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The importance of local metagaming.

Local Heroes

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One of the things that sometimes doesn't get communicated as well as it could in a column like Swimming With Sharks, with its voices of authority and wide audience, is the importance of local metagaming. While we draw our data from many sources -- primarily PTQ Top 8 deck lists from all across North America, and sometimes special treats from around the globe -- each individual and local PTQ tells its own story. The best players in a geographic area all tend to know one another, meaning that when ripples occur in contrast to what we predict from our wider perspective (a preseason "prepare for Boros" or reminder "TEPS is the best" or some such), those ripples tend to rise to waves in the short term.

Huh?

I'll give you an example. In the first week of the PTQ season, I played my own deck, G/W Haterator to a decidedly underwhelming 5-3 record in Philadelphia. You might say "Well that couldn't have been a very good deck," but that wouldn't really tell the whole story. Haterator was, and is, a very seldom played deck when compared to archetypes like TEPS, Aggro Loam, and legitimate staples of the format; as for being good enough, the same weekend it won a PTQ elsewhere. In Philadelphia, I may have gone 5-3, barely breaking 50%, but all three losses were to NO Stick. Initially I raised the white flag, claiming that my deck was great against preseason favorites Boros and TEPS, but that I hadn't prepared for NO Stick at all (and reviewing Frank Karsten's weekly column, I didn't think I had reason to do so). After all, Aggro Loam and other Life from the Loam decks were great in our testing, and we had NO Stick as a severe dog to any decks with Life from the Loam and Cabal Therapy. No one would play NO Stick, right?

Wrong!

I should have used a little local knowledge. NO Stick was the defining deck of the Northeast PTQs last year, hitting the finals or winning everywhere up and down New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, and so on. Even if NO Stick were not popular online, where out-of-prints like Orim's Chant can be cost prohibitive, the deck is a favorite on the Gray Matter circuit and should have been given more consideration. In fact, NO Stick may have been the most popular deck of that particular PTQ, landing three copies in the Top 8, and not surprisingly, winning it all.

We actually see phenomena like this almost every week. When there is a cool new deck, there is often more than one copy in the same Top 8. Here is a really extreme example:

Paris PTQ, 30 November 2006:
Heartbeat
Boros Deck Wins
Tooth and Nail
Aggro Loam

A little prodding from EvilBernd GerMagic had me looking up some more international flavors than we necessarily get straight to magicthegathering.com from American and Canadian Tournament Organizers. In Paris, they apparently had PTQs months ahead of us, with 200+ participants... And their Top 8 featured multiple copies of Tooth and Nail and multiple copies of Heartbeat.

Any guesses what was going on that weekend in Paris?

That's right! The World Championships were going on, and Day Three hadn't happened yet, which might explain why we see some of last year's decks like Heartbeat Desire (as opposed to TEPS, which has largely supplanted it) or Tooth and Nail.

That said, we see really interesting associations clustering within individual Top 8s. For instance, both of the Heartbeat decks in this Top 8 run Search for Tomorrow and neither has previous tournament staple Kodama's reach.

You get it, right?

Okay then!

The first of the new Top 8 information we're going to go over this week is actually a week old.

Lubbock PTQ, 27 January 2007:
Tooth and Nail
G/W Haterator
Affinity
Boros Deck Wins
Friggorid
Discard Aggro
U/G/W Hybrid

Remember when I said last week that Kyle Sanchez made back-to-back finals with his innovative U/G/W deck? This is the other one.

If you don't know how Tooth and Nail (onetime leading Standard deck) operates, the short answer is that it uses green mana acceleration to ramp up its mana so that it can entwine the exorbitantly costed namesake sorcery and win the game. Not only does the deck play Wall of Roots and Sakura-Tribe Elder, but Sylvan Scrying and Reap and Sow to assemble the UrzaTron.

Once Tooth and Nail fires, the deck will usually win... somehow. Decks over the years have laced Leonin Abunas with Platinum Angel for a soft lock that implied a five turn clock or Mephidross Vampire with Triskelion to kill any and all monsters on the other side of the table. Woods, like most post-Dissension Tooth decks has a Sky Hussar to go with his Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker. Kiki-Jiki has always been a favorite of Tooth and Nail, locking down mana with Sundering Titan, but Sky Hussar wins the game immediately by untapping Kiki-Jiki and giving that clever Goblin a chance to duplicate it and start over again.

You probably know most of this already. The one thing I wanted to point out is the inclusion of Mindslaver in Tooth and Nail. In blue "big mana" decks, Mindslaver implies a win. I know that if you get off Mindslaver in Extended, you are supposed to win (just like you'd think you'd win if you resolved Tooth and Nail), but in the blue decks, the Mindslaver lock, besides just humiliating the enemy, is itself the win: Academy Ruins puts Mindslaver on top so you never deck (and the other guy never gets a turn so it's all good). Tooth and Nail can play for a similarly infinite Mindslaver with Eternal Witness and Kiki-Jiki, but this doesn't necessarily imply the win itself because the Mindslaver goes to your hand; you'll have to actually attack with the Eternal Witness(es).

