The Scene… Pro Tour: Hollywood.
Our Hero walks up to Wafo-Tapa after Day 1 ends, with Guillaume at 8-0 and Chapin at 2-6…
“You may have won this battle, but the war is far from over!”
As we all know now, Manuel Bucher Quick n’ Toast deck was one of the breakout stories of the tournament. Though many doubt its ability to maintain strength without the surprise factor, it would seem there is little doubt that some form of it is viable as a Block Constructed strategy, as Careful Consideration is the only really important loss in translation.
For reference, Bucher and Wafo-Tapa’s Hollywood deck:
If asked, I would tend to describe the deck as a five color Mannequin deck, or at the very least Reflecting Pool Control or 5 Color Control… but Quick n’ Toast has stuck, much like the hideous “Chase Rare” name given to Remi’s Valencia-winning deck. I guess it could be worse. Seriously, when you look at it, isn’t this deck just a Solar Flare deck? Think about it…
I am a big fan of this deck, and would really enjoy playing it. It also seems to lose even less in translation to Block Constructed than Faeries! While both lose Rune Snag and a little of their manabase, the loss of Careful Consideration is not as devastating to QnT as Ancestral Vision was to Faeries. In addition, it is easier to make up the lost dual lands when you are the five-color mage.
It should also be remembered that without Magus of the Moon, the format is less hostile to QnT, whereas Faeries is one of the two archetypes that everyone is gunning for in the PTQ season. All of this – combined with the fact that QnT decks can by definition play any and everything, making them highly customizable – leads me to suspect that this is the best strategy, at least for the first few weeks of the PTQ season.
The customizable nature is actually very important to the QnT strategy, as it almost allows you to aim your collection of good cards in the direction of the archetypes you expect to be most popular. This allows you to prey on formats with only a small number of played archetypes.
Before Grand Prix: Birmingham, many players suspected that Faeries and Kithkin would dominate, with Elementals and Five-Color Control making small appearances. True to predictions, the Grand Prix saw 3 each of Fae and Kithkin, with two five-color decks, one Elementals and one QnT.
Before we take a look at QnT Block deck piloted by the archetype’s creator (Bucher) to a Top 8 finish, I would like to go over my list, which I built with knowledge of his Hollywood list, but not his GP list. I had actually intentionally avoided his GP list, wanting to not be biased by his deck choices when I tried to reimagine the list from a fresh perspective.
I find that sometimes it can be useful to avoid information contamination, such as when trying to figure out how to sideboard a match-up with which I am unfamiliar. If someone just told me how to sideboard, then he and I would only have his information to go on. If I try figuring out a way myself and then compare my findings to his, we actually have more useful information to use for future decisions.
I built a Five-Color Control deck, loosely based on the QnT model, but with a number of steps in new directions. I playtested with it for a couple days, eventually abandoning Liliana Vess and maindeck Primal Command in favor of some spicy numbers, as you will see. I also settled on Horde of Notions instead of Oona or Chameleon Colossus as my finisher, as it is just such an efficient threat that plays offense, defense, is hard to kill, and capable of generating huge card advantage if left unchecked. It can rip a game wide open arguably as well as Oona, if not better, but it is cheaper and just so devastating.
Here is the build I am at, as I sit down to examine Bucher’s GP list. At this point, I want to see where my line of creation is relative to his, to see what I can learn from his deck choices. (Note: my sideboard is a fresh and new creation, made with the benefit of examining to model, as I didn’t have one built and want this list to be as useful as possible).
Let’s now take a look at Manuel Bucher Top 8 list and see where we came to the same conclusions and where we differed.
Rather than breakdown every card in either list, I will just take it for granted that Bucher’s list was good enough to help him make Top 8, so we will assume his card choices are at least solid. I will instead focus on the differences in our lists and see which, if any, of the different selections I made is worth adopting, or if we are even really playing the same deck anymore.
To begin with, let’s look at the manabases. The primary difference between our decks is that I use 4 Fertile Grounds to give me early plays and to speed me up to my 4 and 5 mana plays, as well as just ramping all the way to 10, as I am wont to do. Fertile Ground obviously does a great job of fixing, as well as providing a nice speed boost… however, it is certainly made at a price.
Fertile Ground leaves me vulnerable to Wispmare, Cryptic Command, Fulminator Mage, and so on, which is not insignificant. I actually play more basics than I otherwise would, in an effort to make sure that I typically have a basic to put the Fertile Ground on, to help reduce the chances that I am blown out my a Fulminator.
So far, in my playtesting, the risk of playing an aura has not bitten me that much. Actually, my complaint with Fertile Ground comes from a different side of the coin. First of all, it is quite annoying at times that I have Broken Ambitions, and that if I develop my mana I am leaving myself open to Bitterblossom, which is devastating to this archetype.
In addition, I am playing 24 land plus 4 Fertile Grounds, which increases my chances at flooding without the benefit of Careful Consideration, or even as many Mind Springs as Bucher. This is a very real issue. It should also be noted that three is a heavy spot on my curve, so accelerating from two to four is not that impressive.
Verdict? Unclear. There are major pros and cons to both, no question. At the end of the day, it is going to hinge on whether or not Oblivion Ring or Austere Command is the Bitterblossom answer employed.
O-Ring means we will be vulnerable to enchantment kill anyway, and it’s more a “fight by inches” type of card. Austere Command grants that Bitterblossom will let them get way ahead and hopefully we can catch up, partially by destroying all enchantments, meaning we don’t want to be stranded with Fertile Grounds.
