Three for Three

Posted in Top Decks on April 29, 2010

By Mike Flores

We join this Standard Pro Tour Qualifier season, already in progress ...

Three Magic Online PTQs down, three victories by White-Blue Tap-Out.

We haven't talked about Standard in several weeks. While I fully expect Jund to lead Top 8 appearances once paper Magic PTQs start getting tallied, the early leader—in particular in the one statistic that really matters—is White-Blue Tap-Out.

_ShipItHolla (1st Place)

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bolov0 (1st Place)

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__SipItHolla (1st Place)

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These decks are all about the creatures. All three PTQ-winning decks have four copies of Baneslayer Angel (we missed her, what with that Boss Naya lockout), Knight of the White Orchid (see below), and Sphinx of Jwar Isle (largely as a concession to Jund).

These white-blue decks are called "Tap-Out" because they play powerful cards on their own turns. In addition to the creature base, all these decks play about five planeswalkers—a two Elspeth, Knight-Errant / three Jace, the Mind Sculptor set—and a variety of spells, Martial Coups and Mind Springs. Earlier I said that these white-blue decks are all about creatures .... That extends to their creature suppression as well, apparently. Martial Coup is a potentially backbreaking spell in that it can undo quite a bit of investment in mana and cards on the part of one player ... simultaneously deploying a dragon's worth of power serving the interests of the other.

Caveat: Now while these decks did well with four total Martial Coups and Mind Springs (on either a 1-3 or 2-2 split), don't be surprised to play against all eight.

_ShipItHolla, who won the first PTQ, played two copies of Path to Exile main-deck (which was down to one copy by the time __SipItHolla won); both bolov0 and __SipItHolla played two copies of Negate main deck. The rest of the cards in these Tap-Out decks really are meant to be tapped out for on your own turn.

So what exactly are you tapping out for?

The first action on the first turn might be Fieldmist Borderpost. Fieldmist Borderpost is the glue that holds the White-Blue Tap-Out decks together. It both supplements the primary mana sources of these decks (or did you not scratch your head at only 22-23 lands in a deck chock full of 7+ mana costs?), but it hooks up with Knight of the White Orchid for card drawing and mana acceleration.

All three decks played between one and three copies of Everflowing Chalice; again, this is just a "Signet" that helps ramp the deck to the seven mana spell sorceries, or can help set up a third-turn Day of Judgment or planeswalker.

The mirror card on two mana—and arguably the more important one—is Spreading Seas. I feel like Spreading Seas is a Top 10 card in Standard, barely out of the Top 5, and arguably more central to the success of most blue decks than some of the obvious "bomb" banner-bearers. Spreading Seas, as a cantrip, helps these relatively land-poor decks draw into more lands; but, more importantly given the composition of the metagame, Spreading Seas can help slow down the Jund deck. It is that simple act of slowing down Putrid Leech by one turn by applying a Spreading Seas to Savage Lands that helps to make white-blue decks viable in the first place.

JB2002 (5th Place)

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The White-Blue "Permission" variants, by contrast, are not all about the creatures.

This deck, in fact, doesn't have any. Elspeth, Knight-Errant can make creatures, and the deck does balance its mana with Celestial Colonnade, but the kill is typically a long look at Jace, the Mind Sculptor.

Instead, the less common permission-based white-blue decks are all about the mana: 26 lands, 4 Everflowing Chalice ... half mana! With quick cantrip Spreading Seas, the White-Blue Permission variant plays like it has 32 lands!

Earlier versions of this deck, coming out of the Pro Tour in the hands of well known players like Mark Herberholz, Gabriel Nassif, Patrick Chapin, and Brian Kibler, played an additional engine: Halimar Depths + Treasure Hunt. Treasure Hunt would have been over Spreading Seas, with all the Cancels and all four copies of Jace, the Mind Sculptor. One advantage that this strategy offers is a Treasure Hunt-driven mana advantage, making Tectonic Edge look better than in almost any other deck.

White-Blue Control decks are not the only ones packing Celestial Colonnade and Jace, the Mind Sculptor. A Finest Hour / Bant strategy employing many of the same cards as the white-blue variants took drVendigo to an online PTQ finals.

drVendigo (2nd Place)

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This deck starts on the first turn with Birds of Paradise and Noble Hierarch, then starts dropping hits. Dauntless Escort, Rhox War Monk, and Knight of the Reliquary can come down on the second turn; then it is time to set up Rafiq of the Many, into Finest Hour. Rafiq and Finest Hour can of course have a Birds of Paradise attacking like an Eldrazi giant.

