Innovations – Decks Without Bitterblossom or Cruel Ultimatum (Plus a Top 10)

The StarCityGames.com $5,000 Standard open Comes to Philadelphia!
Monday, November 24th – The StarCityGames.com $5000 Standard Open approaches, and today’s Innovations sees Patrick Chapin share a couple of fringe strategy ideas for your consideration. He also rounds up his Top 10 articles from this past year…

Last week, I ran down my first 50 articles on my way to a 5,200 word primer on my body of work. While this may be a somewhat useful tool for someone trying to familiarize themselves with my work, it didn’t make for as readable and fun an article as I would have liked.

As such, today, instead of recapping the next 50 articles as I had originally planned, I will just cover the Top 10 (in my humble opinion), as well as talk a little about some decks that don’t feature Bitterblossom or Cruel Ultimatum.

First up, a decklist:

Ryan took this W/r Kithkin deck to a Top 8 finish at the Michigan State Championship a couple of weeks ago. I would change a few things, but the core idea is a sound one, and one that Boros Deck Wins players have brought back each time it falls out of fashion. The key is when there are strong enough White Weenies to bother with White, and strong enough mana-fixing to bother with Red.

With Eventide in the mix, the mana is possible, and the Kithkin tribe gives us the White Weenies. It is Ajani Vengeant, the new Planeswalker that gives us a reason to believe it could be a stronger strategy than it was, say, three months ago.

Personally, I would reduce the number of Mountains in this deck. Flame Javelin is the only spell requiring multiple Red, and it can be cast with White if needed. It is too important to play Knight of Meadowgrain or Wizened Cenn on two. I would probably build this deck with the only Red sources being Rugged Prairie and Forge[/author]“]Battlefield [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author], along with maybe 2-3 Mountains and 1 Jungle Shrine.

I would also move the Ranger of Eos to the main deck. Antoine is just too good to pass up. The Forge-Tenders help with the Kithkin count for Stalwarts. The Ranger helps provide some longevity in case the quick beatdown isn’t enough to win it for you. Personally, I could see cutting the Puncture Blasts to make room.

As a side note, I am not a big fan of Rustic Clachan, although this deck doesn’t have Cloudgoat Ranger to invite the classic Clachan as a fifth land draw.

If you have some experience with this style of Kithkin, please speak up in the forums. In what match-ups do you gain edge compared to straight WW? In which do you lose percentage? Any changes you would suggest?

If you are new to my column, here are 10 articles I have put out in the past year that you may want to check out. If you have been with us this whole time, maybe a walk down memory lane would help spark new ideas as well as remind you of good times.

10. Grand Prix: Kansas City Tournament Report – This tournament report detailed my adventures en route to GP: Kansas City last month, all I did down there, and then the beginning of my trip to Berlin. We may not have masters such as John Shuler or Brian Hacker writing tournament reports today, but I remember those writer/players and I miss those articles.

This particular tournament report has a variety of crazy story lines, including a semi hitting a parked car full of gamers and a twelve-man team draft involving every set since Ice Age.

9. Winning The Game, or EV isn’t Everything – This mostly theoretical piece introduced a logic problem and examines the very non-intuitive solution that can help put tough choices into perspective. One such tough choice was the idea of playing Oona’s Grace over Mind Spring.

Mind Spring may be far more powerful, but no one cares if you draw five cards or fifty cards, you are going to win either way. Sometimes, a strict look at EV of one sort of resource doesn’t actually give us the most useful information or strategy for approaching a problem. The logic puzzle presented in this article is timeless, and could easily be the topic of conversation for Math, Statistics, or Logic classes in High School or College.

8. One Game: The Next Level Blue Mirror – Written in the style of Richard Feldman Article of the Year from last year, One Game, this article walks through step by step one game of the Next Level Blue Mirror, examining the tiny decisions that so many players never bother to contemplate.

These tiny decisions can make all the difference in the world, as can be seen in games like the one from this article. Feldman’s style of article as he presented in his finest work is extraordinarily useful, and is one that more authors should try. Talk about a useful way to convey subtle, oft overlooked information!

As far as this particular game goes, while many players can’t stand the type of games that arise as a result of NLU mirrors, players who were seriously trying to qualify last extended season had to seriously contemplate playing this style of deck. If you want to win a tournament with NLU, you are inevitably going to have to face the mirror a couple times and this article provides useful insights on how to approach this vital match-up.

