Winner Winner Winner... and Other Decks

Posted in Feature on June 19, 2008

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."

Three sets and a couple of weeks in, this summer's Block Constructed PTQ season continues to shape up as an interesting tournament format. This week, we've got some of the same successful decks that we've seen thus far—and of the three PTQs that reported by my deadline—a predictable win from loved and hated (and always respected) Standard transplant Black-Blue Faeries, but the other two? Fresh and familiar at the same time; both of them.

For those of you who need a refresher course on how we do this during PTQ seasons, the white boxes indicate a Top 8 appearance for a deck archetype whereas the blue indicate a full-on PTQ win. Sometimes the numbers don't add up perfectly due to under-reporting or some other error (probably human error), but thankfully, with this week's three tournament results out of Burlington, Lincoln, and Minneapolis, we have exactly twenty-four boxes, three bearing blue envelopes all the way to Berlin, Germany.

Fulminator Toast
Mirror Master
Quick 'n Toast
Red-Green Shamans
Green-White Mana Ramp

Winner: Faeries – Still Awesome

Faeries had the best week of any deck in terms of Top 8 appearances, edging out Mirror Master (Kithkin White Weenie with Spectral Procession into Mirrorweave on a Thistledown Liege... ka-pow!) by exactly one PTQ win.

Adam Gunderson

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Faeries was (is?) the Standard boogeyman, and that Standard deck is nearly intact in Block. As Faeries is a very linear, tribally focused deck with almost all cards that were designed and developed to be played with one another (all the way down to the Faerie-stamped Bitterblossom), the main out-of-block staple in the Standard version is Ancestral Vision. Most Block players have replaced that card with Ponder—a very different card—to smooth early mana distribution or roll some loaded dice later in the game.

Despite being restricted recently in Vintage, Ponder is a very different card than Ancestral Vision, and typically less devastating in Faeries when it is played. Gunderson ran only three Ponders in his deck, mixing a combination of Vendilion Cliques and Sower of Temptations into a deck that often comes out as nine four-ofs... Both options are relatively popular cards in Faeries, but neither is generally an automatic four-of main.

Besides shaving a Ponder, this Faeries deck is very straightforward for the archetype. Its best draws will typically allow it to sit behind a second-turn Bitterblossom, boost with Scion of Oona, and Time Walk with Mistbind Clique, countering and crashing until the game is over. Reminiscent of Counter-Post, Faeries doesn't have to play very much on its own turn, at least after, optimally, that second turn Bitterblossom, instead playing end of turn Scion of Oona to test or set up larger swings with Bitterblossom (or protect a creature, or protect Bitterblossom itself from a Wispmare or some similar removal), or Mistbind Clique on the opponent's upkeep to steal the turn and seal the race. Potentially quite aggressive for a control deck, Faeries can strike for large amounts of damage in a single turn via Bitterblossom boosted by Scion of Oona, defending its position all the while with Broken Ambitions, Cryptic Command, and Spellstutter Sprite.

Out of the board, Gunderson had the pretty basic Thoughtseize (generally considered the best way to pre-empt a Bitterblossom), plus a great deal of creature removal. Shriekmaw seems very good against the green threat decks, matching gigantic mana investments with either speed or card advantage (plus evasion!), and Incremental Blight can be a bit of a one-sided Wrath of GodDamnation for a deck that likes having creatures in play; it is also quite effective versus persist.

Winner: Quick 'n... Fulminator Toast

Brian David-Marshall and others have recently argued that the five-color control decks are just as linear and predictable as some of the tribal decks in Block. Why? Because it is pretty obvious that when R&D decided to return Reflecting Pool to Standard after a decade away, they knew that it was going to be played in the same format as cards like Vivid Grove or Mystic Gate!

Reflecting Pool
Fire-Lit Thicket

Say you have a Fire-Lit Thicket and a Reflecting Pool in play. Your Reflecting Pool can produce any color of mana your Fire-Lit Thicket can, meaning either red or green... either of which, funneled into the Fire-Lit Thicket itself, can produce , , or !

Now imagine you have Vivid Marsh in play instead... You can produce any combination of two mana that you like!

Jesse Hawkins

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Because of the power and flexibility afforded by being able to play literally any spell, five-color Reflecting Pool control has already been declared the best strategy in Block Constructed by one popular Internet columnist; this Top 8 deck played by Jesse Hawkins is a good example of the Quick 'n Toast school popularized in recent tournaments by Manuel Bucher (the Hawkins main has an Oona and a Firespout over a Mind Spring and Plumeveil in the original).

However this week's five-color PTQ winner was a Fulminator Mage deck built on a similar model by Burlington, NC victor Korey McDuffie.

