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The latest Extended PTQ Top 8s are in.

Twenty-Seven

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Twenty-Seven? Really? Why? Twenty-Seven is 10 + 17, and we're going over two weeks of PTQ Top 8s. Lame, I know. Blame Bluff Week.



Reporting Extended Top 8 Results for the Week of 10 February 2007

Aggro Loam
Affinity
Aggro Flow
Tenacious 'Tron
Boros Deck Wins
Locket Combo
G/W Haterator
NO Stick
U/G Opposition
U/W 'Tron
Balancing Tings
Black Boros
Four Color Trinket Rogue
Gifts Rock
Guilty Conscience
G/W Astral Slide
Macey Rock
Orzhov Aggro
Rock and Flow
Sanchez Three-color
TEPS
U/W Post


Reporting Extended Top 8 Results for the Week of 17 February 2007


NO Stick
Aggro Flow
Bests 2K7
Boros Deck Wins
Gaea's Might Get There
Gifts Rock
U/B Contro
U/W 'Tron


We have a frankly massive number of Top 8s to discuss this week… and the crazy thing is that there are more, and more interesting, decks to discuss that didn't even get reported! For example, the week of 10 February 2007, I played my new Bests deck (an essentially Mono-Green hybrid linear deck similar to Haterator) in a PTQ that was won by Elias Vaisberg playing U/G Opposition (obviously not included in these numbers as there is no relevant box next to any "U/G Opposition" entry); this past week, in addition to Daniel Rowland's third place finish in North Carolina, Bests also won another PTQ (similarly not reported). Don't worry friends! You are on the inside track.

Adam Case

4th Place - Louisiana - Lafayatte - 2/10


Adam Case's Top 8 deck is fairly representative of the archetype as you will likely see it in the current PTQs. This macro archetype is templated from a second-place deck earlier in the season, and contains a number of absurd card combinations and subtle synergies. The obvious top-down combination is Beacon of Creation plus Opposition (possibly plus Static Orb) to lock down the opponent's mana and development. Beacon of Creation gives you theoretically enough Icy Manipulators to handle every land on the other side, and your earlier creatures (Birds of Paradise and other developers) can hold down the threats. When Opposition is combined with Static Orb, the Opposition deck can produce a full lock with three creatures. You need two creatures to tap whatever two permanents the opponent untaps, and one to tap the Static Orb so that you can continue to develop your board. (Static Orbis a highly symmetrical card.)

The first of the secondary synergies in this deck is Wirewood Symbiote plus an Elf, preferably one of the 187 Elves (Coiling Oracle or Wood Elves). With even Llanowar Elves, Wirewood Symbiote can drag down a Phantom Centaur with no loss of card advantage (damage on the stack, pick up the Llanowar Elves); when combined with Coiling Oracle or Wood Elves, the same synergy becomes a kind of card drawing engine; Coiling Oracle here becomes significantly better than, say, Dark Confidant.

The ostensibly primary purpose of the Symbiote, to untap a creature, of course represents a considerable synergy with Opposition itself (tap an extra permanent without drawing an additional creature), knocking off the "every other turn" downside on Spectral Force (the deck's primary finisher), and as a generic mana accelerator.

Vaisberg's (qualifying) deck list included Trygon Predator, which he called the best card (kills Pithing Needle and other problem utility permanents), and Scryb Ranger (additional synergy and redundancy, similar to Wirewood Symbiote), and though Elias did play Static Orb, he said it was terrible and he sided it out in every matchup. "Static Orb is a 'win-more' card. It doesn't do anything without Opposition, and even hurts decks that play permanents to the board… Once you've got Opposition online you win quickly anyway."

