Deconstructing Constructed – Dissecting the Star City Games $5000 Open Day 1

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Monday, May 12th – The Star City Games $5000 Open Day 1 Top 8 was filled with Green cards, which would be a good sign if they didn’t miserably fail in the face of even more Faeries. Still, it can give one hope that the metagame won’t completely debase into Faeries versus non-Faeries, although I fear we may already have reached that point.

Originally I was going to write about the horrors of Magic Online V3 this week, but Peter Jahn has covered many of the issues I was going to go over in the past two weeks or so. Rather than retread old ground there, I decided then to switch my attention to Block for this week, but it strikes me as a rather hopeless endeavor with Magic Online lacking Shadowmoor (not to mention playability in general). Additionally, the problem of testing Shadowmoor heavy decks against not only the older versions of the existing tribal block decks (but taking into account the hybridized designs) will be a lot of work without any way to double check some of the data. A number of the current Block decks will receive few upgrades from Shadowmoor, while an already effective archetype like Elves can become a completely different beast thanks to the W/G hybrid cards. Then throw in new potential suitors like mono red aggro and it ends up being more theory than real data.

Mind you I’m shipping this article in approximately 14 hours after I’ve seen the actual Top 8 lists for day one, so unfortunately I won’t be breaking down Day 2 yet. Let’s do a quick card breakdown before rolling into the decklists and metagame.

Five most played (not including lands) maindeck cards:

1 — 16 Tarmogoyf (in 4 decks)
2 – 14 Llanowar Elves (in 4 decks)
3 — 12 Imperious Perfect (in 3 decks)
4 — 12 Wren’s Run Vanquisher (in 3 decks)
5 — 11 Cryptic Command (in 3 decks)

(Garruk Wildspeaker being the honorable mention with 10 copies throughout four different decks)

So the Top 8 was filled with Green cards, which would be a good sign if they didn’t miserably fail in the face of even more Faeries. Still, it can give one hope that the metagame won’t completely debase into Faeries versus non-Faeries, although I fear we may already have reached that point. There isn’t too much surprising about this list… we have one of the best creatures ever printed, three great Elves, and one of the strongest, if not best, Blue cards in the format.

Five most played sideboard cards

1 — 11 Cloudthresher (in 3 decks)
2 — 8 Thoughtseize (in 2 decks)
3 — 8 Squall Line (in 3 decks)
4 — 8 Kitchen Finks (in 3 decks)
5 — 7 Riftsweeper (in 2 decks)

Once again Green comes up big here, featuring a whole lot of Faeries hate in the air-only sweepers in Cloudthresher and Squall Line, but also anti-Visions in Riftsweeper. Of course, Riftsweeper also can take care of Lotus Bloom duty which provides a double role here. Kitchen Finks apparently saw a ton of play from the non-Faeries decks to take care of… non-Faeries decks, go figure. Thoughtseize saw plenty of play, and I expect the numbers to only go up since it’s one of the few preemptive ways to take care of Bitterblossom, while not being outright awful in other matches.

So what does the Top 8 archetype list itself tell us?

5 Green based aggro decks (2 midrange, 2 swarm, one half and half)
3 Blue based aggro decks

Can’t say I didn’t try to warn everyone last week about the beating that is a Mono Green deck. Although Daniel Samson’s version focused more on the elvish aggro aspects of it moreso than the build I posted, going so far as to run Imperious Perfect. Heartmender was also a surprising card to see as I honestly thought it was too slow to have a major impact, although I guess with 11 persist creatures it can come in handy for infinite blockers. Although I can’t get over that it’s a 2/2 for 4 in a deck that plays such efficient men otherwise, it definitely sticks out. Obviously testing will have to take place to make sure it isn’t the bees knees and I’m just focusing too much on what it says on paper (like everyone did to Safehold Elite, hint hint). I also can’t say I particularly like the odds of hitting five mana for Overrun off 22 lands, but he did go 7-0 in the swiss to draw into the Top 8, so obviously the deck must’ve been working for him.

I think the deck is another solid starting point to make slight modifications to. I’d also be interested in how the full set of Shield worked out considering multiple reports that the metagame was 40-50% Faeries.

Predator is another deck that’s been overlooked due to the cuteness of its combo in Kavu Predator and Fiery Justice, and it’s largely seen as a deck that wasn’t that great in Time Spiral Block and awful outside of it. However, it got some goodies from Shadowmoor, and Fiery Justice the card is currently positioned as well as it’ll ever be with the number of 1/1’s running around. Faeries may not be favorable, but as BPM mentioned last week, this deck actually has a solid chance of succeeding via its removal package and big beats for cheap. Scott Jeltima mentioned that he had success against Faeries in the swiss, falling in the Top 4 largely to Sower* game 1 and multiple Damnation game 2.

* Yes, the card multiple people advocated cutting. You’ll notice three in the winner’s list.

The build Scott had even went a bit further and featured Stonecloaker, which not only hurts the graveyard based combo decks, but can still fizzle a Terror while getting a 3/2 flyer from the deal.

