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... Almost Got There

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The letter W!ith wins in Kuala Lumpur (Jon Finkel), Hollywood (Charles Gindy), and most recently Berlin (Luis Scott-Vargas), the good old U.S. of A. was mere inches from closing out every Pro Tour win in 2008.

In the team event, the American trio led by U.S. National Champion Michael Jacob did their job, with Pro Tour superstar Paul Cheon and Sam Black knocking down all necessary pins to emerge team champions. The U.S. were once again at the top of the teams.

The team format this year was broken down into three different Constructed partitions, with each national team sending a representative in each of the Standard, Extended, and Legacy formats.

Extended

All eyes will be shifting to Extended soon for the upcoming Pro Tour Qualifier season, and the team competition is a rich source of Extended technology (these numbers are all pulled from the teams Top 4 deck lists).

Elves
1 Win
Black-Blue 'Tron
2 Top 4
Death Cloud
1 Top 4


Sam's Elves list was heavily metagamed... He had an Orzhov Pontiff starting for Elves mirror matches. If the opponent started to go off, Sam could ride Wirewood Hivemaster to several Insect tokens generated by the opponent's Elf plays. These he could use to set up a Chord of Calling to banish the opponent's entire squad with the aforementioned Pontiff, even if he were "tapped out."

Interestingly, Sam played both Predator Dragon and Mirror Entity as kills despite the Scott-Vargas win in Berlin on Grapeshot. Predator Dragon was the most popular kill in Berlin (assemble lots of Elves, Chord of Calling or Birchlore Rangers to make a Predator Dragon—which has both trample and haste—eat lots of little Elves and Insects, attack for ~200); Mirror Entity was a less popular but arguably more elegant path to victory. The Elves can produce massive amounts of mana with Heritage Druid by tapping one mana to grant everyone all creature types, thereby allowing the Insects to play Elf and set up Green ManaGreen ManaGreen Mana. This mana goes into the Mirror Entitiy, and anyone who started the turn on the Elves' side can crush for huge amounts of damage. Why is it arguably more elegant? In addition to a pure high-power kill, the "all creature types" clause allows this version of Elves to pick up Wirewood Symbiote—as it's now an Elf—to break the "play this ability only once each turn" rule. This makes for massive mana production and life gain in concert with Essence Warden.


Aaron Nicastri - Extended - Australia
2008 Worlds National Team Top 4


Of the two Black-Blue 'Tron decks in the teams Top 4, I prefer Masashi Oiso's to our newly crowned Rookie of the Year's ... at least for an Elves-defined Extended metagame. Nicastri's deck is capable of a fast (turn three or so) Night of Soul's Betrayal (which can certainly put the brakes on Elves), but Oiso's interaction suite is much more varied and synergistic (again speaking to an Elves-defined Extended).

First of all we see four main-deck Chalice of the Void. These can be set to one, making it impossible to play all those one mana Nettle Sentinels, Heritage Druids, and so on that make Elves so impossible to overcome. Chalice of the Void is also an artifact, so you can pitch it to Thirst for Knowledge if you don't want to play it.

But the other big incentive to a Black 'Tron deck comes from not just Night of Soul's Betrayal (which Oiso's deck packs), but Persecute. With Chrome Mox and Dimir Signet, Oiso's deck is capable of a fast Persecute, which can cripple many decks. We've seen how terrible Elves decks can look after eating one Thoughtseize ... But the whole hand?

Vagner Casatti - Extended - Brazil
2008 Worlds National Team Top 4


I absolutely love the look of Vagner Casatti's Death Cloud deck. It just has so many cool things going on and I can see this being a starting point for a "new" dominating PTQ season strategy. Kitchen Finks? Dies to Death Cloud ... comes right back! Darkblast is an absolute powerhouse here. It can start working the Elves over from the first turn, and dredging it turn after turn will help to set up lands in the graveyard plus Life from the Loam. Raven's Crime is unstoppable in this deck in most long games.

There is lots more Extended to see!

Make sure you check out the undefeated Extended decks before the PTQ season starts.

Mono-Blue Faeries in particular seems like it will grab the reins from Elves moving into the PTQ season.

Here is a video starring my good buddies—and a pair of Pro Tour Champions—Randy Buehler and Jake Van Lunen, talking about Gabriel Nassif's version of Mono-Blue Faeries. Make sure you pay attention to the part about Spell Snare. It's a hoot.


Legacy

Dreadstill
1 Win
Green-Blue-Black Tempo Control
1 Top 4
Loam
1 Top 4
Mono-White Prison
1 Top 4

Paul Cheon - Legacy - USA
2008 Worlds National Team Top 4


What a cool deck!

Former U.S. National Champ Paul Cheon ran a deck reminiscent of Next Level Blue (from Extended) grafted onto LandStill (from Legacy). The result is a controlling deck that draws lots of cards and runs about three soft combinations.

