Magical Hack – Hollywood Squares

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Friday, May 30th – I would like to discuss what I got from the “Hollywood Experience,” from my chair at home a few days after the fact. For the most part this is a look at single cards and their impact in the context of a greater whole, when their implication had somehow been missed prior to that event.

Right around the time Pro Tour: Hollywood was ramping up to actually go zoom, and we’d get a chance to see how things played out on that grander stage and then follow each in and out of the metagame carefully in time for Regionals… I found out that I wouldn’t be able to attend Regionals this year. And not for a happy reason, like finding out that I was going to be working for Wizards (must be nice, Tom!), or that I snuck in a qualification elsewhere, but for the truly mundane reason of having two things fighting it out on the same day for scheduling, one of which could not be said no to, not even for Regionals. And just like that, I go from pondering Faeries to build a version of the deck that felt like it was standing head and shoulders above the large bulk of the other lists for that deck, to wondering just what my motivation is for caring about Standard at the moment.

This is not a good thing to have to be asking oneself, staring from the outside looking in at the frenetic bustle of energy and discussion at everyone else who actually can make it to Regionals this year, realizing that as far as the calendar for the year goes this is it, the one big thing to be looked forward to, and because you have to miss it there’s a whole host of other opportunities that likewise vanish from the horizon. So rather than stay hitched to any particular format, I would like to discuss what I got from the “Hollywood Experience,” from my chair at home a few days after the fact. For the most part this is a look at single cards and their impact in the context of a greater whole, when their implication had somehow been missed prior to that event.

Reflecting Pool

Reflecting Pool, in its first spin on the dance floor, was the only dual land you could play for enemy colors (… well, that didn’t stink…), and while it cohabitated with Gemstone Mine, City of Brass and Undiscovered Paradise we didn’t really see a complete disregard for color discipline. Reflecting Pool next to any of those was great, but each of those three others had some severe issues to be addressed, and only one of them was accepted as “great.” Worse yet, which one this was varied from pundit to pundit, where most of the world assumed it was City of Brass that was the solid playable one and Seth Burn who asked if you would pay four life to tap that City of Brass the fourth time, really, when you could instead get the first three hits for free. You couldn’t really make a true five-color manabase, and those that did (“5c-Green”) only sort of relaxed color discipline, splashing the best support spells for what was otherwise largely still a cast of Green monsters.

This time around, and even just in this block, Reflecting Pool does so much more than that. Let’s look at the Quick-n-Toast manabase for a second to see how very good Reflecting Pool is in that deck:

Yavimaya CoastReflecting Pool taps for Blue or Green, no pain needed.
Sunken RuinsReflecting Pool taps for Black or Blue, and can function quite adequately on turn two with the hybrid land.
Mystic GateReflecting Pool taps for Blue or White, even on turn 2.
Grove of the BurnwillowsReflecting Pool taps for Green or Red.
Fungal ReachesDespite not actually tapping for colored mana, Reflecting Pool taps for Green or Red. Reflecting Pool cares not for what hoops you have to jump through to get that mana, just what colors you could tap for.
Dreadship ReefDespite not actually tapping for colored mana, Reflecting Pool taps for Blue or Black.
Vivid CragReflecting Pool can tap for any color.
Vivid GroveReflecting Pool can tap for any color.

With eight Vivid lands, you have a total of twelve lands that can tap for any color with no pain and only mild hoops to jump through, as the Vivid lands coming into play tapped. The rest of the manabase can be filled out with the appropriate duals with minimal downsides, and at that point “color discipline” flies right out the window. Position this over in Block Constructed, and if your spells follow a certain theme (“counts as an Elemental”) then you get to use Primal Beyond too.

Instead of thinking about Doran’s perfect manabase, and the compromises you need to make it work, we see a Reflecting Pool deck that eschews the ubiquitous man-lands of the format (they tap for colorless, or come into play tapped!) and sticks a bunch of color-fixing lands into that “comes into play tapped” slot. What it loses in man-lands it more than makes up for by reaping the advantages of slipping the leash of color discipline… which is why you can see UUU and GGGG sitting next to each other out of six lands, probably not even costing a single life for the right to have that flexibility, and providing Black and Red and White besides. There’s an obvious restriction to what type of deck can get away with this — aggressive decks want man-lands, as the format has proven, and a five-color deck full of lands that come into play tapped can’t afford to play any — but once you shake off that limitation and embrace the Reflecting Pool, you end up with a control deck that can cast, well, anything.

