orwyn is fast approaching, and with it will come not just planeswalkers busting out of their card frames but, doubtless, new archetypes for Standard... But before then, we still have the summer 2007 international Championships to complete!
This past weekend showcased two high-profile international tournaments, Germany and Japan, homes to former winners—and World Champions—like Kai Budde and Katsuhiro Mori, as well as numerous other decorated winners, from two-time PT Champion Marco Blume to the genius's genius, Tsuyoshi Fujita (no pressure, new guys!). Just as National Championships around the world rage on, the Tier Two metagame shows no sign of letting up its martinet-like enforcement of deck diversity. Formats like Standard, where there are a lot of different playable cards at very similar power levels, allow for greater flexibility of deck choice than we have seen in most previous Constructed environments; even when you pick the "wrong" deck in Standard (or even Extended) the difference between the best deck in the format and the worst of the real contenders is pretty narrow. The metagame is therefore hard to predict, and awesome deck designers can push through uniquely effective weapons, even if they are effective only for one week or one tournament.
The Japanese and German Top 8s:
Kitayama Masaya's Goyf Rack
When I first started to look at these deck lists, I thought they might be identical (on the lists I have, they both began with two copies of Golgari Rot Farm); they're not. While they try to do the same things, and actually have a lot of functional similarities, they have subtle differences. Naoki plays a single Pendelhaven to go with his Ravenous Rats. He's also got Slaughter Pact where the Champ has Terror main deck. Kitayama has fewer creatures there... but also has two copies of Damnation main!
These decks are updates to the Rat / Rack decks that have been played for some months, since the printing of Time Spiral
. They try to empty the opponent's hand with Funeral Charm
s and Stupor
s; they can steal creatures and nip at mana with Smallpox
while destroying the opponent's hand. Disruption is disruption, and effective when you are trading one-for-one, and certainly when you are getting two-for-one... but in these decks the major internal synergy is with The Rack
. That card is what makes people want to play discard in Standard. It can be a fast kill that is hard to escape.
The innovation, and one that we will see across Extended, probably Legacy, and certainly Standard next year, is the inclusion of Tarmogoyf in the deck. Modern mana options make splashing Tarmogoyf very simple, and the world's most popular Lhurgoyf makes for a fine addition. One of the biggest criticisms decks based on The Rack have received this year is that their creatures are laughable. Noted aggressive deck designer Pat Sullivan doesn't like Call of the Herd in general, but considers—or at least considered—it a fine sideboard card against The Rack, which usually tries to play an attrition game. However, Tarmogoyf is a great all around two-drop, one of the best ever, and shores up that one glaring weakness in The Rack's strategy. With Tarmogoyf, this deck can win quickly—even more quickly—once it starts taking away the opponent's options.
The various sorts of discard spells are all synergistic with Tarmogoyf. Stupor is a sorcery; Funeral Charm is an instant. Either or both put some other kind of card in the graveyard. Smallpox is a sorcery, and counts for a land, some other card, and usually a creature, too. All of this makes for a happy Tarmogoyf.
One of the things I like about Kitayama's deck is the inclusion of Darkblast in the sideboard. I have been working on Extended this week, and you always see Darkblast in the strangest places. In this deck it is quite clever... Can you think of a trickier or more consistently robust Tarmogoyf-on-Tarmogoyf option? Yours wins!
Akiyama Takashi's Solar Flare
Mitamura Kazuya's Solar Flare
Solar Flare is... Solar Flare. The deck has not changed substantially in the last year or more since it rocked the world and dominated U.S. Nationals, putting Luis Scott-Vargas and Paul Cheon on center stage for the first time. Solar Flare can be considered the quintessential mid-range control deck for Standard. It does basically everything, some things quite well.
Solar Flare can...
- Draw cards with Aeon Chronicler, Court Hussar, and Compulsive Research (and, being a highly customizable mid-range deck, everything from Sift to Tidings)
- Deal with creatures, lots of creatures, with Condemn, Wrath of God, Damnation, Mortify, Faith's Fetters... (or Terror, Slaughter Pact, or anything, really)
- Counter spells, though not particularly well, using Remand and now Pact of Negation
Solar Flare is a take-on-all-comers style of deck, using its permission largely for tempo, game preservation, or to force down threats. Because it defends from so many angles, Solar Flare is often considered a premier deck choice for undefined metagames; at the same time, the strategy is often vulnerable to highly dedicated opponents... Last year Solar Flare was generally considered a dog to land-destroying Vore or the combo deck Heartbeat, for instance. It is generally considered a superb anti-creature deck, though its reliance on Ravnica lands and signet mana production is often exposed by cards like Cryoclasm and Shattering Spree.
Takahashi Yuuta's Pickles
What came first, the chicken or the egg?
Is this a descendent of Standard Dralnu, or Block Pickles? Block Teachings for that matter?
Yuuta's deck weaves threads from numerous sources. It contains a Teachings / Teferi plan, though that is obviously not the central strategy. He is serious about his Pickles combo! Four of this and four of that!
