Your Gauntlet for Regionals 2004

Posted in Feature on April 19, 2004

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."

Understanding today's environment

Every single Standard format (and many block, Extended, and other formats for that matter) that I can think of, as far back as I've been playing competitively, has been reductively characterized as some Rock, Paper, Scissors three deck metagame or other. This goes back to the months before Black Summer, to the original Rock, Paper, Scissors of G/W ErhnamGeddon, U/W Control, and of course Necropotence. Back in 1995 we took this to be Necropotence beating U/W with discard and Nevinyrral's Disk (no one really understood setting the cards aside properly), U/W countering the Armageddon of G/W, and G/W forcing its Whirling Dervishes into Necropotence. Of course eventually the top players figured out that a properly tuned Necropotence deck actually beat everything, and this particular three deck metagame was invalidated... yet the model has stuck with us.

Last year the big three decks leading into Regionals were U/G Madness, G/R Beatdown, and Psychatog. In 1999 they were Necropotence, Sligh, and Living Death. But anyone who played last year knows that decks like Astral Slide, Mirari's Wake, and Reanimator, though not members of the core big three, came up through the ranks small in numbers... but big on results. Five years ago, players similarly bucked the trend, and found success with Hatred, Ponza, Tinker, and others. Standard for Regionals 2004 is set up to be more of the same.

First of all, your big three appear to be Affinity (specifically Ravager Affinity), Goblins (primarily Goblin Bidding), and what I like to think of as "the white decks." We'll get into the outside decks a little later.

The Resource War in 2004

 

Skullclamp
The defining card of Regionals 2004 is clearly Skullclamp. As players showed up to Pro Tour Kobe many fully expected the event to lead to the card's banning. Why wasn't it? Prior to the actual event, almost anyone you asked would have said that Ravager Affinity with Skullclamp would totally dominate the tournament. Certainly, as a group, Ravager Affinity was the most represented deck. Yet it was a Big Red deck facing off against the surprising French TwelvePost Tooth and Nail deck in the finals. Neither build had even one copy of Skullclamp.

So I suppose Standard for the 2004 Championship Season is fated to feel the wrath of this most potent piece of equipment... at least as far as Regionals.

What Skullclamp does is change the essential dynamic of cards and speed that has guided constructed Magic from the beginning of time. In essence, decks that are fast must give up cards and decks that have a lot of card advantage are not fast killers. When we see a break from that pattern, either during the Black Summer or the Combo Winter, there is usually a powerful mechanic such as Free Spells that changes this flow. What Skullclamp does is create a sharp divide between the "haves" and the "have-nots". Those decks that have Skullclamp also tend to have a ton of creatures, especially small beatdown creatures. In the past when those creatures were swept up, the beatdown deck would have to have threats in reserve or wither. Today, in enhancing the power of their threats, the beatdown decks also draw additional cards when those threats are removed.

The have-not category is split into essentially two groups. One group seeks to answer the opposing have threats, destroying both creatures and Skullclamp, with many adding additional main deck cards like Damping Matrix and Culling Scales to fight it specifically. Others have focused on strategies nowhere near the Skullclamp divide -- essentially ignoring the existence of the most powerful card in the format -- instead generating massive mana for huge threats, or aiming at the opponent's head with burn spells... it doesn't matter how many cards you have in your hand if your life total is zero.

The non-Skullclamp strategies are by nature less reliable than the Skullclamp strategies. For one thing, these decks require more mana to operate. Imagine how a Skullclamp deck with a Skullclamp on the draw, a one drop, and a lone land will analyze his opening seven. Many players, especially drawing, will keep this hand and burn the first few turns finding land with the Skullclamp and the one drop. Whether or not this is the correct decision is not a question that the non-Skullclamp deck can even ask. Additionally, the Skullclamp decks have both cards and speed on their side while the non-Skullclamp decks have only strategy. For that reason, we have seen 2004 Standard dominated by Skullclamp beatdown decks for the most part. Many of the innovations in this year's deck design revolve around the ability to template an existing Skullclamp beatdown deck to reliably beat other Skullclamp beatdown decks. I don't believe that the non-Skullclamp decks are down and out (remember that "PT Skullclamp" itself was decided by burn spells against green creatures), but in preparing for Regionals 2004 you should place special emphasis on the first two broad categories of decks.

