Deconstructing Constructed – Examining A PTQ Top 8

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Tuesday, August 19th – I played at a PTQ this week, and did pretty poor because I didn’t cave in to the gnawing sensation in the back of my head urging me to audible to Kithkin 45 minutes before the tournament started. Instead, I decided to play Doran, and lost to Mono-Green Elves and MRA.

I played at a PTQ this week, and did pretty poor because I didn’t cave in to the gnawing sensation in the back of my head urging me to audible to Kithkin 45 minutes before the tournament started. Instead, I decided to play Doran, lose to Mono-Green Elves* and MRA, and drop by round 5 to go hunt for drafts and get some drawing done. And I met people! Hello, IRC person who I can attach a real name to, JP.

In another twist of fate, I hung around long enough to have Riki** let me go over the Top 8 lists and copy them down for public consumption.

For the most part, the Top 8 was rather informative; 3 Kithkin, 1 Fae, 1 Elemental Doran, 1 Merfolk, 1 Five-Color Control, and 1 U/B Kelpie control. It doesn’t tell the whole story however, as a couple of X-1-1’s missed out on tiebreaks running Kithkin. Sorry Justin, better luck next time. Congrats to Walter Shatford for making Top 8 with Kithkin after the Grand Prix Denver performance.

The Kithkin lists aren’t particularly fresh in any way, just well built and sticking to what works. That said, the deck works very well, and for my money is the best deck at the PTQ level. It isn’t the most powerful (Doran or Bloom Tender Elementals takes that), and it isn’t the most tricky (Fae), but it’s relatively straightforward to play and has some of the best cards in the format. How many games have you lost in testing to Mirrorweave or Cloudgoat Ranger? If you’re anything like me, the number is likely around “too freaking many,” and “I wish I was as good at Magic at you, rip more Cloudgoat please.” Figure of Destiny just added another pain to the deck; the same can be said of Stillmoon Cavalier. At this point the deck combines some of the best aspects of speed, threats, redundancy, and topdecking ability in the format. There was plenty of copies of this deck floating around the PTQ, and I expect a huge amount of it for any remaining PTQ’s.

Decks you want to be able to smash in order in most PTQ metagames:

1. Kithkin
2. Faeries
3. Five-Color Control

After that, it’d be nice if you could beat up on U/B Raven’s Crime control decks (like the one Zac Hill posted last week), MRA, and Doran. But realistically, if you just want to beat the most represented decks and the ones the majority of good players will likely be learning toward, those are the three to focus on. The most important would still be Kithkin to me, since you don’t need to be a master to smash face with it. There were a number of Kithkin players that just missed Top 8 by a match win (or on tiebreaks), players in their first PTQ – or first PTQ in a number of years – and the deck allowed them to compete without issues.

I’m not saying playing Fae is now a bad choice, but rather that Kithkin may be a touch better for the majority of players, and people now understand that. For example, the deck choice I played, Doran, was easily more powerful than any of my five opponent’s decks in the swiss. However, I had significant problems with the exact mana count, and getting certain cards in the deck to function optimally, because of the space limitations involved. You can make Doran in such a fashion to have a favorable match against anything in the format; it just becomes a question of trying to balance the aspects out so you merely have good matches against the more popular chunks in the metagame. The other issue is the mana awkwardness when you use some of these cards… I had Scarblade Elite, Firespout, Chameleon Colossus, and Doran all competing for equal castability, and that puts a big strain on the mana even with Vivids, Bosk, and Reflecting Pool. It isn’t that you won’t get the mana eventually; rather, it becomes a struggle to hit the curve you want to be on. The deck gets a lot worse when you can’t hit your drops in proper order or Firespout until you’ve already dropped to 4-5 life.

From our Top 8, Steve Edelson was playing the most interesting deck. I was leery of the U/B Kelpie deck, but thought it had a lot of potential. However, a lot of those worries I had toward the deck beating Fae and aggro went out the window after seeing this version of the deck in action.

Steve Edelson, Top 8, PTQ in Santa Clara, CA

U/B Retrace Control

2 Puppeteer Clique
3 River Kelpie
4 Soul Snuffers
4 Mulldrifter
4 Shriekmaw
4 Raven’s Crime
2 Thoughtseize
4 Makeshift Mannequin
2 Nameless Inversion
4 Cryptic Command
8 Island
7 Swamp
4 Sunken Ruins
4 Secluded Glen
4 Mutavault

2 Profane Command
1 Oona, Queen of the Fae
1 Oona’s Grave
2 Sower of Temptation
1 Nameless Inversion
2 Thoughtseize
4 Fulminator Mage
2 Festercreep

The deck just dominates Kithkin decks with a huge amount of removal between the maindeck and board, running the full Snuffers set and Mannequin to reuse it. My personal favorite play has to be casting Soul Snuffers after a Cloudgoat has been dropped, clearing most of the board and then trading with the Goat shortly after. At that point Puppeteer Clique comes down to return Cloudgoat, give the U/B player his own set of tokens, and then provide a flying beatdown guy later. For the most part, Kith finally finds a dance partner that can produce not only a sweeper effect, but a significant card engine to deal with the threats that produce multiple tokens at once.

