Disclaimer: This was originally supposed to be three different articles; however, I kept getting sidetracked, as a result you’re article sandwich is gonna have a lot of meat and not so much bread. Expect considerably more rants and or anecdotes next time.
Act 1: Honolulu Observations
When I looked at the coverage for Honolulu I was struck by the fact that the top performing decks were tuned very dramatically to beat control. The most extreme example of this is Owling Mine, a deck that has very similar components to those found in UR Magnivore. The Magnivore deck wins through its explosive land destruction strategy that hopes to leave the opponent crippled, and then refuel with powerful card drawing such as Tidings and Compulsive Research. Owling Mine functions off an incredibly focused engine that stalls the opponent through Boomerangs and Eye of Nowheres, and continues to keep them off of key spells and turns through a suite of countermagic and Exhaustions.
The Magnivore deck and Owling Mine contain many of the same and similar cards. and both decks hope to leave the opponent with an abundance of powerful and expensive cards in their hand at the game’s conclusion. The decks themselves are quite different, not just in terms of strategy and execution, but in terms of matchups. While the Magnivore deck that is reasonable against pretty much the entire field, the Owl deck is simply hopeless against Zoo like aggressive strategies. Yet as hopeless as Owling Mine is against focused aggressive decks, it’s just as dominant against slow control decks.
Several top players chose to run the Owl deck despite the fact that their fate would rest almost solely upon their pairings. These players correctly believed that an overabundance of control decks would both show up and survive to the top of the standings. With this insight it makes sense that these players chose to fully optimize their strategy to not just fight, but maul control.
Similarly, the top performing beatdown decks were also specifically tuned to beat control. The Red-based beatdown deck chose to run multiple copies of Flames of the Blood Hand instead of the more versatile and cheaper Volcanic Hammer.
Critical deck decisions can make the difference between choosing a good deck and choosing the right deck. A bold metagame choice such as Owling Mine will often backfire. But when the prediction is correct, the pilot is rewarded with a consistent string of nearly automatic wins, and it won’t matter how well their opponents play.
That doesn’t mean that a powerful deck such as Osyp’s URzatron is unable to win a tournament; in fact, it’s quite the opposite. In most diverse fields it’s very unlikely that anything but powerful strategies will have consistent success.
How extreme is too extreme? As evident by the Owl deck’s success, the sky’s the limit. However, an important thing to keep in mind is that just because a strategy is extreme doesn’t necessarily mean it’s good, or even good enough. There’s the obvious problem that the deck might not face its ideal matchups often enough to be successful, but there are other, far more pressing problems that can cause an extreme strategy to be simply a poor choice.
Many extreme strategies are simply fundamentally unsound, and can have great difficulty in defeating even what the deck’s creator believes to be an ideal matchup. Another problem that can plague extreme strategies is that it might not actually have that large of an advantage against its ideal matchup.
Would a strategy like this be a good choice for a qualifier? Probably not, as it’s generally not a good idea to leave yourself completely helpless against a somewhat prominent matchup in a 100+ person tournament when a single loss can lead to an early exit. However, these principals are completely different in Team Constructed. If you believe that less than half of the decks that your opposing teams will be piloting are aggressive strategies, then it would be perfectly reasonable for you to include Owling Mine as one of your three decks. (More on maximizing your advantage in Team Constructed next time.)
The German Heartbeat deck with transformational sideboard seems particularly potent against control, as it is very difficult for most game 1 configurations to match Heartbeat’s speed and resilience to minor disruption. The matchup against control is similarly lopsided post-board, as the control deck is placed into a guessing game. Should they sideboard in numerous cards that are potent against the combo? If they do, they can easily fall prey to the creature plan. Similarly, should they leave their deck stocked with anti-creature cards? If the Heartbeat player left in the combo they will have no problem winning in the same manner that they took game 1. However, even in the worst-case scenarios for Heartbeat, if the control wielding opponent sideboards against the configuration that Heartbeat has gone with, the Heartbeat deck will still have considerable game as they have many potent threats and 8 counterspells with which to protect them.
1st place Mark Herberholz: R/G beatdown with 3 Flames of the Blood Hand.
2nd place Craig Jones: R/G/W beatdown with 3 Flames of the Blood Hand.
3rd place Tiago Chan: Owling Mine.
4th place Olivier Ruel: B/W beatdown with a heavy discard contingent including Okiba-Gang Shinobi, a card that is particularly effective against slow and midrange control decks.
5th place Osyp Lebedowicz: UrzaTron with Giant Solifuge and Annex off the board.
6th place Maximilian Bracht: Heartbeat combo with transformational sideboard.
7th place Ruud Warmenhoven: B/W aggro.
8th place Antoine Ruel: Owling Mine.
9th place Jacob Arias Garcia: B/W Descendant of Kiyomaro aggro with heavy discard.
10th place Nikolas Nygaard: U/R Magnivore.
11th place Billy Moreno: R/G/W burn heavy beatdown with 4 Flames of the Blood Hand and transformational Glare sideboard.
12th place Guillaume Wafo-tapa: U/R control.
