Regionals are just over the horizon, so my article today will focus on the lessons that we can learn from Hollywood for the top three decks in the format (in terms of Hollywood numbers). Whether you’re looking for last-minute advice on what to play or what to sideboard, or looking to make sure you understand how a specific opponent ticks, this article will dig into the ton of raw data available on the Sideboard coverage and talk about the composition of both stock decks and more unusual builds.
There’s a pretty good chance that the Faerie decklist you’ve been kicking around your gauntlet has been stable for quite some time. However, there have been plenty of discussions about things like Pestermite versus Vendilion Clique and the right mix of removal spells to complement the countermagic. Of the players that made Day 2, only four played the Clique, and the total count was in the single digits. That might lead you to believe that the overwhelming majority chose to play Pestermite, which is only somewhat correct. While twice as many players chose to run Pestermite, well over half of the Faeries decks in the second day of competition ran neither.
On the other hand, every single Faerie deck ran at least one copy of Terror, with most packing the full four. In addition, a little under half of the players chose to supplement their Terrors with a handful of Nameless Inversions. Rounding out the instant-speed answers were four Rune Snags in all but one deck, and four Cryptic Commands in all but five decks. Obviously everyone played four Bitterblossoms and four Ancestral Visions, and there was only one person who didn’t play four Mutavaults or four Spellstutter Sprites.
However, there were quite a few cards that showed up in just one or two decks. One player ran Vensers, one player ran Mystical Teachings, and one player maindecked Damnation. While Shota Yasooka (the owner of the Teachings and maindeck Damnation) wound up at a mediocre 9-7, Nikolai Potovin took his Vensers straight to a Top 16 finish.
I think that it’s interesting to look at the consensus maindeck cards as well as the fringe ones, but when we’re so close to the tournament date, I think that the really interesting thing for a deck as established as this one is the information that can be taken from the various sideboards at the event. It’s pretty rare to find a sideboard card that everyone agrees on, even if you think it’s a certainty that a few maindeck cards will be guaranteed.
The interesting thing, then, is that every Faerie sideboard had some number of Thoughtseize, with most people playing the full four to make sure that they could grab their opponent’s Ancestrals and Bitterblossoms before they lost to them. The fact that everyone played this card speaks to the idea that those two spells must be stopped in the mirror, so if you happen to come up with a better card for that job, then you’ll have found yourself quite the edge in the matchup. Some players at Hollywood seemed to have found a better answer for Ancestral in Imp’s Mischief; not only does it completely manhandle Ancestral, it can stop Rune Snag, Terror or Nameless Inversion, and a Cryptic Command that doesn’t have zero targets (tap your side, draw a card) or two targets (counter a spell and bounce a permanent). While you do run the risk of drawing it later on in the game when it’s less effective, consider that the person who came up with the idea was Kenji Tsumura.
Damnation out of twenty-two of the decklists isn’t surprising; Faerie players want the ability to really hammer aggressive decks, and particularly need a way to beat cards like Chameleon Colossus and Oversoul of Dusk if they happen to slip through the counterwall. However, the real removal spell story for the Faerie sideboards was an answer to Magus of the Moon. About half of the pilots chose to answer the Magus with Slaughter Pact, making sure that they could get rid of him even if they couldn’t float mana for Terror or stop him with Cryptic Command. A brave few simply boarded in a Basic Swamp, hoping that it would be enough to let them out of “the lock.” The coolest answer, though, is the Murderous Redcap that six players ran. One of them happened to make the Top 8 with this tidbit, so I’m sure that you’ve seen it before, but it is a great answer. You can cast it off your Black mana if you just need to kill a Tattermunge Maniac or Vexing Shusher, and you can cast it off your new-found Mountains if the Magus happens to make an appearance. Altogether, twenty-three players chose to devote sideboard space to beating Magus of the Moon, so you probably should too.