The main incentive to playing U/G Opposition is that it beats Aggo Loam, one of the leaders in the current metagame, because all of that deck's key spells are sorceries (they can't break out of Opposition), and it absolutely crushes Boros Deck Wins and most creature decks in general. The tough matchup for U/G Opposition is TEPS… You really have to hit a third turn Opposition and hope the opponent doesn't hit his fundamental turn. If you can untap with Opposition in play you will generally win, but even when you have a plan - this plan - a lot of things have to roll your way. Note that the deck only has four Breeding Pools and four Birds of Paradise and has to hit an enchantment that costs 2UU fairly early. Do the math.

Daniel Rowland

3rd Place - North Carolina - High Point - 2/17


The Bests deck seems like a "big and dumb" creature deck but it is actually a very intricate attack deck - "attack" not just in the sense of being an offensive creature deck, but in the sense of attacking the metagame itself from multiple angles simultaneously.

Bests just trumps most creature decks in the abstract because it has big and fat monsters that (usually) stand next to Contested Cliffs and eat all the creatures that actually get played (good thing no one really plays fellow Beast Spiritmonger any more). The deck has many basic lands and can easily operate under Destructive Flow as long as you are aware of which lands you search up with your Onslaught duals. It laughs off a NO Stick, locking down Isochron Scepter with Blinkmoth Well main deck and complicating the mathematics with Indrik Stomphowler, which is by no means a trump but is nevertheless a scary monster that can't be allowed to hit unopposed, presenting a nigh unbeatable sideboard plan. At the same time, Bests forces the opponent to play at its own plodding pace rather than racing with normally breakneck Extended tempo.

The main card that alters time in the main is Trinisphere. First-turn Llanowar Elves, second-turn Trinisphere, is not a win in and of itself, but it will generally imply a win against TEPS or NO Stick. TEPS has to deal with the Trinisphere before it can go off with Storm, and Isochron Scepter costs five mana to operate (two to activate the thing, three more taxing the usually free imprinted spell); Trinisphere affects spells set up by Mind's Desire, too.

Bests is the, pardon my diction, best example of a new sort of sideboarding philosophy that I've been working on for the past year or so since the Japanese demolished the World Championships with their transformative Ghazi-Glare deck last year. The goal of any good sideboarding should be to reposition one's deck into the superior strategic position given known matchups and variables… It is just that most sideboarding ends up consisting of half-assed tweaks that can sometimes remove inefficiencies but don't do anything significantly proactive. I think that one of the major limitations of a Wish sideboard is that Wish decks lack the volume of sideboard cards to accomplish a repositioning and just reinforce the status quo. Reinforcing the status quo of a bad matchup just means you are going to lose again.

Conversely in Bests we have a sideboard that, while not truly transformative, repositions the Bests deck to attack the opponent's strategy, and in most sideboarded matchups, makes the game unwinnable for the opponent unless he deals with any or all of the sideboard cards (this assumes the sideboard cards show up). When sideboarded versus TEPS, for instance, Bests will present with Chalice of the Void and Dwarven Blastminer (and usually some Ancient Grudges), where in Game 1 Bests had only Trinisphere. Playing against TEPS, the math of fundamental turns indicates that TEPS is the beatdown and Bests is the control just because TEPS is at least three turns, and possibly five turns, faster. Bests is a poor control deck because it isn't actually controlling anything. When Bests wins Game 1, it is either because Bests got some kind of dream draw of Boreal Druid, Call of the Herd, Phantom Centaur, Sword of Fire and Ice, and TEPS got a (comparatively) slow draw, or Bests just hit the quick Trinisphere, turning TEPS into a deck slow as glass, slow enough for the elephantine Bests to be the quicker.

