Magical Hack – Fresh Air for Block Constructed

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Friday, August 15th – This weekend past has been an interesting one for the Block Constructed format. Just when everyone settled in to think that it was the same-old, same-old format with Faeries on top, a vanishing deck archetype got enough ‘Innovation’ to win the Grand Prix in Denver.

This weekend past has been an interesting one for the Block Constructed format. Just when everyone settled in to think that it was the same-old, same-old format with Faeries on top, a vanishing deck archetype got enough ‘Innovation‘ to win the Grand Prix in Denver. But wider evidence from across the nation shows that the metagame is in an uproar, waiting to re-stabilize at some new level, and stepping through the phases of the Grand Prix will show just how the metagame should develop over time.

First there were the two 9-0 decklists in Denver, playing 56 of the same 60 cards main-deck. Jarvis Yu had a 4th Unmake and 3 Stillmoon Cavaliers where Walter Shatford had a Surge of Thoughtweft, a second Mirrorweave, a Mirror Entity and a Thistledown Liege… but otherwise these two Kithkin decks were identical. Add to this information the fact that Kithkin have been on a tear recently at the PTQ level, as you can see from the Columbus, Ohio PTQ from this past weekend. When a PTQ’s results can have six of the eight decks be Kithkin, and only one Faeries deck, suddenly the “Faerie Menace” stops being quite as credible a threat.

But watching the grinding motions of a Grand Prix in action gives hints as to where the metagame is progressing. Day 1 saw a triumphant march of Kithkin taking the two undefeated slots at the top of the heap, and 12 of the 64 slots altogether. Day 2 saw Faeries as the most-played deck, with 20 of the 64 slots… and at the top of the heap it seems it was now its turn to fail, doomed to fall at last in the metagame progression. Come the time for Top 8, instead of 31% of the field it fell to a ‘mere’ 25%… so it’s not exactly like Faeries got thrown under the wheels of the bus, converting somewhere at or near its population percentage on the second day (and probably converting more than its population percentage from Day 1 to Day 2 attendance). Faeries even made the finals, but it lost there to Patrick Chapin latest innovation of the Mannequin-MulldrifterReflecting Pool club, Justice Toast, in the hands of Gerry Thompson.

Where before we had seen minimal penetration of Eventide cards into the Block Constructed format at GP: Kobe, GP: Denver by comparison seems to have a huge impact. The previous mark was 48 of 600 cards in the Top 8, and Denver gives us the following:

Kyle Bundgaard: 1 Cascade Bluffs, 3 Flooded Grove, 4 Soul Snuffers (4th in SB). 8 Eventide cards.

Gerry Thompson: 1 Cascade Bluffs, 3 Flooded Grove, 2 Archon of Justice, 1 Oona’s Grace, 4 Runed Halo (2 in SB), 2 Hallowed Burial (SB). 13 Eventide cards.

Hunter Burton: 2 Fetid Heath, 2 Twilight Mire, 4 Soul Snuffers (SB). 8 Eventide cards.

Lee Steht: 4 Stillmoon Cavalier (SB). 4 Eventide cards.

Nathan Elkins: 4 Figure of Destiny, 1 Unmake (SB), 3 Stillmoon Cavaliers (SB). 8 Eventide cards.

Antonino De Rosa: 4 Flooded Grove, 3 Archon of Justice, 2 Hallowed Burial (SB). 9 Eventide cards.

AJ Sacher: 4 Stillmoon Cavalier (SB). 4 Eventide cards.

Kenny Castor: 4 Flooded Grove, 3 Hallowed Burial (SB), 4 Recumbent Bliss (SB). 11 Eventide cards.

