For a while, the idea in Type One was to develop some tech and then hide it, only revealing it at the next big tournament. This made Type One a lot like a Pro Tour event, especially ones like the yearly Extended PT or Worlds. Since these big events were held every three or four months, there was also usually at least one set release since the last major event using that format, further increasing the options available for teams and deckbuilders.
Recently though, there has been a large increase in the frequency of high payout Type One events. Starting this summer, we had Waterbury, followed by various and sundry coastal championships, followed by Star City I, followed by Worlds, followed by Waterbury a month later, which was then followed by The Mana Drain III a few weeks later, which will then followed by Star City II and III. The question then arises: with big tournaments coming sometimes only weeks apart, what tournament are you supposed to save your secret tech for?
You could always just try to break the format and have new, powerful decks for each tournament, but that would require an almost Herculean effort. You can’t plan far ahead, since each of those tournaments would be large enough and influential enough to affect the format for the next tourney. Your team also would probably only have a week or two between events to try to hammer out a new deck, which is not really enough time to give any real solid amount since you still have to design the deck and iron out the kinks first before you even get to the testing phase.
Instead, it’s been looking more and more to me that Type One is playing out more like a series of PTQs. In this system, a set of top decks are known (these are typically established at the Pro Tour,) and the metagame tends to evolve weekly based on the results from each week’s PTQs and Grand Prix. Here, the important skill is not the ability to build new decks (you’ve already been given a set of potential decks from the earlier Pro Tour,) but to figure out which decks beat which and most importantly, which decks will be the big decks next week. The massive cardpool and the restricted list “cores” (where despite having vastly different strategies, many Type One decks often have as much as one-quarter to one-third of the cards in them in common) help to produce a significantly larger pool of decks to choose from in Type One than the other formats have traditionally had, making the ability to figure out which decks beat which other decks even more valuable. Furthermore, the large pool of decks makes it even easier for decks to become “forgotten.”
Trix and Miracle Gro
Even after two sets of bannings in Extended, the now Necropotence-less Trix decks still appeared to be on top of Extended after Pro Tour: New Orleans back in 2001. Even decks that were supposed to have been built to be strong against Trix, such as Junk and The Rock, didn’t do very much to keep it down. Eventually however, U/G Miracle Gro proved to be a strong enough deck to take down Trix. I believe that at Miracle Gro’s debut tourney, GP: Las Vegas, Allen Comer managed to knock just about every Trix player out of the top tables and just missed the top 8 because of this. The retooled U/G/W Super Gro appeared shortly after, with White added to shore up the aggro matchups. Now, the metagame deck had managed to become the best deck due to its own inherent strengths, rather than by the virtue of having a great matchup against the consensus best deck.
Was Fish this type of deck, or was it purely a metagame deck? I’m not totally sure. Fish managed to managed to rise to prominence earlier this year on a favorable matchup against Tog (the best deck) and Mindslaver decks (contenders to the title of best deck.) Its success and favorable matchups had quite a few people proclaiming it to be the new best deck. However, Fish did not do very well at Worlds (one made the top 8, but in general the many Fish decks present were mired in the lower tables all day) or at the most recent Waterbury.
What caused the decline*? In Fish’s case, it was probably a combination of factors. First, Mishra’s Workshop-based Mindslaver decks were being replaced by Prison decks and aggro decks. Second, people noticed that Tog was weak against Fish and were drifting away from it. At the first Star City P9 tourney for instance, Tog made up only about 3% of the field and had similarly low numbers at Worlds. Also, there was an increased understanding of how to beat Fish, such as the aggressive use of Tinker or robust creatures such as Old Man of the Sea.
This may and may not be the death knell for Fish. While it seems unlikely that strategies such as emphasizing Tinker will ever go out of style (which is a bad thing for Fish,) the cyclical nature of the metagame could allow Fish to come back. If people play Tog in order to capitalize on the increase in Workshop Aggro decks that beat on Fish, Workshop Aggro will decrease and the increased Tog presence can allow Fish to return as a strong metagame choice.
If you look in the earlier installments of Phil Stanton’s metagame articles, Dragon was the deck to beat for a period of a few months starting at around this point last year. It had a good matchup against control decks due to Bazaar of Baghdad and its array of disruption cards, yet was also strong against aggro by virtue of being a combo deck and thus faster.
