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Winners, Losers, So On, and So Forth

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The letter T!his weekend marks the first Standard PTQs that we will see—and in some cases play in—featuring Magic 2010.


No doubt the removal of Tenth Edition for Magic 2010 will effect a jarring shift in metagame incentives. For example, for the first time ever, there will be no No NO Wrath of God in Standard! What is even more shocking to my mind is that this rotation of Wrath of God might not even be the most significant removal for the format! Really!

Sure, Wrath will be telling as time goes on (and maybe more important when Lorwyn block rotates out prior to this year's State Championships), but there are some other fairly big losses that you might not have thought about yet. Here are just a couple:

Seismic Assault

Decks like Columbus PTQ winner Michael Pozsgay's are going to disappear entirely from the state of Standard. I mean what kind of Cascade Swans Seismic Assault deck do we have ... without the Seismic Assaults?

Michael Pozsgay's Cascade Swans
Pre-M10 Standard - Winner, Columbus OH PTQ


Loxodon Warhammer

Scott K. Bielick's Faeries
Pre-M10 Standard - 6th place, Minneapolis MN PTQ


Sure, we still have Behemoth Sledge, but the "classic" lifelink hammer was at least sometimes utilized in decks like Fae—which didn't have access to green and white mana, but sure liked to offset Bitterblossom—that now miss the one-of option.

Treetop Village

Corey Baumeister's Green-White Tokens
Pre-M10 Standard - 2nd place, Minneapolis MN PTQ


To my mind Treetop Village is the big one. I have been a fan of Jund Mana Ramp all throughout the Lorwyn block + Shards of Alara block Standard formats, having paired Broodmate Dragons and Savage Lands with Kitchen Finks at both States 2008 and Regionals this year. My fear is that the loss of Treetop Village may blank Jund Mana Ramp as a serious contender in the current Standard entirely. Treetop Village was the absolute best card against non-Cascade Swans decks pre-Regionals, and a key weapon against Five-Color Control; it survived their board control, whether Volcanic Fallout, Firespout, Wrath of God, or something even more expensive, and could not be countered. Similarly, Green-White Tokens—one of the strongest decks over the course of the PTQ season thus far—loses this potent land, as do decks as far flung as Elves and the seldom encountered Bloom Tender + Seedcradle Witch infinite mana decks (Treetop Village, having trample, was a perfect repository of infinite power). Thus, in the short term, my gut is that Treetop Village will be the most telling disappearance transitioning from 10E to M10.

So even as we lose great cards, different great cards are making their way into the new Standard.

White Weenie / Kithkin seems to be a big winner, with Honor of the Pure, Harm's Way, Elite Vanguard, and maybe even Baneslayer Angel as great additions (or Baneslayer only in control, maybe ... but certainly slaying all kinds of banes starting this weekend, for a certainty).


The most exciting card of them all might be Lightning Bolt. This oldie but very, very, goodie is going to hitch a ride in every fast car zooming past the meta, from sharing space with Bloodbraid Elf, Boggart Ram-Gang, and probably returning attacker Ball Lightning, to sitting in the sideboard of a board control deck that doesn't want to get mugged by the speed of Kithkin (or Bloodbraid Elves, Boggart Ram-Gangs, and Ball Lightnings coming the other way). Versatile staple, played everywhere, for as long as the mana holds up.


Beyond the less off-beat options (apparently Clone is no longer off-beat), blue sees the return of Polymorph, an instant itching to power out Progenitus if ever there was one. Bitterblossoms and Mutavaults might spit out and / or look like creatures during the attack ... but creatures they ain't, not by type. Get ready for a rabid rabbit! Set up the right two-turn clock and your embarrassed opponents may be signing onto a certain Facebook group (I've Been Killed by Progenitus), you know, like Jacob Van Lunen, Mike Turian, and ~476 other people big enough to admit they've been killed by Progenitus, some of whom—believe it or not—have not even won a Pro Tour.


One of the most common questions I hear these days is whether or not Mono-Black Control can make a comeback in Standard. Tendrils of Corruption makes a compelling anti-beatdown argument while Doom Blade looks better than Terror ever did ... almost. The sleeper might be Black Knight, a creature that doesn't have nearly its onetime stature ... but might just slide into a metagame with enough active Goldmeadow Stalwarts. From the other side of black we have Duress and Haunting Echoes (you know, for the kind of guy who sits back at the tournament table, looks his opponent in the eye, maybe chuckles to himself, and thinks we are going to have a nice long game ... no matter what), and that can be fine too, if you love a midrange (and you probably know how I feel about that).

For now, though, I think Mono-Black Control may not be the way to go despite the strength of some of black's M10 cards, due to the presence of not only the established Chameleon Colossus (already so good against Elves, aggressive Cascade decks, and even some decks that don't run Putrid Leech) but also new surgical scalpel Great Sable Stag. As for the rest of green? I'm just happy to have Borderland Ranger, which is arguably strictly worse than Civic Wayfinder ... but still worth all four slots! (At least in some decks, if not the aforementioned Elves).

Don't call it a comeback

Now some of the things I've said about M10 probably seem a bit silly and others obvious, but that mix is a reflection of our collective ignorance (mine leading the way as the writer of this column). Who knows what is going to be great versus what is all hype (versus being completely unplayable)? The fact is, by the day after tomorrow, very few people are going to have the right data, let alone full sets of M10 to bring to their local PTQs.

