Deconstructing Constructed – Dwelling on the Past and Looking to the Future

This week the plan was to go over the Top 8 decks from Pro Tour: Yokohama and analyze anything new or exciting to come out of the tournament. Slight problem, though… there was nothing new to report. The Top 8 consisted of slightly more refined versions of the decks that have seen play on MTGO or at the Grand Prix Trials thus far.

This week the plan was to go over the Top 8 decks from Pro Tour: Yokohama and analyze anything new or exciting to come out of the tournament. Slight problem, though… there was nothing new* to report. The Top 8 consisted of slightly more refined versions of the decks that have seen play on MTGO or at the Grand Prix Trials thus far. It’s sad when I hear BDM and Buhler talk about Kher Keep somehow being “tech” in the Red deck when everyone knew about it as soon as they considered Gargadon in said Red deck.

*Okay, I admit the R/G Stormbind Aggro deck was cool.

The biggest surprise of the Top 8 wasn’t what was there, it’s what wasn’t there. Zero WW decks in the Top 8 had to surprise a whole lot of people. At first I couldn’t understand how it had happened, because even by giving your deck small edges against the WW deck, it could still just run you over in a normal match setting. The deck was one of the two best decks in the format!

Then as MTG.com updated with more data from the Day 2 decks, I could see why WW had failed on the whole. Remember in the last article I said the deck reminded me of Goblins? The reason I didn’t say the obvious Affinity reference was because the deck couldn’t win through overwhelming hate unless the other guy stumbled. It was great at wiping the floor with people who were relying on good draws to carry the day for them, as Craig Jones* pointed out last week.

* Anyone read Jones blog from the PT? Going 1-2 versus WW with a deck that supposedly had a great match against it… that’s why we didn’t put a ton of stock into people specifically hating on the deck and being successful.

And oh boy, was there a lot of hate! For those who haven’t seen; MTG.com had a card breakdown of the Top 50 decks from Day 2.

The Top 3 non-land maindeck cards:
86 Prismatic Lens
73 Cancel
72 Sulfur Elemental

The Top 3 non-land maindeck and sideboard cards:
104 Sulfur Elemental
88 Prismatic Lens
80 Dead/Gone
80 Aeon Chronicler

Sulfur Elemental had a total of 52% from the Top 50 decks. Half the decks on Day 2 ran a full set (save two decks, which only ran three a piece) of Sulfur Elementals. That’s ridiculous. Even more so when you consider the number of decks that backed those up with virtual copies via Mystical Teachings or Vesuvan Shapeshifter, or the Mono-Red Aggro decks backing them up with Blood Knight and Wildfire Emissary.

That was the obvious cue I had overlooked when helping friends test for the PT. That people would be willing to run so much incidental hate for WW, because it was obviously better than all the other aggressive decks in the format. It was like when the proper move for Psychatog, a couple of Extended seasons ago, was to run maindeck Engineered Plague and Intuition to fetch out the second one. The first one was merely a bother; the second one destroyed the deck.

The same thing happened to the WW deck against a number of control builds. The first Sulfur Elemental wasn’t a big deal (Oh whoopity do, you killed my Priest), but the Mystical Teachings into the second one destroyed the deck. Alternatively if you look at Mitamura’s deck from the Top 8, you’ll notice he eschewed normal removal like Sudden Death and opted for Strangling Soot and Snapback to compliment Damnation, both of which are much more effective versus Mono-Red or WW. In a way I was amused to see Mono-Red Aggro taking the place of WW on Day 2. With its main menace gone, it just had to focus on beating mana ramp decks and various flavors of Teferi. Unfortunately, the Red deck isn’t exactly great at that either.

Levy’s deck is a good example of this; you have a bunch of creatures that can pound in for early damage, and then you want to follow it up with a lot of bad burn. The main problem is that even with a bunch of burn, the deck has limited reach. A single Tendrils of Corruption, or Cancel on a large Disintegrate, can buy loads of time. Oh, and Teferi is actually bigger than every non-Gargadon creature in the deck. Greater Gargadon and Word of Seizing were fun cards that helped to take some of the edge off, but control in this format can play attrition with the Red deck and usually come out on top.

It was hilarious to see the R/G mana ramp decks with high finishes. Not only did they get there in large part to WW’s demise by Day 2, but the two that made Top 8 floundered about and lost to a pair of Teferi control decks. Even with the huge threats in LD factors featured in the deck, each one is still left vulnerable to Cancel or removal taking out a few key threats. Although Teferi is hardly backbreaking here, he reduces any tricks the G/R opponent has to nil. And of course Akroma, Angel of Fury was only played in 3-4 of the Top 50 G/R decks.

