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Cruisin' for a Blue Again

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The letter T!his past weekend our friends at Star City Games held a "Cruise Qualifier" for the upcoming Game in the Gulf event. This event marks one of our first serious opportunities to use tournament results to metagame for the upcoming State Championships... but before we get there... Cruise Qualifer? Don't worry, Top Decks has you covered.

Tournament organizer Steve Port of Legion Events took the time to talk to us about Game in the Gulf.

 Steve Port  

What is the cruise?

Rishadan_Port

Game in the Gulf is a five-day cruise out of Galveston, TX going to Cozumel and Progreso, Mexico. We will be running a variety of events from a Conflux Launch Party (Sealed, 2HG, and Draft) to a PTQ for Honolulu, to a Multi-Format Championship (one round each night, with the overall winner receiving a refund for their cruise), plus tons of casual play (EDH Night, Grand Melee Night, Open League Play, and more). All the tournaments will be run during "at sea" time... when we're at the ports, no tournaments will be run so everybody can experience the ports. The cruise also features various Magic VIPs giving workshops and vacationing with everybody. Magic VIPs include Patrick Chapin, Michael Turian, Evan Erwin, and Chris Richter.

What then is a Cruise Qualifier?

Cruise Qualifers are being run throughout the country leading up to the cruise. The winner of each Cruise Qualifier receives a free berth on Game in the Gulf, including the gamer registration fee. Additional prizes are at the discretion of the TO running each individual event. Pete Hoefling of Star City Games included airfare in his prize pool. Legion Events is providing a $250 travel reimbursement if more than 65 people attend our events. Magic Online is running a series of 32-person qualifiers, which the Top 8 get into the final for the cruise. The winner there also receives 500 tix! A final cruise qualifier will be held at Magic Worlds in Memphis, TN in December. A list of all qualifiers can be found here.

The basis for us deciding to create this event is to provide an experience for both casual and competitive players to enjoy the game of Magic while also providing an entire cruise adventure. Many of our attendees so far are bringing wives, girlfriends, and children. Players have the opportunity to spend a majority of the cruise time playing Magic, but can also pick and choose which events they want to play in... and spend the rest of the time on the cruise. We have 200 berths reserved at this time, so space is limited to ensure that we provide a high quality experience for everybody that attends. The Game in the Gulf is a whole new way to "Play Magic, See the World."


Thanks to Steve for that (and for organizing what sounds like an amazing event).

So back to the world of Top Decks. What were the weapons that the Star City Games attendees used to battle onto the boat?

This time we have a rare opportunity to see the Top 16 decks, not just Top 8. The decks for this one are marked thusly:

Winner: Blue Box
Top 8: Gray Boxes
Top 16: Black Boxes

Faeries
1 Winner, 2 Top 16
Cruel Control
2 Top 8, 2 Top 16
Merfolk
1 Top 8
Kithkin Backlash
1 Top 8
Reveillark
1 Top 8
Justice Toast
1 Top 8
Red Deck Wins
1 Top 8
Bant Control
1 Top 16
Blightning
1 Top 16
Quillspike Combo
1 Top 16
Vengeant Control
1 Top 16

For the old school purists:

Faeries
1 Winner
Cruel Control
2 Top 8
Merfolk
1 Top 8
Kithkin Backlash
1 Top 8
Reveillark
1 Top 8
Justice Toast
1 Top 8
Red Deck Wins
1 Top 8

Faeries

Tim Furrow's Faeries
1st place, Star City Games Cruise Qualifier


Faeries, the boogeyman of 2008 Standard, is still... the boogeyman of Standard, it seems. Despite only one Top 8 appearance in the Qualifier Top 8, Faeries cruised all the way through the Finals to the win.

Tim Furrow played a deck largely based on previous formats' Faeries decks. Time Spiral rotating means Ancestral Vision is no longer a springboard to start the unbeatable curve from the first turn... but while nothing in Shards of Alara quite compares with that suspend among suspends, Furrow made several interesting and effective changes.

Agony Warp

If you haven't played with this card yet, it is quite exciting. Given the flexible Faeries mana base, Agony Warp is not difficult to play (though replacing Nameless Inversion does make Secluded Glen a little bit less impressive). Functionally, Agony Warp is about as good as Nameless Inversion, except in combat. In the abstract you can deal with two creatures simultaneously (killing one and negating the damage of the other), but in creature combat, you can put a similarly sized creature in front of the powered-down attacker and "trade," except you don't lose your guy. It's great.

Esper Charm

A bit of a stand-in for Ancestral Vision, Esper Charm is one of the most flexible cards in the new set. The second most common use for this spell will be removing the opponent's Bitterblossom before it gets out of hand.

Arcane Sanctum and Mystic Gate

Tim modified his mana base to accommodate Esper Charm and Oblivion Ring out of the sideboard.

