Top Stuff

Posted in Top Decks on July 23, 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."

Normally I would write some kind of an opening paragraph, maybe make some kind of clever comments, but this week we have roughly DI deck lists to look at, including not just some wild new strategies but exciting M10 takes on some established designs ... and DI of them. All of that, plus my Hall of Fame ballot.

Can you see how I wouldn't have the time or inclination to waste on an opening paragraph (or two)?

This past weekend featured some of the first Standard tournaments featuring Magic 2010. No Wrath of God. Yes Baneslayer Angel! No Seismic Assault. Yes Lightning Bolt! More than a "regular" week with mere PTQ Top 8s, the inaugural M10 weekend was littered with top finishes from some of the best players in the world, including our reigning Player of the Year, a resurgent past Player of the Year, and a whole lot of great decks...

Like Kithkin:

Khoo Aik Seng's Kithkin

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Kithkin is poised to be the deck to beat among decks to beat. It won the Kentucky Open, the Edison, New Jersey PTQ (over Pro Tour winner Osyp Lebedowicz, with combo Elves), and in the hands of Khoo Aik Seng, the Singapore National Championship.

This take on Kithkin is super straightforward. Four of everything save one Ajani Vengeant (making room for the 25th land). The big M10 addition is of course Honor of the Pure, a slam dunk upgrade over Glorious Anthem in a mono-White deck that doesn't even cheat on Mutavaults.

Honor of the Pure

The sideboard is superb: Ethersworn Canonist is there not just for Cascade decks, but Green-white Elves combo, slowing the latter down quite a bit and buying the White time to steal the game while the green-white can't. Quite. Win.

Ethersworn Canonist

Stillmoon Cavalier shows a further awareness of the format: There are more Kithkin in the room other than you ... here is a card that can shut them down!''

You can see the full Top 8 lists from Singapore Nationals here.

If you want to take down the mighty—if miniscule—Kithkin tribe, one of the best options is Reflecting Pool Control. Player of the Year Shuhei Nakamura must have found something he liked about the archetype, because that's what he picked to ace his Nationals Top 8:

Shuuhei Nakamura

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The loss of Wrath of God is quite apparent in this list; Shuhei ran a trio of Hallowed Burials to help pick up the slack, but on top of those, he played a variety of spot removal spells, including Doom Blade, Agony Warp, and Essence Scatter.

Nakamura's Top 8 was heavy on the star power. It marked yet another great finish by Kenji Tsumura, who finished Top 4 with Green-white Combo Elves:

Kenji Tsumura

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This deck, a Standard transplant of the Extended deck that Luis Scott-Vargas used to win Pro Tour–Berlin last year, is one of the hottest decks in the format. It is a combination deck that builds toward greater and greater board presence. Kenji's version of Green-white Elves doesn't have a clear way to win in a single turn ... it just makes lots of cards with lots of power (both naturally and thanks to Elvish Archdruid).

Green-white Combo Elves uses Ranger of Eos to set up Nettle Sentinel and Heritage Druid to create a powerful mana engine; each green card played will untap the Nettle Sentinel ... two or more Sentinels tapping with Heritage Druid, untapping with anything (say another Nettle Sentinel) and you can net a lot of mana to play more and more spells. In addition to Ranger of Eos, the Elf Combo deck generates velocity and card advantage with Elvish Visionary, Regal Force, and Primal Command. Of these Regal Force is the most significant for the purpose of exploiting the deck's existing tonnage. You have lots of Elves on the board ... Regal Force ensures that, given sufficient mana, you will have lots of Elves in hand (which you can then translate to more mana and more Elves on the board).

Primal Command is used before the deck goes off to set up the next turn with a Ranger of Eos or Regal Force (typically), and used the turn the deck is going off to win. Kenji's deck can play multiple Primal Commands in a single turn to help ensure that that when the opponent gets his turn, he can't do anything impressive with it. You see, this deck will usually have to pass the turn even after accumulating a terrific number of Elves; however playing many Primal Commands—many times exceeding four copies due to the ability to recourse previous Primal Commands—in a single turn can help keep an opponent off the mana he needs to play a sweeper.

