Deconstructing Constructed – Grand Prix Lessons

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Tuesday, June 3rd – Grand Prix: Birmingham is now done. Shock of shocks, Kithkin and Faeries took the top two slots, and both featured three copies respectively in the Top 8, joined only by Raphael Levy’s Elemental control and Manuel Bucher’s Command control deck. These results are basically in-line with what a number of people thought might happen at this Grand Prix considering the short break from Pro Tour: Hollywood for this new format.

Grand Prix: Birmingham is now done. Shock of shocks, Kithkin and Faeries took the top two slots, and both featured three copies respectively in the Top 8, joined only by Raphael Levy Elemental control and Manuel Bucher Command control deck. These results are basically in-line with what a number of people thought might happen at this Grand Prix considering the short break from Pro Tour: Hollywood for this new format. In addition, this is the biggest block format to date (one that will only get bigger with Eventide), which means there are a lot of possibilities that likely have been glossed over.

All of that said, Kithkin and Faeries did so well because they are good in this format, not just because of the newness of the format and prep-time issues. Kithkin is very aggressive and difficult to stop with spot or mass removal, and Mirrorweave / Lieges can let the deck kill on turn 4-6 quite often. As a control deck you not only have to stop their first swarm, but often a second and third as well. This is made even more difficult when the cheap sweeper in the format is stopped cold by Forge[/author]-Tender”]Burrenton [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author]-Tender, which some Kithkin decks have moved to the maindeck.

Faeries, on the other hand, did well because it runs three of the best cards in the format along with card manipulation. Bitterblossom, Mistbind Clique and Cryptic Command are all ridiculous, and it’s even simpler to get them online in Block compared to Standard. The rest of the cards still range from support to complete garbage* outside of certain situations, along with Ponder to help filter and find one of the twelve really good cards you run. As far as the sideboard goes, the use of Incremental Blight is probably the most interesting addition from Fortier’s deck. Surviving the early game and then casting mini-Wrath is pretty helpful, though not game over, as game 2 of the finals showed us.

* Spellstutter Spite in particular takes a big hit when moving to Block… it’s terrible in some matches and usable in others, but it can’t be counted on in the mid-game without Bitterblossom, and a 1/1 flyer in this format just sucks.

To put this in perspective, on Day 1 there was 202 Kithkin and Faeries decks out of a field of 578, which means about 35% of the field was one of these two decks. This translated to 42 of them moving on, 65.5% of the field Day 2 of the GP being Fae and Kithkin. Then we move on to the Top 8 and have 3 copies of each deck respectively, which means 75% of the Top 8 was these two decks. Oh, and then they came in first and second at the GP. I’d say that was a good run for both of the most popular decks coming in, and far closer to what some predicted would happen at Pro Tour: Faeries just last week.

Our esteemed editor ended up dropping his Doran deck before the Grand Prix, and this turned out to be an excellent decision with only one Doran deck out of 53 advancing to Day 2. Elementals had a similar bout of luck, with only 3 of 54 advancing, which seems a bit perplexing considering just how many weapons the deck has at its disposal. One of the most interesting things to note is that Fae didn’t actually have the best advancing percentage to Day 2. Rather, Mannequin did with 25% (4 of 16) advancing. Geared to beat aggro, one could see why Mannequin, which up to this point had been mostly carved up and pieces of the strategy used in other decks, could succeed in such an aggro-happy field. Bucher had a quip about Mind Spring being his MVP for the weekend, and that helps to explain why such a deck could succeed. Almost no deck in the format can really recover card advantage; instead they just try to overwhelm decks with virtual card advantage from their opening plays and topdecks. A deck like Mannequin can focus around just casting and recasting Mulldrifter with little ill-will. Incremental Blight or Firespout also can give it a Wrath it never had, since previously it could only rely on cards like Shriekmaw and Nameless Inversion to kill off single creatures.

Now let’s focus on some of the more subtle differences between the builds in the Top 8.

I think one could safely assume only running 2 Rustic Clachan in Tian’s build was simply due to card consideration issues rather than a conscious decision not to run them, considering the make-up of the deck. Otherwise many of the creature and key spell choices are the same; they agree on all of the ‘main Kithkin’ such as Cenn, Stalwart, etc. save Tian straying from the norm with only 3 Cloudgoat Ranger and 2 Liege. That said, it’s understandable since he had reduced his land count from 26 to 24 and the extra drops could end up dead more often.

Personally I like the maindeck Forge[/author]-Tender”]Burrenton [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author]-Tender over a few other spells, since they deal with one of the few cards that are an outright beating against you while giving you another cheap man to swarm with. Of course, this may come at the cost of Harriers or Oblivion Ring, so you have to weigh the options here. For me, having another way to beat what amounts to Pyroclasm is good times, especially when I can most likely swarm around threats O-Ring would be used on, and Bitterblossom is largely a joke against Kithkin. I’d also recommend keeping 3 Mirrorweave in the maindeck simply because it’s one of the few reasons to play the deck in the first place. One thing to keep in mind is that with a high number of people using Thistledown Liege, its surprise value is greatly diminished.

