The Beautiful Struggle – States Part 2 and GP: Krakow

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Last week’s article was a little awkward, because my deadline was a couple of days before States decklists went up, but the article came out on the same day the States page went live. It’s like I was frantic and scrambling for some obscure theorem to use on a midterm, and then an hour after I turned in the paper someone uploaded Stephen Hawking’s entire brain into my skull.

Last week’s article was a little awkward, because my deadline was a couple of days before States decklists went up, but the article came out on the same day the States page went live. It’s like I was frantic and scrambling for some obscure theorem to use on a midterm, and then an hour after I turned in the paper someone uploaded Stephen Hawking’s entire brain into my skull.

Anyway, now that I have the full knowledge of all non-lazy tournament directors in the country at my fingertips, we can really talk decks. Let’s go!

Ghetto Fabulous Control

Gerard Fabiano doesn’t get a lot of recognition for “original” deck design, but he chooses decks well. If he’s playing a given deck you can lay money that the decklist is good, and by “good” I mean “you can buy the missing rares, play the same 75/75 at an FNM or online, and be fine.” Although maybe not so fine in this case, since this particular Mystical Teachings deck has its mastery limited to just 61 cards, and not 80 or 100.

I’m just having a little fun at the expense of Gerry Thompson and Patrick Chapin, there. My thinking on this issue is pretty simple: if I’m going to run four copies of card X, I want to draw one as often as possible in every matchup. If by running 65 cards I’m willing to accept worse odds of drawing, say, Damnation, couldn’t I cut some copies of Damnation instead of running 65 cards? In fact, that was why people in Time Spiral Block ran three or even two copies of Mystical Teachings in their U/B decks — they didn’t need to draw it by turn 4 every game, so they could put a copy or two of the card on the chopping block. I’ll go for 61 from time to time, just because it can sometimes seem completely impossible to cut the silver bullet one-of that serves as your 61st card, but for the most part I like 60 because I like math.

Setting that hot-button issue aside, the thing I like about this deck is that it is able to easily accommodate Cryptic Command and Damnation. I had a hard time making my mana work in that way with my test decks before States, although as we’ll see later, America’s newest Level 6 mage seems to have figured a way around this.

Tarmogoyf Deck Wins

Somewhere, Patrick Sullivan is smiling. Okay, probably not, because I doubt Patrick would go for those Quirion Dryads (nice turn 5 topdeck) or those Browbeats (nice combo with Keldon Megaliths). However, the fact that Grahn went with 20 land and 20 burn spells is enough to warm the heart of any Red Deck Wins aficionado.

I had a similar deck leading up to States, as I mentioned two weeks ago. I ran four copies of Keldon Megaliths because it’s so good for finishing games, I had Shock instead of Thunderblade Charge because I was never able to buy back the Charge, and of course I did not have Browbeat or Dryads. I found that the deck whipped everything except Troll Ascetic — yes, it was even beating my U/W Epochrasite/Blink deck — and if the Troll deck contained Loxodon Warhammer you were just screwed.

I think Grahn and myself both missed out on a very powerful two-drop for a Red deck: Ashling the Pilgrim. I faced this fellow in a Lorwyn Release Event online, and although that was Limited he seemed more than unfair enough for Constructed. He’s a bear on turn 2, a Watchwolf on turn 3, and by turn 5 or 6 he’s approaching Tarmogoyf levels of scariness. His Legendary status actually helps bad players play him correctly, as there should never be any reason to have two of these guys on the table at once. You’d probably have to have at least 22 lands to support Ashling — you want to be able to activate him at least once per turn, as well as play other spells and eventually use him to Earthquake — but he’s well worth it. Beats the hell out of Quirion Dryad, anyway.


After posting a decklist two weeks ago in which I suggested that Profane Command would make a strong addition to any G/B Elf build, it warmed my heart to see decks like this one appear in Top 8s around the country. I felt like I had really contributed something to the format, and innovated in a way that people might not have expected.

(Yeah, I know, you designed the deck and you never read my stuff before today and you had the idea two months before I knew that Profane Command was even printed. Just let me have my day in the sun, willya?)

My deck didn’t have Garruk Wildspeaker in it because I ran out of room. I had a lot fewer spells than Crouch — I wanted spot removal, Profane Command, and Warhammer spread out over eight slots, and I didn’t want to cut creatures for any more non-creature cards. In retrospect, though, Warhammer probably belongs either in the sideboard, or not in the 75 at all. It’s much more important to have a card in the maindeck that beats everyone (Garruk, obv) than a card which only beats Red decks (the Warhammer).

One card I was surprised not to see more of in decks like these was Llanowar Reborn. Prior to U.S. Nationals, John Moore dubbed the land “Leyline of the Anthem” because playing it on turn 1 was like having a free Glorious Anthem in play before the game even started. Sticking that counter on a Wren’s Run Vanquisher or a Troll Ascetic seems very key in the current format, as it allows both of those creatures to rumble with Phyrexian Ironfoot or a reborn Epochrasite. I suppose players thought that more CIP tapped lands were too dangerous with Treetop Village already in the deck as a four-of, but it seems to me a low-probability danger in exchange for a 4/4 deathtouch creature on turn 2.

Not Easy Being Green?

I’m sure Mike Flores‘ heart was warmed by the appearance of his so-called “Poorlash” deck in States Top 8s across the country. I’m a big fan of this strategy in the abstract. I like out-mana-ing my opponents, I like Dauntless Dourbark, and I loooooove Masked Admirers. I liked it so much that I played my own (admittedly inferior) version at States, and then I discovered the truth: the deck is likely a one-trick pony.

