Peebles Primers — Australian Nationals

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Nationals competition really heat up this coming weekend, with both the U.S. and UK tournaments scheduled to highlight the cream of both nations. But how can we gauge the evolving metagame now the new core set has been integrated into Standard play? Ben looks back at Australian Nationals, the first major tournament to showcase the new card-pool, and walk us through some of the highs and lows we can expect to face…

Two major post-Tenth Standard tournaments took place this weekend: the Australia National Championships and the Kentucky Open. At the time of writing, the KY results aren’t available, but the Australia Nationals decks are up, and the coverage tells an interesting story.

Last week I said that I believed that Gruul was the deck that every other would have to measure up against. This sentiment was echoed by the players in Australia Nationals, as Red/Green Aggro was listed as the most popular deck by quite a margin. With a large portion of the field playing it, though, it was a slightly disappointing finish when only one of the decks made it into the Top 8 on Sunday.

Two other aggro decks also took down Top 8 finishes, and one even won the whole tournament. In addition, a newcomer to the scene joined Red/Black Aggro and Solar Flare on the Australian National team.

The Decks

It’s no coincidence that this deck looks similar to the Green/White Tarmogoyf block deck; that deck was obviously powerful enough that it deserved a look at through the lens of the Standard Format. The deck focuses less on Tarmogoyf than its predecessor; the Flagstones plus Edge of Autumn combo is no longer included, Chromatic Star is nowhere to be found, and there’s even a missing Tarmogoyf. In place of these cards are some of the best cards from Ravnica Block and Tenth Edition.

The creatures are faster and harder-hitting than they were before. Watchwolf represents the possibility of a second-turn 4/4, which is equally scary for aggro and control decks. Troll Ascetic is his standard hard-to-kill self, and this deck backs him up with Griffin Guide and Llanowar Reborn. Loxodon Hierarch has long since proven his worth against aggro decks, and in this new world of Mogg Fanatics and Incinerates, anti-aggro cards are a good thing to have. On the other side of things, Selesnya Guildmage is a one-man army against control decks, and an easy one to sneak around their defenses. Oh, and he happens to combo quite nicely with the other big gain from the Standard transition: Glare of Subdual.

Anatoli said that he picked his deck because it beats everything but Dredge, and it’s easy to see why he would say that. The deck comes out of the gates fast and hard, putting control on the back foot early. When control decks move to stabilize the board, they still have to worry about five man-lands and the potential for Saffi and Griffin Guide to thwart their board-sweepers. Meanwhile, aggro decks like Gruul have to get through a massive number of creatures, many of which are hard to efficiently clear out of the way. Gather Courage allows the Green/White deck to throw off math even when the deck appears to be tapped out, and Glares, Guildmages, and Griffin Guides all give you ways to break a stalemate.

The sideboard is a catch-all, often a good idea when you head into a tournament where anything might happen. Sunlance and Temporal Isolation are cheap removal spells for different sizes of creatures. Faith’s Fetters hits anything you might need it to, but is clearly meant to set an opposing aggro decks back multiple turns. Seed Spark kills Seismic Assaults and Signets, and gives you extra attackers and/or tappers while it does that. The first two singletons allow you to fill out your numbers on matchup-dependent cards, while Pentarch Paladin can single-handedly win the game against a non-red aggro deck (in the mirror, say, the Paladin kills everything other than Serra Avenger if you name Green).

However, both this deck and my yardstick for the format lost in the Quarterfinals. The Green/White deck lost to National Team member Timothy He’s Solar Flare deck, and the Green/Red deck lost to another National Team member, this time sporting Blink/Touch. The Rakdos deck, on the other hand, emerged victorious and made it look easy. Steve lost one game in the Quarterfinals, and one game in the Semifinals, but took down the name of National Champion in three fast games.

If Anatoli’s deck looked like a Block Constructed deck, this looks to me like a deck from long ago: Red Deck Wins. Most of the creatures aren’t super threatening; 2/1s for two mana don’t look too impressive next to 4/5s. However, like the old RDW creatures, the men in this deck do more than just battle with other men. Mogg Fanatic imitates Lava Dart, Dark Confidant packs your hand with gas, and Rakdos Guildmage can bring friends or kill enemies if he has the time. Then, when everything is clear, Giant Solifuge appears to do a Blistering Firecat imitation, though sometimes worth plenty more than the Firecat’s seven damage.

