Sullivan Library – New Extended Thoughts As We Hit The Finish Line

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Tuesday, April 6th – With a smattering of Extended PTQs yet to fire, Adrian Sullivan examines a selection of powerful yet rogue strategies that emerged from the top tables of Grand Prix: Houston. If you’re looking for a new deck to spice up your final week of PTQ action, let Adrian lead the way!

We’re in the final week of qualifiers. As best as I can tell*, there are six chances left to qualify for Pro Tour San Juan. I’ll be in Chicago for a joint PTQ/Midwest Masters Series pair of events. Fighting it out for that last qualification is hard work, particularly since we’re now at that stage in the season where there are a metric ton of good, honed decks to choose from.

I’ve generally excelled in the early portion of a season. Players aren’t as well prepared, decks aren’t as well honed, and I generally can be expected to have a strong technological edge. Technology spreads fast. Gerry Thompson virtually defined this format with his build of DDT (Dark Depths/Thopter). In the ancient past, a list like his would be a closely guarded secret for as long as possible, likely being handed from person to person among his friend network, most likely qualifying most of them until it was widely known enough for people to have a sense of what it looked like (but still were likely to be a good 10 cards off or more on the full 75). These days, though, The Magic Hive Mind all but disseminates anything that wins with a rapidity that is shocking.

With the Grand Prix in Houston, we have our last big shot of data. Here’s the breakdown of the best of the best:

DDT: 11 (out of 62 players) ~18% making Top 32
Elves: 2 (out of 23) ~9% making Top 32
Scapeshift: 2 (out of 34) ~6% making Top 32
Zoo: 5 (out of 104) ~5% making Top 32

DDT averaged about 1.1 Jace, the Mind Sculptor in their list. Successful Zoo was mostly those versions running Bant Charm, though a Scapeshift build and a Boom/Bust build were played, with the Boom/Bust build making the finals. The 12 other decks, each represented once, typically by some of the best players in the world:

Hypergenesis — Shuuhei Nakamura (of 26)
Black/White Smallpox — Charles Lancaster (of ???)
Blue/White Thopter — Kenny Ellis (of ???)
Brozek Deck Wins — Pete Picard (of ???)
Bant/Thopter — Craig Wescoe (of ???)
Faeries — Sam Black (of 25)
Cruel Control — Patrick Chapin (of ???)
Dredge — Ben Lundquist (of 26)
Jacerator — Brandon Scheel (of ???)
Living EndTravis Woo (of 28)
“Guess Who?” (B/U Beatdown) — Conley Woods (of ???)
Junk — Tu Ta (of 22)

I’m willing to wager that you’ve heard of the vast majority of these people.

The decks themselves have a questionable popularity, if only because it is difficult to unravel the actual variants of the decks from the archetypes that are listed in the official metagame breakdown. Is Craig Wescoe one of 26 players who played his particular archetype, or is he one of a much smaller archetype, or is he lumped into the “Other” category? The same can be asked of many of these decks. Particularly as the sample size gets smaller, evaluating the quality of a deck can be difficult. Is Jacerator really that good, or is it Brandon Scheel casting Vendilion Clique and Cryptic Command that is good? Is it Hypergenesis that is good, or is it Shuuhei?

These are questions that really have no good answer. I had a long conversation about this very problem with Patrick Chapin and Brian Kowal the other day. For Patrick, his claim is that in his testing, theoretically he is only ever playing against the best players in the world. He doesn’t necessarily care about how decks match up, on average, against each other. He cares how they matchup at the highest levels. For someone like me, who is both trying to get back on the Pro Tour and who doesn’t have the resources (in time) to play at the level I’d like, I’m actually more interested in breakdowns to get a sense of what is popular, and about how things will go. Even gut feelings of matchups can be better than specific results. I only have so much control over the game, period, so knowing how to improve my EV in any matchup is more important to me than the actual numbers. For Kowal, I know he’s gotten into a position where he’s come to lean on trying to make a deck perform as solidly as possible, rather than trying to metagame it to beat certain specific decks. He’s always been a brilliant deckbuilder, but much of his recent success in the past few years can be tied to this philosophy, I think.

So, with these thoughts in mind, I think it will be far more interesting to look at the more innovative decks that people may not have seen yet. Here they are:


I’m not sure about you, but I find this deck super exciting. He lost his match to Todd Anderson, essentially unable to find what he needed to stop the Thopter Squadron portion of the DDT combo, albeit with a full package of Thoughtseizes to hold it down, Extirpate to end the Sword, and Celestial Purge to take out anything. While I don’t think he boarded it, he even has Leyline as an option for the matchup.