Ravager Affinity

As a testament to the strength of Ravager Affinity, last year's Block Constructed champion Osyp Lebedowicz took essentially his PT deck into a competitive Standard tournament when he didn't make Day Two in Kobe... and won himself a nice steak dinner. He explained the decision thusly: "I decided that since Mirrodin Block Affinity is so much more powerful than anything in the current Standard environment, I would just play my PT deck with some slight modifications."

Ravager Affinity

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Due in large part to the power of Skullclamp, Affinity has become the accepted best deck of the Standard environment. Statements like Osyp's are commonplace with writers like Ken Krouner saying things along the lines of "Affinity is the single most broken ability they ever made. Let's exploit it, shall we[?]"

With so many choices (as well as the ability to play literally any color combination), builds differ. Blue for Thoughtcast? Red for Shrapnel Blast? Roland Bode, a noted deck designer in Germany took a giant step out of the box and went with four main-deck copies of Naturalize. Roland's version seems to ask the question "If Ravager Affinity is the best deck, is the best version of the best deck the version that wins the mirror?"

Ravager Affinity

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For those of you who have not followed the evolution of this archetype closely over the past few months, Ravager Affinity is a much more powerful, proactive, and fast version of Affinity than we saw at States. No one even whispers the word "Broodstar" any longer. That card was always too clunky, but with Arcbound Ravager at the two drop spot, there is no longer room in the deck, let alone debate. The superiority of the newer breed is in the closing strength of Disciple of the Vault. Originally a card used by some designers to scare off Akroma's Vengeance, Disciple of the Vault is now a staple of the "Fireball turn." Along with Arcbound Ravager's ability to create and move around +1/+1 tokens in exchange for sacrificing artifacts, Disciple of the Vault can reduce a player with a healthy 20 life to a dead man in one big turn.

You will notice that the Disciple causes loss of life, not damage. This makes traditionally effective anti-beatdown cards like Worship useless when playing against Ravager Affinity. It is no problem to beat a white mage within an inch of his life total with Shrapnel Blast (which often does 6 damage in this deck, take note). It is only the last 1 life point that needs to be overcome, and Disciple of the Vault can do that point with ease.

Broodstar is accepted as a dinosaur; green has consistently been added to the main. The major break today, with most Affinity players adopting Roland's Naturalizes (or even moving towards Oxidizes for even more superiority in the mirror), is Aether Vial. The chief proponent of Aether Vial on the Internet is Zvi Mowshowitz, who calls it the modern Sol Ring. It seems to speed up Zvi's deck in particular, but you will notice that this card's presence comes at the cost of other powerful staples, like Shrapnel Blast.

Ravager Affinity

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What all of these decks have in common, despite their differences in color and extremely distinctive individual card choices, is a powerful and fast core. All of them play four copies of Arcbound Ravager. All of them break the Affinity mechanic with Frogmite and Myr Enforcer. All of them close with Disciple of the Vault.

If you are going to play the Affinity mirror, there are two cards that matter more than any others: Skullclamp and Disciple of the Vault. Skullclamp is the engine that draws you into the rest of your action, Disciple is not just your closer, but your insurance policy. Remember, if you have a Disciple and the opponent doesn't, he won't easily be able to try to dominate you with Arcbound Ravager without killing himself.

Goblin Bidding

 

Tsuyoshi Fujita
Tsuyoshi Fujita, GP Bangkok 2003
It first appeared at the top of the standings at last year's GP Bangkok and hasn't looked back since. Though champion Tsuyoshi Fujita thought that the loss of Goblin Matron would cripple his deck in Standard, Goblin Bidding in various incarnations has been a staple of that format, as well as being viable in Onslaught Block, and even a standout in Extended play.

The deck that started it all:

Goblin Bidding

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Like a traditional Goblin deck, Goblin Bidding has one of the fastest rush offenses in all of Standard. With Goblin Piledriver, Goblin Warchief, and Siege-Gang Commander, its beatdown can reduce an opponent to zero life in just a few short turns. The difference is that an opponent with powerful sweep defenses is not out of the woods against Goblin Bidding. Where a traditional Goblin deck might have run out of steam, a Goblin Bidding deck is actually strengthened by the opponent's removal: the more Goblins in the graveyard, the bigger the Bidding.

Though there is currently some debate about the place of Skullclamp in this deck, I believe most Goblin Bidding opponents will be armed with that defining equipment. Those opposed to Skullclamp will say either that it does not fit into the mana development curve of this deck cleanly, and that it does not promote the board advantage necessary to win matches against either another Goblin Bidding deck or Ravager Affinity; they say that the card advantage is there, and will come from Patriarch's Bidding without having to expose a potentially fragile artifact target. Advocates will point out Skullclamp's backbreaking power against control decks and the fact that not only does it help a Bidding player draw into lands for his expensive bombs... it fuels the eventual game-ending Patriarch's Bidding with more and more Goblins in the graveyard.

