Monster of the Week

Posted in Top Decks on June 18, 2009

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."

There is a deep tradition in some wings of episodic television to introduce one-use antagonists—typically called "monsters of the week"—to be discovered and dealt with by our intrepid heroes ... only to be replaced by some other monster the next week. For example, in the third season of Ben 10, young Ben Tennyson thought he was bit by a werewolf in one episode, then had to deal with variations on a the mummy and Frankenstein's monster in successive adventures before going head-to-head with a ghost-like alien as the "big bad" of the season. Very old school.

Or for those of you who don't watch nonstop Cartoon Network with your five-year-old daughters, the series of cursed items from Friday the 13th: The Series, minor cadres of vamps / demons / lawyers from Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Angel, meteor freaks (and supervillains) from Smallville ... or, possibly the most recognizable, that parade of aliens, alien conspirators, and occult baddies that bedeviled Mulder and Scully week-to-week on The X-Files would all be examples of the monster-of-the-week tradition.

Which brings us to the current Standard, a monstrous example of monster of the week chaos.

Case in point, the week before Regionals—and largely through Regionals—we were frightened of evil Spirits (well ... maybe not "evil").

Then for some reason there was all kinds of ducking our heads in the sand due to Swans ... Swans? Like some swimmy kinds of birds? Ridiculous, I agree.

Then in a kind of return to normalcy, Faeries were the problem (again). Faeries are the kind of people who will steal your soul for eating the wrong kind of food. Very sneaky-like.

Then Elves! Elves are not what you would typically think of as monster-of-the-week material on account of being largely beautiful and often allies to us humans. But I can't imagine the Swans—yes, Swans—that they chased out of the tournament area felt they were very friendly.

And now, another week gone by, and we find ourselves at odds with yet another sort of monster: Kithkin.

I was very happy to hear that several of my friends had weathered their ways to the Top 4 of the enormous PTQ in Philadelphia, PA this past weekend. A truly gigantic event for the area, it was nine rounds that culminated in a reappearance of Black-Green Elves in the finals, two copies of Green-White Tokens in the Top 4 (Luis Neiman, a.k.a. Luis Not Vargas, and Phil Napoli, a.k.a. Pnaps, playing essentially the same deck) with the big winner being Matt Boccio with Mono-White Kithkin:

Matt Boccio's Mono-White Kithkin

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Matt got his deck from Cedric Phillips, who you might recall cracked his first Pro Tour Top 8 earlier this year with a Red-White version of Kithkin; according to Boccio, Kithkin is favored to beat Elves, Five-Color Blood, and green-white decks ... his prediction for the makeup of the PTQ field.

"Originally I liked the black-white version of Kithkin with Zealous Persecution, but Cedric Phillips gave me this list the day before the tournament and I decided to go with it. Zealous Persecution is great against Tokens and the mirror but against every other deck Glorious Anthem is much better. Also the mana in the mono-white deck is much better because you don't have to run Fetid Heath.* The deck really has game against all of the creature decks in the format ... The only matchup which is godawful is White-Blue Reveillark.

Zealous Persecution
Stillmoon Cavalier

"I wanted to play Stillmoon Cavaliers but couldn't get my hands on them before the tournament; I would probably take out the Zealous Persecution for them."

* In a deck full of one- and two-drops, filter lands like Fetid Heath can be a liability because they don't tap for colored mana in and of themselves; that is, you can't play a Goldmeadow Stalwart on a first turn Fetid Heath... or anything for that matter.

Matt never got to blow out an opponent with Mirrorweave, but he feels the card has a lot of play, especially when the opponent doesn't see it coming. Same goes for Militia's Pride; Militia's Pride being aimed at White-Blue and Faeries.

Militia's Pride

Speaking of all different kinds of decks (and not to steal from Boccio's thunder) there was also a Grand Prix this past weekend! Seven different decks took the Top 8 spots:

Unsurprisingly (given our monster of the week), Mono-White Kithkin took first!

One and a Half More Looks at Kithkin

Daniel de Almeida Alves's Mono-White Kithkin

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Juan Véliz's Black-White Kithkin

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The main differences between these mono-white and black-white decks is the presence of Ranger of Eos. Our tournament champion Alves ran three copies of Ranger of Eos starting, which allowed him to play with Burrenton Forge-Tender in the main as an incremental Ranger of Eos "target." Once upon a time Burrenton Forge-Tender was primarily a foil to actual red decks, and secondarily as the white deck's primary line of defense against Firespout out of Five-Color Control.

Ranger of Eos
Burrenton Forge-Tender

Today, no one games with Firespout any more, with even the Five-Color Control decks going with Volcanic Fallout to help keep Faeries off of them, and red decks, while not completely out of the format, are fewer and farther between. However, Burrenton Forge-Tender still gets work out of Boggart Ram-Gang, but these days the Gang is usually spat off of the top of a deck via Bloodbraid Elf. Burrenton Forge-Tender holds off either. The Veliz deck uses about the same space for Zealous Persecution; in order to cast that powerful spell, he runs a quartet of Fetid Heaths (per Boccio's comment, earlier).

Doran Again

Andres Monsalve's Doran

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Andres Monsalve took what wasn't broke and didn't fix it (much). The main is almost the same deck that Yann Massicard used to win Grand Prix–Seattle/Tacoma two weeks ago. He cut one Maelstrom Pulse, added two copies of Chameleon Colossus, and ran the list at 61; Colossus, as we discussed last week, is among the most potent threats in a Standard format dominated by Elves (which this one, apparently, is no longer).

