Sullivan Library – Examining the 2009 Wisconsin State Champs Lists

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Friday, December 11th – The Standard Metagame, packed with Jund decks, took a shot in the arm last weekend at the 2009 State Championships. With the SCG 10K Open St. Louis this weekend, Adrian Sullivan looks at the Top 4 finishers from Wisconsin, and discusses their relative strengths.

I think Wisconsin State Champs is liable to always be one of my absolutely favorite events of the year. Much of the joy in the event can be laid directly at the feet of its tournament organizer, Steve Port. For those of you who have been to many of the bigger events, it’s very likely you’ll know when you’ve been at a Steve Port event. One of the biggest markers of a Steve Port event is the scrolling pairings at the beginning of the round, either done by projectors or on television screens. Steve’s events have always been the crème de la crème, from that first States held in the dance hall of a country bar, to this most recent at his newest store.

A part of what has driven the real push for excellence in Wisconsin is the prize support that Steve Port gave out in those early days: A year’s free events to all of his events. While these days this is the norm, back when Steve started it, it was far from normal. Add to that the old Milwaukee-Madison rivalry that used to be a big part of the scene, and you had a recipe for a lot of people trying really hard to win.

This year was certainly no exception. When I arrived, I felt fairly awful, but I was resolute. For those of you who saw me at any other events the last few weeks, you might have noticed that I spent most of the event probably sitting in the same seat for the whole event. I had been waiting for surgery on an abdominal hernia, and I was in a lot of pain. Well, for Wisconsin States, I was contending with a different kind of pain: I’d finally had the surgery earlier in the week, and now I was just in pain from having two big cuts in my gut, and a stitch in my innards. Fun times! As a special bonus, I’d made sure not to take my regular pain meds for the day. Better to be distracted by pain than to have my brain dulled to a point where I could barely use it.

I talked to the head judge and scorekeeper about my needs, and we settled on a seat (seat fourteen) for me to have for the day. I looked at the incredibly long line to register and decided I’d sit down to wait for it to calm down; I knew I couldn’t handle being in the line long enough to make it from the end to the registration table. At a certain point, quite a while later, I realized that the line wasn’t getting any shorter. As quickly as they were registering people (and they have it down to a science), the line was filling up. I began to worry about capacity, and I spoke to Peter and Ingrid Jahn about my inability to actually make it through the line. They took my money and info and registered me, knowing I’d been there for quite a long time.

Shortly after, they made the announcement that they were going to cut off registration, for a lack of space. Thanks to Madisonian Dan Howard and some quick thinking by the judges and the T.O., everyone was fitted in. Good work everyone!

For one lucky player, this would just be the beginning of a charmed day. Among the many players who were squeezed out of the event, was eventual champion, Vintage mastermind, and recent GP Top 8 competitor Tommy Kolowith. I gave my first congratulations to TK when he took down a Vintage event with my Sullivan Solution deck for Vintage. Now I’m going to be giving it to him for his excellent Bant deck.

Normally I would say that this deck was really well honed. But, apparently, TK, the master that he is, threw together this list the morning of the event. Let’s check it out:

Looking at this deck, it’s hard to believe that he just threw it together. If he did, in many ways, it reminds me of the old brewing skills of Brian Kowal or Ben Dempsey, skilled deckbuilders who could simply put all that they knew about a format together the night before or morning of an event, and have a unified list that would be worthy of notice. This was a trait of theirs that always drove me crazy; the problem with last-minute brewing is that, even for the very skilled, there are pretty good odds that you’ll make some structural or metagame error that will severely hamstring what the deck can do. Sometimes, though, it all works out right. This, to me, seems like one of those instances.

If we look at the deck, it is, in some ways, reminiscent of Martin Juza’s deck from Worlds. Where Juza put in Maelstrom Pulses, Kolowith just made the deck into a true Midrange beatdown deck, more concerned with just putting down Monster after Monster.

Looking more closely, it’s abundantly clear that that is exactly what makes this deck click. After the 10 mana-accelerators and the 4 Path to Exile, you basically have this: a bunch of very relevant cards and things to pump them up. I played a quick game, just to see how it could go, and in my first draw, I guess I must have just pulled the nuts.

Turn 1, Land, Noble Hierarch
Turn 2, Lotus Cobra, crack fetchland, Knight of the Reliquary
Turn 3, Fetchland, sacrifice, and sacrifice to Knight for another Fetchland, Rafiq and Finest Hour, swing with Lotus Cobra for the kill.

