It was close to ten years ago when Grand Prix kingpin Trey Van Cleave won the then-Extended Grand Prix–Philadelphia with his little beatdown deck called the Three-Deuce. This was the height of Trix—full-on Trix, mind you, with Necropotence, Dark Ritual, Mana Vault, Demonic Consultation .... Nearly every non-combination card in the main deck was eventually banned, but Trey took the title home with his little River Boas and full set of Elvish Lyrists.
Trey Van Cleave's Three-Deuce
Any guesses why Trey's deck was called the Three-Deuce? Pretty odd, no?
Even if you had been playing back then, you probably wouldn't know why Van Cleave's methodical proto-Zoo had that particular nickname. The answer is actually in the numbers, three and two. You know what's three and two? Or in this case specifically 3/2?
... A Dwarven Miner wearing a Rancor.
Like Trey's deck, this article has got a three and a two as well. Because we have a brand spanking new set about to drop on us in the middle of a working Constructed format, we are going to look at three decks of three different styles that all benefitted from an injection of new cards in the middle of an established tournament format, already in progress.
And then there's the two: We are going to review two newish / not new Extended decks, updated takes on some performing favorites really, and discuss how they can make your life either easier (or more difficult) come the sweaty palms of a pre-PTQ Friday night.
But first up ....
Bill Macey's White Weenie
The format was Standard; the era, Black Summer. The world was covered in Necropotences (and for the purpose of this article topic, you could probably make a case for Contagion, albeit with different criteria). The card that changed the rules was a new land from Alliances named Kjeldoran Outpost.
So what was so significant about Kjeldoran Outpost?
Bill was in a situation not unlike the modern White Weenie deck in Standard, actually! With his eight pack of protection from black, Bill was actually pretty good against the dominant Necropotence deck (just as today's efficient Kithkin can be built to be pretty good against the dominant Faeries); but while Necropotence was the most popular, most powerful, deck ... not everybody played it.
Some players were audacious enough to play white-blue-based control decks (still), which while at a disadvantage against Necropotence, were very powerful against a beatdown deck with no burn cards like White Weenie. White-blue control could lock down the game with Wrath of God and Swords to Plowshares and poor White Weenie, no matter how good its opening salvo, could be locked out of the Red Zone and watch the game slip away in a cascade of creature removal and card advantage. It would be really insulting if the control player sat there on 1 ... for like forty minutes.
What Kjeldoran Outpost did was give White Weenie a way to finish these games.
Did you notice the two Strip Mines in Bill's deck? At this point in history, players could play as many as four Strip Mines ... But they didn't necessarily do so, especially not decks like White-Blue Control, which had requirements for Counterspell and requirements for Wrath of God in an era with neither Mystic Gate nor Hallowed Fountain in Standard.
Woe to White-Blue!
Strip Mine would have been one of the few reasonable ways to deal with Kjeldoran Outpost for most White-Blue decks. Those that relied on the Millstone kill would be easily raced (so most white-blue decks after this would largely replace their Millstones with Outposts of their own).
The lesson: Bill was only able to solve the problem the way he did by opening his mind to a new world of possibilities. He didn't just add a new-set card to his White Weenie deck, he bravely showcased it to a world where many saw a card like the Outpost as "card disadvantage" ... especially in a room full of so many Strip Mines. If Bill had listened to every That can't be good, he would never have been able to go down so great.
With a whole new end game attached to his deck (and one where his Outposts would uniquely produce 2/2 creatures), Macey was able to qualify for his National Championships via the U.S. Open, the only non-Necropotence deck to do so that year. Bill would accomplish the same feat three years later with a different uniquely positioned White Weenie deck ... But that is a story for another time.
So what about Conflux? Can you see a similar, maybe non-intuitive, way for an aggressive deck to improve its end game against control? I nominate Banefire.
Banefire is a little bit like Kjeldoran Outpost in that you have to stretch your imagination a little bit before you can appreciate how we might want to position it. Yes it's kind of obviously good. Yes it's versatile. But we don't typically slot cards in creature decks just to end it all (who knows if it's even in-color?). Kjeldoran Outpost in Bill's deck could theoretically have been played early (it was a land of course) just as Banefire can go for two to off a not-yet-exactly-dangerous Noble Hierarch. But the true value of both cards is in winning games that the aggressive deck isn't supposed to win. Kjeldoran Outpost could overwhelm a fist full of Counterspells and creature removal, and in the same way, Banefire can potentially circumvent seven (or so) Cryptic Commands. If in modern Constructed it is relegated as a sideboard card, so be it ... but I wouldn't bet on that.
Hitman Limited specialist Truc Bui slummed it one weekend, at a time when professional players with multiple standing Top 8s were allowed to participate in PTQ level events. Truc took his Standard deck and ported it to the then-current PTQ format of Extended:
To understand the massive leap in technology that was going on as Truc won his "I'm already qualified" PTQ, you need to realize that not long before the release of Tempest, Constructed Magic was largely molasses. Slow four-mana spells, expensive finishers, all of it. It was not uncommon to see cards that would not make the cut in modern Block Constructed showcased in the Top 8 of an Extended premiere event (Icy Manipulator, Wildfire Emissary, Erhnam Djinn). The Pro Tour itself was won by one of the finest decks every put together (LauerPotence with four Demonic Consultations) ... which was a deck that leaned heavily on Lake of the Dead.
