February Type One Metagame Breakdown

Just as I opened the year, so I’m now exploring the most prominent, large tournament results of February Type One. January was filled with”atomic” (Bazaar and Workshop) aggro, and now we’ll see a rebound of other categories, most notably control in the form of Hulk Smash.

[East Coast Vintage Championship Coming To Grand Prix Washington, D.C.!]

Just as I opened the year, so I’m now exploring the most prominent, large tournament results of February Type One. January was filled with”atomic” (Bazaar and Workshop) aggro, and now we’ll see a rebound of other categories, most notably control in the form of Hulk Smash.

Normally I define”large tournament” as fifty or more people, but when I finally couldn’t wait any longer to start the decklist-crunching, there were only four such tournaments’ results available, even including a belatedly-posted Barcelona event from January. Luckily, there was a highly competitive forty-two-person New England tournament available to round out the results with a fifth event. (Not to mention that North America was lacking representation this month.) Just when I finished all of the data work, of course, I got two more big events from the weekend of the 28th and 29th. Redoing all the data wasn’t appealing, even to me, so those two (Milan and Copenhagen) will appear in a month.

2004-01-18 Barcelona (52 players)

1. Rector Tendrils

2. Gobvantage

3. Gobvantage

4. Slavery (non-Workshop)

5. BUGR Hulk Smash (no LD)

6. MUD (mono-Brown)

7. SuperGro

8. Rector Trix

2004-02-08 Pavia (53 players)

1. Stax

2. Keeper

3. TPS

4. TPS

5. Rector Tendrils

6. Madness

7. Vengeur Masque

8. Iso-GAT

2004-02-08 Dulmen (93 players) (Missing #3)

1. MadDragon

2. BUG Hulk Smash (1 LD)

3. Dragon

4. KrOathan Keeper

5. Goblin Sligh

6. BUG Hulk Smash (1 LD)

7. UR Stacker

8. Stax

2004-02-15 Turin (74 players) (Missing #6 and #1)

1. Iso-GAT

2. Stax (w/ Mindslaver)

3. Rector Tendrils

4. RUG Madness

5. Mono-Brown Stacker

6. TnT

7. IsoKeeper (Urw)

8. Rector Tendrils & Trix

2004-02-15 New Hampshire (42 players)

1. Slavery

2. TnT

3. Dragon

4. UR Landstill

5. BUGR Hulk Smash (no LD)

6. BUGR Hulk Smash (no LD)

7. RUG Madness

8. IsoKeeper

5 tournament totaled (42,52,53,74,93 = 62.8 players average)

5 Hulk Smash (2,5,5,6,6)

5 Rector Tendrils/Trix (1,3,5,8,8)

3 Stax (1,2,8)

3 Madness (4,6,7)

2 Slavery (1,4)

2 Gobvantage (2,3)

2 Keeper (2,4)

2 Dragon (3,3)

2 TPS (3,4)

2 TnT (2,6)

2 Iso-GAT (1,8)

2 Stacker (5,7)

2 IsoKeeper (7,8)

1 MadDragon (1)

1 UR Landstill (4)

1 Goblin Sligh (5)

1 MUD (6)

1 SuperGro (7)

1 Vengeur Masque (7)

10 control (5 Hulk Smash, 2 Keeper, 2 IsoKeeper, 1 UR Landstill)

9 combo (5 Rector, 2 TPS, 2 Dragon)

8 aggro (3 Madness, 2 TnT, 2 Stacker, 1 Goblin Sligh)

6 prison (3 Stax, 2 Slavery, 1 MUD)

4 aggro-combo (2 Gobvantage, 1 MadDragon, 1 Vengeur Masque)

3 aggro-control (2 Iso-GAT, 1 SuperGro)

Lessons From the February Results

1) Rector And Dragon Occupy The Same Combo Niche

One of the nice things about January was that it had next to no combo. So naturally, February brought a resurgence of the graveyard combo decks as soon as the level of hate waned just slightly. The similarities between Rector and Dragon are many, though they are still very different decks. Each needs to get an enabling creature into the graveyard, and then if an effect resolves (triggered ability for Rector, animation enchantment for Dragon) the deck either goes infinite (Dragon) or does the practical equivalent (Yawgmoth’s Bargain).

