Mixed kNuts: Skeleton Bones of Standard, Part 1

Gifts Ungiven is more dominant than Affinity. There, I’ve said it. Now if you want to know what the hell I’m talking about, you have to actually click on the article.

Greetings friends. I hope you have fully recovered from your prerelease hangovers. Today I’ll introduce you to a little “thang” we will be doing on the site for the next four weeks and then kick off the discussion of the new Standard season with some information you did not know. Seriously.

Introducing the 2005 Championship Deck Challenge

Just like last year, StarCityGames.com will be running the 2005 Championship Deck Challenge to set and then break the metagame for States. Last year this contest produced some extremely solid decks, including Mike Flores Mono-Blue Control deck that transitioned from “good idea” to “one of the best decks in the metagame” in almost no time at all. What will this year produce? Who knows, but it all starts tomorrow and will provide Premium users with four solid weeks of new decks and great articles by some of the best players and writers in the game.

As Baby Chamby would say: I’m excited. Are you excited? Because I’m excited.

Setting the Stage

One of the things that I still really enjoy about writing articles is that they give me the ability to surprise people. Whether it be through a clever turn of phrase, an unexpected joke, a predicted card banning, or simply a twist in the metagame that no one expected, writing gives me the opportunity to convey new information that rarely arises in real life. Today I’m going provide part one in a two-part excavation of the old Mirrodin/9th/Kamigawa Standard to see what bones remain for new, sinister deck creations. But first, I want to chat about some simple information I discovered while researching the topic at hand. Instead of giving it some extended, ten-page build-up like some people would, I think I’ll just throw it out there and let you guys come to grips with the 4-1-1, ya dig?

During their respective Grand Prix seasons, Gifts Ungiven was more dominant than Affinity.

It was. Honest. That statement came straight from God’s orifice to my ears. Ah, but you are a doubting Mustapha… you do not believe. Time to bring forth the data stick and beat the skeptics into submission.

During the Block Constructed Grand Prix season in 2004, Affinity took 41.7% of the Top 8 slots, winning only Osyp’s Orlando (out of three). During the Block Constructed Grand Prix season in 2005, Gifts took an astounding 55% of the Top 8 slots, winning three of the five Grand Prix in the format.

As expected, I see there are still doubters among you. Fine, I’ll answer your questions, though I am a busy man and I have numerous things to do today that do not involve your plebian concerns. [Okay, that’s a lie – they all involve your plebian concerns, since they all involve editing articles for the site. – Knut, coming clean] Yes, you in the back.

Kanoot is not compensating for anything.  Honest.

“You have a small n.”

Same to you, buddy. Oh wait, you are referring to the size of the data set. What you say is true, sort of… yes, there were only three Grand Prix in Mirrodin Block Constructed (some silly fool mixed in Standard formats along the way), but those Grand Prix generally forced between 350 and 1000 competitors to battle it out for the top slots. If you look at the number of people competing for those Top 8 splots, the n is reasonably robust. The same is true for the Kamigawa Block GPs. Though I would obviously prefer to have ten or one hundred Grand Prix apiece to compare against, the data that exists does not lie, and the percentage difference appears substantial.

“What about the PTQ Season? What can you tell us about that?”

That one is tougher because the data does not exist for the Mirrodin PTQ season in any form that I know of. Thanks to the efforts of Wizards of the Coast to gather PTQ decklists we do, however, have information from the Kamigawa PTQ season (and you can look all this up for yourself on our season summary page). Before I show you the numbers, let me remind you that the PTQ season has a series of things that warp data, two of which I want to note today. First, PTQ players are at least somewhat constrained by budget, meaning decks that require a sh*tload of rares to pilot effectively (like Gifts) are going to be less represented than decks that avoid detonating a small nuclear device in your bank account. (White Weenie and Black hand both had slightly more budget efficient options, though as a whole Kami Block season was really freaking expensive to play.) The second item to note is simply that PTQ season is inherently more random than round 4+ of a Grand Prix, and the data will reflect that.

