How â€˜bout that Pro Tour: Hollywood? So much to discuss! Let’s get right into it.
First, two general observations.
Every single deck in the Top 8 played 4-8 manlands; even the two tri-color combo decks managed to squeeze Mutavault into their manabases. The Tribal decks in particular benefit from the inclusion of Mutavault alongside another manland, as the Vault expands to 3/3 with the presence of any tribal lord, so it is almost always worth their while to fit the card into their lists unless it will create monumental color difficulties for them.
Their ubiquitous presence in the Top 8 decks suggests that manlands are more important in this format than the amount of press they have been getting suggests. In formats past, manlands have often been more of a bonus than anything else; if you could fit Treetop Village into your Green deck without messing up the manabase, then great! Go for it. Now we have Shuhei Nakamura and the Pro Tour Champion himself playing straight-up G/B decks with only eleven lands out of 23-24 that tap for Black, just so they can squeeze in the maximum compliment of Treetop Villages and Mutavaults.
At this point the thinking seems to have shifted from “I’ll fit manlands into my manabase” to “I’ll start with the manlands I want and then make my colors fit around them.”
When the two Reveillark decks that splashed Red appeared in the Top 8, I was taken aback. It was the first time I’d seen anyone splashing Red as a third color in this environment in a very long time…which seems strange, given that even White finds a common splash in otherwise G/B Doran lists.
The bottom line is, Red’s best offerings really just do not function well in a three-color deck at all. Consider Magus of the Moon, Flame Javelin, and Skred. Each is a powerful card in its own right, but none functions very effectively when placed in the context of a three-color manabase; Magus will manascrew you if you are three colors (unless maybe you’re using green Sorceries and/or Terramorphic Expanse extensively to search out basics), Flame Javelin will lose the cost effectiveness that makes it worth playing, and Skred will not be castable for more than a couple of points of damage.
If you trim those three superstars off the list, Red’s remaining options for a three-color (or more) deck are pretty much limited to functioning as a utility splash – observe Reveillark’s Greater Gargadons and sideboard Pyroclasm or Quick â€˜n’ Toast’s Firespouts and sideboard Detritivore – or as an aggro base featuring staples like Keldon Marauders, Lash Out, and so on, with the other two colors coming as additions to an otherwise mono-red beatdown list.
Next, the Top 8 decks.
If you look at what the Top 8 competitors had to say about their Faeries matchups, even some of those that tuned to beat them admitted they weren’t doing much better than 50-50. Paulo Vitor, who was with Faeries himself, confessed that there was not much he could do about the mirror, and was only sideboarding the very common Thoughtseize – essentially relegating himself to 50-50 there as well, give or take playskill (which I’m told is a fairly minimal component of the Faeries mirror).
So, to sum up, the Faeries mirror was 50-50, and a decent chunk of players got their Faeries matchup to hover around 50-50…one could argue that in this tournament, Faeries was basically The Rock, sporting near-even matchups across the board except for the few rare good matchups (Reveillark, G/W Mana Ramp) they could prey on and the also-rare actively bad matchup (Red Burn, Stuart Wright R/B Tokens deck, and some Doran and Elves builds). As format-warping as the deck is, if it was really as close to 50-50 against most decks as reports suggest, it’s no surprise that it didn’t dominate the Top 8 like many predicted it would.
- 4 Llanowar Elves
- 4 Civic Wayfinder
- 1 Boreal Druid
- 4 Tarmogoyf
- 4 Imperious Perfect
- 4 Wren's Run Vanquisher
- 3 Chameleon Colossus
- 4 Llanowar Elves
- 3 Civic Wayfinder
- 2 Boreal Druid
- 4 Tarmogoyf
- 4 Imperious Perfect
- 4 Wren's Run Vanquisher
Gindy and Nakamura’s lists are only a few cards off; Gindy cut a Pendelhaven, two Garruks, a Profane Command, and a Boreal Druid to make room for three maindeck Chameleon Colossus and a fourth Civic Wayfinder. Gindy also chose Terror over Nameless Inversion, and went up to 4 copies from Nakamura’s 3. In other words, the only major change between the two decks was trimming some numbers here and there to make room for Chameleon Colossus in the main.