With the banning of Top, the specifics of this article are out-dated, however this writing style should be remembered by writers of today.

7. Two-Headed Morningtide Set Review – This set review that I did with Michael J. Flores was notable primarily because of the cards that picked as winners. While Michael J. was hung up on Countryside Crusher and Tauren Mauler, I picked Bitterblossom, Mutavault, and Chameleon Colossus. I even picked Reveillark as the best White card.

Many set reviews end up comical upon future examination due to the difficulty in predicting which cards will end up meshing with the rest of the format as it shapes up. This one was particularly on point, suggesting players accumulate Bitterblossoms and such while they were cheap, and recommending staying away from Countryside Crusher, a card that at the time was hyped as the “Next Tarmogoyf” by many big name writers.

To be fair, I overestimated the relevance of Rogues on the new format. The Rogue tribe is not too bad, but the problem is that Noggin Whack and Oona’s Blackguard are just not as powerful as Cryptic Command and Mistbind Clique. Also, the enablers like Prickly Boggart and Nightshade Stinger are downright terrible.

6. Mastering Extended: A GerryT Innovator Collaboration – Believe it or not, there was once a time when GerryT did not write articles. I know, it is hard to believe. I had been pushing Gerry to write for a long time, as he is one person I would want to read more than most.

This article was one step in my attempt to lure Gerry into the seedy underworld of Magic strategy articles. It is formatted like a discussion between Gerry and I where we speak on as much useful information on the Extended format of the day as we could, invariably leading to entertaining tangents and generally useful Magic strategy discussion.

Fans of One Step Ahead should check out this piece, as Gerry was still Gerry 8 months ago. People who hate Gerry’s arrogance or demeanor may want to check out this piece as well to see for themselves if Gerry’s style has changed over the course of this year.

5. Introducing Seismic Swan (The Future), and Reader Mailbag: Includes Two Very Different Swan Decks – Actually two separate articles, these follow a common theme of most of my most popular articles over the past year. Like Korlash the previous season, I suggest a crazy new strategy at the beginning of the season.

Some of these crazy ideas, such as Martyr in a four-color Extended deck never really take off, but some like Seismic Swan end up going on to great success including several National Championships. At the time, many people thought that the Seismic Swan combo was too gimmicky and would never take off, but in time it redeemed itself, much to the surprise of forum dwellers.

This article was also notable in that there was a small amount of controversy about the Seismic Assault plus Swans of Bryn Argol combo appearing in forum discussion somewhere on the internet before the publishing of this article. Discussion followed on such exciting topics as “when specific individuals came up with their ideas,” and “why this would matter to anyone at all.”

Most importantly, the concept of simultaneous development was brought to the attention of a few people who literally had their mind blown that two different deck designers could figure out a win-the-game combo. Deck design is an art form, and whenever people’s art is put under the microscope, egos invariably get brought into the equation. I, personally, am a fan of letting the results speak. (Sorry to sound too results-oriented, Gerry…)

The great players in Magic know of the influence builders like Manuel Bucher and Tomohiro Saito have, so when other great players like Wafo-tapa and Shuhei benefit from their associations with them, many people may miss the degree of contributions… however, the right people know. That is enough.

4. World Championship Report Part 1 & 2 – Aside from being a tournament report from the biggest tournament of the year, and despite having a strong finish, these two articles are simply good stories.

Probably the most memorable story from the World Championships from last year, at least from my perspective, was the instant classic match between Nassif and me in the semi-finals. You have surely seen the video, but if you haven’t, check it out.

As far as the tournament report goes, it covers things like the Dragonstorm phenomenon, Counterbalance evolving in Legacy, and adventures at Finkel’s place, where I stayed during the trip.

3. Cruel Ultimatum Will Change Everything – Another article in the format of suggesting some controversial new piece of technology, but doing it early enough in the format that savvy players can try it for themselves and use it to their advantage.

Even now, the controversy surrounding Cruel Ultimatum lives on, as some players claim it is a seven-mana “win-more” card. However, Cruel Ultimatum style control decks were among the most successful at the state championships recently.

What these successful pilots realized was that unlike Realm Razer, which typically requires you to be ahead to win the game, Cruel Ultimatum actually catches you up and puts you ahead even when you are several steps behind on board.

