States Your Case

Posted in The Week That Was on October 15, 2010

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.

So you are looking for a Standard deck to play at FNM tonight or perhaps in a local tournament over the weekend? Don't know what to play with Magic 2010 and Shards of Alara block—and all its Jundy baggage—rotating out and Scars of Mirrodin entering into the mix? Having a hard time seeing the forests for all the Primeval Titans that towered over all the other decks during one week of the new format?

Fortunately for you we have just had a major Standard crowd-sourcing event in the form of the 2010's State and Provincial Championships which not only provided a detailed map of the new Standard but a blueprint for how to beat Primeval Titan with everything from Mark of Mutiny to Memoricide. I caught up with a handful of State and Provincial Champions to talk to them about their decks, Scars of Mirrodin, their plans for the coming year of Magic, and—most importantly—why you should sleeve up their deck this weekend for your local Standard events.

According to Glenn Goddard, the organizer of the program, nearly 6000 players sleeved up their newly forged Standard decks this weekend.

"More than 5700 players hit the tables looking for that elusive golden envelope," said Glenn. "Attendance overall was down about 12% due to a number of factors—don't schedule in Canada on Thanksgiving weekend, give the players more time to secure cards etc. However we at Sunmesa Events remain happy with the program, its viability is as strong as it's ever been. Sunmesa is working hard to maintain its value to the players and organizers."

"Organizers we would like to give special mention to are Mike Guptil for running the largest events in North America with MI & OH. James Ruppert in AK and Scott Phelps in MO for posting over 50% percentage increases in attendance. And Richard Early in ND did a killer series of videos of his Top 8's. Major thanks to everyone who played. Here's looking forward to an even stronger event in 2011."

Here are just a few of the decks played by those thousands of players:

Nick Spagnolo's Blue-Black Control

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Nick Spagnolo

New York winner Nick Spagnolo is a 21-year old student who hails from Brooklyn, New York. He has won a couple of Pro Tour Qualifiers and writes a column about Magic for—which includes a tournament report about this most recent victory. He has been playing Magic since Invasion Block but only embarked on more competitive endeavors during Lorwyn-Shadowmoor block. Nick is known on the East Coast PTQ scene as a die-hard control player and his first thoughts about building a Standard deck for this new format did nothing to dispel that image.

"I knew I wanted to play Jace, the Mind Sculptor, Mana Leak, and Preordain, so I built the best deck around those cards," said Nick who also had his eye on a certain Scars of Mirrodin reprint and the suite of cards it enabled. "Trinket Mage is just amazing at being able to search up Everflowing Chalice, Brittle Effigy, and Elixir of Immortality. Being a 2/2 for three mana is relevant at attacking opposing Jaces, but the value and utility he comes with is off the charts"

Nick had played with the Trinket Mage / Elixir of Immortality package the week before States at the New York 5K event that was dominated by Primeval Titans. The previous version of the deck had been white-blue and featured Venser, the Sojourner but Nick needed to dip into the Swamps of Mirrodin for his answer to Magic 2011's green titan.

"I definitely wanted Memoricides in my deck to deal with Primeval Titan, a card that single-handedly wins the game," said Nick, as he made his case for blue-black control over the more fashionable white-blue versions. "If you love control decks with a lot of countermagic and removal, this is definitely the deck for you. It has a much better game against Primeval Titan decks than white-blue does, but gives up the ability to cast Day of Judgment."

This was the first year that Nick has played for a State Championship. The tantalizing carrot of free entry to every Constructed Pro Tour Qualifier, Grand Prix, and 5K through next year was too tempting for Nick to resist.

"I'm definitely going to a lot of events next year, though I don't have anything planned out that far in advance," said the Constructed maven. "My current schedule is the $10k this weekend, Grand Prix–Toronto, and then maybe Grand Prix–Nashville."

While Nick may not have planned out next year's schedule he was clear on what he wanted to accomplish for next season: "I definitely want to qualify for the Tour again, it's definitely my first priority. Other then that, I just want to play good Magic as often as possible, and do the best I can in each tournament."

Ali Aintrazi's Lighthouse Control

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Ali Aintrazi

Ali Aintrazi, a 23-year old student from Matthews, NC, seems poised to become the next Conley Woods in my eyes with his unconventional approach to Standard and escalating event wins. Ali was the first player to pilot a Sanity Grinding deck to a PTQ Top 8, did a modern cover of Zvi's Turboland that has become a hit in its own right, and was one of the earliest adopters of Eldrazi in Standard. He won South Carolina States in 2009, has played on the Pro Tour twice—including a Top 64 finish in San Diego—and has made the Top 32 of three different Grand Prix. Most recently he was crowned the Baltimore Open Series Standard Champion with Mythic Conscription and he writes about his Magic adventures for

Ali has been playing the game off and on for the last seven year, but at a competitive level for only the past two or three.

