StarCityGames.com Power 9 Richmond Preview

Want to know what will be popular in Richmond this weekend, what your sideboard need to be prepared for, and what the best deck at the tournament might be? JP’s got the scoop!

Traditionally, two decks have been big in Virginia: Fish and Workshop Aggro. Fish was a popular choice because it beat the control decks which were generally touted as the best decks and because it could be constructed within the five-proxy setup. Workshop Aggro decks in turn beat Fish, letting you out-metagame the tourney. They also had the bonus advantage of being fairly easy to play. I used to joke that they are a good choice for the shall we say, “less-skilled” because Juggernaut won’t even give you the option to forget to attack with it.

Things have been shaken up pretty heavily since the last Virginia tourney, but interestingly this probably will maintain the status quo here. The restriction of Trinisphere was supposed to reign in Workshop decks but also cause a huge explosion in combo. The combo explosion hasn’t actually occurred, but instead we’ve got a huge increase in combo-control decks. Fortunately for Fish, these are exactly the kinds of decks which Fish loves to be paired up against. Waterbury definitely proved this, with Jason Zheng winning the whole thing with Fish and Ashok Chitturi also making the Top 16 (who also had the misfortune of being paired up against the only Workshop deck in the entire Top 16).

Some of the differences between these two decks are invariably just metagame considerations, such as whether to run Waterfront Bouncer or Icatian Javelineers. I personally would probably run the Javelineers to deal with Goblin Welder and Grim Lavamancer, both of whom will probably show up in force in Richmond. The other debates are much more divided and will take more testing and results being they will be further resolved. Suffice to say, while Fish is back, it looks very different than it did before.

Personally, I love the switch from Null Rod to Aether Vial. Null Rod was the standout card in Fish about a year ago, but even the decks which Null Rod was originally supposed to be strongest against, such as Control Slaver, have easily adapted to it through different play styles (in this case, an added emphasis on simply trying to resolve Tinker) and usually didn’t even need to alter their deck construction. However, the mana denial power of Null Rod is important to make Fish run properly, so it needed to be run now more as a necessary evil than as a game-breaker.

Chalice of the Void plays a fairly similar role to Null Rod. Since you really can’t run a lot of mana in Fish, you never expect to be able to play them like a Workshop deck can and drop them for above X=2. Despite that, they are still a potent mana denial tool. Where you lose the ability to stop Moxes that are already in play, this is compensated for the fact that Chalice costs zero mana, and thus can often be played before your opponent has a chance to play or use the Moxes anyway. Especially with the rapid speeding-up of a lot of Type 1 decks in the last few months, that extra turn can be the difference between a Gifts Ungiven that gets cast on turn 1 or 2 and goes through and one that doesn’t get cast until turn 3 or 4 and gets countered by Daze and Force of Will.

The persistence of Null Rod had shut Fish off from being able to reliably run artifacts of its own, with Aether Vial at the top of the list. In Type 1, Aether Vial seems to be an underwhelming card, usually because of the fact that you need to wait a turn before it becomes active (who doesn’t kill turn 1?), and thus it often takes actual in-game experience to gain an appreciation for just how powerful Vial is. The card actually ends up providing both mana acceleration and mana denial because it disables Mana Drain. If you look at a Fish list, almost any spell that you would cast proactively is a creature or a mana denial artifact. We can leave out the mana denial artifacts, because they need to come out under Mana Drain to even make a difference (plus the fact that Chalice of the Void will probably cost zero anyway) and thus the only Drain targets are the creatures.

Going further, the Drain combo decks can’t really use Drain that well defensively in this matchup because they will constantly be down mana if they are trying to resolve say, Tinker and a backup Mana Drain against a deck looking to fight a counter war with Force of Will, Misdirection, and Daze. Drain isn’t really that hot for them in terms of interactivity either, since they are deck trying to goldfish while Fish is the one looking to interact.

I should also point out how much the presence of Aether Vial can screw up planning out the number of turns that the combo-control deck has to plan out their kill. While testing with Ashok, I kept screwing up the math during the first few matches because Vial would drop an end of turn Dandan which would take out a chunk of life total that I didn’t expect, or a surprise Rootwater Thief would snag a card that I was planning on tutoring for. I know that I constantly say that you shouldn’t depend on strategies which require that your opponent will screw up, but this um, uh, uh, is about using interactivity to disrupt your opponent. Yeah, that’s it!

Speaking of Dandan, he’s fresh. He enabled us to get turn 3 or 4 kills with Fish, which were unheard of before. For Richmond though, I don’t think that he is the call. He’s golden in the Northeast, where every deck starts off “4 Mana Drain”, but is often a dead card against Workshop decks and dies too easily against other Fish decks. One particularly embarrassing situation that I witnessed saw a Dandan that was Vial’ed out die to a Sundering Titan that got Welded in before blockers and killed it by destroying all of the Fish player’s Islands.

The other big issue that Fish players at Richmond will need to figure out is how to sideboard for the mirror. The mirror will be pretty common, and neither of these decks are really prepared for it. While that’s not a concern in the Northeast, it will be Saturday. There are two big factors to consider here. The first is your color choice. Red traditionally allowed for Red Elemental Blast alongside the maindeck Grim Lavamancer. White is able to correspond to this pretty well, with Sword to Plowshares and Icatian Javelineers being pretty close substitutes. There are more exotic choices available to those that think outside the box. My personal favorites are power equipment cards like Sword of Fire and Ice and Umezawa’s Jitte. Crucible of Worlds was the mirror-breaker of choice a year ago, although the decreased emphasis on nonbasics (and the possibility of Aether Vial) has made this less of the bomb that it was before. Weathered Wayfarer has also been considered as a possible replacement for Crucible, which has a fair amount of promise because it’s significantly cheaper and can easily be manipulated through carefully timing your fetchlands.