Dragon has many more opportunities to be disrupted than Rector, since it not only goes through the process of removing all its permanents multiple times, but has two different permanent types that can be destroyed to end or forestall the loop. And when the loop is broken by someone who understands the stack, it ends in the Dragon player’s entire board disappearing. Rector’s counterbalancing weakness is a much smaller number of ways to start the loop, a defect that it addresses through a mass of traditional combo Draw-7s. Also, because Academy Rector is hardcast before being sacrificed, while Worldgorger Dragon imposes no such burden, the Rector deck holds much more mana, particularly from Dark Rituals.

Another way to examine their similarities is to look at the cards they both fear: Stifle, Swords to Plowshares, Coffin Purge, Tormod’s Crypt. This clarifies that they’re actually very similar decks in principle, even though they approach their problems differently.

2) Hulk Smash is good-like-Family-Guy good

Steve Menendian just told us why Tog is amazing (so amazing we don’t even notice the other cards which might theoretically be receiving a reference from”Tog”), and so it is. It barely edged out Rector on tiebreakers for the top spot in the results, but is so obviously more resilient to hate that it can be safely labeled”the best deck.” The versions that succeeded this month bear out the theory that Hulk doesn’t want mana disruption, as only two of them had a lone Strip Mine each.

Also, there is no clear answer to the question of using Red, as three did and two didn’t. This is likely to be a metagame factor like so many things, since both BUG builds were in the same Top 8, and two BUGR versions were in the same tournament, with no coincidence of the two types.

3) Aggro-combo has strong potential

Previously I’ve classified Mask decks as aggro and Gobvantage decks as combo, but the MadDragon deck that won Dulmen (tossing together the power of Madness with a surprise combo kill from Worldgorger Dragon) finally convinced me to add a distinct category for the borderline decks. It remains to be seen if this was simply a win for the element of surprise or if MadDragon has enduring merit for its hybrid strategy.

The recent Food Chain Goblins primer by Joshua Silvestri a.k.a. Vegeta2711 on The Mana Drain highlights the growing prominence of this deck category, and its clearest exemplar, the Goblin Recruiter/Goblin Ringleader combo. (For those not in the know, once Recruiter sets up a series of Ringleaders and other appropriate Goblins, Food Chain lets you cast them serially until you’re left with a hasted squad of lethal Piledrivers.)

So far, the tournament success of the archetype has been from non-Food Chain variants, but many players think the Food Chains are an improvement. Without the Chain, I noticed that both Gobvantage decks this month only used one Ringleader, and my read on this (as someone who has never played this version) is that it’s just too hard to get the mana for more than that. Particularly in light of its decent chances against Hulk, Goblins should stay on the radar for quite a while.

Mask decks continued to hover at the lower bound of performance, and Vengeur is still the only type to display results, while the mono-Black Spoils Mask deck introduced by Steve Menendian hasn’t appeared. The abundance of artifact removal is still holding these decks down.

4) Prison Is Better With Blue

Just like with everything else, adding Blue makes Prison decks do better, as demonstrated by Stax and Slavery far outperforming MUD. I directly relate this to the inconsistent draws Prison decks are notorious for: a problem ameliorated by Blue card drawing. Slavery builds in particular illustrate this with their use of Thirst For Knowledge and”Draw-7’s” to quickly accumulate the best lock components from the deck. (Control Slavery replaces Draw-7s with Brainstorm.)

5) Wasteland has Waned

With a mere 39 Wastelands this month (January had 82 in the same number of tournaments), it’s worth pointing out why such an important card isn’t seeing the same heights of play as before. First, neither Rector nor Hulk ran it. That’s a quarter of the field winning without taking the mana denial route, just between those two. Of the six categories of decks I delineate above, only Prison consistently employs the card (I anticipate Hulk will drift into a new combo-control category over the next months for this reason: if it’s too fast to need Wastelands, it’s not very controlling). The declining presence of super-broken Bazaar decks also discouraged Wastelands from meeting their most important targets. Decks with Workshops can be beaten without attacking their land, but an unchecked Bazaar of Baghdad is”game over, man, game over.”

