Mixed kNuts: Critical Hit

Not only does today’s Premium article feature Knutson discussing an updated list of Worlds 6-0 deck Critical Mass and what direction it might go post-Guildpact, but you also get Tim Aten doing his thing in The Guest Spot. How can you resist?

Technically this is my third article this week. Hopefully, if things go well, this will also be the best of them. If, on the off chance, I end up throwing up all over myself and punting the whole thing, Tim Aten‘s on The Guest Spot this time around, so you are guaranteed that at least some redeeming material is in store.

Tim Aten is my life preserver. May God have mercy on us all…

Those that know me know that in recent times I have not had the chance to play very much Magic. Between the travel, work, family stuff, and keeping in shape, my time to battle has been limited in recent years. When I do get a chance to play, it usually involves drafting on Magic Online or at the Pro Tour with all the old men. What you might not know, however, is that I still have a secret love for the sixty-card decks.

I’m a tweaker by nature. I love taking someone else’s fly creation, ramming it against the rest of the field, and then fixing it as the metagame shifts and adjusts. It used to be that I’d play a different deck every week at FNM, but I’m too rusty for that nonsense and don’t get to play enough anymore, so now I typically settle in and battle with a deck for about a month before moving on. The deck I have been playing most recently is Critical Mass Update, now with even more Update!

Back before Worlds last year, I showed the CMU to Olivier Ruel as what I had been playing recently for Type Two. Between Julien Goron and myself, we managed to convince Antoine Ruel to play the deck, which he then ran to a 6-0 record on Standard day before being lead astray by Gabriel Nassif for the first time in his life, and eventually dropping out of the tournament on Day 3 when U/G Madness forced him to keep crapping the bed. I’ve played this pretty extensively for the last six weeks and I’m confident the deck remains as solid as when Flores originally designed it back in Kamigawa block. What is interesting to me, though, is how I’ve been forced to play two substantially different decklists, depending on whether I’m playing online or in the real world.

For those of you who don’t frequent the digital realm, the Magic Online sanctioned metagame is completely inbred, and typically stays that way until a new deck comes along that forces a change. By “inbred”, I mean that you face the same small set of decks again and again and are forced to either change your decklist to compete with those decks or find a deck that just beats all of them. If you don’t, well, you ain’t winning and get to be one of the happy contributors to Wizards of the Coast’s ever-increasing bottom line. As Magic players, I’m sure most of us are familiar with the concept of the “ever-increasing bottom,” regardless of context.

Josh Ravitz believes the MODO metagame is about four weeks ahead of the real world, which is sometimes true in terms of the latest tech, but if you take a snapshot of the Magic Online Standard metagame at any one point it will almost never match that of the real world at any other point. The singles market is too liquid online, leading to instant changes in deck builds and card availability, and there’s less immediate value riding on wins and losses in the real world. Casual players who would show up at FNM and the occasional PTQ stay in the casual rooms on MODO – you rarely find them playing goofy or older decks in the MODO 8-man queues.

Aside on Vintage

All you Type One players out there who keep saying “Oh, the Type One metagame is really inbred” are kind of missing the point of the word. Magic Online is inbred because it is a subsection of the greater Standard metagame and is significantly different than the norm. In Vintage, what everyone refers to as being inbred actually is the metagame. That is your norm. It’s not inbred, it simply exists.

End Aside

So anyway, today you get two decklists for the same archetype. The first one is still a very solid choice for the metagame we saw at Worlds, which includes WW/r decks, GhaziGlare, Jushi Blue, and a smattering of G/B, Greater Good, and Wildfire.

This is the Ruel list from Worlds. The only maindeck changes I’ve made with this list is trading out the Time of Need for Arashi, the Sky Asunder (this is actually the old configuration), and dropping a Threads out of the sideboard in exchange for Naturalize (don’t do this if you still have a lot of burn-heavy White Weenie in your area though – Threads are muy importante in that matchup). For those of you uninterested in picking up Tendo Ice Bridges, you can just add an extra Forest and Island at a very slight hit to your color consistency.