Changes or no, the Faeries deck functions in more or less the same way it always has. Bitterblossom is the early drop, an army-maker. Many decks can never deal with Bitterblossom in a long game, and at worst, it is a "Forcefield" that allows a Faeries player to trade 1 life instead of getting absolutely pounded by, say, a Woolly Thoctar. However what the deck really wants is to follow up with Scion of Oona to make the individual Faeries more impressive, and sometimes, to respond to enchantment removal spells to defend Bitterblossom!

Next to Bitterblossom, the most impressive threat in this deck is Mistbind Clique. Woe is you if you are going second. Mistbind Clique might just beat you on turn four. Time Walk and smash. Often, there is no coming back. Mistbind Clique can conveniently remove Bitterblossom when Faeries is low on life, or "defend" individual Faeries cards from removal.

Quick 'n Toast Variants: Cruel Control, Justice Toast

Chris Woltereck's Cruel Control
2nd place, Star City Games Cruise Qualifier


This tournament showcased two different looks at Quick 'n Toast. The most popular deck seemed to be new variant Cruel Control, a five-color control deck advocated by Innovator Patrick Chapin and Storyteller Evan Erwin.

The deck echoes Mark Herberholz at the U.S. National Championships, including Nucklavee on the top of the curve. In this deck, Nucklavee returns not just Firespout but namesake Cruel Ultimatum.

Cruel Ultimatum is one of the most powerful spells in Shards of Alara, and will likely be one of the most popular Constructed cards of the new set. The absolute hell position as an opponent of this strategy is deep in the game when the Cruel Control player has already hammered you with an Ultimatum... and then plays Nucklavee. The Nucklavee inevitably gets back both Cruel Ultimatum and Cryptic Command, beating and bigger beating (who even knows which is which?).

Cruel Control will typically out-quality other control decks if it is allowed to operate in the six, seven, or greater mana range.

Chris Woltereck, who finished second in this event, took the time to talk to Top Decks about his, er... Top Deck. Chris has been playing about eight years, and in addition to a number of competitive finishes on the Pro Tour, Grand Prix, and local tournament levels, he is the General Manager of Operations for StarCityGames.com.

 Chris Woltereck  

This version of Cruel Control was based on Patrick Chapin's list, with Gerry Thompson assisting with changes.

Why did you play Cruel Control?

The deck is very consistent, and can attack all zones of play if needed. It uses massive card advantage to keep control of the game. This deck is going to be competitive versus any other 75 cards (it is very difficult to play optimally, though). The variety of sweepers keeps the aggro matchups much easier and Cruel Ultimatum offers a game-winning spell so you do not always have to rely on a creature to win you the game. If you return a Finks, you can win with just that, though Knuckles allows you to set up a lock.

So... How is the Faeries matchup?

The 'Stupid Flying Men' is a tough matchup still, but you can slow down the game a lot with Esper Charm for Bitterblossom. I try to play as many instants as I can vs. them, and my mulligan decisions are based on land, instants, and the presence of Kitchen Finks. If you're on the play and resolve a Finks, you can often ride it to victory. I think that is one of the best ways to beat them. I would definitely play a combination of Remove Soul and Negate, so people respect your two mana up, knowing you can counter anything, and NOT just a noncreature. It is important to have Remove Soul for the Clique, especially on the draw. If you have to Cryptic Command it, or Bant Charm it, you are basically tapped out for the turn anyway.


Ali Aintrazi's Justice Toast
7th place, Star City Games Cruise Qualifier


This deck is largely based on the Block Constructed variant of the same name.

Notice that this deck—like Cruel Control, above—plays a variety of sweep cards, mixing Firespout and Wrath of God, rather than all one or another (as we typically see). In addition, it seems like Mind Shatter will be a main deck anti-control control spell. With Rune Snag out of the format, Mind Shatter certainly seems like it will have less resistance out of the fellow control mage.

Notice that this deck has access (including sideboarded games) to a full complement of Condemns, which in addition to its Bant Charms, will take a lot of the control-hating "oomph" out of the Demigod Deck Wins style of red decks.

Kithkin Backlash

Marsh Usary's Kithkin Backlash
5th place, Star City Games Cruise Qualifier


In the Cruise Qualifier, Marsh Usary played essentially the same deck that he used to pocket a Blue Envelope for Pro Tour–Berlin (the only changes main deck were improved mana thanks to Battlefield Forge; he swapped the numbers on Wispmare and Gutteral Response in the side).

The Backlash deck can play like an ordinary White Weenie attack deck, curving up from Figure of Destiny to Knight of Meadowgrain, and so on... but it has a unique end game based on Painter's Servant.

Now I suppose Chaotic Backlash will hammer some people to death all by its lonesome, but Painter's Servant makes that card much more convenient. Once Marsh had enough mana to play Chaotic Backlash—provided he had Painter's Servant in play—most Backlashes would be lethal, easily in the 12+ damage range.