65 of 600 is only about 11%, but it’s still a noted improvement. With only five Red decks on Day 2 and none of them converting to a Top 8 finish, we aren’t even talking about many of the same Red cards that got our attention last week, so we have now seen the tournament entry of four out of five Eventide dual lands, and quite a few more Eventide cards than the ‘known’ chase rares of Stillmoon Cavaliers and Figure of Destiny. Even unloved commons like Recumbent Bliss made their way into the format, I imagine as a somewhat more proactive solution to Red decks’ plan than Forge[/author]-Tender”]Burrenton [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author]-Tenders that can also be sideboarded in against monster fatties like Doran or Chameleon Colossus. But combining the two Grand Prix together we see an awful lot of innovation in this stagnant format everyone keeps complaining about:


2x Faeries
2x Justice Toast
‘Blackened’ Toast
4c Merfolk
Doran Rock


3x Faeries
Doran Rock
Aggro Doran
Mono-Red Shamans
R/B Aggro

Five out of sixteen Top 8 slots were occupied by Faeries, yes… but other than that there were two Doran Rock decks, two Kithkin decks, two Justice Toast decks, and five individually unique decks. Instead of all Faeries all the time, we see nine different archetypes making the cut to Top 8 play. Finally this widening of the format seems to actually be happening, instead of just some theoretical change that maybe Eventide cards will bring about… and as more of Eventide’s niche-filling cards find a home, the set will finally come into its own as something to be respected instead of the moniker of ‘worst set in recent memory’ that some seem to have saddled it with. (As if the worst set in recent memory wasn’t Coldsnap, obviously!)

Combining both weeks of Top 8 results, we see the following cards from Eventide have made their splash:

Cascade Bluffs
Flooded Grove
Fetid Heath
Twilight Mire
Archon of Justice
Runed Halo
Hallowed Burial
Stillmoon Cavaliers
Figure of Destiny
Stigma Lasher

Soul Snuffers

Oona’s Grace
Recumbent Bliss
Wickerbough Elder
Puncture Blast
Flame Jab

Looking at the PTQ circuit, slowly but surely information begins to trickle in. Professional Events Services posted their Top 8 decklists for the Columbus, Ohio PTQ on 8/9/08 (link is here, as above) with 6 of 8 decks being Kithkin. These Top 8 decks included new additions from Eventide such as Rise of the Hobgoblins (a two-of in the winner’s sideboard, and a one-of in one of the Top 4 decks’ sideboard) and Runed Halo (a three-of in the sideboard of one of the Top 4 decks) in addition to the Stillmoon Cavaliers, Unmakes, and Figures of Destiny we have come to expect to see.

Tulsa, Oklahoma was won on 8/2 by an update to the Repel Intruders Kithkin deck that started to make waves in the Pacific Northwest prior to Eventide’s release, with the addition of Unmake and Figure of Destiny main-deck and Stillmoon Cavalier and Beckon Apparition in the sideboard. Mono-Red splash Black lost in the finals but included not just Figure of Destiny but also Eventide uncommon Chaotic Backlash, prepared to turn a horde of Kithkin against their master as fuel for one really big burn spell. GP: Denver Top 4 Merfolk player Kenneth Castor brought Kithkin to the Top 4 there with a somewhat standard-looking list that included Unmake, Figure of Destiny, Stillmoon Cavalier, and Hallowed Burial among its additions from Eventide. Tulsa also saw a UGw Merfolk build with Wistful Selkie in the Top 8, again bearing Snakeform out of the sideboard for problematic creatures. Even if there was still mostly Faeries and Kithkin in that Top 8, there was still some innovation as new cards and new decks made their way into single-elimination rounds.

The second PTQ to be ‘unlocked’ over the past week, at least as of the time of writing this article, was for Anaheim, California. Kithkin again took the envelope and had the usual suspects amongst main and sideboard from the new set, Regal Force made an appearance as a one-of main-deck for fourth-place finisher Joseph Baar playing a deck Mike Flores was born to love, including Jim Roy Highlander Sideboard specials such as one-of Ballynock Trapper, one-of Drain the Well, and one-of Recumbent Bliss in among the mess of sideboard cards that suggests to us the player was on a very tight budget for assembling his deck for the tournament (he had one Murmuring Bosk, but no Wooded Bastions in his G/W deck). In fifth place we see a Doran deck with Bloom Tender, threatening to go crazy with that mana accelerant by following up a turn 2 Tender with a turn 3 Doran that then allows the Bloom Tender to tap for Kitchen Finks mana.