Their sideboards, however, are night and day. Nakamura’s board, handed to him by Tomoharu Saito, has no dedicated Faerie killers. No Firespouts, no Hurricanes, no Squall Lines, just 100% cards that could come in against a variety of decks. Gindy’s, on the other hand, loads up on lifegain with 4 Kitchen Finks and 2 Primal Command.
Having not yet taken either list for a spin, I’m hard-pressed to judge which sideboard will better equip those of us who are competing after the PT, but it’s interesting to note that two different maindecks in the Top 8, one from a U.S. player and one from a Japanese player, managed to differ only by Chameleon Colossus, the choice between Terror and Nameless Inversion, and a few number adjustments here and there. In a format as wide-open as this one, that is a very strong endorsement for those lists as the near-optimal core of what Elf decks should be based around going forward.
- 2 Greater Gargadon
- 2 Aven Riftwatcher
- 2 Body Double
- 2 Venser, Shaper Savant
- 4 Mulldrifter
- 4 Sower of Temptation
- 4 Reveillark
- 3 Greater Gargadon
- 3 Body Double
- 3 Bonded Fetch
- 2 Venser, Shaper Savant
- 4 Mulldrifter
- 4 Sower of Temptation
- 4 Reveillark
Reveillark’s appearance in the Top 8 reminds me of PT: Honolulu, where Owling Mine secured two Top 8 berths by consistently (and perhaps miraculously) avoiding the ubiquitous Zoo and R/G beatdown decks at that tournament, while happily beating up on just about everything else. Mihara and Choo did the same at this tournament, bravely sleeving up a deck that lost to Faeries, the 800-pound gorilla of the format, but which beat pretty much everything else. With Faeries representing 27% of day one and 21% of day two, each player was fortunate to pair against only three Faeries decks across the entire sixteen rounds (not too far off from the expected four encounters) and lost no matches to anything else – mana screw included – enabling them to waltz into the Top 8 with only those three losses under their belts.
Does that mean it’s a safe choice going forward? It depends on the tournament. For something like Regionals, where you really need that X-1-1 record across 7-10 rounds to make Top 8, it’s a seriously risky choice. You need to get paired against only one Faeries player and lose no other matches to mana screw or other unfortunate turns of fate, and those are dangerous odds. At something shorter, like Friday Night Magic, you can probably predict ahead of time how many Faeries players there will be – and if there are only one or two of them, suddenly your odds of dodging that bullet don’t look so bad.
I won’t dwell on this deck much longer, though, as I can guarantee that Peebles, our resident Reveillark expert, will have plenty more to say on the subject.
G/R Mana Ramp
Marvin the Bear has quietly added another Pro Tour Top 8 notch to his belt, and has done so with a very interesting take on G/R Mana Ramp archetype. Tarmogoyf sits on the bench to make room for extra maindeck removal; Marijn’s only maindeck ways to damage the opponent are 4 Chameleon Colossus, 3 Cloudthresher, 4 Kitchen Finks, 4 Treetop Village, and the lone Grim Poppet. Given the small quantity of actual finishers, can you blame him for choosing the Terror-proof Chameleon Colossus or the hardy Kitchen Finks as finishers before the vanilla power-and-toughness Goyf?
The real standout part of Marijn’s list is that it is one of the few non-beatdown decks that has found a way to beat Faeries without including cards that are dangerously sub-par in other matchups. Sure, he’s maindecking seven Wrath effects for the Fae (though it’s worth noting that only Skred and a hardcast Cloudthresher can handle a Mistbind Clique), but in a deck where the only thing that is consistently harmed by Firespout is Kitchen Finks, and hardcasting Cloudthresher is not only a reality, but a commonplace occurrence… it’s really not sacrificing all that much to achieve a positive Faeries matchup.
Finding a way to incorporate anti-Faeries cards that remain productive in other matchups seems to be the key to playing anything other than beatdown in this format, and only Marijn and Manuel Bucher (the originator of the Quick â€˜n’ Toast deck that Guillaume Wafo-Tapa crushed Day 1 with) seem to have succeeded in achieving the right mix.
- 4 Lord of Atlantis
- 2 Venser, Shaper Savant
- 4 Merrow Reejerey
- 4 Silvergill Adept
- 3 Sower of Temptation
- 2 Sygg, River Guide
- 2 Tideshaper Mystic
- 3 Stonybrook Banneret
- 4 Cursecatcher
Jan Ruess’s Merfolk list has some of the most surprising choices in the entire Top 8. Two Ancestral Vision? Three Cryptic Command? Sage’s Dousing before Rune Snag? Only one Faerie Conclave? Two Unsummon in the board?
