Blunt – Finding an Edge in the Time Spiral Standard Metagame

Get ready for Magic the Gathering Champs!

Standard Champs is this weekend, people! Why haven’t you settled on your final deck? For those of us still in the limbo of uncertainty, Mike reports from a Standard tournament held this past week at Neutral Ground. His sixteen-man tournament yesterday brought us a surprise winner… and believe me, the shock wins just keep on coming. If you’re still looking for last-minute tech, then this is the article for you!

A mere two days after the events of Sixteen, the world was already changed. Star City $1500 Open decks went up on Monday. By Tuesday afternoon, Ironman David-Marshall was in the country again, brandishing deck lists from the so-called Lord of Magic tournament – a Japanese event I had never even heard of – with pedigrees like Asahara, Yasooka, and Suzuki. It was almost like MTGO 8-Mans. By Tuesday night, the second Top8Magic.com mock tournament of the pre-Champs Standard hit Neutral Ground, with seventeen players bashing each other for four rounds of Swiss. He should have been lagged, but Brian was spoiling for a fight.

In the slim hours between the Boros Deck Wins victory in Sixteen and the opening bell Tuesday night, I had discovered a little deck called Solar Pox. I’m sure you’ve all seen it by now. Solar Pox was, how shall we say, a splash of cold water if not a slap in the face. I dumped the Rakdos matchup at 0-6. Monday afternoon, Julian, Josh, and I were all on the same page with a G/W deck (with secret and sick sideboard) that united the best elements of our U/G deck with, um, bigger men… and Josh and Julien pretty much hate each other. That deck was something like 1-4 or 1-5 when I switched Apprentice files. One game I looked at the board… Two Elephant tokens in play, two Stonewood Invocations in hand. Surely there was no rip that… okay maybe Angel of Despairthe one Skeletal Vampire?! Are you kidding me?! Block, block, three in the air, kill ya. Okay. I just ran a tournament for this format. I don’t know nothing, do I? Not absolutely nothing, right? Abe Boros got the first one. Yeah. Hope. I love a Boros… Not so much as four games in ten.

Ten years ago I was sitting at a Grey Matter Conventions PTQ, a wide smile across my greasy mug. In those days I wore a jacket and tie to PTQs, and more than that, forced my entire retinue to do the same. Worth Wollpert had made the long trek to Philadelphia from Chardon, OH, but had no luck and dropped early. My old friend, the man who was maybe the most instrumental in my early game, asked to see my deck. He raised an eyebrow at the Sulfurous Springs… Rituals… Skull.

“What, you couldn’t think of your own deck?”

Six hours later, I was holding my first Blue Envelope.

A week after that, Worth made Top 8 in Akron, OH, with “my” Necropotence deck, knocking out edt in the Top 8 (poor Eric… I beat him in the Top 8 on the way to my win with the same deck). He lost the all important Top 4 match in the two slotter but qualified, thankfully, on rating.

“What can I say?” asked Wortho. “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em!”

If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em?

Julian, the defending New York State Champion, and I always play the same 75. Scratch that. When be beat me in the finals last year, we only played 74 the same. Steve Sadin tricked Julian into playing a second land in his sideboard where I had a Meloku. We both respect the Blue cards, but don’t actually like countering things. If you give us the chance, we’ll tap out for a Meloku, a Keiga, a Yosei, whatever. We may have invented siding out as many counters as possible we hate them so much.

Julian will push for Boros whenever he can. He will push for Boros Fury Shield whenever he can. Julian was undefeated at Regionals with Boros, but lost in the Top 8 to Ben Lundquist Tron-Wildfire (same deck that dealt me my first Swiss loss). He ended up grinding in with Solar Flare.

“I’m playing the Solar Pox deck,” he said.

I’m playing it!”

I’m playing it!”

“You hate Solar Flare.”

“It’s not Solar Flare, it’s Solar POX. In fact, I’m renaming it KarstenBotDIRebuy, because, you know, it rebuys DI… Anyway, if I don’t play the Solar Flare, I’m taking your paper and not telling you what your sideboard is.”

“But I like this deck.”

Was I actually fighting over who got to play Solar Flare? I hate Solar Flare! Solar Pox, though, more than just showing all of my short list decks the front of its hand just long enough to get the back of its hand into position, is the realization of everything Aaron Forsythe and Brian Schneider have been trying to push with their visions of Magic development. This is not a deck that adds Call of the Herd to an already robust U/G Aggro deck or just tries to run around the missing Genju of the Spires in Rakdos. Solar Pox, for its similarities to Solar Flare, is essentially a synergistic union of many new Time Spiral cards with Frank Karsten’s Haakon engine. In the end, we agreed (did we?) that Julian would get the Solar Pox and I would play our Boros deck. We would play whichever deck won the tournament Saturday.

