Down And Dirty – The Top 10 Decks of 2008

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Tuesday, December 23rd – Today’s Down And Dirty sees Kyle looking back over the stronger decks designed throughout 2008. With eyes mainly on Standard and Extended, he brings us his personal contenders for the Top 8 decks of the year. Do you agree with his assessments?

Throughout 2008, there have been a host of innovative and brilliant 60-card configurations that have defined the various formats in which we’ve played. Today I’d like to take an excursion into the not-so-distant past to recap and pay tribute to the top decks of the year, along with the pilots that took a simple idea of success and crafted it into lasting memories and achievements. These are the top decks of 2008.

Honorable Mentions

GFabs had a monstrous start to the season, claiming the Grand Prix win that has eluded him during his near decade-long career. His deck choice was a near copy of the Barra Rock deck that peaked in Valencia the previous season. Despite his win, this deck had an extremely meager showing during the following PTQ season, which really begs the questions why it’s here at all… I honestly just like typing Fabiano and, with the rugged manly name Gerard leading up to the Fabiano, it rivals cellar door as most beautiful linguistic combo in our wonderful world. He makes me smile with my heart.

There were several fine tuned Rock decks successful in LA on that fateful day, but Gindy rose to the top like a busty broad in business, and given his petite frame compared to some of the other names in that 8, its quite an accomplishment. His Sunday play was crisp and decisive and his deck choice was fluid like a heated pan of butter.

Gindy Rock didn’t continue its dominance in the post-LA metagame primarily because of the fearsome Fae and Reveillark rise to power. Both of which are shaky winnable matchups, but still matches you’d rather avoid playing.

Australian Nationals provided a bit of a shakeup on the Standard horizon since it took place a good two weeks before any other Nationals events. Nicastri had a very strong Worlds performance, and I had all but forgotten about his Aussie Storm deck that propelled him to the biggest stage. I actually have three Nicastri decks here in the top 10, which earns him the Waffle-Taco award for 08′.

10 — Red/Black Tokens

My boy Stu knows sixty cards, and he didn’t get nearly the credit he deserves for this brew. This is really one of the best designed decks of the year because of its super greedy nature, and it paved the way for the numerous other token oriented tactics that shined throughout the season.

It takes an extremely basic formula, that of having a large number of cards to produce more than one creature, and amplifies it with cards that need a lot of creatures to become powerful. Bitterblossom, Marsh Flitter, Mogg War Marshal, and Kher Keep are the perfect food for Nantuko Husk, Gargadon, and Furystoke Giant.

Elementary? Sure, but Stuart was the first to sport such synergies, and even managed a 33rd place finish in the biggest Standard tournament of the year.

9 — Mono-Red

22 Snow-covered Mountain’s never looked so good.

Jacobs slaughtered the U.S. in dominating fashion with this streamlined standard version of Mono-Red. This was the catalyst that launched Red to its dominance in Nationals tournaments around the globe, and it was the best answer to the fearsome Fae during the tail end of the Time Spiral Standard.

Skred was the real reason this deck was so successful, and the main reason for its quick demise in Shards Standard. Not to mention the loss of Magus of the Moon took the “free win” aspect away. Without them, Hell’s Thunder has tried to carry the archetype, but it’s a hard slot to fill when you lose Swords to Plowshares and Armageddon from your Red deck.

8 — RW Reveillark Jank

I discussed this deck briefly a couple of weeks ago when it made its first big splash at the StarCityGames.com $5000 Standard Open, after previously taking down a Cruise qualifier.

I’m not too sure I’m fond of Nicastri’s changes to the deck, but his 6-0 performance speaks for itself. Cutting a Siege-Gang from the initial list to make room for a singleton Stillmoon Cavalier is a pretty bad direction for this deck to go… you decrease the probability of drawing a Gang while adding a singleton card that smoothes the curve out a bit, which is the only realistic reason I can derive for cutting a game-breaking five-drop for a low-impact three-drop. I just don’t think this deck wants less than three Siege-Gang since it gives the deck a late-game inevitability if the mana is there to back it.

Some of the better WR version I’ve seen have adopted a single Flamekin Harbinger to get more value out of Ranger of Eos. This was a common practice in my Elemental deck that I’ve been sporting for the past couple of months, but the fact that it has so much synergy with Ranger of Eos is pretty awesome. Harbinger only fetches Reveillark, but the single copy will keep a consistent supply of Reveillarks to the top of the library if you can find a way to kill the Harbinger.

I’m still not sold on the Voice of All in the sideboard, but this deck has proven that it’s a serious contender in our current format, and has a clear edge over the very popular WB Tokens and Faeries decks, given its Red nature. A definite must watch going into the new year.

