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All About the Windbrisk Heights

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"It seems like if you're not playing Windbrisk Heights right now you're not maximizing the value of your Magic: The Gathering collection ... Windbrisk Heights is clearly the top card."
–Brian David-Marshall

The letter H!ello everyone and welcome to our pre-Regionals Top Decks look at Windbrisk Heights that is also a look back at the recent Magic Online 2009 Championship and a handful of PTQ results (yes—we're already in the next PTQ season!), all geared towards one lofty goal: Acquiring invitations to this year's U.S. National Championship ... which will be up for grabs the day after tomorrow.


So let's look at BDM's comment (which was made on last week's Top 8 Magic podcast); I hadn't thought about it like that. If you had asked me before the conversation I probably would have said that Bitterblossom is the best card in Standard, despite the obvious decline of Faeries in the face of Volcanic Fallout, a.k.a. Volcanic Blowout.

But Brian was right!


Looking over the results from the Magic Online 2009 Championshps, plus these three or so PTQ Top 8s that have ushered in the first couple of weeks of the PT Austin Qualifier season, we can see a clear trend: Windbrisk Heights is the tops.

Why Windbrisk Heights?

Looking back on a card that is now legal in its second year of Standard play, a card that has busted out Biorhythm in Extended (some guy was kooky enough to do this with Rith's Charm months before the advent of Spectral Procession decks), plopped out Cloudgoat Ranger a.k.a. Siege-Goat Commander in Block Constructed, and is now featured in Mono-White, Red-White, Black-White and Green-White attack variants in Standard, I actually wish this were a preview card for Lorwyn.

What would I have said about it?

Could I possibly have had any inkling of how good this land would end up being?

Probably not.

You see, Windbrisk Heights is a combination of two different cards that Mark Rosewater told me, on separate occasions, would never see print again ... but with no loss of card advantage; plus, it's a land.

Windbrisk Heights is an Impulse.


Magic's Head Designer once told me that "Impulse is too much selection; we don't want players to see that many cards ... not at that cost." And here is the Heights! Same selection, but with no cost at all! I am just ribbing Mark, of course; unlike Impulse, Windbrisk Heights does not put the card you want into your hand where you would ostensibly have immediate access to it. Instead the card is time-delayed (the land comes into play tapped) and its being played ever is contingent on your getting a halfway decent attack. Yes, today's decks with their Spectral Processions, Cloudgoat Rangers, Siege-Gang Commanders, and Marsh Flitters (all cards that produce three eligible creatures immediately) can and do get the Heights going, but they don't do so with the same immediacy of an instant-speed Impulse.

Windbrisk Heights is a Tinker.


A Tinker? Well, it doesn't have quite the length on the search (only Impulse-level searching, not the whole deck), but it does give you any amount of mana. Like I mentioned before, the first thing I tried to do with Windbrisk Heights was to play Biorhythm with it. You see, Windbrisk Heights (and all the Hideaway lands, really) can produce an arbitrarily large amount of mana. Sure, sometimes you get stuck with a Knight of the Meadowgrain underneath, but lots of the time you are cheating out four or five mana worth of threats at the cost of two lands short term, a bargain if you actually had to play the card from your hand .... Obviously just gravy from a cheap cheater.

The card is good; it gives you immediate selection for almost no cost (kind of like one mana due to the card being tapped) and doesn't take up a spell slot! No wonder it has become so popular. How popular? Check out these stats:


Twenty-eight Windbrisk Heights (out of a possible 32) by the most recent Top 8? These Hideaway lands have got to have something going for them (and to be fair, the odd deck out had four of its own ... just the wrong color). Just so you don't have to scroll all the way back up to the quote that we opened up with again, I'll reiterate it for you:

"It seems like if you're not playing Windbrisk Heights right now you're not maximizing the value of your Magic: The Gathering collection ... Windbrisk Heights is clearly the top card."
–Brian David-Marshall

Clearly.

So with this sweeping change in what is apparently the best of the best of the best, it seems like Regionals preparation is going to be—largely—a discussion of the various Windbrisk Heights options. Now we have written on many occasions about the Red-White Boat Brew style of deck (starting way back when it was first revealed, and Brian Kowal didn't even have Spectral Procession yet), so even though Red-White remains quite a viable choice based on the tournament results, we are going to focus on the other two main Windbrisk Heights decks, Green-White and Black-White Tokens.