Process this same lesson to a Block Constructed Elemental deck, where you get to have Primal Beyond and Reflecting Pool working on the same team, and you may just have to smile. But we’re not really discussing Block yet, are we, what with Regionals just over a week away…


We seem to be living in a very aggressive environment right now, as perhaps might have been noted by the plethora of Elves and friends that, y’know, won the Pro Tour. Firespout had been looked to by some as a Faeries-hoser, like a Hurricane that ‘did something’ main-deck against other matchups if you could pay the Red for it somehow. While that is a simplistic view of the card, I think the Quick-n-Toast deck showcased a second key Shadowmoor card, besides Reflecting Pool, by introducing Firespout as a main-deck Wrath of God substitute. I for one have been fixated by the card for over a month now, working on Green decks that can cast Firespout on both sides and still not lose any creatures of relevance to it, mildly inconveniencing your creatures (say, Kitchen Finks) while presumably devastating the opposing team. A new element was brought forward by pointing out that with Magus of the Moon in play it’s really easy to pay the Red half, and with the Magus’s star on the rise this past week and presumably as we march on into Regionals, the unusual nature of Hybrid cards that work under Magus of the Moon (like Murderous Redcap and the aforementioned Firespout) seem to be grabbing peoples’ attention.

Regardless of the outcome of the Pro Tour, people had already noted one large change: Faeries was not as invulnerable as it had been purported to be. Having played it myself through two tournaments that I didn’t win, I’d already grasped as much, though my opinion of it remains that it is largely head and shoulders above the rest of the format power-wise. Thankfully “pure power” does not win games, as one might guess by reading any of Stephen Menendian reports on the Vintage format… there is a lot more going on than “flash a Lotus, Ancestral, Will, Force of Will plus Blue card,” even something as simple as winning the die roll can turn the most powerful creation on Earth into “you just lost the game.” With that grand enchantment broken, people begin to look at other decks… sticking within certain guidelines of course, because the Faeries do exist and are quite good, and quick aggression is the best way to try punching a hole in their defenses. Enter that other card I like to think about… Firespout.

Firespout seems to answer every Red creature in the format, every Green creature save for the heavy hitting duo of Tarmogoyf and Chameleon Colossus, the Faerie Menace, and keeps any other beatdown strategy like Merfolk or Kithkin in check. It has multiple modes to its Pyroclasm effect, such as letting your fliers survive, or hitting fliers only and keeping the ground pounders unscathed, and happens to also always kill Magus of the Moon no matter what lands you have. While Black-Green won the Pro Tour, it was Quick-n-Toast that probably had the highest overall success ratio in the tournament, placing four out of five pilots into Day 2 and starting out its romp at 9-0 in the hands of Guillaume Wafo-Tapa. It had an interesting take on the format, played huge, swingy, enticing cards, and was chock full of power if only you happened to be good enough to play it and win. That interesting, powerful twist, combined with the fact that decks it might excellently prey upon finished above it by actually making the Top 8, suggests to me that people will be looking at Quick-n-Toast as a “stealthy” choice for Regionals. And since it’s an excellent Firespout deck, how could I not mention it?


Having followed the Reveillark conversation with gusto following the Pro Tour, I’ve found I’d been giving the following advice to friends going to Regionals: “If you can’t play Faeries, play Reveillark. If you can’t play Reveillark, play B/G.” I maintain my belief that Faeries is still a force to be reckoned with, especially as I seem to have latched onto the “consistency” question and found a design that makes the deck more consistent (4 Ponder) instead of running some also-rans and hoping you draw the more powerful side consistently and the also-ran’s either exactly on time or not at all. But you can’t really argue with numbers… they are impersonal, they are accurate, and you look like an idiot. By the numbers, Reveillark was the best-performing archetype that managed a Top 8 berth, and the only deck I think can possibly be a contender for “best-performing archetype” requires us to take out the restriction of having made Top 8, where you can then suggest Quick-n-Toast as an over-performer at the Pro Tour.