Given that comes-into-play tapped lands do not seem to hurt Merfolk any more than they do Faeries, and that cutting three Islands would still leave Ruess with a massive sixteen turn 1 Blue sources, the only explanation I can come up with for the lack of Conclaves in his list is a fear of Magus of the Moon. While I understand that Merfolk is probably the format’s most ill-equipped deck to deal with that card, given how many times I watched Ruess sit with six lands out and nothing to do with them, I have to wonder if he was right to fear it as much as he apparently did.
As with Reveillark, I’m going to leave the dirty details on this deck to the writer who actually has firsthand experience with the archetype – Kyle Sanchez.
- 2 Llanowar Elves
- 4 Birds of Paradise
- 3 Riftsweeper
- 4 Tarmogoyf
- 4 Doran, the Siege Tower
- 3 Chameleon Colossus
- 4 Kitchen Finks
Having worked on a Doran deck for the past couple of weeks, I have an informed basis for comparison when I examine Nico Bohny’s Top 8 list. Though our builds share the expected 4 Doran, 4 Tarmogoyf, 4 Kitchen Finks, at least 4 turn 1 mana guys (he went with 4 Birds and 2 Elves instead of 4 Elves as I did), and at least 2 Thoughtseize, our builds diverge pretty quickly after that.
While I went with Terror and Oblivion Ring, Bohny played Nameless Inversion and Slaughter Pact as his two-mana and three-mana removal spells, respectively. He maindecked Chameleon Colossus (primarily to help beat other Green decks and for Murmuring Bosk, I would expect) and Riftsweeper (for Faeries), while I went with Bitterblossom and Ronom Unicorn.
Zac Hill and some others were testing my Doran list for the PT, and reported that it became pretty clear that the critical card in the matchup was not Bitterblossom, but rather Ancestral Vision. If Faeries didn’t resolve an Ancestral, Zac said, it was about 70-30 in Doran’s favor. Given that the combo deck of Hollywood turned out to be Gargadon-fueled Reveillark, not Seismic Assault-fueled Swans, I’d say Riftsweeper over Ronom Unicorn was not only the superior choice for Hollywood, it will continue to be the right one going forward.
Besides the additional Thoughtseizes, which are likely fine (I reflexively limited myself to two copies out of respect for the Red decks, but I never got to testing the Red matchup before the PT), the other big differences between our builds are Chameleon Colossus over Bitterblossom and Profane Command instead of Mana Tithe.
One of the things Zac commented on in testing was that once people knew about Mana Tithe, they would essentially never walk into it (past turn 1, when it is basically unavoidable) – and as it became very difficult for the deck’s manabase to be constantly keeping White open, the card quickly turned from a blowout into a burden. Given that, I can see making the cut.
The replacement of Profane Command makes a lot more sense, given how the metagame shook out, than I would have thought. The downsides of Command are that it is slow and prone to being countered, and not very good at killing large creatures when you’re only packing 23 lands and some mana Elves. This makes it suboptimal against Faeries (Cryptic Command on Profane Command is a huge beating) and both the G/W and G/R flavors of mana ramp, at least in comparison to the sleek tempo-generator Mana Tithe. On the other hand, against aggro and in the midrange beatdown mirror (which was everywhere, what with all the red burn, G/B Elves, and Doran decks running around at the PT), it is one of the biggest elbow-drops in the format.
Choosing Chameleon Colossus over the tougher-to-counter Bitterblossom is a potential hit to the Faeries matchup, but helps solve some of the deck’s mana problems by teaming up with Nameless Inversion and Doran to allow you to reasonably max out on Murmuring Bosks without expecting them to come into play tapped all the time. It is also quite a boost to the Elves matchup, where Bitterblossom will give you some dorks, but Colossus will demand constant chumping. Its superior applications against combo are self-evident; one of these two threats takes forever to do any damage at all, and the other swings for eight the turn after you play it.
Moving on, let’s take a look at some of the interesting decks that finished outside the Top 8.