Sideboard-wise is the one place I think Tian got right moreso than the other two Kithkin decks. Cards like Ajani Goldmane, Oversoul of Dusk, and Thorn of Amethyst are complete garbage and shouldn’t be coming near the deck. The problems with the first two are cost and effectiveness. Something like Ajani is great when you’re winning; the problem is that if you’re winning then you already have cards like Surge of Thoughtweft and Mirrorweave to win the game for you at that point. Oversoul of Dusk doesn’t jive well with the idea that all your creatures are either very mana efficient or making more creatures when they hit play. Especially in a format full of Faeries and Kithkin, a five-mana slower sorcery speed dork doesn’t seem great. Thorn is just random in a format where even most of the control decks are over half creatures.

On the other hand, Tien didn’t maindeck the Forge-Tender, so that’s obviously there as a set. Backing them up, however, is Kinsbaile Borderguard, which is yet another creature to keep your swarm alive, but it also is cheap enough to hit before Firespout. Two of the more interesting choices were Thoughtweft Gambit and Brigid. Brigid I covered last week, and her usefulness is in defeating swarm decks while not being a terrible creature on her own. Gambit is a unique choice that Tien mostly hid under Windbrisk Heights (a six mana spell on 24 land… not much of a surprise) that he used to win his quarterfinal and semi-final matches by disabling his opponent’s blockers. Against any creature deck, it can break a stalemate by tapping out blockers and leaving your own guys back to stop any counterattacks. I’d feel more comfortable with the 26 land build playing it, but it clearly worked for Tien.

If one were to hybridize the builds presented, you’d likely come up with something like so:

4 Mutavault
14 Plains
4 Rustic Clachan
4 Windbrisk Heights
26 lands

4 Forge[/author]-Tender”]Burrenton [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author]-Tender
4 Cloudgoat Ranger
4 Goldmeadow Stalwart
4 Knight of Meadowgrain
3 Thistledown Liege
4 Wizened Cenn
2 Goldmeadow Harrier
25 creatures

2 Militia’s Pride
3 Mirrorweave
2 Oblivion Ring
4 Spectral Procession
11 Spells

Obviously it’s two cards over, but you get the idea of what it’d look like just using the consensus approach. Cut two Harrier and suddenly you have the deck if it looked ‘normal’ number-wise. Sideboard-wise I think Brigid, Oblivion Ring, some combination of Gambit and Pollen Lullaby are basically must-haves, and Reveillark or Borderguard make a strong case for also being in there.

Moving on to the other heavy hitter in the format, Faeries, it seems there’s no real need to list every single Faerie deck because they literally all look the same save the sideboard. There’s only one key difference, which is demonstrated in Remi Fortier’s build versus the other two.

Look at the Sower of Temptation numbers in the deck here and then compare to the other two Faeries decks that made top eight. Remi went the extra mile and ran three in the maindeck along with one in the board. The others ran 1 and 0 in the maindeck respectively.

Remi: 3 main, 1 sideboard
Malin: 1 main, 2 sideboard
Künzler: 0 main, 2 sideboard

Personally I love Sower in this format. The card is sick, since you always have a juicy target to steal. Sure, it gets blown up along with the other Fae in the face of a sweeper, but if they don’t have it you pretty much just blew them out unless it’s the mirror match. And even there, as some can tell you, stealing a Scion or Clique can be very good if you can pull it off.

Basically, even if you aren’t going to rack more than one or two, you should be putting the remaining ones in the sideboard. Let me put it like this: Spellstutter Spirte is a sub-optimal card* most of the time, and you run a full set of that (mostly due to cost). Sower is a huge beating against half the field and sub-optimal against the other half. The slight intangibles Sprite brings to the table shouldn’t justify it as a four-of versus zero Sower main unless the format becomes literally all Kithkin and Fae. In which case I’m going to advocate running Firespout anyway… And it assumes that nobody is going to come up with a different aggro or midrange deck for the metagame that Sower happens to suck against, which I seriously doubt.

In my experience, you simply are making life harder for yourself by not running Sowers maindeck. If you really think there will be that many matches where it isn’t useful, then that’s your prerogative. As someone wise once said, “Some motherf*****s are always trying to ice-skate uphill,” and nobody is going to stop you.

Some Faeries decks, as mentioned in the podcast, are also running the Mannequin transformational board I mentioned last week. Until I see one of those lists, obviously I can’t give you the exact details, but Mulldrifter, Shriekmaw, and Mannequin are basically all you need to have and suddenly you can switch over to a much more controlling board presence against a deck like Kithkin. Especially if two or three of those ‘other’ slots happen to be Incremental Blight to go along with your now eight 1B removal spells.

Otherwise there wasn’t much in the way of excitement toward innovation in the Faeries decks. Most of them are pretty much 56 card copies of each other in the maindeck, and sideboards have basically all agreed to pool from the same 10 cards everyone knew were awesome.

Next week we’ll be going over the control decks of the format, ranging from Elemental Control to 10 Commandments to Bucher’s version, and potentially some other variants from the Grand Prix and additional testing. See you then!

Josh Silvestri
Team Reflection
Email me at: joshDOTsilvestriATgmailDOTcom

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