The typical strategy of this deck is to control the board with conditional permission, and get in there with 2/2s: Trinket Mage and Mishra's Factory. Sounds simple, right? But those aren't actually very powerful things to say. This deck generates advantages with its soft combos.

Sensei's Divining Top + Counterbalance

The classic. Against an opponent with a tight array of mana costs, this combination can counter basically everything.

Standstill + Mishra's Factory and Wasteland

Paul's deck can go on the offense with Mishra's Factory or disrupt the opponent's board with Wasteland without every having to play a spell. On the play this combination can be an absolute nightmare for an opponent who did not play a threat on his first turn.

Phyrexian Dreadnought + Stifle and Trickbind

Stifle and Trickbind are powerful reactive spells in the format due to the many "fetch" lands played from Onslaught ... plus they shut down storm combo decks. But in addition, you can use these spells to
remove the trigger on Phyrexian Dreadnought ... 12/12 for two anyone?

The first two soft combos generate the card advantage that lets a deck with conditional counterspells and mostly 2/2 creatures compete in a format full of, well, much more powerful effects. The last soft combo is the Dreadstill deck's own powerful forward-moving play, allowing it to win in as few as two attacks!

The guys at the Tournament Center did a great Deck Tech with Paul Cheon of Team USA on-site. Check out BDM and Paul walking through his Dreadstill deck:


Akihiro Takakuwa - Legacy - Japan
2008 Worlds National Team Top 4


This is one of the coolest decks I have seen in some time. The beater is Magus of the Tabernacle, which has a gigantic rear end for blocking, and can eliminate any and all opposing creatures provided there is no land ... Conveniently, the deck is full of land-eating Armageddons.

The Armageddon defense is everywhere. Flagstones of Trokair gives the deck an immediate land back. Crucible of Worlds works overtime, and also locks arms with Dust Bowl and Wasteland. Why Mox Diamond instead of Chrome Mox? Crucible of Worlds again ... They work as a team.

Over time, a soft lock of Smokestack and Crucible of Worlds can eat all the opponent's permanents but keep the Prison deck with just enough to stay not, you know, locked itself. In the mana-poor environment generated by this deck's spells and strategy, Magus of the Tabernacle and Ghostly Prison can keep this deck from ever being attacked successfully. Actual victory, though, will probably take a while.


This deck is very similar to CAL and Loam decks we have seen in Extended over the past couple of years. It has a nice quick kill with Countryside Crusher or Terravore into Burning Wish for Devastating Dreams ... Or it can play a longer game based on Life from the Loam card advantage and a Seismic Assault kill.

The one lift this deck gets over the Extended version is Mox Diamond (similar to Akihiro Takakuwa's Crucible of Worlds) ... Mox Diamond has essentially no drawback in a Life from the Loam deck.

Justin Cheung - Legacy - Australia
2008 Worlds National Team Top 4


Cheung's deck is similar to the Legacy Threshold decks of old: light permission, tons of cheap spells like Ponder and Brainstorm to fill the graveyard. In this deck, not only does Tarmogoyf cost two... but so does its black cousin Tombstalker (and Tombstalker has the added bonus of being invulnerable to Snuff Out, a free spell Cheung himself played).

Any given threat in this deck is going to be very significant, so the game plan will be to successfully drop one, then use Daze and Force of Will to keep it alive, using a combination of removal and disruption (all of which is cheap in this deck, if not free).

The disruption in Cheung's deck is not inconsiderable. He supplemented Wasteland with the seldom seen but always excruciating Sinkhole. This tag team is hell on certain mana-poor strategies. Additionally, Justin had Thoughtseize to keep the opponent off his game, or simply to protect a Tarmogoyf or Tombstalker in play.

Standard

Black-White Heights
1 Win
Faeries
1 Top 4
Five-Color Control
1 Top 4
Vengeant Reveillark
1 Top 4

Michael Jacob - Standard - USA
2008 Worlds National Team Top 4


Michael Jacob's Black-White Heights deck ran all manner of token-generating creatures and spells, including Marsh Flitter, Cloudgoat Ranger, Spectral Procession, and the ubiquitous Bitterblossom. These all generate three or more creatures immediately (save Bitterblossom, which creates more than three creatures, but not immediately), making for superb synergy with Windbrisk Heights.

Many top players are now touting Ajani Vengeant as "the best card in Standard," but with no access to red mana, Michael went with the classic Goldmane version of Ajani. This Planeswalker could increase the size and stature of his token creatures in much the same way as a Glorious Anthem, turning his zillions of 1/1s into much more dangerous creatures.

The Black-White Heights deck is very rich in disruption. In addition to a quartet of Tidehollow Scullers main, Michael ran a pair of Thoughtseizes, with two more in the side. Head Games is a card we haven't really seen since the 2007 U.S. National Championships, but that Persecute stand-in, though more expensive, can really ruin the opponent's hand when it gets in.