What can I say, the Frenchies got it right with this one. Before Worlds I had the Kodamas back in the maindeck because getting your teeth kicked in by traitorous Kudzu is about as much fun as having your body hair plucked out one by one by a large German guy who only wears leather. (Pardon the flashback, folks. My bear costume will never be the same.) They then added the Elves as an extra Jitte carrier and something to help power out turn 3 and 4 North Sides while still giving extra beatdown flavor. The introduction of Putrefy in the main and Cranial Extraction out of the board costs you absolutely nothing (go go Gadget Wood Elves fetching Overgrown Tomb), and it gives you more weapons to battle both fatties and the Jitte war.

The reason why I like this deck so much is that it has so many angles of attack. You start with the best mana acceleration in the format that can also double as undersized beaters. Add that to the best creatures in the format (Meloku, Meloku, and Meloku), and an untargetable trampler, and a dragon, then back that up with countermagic, an excellent draw filtering engine, and a skosh of creature removal. The final product turns out to be a tasty dish whose deck plan is difficult to disable. Weenie decks have to deal with your better creatures and Jitte superiority while knowing they often won’t get to resolve their best spells. Control decks are forced to actually resolve big spells if they want to win, and they have to do so while dealing with some tough threats and fighting through your countermagic. It’s not really a fun deck to battle against.

For metagames that include the update from the Japanese Finals (the Top 8 was riddled with Wildfires and Battle of Wits. Congrats to me main man Masashiro Kuroda for his victory), but not a lot of aggro decks, I recommend the following:

This is a combination of the old and the new. It’s got the Black splash that I’ve fallen head over heels for while giving you better game against the Wildfire decks as well. Kodama is nice and all, but in a world of Wrath of God and Wildfire, four-toughness creatures just don’t cut it, especially when they can’t pick up a Jitte and “get big”. Kudzu, on the other hand, can frequently be boosted to 3/3 the turn after you play him (this pushes it out of Pyroclasm range, though Last Gasp still hurts), and will often hit 5/5 by the time the guy on the other side of the table can pull the trigger on Wildfire, meaning they now need to resolve Confiscate, keep an Icy down, or put Dream Leash on it to stop you. The fewer options you give your opponent, the easier it becomes to figure out what you need to counter, and the easier it becomes to win.

As for the sideboard, let me tell ya – there are few things in life more painful than sitting there helplessly as your stupid opponent throws down Battle of Wits and flips you the bird. To help prevent feelings of helplessness when I lack the appropriate countermagic, I have recently started taking self-esteem seminars. Both Matt Foley and Stewart Smalley have proven indispensable in helping to keep my mental game together as I Naturalize/Remand/Cranially Extract the Battle and smash face for the win. I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and dog gone it, people like me. Even though I live in a van down by the river.

Losing the Elves opened the door again for Remand, which just gets better and better with people playing higher casting cost spells. Dragon me? Nope, try again next turn. Take five. Dragon again? How about I counter that with the Hinder I drew off of Remand? It’s to the point where I’m probably going to drop a Mana Leak in the main and bring the fourth Remand in, leaving an extra Leak in the board.

Opening Hands

Hand 1

2 Island

2 Forest

Yavimaya Coast

Vinelasher Kudzu

Meloku the Clouded Mirror

This hand stands a very good chance of getting run over against an aggro deck and it’s nothing special against control either. No countermagic, no Top, and no mana acceleration to go along with your lack of action mean you mulligan, though some people might consider it close, since your two men can be pretty good.

Mulligan into:

2 Overgrown Tomb

Yavimaya Coast

Wood Elves


Mana Leak

This I can deal with. Hands like this occasionally make me wish the new Tropical Island was in Guildpact so Wood Elves could fetch a Blue source, but you can’t have everything.

Hand 2

Okina, Temple to the Grandfathers


Mana Leak

Umezawa’s Jitte

Wood Elves


Keiga, the Tide Star

Another mulligan. If one of those lands produced Blue mana, I’d probably keep it, because all it takes is one land for the rest of your hand to get interesting, but two green beans and no Elder means you toss this fish back.