The things that draw me to this deck the most, though, are the burn spells. All twenty-two non-creature spells in the deck represent direct damage, and some lands even get in on the action. With Chars, Incinerates, and Demonfires flying left and right, it’s easy to see how this deck can close games out with a sheer cascade of burn spells.

This sideboard is very targeted, unlike the Green/White one. Each card in it clearly serves a purpose. Cryoclasm is burn and disruption against slow blue decks like Dralnu and Solar Flare. Martyr of Ashes is a Wrath against decks packing x/2s and x/3s, and it can even attack in a pinch. Terror is the answer to men large enough to weather a Martyr. And Withered Wretch shuts down graveyard strategies of all kinds, whether they be based on Dredge or Seismic Assault.

It is safe to say that the other story of the tournament was the prevalence of the new Momentary Blink / Aethermage’s Touch deck. It first showed up, as so many great decks do, in the Premiere Events run on Magic Online. It was dismissed by most at first, but then took down back-to-back wins in the hands of a pilot who made fairly consistent play errors, proving its resilience.

Looking at the manabase might lead you to believe that this deck is Solar Flare, and the similarities are certainly there. However, where Flare plays Wrath of God and Compulsive Research, this deck goes for the “quick” disruption creatures. In one of the deck’s first appearances, a third-turn Arbiter off a Signet enabled a fourth turn that included Venser and Momentary Blink, bouncing an Orzhov Basilica and a Coalition Relic.

Most creatures in this deck work towards a grind-out victory. Riftwing Cloudskate and Venser act as mana disruption against slow decks and as answers to threats against the faster decks. The Grand Arbiter makes the mana disruption even more harmful, and allows you to operate much more smoothly while simultaneously setting your opponent back at least one turn. When things start rolling, all you need to do is close out the game, and Skeletal Vampire and Angel of Despair answer the call for game-enders.

All that alone is fairly impressive, but the true attraction of this deck is the sheer number of ways to abuse Momentary Blink and Aethermage’s Touch. Over one quarter of the deck is made up of creatures with “comes into play” abilities that combine oh-so-nicely with Blink and Touch. The Arbiter also loves both of these cards, offering you two-mana Aethermage’s Touches and one-mana Blinks, and allowing you to truly bury your opponent under the mass of triggers. Finally, Remand and Venser/Blink give you just enough protection to assemble your gameplan while under attack.

The sideboard aims to continue to abuse the theme of the deck. Dimir Cutpurse is usually deemed worse than either Hypnotic Specter or Shadowmage Infiltrator, due to the fact that he’s difficult to connect with given his lack of evasion. However, this deck is rife with ways to hold off blockers for “just one turn” for every turn starting turn 4, giving you more fuel to get your Cutpurse through and taxing your opponents reserves each time. Aven Riftwatcher may not win fights with Scab-Clan Maulers, but he gains you plenty of life, giving you all the time you need to get your Vampires and Angels online. Wrath and Last Gasp give you whichever form of creature sanction you need, and Take Possession lets you foil a control deck’s best laid plans. Note that you can use something like Venser or a Momentary Blink on Cloudskate to save your Take Possession if your opponent answers their own threat.

Final Thoughts

The biggest fad and, in my opinion, the best deck to come out of Australia Nationals is the Rakdos Aggro deck. With nearly one half of the deck capable of dealing damage straight to the face, the deck can win under almost any circumstance. The fact that Aplin won the tournament certainly helps his deck’s chances at appearing in the meatgrinders at Nationals, but the simple fact is that the deck has game against most others in the field, and even in the worst of matchups can find itself holding three Chars and two Incinerates.

I also think that the Blink Touch deck will be out in force, both because it did fairly well at the Aussie Nationals, and also because it’s been showing up fairly regularly in Magic Online events. Despite the fact that Tenth Edition isn’t legal online, the deck itself loses nothing and gains nothing with the swap to Tenth, and has an arguably easier field to play in when it doesn’t need to worry about Kird Apes and Dragonstorms. Whether or not you decide to play these decks in the upcoming time, they will certainly be played against you, and so deserve your attention.

As always, if you have any questions, feel free to contact me in the forums, via email, or on AIM.

Benjamin Peebles-Mundy
ben at mundy dot net

SlickPeebles on AIM