A similar, potentially more common (in the paper Magic world) version of this deck might be Zvi Mowshowitz's Mythic:

Zvi Mowshowitz

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The core main deck differences between Mythic and a "regular" Bant Finest Hour deck is, again, a focus on mana. Zvi's deck packs 27 lands and four more mana-producing creatures (Lotus Cobra, essentially over Dauntless Escort).

Zvi's deck also goes a little bigger; note the Rampaging Baloths and Admonition Angels (in the sideboard).

Playing against these decks is going to be relatively similar. The opponent is going to try to tax and overload your removal, and stick—and ultimately kill you with—a single big threat. In that sense Rampaging Baloths is a perfect finisher. The opponent has already drawn out your removal capable of dealing with a big monster—you know, your Oblivion Rings and Doom Blades and what have you—with the intention of "killing you" with the, ahem, "last fatty."

One strategy that you may have missed—but that will probably be in force at the real-life PTQs due to its combination of relative budget-friendliness and fun factor—is Naya Allies.

dubz1337 (8th Place)

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Allies is a classic linear creature deck. Almost all the creatures are Allies. First turn Hada Freeblade comes down on turn one; Kazandu Blademaster (always good) makes the Freeblade look really good. Then Kabira Evangel makes it look like the best of the Rebels back in 2000; no one blocks. At that point any Allies off the top will keep your squad punching through.

You can of course substitute Oran-Rief Survivalist or even Harabaz Druid as your two-drop, and use the Druid to play out lots of stuff (hopefully all pumping each other) ... but what about the non-Allies?

Bloodbraid Elf is ... Bloodbraid Elf. Not an Ally, but good enough that we can cross our fingers and hope it flips over one of the good ones. Ranger of Eos might be the even more interesting four mana non-Ally.

Of course you can grab a pair of Hada Freeblades for the double pump, but a more interesting one might be grabbing a Goblin Bushwhacker, which would send everyone on your squad into the Red Zone, that turn. And because of the cumulative force that the Allies deck can generate in a single turn, giving all those new, +1/+1 counter-producing Allies haste too should make for a wild—usually lethal—answer to the classic Boros Bushwhacker finale.

While we approach this PTQ season already in progress, the online data is less than perfectly descriptive; after all, this is Eldrazi Week, and where are the 15/15s?

While I don't have a great direct answer to that question, we do have a window into one of this weekend's heretofore-unsung potential top performers: Vampires!

Cody Brewer's Vampires

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This was the top-placing deck at last week's Friday Night Magic at Star City Games, which according to community manager Evan Erwin, drew over 50 participants!

While we don't see any Rise of the Eldrazi cards just yet, the Vampires deck—with its two to four copies of Mind Sludge—seems perfectly positioned to take some early qualifiers. Mind Sludge itself is a beating against the white-blue decks, permission poor as the majority seem to be, and if it is 10/10, 11/11, and 15/15 creatures that's putting the fear of Baneslayer Angel into you, what better way to deal with them than to send them to the graveyard (however briefly), along with the mana and special mana sources / big cheats enablers that were planning to spring those Cthulhu-like annihilators in the first place?

On the other hand, I'll leave you this week with a Mythic deck worthy of Eldrazi Week (and the exact opposite in every way from Brewer's mono-Black list):

Patrick Dickmann's Mythic Conscription

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Patrick Dickman finished first at a National Qualifier with an Eldrazi-flavored look at Mythic. Mythic has always been about big creatures, but with Rise of the Eldrazi ... well ... now they are really big.

He replaced the some of the big pump effects / the top of the curve with an unusual threat card: Sovereigns of Lost Alara. At only 4/5 for six mana, this Spirit seems out of character for the usually-Rampaging Baloths-packing Mythic strategy. So what's changed? For one thing, the card has exalted, which makes it at least interesting in the context of lost Rafiq or lost Finest Hour. But the Eldrazi-appropriate final curtain to this article is the Godo, Bandit Warlord-like effect that Sovereigns of Lost Alara brings down, hammer-like, onto the battlefield.

Yes, that is Eldrazi Conscription.

Pretty nifty when you don't have to pay anything for it, isn't it?

That's +10/+10 and annihilator 2, and trample makes the +10/+10 chump-block-proof. In sum, the biggest deck seems to have gotten even bigger.

I hope to be able to report on some great new decks and unexpected victories next week, so good luck this weekend! (Yes, even those of you still playing Jund.)

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