Grand Prix Domination

Posted in The Week That Was on October 29, 2010

By Brian David-Marshall

Having spent a fair amount of time playtesting with updated versions of Chris Cannon's winning deck list and getting my face smashed by various incarnations of Weenie Quest decks in the Tournament Practice room on Magic Online, I know that I want to get my hands on a play set of extended art Memnites by rk post. I am going to try and get a quarter of the way there by playing in Game Day this weekend. Everybody gets one just for signing up and if you make it to the Top 8 you also get a pretty dynamic looking extended art Tempered Steel.

Seems like a fine way to spend a weekend afternoon, right? Playing Standard, hanging out with old—and new—friends, and getting your hands on some cool prizes. Plus there is an extra little challenge for those of you up to navigating some deck design constraints. The top two finishers with Mirran-affiliated decks and Phyrexian-affiliated decks will walk away from Game Day as the owners of the first Mirrodin Besieged cards that anyone will get their hands on until the Prerelease, which takes place sometime early next year.

What does it mean for a deck to be Mirran-affiliated? By now you have probably noticed the watermarks that appear on Scars of Mirrodin cards. That identifies the cards as belonging to one or the other faction in a pending war that will be fought over the course of this block. You can find all the Mirran-affiliated cards within Gatherer, which now offers an advanced search criteria that sorts by faction, and the smaller pool of Phyrexian cards as well.

I know that I am not the deck-building guy in the column rotation but I could not help but tweak a couple of decks I have been working on in order to meet the deck-building guidelines to qualify as factionized. Building a Mirran deck is pretty wide open. You get to use most of the marquee cards from the new set and with access to all the new "dual" lands your mana is going to be good. There are not as many options to work with for the Phyrexians—with only one-third of the cards on the other side of the aisle—pretty much anything you build is going to be based on infect. I am not constrained by the same concerns as Jake Van Lunen but the core of my deck is going to be the same as his.

You may recall my love of Hedron Crab from the deck I played at Nationals, which was also played in the Top 8 of that tournament by David Ochoa and Brad Nelson (more on Brad shortly). I have also been thinking quite a bit about Necrotic Ooze of late and with the Scars of Mirrodin rotation opening up some holes in the Dredge-Uh-Vine roster it seemed like a great opportunity to put the deck up on the lift and tinker around.

Ooze Line Is It, Anyway?

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Darkslick Shores, Molten-Tail Masticore, and Necrotic Ooze are watermarked as the good guys, but the star of this deck is the oft overlooked—and traditionally too expensive to play in Constructed—Gigantomancer. With this guy in your graveyard and Necrotic Ooze in play you can win with any three unblocked Elves, Birds, or Crabs and three untapped mana. I have had multiple turn-four and turn-five wins in exactly that fashion.

A binned Molten-Tail Masticore is also pretty much exceptional with an Ooze on the battlefield. The Ooze gets all of the regenerating and 4-damage-dealing upside of the Molten-Tail Masticore with none of the discarding a card downside—although the downside can be useful for getting a Vengevine or Gigantomancer from your hand to your 'yard.

I am somewhat attached to the Vengevines, but if you wanted to cut them you could probably swap them out for something like Enclave Cryptologist. I have also played around with a couple of different card packages for creatures you want to have in your graveyard: Kalitas, Bloodchief of Ghet, Bloodshot Trainee, but the one I have not tested out at all—and I suspect is more fun than good—is the tandem of Triskelion and Sphinx of Magosi. With your Ooze on the battlefield and them in the graveyard you get to pay to draw a card and deal a point of damage to target creature or player.

The sideboard is something of a "work in progress" but you can play around with it as you see fit. If you are looking for another Mirran deck you only need to check out the Magic Online winning deck lists and the Quest for the Holy Relic / White Weenie decks have been doing really well and can easily be modified to meet the criteria. Just take this list that went 4-0 in a recent Standard Daily Event.

Zogok's Weenie Quest

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Playing around on the other side of the conflict you are somewhat locked into infect if you want to get a deck with ten watermarked cards in it. I have played against these decks quite a bit in the Tournament Practice Room and if they can punch through they can do some scary things with a handful of Giant Growths and an unblocked creature. Here is what I have been thinking about:

Blue-Green Infect

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This is one of those "playtest in my head" kind of lists. I have been spending most of my playtesting time with my Hedron Crabs. I have been on the wrong side of the infect deck a couple of times. I feel like you can just finish your opponents off in two turns with pump spells and Distortion Strike. I wanted something that felt a little different from the black-green versions. Ichorclaw Myr is a pain in the asp to block and it will steal you a lot of early counters, as will Necropede—both cards might be overlooked right now when building a Constructed version of this draft archetype. My original version of this simply squeezed blue into an otherwise black-green build, and when I realized that I could not use Darkslick Shores I began toying with this version.

    Switching Lanes

This past weekend saw Grand Prix–Toronto take place and one more tumbler fall in the process of unlocking the identity of the 2010 Player of the year. It is a testament to the domination that Brad Nelson has asserted on the Pro Tour when amongst 1362 players all building Sealed Decks you have someone who is as close to a lock of making Day Two as it gets in this game. How often do you see the obligatory "Building with ... " piece on Day One of a Limited Grand Prix make it to the Top 8 of the event? How about the Finals?

In the piece, I teased Brad about "complaining" that he opened a Mox Opal in his Sealed pool.

"If I was in my local store and opened an Opal I would jump for joy, but I did not travel 1000 miles to open an Opal," said the pragmatic Nelson—a line that people on Facebook and Twitter seemed to really enjoy. It is interesting to note that Brad reported on Day Two that he sided in the Mox Opal for virtually every Game 2.

