And Now For Somebody Completely Different…

Put your Champs deck to the test at the StarCityGames.com $1500 Standard Open!

Mike Flores does not create his decks in a vacuum; he tests his decks with the help of his friends at Neutral Ground and Top8Magic, and they do not always agree with the mighty Mike! So rather than just giving you his opinion on Champs, Mike interviews his teammates to ask them what they think the best deck for States is going to be. (And as an extra-special bonus, Mike Flores interviews… Mike Flores!)

One of the things that you have to worry about as a deck designer is getting into an inbred rut. I am definitely a captain, if not the captain, of my local network, and as I am the only one firing out two or more loud bullets per week on major Magic sites, it may be easy for people who are looking into what we are doing (using my strategy articles as the lens) to get the feeling that ours is a one-man show.

It’s not.

There is often dissent, if not dissension, in the ranks. The Neutral Ground / Top8Magic.com crowd is a plural and adversative (if friendly) environment, and good teamwork exists because different, rational (and hopefully talented) people can have and express different ideas.

The same goes for local testing for comparatively little events like Champs. I don’t know why I – or any of us – care about Champs so much. Only Julian, who is the reigning New York State Champion, seems to have it in perspective. Me? I’m up testing all hours on a format that seems to have little or no Edge on Deck while Paul, who stepped largely away from Magic when it started really overshadowing his relationship with his now-fiancee a few years ago, is roaring back for what? Champs? The tournament with no prize? The number-one guy doesn’t even get free admission to events for a year any more!

Yet Champs tournaments draw more players than most PTQs, PTQs being tournaments that actually matter because they put people on the Pro Tour, Magic’s highway to glory. It isn’t just me. There are other crazies willing to put up with me. You may have noticed that I sometimes have problems keeping my nose clean. I naysay BDM’s seemingly out-there ideas (and they turn out being great), and slide on blinders that say that Annex Wildfire – any sort of Annex Wildfire, which by the way couldn’t beat anything but Gifts in the Honolulu guantlet – is “the best deck” because I get excited about some top-down idea (I am not really one for top-down ideas, as you know). If Osyp hadn’t looked past the email where I made this outlandish best deck claim to the different one with the ‘Tron list I posted, if Andrew hadn’t realized that it was Remand and not Telling Time that was the best 1U search card for that deck and swapped the numbers, maybe Joe Black would have actually had to win the PTQ he took in Philadelphia two weeks ago instead of just burgling the plane ticket.

Plural ideas. Dissent. Disagreement. Making arguments. Having arguments. Testing. Fighting. Ultimately winning, or winning more than someting else. These are the keys to keeping your idea people in check, culling the best elements of collaboration, and ultimately succeeding in Magic or anything.

This time I decided to do something different, and open, and hopefully interesting for you. I polled several of the people I have tested with, even a little bit, for this format and asked them what they thought about a few basic questions. Most of the time they disagree. On one big point they seem to agree, even if it is because they have no better option. Given what deck(s) I like and liked at the time, I alternatively smirked, raised an eyebrow, or marveled at some of the answers.

I hope you enjoy them, even if you express your disagreement.

Julian Levin, a.k.a. Hoolian, formerly “Barn Julian the N’Sync Intern aka Mother Superior, IV, Truth Teller”
Julian is an up-and-coming youngster who is no longer eligible for the JSS. When I first met him, he attempted to Volcanic Hammer my Nimble Mongoose, so I tricked him into Hammering himself (God only knows why he would ultimately want to hang out with me). Julian is the reigning New York State Champion for Constructed. Additionally, he made Top 8 at Connecticut Regionals with Budget Boros, and won a US Open with Solar Flare in the last six months.

1. What deck(s) have you not liked in testing so far? Which decks were unimpressive?
The decks that I have not liked in testing have been Solar Flare, KarstenBot BabyKiller, and Dragonstorm. I don’t like Flare because I don’t think it has the ability to beat Zoo and Boros after losing the life gain in Kokusho and Miren, plus [Mike] made a strictly better version. I don’t like the BabyKiller because it is too slow to beat the combo decks and Wrath of God-type decks. Also it can’t beat a Sedge Sliver. Finally, I don’t like Dragonstorm because I don’t want to play a deck at [Champs], where whether I win or lose is entirely based on my opening hand. In an environment like [Champs], I want to play a deck where I can interact and have the longest game possible. Dragonstorm does neither of these.

2. What deck was most impressive, especially surprisingly so?
The most impressive and surprising deck has to be BDM’s Sliver deck. I briefly toyed with the idea of three-color Slivers upon the release of Time Spiral, I decided it wouldn’t be good enough. After playing a ten-game set against BDM with KarstenBot and winning only two of them, I realized just how powerful the deck was.