This version of Goblin Bidding is the one currently championed by "Little Darwin" Paul Rietzl, a former Your Move Games area player and recent standout in the North American Grand Prix circuit, with Top 8 finishes in both GP Oakland and GP Anaheim:

Goblin Bidding

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Notice how this deck has a deliberate three pronged offense. First of all it has the Goblin rush. The little beaters hit on turn one and don't stop until you stop them or are no longer able to do so. During the initial rush, this deck will likely deploy Skullclamp, both to recover after you've stopped wave one or to continue its offensive theme. Assuming both the beatdown and the Skullclamp have been weathered, it can always fall back on Patriarch's Bidding. The structure of Patriarch's Bidding is such that if there is any kind of Goblin Warchief involved, a lot of damage is likely to come your way immediately; it turns cards like Akroma's Vengeance into death sentences.

Bidding plus Warchief turns cards like Akroma's Vengeance into death sentences.” In addition, there are several interactions in this deck that feed one another. The most powerful involves Skirk Prospector, Siege-Gang Commander, and Goblin Sharpshooter, sometimes called “Critical Mass”. Skirk Prospector makes the mana that activates Siege-Gang Commander; when either ability is used, Goblin Sharpshooter does his thing (ping). In this way, every three Goblins in play is usually worth at least five unblockable damage, meaning that a relatively small Patriarch's Bidding involving some combination of these Goblins will prove lethal, at least if given time. Though any one of the offenses will win the game, it is the combination of the initial rush, long game Skullclamp endurance, and Patriarch's Bidding to close that makes Goblin Bidding perhaps the most difficult deck to address in the current format. Few decks can beat one plan, let alone all three.

In a battle between the two top decks, you will notice that Ravager Affinity tends to ignore the Goblin deck's proactive plan. Ravager Affinity wins by assembling an explosive early game, throwing down fast Myr Enforcers and sculpting a board where Arcbound Ravager and Disciple of the Vault can end the game before Patriarch's Bidding will be a lethal end. Goblin Bidding will tend to win an interactive game between these two decks, ether restricting Ravager Affinity's board development with its creature removal Goblins or, especially in sideboarded games, by bringing in a ton of artifact and artifact creature removal spells. Goblin Bidding is generally at the advantage in long games where it can assemble Critical Mass and Patriarch's Bidding, but because Ravager Affinity has such an dramatic early game and can pull even other aggressive decks into "Fireball turn" range quickly, the experts are split as to which deck wins this fight consistently.

As I said earlier, much of the innovation in the current Standard format revolves around tuning a Skullclamp beatdown deck to better address the existing and expected other Skullclamp beatdown decks. This next deck is a good example of this process. While most Goblin opponents you will face at Regionals will probably be Goblin Bidding, a "new" Goblin build was recently revealed to the public by Dan Paskins. Dan was once a member of one of the most respected deck design squads ever to shape the face of Magic. Back in 1999, he and his teammates dominated the Top 8 of the UK championships. At that tournament, Dan finished second (with his original Red Deck Wins) falling in the finals to teammate Mark Wraith (also playing Red Deck Wins). This year, Dan found himself unqualified for his Nationals in the first time in forever and had to play for a slot like everyone else. He did so, and won one, with this excellent list:

Biddingless Goblins

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For what it is intended to do, this deck is very good. It is faster than other Goblin decks because of Chrome Mox, and makes up for the lost card with Skullclamp. The presence of all the artifacts allows it to run Shrapnel Blast, which takes a turn away from most opponents under pressure. Dan says that the advantage in choosing this deck over Ravager Affinity and Goblin Bidding is that it beats both of those decks and does not give up a lot in terms of relevant other matchups. Straight Goblins has a natural advantage over Goblin Bidding. It doesn't have City of Brass and Bloodstained Mire which help the opponent race and it doesn't have Patriarch's Bidding which can be a dead draw in the mirror match. While the deck is also naturally quite strong against Affinity, you can simply look to Dan's sideboard to see how his deck should be able to totally overwhelm that type of an opponent over three games.