All-in-all, a strong new deck that is not the same-old Fae and Five-Color Control, Kithkin and Demigod decks ... A nice change of pace that can compete with the top of the metagame.

I think that Black-White Heights (also called Black-White Tokens) is going to be an emerging strategy in Standard as it is quite good against the Demigod of Revenge-based decks and plays loads of powerful synergies that give it game in many matchups. So I made a video about this new deck, which you can view here:


Yuuya Watanabe - Standard - Japan
2008 Worlds National Team Top 4


This article has an absolute ton of Faeries in it ... so I am going to skip commentary on Watanabe's deck for now, saving discussion for Champion Antti Malin and returning superstars Karsten, Tsumura, and Asahara in the Top 8 section.

Brandon Lau - Standard - Australia
2008 Worlds National Team Top 4


Lau played a Vengeant Reveillark that looks suspiciously like his teammate Aaron Nicastri's undefeated Standard deck from Day One.

The Australian contingent took some of Osyp Lebedowicz's suggestions after last week (adding Spectral Procession) but removed Knight of the White Orchid, leaving Murderous Redcap and Burrenton Forge-Tender.

The deck is essentially the same "Boat Brew" we have discussed on two or three other occasions, one of the strongest decks in Standard (albeit not that popular due to a middling Faeries matchup), and arguably the preeminent Ajani Vengeant deck in the format. Its flexibility is there, able to go offensive with Figure of Destiny and Mogg Fanatic from the first turns, or it can play a methodical card advantage game around Ranger of Eos and Reveillark, with Siege-Gang Commander to finish.

Willy Edel - Standard - Brazil
2008 Worlds National Team Top 4


Five-Color Control decks have arguably the greatest flexibility of any decks in Standard at present due to their many Vivid lands and Reflecting Pools—plus high mana counts—which allow them to play essentially any spells.

Case in point, Edel ran a red-white planeswalker, a blue planeswalker, a green-white two drop, and a triple-colored-mana blue-black six as his creatures in the same deck as both Cruel Ultimatum and Jund Charm. The remarkable thing? No one bats an eyelash. That's just how these decks are set up.

Note the Bitterblossoms in Willy's sideboard...

The Top 8

Faeries
1 Win, 4 Top 8
Five-Color Control
1 Top 8
Blightning Beatdown
1 Top 8
Kithkin
1 Top 8

In individual competition, Sunday morning initially looked bleak for American fans. The lone American in the Top 8, Jamie Parke, was driving a deck that even he joked put him in a challenging position for days two and three; Jamie posted only a 2-3-1 record on Day One with a Five-Color Control deck designed by Gabriel Nassif ... and New York based friends Jon Finkel and Steve Sadin rounded out more and more weak records for the deck.


Worse yet, Jamie's quarterfinals opponent was Pro Tour standout Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa with Faeries ... not exactly Jamie's dream matchup.

But remember the Bitterblossoms we just pointed out in Willy Edel's sideboard? Those went a long way in Jamie's matchup with Paulo (Paulo shipped to Paris and drew no 'Blossom in Game 5), allowing the American to make it into the Top 4.

In the Top 4, Jamie absolutely manhandled Tsuyoshi Ikeda's Blightning Beatdown. In large part it had to do with his lack of Kitchen Finks. Instead of Finks, this version of Five-Color Control packs Rhox War Monk. In the deciding game, Jamie was actually gaining 6 life per turn with War Monk beatdown!

Here is a video I made about Jamie's deck:


While the "storyline" of this Top 8—at least from the cheerleading American contingent—was the possibility of not just an American clean sweep of Pro Tours for 2008 but two wins for Finkel Draft if Parke had added Worlds to Jon's victory in Kuala Lampur, the Top 8 itself was wall-to-wall Faeries. The First Among Equals took five of the Top 8 slots, including your 2008 World Champion Antti Malin:

Antti Malin
2008 Worlds Top 8


The Faeries players in this Top 8 were a showcase of some of Magic's top talent from say two or three years ago, all resurgent to impossibly impressive heights. In addition to Damo da Rosa and Malin, Faeries was represented by such gigantic names as onetime Fanatic and Online Tech scribe Frank Karsten, the ingenious Akira Asahara, and the man who might as well only have a first name, THE Kenji Tsumura!


Frank's Faeries deck is remarkable for the story behind its construction. Frank claimed to have minimal prep time for Worlds, and instead of testing out his own Fae deck exhaustively, he scoured Top 8 results from sources such as the Decks of the Week here on magicthegathering.com, as well as top tournament results from other Standard events.