13th place Makihito Mihara: Greater Gifts.
14th place Masaki Yokoi: Greater Good Beatdown. Very similar to Ghazi Glare, with Greater Goods replacing the Glares.
15th place Kamiel Cornelissen: U/W/R Firemane Angel control with Zur’s Weirding lock.
16th place Ryouma Shiozu: Owling Mine.
As a result of the extensive anti-control elements that were employed by the top performing decks, only 2 dedicated control decks – piloted by Kamiel and Wafo-Tapa – made their way into the Top 16. Both of their decks were incredibly off the radar Blue control decks that sported numerous hard counters in the form of Hinder and Rewind.
This deck is, on the surface, a standard Blue control deck. However, its matchup against other control decks is quite favorable. Much like in Osyp’s deck, the Solifuges from the board give him a significant edge against control in boarded games. This, coupled with the decks potential game 1 advantage through cheaper spells and zero dead cards, makes the control matchups fairly easy.
Why did these control deck succeed when the B/W and B/W/G control decks piloted by many of the games top players did not? The answer is certainly multi-layered. However, there is one issue that I believe to be particularly important. Historically Rock-like strategies are generally effective against streamlined strategies that the Rock has anticipated. However, this type of strategy is often at a large disadvantage when paired against a strategy, extreme or not, that it either did not anticipate or simply did not prepare for. Sometimes the Rock is still at an advantage if their answers overlap against the unexpected decks threats (Splash Damage). Typically, the Rock-like strategies are ineffective if the deck’s designer doesn’t have a perfect idea of what threats their opponents will be wielding.
No matter how good a deck is at defeating stock lists, if it isn’t prepared for extreme strategies it can have great difficulty in winning the tournament.
How do you choose the right deck for a tournament? Clearly the critical factor in Hawaii was the ability to beat control, but the key factors are different for almost every tournament. At World’s this year, Yosei-based G/W decks were incredibly dominant. These decks are quite effective against beatdown, and their inclusion of Arashi gave them considerable game against the Blue-based control decks that were quite popular in pre-Guildpact Standard.
Of course, there is a substantial difference between Pro Tours and Pro Tour Qualifiers, and an even greater difference between Constructed and Team Constructed.
Sadin: I like the idea of figuring out what the right deck for a single event is
Flores: you want to be one week ahead
Flores: two weeks ahead is usually too far ahead
Think about that for a second… how often does that deck that wins a PTQ one week go on to be played heavily the next? It’s rarely just a result of one person winning; it’s that he was able to catch on to the developments before the majority of players either realized or accepted where the PTQ environment was going. A good example of a week ahead setup is our week 1 PTQ configuration, which consisted of Heartbeat, Magnivore, and B/W/G beach house style control.
2nd Place PTQ Connecticut – Hartford – 3/25Â
3 Vitu-Ghazi, the City-Tree
1Â Shizo, Death’s Storehouse
1Â Orzhova, the Church of Deals
2Â Selesnya Sanctuary
2Â Orzhov Basilica
1Â Caves of Koilos
4Â Godless Shrine
1Â Golgari Rot Farm
2Â Overgrown Tomb
4Â Temple Garden
1Â Tendo Ice Bridge
2nd Place PTQ Connecticut – Hartford – 3/25
2nd Place PTQ Connecticut – Hartford – 3/25
4Â Sakura-Tribe Elder
4Â Drift of Phantasms
1Â Maga, Traitor to Mortals
1Â Weird Harvest
4Â Kodama’s Reach
4Â Sensei’s Divining Top
4Â Heartbeat of Spring
1Â Savage Twister
4Â Muddle the Mixture
1Â Train of Thought
1Â Invoke the Firemind
4Â Early Harvest
We chose these decks because we believed they would be favorable against almost every week 1 configuration. Our advantage was based on having two decks that were favorable against beatdown (Heartbeat and B/W/G) as well as two decks that are favorable against control (Heartbeat and Vore). We would be even if Vore got paired against beatdown, Heartbeat against control, and B/W/G against control. We would be behind if Vore got paired against beatdown and B/W/G got paired against Vore (or Owling Mine), but ahead in almost every other pairing.
The only flaw with our configuration (for week 1) was that ultimately the B/W/G deck was a poor choice, as it is extremely difficult to play due to the deck’s lack of proactive elements and comparatively low power level. Not only were the margins very small if played optimally, the deck’s mistakes were especially devastating. Theoretically the B/W/G deck is very good, but in actual tournament settings it is prohibitively difficult to justify playing it.
The next week, needing only a 2-0 drop to qualify we switched Mike’s deck from G/W/B control to G/W Chord. This change is especially potent as we only had to play two matches, in which time our opponents were likely to be sporting a higher percentage of beatdown decks than you find at the top tables in later rounds. Were it not for my love of Vore I should have certainly switched Vore with Husk, as it’s far better against aggressive strategies. Fortunately, we were able to win our two matches before noon, leaving us with plenty of time to grab lunch and head back into NY for an afternoon draft at Neutral Ground.
Here are some interesting things that may or may not have happened during our first PTQ
I may or may not have paid 20 bucks apiece for Tidings.
