Ten Things I Learned from Worlds 2010

Posted in Top Decks on December 16, 2010

By Mike Flores

This past weekend in Chiba, Japan gave us, perhaps, the most exciting cap to a year of professional Magic, ever. The crowning of Guillaume Matignon via a star-studded Top 8 was awesome ... But the weekend (and the process of making Top 8) was much more than just picking a blue-black deck. Over the course of poring over each and every letter and syllable of story and Hagon-podcast has taught me a ton. Here are the top 10 things that I took away:

    10. The Right Number of Creatures to Play in Standard is Six: Three Sea Gate Oracles and Three Grave Titans

I mean look at the Top 8 decks. Of the Top 8, five of them were Blue-Black Control decks using exclusively Grave Titan and Sea Gate Oracle for main-deck creatures; of those five, three non-Guillaume players had three copies of each. You can't argue with science.

Well ... I guess a different man might make the argument that the Guillaumes meeting in the finals with their three Grave Titan / two Sea Gate Oracle configurations might make for a different conclusion. But the point is the point: Sea Gate Oracles show you the path to take with your Grave Titans, if what you want is to win.

The other three decks in the Worlds 2010 Top 8 were White-Blue Control, Vampires, and a throwback Mono-Green Eldrazi Ramp. The undefeated Day One decks were two copies of Blue-Black Control (both of which made Top 8), Erich Froehlich's Vampires (which made Top 8), one-time Rookie of the Year Pierre Canali with Elves, and ascending Hall of Famer Brian Kibler with Caw-Go (White-Blue Control with Squadron Hawk).

Put another way, there were no copies of Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle at either the 6-0 finish line or in the Top 8.

    9. Grave Titan is a Top 10 Card

Prior to Worlds 2010 Patrick Chapin and I were discussing re-vamps to the Top 10 cards in Standard; Patrick presented a list with Grave Titan extremely high ... Just after Jace, the Mind Sculptor and Primeval Titan if I recall correctly.

I questioned the presence of Grave Titanat all. I mean Grave Titan is a fine card with roots in last summer's Jund and sporadic play in Extended Four- and Five-Color Grixis decks, but a Top 10 card in Standard? What do you think this is, Frost Titan?

I am not 100% sure how the entire Black-Blue universe all decided to forego Frost Titan in favor of Grave Titan this weekend past, but I know where it originally came from; when he was first brewing Blue-Black Control, Nick Spagnolo told us that as good as Frost Titan was, it was basically irrelevant against an opponent with a resolved Jace, the Mind Sculptor and a little mana; Grave Titan at least left behind some little buddies to go try to beat on Jace.

Look at the shape of this metagame; the Top 8 was five-eighths Blue-Black Control; the undefeated decks on Day One were two-fifths Blue-Black Control. Blue-Black Control has been thrust into a very different metagame position, in terms of popularity and success, than it once commanded; as such, it is not just a matter of figuring out how to play Blue-Black Control, but increasingly, to beat it.

How do you do so without severely disrupting your card pool?

What is Blue-Black Control about, anyway?

Winning the mirror will often be about winning a Jace war. As we said, Grave Titan is better at going after Jace than Frost Titan. Then there is the matter of point removal. Every single Blue-Black deck in the Top 8 played at least two copies of Doom Blade, and in a couple of cases, three. When you are facing off against another Blue-Black deck, would you rather present Frost Titan (expensive to hit but still more appropriate than a Creeping Tar Pit), or a Grave Titan?

Let's have a look at the 2010 World Championship deck, shall we?

Guillaume Matignon's Blue-Black Control

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There are all different ways to make a Blue-Black deck, but I think that when you fire up the queues in Magic Online, you will want to be aware of this build's capabilities ...

Main deck sweep. Many iterations of this deck have, in the past, lacked any kind of Day of Judgment effect ... Matignon's had Consume the Meek main deck.

Light discard. In addition to Memoricide to fight Primeval Titan (and other Black-Blue decks) the Worlds winner has Inquisition of Kozilek both main deck and sideboard (up to three copies).

Hard counters. There are only two Stoic Rebuttals (one main and one side), but make sure you are aware of their existence, at least. There's nothing like thinking you are leaving enough lands up for a mid-game Mana Leak, etc.

