Sullivan Library – This Just In! M11 Standard Tournament Decks

Grand Prix GP Columbus July 30-August 1, 2010
Thursday, July 22nd – M11 is here, and the new cards are filtering through into tournament Top 8s across the world. Adrian Sullivan examines the decklists from the recent Finnish Nationals Top 8, and suggests where the metagame may be headed. He also shares a fun Magic “format” that asks an interesting question…

M11 has hit us, and every indication is that it is, indeed, a game changer.

With the results in from three larger events — PTQs in Pennsylvania and Japan, and a Nationals for Finland — we have the beginnings of a semblance of understanding how M11 is going to be impacting the format. Here are the card counts of M11 cards from the 32 main decks:

Mana Leak: 40
Primeval Titan: 24
Cultivate: 18
Condemn: 15
Fauna Shaman: 10
Destructive Force: 7
OTHER: 23 (Including Grave Titan, Frost Titan, Ember Hauler, Inferno Titan, Liliana’s Caress, Mystifying Maze, Jace’s Ingenuity, Temple Bell, and Sword of Vengeance)

If we include sideboard copies, that would be forty more cards, including Brittle Effigy, Autumn Veil, Obstinate Baloth, Crystal Ball, Sun Titan, Redirect, Combust, and Elixir of Immortality, as well as already named cards like Condemn and Destructive Force. On average, the decks used 4.2 M11 cards in their main, and 5.5 if you included sideboards. The least new of the decks was from newly crowned Finnish National Champion, Jani Lindroos, who played a grand total of two new cards in his retool of Shaheen Soorani Blue/White Control deck that I talked about last week; his call? Two Condemn. More on this in a bit…

If we look at the archetypes that were represented, it breaks down pretty interestingly (5=5th-8th; 3=3rd-4th; 2=2nd; 1=1st — each number representing one player):

UW(/x) Control: 555533211 (includes UW Control, Esper Control, and Super-Friends)
Titan-Ramp: 55321 (includes Eldrazi and non-Eldrazi-Ramp)
NLBant: 52
Titan Force: 53 (Primeval Titan/Destructive Force decks)
Turbo-Land: 53
Red: 3
Naya: 5
Mythic: 5
Open the Vaults: 5
Caress Combo: 5 (Liliana’s Caress/Burning Inquiry deck)

The first thing that seems pretty clear is just how much of an impact Mana Leak had in the opening weekend. That’s forty Mana Leaks.

Where are you, Jund? I’m willing to bet that it just got beaten down in a few ways: UW was really quite prepared against the archetype, the various ramping Green decks just overwhelmed Jund (particularly with their Obstinate Baloths helping out), and, well, there just wasn’t much from M11 to make Jund exciting for anyone. If Jund can come back remains to be seen.

Obviously UW Control, Esper Control, and Super-Friends (someone pointed out to me that Fantastic Four would have been a better name, but that ship has sailed) are all different decks, but they all basically function in the same way: they run board control and card advantage, with Planeswalkers serving the role to maintain advantage over an opponent, and sometimes supported by potent creatures. They have different small choices, but their overarching plan is essentially the same. The details might make one deck better or worse than another, but playing against them is only moderately different, from one build to the next. I imagine Esper Control actually gains the most from Mana Leak, as holding on to Mana Leak mana is not nearly so draining if you can just turn it into an Esper Charm if they don’t make you use it.

These decks so outperformed other decks in the same time frame for one very simple reason: they require the least effort to make competitive with the new cards. If you are already playing one of these decks (or considering playing one), the amount of effort you have to put into reconfiguring that main deck in order to get the return is quite small. Compare this to a card like Primeval Titan, which requires more effort to integrate into an existing archetype. In the Japanese PTQ from this weekend, a ton of decks did show up that were doing the work of including a Primeval Titan, but I’m willing to bet that those decks will quickly be further improved a great deal, whereas the UW(/x) decks are already going to be fairly close to optimal.

Let’s take a closer look at the Finnish National Champion’s deck, a deck I consider one of the more important of the weekend:

This deck is, by and large, Shaheen Soorani Blue/White deck. Sure, sure, it is a little different. Much like I had suggested, Jani split the difference of Condemn and Path to Exile. Condemn is just a better card for what this deck wants to do, but Path can be very important in getting rid of a blocker, clearing a Dauntless Escort or Knight (or Fauna Shaman), or ramping off of your own Wall of Omens. Jani shifted the deck around in non-M11 ways, disregarding Soorani’s thoughts on the clear superiority of Day to Martial Coup, and switching one Day over, and dropping the Emeria Angel tech in favor of the consistency of another Negate and another Kor Firewalker. A 70 of 75 list is a pretty impressive comment on the consistency of Shaheen’s build.