Here is an option:

Frederico Bastos's Elementals
Pre-M10 Standard - Winner, Portugal Nationals


This is Frederico Bastos's first place deck from the 2009 Portugal National Championship. Bastos played an Elementals deck that has started to pepper Standard Top 8s across different types of formats. Now most of the cards in this deck will be familiar, because Lorwyn block was very linear and as Mark Rosewater says, the cards beg to be played together. But the configuration is a little bit different, especially regarding Horde of Notions, now upgraded to four-of, when once it was a mere singleton.

Redundancies

Elementals now plays eight total two-drop mana accelerators, and are powerful. Smokebraider is the classic, allowing you full Mulldrifter or Shriekmaw (or maybe even Reveillark) mana on the third turn if you are so inclined; it is the warp core that takes the powerful Elementals ship and sends it, potentially, off at impressive speeds. Bloom Tender isn't an Elemental, but it sure works well with Elementals. Case in point: You have one of your many copies of Horde of Notions on the battlefield. One Bloom Tender can produce White ManaBlue ManaBlack ManaRed ManaGreen Mana necessary to power up the Horde's ability with a single tap from a single permanent (rather than four or five).

Soul Wardens?

A strange card that also isn't an Elemental is Ranger of Eos. What is that guy doing in this deck? Apparently, in addition to settin gup future Reveillarks, Cloudthreshers, and Hordes with Flamekin Harbinger, Ranger of Eos is gathering up Soul Wardens... Really!

At first glance I didn't understand why anyone would play Soul Warden in a deck like this, especially a concerted Tribal Elementals deck both empowered and limited by Primal Beyond, Smokebraiders, so on, and so forth. Soul Warden isn't even a particularly powerful card (at least unless you are using it in concert with infinite creature—and therefore infinite life—production or some similar). So I went out and asked my Twitter following what was going on. According to my loyal Twitter friends, it turns out that Manuel Bucher (proximate daddy of this sort of Elementals) positioned Soul Warden—for all its potential shortcomings and vulnerability to Volcanic Fallout—as a nice racer. Against Spectral Procession, Soul Warden can provide quite a life jump, and it annoys the heck out of almost any creature-based deck as the Elementals climb in power to Hordes, 7/7s, and recurring Mulldrifters.

But where Soul Warden really shines is against Bitterblossom. Can you imagine? They take 1, you gain 1 (or even 2, thanks to Ranger of Eos)? Every turn? Soul Warden—and sometimes two copies—serves as a preemptive and annoying Fog against Bitterblossom; you might not really be able to race Fae that way, but the Soul Warden can certainly buy you the time you need to see your opponent off, fair and square, with a Cloudthresher.

Synergies

You might not have noticed, but this deck plays Primal Beyond and Ancient Ziggurat profitably ... those are like more and more copies of Reflecting Pool (only they don't need another land to produce their first colored mana). The downside to a Ziggurat is that it can only cast creatures; luckily, Elementals plays very few noncreature spells.

It is important to note how tricky the mana can be at times. Ancient Ziggurat is great in this deck, but there are a couple of cards in the sideboard it won't cast, so just be aware of what hands you are keeping when you start to mentally script your turns; similarly, you have to be careful tapping your midgame mana ... Or you might find yourself unable to cast the Soul Warden you need because you only left open Primal Beyond (embarrassingly, I did this trying out the deck just last night).

The singleton Nameless Inversion and/or Crib Swap is quite the machine gun in this deck ... You really only need one. Imagine you had a board position like this:


Your Horde of Notions and Nameless Inversion can gun down 9–12 toughness per turn, almost effortlessly (Smokebraider plays Nameless Inversion; lands and Bloom Tenders capable of producing White ManaBlue ManaBlack ManaRed ManaGreen Mana each play another Inversion off the Horde of Notions). Yes, you can do that!

Flamekin Harbinger is quite the work horse ... err ... Elemental in this deck. In sideboarded games, especially on the play, you can run out the Harbinger, put Eyes of the Wisent on top, and watch your opponent fidget for the rest of his painful, awkward, and unintentionally proactive game.

Extremes

Between the Reveillarks and the Hordes, Elementals has a broad array of endgame attackers, and they're all quite potent. The deck is, however, somewhat fragile in the first turns. It is a bit low on land for a deck with so many expensive spells, and the mana base is something that you would never have attempted before Lorwyn block—not even with Ravnica-era dual lands, I fear. Therefore it can be somewhat vulnerable to early-stage removal spells. For example, last night I played first-turn Harbinger for Mulldrifter, followed up with Smokebraider, then got my Smokebraider and next two Bloom Tenders killed with Peppersmokes and Agony Warps; drawing basics—so often a boon—hurt against Fae, and I didn't play the Mulldrifter until it didn't matter any more. Once you're chugging along with Elementals, your trucking almost can't be stopped. There is so much recursion—and quality recursion—that the opponent's tapping out to kill all your stuff will probably just result in a Reveillark or some such ... but there is still the issue of getting your engine started.

Elementals is certainly worth a look; it's already won at least one American PTQ! So if you're not ready for M10 yet, it might be a safe—yet still powerful—choice that doesn't rock the boat overmuch. As for me, 48 hours from now I plan to be battling with these:


Wish me luck!



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