By the time this article sees print on Friday, March 21st 2003, PT Venice will be a scant few hours away. Contained herein are the predictions from the StarCity community based on the contest entries from the”Beat Ben Bleiweiss at his own game” contest, along with a pretty good guess at all the viable decks which will see play in the format.
I’m not guaranteeing I’ll hit every deck in the format, but I’d like to think that after immersing myself in these cards and in Magic Online Block Constructed tournaments, I have some idea of what will and won’t see play. Since this will actually hit before the Sideboard coverage, you will be able to check back and forth between this article and their site to see how accurate I was in gauging the format.
Over three hundred and sixty people entered the”Beat Ben Bleiweiss” contest, in which you were challenged to name the top fifteen cards which would see play at Pro Tour: Venice. The format: Onslaught Block Constructed. All entries with a majority of cards from sets other than Legions and Onslaught were discarded. Not point having Wild Mongrel show up as one of the top fifteen cards to be played in a format where it’s not legal! (Note: Ten people picked Wild Mongrel to be played in Venice. I can guarantee they are not winning this contest.)
See the end of this article for a downloadable Excel spreadsheet listing all the cards that people chose. As for now, let’s look at the top fifteen cards as picked by the StarCity community.
1) Astral Slide (307 Total Votes, 97 1st Place Votes)
2) Exalted Angel (284 Total Votes, 37 1st Place Votes)
3) Lightning Rift (278 Total Votes, 50 1st Place Votes)
4) Shock (267 Total Votes, 48 1st Place Votes)
5) Smother (224 Total Votes, 27 1st Place Votes)
6) Goblin Piledriver (224 Total Votes, 8 1st Place Votes)
7) Blistering Firecat (219 Total Votes, 10 1st Place Votes)
8) Slice and Dice (209 Total Votes, 4 1st Place Votes)
9) Ravenous Baloth (196 Total Votes, 4 1st Place Votes)
10) Sparksmith (176 Total Votes, 4 1st Place Votes)
11) Krosan Tusker (164 Total Votes, 2 1st Place Votes)
12) Naturalize (162 Total Votes, 16 1st Place Votes)
13) Starstorm (146 Total Votes, 4 1st Place Votes)
14) Renewed Faith (136 Total Votes, 4 1st Place Votes)
15) Rotlung Reanimator (134 Total Votes, 3 1st Place Votes)
But what does all this mean? Below are a list of all the major decks played in the format. Of the 223 cards that were voted on, each is listed only once per deck in the prominent cards section. Shock will see play in multiple decks, for instance, but mainly I’ll be identifying it with Sligh. Same goes for any other number of cards.
Astral Slide (R/W variant)
Key Cards: Astral Slide, Exalted Angel, Lightning Rift, Slice and Dice, Starstorm, Renewed Faith, Demystify, Akroma’s Blessing, Akroma’s Vengeance, Solar Blast, Stoic Champion, Lay Waste, Weathered Wayfarer, Aura Extraction, Nova Cleric, Sunfire Balm, Jareth, Leonine Titan, Words of War, Disciple of Grace
The Astral Slide deck – as everyone knows so well by now – revolves around getting Astral Slide on the table, and either burning out your opponent with Lightning Rift or beating them down with undercosted morphed fatties. The R/W version of the deck will be more popular than a green variant, since you lose consistency in this format when going to three colors due to the lack of true dual lands and mana fixers outside of Krosan Tusker.
The R/W variants looks to use cycling lands, Renewed Faith and Akroma’s Blessing as the main cycling cards, with a mix of Starstorm, Akroma’s Vengeance, Solar Blast, Lay Waste, Aura Extraction, Sunfire Balm, and Disciple of Grace as other cyclers. The green deck adds Krosan Tusker as a very potent cycler, and gives support to the R/W deck’s kill methods of Exalted Angel and Stoic Champion (which has proved less than impressive in testing).
Look for Jareth, Leonine Titan to be the key card in the mirror match. With his”protection from colors” ability and high natural toughness, he will be virtually impossible to deal with once he hits the table. An opponent would need to Slide out Jareth and then play their own to deal with an opposing Jareth. The only reasonable way to get an opponent to Slide a Jareth would be to cast Akroma’s Vengeance, which would require a twelve-mana investment, at minimum, to pull off (six for the Vengeance, six for the second Jareth).