But simply by the numbers, Reveillark was the best deck to play at this Pro Tour if you wanted to make Top 8. That seems to be the statement overall, and where I’d been wondering whether Ponder in Faeries was the big secret “all the teams” like Chapin-Nassif-Herberheezy weren’t talking about… they’d been deducing that Reveillark was the actual best and most powerful strategy in the format, even if that meant scooping the Faerie matchup. This means that suddenly Reveillark is going to be surging forward for Regionals… despite the fact that another deck entirely won the Pro Tour two weeks before… especially if you actually read the match where it lost to the eventual winner and realize that some severe luck was required for the newly-crowned PT Champion Charles Gindy to escape that particular match alive. This may very well be the most crucial bit of the entire PT’s coverage to read:

“Gindy actively rooted for a mulligan from Choo to start the final game, saying that was his only chance to win. Choo countered by kissing his four-leaf clover pendant, but lady luck left him behind, forcing a double mulligan from the young Singaporean. What a miserable feeling – to get this far and then not have your deck show up for you when it matters most.”

Reveillark’s matchups against non-Faerie decks were downright impressive. Sure, in the Top 8 it lost to B/G and to Merfolk… but it took both of those sets to five, and wasn’t in any danger of just being rolled. Reveillark was basically the matchup everyone was saying they didn’t want to play all day, except for Faeries (who know they have a solid Faerie matchup) and for Reveillark (who aims to avoid Faeries all day instead). Going into Regionals in a wide-open metagame, I’m sure a lot of players are looking at Reveillark and thinking they would rather be the boogeyman than be afraid of the boogeyman. We have, after all, had our eyes opened… the specter of the format has changed from Faeries to Reveillark in the span of just one weekend, even though Charles Gindy with a Black-Green deck was the one who “put his name in lights” and fulfilled a cryptic fortune-cookie prophecy to win the Pro Tour.

While you do need to take the format change with a grain of salt — while only one Faerie deck made the Top 8, two more were tied for Top 8 so it’s not like the Faerie Menace completely crapped out at the Pro Tour. While a hundred thousand lemmings can be wrong, and a hundred and one Faeries players at a Pro Tour can be wrong, Regionals has been coming for weeks now and “the latest news” is not going to just up and disappear all the testing that people have been doing in preparation for the event so far, and all the trading that has gone into arming a knowledgeable player with their weapon of choice. Plenty of people currently playing Faeries are going to continue playing Faeries, because they like the deck, have practiced a lot with it, or worse yet don’t really have another option because they’ve already spent their discretionary budget for Magic cards on $30 Mutavaults and $25 Bitterblossoms for their Faerie deck. Others will look at the previous ‘best deck’ and wonder whether its “apparent failure” at the Pro Tour means they aren’t going to run into Elves! decks with main-deck Jagged-Scar Archers, Riftsweepers, and Squall Lines… and think that while they had not really considered playing Faeries when it was “popular,” now that it might be “rogue” they actually are considering it.

Reveillark is astoundingly powerful. It goes through potentially infinite loops and does stuff that the opponent’s just can’t. It’s probably going to be more than a few peoples’ #1 deck to play for Regionals, now that we’ve seen the Pro Tour results, and a disproportionate number of these mages are going to qualify for Nationals with this as their weapon of choice. But one needs must remember that we are not talking about a Pro Tour metagame, where perfect information leads to informed decisions and card availability concerns are a good player’s troubled nightmares, not a reality that actually has to be addressed before the event and which might heavily impact one’s ability to play the deck they really want to play. Were I able to play Regionals, without a time constraint saying I really can’t play that day… well, I won’t lie, I’d play Faeries with my four Ponders. I’d also think I had one of the best chances in the room to make Top 8, thanks to my experience with the deck and my belief that I have found and tuned one of the best lists for the deck in the room. But Reveillark is now the best-known secret in the metagame, and I’m suddenly glad I never got caught out actually saying I thought Benjamin Peebles-Mundy was “wrong.”

I’m even suddenly looking to play Reveillark in Block Constructed, though admittedly my current fascination with the above-mentioned cards (Reflecting Pool and Firespout) happen to also work into my planning with Reveillark, and I think Reveillark will still be ‘just fine’ even if the only things he gets back are Mulldrifters and Fulminator Mages. But then, I am frequently an odd duck when it comes to deck design, and we’re talking about the wrong format at the wrong time again.

