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A look at the Top 8 of a qualifier for Japan's high-profile Finals tournament.

Eight Roads to The Finals

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The letter T!he Finals: If you haven't heard of it, the Finals is Japan's most prestigious invitation-only event of the year. Like a mini-premiere event, sort of the Japanese All-Star Game, the Finals only allows a select few (108 last year, 94 in 2004) to participate... and when the smoke clears, what a select few they are!

Last year's The Finals finals was a battle between Pro Tour - Kobe (the other Pro Tour - Kobe) Champion Masahiro Kuroda, with his tuned Eminent Domain deck, and Level 6 Mage Shuuhei Nakamura and his post-Worlds Hattori-Hanzo Tron. In the deciding match of the 2005 event, Kuroda's mana control was perfectly keyed to disrupt the center of Nakamura's core advantage - the UrzaTron - and turned it into a virtual mirror match...one where Kuroda had all the card advantage. The Finals in 2005 featured a star-studded Top 8 of Pro Tour Champion Shuu Komuro, Grand Prix dominator Masahiko Morita, and rogue flagbearer Akira Asahara. The coolest thing? Both Morita and Asahara played 240+ card Battle of Wits decks featuring lone copies of Wandering Ones!

The previous year had no less impressive a finale. While it wasn't quite the first Japanese Pro Tour Champion once more collecting top honors, Akira Asahara was no slouch as the Finals winner. The tournament took place at the height of Affinity's dominance, and the Standard portion was more than one-quarter Arcbound Ravagers. Beating the best with a then-unusual u/G deck must have been all the sweeter for deck designer Asahara. His win over the legendary Erhnam, Jin Okamoto, was made with a rogue forerunner to what (in Affinity's absence) would itself become a Deck to Beat.



This year, a stack of players is once again gathering to be the next Asahara, the next Kuroda. They are sticking it out in Pro Tour Qualifier-like events for the opportunity to battle in The Finals 2006. Here are the Top 8 decks from a recent Standard Qualifier at Pro Tour - Kobe.

Yuuma Shiota – Boros Deck Wins

This Boros deck is built on a 19/20/21 model but, unlike most that bias against a single card to add a land, keeps the full twenty burn spells in the "stuff" category and actually cuts a creature.

What is not unusual - but also not stock - is Shiota's two-drop suite of Knight of the Holy Nimbus and Soltari Priest (together hell on other Red Decks), but his choice of four-drops. I don't think I've seen Giant Solifuge main in a Boros deck outside of Pro Tour - Charleston...In this deck, the Solifuge is essentially another burn spell, a very good one that is the perfect post-Wrath of God play.

Aaron Forsythe has said that Development's agenda over the past couple of blocks has been to extirpate the Tier One card as much as possible and turn Standard into a sea of good, but Tier Two, cards. It is pretty interesting given that context to look at two different Boros decks from the same Top 8, recognize that both players went up the chain to the forbidden four-drop (with Kawabata even playing Giant Solifuge himself)...Yet observing that the decks not agree about what that four-drop should be.

Kawabata's deck is really unusual. It is not, like most Boros decks these days, built on a 20/20/20 model. Maybe more unusual than its Wildfire Emissaries is the attempt to utilize a card that everyone already agreed was very good (but sees little play), Sunforger. Unlike some Sunforger attempts in the past with extravagant singletons and bullets like Master Warcraft, Kawabata's version can fetch only Shock, Lightning Helix, and Char, with Disenchant out of the board. Most games, they are probably enough.

One thing to be aware of in tuning your own Boros decks is to err your manabase's 21 (or so) lands more to the Kawabata model than older land bases. Obviously you want to play Boros Garrison - it's one of the main reasons you would go Boros over Zoo at all - but whether you play two, three, or all four guild-stamped Karoos is less important than figuring a different specialty land. This format is one where Smallpox is a key threat, especially for small creatures in the early game. If you aren't prepared with one of the best cards in the format for one of the best cards in the format, don't bother showing up. Kawabata played four copies of Flagstones of Trokair; if you go Boros, you probably should, too.