Hand 3

Overgrown Tomb




Vinelasher Kudzu

Mana Leak


I would keep this hand, partly because it gives me access to all three colors and partly because it has a chance to play well against most decks (all my spells are active from the start). Yes, there are times where you will get land flooded, your Kudzu will die, and you’ll quickly follow it to the grave, but that’s Magic. The more likely scenario is that you draw an action spell or two while getting to prioritize your opponent’s threats against your countermagic. There’s also a chance that you’ll have a 4/4 beater smashing face in a couple of turns. As it happened, I drew Wood Elves for turn 3, then Jitte and Meloku. That mediocre hand turned into a Campbell’s Soup opening – mmm, mmm good.

Hand 4


Minamo, School at Water’s Edge

Sensei’s Divining Top

Sakura-Tribe Elder

Vinelasher Kudzu

Mana Leak


This is a peach of a hand. Turn 1 Top is always welcome, and if you draw another land for turn 3, you get a 3/3 attacking Kudzu on turn 3 with Mana Leak backup afterwards. In fact, I went on to draw a land, another Elder, and another Leak and rolled right over my opponent.

Playing Against Aggressive Decks

This is going to sound simplistic, but the game plan against aggro decks is to deny or kill their major threats, ignore their minor ones, and win the Jitte war. This in turn lets your animals rule the day and keeps your life total at a reasonable level. The nice part about having four Jitte in the deck is that even the smallest men can grab the stick and turn into big ballas, which makes every guy you have at least a little dangerous and something more than chump blockers. It also makes the ladies swoon.

Sideboarding against most decks will lead you to bring in the two Threads of Disloyalty out of the sideboard plus the fourth Putrefy and Mana Leak. If your opponent lacks animals of the Legendary variety in their decklist, you should consider bringing in Iwamori, especially if you suspect that the plants are just going to die. Some combination of Hinder, Wood Elves and Arashi will typically make way for your additions. Against GhaziGlare it often behooves you not to let Glare of Subdual stick around should it resolve, but finding space to bring in the Naturalizes can be a challenge. Stealing a Guildmage, on the other hand, is nothing short of Good Times, even if it only produces tokens of the substandard, non-flying variety.

For those who might have missed the memo, Meloku wins an absolutely ridiculous amount of games against the aggro decks all by himself.

Playing Against Control Decks

The key to beating control decks is figuring out which spells matter in a matchup and then being patient. It may seem weird for an aggro control deck to say this, but I win as many matches against control by beating down with an Elder and a Wood Elf as I do by winning with a fattie. Most of these decks don’t have a high threat density, so you do what good players always do – toss down some pressure, counter the important items, and keep whittling away at their life total. If they are on the defensive the entire time and they have to make sure you don’t get to resolve your bombs, it makes it rather difficult for them to go about the actual task of winning.

Another factor to keep in mind is that the Top engine remains good in the long game, so be careful about wasting your shuffle effects. If you have gas on top of your deck, keep drawing it and only shuffle when you hit unnecessary land draws. This seems obvious, but you have to keep it in mind in order to play the deck optimally. Sakura-Tribe Elders like to attack too.

Sideboarding is entirely dependent on which deck you are battling. Usually the extra countermagic comes in, but from there you diversify.


Against the U/R/b Wildfire decks, all your artifact destruction comes in, since literally twenty of their spells are either artifacts or enchantments. Iwamori is a cute idea because he has a big booty, but the one thing Critical Mass really has issues with is dealing with resolved threats, and I’m usually a bit leery of letting someone get a free legend on the board. I’ll also bring in Cranial Extraction to hit either their Wildfires (Boseiju has this annoying habit of letting Wildfire resolve through counterspells after boarding), or to knock out some of their threats, getting rid of a Leak and two Jittes to make space.

Jushi Blue

This is another deck that is adapting to the environment, so the matchup is actually build dependent for them as well. (North Side was quite spicy against them, but Kudzu just seems better against this field.) Julien’s version contains four Threads in the maindeck, which is a source of all sorts of frowny faces. However, against most control decks those Threads are simply dead cards, so updated builds have presumably moved them to the sideboard at the very least. This makes game 1 much closer, especially if an early Kudzu gets through.