Planeswalker domination. Not only can this deck go from six to seven copies of Jace (various), but that singleton Sorin Markov is a nigh-Cruel Ultimatum weapon against both fast aggressive decks and other control decks.

    8. Even the Unseelie Court Has a Place for Jace

Jonathan Randle's Faeries

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This is the 6-0 Extended deck that catapulted Jonathan Randle into the Top 8 via Day Three performance. When you are testing against Faeries in the near future, consider the fact that even Faeries now packs Jace, the Mind Sculptor (if only two copies). We have seen Jace Beleren in Standard Faeries decks, but Jace, the Mind Sculptor has not (at least to the best of this writer's memories) been stock in Extended Faeries. That looks like it is about to change.

Jace is not only an answer to slower Blue decks' Jaces (various), but an alternate way to win when little 1/1 flyers are suppressed.

For that matter, this is a Faeries deck with Wurmcoil Engine ... and Wall of Tanglecord! These colorless defensive measures do everything from block Goblin Guide, on up the value chain.

    7. Luis Scott-Vargas is Still Indomitable at Extended

Luis Scott-Vargas's Four-Color Control

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Speaking of 6-0 Extended performances, this is another deck you should have in your testing arsenal.

Kind of base-Grixis control, this deck gains a good deal from its white splash:

Wall of Omens. Improved early game mana stability, as well as Goblin Guide (et al.) defense.

Esper Charm. Probably the biggest overall incentive to the white splash, this card gives an otherwise Grixis deck resistance to Bitterblossom and Prismatic Omen without having to delve into vulgar removal spells on the order of a true Disenchant—main deck, that is. Obviously instant-speed card drawing is also useful for a control deck.

Day of Judgment. Obviously a unique and highly desirable effect for a control deck.

Runed Halo. The spoiler for a deck boasting 20+ nonbasic lands (name "Anathemancer"); also very useful against Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle.

    6. When You Have Cryptic Command, Who Needs Wrath of God? I mean really.

Dialing it back to our World Champion, Guillaume Matignon played quite a different Four-Color Control deck than Luis Scott-Vargas (also undefeated, if not 6-0):

Guillaume Matignon's Four Color Control

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So ... Who needs Wrath of God (or in this case Day of Judgment)? Apparently not Guillaume! With Cryptic Command, he could "Fog" the opponent's entire squad, lining them up for Sunblast Angel! What a beating for creatures! To my mind that is the most exciting thing setting this version of the popular control strategy apart from the rest of the room, but it's not like Matignon didn't have a legitimate sorcery sweeper at all ...

While it costs one more mana, Hallowed Burial has some very nice incentives over Day of Judgment. For one thing, Day of Judgment is essentially an inferior Wrath of God (for the same cost) ... It's not like we don't see creatures that can walk away from a Day. Even if we don't see a lot of regenerating creatures in modern Extended, there are still lots of creatures you don't want to fight with Day of Judgment:

Sprouting Thrinax in Jund. Leaves just as much power on the table after you kill it.

Kitchen Finks in various decks. Persist makes conventional removal much less attractive.

Wurmcoil Engine. Kind of like a bigger Sprouting Thrinax, but delivered with the spirit of Kitchen Finks.

Anathemancer. As if dealing with it the first time were not painful enough.

Vengevine and Demigod of Revenge. They'll be back.

Hallowed Burial isn't perfect against Reveillark, but it is a heck of a lot better against Reveillark if the opponent hasn't already got a jazzed graveyard; plus flat-out awesome against the entire Thrinax / Finks / Wurmcoil / graveyard shenanigans families.

    5. Viscera Seer Lets You Use Every Part of the Animal

Eric Froelich's Vampires

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Do you know what "viscera" is? Go ahead and Google that if you want.


It's pretty gross!

Well anyway, the marginal Magic 2011 common lets you go all disgusting with, in particular, Bloodghast—basically free scrying when you get this combination online. It is also useful for setting up the Kalastria Highborn, the Vampire deck's most difficult-to-stop end game strategy.

    4. Wargate!

Masashi Oiso's Wargate

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I suspect that this deck will prove to be the real deal.

With Rampant Growth and Cultivate to help it escape Mana Leak, plus Cryptic Commands of its own, the Prismatic Omen strategy has some decent defense. Factor in a wide variety of sideboard options—Great Sable Stag for Faeries, Firespout for beatdown—and it has some very attractive B-plans.