Tempest, though, changed everything.
For the first time ever, players were paying attention to what they did on the first turn. To say the format "sped up" would not quite describe the degree to which the Magic landscape transformed. Never again would slow control decks that did nothing before the fourth (or the sixth!) turn be viable to play. They would have already been shredded by one-drops, and Time Walked three times, and burned out for good measure.
And from the other side? Necropotence with Lake of the Dead powering Drain Life? Not the easiest when the beatdown decks could be playing Dwarven Miner, four copies of Wasteland, Ankh of Mishra, and Forsaken Wastes. So many angles, none of them promising.
But maybe Truc's version didn't quite hammer this point home enough.
The fundamental language of deck construction had changed. The rules were different. Some things had become possible and others that had been cemented as quite good had become asteroid-blasted dinosaur bones.
The release of Tempest changed how we go about our mana, and to a lesser degree, told us what kind of cards were and were not viable with this new set of rules. This was a time when Suq'Ata Lancer was commonly played. I remember the great Erik Lauer liking it ... "Until they started printing 2-power creatures for one mana instead of three."
It may be easier to understand with a slightly tighter deck from the same era. Here is Emmanuel Beltrando's from the Top 8 of Grand Prix–Lyon:
Emmanuel Beltrando's Deadguy Red
The adoption of Jackal Pup in a format already so vulnerable to Wasteland was a dagger to the heart of the previous Pro Tour's established Extended deck hierarchy.
The cards in Tempest were obviously good, but it still took a fair bit of initiative to fully embrace and realize just how good we are talking about. Truc, for instance, didn't quite get there. He did some things very well, but his red deck was frankly a bit loose with Disenchant and Diabolic Edict, one "Wild Thing" (Wildfire Emissary) ... a whole lot of loose non-four-ofs that a modern red deck would never consider. Beltrando's deck is more seriously set up to start attacking from the first and second turns. He takes time away from the opponent, and exacerbates that with his uncounterable Stone Rain land.
Both decks could slide down a Cursed Scroll under the Counterspell wall (or in the face of a Necropotence deck that had no Counterspells) as a flag planted in the soil, fluttering "No, you're not going to win this one."
Can you see an equivalent to Jackal Pup, Mogg Fanatic, and Wasteland in Conflux?
It might not be as sweeping in effect, not quite undoing everything and all, but Path to Exile seems like an equal and opposite equivalent for at least some strategies. Control instead of attack, maybe, but also quite cheap at one mana like Jackal Pup, Mogg Fanatic, or Cursed Scroll (an "above-average card," Truc once commented). Like Wasteland, Path to Exile may single-handedly change how the game is played. How much incentive is there to playing a deck like All-In Red with this floating around? And playable for ? What does this say about decks that try to play Akroma, Angel of Wrath? It's a kibosh on expensive and clunky cards (no matter how fast) all over again.
Can the return of cheap and targeted white removal signal the genesis of a new deck, thanks to breaking down some old barriers and removing the incentive to some popular, powerful, strategies?
While Tempest essentially erased the top decks of the Pro Tour right before the PTQ season and replaced them with PT Jank and what would eventually be called Deadguy Red, the most famous mid-format set release atom bomb came at the hands of newly minted Hall of Famer Randy Buehler and the aforementioned Erik Lauer.
Randy Buehler and Erik Lauer's Broken Jar
The set was Urza's Legacy.
The card, Memory Jar ... Briefly at least.
This deck—a combination deck that was so good in testing that Lauer bought a last-minute ticket to hit the Grand Prix on another continent and where both teammates finished Top 8 in a Grand Prix finale that included Jon Finkel and was won by Kai Budde himself—was the subject of the only emergency banning, ever.
The way this deck worked was to make lots of mana cheaply via the usual suspects (Dark Ritual, Mana Vault, Lotus Petal) so that it would have lots and lots of operating mana with essentially no cost, Tinker and Vampiric Tutor up to Memory Jar, start drawing lots of cards to set up more Memory Jars with more Tinkers and Yawgmoth's Wills (more mana there, too), get the solitary kill card in play, and watch the opponent lose when he had to discard for the Jar, due to the Shock value of that one lonely Megrim. Yes, Megrim.
Jar, printed. Too good, gone.
The deck was obviously jacked with a number of too-good cards that all got restricted or banned in various formats. Tinker, Lotus Petal, Mana Vault, Yawgmoth's Will .... Any one of these cards could have produced a degenerate deck, but all together and with Memory Jar as the centerpiece ... like I said, the only mid-season emergency banning, ever.
What was so good about Memory Jar that it could do what it did with such impunity that it could produce a combo deck powerful enough to challenge High Tide for the throne at the height of Hide Tide's power?
It broke the rules.
