Sullivan Library – Into the Top 8 Decks from the Minnesota $5K

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Friday, September 19th – The current Standard format is preparing for a shake-up with the introduction of the highly-anticipated Shards of Alara. With an undiscovered country ahead, Adrian looks at the recent Top 8 decks from the Minnesota $5K event as preparation for the coming rotation.

This last weekend, Madison’s very own tournament organizer Steve Port ran a $5000 event, very similar to the Star City Games model pioneered by our very own Pete Hoefling. This event joins the various recent Nationals as yet another guidepost to what our modern Standard looks like. In the end, Wisconsin Magic player and Grand Prix: Columbus silver medal winner Owen Turtenwald stood atop the field. This makes Owen the doubly crowned WinterKing of Kentucky Bluegrass Magic and the King of the North, champion of the Minnesota $5k.

The Top 8 rounded out like this:

1st — Owen Turtenwald — Blue/White Reveillark (Turtenwald)
2nd — Brent Heaser — Kithkin
3rd — Tyler Clatanoff — Elves (Shuhei)
4th — Zach Stolp — Teachings Control (Wafo-Tapa)
5th — Will Tarbox — Faeries
6th — Tommy Kolowith — Blue/White Reveillark (Turtenwald)
7th — Stephan Hink — Green/Red Mana-Ramp
8th — Brad Nelson — Teachings Control (Wafo-Tapa)

Obviously, there are some notable things to see here. First, where is Red? Demigod Red, completely absent from the top of the event. Champion Owen Turtenwald actually removed Runed Halo from his board, he was so unconcerned about the matchup. So, why such a lack of fear?

First of all, Demigod Red struggles mightily against Reveillark. What on earth are you supposed to do about the creatures that they can drop against you? Killing them is problematic, since it can set you up for a blowout by a Reveillark later, or perhaps a Momentary Blink right away. While it is certainly possible to just get some beats going and tempo the other player out of the game, it is quite hard. But even after that, there can be a real struggle in other, less hostile matchups, now that they are prepared. Elves lists can use Eyeblight’s Ending to take out any of your creatures. Demigod lists, low as they are on burn spells, and lower on player-burn are even vulnerable to Faeries of all things, should they want to alter their game plan even somewhat. Finally, Teachings can easily make use of Condemns to combat the fear-inducing Demigod, and even Mana-Ramp can simply warp themselves ever so slightly, and include Loxodon Warhammers to be a real pain in the ass. Demigod Red, I fear, is dead for now, at least until new innovations happen or people forget to fear it again.

More interesting to me, though, are the two copies, 75 cards for 75 cards, of champion Owen Turtenwald list. Also playing the list is his Team ICBM teammate, Tommy Kolowith, Vintage Champion of 2008 (and Sullivan Solution player… hehe!). Anytime that you have two identical lists take the top billing at a tourney, you should really pay attention.

This is a very classic Reveillark control deck, not at all concerned about trying to combo off, but rather interested in “merely” accumulating incremental advantages turn after turn. In place of the old-school Riftwing Cloudskate and Aven Riftwatcher are the more versatile Vensers and Finks. Some room was found for Ponder, but otherwise, this is a list you might have seen in Pro Tour: Hollywood (with a nod to Glen Elendra Archmage).

Classically, the problem with this archetype has been Faeries. Owen’s list nods at that with a new inclusion of 2 Crovax, Ascendant Hero in the sideboard, replacing the Runed Halo that were in the list as of press-time last week. While I still wouldn’t be excited about playing against Faeries, you definitely have some game. In a Faerie-light/combo-light world, this deck seems like a fantastic choice, and I’m not at all surprised that Owen and Tommy did so well with it.

And, in all honesty, this list is the only list in the Top 8 that I think needs no changes to it. This list isn’t too hot or too cold, it’s just right.

Also worthy of note from the Top 8 are the two copies of Teachings Control. What is perhaps even more noteworthy, however, is that it seems clear that these are also two copies of the same deck, albeit not the same 75 cards, though it is close. Both of these decks are only a few cards off of Guillame Wafo-Tapa’s 6th place Grand Prix Copenhagen Teachings list.

In fact, when you compare the lists to Wafo-Tapa’s list, the results are quite extraordinary. Both do this:

-1 Platinum Angel
-1 Slaughter Pact
-1 Pyroclasm

Zach adds in a second Oona, a Firespout, and a Wrath of God. Brad removes the other Pyroclasm to fit in a Nucklavee (instead of an Oona), two Firespout (instead of a Wrath), and fits in a Grove of the Burnwillows. Even more amazing, they both cut an Imp’s Mischief and a Squall Line from the board to fit in a Condemn and a Cloudthresher, with Brad also culling a Mind Shatter for a second Thresher.

I’m inclined to think that Zach and Brad worked together on their lists, though I could be wrong. Also worth noting is that Zach and Brad were the only two players in the Top 8 who had byes. Now, it might be that this is an indictment against their lists — another way of saying that they had a less hard fight to get into the Top 8 — but I’m inclined to imagine that they were likely to have played these very lists wherever it was that they may have earned those byes (Fargo and the night before, respectively), and it is actually more evidence that these lists are good.

