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Catching up with a weekend of champions.

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The letter H!ere at magicthegathering.com we billed the weekend past as "A Weekend of Champions" ... and with good reason. For Standard afficionados, four different National Championships were decided. For those slugging it out in the Block Constructed PTQs and unsure what to run this weekend... a Japanese Grand Prix tells us the answer (yet again).

Up first:

U.S. National Championship Top 8

Mono-Red Demigod
Elves
Faeries
Quick 'n Toast
Red-Green Predator Aggro
Reveillark
Blue-Green-Red Rogue

Mono-Red, Demigod of Revenge

The Mono-Red Demigod of Revenge deck was the only archetype to feature two copies in the Top 8 of U.S. Nationals... and one of those belonged to newly crowned Champion Michael Jacob (who upgraded himself from "mere" team member just one year ago).

Michael Jacob


Michael's deck is highly reminiscent of the recent Japanese attack deck played by Nakamura and Saito. Michael "left in" the defining creature in this deck—Ashenmoor Gouger—one that was chosen for its resilience in the metagame, despite experimentations (elsewhere) with Boggart Ram-Gang and other options at that drop. Jacob echoed Saito's original explanation of Ashenmoor Gouger, that it withstands most of the commonly played removal (bigger than a Nameless Inversion, Lash Out, or Incinerate; can't be targeted by Terror or Shriekmaw) and additionally pointed out that even when Faeries steals it with a Sower of Temptation, Ashenmoor Gouger won't block for them, either. Now everything nice that can be said about Ashenmoor Gouger applies (defensively) to the quite offensive Demigod of Revenge, which shares its 4 toughness and "being black" special abilities both.

Unlike some red decks with slightly more burn—just have a look at U.S. National Team alternate Marsh Usary's deck, below—Jacob played with a relatively light burn package, only the eight top flight burn spells... But unlike Usary, Jacob put his Snow-Covered Mountains to work, employing the mighty Skred as point creature removal.

Marsh Usary

Main Deck

60 cards

Ghitu Encampment
Keldon Megaliths
19  Snow-Covered Mountain

24 lands

Blood Knight
Demigod of Revenge
Figure of Destiny
Magus of the Moon
Mogg Fanatic

20 creatures

Flame Javelin
Incinerate
Lash Out
Shock

16 other spells

Sideboard
Dead // Gone
Faerie Macabre
Sulfur Elemental
Sulfurous Blast

15 sideboard cards



Demigod of Revenge is again featured prominently here; this card is a nearly peerless threat in the format, and rather warping (wait until we get to Mark Herberholz, a little down the line).

Elves


Superficially Black's Elves deck looks to be built on the same model as the one Charles Gindy used to win Pro Tour–Hollywood earlier this year, but there are some key differences to the main deck; specifically, Black's deck list is down a Chameleon Colossus, a Civic Wayfinder, and all its planeswalkers.

In exchange, this deck is much more defensive than most; rather than debating three Terrors versus four Nameless Inversions or three versus four Profane Commands, the Elves deck Black played had seven pieces of main-deck point removal as well as the full load of Profane Commands. While this positioning may have served Sam earlier in the tournament, the no Garruk Wildspeaker / heavy black point removal setup put him at a disadvantage against eventual champion Michael Jacob; lots of Slaughter Pacts and Nameless Inversions is exactly what Michael wanted to play against with his Ashenmoor Gougers and Demigods, and Jacob even commented that Garruk Wildspeaker is one of the more effective Elves cards against his version (he can't punish it explicitly due to playing Skred rather than more burn that can hit one of the opposing planeswalkers).

Faeries


Lone Faeries proponent Paul Cheon very nearly repeated as the U.S. National Champion, a title he earned just two years ago. While Faeries is generally considered the most talked-about deck in both Standard and Block, Paul's version has some twists, keeping it interesting as well as effective for the tournament.

Specifically, there are some key Faeries missing. We normally assume four Spellstutter Sprites... but this deck? Only three. The really eye-opening change, though, is zero copies of Scion of Oona, exchanged for four Shadowmage Infiltrators! This is a card that we haven't ever really seen in Faeries before, but its inclusion seems inspired.