3. If you had to choose a deck for tomorrow, what deck would it be?
If States were tomorrow, I would play whatever Mike plays, obviously. “Whatever Mike plays” is looking like it would be U/W Reanimator. If I had to think for myself, I would have to go with either Boros or Glare. I really liked the U/W aggro deck I made until I realized it was exactly the same as the Boros deck from Regionals, swapping Mana Leak, Remand, and Unstable Mutation for burn (Char = Psionic Blast). Although I have barely tested Glare and did not test Boros at all since Regionals, both of those decks seems to have good matchups against the field. Glare looks to have a bad matchup against Dragonstorm, although I am not even sure that is true. I would like to test that matchup, but Mike seems unwilling to play Glare at all.

4. Any additional comments?
[At this point Julian listed a Boros deck he built in “Government Class” (nice use of your Stuyvesant education, Hoolian) loosely on the 20/20/20 model, with Icatian Javelineers and debating the merits of various burn cards. It was similar to the test list I posted in Forging the Sword, but with Knight of the Holy Nimbus and Soltari Priest, plus numerous misspellings. -MJLaMoAHS]

Paul Jordan, a.k.a. PJ; Paul’s FinkelDraft card is Brain Pry*.
Paul possesses numerous Pro Tour money finishes, played for Sunday twice, a Grand Prix Top 4 once, and a Grand Prix Top 8 once (choking all four times), and is a former New Jersey State Champion (with Red beatdown). He has remarkably poor taste, selecting yours truly as best man at his upcoming wedding.

1. What deck(s) have you not liked in testing so far? Which decks were unimpressive?
Mirari.dec – not a big enough mana engine to get it fully running.

2. What deck was most impressive, especially surprisingly so?
Radkos/burn really kind of jumped out first for us, posting surprising numbers due largely to the high amount of burn available. Other decks would stabilize at eleven or twelve life, but 3 turns later they would be burned out. It was really impressive.

3. If you had to choose a deck for tomorrow, what deck would it be?
As of now, U/G. It has the reactive disruption to deal with control, proactive threats and answers for other animal decks and a healthy suite of creatures that do “things.”

4. Any additional comments?
I absolutely hate how much burn and land destruction is available. I am not looking forward to a year of random LD/burnout games. I think those two things are the two most important pieces to take into consideration during deck construction, outside of actual creatures. “Can I survive a turn 2 Stone Rain?” and “Can I neutralize late-game burn?”

Asher Hekt, a.k.a. ManningBot
Asher is a JSS player coming up the Neutral Ground ranks. He earned the nickname ManningBot when he inexplicably mized the superb Chris Manning as his tag team partner for New York Two-Headed Giant State Championships, where they battled all the way to the final table. I met Asher when he finished Top 8 at the Deckade book signing tournament. He won this year’s first pre-Champs mock tournament with Solar Flare, which is chronicled in another recent article.

1. What deck(s) have you not liked in testing so far? Which decks were unimpressive?
Heezy Avenue was obviously bad… Besides that I think that U/W under-performed, and I would not feel comfortable playing a deck with such limited kill conditions. I have mixed feelings on Solar Flare and I agree it’s bad, even though it can perform and has a great sideboard.

2. What deck was most impressive, especially surprisingly so?
I really like U/G. The cards seem weak (like Looter), but the deck is very synergistic and beats pretty much everything.

3. If you had to choose a deck for tomorrow, what deck would it be?
If States were tomorrow, I would play U/G or Zoo.

4. Any additional comments?
I think we are under-testing Zoo. I think if we spent time to tune it, it could beat Solar Flare, U/G, R/G, and B/R. However it’s probably bad to play an aggro deck with iffy mana at Champs.

Mark Young, a.k.a. mmyoung, a.k.a. mmyoungster, a.k.a. mm
Mark is a D.C. based feature writer for Beckett Magic: the Gathering. He has recently started making the effort to hang out and test with the Top8Magic.com crowd. He made Top 8 of Virginia States last year with a Greater Good deck of his own design, and claims that I was mean to him upon first meeting. Obviously, he is a liar: I was also mean the second time.

1. What deck(s) have you not liked in testing so far? Which decks were unimpressive?
Most of the blue decks I have designed have not worked out the way I wanted them to. My Teferi/Niv-Mizzet/Ophidian Eye deck seems like it can be built to beat either control or aggro, but not both. I thought my Firemane Angel deck would destroy Mike’s reanimate-Akroma deck, but it didn’t really work out that way (although there were a limited number of games in that matchup, and I didn’t draw Condemn in any of them).

The combo decks are highly overrated. Enduring Renewal + Grapeshot is so hard to put together – you need an enchantment, a creature, and the Grapeshot, it can be disrupted in a lot of different ways, and none of the pieces are good by themselves. As for Dragonstorm, I’ll repeat what I’ve already said in an upcoming article: I don’t think it’s good enough to win States, but it may be good enough to keep you from winning States, if it takes you by surprise.

