Posted in Top Decks on March 5, 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."

Frankly, there wasn't much about last week's Pro Tour–Kyoto that was believable. The whole thing—from a storyline perspective, looking at the Constructed finishes—seems like a burgeoning bundle of lies, half-truths, and tall tales borne from the massive hyperbole engines cranking and churning in the bowels of Osyp Lebedowicz's Astral Slide-producing New Jersey basement.

But nope.


All true.

Every word.

Unbelievable, right?

I mean Luis Scott-Vargas is good—they have been calling him the best player on the Pro Tour for the past several months—so another Top 8 might not have been unlikely ... but for the bracketing to fall just so, so that LSV could and would face Gabriel Nassif only in the Kyoto finals .... Just a little too scripted, no?

And what about that Nassif? Gabriel has been "in the conversation" for years, and his status as the Pro Tour's end boss was more-or-less shattered with that teams win in Atlanta a few seasons back, but I suppose that this Top 8 seals it. Officially the third greatest player of all time with or without the win.

But then there was that bracketing (barely believable).

But the win itself?

Unbelievable, right?

Brian David-Marshall—at the height of his Captain America-killing tossing the Fantastic Four around New Jersey jughandles—could not have scripted a better (and by "better" I mean "less plausible") adventure story.

But there it was.

It all happened.

Nassif avoiding quarterfinal elimination in just the way that would allow BDM to proclaim "Holy Honolulu, Batman!" in a redux of the Craig Jones Lightning Helix conversation.

This is supposed to be real?

Like they say ... Stranger than fiction.

But you know the most unbelievable thing of all? On Thursday afternoon when Kelly Digges posted this on Twitter:

I love seeing Wall of Reverence in play in the Constructed portion of a PT. Especially sitting next to a Plumeveil!

Like most of you at home, ye olde http://www.twitter.com/fivewithflores assumed this was going to be some kind of goofball Engineered Explosives + Engineered Plague theme deck, or perhaps a rehash of the ancient days of Icy Manipulator + Royal Assassin—you know, the kind of builds that technically showed up at the PT, but that only deck list nerds like YT see, jamming at keys in the darkened back corner of the coverage room. But no! Unbelievable number N: This is the deck that wins the Pro Tour! Well I suppose it's worth looking at:

Gabriel Nassif's Five-Color Control

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And 61 cards? Out of the onetime best deck designer and Constructed pilot on the planet? Who would have believed that one?

But there it is. So how does this unbelievable deck work?

Nassif was the primary designer of a Five-Color Control version at the World Championships run by many notable players, not the least of whom was Worlds finalist Jamie Parke. This isn't that deck. This deck—which in the online coverage Nassif credited primarily to Guillaume Wafo-Tapa—is much closer to the other big name piloted Five-Color Control deck from that tournament... I mean just look at those Plumeveils (over Kitchen Finks or Rhox War Monk)!

The major threat in this deck is Broodmate Dragon. There isn't a whole lot of dedicated green mana present, but with eleven Vivid lands, Exotic Orchard, and a full quartet of Reflecting Pools, the single shouldn't be a huge issue on turn six. Broodmate Dragon is a classic update to the tap-out blue strategy, a modern Serra Angel that literally attacks and defends like the old gal did for Weissman ... But when it doesn't need to defend, it can attack, at times, times two.

Broodmate Dragon

"Usually, a 4/4 for three mana has to have a drawback, like Ashenmoor Gouger, but since Plumeveil is blue, it just gets three great special abilities. Flying is vital to combating Faeries, flash is huge for upping our ability to interact on our opponent's turn, and defender is crucial to not dying to a Sower of Temptation stealing our guy." –Patrick Chapin

The strange and wonderful part of this deck is the six-pack of Walls. Plumeveil is an echo of the World Championships, not a Kitchen Finks that gains life but a surprise three that can prevent that same loss of life while eating something yummy smaller than 4/4. Plop a Wall of Reverence next to the Plumeveil, and you'll never want for a Rhox War Monk ever again.