I’ve definitely been a huge fan of it. I spent a good deal of time playing the deck, and I have to tell you, it just feels incredibly powerful. If you think about a lot of the cards in the deck, it basically plans on overpowering an opponent. It eschews Mana Leak for either one of two reasons: (a) it believed extra threats were more important than answering the opponent, or (b) it forgot about it. Given that Condemn is included, I’m inclined to think that it thought that its cards were better and more important than the opponent’s.

Let’s take it like from a certain, contingent vantage point: a Mana Leak, if it does it’s job, is worth as much value as the card it is ending, within the context of any game. So, if you stop a card of power 7, your Mana Leak was worth 7. Since sometimes it occasionally can’t stop the card it is trying to stop, maybe it is close to 6.9, but that’s fine. If you believe your cards are, on average, 9s, let’s say, and you believe your opponent’s cards are, on average, 8s, from a pure power perspective, I can see the rationale for not running Leak. I know that I have not yet updated Shaheen Soorani deck with Leaks, and I’m not sure if I will — I need more testing to determine which build I like more. But I think I prefer not. Still, though, I’m right in the very beginning stages of this, so who knows how it will turn out…

This alternate plan was adopted by Nationals Team alternate Max Lehtinen.

Max decided that Baneslayer Angel wasn’t good enough, and on the strength of that decision was able to find room for Condemns and Leaks. This deck leans far more heavily on its Planeswalkers, and basically is making the opposite claim that Jani is making: other decks will have good cards, and Mana Leak is going to be more valuable than your own threat.

Max really hates his opponent’s cards, running 2 Oblivion Ring, 4 Condemn, 2 Path to Exile, 2 Day of Judgment, and 4 Mana Leak, as opposed to Jani’s 2 Condemn, 2 Path to Exile, 2 Day of Judgment, 1 Martial Coup (which isn’t necessarily even reactive). While Jani did end up winning the event, it isn’t necessarily an indictment of the reactive approach. More importantly, though, Jani beat Max 3-0, even though they both had access to Luminarch Ascension and Negate after board.

Sadly, the official page for Finnish Nationals is little help in discerning how the event played out in weighing one build against the other. We can tell that Jani did have the luxury, however, of playing in what appears to have been a weaker Nationals, and this may have certainly helped impact his eventual results (though Max definitely had solidly better breakers). This deck’s appearance in the Top 8 perhaps says something about the field (and Jani’s choice):

I looked at this list, and I was pretty sure it was just a fairly terrible deck archetype, and certainly a terrible list. From an archetypical standpoint, I’ve seen Burning Inquiry decks for a while now, and they never seem to actually be anything that is worth of being paid attention to; if it was Goblin Lore, I probably would take the deck more seriously, but the fundamental lack of doing anything with a Burning Inquiry is very relevant: Burning Inquiry doesn’t effect the board, gives you card disadvantage (which directly hurts you), and can randomly improve your opponent’s hand or make your own even worse. Other things, I don’t mind so much. 2 Burst Lightning just look like Lightning Bolt #5-6, 1 Mind Rot is just Blightning #5. I’d like to see 4 Inquisition of Kozilek in there, but that’s fine. Diabolic Tutor seems really slow in attempting to “complete” the combo (which will deal 6 damage per Megrim effect). I’d like this deck a lot more if it had something like Goblin Guide in it. Blood Tithe in the board just drives home how unhoned this deck is.

I mentioned how bad I thought this deck was to Craig Wescoe, and he, quite awesomely, sat down with someone to test it out, before quickly coming back to confirm that, yes, it isn’t a good deck. My guess is that Hannu either did very well in the draft or had some luck in the Constructed portion (or both). Alternately, I’m wrong, and this deck is insane. I’m betting that I’m right.

Erkki’s deck is defensive, nearly to the max. Seven walls is a lot of walls, and when you add three Grave Titans on top of that, you’re talking about someone who doesn’t want to be attacked. He splits the difference in discard spells (a move I approve of right now), supporting his Mana Leaks in interacting with his opponent’s plans, and particularly useful with the Esper Charm’s discard ability. All of these slots mean he has less in the way of certain kinds of heavy hitters: only 2 Baneslayer and six total Planeswalkers, but don’t worry, with the Grave Titans, his Mythic count is still up there!

This deck is basically made to take the game longer, and when faced against a deck that is planning on ramping, it hopes to either blunt that plan with Mana Leak, or stop it entirely with discard, either punishing a player with Esper Charm on their last few cards in hand, or removing them.

The sideboard actually looks really exciting. All Is Dust is a great plan against Oblivion Ring and Dauntless Escort, and can just generally be a useful card. Duress and Negate are great catch-alls against anything else that is controlling. Condemn, Celestial Purge, Day of Judgment, and Baneslayer Angel are all very potent answers to various kinds of aggression. This deck looks like a fairly solid way to take on all comers. I imagine that he lost to Jani because he was overwhelmed by threats, particularly with the help of Luminarch Ascension.

The other Esper Control deck in the Top 8 was eliminated in the quarterfinals, and looks a great deal less inspiring.