Green-White Tokens


This deck is a Green implementation taking advantage of the Spectral Procession / Windbrisk Heights synergy. The synergy doesn't stop there! The Green-White deck also borrows from the Green-White Little Kid deck, pumping creatures like Kitchen Finks and Steward of Valeron with the powerful Wilt-Leaf Liege (the Liege also doubles as Blightning defense!). I have always chuckled at the prospect of playing a second turn Steward of Valeron, attacking with it behind vigilence, and then playing a post-combat Liege.


One of the chief incentives of the Green-White Tokens deck is its extremely fast offense. You can start off with Noble Hierarch and get an accelerated Spectral Procession; your Processions are offensively better with Windbrisk Heights than most decks' because you can pop Overrun during combat and just kill the opponent on the spot (or at least represent twelve points of trample).

This deck has a couple of additional cool things going for it. Both are related to Planeswalkers. While not as impressive as in the Black-White Tokens deck (due to that deck's steeper commitment to redundancy), Ajani Goldmane is nevertheless impressive with both Kitchen Finks and Spectral Procession... everything, really, but those cards in particular due to the potentials for card advantage.

Garruk Wildspeaker is a good performer in particular due to the presence of Martial Coup. Martial Coup is a fine token producer in a deck that can generate a good many offensive advantages via token production, but the synergy with Garruk, that ability to untap lands in order to produce more mana and add a relevant counter in order to waltz through the Red Zone next turn thanks to Garruk's faux Overrun ability (conveniently powered up by helping to play the Cryptic Command) represent some absolutely filthy efficacy.

Green-White Tokens is a fine strategy for sure, doubly so given the pedigree of its Magic Online win, but tomy_vercety's deck didn't even have Alara Reborn! Here is an update to the Green-White Tokens deck as played by Grand Prix standout Dave Irvine:

David Irvine's Green-White Tokens
Standard - 4th place, PTQ-Austin, Richmond VA


Irvine removed the Garruk Wildspeaker / Martial Coup and Steward of Valeron, opting to reinforce the Ajani theme somewhat, and play Elspeth, Knight-Errant. Moreover the deck seems to enjoy an upgrade in Qasali Pridemage. Basically, the Pridemage gives this deck a Watchwolf that can sometimes give its
life to cash in for a Bitterblossom... Very appropriate for this deck, especially with its Wilt-Leaf Lieges.

AJ Fields's Black-White Tokens
Standard - Winner, PTQ-Austin, Richmond VA


Despite very few changes to the bulk of the cards in the main deck, today's Black-White Tokens is a very different deck than we have looked at previously.

Yes, the deck has all the Cloudgoat Rangers and Spectral Processions to generate token advantage on the board, in turn setting up Windbrisk Heights. Yes, Black-White has probably graduated to the format's premiere Bitterblossom deck, jumping Blightning Beatdown and Fae; but what is really interesting about this strategy today has nothing to do with the tokens part of the deck!


The modern Black-White Tokens presents a slow infinity. Its persist creatures can keep coming back as long as Ajani Goldmane can keep putting up +1/+1 counters; you see, these counters counteract the -1/-1 counters associated with the persist ability, and both counters vanish. So instead of coming back as a 2/1 creature once, a Kitchen Finks can continually reset; it's even worse on a Redcap, which is actually dealing damage! What ends up happening most of the time, while the Black-White deck is jacking up an impregnable board position, is that a stray Mutavault ends up getting pumped up to 7/7 or so and is—vigilantly—the actual tool of Black-White's success.

In a format that seems to be defined by Spectral Procession setting up the mighty Windbrisk Heights, the obvious question becomes, which is the best Spectral Procession + Windbrisk Heights deck? We would argue that the answer is Black-White Tokens.

Why?

It's the story of Jon, Jon, and Johnny.

Consider this card:


This is Jon Finkel's favorite card; or, at least, it does everything Jon Finkel could ever want to do. Traumatic Visions counters spells, draws cards, fixes his most abominable mana bases, and ultimately keeps Jon playing lands. It's perfect.