In a sideboarded game, Bests is the beatdown. Bests presents second-turn Dwarven Blastminer or Trinisphere, or a quick Chalice of the Void with one or two counters. If any one of these cards hits, the game is very difficult for TEPS to win (TEPS is forced into the control role, and actually has to answer threats before winning), and if any two come online, the game is basically unwinnable. For instance, Trinisphere followed by Chalice of the Void with two counters removes the possibility for the opponent to play Burning Wish or Hull Breach to deal with the Trinisphere, meaning that TEPS can't win at all. Dwarven Blastminer can keep the TEPS deck's mana low enough that it can never overcome the Trinisphere. Dwarven Blastminer might optimally play next to Chalice of the Void with no counters, because the Dwarven Blastminer is holding down the TEPS deck's lands, and a Chalice of the Void for zero will prevent the opponent from playing Chrome Mox or Lotus Bloom. Saving Chalice of the Void for two, Ancient Grudge works well with most of these cards, containing Lotus Bloom before TEPS can hit the main phase. None of these cards is designed to win any matchup in the abstract, but to force the opponent out of his deck's comfort zone; non-interactive decks tend to fold when forced to interact, and even "broken combo decks" look a lot less broken when they have to play at the speed of a 4/4 for five.

Trinisphere is bad enough for NO Stick, turning all of its Counterspells into (yuck) Cancels, simultaneously making an investment in Isochron Scepter look like an investment in tech stocks in the spring of 2000, but the addition of Dwarven Blastminer, Ancient Grudge, and Chalice of the Void are absolute hell on the deck. If Bests can hit any Beast, it is very difficult for NO Stick to keep Teferi in play due to Contested Cliffs. The Trinisphere, Chalice, and Ancient Grudge together contain the deck's namesake… Most NO Stick decks can't even win with a Chalice of the Void with two counters in play, nor remove it.

This is obviously my favorite new deck of the format, though my original was 60 cards (Daniel crammed an extra Sword of Fire and Ice into the main). This was to help accommodate the sideboard change of adding Starstorm to the sideboard… I lost to the U/G Opposition deck the week of the 10th, because unlike you, even though I was aware of it, I wasn't really prepared to play and beat that deck (please refer to the preceding section!). With Starstorm in the sideboard, the Opposition deck is pretty easy to beat. Their clock is slow (for Extended), and unless Bests is under a full Opposition lock, Starstorm will unclog the board at any point. U/G can only reliably win with Spectral Force, and any Beast can contain a Spectral Force with Contested Cliffs. Daniel removed one Tormod's Crypt and two Loaming Shamans from his sideboard, which obviously make the Ichorid and Loam matchups more challenging, though the main deck Scrabbling Claws should leave the deck with a bit of lift.

Michael Broome

7th Place - Louisiana - Lafayatte - 2/10


Michael Broome's Black Boros deck is a version we have not examined in this column so far, but it has won in England, and performed, quietly, throughout this season. Black is the splash rather than green (usually for Kird Ape and sideboarded Ancient Grudge), giving the deck Vindicate as a land destruction redundancy over Molten Rain or Pillage. Vindicate serves double duty against Umezawa's Jitte - or anything, really.

There is definitely something to be said for Vindicate in this kind of a strategy, adding flexibility to what we think of as the Fujita model of Boros, but my major concern is the concession of green that generally comes with the addition of black. Patrick Chapin put his four-color version of the beatdown deck in consecutive Top 8s the past two weeks (Aaron Breider the week of the 10th, and a second-place heartbreak by Eric Taylor just last week)… Why choose Kird ApeorVindicate? At three colors I think the concession of Ancient Grudge is actually more significant than that of Kird Ape. It is fairly clear to me that Ancient Grudge is the best card in the present Extended, with successful decks like Loam reconfiguring their sorcery-laden sideboards to include it, and ostensibly R/W Boros decks siding it in against both control and beatdown (to kill the Jittes obviously). It's everywhere, it comes in against everybody, and drawing just one will often beat top decks like Affinity without any help.