First, there’s the problem that everyone else knows Green is good in some form or another (Elves, TrollHammer-type decks, G/B Rack or Rock, the mirror) and Gauntlet of Power is symmetrical. So, unless you get a very naughty creature draw, an opposing Green deck will get some serious alpha strikes going on the turn or two right after the Gauntlet has been played. This was why I ran Sylvan Scrying + Urborg in my Poorlash deck, so that Damnation and Shriekmaw would be options, but those little tricks may not be enough.

Second, there’s the problem that this deck doesn’t actually answer anything, it just tries to overwhelm the opponent and hope that he doesn’t have an answer. That’s not a bad plan against Red/Green beatdown, Elves, or even the countermagic-light Mannequin deck, but it’s a horrid plan against decks which cannot be so easily overwhelmed by a giant Dourbark or a big-kicker Verdeloth. Most Momentary Blink decks, for example, can keep you on the back foot just long enough for their fliers to come through. You’re basically playing for a time-enforced draw against Turbofog; Green has no way to win once the opponent is drawing 4-6 cards per turn, one of which is almost sure to be a Fog-type spell or a Sunscour. If you actually want answers to your opponent, you have to look in another direction…

Neon Pickles

Another problem with Poorlash was exposed by the Top 8 results from Krakow last weekend, namely, resolving spells in this format is by no means easy with decks like this out there:

I guess “U/W Control” is descriptive enough, but the presence of Phyrexian Ironfoot and the Pickles combo causes the game to play a lot differently than the U/W builds from States. Most States lists that you’ll see are either Martyr of Sands builds splashing Blue, or Solar-Flare-type decks with Purity and/or Sacred Mesa; in other words, decks which are base-White. As should surprise no one who tracked his deck choices during Block season, Cheon went with a Blue base instead.

It’s a funny thing: when you have that much card-drawing and you can finish the game with a soft lock, eight counterspells and two Remands-on-a-stick are more than enough against the format. Tell you the truth, prior to States I would not have thought they would be. For one thing, I thought that Ancestral Vision would fall out of fashion. Elves are once again good, Riftsweeper is an elf, and there’s the possibility of splash damage on Riftwing Cloudskate and Greater Gargadon. I also had some trouble using mono-U and U/W to beat decks with Troll Ascetic and spot removal, because the morphs always died, the Troll can’t be bounced or O-Ringed, and the mana was tough to run both Wrath of God and Cryptic Command.

However, Neon Cheon seems to have found a way out of all of these binds. I guess my problem was having a Snow deck with too many colorless lands in it (note that Cheon has precisely zero copies of Scrying Sheets and Mouth of Ronom). I would be interested to read a tournament report, to find out what matchups he and how he fared against beatdown.

I Would Die 4 UUU

My control decks built for States looked a little closer to Amiel Tenenbaum’s second-place finisher from Krakow:

The presence of Think Twice and Faerie Trickery signal more of a Draw-Go deck, whereas Cheon’s is sort of a Solar Flare-type build*. Personally, I had Whispers of the Muse instead of Think Twice in my pre-States decks, because it would seem that card serves two roles wonderfully: it’s a great turn 1 play to draw you into needed mana, and it’s also a strong late-game threat. However, the game seems to have passed the Muse by; nowadays, if you tap low to play Whispers with buyback your opponent may take that opportunity to slip Teferi on the table or flip over a Brine Elemental. Can’t have that.

Judging from the match coverage from Krakow, Tenenbaum’s main problem against Cheon was that he couldn’t stop every morph. He has to fight Cheon’s Ironfeet and Teferis as well as his other creatures, so in two out of the three games a Brine Elemental was eventually able to find its way onto the table and flip up. I love me a Guile, but reading the coverage clearly shows you the advantage of Brine Elemental: he turns every piece of mystery meat that you summon into a potentially game-ending threat. Your opponent can’t say to himself, “I’ll be okay if that morph isn’t Brine Elemental,” because it’s just too much risk. Guile is more expensive and he’s actually three turns slower than Brine: If both sides goldfish and hit all their land drops, Brine can start the tap-down on turn 7, at which point Guile will have swung for only 6 damage if its owner were on the play.

Still, I think Tenenbaum’s deck is a fine choice for an FNM or a 2x Premier Event on Magic Online. My one complaint with this deck would be the 25 lands. You’d think 25 land would be enough, right? Especially with Think Twice and Ancestral Visions on the team? Well, maybe it is for a long-time pro like Amiel with a good track record in making mulligan decisions. The average player, however, will never want to skimp on the land for a deck like this. When Randy Buehler pioneered Draw-Go for Worlds 1998**, he had 26 land in the maindeck and another four lands in the board. Kenji Tsumura had 28 lands in his mono-Blue deck for Time Spiral Block, and I’ll tell you from my own experience with that deck, I had some games where I wished it had even more. Cut a Pact of Negation or two for lands. They don’t have to be any particular type of land, just basic Islands will do. You’ll be glad you did.

This article written while eagerly waiting to see if the Coen Brothers’ No Country For Old Men will be playing this weekend in DC (it opens all over the U.S. on November 21, but some cities will hit the jackpot this weekend). I can’t recall the last time I felt like a movie was a lock to be an A+. Not even The Matrix seemed like such a sure thing.

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* For the uninitiated: Just about all control decks have a few counterspells, a lot of land, and a few creatures to finish the game. Draw-Go decks surround that core with mostly instant spells, such as more countermagic, so that they rarely have to do anything on their own turn except say “Draw, go.” Solar Flare control has more creatures and sorcery-speed cards as its threats and answers, with the intention of tapping out on its own turn, every turn. I guess you could say “tap-out control” instead, but “Solar Flare” just sounds cooler, doesn’t it?

** This article also contains Randy’s report from the Block portion of that Worlds, where Buehler and Mike Turian played one of the most famous decks in the history of Block Constructed formats, the “Horsecraft” combo. Highly recommended reading.