First of all, it’s well known that I love a Boros. With Boros winning Sixteen, I thought we should have a copy in the mock tournament. I think this list is actually pretty awesome and am tempted to play Boros on Saturday even though I didn’t win the mock.

I won my first two, including a win over Loxodon Hierarch, but got unlucky in the third. I won a game 1 over G/R/W Snow with Hierarchs and Ironfoots (basically the nightmare) but somehow dropped both of the next two, though I thought I should win them both on LD tempo draws. In the third game I lost to the Gemstone Mine 100% (I had to take out a lone, tapped Weald, but couldn’t echo and couldn’t play my next Riders), and didn’t draw any burn cards. Any burn card and I won game 3. I still don’t know how I lost game 2 (it was probably my fault, not the Garrison’s).

I lost in the fourth round to maindeck Circle of Protection: Red (otherwise had him to -4 on overload damage), won Game 2, and I think I actually won Game 3 (we had a life total disagreement of one vitally important point, and I gave it to him). Anyway, I had already declared that I didn’t care if I won or not after forcing my opponent Mason to Condemn a naked Icatian Javelineers.

If you want to play beatdown, I think this is a very good list, though the sideboard is kind of stainsy. I sided Cryoclasm in all four rounds. I think the deck wants a third Disenchant, or maybe even four, because of Serrated Arrows and Phyrexian Ironfoot. I had visions of peeling Threaten when Mason tapped out for Rimefeather Owl. I didn’t.

One note: Pacifism is 100x better than Temporal Isolation if you are running Soltari Priest (I know, I know, I switched). Don’t make the automatic “isn’t Temporal Isolation just better” mistake. It’s not a mistake, I suppose, if you play Mistral Charger; check yesterday’s results to see why you might want to make the switch.

Akira Asahara is the prototype “insane” Japanese rogue. When you think about crazy Japanese deck choices, about people splashing Tooth and Nail in their Balancing Tings decks, or making Constructed Unplayables run circles around tournament Staples… you might not know it, but you are probably thinking about Akira more than anyone else. The finest moment of my Magic career was the first day of Pro Tour: Charleston. You might assume it was because I didn’t lose on Day 1 of a Pro Tour, which was admittedly nice, but that’s not the memory I am talking about. I had beaten Akira fairly quickly and our collective four teammates were trying to decide the outcome of the match. Steve Sadin was deep into his match against Jin Okamoto, and laid down a sideboarded Hill Giant. Asahara had to pick it up from in front of Jin and actually read Tibor and Lumia. The living legend of Japanese Rogues, the Form of the Dragon, Snow Ideal, and Rector Aluren innovator, had to read one of our cards. I got that warm and fuzzy feeling, like drinking hot chocolate in sub-zero weather. It didn’t hurt that we got that one.

BDM came back from Japan with a stack of crumpled papers. One of those was the very cool, very different, list from the Lord of Magic finals. Akira finished second in a field of superstars with a Dragonstorm deck that… that… leaves me short of words. Look at it yourself:

Before you make any judgments on this deck, which does not look like any Dragonstorm deck you have probably seen, please keep in mind that 1) Akira finished second in a tournament featuring players with names like Arita, Ishida, Yasooka, in the same Top 8 as the innovators of major Standard decks like Ghazi-Glare and Solar Flare, and 2) this deck seems phenomenally difficult to play without a lot of preparation.

Nice. Deck. What interested you in the deck, I mean other than Asahara’s name?

Honestly, Asahara’s name and reputation had quite a bit to do with it. I have always liked Asahara’s take on combo decks going all the way back to Pro Tour: Houston where his Aluren deck looked like nothing I had ever seen before. I found it especially intriguing that he completely eschewed Gigadrowse over an instant speed Restore Balance plus Greater Gargadon combo with ClockspinningClockspinning!! I thought it was such an exciting card to play with. I could see where players would be willing to tap out against you game 2 seeing two counters on your Lotus. You could untap, Spin the counter off the Lotus, and have two spells for Storm against an unprepared opponent.

Now you didn’t do very well in the tournament (0-2 as I recall)… Was the deck fun?

Obviously I did not get to do the stuff that I had hoped the deck would do. Partially it was bad matchups and partially it was that I am not Akira Asahara. The deck’s only answer to a sideboarded COP: Red was to make an opponent sacrifice all their lands with Gargadon/Balance. It was definitely fun, though… I got to Spin some extra -1/-1 counters onto an Unstably Mutated Savannah Lions one game (even though I lost to Psionic Blast) and the deck was challenging to play.


No idea. I just sided it out every game 2.

Gargadons? Good addition or just screwed up your combo?

I don’t know if you want the Gargadon’s game 1 or not, but you don’t have enough room in your sideboard to accomodate the full suite of ‘Dons and Balances. I would need to play with the deck a whole lot more to really evaluate the Niv-Mizzets and Garagadons, and I can’t see that happening with that iteration of Dragonstorm. I definitely like

Billy’s builds much better.