Now note how having a goodly number of decent defenders with wings can interact most unfriendly-ly with Bitterblossom tokens. Blocking, gaining life, all of it ... Terrible for anything short of a Mistbind Clique, and not too shabby even then, given the six toughness on Wall of Reverence.

Now think about this setup comingled with Volcanic Fallout in the same matchup and you might just realize why Nassif's playtest partner Mark Herberholz called the card Volcanic Blowout in the video coverage. Not quite a Wrath of God against sizable creatures, but Wall of Reverence, Plumeveil, and Terror can all shore up a lot of the larger problems; Volcanic Fallout, though, is golden against the Faerie onslaught that has been so problematic for Five-Color Control for so long.

I could talk about the full set of Scepter of Fugues in Nassif's sideboard, but Disrupting Scepter-type cards have been staples in control decks since, um, Weissman (speaking of which, my old Underground and Team Red Bull teammate Brian Kibler actually just took down a PTQ this past weekend with Cabal Interrogator! Go Rith!) ... so instead I will focus on Nassif's super unique new / old flash threat: Wydwen, the Biting Gale.

Scepter of Fugue
Wydwen, the Biting Gale

How has this card not seen more play? I had to read it over and over and check the expansion symbol. Isn't this awesome? Kind of like another Plumeveil in some spots, but with more flexibility ... basically inexorable against anything but Cryptic Command in a long game? Half a Venser, Shaper Savant with a built-in Riptide Laboratory?

I'd point out that Stronghold Zeppelin's pedigree in Constructed Top 8s if that weren't so sad, passe, and redundant in the face of Nassif's win. Then I'd say "unbelievable" again ... if it all weren't so damn believable. Great job, Gabriel.

As noted in numerous articles, interviews, and adulations, Nassif's co-finalist ain't no slouch neither.

Luis Scott-Vargas's Black-White Tokens

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Luis Scott-Vargas played one of two Black-White Tokens decks that made the Top 8; the other was played by Matteo Orsini Jones (the recipient of Nassif's topdecked Cruel Ultimatum).

Matteo Orsini Jones's Black-White Tokens

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The main decks are quite similar, down to each playing 25 lands. The main difference in capability is that Orsini Jones is playing with four Thoughtseize, where the Berlin champion (then one of the only Elves decks to play Thoughtseize) has exchanged that discard spell for something that gains 2 life while interacting instead: Kitchen Finks.

Otherwise, this is how these decks go:

The black-white decks generate lots and lots of card advantage. They play arguably the strongest card in the format, Bitterblossom, and they stick the next best (and faster) token producers next to Bitterblossom: Spectral Procession and Cloudgoat Ranger and sometimes even Marsh Flitter. All these tokens together make for simple ways to trip Windbrisk Heights. And all these little guys can become bigger guys when linked up to Ajani Goldmane and Glorious Anthem.

Disruption is a major theme for the decks as well. Tidehollow Sculler is present in both, but Orsini Jones can go positively Duress + Cabal Therapy old school with his combination of Thoughtseize and Tidehollow Sculler both.

Tidehollow Sculler

The Black-White Tokens deck is quite well set up to fight decks like Blightning Beatdown and other red decks. Andre Coimbra once described the conflict as poor red making two-for-ones while Black-White Tokens made three-for-ones. And then there are all those Burrenton Forge-Tenders out of the sideboard. Just impossible, often, to overcome.

Now here is a deck that you might not have seen before: Dark Bant.

Brian Robinson's Dark Bant

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The colors in this deck are plentiful. The awesome accelerators (including best one drop of all time and next-best one drop—maybe—of all time) are also plentiful. But how do you get away with Tidehollow Sculler next to Rafiq of the Many in the same deck? Even with "eight" Birds of Paradise?

Ancient Ziggurat

We have seen all kinds of Reflecting Pool mana bases for the last year, but Ancient Ziggurat offers a whole new way to make our mana bases. We can play any creatures we want ... as long as they're mostly creatures. The Ziggurat is obviously very powerful in the right deck, but it also has numerous constraints. For example, it can never play Path to Exile, nor even equip Loxodon Warhammer. Almost ironically, it can't power up a Mutavault, or hang monkeys off the side of a Treetop Village. But it's still new, different, and quite strong.

