Your Gauntlet

Posted in Feature on May 29, 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."

All right, prospective Regionals players. We stand less than two weeks from this year's U.S. Regional Championships (with similar events around the world, such as last week in Perth, Australia event peppered on or about the same date); this year we get a free pass. That's right, we have a Standard Regionals just a couple of weeks out of the Standard Pro Tour!

In that way, Regionals this year might "feel" a little like the first week of a PTQ season rather than the beginning of the summer Championships.

Okay, so what makes up the information for our free pass? Courtesy of Pro Tour–Hollywood, the Top 8:

Black-Green Elves
Red-Green Ramp

Consider by contrast the actual makeup of all the decks in the tournament:

Archetype Day One Count Percent
Faeries 101 27.22%
Black-green Elves 47 12.67%
Monored 41 11.05%
Doran 31 8.36%
Merfolk 28 7.55%
Red-green Aggro 18 4.85%
Reveillark 18 4.85%
Red-green Ramp 15 4.04%
Black-green Ramp 10 2.70%
Black-red tokens 8 2.16%
White-green Ramp 7 1.89%
Juniper Order Ranger Combo 6 1.62%
ELVES! 6 1.62%
Quick 'n Toast 5 1.35%
Kithkin 4 1.08%
Monogreen Aggro 4 1.08%
Gassy Knoll 3 0.81%
The Chapin Deck 3 0.81%
Green-white Aggro 3 0.81%
Black-red Aggro 2 0.54%
Elementals 1 0.27%
Fiery Justice 1 0.27%
Wizards 1 0.27%
Blue-green Faeries 1 0.27%
Other 7 1.89%
Total 371 100%
“Other” refers to decks which were not easily classifiable and were represented by only one player in the tournament
Archetype Day Two Count Percent
Faeries 29 21.80%
Doran 15 11.28%
Merfolk 15 11.28%
Monored 14 10.53%
Black-Green Elves 13 9.77%
Reveillark 8 6.02%
Red-Green Ramp 6 4.51%
Red-Green Aggro 6 4.51%
Quick ‘n Toast 4 3.01%
Green-White Ramp 4 3.01%
Black-Red Tokens 4 3.01%
Kitchen Finks Control 3 2.26%
Mono-Green Elves 3 2.26%
Greater Gargadon Combo 3 2.26%
Red-Black Aggro 2 1.50%
Mono-Green Elves 1 0.75%
Black-Green Ramp 1 0.75%
Red-Black All Creatures 1 0.75%
Juniper Order Ranger Combo 1 0.75%

Faeries was the most popular deck of the tournament—more than 1 in 4 players went with it overall—and it remained the most popular going into Day 2... but fell to a little more than 1 in 5; by contrast, Manuel Bucher's five-color "Quick 'n Toast" passed four of its five pilots to Day 2. Of the many players who went with Faeries, only multiple Top 8 veteran Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa was able to navigate to the Top 8, and he did so on a wing and a prayer: the lucky 36-pointer grabbed the eighth spot in a five-way tie. As for Quick 'n Toast, that deck, chosen by some of the best players on the planet, had its best finish in the Top 16... but awfully solid for a deck with only five players behind it.

Black-Green Elves

We might as well start at the top of the tournament. Despite a heavy bias towards Faeries in both the online media and the minds of many players going into Pro Tour–Hollywood, it was a different Lorwyn tribe that not only claimed twice as many spots in the Top 8, but won the tournament entirely.

Charles Gindy

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My guess is that lone American Gindy's version is going to be the Elves deck to beat given the pedigree of winning the Pro Tour outright. This deck should be a fixture in your playtesting, whether you adopt it for your own weapon of choice, with Regionals less than two weeks out, it is likely that many potential Elves opponents will model their efforts after this deck.

Gindy's main is pretty straightforward, but his sideboard is full of tricks and haymaker punches. Note especially the presence of Chameleon Colossus, more or less the biggest and scariest Elf (and Faerie, Giant, and Kithkin, Goblin and Scarecrow, Evil Twin, and... you know) in the format.


