One of the things that I’ve noticed over the course of my time reporting on Type One is The Metafight. In Type One, for so long, so many metagames were so dramatically bad that results from them could be dismissed as products of ignorance and underdevelopment. This reflex was most useful when most everyone truly did suck a few years ago, and it was important to have an intellectual shortcut available that could make more people pay attention to serious playtesting results from the Paragons than tournaments.
This reflexive dismissal has outlived its usefulness. I actually went to a tournament on July 24th (much to the surprise of all), and based on the last one I went to (in February), I was expecting an immature Sligh/Sui type metagame with some randomness thrown in. I was pleasantly shocked to find the room full of 7/10, Trinistax, both breeds of Slaver, 4C Control, a Psychatog deck, a few Fish, and a few other recognizable, good decks. This in Urbana, Illinois – the middle of nowhere as far as Type One is concerned. (I 2-3ed it on the strength of great play errors like Artifact Mutationing Triskelion.)
The point of the tale is that two dozen people in the middle of nowhere made up a pretty competitive room, and this is happening all over the place. So the tournaments in monthly reports like mine aren’t just the small group that managed to get enough randoms into a room to pass a minimum player count, they’re filled with regular players who read up on the format and, more often than not, have playtested important matchups. This is not so different from PTQs, though I know we still have a ways to go before that comparison is valid.
Online, not everyone seems to have picked up on the sea change. Europe gets a lot of dismissive hand-waving from American players who don’t see their own pro-control bias. In fact, anything outside the Northeast earns this scorn, like Minnesota or Ontario. (Virginia has been redefined to be in New England due to the actions of Darren Di Battista several years ago and Team Short Bus in more recent times.)
I’d like to assert that the Europeans, and Italians especially, deserve a lot more respect than they’ve received. One of the long-persistent myths is that Europe doesn’t play Wastelands, which is what allows them to run”irrational” manabases. Here’s a sample of tournaments showing the emptiness of this myth.
June 2004 Top 8s
New Jersey: 10 Wasteland, 3 Strip Mine
Minneapolis: 16 Wasteland, 4 Strip Mine (half assumed from two missing 4CC lists)
Kalamazoo: 13 Wasteland, 4 Strip Mine
Dulmen: 12 Wasteland, 4 Strip Mine
Castricum: 12 Wasteland, 5 Strip Mine
Turin: 13 Wasteland, 4 Strip Mine
Bologna: 10 Wasteland, 3 Strip Mine
Hilariously, the Italian counts are lower than they might have otherwise been because, ‘lo and behold, after the North Americans advised them that non-Strip Hulk was better… they cut the Strips/Wastes. To add to the irony, the only New England tournament in the June set tied for lowest Wasteland counts.
N.A. average: 13.0 Wasteland, 3.7 Strip Mine
Europe average: 12.0 Wasteland, 4.0 Strip Mine
Considering the relatively small sample size, I call that”not significantly different”. In fact, Massimo Mattioli a.k.a. MaxxMatt on TMD, Italy’s most prominent voice in the format, recently criticized North American Hulk players for having undersized mana bases (22-23 sources) that are easy for Fish to hate. What could be more ironic?
The other major thing they’re accused of is playing bad decks. I’ll admit some rather odd creations have appeared in Europe, but if you look around on TMD you’ll find North America producing things like B/W Aggro-Control in a Lotus tourney T8 in Maine (31 players). Even in the SCG Power Nine tournament, the long-derided Landstill made Top 8, as did a Stacker variant. From Italy, these decks would be mocked as further evidence of ineptitude, but in America, they’re politely disregarded as anomalies or praised for inventiveness.
Let’s look at the decks the Italians have been Top 8ing with a lot for the last several months. R/U/G Madness, MUD, Trinistax, Hulk Smash, Dragon, and TPS are well-recognized as Italian regulars. Why should these decks be criticized? As recently as May, Tog was considered the best deck by many players, and Italian results have a huge portion of the Hulk Top 8 appearances. Steve Menendian said in March:”you can bet your booties at Gencon, Trinisphere will PWN.” And so it does… in Italy.