I was not able to recreate this god draw. But it’s in there.

It doesn’t need these god draws, though. It can simply win through sheer force of its creatures. If we just look at this segment:

4 Rhox War Monk
4 Knight of the Reliquary
4 Emeria Angel
4 Baneslayer Angel
3 Elspeth, Knight-Errant

Each of these critters is above the power curve. Each of them can be a real problem. The least of them, Rhox War Monk, is still a very powerful creature. If you’re another deck, one of the only ways to fight against something like this is to try to smoke each thing that you can. Take a Jund list with a huge amount of elimination. After your Terminates and Maelstrom Pulses are gone, you’ll basically have to hope that you have something left to clean up the remainder. Without an excellent Blightning draw, a Jund deck is likely to get quickly overwhelmed.

I have Elspeth listed among the threats of the deck, but it could just as easily be listed among those cards that augment the big monsters.

3 Elspeth, Knight-Errant
2 Rafiq of the Many
1 Behemoth Sledge
1 Finest Hour

Tommy’s sideboard seems like it was directly crafted to fight an expected upper metagame.

2 Great Sable Stag
3 Relic of Progenitus
3 Mind Control
4 Celestial Purge
3 Quest for Ancient Secrets

Great Sable Stag is there for Jund and Vampires. Relic is there for the Dredge lists. Celestial Purge is there for Red/x and Vampires. Quest for Ancient Secrets is there for Turbo-Fog. Mind Control is there for any deck that thinks it can go toe-to-toe with it, creature-wise.

Overall, Tommy might not have put in the kind of honing work on the list that I’d have been comfortable with, but he ended up with a list that is actually somewhat scary. Without cards like Day of Judgment or Martial Coup, I could see fighting against a deck like this being a total nightmare. With a deck like my beloved Red cards, I look at the deck and think to myself, “How do I beat something like this?” Tommy, for his part, lost one match all day. Expect this kind of approach to Standard to be common, at least until Worldwake comes around.

Andy’s deck follows the Putrid Leech-free path that many of the Jund lists have chosen. I know that, for my part, I agree with Marijn Lybaert: I think Leech belongs in the list. In its place, this list isn’t going with the Japanese Rampant Growth/Siege-Gang Commander plan, but instead going with Master of the Wild Hunt and Borderland Ranger. I love Borderland Ranger in Jund, but I have to say, I find a deck with only 4 Lightning Bolt, 2 Terminate for the early game a very dangerous way to go. Only 3 Maelstrom Pulse between main and board also mean that Howling Mines are likely to be dangerous.

It makes up for some of these concerns of mine by having a robust Sideboard. The 3rd and 4th Terminate make their appearance for the faster decks, and Jund Charm does double duty as sweep and graveyard elim. The Great Sable Stag/Ruinblaster combo is great for the mirror, but also serves to help versus any of the tricksier decks as well. Duress and Thought Hemorrhage finish out this package, giving it game, ostensibly, against anything. For my part, I might have worked to fit in another Duress and Maelstrom Pulse, but otherwise, it looks pretty good to me.

Perhaps the (second) most exciting deck of the tournament, for me, has to be Bradley Stryczek’s update to Boros.

Bradley found room in the main for four Blightning. Wow. I know that when I was working on Jund, a million years ago, figuring out a way to fit in Blightning was just incredible. My list, in that long ago Jund, was very mediocre. But Blightning was definitely one of the things that was super exciting about it. The modern Jund gets most of its unfair wins off of those games where “oops! Another Blightning!” happens. Fitting Blightning into Red was one of the huge incentives for the Red/(black) lists that cropped up last year.

Blightning, simply put, reduces options while taking a real chunk out of your life. A few months ago, Brian Kowal and I were talking about Standard and trying to figure out what to do about Blightning.

“I’ve been wracking my brain,” he said, “but there’s literally nothing out there that is an actual anti-Blightning card!”

“Me too! It almost feels like the best anti-Blightning card is Blightning.”

Bradley must have been listening in. To be fair, Boros doesn’t need a card like Blightning to beat Jund; often a deck like Boros can simply kill a Jund player before they’ve sufficiently set up. On the other hand, the metagame isn’t simply Jund. For these decks, having a Blightning come out of nowhere can really ruin their day.

