Standard Bearers

Posted in The Week That Was on November 2, 2007

By Brian David-Marshall

Brian David-Marshall is a New York–based game designer who has been involved with Magic since 1994, when he started organizing tournaments and ran a Manhattan game store. Since then, he has been a judge, a player, and one of the longest-tenured columnists on, as he enters his second decade writing for the site. He is also the Pro Tour Historian and one of the commentators for the Pro Tour.

Curse Matt Wang and the day he was born. Seriously, Matt's annual birthday bash has prevented me from waking up in time for State Championships two years in a row. That is not to say that I had a bad time...far from it. I would just like one event or the other to move one week in either direction. My costume for the party was The Ironic Chef, which entailed a chef's outfit paired with a box of crackers and a can of cheese spread. I was counting on two things; that people would need something to eat and that they would be hazy on the precise definition of irony. (I had wanted to go as The Ironed Chef but I could not find anyone who owns an actual iron with which to burn the distinctive shape onto my chef's jacket.)

Had I attended States, I was going to either play the Poorlash deck Mike Flores and I had been working on or call the last minute audible into Skred Red as posted by Bill Stark over on I was nervous about playing both decks, fearing forestwalking elves and namelessly inverted Stuffy Dolls. As it turned out the field was wide open with plenty of different decks in each Top 8. Just look at the New York Top 8 for an example of a diverse metagame—there was only one archetype that put two decks into the elimination rounds.


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I dragged myself to New York States late in the afternoon to cheer on my friends still in contention and draft with the ones that had fallen by the wayside. There were some familiar faces near the top tables, including Neutral Ground regulars Asher Hecht, Chris Mascioli, and Tim Gillam who all managed to stay there until the cut to eight. Grand Prix Top 8 competitor Jim Davis emerged as the champion playing a modified Teachings deck. Grand Prix–Krakow is taking place this weekend and I was excited to see what archetypes would emerge from States/Champs and influence the off-season Standard Grand Prix.

Jim was impressed by the impact Lorwyn had on the metagame, citing a wide variety of cards ranging from tribal-themed decks like Tim Gillam's Elf deck and Mike Paccione's Faerie deck to Planeswalkers to the evoke creatures. In fact, it was the latter category that led him to include everyone's favorite two-mana green creature in his sideboard and expected that many pros would do the same for this weekend.

"I just merged what I liked about the lists online with my old block list," said Jim. "I also wanted the Tarmogoyfs in the board because playing a deck without four seemed wrong. Every deck was going to board out their Shriekmaws and what-have-you for Game 2. It gave me a nice transformational sideboard to swap in and out."

Jim Davis

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"Everything seemed even to favorable if you knew what you were doing," explained Jim of the dizzying array of matchups required to prepare for coming into the tournament. With a metagame as wide open as it was leading into States, the Pro Tour regular could not imagine playing any other deck.

"I like decks with a lot of choices. Any deck that I can walk away from a loss saying, 'I probably messed that one up' instead of, 'I drew four lands in a row and no burn spell, bad beat' is OK by me; I like being in control."

Despite his win, Jim was feeling down about the upcoming World Championships in New York City. Despite putting together a handful of solid finishes over the past two seasons he finds himself without an invite to tournament and in need of a win at Grand Prix–Daytona Beach if he wants to qualify. Of course, he has to get there first.

"I might have to hold a bake sale or something at my local store to raise some money for it, but if I can I will."

The Rise of the Harvest Moon

In the finals of New York States, many people who glanced at the match between Jim Davis and Chris Mascioli proclaimed it was just another Teachings mirror match, but Chris was actually playing what has become known as the Mannequin deck—a deck built by Jonathan Loucks, propagated by Gavin Verhey, and modified by Mascioli.

"The deck's goal is to steal tempo while having access to insane engines with its come-into-play creatures," explained Gavin. "One of my favorite things about this deck is that it can change its position in a matchup based on what role it needs to play. If you want to play the control deck, you can draw cards with your Mulldrifters and Shadowmages and play some removal, while holding the fort down with Ironfoot and Epochrasite using cards like Mannequins and Harvest to reuse Shriekmaw and just overwhelm the aggro deck on card advantage. If you need to play the beatdown, you have access to Cloudskate, Ironfoot (which is a respectable three-power creature for that can't be killed by Shriekmaw), and your recursion engines to hurt their mass removal plays."

Chris Mascioli

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"The nice thing about this deck is it draws so many cards," Gavin continued. "Because of Shadowmage and Mulldrifter recursion, you always have so many cards in your hand and so many options available. That is what allows you to beat the control decks: you have so much gas that they can't keep up. In addition, the Makeshift Mannequins create a nightmare for the control decks as a threat can spring up end step."

The deck was a product of Seattle-area tournaments hosted to prepare for the event and is apparently called Harvest Moon or For Grandma—the deck's creator Jonathan Loucks dedicated it to his recently deceased grandmother. Despite winning two of the first four tournaments it was played in, locals disregarded the deck as a glorified draft deck.

