Once upon a time we had this awful year (two years of Standard really) when Wizards of the Coast released a
sequence of dizzying sets called Invasion Block. At the time single Invasion was released, noted deck builders like
the virtues of breaking the two-color mold in Limited with Harrow for added flexibility, we all laid garlands and leis and
ceremonial headdresses on one another while braiding each other’s hair thanks to the reprinting of Lobotomy (which had
apparently Addled us all, no relation), revelled at the impending cleverness of a kicked Probe, and all in all were very
excited. However, once the juggernauts of Planeshift and Apocalypse were released in full, especially in Block Constructed,
I personally observed all this invading to be a cluster bomb of color-screwed good players killing themselves with Yavimaya
Coast taps while being overrun by God knows what small children.
I was particularly frustrated at how the power level of the multicolored cards dictated Standard deck design choices
with some kind of martinet’s crop, epidemically stifling the ability of, say, Black decks to react in any wise to Red/x
starts beginning with Llanowar Elves. It was a testament at the time that the rogue decks that stood out like sore thumbs
were Dave Price’s mono-Red beatdown deck (a version of which eventually took Mike Turian to his World Championships Top 8)
and Adrian Sullivan homage to Alan Comer, Manascrew Blue (a mono-Blue deck so named by Adrian’s friend Brian Kowal
because, as you can probably figure out, anyone playing it was always manascrewed because it had, how shall we say, no
I am not just randomly hating on Invasion Block because I didn’t “do well,” by the way. While Invasion Block
was relevant and in print, I actually personally took my greatest concentration of money tournaments maybe ever,
effortlessly won a sequence of PTQs – including an Extended one with Spiritmonger-powered The Rock (thanks Sol!) – and had
my best Pro Tour finish to date, in Limited. I just hated the mana situation and design constraints, and to this day will
paragons enabling the single-color Price and Sullivan decks) made deck design very stagnant and tournaments – in which I
participated on a weekly basis, at least – less fun (I don’t complain about sets very often, but personally I would much
rather figure out Red Decks and the G/W Deck to fight full-on Ravager Affinity with Disciples and Vials and play Mirrodin
Standard than Invasion Standard). There was a reason why every little kid won with Fires… Fires of Yavimaya was that
good, and not playing it – specifically with certain fading cards – was folly (I was very apprehensive about
Ravnica Block because of these multicolored strictures, but Ravnica Block in each and every iteration has turned out to be
awesome). Deck designers were faced with a one-two punch of a) playing or not playing the most powerful and synergistic
available multicolored cards and b) having to stop such combinations and synergies with relatively underpowered strategies,
unless they adopted similarly scripted multicolored anti-strategies.
Now Invasion Block, for its quirks and color-screws, was full of flashy cards that people loved and even I remember
you are supposed to play them and they help make good decks that could compete with Fires (okay, so Terminate couldn’t, but
it was still cool). Because of their color requirements, certain elements of your deck would always be dictated for you if
you wanted to play cheap and beautiful cards like these, so you ultimately accepted certain patterns based on the previous
Block or Standard, meaning that you might simply miss or dismiss new cards because they didn’t fit into those patterns,
despite also being good.
“It probably could have been a pretty good tournament card, except they printed a different creature in the same
set for the same mana cost that is basically better in every way.”
Everyone knows that Shadowmage Infiltrator, It! Girl! of early Odyssey was quickly overshadowed by the Greatest Creature
People kind of saw Wild Mongrel as a potentially powerful card, even extolled it as such, but the Savage
Bastard didn’t end up in Tier 1 decks for months. Judgment was almost on us before Deep Dog as we know it showed up in
Standard – and Ken Ho had already won the Block Pro Tour with his Tarnished Citadel deck!
I actually talked with Mark Rosewater about the secret power of Odyssey, and he chuckled about it. The Odyssey cards
were not immediately flashy. It took a few months for people to realize how nigh-broken – not just “synergistic” –
allegedly fearsome offense. The Odyssey cards – specifically the ones that worked with Torment’s Madness mechanic –
formed an unbreakable core of synergy that led to unfair Magic: The Gathering. Regardless of the fact that individual cards
might be able to stand on their own merits, players were unable to see that they were actually more powerful than
the Invasion Block options until they were all linked arm-in-arm.