"I started playing Magic at school with friends and with my younger brother," Ali said of his Magic origins. "We didn't really know all the rules but it was a blast to play. We then played at a local store called Underground Games and from there we started playing more competitively every year."

Ali had his eye on a pair of decks as he started to prepare for the new Standard format, which led him to his Lighthouse Control deck.

Venser, the Sojourner
Volition Reins

"I wanted a deck that would do well against the two elephants in the room, White-Blue and Mono Green Eldrazi. Started with that and went from there," Ali explained. "Volition Reins seemed very powerful at first glance but after playtesting with it, it was very good but not as broken as I thought it would be. I also thought Venser would be bad, but after testing with him I was proven very wrong."

I asked Ali to make a case for his version of White-Blue Control vs. more traditional takes on the archetype.

"This deck is a very strong deck to play and has fun factors with Lighthouse Chronologist, "Violation" Reins, and Venser," Ali campaigned. "You will surprise many people with Spell Pierce—that card won me so many games on Saturday because people never expected it. If you like blue-control control this deck is like traditional white-blue (but) with a little spice."

Lighthouse Chronologist
Spell Pierce

With his growing reputation as a rogue deck designer it is not surprising that the Virginia Champion looks forward to this event each season.

"States is a very enjoyable tournament. You get to see so many new decks pop up," said Ali. "It is fun to see what people have come up with. I don't play every year but I was able to squeeze this one in because of the Pro Tour Qualifier the next day. Sadly I placed 9th at that PTQ."

With his Constructed admissions covered through the next big Standard rotation, Ali was looking forward to the coming season.

"I would like to hit as many Grand Prix as I can and take the most out of my win at States. Hopefully next year is a good year for me," he said. "I want to try to level up as a pro. Right now I am still only level 1—1 point shy of level 2! Next year I want to aim for level 4 Pro by the end of the year. That would be awesome!"

Brian Boss's Eldrazi Elves

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Brain Boss

Brian Boss is a 21-year old student from Oak Grove, Missouri who has made Day Two of a Pro Tour three times including a Top 16 in the second PT–Honolulu and a Top 64 at PT–Austin. He has been playing the game since Onslaught. Brian has not been playing much Magic of late in the wake of moving but decided that with a little research he could crack the format.

"I just read up on what were expected to be the big decks and what cards I had to build with," explained Brian. "I wanted something aggressive, faster than ramp decks, and highly powerful. Elves fit pretty well. Ezuri, the new elf was what made the deck worth playing. It makes no since to play less than four even though he is legendary, as you win the game if you untap with him on turn five."

"The deck is very powerful, and does what it is meant to do very well," he continued, urging players looking for a weekend weapon to consider his deck. "With ramp decks like Eldrazi Green and Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle very popular right now, its a very good choice. Eldrazi Green is almost impossible to lose as they are just a slower deck, and Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle is an easy win until they have a playset of Pyroclasm—after 'board—you have to play around."

Ezuri, Renegade Leader

Brian was not expecting to hit as many events as some other State Champions.

"I played this year because the event was a five minute drive from where I live," he explained. "I probably won't do a lot of traveling. Between work and school I can rarely get a few days off in a row, so while I will try to make a few events I won't be at many. My only Magic goal is to have fun with the rare occasions I get to spend time with friends at events. Since I moved and cut back on playing, I don't get to see people nearly as often, so it's just nice to see everyone now and then."

Tommy Beith's Destructive Jace

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Tommy Beith

Tommy Beith is a twenty-six-year old vacation consultant from Vancouver, BC who has been playing Magic since 8th Edition after "graduating" to it from playing other card games. He has a PTQ Top 8 for Berlin on his resume along with a City Championship title and being the runner-up at this event last year.

Tommy was drawn to the power of Koth as soon as he saw the Scars spoiler and knew he wanted to build around it. As long as you are sitting across the table from a deck that wants to attack you with cards that have power and toughness on them Tommy claims that this is the deck you want to be playing.

"This deck is highly powerful if piloted correctly with good match-ups against everything except Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle, and that is your weakest match-up," said the Canadian player. "Any creature match-up is very easy."