As for sideboarding, I’ve had success siding in the two Threads to thieve their card drawers. Is this the right plan? Probably not, I’m just giving you the anecdotal evidence. It just depends on how likely you think it is that they will side out all eight of their weenies. Additionally, I’ll usually bring in the extra Putrefy and countermagic, and then we get to battle over Jushi and Bob. If they draw a lot of extra cards while keeping their life total high, you aren’t going to win much. Most of the time this matchup is close, which means playskill rules the day.

Greater Good

Frankie’s deck is a beast, but it really dislikes Hinder and Remand in game 1. Keep them off the lock and things should go well for you. As for games 2 and 3, I have not had a chance to play enough of it to give you advice here. Should they still be running it, Defense Grid is no fun for you, but the real question is do they go to the Gifts Control configuration, or do they keep the lock in place? I don’t know the answer, though I can tell you that Frank flipped to Gifts Control in his marathon match against Ding Dong in the Top 8, so that’s probably the right option for them. My ass is still asleep from covering that one.

Battle of Wits

The only tip I can give you is to avoid getting caught with your pants down. Counter the small fraction of spells in their deck that matter while getting your beats in. Once they get going, it can be difficult to win counter battles against them, but just remember that the only ways most of them can beat you are via Battle, Kagemaro, Meloku, or the occasional Confiscate.

I hate losing to Battle…


Ravitz mentioned this in a matchup article elsewhere, but like many decks, you live in fear of a turn 2 Hypnotic Specter. Almost no one I know has been playing a deck running Hippies, but prior to sideboarding you have only 3 Putrefy to answer it and no time to assemble your mana base, which is leaves me about as comfortable as the last rash I got from using a Chinese outhouse. Even with the online version, you only get the extra Arashi in the main and four Putrefy post-sideboard, so you either counter it, get Jitte and a dude online quickly, or you likely die to your opponent’s card advantage. A switch to a Red splash post-Guildpact will likely fix this, should Hippie become a major issue in the metagame.

The other wish I often have is for a couple of Boomerangs out of the sideboard, but right now there isn’t the space. As it currently exists, you lack that tiny element of board control that would allow this deck to answer basically everything under the sun. Maybe we’ll get an instant speed Temporal Spring from Guildpact…

(Not being serious here. Honest. I’m just subtly poking fun at Mike Mason.)

Options for the Future

The beauty of the Critical Mass design is that you can splash any single color you want beyond Blue and Green and expect your deck to continue running like a dream. Guildpact brings both Red/Blue and Red/Green, which makes me believe that there will probably be a couple of spells that at least tempt you to remove the Black mana in exchange for a Mountain and three Taigas. However, these spells would have to be very good in order to replace the utility you get from Putrefy and Extraction.

On the other hand, there seems to be a good chance that there’s an aggressive deck to be found that uses Green acceleration and fat, Red disruption (including land destruction), and some other color for specific answers, but not the countermagic or Meloku of Critical Mass. (Then again, not playing Meloku seems like a poor idea.) There’s also probably a revamped Wildfire build that spreads across Green this time (or again) and gains some all-stars similar to the guild all-star spells we’ve seen in Ravnica. Regardless, I don’t think Critical Mass will go away any time soon. It remains extremely strong in the hands of a good player because it brings versatile threats and answers to bear almost every turn of the early and mid-game.

As always, divulging this information is painful, because I’ve been winning more than a couple draft sets via Magic Online 8-mans recently and I’d be content never to play the mirror again. Good luck in your own Critical Mass experiences and I only ask that you don’t make fun of all my play mistakes too harshly if you happen to beat me.

The Guest Spot: Tim Aten Top 20 Songs of 2005

1. Gorillaz “Feel Good Inc.”

Killer melody? Check. Somewhat schizophrenic? Check. Maniacal robotic synthesized laughter? Check-plus. Brian Ziegler told me when this song came out that it would eventually hit my Top 5 of the Week list. By the same token, 20 months ago, I predicted Gadiel would Top 8 a Pro Tour within two years. I’m sure there’s a word to describe the melody of the chorus-it’s not “haunting” or “chilling” per se-but I’m too ignorant to think of it. If you’ve seen the video, the part where 2D’s strumming a guitar on a ledge represents the invoked feelings nicely. Oh yeah, and this song was obviously gigantic this year. Durr.