Kawaguchi's deck is thematically similar to the Burt Colorado Champs version we looked at last week, but predates it by a week or two.

The defining element of this deck is obviously Scryb Ranger synergy. Turn-one Llanowar Elves, turn two Scryb Ranger, turn three Spectral Force! Rah! Scryb Ranger gets Spectral Force out a full turn faster and keeps Spectral Force a vigorous attacker and surprise (I mean if the opponent is really bad, at least) blocker even against non-black. With Glare of Subdual, Scryb Ranger doubles up the already robust Glare defensive capabilities.

One thing that I don't know if I've mentioned before but is probably important to point out is that Spectral Force tramples all over Akroma, Angel of Wrath. Glare is generally a dog to Solar Flare, but if Solar Flare's eggs are all in the 6/6 basket, there are worse spots for the beatdown deck to be in than smashing with an 8/8 monstrosity, especially gripping Stonewood Invocation.

Here is a Glare deck that doesn't just roll up into a ball, suck its thumb, and weep itself to sleep in the corner when the opponent flips Fortune Thief. Utilizing the synergy between Yavimaya Dryad and Stomping Ground, Tamura works his Birds of Paradise a little bit harder than the average G/W while simultaneously changing the math many control players hold as sacrosanct.

Unlike many Glare of Subdual decks that sometimes stop on 19 when they can no longer penetrate the Red Zone, unlike the vast majority that can't deal with a utility creature, Tamura's packs X-spells: Demonfire and Disintegrate!

He's obviously got to cheat on the numbers (only two Selesnya Guildmages for instance), and I'm not actually sure it's better to splash Red, but Ryou certainly creates a wrinkle that the opponent can't ignore. Unless he is forced to expose his plan prematurely (showing a Stomping Ground, say), Tamura should be able to manipulate his opponent's expectations and steal games with this classic roguish tweak. I know more than one magician who would probably have slapped down Fortune Thief and expected a concession, only to bite it long to some nasty surprise.

Kenjiro Goto – Scryb & Force

Every time I read those 19 lands my eyes bleed. I'd recommend that you not try to get away with this particular mana count, but Scryb & Force seems firmly established at that sub-20 mana count, and it seems to be Top 8 every time I review decks. To be fair, Goto does run eight one drop accelerators, Yavimaya Dryad, and the namesake Scryb Ranger, which functionally jacks his primary mana count to 27, arguably as high as 58.3%. Just don't get too comfortable against Shadow Guildmage (although if you can weather that Mirage bugbear just long enough to stick oneSpectral Force, it will likely be enough).

As congruous as Goto's maindeck is with other Scryb & Force decks from Lord of Magic and some cribbed North American Champs lists, his sideboard quite interesting. Teferi is not someone I would expect...The Mage of Zhalfir is an absolute monster against Restore Balance, Ancestral Visions, or Greater Gargadon. Shadow of Doubt (vs. Dragonstorm), Krosan Grip (vs. Enduring Renewal), and Loaming Shaman (vs. various Firemane or Wrathful Angels deposited via Compulsive Research) all seem to point this sideboard's desire in one direction: "Let's have a fair fight."

How fair is it, really, when one guy packs an 8/8 for five?

Masaya Honda – Tron-Wildfire

We've seen many an Urza's Factory...but what about the twelve Urza's lands that have dominated Standard from Tooth and Nail and BlueTooth in 2005 to URzaTron at Pro Tour Honolulu through Tron-Wildfire and SSS 'Tron during the 2006 Championship Season? What about that fearsome threesome of Mine, Power Plant, and Tower?

For the past year, at least since 2005 Worlds and the environment-changing Hattori-Hanzo Tron, the mantra of UrzaTron players has been to run game like Blue Control but with more mana. At Pro Tour - Honolulu, Osyp Lebedowicz made his money and Top 8 by tapping out for Keiga and Meloku because, really, what can the opponent do that is scarier?

