in Top 8s (let alone amongst the actual weekly winners) picks up in popularity and continues to rack up Blue Envelopes.

As we have looked at all the various decks that actually won last week, I want to devote the last part of this article to some devilishly rogue designs that bear some attention and consideration. First up comes a really different look from one of Magic's most successful and innovative deck designers:

    Blue-Red-Green Rogue

Billy Moreno's Blue-Red-Green Rogue

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There are two main lines going on here, and they are of course deeply entwined with one another.

The first is that of creature density. Billy played more than 50% creatures. Having a lot of creatures means revealing a lot of creatures as the top card of his deck, which makes Mul Daya Channelers big. Of course he can manipulate what is on the top of his deck with Elvish Harbinger; Jace, the Mind Sculptor; and to a lesser degree Fauna Shaman. Having a lot of creatures lets Billy re-buy his Vengevines pretty consistently (especially when he is drawing more than one card in a turn, however he is doing that), though it bears mentioning that his Bloodbraid Elf re-buy percentage is significantly lower than a stock Naya deck, simply because of the presence of three different pieces of Bloodbraid Elf–eligible Equipment.

Speaking of Equipment, in addition to Sword of Feast and Famine, Billy played a lone Basilisk Collar, which he could find with his lone Trinket Mage, which he could find with one of four Fauna Shamans (three main). Basilisk Collar is potentially a beating with, well, anything, but in particular it is a much-discussed combination with both Cunning Sparkmage and Inferno Titan.

The second theme to Billy's deck, already hinted at, is the heretofore unexplored deck design space around the top of one's deck. Is this the first viable deck that plays Elvish Harbinger? I don't recall that Elf being played even in other Elves decks in the past. Well, in this deck the Harbingers allow Moreno to set up Bloodbraid Elf, or jump all the way to Sages of the Anima... and then let's see what happens! When Jace, the Mind Sculptor gets involved we can see as many as three cards being drawn in a turn, and Billy will draw more than one card per turn, on average, constantly churning through his deck for fresh looks. Sages + Jace, in particular, seems almost overwhelming... and it is a good thing that Billy has so many creatures that can potentially tap for mana (Birds of Paradise, Elvish Harbinger, Noble Hierarch, and often Mul Daya Channelers), because he is going to have quite a few cards in hand, and you need a lot of mana to handle all those extra things to do.

Same Magic Online Top 8, different quite different deck:

    Splinter Twin

SpeCialK's Splinter Twin Hybrid Combo

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Here we have essentially two different combo decks, laced together in a "good stuff" framework.

First off, you can kind of just play as a passable blue-red control deck. Sea Gate Oracle is a fine card, and we have seen it perform in Standard blue-black decks. In this deck it just kind of keeps things moving so that you can draw into your Lightning Bolt or your Mana Leak or whatever you need to make a one-for-one or possibly profitable trade. In addition, you have the weak combo of Sea Gate Oracle + Splinter Twin, which is not what you want at all, but especially when your opponent can't kill a Sea Gate Oracle (say the opposing deck is Green-White Trap), this combo is going to be dominant, and embarrassingly so.

What do you want with your Splinter Twin?

Obviously you want Pestermite + Splinter Twin, which is an infinite damage combo. Cast Pestermite, say at the end of the opponent's turn. Cast Splinter Twin on Pestermite. Tap Pestermite to make an extra, hasty, Pestermite; the new Pestermite untaps the first Pestermite, which taps again to make another one... forever until you decide to attack with, say, a hundred temporary hasty Pestermites.

Ho hum, turn four kill.

We have seen Pestermite kills before, but this deck also has a Scapeshift one, though it might be hard to see, initially.

In a good number of cases you will use Manamorphose as a red spell to get the green mana to cast Scapeshift, but there are also Flooded Groves in the deck (which help you play Kitchen Finks out of the sideboard, as well). Flooded Grove + Scapeshift is almost a two-card combination itself.

SpeCialK's deck has enough Mountains that it can actually just go for a Valakut kill off of Scapeshift without Prismatic Omen, but unlike the green-red or Wargate-type Valakut decks, you have to be much more aware of which lands you play, which lands you have on the battlefield, and how many lands you have access to in your deck, rather than just assuming that your Primeval Titan or Prismatic Omen and a bunch of fetch lands are going to get you there.

As a final blur, let's look at the finalist from the MTGO PTQ, reminiscent of Standard SparkBlade (minus the Squadron Hawks):

    White-Red-Blue Mystic

elgordito's Red-White-Blue Mystic

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As with so many decks since the printing of Sword of Feast and Famine, this one is built on the power of Stoneforge Mystic as its primary consumer of mana in the early turns, and one of its main sources of card economy. The addition of red—and along with that the addition of Cunning Sparkmage—makes Basilisk Collar good, and Basilisk Collar is added to the Stoneforge Mystic package here.

Much of the rest of the deck is straightforward good stuff—four copies of Cryptic Command, four copies of Lightning Bolt—but the big finisher is the solo Sun Titan. Sun Titan has been an over-performer all season, first as the full four-of in White-Blue early on (re-buying Jace Beleren and Wall of Omens, if you recall), and now in decks like the PTQ-winning Mono-White Control from Seattle. In the Red-White-Blue Mystic deck, Sun Titan protects your Equipment, keeps Kitchen Finks annoying for beatdown decks, and of course advances your mana via Arid Mesa and Scalding Tarn.

If you're a fan of new and different ideas doing well and promoting the art of deck construction (as I am), you were probably a fan of last week. This Extended just keeps getting better and better.

Oh, and unbelievably, I think the answer to the question in the title is eight—all in Denver.

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