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Tier 1 decks just aren’t what they used to be….

1, 2, 3… Robots!

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In years past, we witnessed Black Summer Necro, joyously misplayed thanks to breakers and buffers Demonic Consultation and Hymn to Tourach; full-on Trix complete with Dark Ritual, Mana Vault, and the most powerful card drawing engine in the history of Magic: The Gathering; and Skullclamp Affinity at the height of its powers, where Aether Vial and Disciple of the Vault stood shoulder-to-shoulder with their captain, Arcbound Ravager (the fairy godmother of Pro Tour Champions). In certain old formats, the Deck to Beat was hard to beat. You either played it or you aimed for it with every weapon in your arsenal. Even then, you crossed your fingers and hoped (which made for a tight fit behind most trigger guards). Not so today…

Today we live in a world of Tier Two cards. Constructed Magic under the current model is a constant battle between dozens of factions of evenly paired enemies, none so much stronger than any of the others as to be completely dominating. We hear the mantras “everything is viable” and “everything is good.” The volume of decks to test against is massive to the point of impossibility. The edges are few and impossible to hone, come top-down if they are sharp at all. Is it any surprise that we see upheavals in tournament results like those between Weeks One and Two against Week Four?

Week One:
NO Stick
TEPS
Aggro Loam
G/W Haterator
U/W 'Tron
Flow Deck Wins
Gaea's Might Get There
Affinity
Aggro Rock
U/W Post variants
B/U/W Wizards
Flow Rock
Friggorid
Loam Slide
Tooth and Nail
Trinket Angels
Zoo

Week Two:
TEPS
NO Stick
U/W Post
Affinity
Aggro Loam
Boros Deck Wins
The CAL
JunkFires
Orzhov Aggro
Toolbox Junk
U/G Opposition
U/W 'Tron
U/G/W Hybrid

A word of apology: These numbers were not printed correctly last week (the first deck in each row was marked, quite confusingly, as a PTQ winner), so the section on “How to Read These Numbers” was probably impossible for you to understand. Gray boxes indicate a PTQ Top 8 appearance. Blue indicate tournament (Blue Envelope) winners. In addition, a late-reporting PTQ from San Antonio has been added to these totals.

Week Four:
Rock and Flow
Affinity
NO Stick
Aggro Loam
Boros Deck Wins
U/W Post Variants
U/W 'Tron
TEPS
Tooth and Nail

Competing Linear Mechanics

Linear themed decks tend to be, historically, the most powerful decks that anyone can play in a relevant format. The reason is that, at least before the current “Tier Two” trend, the decks utilizing linear deck designs were the ones most heavily pushed by R&D. Linear themes include decks that run cards like Stinkweed Imp or Goblin Matron. Stinkweed Imp is only really impressive in Constructed Magic if it is part of a dredge plan, which itself tends to imply graveyard-heavy attention and other dredge cards… think Friggorid. As for Goblin Matron, is there anything worse to get than some Goblin? Give me a basic Forest! However, in a heavy Goblins theme with specific incentives, Goblin Matron allows a Goblins deck to reach critical mass by finding key pieces like the equally underwhelming (in the abstract) and equally linear Skirk Prospector. Think Goblin Bidding or Dirty Kitty.

At the end of last year’s Extended PTQ season, the dredge/graveyard linear deck Friggorid threatened to completely ruin Extended. Friggorid grew out of a combination of decks that appeared and performed at Pro Tour Los Angeles, including Dredgeatog, MadTog2020, and the Golgari Grave-Troll decks, but pushed to its linear extreme. At some point, Friggorid didn’t even have to be playing spells (or at least tapping mana) at all to completely dominate the opponent. Following the PTQ season, alternate graveyard linear decks like Aggro Loam grew out of Magic Online.

A combination of hoser cards, including Leyline of the Void, Tormods Crypt, and Loaming Shaman have entered the available card pool to combat this broad group of linear decks, holding them in check. While linear decks tend to be the most powerful in the abstract, by their very nature of “like cards” they tend to fold to correctly aimed defenses, such as Engineered Plague for Goblins, or Shattering Spree or Kataki, War’s Wage for Affinity (for Artifacts).