Now Rafiq of the Many ... Wow, what a strategy! This deck is set up to deal damage in a hurry. Turn-one Noble Hierarch, turn-two Doran, the Siege Tower, turn-three Rafiq, get in for 14 or so. Ka-pow!

Last week we spoke about Boat Brew, and I embedded some of the old Boat Brew videos from older editions of Top Decks. To return to our "unbelievable" train of thought, Boat Brew originator Brian Kowal—who had never made an individual Day Two on the Pro Tour—finished one match outside the Top 8! It took nothing less than Gabriel Nassif himself to deny Kowal the Top 8 ... but his deck still managed to crack the Day Three wall twice over.

Akimasa Yamamoto's Red-White Reveillark

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Jan Ruess's Red-White Reveillark

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We've talked about this deck at length on multiple occasions the past couple of months, so this time around I'll just talk about some of the new cards, rather than the core strategy.


A powerful finisher, this card is inexorable given sufficient mana. Flexible early against draws that feature, say, a Birds of Paradise.

Path to Exile

An out to Mistbind Clique, Sower of Temptation, and so on; obviously effective against threats a la Chameleon Colossus. Great combination with Knight of the White Orchid.

Lapse of Certainty

Now this is exciting! Originally BDM and I were worried about the mana cost on this one (even while we agreed that would have made it too good), but it seems like Jan Ruess found a good place for the reprinted Memory Lapse. Newer players might not realize why a card that puts an opposing card on top of the opponent's deck might be worth playing (I mean, it doesn't "destroy" that card) ... but there are times, especially in a format where Reveillark is a defining threat, that on top of the library is actually better for you than the opposing graveyard. Or when the opponent is spending more mana and you only have to spend three mana to buy a turn's action—that is profitable. Finally, say you are already winning ... Controlling your opponent's ability to topdeck and /or draw lands can keep you winning another turn.

The other red-white deck: Kithkin.

Cedric Phillips's Red-White Kithkin

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Cedric Phillips attacked for two all the way to the Top 8 with an updated build of Kithkin. This deck runs a core similar to what we have seen in Block Constructed and Standard since Lorwyn, but updated to include one of the best overall cards in Standard, Ajani Vengeant, and a full set of Path to Exiles.

Cedric's deck has a lot of the same capabilities of a Red-White Reveillark Boat Brew, down to some Rangers and Reveillarks in the sideboard, but runs it much more aggressively in the main. The deck opens on a 2/2 (or a Figure of Destiny, which can be worse), then Wizened Cenn or Knight of the Meadowgrain, then Spectral Procession, always exerting pressure. Should it come to five mana, Cloudgoat Ranger, a.k.a. Siege Goat Commander, is one of the best garbage men in Standard, able to close a game rather quickly, especially when combined with Glorious Anthem or Elspeth, Knight-Errant.

But out of the sideboard, this deck can play a card advantage game .... Rangers for Forge-Tenders and Figures, Reveillarks blocking, recycling on the board, all of these cards inherently cross-hatching with Windbrisk Heights, many of them (Cloudgoat Ranger, Spectral Procession, Cloudgoat Ranger, even Elspeth given time) one-card Heights enablers.

Finally, let us take a look at the bad guy:

Masayasu Tanahashi's Faeries

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This version of Faeries is set up to be able to play the best curve in Standard:

But unlike most, it can follow up the fifth turn with another two-for-one in Shriekmaw!

The alternate five mana spell—Liliana Vess—is no mean threat against powerful decks such as Five-Color Control. This is a good thing because Glen Elendra Archmage—once hell on Five-Color Control—seems to have lost a lot of value based on new strategies such as playing a lot of Walls (which can't be countered with the Archmage) or Volcanic Fallout (which can't be countered at all).

Peppersmoke is of course there for the Faeries mirror. What more could a girl want than a relevant one-mana two-for-one?

About the only non-unbelievable thing about this whole Pro Tour shebang is the presence of these little blue hellcats. Because you can't keep the Fae down ... especially once they start splashing Makeshift Mannequins to come back from the dead.

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