Constructed, most players were still tuning to seven instead of nine for the Desolation Angel sequence, despite it being
more vulnerable, less reliable, and, um, not Blue. Awesome builds of U/G would eventually surface, the forerunners
of National Championship decks and Masters winners, but many of us – even very good designers – were stuck in an Opposition
alley based on Satoshi Nakamura’s deck, maybe incorporating some cool new Beast Attacks, but missing the format’s potential
speed entirely. It took months, another Block Constructed Pro Tour, and at least one Standard Masters tournament before
players realized that the brightly colored Invasion cards were in fact not the ones that were going to rule bigger formats
for years to come.
It is in this spirit that I have noticed a giant blunder being made by many if not most Standard Magic players. It took
me a while to grasp that Sakura-Tribe Elder was no longer the best card in Standard, but between Heezy and Jeroen I now buy
that it might not be Top 5 even (Jeroen made the argument that there are several very good – even polychromatic – Green
decks, and that only Heartbeat plays or even wants Tribe Elder). Okay, I’m slow and the best card from Champions of Kamigawa
most explosive ‘Vore opening on the draw. It is unspectacular and unassuming, but like the tiny bubbles in a
poorly-prepared syringe, it can topple a strategy fifteen turns before the end, with the opposing player maybe never
understanding why he lost. Spell Snare is the straw that broke the camel’s back, the missing scale in Smaug’s armored
underbelly, the one mana fulcrum, the tipping point. It doesn’t win the game by itself, it merely invalidates the single
Maher hand that inspired the other guy to keep, or buys the lone turn required to massage away any and all momentum from the
opponent’s planned sequence of dominoes. Still great, it is no longer the best card in Standard.
Rather than creating any more drama (and I’m sure astute readers have already figured this one out), I think that one of
the best strategies available in Standard today is simply not being played (or not being played to its potential), and that
the best card in the format – certainly the best card in Coldsnap – is Skred.
Many of you are, without even reading the next several paragraphs, moving to click to the forums. You have probably not
played enough with Skred.
Since October 2005, the Standard including full Kamigawa Block and every incremental wave of Ravnica Block has been
defined by one best strategy: the Blue Legend top-end. I am not interested in arguing about the best Champs era deck. It’s
obvious on the results what the best statistical strategy was, which led to the decks that were played most in the Standard
portion of the World Championships. Come Pro Tour: Honolulu, the details changed, with UrzaTron becoming the structure by
which Blue Legends hit the board, and they hit more quickly. While it was a Gruul deck that won that tournament, many
winner eating his Hawaiian chicken dinner. Meanwhile, the massive statistical success of the Owling Mine deck (never to be
seen again in the winner’s bracket) can be attributed to the predator-prey relationship keyed specifically on beating Blue
control. Past Dissension, a new coat of paint was added to the same strategies with decks as seemingly different as Solar
Flare and White Wafo-Tapa. These deck were not always “the best” each and every week – we are not saying that,
make no mistake – but instead that they were the critical tent pole that held up the structure of the metagame,
Fist is a reliably trump sideboard card against other Red/x beatdown decks is shaky at best. The dominance of Green fatty
decks over little Red men is a thing of the past.
Once upon a time there was a Pro player and champion of charisma and quiet gravity whose fame for beatdown would never
be challenged, and whose popularity in victory would never be questioned until Maher. He won with Lava Hounds in 1997, and
defined what Magic was for young boys and their basic Mountains for at least two years. Riding the months after his Los
Angeles 1998 win, David Price Deadguy Red deck would define and rule Standard, earning Price himself a U.S. Nationals Top
later in the summer; variants on this deck would reward scads of players, not the least of whom was the inexorable Ben Rubin
and his Mogg Flunkies. Deadguy Red was fast and powerful and simple to play (if not play perfectly); it could consistently
compete with Cadaverous Bloom, and won consistently interesting battles with Draw-Go and Forbidian variants. Due to its
simplicity and popularity, it was always competing, and the bane of the haughty if hard working deck designer, would
consistently put less talented amateurs at the top tables, such was its force.
But with the stupidest strategy yet suggested in the old Usenet boards, Jamie Wakefield and his 7/7 Saproling engines
could consistently squash mighty Deadguy Red like a bug. Raphael Levy would eat Price himself for dinner on the Pro Tour
with Legion Land Loss. Seth Burn Stupid Green would oust Dave from the U.S. Nationals Top 8 in a flurry of Uktabi
Red spells, you do so with big and dumb Green animals.