What has happened in this extremely diverse Extended is that people forgot about evil, at least for this week. A couple of years ago, Zvi Mowshowitz wrote a powerful article about a specific linear deck in Extended, boasting sections titled “The cards that hurt [this evil deck] are mostly harmless against other deck, and your space has many demands on it no matter what deck you play” and “Evil can be defeated but can never be destroyed,” concluding that “[t]he moment the deck is down, it will be played less, and players will have incentive to stop playing the hate cards and the cycle begins again.”

The deck he was talking about has alternately been called “the best aggressive deck in the history of Magic” by an Astral Slide-backing Pro Tour Champion (who actually won a Grand Prix with the bad guys in question) and “highly unfair” at the very least by a different top strategist and different Constructed PT Champ. I am referring of course to everyone's old friend (and Week Four mover and shaker) Ravager Affinity. The robots added three more Top 8 finishes this past week, adding to the two they posted in Week Two's late-arriving San Antonio results. That matched the totals of double-blue-envelope grabber Rock and Flow and NO Stick, which has been a successful choice throughout the season.


Bill Stark

7th Place - Indiana - Indianapolis - 1/27


Over at the Top8Magic offices we were talking about newly inducted Londes.com editor Bill Stark and his second (at least) PTQ Top 8 with the robots on his side. “You know what Bill has in his Affinity deck that people don’t play enough?” asked BDM. “Shrapnel Blast!” “Have you ever drawn two Shrapnel Blasts in that deck?” retorted Billy Moreno. “I don’t think anyone has ever lost.”

For certain, Affinity isn’t the Affinity of years past… But the deck is so powerful, quick, and dominating that if you forget about it, if you cut all your Katakis let’s say, you will have a hard time beating it. What Zvi meant in 2004–2005 was that to beat Affinity you really needed the Energy Fluxes or other dedicated hate cards…. Trading one-for-one with spells like Naturalize or even Oxidize would depressingly concede tempo when the opponent was deploying 2/2s and 4/4s for nada. Affinity, at least for Week Four, has found what top metagamers call “the gap.” Affinity took advantage of a short term inefficiency where Boros was not performing at its preseason level of hype and popularity, and therefore the Sudden Shocks were not quite numerous enough to hold down the powerhouse.

Random Plug:
Speaking of Top8Magic, this week’s podcast has a rare appearance by Jon Finkel. The opening old man curmudgeon bludgeoning between Matt Wang and BDM is particularly dear to me (you’ll understand exactly why when you listen). The podcast is located here. Start with “Planar Chaos Limited Part 1” for this particular special guest. The best player ever to touch cardboard is no more kind with friends than he is with strangers. It’s hilarious and insightful both.

A neat capability of Affinity is that the deck can play linear hoser Tormod’s Crypt as a de facto Llanowar Elves while simultaneously demolishing Life from the Loam, Ichorid, and Golgari Grave-Troll. How lucky! I’m guessing that Affinity may or will be held in check in Top 8 competition just because of NO Stick (not that’s it’s necessarily a dog to that popular deck, but due to West’s baby’s very existence), where it can fall to Splash Damage on Isochron Scepter, specifically Ancient Grudge by skilled technicians with otherwise competitive choices.

Boros Deck Wins was just about the most hyped deck in the format before the PTQ season started, but it has not come anywhere close to its predicted 50% numbers, at least in Top 8 competition (see “the gap” and Sudden Shock, above). Boros did, though, pick up two reported Top 8 appearances in Week Four, including this innovative list out of Indy:


Ben Wienburg

5th Place - Indiana - Indianapolis - 1/27


Ben’s deck is quite similar to Boros decks we’ve seen since the World Championships. The creature suite includes Kird Ape with value from the unending number of Onslaught duals (plus one Temple Garden and one Stomping Ground). However Ben’s deck has two key innovations above and beyond anything we’ve seen in previous lists, Reckless Charge and Jötun Grunt. Reckless Charge is a card that has seen a varying amount of play over the course of its in-print history, alternately not played in slow G/R decks keyed to beating other G/R decks with flashback card advantage and serving as a key component of the fastest anti-Psychatog G/R decks, sending lethal Yavimaya Barbarians past the strongest creature in the history of the game. Here Reckless Charge is a key role player in an archetype fast approaching its best combination of great drops and great burn and support cards. Reckless Charge itself is akin to a Ball Lightning, allowing Ben to come across for huge chunks of the opponent’s life total from nowhere (even with otherwise clunky drops like Jötun Grunt), but also leaving the threat in play.