Like the Reveillark lists, they have access to Pact of Negation and a pretty massive card-drawing engine. Where Reveillark has Blink-Mulldrifter, Teachings has Cryptic Command/Mystical Teachings. Where Owen’s Reveillark operates pretty much like a Midrange-Control deck, this list is pretty clearly a pure Control deck. With a far more complicated manabase, it seems likely that this list is more likely to stumble, but at the same time, it does have very potent weapons and the ability to cast pretty much anything.

Zach’s results in the Top 8 are mixed. He defeated Tommy Kolowith but lost to Owen Turtenwald. While Gerry Thompson coverage does seem to imply that Zach’s win over Tommy was somewhat induced by luck, it is fair to note that Gerry is an Owen-friend, and without more details he could merely be biased. I’d be willing to bet that Reveillark has an edge in the matchup, based only on the sheer amounts of card advantage that it can dish up and a stronger manabase, but I imagine that it isn’t a particularly huge edge.

Brad’s initial loss to Elves serves as a reminder to the power of that archetype, even now. While sometimes still mocked or begrudged its wins, it remains the default power-aggro deck in the format. Zac Hill still claims that Elves is “the Red deck” of that format. Small changes in the list can serve to turn its game against numerous opponents into wildly different directions. Take third place Tyler Clatanoff’s list:

His list is, in the main deck, only barely different from Shuhei Nakamura list from Grand Prix: Copenhagen.

-1 Nameless Inversion
-1 Civic Wayfinder
-2 Pendelhaven
-1 Swamp
+1 Eyeblight’s Ending
+1 Kitchen Finks
+1 Llanowar Wastes
+1 Mutavault
+1 Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth

Only two spells off Shuhei, he’s got a great based to work with. While he plays a little greedily with the mana, he’s still essentially the same list, albeit with what seems as a deeply superior sideboard to Shuhei. Access to Sudden Spoiling, I don’t have to tell you, can be an incredible blowout. Access to Mind Shatter is pretty wonderful as well, and three Cloudthresher is so much better than one, even if you can Primal Command for them as Shuhei could.

This list is far more resilient to Demigod Red than other elf lists from the past. Shuhei, in his loss to David Larrson’s list at Grand Prix, only barely lost to a Greater Gargadon double Unwilling Recruit in game three. One of the only decks in the format capable of running Thoughtseize, Elves is going to continue to be a contender, at least until the rotation carries some of its star players out the door.

Brent Heaser’s Kithkin list is an interesting build, to say the least. Maxing out to eight lords and only two Cloudgoat Rangers is an unusual start, based on how other lists have played out. Compare this to Tim Aten list from U.S. Nationals, and you’ll see that the spell choices are crazily different. Aten, for example, ran no ‘Goats, and managed to fit in 4 Sunlance. In contrast, Brent fits in 4 Oblivion Ring and manages to keep in 4 Forge[/author]-Tender”]Burrenton [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author]-Tender.

According to most people I’ve spoken with, Forge-Tender has largely become a card only of real use against dedicated Red decks like Demigod Red. Firespout, while annoying, is a card that they say can be played around. Whether they are right or not, it is pretty incredible to note that Brent has included 4 Opal Guardians on top of everything else as an anti-Red measure (though, to be fair, it is not solely an anti-Red card). Unlike other lists, he keeps his access to Mana Tithe in the board for those decks that are struggling to get off their bigger, important spells.

Overall, this list looks really potent, and I’m unsurprised that it made the finals. Personally, I find myself largely unconvinced of the need for the heavy anti-Red that is in the deck, and I’m confident it could be toned down in favor of other cards, but your mileage may vary.

Rounding out the Top 8, we have Will Tarbox’s Faeries and Stephan Hink’s Green-Red Mana Ramp. I remain largely unimpressed with both of these lists, despite their finishing in the Top 8. To my mind, they both are just a bit undisciplined, and could have gained a lot with more focus.

Take Will’s matchup against Owen in the first round of the Top 8. He has access to five Terror-effects (or nine if you count Inversions), and two Unsummons. This is just overkill. I’m not quite sure what he gets out of the bargain. He loses a Mistbind Clique and all of his Scions. If I were to suggest a Faerie list, it would definitely not be this one, and instead would have to be English Championship list Jonathan Randle list, which, incidentally, has decent game against Demigod Red.

Hink’s list is less completely crazy to me, but still manages to get me there. Thick, thick, thick on the four-drops, he nonetheless only runs two Into the North, and yet manages to find room for two Bottle Gnomes. What are these Bottle Gnomes for? Is it for Red? They certainly seem less good in all respects than another Loxodon Warhammer or even a Kitchen Finks, which can at least put on a good fight.

Overall, I’m excited by this big money event in the Upper Midwest, and I’m hoping that Steve runs many more so that I can try to attend one of them! Thankfully, Steve is running something else that is rather exciting: the event on a cruise boat!

I, for one, am crazy-excited about the Game in the Gulf. Holy crap. A PTQ on a cruise ship!?! Plus infinite game playing? Oh, man. I’ve talked with some awesome people who I know are going to be going, and I’m hoping that I’ll end up on the boat, myself. It’s going to have a Conflux Launch Party too! Geez! And the craziest thing, if you ask me? It’s got QUALIFIER events as well. The first one is tomorrow in Florida, and they’ll continue into the end of the year, with tournament organizers all over getting in on the action. I know Pete is running one next month, so be sure to check in on this site and on Legion Events to see how you can get on the ship. I know I’m excited about it!

See you next week!

Adrian Sullivan