I was pretty happy to see Haterator finish third and fourth in this PTQ, but Tooth and Nail and Kyle's deck are both difficult match-ups, with the Sanchez special basically the mirror, but with the mighty Triket Mage making the long game miserable... It's kind of in the place of Eternal Dragon; can you imagine Trinket Mage for Pithing Needle on Eternal Dragon when the rest of the cards match up pretty evenly?

Paul added Ghost Quarter to the mana base, which I find interesting for this deck. The mana is already exquisite due to Eternal Dragon, Onslaught duals, and being only two colors, so Ghost Quarter shouldn't drag his development very much. Ghost Quarter helps out in one of the hardest match-ups, U/W Cloudpost or UrzaTron. One thing to note specifically in context is how Ghost Quarter works against decks with one of these specific types of mana engines. Most people think of Ghost Quarter being a concession of a card (you spend a Ghost Quarter to get their non-basic, but they get a Plains or Island out of it, meaning you are down), but when the opponent has to puzzle together specifically a Tower and a Mine and a Power Plant, or gains progressive value with each additional Cloudpost, the math isn't that simple. Think of it like this: When the opponent has specifically one of each sort of 'Tron piece, his Tower is worth three regular lands, and his other two 'Tron pieces are two each, so he is getting seven out of three. When you send a Ghost Quarter at his Tower, he might get a land back, but he is suddenly dumb. He gets three for three, not seven for three. You are down one. He's down, in relative terms, four.

This certainly doesn't make 'Tron a bye, but it is something worth considering.

Something that gets asked in forums or in real life all the time is "Why Boreal Druid?" People don't get it. Some people ask why Boreal Druids instead of Llanowar Elves (they miss the Llanowar Elves when reading the deck lists, apparently). Boreal Druid certainly isn't better than Llanowar Elves in this deck, but it is better than Birds of Paradise. The colored mana is awesome because of Eternal Dragon (gets W or G/W), and you really want to play eight one mana accelerators, not just four. Other decks, like Flow Deck Wins, run Elves of Deep Shadow and no one bugs them. You could play Elves of Deep Shadow if you wanted... but Boreal Druid doesn't hurt you. The answer, then, is simple: Boreal Druid fights. My protégé Julian Levin, in the PTQ where he went a sad 6-1-1 for tenth place (same day as my 5-3), routinely featured Boreal Druids carrying bothUmezawa's Jitte and Sword of Fire and Ice!

Los Angeles PTQ, 3 February 2007:
Aggro Loam
Affinity
Gifts Rock
U/G Opposition
U/W Post
Wizards!

Bryce Yockey's Wizards deck is an extremely inventive look at the Onslaught tribes. Bryce actually put a lot of art into this one... All his mana producing lands are Islands (he can only make Fire or Grim Lavamancer, or turn on a Shadow Guildmage with one of the two Steam Vents); this is good for his Vedalken Shackles, and the six Onslaught duals keep the mana safely flowing in any regard.

Sage of Epityr? Sage Owl.

Voidmage Prodigy? Surprise!

Grim Lavamancer? Force Spike!

The free theme in this one comes from Patron Wizard. With Patron Wizard online, resolving your spells has got to be annoying. I once thought Wizards was going to be a key tribe in Standard, but due to their small size, the boys in blue never quite made it to the cache of Beasts or Goblins. Aaron Forsythe told me they would never be Tier One so long as Engineered Plague was in the format, and that card is not being played today.

Remember that thing about local heroes and ripples and waves originating from singular tournaments? The finals in LA were between winner Iain Bartolomei and US National team member Luis Scott-Vargas... They played the same 75.


There are a couple of interesting inclusions and exclusions in this list:

1) Dark Confidant - Is Bob Maher the answer? The revolving door on this slot has been everything from Wild Mongrel to Werebear to main deck Ravenous Baloth to Vine Trellis. I immediately scanned for Divining Tops.

2) 1 Engineered Explosives, 2 Devastating Dreams - Usually we see three Devastating Dreams main and the fourth rounding out the max from the sideboard.

3) Ghost Quarter - This one is the most interesting new inclusion in my mind. All the reasons why Ghost Quarter was a possibility in Haterator (discussion above) works here, but with Life from the Loam, it's just better.

Attacking the Tier Two format is challenging to say the least. Almost every week we see completely different decks kicking butt, dominating tournaments, and finishing one and two locally. Good luck this weekend... You've certainly got enough possibilities from which to choose!

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