The Red deck loses the sheer game winning power of Patriarch's Bidding, but still has good finishers. Because it can put pressure on a white opponent so much faster with Chrome Mox draws (turn 1 Piledriver, turn 2 Warchief is surprisingly common), it can force the opponent's hand but keep Clickslither or Siege-Gang Commander in reserve to finish him. Shrapnel Blast is itself a game winner.

As I said, straight Goblins will likely be less popular than Goblin Bidding at Regionals, but it is still a deck to watch out for. In my opinion, it is also a good deck to play, and Dan's deck is currently my own backup deck this year.

The White Decks

The White Decks You have probably read about the white decks here on magicthegathering.com. My last article for the site was about the Weathered Wayfarer Mono-White deck, and Gabe Walls, one of the finest players ever to play a Lightning Rift, told you his opinions on his signature deck, Astral Slide.

The changes in the white decks do not come from great cards that they can now suddenly use. Instead, these proud defensive decks are forced to fight against Skullclamp rather than focusing on their own proactive strategies; the changes in the environment are external and the white decks have to react to them.

Mono-White Control

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This is a version of Mono-White proposed by magicthegathering.com's own Nate Heiss. It differs from the version that I posted primarily in the fact that it runs so many Urza's lands rather than Temple of the False God and more Plains. Nate's version also runs four Exalted Angels main, which seems right for this kind of deck.

My main problem with his build is that he has very few white sources for a one color deck. He can obviously generate an absurd amount of mana with his colorless lands in the late game, but I think that he has a less consistent fourth turn Wrath of God. A fast Wrath is absolutely essential when taking on one of this format's tuned beatdown decks. A missed Wrath of God will mean that an Affinity opponent will have less life to finish with his Fireball finish and that a Goblin opponent will not even have to use Patriarch's Bidding to assemble Critical Mass.

 

Pulse of the Fields
New breath for white-based control
Though he did not post a sideboard, Nate mentioned that he wanted to run Damping Matrix in games two and three against Skullclamp decks. Damping Matrix slows down everything from Arcbound Ravager to Goblin Sharpshooter, but also prevents the white deck from being able to use its own Mindslavers and Weathered Wayfarers. Additionally, Pulse of the Fields is probably white's biggest addition from Darksteel. As powerful as Affinity is, as good as it is as knocking an opponent from 20 to 0, that deck's last turns usually look pretty desperate. They involve sacrificing a lot of permanents and pushing every available attacker to the center in order to get the +1/+1 tokens onto whichever creature goes unblocked. Affinity is not great at dealing, say, 40 damage, and a card like Pulse of the Fields takes a lot of wind out of the Ravager's sails.

Goblin Bidding, on the other hand, can deal 40 damage without blinking. However, it requires a lot more setup to achieve this than Affinity does for its measly 20 damage. The main thing to watch out for when playing white against Bidding is that as good as you are at slowing down the initial rush, given time, the opposing deck will set up a lethal Patriarch's Bidding. You cannot just knock the Goblins down. You have to finish them or they will rise from the grave, generate a huge amount of mana, power up the Sharpshooter, and eventually deal more damage than you have life. While Goblins was a favorable match-up prior to Darksteel, in addition to the initial rush and the Bidding plans, a white player also has to contend with Skullclamp. Skullclamp will not only fatten up the graveyard but ensure that the Goblin player draws into his key spells, especially Patriarch's Bidding.

Astral Slide

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Astral Slide differs from Mono-White Control in that it has a more focused primary plan. No matter what opponent it is facing, Astral Slide can run the Lightning Rift strategy. Turn-2 Rift will kill another control player or keep away a Goblin rush with equal ability. I've always liked this archetype because it has a lot of lands. It is rarely mana-screwed. Because it can cycle so many lands away, it is not mana flooded very often either. Gabe's version also runs Damping Matrix main to slow down Skullclamp. This is a good example of a white deck being forced to modify its list to accomodate Skullclamp, rather than being purely able to choose the best available cards for its strategy.

Traditioanally, one of the strengths of the Astral Slide deck would be a combination of Astral Slide, morph, and a 1 mana cycler in the first four turns. This could allow for a block and a flipped Exalted Angel ready to attack on turn five. Now, for the first time ever, players in some cases are cutting all the Exalted Angels from their Astral Slide decks. Why? They need more room for anti-Skullclamp beatdown decks. Even Gabe's article, which touts the importance of Dragon wars against other white decks cuts not only an Exalted Angel but one of its chief long game cycling cards to make room for Damping Matrix.