7 — Greater Lark

1 Adarkar Wastes
4 Forge[/author]“]Battlefield [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author]
2 Faerie Conclave
4 Mutavault
4 Mystic Gate
1 Reflecting Pool
5 Snow-Covered Island
2 Vivid Creek
3 Body Double
3 Bonded Fetch
3 Greater Gargadon
4 Mulldrifter
4 Reveillark
4 Sower of Temptation
2 Venser, Shaper Savant
3 Coldsteel Heart
3 Mind Stone
2 Momentary Blink
2 Pact of Negation
4 Rune Snag

2 Aven Riftwatcher
3 Crovax, Ascendant Hero
2 Kitchen Finks
1 Pyroclasm
1 Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir
2 Teferi’s Moat
1 Vesuvan Shapeshifter
1 Wispmare
2 Wrath of God

Combo Lark with Greater Gargadon was one of the stronger Nationals decks across the boards, and for good reason. This deck is harder to attack than a pit bull. Its first level of resilience comes in the numerous card draw engines with Mulldrifter, Bonded Fetch, and Body Double. From there, level two consists of Reveillark and Greater Gargadon shenanigans, which, when combined with Body Double and Venser, can proceed to bounce every permanent in play if it deems necessary.

All of this is supported by counter magic (Rune Snag, Pact), mana acceleration (Mind Stone, Coldsteel Heart), and Sower of Temptation to buy time.

Once Time Spiral rotated, this deck didn’t have much gas to keep it going. Snag and Pact are gone, with no tier permission to be found outside of Cryptic Command. The combo is gone with Gargadon, Body Double, Venser, and Bonded Fetch also rotating. In fact, the only thing still legal is the Mulldrifters, Reveillarks, and Sowers… even the Snow lands are no more. The future for this deck certainly doesn’t look too bright. Reveillark needs some new friends to play with.

6 — WB Tokens

This is one of the most popular Standard decks at Worlds this year, with many of its pilots being part of The Pro Club Elite. When taking that into account, I think this deck underperformed. I’ve made it a point to keep up to date on all the token tactics trotting about, and it seems far too obvious to include a couple of Deathbringer Liege in here. I’d cut the Goldmanes for a pair, along with a 2nd Unmake or 4th Marsh Flitter.

The real reason to play this deck is the super strong manabase, and how the strength of the cards on their own as well as how strong they are in combination with each other. This is another one to keep in mind fresh if you’re playing Standard any time soon.

5 — Zoo

Thaler had a pretty quiet year to end up with 32 Pro Points, and he clearly had his Extended chops on when making this deck. Shadow Guildmage is an awesome way to answer the Elvish tribes, giving the deck fifteen quality one-drops.

Equally exciting is the maindeck Oblivion Ring, giving the Zoo deck an “answer-all” not seen since Vindicate. Personally I hate the card Oblivion Ring, but it’s more geared toward my Standard experiences with the elegantly designed enchantment. In most situations I’d rather be the player having my permanent O-Ringed rather than the person casting the risky Ring, but in Extended my fears are much less prevalent given the low quality options in the enchantment slots.

4 — Five-Color Control

GerryT and Chapin have both voiced their opinions on the best Five-Color deck, but in my mind I’m always going to want to play Ultimatum-less. Sure, this was a Block tournament well before Ultimatum was legal, but I think Gerry proved his point before ever having to make it with his GP-winning brew, which was the key that unlocked the metaphorical door in his mind that was hindering him from pursuing his writing career.

I’ve been one of his more silently stalking admirers for a while now. I can tell you the first time I stared into his icy blues was at the Charlotte North Carolina airport after GP: Ichorid at that Chilli’s table. I can tell you the first time we took a wee alongside each other in St. Louis, MO. I could share my 8-1 pride draft record versus the tough Thompson. I can tell you the first time our lips locked in a heated feature match at GP: KC.

What I can’t tell you is what resides under his thick black cotton beanie that commonly keeps his cranium covered…

3 — Kithkin

This was the list that started it all. Before our destinies included Figure of Destiny. Before their Anthems were Glorious. Before O-Rings were included then omitted. Before reddened Planeswalkery plots were pursued with everyone’s favorite purring Planeswalker.

Kithkin really doesn’t deserve to be number 3 on this list, but this tribe is more on the fence than any other. Its supporters will slit your mother’s throat for spitting ill game opposite the pint sized punks. Its detractors will swear to the end that their loss was to luck. And there’s no in between, only posers and haters, and that’s what makes a deck truly rad.