… Unless they are fighting Skred.
powerful beyond easy understanding. It costs one mana.
Why is Skred the best card in Standard? Easy: It screws everybody (well, almost everybody, seeing as
it does not screw Heartbeat and is only okay against ‘Vore). For a long time I was playing decks reminiscent of Sand Burn,
bend their bases to Snow, the age of the attrition-Blue Legend will officially be over.
In case you are interested, here is a B/R deck that I have been working on:
Since Charleston, and especially Johan’s B/R deck that I wrote about a few weeks ago, I have been all about winning with
Demonfire. Chapin and I were talking about it and the amazing thing is that once you decide you are going to win with
Demonfire; the mana just comes. Your world changes from worrying about the minutiae of fighting, and instead you are just
drawing lands and sculpting your game and looking four or five or ten turns ahead, once you establish the minimum amount of
mana you need to survive. You are playing for a while, and all of a sudden you are playing these strategic long game dances
and POW! you are winning with remainder on the heels of a Hellbent Demonfire, and the opponent had no idea it was
coming. Clueless players are continuously commenting about terms that they overheard, like “burn range,” like
these terms mean anything. You are Demonfire.
first two are fine alone, and Sheets is surprisingly good blind. When you have Top and either of the other two unchecked,
you will generally only lose to a non-interactive victory path (Heartbeat or Cranial Extraction) or an unchecked Jitte,
especially when combined with Paladin En-Vec (which this deck admittedly has troubles beating, even with all the
burn); when fighting this deck, it is virtually impossible to win a fair fight based on trading cards. The only thing I
don’t particularly like about the Maher interactions is that once you have Bob and Top online, you will often just ignore
Sheets and do “other stuff,” like trading cards with the opponent.
This is my favorite story from playing this deck:
I was high on Snow immediately (as you probably know from the Icicle Chronicles), but once I decided that I didn’t
need Into the North to play Snow at all, I was fine with Mono-U and U/b Snow decks. If you play these
decks don’t be surprised if your opponents hee-haw all over Counterbalance. I don’t know what people are thinking with this
cantrip-countered… and then play Isamaru immediately after like it is going to resolve. I once got in a counter war (if
you can call it a war) over a threat, where the opponent Remanded me, I showed Counterbalance on top with the Top, and then
he attempted to Mana Leak the same threat.
Anyway, as you know from Japanese Nationals, Counterbalance / Top is awesome, and I played versus a lot of it with this
deck on MTGO the past couple of weeks.
My opponent was a very good player with Rating exceeding mine by over 100 points.
I had Top / Sheets from the beginning so I got my minimum game. He had Top for his minimum game, but we killed each
other’s Bobs so I had the Sheets advantage but for his Court Hussar. The game kind of plodded, with him hitting me for one a
turn about eight times when he played Counterbalance. My board was about nine lands due to Top / Sheets and one Seal of
Fire. I let it stick. He chanced the Meloku with two up because – let’s be honest – I wasn’t really going to die to his
Court Hussar. I said okay. Top produced another Snow-Covered land, and I untapped.
For my first trick, I played the land, then asked the innocuous question “Seal of Fire?”
He looked at his three cards and decided that getting +1 by countering the Seal with flip-Top was probably better than
resolve to counter the Seal. With the Top (i.e. a “1”) safely on top of his deck, I played two Chars to the nug.
He may have made one Illusion, but it doesn’t make the story any more or less interesting so I don’t care about that part.
On his turn, the relentless Court Hussar put me to nine or whatever. He passed with six or seven in hand. End of turn I just
looked at the top of my deck.
Top gave me the 11th land. Six cards in hand, eh? My final card was… You probably already know.
exclusive of doming for three with a Hammer. Because the goal of this style is to win with Demonfire anyway, the tension
becomes one of mana rather than Philosophy of Fire-style card advantage… and both Scrying Sheets and Maher are solid
producers of extra mana while a deck is playing the standard attrition game.
