Four Formats in Four Weekends

Posted in The Week That Was on June 3, 2011

By Brian David-Marshall

    Week One: Pondering Providence

This past weekend was the first of four straight weekends of pro-level play that will see the game's best players tackling four different formats—five if you count Sealed Deck and Booster Draft as two different animals—crossing back and forth from one end of the earth to the other. Mike wrote yesterday in Top Decks about the Top 8 decks of Grand Prix Providence, but there was plenty of interesting fodder outside the Top 8 as well.

There was plenty of buzz around the impact that the tandem of Stoneforge Mystic and Batterskull (not to mention Umezawa's Jitte, Sword of Fire and Ice, and other backbreaking Equipment), but I was much more excited about all the old cards that I got to see people dusting off for the event. Sylvan Library has long been one of my favorite cards, and I would squeeze it into white-blue control decks for that extra oomph of card drawing that a mere 8 life could provide in the mirror.

In the finals of the Grand Prix, against a combo deck that was not likely to do any damage to its opponents, James Rynkiewicz paid more than half his starting life total to Sylvan Library for the cards he needed to defeat Bryan Eleyet's Hive Mind deck in the deciding game. Rynkiewicz's deck was a Bant deck that eschewed Force of Will—not for budgetary reasons, but because of the pilot's vast experience playing in a Legacy tournament series at Jupiter Games near Binghamton, NY.

James Rynkiewicz's No-Force Bant

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I love the story of finalist Bryan Eleyet, who was playing the Hive Mind deck. He and his friend have been tearing up the Legacy daily events on Magic Online with a pre-New Phyrexia version of the deck and flew cross country from Spokane, WA on the strength of the deck in an attempt to qualify for Pro Tour Philadelphia with a Top 16 finish. People kept underestimating the power of this deck, but Bryan, who was in the feature match area from three rounds to go in the Swiss all the way through to the finals, showed everyone how the deck worked.

Brian Eleyet's Hive Mind Combo

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Another card I was thrilled to see—which is hard to imagine since it was so ubiquitous in Standard throughout its tenure there—was Fact or Fiction. Drew Levin, the highest finisher from last week's Legacy roundtable, took 10th place with good old-fashioned creatureless White-Blue Control. Drew chose to play a second copy of Fact or Fiction over a fourth copy of Jace, the Mind Sculptor. In what has become more of "slow, grindy format" than previous Legacy environments, the Fact or Fiction provided game-breaking card advantage. Ancestral Vision may not hold the same nostalgia factor for me as Fact or Fiction, but every time I watched Drew play he was pawing up a fist full of cards during his upkeep and his opponents were slumping in their chairs.

Drew Levin's White-Blue Control

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During the Urza Block Constructed PTQ season I could often be found battling with a deck that contained Academy Rector, Phyrexian Tower, and Pattern of Rebirth—some of my favorite cards ever printed. Needless to say when I saw Felix Lapan win a Grand Prix Trial with deck that utilized all those pieces to assemble—and promptly disassemble—a Protean Hulk. Lapan was featured in the GP on Day One but did not get to play on Day Two. His friend Jeremie Ross-Latour did, and even got to win a feature match with Starved Rusalka—a card they were unsure about coming into the event.

The deck also features the Natural Order-into-Progenitus combo—a fine plan A for most decks—but sometimes you just don't have time to attack twice for the win. As long as you have a sacrifice outlet—or can kill your Hulk with Slaughter PactProtean Hulk allows you to win on the spot. The Hulk dies and gets cashed in for Body Double and Carrion Feeder. Body Double copies the Hulk which is in the graveyard and gets sacrificed to the Carrion Feeder to go fetch Mogg Fanatic and Reveillark. You sacrifice the Fanatic to deal 1 damage to your opponent and then sac the Reveillark to the Carrion Feeder to get back Body Double and Mogg Fanatic. You copy the Reveillark, and you can demonstrate an infinite loop of the Body Doubled Reveillark getting sacrificed to the Carrion Feeder and returning itself and Mogg Fanatic repeatedly until your opponent is dead from Fanatic damage.

Or you could just attack twice with Progenitus.

Jeremie Ross-Latour's Hulk Rebirth

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    Week Two: Singapore Slinging

This weekend Standard will be front and center with hordes of Pros descending on Grand Prix Singapore as a way station before heading to Pro Tour Nagoya the following week. All the usual suspects are in attendance, but the proximity of the two events—and the chance to get a week's head start on adjusting to jet lag—means that there will be dozens of qualified Pro Tour Nagoya players from all over the world tackling the Standard format in Singapore.

