Satanic Sligh is on the rise, plus news on the Time Spiral and MTGO 3 betas.

The latest Online Standard and MTGO III news

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The letter H!owdy and welcome back to Online Tech. I'll start right away with Standard, as usual, but after that I have a lot of Magic Online 3 news for you! In the following table I have listed the 20 most popular Standard decks as seen on the Magic Online Premier Events last week. You can click on a deck name to go to the corresponding post in my deck-o-pedia forum thread, where you can find a decklist and short explanation of each deck archetype.

Deck name Popularity Change in rank from last week
1. Satanic Sligh ■■■■■ ■■■■■ ■■ (12%) +7
2. Solar Flare ■■■■■ ■■■■■ ■■ (12%) +3
3. Structure & Force ■■■■■ ■■■■■ ■ (11%) +0
4. Hand in Hand ■■■■■ ■■ (7%) +3
5. Sea Stompy ■■■■■ ■ (6%) +8
6. Snakes ■■■■■ ■ (6%) -4
7. Izzetron ■■■■■ (5%) +11
8. Boros Deck Wins ■■■■■ (5%) +13
9. GBr Aggro ■■■■ (4%) -8
10. 8 Stone Rain Deck ■■■■ (4%) +6
11. Counterbalance Ideal ■■■■ (4%) +0
12. GhaziGlare ■■■ (3%) NEW
13. Ghost Dad ■■■ (3%) +1
14. Gruul Aggro ■■■ (3%) +1
15. Magnivore ■■ (2%) -11
16. Zoo ■■ (2%) -7
17. Heartbeat combo ■ (1%) -7
18. Snow White ■ (1%) -6
19. Battle of Wits ■ (1%) +1
20. Erayo Ninja ■ (1%) -14

The metagame has swung again largely. Last week's number 1 deck, G/B/r Aggro, might have just been a flavor of the week thing, since it did not perform well this week. It's down to a meager 4%. Last week's number 2 deck, Snakes, has fallen down somewhat as well, down to 6th place. And last week's number 4 deck, Magnivore, appears to have completely fallen from grace, downward to just 2%.

The big winners of this week are Satanic Sligh, Sea Stompy, Boros Deck Wins, and the 8 Stone Rain deck. These decks had a surge in popularity. Structure & Force (a.k.a. U/B/W Counter Top Control) has stayed steadily at a 3rd place. Everything put in perspective, the metagame appears to shift towards aggro/tempo decks and away from control or combo strategies.

This week's number one deck, Satanic Sligh, has undergone a couple changes since the last time I covered it. Most Online players have shifted away from Øyvind Andersen's original list and are now running a deck similar to Katayama Hidenori's version.

Katayama Hidenori, who made Top 8 at Japanese Nationals with this deck, made the following changes to the original version. He cut the Yamabushi's Flames for Demonfire (which is better late game), took out Hit // Run for Cruel Edict (less painful when you hit it with Dark Confidant), cut Frostling for Flames of the Blood Hand (making it a more focused burn deck), and turned Hearth Kami into Rakdos Guildmage (which has more useful abilities). I like the addition of Demonfire and going up to 4 Rakdos Guildmage, but I am unsure about the Cruel Edicts instead of Hit // Run. You do miss the added value of Hit // Run's damage. I am also not convinced that cutting Frostling is right. You need some attackers after all. Also, I do not think that playing just 3 Genju of the Spires is correct. The card is so good and essential to the deck, I don't think you want to play less than four. I do admit that I haven't played the deck much, so my opinions are not truly staved with experience with the deck. BarinnOFF's Premier Event winning Satanic Sligh version included Viashino Sandstalker in the sideboard, which he used as a hasty threat against Solar Flare. The creature can not be touched by Wrath of God, so it's an interesting choice to keep in mind.

Another interesting feature of the above list are the snow lands, there merely to bluff Skred. I am still waiting for the day where someone shows up with Freyalise's Radiance to keep the snow abusers honest. gelgep's Satanic Sligh version actually had a card in the sideboard that could use the snow mana: Stalking Yeti, a great sideboard card against Ohran Viper and other assorted 2/2 creatures. I really like the card. In the current metagame full of little creatures, it's like a Flametongue Kavu with a bonus and I don't think the snow man gets enough love. While we're on the topic of creatures that use snow mana, I'll mention that Scott_Poganski ran Phyrexian Ironfoot maindeck in his Hand in Hand deck. Other people have put the 3/4 in the sideboard of Structure & Force and Magnivore as well, which makes sense to me. A 3/4 for three mana is a great deal and it will halt most aggro decks in their tracks. It's another good card to come out of Coldsnap, which is making a bigger impact on Standard than most people anticipated at first.

Snakes on a Plane, the creator of the Snow White deck that I discussed last week, added black for Mortify and Ghost-Lit Stalker to his deck. It makes the control matchups much better and it has worked well for him so far. In other news, Spell Snare has become a popular maindeck inclusion in Solar Flare, which gives the deck an early game hard counter, so watch out for it. And lastl I noticed that most Hand in Hand decks included Phyrexian Arena and Okiba-Gang Shinobi in the sideboards, which are great cards against control.