This deck has two distinct plans: One is Teferi control. He has sixteen counters, more or less; he can counter most or all of the key threats in most opponents' decks, and lock the game up with Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir
. Additionally, he has the Pickles combo, facilitated in particular by Teferi, happy to cross the aisle and help his brothers out. Brine Elemental
skips down the hillside with Vesuvan Shapeshifter
; no bad guys untap.
The proactive plans are quite obvious, but the defensive end intrigues me... Last Gasp? Patrick Chapin credits YT with the Last Gasps—and Volcanic Hammers—in his Korlash control deck, but when I made those suggestions, the scary turn-two beaters in the metagame were Scab-Clan Mauler and sometimes Watchwolf... Does a topdecked Last Gasp even kill a two-mana beater these days? The last time I checked, one of the main ones was 5/6 for and the other was for a 5/5 flyer. Especially in a Teachings deck, I would have not been surprised to see some Terror action.
The thing that actually concerns me if you are looking to try this deck is that it has no card drawing at all. It has been up for debate since Yokahama in Tsuyoshi Fujita's blue deck—well, even before that, when Pat posted his Blue-Red-White Flag Burner deck for U.S. States—whether Ancestral Vision was the right call for any deck, or if Think Twice was better. Yuuta's deck has neither, relying on just the two Mystical Teachings for card advantage... Just something to look for if you are trying this one.
Nagashima Makoto's Project X
Makoto's deck is built on the same central concept as most or all of the Project X decks of the last year: Crypt Champion +
SoulEssence Warden + Saffi Eriksdotter = infinite life. Loop in Teysa, Orzhov Scion, or replace Essence Warden with her, and you get infinite creatures instead.
The major additions here are Magus of the Disk as a Chord of Calling target (quite nice at the end of the opponent's turn... untap and "Wrath"), and Augur of Skulls, presumably as a tutor-eligible Stupor.
Ishikawa Ren's Morikatsu Storm
As soon as he touched down in the country, Brian David-Marshall, who was doing the online coverage of the Japanese National Championship, called me to look at this deck. "Mori is so good!" Ishikawa Ren was the beneficiary of a special tuned by former Japanese and World Champion, Katsuhiro Mori.
The main deck is similar to many of the Hatching Plans combo decks we have seen over the past few months. Pyromancer's Swath helps Grapeshot to go storm-lethal very early; the card drawing synergies are all known at this point.
The difference is Mori's sideboard: He can twist his strategy to go in multiple different directions based on who his opponent is. Pyroclasm isn't good enough against the modern green creature... but Martyr of Ashes serves just fine. Against a cautious mid-range control deck with only three or four soft counters and two Pacts, Mori's sideboard can produce an end-of-turn Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir, fight a little, not care if it wins or loses, then take the actual turn it wanted, following. With two Brine Elementals and two Shapeshifters... his combo deck can transform into a completely different combo!
PT Champ Komuro came to play with a re-hash of the deck that took US Nationals by storm this year. The strategy is simple: This is a U/G/W "good stuff" deck. The creatures are largely all very good, all do something profitable, from the card-drawing Maro Aeon Chronicler to the mischievous Venser, Shaper Savant to the onetime best card in Standard Loxodon Hierarch all the way to cover model Tarmogoyf. Many of these creatures have powerful 187 abilities -- Riftwing Cloudscate, Venser, Hierarch, and certainly Mystic Snake -- that can be played two or even three times with Momentary Blink. Remand adds tempo, Edge of Autumn bounces off the Flagstones or accelerates to third turn Hierarch. After sideboarding, Blink cheats with Akroma momentarily, the only targeting by a White spell she will likely see in a game.
This is quite a curious implementation of the Angelfire strategy. The German winner seems to have hybridized the two main branches of the archetype into a single deck. Usually you see a deck that came out of the Brian Kowal "This Girl" tradition (most recently resurrected by Osyp Lebedowicz and numerous MSS players in Baltimore, a deck with Firemane Angels that kills on Demonfire) or you see a deck with one Sacred Mesa, light permission, and big creatures that does not end on Demonfire, coming out of the Frank Karsten / Tiago Chan / Japanese Grand Prix tradition. Rosner has lighter permission than ever, with only two Spell Snares and no Remands, and plays the same number of Firemane Angels and Demonfires!
The Firemane decks usually make a claim for Karoos on the draw or additional Compulsive Research synergy, but the Blue-Red-White decks in general take their market share with card quality. All their cards are awesome. Lightning Angel, awesome. Lightning Helix, awesome. Wrath of God, really awesome. Conventional wisdom has Blue-Red-White as the best anti-creature deck you can play... It has never been good against combo, and needs the right tools (either Detritivore or a well placed Demonfire) to take on true control.
Dennis Johannsen's Black-Green Goyf
Sven Johnson's Black-Green Goyf
Naughty, naughty! This card is not for the faint of heart. It will have an impact.
Seems like a great addition.
Why let Tarmogoyf have all the fun? With all the one-for-one trading going on, Tombstalker should be a great option. This card is a lot like The Rack in that it gains additional value for cards that were already doing their jobs. Kind of a non-bo with Dark Confidant... but what are you going to do? I thought so.