What's that? You don't necessarily know what Plan A is?

There is a reason there is an exclamation point after the one-word title to this subsection!

So what do you get with this piece? Ideally is two, and the card is Prismatic Omen; although theoretically Wargate can be just another ramp spell (X = 0 and you can go and get a land).

What does Prismatic Omen do for you? Well every land is a Mountain, so that makes for quite the combo with Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle. The coolest thing is that you can play a Scapeshift getting a bunch of Valakuts, and they all count one another as Mountains; so with just six lands in play you can kill the opponent with a Scapeshift.

Another option is to just go Prismatic Omen + Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle.. Every land you play from this point on is essentially a Lightning Bolt (or better ... as with a Misty Rainforest). You can win an incremental value game quite consistently, especially with all the ramp in the deck.

The combination of mana consistency, raw power, and relatively quick combo clock, should make this deck popular.

    3. There is a Such Thing as Santa Claus

Red, green ... and blue?

Merry Christmas!

Florian Krauer's deck proves that with the mana bases afforded us in Extended, you can play basically whatever you want—There is such a thing as Santa Claus. For example here is his deck, which is chock full of every card you would ever want to play:

Florian Krauer's Blue-Red-Green

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Check 'em out!

Bloodbraid Elf. At one time the best card in Standard, which in this deck, can flip a...

Trinket Mage. Cross-format All-Star; is it excessively greedy to wish this deck had some kind of Memnite for ...

Vengevine. Relentless attacker, as always.

Cunning Sparkmage. Awesome with Basilisk Collar (and by extension, Trinket Mage)

Lotus Cobra and Noble Hierarch. Because mana is awesome.

No, there is no Mana Leak (due to Bloodbraid Elf considerations), but the presence of Cryptic Command and Jace, the Mind Sculptor in such an aggressive deck makes it easy to see how Florian scored that 5-1.

    2. There is More to Legacy Than Survival of the Fittest

No one is saying Survival of the Fittest isn't great, but I for one was happy to see that neither of the top Team Championships trios was fronting the Fauna Shaman predecessor. Ivan Floch of the Slovak Republic ran a White-Blue Counterbalance / Sensei's Divining Top control deck with the Sword of the Meek + Thopter Foundry also-combo.

Ivan Floch's White-Blue Control

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Meanwhile Australia's Adam Witton answered with a straight Merfolk deck, splashing black for the sideboard.

Adam Witton's Merfolk

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And the Legacy side event looked like this:

So ... Survival of the Fittest posted two Top 8 appearances there (including the win) but there were still six other, quite varied, decks. Nice to see a return to Zvi Mowshowitz's original TurboLand based on Exploration + Horn of Greed shenanigans, from like ten years ago.

Those Legacy decks can be found here.

    1. When You're the Bad Guy, You Can Break All the Rules

I see it as fitting to finish this Top 10 list with a return to Extended, the format that defines who actually gets to make the break, for our third look at Four- or Five-Color control. Ali Aintrazi is a criminally under-appreciated veteran of the Star City Games Open Series who has made some really fine contributions to Constructed over the last several months.

His take on the base-Grixis control deck is ... quite different.

Ali Aintrazi's Four-Color Control

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I am not of the camp that Extended control decks have to play Preordain 100% of the time, but Ali has no analogue at all. No Ponder, no Sea Gate Oracle. In fact, he has no Jace, the Mind Sculptor! Heresy of heresies!

Of course we see the Mana Leaks and Cryptic Commands, and thanks to the white splash four Esper Charms. However the creature suite is also quite different, almost hearkening back to summer 2009 Standard with Plumeveil and Baneslayer Angel. But also Amsterdam with the Grave Titans.

In terms of finishers, in addition to a pair of Cruel Ultimatums, Ali has the biggest bad guy of all: Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker!

I mean Extended really is magical Christmas land when you can get away with playing an eight-drop in the same format that other people can command a turn-three kill.

2010 was a great Worlds, and the cap to a fine year of Magic: The Gathering. Enjoy the holidays! And if you're looking for a more statistically in-depth look at the decks and formats from 2010—check out my friend Paul Jordan's article here.

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