Sixteen – A Time Spiral Standard Tournament Experiment

Get ready for Magic the Gathering Champs!
The Standard Champs articles keep on coming! Mike Flores (the metagame messiah) brings us a mock sixteen-man Time Spiral Standard tournament, pitching all the major players head-to-head in one mighty fight to the finish! Each game and matchup is examined in detail, and the winner… let’s just say you may be surprised at the outcome. The metagame is now slowly taking shape. Make sure you’re prepared!

Note: Before we get to the details, some background information… When I ran this, I had access to the Top 8 decks from Kings Games in Japan, but not the StarCityGames $1500 and Lord of Japan tournaments. The format of this mock tournament was single-elimination with no sideboards, with the goal to find the best Swiss deck to tune, template, and develop a good sideboard for, in the remaining week. Provided everything falls into place time and resources-wise, tomorrow’s article will cover the second Top8Magic mock tournament, which occurred two days later, with [some] decks and details from both the additional events included. I picked the decks and the numbers for this Battle Royale (no relation) based on my best guesses for the metagame, which I don’t actually think are that far off even given the incremental tournaments.

The Players:

I seeded two copies of the Kings Games Japan tournament winner on pedigree. This style of deck has generated a lot of buzz in my community, with Osyp and Julian big advocates, and should be an awesome choice barring a massive amount of Solar Flare. Ghazi-Glare has superb matchups against most of the creature decks and can contain solitary threats out of the single-minded all-in control decks, but, being slower than Zoo, has vulnerabilities where its ace can be neutralized (Solar Flare with Mortify) or is basically irrelevant (combo decks).

Going into the tournament, this was my favorite deck. I seeded two copies of my Rakdos deck because, well, it’s the best one. Hehe.

The metagame I envisioned at the time was Solar Flare and U/G as big leaders, and Ghazi-Glare strong on pedigree (again, Kings Games). That seemed like a good setup for Rakdos, especially considering the popularity of Satanic Sligh / Sand Burn on Magic Online in pre-Time Spiral Standard.

The changes here from previous versions are the addition of Magus of the Scroll (Julian especially found having more one-drops was fantastic against control, and Magus is powerful long game against Ghazi-Glare and U/G, and a fine topdeck against essentially any creature deck) and shaving a land. Based on our testing, this is quite the solid version, capable of beating anything (at least up until the appearance of Solar Pox, which is a dismal matchup).

Solar Flare
I figure this will be the most popular deck. I would have seeded three copies but I wanted to make room for U/W Control, which has enough similarities that I felt that that deck’s inclusion was a sufficient tip of the hat. The builds I ran were “stock” (won some online tournament a few weeks ago) and ManningBot (won the first Top8Magic mock tournament), which have been written about previously.

U/G Aggro
I seeded two copies of my version, which seems like a good estimation given the results of the StarCityGames.com $1500, where essentially two copies made Top 8 (both of the similarly styled decks in the tournament) and all the other kinds of U/G Aggro, um, didn’t.

I tuned changes based on the ceaseless testing we put into this deck. This version is even better against control than before, and puts up solid resistance to creature decks. Definite short-list, depending on how much Glare and Rakdos you expect. With instants out of the sideboard, Glare is quite manageable.

This is the default beatdown deck, I figure. I ran two copies to represent it, but because I don’t know what Zoo is going to look like, I ran two different copies, Pat’s and a version I have been tuning for a test deck.

Boros Deck Wins
I love a Boros Deck. Despite not actually liking the Japan Top 8 version, I nabbed the Abe deck from the Kings Games Top 8 as the rep on recent pedigree.

I ran two combo decks out of the sixteen. For this archetype I chose Osyp’s version, which is actually the best one I’ve found on the ‘Net. I actually like it more than Billy’s.

Flag Burner
The tournament needed a U/R/W hybrid deck. I probably should have run something with Firemane Angels and maybe Lightning Angels, but Pat’s deck is actually very good so I went with that (P.S. check the ninth place deck from the StarCityGames event). Pat and I discussed the draw suite, and I think that Compulsive Research and Think Twice – possibly branching all the way to Careful Consideration – are better than Whispers of the Muse and Ancestral Vision, but for this set did not alter his deck whatsoever.