This deck suffers essentially no collateral damage from Cloudthresher, but it can both put on pressure against the format's blue decks and wipe blockers to maintain tempo. Don't underrate the ability to flash Cloudthresher at four mana to get mana tapped so that you can resolve another card on your own turn. Not only will Cloudthresher help push damage through Faeries all-air team, it kills Sower of Temptation.

Kitchen Finks

"Only" a sideboard card in this deck, Kitchen Finks is among the most robust defensive weapons in the format. Obviously a cheaper Loxodon Hierarch against red decks, Kitchen Finks is also a superior potential blocker (you can't easily Shock it out of the way, despite its size), plus also quite the Tarmogoyf welcome mat. Absolutely awesome with...

Primal Command

Gain 7 life, go get Kitchen Finks? Neither one of those is Elves-stamped, but they put quite a footprint on a Red Deck's face.

Shuhei Nakamura

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Surprisingly, Shuhei didn't touch Chameleon Colossus (one of the format's most problematic Elves), instead maxing out on Garruk Wildspeaker and Profane Command in the main. This is interesting because Garruk Wildspeaker lost a good deal of popularity in green given the predicted (and correctly predicted) popularity of Faeries (they just attack in the air and kill it). He did just fine against Faeries.

Garruk Wildspeaker
Nakamura had a cool combination out of his sideboard, though: Bitterblossom, specifically, Bitterblossom and Overrun. While Nakamura's Bitterblossom is almost strictly worse than any Faeries deck's Bitterblossom (no Scion of Oona), Garruk Wildspeaker throws a monkey wrench in that analysis as the Elf deck can just kill you with a couple of creatures out; moreover, Bitterblossom tokens can get in front of other Bitterblossom tokens in order to protect Garruk, helping to allow the deck to develop on the ground with Garruk still covered with counters.

Shuhei's deck is built for more consistency than Gindy's... another mana Elf, another land (specifically another Pendelhaven to aim at that extra Elf), and four copies of the key noncreature cards, but his deck might lack a little later. Unlike many decks in this Top 8 and metagame as a whole, Shuhei's lacks Terror main (all six of his are out of the sideboard), opting for Gilt-Leaf Palace-enabling Nameless Inversion instead; so there is a possible question mark in the fatties-removal department. Because of this, and because of the lack of the very sexy Chameleon Colossus, I would guess that Nakamura's style of Elves will be much less popular at Regionals than Gindy's.

A unique element of Shuhei's sideboard is Incremental Blight. This card might seem unusual, but it probably provides even more card advantage than the ostensible three-for-one. Because Incremental Blight kills via -1/-1 counters, it is a perfect solution for opposing persist threats. This is the kind of card that will probably migrate to more sideboards as the format progresses a little bit.

If I were interested in Elves, I would test both of these decks and figure out for myself why Shuhei lost only to Merfolk, but Gindy was able to sweep the finals so easily.


Jan Ruess

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The card that Reuss used to great effect in his deck that we might not have looked at in others is Sygg, River Guide. The Merfolk answer to Eight-and-a-Half-Tails seemed awesome as Reuss's deck drew lands, enough to bedevil almost every attempt at removal, a kind of Falter on legs. Even if the average Regionals Merfolk player does not adopt Reuss's unconventional twos and threes, I would not be surprised if Sygg were included as a two-of (or more!) in a more familiar Merfolk layout.

Merfolk may be coming into their own in Standard. Jon Finkel himself chose Merfolk for the Pro Tour, and while the other little blue men don't have quite Ancestral Vision-into-Bitterblossom, Ancestral Vision, Silvergill Adept, Merrow Reejerey seems like a great little one-two-three, especially with a fist full of Dismiss effects (Ruess ran six... don't be surprised to see all eight).


Makihito Mihara

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Yong Han Choo

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Much of the talk around the Magic Internet before Pro Tour–Hollywood was how Reveillark could not beat Faeries. Both Mihara and Choo noted in their player bios upon making Top 8 that Faeries was the worst matchup... but when that Top 8 was declared, there were—amazingly—2 of 18 Reveillark decks on the Sunday stage, with only 1 Faeries making the break of the 101 that showed up.