The question for Time Spiral UrzaTron players is what are my Keiga and Meloku? The current trend suggests, and Honda's Finals Qualifier Top 8 decklist seems to indicate, that the answers are Bogardan Hellkite and Draining Whelk. Draining Whelk is kind of a Keiga, but is also very limited, even if it echoes the Tide Star's two-for-one monolith role. Draining Whelk comes down, and comes down big. The disadvantage, though, is that where a year ago a 'Tron player could tap for Keiga and slap it onto the board to scare off three Boros creatures, a current 'Tron player has to wait for an opportunity, and can't proactively halt the opponent's advance, at least without additional setup, tools, or mana.

Bogardan Hellkite is obviously an amazing creature, and with the UrzaTron bankrolling it, can be more deadly to weenie strategies than even the Clouded Mirror of Victory. While in some sense ideal for 'Tron, there is still the question of hitting eight excruciating mana. No one is saying 'Tron can't hit...The question is whether the tempo shift can or will occur before an aggressive opponent has the big spell deck in burn range. While flash makes Bogardan Hellkite a reasonable test spell, eight mana is still a lot to ask against an opposing Island.

This is one of the many looks at U/W Control available for Standard play. The rotation of the Kamigawa Dragons has really put the various Control finishers up for grabs...Different decks run Akroma, Angel of Wrath, Tidespout Tyrant, Debtors' Knell, Windreaver, sub-reanimation themes, or Phyrexian Ironfoot out of a Snow engine. Nishiwaki's victory conditions range from the mainstream (Court Hussar and Sacred Mesa) to the unusual (Teferi in U/W specifically), with Urza's Factory making yet another appearance in a long-game blue deck.

Sacred Mesa is one of those cards that has really improved since its initial run. You can create a Pegasus token on upkeep and sacrifice the new one, which will allow you to swing with all your remaining flyers under Classic rules (in the old days you couldn't activate the Mesa until you had paid the upkeep). Especially with room for five basic Plains, I would rate U/W Control as another candidate for four Flagstones of Trokair.

Okano's deck is nothing really out of the ordinary for a Solar Flare deck in the current metagame. He has a solid 23 lands and six Signets, making for more robust proactive development than some versions, or probably Solar Pox, and keeps the two Persecutes and four Remands that were staple throughout the pre-Time Spiral summer.

I actually really like Skeletal Vampire in Solar Flare. The more we have tested the big spell mid-range control decks against one another, the more I remember why Skeletal Vampire was so dominant in Charleston. More often than not, Skeletal Vampire on six is better than Angel of Despair on seven; the ability to produce tokens is really useful with Dread Return, and Tetsuya has not just four Compulsive Researches main, but three Careful Considerations to set up the graveyard.

As far as defense, Okano has literally no Mortifies main, which might not be a very good choice in the post-Champs meta with G/W Glare of Subdual a top deck, so Angel of Despair (especially from the graveyard, and quickly) becomes a more important defensive measure and racer.

The unique elements - and I think they are a good pair - are the two Mana Leaks starting (literally no one will play around them, especially now that Solar Pox has no permission, not even Remand), and Prahv, Spires of Order. Prahv was a minority - but exceedingly annoying - land at Pro Tour - Charleston. At sufficient mana, it will force the opponent to commit multiple permanents to the board, allowing Okano to get two-for-one or better with Wrath of God. Prahv is also superb in long game situations against big finishers as bad as Akroma, and can even stop Disintegrate (and, in lazy cases, Demonfire). This card, while very expensive, is not easy to beat from a topdeck situation and is probably underplayed overall.

Every day people ask me what the best deck in Standard is. I don't know. I don't know if there is a best deck. Right now there are so many great and unique ideas, it seems very difficult to get a legitimate edge, and as players modify their Champs and stock lists, even secret elbow drops like Fortune Thief and the wildfire-hot Solar Pox are being outmoded or reinvented on a daily basis. While some of these decks from The Finals Qualfier Kobe weekend are a mite older than the Champs decks, I think that they, too, offer some interesting ideas that can be hybridized with other data as we continue to innovate and invigorate the Time Spiral Standard format.

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