In all three of these PTQs, the Kithkin are running rampant, almost roughshod on the format… like Kithkin is the new Faeries or something.

But with a new Kithkin-slaughterer over the horizon, that seems as if it is doing pretty well against Faeries also, this phase seems like it, too, will be something that shall be grown out of. With less than one month left to the PTQ season, it’s doubtful that we shall see TOO much iteration past the current ‘phase,’ but the simple fact is as we look harder and harder at Eventide all the negative opinions get stripped away and the role-playing gems make their presence known. Already 19 cards from Eventide have seen play in the Top 8s of Kobe and Denver, out of 180 cards in the set. Sure, that’s not a lot… but last week it was 13. If you count PTQ Top 8s, we add another three cards from three tournaments we’ve seen decklists for… and so on and so forth, as things go forward from here.

The idea that Eventide is a bad set and thus you shouldn’t play these bad cards is just a poor opinion that has been circulated falsely for some time now, because it’s easier to repeat than it is to think. We’re all guilty of that sometimes… but I at least have maintained high hopes for Eventide all throughout. Pricewise, you have to watch and wonder why people started out valuing Talara’s Battalion at 12-15 and Stillmoon Cavaliers at 3, only to have the Cavaliers rocket to $20 bills at the Grand Prix, Nationals, and even some PTQs because demand has suddenly surged through the roof. Have those Battalions suddenly dropped in price, because they haven’t lived up to hype? Not yet, from what I’ve seen.

“Hype” is an interesting thing. At the start of the season, the “hype” was play Faeries, play Kithkin, or drop from the tournament because you’re wasting your time. Something called “Ten Commandments” had a few people excited, and then suddenly there’s a whole new archetype altering the metagame because a Grand Prix happened and we could see there were more options than the assumed two best decks. “Hype” creates an information cascade where everyone keeps doing what everyone else is doing, assuming that it has to be right because a hundred thousand lemmings can’t be wrong. On the PTQ circuit we’ve seen a big white hype… Kithkin everywhere, jamming the Top 8s full of the little buggers, perhaps because PTQ players haven’t yet adopted the tools to adjust their decks accordingly. Between the three Faeries decks to have made Top 8 from amongst those results we actually have for the past two weeks, there were literally two main-deck Peppersmokes… while our analysis of the successful Faeries lists from Kobe suggested that four Peppersmokes main was what it took in Faeries to stand up to Kithkin’s latest addition, the Figure of Destiny. The two Grand Prix Faerie decks in the Top 8 averaged three copies, and stood up to the Kithkin field that seems to have flooded Day 1 play.

So the PTQ circuit is artificially flooded with Kithkin, or so it seems for the moment. The opposition hasn’t adjusted to the fact that it has new tools and thus a new approach is needed to defeat it, and in the wake of this incorrect positioning we are seeing a monster showing of PTQ Top Eights with Kithkin. Grand Prix results are starting to trickle down to the PTQ level… Mono-Red was one of the three most-played archetypes at the PTQ in Philadelphia this weekend by my understanding, more prevalent even than the omnipresent Faeries decks. And with a Kithkin-smasher winning in the hands of a well-known writer, and a new victory for a deck with Firespout, it could simply be that this information cascade is finally broken and “the best decks” will lose their stranglehold on the format. Creativity and original thought have been rewarded — not just with an ‘innovative’ win for a deck splashing more than one new Eventide spell, but also with the advancement of previously-dismissed archetypes like Doran from ‘that’s not a real deck’ to ‘third most played deck on Day 2 of a Grand Prix’ and ‘multiple GP Top 8 performer’.

Perhaps this format really is as stagnant as all the naysayers claim. And perhaps the cards in Eventide are just as bad as they are complaining. But experience has show that all it takes is a little more time and a fresh perspective, to escape the trap of not thinking for oneself, and all that hype just drops away. The format’s changed… we might as well play like it has. I can guarantee that those who disagree about the format changing and just sleeve up their Kithkin, same build as they’d seen winning PTQs this week, will be sorely disappointed when the PTQ-winning deck bashes into the more-innovative GP-winning list from this past weekend.

Sean McKeown
s_mckeown @ hotmail.com