Workshop Aggro

Everyone had written off Mishra’s Workshop decks as at best severely weakened and at worst dead following the restriction of Trinisphere. All that it’s really seemed to do is force them to evolve, with the only decks that actually died being the ones that really were simply four copies of Mishra’s Workshop, four copies of Trinisphere, and fifty-two copies of irrelevant. There were five Workshop decks in the top 11 at SCG Chicago, all of which were totally different.

Rivers’ Affinity* deck tries to drop a whole lot of stuff onto the board, Vroman’s Stax deck locks with Uba Mask (compared to Cron’s, which locks with Smokestack and Sphere of Resistance), Carp’s relies on Goblin Welder interactions (primarily with Intuition and Thirst for Knowledge), while Penick’s wants to disrupt just long enough to be able to get the get the win with its fatties.

*Yes, I know it has no Affinity cards in it, but while we always called That Arcbound Ravager Deck “Affinity,” it was the cards like Ravager, Skullclamp, and Disciple of the Vault which gave it its punch. So chalk it up to the deck having somewhat of a misnomer starting from the beginning.

True 5/3-style aggro decks leaned a bit too much on Trinisphere for their successes, which have forced Workshop players to retool towards more prison-y builds. Penick’s deck for example, runs Swords to Plowshares and Seal of Cleansing, where previous decks probably would’ve run creatures there in order to capitalize as much as possible on the free turns generated by Trinisphere. This helps Fish a little bit, as it’s awfully hard for a deck full of 1/1s to fight even a single 5/3 or 4/4, but that Seal of Cleansing that replaced some of those abnormally large men probably just hits a moderately annoying Null Rod. On the other hand, Fish will still fold to Tinker (and often times, Transmute Artifact as well) and still can have trouble with Goblin Welder, so it’s probably push as to which deck improved more in the matchup in their new configurations.

While Workshop decks, and especially Workshop aggro decks, have a good matchup against Fish, there is one big factor to consider, and that’s Oath. Half of the reason for Meandeck Oath’s success two Richmonds ago was because of Oath’s strong matchup against Workshop aggro. Seal of Cleansing and Swords to Plowshares help here, but this is still a matchup where the pressure is on Workshop aggro. Still, as a solid anti-metagame choice, Workshop decks are an option. Just remember to place your emphasis on solid deck construction rather than Trinisphere lucksacking.


And now we come to the big buzzworthy decks. Gifts Ungiven combo has been the main focus over the last month or so, with Salvagers Oath and Sensei, Sensei generating less noise but still quietly putting up respectable results.

Out of all of these, Oath is usually the fastest, Gifts is the most resilient, and Sensei tends to fall nicely into the middle into whatever categories that you make up. The first thing that I need to set straight for anyone metagaming against these is that you are probably not going to be able to rely on simply adding cards to your sideboard that address various aspects of these decks. You are going to have to deal with them on a strategic level. For instance, at Waterbury I think one of my opponents had out Energy Flux, Tormod’s Crypt, and maybe Pernicious Deed at the same time. All that this meant was that I couldn’t play a Gifts Ungiven that set up a Goblin Charbelcher-focused Yawgmoth’s Will. I just Tinkered out Darksteel Colossus and protected it for a turn. One of my opponents, playing Salvagers Oath, won through my turn four Cranial Extraction on Oath of Druids (which I named as I thought that he might switch up his creature set rather than keeping in his Salvagers) during one game and double Phyrexian Furnace during another. I also recall watching Sensei games where a mess of hate would simply be bounced during the opponent’s endstep with Hurkyl’s Recall or Rushing River and then the combo would come out during the one-turn window.

If you want to fight these decks, you are going to have to do it with a deck like Fish. The reason that Fish is able to beat this decks is though forcing a ton of interactivity (that topic is an article in itself) onto the combo-control decks while following up with a (hopefully) fast enough clock to take over. Remember, speed is one of the most important factors here (hence why Dandan is good against these decks) since these decks have tons of tools and thus given enough time can dig themselves out of all kinds of crazy holes. One of the best, outside-of-the-box examples that I saw of this was from a Sensei vs. Fish matchup at Waterbury. The Fish player cast a Meddling Mage and set it to Future Sight. Sensei can’t go off normally without Future Sight on the table, so they are required to Cunning Wish for a bounce spell before going off. However, the Fish player didn’t put any other real pressure on, and eventually the Sensei player played out a pair of Sensei’s Divining Top along with Helm of Awakening then and used the Tops over and over to draw each other in order to generate the necessary Storm count to cast his maindeck Brain Freeze.

Workshop decks might be an option for stopping combo-control, but like I said above, this is going to come down to extremely inspired deckbuilding. Judging from lists like the ones I listed above, Workshop decks have a large number of cards which need to line up with certain decks . Chains of Mephistopheles and Uba Mask for instance are probably both very good against Sensei, pretty good against Gifts, but mediocre against Salvagers. In much the same way, Goblin Welder might mess up Gifts Ungiven setups, but it also triggers Oath of Druids. I’m not saying that a perfectly metagamed Workshop deck won’t do well, but rather that I don’t actually know what this deck would be. I wouldn’t be surprised if the person that is able to figure this out ends up as the one that wins the whole thing.

JP Meyer

jpmeyer at gmail dot com