The Other Decks

While you should primarily prepare for the above three broad groups of decks, remember that there never was any true three deck metagame and that 2004 Regionals won't be one either. Just as Turbo-Stasis rose up to bite Necropotence players from behind in 1996, you can be sure that this year there will be decks that don't quite conform.

Tooth and Nail

Probably the biggest story of PT Kobe was the emergence of this archetype. Largely unexpected by the field, this deck proved both powerful and fun to watch. Gabriel Nassif continued his long run of excellent constructed finishes with a 2nd place in Kobe:

Tooth and Nail

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Tooth and Nail

Tooth and Nail's main plan is to use its early game to find Cloudposts. To do so, it has Sylvan Scrying and Reap and Sow functioning in much the same way that Weathered Wayfarer does in Mono-White Control. The difference here is that when Nassif's deck has mana, it casts a Tooth and Nail with Entwine to essentially end the game. Against some decks, Leonin Abunas and Platinum Angel will lock in a win. With the Abunas out, the Platinum Angel is impossible to target and hard to remove. Because she can fly, the Angel can buy a win in five turns, no matter how low your life goes. Darksteel Colossus can represent a faster win, and one that is resilient against cards like Akroma's Vengeance and Wrath of God. One of my own favorite plays is to use Tooth and Nail to grab one or more Viridian Shamans, but use the Entwine to deploy expensive creatures I've already drawn. In this way, I'm saving mana on the bombs, and will be able to follow up with two Shamans the next turn to make certain I don't lose the initiative. In Standard, the Tooth and Nail deck gains even more possibilities.

Known on the Pro Tour as the kid who added Deep Analysis to U/G, Antonino DeRosa recently proposed this Standard version of Tooth and Nail:

Burning Tooth and Nail

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Though I am guessing most Standard Tooth and Nail variants will have white as their secondary color (as Nassif did), in some cases touching for Wrath of God, Antonino's list is actually more intriguing to me. If you have all that mana, why not just Fireball the opponent? Notice how in Standard, Temple of the False God really strengthens the core of the deck. Temple makes assembling a huge amount of mana less dependent on Sylvan Scrying and Reap and Sow and is especially synergistic with Solemn Simulacrum.

Cemetery Cloud

In theory, Cemetery Cloud offers the best of both blocks. From Mirrodin Block, it brings artifact hate, Skullclamp, and Death Cloud (arguably the most powerful available effect, despite its huge cost). From Onslaught Block, it brings Oversold Cemetery and Ravenous Baloth, neither of which proved the backbone of a tier one deck to this point, but cards that are the beneficiaries of some new friends. The theory is that with Ravenous Baloth

and other green creatures to soak up damage and provide life, the deck will have time to set up a devastating Death Cloud. The interactions between specific cards, especially Wirewood Herald and Skullclamp, will make for a superior board position upon the resolution of Death Cloud.

This is Brian Kibler's version of the deck:

Cemetery Cloud

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I like this version much more than the one without Wirewood Herald and all the landcycling creatures from Scourge. What actually came up a number of times with the other version was that the Cemetery Cloud deck would have Oversold Cemetery in play... but could not trigger it because it did not have enough creatures in the graveyard. Wirewood Herald and the landcyclers both help to fill the graveyard for Oversold Cemetery while at the same time smoothing out the early game, providing blockers and land drops.

That being said, Cemetery Cloud is probably my least favorite of the current archetypes. I am suspicious regarding the consistent performance of a deck with only 8 Swamps and 11 black primary mana sources overall that needs to ramp up to in order to set up its game. The mana constraints are very tight in this deck, with full sets of both and "bears" and necessary drops for both colors in its early game. That is not to say that some players will not find success with Cemetery Cloud or that you shouldn't prepare for it... just that I don't see it as an appealing deck to actually play.

Nevertheless Death Cloud really is an exceptionally powerful spell when it resolves. Especially in a deck like this one, if conditions have been properly set up in smashing the opponent's Skullclamps, you can potentially resolve a Death Cloud that leaves the opponent with no cards. Not just cards in hand... no Magical cards. No hand, no creatures, no permanents at all. At the same time, your Oversold Cemetery can bring back your landcyclers, allowing you to get Ravenous Baloth or other creatures back online post haste. When this deck wins, it wins very big.