One of the main differences between Standard and Block Faeries is the presence (in Standard) of Ancestral Vision for card advantage. This can be important, because outside the "Dismiss" factor on Cryptic Command, Faeries has surprisingly little card advantage. Its plays are mostly one-for-one; Ancestral Vision is a reload that gives Faeries the ammunition it needs to continue to play an essentially one-for-one game while the free Bitterblossom tokens start working up a bad attitude. Shadowmage Infiltrator is potentially very good in the Faeries model because, even though Faeries is a control deck, it does not play Damnation main (instead controlling the board with fast one-for-ones). Shadowmage Infiltrator therefore has no Damnation to worry about from its owner (something Time Spiral Block Infiltrators wouldn't have been able to claim), and instead can play a refill game, keeping the one-for-ones—both permission and removal—flowing, and with no additional mana expenditure.

Quick 'n Toast


I got a chance to chat with Mark about his update to this popular deck.

While Mark shaved the fourth Kitchen Finks to fit a smattering of miser's one-ofs, the most exciting—and very different—of that crop has to be Nucklavee. Brainchild of Innovator Patrick Chapin, Nucklavee (in Quick 'n Toast) is kind of like a 4/4 Tidings that always draws Wrath of God and Dismiss (in fact, the only red sorcery, main or side, that Nucklavee can return is Firespout). Unfortunately, Mark was never in a position to Makeshift Mannequin Nucklavee, but I'm sure that would be been very exciting, especially mid-combat.

What the Pro Tour–Honolulu Champion thought was the real innovation to the deck was the addition of Condemn in the sideboard. Mark actually thought he was a favorite to beat Jacob's red deck in sideboarded games, but did not have the draws to beat multiple copies of Magus of the Moon, back-to-back. Condemn is an important innovation because it can deal with problem creatures like Chameleon Colossus, or really deal with the gigantic problem of Demigod of Revenge. Historically, very few control decks have been able to contain Demigod, especially in multiples, but Condemn, rather than destroying the Demigod, puts it at the bottom of the other guy's library, where it can't as easily hook up with friends.

Red-Green Predator Aggro

The Cinderella story of the Top 8 belonged to Grinder winner Carl Dillahay.

Carl Dillahay


This deck is two lands off of Tsuyoshi Fujita's legendary 20/20/20 model... but I suppose you need a couple more lands when your mischievous burn spells are chomping up lands along with their mana.

This deck has two unique elements worth mentioning, one main, one side... Main deck, Carl played Grove of the Burnwillows and Kavu Predator, a combination rarely seen outside the red-green-white Predator.dec. Kavu Predator's trample is valuable in the format simply due to the presence of cards like Bitterblossom; it is a nice proactive way to "deal with" the strength of the life gain from some elements (Kitchen Finks) without being reactive. A big surprise for many of Carl's opponents out of the side was Firespout! Firespout is the kind of card you usually see opponents defending themselves against decks like Carl's... So when Carl matched up with other aggressive decks... they often walked right into his surprise removal, in fact.

Reveillark


This five-color version of Reveillark has many significant differences when compared with the base white-blue versions you may have seen before. First of all... it's five colors! Like many decks, Reveillark has gotten on the Firespout bandwagon. Green isn't a requirement on this spell (or on Kitchen Finks), but it can help the otherwise red sorcery knock Faeries out of the sky. Black is present for a fair amount of discard out of the sideboard.

The simplest Reveillark combo for this build is Greater Gargadon, Body Double, Reveillark, and Murderous Redcap. With Greater Gargadon suspended, and Body Double and Murderous Redcap in the graveyard, play Reveillark. Sacrifice Reveillark to Greater Gargadon... but don't quite take that suspend counter off! There is a Reveillark trigger first. Return Body Double (copying Reveillark, now in the graveyard) and Murderous Redcap. Send 2 points to the opponent's forehead. Still with that Suspend counter on the stack, sacrifice Murderous Redcap sufficient times to get him into the graveyard; respond by sacrificing Body Double... which will trigger and return itself (as Reveillark) and Murderous Redcap, ready for the next of potentially infinite iterations. Rinse, repeat, kill.

Blue-Green-Red Rogue


The ever creative Shaheen Soorani (Blink Riders, the Masterpiece) put on his thinking cap to produce yet another unique deck; this one is a fundamentally green-blue creature-based control deck with a red splash just for the ground side of Firespout. While today's dual lands are nicely conducive to Shaheen's red splash, Rampant Growth is also helpful; check out that single Mountain.

This deck looks to be absolute hell on Faeries. In addition to Cloudthreshers and Squall Lines, Shaheen played the forgotten bomb that can turn off all the flash in the room... Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir.

France National Championship Top 8

Mono-Red Demigod
Black-Red Tokens
Merfolk
Quick 'n Toast

Christophe Peyronnel is the 2008 French National Champion. His deck is very similar to the one Michael Jacob used to win U.S. Nationals...