With those three cards and their impact in the format, at least in my mind, discussed… I’d like to take a quick look at “The Metagame” and identify its health for Regionals:

Color Combination:

Mono-White — Abysmal (See: White Weenie)
Mono-Black — Might be solid (see: Rogues, see: Mono-Black Control)
Mono-Blue — Basically exists as Merfolk.
Mono-Green — B/G Elves proved better than mono-Green Elves.
Mono-Red — Exists and is quite solid. Probably plays Magus of the Moon main-deck.

Blue-White — Both Merfolk and Reveillark. Excellent color combo.
Blue-Black — Faeries, the previous “best deck” in the format, and still an excellent deck.
White-Green — “White-Green Mana Ramp,” apparently a very solid strategy even if it didn’t really show up much at the Pro Tour.
Red-Green — If it’s good enough for Zvi, maybe it should be good enough for you…
Red-Black — “Token.dec,” leveraging the power of Shadow Guildmage in the format.

Green-Black — Just won the Pro Tour. High performer in the format.
Green-Blue — Splash the other three colors and you’ve got Quick-n-Toast.
Red-Blue — Basically doesn’t exist, except for a Swans combo deck that didn’t even show up as a blip on the radar at PT: Hollywood.
Red-White — Does not currently exist.
Black-White — Only exists within the three-color G-B-W Doran frame. In that frame, made Top 8 at the PT; as a two-color deck, does not exist.

Lorwyn / Morningtide Tribes:

Elves — Just won the Pro Tour.
Faeries — The Phantom Menace. Still quite a strong choice for Regionals if you have a good list and can play it well. That intersect of “good list” and “plays Faeries well” wasn’t especially common before the Pro Tour, and occasionally even failed to exist spectacularly, in the middle of the Pro Tour (sorry, Chatter!). Probably the only people who will play Faeries at Regionals are at or near that intersection, or were the people you weren’t going to worry about regardless of their deck choice, so… respect the Faeries still, or suffer the peril of the consequences you have created for yourself.
Merfolk — Just finished 2nd at the Pro Tour, when even I had given up on loving my fine finned friends.
Treefolk — Technically just Doran, Chameleon Colossus, and Nameless Inversion… with only Murmuring Bosk caring whether or not they are trees. Still, decent even if the actual tribe isn’t really there.
Goblins — Token.dec. Neither spectacular nor terrible, apparently, worthy of note and consideration.
Kithkin — LOL.
Elementals — Reveillark is an Elemental, but I don’t think that is what you meant. Rage Forger.dec exists but isn’t necessarily better than a non-Elemental Red deck.

Wizards — Merfolk and Faeries are frequently Wizards.
Shamans — Doran and Rage Forger are Shamans, otherwise… miss.
Soldiers — Kithkin are Soldiers. 🙁
Warriors — Elves are Warriors!
Rogues — Sir “Not-Appearing-In-This-Film.”

For the most part we have a wide variety of viable decks, several of which you could reasonably argue were the best deck at the Pro Tour and/or will be the best deck for Regionals. What does this mean to you, the player, going to Regionals? I could tell you this next week but frankly with a Friday article series, “next week” is too late for this to matter to you (sorry, anyone whose cranial juices might have been stimulated into playing Ponder in Faeries at Hollywood. My article series comes out Friday, and I didn’t have that revelation the week before).

You have just over a week, and a powerful but wide-open metagame. “What you play” is probably not as important as “how well you play it,” so long as you pick a real deck instead of an imaginative flight of fancy. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to pick a real deck, and quickly, preferably through a working playtest gauntlet instead of just latching onto something via blind theorizing… and then work with that deck until it is a deck that you play very well, if you want to be serious about qualifying for Nationals at the upcoming Regionals championship. Because in addition to presuming that an unusually high percentage of Reveillark players will probably earn qualification slots for Nationals… I can say with absolute conviction that an inordinate percentage of players who qualify for Nationals, let’s say 90%, won’t be switching at the last minute to something new.

You have a week. Use it well. Study and grow strong.

Sean McKeown
s_mckeown @ hotmail.com