After cutting Volcanic Hammer, it became increasingly easy to cut other burn and removal spells for effective disruptive
elements like Persecute. Overall I would rate the deck as “very good.” I don’t think it’s the “best”
deck, but it is very serviceable, solid at fighting on MTGO, runs a nice primary game, and has a lot of powerful cards. I am
very partial to Sheets engine decks, so I think this deck is more fun than you might. The main thing that just
“bugs” me about the deck, even though Bob is a card drawing engine and Demonfire does the bulk of the grunt work,
is that the tempo is a bit off as a Cryoclasm deck with only four two drops leading in.
This deck hates: Paladin En-Vec, a Jitte.
This deck loves: Control, straightforward trading strategies.
The deck I like even more is a very similar style, but has Into the North to better set up its engine. At various points
more towards its core competencies and really like where it has ended up:
The name comes from some inside joke between BDM, Billy Moreno, and the eponymous Fanatic. Apparently it involves a
hapless Frank being confined in an enclosed space with the aforementioned New York Bees and some tasteless ugly American
humor. Rumor has it that Jeroen Remie is going to “big burgle” the name of this deck if not the deck
itself for Dutch Nationals because, honestly, if you had to win in the Top 8 of the second hardest National Championship in
the world, wouldn’t you want to be armed with any kind of KarstenBot BabyKiller you possibly could?
Anyway, I took the most explosive elements that I could from 8StoneRain.dec, but streamlined to only two colors in order
to accommodate a consistent Snow manabase. The major incentive is that you have the insane turn 2 options of Stone Rain,
plan, or just Stalking Yeti loop mana. The losses from the switch are big Slum and the holy Blue trinity… and Jitte. In
opinion) and real elim… Oh, and the Demonfire endgame of course.
Any apprehension I have about the deck is that it doesn’t have a lot of late game punch (no undercosted 5/5 or even
co., but apparently he really shines against mid-range Control. As such I have found that with the Sheets engine, two copies
is the precisely correct number versus the field main. Basically you draw one Yeti, he kills every creature they draw (Skred
mops up the Legends).
The mana is both great and a little meh. I think we’ve just been spoiled by Ravnica lands in general, and everyone
forgets that you can run a deck on a bunch of basics and Green manipulation plus Top, like Heartbeat does to reasonable
consistency. That said, you will sometimes get dodgy opening hands with Highland Weald and three one-drops (including Top)
that you can’t ship. You will probably lose a lot early because you forget that Boreal Druid makes S rather than G; you
really have to pay attention to what drops you are making… Snow mana is not as forgiving as Ravnica.
found that Wreak Havoc to be the best option. There are a lot of matchups where what you really want is another way to eat
actually quite a poor Jitte deck (it was previously a mediocre Moldervine Cloak deck), but even though I was beating Jitte
decks more than I thought I would given my experience with the Black versions, I wanted a card to kill Jitte. I tried
their Jitte and sometimes mise. I mise.
You’ve probably guessed that I switch decks a lot on MTGO. Excepting a bad run of tournaments with an
“experimental” Chapin deck, I mostly still run 8StoneRain.dec in queues, but KarstenBot BabyKiller is my favorite
deck to play right now.
Pros: This deck is fun to play and powerful.
Cons: I lost in a Casual Room “fun” match to… Talen Lee.
is not awesome and Odyssey-underappreciated. Everyone knows that the mighty Katsu Mori took Japanese Nationals with his Kaji
Structure & Force deck, but you probably didn’t know that the nearly-as-mighty Terry Soh, a fake Dutch player covertly
operating halfway around the world, played the updated Karsten version of the same to win his Nationals:
Terry suffered some sort of mis-registration snafu on his Islands, but that didn’t stop the former Invitational Champ
and bluff-god from taking first. Frank really pulled out all the stops on the Structure & Force update. Not only does
the deck play the Top / Counterbalance and Top / Bobby combinations, but adds a thin Snow sub-theme. Terry’s deck doesn’t
have as much Snow as you might expect from any kind of Sheets deck, but as we said before, when you have Top /
Bobby, you just ignore the Sheets draws a lot of the time because you are doing other things with your mana. By cramming
nearly every possible Sensei’s Divining Top-synergistic combination into one deck – and playing only three Tops – I can
comfortably say that Terry Soh (and Frank Karsten) wins the award for
greediest deck of the week.
Have fun killing anything and everything for one mana (or drawing two cards a turn or whatever).