All Manner of Windbrisk Heights

Allison Abe's Green-White Tokens

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Don't blink or you might miss it!

Abe's deck, which looks much like any other Green-White Tokens deck playing Qasali Pridemage over Steward of Valeron, has a couple something specials (somethings special?) ... one Ethersworn Canonist main, one Ethersworn Canonist in the sideboard. While not complete proof against Cascade Swans or Bloodbraid Elf decks in general, these creatures still pull up the emergency brake for anyone driving a cascade car.

Daniel Frias's Black-White Tokens

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Guilherme Vieira's Black-White Tokens

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Kitchen Finks and / or Murderous Redcap + Ajani Goldmane ... A powerful set of cards provided the opponent is letting you interact; persist creatures in general are annoying for control, and when they have vigilence (and basically never die), they make for a horrendous defense to get through for "regular" creature decks.

At the same time there are a tremendous number of excellent token producers in these decks, including the format's Cadillac and Lexus, Bitterblossom and Spectral Procession, respectively. All in all, monster of the week to week to week, ain't nothing keepin' Black-White Tokens from being one of the best decks, not really (or at least not permanently). This Top 8 embraced two copies.


Wendell Santini's White-Blue Reveillark

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Santini made a number of unusual choices for this archetype. Paladin en-Vec is a card we don't normally see Reveillark players investing space in, not with the potential blockers in this strategy. Another surprising addition is Wall of Reverence. This one is kind of awesome. It is not a card you typically get back with Reveillark ... but it is stupendous in its efficacy in a number of matchups. For example, Faeries has a lot more difficulty with Wall of Reverence than the usually-more-dramatic Wrath of God at the same mana point.

But the really unusual addition is Clone!

Clone is quite interesting .... It can be anything! At 0/0 it is quite eligible for Reveillark recursion, too. The question is whether we will see more Clones cropping up before the card (potentially) rotates with the coming of Magic 2010.

Another Angle at Anathemancer

The most interesting deck in this Top 8, by a mile in my opinion, is Diego Crucias's Cascade deck.

Diego Crucius's Cascade

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Let's look at his creature configuration to begin with. This is a much different deck than we have seen from any of the Bloodbraid Elf-based decks in terms of creature selection. There is not a Boggart Ram-Gang in the list. It actually climbs up the curve to Enlisted Wurm. Is that a singleton Caldera Hellion?

Enlisted Wurm
Caldera Hellion

It is obvious this is much more of a control deck ... In addition to Caldera Hellion there are more sweepers main, including Wrath of God and Volcanic Fallout.

The easy analysis is on the fours: Bloodbraid Elf and Captured Sunlight. Main-deck these cards are always hitting either Volcanic Fallout or Kitchen Finks. Crucias's deck is kind of like Cascade Swans that way; you know what you are getting with more regularity than most other cascade decks.

As for the spells in this deck, the fives are quite interesting: eight Commands, and none of them Cryptic Command (poor Austere Command .... With Incendiary Command playing a key role in this deck, Austere is the ugly duckling for sure)! In this list the Primal Commands and Incendiary Commands team up to manage the opponent's board. Primal Command is like half a Plow Under with some additional bonus, and Incendiary Command is like an expensive Wasteland that packs an additional punch. But expensive as these cards are, they are largely just good enough to contain decks laying lands that come into play tapped every turn.

Incendiary Command
Primal Command

The sideboard is semi-transformational. Crucias can bring in Fulminator Mage and Rain of Tears to give this deck more of a rudder when it comes to three-mana spells to hit with cascade. While there can technically be a greater variety of three mana spells in his deck, Crucias can lay them out so that he can consistently cash in a Captured Sunlight for a Fulminator Mage, Rain of Tears, or conditionally Maelstrom Pulse to control the opponent's mana.

So consider this potential sequencing ...

Fulminator Mage + block.

Bloodbraid Elf into Rain of Tears (leaving back the Bloodbraid Elf to block).

Primal Command an opponent's comes into play tapped land and fetch Enlisted Wurm.

Enlisted Wurm into Incendiary Command.

Twilight Mire

This set of turns three through six seems absolutely brutal when it comes to the sometimes-chaotic mana bases that we see in Standard. Players are often relying on a single Vivid Creek to power up their Reflecting Pools, and if you can surgically eliminate a single font of colored mana, the opponent can be reduced to nothing but Twilight Mires, say.

Many times land destruction decks cripple the opponent's mana but themselves fall behind against non-mana-producing permanents. In the scenario we described above, the deck is actually advancing its board position as it annoys all holy eff out of the opponent. The opponent is reduced to two lands but you also have a 5/5? I can imagine a whole lot of worse places to be against a mana-screwed opponent.

We don't really talk about "Tier Two" metagaming any more, and maybe the term is not even appropriate today, in this world of Cryptic Command and Bloodbraid Elf, but certainly you can see the great—and constantly emerging—variety of decks that are available in Standard. Will you battle for the Blue Envelope swinging at kneecaps and Achilles tendons with the miniscule monster of the week? Or perhaps show the opponent a cascade of crippling card advantage with an eight-pack of Commands? Or help the world decide that this is going to be another Faeries week?

Good luck, whichever deck you choose. (And you certainly have a lot to choose from!)

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