Jonathan Pearlman

1st Place - California - SF Bay area - 2/10


The Locket combo deck was a pre-World Championships discovery by Patrick Chapin (and others independently) that didn't get played largely because the players who knew about it also knew about TEPS. The key card is Artificer's Intuition. With Artificer's Intuition in play, Locket searches for Locket of Yesterdays and three Sensei's Divining Tops. One Top goes to the graveyard, the Locket hits the board, and then the Locket deck can play the other Tops for one another for free a million zillion times, jacking the storm count. From that point, it is storm for the win; Pearlman didn't play Grapeshot, but most versions have at least one, just in case.

The deck is slower than TEPS but has a lot of things going for it. Muddle the Mixture can get either Artificer's Intuition or Brain Freeze, and with Artificer's Intuition in play, the deck can get essentially any card, and often play that card for free. Artificer's Intuition is an unlimited shuffling engine, meaning that with Sensei's Divining Top in play, the deck has peerless selection even for non-artifact cards (say you have to find the Brain Freeze). The best part of the deck is that because it is so not known, few players really understand how the deck works, and will play with the competence of a poorly trained sea lion. Rumor has it that in his Top 8, Pearlman beat players in Game 2 or Game 3 - after winning Game 1 (!!!) - with his opponents naming cards with Cabal Therapythat weren't even in his deck.

The Locket deck is quite narrow, and there are several Trinket Mage packages that will expressly beat it. For example, Locket will have a tough time against either Chalice of the Void for one or two - one stopping the primary Divining Top flip-flip and two stopping the kill cards (or keeping Artificer's Intuition off the table, if early enough) - and a Chalice and a Pithing Needle (or two Chalices) will completely lock out the game. The only main deck out Locket combo has to a Chalice is the one Engineered Explosives, so if you Needle that, there will be problems. An early Pithing Needle on Artificer's Intuition, plus an answer to Engineered Explosives, is essentially a hard lock, and Needle on Sensei's Divining Top with an answer to the Chalice (for instance two Needles) is similarly difficult to overcome. Tormod's Cryptseems good but is actually embarrassingly bad. You'd think that blowing up the Locket deck's graveyard would be good, turning off Locket of Yesterdays, but you'd be wrong. Remember that Artificer's Intuition is an essentially unlimited stack of Demonic Tutors, so the opponent will probably just pitch a different Sensei's Divining Top (or whatever) and probably go off the same turn.

I like the Locket combo for sure, and you can see how difficult it should be to beat, strategically, if you don't know what is going on, but at the same time how impossible it is for Locket to win when the wrong opponent knows the cards.

Adam Barnett

1st Place - England - High Wycombe - 2/10


The last deck I want to discuss today is Tenacious 'Tron. Adam Barnett won in High Wycombe, England with this design by Richard Feldman and Zac Hill.

Tenacious 'Tron is differentiated from other U/W "big mana" decks via the inclusion of Gifts Ungiven, and the packages that arise from such a different card drawing engine. Gifts Ungiven can complete an UrzaTron with Petrified Field and Crucible of Worlds, or set up Mindslaver lock with Academy Ruins, Petrified Field, and Crucible of Worlds. Crucible alone is effective in fighting Dwarven Blastminer and Destructive Flow, and Gifts Ungiven alone is a broken rip off the top of the 'Tron deck from any position.

Tenacious 'Tron is by no means as effective top-down as other U/W big mana decks, but its varied mid-game and finisher plans give the deck powerful options when playing against other decks. It isn't easy for Boros to beat a Gifts package of Razormane Masticore, Platinum Angel, Wrath of God, and Engineered Explosives, for instance; with the massive mana production of the UrzaTron, Tenacious 'Tron can exploit Chalice of the Void as a pinpoint weapon in-context like few other decks. While we saw multiple other versions of U/W Tron and Cloudpost big mana over the past two weeks, my radar says that Tenacious 'Tron should become the default version to test against.

We Did It!

The era of the Tier Two decks has given rise to a great deal of diversity - more than any other format historically - but I just noticed that the lone reporting PTQ from last weekend has eight different decks represented. As much as I hate having to change my traditional playtest criteria, I still love seeing that.

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