Kamigawa Block: Deck by Deck

Zvi Mowshowitz. The new decklists. The format review of Kamigawa Block Constructed and advice on what to play now. You know you want it…

Note that I am not refining these decks other than to correct contradictions. This is the world as it is, not the world as it should be.

That would be a “statistically average” Gifts Ungiven deck, as created by the StarCityGames.com database. I’ll be using such decks, fixed for maindeck-sideboard number agreement issues. I have to say, this list looks awfully familiar. Aside from the one Final Judgment, which has to be the result of a numerical anomaly, this list ends up looking like a real deck. Nothing on this list comes as a surprise – this is almost exactly the list that I looked at last week and shrugged. The only leap I’d need to make would be to convince myself that the Top was indeed ridiculous, and that would have come with more games played.

After that, the question becomes whether or not to endorse Final Judgment. My guess given what I did with the card elsewhere is that I would have given it the thumbs up. If I’d taken a few more hours to work on it, I’d probably have a list about three to five cards off of this one and that includes the sideboard, where I’d probably try and work in a few more legends as was also done. The deck builds itself. I addressed last time why I think it worked when I believed that it wouldn’t, and I think that still holds true. In the end, this strategy worked. However, reports of this deck ruling the tournament with an iron fist seem to have been disproved by the statistics that show its performance to be only average. Only those who mastered the deck got good performances out of it.

The main way that Szleifer’s list departs is an interesting one: He doesn’t use Kodama in the maindeck, instead running multiple copies of Ink-Eyes. Ink-Eyes can create a board position that you can’t extract yourself from by forcing them to deal with multiple legends, while Kodama cannot. All Kodama can do is attack and block, and it makes sense that you would have better things to do. It would be crazy not to run it if you were tutoring, but you are not. I still don’t consider Ink-Eyes to be as good a card, but I understand why the decision was made and there is no question Szleifer knew exactly how to get the most out of his deck. This deck is very hard to play correctly, and his victory by all reports is once again proof that it is almost impossible to win a block Pro Tour without being one of the most prepared and best players in the room at the format.

HokoriThe third Will replaces the fifth Hokori, since that’s not a good idea. The only difference between this list and the “standard” WW list is that the maindeck is up to three Hokori. Given the shift towards control decks this makes perfect sense, with my main worry being land count to support them. I think that White putting up a decent record but failing in the end was not an accident. Sure, we can blame a lack of rules knowledge for the fall of the last Tallowisp but that is symptomatic of the fact that the best players didn’t choose White. I have nothing against those who did play it, but I expected this result. I suspect that the few top players who did choose the deck did so due to their inability to be satisfied with anything else or find sufficient playtest time. They also show delusions of mediocrity by attempting to play Hikari, Twilight Guardian and otherwise bloat the deck. Others knew that such ambitions were beyond the deck and ended their curve with Hokori. The deck can’t win a battle of legends, so why weaken yourself in the battle you can hope to win? Trying to fight off Kokusho, Meluko and Yosei is a lost cause.

White ended up losing to Snakes and Legends, as I expected, and only splitting with Gifts Ungiven. If you’re going to lose to midrange control and be the only real beatdown, you need to beat the combination decks and instead you split with it. The reason this deck broke 50% is that it got to play against The Jungle of badly constructed home brews and pad its record that way.

Ryan Cimera avoiding running the fourth Isamaru, which is a good decision, and chose to leave Hokori in the sideboard. While the matches at the top of the tournament all require Hokori, if it needs to be maindecked then you’re probably running the wrong archetype.

I’m going to ignore the versions that don’t splash anything because their performance is worth ignoring. Of course, Snakes overall had a record that was worth being ashamed of, but the decks that splashed were far better than those that did not. The most popular deck at the tournament failed for the second year in a row. It seems that when big things battle, little things don’t make enough of a difference to get a deck built around them.

Heartbeat of Spring and Final Judgment are the kinds of things that Snakes do not want to see, and giving up on what makes the Snakes deck different from other Green decks leaves no good reason not to turn it into another Green deck – see my G/W/u/r build for a good example of trying to keep only enough snakes to justify Sosuke’s Summons and Jitte and note that even that build has a problem with getting overpowered by the even more high end cards or Eternal Haze. This list has no maindeck defense for the Haze at all, nor does it have much of a defense to Final Judgment, Myojin of Cleansing Fire or Heartbeat of Spring. Adding in some high end threats would help a lot, but once this deck looks that much like everyone else why are you running it? The reason to run the deck was essentially Sachi, who gave you amazing mana with side benefits, but in a world with board clearing effects and flat out larger swings that has been eclipsed. Sachi was very much a way to get just enough to handle the other low end decks. Snakes is going to need serious help from Saviors if it is going to get back into competition for the top spot.

(NOTE: I would include a Caller of Autumn, but they didn’t.)

This decklist bears an uncanny resemblance to Gifts Ungiven without the Gifts engine, using the extra slots for more legends and removal instead. The Gifts engine trumps this strategy, and its ability to trump other things is also powerful. You get to cover all your obvious bases in exchange for giving up the engine, but what does it accomplish to cover them? If your opponent is going over the top, it’s going to be a long day. If they’re playing on your level, you have a coin flip, and I would take the side with Final Judgment on it all other things being roughly equal. This deck is, to use The Onion’s terminology, unnecessary. Everything this deck can do, other decks can do better. I doubt Saviors can rescue this concept. Note that the G/B control decks are just a worse version of this deck while G/B/u is one card off and not particularly different.