2. What deck was most impressive, especially surprisingly so?
The U/G aggro deck. I thought Solar Flare would take it out back, pimp-slap it, and demand that Llanowar Elves get out on the corner and bring in the money. Instead, the Ravitz-Flores games suggest that the Elves have found a taxi driver named Ohran Viper who was willing to strap on the Moldervine Cloak and send a Psionic Blast at Harvey Keitel’s face.

Man, that might be the most tortured metaphor ever.

Although I didn’t bring it to test sessions with Mike and his group, U/R Urzatron has proved surprisingly resilient. With a full ‘tron, even Akroma can be handled by Spell Burst or Repeal, and the old “Demonfire for fifteen” strategy still seems good.

3. If you had to choose a deck for tomorrow, what deck would it be?
Probably the U/G aggro deck. I’m not sure how good it is against Zoo or Boros, but given the level of play skill that I saw from the aggro players that I faced in States last year, I’m willing to accept a slight disadvantage in those matchups if I can whip control.

My second choice would probably be some kind of Rakdos deck. I’m not sure how many people at States will have the news on how good the Akroma-reanimation strategy is. Plus, even if Akroma gets reanimated, there’s Cruel Edict, Smallpox, or simply racing her with burn to the face.

4. Any additional comments?
This format will be so wide open. Even though Ravnica had a ton of playable cards, I thought the range of strategies was limited by the existence of Umezawa’s Jitte. There’s no such limitation now. I would be equally unsurprised if I were to lose at States to Pandemonium or to decking via Gaea’s Blessing.

The funny thing about these Timeshifted cards is, some of them are much more awesome now than when originally printed, and some are so much worse. Despite being the most important blue card in Tempest, Whispers of the Muse has been very disappointing these days; even when my Blue/Red Urzatron deck had the full ‘tron and the ability to play Whispers multiple times in one turn, I usually found myself wishing for a Careful Consideration instead. Conversely, Psionic Blast might be the most important card in the format, but nobody ever played it back in the day. I guess odd reversals like this are all a part of being caught in a Time Spiral.

Joshua Ravitz, a.k.a. ZrOe, sometimes Gramps, formerly “the Rabbit”
I think Josh had a States Top 8 somewhere around 2001, playing Kibler’s Opposition deck (Tony Tsai won Connecticut, and Brian won Georgia, with the aforementioned deck that year), but who can be sure?

1. What deck(s) have you not liked in testing so far? Which decks were unimpressive?
Truthfully, I have not played more than the two decks we tested (U/G, Solar Flare). All the old decks are underpowered by comparison (Time Spiral is very powerful), so that testing is motly worthless beyond a strategic standpoint. Neither of the decks (again U/G and Solar Flare) were impressive, I thought.

2. What deck was most impressive, especially surprisingly so?

3. If you had to choose a deck for tomorrow, what deck would it be?

As I said, it is like the lesser of X evils… I don’t like it, but it seems good, good enough to play.

4. Any additional comments?
Not now… But I will have a whole article’s worth of comments tomorrow. (Indeed he will! — The Ferrett)

Billy Moreno was contacted for this questionnaire, but did not respond to it. Like Mark Young, Billy ate only half his Katz’s sandwich last Saturday night, which, while decidedly plaid or even gynecological behavior, was still half a corned beef more than Jon Becker got (See also: “Taunting Jon Becker“). Unlike Mark, Billy brought his other half home to fiancee Amber, whereas, Joshua Ravitz just burgled Mark’s uneaten half. Bad form, mm, bad form.

Everybody Else’s Responses
I don’t know if you recall, but the past two years here at Star City, we’ve run kind of a pre-Champs roundup with deck assignments and periodic evaluations by yours truly. In that spirit, I’m going to talk about my friends’ responses.

1. What deck(s) have you not liked in testing so far? Which decks were unimpressive?
The answers here seem mostly dependent on what decks each individual player tested himself (and maybe that should be obvious). One thing I will say, specifically in relation to Paul’s response, is that at the beginning we were testing all these crazy Mwonvuli Acid-Ooze decks, had all these high-falutin’ ideas using Miraris and UrzaTrons and summoning things… But those decks, by in large, don’t beat Zoo. Zoo Zoo Zoo Zoo Zoo.

2. What deck was most impressive, especially surprisingly so?
U/G 2
Rakdos 1
Slivers (!) 1
Nobody 1

Slivers is actually not that bad. BDM went 2-1 in the mock tournament and probably could have won (or at least met ManningBot in the finals) with better draws one round. He positively pounded Sadin on KarstenBot with Sedge Sliver, and wants to put the props on Sedge Sliver out there: Rakdos players of the world unite! Make my Slivers bigger! Please!