PTQ Season


Top 8 Apps

Slots Won

White Weenie



Gifts Ungiven



Black Hand






There’s your PTQ data. The aggregated Gifts decks had 25 fewer Top 8 showings during the season, but it still took home two more envelopes. Additionally, Gifts doesn’t even exist at the PTQ level until week 3 and only picks up steam in week 4 (of 11 total). Nice work, Gadiel… way to skew a whole PTQ season for three weeks. What this means is that in spite of being the most expensive deck in the format (by far) and in spite of not seeing any play for more than the first fifth of the season, Gifts still wins in the perhaps the most important category: numbers of players it qualified for the Pro Tour.

Any further questions? Yes, you with the glasses and the large nose…

“I heard you once got busy in a Burger King bathroom.”

That’s it, Mr. Humpty-pronounced-with-an-UMPty. You and your Digital Underground have interrupted my work for the last time. Security, please escort him out. Next, please.

“What does all this data mean? What are you trying to say?”

Just as in the past, I’m simply here to provide the data. I don’t have any agenda beyond that, since I’m relatively adaptive sort when it comes to Magic, but I will tell you that I informed some very smart people about my theory and they scoffed at me. Then I showed them the data and they started trying to poke holes in the methodology because – well, because no one wants to believe a deck was actually more dominant than Affinity. And yet Gifts won its Pro Tour (Affinity did not), won 60% of the Grand Prix in Block format, and placed 13% more people in Grand Prix Top 8s than Affinity managed to do. Yes, I’m sure if you try hard enough you can explain away some of this, and yes, as always, we are dealing with a situation of incomplete data to try and analyze. But simply examine the numbers for the two decks and tell me if they aren’t more than a little surprising.


So now that you have heard what I have to say, let me fill in the space between the lines and tell you what I am not saying. I am not saying that Gifts is more broken than Affinity. Affinity managed to obliterate fields sewn with hate for the deck and win as soon as turn 4 with alarming frequency. Gifts doesn’t do anything remotely resembling that.

I am also not saying that Gifts Ungiven is in any danger of being banned, at least not in Standard, and not any time soon. (I’m less sure it isn’t deserving in other formats, but I don’t think there’s nearly enough data to warrant that discussion right now either.) For starters, Gifts is a control deck, and control strategies that win in the long-game are notoriously more fragile than aggro strategies, especially when you are attempting to port them from Block to Standard. Additionally, Gifts is difficult as hell to pilot properly. Unlike with Affinity, your average gasping sea turtle is not going to pick this deck up the night before and win Friday Night Magic with it. You need to know the rules and the card interactions cold to pull out matches with the deck in Block, and I suspect that Standard will just make the situation that much harder.

Honestly, it’s entirely possible that Kamigawa Block Gifts decks will fail to win at all in new Standard. Remember, however, that the deck has a ton of things going for it. For starters, it is incredibly customizable. The deck typically ran anywhere from three to five colors in Block and it only gains from the introduction of painlands in 9th Edition and the new dual lands in Ravnica. Of course, these same “bonuses” may cause it may drift into obsolescence as other decks also gain access to new colors, but we shall see. Regardless, with a mana base almost as flexible as that high school gymnast/cheerleader you never quite got to hook up with, Gifts can splash nearly any power cards it wants, provided they don’t jam up the engine too much. The other thing Gifts really has going for it is Gifts Ungiven itself, which functions as a double pseudo-tutor in a properly built deck. The strength of Gifts the card means that we may be complaining in June of next year about a “Gifts Deck” that looks nothing like the Kamigawa Block strain, but is every bit as dominant. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

As for what I think R&D should do, the answer is nothing except keep an eye on things. Remember, every single person you ask will tell you that Umezawa’s Jitte is horribly broken, yet Gifts Ungiven decks trounce that card all the time. I don’t quite know what that means, but it makes me a little edgy, regardless.

What will these updated Gifts Ungiven decks look like?”

The season is new, and I confess that I don’t know the answer to this one. Most of my “playtesting time” has been spent recovering from my summer excursions and getting back into shape. At this point, I’m not sure that a lot of playtesting time would help. One of the challenges of designing a control deck is that the deck itself must be able to defeat the metagame, and often specific cards within that metagame. Since right now we have no idea what the other decks, and hence the metagame for States, will end up like, delivering the perfect Gifts list to you is impossible, but it shouldn’t be for long. What you can be certain of is that White Weenie and Aggro-Black should see some play, though the best White decks may end up a little Red for finishing power. There’s a decent chance Mono-Blue will again be solid (particularly since it was the one deck that consistently gave Gifts a hard time in Block), and I get a sneaking suspicion that at least two Guilds and Enduring Ideal will also be well represented at the State Championships. I’ll blather on about this stuff more tomorrow, but that’s the obvious way I see things going in the next month.