Grape Nuts
Combo deck number two. Again I went with Pat’s version, which has the added bonus of an appropriate name.

U/R Snow Control
I don’t like any of the true control decks in Standard. I was all over Draw-Go, Walamies Dumbo Drop, and bschneid-style decks, sometimes even going into Lightning Helix, but this mock would have been pretty incomplete without at least one attempt at true control. This one has the Snow engine and also a Teferi top-end.

U/W Akroma Control
A lot of people have been asking after this deck on the boards. When I initially built it about two weeks ago, this was our best deck in testing by a mizz-ile. X-1 against Dragonstorm, 7-3 and 9-1 sets against Rakdos, better-than-even over Billy’s Zoo with Stonewood Invocation. I liked it much. The deck is kold to Glare of Subdual main, but has a lot of plusses otherwise. You can’t really argue with turn 4 Akroma, but at this point I fear there are other decks that do the same thing better.

The Bracket:

Round 1 Results:

Solar Flare versus Grape Nuts

Pregame prediction was Solar Flare over Grape Nuts for two reasons: 1) Solar Flare has Mortify, and 2) Grape Nuts is the slower and suckier combo deck in this gauntlet.

Game 1:
Solar Flare got the fast Akroma draw, which backed up by permission, is hell on combo. Grape Nuts ran Teferi three times; twice it bought Remands and once a Clutch of the Undercity Time Walk.

Game 2:
Solar Flare mulled to five. Grape Nuts had plenty of time to stick a Teferi and win.

Game 3:
Solar Flare mulled to five again but had three Compulsive Researches to get back into the game. Embarrassingly, Flare stuck the Persecute after Remanding Court Hussar, netting two Hussars and a Compulsive Research, leaving Enduring Renewal as Grape Nuts’s only remaining spell. “Embarrassingly”? Yep. Solar Flare had no pressure whereas Grape Nuts lucksacked the rest of the combo and had time to lay out Teferi for protection.

Nice. Deck.

Grape Nuts over Solar Flare 2-1

Boros versus Flag Burner

Pregame prediction was Flag Burner over Boros. Flag Burner has all the cards that should murder Boros (Electrolyze and Lightning Helix trading with value; Wrath of God as the ace) and Abe’s manabase frankly blows (basic Mountain, no Boros Garrison).

Game 1:
Boros wins the roll. Abe’s mana is, again, freaking awful and multiple double Mountain hands force a double mulligan. Boros keeps two lands and two Lions and is off to the races with a lone burn spell back. Flag Burner leads with Ancestral Visions on turns 1 and 2, and has Solifuge. It’s essentially a pure race, but Boros, having gone first, wins with a topdecked Lightning Helix.

Game 2:
Flag Burner drew only three non-mana cards, all Solifuges. Boros played Soltari Priests on turns 2 and 3, but needed every card to win this pure race, as Flag Burner’s Solifuges always traded with trample. Boros won on three.

Boros over Flag Burner 2-0

Rakdos versus Ghazi-Glare

Pregame prediction was Rakdos murdering Ghazi-Glare. No Spectral Force equals no problem.

Game 1:
If both decks draw evenly, Ghazi-Glare will essentially never win (this version anyway). Rakdos led on Shadow Guildmage and Dark Confidant. Shadow Guildmage invalidates a good number of possible Ghazi-Glare “keeper” hands, and makes its only realistic source of long game card advantage (Vitu-Ghazi, the City-Tree) pretty laughable. G/W’s breaker is Stonewood Invocation, and in this particular duel, G/W never had a creature to target.

Game 2:
G/W can only beat Rakdos in game 1 situations if Rakdos has some kind of horrendous draw. In this game, Rakdos mulled to five, kept one land, and stalled for a turn, though Bob hit on turn 3. All he did was flip Chars whereas G/W got Saffi and Loxodon Hierarch, over and over. Rakdos was actually in this one, but for one missed block, opening up the Stonewood Invocation. Bad beat.

Game 3:
G/W mulls the slow hand but the faster hand of 0/1, 1/1, and 2/1 drops plays right into the first turn Guildmage. The B/R utility creatures are all awesome in this matchup. Both the Guildmages just murder creatures, Magus of the Scroll kills giants with no loss of card advantage, and Bob turns over relevant burn cards. Shadow and Rakdos Guildmages unite their Wonder Twin powers and it’s a blowout.