Sligh (Mono Red Goblins and Burn)
Key Cards: Shock, Goblin Piledriver, Blistering Firecat, Sparksmith, Goblin Sledder, Clickslither, Goblin Goon, Goblin Taskmaster, Threaten, Gempalm Incinerator, Skirk Marauder, Goblin Sharpshooter, Goblin Grappler, Warbreak Trumpeter, Goblin Burrows, Goblin Lookout, Goblin Pyromancer, Rorix Bladewing, Reckless One, Lavaborn Muse, Flamewave Invoker, Wave of Indifference, Chain of Plasma
While Sligh isn’t as powerful in this format as it was during Tempest block constructed (where Sligh had access to Cursed Scroll, Mogg Fanatic, and Jackal Pup), it’s probably at its most viable level in block since back in LA in 1997. A great selection of creatures to fill the curve (Goblin Sledder/Taskmaster/Grappler/Trumpeter in the one-slot, Piledriver/Skirk Marauder, Goblin Lookout in the two-slot, and a ton of finishers in Goblin Goon, Clickslither and Blistering Firecat), along with great burn spells (Shock, Chain of Plasma, Solar Blast, and the Marauder) make Sligh a heavy contender for PT Venice. Since the most popular deck to beat will be Astral Slide, all weenie rush decks must metagame to not be destroyed by Slice and Dice. This makes Goblin Sledder the most attractive of the one drop creatures, since it can sacrifice itself (or teammates) to save Blistering Firecat from a well-timed Slice. Lavaborn Muse acts like a super-Rack to finish people off from across the board, sans attacking.
The big debate is Blistering Firecat vs. Goblin Goon vs. Clickslither. While all three have their pros and cons, the haste creatures seem to be better against Slide decks (to throw off their math). However, the Firecat itself seems like an awful metagame choice in a field filled with Festering Goblin + Nantuko Husk, Slice and Dace, Bane of the Living, Shock, and Lightning Rift. Many players have found that Clickslither brings a lot more stability than the Blistering Firecat.
Zombies (Mono Black variant)
Key Cards: Smother, Rotlung Reanimator, Nantuko Husk, Withered Wretch, Grinning Demon, Cabal Archon, Shepherd of Rot, Festering Goblin, Wretched Anurid, Blackmail, Skinthinner, Dirge of Dread, Soulless One, Unholy Grotto, Entrails Feaster, Gempalm Polluter, Drinker of Sorrow
Zombies pose a huge threat to any control based strategy, since they can kill easily without ever attacking. Shepherd of Rot and Cabal Archon combine to quickly reduce an opponent’s life total to zero, barring any interference. Witness:
First turn: Swamp, Festering Goblin
Second turn: Attack (19), Shepherd of Rot.
Third turn: Nantuko Husk, tap Shepherd for 3 life loss (16)
Fourth Turn: Shepherd of Rot #2, tap Shepherd for 4 life loss (9)
Fifth Turn: Cabal Archon, tap Shepherds and drain your opponent for the upwards of 8-12 points of damage.
While Shepherds are essential to a quick win, cards such as Cabal Archon and Rotlung Reanimator make it difficult for Astral Slide to gain card advantage and/or prevent a loss. There’s only so many times you can slide out an Archon until your opponent drops enough clerics to drain you to death.
In many mirror matches in this tournament, the key to the win will be cards that most take advantage of the tribal theme of the block. Look for Soulless One and Gempalm Polluter to be the major swing cards in the zombie-on-zombie mirror match.
Surprisingly, Graveborn Muse ends up as a control card instead of a Zombie card. In fact, many players have found that the Muse is too slow for their Sligh-like undead attack! Mono-Black control relies on massive board sweep (fueled by Infest and Bane of the Living) combined with exceptional utility creatures (Visara the Dreadful, Undead Gladiator, Hollow Specter and Graveborn Muse) and spot creature kill (Smother, Cruel Revival, Death Pulse, and Swat) to eventually come across for the with Visara, multiple Banes, or Riptide tokens.
Back from the extended season, the rock uses Krosan Tuskers and other utility creatures along with Oversold Cemetery to throw card advantage threats at the opponent over and over again. Wall of Mulch, Gigapede and the Tusker work well together, and Caller of the Claw provides the potential for a massive comeback after an untimely Slice and Dice, Akroma’s Vengeance, or Bane of the Living.
This might have been one of the best decks in the field, if not for Withered Wretch. Cycle your beasts over and over again, getting lands and cards with the Tusker. Then, cast a massive Patriarch’s Bidding, bringing back 40-50+ power worth of Beasts at once, powered by Ravenous Baloth. With the Baloth out, you effectively can double or triple your life total while setting up for a second (or third or fourth) Bidding. Particularly effective against Slide decks, particularly vulnerable to anything with a Wretch.
Just like Gary Wise deck from PT Chicago Masters, except without the white. Several very cost-effective creatures combine with Wirewood Savage and Contested Cliffs to garner card advantage and kill opposing creatures. Tephraderm seems to be the tech for this deck, allowing the Beast to deal double duty to any creature out there. Especially important for killing the five-toughness Exalted Angel, since the ‘Derm will deal eight to it in the Arena (four from the Cliffs and four more from its own ability). Aether Charge allows the deck to stand a chance against control (mono black or Windborn Muse-enhanced), since they can stand back and send four to the dome each turn while keeping the board clear thanks to the Cliffs.
Key Cards: Biorhythm, Explosive Vegetation, Erratic Explosion
Played to a great finish at the e-league tournament a few weeks back, it is great against Slide and awful against a lot of the rest of the field. Zombies and Elves in particular seem set to give this deck fits. Wouldn’t expect to see too many of these played.