Bradley’s board is very straightforward for Boros, with nothing particularly noteworthy. Against some decks, he can slow down dramatically, bringing in Baneslayer and support cards. Ruinblaster can come in against weak manabases, and Manabarbs can lock out games against more controlling decks.

One almost wonders if Todd didn’t have a full compliment of fetch lands. While he has reduced the curve a smidge (only running 4 five-mana or higher, as compared to the 5 to 8 that some run), with both Vampire Nocturnus and Bloodghast in the deck, I wouldn’t be surprised if the deck could benefit from a few more land, all of them being fetches. Of course, in so doing, you’d have to begin to cut spells. Still, I have to say, I had some real doubts about this list.

I love the inclusion of Quest for the Gravelord. As another one-drop, particularly one that can just be a sudden 5/5, this seems like a great deal. It particularly makes up for the smaller numbers of Bloodwitch. The two Planeswalkers are quite interesting, and like all Planeswalkers in aggressive decks, they make for a dangerous diversion: fail to pay attention to them, and they will wreck you, but at the same time, you still have to be thinking about all of the actual creatures.

Only 3 Sign in Blood is troubling to me. I’ve always loved 4 of these, particularly since you can turn them on your opponent when you’re looking for a way to finish them off. I understand that something has got to give. You can’t reduce the land count by 2 and reduce some of the other spell counts to make room for cards like Quest for the Gravelord, and then simply keep the Quests. If you do that, you’ll end up with 64+ card lists. Todd had to cut something, I’m just not sure if I like what he did cut.

The sideboard has a pair of interesting inclusions. One of them is Grim Discovery (a card that makes me really want to see more fetches, still). With this card, he can really pile on a bit more card advantage, and recur those problematic cards, whatever they might be, in an attempt to overwhelm an opponent. I don’t know if he brings them in against Jund, but they seem like a potentially fantastic way to fight Blightning, as well as maintain a good amount of relevant cards.

Sadistic Sacrament is another interesting card. For many of the narrow decks, simply casting this once, without kicker, can end things. Cruel Ultimatum and Turbo-Fog decks, for example, often simply have no real recourse to this card.

Everything else is pretty straightforward. Duress for decks whose spells you want to mess with, as well as the third Mind Sludge. Doom Blade and Marsh Casualties for opposing creature decks (particularly Boros). Eldrazi Monument seems well-suited for a race, or for decks that might not actually do much to your critters.

The remainder of the Top 8 (and all of the list) are collected in Pete Jahn’s article for this week. Thanks, Pete, for giving us all of this information. Thanks, Steve for your store and its wonderfulness. Thanks, Dan, for making everyone be able to play. And, congrats, once again, to Tommy Kolowith, our newest entry into Wisconsin States history*.

See you next week!
Adrian Sullivan

*The updated history of the Wisconsin State Championship:

1997 — I played Mono-Green Control (“Green Machine”)
Winner: Milwaukee’s Rob Castro — Five-Color Green

1998 — I played Counter-Phoenix
Winner: Milwaukee’s Jake Welch — Ponza Red

1999 — I didn’t play
Winner: Milwaukee’s Waiken Soo — Rector/Bargain

2000 — I didn’t play
Winner: Madison’s Mike Hron — Classic Fires of Yavimaya

2001 — I didn’t play
Winner: Madison’s Mike Hron — Weenie Fires of Yavimaya

2002 — I played Burning Wish Ponza (“Burnt Ponza”)
Winner: Madison’s Adrian Sullivan — Burnt Ponza

2003 — I played Sligh (“Oops! Red“)
Winner: “Appleton’s” Lukas Duchow — Astral Slide

2004 — I played Kiki-Jiki Control (“Kooky Jooky“)
Winner: Madison’s Adam Kugler — Kooky Jooky

2005 — I played Eminent Domain
Winner: Madison’s Adrian Sullivan — Eminent Domain

2006 — I played Blue/White Locket Control
Winner: Madison’s Levi Stenz — Orzhov Control

2007 — I played Johnny Walker Red
Winner: Madison’s Mike Jones — Pickles Prison

2008 — I played Three-Color Fish
Winner: Milwaukee’s Colin LaFleur — Feldman Fish

2009 — I played Sligh
Winner: Oshkosh’s Tommy Kolowith — Angel-Bant