Three Formats, Three Decks

Posted in Top Decks on March 10, 2011

By Mike Flores

It is hard to stick only to one format when there is so much craziness happening across the various planes of the multiverse... Not just in Extended at the PTQ level, but also in the realms of Standard and the increasingly popular Legacy format.

    Up First: Red Deck (Actually) Wins

Patrick Sullivan has for some years been one of the most well respected Red Deck players on the planet. He is famous for an amazing ability to slug it out at the PTQ level, and has posted a remarkable batting average, particularly in Red Deck mirror matches. Elite deck designers like Gerry Thompson say Patrick might be our best designer and theorist on Red Decks, and when you talk to him, it is easy to see why.

For example, one misconception that less informed players have about mirror matches is that they are in general "random" and another misconception that the simplicity and straightforwardness of Red Decks makes them easy to play. Patrick's Red Deck mirror success comes from the fact that the power level of each individual card in such a deck is generally about the same, so that there aren't many Jace, the Mind Sculptor-esque, Primeval Titan-ing blowout cards. The Red Deck mirror becomes about preservation of life total, valuing what is really important in a situation, and finding ways to gain card advantage with a limited array of mana and tools.

Patrick has always been famous for his unconventional card choices. He put Tattermunge Maniac in the Extended Red Deck and advocated Lava Dart and Volcanic Hammer when the prevailing sentiment was in favor of Firebolt and Magma Jet.

And this past weekend, on a trip back to his home state of New Jersey where he didn't even intend to play in the tournament (Patrick has been working in California for some years), he and his Red Deck actually won.

Patrick Sullivan's Red Deck Wins

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Sullivan won the nearly 600-player Standard Open in Edison, NJ with this, essentially a perfect, streamlined, Standard Red Deck. Twenty-four lands including four Teetering Peaks, eight fetch lands (for his Plated Geopedes and Searing Blazes); four of everything. The card choices are decisive and unapologetic.

Of the cards in the main deck, the most unusual is probably Ember Hauler. Patrick preferred it over Kargan Dragonlord, and cited in particular its effectiveness against multiple Squadron Hawks.

If there was one thing he was good at, it was beating Squadron Hawks. PSulli defeated white-blue decks, white-blue-red decks, and Boros decks on the way to the win. He dropped Manic Vandals on the progeny of Stoneforge Mystics and blew up a Kor Firewalker—that had hit him twice toting Sword of Feast and Famine—with Ratchet Bomb. He did everything from going Ultimate with Koth of the Hammer to accidentally casting a second Koth of the Hammer (though luckily his opponent was at that point on 1 life).

But most of all—in a Top 8 that featured a resounding 23 Squadron Hawks and 24 Stoneforge Mystics—he showed us another way you can go in this metagame.

From the tenor of the crowd—who were whispering at every turn about the success "of that cool Red Deck"—it seemed like this was exactly what the average tournament attendee was itching to see.

    The More Things Change... The More They Change, I Guess

Back in 1998, Time Spiral was one of the most high impact cards ever to see print. It immediately won a stack of US State Championships before spawning not only High Tide but the Pro Tour Rome-winning Tolarian Academy deck. At one point—I think before he came to work at Wizards of the Coast, certainly before his ascension to grand wazir or whatever title—Randy Buehler said that Time Spiral was so good that he would have tried to break it at eight mana, let alone six.

For any number of years, Time Spiral has been banned in the Legacy format. But about the same time that Survival of the Fittest hit the showers, Time Spiral was unbanned in a desire to see what kind of interesting brews would come out.

A couple of tournaments in, this is the result:

Alix Hatfield's High Tide

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Hatfield's Legacy Open-winning deck is a Legacy update to High Tide, one of the most dominating decks in the history of Magic (specifically 1999 Extended). It was the deck that started Kai Budde on his meteoric career, and did well by Jon Finkel and a number of other famous players as well.

Hatfield's "Permanent Waves" takes much of that old High Tide shell and adds both old (Candelabra of Tawnos) and new (Blue Sun's Zenith) to the mix.

So how does this deck work?

In a typical game you will cast High Tide, which allows you to essentially double the mana output from your lands. Then you use effects like the aforementioned Candelabra of Tawnos, Turnabout, or Time Spiral to net mana while drawing extra cards (basically everything else draws cards).