Rakdos over Ghazi-Glare 2-1

Zoo versus Dragonstorm

Pregame I called this for Zoo. I like Lightning Helix, and Dragonstorm really needs to beat its own fundamental turn by 1.5 to beat a solitaire beatdown / burn draw.

Game 1:
Dragonstorm mulls to six, keeping Lotus and triple Telling Time, holding Lotus as is correct for this hand. Zoo keeps the promising Forge[/author]“]Battlefield [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author], Forest, Kird Ape, Lion, and burn spells, but does not draw any more lands the entire game. Nevertheless, Zoo puts Dragonstorm on dead on board; Dragonstorm responds by putting Zoo dead in fact. The storm is actually only for three, but you know, having three 5/5s in play after killing all of Zoo’s creatures is good too.

Game 2:
Zoo mulls the single Gemstone Mine hand into an awesome six. Dragonstorm just never draws Dragonstorm, despite having the nuts acceleration suite. No nine, no Grozoth, equals no win.

Game 3:
Both decks keep awesome opening hands. Dragonstorm stalls on two for one turn despite double Remand on Watchwolf, but the Kird is hitting for two from turn 2. The big problem is that all of a sudden Dragonstorm draws all the dragons. Dragonstorm would actually have won easily but there were only two (!) Dragons left in the deck by turn 5.

Zoo over Dragonstorm 2-1

Zoo versus U/R Snow Control

Pregame prediction was Zoo over U/R. U/R is better against creatures than straight Blue, but Zoo really has to miss a lot of steps to not have the upper hand against control in the post-Keiga Standard.

Game 1:
Zoo wins the all-important roll and opens on Lions into Watchwolf. It’s pretty much over right there. U/R has Skred and Repeal into Remand but it doesn’t rally matter. Ultimately U/R just runs out of board control and will lose to any creature. On the draw, U/R just doesn’t have enough defensive cards given the volume of Zoo’s two-power one drops. Zoo puts U/R on -2 overload without playing the last Helix.

Game 2:
Zoo mulls to five: Stomping Ground, Karplusan Forest, Kird Ape, Assault / Battery, and Lightning Helix. Both burn cards take out the first Ironfoot, but Zoo is basically out when the second one hits with R open for Skred. Zoo rips all lands whereas U/R plays two more Phyrexian Steel Golems and taps for the Owl.

Game 3:
U/R gets the dream, Repealing three Calls and Remanding two Flashback. Yikes. Ow. For reals. Zoo puts U/R to 11 but has no tempo. It’s double Ironfoot, Teferi, and Owl all in play versus one Watchwolf at the end. The problem here was that Zoo had no one-drop. The lone ‘wolf put U/R to 11 and Zoo could easily have stuck Helix and Char, meaning that a Lions or Ape on turn 1 would probably have been game.

U/R Snow Control over Zoo 2-1

U/G Aggro versus U/W Akroma Control

Pregame prediction is that U/G is the control killer. No contest.

Game 1:
U/G gets the roll, which is actually just cheating: turn 1 Birds, turn 2 Viper. U/W could have shot for the turn 4 Wrath, but would have been out and instead sculpts for insurmountable counter backup on turn 6 (which really sucks given the presence of the early Viper). While U/W is tapped for Research, U/G connects with the Cloak. U/W rips the Condemn but by then U/G has drawn Plaxmanta. The interesting thing is that both sides are happy to participate in the Condemn that, Plaxmanta in response, Remand the Condemn, blow my only Leak on that. U/W wants U/G tapped for the Wrath turn, and U/G just wants to connect yet again with the Cloaked ‘phid. Happy fun times, Wrath connects. Sadly, if U/G hits you with Ohran Viper from turn 3, it is inevitable that you will die to some number of Psionic Blasts.

Game 2:
U/G just has all the cards in most control fights. Leading on Birds again, U/G can play for the Viper but elects to play Call instead (which draws the Leak). Turn 3 Looter is guaranteed with counter backup. U/W Researches (I got nothin’), giving U/G the open to stick the Cloak. U/G declines to fight over the ostensibly three-for-one Wrath, just sticking and protecting Viper instead. One, one, one… It’s really quite humiliating to lose to this clock with the knowledge that you have no chance.