2. System of a Down “B.Y.O.B.”

The biggest song from probably the second-biggest group in “modern rock” this year. They put out two ridiculous albums this year, and this song in particular was omnipresent on the airwaves. I hate to use “schizophrenic” to describe the first two entries but um…this sounds like four or five different songs spliced together. A little political for my tastes, but I’m willing to overlook lyrics as long as they aren’t completely moronic, and sometimes even if they are.

3. The Stills “Love and Death”

Apparently this song was a single in Canada or something this year. I personally discovered it when I bought Logic Will Break Your Heart to get “Still In Love Song.” I started listening to that CD a lot at the end of 2004, and it was my favorite song for the first quarter of 2005. This is easily one of the best rock songs not just of the year, but of this decade. The only reason it wasn’t higher was because it wasn’t exactly a national “hit.”

4. Nine Inch Nails “The Hand That Feeds”

For the first few months this was out, I really didn’t get it. Then, right around the end of May, I suddenly loved it. Almost everything you could ask for in a mainstream radio single (albeit from an unlikely source) without being too soft or boring. Like with all the non-Stills songs in the top 5, unless you spent the entire year playing World of Warcraft–the modern-day equivalent of “living in a cave”–you probably heard this song a coupla times.

5. Green Day “Holiday”

Probably the best album of 2004, American Idiot continued its dominance in 2005. I do hate how much the critics loved to throw around the term “rock opera,” though. Critics are morons. I’ll probably be one myself by the end of the year. This is the second-best track on the album (behind Boulevard obv), and it’s proof that you don’t need hot blondes singing over synthetic beats to make an amazing pop song.

6. Louis XIV “Finding Out True Love Is Blind”

My list is based on three criteria: “objective” song quality, insofar as it’s possible to gauge such a concept (i.e. Beethoven is “better” than Slipknot); how big the song was for me personally; and, as you’ve probably figured out, how big the song was nationally. This song scored huge in the second category; it got to the point where I heard “Hey, Carrot Juice!” in my sleep. During my first few days in one of the most horrible places to live on the planet (1,273rd, between Afghanistan and the leper colonies of Molokai), I heard two different live versions of this song and learned that the hi-hat “cymbal” is actually someone in the band making the noise with his mouth. WAAAAAOWWW!

7. Gwen Stefani “Hollaback Girl”

I imagine I really don’t need to say anything about this song. I will say that my list is almost exclusively an “alt/rock” sorta deal, but exceptions can be made. I think if I’d done a list in 1998, Aaliyah would have been #1.

8. The Used “I’m a Fake”

Easily the most dubious inclusion, yet I have many reasons for putting this in the top 10. Several of these involve Bert McCracken and how his so rebonk even for the word rebonk, but another is that it was the soundtrack to one of the most “interesting” periods of my life. I like the lyrics (except for thos in the semi-painful opening soliloquy, which is still rebonk if only because it’s Bert), and the chorus is solid. Truth be told, I didn’t really listen to In Love and Death too much before I got my iPod, so thanks go out to Taka for recommending this one.

9.Taking Back Sunday “This Photograph Is Proof”

Every time I look at this photograph, all I can think of is how one could easily have been singing “I know you know everything” to me. Sure, Gadiel’s the one with the talent, but it sure looked like I orchestrated the whole thing. And yes, I like the song. I wouldn’t have the shirt if I didn’t like the band on some level.

10. Death Cab for Cutie “Soul Meets Body”

A little “artsy” for some, but I think I’m solidly in what’s going to pass for my “college music phase.” Interestingly enough, I still don’t tolerate The Postal Service under any circumstances.

And now, some even shorter blurbs on 11-20:

11. System of a Down “Question!”— My vote for the best song on the best album of the year; wasn’t nearly as ubiquitous as “B.Y.O.B.” though.