Elves! (Mono Green)
Key Cards: Wellwisher, Elvish Guidance, Wirewood Elf, Timberwatch Elf, Steely Resolve, Elvish Warrior, Slate of Ancestry, Elvish Vanguard, Symbiotic Elf, Tribal Unity, Vitality Charm, Wirewood Channeler, Tribal Forcemage, Wirewood Herald
The third serious beatdown weenie deck on this list (along with Sligh and Zombies), the Elvish tribe enjoys the best power-to-toughness ratio creatures (especially with its Gempalm creature, Stonewood Invoker, and the 2/3 Elvish Warrior), along with mana acceleration, and a mini-Overrun in Tribal Forcemage. Steely Resolve might give it an edge against control decks (although Slide decks will have so much enchantment hate that the point may as well be moot – black decks less so). Definitely the most interesting mirror match, as Wellwishers, Elvish Guidances, Elvish Vanguards, Wirewood Channelers and Tribal Unties working on two sides of the table at once make for a very long game, stalemated with some huge mana developments and gigantic creatures.
Most of the key cleric cards (such as Rotlung Reanimator and Shepherd of Rot) show up in the superior Zombie deck. However, the potential for a second- or third-turn Scion of Darkness might prove more tempting to some than actually killing an opponent on the fourth or fifth turn. I wouldn’t expect many of these decks to end up doing well compared to their mono black zombie/cleric hybrid counterparts, which are more geared towards winning and less geared towards building a tribe over time.
White Weenie (Mono White)
Key Cards: Shared Triumph, White Knight, Mobilization, Pacifism, Windborn Muse, Deftblade Elite, True Believer, Planar Guide, Catapult Squad, Glowrider, Gempalm Avenger, Glory Seeker
The fourth weenie tribe, and the weakest of the four. While there are some great white creatures in this set (White Knight, Deftblade Elite, True Believer, Catapult Squad, Glory Seeker), the support cards are lacking. Shared Triumph spreads too thin across creature types (Clerics, Knights, and Soldiers), Gempalm Avenger isn’t as good as the green, red and black Gempalm guys, and Pacifism seems like a very weak card in an environment filled with Naturalize, Demystify, and other enchantment removal spells.
People have tried building this deck for months, but why play this when you can just slide out a morph creature, and not run the risk of having to have a three card combo (Morph + Alarmist + Dermoplasm) and/or having to sacrifice your creature? Inferior to the W/G large creature Slide deck in almost every way.
Wizards! (Mono Blue or U/R)
Key Cards: Voidmage Prodigy, Keeper of the Nine Gales, Read the Runes, Lavamancer’s Skill, Mistform Wall, Imagecrafter, Arcanis the Omnipotent, Willbender, Callous Oppressor, Ascending Aven, Aphetto Alchemist, Riptide Biologist
Blue is not going to be played at this pro tour. There might as well only be four colors in the environment. The best card in the deck (Voidmage Prodigy) cannot counterspell the best mass-removal spell in the environment (a cycled Slice and Dice), making it near useless against a field looked to be filled with Slice and Dice. The creatures can’t beat down as well as the other four colors, there are few good card drawing effects, and even fewer good counterspells. If someone is playing Wizards! In Venice, look for them to make an early day one exit.
With a lot of great tap ability creatures in the environment (Sparksmith, Wellwisher, Visara) along with creatures that would be great playing both offense and defense (most beasts, Exalted Angel), Seedborn Muse might be capable of being the center of a deck all its own. If such a deck exists, and is viable, however, is another story. Look for a few players to try out decks built around this Muse, but don’t look for a lot of them out there.
Slivers (All five colors)
Key Cards: All fifteen slivers from Legions, Grand Coliseum
Man, don’t these guys seem awfully bad in an environment where creature removal is plentiful? Players can pick off Slivers at ease (or Slide them out) and then mop up the rest. On top of this, there aren’t a ton of mana fixers in the environment outside of the sac lands (which don’t work well when you need both colors of mana at once), Grand Coliseum (which most decks won’t use due to the immense focus on speed and a curve that many of the weenie decks show), and Krosan Tusker (which requires the deck to play green, the weakest by far of the five sliver colors this time around). While Essence Sliver, Spectral Sliver, and Blade Sliver seem like great deals on their own, building an actual tribal sliver deck doesn’t seem like a wise move in this environment.
Key Cards: Phage the Untouchable
All you need to do is cycle Dirge of Dread, attack with Phage, and win. Unfortunately, you need to survive that long, get to seven mana, and hope that your opponent isn’t playing Astral Slide or Patriarch’s Bidding. Nothing like losing Phage to a Blackmail, then having your opponent play a fifth-turn Bidding naming Legends to lose you the game. Someone out there will play Phage. They won’t be making day two either.
Well, that about wraps things up. Check back here as information becomes available from PT Venice to see if I nailed the major deck archetypes, predicted the winners and losers accurately (hint: the winners I said good things about; the losers I said bad things about), and grok the new photograph I have for 18,000 Words. All those papers? The over four hundred sheets of paper I needed to go through to research this article.
I think I’ll be doing better here than I did for PT Houston. How did you do? Take a look!