With the Pros focusing their energy on breaking Block Constructed for the Pro Tour you might expect a roomful of Caw-Blade and Splinter Twin showdowns in Singapore, but at least one pro is packing an exciting brew for this event. I don't want to give anything away about the likely weapon of choice for Brian Kibler, but I have to imagine that the coverage team will want to get him into the feature match area early and often.

One would not normally be surprised to see a reigning Player of the Year attending a Grand Prix in some far flung corner of the globe, but Brad Nelson's presence in Singapore is somewhat startling and could herald a change in the near-mint condition of his passport. Brad won the title last season without playing in nearly as many events as his Player of the Year predecessors, pretty much only hitting up Pro Tours and domestic Grand Prix. This year, though, Brad is making the four-weekend run from Providence through Kansas City. Depending on the toll all that travel takes, and if he can amass 14 pro points, Brad will be at pretty much every event for the remainder of the season to take full advantage of his Level 8 Pro Players Club benefits.

This weekend will also see the Invitational play out in Indianapolis with all the players who have qualified in the Standard and Legacy Opens fighting for the Championship. Caw-Blade has dominated the Standard side of the Opens, but in this final event of the season you can expect the likes of Gerry Thompson, AJ Sacher, and Edgar Flores to have something spicy in store to win the trophy. Top Decks' own Michael J. Flores will also be competing, and we will learn if his winning Splinter Twin deck list from a couple of weeks ago is the real thing or a one-hit wonder.

    Week Three: New in Nagoya

Pro Tour Nagoya is going to be the first big event to utilize the full Scars of Mirrodin Block Constructed format, and the Pros have obviously been keeping any tech they have below the community's radar as best they can. The full format was recently unleashed on Magic Online, and the early results have Tempered Steel and Mono-Red as the early format pace cars. There are a couple of different takes on the Tempered Steel deck out there. Shrine of Loyal Legions seems like an obvious choice in the deck, as does Puresteel Paladin and various other Phyrexian-mana-fueled artifact creatures.

Magic Online player Happa (a.k.a. Alan Chau) has been tearing up Daily Events with a version of the deck that plays neither the Shrine nor the Legionnaire—and which bears more than a passing resemblance to the ill-fated Steve Sadin creation known as Hawkward.

Happa's Tempered Steel (4-0)

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I talked to Happa about the deck and what we might expect from the Block Constructed format in Nagoya. The Californian student described a metagame that consists of decks built around Tempered Steel, Mono-Red, Grand Architect, Infect, and Birthing Pod, with the white and red decks currently sitting on top of the heap.

Happa has been playing a Tempered Steel deck since before the release of New Phyrexia but described that version as "fighting an uphill battle" since his only real removal spell was Arrest. He was immediately drawn to Dispatch when looking over the full set, as it seemed to solve all his problems, but he still found himself running afoul of the protection from white on Phyrexian Crusader. He decided to fight fire with fire and added Dismember to his deck, enabling him to clear a path through anything his opponents threw his way.

"Dispatch is basically Swords to Plowshares—if not better—in SoM block and specifically in the Tempered Steel deck," said Happa of the sudden embarrassment of removal riches for his deck. "Dismember is the strongest counter to any infect decks and it just makes Phyrexian Crusader have a bad day. It also is a great card against any slow deck."

I was surprised by the lack of Shrine of Loyal Legions—a card I just assumed all the Steel decks would be using the minute it was available online—and Happa explained that it was too slow for him.

"It can help with late game for that extra army of 1/1s—or 3/3s with Tempered Steel," he admitted. "But Tempered Steel is a White Weenie deck and in general you don't want to reach the late game where your opponent has more of a chance to stabilize. The way I play Tempered Steel is just like any other fast aggro decks: get them low, have board advantage, and clear the way with Dispatch and Dismember."

As for the absence of the first-striking Porcelain Legionnaire, Happa preferred to avoid paying life for his creatures as many of the other Tempered Steel decks have been doing. Instead he preferred to have the more durable Chimeric Mass, which dies to the same artifact removal but gets to live through sorcery-speed removal like Slagstorm and Black Sun's Zenith.

Tempered Steel is clearly going to be a deck that players in Nagoya will have to take into account, and I can't wait to take one apart in the Tournament Center to see if the Pros come to similar conclusions as this largely online player who has been duking it out with New Phyrexia since the release of the new cards.

    Week Four: 40 Cards in Kansas City

This month-long tour will end in Kansas City with a palate-cleansing weekend of Scars of Mirrodin Limited—fresh off the Draft Top 8 in Nagoya. Here is a first look at a Limited Top 8 draft in this format with this draft viewer from the most recent online PTQ for Philadelphia.

We talk a lot about keeping your options open in drafts, and they don't get more open than a first-pick Plains by the eventual winner. Look for a detailed analysis of this draft in next week's Limited Information.

I gotta go pack!

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