Gifts players definitely gain some options from the base set and from Ravnica. Regardless of where you end up, your starting point will look like this:

I’ve already covered how access to both fresh sets allows Gifts players to shore up whatever mana base they want to work with, so I won’t reiterate that aspect. 9th Edition Black gives you Cruel Edict and little else, and I can’t really imagine Cruel Edict proving particularly helpful in the framework listed above. Actually, looking at the rest of 9th Edition, I don’t see much that would be useful there at all. The Green is uninspiring and you already have a Rampant Growth with legs – do you really need a second, inferior version? Mana Leak would force a traditionally G/B base to need Blue mana on turn 2, which would require dramatic changes in the mana base. Perhaps we should just fast forward to Ravnica instead.

Ah Ravnica, savior of the game. The esteemed Mr. Mowshowitz kept exhorting us to remember “Invasion makes everything better.” Prerelease attendance across the nation showed that this is at least partially true – the only thing I kept thinking in the weeks heading up to the prerelease was, “Man, I hope R&D didn’t f*ck up in there anywhere.” I’m reasonably certain members of R&D were sharing this very same thought.

Yes, but will they be any good?

Ravnica delivers two whole guilds that share major colors with the Gifts deck, and G/B certainly has some cards it might want, including Putrefy and Gleancrawler. Gleancrawler? Indeed. I’m not saying it’s a lock, but the synergy with Hana Kami (only on your turn, mind) is rather obvious, allowing you to buy back every arcane card in your graveyard for less mana (including Ethereal Haze, if you decide to put that lock back in). If you manage your handsize properly, you could even use Kagemaro every turn, giving you a one-mana Mutilate that beats for as long as Gleancrawler is in play. Is he too much man for the deck? Do you really need another fattie clogging up your hand in the early game? Perhaps not, but right now I’m busy brainstorming… playtesting is where we figure out what does and does not work. He’s certainly castable, so at least that’s not going to be an issue.

The other interesting mechanic to come out of Ravnica (at least for Gifts players) is dredge.** There are often times where you actively try to get cards in the graveyard with Gifts, can you find a spot for cards that help you do this? Speaking of which, dredge and Divining Top are a match made in heaven. Don’t have a shuffle effect? Just mill yourself for the appropriate amount of cards and start over again. I get the feeling that the stupid one-mana artifact isn’t going anywhere for a while, which means your Pithing Needles will continue to hold their value for the foreseeable future. Are there any dredgeables that seem worth playing? I’ve thoughtfully scratched my beard for some time trying to come up with a card Gifts decks actually want that includes the voluntary milling effect, but none of them really slap you in the face and demand to be played like your last kinky girlfriend.

I think the hardest set of cards by far to figure out with regard to a Gifts list is the Dimir Guild. The deck doesn’t have any direct synergy with the guild right now, but the power of Gifts itself seems fully exploitable within the General Mills framework. If anyone has tested this crossbreed, chime in on our forums with your findings. Blue/Black control is certainly a saucy archetype and the Dimir are certainly a curious faction, but sadly, curious and good do not often cross paths. The first question you have to ask if you were designing that deck is probably “how the hell do I deal with Kodama of the North Tree?” If you solve that one and still end up with a good deck, holla back.

The point of all this was not to tell you that Gifts Ungiven is the greatest deck ever, but merely to remind you it was the best deck by a light year in Kamigawa Block and to note that by one metric, it was better in its block than Affinity was in its. Therefore this article should at least have provided food for thought about a deck you may not have considered enough for the new Standard season. The dominance of Gifts on half the cards in new Type Two is far too great to ignore, and if you are trying to build a control deck that beats the field, this is the place where I would start. It’s rare that the best deck in block fades away by the time States rolls around and it would be rather foolish to assume that will be the case here. If you want to break the new format, make sure you work on new iterations of the Gifts deck as well and don’t you dare be leaving the current championship belt holder out of your gauntlet. With regard to the deck challenge, I’m sure this topic will get plenty more discussion when we cover control decks in a couple of weeks time.

Finally, one more question. You, the small child in the back frantically waving your arm. What do you want to know?