Paul Borczyk's Black-Green-White Mid-range
Tobias Rasir's Black-Green-White Mid-range
Borczyk's deck is something out of Ravnica Block Constructed... what Randy Buehler used to call "The MODO deck" because it was so popular online. This deck is largely Ravnica Block mid-range control cards, replacing the online version's Rolling Spoils with Hypnotic Specter, Tarmogoyf, and Funeral Charm. This kind of a deck is a Beach House or even The Rock descendent, the kind of deck that preserves a lot of options but does not specialize in any one thing.
Rasir's deck is a true toolbox, with four Glittering Wishes to get exactly what Tobias needs at a particular moment. As we have seen in other Wish decks, Rasir actually gets more Loxodon Hierarch action by playing three and sideboarding one than he would with the fourth copy. It's always nice to see one Debtors' Knell in a supporting endgame role; the card is often slow on seven in the main deck, but it's unquestionably devastating in play.
Koch really went his own way on this deck. You don't see Troll Ascetic very often in straight beatdown decks, and Karplusan Wolverine? I feel like that one has to be a misprint. Beat down, finish with burn, &c.
Tobias Gräfensteiner's Blue-Green-White Chord
This deck is quite similar to the one Luis Scott-Vargas used to win the U.S. National Championship recently. It has a significantly more complete counterspell base than many blue-green-white decks, employing Rune Snag for more control. It is very much a bullet deck, going for specific weapons for specific situations. Willbender can counter—functionally, and really—a hellbent Demonfire. Brine Elemental plays nicely with Vesuvan Shapeshifter... or might just block a Tarmogoyf. Crovax, Ascendent Hero is just a man among mice.
Court Hussar is in an interesting position in this deck. It is not the kind of card you really want to Chord up, though you can. You end up looking at some cards and throwing the Hussar away... That isn't always bad, but it isn't really what you are looking for from either Chord or Hussar in most cases. However by himself, Court Hussar is more than able to perform here: He can hold off most or all of the modern Gruul beaters (save Tarmogoyf, of course), and really makes Giant Solifuge look silly. Speaking of Tarmogoyf, Gräfensteiner has recruited a four set of his own. It's like my old buddy and current Magic Online Brand Manager Worth Wollpert taught me the day I won my first PTQ: "If you can't beat 'em..." You know the rest.
Martyr of Sands
was, not that long ago, a firmly cemented cornerstone of the Standard metagame. Martyr was in the Top 8 of the World Championships, and many pundits had future Hall of Famer Gabriel Nassif going all the way with his UrzaTron build. Black-White Orzhov aggressive decks ran Martyr... just because it was a good drop in their curves (it helped to race attack decks, it cost Dragon storm a Dragon or a storm copy, bought a turn, &c.), and beat down like a white Mogg Fanatic
. However the printing of Extirpate
took a lot of wind out of the Martyr's sails, and we haven't seen the once-dominant strategy since Planar Chaos
Extirpate has functioned so far about how I thought it would. It was hyped early, scared off Martyr of Sands and Firemane Angel in Standard, but ended up pretty much just playing a bullet in the Teachings decks with little application out of the one archetype, rarely achieving main deck status (except for the small window when dredge was the deck du jour in Standard; then Extirpate followed Tormod's Crypt in sideboard graveyard-hating popularity). For sure Extirpate was and remains a high role-player, but it is not a bomb on the order of a, say, Damnation. However both cards together in the format have really warped the color choices for control decks. The existence of Damnation, breaking Wrath of God's monopoly on the best card in the format, has put a lot of blue players in the black camp where they once were stalwart blue-white mages in the tradition of Weissman; the back side of Mystical Teachings has done no favors for white-flavored blue-side control.
All in all, that metagame setup created a nice gap for Müller's deck. This is a deck that defies expectation and can catch many opponents off guard. Sacred Mesa was another card that was being played as a high finisher, but was scared off by Sulfur Elemental (kills all your tokens). Now, however, very few are aiming lots of Extirpates at just four Martyrs, and no one at all is on the lookout for Sacred Mesa. End result: A nicely positioned Top 8.
Michael Müller's Blue-White Martyr
One thing that is interesting to me is that Müller doesn't actually play Proclamation of Rebirth. He has Martyr recursion from Adarkar Valkyrie (a fine finisher). In this deck, Crovax is actually more effective than usual... Instead of just killing an opponent's small dictatorship, the Ascendant Hero does all your Mesa tokans a favor.
I love a hybrid deck, and this one has the snow engine (including Valkyries and Coldsteel Hearts) on top of the Martyr and creature action. Card advantage is not a problem for Müller; he has Foresee and Compulsive Research both, and can honestly just beat most players with his Sacred Mesa.
For YT half the fun in Magic is playing a deck, or contextually effective cards, that the opponent doesn't see coming. This one seems like a lot of fun.
Next Week: Lorwyn previews begin. I'd tell you more, but I don't know any more, either! Okay, okay. Apparently there are some new lads and ladies that break the card frames.