"Even I thought it was just a strange by-product of our mock tournaments, after he won the second tournament and posted his decklist on the local Northwest forums we used for tournament reports, event information and so forth," laughed Gavin in hindsight. "Although I wasn't sure on the deck's viability, it had success under its belt so it was worth testing. I put it up on the forums of the team I run (Team Unknown Stars) and although it didn't receive much attention at first, Chris Mascioli, Chris Calcano, and Asher Heckt threw it into their playtest gauntlet one day, and it had insane results."


Makeshift Mannequin
"Somewhere along the line, Chris added Makeshift Mannequin over Dread Return—yes, that's right, one of the strongest cards in the deck was originally not even in the deck and the deck was still performing insanely—and it just escalated from there as they posted their results. People tested it, found it was insane, and worked on it more. We tried all kinds of versions from more evoke-heavy versions (Aethersnipe!) to more controlling versions with counters, but in the end, our final build was just a few cards off—Makeshift Mannequin and the numbers on land—of what Jonathan had won the second mock tournament with."

The deck posted solid results all across the country (including Chris's second-place finish and Kenny Mayer's win in Virginia), and is sure to be a factor in the post-Champs metagame.

"I really feel like it is solid in its current state," Gavin said before going on to explain some potential modifications and internal debates over the final build of the deck. "If you aren't expecting a lot of Teachings, I could see one Urborg over a swamp. A lot of people keep recommending Academy Ruins, but the deck is really color-intensive, so much so that I almost wanted to cut the third Mouth of Ronom. The only couple of things that need to be figured out are the numbers of Venser and Grim Harvest—there was an ongoing debate between Venser No. 2 or Grim Harvest No. 3—and, on a larger scale, if the deck can incorporate white for Momentary Blink. We didn't really have time to refine a version with white for Blink, but we also knew that it would make our mana base way worse and we would have to cut the awesome snow cards like Ironfoot and Mouth of Ronom. The sideboard could also possibly use some refining. Some of us played a 3x5 sideboard—that is, three copies of five cards—which is almost never right, although it felt like it was correct when I was playing at States."

This weekend is Grand Prix–Krakow, a Standard event that feeds Pro Tour–Kuala Lumpur. I asked Gavin if he expected the Harvest Moon deck to rise over the field.

"This deck is a gigantic contender in the new format and I would even go as far as to say that it is tier one. I don't know if it will have disseminated quickly enough to see a lot of play in Krakow, but I would not be surprised if it does or if a copy of the deck makes top eight for that matter. The deck has strong engines, a good core, can play both sides of a matchup, and plays powerful cards. In addition, it's a really fun deck to play: if you haven't already, give it a try," urged Gavin.

Infinity in the UK!

Perhaps an even more fun deck is Tim Willoughby's infinite combo that he played in UK Champs. While Tim has emerged as a coverage reporter extraordinaire, he is not a bad deck designer in his own right and created an interesting take on a tribal fave that carried him to the semifinals of his Champs event.

"I played a pretty controlling goblin build designed to be good against aggro, while having a steady stream of threats against control," said Tim. "It has eight gravediggers, plus Wort and Profane Command, meaning that though it doesn't have any card drawing, it will gradually just overwhelm people though a steady stream of recursive threats. It turned out to be really solid, but the main reason I played it is that it is about the most fun deck to play that I've played with in Standard in a long time."

Tim Willoughby's Goblin Diggers

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Once again, locally organized mock tournaments contributed to the evolution of a deck, although this time the tournament was the Top8Magic Mockvitational in New York with the results drifting across the Atlantic.


"I designed the deck as a fun deck, riffing off Mark Young's goblins build in the end, but taking a different route to get there," Tim continued. "It was originally conceived as a full-on Deathrender combo deck that was looking to get a loop of gravediggers—either Pit Keeper or Warren Pilferers—going with a sacrifice outlet. I kind of chickened out on that theme a little with the final build, but there is still the potential for a big combo kill if necessary. With the various sacrifice and recursion themes in Goblins, in testing I found that aggro decks would have a really tough time keeping up. Shriekmaw can get pretty silly if you evoke him early, then fetch him back and cast him for his full cost, without missing a beat on playing threats."

Tim was expecting to see a lot of control in the County metagame—the UK equivalent of States or Provincials—as evidenced by stronger local demand for Cryptic Command than for Gaddock Teeg. The Star City Games event from the previous weekend had some impact as well, but in the end everyone Tim knew just played the deck they were most comfortable with. For Tim, that meant combo-Goblins.

"Ideally, in the early turns, the deck should just be looking to hold off fast starts against aggro, with Mogg War Marshal to set up blocks, and Shriekmaw and burn to kill early guys," explained Tim when asked how the deck works. "It is fine to fire off a Shriekmaw early to kill of early threats or accelerants, as he normally comes back."