The Kithkin deck has come a long way this year. From being the best Block deck to the worst Standard deck, it’s found a way to hang in there every step of the way, now incorporating Red in its plans for Ajani Vengeant and the occasional Flame Javelin. It’s the tribe with all the tools, played by fools to keep their opponents subdued, and though they’ve never ruled, the tried and true Kithkin are actually pretty cool.

2 — Quick N’ Toast

While GerryT and Chapin were the prime salesmen for the Five-Color Control archetype, it was Bucher’s original Quick N’ Toast list that propelled their thoughts on the deck. The Vivid land plus Reflecting Pool manabase has warped the entire Standard metagame into what it is today, and we all owe that to Bucher.

His deck looks pretty crude compared to the versions we have nowadays, but you got to remember this was something created from when there was nothing, and his basic fundamental design has stayed at the front of both Block and Standard metagames since its inception.

But of course, the year of 2008 will be defined by one supreme tribal archetype…

1 — Faeries

This was the list that started it all. Zvi’s double Pendelhaven UB Faeries. This was before the bitter taste for the Fae blossomed and before it took over every format it entered. This was when Faeries was a fun interactive deck that look enjoyable to play.

Featuring essentially eight copies of Flying Man, Zvi took the pint-sized fliers to new heights during Worlds last year when no one expected such a radical approach otherwise unusable Faeries from Lorwyn. Despite being completely different from the 08′ Faerie flocks, this was THE starting point…

Paulo Vitor Jugar de Faeries.

A bit of a stretch, but we should call this guy Oona, cause he’s clearly the Queen King of the Fae.

This is the list to which we’re more accustomed, and nobody was surprised to see Paulo’s name in the Top 8 of Hollywood, a feat that he followed up nicely by adding a Memphis Top 8 alongside his ferocious Faerie flock.

He didn’t change too much in the six months between his pair of PT Top 8s with Faeries, and even his sideboards look near identical. There’s a cosmetic difference between Infest and Damnation, but they fill the same role, much like Stillmoon Cavalier/Bottle Gnomes, Murderous Redcap/Sower of Temptation, and Thoughtseize/Thoughtseize.

Grand Prix: Manilla Top 8 by Koutarou Ootsuka

8 Island
4 Mutavault
4 Secluded Glen
4 Sunken Ruins
5 Swamp
1 Vivid Creek
4 Mistbind Clique
4 Scion of Oona
3 Sower of Temptation
4 Spellstutter Sprite
4 Bitterblossom
3 Broken Ambitions
4 Cryptic Command
4 Nameless Inversion
2 Peppersmoke
2 Thoughtseize

3 Consign to Dream
3 Jace Beleren
1 Oona, Queen of the Fae
2 Peppersmoke
2 Shriekmaw
3 Soul Snuffers
1 Thoughtseize

Oots was a surprise Top 8 predicted by none other than Tim Aten at GP: Montreal last year, and he continued his stride by utilizing Faeries for Manilla to claim an elimination bracket slot. Block is really where the Faeries archetype was defined and challenged. Standard had a much deeper pool to combat the Fae at the time, but in Block there was nothing anyone could do other than hope Cloudthreshers got them there.

6-0 Worlds Extended Portion, by Maysaya Kitayama

9 Island
1 Minamo, School at Water’s Edge
4 Mutavault
1 Oboro, Palace in the Clouds
2 Riptide Laboratory
3 River of Tears
4 Secluded Glen
4 Glen Elendra Archmage
4 Sower of Temptation
4 Spellstutter Sprite
4 Vendilion Clique
4 Ancestral Vision
4 Mana Leak
4 Spell Snare
3 Stifle
3 Threads of Disloyalty
2 Umezawa’s Jitte

2 Annul
3 Bitterblossom
3 Engineered Explosives
2 Hurkyl’s Recall
3 Negate
1 Stifle
1 Threads of Disloyalty

There was also a definitive presence of Faeries in Extended as well, enabling it to dominate not only Block Constructed and Standard, but also proved it worth in deep card pool formats like Extended and even Legacy.

2008 really is the year of the Faerie, which is marginally upsetting in the grand scheme of things. I would have hated to begin playing Magic this year, which is an important perspective to keep up to ensure the future of our game. I really hope we don’t have another year like this one, because metagames like this have a tendency to make playing Magic professionally that much harder. The decks are all defined, but when you have everyone playing the same deck, variance plays a much bigger role than it should.

Happy holidays, and thanks for reading.


Top 5 Picks

1) Do The Right Thang — Ludacris ft. Common, Spike Lee
2) Undisputed — Ludacris ft. Floyd “Money” Mayweather
3) Last of A Dying Breed — Ludacris ft. Lil Wayne
4) Contagious — Ludacris ft. Jamie Foxx
5) You Can Do Better Than Me — Death Cab For Cutie