Koth of the Hammer

Tommy is going to be sticking to events in the Northwest for the most part but would love to win a Pro Tour at some point in the future. As he put it: "That is the only win I haven't gotten on my step ladder."

Brian Siu's Red Deck Wins

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Brian Siu

Brian Siu is a well-connected twenty-six-year old accountant from Manchester, New Hampshire. When he started playing Magic ten years ago he was mentored by none other than Shawn "Hammer" Regnier who made the finals of the first two Pro Tours—winning on the second try—and who owned a New Hampshire card shop called Hammer's Comics.

In those ten years Brian has played on the Pro Tour a handful of times, made the Top 8 of a Pro Tour Qualifier close to thirty times, finished in the Top 32 of a Grand Prix several times—including a 5th place finish at GP–Madison—and made his 8th States Top 8 this past weekend en route to his second win. While he might have been taught to play the game by an old-time great he had some pretty solid new schoolers helping him out for this event.

"I knew that mana ramp decks were going to be abundant, so I wanted a deck that could tackle those easily. In my quest for the right deck, I had help from my good friend, Jason Ford, who was working with Gerry Thompson on a mono-red deck. Gerry is a genius when it comes to Constructed events. He has helped me plenty in the past, and this time was no different. They definitely put me on the right track, and everything else just fell into place," said Brian of his road to finding the red deck. "Koth of the Hammer seemed like an auto-include in the deck, but it ended up being mediocre. Arc Trail seemed pretty good, and Assault Strobe was surprisingly good."

Arc Trail
Assault Strobe

Brian thinks his list is a solid choice for any events on your immediate horizon. After all, who does not want to steal their opponent's Primeval Titan with Mark of Mutiny and then make sure it can't be blocked by fetching up a pair of Smoldering Spires?

"Currently, many decks in the format try to do their own thing and do not want to interact with you. I think that this makes mono-red a reasonable choice due to its speed and consistency," he advocated. "Many of the card choices in my list punish those decks that ignore the opponent."

Brian looks forward to the challenge of States each year and regardless of which other events he attends in the next twelve months he fully expects to defend his title next year.

"I enjoy it because it's an opportunity for the local community to come together to earn bragging rights," Brian explained. "Having it be a fresh unexplored format heightens that enjoyment because anyone can do well if they choose to put the work into succeeding."

With his work schedule it can be tough to find enough time to play in all the Magic events that are now free for him to enter.

"I think I'm going to try to attend GP–Toronto and GP–Nashville for 2010," said Brian as he reviewed his Magic calendar. "As for 2011, I'm hoping to play in Pro Tour–Paris, and I'll definitely try to defend my title at next year's States."

Vu Phan's Bant Hawk

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Vu Phan is a twenty-six year old industrial designer who has been playing Magic for less than one year. During that time he had been playing a Shaman-based Eldrazi Conscription deck to some success in local tournaments but had planned to abandon the deck when large chunks of it rotated out.

"I looked at the top decks from the week prior and decided that I was going to build Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle Ramp because it seemed very powerful, versatile, and very hard to deal with," explained Vu. "Then I realized that if that was the top deck, then surely everyone and their mothers would be playing it or other variants. That means I would have to play vs. the mirror quite often. And to me, playing the mirror is a game of chance, and largely depends on who goes first. Personally, I would rather not let things go to chance. I reverted back to my Bant deck, with enough interactive elements to deal with the entire field and also with a much lower curve."

When Vu looked through Scars of Mirrodin to fill out his deck he saw plenty of tools to work with. He explained his thoughts behind the inclusion of several Scars cards in his winning deck list:

Venser, the Sojourner

Venser, the Sojourner: "He breaks a stalemate vs. other creature decks, and is also a win condition vs. slow decks like White-Blue."

Elspeth Tirel

Elspeth Tirel: "Great vs. aggro and control but too slow to have more than one."

Trinket Mage

Trinket Mage: "Fetches Brittle Effigy, Chimeric Mass, and Basilisk Collar. Need I say more?"

Molten-Tail Masticore

Molten-Tail Masticore: "Discard Vengevine or fling fodder, 8 damage possible in one turn by himself."

"This is a very versatile deck and it has a fighting chance vs. all other decks due to its many angles of attack," said Vu when asked why players should consider his deck for this weekend. "(It is) very tough for it to run out of gas due to Jace, Hawks, Vengevines, and Shaman."