Using Black for Esper Charm alone hardly seems worth it, even when you have 2 Identity Crisis in the board to also look to. While this deck is certainly solid looking, I think you are going to be better served by either looking at less ambitious, but more powerful decks like Soorani’s Blue/White, or by going more intently into Black, as Erkki Siira did. There’s nothing super-incredibly wrong about this deck, per se, but it is certainly not compelling, either.

Shifting into the land of Time Warps, we have Turbo Land, now updated, nearly across the board, with Primordial Titan, except in Finland, where the only M11 in sight is in the sideboard:

This is, in many ways, very much an M10 deck. While Obstinate Baloth’s appearance is clearly a double nod to the two enemies of the deck, Jund (where the matchup is close) and Red (where the matchup is bad), this deck hasn’t made any real changes to itself to update for M11 cards.

Kalle has an interesting path, beating Esper Control (sans Duress), losing to Esper Control (with Duress), and then beating the Mana Leak build of Blue/White to land a spot on the Finnish National Team. While I wasn’t there, I’m willing to bet that this deck did what it usually does against Blue/White(/x) decks, and just overwhelmed its opponents. Mana Leak looks pretty silly here, if that’s basically all you’re banking on. Adding Duress to the mix has to have been useful in fighting this deck.

The lone Ulamog looks like it is the trump plan for a particularly long game against control, but I’m not sure if it is really that effective. I imagine that both Emrakul and Kozilek will go a lot further in those matchups, Emrakul as a true KO, and Kozilek as simply more relevant and easier to cast. Either way, I’m unconvinced by its appearance in this sideboard, unless the deck really is finding that it needs to answer something so specifically at the late game.

Finally, we have the last of the decks:

Again, a deck that really didn’t change much, perhaps dropping Jace (if it was even running it to begin with) for Temple Bell.

This deck’s plan is quite simple: take enough turns that Tezzeret kills the opponent — a far cry from the way that many versions of this deck have operated in the past. It does include the classic Glassdust Hulk kill in the sideboard, but is largely concerned with simply staying alive with Rest for the Weary and Angel Song until it Tezzerets you out.

Sami almost took down eventual champion Jani Lindroos, and if my experience is any indication, this is particular matchup can be quite close, particularly given that Sami had 4 Negate and 2 Duress after board. Into the Roil is also a reasonable way to fight the inevitable Oblivion Rings that are coming in in this matchup. I predict that Jani stuck a quick Luminarch Ascension and rode it to victory.

The PTQ Top 8s are sure to get their own coverage elsewhere on the site, so I thought I’d switch topics to a great conversation that sprung up on Dan Bock’s Facebook page:

“You can play as many copies of one creature in your deck as you want. But no other non-basic land spells. 60 card minimum. What do you play?”

It took less than an hour before Meddling Mage, Peacekeeper, and Surging Sentinels were all banned. Other cards start seeming worth thinking about for a “Watch List” (Virulent Sliver at the top of that list). Matt Sperling definitely tried making a case for no banned list, but really it depends on the details of execution. If we are to take the old Three-Card Format from the Five-Color Invitational (my deck was beautiful: City of Traitors, Mishra’s Factory, Chaos Orb [and a lot of flipping practice]), and borrow this:

“You play two games against your opponent, one with you going first, one with them going first. If you get more wins than your opponent, you win the match”

I think the format gains a lot, then. Making the match be determined as “best of two (which mean a potential for NO ONE to be best)” means that decisions are going to be made that will reduce a “who went first?” scenario deciding the match. In comparing a whole slew of decks like this, it’s almost better to just imagine it as a round robin, and see who does best in the whole round robin. For example:

46 Llanowar Elves and 14 Forest
31 Kargan Dragonlord and 29 Mountain
36 Shriekmaw and 24 Swamp
33 Hedron Crab and 27 Island
37 Sinew Sliver and 23 Plains
45 Myr Servitor and 15 of any basic land (maybe chosen to avoid incidental landwalking?)
37 Blood Cultist, 12 Swamp, 11 Mountain
37 Shorecrasher Mimic and 23 Island or Forest

There are a whole bunch of really interesting decks that could be made, and figuring out the proper balance for each of them, and how they interact with a metagame is particularly interesting. Right now, I’m feeling kind of partial to Sperling’s suggestion of Bane of the Living, though Jaya Ballard also seems pretty hot. This format came up in a conversation at Netherworld Games between him and Madison players Dan Howard and Bob Baker (of Giantbaiting fame), and is typical of the kind of silly Magic conversations that happen when you are thinking of Magic cards all day, day-in and day-out, ad nauseum.

Another one, courtesy of former Madisonian Mike Hron (again, by way of Dan Bock):

Werebear and Afflict. How many of each do you play in a 40-card deck, and with how many Forests and Swamps? Those four cards are the only ones you can play.

That’s all for this week. I know I enjoyed taking a short break from thinking about Standard and Legacy when this came up, and I hope you enjoyed it to.

Until next time…

Adrian Sullivan