Red Deck Wins

Joshua Drum's Red Deck Wins
8th place, Star City Games Cruise Qualifier

Main Deck

60 cards

Ghitu Encampment
20  Mountain

23 lands

Ashenmoor Gouger
Boggart Ram-Gang
Demigod of Revenge
Figure of Destiny
Hell's Thunder

20 creatures

Firespout
Flame Javelin
Incinerate
Shard Volley
Unwilling Recruit

17 other spells

Sideboard
Dragon's Claw
Lash Out
Spitebellows
Stigma Lasher
Unwilling Recruit

15 sideboard cards



While this deck has some superficial similarities to decks produced by Tomoharu Saito, Mike Jacobs, and so on, the changes from format-to-format have been extensive.

Only One One-Drop

Mike Jacobs has been pretty vocal about his dislike of Mogg Fanatic in the deck.... Joshua Drum included no copies of that long-beloved creature, running only Figure of Destiny on the one.

Unwilling Recruit Main

Drum elected to play this singleton over a 24th land.

Boggart Ram-Gang for Magus of the Moon

I anticipate this being the default modification for most players who go Red Deck Wins in the upcoming format. To be honest, Boggart Ram-Gang was probably good enough to beat Faeries before (the red decks probably didn't technically need Magus of the Moon to beat up on Faeries), but with no Magus of the Moon available, the decision has been made by the market.

Shard Volley for Skred

This was a surprising change from my perspective; I would have anticipated Shock, as in Saito's original version of the deck.

Firespout Main

This is a huge departure for the deck, which has been historically mono-offense. If you think about it, though, Firespout has a queer synergy in the deck, ignoring Ashenmoor Gouger and many Figures while clearing little White Weenie creatures out of the way for the inevitable crash.

New Card: Hell's Thunder

This is an impressive new spell from Shards of Alara. While the card text reads "creature," Hell's Thunder plays much more like a burn spell—it even costs the same as Char or Flame Javelin (in a red deck) for four damage. The cool thing about this card is that it can do 4 more damage on the back end... but this time, permission won't help a control player from taking a pounding.

Quillspike Combo

Matthew Thornton's Quillspike Combo
16th place, Star City Games Cruise Qualifier


This is essentially a black-green midrange creature deck... with a very big twist.

That twist is Devoted Druid + Quillspike. Basically you add Green Mana with Devoted Druid and put a -1/-1 counter on it to untap the Druid. The Quillspike eats the mana and the -1/-1 counter to grow. Add mana again; untap again; yum yum again. Pretty soon the Quillspike is biggie-sized and can kill in one grand stroke.

Now should the opponent have something to put in the way, Matthew's deck can grant evasion with Profane Command... or can go the Rite of Consumption route. Instead of crashing through the Red Zone, Matthew could just sacrifice the gigantic Quillspike to Rite of Consumption to kill without the uncivilized formality of the attack step.

The rest of the deck is mostly just good cards. Certainly I can't be the only one who finds the idea of a Bitterblossom Faerie token attacking armed with a Loxodon Warhammer to recoup lost life and trample over, I don't know, other people's Bitterblossom tokens, I don't know, comical.

Vengeant Control

Ken Adams's Vengeant Control
10th place, Star City Games Cruise Qualifier


It was just two years ago that then-unknown deck designer Ken Adams won a Star City Games tournament and rocked the metagame for that year's State Championships with then-unheard-of deck Solar Pox.

Vengeant Control is his latest take on Standard board control.

Even though Ken is spread over four colors of mana (everybody but black), the deck is almost all white. The Ranger of Eos is very interesting in this deck, basically a Figure of Destiny and a specialty bullet... Loyal Sentry main, Burrenton Forge-Tender side.

This deck certainly has a lot of ways to destroy all the opponent's lands! In addition to namesake Ajani Vengeant, Ken ran a singleton Realm Razer, which, if stuck at the right moment, could cripple most decks.

Hindering Light out of the sideboard seems best suited to Cruel Ultimatum, but given how the format seems to have developed (Mind Shatter main), I think I would play even more copies of Hindering Light for Games 2 and 3... It seems very important for a deck like this one to draw Hindering Light before the opponent is on Cruel Ultimatum and Mind Shatter. Ken's deck is very permission-poor (only a singleton Negate), meaning that he will often be out-gunned in the counters versus must-counters fight (think not just of Ultimatums, but cards like Chaotic Backlash). Hey! Maybe Hindering Light is main deck material!

So Here Is Our Framework….

There is a lot of influence from Block Constructed, but also some new powerhouse cards and ideas from Shards of Alara.

Will Faeries continue its tiny-winged reign of terror, or will having two or three weeks until States give all of you the time you need to break the new format?

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