“But sir… what about the non-Premium users? They don’t have this information!”

You are correct. Using the superior power of the mind, I have also calculated that they also won’t be able to afford to build Gifts Ungiven decks.* Either way, it is their loss.

Come back tomorrow, when I’ll tackle the rest of the decks that will make transitions to the new format, including handicapping the very early contenders.

The Kitchen Sink

There is nothing sadder than the tearful face of a small child clutching a handful of Barberos and Evanses with no Kais or Masashis in sight.

If have not done so already, you need to start listening to The New Pornographers. Don’t let the name fool you, the music is perfectly clean and both albums I have listened to thus far are freaking brilliant. It’s fun, fantastic, harmony-riddled complicated pop songs. I couldn’t be happier with them. I’ve gone so far as to make “The Slow Descent Into Alcoholism” my new theme song. Other music recommendations for this week include the new Kanye West album and The Caesars – Paper Tigers.

Speaking of music, whatever Gods that control artist touring dates are to be praised, because around my birthday I shall be seeing Nickel Creek, Matt Nathanson, and the Black Keys live on different nights.

Mark my words: once StarCityGames.com fires me I’m going to work as a trail mix maker and I shall utterly break the format by introducing a secret ingredient to every mix that I make. What’s the secret ingredient? Bacon.

The Olsen twins are actually taking revenge on all of us for those, “Man, if they were legal I’d so…” Not anymore, you wouldn’t.

For the first time in years, I am living in my own private sports hell. Football season is finally here again. Hooray. Unbelievably, the Sooners are 1-2 and bad. Arsenal is practically out of the English Premier League title hunt six weeks into the season. Da Bears are terrible. Notre Dame is a pleasant surprise, but still can’t beat Michigan St. at home. And to top it all off, the Chicago White Sox have been in the process of blowing one of the biggest division leads in history and every time they lose another game, Bleiweiss pops up on my screen to cackle about it.

Halle Berry continues to prove that she is broken in every format.

I really miss having Joss Whedon shows on television. Yes, Serenity will finally get wide release this weekend, and yes, it will presumably be great. Are you really willing to wait two years for every new Whedon project to hit the big screen? Me neither.

And here I thought we were past the Urkel years

Dear Long-time Readers,

We’ve known each other for years, right? Y’all have a pretty decent idea of the type of guy that I am… I give you the funny lines and the cheesecake links, you guys give me feedback in the forums and via e-mail with occasional recommendations of cool things or stuff that I just have to see. So why is it that nobody told me Seymore Butts had a reality TV show on Showtime? It’s been on three seasons! I never f*^&^$# knew! For those of you also caught unawares on this, it’s called Family Business and is about the funniest stuff I’ve seen on television in recent years (okay, minus certain Ali G skits including the first Borat skit from season 2 with the wine tasting which may be the funniest television in my lifetime, but I digress). Seymore is a funny guy, he lives a funny life, and his mom helps da bidness. I highly recommend checking it out, though you might want to skip it if your parents are in town, or the room, or whatever. Oh, and to those of you who have been watching for the last three seasons and never bothered to drop me a line, for shame.

Rumor has it this is Dave Williams’s most recent girlfriend. Not that I keep up with these sorts of things or anything.

And because I can’t remember when the last time I linked to a Rachel Stevens pic was, here you go.

You may not have been aware of this, but Ffej actually wrote a tournament report for us back in 2001. Even I was shocked to find it in his archives.

Quotable Quotes

[kt|work] now zvi gets to do what he loves… playing with broken cards. more broken than the ones we get to play with, actually

[rhoaen] if i test a lot for la, and don’t t48 i’m going to end it on the spot

[yellowhat] i wonder if i’m going to test that much

[gomersall] if i test for la

[gomersall] someone kill me instead pls

[rhoaen] ill walk straight outside and start making racist comments towards the first scary black man i see

[kaib] heh sign up for 8-4, 1st guy in que, go take a shower

[kaib] return and pack 1 is done 🙁

[kaib] i goofed kumano first though

[kaib] and got 2nd pick final judgment

[kaib] and then got shipped tallowisp, so winning anyway 🙂

Brian Kowal: getting a good flores deck is like winning the lottery

Brian Kowal: only much less likely

Me: So what are you doing?

The Wife: I’m designing a superior society where there are no traffic cops.