My Dutch Nationals

Last weekend, I made it to the Top 8 of the Dutch Nationals with a twist on Structure & Force, eventually losing in the quarterfinals in a close match to Julien Nuijten. I played two Scrying Sheets and a couple snow lands in order to get a better long game against control. I also tweaked the removal suite somewhat.

For those of you wondering, I think Structure & Force is great, but I do not think my version of the deck is the best choice in the current metagame. I expected a lot of control decks at my Nationals - that's why I added Scrying Sheets - but I was proven wrong. A lot of aggro and tempo decks showed up, and the same can be observed online. In such a metagame, I'd rather cut the long game staying power of Scrying Sheets again in favor of colored lands for a better mana base. I plan on covering the various flavors of this archetype in more detail next week.

Deck recommendation

If you want to participate in an online Standard tournament next week, you could just pick one of the best decks. Satanic Sligh is an amazing aggro deck and Structure & Force is an amazing control deck. Dutch Nationals showed that any deck that uses Birds of Paradise and Llanowar Elves to accelerate into a turn 2 Ohran Viper is a good choice. Those decks are all fine, safe, solid choices.

Night_of_Souls_BetrayalBut you could also try to break the format, so here is some food for thought. I think that a deck based around Night of Souls' Betrayal could work well. It's one of the sleeper cards in the format and it is deceptively powerful in the current metagame. Against Satanic Sligh, it shuts down Genju of the Spires and Dark Confidant completely, and turns Rakdos Guildmage into a 1/1 with only a black ability. Against Structure & Force it is also amazing. Their only creatures are Dark Confidant, Court Hussar, and Meloku, the Clouded Mirror. They have no bounce, so in the face of Night of Souls' Betrayal, they can only win by attacking 20 times with Meloku. Dark Confidant and Meloku tokens die instantly and Court Hussar has zero power. Against G/B/r Aggro, it kills Birds, Elves, Confidant, Giant Solifuge, and shuts down Ohran Viper (if it deals 0 damage, you don't get to draw a card). I don't even want to mention what the enchantment does to a Snakes deck, which consists almost exclusively of one toughness creatures. Sure, Night of Souls' Betrayal doesn't do much against decks like Solar Flare or Magnivore, but it is a wrecking ball against half of the decks. I am actually quite surprised people have not put it in their sideboards (or even maindeck) en masse. I think that the best deck with Night of Souls' Betrayal runs Signets to get it out on turn 3 as quickly as possible. That means that Night of Souls' Betrayal would fit well in a Solar Flare deck. The creatures in that deck are all around 5/5, so they are not affected by the -1/-1. Night of Souls' Betrayal would be a perfect fit in that deck, it seems. I think the best way is to play it as a one-of maindeck, ready to be tutored up by Clutch of the Undercity, and then more copies in the sideboard. Here is a basic list, which is an adaptation of Shimizu Naoki's deck from Japanese Nationals:

New: Classic Constructed 8-mans

Scott Larabee has added a Classic Constructed queue to the Constructed 8-player room. Currently, the difference between Classic and Extended (Mirage, Visions, and various promos) might seem small. However, those sets hold a couple extremely powerful cards, such as Lion's Eye Diamond, Dark Ritual, and Vampiric Tutor. That can make a big difference, so Classic is an interesting format to try out.

Magic Online III news

Last week I briefly touched upon Magic Online III, directing you to a video interview. If you haven't seen it yet, check it out here. The graphics are beautiful; they are a definitely a huge improvement. As you can see in the video, Magic Online III still uses the spreadsheet mode, which is familiar to what works well in Magic Online 2 right now, but with better and easier layout. A new feature are the color shades menus, so that the game play functions, the collection functions, and the community sections will all be in different colors to easily distinguish them from each other. This week, I managed to get a hold of Justin Ziran, Magic Online's Brand Manager, and conducted a short interview with him.

Online Tech: Hi Justin! Let's start with the question that is on everyone's mind: what is the estimated release date for Magic Online 3?
Justin Ziran: The estimated release for MTGO III is now Q1-Q2 2007. This is later than expected, but we want to make sure we "get it right". The User Interface testing revealed a few instances where the new design was actually less desirable than the current design. We revisited some of the design choices we made at the beginning of the project and decided it would be best take a harder look at those elements. An essential issue was the layout of the duel screen, particularly the position of the stack. We had been toying around with the stack for a while. We've had it in an invisible zone that would pop up as necessary and we've had it on the top of the screen. But eventually we are probably going back to the way it was in MTGO 2, on the left side. Magic Online 2 nailed it very well; the stack intuitively lived in the right place. So, MTGO 3's interface mode will likely end up very close and comfortably familiar to the one of MTGO 2. The duel screen is one of the most important aspects of the game, and we want to make sure it provides an optimal experience. The last thing we want to do is impact the game play experience. I think the changes will be worth the extra time. Making sure the game is beautiful sounds like the best reason for a wait to me.