Mike Stewart's Big Red

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Few players competing this weekend have an origin story that goes as far back as thirty-seven year old tax associate Mike Stewart's. Mike began playing the game way back in 1994 when a friend who worked at a local comic shop got him hooked on the game. They took to the game immediately even if they didn't quite figure out the value of all their cards right away.

"I remember my dumbest trade of a Mox Sapphire for a Keldon Warlord," recalled Mike. "'Wow this guy is like 10/10 if I have 10 creatures in play. I can just play a land instead of that stupid Mox. Sure I'll trade!' I said."

Mike stopped playing shortly after Urza block and only picked the game up again within the past few months.

"I started playing in March when Worldwake had just come out," said Mike. "I did win my local Rise of the Eldrazi Game Day event which was pretty cool. States was actually my first big tournament outside of Bakersfield. I was pretty intimidated from hearing horror stories of people manipulating rules to try and get you game losses and such, but everyone I played against was pretty cool. I had a lot of fun and met some new friends."

Mike found the prep work for States to be a welcome challenge. After sifting through all the cards leaving and entering the format he settled on three decks.

"I built the Quest White Weenie deck people were talking about, a Grand Architect deck, and the red deck I ended up playing for States," said Mike. "The White Weenie deck seemed a bit too draw dependent. Yeah, I could get the perfect draw and they were pretty much dead turn three, but if that didn't happen my end game was terrible. The Grand Architect deck was pretty fun, but I really like my red deck more so I decided on that."

How could he not play the red deck with the existence of a card he had been waiting for since getting back into the game?

"Finally red gets a great planeswalker! When I first saw the previews for Koth, I knew I wanted to play this card," raved Mike. "He was pretty much the backbone of my deck. I got a lot of strange looks when I cast Iron Myr turn two, but those looks changed when Koth hit the board turn three.

If his opponent could not promptly deal with Koth they were soon faced with turn four Inferno Titans and Wurmcoil Engines—another card Mike immediately knew he wanted four of in his collection. Mike went on to explain how another Scars card that was in his sideboard proved to be as valuable as any in his main deck while strongly urging anyone reading this to try his deck out this weekend.

Inferno Titan
Wurmcoil Engine

"A lot of decks out there focus on either killing as fast as possible, or holding off their attacks until late game and dropping a bomb that wins," he explained. "I tried to build a deck that has a balance of early threats such as Goblin Guides and Bolts, mid-game threats such as Koth and Molten-Tail Masticore, and late game threats like Inferno Titan and Wurmcoil Engine. At States there was a ton of ramp. Like Jund before it, if you can't beat ramp, you are gonna lose. Ramp has a bit of an advantage over my deck in Game 1 but once I side in those Tunnel Ignus that advantage flips my way. That card was the unsung hero of the day. He should be a four of in every red sideboard as long as Ramp continues to see so much play."

Tunnel Ignus

That is just a small sampling of the decks from the 2010 State and Provincial Championships. You can find almost all of the Top 8 deck lists—with more being uploaded every day—here.

While all the sharks were circling around the free entries being given away at States I was spending my weekend taking in New York Comic Con. I had a chance to play in some very cool public events this weekend including multiple Minimaster tournaments, a couple of Booster Drafts, and an actual EDH tournament. The EDH was a lot of fun because I got to play my Momir Vig, Simic Visionary deck with someone other than Rashad Miller, Sheldon Menery, and Scott Larabee. Now I am not someone who has taken a lot of time to fully bling out my EDH deck—I still play with a white bordered Tropical Island although that is mostly just for ease of fetching—but several of the other players in the EDH event were impressed with some of the shiny alternate art cards myself and several other players had in their decks.

"Ooooooh ... Where did you get that?" was asked more than once. The truth is you can get a lot of them at Prereleases, Pro Tours, or Grand Prix. Just check out a couple of the shiny goodies in store for next year's events.

Ajani Goldmane is the Magic Weekend participation card that will be given away starting at Worlds in Chiba and throughout next year's Magic Weekends in Paris, Nagoya, and Philadelphia. Whether you're playing in the Pro Tour, in one of the numerous public events, or just hanging out at the venue with your buddies, you can pick up a shiny goody like this planeswalker just by verifying your DCI information at the information booth.

Next year's Grand Prix participation card is a Constructed staple card, which is ironic since it is so good at destroying things. Sign up for any Grand Prix during the 2011 season (look for the packed schedule to be posted very soon) and you will be able to add a shiny Maelstrom Pulse to your binder.

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