The last tier of sideboard consensus clocks in at sixteen players running Flashfreeze and sixteen players running Bottle Gnomes. The difference, though, is that most pilots opted to have a large number of Bottle Gnomes, while no one could really agree on how many Flashfreeze to play, though it would appear that two or three is right. After all, Flashfreeze is good against the same things as Terror and Cryptic Command, while Bottle Gnomes gives you some breathing room in a matchup where there’s not a look to be cheerful about. Supplementing the Gnome lifegain, three players sideboarded Loxodon Warhammer (and three ran them in the main, too).
At this point, the sideboard choices become pretty spotty. A lot of people ran Razormane Masticore as a solid answer to aggressive strategies. Many chose to play Peppersmoke or Fledgling Mawcor to help in the mirror, though Peppersmoke also has applications against Llanowar Elves, Tattermunge Maniac, and Stonybrook Banneret. You might also see some Deathmarks or Sowers to help against bigger aggressive decks.
The general sideboard outline appears to be dedicated to beating Ancestral/Bitterblossom (Thoughtseize), aggressive decks (Damnation, Peppersmoke, Masticore, Deathmark), and Magus of the Moon (Slaughter Pact, Redcap). If you can cover those bases, you’ll be well served throughout the tournament.
With Faeries, you had essentially 44 cards that weren’t negotiable; it’s quite different with Doran. Among the fifteen players to make Day 2, the only guarantees were four copies of Doran, Tarmogoyf, and Birds of Paradise. Murmuring Bosk should probably be counted in this group, as fifty-nine out of a possible sixty made an appearance. If you’re feeling generous, you might also extend this honor to Treetop Village, with fifty-seven out of sixty showing up. The points where people tend to agree, then, are in the manabase, while the spells are up in the air. The other unanimous decision was that Treefolk Harbinger wasn’t worth it; none were present in Day 2.
The good news is that everybody ran at least one copy of Profane Command. The bad news is that six of them ran three copies and seven ran two copies, which means that you’re going to have to make a judgment call when it comes time to settle on how many Black Fireballs you want to run. Similarly, the crowd was divided when choosing how many Slaughter Pacts to run. Most people agreed that it was a good idea to have a Nameless Inversion supplement, but we again had a big split between two copies and three. And if you’re not done waffling on your Black spell count, you might consider waffling on playing the fourth Kitchen Finks, as again the room seemed to split their numbers down the middle.
There were some cards, though, that seemed to be very popular if not universal. Chameleon Colossus was the backup (backup) win condition of choice, with only two people leaving him on the bench and ten people running three copies. Echoing this, approximately three quarters of the Doran pilots paved the way for their beatsticks with Thoughtseize, which happens to go very nicely with the Profane Command you’re hoping to kill your opponent with.
Down in the land of the uncertain, though, quite a few options seem to be lurking. Approximately a third of the room wanted to fight Faerie fire with fire, and played Bitterblossoms of their own. Some thought that they wanted extra protection in the aggro matchups, and played maindeck Primal Commands, which happened to give them a better shot against Reveillark while they were at it. Some wanted Shriekmaw to pound on Kithkin and Elves while others played Riftsweeper to nab Ancestral Visions, Riftwing Cloudskate, or Lotus Bloom. Some wanted Garruks to complement their Commands, and others wanted Oblivion Ring as a catch-all that specifically dealt with Bitterblossom. The common thread to all these cards is their massive utility; Oblivion Ring may be a one-for-one, but it’s among the best you can find, while the other cards tend to present both a threat and an answer at the same time.
Once you’ve figured out what mix of Rock-esque cards you want to have making up the bulk of your maindeck, it’s once again time to get down to the meat of the sideboard. And, once again, we see that there is nothing as sacredly held as Faerie’s sideboard Thoughtseize. In fact, the only cards to make it into double-digit sideboard numbers were Slaughter Pact and Primal Command. Slaughter Pact is likely making its sideboard appearance yet again as an answer to Magus of the Moon for a deck that doesn’t tend to have more than one or two basics in play at any given moment (Redcap also shows up, but only in two decks). Primal Command just does so many things that people thought it was silly to run completely without it. You might gain seven life on your way to casting a Kitchen Finks, Shriekmaw, or Cloudthresher, or you might Fallow Earth your Reveillark opponent and get rid of his Reveillark targets at the same time, and so on.