Describe the Clockspinning problem with Corey.

One of the problems I had playing the deck was that I did not fully understand all the card interactions when I played it – it is not a deck you can just pick up and play. I had one match with Corey where he had me under triple The Rack with COP: Red making the dragon plan a waste of time. I had to pull off Gargadon/Restore Balance to strip away all his mana. The only problem with that is if he figured out to hold a land I could not even kill him. He would just float mana into his COP and then play the land and keep the ‘Don at bay for rest of game. I figured out a little too late that I had to pull off the combo at instant speed with Clockspinning. He was playing all his cards out in anticipation of the Balance so I could not avoid getting slammed for lethal by The Racks.

Anything else you want to say?

The Lord of Magic lists were all pretty tantalizing. Shimizu and Suzuki are two of the best young deck designers in Japan, and while Suzuki’s list was not terribly innovative the old schooler in me loves a deck that plays with the newfangled Quirion Ranger/Spectral Bears combo. The new Yaso Control list might make your eyes, fingers, unmentionables bleed but you can’t ignore the guy’s influence on Constructed Magic right now. Maybe the most interesting list was Bando’s Izzetron with its (literally) flashy creature base.

You look at these lists, the lists from the Standard event at the PT, and the StarCityGames $1500 lists, and you realize what a wide-open format this is going to be. I am pretty sure that by the time Worlds rolls around we will see scores of viable decks.

If you’re hungry for last minute Japanese tech, you can get at least five of top the Lord of Magic decks and some key decks from the mock tournament at the Top8Magic Podcast for this week.

The big winner of the tournament was the incomparably cool Luis Neiman. Luis paired off against young Julian Levin at 3-0 or 4-0 or whatever. Neither of them had lost a game to that point. Julian was running with our Solar Pox, but Luis had a strange choice (from my perspective at least): Beach House Update.

Nice. Deck. What are the unique features of your look at Beach House and how did they affect testing / whatever?

Basically Wrath of God seems too good not to run right now, so I wanted to find the best deck to run it in. I tested your U/W Control deck, and liked it quite a bit, but we were still losing too much to decks like Zoo, U/G and WW/u in our testing. Talking to Hoooolian one day he mentioned that you guys had given up on the deck, since it just wasn’t winning the matchups you were worried about with enough consistency, so I decided to trust your testing and move on to something else. I’d been toying with a Transmute-based Beach House update deck a few weeks ago (for the record, the Transmute engine ended up being way too slow), and had been bouncing ideas off of Elias since then (he always likes playing B/G/W), and we’d come up with a list that looked great on paper. That’s where you jumped in and gave us the awesome suggestion to cut crappy Yavimaya Dryads and replace them with Birds of Paradise, which just made the deck much better. The rest of the deck is just cards that seem really strong in this metagame: Wrath of God, Crime / Punishment, Persecute, Hierarch, Angel of Despair, Debtors’ Knell, etc.

Why did you pick Beach House? I was obviously exaggerating when I said “all Loxodon Hierarch decks are bad,” but it is still an unusual choice given the incentives and trends in the meta.

I picked Beach House because to me it looks like a deck that shouldn’t have any serious problems with anything in the current metagame. It obviously has the creature decks covered with Wraths, Crime / Punishment, Condemn, Faith’s Fetters and Hierarchs, and it has control/combo decently covered in the maindeck with Persecute, Phyrexian Arena, Crime / Punishment (it’s quite common to Wrath the board and then Crime someone’s Skeletal Vampire/Akroma/Teferi/other fatty of choice), Debtors’ Knell and Vitu-Ghazi (which most control decks just can’t do anything about). Post-sideboard our matchups against aggro get better with stuff like Circle of Protection: Red (I respect Red’s burn a lot, possibly too much), more Fetters, etc., and against control/combo we can bring in Castigates, Muse Vessels (tech that I’m totally stealing from your Solar Pox update), maybe Nightmare Void, etc. I just don’t think there will be many surprises at Champs, and that this deck has all (or most of) the bases covered.

My objection to Hierarch decks personally is I think they aren’t good versus Blue. Do you anticipate dedicated Blue?