I may or may not have listened to every one of my non-elimination opponents mention (after they lost) that they had a favorable matchup against Vore.
Paul may or may not have won every match that was at all relevant.
Mike may or may not have given Paul and me nut high decks.
Next up, I’m going to abruptly tell you about some interesting configurations and why you might want to play them. After that I’ll move even more abruptly onto my Vore primer.
Vore, Heartbeat, Husk:
I think this is the most powerful configuration available, if I were playing in a PTQ this weekend I would definitely be playing this configuration. You have three decks that are good against control, one deck that is favorable against Heartbeat (Husk) and two decks that are even against Heartbeat. Three decks that are favorable against Gifts, two decks that are favorable against aggressive strategies (Husk and Heartbeat). Ultimately, you should be favored against almost every team you play against. The only limiting factor with this configuration is the difficulty of playing Vore. If you’re not completely comfortable with Vore then I would recommend swapping it out for G/W Chord. Even though Chord has very different strengths (especially in Teams) than Vore does, you aren’t actually giving up any bit of your advantage as both decks are extremely good against the decks they beat, and still reasonable against their worse matchups.
G/W chord, Heartbeat, Ghost Dad:
This is probably the best configuration possible against beatdown. I’m not sure if it’s good enough against the field to warrant playing this, but if you think the majority of your opponents are going to be sporting two beatdown decks than this is probably a the way to go.
G/W chord, Heartbeat, Husk:
This configuration is obviously very similar to Chord, Heartbeat, Ghost Dad, the only difference being that it gives up a little bit against beatdown and gains a lot against U/R, G/W and Heartbeat.
Husk, Vore, G/W Chord:
I think this configuration gives up a lot compared to the other configurations I like. The only reason I can think of playing this is if your team has some extreme prejudice against Heartbeat.
(Brief aside: I understand that a lot of people believe that Ghost Dad, Hand in Hand, and various other B/W decks are favorable against Heartbeat. However, Paul never had the slightest problem defeating B/W with Heartbeat. Maybe Paul just got lucky, but I’m pretty sure that a lot of his success against B/W had to do with the way in which he approached the matchup. So if you’re playing Heartbeat and you’re having difficulty against B/W, maybe you should try playing it differently, or maybe I’m just wrong)
I didn’t realize this before but I sat down to write, but all the configurations I like contain Heartbeat and at least one, preferably two, of Husk, Vore, and G/W chord. Probably the most balanced configuration is Chord, Husk, and Heartbeat
Now, onto Vore.
My first introduction to the Magnivore deck was when I walked into Neutral Ground to test with Paul and Mike, and Paul was complaining about how awful the Magnivore deck is and that he would never play it. That was the very moment when I knew Vore was the deck for me.
Anywho, here’s how I sideboarded with Vore:
Non-Black beatdown decks: R/G, Zoo, R/W, etc.
-4 Stone Rain, -4 Demolish, -1 Genju of the Spires, -1 Eye of Nowhere.
+4 Volcanic Hammer, +4 Threads of Disloyalty, +1 Mana Leak, +1 Meloku the Clouded Mirror.
B/W discard (Shrieking Grotesque + Ravenous Rat decks) and Husk.
If on the play (Or on the draw and they have double lands):
-1 Genju of the Spires, -1 Demolish.
+ 1 Mana Leak, +1 Meloku the Clouded Mirror.
If on the draw and they don’t have double lands:
-4 Stone Rain, -2 Demolish.
+4 Volcanic Hammer, +1 Mana Leak, +1 Meloku the Clouded Mirror.
It’s not unreasonable to swap in Hammers if you’re on the play, but I never felt the need to do so.
(Flectomancer might be good against B/W/G since you can redirect a Putrefy onto a Signet, or use it as a preemptive defense against Extraction, but I think it’s ultimately not worth it.)
(I’m not positive on the plan against Tron; it might be better to only bring in two Flectomancers)
The only change that I would consider for the maindeck is swapping out a Genju and replacing it with the Meloku in the board. This has considerable merit, as Meloku is better in your worst matchups. As for the sideboard it’s reasonable to swap a Threads for a Meloku. The Threads were pretty good whenever I drew them, but Meloku is relevant in more matchups.
Aside from the sideboarding the important things to know about the deck are:
If you aren’t gaining a big edge off Eye, you want to hold it.
Against aggro, you want to play Magnivore ASAP.
Against R/G, wait until its a 5/5 if you can afford to.
Against G/W, 1/1 Magnivores are the way to go.
Against B/W with Mortify, you usually want to wait until you can set up a Wildfire and land-lock them, but if you don’t have any better plays you’ll usually want to just go for a Magnivore.
Against Ghost Dad you have enough time to set up whatever you want. Keep in mind that Eyes pick up Pillories.
Against Heartbeat, run out the Magnivore ASAP. You want to play a Vore, and then a Wildfire.
Always kill Confidants if you can – because Confidants draw them more lands – unless your hand is set up in such a way that you have substantial reason not to.
Try to keep the B/W decks off of Ghost Council mana.
That’s it for today.