The Faerie hate seemed to be fairly widespread. Eight players sideboarded Squall Line while six played Cloudthresher. Seven decks had Oblivion Ring and six had Wispmare to answer Bitterblossom. Riftsweeper shows up to nab Visions and Thoughtseize to preempt Bitterblossom, and so on. Doran players also tried to give themselves a shot against combo decks by sideboarding a lot of Mind Shatters, Extirpates, Thoughtseizes, and Faerie Macabres.
The rest of the one- and two-ofs tend to be your average sideboard fare. Some people wanted Mwonvuli Acid-Moss to try and stunt the development of any deck like Reveillark or Mana Ramp. With Birds and Elves in the maindeck, most of these decks had a good shot at casting it on turn 3 on the play (and then finding Murmuring Bosk to fix mana), making it extremely attractive. Still others wanted to put the nail in the Faerie coffin with Raking Canopy, while the more-traditional Razormane Masticore for the aggro matchups was only slightly more prevalent.
Once again, the sideboard blueprint seemed to indicate that you wanted to spend time beating Faeries and Magus of the Moon after boards. Additionally, if you’re going to play Doran this weekend, you’re going to want a solid suite of anti-aggro cards like Primal Command, Shriekmaw, and Kitchen Finks. You’ll also want a few tools against control (like those Acid-Mosses), and possibly some dedicated anti-combo cards (like Extirpate and Faerie Macabre). Again, finding efficient ways to address these areas seems to be the best way to go for Regionals.
The last deck I want to talk about for today is Merfolk. Like Faeries, this deck seems to have a very solid maindeck core that won’t be messed with too much. Accepting cards that all but one or two players maxed out on, the Merfolk base would be four of Cursecatcher, Stonybrook Banneret, Silvergill Adept, Lord of Atlantis, Merrow Reejerey, Cryptic Command, Sage’s Dousing, Wanderwine Hub, Adarkar Wastes, and Mutavault. With approximately forty of your cards decided for you ahead of time (only twelve of them lands), there’s not much room left for customization unless you’re going to shave the numbers on the various pieces.
The cards that fall in the half-and-half category are Ponder and Aquitect’s Will. Ponder finds you whatever gas you happen to need for the job, whether that means a land or a spell, while the Will lets you Islandwalk all over your opponent even if he’s playing Doran. Each is a cheap cycler, one with a better reward in the early game and one with some serious late-game power. About half of the Day 2 competitors also chose to run Sower of Temptation to go with their Bannerets and Sage’s Dousings; it may not be a Merfolk but it is most certainly a Wizard.
The thing that really surprises me is the fact that even though all of these decks ran White, only two of them ran Syggs. Now, given that the list that made Top 8 ran Sygg, I’m sure that you’ll see them rather frequently in your various Regionals matches against Merfolk, and I think that there’s good reason for this. In the coverage, Ruess’s opponents were repeatedly stymied by Sygg, and I believe that you’ll be seeing a lot of him this weekend. It would seem, though, that the White mana is, in most decks, put to work solely for the sideboard.
Speaking of the sideboard, if you’re playing Merfolk at Regionals, you’re playing Forge[/author]-Tender”]Burrenton [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author]-Tender as a four-of in your sideboard. While Forge-Tender is a guarantee, Sower of Temptation is simply something that you should make sure to expect, as is Reveillark. Stealing your opponent’s guy is always something that’s nice to do, as is undoing all of the work they did to get your fish into the graveyard. After you look at the sixty percent of decks running three or four Flashfreeze, though, you’re down into the small-time territory.
Almost a third of the players believed that Merfolk was going to be big enough that they should run Merfolk Assassin in the sideboard. With a Lord of Atlantis in play, this Assassin is just two mana for a free kill every turn, which you’ll want since your opponent is also free to Islandwalk all over your life total. The removal quota was filled in other decks by Sunlance and Oblivion Ring, and even Serrated Arrows or Wrath of God in a small few decks. Unsummon also made a decent showing, which I’m pretty happy about. I’ve liked Unsummon in Standard for a while now; it’s good against pretty much every deck, but I just never seem to find the space for it. If you have Unsummons, you can use them against Mistbind Clique, Body Double, Sower of Temptation, any tribal Lord, and so forth to great effect.