I played against two Blue decks at the mock tournament: Mason’s U/W Snow Control, and Julian’s Solar Pox. I don’t really count Solar Pox as a traditional Blue deck, since it doesn’t run counters of any kind, and I think that’s part of what you’re getting at (i.e. the perceived weakness of Hierarch decks against Blue). Against Mason I just slaughtered him in two straight, since I had so many things he needs to counter: Phyrexian Arena, Persecute, Debtor’s Knell, etc. Even my Wraths were good against his Teferis and Ironfeet, and casting Crime on a dead Teferi removes their counterspell ability. Debtors’ Knell is obviously huge here, too. The one Blue deck I’m worried about is U/G, since it can put out a fast clock and back it up for a turn or two. I do, however, have Hierarchs, Fetters, Condemn, Wraths and Crime / Punishment (killing all Call tokens for just BG is nice), so I’m hoping I’ll be okay. More typical Blue decks try to win the long-game, and this deck is really good at the long-game, between Vitu-Ghazis, Debtors’ Knell, Crime / Punishment, Angel of Despair, etc. Post-sideboard things also get better versus traditional Blue decks, since you bring in more disruption and get to cut a lot of the anti-creature stuff. In a nutshell: no, I’m not particularly scared of the Blue control decks, and only slightly scared of Blue/X aggro decks.

You only lost one game in the tournament, right?

Yup, I only lost one game, and that was in the finals versus Julian. In round 1 I won 2-0 versus Cory Braiterman, who was running Sean McKeown B/W Rats deck; in round 2 I won 2-0 versus Mark Schmit with Zoo; in round 3 I won 2-0 versus Mason’s U/W Control deck; and in round 4 I beat Julian 2-1. In the game I lost to Julian he took something like five or six cards with a Muse Vessel (though he wasn’t able to cast any of them), and eventually Akroma’d over a few times for the win. I believe I kept a relatively weak hand, however. He did the same thing in game 3, but my draw was much better, and I had a Phyrexian Arena on turn 2 off a turn 1 BoP to keep drawing lands and threats. Before our round Julian didn’t think I had any chance of winning, but quite honestly I never thought I’d lose, since I’m not afraid of Solar Flare-style decks, especially when they don’t run counters.

Planning on playing this, right?

Yup, definitely. A few things need to be tweaked (four Condemn in the maindeck was one too many, and the SB needs work), but I’ll be running it on Saturday. By the way, I liked the name you guys gave it on the top8magic podcast PDF: Son of the Beach House. Elias and I had been calling it Kazakhstani Beach House, since he’s very fond of doing Borat impersonations…

Anything else you want to say?

I know you generally shouldn’t play Rock-style decks in an open metagame like we have now, but nothing beats good old Rock! Being serious for a minute, however, I think that this deck has all the tools necessary to succeed in this kind of metagame: good threats, versatile answers, must-counter cards and the ability to win just about any game that goes long. It’s not the most inspired deck choice, nor are we really tapping into the wellspring of potential that is Time Spiral, but who said you need all that to win?

I also want to thank BDM for stepping up and running these mock tournaments at Neutral Ground, since they’re actually a great way to gauge the field going into a big tournament. He even ponied up his foil DCI Eternal Dragon from PT Kobe as a prize, which was gravy. I would’ve played even if he hadn’t been offering a prize, but I’m certainly not complaining!

I was initially doing a lot of trash talking about Luis’s deck, but reading his short interview a couple of times actually has me half-convinced. Since we started doing mock tournaments one year ago, the results have been pretty telling for any mock tournament’s winning deck. Pre-Champs we came up with Jushi Blue. Pre-Grand Prix Philadelphia, Deadguy Ale won and no one believed it was good. Could Son of the Beach House be the next unlikely champion? I know you’ve only got a few hours between now and tomorrow, but don’t be surprised when somebody else who copied Luis beats you at Champs.

After several weeks of playtesting, I have come to the conclusion that this may be the first truly blunt format in the Magic history. I can’t figure out an angle where I can find an edge. Last year I tested five decks. Five. I tested Boros, straight White Weenie, Gifts Ungiven, Critical Mass Update, and Jushi Blue. We messed around with Ninjas and Heartbeat and some Fungus Fire but mostly I stuck to five decks. This year I’ve tested something like thirty decks, and none of them seem that much better than any others. Rakdos is sick against what I predicted to be the top of the metagame, but has no game against Solar Pox. U/G is the control killer, chopping every Solar Flare and U/W control deck into pieces with its Moldervine Cloaks and unearthed Chars. U/G has big problems with Rakdos and Glare of Subdual. Solar Flare will be out in force, and is ahead against new kid on the block Solar Pox. Solar Pox was a stunning new discovery, but after reading it a couple of times, I think I buy Luis’s arguments for the Beach House matchup.

Me? I am pretty sure there is no edge, but there are certain things I like and certain things I hate about deck choices. Therefore I am definitely playing Solar Pox Update, Beach House Update, Budget Boros Update (now with four Boros Garrisons and zero Gemstone Mine), U/G Aggro, Rakdos, or this new Golgari Mid-range deck I made based on my Charleston Bats deck. I think about “what could have been” in Charleston literally every day, but somehow forgot how good Skeletal Vampire is. Wow.

This is one of the few times that you really should play what you are most comfortable with rather than The Best Deck. I think Solar Pox might be the best, but it has serious holes, as do all the options.

Good luck tomorrow, no matter what deck you run.