Now consider this card:


This card does everything Jon Becker would ever want to do. It goes and gets a Forest. It goes and gets a Plains. It therefore helps to address (this) Jon's chronic mana difficulties. It blocks flying creatures. It's a Spider (Becker's favorite creature type). Ever a lover of a big butt, Becker can even appreciate the body on Pale Recluse once it is in play.

Finally, consider this card:


This card does everything a Black-White player would ever want to do. Black-White—if we think about the flavor of the strategy as a descendent of Orzhov—is one about incremental advantage, attrition, milking out a little bit of value. Heck, there was even a card that we all loved from Ravnica block that did only half of what Zealous Persecution does, Orzhov Pontiff. And at the time, many a Black-White player swore by the Pontiff.


Today, in a world where Spectral Procession is king, Zealous Persecution is your incremental Overrun (for a fraction of the mana) that also kills all the opponent's tokens. It is bad enough for little 1/1 flyers, but think about how poor Green-White is also laden with Noble Hierarchs and Llanowar Elves. In a word: blowout.

The more I play, the more impressive Zealous Persecution looks given the metagame. More than one capable player has suggested splashing this simple spell in other, non-Black-White Tokens decks (such as Green-White tokens). The Richmond PTQs last weekend, in fact, featured multiple Black-White Kithkin decks touching black purely for Zealous Persecution to enhance the interactions their Kithkin aggro decks were capable of presenting.

Miles Rodriguez's Black-White Kithkin
Standard - 5th place, PTQ-Austin, Richmond VA


There were three Black-White Kithkin decks that made room for Zealous Persecution and made Top 8 in Richmond last weekend. I am singling out Miles's deck for one reason: Unlike the other two, Miles didn't play any other black cards, main deck or sideboard. The entirety of the splash was for the Persecution

Tommy Ashton's Finest Hour


Tommy Ashton's Finest Hour
Standard - Winner, PTQ-Austin, Richmond VA

So here is our rogue deck of the day.

The only deck to win one of the tournaments we looked at that didn't play four Windbrisk Heights.

And an exciting list to boot!

So how does the Finest Hour deck work?

Really there are multiple synergies. The deck can play it straight ... First-turn Birds of Paradise (or better yet Noble Hierarch), offense via Rhox War Monk or Kitchen Finks on the second turn, actually crossing the Red Zone starting with three, dealing 3, maybe even gaining 3.

But the reason this deck came about was the critical mass of green-blue spells. These spells, in turn, start making Shorecrasher Mimic worth playing for the first time. Finest Hour is one of the cards you might have to check on Gatherer. This is a new card that conveniently costs blue and green mana for Shorecrasher Mimic, that can also turn even the most innocuous threats on the board into brutal murderers.

Consider a teeny tiny Birds of Paradise—the smallest creature on the squad—with Finest Hour in play. Attack! Birds of Paradise clocks in at 1/2; the opponent takes a bee sting. Now the Birds gets to attack again. And Exalted operates again. It is almost like attacking with a Nomadic Elf this time. Long story short, the smallest animal on the team just did as much damage as a Spectral Procession! All by its lonesome. Now consider a real threat made by a Rafiq, acting alone. That is, between his personal double strike and the free Finest Hour attack (plus any and all exalted) ... the two cards can easily produce 20 damage.

This seems like a very powerful rogue strategy. Rogue decks tend to be weaker than average (but can fill nice niches in a metagame) ... and you can see a possible chink in Ashton's armor with the inclusion of Jhessian Infiltrator just to make Shorecrasher Mimic better. But this time we see one with a tremendous offensive up side that can also prove hell on red decks. Not only are there all kinds of Finks and War Monks starting, Tommy has more in the sideboard, along with Captured Sunlight to make beating down difficult.

So what is the lesson here?

You know me. I would never say that you have to play Windbrisk Heights even if BDM says you probably should. In fact, we know from Ashton's recent win that Standard is plenty open enough for effective new ideas. But the success is still in the preparation. So if you're not going to play with Windbrisk Heights, I would suggest that you figure out what you're going to do about it if someone else decides to lay one down across the table from you.

With that, I leave you with a few more threats that you are bound to see at the gaming tables, day after tomorrow ....


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