If you think about the way that this deck is built, it really is kind of glorious. The numbers whistle really sweet to me, with its Equipment/Stoneforge Mystic package combining with a solid aggressive Black base. Baneslayer Angel and Kitchen Finks round out the Jitte and Sword of Light and Shadow as means for lifegain.

The deck cheats its Smallpoxes in a number of ways. Kitchen Finks and Bloodghast are naturally resilient to the card. Flagstones of Trokair is downright unfair. Thoughtseize and Gatekeeper of Malakir both make the pain of Smallpox harder to take. Dark Confidant and the Swords make it not as rough on yourself.

Against the most threatening deck in the meta, DDT, it has eight Edicts, and then boards Celestial Purge. I have to imagine that this deck is incredibly hostile to DDT, though the small smidge of information on the deck might show that perhaps it needs a little bit more of a means to fight Thopters. Against Zoo, the deck has a slew of anti-creature abilities, not to mention a near-endless supply of creatures to carry equipment (thanks to Bloodghast), and lifegain to boot.

Of all of the decks of the tournament, this one made me the most excited.

Scheel’s adaptations to Kevin Ambler’s PTQ winning Jacerator are also exciting. In essence, the deck looks something like the XLU decks of the past, but using heavier Red for Blood Moon instead of Green for Tarmogoyf.

Scheel claims that the deck is a heavy favorite against DDT, and it is easy to see why. Trinket Mage can find Chalice of the Void, Pithing Needle, Engineered Explosives, and Relic to stop the combos. Cryptic Command and Jace can bounce one end. Spell Snare can stop it. Blood Moon can. Clique can disrupt it. Overall, it just looks like this deck is simply ridiculously hostile to the deck.

For more aggressive decks, Firespout, Shackles, Engineered Explosives, and sideboarded Basilisk Collar and Sower and Threads can make things difficult. Once a Basilisk Collar hits the table, literally every creature is a threat. Combined with a near endless supply of creature theft, this deck looks like a great choice for someone who wants to play an actual factual control deck.

And, again, Conley Woods delivers with an exciting looking deck that is outside the box. While not a true aggro-control deck, it absolutely does have its fair share of aggro-control moments. It is perhaps, closer to the old Black/Blue Winter Orb decks of over twelve years ago, with a small smattering of disruption of all sorts, but very little in the way of reliable countering. For “time stealing” effects, there really are “only” the Spellstutter Sprite, and its creature-control, when the opponent deigns to give you a target for them. But for sheer disruption, the deck is jam-packed with it.

In this way, the deck also reminds me of Pro-Tour Junk merged with Ben Rubin Dump Truck. When I first made the deck, it was a Black/Green/White Midrange Aggro deck that had just a ton of disruption to back up a super aggressive clock. Later, it would drop the Black to be a more pure Green/White deck with the same basic plans, before usually returning to Black to accommodate Doran in its current state. The heavy card draw of the deck and the relatively fast clock of Vendilion Clique and Abyssal Persecutor make this deck able to always put on pressure.

Kudos, Conley. This deck is seriously just a mind blower.

Speaking of Junk, here’s Tu Ta’s take on the archetype, splashing in the tiniest bit of Blue, much like Zoo has been doing, to fit in access to Bant Charm in the main and Negate in the board.

There are things I don’t like about Tu Ta’s list; for a deck with so many singleton lands that do something useful, I can’t help but feel as though there should also be four Knight of the Reliquary. Finding something to cut might be difficult, but surely there is something that could be fit in? I love Stoneforge Mystic, for example, but perhaps it could be cut. Further, I wonder about the necessity of both Loxodon Hierarch and Baneslayer Angel and Kitchen Finks. The deck might want just a little sharpening.

That said, I still really love this deck. It is fully capable of putting down just a ridiculous clock, and it is chock full of a whole ton of disruption. Whatever your plan is, this deck can have a response, all the while putting you on a clock. Qasali Pridemage, Bant Charm, Maelstrom Pulse, Path to Exile, and Thoughtseize can all be employed to push around anyone trying to pull any funny business. If it is going toe-to-toe, this deck has what it takes to win a fight against aggressive decks.

Don’t mistake Junk for Rock; this ain’t a midrange-control deck. Essentially, it is doing the pure Junk midrange-aggro plan: drop down something too big to ignore, and then tear up whatever they have left. Classic! (And heart-warming, too!)