And then the backlash occured. In a way, Dragon is like the opposite of Fish. Fish is difficult to hose with individual cards (such as sideboarding say, Slice and Dice or Caltrops) but easy to beat by switching archetypes (for instance, switching from a counter-based control deck to a prison-style control deck.) Dragon’s only really weak matchups are against other combo decks, which can simply outrace Dragon by as many as two whole turns. However, it’s really easy to hose Dragon. Every color has access to Tormod’s Crypt and other strong answers exist within each color. There are both proactive answers, like Ground Seal as well as reactive answers like Swords to Plowshares.
But recently, there has been a marked decrease in the number of these cards, which is most likely due to the fact that they have driven away the Dragon decks that they were brought in to hose. Without these around, Dragon can come back. However, unlike Fish, which requires entirely different archetypes to be played in order to stop it and thus requires more effort from players to stop, Dragon can be thwarted with only a sideboard change.
Control Slaver and Tog
I lumped these together because these were the decks that inspired me to think about this topic in the first place. Both of these decks were public for about nine months prior to Worlds and had had some success. Nobody doubted that these decks were good, but for some reason most people ignored them and as everyone knows, they were the decks that won their respective Worlds. At the same time, the heavily hyped decks were Four Color Control, Rector decks (in 2003), and Fish (in 2004.) People were ready for these decks (notice the large number of Coffin Purges and Tormod’s Crypts in the sideboards in 2003 and the many Mishra’s Workshop decks in 2004, for instance) and most of them were mired in the lower tables during the day.
So what’s the plan for SCG II? Champions of Kamigawa and the recently restricted cards don’t seem to scream out any really obvious new deck, so unless you’ve managed to somehow make some amazing Fork deck or something, I doubt that you’ll be able to break the metagame like that. In my opinion, the proper play is to find the Control Slaver deck. Now, if we check the recent metagame articles, Goblin Welder and Storm combo look to be the big current trends right now, so they’re out. There’re also traditional favorites that will always get played, like Fish and Four Color Control.
So what would I go with? I like the idea of Mono-Blue, but that’s a risky choice against all the Workshop aggro decks and people have started to prepare for it, since it’s had enough recent success for it to be on the radar. Dragon might be a good surprise choice, but it will probably still catch a lot of splash damage from anti-Welder cards like Ground Seal or Blue Elemental Blast. I would probably go with Tog (obviously derf, etc.) for this field, but you will need to cut down to three colors, which means giving up some combination of strong cards like REB and Artifact Mutation. I’d probably run a list like this:
4 Accumulated Knowledge
4 Force of Will
4 Mana Drain
3 Cunning Wish
1 Back to Basics
1 Time Walk
1 Ancestral Recall
1 Demonic Tutor
1 Yawgmoth’s Will
1 Pernicious Deed
1 Ground Seal
The sideboard would most likely have an extra copy or two of Deed, Ground Seal, Back to Basics, Deep Analysis, and then various and sundry Wish targets**. People have more or less accepted Tog as dead, so I would assume that people wouldn’t waste their time trying to deal with it.
If I wanted something really under the radar, I might try something like this:
4 Null Rod
As flustered as I got when I lost to a deck like this, nobody will expect this and you can prey all day on Welders and Fishes. People will think that it’s safe to tap out EOT for say, Thirst for Knowledge or something and just die to Price of Progress. I won’t lie, though. I have no idea what this deck’s matchups are like. For instance, while I bet that you could maybe beat Death Long, other Storm combo decks seem harder to beat since they don’t randomly lose half their life.
Other than those, I’m having trouble thinking of any other decks that have gone under the radar recently that would still be strong choices. Normally, I’d think that a deck like Affinity might even be an interesting choice, but I’m worried of a large Fish turnout and to a lesser extent, Goblin Welder. I also thought about GAT (Gro-A-Tog), but GAT is worse against Workshop decks than Tog, which I expect out in force. I guess you might also be able to try out a Madness deck, although you need to make sure that you can handle Goblin Welder game 1.
Man, this is so much harder than coming up with new deck ideas.
jpmeyer at gmail dot com
*And note that I am using the word “decline”, not “death” or anything.
** Like Rend Flesh. Somebody should play that.