This is the subtle strength of Cruel Ultimatum. It isn’t just a win-the-game card, it is a catch-up-when-you-are-behind card. Regardless of how bad you are losing, Cruel Ultimatum usually gets you closer to winning. I went on record long ago as saying that Cruel Ultimatum is The Truth. So far, it would appear to be accurate. World’s will tell the tale, I suppose.

The interesting thing about articles like these is that I am often questioned by world class players on why I share tech like this instead of keeping it for myself, while simultaneously receiving criticism by some readers for when I must keep silent about technology (such as when I didn’t talk about Dragonstorm or Elves before those tournaments). I guess the answer is that I walk a fine line.

My place in the Magic community as a theorist is more important to me than my place as a player, so when I am quick to share tech whenever possible. Where I have to draw the line is when my words would directly affect the people I am working with. When I suggested Cruel Ultimatum, I was not yet working with a team on Standard. When I learned of just how good ELVES! was, my teammates had already made me promise to not go into depth about the deck in an article.

You can make some of the people happy most of the time and most of the people happy some of the time, but you can’t make all the people happy all the time. Big props to everyone who played one of my lists to a Top 8 finish of their State Championships.

2. Introducing Next Level Blue – The top article in my line of Nu Technology articles from this past year. While Counterbalance Top made an appearance in Valencia, the Chase Rare style of Blue decks ended up proving less durable than Next Level Blue, a more dedicated control deck giving up Dark Confidant for Vedalken Shackles, etc.

The more controlling strategy of NLU was second only to Dredge in terms of the preparation that players made against it, but rightfully so, as it went on to win more PTQs than any non-Dredge strategy. Dredge was probably the most broken deck of the season, but was hateable if you gunned for it.

Next Level Blue was consistently able to compete with decks like Tron and Goblins, which were supposed to be built to beat it. It is this durability combined with the amount of play offered by NLU that helped lead to its popularity.

Unfortunately, this popularity began to slow tournaments almost solely due to Sensei’s Top activations, eventually leading to its banning, and the subsequent unleashing of ELVES! with no Counterbalance to keep it in check.

I am the first to admit that I come up with a lot of ideas that turn out not good enough, but decks like this, Seismic Swan, and Cruel Ultimatum show a high enough success rate that my Nu Technology articles haven proven among my best received.

1. How to Jedi: The Mental Edge in Magic – A timeless piece that helps introduce new players to the form of mental force manipulation used by some top players, as well as great tips for gaining mental advantage regardless of skill level.

Even if you are not a strong enough player to take advantage of these advanced techniques, there are tips and tricks to help guard you against the mental assaults of others. These lessons alone make this an article you must read if you are trying to break through a plateau of Magic success.

The most important point to take away from this article is that when you have a stronger mental game than your opponent, typically, you want to build a rapport with them. When you believe they may be too strong for you to outwit, simply break rapport with them and you can negate much of the advantage they seek to gain through mental manipulation.

I strongly recommend this article for PTQ players, particularly those interested in the mental side of Magic, the side beyond technical play.

Bonus Decklist:

You may have already seen something like this, though it hasn’t really broken out yet. The basic idea is to combine Shorecrasher Mimic with the Bant cards from Shards for degenerate attacking, starting on turn 3.

Other nice synergies, such as Elspeth with Rhox War Monk, or Rafiq of the Many with either of those cards, amount to a creature assault that gives many decks fits. My understanding is that Faeries really struggles against this sort of attack.

The Magic Cruise is fast approaching, and it will be the event of the season! If you are still thinking about going, I strongly suggest it. When has anyone ever done anything like this? This is an important event, not just because it will be fun (and one of the easier places to qualify), but also because of its significance to our culture.

StarCityGames.com has one of their $5000 Standard Open tournaments coming up the weekend before Worlds. With a prize pay-out almost as great as a GP, players will come from all over, and the stage will undoubtedly be set for the metagame to come at Worlds.

Will Faeries, Cruel Control, White Weenie, and Demigod Red still dominate? Or will Elves, Reveillark, Planeswalkers, or Merfolk move out of the Tier 2 and into the spotlight? With thousands of dollars on the line, there is no doubt players will bring out hot new tech.

It has been a great time writing these past 101 articles, and I look forward to many more. See you guys next week. Any requests?

(By the way, I play a lot of Cloudthreshers in my Five-Color Control deck these days. You already beat most decks by default, so mise well pre-board against The Enemy…)

Patrick Chapin
“The Innovator”