This deck does everything it can be expected to do. The cards work together as much as legends can work with each other and you get good work from all your men and from your equipment. Honor-worn Shaku is at its best, but at the expense of Sakura-Tribe Elder and Kodama’s Reach. That trade seems poor, and you end up playing creatures that while not terrible wouldn’t make the cut if it weren’t for your need for legends. The other big advantage is getting to play Hokori and Eight-and-a-half-tails without playing a deck that has no power. You most certainly have power, but not enough good protection for Hokori. Could there be a way to combine the two decks, letting you protect the key cards and shut down opposing dragons while also getting to ramp up to Godo? I doubt that the two end up stronger together than they would be apart, but it’s also likely that Saviors will improve your prospects by letting you fill out the deck’s rough edges. That won’t be a ringing endorsement, but there are worse fates.

Oh lord, is that awful. I realize that it didn’t lose every single match that it played but all that proves is that any deck with creatures can win matches if you can convince some chump to run it. A quick look at the various lists for these decks convinces me that I was kind when I was talking about the result of having only twelve rounds. There are some good cards here, but it needs at least two out of Saviors and probably three if it’s going to work.

This list seems excessively safe. It doesn’t commit you to anything. The lands in particular are far too basic for my tastes. You don’t have many continuous mana needs, so why is the mana set up to provide so much continuous colored mana at the expense of having exactly what you need when you need it? It’s not an averaging effect, it’s how the deck was built. I’m going to give the benefit of the doubt on Yosei, but on the rest of the departures from my ideas I am highly skeptical, especially given that this list doesn’t even pretend to offer you a way out of various engines and locks beyond Hisoka’s Defiance. You’re not particularly well set up in mana to fight that counter war, and if they have duplicate engine parts you’ll never break it. One Hokori is all that stands between you and a Haze lock and there is no protection for it. There’s also less Jitte utilization than I might like, and extra Genju in the board does seem like a fine idea. I’m just not sure that the green one is the right choice. At least run a second Island if that is going to be your sideboard.

Believe it or not, I'm myojin on airThe subtitle of these decks could be “Believe it.” Heartbeat of Spring is here and it is here to stay. I was probably in the midst of discovering the backdoor into this strategy by putting Myojin of Seeing Winds into a deck with three Myojin of Cleansing Fire. Even without the Heartbeat these cards put your opponent on a short clock. There are lots of Wrath effects and not much time to win before they start. Once Final Judgment resolves, you have time to hit Myojin of Cleansing Fire. If Heartbeat of Spring is good, then the only thing that can beat you is speed and it’s hard to beat you by that much. If the Heartbeat is bad, the only thing that can beat you other than a similar opponent or the Gifts engine is speed and they clearly don’t have much.

Where does that leave us when we go from here? I would take the following out of the tournament:

We have WW as a reality check. We have various high end spells to go with the Heartbeat of Spring. We have the Hana Kami engine. Other strategies that were played seem to be inferior versions of these plans. The deck I posted right before the Tour was simply a precursor to the Heartbeat. That leaves the high end green mana decks to fight it out for dominance, since they will beat anything midrange and white lacks the power to beat them. The next question will be: Can another aggressive deck like Red rise out of the ashes to stabilize the situation before we end up using doing everything short of using That Which Was Taken to reload our Myojin?

What results from this situation if nothing new emerges is a race to the top. Whoever plays the most expensive and powerful cards will win, and cards like Time Stop and the Myojin are by far the most powerful. These will be the weapons these decks sling at each other. They don’t hurt you that much when you face the aggressive decks because your mana acceleration is good and Final Judgment is great, as is the White Myojin and Heartbeat of Spring becomes your Umezawa’s Jitte. They can contain it, but that only keeps things equal. The lack of a true beatdown deck other than White also makes it far too easy to defend against the threat with the Empty-Shrine and prevents you from having to worry too much about reach.

I think that the Red deck can get in there and fight the good fight given the right incentives. I’ve been frustrated in my attempts to get those who built the good version of the deck to give it up explicitly, but it’s moot since it will doubtless change when Saviors comes out. If Red isn’t up to the task, we’ll have to find something else that is and with the help defenses to White can be weakened by forcing people to find a more universal answer to attackers.

In the meantime, what should you run? I think that the Myojin Flare strategy is best. You get to play reliable high end cards without having a curve anywhere near as unwieldy as it might look. Using two Time of Need with three Myojin of Seeing Winds seems a little odd, but it’s been well established that I have a much higher opinion of the third and fourth Time of Need than most people. I’d certainly need to take a closer look at the details to find the right list, as I find things like running one Meluko, no Kodama and two Hatchery rather odd, but not using Kodama where others would have seems to be a top eight theme.

At this point, I’m going to call my two set-block coverage to a close. I fully intend to return to the subject after the Saviors review, but right now I’m moving on to talk about Vintage. [Yes, he said talk about Vintage. Details of that will be forthcoming early next week. – Knut] Hopefully my time will be limited and I won’t ruin too much of everyone’s fun.

Postscript: Let’s Go To The Videotape

This is a message to those running the Wizards video archives. If you’re reading this, I would very much appreciate it if you could pull the footage from Tokyo for me. I know that they were ready to show it for this event, although I missed it due to having to step outside for a bite to eat and having the semifinals end unexpectedly quickly. If it was ready for broadcast, you must have it, so please could you e-mail it to me (along with any other goodies) to [email protected]. Thanks in advance.