6) No Restriction Material In Sight

Of the various cards that have been submitted for potential restriction in the past, none was present in more than a third of the metagame, and certainly none has displayed a dominating danger.

44 Mana Drain

37 Cunning Wish

33 Chalice of the Void

32 Mishra’s Workshop

28 Dark Ritual

20 Bazaar of Baghdad

19 Psychatog

18 Academy Rector

17 Yawgmoth’s Will*

16 Intuition

4 Illusionary Mask

0 Spoils of the Vault

* Restricted, but suggested for Banning.

In terms of the most high-risk cards on this unofficial watch list, Dark Ritual did considerably better than in January, but both Workshop and Bazaar were less prominent.

And now for more exciting data, the complete tally of cards in the thirty-seven available decklists.

Total Card Appearances (missing 1 Dragon, 1 Iso-GAT, 1 TnT)

30 Island

29 Mountain

9 Forest

3 Swamp

2 Plains

34 Mox Sapphire

32 Black Lotus

32 Mox Ruby

30 Ancestral Recall

30 Mox Emerald

29 Mox Jet

28 Mox Pearl

27 Sol Ring

26 Time Walk

19 Demonic Tutor

19 Strip Mine

18 Vampiric Tutor

17 Mystical Tutor

17 Yawgmoth’s Will

16 Tolarian Academy

16 Mana Crypt

15 Library of Alexandria

14 Mana Vault

11 Memory Jar

10 Lotus Petal

9 Balance

9 Timetwister

8 Tinker

7 Fact or Fiction

7 Mind Twist

7 Wheel of Fortune

7 Yawgmoth’s Bargain

6 Necropotence

5 Enlightened Tutor

5 Gush

3 Burning Wish

3 Frantic Search

3 Grim Monolith

3 Mind’s Desire

3 Regrowth

3 Windfall

1 Braingeyser

1 Crop Rotation

1 Fastbond

1 Fork

1 Lion’s Eye Diamond

1 Mox Diamond

1 Stroke of Genius

104 Force of Will – Highest Blue card

71 Brainstorm

63 Underground Sea

62 Volcanic Island

61 Polluted Delta

60 Red Elemental Blast – Highest Red card

Tormod’s Crypt – Highest artifact

44 Mana Drain

42 Tropical Island

40 Accumulated Knowledge

39 Wasteland

37 Cunning Wish

37 Fire / Ice – Highest Gold card

Duress – Highest Black card

33 Chalice of the Void

32 Mishra’s Workshop

31 Stifle

30 Flooded Strand

28 Dark Ritual

28 Goblin Welder

28 Wooded Foothills

23 Gemstone Mine

23 Rack and Ruin

23 Tangle Wire

22 Blue Elemental Blast

22 Naturalize – Highest Green card; compare to 9 Seal of Cleansing, 8 Disenchant

20 Bazaar of Baghdad

20 Pernicious Deed

20 Smokestack

19 Cabal Therapy

19 Psychatog

18 Academy Rector – Highest White card

18 Deep Analysis

18 Squee, Goblin Nabob

18 Taiga

17 Blood Moon

17 Coffin Purge

17 Thirst for Knowledge

16 Basking Rootwalla

16 Intuition

16 Misdirection

16 Mishra’s Factory

16 Sphere of Resistance

16 Wild Mongrel

15 Lightning Bolt

14 Gorilla Shaman

14 Juggernaut

12 Goblin Lackey

12 Goblin Piledriver

12 Metalworker

12 Survival of the Fittest

12 Tendrils of Agony

11 Artifact Mutation

11 Chain of Vapor

11 Hurkyl’s Recall

11 Pyroblast

11 Swords to Plowshares

10 Careful Study

10 City of Brass

10 Pyrostatic Pillar

10 Scrubland[/author]“][author name="Scrubland"]Scrubland[/author]