12. The Raveonettes “Love In a Trashcan”— One of the highest scorers in the “objective quality” category; sounds like something out of the fifties, but it’s still IIIILLLLL.

13. Rise Against “Swing Life Away”— Masterful in its simplicity.

14. Fall Out Boy “Sugar, We’re Goin’ Down”— I didn’t want to, but I kind of had to. Places higher than “Dance, Dance” for the same reason “B.Y.O.B.” was higher than “Question!”

15. Muse “Stockholm Syndrome”— An amazing five minutes. Musically sound, yet crankable. Thanks to Ryan Opalk for this one.

16. Interpol “Evil”— College music, dude. Don’t bother listening to the rest of the album. It’s like listening to this 9 more times, but worse.

17. My Chemical Romance “Helena”— Pat Sullivan admitted to liking this one. Everyone point and laugh!

18. Finch “Bitemarks and Bloodstains”— Horrible lyrics, but I’m still a fat, black-wearing, 15-yr-old emo cutter girl at heart. Embarrassing.

19. Garbage “Why Do You Love Me”— One of the most underrated songs of the year; should have stayed on the airwaves for more than a month.

20. The Killers “All These Things That I’ve Done”— Rainbow flamingos in buttless leather chaps going shoe-shopping after drinking Cosmopolitans, anyone?

Quotable Quotes

[mixedknut] Your mom stole your car?

[mixedknut] one gets the sense that Brassy’s family is not anywhere

approaching the sphere of “normal”

[BrassMan] yeah well, Brassy gets that feeling too, apparently

[Kowal] His dad programs torpedos

[Sadeg] i saw jens today!

[zr0e-_-] robot jens

[zr0e-_-] ?

[Sadeg] y

[Sadeg] he actually does a mean robotdance

[zr0e-_-] i know of few swedes that don’t..

[Sadeg] name them.

[zr0e-_-] yes.

[Sadeg] caught you didnt i?

[zr0e-_-] :

[zr0e-_-] i hate you johan.

keitia says: Knutson , my friend , i will give you very last secret information

Card Game says: oh? I love secrets

keitia says: kenji and ruel brothers will team-up

keitia says: and planning to strike Team events all over the world

Card Game says: sweet!

keitia says: including US SOIL !!!

keitia says: you need to call jack bauer, this is the terrorism

Knutson: Gree Dee Emm… what is… fantasista?

BDM: its an animated movie set to classical music about a website editor

who gets these brooms to write draft articles…

[author name="Yawgatog"]Yawgatog[/author] I don’t know who’d be crazy enough to take the job

[rast-] Yawgatog would!

[author name="Yawgatog"]Yawgatog[/author] Not crazy enough.

[rast-] think about it

[rast-] yes you are

[author name="Yawgatog"]Yawgatog[/author] Really not

[rast-] and you’re literate

[rast-] what more is needed

[author name="Yawgatog"]Yawgatog[/author] Me am not

[{Stone}] I agree

[{Stone}] The mustache is a sign of a bad article

[{Stone}] and it turns me off

[{Stone}] I can’t even sleep with my wife anymore because of the mustache.

[rast-] hers or yours?

Ferraiolo: i dont want to say it too loudly

Ferraiolo: but

Ferraiolo: michael vick: mediocre nfl quarterback? time to face it.

Knutson: he is

Knutson: he never learned to throw well

Ferraiolo: he has the ARM of all ARMS though

Knutson: and the injuries slowed him this year

Ferraiolo: like mike vick has jeff george’s arm and randall cunningham’s legs

Ferraiolo: but like heath miller’s brain

Zvi: Ted should know (since he is an editor) that sometimes, some things

you say get edited.

Zvi: I think that’s bigger news than anything he said about the Japanese

Zvi: someone at Brainburst edited an article!

That’s all for today, kiddies. Join me next week for more random goodness from the mean streets of VA, including my own Top 25 songs of 2005 list.

Teddy Card Game

[email protected]

P.S. Might want to appreciate this one while you can. Mommy Gwen ain’t gonna look like this for some time.