Eventually the goal is to generate a ton of mana and cards, ultimately using Mind Over Matter, double- or even triple-powered Islands, and excess cards in hand to translate any individual card (in hand) into more than one mana. Then, with lots of mana—usually 40 or more—you can kill the opponent with Mirrodin Besieged finisher of choice Blue Sun's Zenith, the 2011 answer to Stroke of Genius.

Blue Sun's Zenith is particularly cool because you can use it to draw a ton of cards yourself, shuffle it back into your deck, then eventually draw it again for the kill, using Merchant Scroll or even your regular draw step.

High Tide isn't the fastest deck in Legacy, but it still has a workable turn-three kill. For example you can play your third land, tap it for High Tide, tap your remaining two lands for four mana, cast Turnabout untapping your own lands, then tap the three in play for six mana to attempt Time Spiral (or do other mana-positive stuff first). For example you might want to deposit a Candelabra of Tawnos or Mind Over Matter, cast additional copies of High Tide, and so on.

Another route to victory might come via longtime friend to blue combo decks, Cunning Wish. You can just ramp up storm count and kill with Brain Freeze out of the sideboard. This is less unconditionally reliable in Legacy due to the uncommon commonality of Emrakul, the Aeons Torn (which undoes even massive "Millstone"-kill effects) in Show and Tell, Cloudpost, and even other High Tide style decks... but against inflexible offensive ones like Zoo, Goblins, and Junk that don't play giant Gaea's Blessing-like Eldrazi, Brain Freeze can make for a nice switcheroo / extra tool.

One of the cool things about this deck is that it plays essentially all basic Islands. Not only can the deck never be color-screwed, but it is basically immune to Wasteland. Pretty cool.

    Now for Something... A Little Bit Different

Ryan Reynolds's Green-White Summoning Trap

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As this PTQ took place in California, I can only assume that winner Ryan Reynolds was the Hollywood action star set to battle the forces of fear in this summer's upcoming Green Lantern movie...

But even if it wasn't (probably wasn't), the deck is still something fun to talk about.

Green-White Summoning Trap in Extended draws its origins from Zvi Mowshowitz and Team Mythic back at Pro Tour Amsterdam. Solid against Faeries, awesome against creature decks, and with the full four copies of Emrakul, the Aeons Torn capable of the combo-like flourish.

In case you didn't realize this (and many don't), if you cast Emrakul, the Aeons Torn off of Mosswort Bridge or Windbrisk Heights, it's like you cast it for reals... You don't just put it onto the battlefield like you do with a Summoning Trap. Ergo, full-on Time Walk!

Turn one Noble Hierarch; turn two Nest Invader + Windbrisk Heights; turn three, get in there and do something ludicrous. Emrakul is basically the winner there (whether or not you lose any of your Noble Hierarch, 2/2, or 0/1 in combat), but Primeval Titan is pretty good too.

Speaking of Primeval Titan, the Green-White Trap deck has some nice land search options. You have a solo Stirring Wildwood, a bullet Tectonic Edge, and the classic Sejiri Steppe.

So what's different?

Mirrodin Besieged, that sire of Caw-Blade in Standard, the set that made White-Blue Stoneforge Mystic cool in Extended, has contributed Sword of Feast and Famine to this style of deck, too! Elspeth, Knight-Errant and Sword of Feast and Famine make every piddly Birds of Paradise, Eldrazi Spawn token, and Noble Hierarch into a legitimate threat.

There is some cool positioning in this deck as well. People play Spell Pierce and Duress, and there aren't a whole lot of targets to be found here. When you have a relevant piece of countermagic, you might tap down and lose to a Summoning Trap; other times you get overwhelmed by the card advantage that is sitting under lands on the battlefield, hoping and praying your opponent doesn't suddenly get 10 power.

Ryan's sideboard gives the seemingly overwhelming, offensive, deck a good amount of flexibility. He can remove a Pyromancer Ascension or a Basilisk Collar with Nature's Claim. Burrenton Forge-Tender is a nod and a wink to the Patrick Sullivans of the world, Linvala, Keeper of Silence puts other people's Birds of Paradise on the unemployment line... but the ruiner is Day of Judgment.

Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition, you know?

When the mono-creatures deck lays out its, you know, creatures, that encourages other creature decks to lay out their creatures... so you can smash them when they overextend.


Fun stuff everywhere. Even better, good stuff.

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