To explain further why Italy shouldn’t be scorned, I’m going to discuss their metagame’s compatibility with the predictions of Type One’s leading prophet, provocateur, and break-dancer, Steve Menendian. In his Five-Axis Metagame article, Steve talks about the important place of Workshop decks in keeping the metagame checked – this before the public release of 7/10 Split. Workshops are played far more in Italy (and the rest of Europe) than anywhere on this continent. What more natural place to play these decks could there be than the adoptive homeland of Tendrils of Agony?
Steve said,”Prison has a natural advantage along this axis nonetheless, because each lock part is so devastating against aggro-control decks, which play many cheap spells, and aggro decks which do not have countermagic.” Perhaps the presence of Workshop prison decks (and decks like Stacker with prison components) is what suppresses the New England-style aggro-control decks. The Italians fill this niche with another deck: Madness. Madness’ halcyon days occurred in January right after everyone thought combo was dead, and hated Dragon out of the metagame for a while – an especially odd time for it to prosper given the restriction of Lion’s Eye Diamond.
But contrary to popular wisdom about the deck, the Italians added Force of Will to Madness without cutting Bazaar of Baghdad or Red. In essence, they incorporated at least three other Smmenenisms: Force belongs in everything, every deck should have a way to deal with Goblin Welders, and hybrid strategies are usually the best. The Italians actually aren’t skimping on aggro-control; they just play beefy threats that are more dependable than Quirion Dryad and more resilient than Fish.
Here’s another Smmenen sentiment that the Italians bring to life: that combo is underplayed and should rightly be Top 8ing. The Italians Top 8 with TPS on almost a weekly basis, so why dislike them? Is it because they’re not playing the very latest Draw7 list with Diminishing Returns? When I was looking over a ton of TPS lists recently, I realized that they’re not playing the same game as Draw7. They’re decklists are actually much more combo-control than hard combo.
Consider that, if Hulk can be good winning on the fourth turn or so, TPS shouldn’t be considered bad when it skips playing Mana Drain to increase speed to a third-turn uncounterable kill. TPS also packs more bounce spells maindeck to defend against powerful hate like Null Rod, and this bounce is at multiple converted mana costs, rendering TPS almost immune to Chalice of the Void. If Draw7’s problem is that it’s just a shade too unstable to pay for its Diminishing Returns, then the Italians have the perfect answer: slow down and gain a lot of consistency with more land and disruption.
(In fact, to add supreme irony to recent criticism of an Auriok Salvagers deck on TMD that was derided for being”bad ReapLace with a kill condition that takes up more slots” – when ReapLace is in turn noted for being”bad Tog with a win condition that takes up more slots” – it might be worth considering whether TPS is as good at combo-control as Hulk, compressing its kill down to one or two slots.)
And what about Dragon? New England used to respect it when the illest of dawgs, Adam Bowers, was around to take home multiple consecutive Power tournies, but now it’s widely treated as being not very good. Perhaps once again we see the pro-4C Control bias rearing its ugly head, thanks to 4CC’s strong Dragon matchup. Among Hulk and prison decks, though, Dragon should be expected to be a good metagame deck.
To me, it just looks like Americans are ignoring data that isn’t confirming their own preconceptions. I’m not sure quite why we’re so control-biased (I’m sure there’s a good sociology thesis in there somewhere), but it’s definitely causing us to unnecessarily dismiss the most consistent and coherent metagame in the format, even when that metagame goes along with so many of the ideas ardently advocated by our most brilliant and outspoken writer! Fortunately, I’ve recently seen some change on this front. TMD members like Jeff Rieck (Methuselahn) and David Lawrence (Eastman) have been recognizing the innovations in TPS and rapidly adding to the credibility of those ideas. I doubt that GenCon will look like an Italian Top 8, but I would be surprised if their ideas didn’t have an influence.