OT: So when can we expect the beta to start?
JZ: The beta is scheduled to start in January or February. First, there will be an external beta of around 3 months that begins with the "core" group of testers and gradually adds more people as beta progresses. Following that will be around 3 months of a large open period where everyone will be invited in to go nuts and stress-test the thing. We'll probably be managing our beta through a File Planet or IGN type of arrangement and go worldwide.

OT: Will the tournament system have new capabilities and features?
JZ: MTGO III will feature an entirely newly written tourney system that allows tournaments to be run in any way Scott Larabee wants them to run. Whether it is small swiss Premier Event draft tournaments to flexible payout systems as he sees fit, MTGO III will allow it. Also, Premier Events can be scheduled to a more fine-grained level than per start of the hour.

Online Tech: Will the popular Player Run Event formats (Pauper Deck Challenge, Tombstone Stairwell, etc.) become Wizards supported formats?
Justin Ziran: No. Users will not be able to set restrictions for a game beyond the formats supported server-side.

Online Tech: What can you tell me about the new Magic Online store?
Justin Ziran: The store will be in game, not using a separate login as it is now. You'll simply navigate to the store; add items to your basket, and purchase. You can easily do other stuff while your store basket stays on the screen, such as navigating to your collection page to check how many tickets you have left. The store will also be totally re-merchandised, in order to really get as close to 1-click shopping as possible. You will be able to buy pre-bundled stock, such as 3 boosters and 2 tickets. Just one click and off you go. However, the store will not trade event tickets for packs and won't sell singles.

Online Tech: Concerns have been expressed regarding the dynamic and rich 3D effects. Can computers without a high tech 3D card still run Magic Online?
Justin Ziran: There will be the option of turning off special animations, bypassing the 3D mode. Users don't need a high tech 3D card.

Online Tech: A stable server is of course very important. What has the design team done to guarantee that?
Justin Ziran: The entire server infrastructure is rewritten to ensure stability. What we've done is split apart the server, so that individual servers will now handle individual functions. You'll have a chat server, you'll have a trade server, and you'll have the front-line server that's the traffic cop of the whole system. The latter will dole out responsibilities to each of the other servers. So in the unfortunate event that one of the chat servers gets a glitch, it's not bringing down the whole game. In that case, chat goes down for a couple minutes while we reboot the server. In theory, we want to system to be scalable, meaning as we grow, we just add servers and it grows with us. We want at launch to be able to accommodate 10,000 concurrent users, with the ability to move up very quickly and easily.

Online Tech: Many people were disappointed with the change from the Into the Aether column, which was more focused on casual, issues and news surrounding Magic Online, to Online Tech, which focuses on the online metagames. Will Magic Online 3 bring any solace?
Justin Ziran: The Into the Aether-type content will be pushed to the Magic Online 3 client. There will be a mini-site within the client, which will serve the purpose of communicating news, special events and updates from the Magic Online team. What isn't covered on magicthegathering.com will be covered there – much more Magic Online specific. The magicthegathering.com columns will continue to cover strategy and get into the details.

Online Tech: In Magic Online 3, will there be any automatic "macros" where you can set up a repetitive series of events and have the MTGO client repeat that cycle any number of times? This can be useful for combo decks trying to "go off".
Justin Ziran: Not at launch, but it is on our radar. It's one of the most commonly requested features.

Online Tech: Can you say anything on the trading system that MTGO III will use? Will you be able to trade more than 32 units in one trade?
Justin Ziran: At launch trading will be exactly the same as Magic Online 2. However, our ability to change the 32 card limit should be more flexible and present less risk to the system. This will be reviewed shortly after launch.

Online Tech: I also have a couple non-MTGO III specific questions. First off, when can we expect the release of Weatherlight and other old sets?
Justin Ziran: Weatherlight will be released online after the release of MTGO III. MTGO III will then continue to enter old blocks. That is, Tempest, Urza Block, Masques and so on. The plan is to add 1-2 sets (not blocks) per year.

Online Tech: What is the scheduled start date for the Time Spiral beta?
Justin Ziran: The Beta for Time Spiral should start around September 25th.

Online Tech: Will Champions of Kamigawa rotate out around that time as well?
Justin Ziran: Yes. Champions of Kamigawa will leave the store when Time Spiral rotates in. There is a plan for a "good bye" league for Kamigawa.

Online Tech: Is there any future to Pro Tour, PTQ, or Grand Prix events online?
Justin Ziran: The only crossover event we have run to date has been the Worlds Qualifier Tournament. Based on the success of that event, we discussed many ways to introduce similar events in the future. Before we announce plans or programs, we'd like to be sure we have a platform that can support the added user/game/server load these events will generate - stay tuned for more news as we get closer to launch.

Online Tech: Thanks Justin. I'm looking forward to Magic Online 3!

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