When this deck wins, it wins very big. Against Goblins, Cemetery Cloud can set up recurring Ravenous Baloth and Bane of the Living. Against Affinity, it can Skullclamp its own Wirewood Heralds into Ancestral Recalls attached to Demonic Tutors for Viridian Shaman... over and over again. While it does not have a real plan for control, there are no real counterspell decks in the current environment, meaning that it can simply resolve Death Cloud after setting up the field of battle to its liking. The deck's only real disadvantage is its mana base, but that barrier is a huge one. Because Cemetery Cloud's overall power level is extraordinarily high, expect it to lure in more than one brave player.

U/W

U/W

You may not have noticed but all the decks listed from the top of this article have had something in common. They aren't blue. Well, that's not entirely true... The third Affinity listing touched for Thoughtcast. But I think the lesson is clear. The Powers That Be decided to get rid of Counterspell and the effect has been dramatic. This is a Standard where you can fearlessly play a nine mana sorcery and assume it will resolve. Again... that's not entirely true.

U/W Control

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This deck won Germany's Hessen Regionals in the hands of Jens Döppes. I would have grouped it in with the white decks above, but I don't believe your average white player is going to be U/W. In fact, if random Type II tournaments on Magic Online are to be believed, you are much more likely to face Tooth and Nail than any deck with Islands.

This implementation seems a little odd to me. Döppes's deck trades the Wayfarer engine for some counterspells. Most of them aren't very good, but given the right threats, they probably get the job done. On one hand, the mana flow is going to be a lot less consistent than it would be for a Mono-White deck; on the other, this deck can say "No." Consider how powerful that word is. There are a surprising number of games where another white deck has total control of the board, but then loses to a "Fireball turn", whether a Patriarch's Bidding or an Arcbound Ravager and Disciple of the Vault. As poor as Mana Leak might be in comparison to Counterspell, it can potentially stop these turns. Stifle is going to have some players pulling their teeth out in frustration, and Rewind, in particular, seems very synergistic with the Cloudpost and Temple of the False God.

Döppes's deck seems like it would have a serviceable match-up against Affinity with Akroma's Vengeance and the life gain, and a very good match-up against other white decks. The counters seem just good enough to stop the expensive sorceries of the rogue decks. My intuition says that this deck is weakest against Goblins... and Döppes's has a heavy sideboard for them. The deck looks a bit odd, but I can definitely see how it could work, and even dominate, given the right opponents.

The one card I really don't get is Thirst for Knowledge. Many States-era U/W decks ran Thirst for Knowledge in combination with Oblivion Stone, Ancient Den, and Seat of the Synod, but this deck has only Damping Matrix to pitch. If I were to change this deck, it would be to remove the Thirsts to round out the fours on Eternal Dragon, Renewed Faith, and Akroma's Vengeance. Eternal Dragon is the best possible card against another white deck. Akroma's Vengeance -- especially with the help of Cloudpost and Temple of the False God -- is going to be your best friend against Affinity, and Renewed Faith serves multiple functions agaisnt Goblins, not the least of which is an early game flow of lands and spells. Because all these cards cycle (and most of them do so at a lower cost than Thirst for Knowledge), I don't think that the deck will lose very much velocity (in fact, the early game will probably be better). The main drawback, of course, is that the deck will have to rely solely on Eternal Dragon for long game card drawing and will not be able to dig quite as deep quite as quickly for pinpoint threat removal, with or without card advantage.

 

Furnace Dragon
The last deck that you might have to worry about is Big Red. It was the deck that won the Block Pro Tour and, historically, we have seen decks like Tinker, Rebels, and Astral Slide graduate from Block to Standard for Regionals. I'm not actually sure what a Big Red deck for Standard will look like... You will see decks that play multiple Furnace Dragons against a projected Affinity metagame all the way to decks that look like mirror sideboarded Onslaught Block Goblin decks, trading in their little beaters for Rorix Bladewing and Starstorm. The main disincentive to this type of deck for Regionals, despite its pedigree as a PT winner, is the fact that the Goblin decks do much the same thing with their rush and burn, and do so on a lower curve, using Skullclamp along the way.

The decks for the upcoming Regionals 2004 are a diverse and varied group with specific individual areas of excellence. Though many have cards in common, from Skullclamp to Goblin Warchief, each of the distinct decks plays a particular game that is anything but identical to another deck that seems similar in build and plan. The challenge in overcoming such a diverse group of Skullclamp enabled beatdown decks, defensive board control decks, and eccentric designs with incredible and expensive sorceries is a daunting one. When you decide on your weapon of choice for this year's tournament, be sure that you are ready to answer the questions posed by these decks... or choose one of them.

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