Bucher made up for the loss of the super fixing made possible by Fertile Ground by using more Vivid Lands, as well as many more Filter Lands. I am not sure which style I like better, and will certainly be trying his to allow fair comparison.
To begin with, his six extra creatures are all early defense. I have 3 Oblivion Rings and a 4th Firespout instead. Personally, I think the Firespout is an upgrade to the Shriekmaw or Plumeveil, but the Oblivion Rings do seem a little sketchy next to the incredible Kitchen Finks.
There is no question that Kitchen Finks is miles better against WW, Elves, and Red aggro… however, the O-Ring is not without merit. My theory was that I will beat the Kithkin decks from another angle and want to add percentage to the Faeries match-up. Oblivion Ring goes a long way towards helping that, as it is an all-purpose utility card that is not dead when they don’t have a Bitterblossom, a card that can actually give me a realistic way to deal with Blossom when they do.
One of the biggest lessons I have learnt from the Faeries match-up is that the game almost entirely hinges on whether or not the Fae can keep a Bitterblossom in play. This may seem intuitive, but I did not realize initially just how true this was.
I have played dozens of games of this match-up at this point and there is over a 90% correlation between Bitterblossom surviving and me losing. Now, perhaps Bucher’s build can better sidestep the Blossom with Kitchen Finks beatdown, Mind Spring card drawing, and Austere Command as a reset, but I know that my build has a ton of trouble when Bitterblossom gets out of hand.
That said, when the Fae just don’t have it, or I Oblivion Ring it, I am typically able to build a game-winning advantage over them. Without Ancestral Vision, they just don’t have the card drawing to keep going late game.
It should be noted at this point that if Faeries were to adopt a Mulldrifter–Shriekmaw-Mannequin plan, they would be a lot more difficult to out-pace. It will be interesting to see if this is the future of Faeries, as I suspect it is.
So the question is this: does Oblivion actually do enough to help the Faerie match-up to justify its inclusion? Well, I actually like Oblivion Ring against Elementals (Horde, Soulstoke, occasionally Braider), as well as against Colossus, Oona, and Planeswalkers. It really is a very versatile card.
Again, I am going to try Bucher’s build to see if his anti-Fae plan is solid enough. Perhaps I cannot be so bent on gaining control of the game completely. The idea of playing a Kitchen Finks, attacking every turn, and sweeping the fliers every three turns, creating a very winnable race, is somewhat appealing. We’ll see. My big concern, though, is how vulnerable Bucher’s deck is to problem permanents once they hit play. Counting on Commands to solve all of your problems is a risky proposition.
Speaking of Commands, we might as well get to one of the most interesting ways our paths diverged. While I originally opted for Primal Command, I eventually realized that Mutavault was the land I most wanted to hit, which is obviously not happening often. At the same time, I was wishing for more Firespouts (as a result of not playing Kitchen Finks or Austere Command).
Then it occurred to me… there is one Command that has not been heavily explored yet: Incendiary Command. Sure, it is sad that the Tolarian Winds option is not going to be useful often, nor is the 4 damage to a player, but those are still options that you may want at some point. The key, though, is obviously that you can sweep the board and destroy a Mutavault, a Windbrisk Heights, or a Sunken Ruins, etc.
This is a decent way to help fight Faeries, as their Mutavaults are particularly annoying, though it is crucial not to get blown out my Scion. The more relevant match-up for the card is Kithkin, where it is a superstar.
Almost every card in their deck is kold to the Incendiary Command, plus it hits the Mutavault that would have lived through the sweeper. On top of this, it helps disrupt their already somewhat sketchy manabase that intends to ramp from one all the way up to five.
Is this plan too cute? Maybe. It is nice that it is a solid land destruction spell versus everyone, but maybe I wouldn’t need the sweeper if I would just play Kitchen Finks to buy me time and block Mutavaults, as well as Austere Commands to clean up afterwards. Still, it is technology that will catch many by surprise, and it seems to be particularly good against the Kithkin that will be so popular throughout the season.
Finally, one more subtle difference that should be pointed out is that Bucher’s deck is set up to take advantage of the heavily underrated Plumeveil. I think this was an oversight on my part. The more I think about it, the more I think I might need to make room for this card. It is such an incredible anti-aggro card that, when combined with a few sweepers and some Kitchen Finks, could help me focus my energies on battle control decks.
There is a lot to think about, that is for sure. The Reflecting Pool / Vivid Land strategy opens up literally every non-tribal card in the block, so the options are numerous. I think the next step, for me at least, is to play some games with Bucher’s list and see what I like about it versus what I prefer from my build.
The main thing I want to emphasize today is that, at least based on what I know currently, I feel strongly that this is the best general strategy to develop. It is the Teachings of this format, though it might be a few generations of development from being as strong as it can be.
To everyone who wants $30 worth of technology every week from every writer, consider this lesson to be the lesson that will prove worth every penny to those smart enough to qualify with this strategy: Reflecting Pool Control is the best strategy in this format.
Such a high percentage of the field will play Kithkin and Faeries that if you just build a deck with inherent edge over them, you will have a leg up on well over half the field. I am excited to see what Flores comes up with this week, as one of his specialties is cracking metagames with very few archetypes. He is very good at building hateful decks, and with just a small array of opponents to hate, his method will be exceptionally useful.
See you guys next week!
(See Flores, I told you I could write an entire article and be serious the whole time…
…now, where is that Mt. Dew Amp?)