As for WW, that’s the deck my friends and I had tested the most and were most comfortable with. Elias Vaisberg took our WW deck and made Day 2 at 5-3, where he proceeded to play against anti-WW decks for most of the day and finished 3-5 in 99th place. The deck we used was the same one from my article, the base of which everyone had basically figured out and was only differing in 8-10 slots in each list. For reference:

If I remember correctly, Elias ended up playing the fourth Shade and Serrated Arrows in the board, but those are the only significant differences.

Our logic was simply that playing the most consistent non-control deck would maximize the benefits against unprepared players who had switched decks or gotten them off other pros. In addition, the deck was one of the best at wiping the floor with opponents who stall on lands or don’t get the right draws. Obviously the concern was that people would adapt appropriately, but not to the extent that they did.

As for the tri-colored decks, U/B/W and U/B/R Teferi Control for minor splashes ended up doing very well. None of the Top 50 decks took on a heavy third color to due to the mana constraints of the format. Shaheen Soorani played Blink Riders to a Day 2 finish, and may of landed higher than 74th, but supposedly he played like garbage for most of the day and that cost him. Other than his potential success story, almost no true three-color decks made the leap to Day 2 and confirmed the common theory that the mana in the format is still awful. Also explains the high rate of Prismatic Lens being played in practically half the decks in the format.

Combo? Oh boy, that was a disaster at Yokohama. A whole two Wild Pair decks made it into the Top 50, and they were bare-bones Sliver Pair. No special tech, no brilliant metagaming, the same old stock lists that were floating around the net pre-tourney. As for other combo, besides those two Pair decks… Nada. It doesn’t shock me that no combo did well in a Teferi-infested metagame, but it does surprise me the two that did make it were just basic builds.

So Yokohama in a nutshell:

WW is known as the best deck and gets hated out.
Mono-Red is found not to scoop to WW and shockingly enough isn’t hated out of the tourney!
R/G mana ramp decks were popular and did well, largely because if you got lucky with the pairings you could dodge all the remaining WW decks by round 5.
Teferi is good. People built around that fact. Who knew?
Other decks did quite well, but there was no standout rogue creation that crashed the tournament and even made a significant non-Top-8 impact.

The Future is Now!

Barren Glory combo time! In all seriousness, Future Sight brings a bunch of goodies to the table, and it’ll be interesting to see what new developments take place when we have access to much cleaner manabases and some cards that really push the edge of design. As with all things in TS block though, we’ll start with WW.

Lumithread Field – excuse me for a moment…


So wait, Sulfur Elemental dot Pro Tour just took place and they printed a hoser for the hoser? Sweet. I love the fact that one of these dorks essentially turns Sulfur Elemental into a one-for-one burn spell at best. Oh and it’s a 2/2 dork otherwise? Works for me.

Blade of the Sixth Pride – Vanilla creature, but by far the most aggressive creature we have in block. Think Keldon Marauders that isn’t going to die in two turns. Sure, you don’t get the two “free” damage, but if you attack twice with this card, you’ve just gotten one more damage than it anyway.

Mistmeadow Skulk – If only Griffin Guide could go on here…

Magus of the Moat – Nooooooooooooooooooooo… why even bother allowing myself hope that WW doesn’t somehow get wrecked by hosers in this block. Good luck removing this guy; other than Gaze of Justice I mean.

Now we move on to cards that are cool, or ones that I can think of uses for off the top of my head.

Mystic SpeculationSensei’s Divining Top pretending to be Brainstorm. Considering how weak the manipulation in this block is, it’s not a stretch to see this being used in all sorts of Blue control decks or combo (if such a thing ever becomes reality). Combined with shuffle effects, this becomes one of the better card quality methods around, while possibly making Green* a far more significant component of decks.

* So I get to set-up my best draws while accelerating myself towards Wild Pair or huge creature? That could work…

Delay – I think we all could’ve lived without Remand 2.0 for at least one block. On the plus side, maybe this won’t just make Teferi control even stronger for no good reason! Perhaps aggro-control will use it, and between Mana Tithe and itself have enough good counters to exist! I wish anyway.

Infiltrator il-Kor – No idea about block other than it makes the “Fish” deck better, but I can’t wait to annoy the heck out of people with this card in Limited!

Narcomoeba – Too bad they didn’t make new Dredge cards. Vintage and Extended will have loads of fun with this guy.

Nix – Teferi wasn’t enough?