Christophe Peyronnel

Main Deck

60 cards

Ghitu Encampment
Keldon Megaliths
19  Mountain

24 lands

Ashenmoor Gouger
Blood Knight
Demigod of Revenge
Figure of Destiny
Magus of the Moon
Mogg Fanatic

24 creatures

Flame Javelin
Incinerate
Shock

12 other spells

Sideboard
Faerie Macabre
Lash Out
Manabarbs
Puncture Blast
Sulfur Elemental

15 sideboard cards



The main differences in Peyronnel's deck are five comes-into-play tapped lands over Jacob's two, and the fact that Christophe played ordinary Mountains instead of Snow-Covered Mountains (this facilitates Shock rather than Skred as the one-mana burn spell). Essentially the only other difference is Mogg Fanatic over Magus of the Scroll as the second one-drop (both champions agreed on Figure of Destiny).

A Magic card back with a question mark on it

The sideboards of the two champions' decks were quite different, though, with Peyronnel playing Faerie Macabre against Reveillark and Manabarbs against the middle turns. Christophe had a fair number of point removal spells (Puncture Blast being a semi-solution to Kitchen Finks), whereas Jacob had a sweeper in Sulfurous Blast and no analogue to cards like either the Macabre or Manabarbs.

Christophe was joined in the Top 8 by a veritable sea of red... three more Demigod decks:

Pierre Malherbaud

Main Deck

60 cards

Ghitu Encampment
Keldon Megaliths
18  Mountain

24 lands

Ashenmoor Gouger
Blood Knight
Boggart Ram-Gang
Demigod of Revenge
Figure of Destiny
Mogg Fanatic

24 creatures

Flame Javelin
Incinerate
Shock

12 other spells

Sideboard
Magus of the Moon
Sulfur Elemental
Sulfurous Blast
Threaten

15 sideboard cards



Frédéric Courtois



...and two Black-Red Tokens:


While both Riviere and Canonici have what we would think of as "Black-Red Tokens" decks, their builds feature a number of different techniques. Riviere's is just a deck... He has some good cards, and some synergies for the archetype, including Threaten for his Gargadon and Fatal Frenzy for the surprise kill... but he also has Ashenmoor Gouger, like a "regular" red deck in this format.

Contrast with Canonici:


This version is much more focused on being a tokens / Gargadon deck, and bolsters the deck's existing synergies with Grave Pact main! Grave Pact in conjunction with Greater Gargadon, Nantuko Husk, or even just Marsh Flitter gives Canonici's deck a source of recurring Diabolic Edict action, where he can trade tokens—with value—for the opponent's real creatures. Think about adding Threaten to that mix!


It looks like Oliver Ruel had a very similar idea to Mark Herberholz regarding Condemn in Quick 'n Toast. That addition makes weathering Demigod of Revenge much less difficult.

The interesting thing about this deck is that 61st card: Platinum Angel. This is an archetype—and a deck in particular—rife with miser's singletons, but if there were ever a card that really could dig you out of an insurmountable hole, Platinum Angel is it.

Italy National Championship Top 8

Torrent
Elves
Faeries
Mono-Red Demigod
Quick 'n Toast
Swans

There are two decks that I want to discuss from the Top 8 of Italy's National Championship. The first one is the Swans of Bryn Argoll combo deck played by Tommaso Chiodi:


The basic combination here is to get Swans of Bryn Argoll into play with Seismic Assault, and a land in hand (optimally Dakmor Salvage).

You discard a land to Seismic Assault to deal 2 points to the Swans, instead drawing two cards. When the land you discard is Dakmor Salvage, you can get the Salvage back with dredge in place of one of the draws. In this way, you will never run out of lands to discard to damage the Swans. So even though this deck has 27 lands, how do you prevent deck exhaustion? Easy! Gaea's Blessing is there to re-shuffle your graveyard; Gaea's Blessing might not seem like a very good combination with dredge, but think about how the two graveyard abilities work together in this deck. You want to re-shuffle your graveyard, or you might run out! You can't really run out of Dakmor Salvages.

So you dig to Salvage with regular lands, or you have Salvage for dredge (and eventually dredging Gaea's Blessing) purposes. You are simultaneously netting one card per discard. Eventually you should be able to acquire ten total lands... Rather than being sent to the poor Swans, these go to the opponent's head.

The other exciting deck from Italy was Torrent, designed and played by 2008 Italian National Champion William Cavaglieri.

William Cavaglieri


William's deck is a true breakout (maybe even the legendary clear break); he was joined in the Top 8 by two more players with the Torrent build.