Me: I see.

The Wife: I’m pretty sure it involves the Mob

[knutedit] “[JLStanton] Found my Mike Long signed Impulses today” <- those can NOT be sanitary

[knutedit] you touch them and have to go wash

[JLStanton] I have Long signed Blooms as well

[knutedit] well, at least you know where those have been

[Klep] it’s a deck that runs plateau

[Klep] is that even allowed?

[knutedit] you get mentioned in a premium article tomorrow

[knutedit] not telling you who wrote it

[knutedit] but use all your hard-earned money and buy a sub

[psamms] WHAT

[psamms] you can’t run that 🙁

[psamms] that is v unfair and you know it.

[knutedit] I think…

[knutedit] I just did

StrWrsKid: whenever i visit brainburst i feel like i need to put a condom on

[MOS_DEF (Tomi Walamies)] I had a ten year old in the front row last year and I still told all the dirtier jokes. the parents had to leave halfway and take him with them. you cannot shape your life around the stupidity of others (taking a kid to comedy show or not understanding articles)

[gaijineli] as I chant my mantra, “Be better than Gary Wise, be better than Gary Wise!” Then again, I may be shooting too low.

[gaijineli] maybe we should tell Wise the mantra “subject – verb – object – AGREE!”

Wortho: Jon is pissed most about the binary f*ckup I think

Wortho: I msg’d him the other day

Wortho: and said

Wortho: “whats 4 in binary?”

Wortho: and his reply was

Wortho: “who do you think f*cked that up, me or him?”

[JChapman] lol

[JChapman] was in modo auction

[JChapman] typed in

[JChapman] 10:46 JChapman: will give cyber for 9th paxk

[JChapman] instantly got:

[JChapman] 0:47 Rungee: k are you a girl?

[JChapman] 10:47 JChapman: i can be

[JChapman] 10:47 Rungee: good enough

[JChapman] 10:47 Rungee: so what are you wearing?

[JChapman] 10:48 JChapman: a saucy red number

[JChapman] 10:48 Rungee: I put on my robe and wizards hat….

[JChapman] 10:49 JChapman: the purple affair

[JChapman] 10:49 JChapman: with tassles?

[zr0e–] sneppie gonna be there?

[nutlow] he runs the tournament

[Riptide_] wish i was on the groovy train 🙁

[zr0e–] it wouldn’t be groovy 🙁

[StrWrsKid] sometimes i have this fear that i’ll read everything on bash and become completely depressed that such an awesome resource has been tapped

[StrWrsKid] then I look at how many submissions they have and smile

[StrWrsKid] Because I need my daily dose of gay/racist/necrophilic/goatse jokes

[StrWrsKid] plus it makes me feel better about myself as a person

[Cari] US prerelease product smells funny.

[Cari] Moreso than just “fresh card” smell.

[pugg_fugg] It’s probably Antonino.

See you tomorrow,

Teddy Card Game

Mail us at https://sales.starcitygames.com/contactus/contactform.php?emailid=2

* I keed, I keed.

** Full marks to Star Wars Kid, who is usually ahead of the game when it comes to Gifts technology. Sadly he’s completely incompetent elsewhere in life, but at least he has this and an invite to Los Angeles going for him.

Appendix I: Block Constructed Data

Kamigawa Block Grand Prix

Minneapolis – Gifts win

3 Gifts

3 WW


1 G/U Control

Niigata – Gifts Win

5 Gifts


1 Godo G/R/U

Taipei – Deck X win

5 Gifts

1 Deck X


1 WW


6 Gifts

1 Mono-Black


Mexico City – Gifts win

3 Gifts

3 WW

1 Critical Mass



22 Gifts

7 WW


1 Critical Mass

1 Deck X

1 Godo G/R/U

1 G/U Control

1 Mono-Black Aggro

Mirrodin Block Grand Prix

Zurich – Tooth Win

2 Mono-Green Aggro

2 Affinity

2 U/G

1 Tooth

1 U/R

Orlando – Affinity Win

3 Affinity

3 Big Red

1 Tooth

1 D.C. Green

New Jersey – Tooth Win

5 Affinity

2 Tooth

1 Cog Control


10 Affinity

4 Tooth

3 Big Red

2 Mono-Green Aggro

2 U/G

1 U/R

1 D.C. Green

1 Cog Control