Speaking of which, Jötun Grunt is a conditionally powerful drop that is also a strong metagame call. Onslaught lands can keep the Grunt around from either side of the table, diversifying the functionality of a Boros deck’s own duals beyond Grim Lavamancer. In-context, Jötun Grunt helps to keep Life from the Loam, Ichorid, and other graveyard linear decks from out-classing the simple Boros in a long game.


Matt Hansen

3rd Place - Indiana - Indianapolis - 1/27


I’ve been grouping U/W Cloudpost decks all together in these Top 8 lists, but the Trinket Post class deserves a discrete mention. Matt Hansen’s deck takes the addition of Trinket Mage to another level even within the sub-archetype.

I’m a big fan of hybridizing linear decks in the abstract (here U/W “big mana” and a Trinket Mage engine), but Matt has stretched the functionality without really disrupting the core of either theme. Hansen was already playing four Flooded Strands… why not run one Steam Vents and one Sacred Foundry? He’s got the Trinket Mages already… Any reason not to run a Great Furnace?

What do you mean you don’t get it?

The past couple of weeks have shown a strong trend towards U/W Hallowed Fountain decks being the dominators of 2007 Extended, both from U/W “big mana” and NO Stick schools. Hansen’s Red splash makes Dwarven Blastminer a very real possibility, as well as diversifying the power level of his Trinket Mage-driven Engineered Explosives. I can’t actually imagine a more powerful weapon in the big mana mirror than Dwarven Blastminer… It’s quick, hard to counter, and more-or-less inexorable, being faster online by one than Wrath of God.


Kyle Sanchez

2nd Place - Texas - San Antonio - 1/13


Speaking of hybrid decks, special mention goes to San Antonio standout Kyle Sanchez. According to Kyle’s 2HG teammate Billy Moreno (they are the reigning Texas titleholders), the San Antonio finish is actually Kyle’s second second place of the season. This extremely powerful and versatile hybrid seems very much like a Trinket Mage engine grafted onto a G/W Haterator skeleton.

Though it lacks the actual Worship lock of Haterator, Kyle’s deck seems like it should have a robust game plan against aggro, with Troll Ascetic and Armadillo Cloak, and the nearly unbeatable (for aggro) Phantom Centaur. You see, not only is Phantom Centaur a giant Spirit Linked trampler with the Cloak attached, but no matter how many times he rumbles, you just can’t kill him. Even with +1/+1 counters disappearing on every fight, the Cloak will keep it no smaller than a 4/2 that, you know, doesn’t take damage but will happily trample over anything in its path.

Phil Cape

1st Place - Indiana - Indianapolis - 1/27


Brandon Nixon

1st Place - Tennessee - Nashville - 1/27

The biggest winner on the week is of course Rock and Flow, winning both of the reported Blue Envelopes. In fact, the third (non-winning) Rock and Flow appearance on the week was a Finals lost to itself!

The winning decks are extremely close to one another, at least in the main, and share a core strategy. Basically they run Onslaught duals as their core mana fixing into basic lands rather than into Ravnica duals, running one of each relevantly colored Ravnica Block land. Second turn Destructive Flow off of Birds of Paradise is close to a hard lock in any number of fights, including top decks like U/W “big mana” decks (Cloudpost and UrzaTron engines), Aggro Loam, and to a lesser extent, the dual land–rich, greedy splasher Boros Deck Wins. Rock and Flow gets a reasonable advantage on the ground via lots of equipment, and can supplement its TEPS disruption on the ground with as many as all eight copies of Duress and Cabal Therapy. While the NO Stick matchup is not assured, being in the right colors to break Ancient Grudge and Krosan Grip is obviously welcome.

Rock and Flow has not to date been a Tier One deck in Extended, largely due to the diversity of the different kinds of available decks, but given the common thread of quality nonbasic lands in the format, played by essentially every deck, the combo kill-like second turn Destructive Flow in a deck that not only has a reasonable offensive suite but access to the forgiving Pernicious Deed after boards makes for quite a potential edge. The fact that last week’s gap inefficiency beneficiary Ravager Affinity has not one basic land is quite a side bonus.

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