10 Triskelion

10 Tundra

9 Bloodstained Mire

9 Goblin Warchief

9 Isochron Scepter

9 Rebuild

9 Roar of the Wurm

9 Seal of Cleansing

9 Shivan Reef

8 Anger

8 Arrogant Worm

8 Berserk

8 Chain Lightning

8 Circular Logic

8 City of Traitors

8 Disenchant

8 Grim Lavamancer

8 Hydroblast

7 Ancient Tomb

7 Annul

7 Barbarian Ring

7 Future Sight

7 Ground Seal

7 Powder Keg

7 Siege-Gang Commander

7 Skirk Prospector

7 Worldgorger Dragon

6 Animate Dead

6 Back to Basics

6 Bayou

6 Defense Grid

6 Energy Flux

6 Grafted Skullcap

6 Karn, Silver Golem

6 Merchant Scroll

6 Mindslaver

6 Null Brooch

6 Platinum Angel

5 Decree of Justice

5 Goblin Recruiter

5 Masticore

5 Maze of Ith

5 Orim’s Chant

5 Quirion Dryad

5 Windswept Heath

5 Wonder

4 Birds of Paradise

4 Carpet of Flowers

4 Damping Matrix

4 Ensnaring Bridge

4 Faerie Conclave

4 Fiery Temper

4 Flametongue Kavu

4 Goblin Goon

4 Grid Monitor

4 Illusionary Mask

4 Illusions of Grandeur

4 Lim-Dul’s Vault

4 Meditate

4 Meltdown

4 Mogg Fanatic

4 Nevinyrral’s Disk

4 Null Rod

4 Phyrexian Dreadnought

4 Price of Progress

4 Seat of the Synod

4 Sphere of Law

4 Standstill

4 Su-Chi

4 The Abyss

4 Volrath’s Shapeshifter

4 Winter Orb

4 Xantid Swarm

3 Bottle Gnomes

3 Chill

3 Daze

3 Diabolic Edict

3 Donate

3 Gilded Lotus

3 Goblin Grenade

3 Goblin Matron

3 Goblin Vandal

3 Hidden Gibbons

3 Meddling Mage

3 Mind’s Eye

3 Necromancy

3 Oath of Druids

3 Petrified Field

3 Price of Glory

3 Skeletal Scrying

3 Sleight of Hand

3 Vendetta

3 Verdant Force

3 Wall of Roots

3 Werebear

2 Ambassador Laquatus

2 Arc Lightning

2 Compulsion

2 Crumble

2 Dance of the Dead

2 Fireblast

2 Goblin Ringleader

2 Heroes’ Reunion

2 Hibernation

2 Impulse

2 Jester’s Cap

2 Lightning Greaves

2 Mystic Enforcer

2 Overload

2 Pentavus

2 Phyrexian Furnace

2 Pulverize

2 Quirion Ranger

2 Read the Runes

2 Rushing River

2 Smother

2 Solemn Simulacrum

2 Uktabi Orangutan

2 Viashino Heretic

2 Violent Eruption

2 Viridian Shaman

1 Arcane Denial

1 Aura Fracture

1 Badlands

1 Bosh, Iron Golem

1 Brain Freeze

1 Caller of the Claw – Official WTF-of-the-Month

1 Circle of Protection: Red

1 Dismantling Blow

1 Duplicant

1 Dust Bowl

1 Elf Replica

1 Elvish Lyrist

1 Form of the Dragon

1 Genesis

1 Ghastly Demise

1 Goblin Sharpshooter

1 Goblin Tinkerer

1 Holistic Wisdom

1 Krosan Reclamation

1 Morphling

1 Phage the Untouchable

1 Plaguebearer

1 Plateau – It’s official, Savannah is the worst dual land. All the others were played.

1 Power Artifact

1 Ray of Revelation

1 Renounce

1 Sculpting Steel

1 Seedtime

1 Shattering Pulse

1 Shivan Hellkite

1 Sliver Queen

1 Zuran Orb

Special recognition should go to the people who tolerate my badgering for decklists and attendance totals. (I’ve made an amazing pest of myself.) Especially Womprax, the morphling.de slave.

Philip Stanton

a.k.a.”Dr. Sylvan”

prstanto at uiuc.edu