I had had a plan to just play Goblin Guide again for this final weekend. Now, though, I’m not so sure. I find myself excited to try out some new version of Junk, or to rebuild a Baron deck based on all of these amazing decks that are floating out there. Maybe I’ll just play Goblin Guide, but the draw of Thoughtseize and Cryptic Command might just take me that direction instead. We’ll see, I guess.

Wish me luck this coming weekend. I hope to see you in San Juan!

Adrian Sullivan

* Okay. Let’s have at it.

Wizards of the Coast has just royally messed up. Back in the day (as in last year), if you wanted to look up where qualifiers were, it was an incredibly simple process. You could just go the link that Wizards provided for your area (North America, Europe, etc.), and lo and behold, you’d have a sortable list of all of the events of the type you were looking for. Wow!

If you missed the awesomeness of how that works, check out the link again. Amazingly, I can tell that if I didn’t want to travel, I’d have one qualifier that I’d be able to make it to, right here in Madison. If I were more of a road warrior (like I’ve been in the past), I could sort it by event date and make decisions about where I might wish to travel, weekend by weekend. For the example I’m using (PT Valencia), I could decide to do the following (like I did):

– 6/23 — Chicago (nothing else close)
– 6/30 — Indianapolis
– 7/7 — Minneapolis or Columbus (easy choice with Minneapolis)
– 7/21 — Lincoln (if I decide to go that far)
– 7/22 — Detroit
– 7/28 — Rocky River, Ohio
– 8/4 — Saint Louis
– 8/11 — Nashville
– 8/12 — Detroit
– 8/25 — Madison (or Columbus, haha)

It had all of the contact information I might need, and it let me plan out my season. Particularly now that there are many other events that might be competing with a PTQ for my time, this is important. Since between me and my girlfriend, we have friends and family in numerous parts of the country, it could even be useful if we were to decide when and how to travel. If she was thinking about being in California at the end of August, I could look and see that if she were in San Francisco, maybe I’d want to plan to go out with her.

Now, of course, it’s not just that the simple utility of this list is gone. If I go to the official search function for PTQ Amsterdam, searching for “Madison, WI”, my initial screen is somewhat useful, showing me the PTQs that exist in Minneapolis and Chicago, but if I want to do any planning whatsoever for events that are coming up, I have to fruitlessly click. And click. And click.

Imagine the kind of work I’d have to do to put together the kind of list that I have made for previous seasons. For example, I’m happy to go to Columbus if it isn’t in direct conflict with another PTQ. Looking at the Valencia PTQs, I can immediately tell that there is simply no need to even think about Columbus; tournaments that are much closer are the same weekend. With the current system, I’d have to click on literally every PTQ location to see what the date is, mark it down, and then compare after the fact. Alternately, I could search week-to-week. Either way, the amount of extra work is ridiculous.

This is if I know what I’m doing. If I’m a less savvy user and I get to that search page and then click on “Get Map”, I might not realize that PTQs that are incredibly close to me are happening. From the above map, for example, if I enter “Rochester, MN”, the screen is in close enough so that if you don’t realize you can zoom out a bit, you might not realize that a PTQ is in your backyard.

Your alternative, to use the DCI’s tournament locator, proves fruitless as well:

Here is a search for all PTQs in 2010 in North America. Somehow, I think this isn’t quite right.

I like how Matt Sperling put it to me, saying it was, “beyond frustrating. I expect the next step is an iPhone app that you turn on when you leave the house on Saturday that just tells you “warmer” or “cooler” as you move about based on your GPS position relative to the nearest PTQ.” Haha. YES. I expect that is the next step.

Now, this isn’t to say that there isn’t some utility to the new system. For many users, I’m sure it works just fine. They aren’t planning on traveling at all for events, and they only want to know what is in their backyard. Great.

But would it be so hard to also include a simple link to the old-school style sortable list. I mean, really.

It makes me frustrated that I’m so frustrated. A part of it is that I don’t have nearly the time to go to as many Magic events as I once did. I can only give so much time to the game because of my other obligations. By making it as time-consuming as they have, it actually makes it more difficult for me to get to the events that are out there.

I think about players like Dave Price. Price was the ultimate road warrior on PTQs, qualifying basically every season. How? He was willing to drive wherever for a PTQ. I think about some of the people like Brian Kowal, who would be willing to impulse-play in a tournament somewhere simply because there wasn’t better Magic going on anywhere nearby. For players like this, the system can work, sure, but is so unwieldy that I’d be surprised if it isn’t hurting attendance for tournament organizers galore.

I won’t hold my breath. But maybe, just maybe, things might change. Here’s hoping. Thanks for listening to my rant.