As for the overall idea of a Merfolk sideboard: fight Red. You’re going to start with four Forge[/author]-Tender”]Burrenton [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author]-Tenders and some number of Reveillark and Flashfreeze. This will eat up a large portion of your sideboard space, but that’s fine since you don’t need too much against Faeries or Reveillark. The other slots tend to be filled with some removal to help against the non-Red aggro decks. If you’re feeling saucy, you might even try out Teferi’s Moat, or even Teferi himself.
I think that there’s a slim chance that you’re wondering where I got all this information from. Nowhere in the coverage was there a card-by-card breakdown of the various decks, so I made one myself. I didn’t add every deck to a spreadsheet, though, or even anything like it. I used Ruby to write a quick and dirty little script that read the information off the coverage pages and allowed me to see anyone’s deck and their result after each round. For instance:
> ruby hollywood.rb
Round 1 – gindy: Won vs Norgaard, Lasse
Round 2 – gindy: Won vs Yamada, Yasushi
Round 3 – gindy: Lost vs van der Velden, Stan
Round 4 – gindy: Won vs Takine, Kenji
Round 5 – gindy: Won vs Costa, Nuno
Round 6 – gindy: Lost vs Bucher, Manuel
Round 7 – gindy: Won vs Cavenaugh, Justin
Round 8 – gindy: Won vs ConstÃ¢ncio, Filipe
Round 9 – gindy: Won vs Bernabe, Julio
Round 10 – gindy: Won vs Maaten, Rogier
Round 11 – gindy: Lost vs Kopec, Mateusz
Round 12 – gindy: Won vs Mowshowitz, Zvi
Round 13 – gindy: Won vs Thibeault, Vincent
Round 14 – gindy: Won vs Felske, David
Round 15 – gindy: Won vs Ruess, Jan
Round 16 – gindy: Drew vs Choo, Yong Han
I further automated this to pull together all the players/decklists/results for various archetypes, and then just searched through my new data for all of the cards present in the different decks. For instance, the Doran sideboards look like:
1 1 Cloudthresher
1 1 Murderous_Redcap
1 1 Profane_Command
1 1 Thoughtseize
1 2 Bitterblossom
1 2 Kitchen_Finks
1 2 Raking_Canopy
1 2 Riftsweeper
1 3 Aven_Riftwatcher
1 3 Damnation
1 3 Kitchen_Finks
1 3 Mind_Shatter
1 3 Murderous_Redcap
1 3 Puppeteer_Clique
1 4 Cloudthresher
1 4 Wispmare
2 1 Mind_Shatter
2 1 Oblivion_Ring
2 2 Cloudthresher
2 2 Extirpate
2 2 Loxodon_Warhammer
2 2 Mwonvuli_Acid-Moss
2 2 Razormane_Masticore
2 2 Slaughter_Pact
2 2 Wispmare
2 3 Cloudthresher
2 3 Extirpate
2 3 Faerie_Macabre
2 3 Fulminator_Mage
2 3 Gaddock_Teeg
2 3 Oblivion_Ring
2 3 Primal_Command
2 4 Thoughtseize
3 1 Kitchen_Finks
3 1 Primal_Command
3 2 Damnation
3 2 Oblivion_Ring
3 3 Riftsweeper
3 3 Slaughter_Pact
3 3 Wispmare
4 1 Shriekmaw
4 2 Squall_Line
4 3 Squall_Line
5 2 Mind_Shatter
5 2 Primal_Command
5 2 Shriekmaw
6 1 Slaughter_Pact
If you’d like to get your hands on this program, shoot me an email and I’ll email it back along with instructions on how to use it. I’ve had a lot of fun just tracing the days of the different competitors who you might not otherwise have had the time to check out.
As always, if you have any questions, feel free to contact me in the forums, via email, or on AIM.
ben at mundy dot net
SlickPeebles on AIM