U/G over U/W 2-0

U/G Aggro versus Ghazi-Glare

Pregame prediction puts this heavily in Ghazi-Glare’s court. If Ghazi has the Glare, U/G has almost no chance to win, especially since U/G’s best offensive card is a creature enchantment.

Game 1:
U/G is kold to Glare plus Vitu-Ghazi, even with Psionic Blast and a stack of Elephants an inch high. I guess U/G could have Cloaked Birds of Paradise and mixed up the G/W defense, but the chances of winning with just a Looter are infinitesimal.

Game 2:
The G/W guys are actually just bigger and better than the U/G guys in the abstract. U/G has to leak 4/4s and Morphs on account of their being, you know, ridiculous. With two Leaks down, G/W goes for Glare, which, predictably, resolves.

G/W over U/G 2-0

Solar Flare versus Rakdos

Pregame I backed Rakdos (it was my favorite deck, remember). I had Rakdos a 7-3 favorite over Solar Flare in other matchup testing but that was “stock” Solar Flare and this pairing was against Asher / ManningBot style. Man, Cruel Edict would be horrendous here!

Game 1:
This one is close for Solar Flare, but doesn’t quite score the blue ribbon. Embarrassingly, with two Hussars and two Angels online, Rakdos just scores with the reach. Magus clears the total for Hellbent Demonfire, and we all know how that works.

Game 2:
Solar Flare has “control” again and tons of card advantage from Hussars (two)… and dies to Demonfire again. Rakdos could have won several ways actually. First turn Shadow Guildmage did five in the Red Zone before switching shifts.

Rakdos over Solar Flare 2-0

5-3 on pregame predictions is… I guess it’s better than 50%. The Abe matchup with the bad mana base and mising race wins was actually really surprising. The Dragonstorm loss clearly illustrates a problem with that deck: Drawing Dragons. If you can’t storm, you can’t win, and hard-cast Hellkites require most of your acceleration.

Round 2 Results:

Grape Nuts versus Boros

Pregame I had Boros. I think Grape Nuts is stinky.

Game 1:
Grape Nuts has to mull. Turn 4 Renewal with storm in hand is scary… except the only creature is Teferi. Oops, yer dead.

Game 2:
Grape Nuts has the whole combo but stalls for one turn, even with Court Hussar setup. Oops, yer dead.

Boros over Grape Nuts 2-0

Zoo versus Rakdos

Pregame I had Zoo here. Having tested this dismal matchup, my Rakdos sideboard is fifteen cards against Zoo.

Game 1:

Rakdos has four spells in the initial seven. They are good, but they are the only four. Two Rift Bolts, Rakdos Guildmage, and Bob are actually pretty good. But given the life expectancy of one and two toughness creatures against Zoo… You know where this is going.

Game 2:

Zoo has a million x/3s, which are tough to beat with Zoo’s many two-damage spells. Rakdos draws seven lands and Zoo draws three point five (Gemstone Mine actually expires). Two mana 3/3s are all over the place, whereas Bob never draws a card. Neither does the other Bob.

Zoo over Rakdos 2-0

U/G Aggro versus U/R Snow Control

Pregame… Really, U/G is the control killer. No contest.

Game 1:
U/G mulls to five. Nevertheless, it’s a shootout that can go either way. That way happens to be U/G’s way on the back of multiple Flashback and double Psionic Blast. Whatever Teferi!

Game 2:
U/G draws zero guys. Okay, that’s not precisely correct. Birds of Paradise, while a “guy,” has zero power… Until you Cloak him up. Birds threatens to go all the way, but U/R rips a Skred, which is just unsportsmanlike.

Game 3:
A blowout: Bird, Call, Plaxmanta the Repeal. Three in, five in, five in, two Psionic Blasts. U/G has Mana Leak cover the entire game.

U/G over U/R Snow Control 2-1 (embarrassing)

Ghazi-Glare versus Rakdos

Pregame I had Rakdos, same as last time. Shadow Guildmage is too good, and the Japan tournament winner has no Spectral Force.

Game 1:
It could be close. G/W has “the combo” but Rakdos has Bob and two Magi. Who beats Magus? Double Scroll showing Char for multiple turns, being multiple Chars, makes even Loxodon Hierarch look bad.