Greater Gargadon
To be fair, the Reveillark decks we are looking at are not exactly the Reveillark decks of tournaments past. This deck is a little special... and despite the fact that he didn't know Mihara, Choo got his deck via Mihara's efforts!

One of the differences is in attitude. Many previous Reveillark decks, viz. Kenji Tsumura's from Grand Prix–Shizuoka, seemed like flexible White-Blue Blink decks, just with a better endgame grafted on. Make no mistake: Mihara's deck is a combo deck. He intends to combo you out. He has Bonded Fetch to speed up drawing his combo, and Bonded Fetch is good at putting creatures in the graveyard, anyway, where they can often best facilitate his combo. He has reinforced some of the numbers (such as going up to three Body Doubles), and has added Pact of Negation to force down the combo the turn he intends to execute it. Gone are the generally good Blink creatures... He is going for a Gargadon loop.

The other difference is, well, the addition of three Greater Gargadons over the original singleton Mirror Entity. In addition to facilitating a combo finish with Reveillark, Body Double, and anything else (draw most or all of your deck, bounce all of his permanents, or in Choo's build, gain an arbitrarily large amount of life), Greater Gargadon adds a lot to the basic structure of the deck. You get a little extra value out of those third-turn Mulldrifter evokes (take a counter off), and you can eat the creature that Sower of Temptation stole (then Blink it and steal someone else).

So how does this work?

Assuming you have Greater Gargadon suspended, and Body Double and, say, Venser, Shaper Savant in your graveyard, play Reveillark. Greater Gargadon eats Reveillark; Reveillark triggers, returning Body Double and Venser; Venser does what Venser has been doing since the day he was printed (with more to come) while Body Double copies Reveillark... so that when Greater Gargadon eats the both of them, "Reveillark" (a.k.a. the Body Double) will trigger, allowing you to grab the Venser and Body Double all over again, as many times as you would like. Because the removal of time counters is on the right side of the colon, you can go ahead and ignore the "10" on Greater Gargadon for purpose of number of activations, as long as you get your timing right.


Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa is no stranger to Constructed Top 8 performances; this time he came with the pre-tournament consensus "best deck" in Faeries.

Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa

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Murderous Redcap
Paulo's main deviation from the stock Faeries in the main deck was Vendilion Clique over Nameless Inversion (in a slot sometimes occupied by Pestermite). These three cards all do very different things, of course. Of the three, Vendilion Clique is basically a Serendib Efreet that steals the opponent's best card and makes sure the blue deck can make optimal plays for the next couple of turns; unlike the Rishadan Airship of old, Vendilion Clique can block, and due to flash, can block out of nowhere. There is very little downside to its 1 toughness due to the removal in the format (Terror being the most common, and variations of that card like Slaughter Pact and Shriekmaw following). Plus, it can help fix your own hand! On the downside, Vendilion Clique kind of sucks against Bitterblossom.

What's actually much more interesting is Paulo's sideboard, which is just awesome in its problem-solving elegance. Murderous Redcap is actually a medium difficult play in this deck at essentially ... but under Magus of the Moon? Almost any four will do! Faeries can run it out there at . A solid catch-all, Murderous Redcap is absolutely murderous at taking out 2/2 Grey Ogres like the Magus. Razormane Masticore can come down via any five mana, of course, Magus or no, and kill the Magus the following turn.

From a preparation perspective, I would assume that most Faeries decks will appropriate some value from Paulo's sideboard (most likely the Redcap, as many players will not be comfortable with Razormane management), so relying on Magus of the Moon to foil Faeries may not be as consistent as it was a few days ago.

Red-Green Mana Ramp

Marijn Lybaert

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One of the most solid pre-Morningtide archetypes, Red-Green Mana Ramp makes the transition nicely to Shadowmoor Standard... but with major adjustments.


The best two drop ever is sideboard bait in this version. Long live Chameleon Colossus!


Replacing Sulfurous Blast... The red-green deck is often the control v. the blue-black deck, believe it or not (check out those two Grove of the Burnwillows!), and Firespout does what it is supposed to do without collateral damage.