As such, Karsten's Faeries deck was a product of many sources, and the so-called "wisdom of crowds" ... It also featured some unusual choices borne of its unique origins. Lots of head turning one-ofs, basically: Vendilion Clique, Broken Ambitions, Jace Beleren, Loxodon Warhammer, and Ponder all. Of these, I find Ponder to be the most interesting. Frank wanted another land but he didn't actually want to play another land ... Hence splitting the difference with a singleton Ponder, which is sometimes a land, sometimes a legitimate spell.

Kenji Tsumura
2008 Worlds Top 8


Kenji's deck is most notable in that it was played by Kenji in his return to Top 8 form. The main deck is nothing out of the ordinary for Faeries lists. It just happens to be a mite creature-light, playing Jace Beleren and the full four Thoughtseize straight up.

He did however play a fair number of unusual sideboard cards (at least for Faeries), including Curse of Chains and Liliana Vess. I quite like the look of Liliana Vess, which can be quite a problematic threat for some deck types ... and seems to be indicative of the slow adoption of the planeswalker card type across all archetypes. Last week we saw a straight white beatdown deck splashing red for Ajani Vengeant, this main itself is packing Jace, and if you check out the top Standard decks in general , you'll see Innovator Patrick Chapin's Five-Color Control deck running Liliana in the main!

But of all the five Faeries in this Top 8, the most compelling to my mind was Akira Asahara's.

Akira Asahara
2008 Worlds Top 8


Akira went undefeated on Day One with his Fae, and street-level scout Brian David-Marshall called it an absolute masterwork in the Faeries mirror. If there is a single Faeries deck in this Top 8—which again features not only the World Champion, but three other players with absurd finishes in PV, the Fanatic, and a onetime Player of the Year—that seems truly, innovatively impressive, my pick would be Asahara.

The first time I saw Akira Asahara playing, it was at an Extended Pro Tour–Columbus. His Goblins deck searched up a devastating single copy of Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker, a powerhouse that at the time I did not immediately recognize as a Goblin. His solid money finish in Columbus came in large part to locking opponents down with Kiki-Jiki and Flametongue Kavu.

Now in 2008, Akira actually seemed to have BROKEN the veritable mirror. Check out that main deck and his four Peppersmokes!

Asahara made room for a couple of copies of Jace Beleren in his main, as well as all four Faerie Conclaves in his mana mix ... but the really far-thinking tuning in this deck has to be those Peppersmokes. They are essentially automatic two-for-ones, especially in the mirror, where small creatues and a need for speed are the rule.

"You just had Bitterblossoms and I didn't. If we both have Bitterblossom, I win. If I have it and you don't, I win. But if you have it and I don't, I lose."
–Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa, on Bitterblossom
Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa
2008 Worlds Top 8


While there were five Faeries in the Top 8, the only one that made it into the Top 4 was Malin. Not only did Parke advance with Five-Color Control, but so did the other two non-Faeries decks, Hannes Kerem with Kithkin and Tsuyoshi Ikeda with Blightning Beatdown.


With this deck we see a continuation of the move in Kithkin decks away from a Mirrorweave combo kill. Instead, Kerem played different fours.

As we have discussed on numerous occasions, Antoine Ruel's Invitational card, Ranger of Eos, is quite strong. In this deck it offers some much needed card advantage, plus a powerful spoiler in Burrenton Forge-Tender (one main!) to halt Firespout and annihilate Demigod decks.

A common thread we have discussed across many archetypes is the widespread adoption of planeswalkers. Here we see two different planeswalkers in what is essentially the most aggressive archetype in Standard. Elspeth Knight-Errant is pretty wicked, especially in mirror matches. Consider the life swings involved in launching Knight of Meadowgrain "to the air" and the gigantic 10 life delta associated with a successful strike. Ka-pow! And yes, you are putting a loyalty counter ON Elspeth!

Rounding out the Top 8 was one of my favorite decks, Blightning Beatdown.

Tsuyoshi Ikeda
2008 Worlds Top 8


While we have talked about Blightning Beatdown a couple of times, Ikeda's version deviates in many places from the decks we have discussed.

First of all, his land count is up to 25. This reflects moving from a key one-mana Goblin (Mogg Fanatic) to a four-mana Goblin like Murderous Redcap. Moreover, the deck requires a good bit more operating mana than the typical Blightning Beatdown. On five, Ikeda exchanged ubiquitous Demigod of Revenge for Siege-Gang Commander, a card that needs an ongoing amount of mana to send Shocks.

Last, the burn suite was altered slightly on one. No more Tarfire; instead Magma Spray. Now Magma Spray can't go to the face, but it is one of the best cards against red-hating Kitchen Finks. Magma Spray can dispatch a fully buffed Kitchen Finks with little mana, and resulting in even less persist.

And whew! This is the last Top Decks of the year. Thanks everyone for reading. We'll see you a couple of weeks around on the other side. Happy Holidays everybody!

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