3. If you had to choose a deck for tomorrow, what deck would it be?
U/W (conditional) 1
U/G 4

If I went U/G (see below), that would be all five players on U/G. Like I have said previously, the deck doesn’t seem that exciting, but (assuming this were the case) it wouldn’t the first time a previous format stock deck was the best thing to play in the new format short term.

4. Any additional comments?
I don’t even know what to make of this section. Talk amongst yourselves.

My Responses, Had I Been Given The Survey:
Mike has written for The Duelist, The Sideboard, MagicTheGathering.com, and all of the major independent Magic sites. He is also the regular color commentator on Pro Tour webcasts. A championship deck designer, Mike shares his insights, humor, and decks-in-progress weekly on StarCityGames.com.

1. What deck(s) have you not liked in testing so far? Which decks were unimpressive?
The decks that seemed to under-perform were the ones I was initially excited about (Draw-Go, Snow Blue, Mwonvuli Wildfire) or had a previous affection for (KarstenBot BabyKiller, Budget Boros). All the Draw-Go decks ran out or lost on tempo to Zoo. The numbers weren’t even that bad, but “not that bad” isn’t the pedigree I want going into a tournament.

The Wildfire deck was awful against Zoo. Oddly, our Zoo test deck has gotten better, and the crappier old version was either already pounding the decks I liked, or was going toe-to-toe with decks that I thought should beat it (Draw-Go with Lightning Helix, Budget Boros), making more and more decks look poor. KarstenBot I was really proud of, especially early playtest sessiond defeating decks with Protection from Red and Holy Nimbus.

This format has two key endgame plans: Demonfire from one side, Akroma from the other. Decks with actual endgame strategies win with one of these two strategies; decks without endgame strategies seek to win before the endgame strategies come online.

2. What deck was most impressive, especially surprisingly so?
Definitely I would say Rakdos, followed by U/G. These were the first decks I put together and they have stayed pretty much intact throughout the testing process.

Rakdos is scary, but maybe Julian has just gotten better with practice. Two weeks ago I buried him in a 7-3 set that would have been a 9-1 if I had played tighter with U/W (we were both incrementally tweaking lists during the session), and by last Saturday he was trading games and probably even finished ahead in the same basic matchup over ~30 games.

U/G, I talk about every week. Seriously, test it. It definitely has some holes, but they aren’t huge given the projected variety of this format. Don’t forget you have a sideboard. This deck is not keyed to beating a wide variety of opponents like Jushi Blue, but it’s more like Batman in that it has a solid game plan that gives you the tools to be able to beat perhaps any kind of deck; when you are better than your opponent, you may mistake this capability for Deck Advantage.

3. If you had to choose a deck for tomorrow, what deck would it be?
I change decks almost daily. G/W is exciting. U/R/W is even more exciting. Find a way for Mono-Red to beat a fourth turn Akroma and I’ll be all over Chapin’s Orcish Librarian deck! All that said, if I were really on the spot, I’d definitely go U/W tap-out control with Resurrection, or the U/G aggro deck that everyone else in my test group (even grumpy Gramps) picked.

4. Any additional comments?
This format is strange. Two or three weeks ago I realized that there wasn’t very much strategy that I could perceive during in-game play. Josh is a better technical player than I am and makes some interesting observations in his playtest article, which will go up tomorrow. When I pointed this out, Billy said that we should go for edge on deck. However, I don’t see a pronounced edge on deck from anything – not even Zoo, ally (though its core proactivity, like that of U/G, seems to make it capable of beating anything). I think U/G is a good choice because it has probably the second-est opening game plan (turn 2 Ohran Viper, which follows the U/W and Reanimator turn four Akroma, Angel of Wrath), and is the best deck at holding an advantage because the counter suite helps to keep it from getting topdecked out.

Last week Paskins, whose Sitting Dead Red was a perfect metagame choice for the Goblin Bidding/pre-Aether Vial Ravager Regionals Standard, suggested tuning Zoo (which is our limiting factor and fiercest other) to beat other Zoos in order to try to find an edge on deck there.

I hope you enjoyed the different perspectives from this article, even if most people came to the same conclusion at crunch time. Tomorrow, we’re doing something a little different again, if on the same basic topic. Usually, I try to convey an edge on deck… Tomorrow will hopefully be a format awareness test of your inner Jonny… Maybe even your inner Kai. Hope to see you then!


* – All FinkelDraft regulars have their own cards for table seating, chosen for irony, humor, cleverness, or appropriateness. For example BDM’s is Greed, but with the letter “M” pasted on the card to indicate his nickname. Tony Tsai’s card is Hammerhead Shark, Jon Finkel is the Kai Budde player card, and Chris Pikula is, ahem, alternate art Meddling Mage. Paul claims he’s switching to Orcish Librarian with the release of Time Spiral because, allegedly, he “keep[s] the books.” My guess is because he eats paste.