Against Faeries the match seems to be mostly about Bitterblossom… shocking, I know. Part of the issue is the deck has problems with Bitterblossom once it resolves; it can’t outright kill it, it can merely destroy all the tokens it produces, which sounds great in theory. But theory is a treacherous thing that can disintegrate at any time, like a conversation with my family. The biggest problems I can see with the match from a non-Bitterblossom perspective are the hands where you have very little to do except trying to get the Raven’s Crime online. I know it’s supposedly hard for Fae to race you, but the problem stems from certain hands being the equivalent of 4-5 lands, a Raven’s Crime or Kelpie, and something else. Although having extra lands is good in most matches, it makes mulligans (especially in the face of Thoughtseize) pretty miserable when trying to find a high-business hand. You do run a lot of removal, so it isn’t like impossible to keep a bunch of Fae in line, but I think people underestimate how quickly you can die to three damage a turn. A resolved Scion or Clique can cause a quick end if you haven’t already prepared a contingency plan.

Five-Color Control is like a joke under most circumstances… they need Runed Halo on Raven’s Crime to even be in the game. Other than that issue, they have no good answer to Puppeteer Clique, Kelpie, or Fulms plus Mannequin post-board. Normally I decry LD as a valid option, but here it works in tandem with the discard to provide a massive resource drain; as a result, it becomes incredibly effective instead of merely annoying. Then again, it could be something to do with the fact that every relevant card they have that ISN’T called Runed Halo costs five or more.

Speaking of cards costing five or more, it’s time to move onto a deck that hasn’t had an entire article written about it yet: Bloom Tender Elementals, showcased by Tomoharu Saitou.

Saito’s Elementals:

4 Reflecting Pool
4 Primal Beyond
2 Fire-lit Thicket
1 Sunken Ruins
1 Fetid Heath
1 Graven Cairns
4 Gilt-Leaf Palace
4 Vivid Marsh
3 Vivid Crag

4 Smokebraider
4 Bloom Tender

4 Chameleon Colossus
4 Mulldrifter
4 Ashenmoor Gouger
3 Horde of Notions
3 Shriekmaw

3 Nameless Inversion
4 Firespout
3 Makeshift Mannequin

Big thanks to the forumite who posted the list up after my request. We may not have a sideboard, but this gives us a good idea of why I thought the deck is full of awesome anyway. This is one of the decks I was thinking about running, and I kind of feel bad that I ran out on doing so. Bloom Tender is pretty sick at getting you a solid mana boost with the hybrids and evoke creatures all about. Ashenmoor Gouger is especially fun times, when you get a 4/4 on turn 3 and then use Tender to power out a card to blow things up. Or alternatively, have fun evoking on turn 3 and then playing anything huge on turn 4. The only thing that I really missed was Cloudthresher, and I wanted to maindeck a few because I still have an irrational fear of Faeries (and because you run Makeshift Mannequin in the deck).

Of course, with the metagame changing since this originally saw any coverage at all, there are a few changes you may want to make. Soul Snuffers, despite killing off your mana acceleration creatures, may be a necessary evil at this point to deal with Kithkin game 1. Also I’d prefer the 4th Mannequin in the deck over the 4th Firespout or 3rd Inversion as a result. You also may want to cut a single Tender, simply because they suck in multiples. Smokebraider has a little more use in the deck simply because you can control the colors involved. Necroskitter should definitely be a consideration for the board, especially when combined with Soul Snuffers, since it can basically lock Kithkin out of the game if they don’t keep Ajani in play.

Simply put, this deck is a nice rainbow puddle in a dull monochrome world. Many large creatures, a legitimate draw engine, and tons of options post-board. The only real drawback to the deck is that it gets hamstrung at times into the single threat tap-out plan that Faeries preys upon. Also, unlike Doran decks, this midrange big beast build doesn’t have a good answer to Archon of Justice, past running into it head on. The same can be said for getting by opposing Chameleon Colossus and Doran, as they can’t be hit by Maw, which leaves trying to battle with them directly and that doesn’t end too well.

For what it’s worth, I have a PTQ next week that I can probably attend, and if I do I’m on the fence about playing Kithkin, a modified Elementals deck, or my own Kelpie horror. In the case of the latter, I’ll list it in the forums if anyone is interested. Otherwise I recommend Kithkin as a general choice, the Kelpie deck if your metagame is mostly Kith and control, or Fae if you feel comfortable having mostly 45-55% matches across the board.

Best of luck.

Josh Silvestri
Team Reflection
Email me at: joshDOTsilvestriATgmailDOTcom

* Summary of match:

Him: Turn 2 Vanquisher
Me: Turn 3 Doran
Him: Turn 3 Tower Above
Me: … *must resist urge to flip table*

** Yes, that Riki, the one that writes all the cool articles that finally got to Head Judge an event. Go team!

*** Tiebreakers suck… good try, Justin.