Venser, Shaper Savant – Really, wasn’t Teferi enough?

Magus of the Abyss – Everybody called this one. Another card to beat aggro over the head with, yet so much worse than the other Magus from this cycle, due to its self-destructing nature.

Street Wraith – This is a very scary card. It breaks the fundamental rules, because you basically get a 56-card deck. The severity of the drawback of paying two life will basically tell you how fair your format is. In Vintage I can’t see anything but a handful of decks not playing this card. In Extended, I see enough decks (especially Life from the Loam) that would love to have this effect, and make it worthwhile even in the face of Zoo and Affinity decks. Standard and Block… it really depends. Dragonstorm sure, but what after that?

Imperiosaur – Nice 5/5 on the cheap.

Magus of the Vineyard – Maybe broken, maybe fair, it all depends on what sick combo decks get cooked up between now and the PTQs. If you haven’t played with the original Eladamri’s Vineyard, the best way I can describe it would be:

“I miss, you get a shot. You miss, I get a shot. Here we go.”

Quagnoth – Super Scragnoth! Doubt he’ll see too much play, but good luck actually killing this guy outside of Damnation. His extra power may let him be fast enough to be an effective anti-control critter until the big boys like Hellkite come down to play. It certainly forces the issue for many Blue decks.

Riftsweeper – They printed Minesweeper as an actual card, how cute! Pretty spicy when you consider how many Aeon Chronicler got played at Yokohama as the main card drawing engines for most Blue decks.

Tarmogoyf – Amazing in Threshold, not so amazing everywhere else.

Cloud Key – Because Locket of Yesterdays and Magus of the Future needed a buddy to make themselves extra-useful.

Coalition Relic – More mana-fixing goodness! I will ask though, what the heck is the ability on this card for? Somebody smarter than me please explain it.

The Set in Which Vintage Gets Stupider

There are seven or eight cards that could have potential impact on Vintage, and at least five of them are going to have a significant impact. For reference, this is a rough list I threw together once I saw that the spoiler cards were confirmed.


4 Land Grant
4 Cabal Ritual
4 Dark Ritual
4 Chromatic Star
4 Chromatic Sphere
2 Elvish Spirit Guide
1 Mox Sapphire
1 Mox Ruby
1 Mox Pearl
1 Mox Jet
1 Mox Emerald
1 Lotus Petal
1 Mana Crypt
1 Mana Vault
1 Black Lotus
1 Sol Ring
1 Chrome Mox
1 Bayou
1 Yawgmoth’s Will
4 Street Wraith
4 Spoils of the Vault
4 Infernal Tutor
1 Demonic Tutor
1 Demonic Consultation
1 Ancestral Recall
1 Imperial Seal
1 Vampiric Tutor
4 Tendrils of Agony
4 Pact of Negation

Now this certainly isn’t the end all be all of Vintage combo, but I was amazed at the boost this deck got from just Street Wraith and Pact of Negation .The problem with this archetype for me wasn’t that it lost to Force of Will off and on; the turn 1 kill rate made up for that. What annoyed me to no end were hands that were turn 2 kills, but would give my opponent a chance to Brainstorm or Merchant Scroll for Force of Will.

With Pact of Negation, those problems go away for the most part. As often as they’ll have Force of Will to stop me, I’ll have my own counter in storage waiting to take them out. Heck, it can even help on turn 1 when you’re beating up a helpless opponent. Pact on an extra Chromatic Star or Land Grant builds up a storm and empties the hand for Infernal Tutor to function.

What scares me more is how much faster Ichorid gets with the addition of Wraith, Bridge from Below, and Narcomoeba. At this point initial testing is indicating that Ichorid becomes much more of a Dread Return deck and wins on turn 2 at best, or sets up a win on turn 3 after multiple Cabal Therapy at worst. I’m sure you’ll hear more about that in the weeks to come.

For reference, the cards I refer to from FS: Aven Mindcensor, Street Wraith, Bridge from Below, Narcomoeba, Pact of Negation, Summoner’s Pact, and Edge of Autumn.

That’s all from this week; next week is a whole new ballgame since it’ll be quite a bit before Block becomes relevant again. I’ll keep track of it on MTGO, but I expect the next 2-3 weeks to be copies of the PT decks and WW still. So join me next time when I talk about something random.

Josh Silvestri
Team Reflection
Email me at: JoshDOTsilvestriATgmailDOTcom

My memories here have stopped
When I arrive there, I’m uncertain
That’s a sentimental SOS
Now, the answers stretch out ahead
N.G.S. – Asian Kung-Fu Generation