Yuuma Shiota

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Yuuma Shiota finished third in the Japanese Nationals with the same archetype. When compared against Kenji's deck, Shiota's has two important additional features:

Gilt-Leaf Archdruid: The Elves Combo deck plays a huge number of Druids. You can play this card as a combo catalyst to function like a Glimpse of Nature in the strategy. In addition, it is no big thing for this deck to accumulate seven untapped Druids. Gilt-Leaf Archdruid's ability defies summoning sickness, so you can steal all of an opponent's lands even if all of your Druids are brand new. Stealing all of the opponent's lands is a fine way to end a turn before passing ... it's like a much better Primal Command in terms of ensuring the opponent can't sweep your Elves.

Gilt-Leaf Archdruid

Mirror Entity: This addition allows you to win the turn you are going off. If you have a couple of non-summoning-sick Elves and a clear path, Mirror Entity can make them very big by siphoning in all of the combo mana that Heritage Druid and Elvish Archdruid produce. In my experience it is very difficult to win in that single turn even if you have Mirror Entity in your deck because, let's say you start a turn with three Elves in play ... you will usually have to tap them to go off that turn anyway. Even if you end up with 20 Elves in play, most of those will be sick; the ones you could have attacked with being spoken for. However if you have so much as one free Elf that can get through, you should be able to generate enough mana that Mirror Entity can make it big enough to win.

Mirror Entity

You can see all of the Japan Nationals Top 8 decks here.

One of the hot new M10 cards that has players everywhere taking positions is Baneslayer Angel. Is Baneslayer Angel too good? Certainly it's much better than Serra Angel. However, can we really say that it is better than Reveillark and Cloudgoat Ranger at the same mana? Maybe yes, but it is not clear at all.

Baneslayer Angel

What is clear is that Baneslayer Angel is very efficient for its mana cost, and unlike the other two awesome white five-drops, can do a lot all by its lonesome. Baneslayer Angel has found space replacing Broodmate Dragon in tap-out control decks, sideboard space as an attrition winner in creature decks, and has started to spider out into decks between the super fast and the super slow ... you know, like this one:

Aaron Nicastri

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Former champion Aaron Nicastri made the Australian Top 8 with this Makeshift Mannequin deck featuring four Baneslayer Angels. The deck builds upon the 2007-2008 Mannequin model with Mulldrifter and Shriekmaw by doubling up with Soul Manipulation. Baneslayer Angel is the finisher ... and in this deck a highly resilient class of game winner due to the deck's many routes to recursion.

Check out the rest of the Australia Top 8 decks here.

Aaron Nicastri's deck featured some puzzling numbers ... but not nearly so puzzling as his friend Steve Sadin's!

Steve Sadin's Naya Cascade

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Sadin made Top 8 of the Bluegrass Kentucky Open with what he claims is a Naya Cascade deck. The deck is not actually limited to Naya, as it plays Black mana for Bituminous Blast and Broodmate Dragon, and even stretches to a single blue mana symbol on Enigma Sphinx.

Enigma Sphinx
Obelisk of Alara

This deck utilizes Cascade to do some strange and surprising things with singletons. For instance, unlike most Cascade decks, the presence of Enigma Sphinx allows Steve to flip the Planeswalker-like Obelisk of Alara. Ditto on Wall of Reverence via Bituminous Blast or Runed Halo via anything. Unlike in most decks, strange and seemingly volatile numbers can actually stabilize a Cascade deck. You need some non-Cascades to finish your chains, and these kinds of cards can show up with some regularity because Cascade decks typically see close to their entire decks in a long game. By devoting just two slots to Obelisk of Alara and Enigma Sphinx, Steve can give himself a tremendous edge against other slow decks (you've really got to send a Path to Exile at Enigma Sphinx to prevent it from getting wholly out of hand in an attrition fight).