Game 2:
This one is super close only because Maher puts Rakdos to one. Thelonite Hermit actually gets flipped! Two copies of Magus of the Scroll come online and sweep up the board, neutering Glare of Subdual. It would be easy to say Rakdos wins on utility guys, but if G/W hit the eighth land, Akroma would have painted a different picture. My favorite play this match was Rakdos Guildmage discarding Char to kill a Saproling and get in. Julian’s Magus addition is just fantastic in this deck.

Rakdos over Ghazi-Glare 2-0

I got all of them this round. 4-0. Go me.

Round 3 Results:

Boros versus Zoo

Pregame testing had Boros and Zoo dead even. For this matchup I called Zoo because Chapin’s Zoo is pretty good and I Abe’s Boros makes no sense to me. I hate the mana, it only has sixteen guys, and the numbers on those guys make my head spin.

Game 1:
Both decks have one land hands. Zoo mulls and Boros keeps with Lion and multiple relevant plays (on the draw). Zoo has turn 1 Kird Ape and Scab-Clan Mauler (awesome). The Mauler never actually gets played this game as Boros goes for multiple Javelineers instead against Boros’s all 2/1 offense. Boros of course kills all the Javelineers, and Soltari Priest goes all the way, with Boros chumping until drawing into Helix and Rift Bolt for the win.

Game 2:
Trade, trade, trade. The decks are even on draws. The difference is that the only Zoo card that can deal with Soltari Priest is Icatian Javelineer, and he’s pretty easy to kill. Priest is in for a million. Zoo has the juke when Boros tries to go for the win and Zoo has the Helix, but Priest holds.

When I tested this matchup, I didn’t have Soltari Priest (instead Mistral Charger). The Priest was awesome against all the Red Decks Boros hit.

Boros over Zoo 2-0

Rakdos versus U/G Aggro

Pregame I had Rakdos over U/G. In our testing, this was something like an 8-2 matchup in favor of Shadow Guildmage.

Game 1:
Shadow Guildmage. How creative. Rakdos Guildmage. Nice turn 3 Viper (Birds was scared). Two active Guildmages is basically a blowout even if B/R never draws another spell.

Game 2:
U/G hits Cloak on Call, essentially stalling the board. Rakdos can contain everything else, but the Elephant goes 9/9 and starts playing The Abyss until it becomes clear that attacking has ceased to be profitable. Luckily at four mana Rakdos Guildmage can provide infinite Abyss fodder. Eventually there are three Wizards on the B/R side, and Magus of the Scroll is murdering everybody. Demonfire you, untap Demonfire you.

Rakdos over U/G 2-0

1-1 on predictions… It could have been better, and it could have been worse. I really underestimated Soltari Priest.

In the finals: Rakdos versus Boros

Pregame I had Rakdos on wanting the deck I liked to win the tournament. In reality, I was pretty sure the matchup would be decided on Soltari Priest.

Game 1:
Basically it plays out like this: if both decks draw evenly, everyone dies to the point where Boros has Priest and Rakdos has a Shock. Priest is basically Shock with Buyback. The only out Rakdos has to Priest is Shadow Guildmage. He is 1/1. However Rakdos has the best endgame card in Standard in Demonfire. If Rakdos can get any value before all Black and Red men are slaughtered, Demonfire will usually end it.

This game Boros had Priest on turn 2 (predictable). Rakdos played to win on Demonfire. Sulfurous Springs is not Demonfire. None of the next three cards were Demonfire.

Game 2:
Priest again! This time Rakdos can answer with the mighty Rakdos Guildmage and finish with Demonfire. Rakdos drew nine spells and five lands; Boros drew six spells and eight lands.

Game 3:
Priest. Can’t. Be. Killed. There is a lot of math in this game, but basically it comes down to two things: Priest can’t be killed, and Lightning Helix makes it embarrassing. Aside: I don’t even know if Char is good in this matchup. Rakdos sent two to the dome, and it felt frankly awful.

Inexplicably, the winner is Abe’s Boros deck. You can count this as 0-1 if you want, unless you are looking all the way to the sad depths of “secret heart of hearts.”

Hey, I love a Boros!

More tomorrow.