All that said, there are still a few things that might want to be looked into here. Scott himself mentioned in a post that he didn’t own any Horizon Canopy, a land which is definitely of interest to Green-based aggro and missing from his list. The other two possibilities are Firespout, which in conjunction with Fiery Justice is yet another beating on ground aggro and an additional air sweeper to help deal with Scion hijinks or swarms. Meanwhile for the board one might want to look into replacing Ronom Unicorn with Elvish Hexhunter, as it slides past countermagic even on the draw and is less of a strain on the mana (14 Green sources versus 7 White sources).

Moving on, we come to R/G Land Destruction by Brain Kelly, which may be the most unique in strategy terms of all the Top 8 decks.

Whereas the other Green builds were all built around aggression first with small amounts of disruption as a secondary course, this is the first build I’ve seen to instead be largely based around mana disruption as a primary goal. There are twelve cards that blow up lands directly and four more which disrupt the opponent’s manabase, in addition all of the land destruction is creature based which means it doubles as beatdown for later in the game. This is an excellent approach for a mana denial deck to take, as it reduces the chances of simply running out of actual threats and drawing worthless land destruction as topdecks.

Deus of Calamity is the most interesting choice to me, since it’ll likely be a fourth turn drop with all of mana acceleration and curves out the LD nicely. The fact that it’s a significant threat that can’t be chumped means it isn’t an overcosted do-nothing against Bitterblossom decks. Magus of the Moon is probably getting a bad rap at this point, with many Faeries decks only running 4-5 basic Island and other decks running between 17-20 non-basic lands on average. In addition, a resolved Magus against Faeries shuts down practically all of the normal outs to him unless they float mana and Terror. Otherwise all the Black sources are shut off and it’s nearly impossible to get the UUU necessary to bounce him with Cryptic Command. Although the numbers look a bit rough in some areas, such as 2 Flame Javelin and 4 Tarfire along with the number of mana creatures to lands, it definitely should interest people in giving it a shot.

The Merfolk deck was more or less what you would expect with the new additions from Shadowmoor being Mirrorweave and Cursecatcher. Mirrorweave is an underappreciated card, that as had been said time and time again can turn any Lord plus swarm of 1/1 donks into a four mana finisher. Otherwise you have what amounts to a weaker Faeries deck, since you lose most of the power cards Faeries provides while only gaining Lords 5-8 and the Islandwalk nonsense. Though if you stop to think about it, how good is that exactly when Faeries has gotten to the point where it may not even play an Island for the entire game? Not to mention having to use a card like Aquitect’s Will against the many Green decks to get any use from it.

As for the winning deck and the runner-up, Faeries has become more of a UB control deck rather than the tribal aggro control deck I first wrote about months ago. Alex Bertoncini ran Sower of Temptation maindeck and only 3 Cryptic Command in his build, while Brett Blackman only ran 15 guys total (yes, with Pestermite). Probably the most interesting thing from either build was the sideboard strategy employed in the mirror, with Blackman having access to Fledgling Mawcor to ping the opposing 1/1’s to death and either contain Bitterblossom or keep Scion off the field. Of course, the drawback to this is the fact that it’s a sorcery speed spell that takes a turn to come online. This leaves the opponent with a large window to either counter to destroy the Mawcor before it can cause any mischief.

As for the G/B Elves decks, there’s nothing really new or special to report. They look just like they did back at the Grand Prix or on Magic Online over the past month or so. G/B Elves isn’t a bad choice; you get a passable Faeries match, though you’ll still probably lose to them too often for most people’s liking, and quad Profane Command backing up efficient guys is going to take down most aggro decks. Although the ones packing the bigger badder W/G creatures wouldn’t be much fun to go up against, since they crush or trade in fair combat and have their own late-game bomb in Oversoul of Dusk (either game 1 or out of the sideboard).

So where does this leave us? If you take the Top 8 and metagame at face value then it’s truly become a Faeries versus the world metagame. And what does that mean for you, gentle reader? It means all those adorable combo decks, all the slower midrange stuff without a real plan, and all the control with no true plays until turn 4 are pretty much dead. They are borderline unplayable, because even if you think you can dodge getting paired against Faeries (and that looks really unlikely), you’ll eventually be forced to play them in the Top 8. If you choose not to play Faeries, and if you seriously want to win you’ll need a good reason not to, then you need to lay out a clear plan for the first few turns of the game and be able to consistently accomplish it. One of the key things all the Green decks have in common is they don’t waste a lot of time filtering or searching for key cards. They also have very few cards that don’t have a 3 or 4 next to them. Execution is almost more important than pure power at this point.

Faeries is very difficult to attack from a sideboarding perspective because there’s no direct core to attack. They can attack from multiple angles and even if you successfully stop all their best cards, it still is a deck consisting of flyers and manlands which can ruthlessly beat you down if you give them a chance. Your sideboard plans aren’t going to help as much as you think, any deck you choose needs to have decent game against Faeries from the onset of the match, not just supposedly games 2/3. Always keep this in mind when picking a deck for a Standard tournament in the upcoming months.

Josh Silvestri
Team Reflection
Email me at: joshDOTsilvestriATgmailDOTcom