Innovations – Justice Toast for Block Constructed

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Monday, August 11th – It seems that The Innovator has done it again! While he wasn’t the tournament-winning pilot of the hottest tech at Grand Prix: Denver – that honor fell to Gerry Thompson – Patrick Chapin was the driving force behind the deck’s creation. For the story of the deck’s inception, written and submitted before Gerry T took the crown, read on! And congratulations Gerry!

Michael Jacob: Your unnatural love for Vivid Creek and Reflecting Pool bothers me.
Patrick Chapin: This from a man who plays Dota 15 hours a day, only stopping to play Soul Caliber…

It is no secret that I have always been a fan of Five-Color Control, dating back to 1994 with my Five-Color Control deck harnessed City of Brass to fix its mana, Mana Drain to counter spells, Swords to Plowshares / Moat for defense, and restricted cards plus Tomes and Scepters for card advantage.

Since then, there have been many major breakthroughs in Five-Color Control strategies, such as Keeper, Mike Donais’ Five Color Blue, Finkel Prison, Invasion Domain, Wake, Gifts, Teachings, and now finally what has become known as Quick n’ Toast and other Vivid Creek plus Reflecting Pool based strategies.

The common theme tying all of the strategies together is the use of some abnormally strong manabase enabling one to play any or all colors. Typically this is done by setting the deck up as a sort of two-color offering, where one color is Blue and the other color is all of the other colors combined (this is a historically accurate way of looking at Blue’s relationship to the other colors).

Since Five-Color Control decks typically seek to establish control with card advantage and some countermagic, Blue is the perfect base. Next, we take advantage of the color fixing to allow us to essentially splash all of the other colors for whatever good cards we want.

The Quick n’ Toast approach at the Five-Color Blue strategy was first unveiled at Pro Tour: Hollywood by Guillaume Wafo-Tapa, Olivier Ruel, and Manuel Bucher. Since then, it has made a name for itself in the new Standard (Mark Herberholz and Olivier Ruel made Top 8 of their respective Nationals, which you can read about here), as well as the Lorwyn / Shadowmoor Block Constructed format (Manuel Bucher made Top 8 at Grand Prix: Birmingham, which you can read about here.)

One of the keys to the evolving Quick n’ Toast strategy is the continual adaptation to what new challenges the format presents, as well as mixing things up just so that your opponents don’t know what to play around.

With Toast style strategies, so many of the cards are blow-out defense plays that it greatly benefits the other player to play around them. As such, if your list is known, you will lose percentage on account of people being able to play around things ranging from Plumeveil to Austere Command to Broken Ambitions to Hallowed Burial to Cloudthresher to Firespout, and so on.

This is part of why players copying Toast decks have traditionally not experienced a ton of success, whereas the pilots who are always on the cutting edge continue to put up strong finish after strong finish. I can’t even count how many players got blown out by Olivier and his Pact of Negations, Mind Shatters, and Platinum Angels that few saw coming.

Of course, I would be remiss if I did not mention that there are many who believe that players like Wafo-Tapa, Ruel, Bucher, and Herberholz are not exactly a fair litmus test for the deck’s strength, as they are among the very best in the world. I, however, feel that it is actually a good indicator of a deck that allows good players a chance to play a game that takes advantage of their skillset.

This is exactly why I played Next Level Blue earlier in the year. Decks like it and Quick n’ Toast are exceptionally difficult to pilot, but they create a lot of opportunities to outplay opponents. This “outplaying” can take lots of forms. Difficult lines of play are made possible with enough imagination, but in addition there are countless opportunities for opponents to make misplays against you due to the great complexities underneath the surface of most NLU and QnT match-ups.

When I showed up to Denver, I met up with Paul Cheon and Luis-Scott Vargas, and we played some games. It was only after our playtesting session was well under way that I heard the whole story behind theirs.

You see, LSV had spent the week with family, and Cheon had been assigned to figure out what they should play for the Grand Prix. After going into the tank for a week, Paul called LSV:

Cheon: Okay, get a pen. Ready?
LSV: Sure, go ahead.
Cheon: Sixteen Plains
LSV: … *Click*

I battled Paul for a little while, with him on Kithkin, and it does not take long for him to want to audible to my list, especially since he was particularly impressed by Archon of Justice. LSV was looking for a reason to switch anyway, and several other friends of ours, including Gerry Thompson, Steve Sadin, and Sam Black, got on board.

It should be noted that GerryT had arrived at many of the same conclusions I had independently, such as Archon of Justice. It was the Runed Halo and Oona’s Grace that had impressed him. With this Five-Color Control archetype, it is not really so much about pioneering some great new strategy as it is discovering the right cards to do what you need done.

The whole point to this strategy is that you have access to any cards you want. This means that, to fully take advantage of the strategy, you have to be willing to play a Blue deck that splashes Cloudthresher, Runed Halo, Firespout, and Shriekmaw.

Here is what I played:

The maindeck is very much in the vein of Quick n’ Toast, on which there is already plenty of material. Let me instead skip to the new stuff.

First up, our kill card: Archon of Justice. I know it may be a little strange to play so many, especially when we have Cloudthreshers and all the random creatures with Comes-Into-Play abilities, but Archon is just a very powerful card. It is much easier to stick than an Oona, and there is really no good way – outside of White removal like Unmake and Crib Swap – to get rid of it.

Imagine, if you will, Oona as the modern day Meloku. She will totally win the game if she sits out there, but she has to live. Well, Archon is sort of like Keiga or Yosei. It is a beefy monster, and even if it dies, its master comes out way ahead. Flores had to be in love with this card at first sight.