Korey McDuffie

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Besides a slightly different mana mix, the main different between McDuffie's Reflecting Pool deck and other looks at Quick 'n Toast is the presence of Fulminator Mage. Provided you can play Fulminator Mage, it is a beating. A walking Wasteland, Fulminator Mage can cripple the mana base of another five-color Reflecting Pool deck, or just hassle the mana base of, well, anyone. Not surprisingly, McDuffie subbed in the fourth Makeshift Mannequin as a combination with the Fulminator Mages.

A strong defensive deck, Fulminator Toast has almost all the Counterspell power of Faeries, plus a tremendous board control suite of Austere Command, Firespout, Shriekmaw, and conditionally Cloudthresher. Plumeveil out of the sideboard can make attacking very sticky, even in the relatively early game.

Winner: Merfolk!

Matt Langford

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Another Standard transplant, Merfolk makes the transition to Block more or less intact. Like Faeries, this deck replaces Ancestral Vision with Ponder but most of the rest of the deck is very tribally focused (though Merfolk loses Lord of Atlantis, a staple in-theme since Alpha).

Sower of Temptation might look like a Faerie, but don't forget that it is also a Wizard, putting it in tribe with Stonybrook Banneret; all together, these three mix nicely with Sage's Dousing, especially against a player who is caught napping ("You can do that with two mana?").

Mirrorweave works very nicely in Merfolk, alongside Merrow Reejerey (though admittedly, it was always better with the unavailable Lord of Atlantis and an opposing Island); in fact, Mirrorweave was played in Merfolk decks as a Hatred / Overrun of sorts well before it was a glimmer in the eye of the first successful Block Kithkin strategy.

Negate is an interesting choice for a largely creature-defined format (Merfolk adherent Jon Finkel once told me that he liked Remove Soul in his Standard deck "because everything you ever want to counter is a creature anyway"), but in Block, there are numerous (noncreature) problem cards, from the expensive Mind Spring to the tricky Makeshift Mannequin to the potentially devastating Firespout that are all eligible, even juicy, targets for Negate.

Red-Green Shamans

Ben Woyak

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Fulminator Mage... is a Shaman!

So is Chameleon Colossus (I always assumed it was an Elf)!

The deck actually intersects with Elves a little bit in Elvish Hexhunter and Wolf-Skull Shaman, but primarily, the deck is all about free damage, free cards, and of course free Wolves from the various Shaman synergies.

Both Leaf-Crowned Elder and Wolf-Skull Shaman can generate advantages on the board by revealing Shamans... Both are serviceable if not outstanding combat creatures even when they aren't going the extra mile. Of course this deck can also guarantee having a Shaman—the Shaman you need maybe—with Flamekin Harbinger. Might I suggest Rage Forger? To a lesser degree, Lash Out can help set up Wolf-Skull Shaman and Leaf-Crowned Elder as well.

Green-White Mana Ramp

Shaheen Soorani

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From the mind of top-flight deck designer and onetime Worlds Top 16 competitor Shaheen Soorani comes this green-white version of the popular Mana Ramp strategy. Mana acceleration feeds big cards and big threats in this deck. Many of the cards are good on their own, but some combinations really jump out...

Fertile Ground and Garruk Wildspeaker

Fertile Ground
Garruk Wildspeaker

A second-turn Fertile Ground implies four mana on the third turn to play Garruk Wildspeaker... But that's not all. You can untap the enchanted land to put a counter on Garruk, but instead of having just two spare mana, you get three. This will allow you to play both Garruk and Kitchen Finks or Oblivion Ring in the same turn.

Devoted Druid and Oversoul of Dusk

Devoted Druid
Oversoul of Dusk

As with the quickest Fertile Ground, a second-turn Devoted Druid implies four available mana on the third turn... Except that it doesn't. Because the Druid is very devoted to its work, self-sacrificing in its way, instead you can have five mana on turn three for the cost of just one -1/-1 counter. This allows you to play a very fast Oversoul of Dusk. This card pretty much bashes opponents to death as soon as it hits play, seeing as it is next to unblockable and dodges most of the format's commonly played removal, so a fast Oversoul can be a very attractive, very handy way to win.

While it might be a little early to declare the triumph of fun foil decks, Green-White Mana Ramp certainly has a lot of tools applicable for the most popular opponents. Cloudthresher is a wonderful card against Faeries, and Raking Canopy can make attacking very difficult for the format's most successful deck (to date). Masked Admirers is a very solid tool for winning topdeck fights and attrition wars against decks without a lot of direct damage, and Grim Poppet is a great all-around tool for a deck with a fair amount of mana (like this one)... particularly when you need a way to beat the other guy's Oversoul of Dusk.

To date, this summer's Block Constructed format seems to be a solid one. There are a couple of dominant—but beatable—decks, with numerous options and fun cards to explore for the clever deck designer. It should be a fun season.

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