Warren Pilferers
"Once you hit five lands or so that is normally when you are looking to reload with either Pit Keeper or Warren Pilferers, or simply to gum up the board entirely with Siege-Gang Commander," Tim said. "It tends to be that the game is ended once you have run your opponent low on threats, either by attacking with Nantuko Husk, or casting an absurd Profane Command. The good Profane Commands tend to kill a guy and reanimate a Mogg War Marshal or Pit Keeper. My best Command at Countys gave two Nantuko Husks Fear while getting back a War Marshal to create exactly lethal damage."
"Of course, in a perfect world, you equip Deathrender and go in for infinite," said Tim, finally explaining the combo part of his creation. "I did this in Round 1. I attacked with Nantuko Husk and Pit Keeper equipped with Deathrender. When my opponent let the Husk through, I sacrificed it to put Siege-Gang into play, then Siege-Gang turned into War Marshal, then another War Marshal before a Pit Keeper allowed me to start recurring and go infinite."
"I was really happy with how it played against aggro and control, but I felt the sideboard was a little weak," Tim concluded. "I didn't have a great plan for the fog deck, beyond using Wort for recursive burn, and Profane Command for a final big burn spell. I would be tempted to up the number of Profane Command main, and would probably go with a sideboard that went for the combo a little more, in a bit of a switcheroo, to make sideboarding decisions tough. Assuming the same maindeck, it would be:


2 Deathrender
2 Profane Command
3 Thermopod
4 Greater Gargadon
2 Word of Seizing
2 Molten Disaster

"With Thermopod, you can start looking to produce infinite mana with your combo, so that the fog deck can't race you on life gain, and you can start firing off insane Profane Commands, forcing them to Dawn Charm or lose."

Pickles Down Under

Reece Perry, a young Australian Magic player and community fixture in Perth predicts that the big deck this weekend in Krakow will be an old favorite of mine from the Block Constructed season.

"I played Mono-blue Pickles," said Reece of his experience at the Perth Champs. "I had an Urborg/Damnation sideboard that I read about during block season to combat the aggressive decks, and given that Pickles is so naturally good against control, I thought that I had a generally good plan against the field. I was 3-1 when I got paired to teammate Luke Williams. He smacked me around and went on to make Top 8. I was the only Pickles player to miss the Top 8."

Despite missing out on the Top 8, Reece stuck around and reported on the decklists that did make it.

Aaron Cross's Mono Blue Pickles

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Shawn Rayson's Mono Blue Pickles

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Ben Baker's SadinGruul

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Luke Williams's Rayson Green-black

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Patty Robertson's Teachings

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Greg Galbraith's Momentary Reality

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Brandon Lau's Kithkin

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Craig Chapman's Half Price Pickles

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The Sprint to the Title

Name Pro Points
1. Tomoharu Saito 56
2. Shingou Kurihara 52
3. Kenji Tsumura 51
4. Guillaume Wafo-Tapa 48
5. Raphael Levy 44
6. Paul Cheon 41
7. Olivier Ruel 40
8. Mark Herberholz 38
9. Mike Hron 37
9. Shuhei Nakamura 37

What was once a two-horse Player of the Year race has tightened considerably with Guillaume Wafo-Tapa's Top 16 finish in Valencia and Shinghou Kurihara's Top 8 in Bangkok. Suddenly the French and Japanese dark horses—or is dark hares more appropriate?—who have performed so consistently throughout the season find themselves slowly and steadily closing in on the lead and Level 6 status for next season.

"I would be happy with Level 6," said Kurihara when asked about closing in on Saito's lead. "I can't go to all the Grand Prix so PoY is difficult. But I won't give up. If I win a GP or make the Top 8 at Worlds, I can be PoY."

Throwing a Constructed Grand Prix in the middle of a Limited season provides a window for Guilluame to make a move, especially with Kurihara skipping this weekend's event over additional Limited GPs in Japan and Daytona.

"Sooooo exciting, but (I'm) tired," said Kurihara of the gruelling October/November schedule that will determine the outcome of the Player of the Year race, and it just didn't make sense for him to travel to Europe to play with 60-card decks. "I have never made Day Two in a Constructed PT but I never lose on Day Two in Limited PTs."

Be sure to pop in on the Tournament Center throughout the weekend and see which decks and which pros are rising to the top of Grand Prix–Krakow.

Friday Night Foils: The Roar of the Crowd

Of course, you might have your own selfish interests in checking out the decklists from States/Champs—especially if you are looking to win this month's Friday Night Magic foil. This has long been one of my favorite cards (and if I had just remembered to tap my Werebears for mana, could have possibly qualified me for a Pro Tour). Hopefully you will go out and win yourself of these little numbers this month and put 'em to better use than I did.

Firestarter: Five Questions with you!

Tell your tale of States/Champs in the forums.

  • What deck did you play?
  • How did you do in the event?
  • What Lorwyn cards seemed to have the most impact on your tournament?
  • What would you change about your deck going forward?
  • What deck won at your tournament?

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