Great Sable Stag

Cascade is arguably the best home for Great Sable Stag as an anti-Fae measure. The reason is that Bloodbraid Elf and Captured Sunlight can nearly triple the frequency where a Faeries player has to respect a Great Sable Stag ... and both of those cards help out while putting the Stag deck in a better race position, either by generating power or by blunting the opponent's clock. All in all, a strange yet very fun deck.

The Bluegrass Kentucky Open has historically been an influential tournament helping to shape the U.S. Nationals metagame (most memorably with the Gerry Thompson / Gabe Walls Blue-green-white Blink deck from a few years back). So if you are planning to play in or just tune into U.S. Nationals, you might want to examine these decks: Bluegrass Kentucky Open Top 8 (yes, Kithkin won again!).


Lots of new decks to learn, featuring new, or in some cases creatively modified, capabilities. Now let's switch gears to check out one writer's 2009 Pro Tour Hall of Fame ballot:

Kamiel Cornelissen

I remember a few years ago asking Hall of Famer Gary Wise to assemble a three-man team draft dream team. He said "Me [meaning Gary himself, of course], and any two of Jon, Kai, and Kamiel." Before there was Jon, Kai, and Nassif (but after Jon, Kai, and Bob, I supposed) ... there was Jon, Kai, and Kamiel. Besides being a Pro Tour winner himself with teammates Jelger Wiegersma (already in the Hall of Fame) and Jeroen Remie, Kamiel was also a back-to-back Pro Tour finalist across Constructed and Limited formats. Basically, he will be the nigh-unanimous shoe-in of the 2009 class, and correctly so.

Scott Johns

Scott has what looks to be the second most impressive paper resume in terms of Pro Tour performances (the only other player on the ballot with five Top 8s). Scott is a Pro Tour winner with Hall of Famers Mike Turian and Gary Wise, and amazingly, one of the rare players with an exceptional career ... followed by another exceptional career after taking time off; players who think of Scott as purely old school might not realize that his Pro Tour–New York win was during his second run. There is no player on the ballot that comes within a solar system of Scott's community contributions and non-specifically Pro Tour related Magic intangibles. Not only is he my boss here at (the editorial position most people probably know him for best), but Johns is arguably the most influential editor in the history of the Magic Internet. Scott was largely responsible for turning Zvi Mowshowitz into the content-generating machine that he became at the height of his powers, and personally innovated the concept of premium content for Magic after transitioning from Mindripper to Brainburst in the early 2000s. If there is one thing you can point at regarding Scott's paper resume, it's his "only" packing a duo of Grand Prix Top 8s, but hey ... it ain't the Grand Prix Hall of Fame (and to be fair, Scott retired the first time before there were any Grand Prix).

Baby Huey – William Jensen

All of us were on board with voting for Ben Rubin last year (correctly, by the way). Huey has basically the same career as Ben, but in fewer Pro Tours. Billy and Ben are quite close on paper, with Huey playing slightly more efficiently on Tour, as well as packing the superior Grand Prix career; in addition, Huey is a Pro Tour winner with one-time U.S. National Champion Matt Linde and two-time 2009 World Series of Poker bracelet baron Brock Parker. Many critics will point to Rubin's duo of Masters victories as a differentiating point ... Billy won the very first Masters, New York, almost a decade ago. These points of comparison are not in any way meant to diminish the accomplishments by Ben, who was an absolutely correct Hall of Fame selection one year ago ... but the fact that he was right a year ago and that Huey is so comparable should say something about how we should vote this time around!

Steve O'Mahoney-Schwartz

I think this is Steve's year! Shame on us for not electing him earlier. Like the first class, when he was supposed to make it (I am as much at fault as anyone else). From a personal side, Steve played the best game of Magic I have ever seen, and elevated Matt Wang to Grand Prix champion during a brief comeback a few years ago. It took Jon Finkel less than three years to transition from Hall of Famer to again a Pro Tour winner ... any bets on his Antarctica teammate and fellow Finkel drafter?

Chris Pikula

For a thousand reasons that none of you need repeated here and now. Chris is a legend among this ballot of distinguished legends.

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