Last week I was testing for the Grand Prix, and was playing a version of Toast with two Nucklavee and an Oona that was inspired by my Nationals deck. I was getting crushed by Mono-Red. After getting wrecked pretty badly, I went into the tank and came out with Archon of Justice and Runed Halo (walking back and forth in front of the rare case is insane).

I will get to the Halo in a moment, but as for the Archon, I tried cutting a Nucklavee for it… and the first time I drew it, I was switching the other one. It was crazy; it changed so much about the match-up, and I could tell it was going to be good in other match-ups.

A few games later, I drew Oona when my opponent had a Demigod of Revenge. I played it, he burned it, and I died to Demigod. It was at this point I brought in the third Archon for Oona.

The Runed Halo was one of the experiments that you think is likely going to not work out, but you do anyway since it is so different you have to try for yourself. There is no question the guys at RIW were making fun of me for it, but you know what? The first time I drew Runed Halo and named Demigod of Revenge, they weren’t laughing any more.

At first Michael Jacob told me that I was just trying to hose his deck, since it is obviously at its best against Demigod Red (and Chameleon Colossus/Doran decks…), but has come to appreciate that it is a general purpose solution to a lot of problems and will probably be at its best in Standard, where it is probably a better answer to Mono-Red than Condemn.

Some of the interesting applications include:

– Name Mistbind Clique, and they must tap their own lands with it, in addition to it not being able to damage you.
– Name Mutavault and your sweepers are golden.
– Name Flame Javelin and you are less likely to be burnt out.
– Name Figure of Destiny, because sometimes he gets out of Firespout Range and becomes a problem.
– Name Chameleon Colossus and Doran, a.k.a. any other big dumb monsters that like to rumble.
– Name Demigod of Revenge, it is such an elegant solution that stops the current one, any he should bring back, and any he should play later.
– Name Oona, Queen of the Fae, and you are safe from her attacks as well as her milling, which means no Faerie tokens.
– Name any creature of which the opponent has two copies, such as Knight of Meadowgrain.

Seriously, there are so many interesting uses for this card, you just have to be imaginative. The primary decks you board the third and fourth in against are Demigod Red and Green creature decks, like Doran. Being able to stop the best cards in their deck for two mana, and shut down all future copies, is amazing.

It is interesting too, because I remember a few months ago talking to some R&D guys and they said they were surprised that Runed Halo had not taken off more, because it was a hit in FFL (their testing league). They attributed this to it not being effective against Bitterblossom, but I think time will tell that they were right about the card’s power level.

Finally, we come to Oona’s Grace. This was actually a last minute change borne out of necessity. I had been constantly going back and forth with Mind Spring, hating it every time I drew it, but hating every time I didn’t have it when I was flooded. It was not until in the middle of a game in which I had Kithkin, and Cheon had Toast and was flooded, that inspiration struck in the form of a joke.

I asked him, laughing, if he wishes he had Oona’s Grace. He said, “yes, as a matter of fact, it would be great right now.” One of the great things about testing with Paul and LSV is that they are very open-minded and had no problem evaluating cards like Archon of Justice, Runed Halo, and Oona’s Grace without a bias because of the supposed “badness” of the cards.

After we talked about it a little, we put an Oona’s Grace in to try it out. It immediately won the next two games, making all the difference in the world. In the early game, it is far better than a Mind Spring, as it is almost like a “draw two for three mana” spell as an instant. You get one card in your hand, and one card in the form of a Jalum Tome in your graveyard. Mind Spring for two was a common play, and it’s very poor in comparison to Oona’s Grace.

Later in the game, Mind Spring is obviously better, but who cares? If the game goes long, Mind Spring might win the game 85% of the time, but Oona’s Grace will win it 75%. These numbers are made up, but the point is that Oona’s Grace is almost as good going long, but far better early.

It is also much more synergistic with our strategy. We don’t want to tap a ton of mana to play a card that doesn’t alter the board. Oona’s Grace gives us something good to do when we sit with countermagic up. If anything, the mistake that I made deck building this time around was that I probably should have included another land and another Oona’s Grace. The additional land would help diminish early mana problems, and the additional Grace would help protect from the flood naturally occurring.

The only real innovation in the sideboard was Hallowed Burial, as just another nice Wrath effect. Round after round I found it to be stronger than Austere Command, and I now feel that it probably should have just been maindeck instead of the Command.

I also added Chameleon Colossus, to help give even more edge against the Fae and to have a nice tactical weapon against other Five-Color Control decks, which we were not optimally configured against initially.

Okay… tune in next week for more hot block tech and stories from Grand Prix: Denver!

Patrick Chapin
“The Innovator”

Bonus Sideboarding Guide:

Versus Fae:

-2 Shriekmaw, -2 Austere Command, -2 Runed Halo, -2 Firespout
+4 Wispmare, +3 Chameleon Colossus, +1 Cloudthresher

Versus Kithkin:

-(0-3) Broken Ambitions, (0-2) Runed Halo, -1 Archon of Justice, -(1-2) Cloudthresher
+2 Hallowed Burial, +2 Shriekmaw, +1 Plumeveil

Versus Demigod Red:

-2 Austere Command, -3 Broken Ambitions, -1 Firespout
+2 Runed Halo, +2 Hallowed Burial, +1 Shriekmaw, +1 Plumeveil

Versus Doran:

-3 Cloudthresher, -1 Kitchen Finks
+2 Hallowed Burial, +2 Runed Halo