Wow, is Shadow Guildmage good right now. If you watch the interview with Stuart Wright, he mentions that one of the steps he took in tuning his deck to have the edge on Faeries was adding Shadow Guildmage to take down their pingers. As an added bonus, the guy tears apart all manner of mana elves, Birds of Paradise, and Merfolk, which will likely start to dot the Standard environment in much the same proportions as they did the Top 8 of Hollywood. Ever since I saw Stu’s deck, I have been trying to figure out if there is any way I can profitably incorporate Shadow Guildmage into some deck of my own.
Besides the dubious honor of being the format’s best Kher Keep-abusing deck, Tokens holds the not-at-all dubious honor of being arguably the second-best Bitterblossom-abusing deck. Sure, he’s not pumping those tokens with Scion of Oona, championing Mistbind Clique, or turning Spellstutter Sprite into an improved Counterspell, but every 1/1 Stu’s Bitterblossom cranks out brings him one step closer to a Greater Gargadon, yields two extra points of direct damage via Furystoke Giant, and pumps Nantuko Husk +2/+2.
Stu’s manabase is a noteworthy departure from the norm – he plays zero manlands and zero comes-into-play-tapped lands (unless you count Auntie’s Hovel, but given the ten Goblins in his deck, that should usually be fine). At fifteen Red and fifteen Black sources, there is a case to be made for taking the G/B Elves approach to this manabase and cutting four Swamps and four Mountains to fit Ghitu Encampments and Mutavaults, but then again, Stu’s mana curve is higher than that of the Elves deck and he doesn’t have the mana Elves and Civic Wayfinders helping him out; it’s possible that he declined to include manlands simply because testing showed he simply never had the mana to activate them.
In any event, the deck looks very solid. It plays the format’s most powerful hoser in Magus of the Moon alongside Bitterblossom, perhaps the most powerful overall card in the format when properly abused – and Stu’s deck abuses it in spades. I’m not sure what knocked him down to 33rd instead of the Top 8 finish I’m sure he was aiming for (or Matt “Cheeks” Hansen to 21st with the same deck – though those two finishes alone should be endorsement enough that the deck is a real contender), but hopefully a tournament report will shed some light on that.
Quick â€˜n’ Toast
With enough bizarre card choices to melt Jim Roy’s brain and a manabase forged of solid greed, this Manuel Bucher creation is the first true control deck to succeed in this format.
Part bare-bones Mannequin deck (Mulldrifter, Cloudthresher, and Kitchen Finks are the spell’s only reasonable targets), part blue control deck (Rune Snag, Cryptic Command, Careful Consideration, Mulldrifter), and part anti-Faerie hate suite (Thresher, Firespout, and more in the board), this is easily the most schizophrenic control deck I have ever seen.
It’s also completely masterful. It packs hate for Faeries, burn decks, and Magus of the Moon, all in the maindeck. It has enough draw spells to make a Thoughtseize cry for mercy. It has counters aplenty for Reveillark, and can operate almost entirely on the opponent’s end step if need be; who needs Teferi when you have Cloudthresher? It does all this on a manabase of 24 lands, only four of which are painlands. Simply incredible.
Of all the new decks in the tournament, I predict this one will have the greatest impact on the format. For the first time in a long time, control players will be able to play control in Standard. Potentially, this could change everything.
Giants and Kithkin: Where’s the Beef?
If you count Stuart’s B/R Tokens deck as the format’s Goblins offering (a bit of a stretch), and the Dorans and Murmuring Bosks in the Top 8 as indicative of the presence of the Treefolk tribe (quite a stretch), then most of Lorywn’s tribes made their mark on Hollywood. The three that were left in the dust were Kithkin, Giants, and Elementals. What’s keeping these guys from competing on the same level as the other tribes?
Perhaps the greatest problem with the Kithkin tribe is its double White requirements. Wizened Cenn and Knight of Meadowgrain are probably the two all-around best two-drops in the tribe (Gaddock Teeg is decidedly matchup-dependent), and they both require double White. This is a problem because of manlands, Cryptic Command, and Flame Javelin. Running eight double-White two-drops in a deck alongside Mutavault, Treetop Village, Faerie Conclave, or Ghitu Encampment will lead to a lot of mulligans (a two-lander might be fine normally, but Plains, Mutavault, Cenn, Meadowgrain is a real stinker). Manlands are a real house in this format – except for the White and Black ones – and playing a deck that demands as much of a White commitment as Kithkin does means you’re going to have some serious mana issues if you try to play the ideal eight manlands in even a two-color list, since you can be sure neither of those manlands is going to tap for White.