Congratulations to Jonathan Smithers on winning the whole thing. Coming into the event the Canadian Pro Tour Qualifier veteran had never accumulated even a single Pro Point. I know that if I was playing in the event I would have fantasized a scenario where I got to come back from a one-game deficit against the current best player in the game. He did a great job of staying within himself, not being intimidated by the situation, and made for a fine hometown hero. It is Brad's results that I want to talk about though ...

Coming into the event there was a cluster of players within roughly 10 points of each other in the Player of the Year race. This made some room for players to catch up with front-runner Nelson. This is especially true since it is unlikely that Brad will play in Bochum or Florence. The only problem with that is Brad being on a Yuuya-like tear that has him in the Top 8 of seemingly every event he plays in. In the coverage for the Top 8 Brad even joked about not knowing what to do while people were getting ready for the Top 8 at GP–Portland, one of the few recent GP Top 8s that did not include him. Rumor has it they had to restrain him from filling out a Top 8 questionnaire and may or may not have had to take a Top 8 picture of him just so they could get the event moving along.

With his second place finish Brad now has 63 points for the season and a 15-point lead over the next closest contender. Even more impressively it gives him 90 lifetime points over just 6 Pro Tour events—Hawaii, Austin, Rome, San Diego, San Juan, and Amsterdam. If he can scrape together just 10 points (remember that he gets 2 just for showing up in Chiba) by the end of Worlds, he will become the first eligible member of the 2019 class of the Hall of Fame. It would also make him the fastest player to get to 100 points in terms of Pro Tours played.

As reported previously in this column, getting to 100 points within seven Pro Tours played would shatter the previous speed record held by Mark Justice, who did it in nine Pro Tours. Even if he falls short it seems impossible to imagine a world where Brad does not find 10 points to add to his tally before the second Pro Tour of next season. Keep in mind that Justice tallied up his points back when there was a great disparity between the top players on the Pro Tour and your average PTQ winner. The other players who have crossed the 100-point mark in similar time? Try Jon Finkel (11), Randy Buehler (11), Olle Råde (11), and Ben Rubin (13) ... all of whom happen to be Hall of Famers. With a win in Nashville, Brad could set the mark miles ahead of that star-studded group.

    Bonus Grand Prix Coverage!

For those of you who followed the Toronto coverage, one blog entry slipped through the cracks and didn't get published. So consider this a DVD extra from Josh Bennett, spotlighting the one and only Rich Hagon.

  • Sunday, 9:45 a.m. – The Hagon Gambit
    by Josh Bennett

Rich Hagon is best known as the ginger Costello to Brian David-Marshall's Abbot in the Pro Tour Coverage booth. This weekend, though, he's indulging in a rare treat: Actually playing competitive Magic!

Wanting to make the most of the opportunity, he and his two friends Neil Rigby and David Sutcliffe poured all their efforts into practicing Scars of Mirrodin Sealed Deck, playing hundreds of games with dozens of sealed pools. They never actually got around to practicing draft, however, which turned out to be a serious handicap when all three made Day 2 with only a single bye between them.

What they had done is looked at all the Limited archetypes in broad strokes, and considered what "average" versions of them would look like. The most interesting thing they found was that an "average" poison deck often performed better than its contemporaries. For Hagon, the message was clear: Force poison. He knew the ins and outs of the deck, knew vaguely about the pick order for it, and frankly, knew very little else about the format. It was his best hope for success at the draft tables.

With all this in mind, he opened his first pack and saw... nothing. No infect creatures, no good green or black cards. He took Turn to Slag. Next up, another step away from the plan with Galvanic Blast in another empty pack. Third, he found Contagious Nim, and following the advice of Brian Kowal steered himself towards black as the red dried up. Infect creatures need a clear path, and the double-dose of removal red-black offers is just the ticket. He found a late Cystbearer in pack 1, but his cards were otherwise mostly black with some red.

He cracked pack two and looked at another dud. It did have a second Turn to Slag for him, so it looked like he might have to resign himself to this suspect Plan B. The next pack offered him a guilt-free Cystbearer, and then another joined it and he was right where he wanted to be. Naturally the green flowed freely, having passed none in pack 1, and he was well on his way to his desired deck.

He opened pack 3 and his resolve wavered. Staring back at him was Koth of the Hammer. He succumbed to a three-part calculus:

1) He had a handful of quality red cards, and could wind up playing Koth.

2) He didn't want to play against Koth.

3) He wanted to own this particular Koth.

He snatched up the Koth. However, he was not so committed that he would ignore the signals coming his way. Two picks later he had shelved the temporary Koth fancy and was back on track to Poison Town. Here's what he ended up with:

Rich Hagon

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He points out that he misbuilt his deck, and that it wasn't until the trio of Japanese Pro Tour masters—Kazuya Mitamura, Shuhei Nakamura and Yuuya Watanabe—told him in no uncertain terms the gravity of his error. After Game 1 the Tainted Strike and Grafted Exoskeleton go out, and Withstand Death and Bellowing Tanglewurm come in.

Now he's focused on the next draft and plans to use exactly the same strategy. Asked about back-up plans if the poison deck fails to materialize, he says that given reasonable alternatives, he will always favor black over green early. The idea being that black's removal pairs well with other colors' plans, but green infect creatures don't really go with anything. Mostly, though, he just wants the perfect deck again so he can cruise to a Top 8.

Editor's note: Rich ended up in 33rd place with 36 points. Rigby finished 15th (missing the Top 8 on tie-breaks) and Sutcliffe finished 108th.

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