Superficially, Torrent looks like black-red tokens... until you realize there is no Greater Gargadon in this deck, but instead there are four Torrent of Souls. In this deck, Torrent of Souls plays a fair approximation to Overrun for red, probably also bringing back a key creature for a hasty attack or some tokens for combination with Nantuko Husk.

Canada National Championship Top 8

Reveillark
Mono-Red Demigod
Elves
Merfolk

Lanthier and his Reveillark deck bested Pro Tour standout Steven Wolfman in the Canadian finals. While Wolfman's deck is pretty similar to the one played by Jacob and many others, he also has a fair number of key customizations:

1) In the rotating door for second one-drop, Wolfman has Tattermunge Maniac (though you could argue that it's over Blood Knight, given that he has two other types of one-drops).

2) Boggart Ram-Gang over Ashenmoor Gouger... This was exactly the swap Michael Jacob described when he was talking about how some red decks are able to deal with Troll Ascetic (Ram-Gang can tussle with Troll due to wither).

Steven Wolfman

Main Deck

60 cards

24  Snow-Covered Mountain

24 lands

Boggart Ram-Gang
Demigod of Revenge
Figure of Destiny
Magus of the Moon
Mogg Fanatic
Tattermunge Maniac

24 creatures

Flame Javelin
Incinerate
Skred

12 other spells


Three National Championships and a fourth finals.... Is it too much to say that red is the current king of Standard?

The thing is, Faeries is still the ruling monarch of Block.

Grand Prix–Kobe Top 8

Faeries
Doran
Black-Red Demigod
Rage Forger Red
Kithkin

At Grand Prix–Kobe, Yuuta Takahashi has pulled a veritable Raphael Levy with his win with Faeries. Takahashi won Grand Prix–Shizuoka earlier this year with Standard Faeries.... Let's see what changes he made for Block:


This deck is pretty heavy on creatures; while Takahashi went down to three Spellstutter Sprites, he played a total of 21 creatures, including main deck-Shriekmaw and two copies of the game-ending Oona, Queen of the Fae.

A card that has been generating a lot of buzz the last couple of weeks is Stillmoon Cavalier. Imagine this against either of the top two decks in the format (Faeries and Kithkin)... It's actually next to impossible to block, very difficult to kill, and quite capable of tidying up a game. Look for this card as a main-deck addition to both Faeries and Kithkin, potentially, in the coming weeks.

But if you're tired of repeated Faeries successes, why not try this build of Doran?


Or this one?


Doran as a strategy shares a lot of the incentives that made it one of the most popular Extended decks, including highly efficient creatures, fast point removal, and a unique, peerless, offensive three drop. In these decks, Treefolk Harbinger is here to close any holes (no Doran, no third land, and so on). Notice how Treefolk Harbinger is a subtle-but-nice combination with Wolf-Skull Shaman. Why settle for a 5/5 when you can get a free 2/2 as well? Yoshimori's version carries this metaphor to Leaf-Crowned Elder... why pay for Doran at all?

With Firespout for creatures and Puppeteer Clique for Elementals, Doran is the kind of deck that gives you room to potentially out-play the opponent, regardless of match-up.

Tsuyoshi Ikeda

Main Deck

60 cards

20  Mountain
Mutavault

24 lands

Ashling the Pilgrim
Flamekin Harbinger
Intimidator Initiate
Rage Forger
Smokebraider
Thunderblust
Vexing Shusher

24 creatures

Flame Javelin
Lash Out
Tarfire

12 other spells

Sideboard
Ashenmoor Gouger
Ember Gale
Flame Jab
Moonglove Extract
Spitebellows
Spiteful Visions

14 sideboard cards



This Mono-Red Shamans deck, built by my favorite deck designer, Tsuyoshi Fujita, is a great example of the opposite of Doran freedom... This deck does one thing, but it does it very well. All the low drops are Shamans, so Rage Forger does his magic and turns their normally insignificant bodies into mass murders waiting to happen. Ashling the Pilgrim can give herself counters, benefitting from Rage Forger even she comes down after it. The coolest thing about this deck, though, is the one non-Shaman, Thunderblust.

For a version without Demigod of Revenge (which was the focus of all the Standard decks we discussed), Thunderblust fills the "need" of a gigantic five-drop haste creature. Thunderblust has persist! Haste! Trample sometimes! Powered out on the third turn by Smokebraider, Thunderblust has the potential to win games all by itself.

Subtly, because it does not play Demigod of Revenge, the Tsuyoshi / Tsuyoshi deck has room to play Mutavault. How extravagant!

So... enough to think about for one week? Good luck in the PTQs!

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