Magic starts to break down when players can either draw extra cards or circumvent the mana costs on powerful spells without paying (very much) mana. A card like Tinker, for instance, makes a really expensive artifact (whatever R&D wants it to cost) need only three mana. Suddenly you have the ability to draw seven cards for essentially the cost of a Thirst for Knowledge without even drawing the card that lets you draw seven cards. What cards in Conflux blatantly break the rules in this way? I know we don't have a supporting cast of Dark Ritual and a bandwagon of eventual ban-ees, but could there be some anchor, some starting point?
The new card that intrigues me most is Maelstrom Archangel.
As I said before, Magic as a game starts getting fuzzy when you don't have to pay for your spells or you draw lots of cards for little or no mana. Maelstrom Archangel has one of those two lines at the top of her curriculum vitae.
I have tried desperately for years to make a viable Sunburst / Domain deck in Extended using the vast array of effective mana-fixing tools such as Sakura-Tribe Elder, experimenting with Bringer of the Blue Dawn, and so on. Maelstrom Archangel finally gives that kind of a strategy a real target. If you can make it to her, maybe you can just make it (Path to Exile notwithstanding).
Yes, you have to jank your deck up somewhat with expensive, otherwise-uncastable spells in order to break Maelstrom Archangel, but for our purposes, those are rich people problems. I can't imagine Erik and Randy looked at the Urza's Legacy spoiler and said "Man, there is going to be such a Megrim deck!"
Will any of these three cards produce in the ways that I have suggested? Probably at least two of them. Guess which.
Okay, now for ....
As you've probably noticed at some point in the previous eight pages worth of historical discussion, we are not specifically poring over blue and gray boxes from the past few weeks of PTQs in this installment of Top Decks.
However I still wanted to make you aware of a couple of deck developments that you will have to prepare for if you want to be successful in the current season.
The Extended Storm deck came back with a vengeance at Grand Prix–Los Angeles, catapulting #1 Apprentice Asher Hecht to his first top finish and cementing Luis Scott-Vargas as the most dangerous Extended player on the planet (Scott-Vargas won it all with his Storm deck).
2009 Grand Prix Los Angeles - Top 8
We discussed this kind of deck briefly before the Conflux previews break, so I won't re-hash the exact same information another time. I will, however, point out the presence of Electrolyze in this deck. It is a very good solution to Gaddock Teeg or Ethersworn Canonist; unlike the similar Magma Jet, it is slightly more effective against the multiple 1-toughness targets of the Faerie Wizards strategy.
Speaking of the Fae, one of the big reasons for Storm's breakout was the popularity of Faerie Wizards, most assuredly prey for the Storm. Why is Storm so effective against the Fae?
Storm decks are notoriously difficult to beat with permission once they start going, and Faerie Wizards is a deck full of largely irrelevant permission. The most important defensive cards are Trickbind or Stifle, and especially sideboarded, Storm can set up the Wizards with Gigadrowse to remove the permission option entirely.
LSV's deck is near perfect for another reason .... Check out those Shattering Sprees! This is a deck that will not be locked down by Chalice of the Void, even set to one. You can counter my spell, but not all my replicate copies!
A video on just this topic:
As you probably just saw, Storm is pretty quick. Not Elves quick, but it can easily do in a Zoo player inside of four turns. As for not being Elves-quick, check out the next deck in this shifting metagame:
Writers from a certain generation call any kind of Aggro Rock "Macey Rock," and I thought it appropriate given today's first topic.
The player, this time, was reigning U.S. National Champion Michael Jacob ... and he was positively dominant, first seed at the end of the Swiss.
Michael Jacob's Rock
2009 Grand Prix-Los Angeles Top 8
For many intents and purposes, this deck is a Life from the Loam card advantage deck operating largely from the graveyard, similar to the one we discussed with Gavin Verhey some weeks ago.
Michael's specific deck eschewed the Death Cloud control plan for a streamlined attack, incorporating the best threats: Tarmogoyf and Bitterblossom. While the deck played many of the same spells—with the same numbers—as Death Cloud, this Rock had its own agenda, set apart by a full set of Darkblasts main.
These Darkblasts do a number of things well. They suppress the fast Spark Elemental draws out of the Burn deck. They demolish Elves one-for-one, forever. They help dig up Life from the Loam, operating as a kind of tutor crew (your graveyard is just more cards in hand in this deck), and set up Raven's Crime and Worm Harvest. Darkblast was the card Jacob wanted to build around, and he was extraordinarily successful with this execution.
If I wanted to play some kind of The Rock at this point, Jacob's deck is where I would start.
Want more? Here is a video on Jacob's Rock deck:
Successful as it was, the Jacob deck is subtly a great lens by which we can see the unchecked Opportunity that Storm had at Grand Prix–Los Angeles. Here is a deck that did very well, where Michael Jacob played a specific card specifically to kill a lot of Elves and keep them out of combo position. Is it "good against combo" then? Well, if the deck draws Darkblast in time, it can keep the Elves. However, a deck like Storm really benefitted from the fact that cards were chosen to stop Elves rather than stopping combo in general.
Well, there you have them all: three from yesteryear feeding us ideas to help hone our deuce in the PTQs moving forward. I hope you enjoyed this!