Grim Poppet

Certain to be a future staple, Grim Poppet is a nice answer to many of life's current problems and dilemmas. If you can stick it, it is a beater that keeps Bitterblossom out of the way. More importantly, Grim Poppet is very "7/7" (especially on the first turn it rumbles) in that it is a 4/4 that can brawl with much bigger creatures and walk away. For a deck with the right mana, Grim Poppet may be the best answer in the format to Oversoul of Dusk; it also does a nice job on Magus of the Moon, and (not that it matters overmuch) Gaddock Teeg.

As always, the Red-Green Ramp deck gets to play many of the best cards in the format, and pairs them with consistent acceleration and light card advantage. The issue with this deck at present is the possible rise / return to popularity of Reveillark, a combo deck. If I were interested in mana ramp for Regionals, I would make sure I had the weapons for that matchup as well as Faeries.


Nico Bohny

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A lot of people—myself included—were saddened by the rotation of Ravnica block from Standard, because we lost all those great dual lands... but Nico Bohny's mana base really is a testament to the awesome mana (still) available in Standard. Murmuring Bosk is a Forest... that conveniently sets up your Doran colors.

Now there isn't a single basic land in this mix, and that makes Magus of the Moon a potential troublemaker. Like Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa, Bohny has a Murderous Redcap in his sideboard, but the more mundane—but still effective—solution is Slaughter Pact. You can play Slaughter Pact whenever, regardless of whether you only have Mountains on the board, and pay after you've killed the offending Magus.

Doran, the Siege Tower itself has many important interactions. Besides being essentially a huge 5/5 for three mana, Doran turns on Birds of Paradise offensively and reduces the effectiveness (to say the least) of power-pumping effects like the one affixed to Loxodon Warhammer.

Honorable Mention: Quick 'n Toast

Guillaume Wafo-Tapa

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Two points more and Guillaume Wafo-Tapa would likely have made back-to-back Top 8s. Nevertheless, the Resident Genius was tops at the end of Day 1 and was in contention throughout the tournament. I would actually be pretty surprised if the deck he played didn't end up one of the more popular decks at Regionals... It just seems so fun. It's like that time Jonathan Strange distilled madness into a liquid so that he could drink it every so often, but spilled out into many pieces of cardboard. Plus, the deck performed very well, with 80% Day 2 break and a near miss for Top 8 with only five bullets in the gun.

Cryptic CommandCloudthresher
Makeshift Mannequin

This deck works due to the combination of Vivd Grove and Reflecting Pool. Basically, awesome dual lands and Reflecting Pool give the deck the ability to pay the in Cryptic Commandand the in Cloudthresher... and numerous spells in between ( in Makeshift Mannequin, in Firespout, in Teferi's Moat, and so on). At its essence, this is a very powerful deck, albeit extremely greedy. It plays the absolute best options wherever possible, regardless of color.

As you might expect, given the complete lack of basic lands, it is important for this deck to keep Magus of the Moon off the table. Firespout is actually well suited to this, as the deck will be able to produce red under Magus of the Moon; Slaughter Pact works here the same way it does in, say, Doran... It doesn't matter what colors you can tap for, the Magus is dead.

Between Cloudthresher and Firespout, Quick 'n Toast has a lot of Wrath of God action despite playing neither the original nor Damnation (though it could!). The collateral damage from Cloudthresher is easily mitigated by the maximum number of Kitchen Finks, which, much like the evoke Elementals, is quite spicy when paired with Makeshift Mannequin.

Somehow—I don't know how—Quick 'n Toast was tuned to play a solid permission package and has Cryptic Command to fix its hand (probably important given all the potential dead weight). Like I said, madness on paper, fun and fury. It might not be Faeries in popularity, but don't be surprised when you sit down against this wonderful monstrosity at Regionals. Many decks try to do too many things and end up doing none of them very well; I don't think that is true of this deck.

So... Faeries barely made Top 8 despite the largest populations Day 1 and Day 2. All kinds of decks did well, and a brand new super-interesting archetype has revealed itself. What does that mean? Besides "test," I will end with just one caution: Don't make the mistake of underestimating Faeries! Otherwise, we might see one of those "Dredge gets closed out at the PT so no one can beat Dredge in the PTQs" situations! Have fun, good luck, &c.

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