And Giants? What Giants? I guess there are always Countryside Crusher and Jotun Grunt. Oh, and the unfortunately legendary Brion Stoutarm. Maybe Thundercloud Shaman or Feudkiller’s Verdict? Stonehewer Giant?
The fundamental problem with the Giant tribe is the same one the Treefolk tribe suffers: a major drought in playables. (Treefolk sorta-kinda overcomes this a cheating sort of way due to two very strong playables, Doran and Murmuring Bosk.) Seriously, Giants, where’s the beef? Most of these guys are simply far too expensive for Constructed play, and the fragile Stinkdrinker Daredevil is not enough reason to attempt the Giant Mana Ramp gambit (no pun intended).
As far as I can tell, the best Giant card in the format is Ancient Ampitheater, which suggests that the most compelling reason to play Giants like Countryside Crusher, Jotun Grunt, and Brion Stoutarm is to provide mana fixing for some Boros deck or perhaps a three-color concoction. As per my previous discussion on Red’s role in a three-color deck as either an aggro base or as a utility splash (with the utility splash option pretty much ruled out by the fact that Crusher costs double Red), it’s looking like the only helpful role Ancient Ampitheater is likely to play is as a color fixer in a three-color aggro deck or a Boros aggro or midrange deck of some sort. Blech.
Okay, and Elementals? The other, other Jackal Pup tribe? (After Tattermunge Maniac from Goblins and Goldmeadow Stalwart from Kithkin.)
Honestly, as near as I can tell, the best things Elementals have going for them is the color mix to play Shadow Guildmage and the only genuinely affordable Harbinger. At a single Red mana, Flamekin Harbinger actually compares reasonably well to Worldly Tutor, sacrificing Instant speed for a free 1/1 body, and branching out to include Nameless Inversions and the like at the expense of only being able to fetch out Elemental creatures.
Incandescent Soulstoke doesn’t seem like much of a Lord when compared to the gold standard of Imperious Perfect, though its ability does work quite nicely with a few of the Elementals – Shriekmaw, Nova Chaser, Dread, and Sunflare Shaman in particular.
Well, what the heck? Following the design pattern of the G/B Elves deck, let’s see if I can make an Elementals deck that looks worth pursuing. The manabase is cake; I definitely want eight manlands and a Pendelhaven or two, and the rest can be an even mix of Black and Red producers. Thoughtseize seems an acceptable four-of in this environment, and I’ll want Shriekmaw instead of Terror as long as I’m summoning creatures like Smokebraider and Incandescent Soulstoke anyway.
- 4 Shadow Guildmage
- 3 Magus of the Moon
- 2 Dread
- 4 Flamekin Harbinger
- 4 Incandescent Soulstoke
- 1 Nova Chaser
- 4 Shriekmaw
- 4 Smokebraider
- 1 Spitebellows
- 1 Sunflare Shaman
If you hadn’t guessed, I used the sideboard space as more of a notepad than anything else; besides the obvious one-of Magus, the remaining one-ofs are more reminders of speculative maindeck inclusions (“should I try this guy?”) than actual sideboard inclusions.
So what does this have going for it? Broadly speaking, it is a midrange beatdown deck with Thoughtseize, Shadow Guildmage, Magus of the Moon, Flamekin Harbinger, and Smokebraider. Those are all solid cards in this deck, and maybe the fact that they have a sub-par tribe backing them up will not be too much of a problem. As Flamekin Bladewhirl, Ashenmoor Gouger (you really want to run that guy in a 4 Mutavault deck?) and maaaybe Nova Chaser are the only cards that would lean me towards a hyper-aggressive Elemental beatdown deck, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that midrange beats are the way to go for this tribe if they are to ever succeed.
Smokebraider is really interesting in this list; his mana can be used to cast literally every spell in the deck except for Shadow Guildmage, Magus of the Moon, Thoughtseize, and the one Profane Command. He can also be used to pay for any activated ability in the deck except for those of Shadow Guildmage and the lands. (Technically, if Mutavault is already a creature this turn and you activate Smokebraider to pay for something that leaves you with floating mana afterwards, you can activate Mutavault again to avoid burning.)
Are these factors enough to make the deck a contender? I’m not sure, but it’s an interesting exercise nonetheless.
That’s it for this week. Next week I’ll take a look at some promising applications of the Top 8 Tribal formula on some fresh new decklists.
See you then!