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The (Decks to) Beat Goes On

You are playing in a PTQ this Saturday. It is the first round and you have no idea what anyone is playing. You are playing…let’s say Rock (Swords optional) and your opponent is going first. Your hand has plays for the first three turns of the game and the mana to make them so you keep as did the player across from you. Your opponent leads the game off with a Seat of the Synod and no play.

You draw your card for the turn and contemplate the Cabal Therapy in your hand. What do you name?

You are playing in a PTQ this Saturday. It is the first round and you have no idea what anyone is playing. You are playing…let’s say Rock (Swords optional) and your opponent is going first. Your hand has plays for the first three turns of the game and the mana to make them so you keep as did the player across from you. Your opponent leads the game off with a Seat of the Synod and no play.


You draw your card for the turn and contemplate the Cabal Therapy in your hand. You have a number of different plays you could make over the next few turns and even if you whiff, the information about your opponent’s hand will let you know which way to steer your plays.


What do you name?


I put this scenario before a number of players who were going to be playing at PTQs this weekend and – putting aside the question of whether or not it is even right to Therapy right then and there – the answers ranged from Cranial Plating to Arcbound Ravager to Thoughtcast to Frogmite.


Why not Reanimate?


Or Goblin Welder?


Or Parallax Tide?


Based on the Top 8 lists from the first three weekends of PTQ action the correct answer in more likely to be one of the three options above as opposed to something from the Affinity deck. At last count there were eight Affinity decks that had reached the elimination brackets while there were eight Reanimation Machines, four Temporary Solutions, and two Welder Control decks that had survived beyond the Swiss.


Does the question get any easier if your opponent leads with an Ancient Den? Not really since it could be Canali Affinity, White Weenie, or Temporary Solution, although the first option seems the least likely since that deck seems to have gone out of favor for the Flingy versions. In fact, as of this writing there were only 22 Ancient Dens in the Top 8 of PTQs compared to 72 Seat of the Synods. (Thank you to the mysterious Jeek for his detailed breakdown of the information on the Wizards of the Coast deck page.)


The format is so wide open that a Seat of the Synod does not provide you enough information to know which ballpark you should be guessing in much less what field you should be batting toward. What do you do if your opponent leads off with a basic land? Another look at Jeek’s data compilation shows that there have been thirty-two different decks in the Top 8 of PTQs and that was before at least four more sets of results were factored in with at least three new archetypes.


Red Deck Wins remains the most successful deck at penetrating Top 8s all over the world with 33 sets of Jackal Pups reaching elimination. The past weekend saw a strong surge in the ever popular Rock deck, as it pulled into second place as the most common deck in Top 8s so far with 23. One deck that has been isolated from the Rock pack was the eighth place deck from Chiba, Japan which – without Pernicious Deeds – seems to owe more to the old Macey.dec Green/Black beatdown deck that eventually morphed into Rock and his Millions and later morphed into, simply, Rock.


The line that has been drawn in the sand for Green/Black decks to either be Rock or not Rock is apparently Pernicious Deed, although this version does have two in the sideboard. Where modern Rock decks have become Living Wish-based control decks Fumihiko chose to go with an aggressive Rancored creature mix backed up by the disruption of ten hand destruction spells and a couple of Edicts to clear the path.


Ladies and gentleman… Macey2K5. A couple of Extended seasons, back Flores dallied around with a Stompy deck that featured, in addition to Mongrels and Ascetics, four River Boa and four Vine Dryads in a field of Blue-based combo decks and Rock variants. The deck boosted the power of his land walkers with Rancors and Bonesplitters. Given that the first and third most played cards so far this season have been Islands and Forests (with Mountain squeezing in between) I could see modifying this build to walk all over the majority of the field.


Macey2k5

Fumihiko Shiota

8th Place Chiba, Japan – 2/11


8 Forest

6 Swamp

4 Treetop Village

4 Llanowar Wastes


4 Mesmeric Fiend

4 Birds of Paradise

3 Llanowar Elves

4 Wild Mongrel

3 Troll Ascetic

2 Ravenous Baloth

2 Eternal Witness


4 Call of the Herd

3 Rancor

4 Cabal Therapy

2 Duress

3 Diabolic Edict


Sideboard:

3 Naturalize

3 Smother

3 Engineered Plague

3 Coffin Purge

2 Pernicious Deed

1 Duress


Another deck that made its Top 8 debut this weekend is also a variant of a successful archetype. Mind’s Desire decks have been a staple of the environment since Oiso piloted his Dark Desire build into the Top 8 of Columbus. Thus far, the PTQ scene has mostly seen Blue/White versions of the deck do well although the Nightscape Familiar has seen a little play (by Jeek’s count the Sunscape army has the Nightscapes outnumbered by 59 to 4 in Top 8 play).


Saturday in Chicago, Jeff Novekoff threw Mind’s Desire out the window but retained the rest of the Blue/White framework and replaced Desire with Brain Freeze hence…Cold Shower. A couple of the Neutral Ground regulars had been toying around with the same idea over the past week when they found that most of the time when they cast Mind’s Desire they had more than enough spells to simply Brain Freeze an opponent out if the former sorcery was instead the latter instant.


Instant speed combo kill is always nice. It also allows you to put your opponent’s spells to good use by giving you a one or two spell boost for your Storm. With a second Cunning Wish you can also cycle two wishes EOT to generate the critical mass of spells needed to deplete the opposing library. Assuming you have some combination of two Medallions or Familiars in play, that means each Blue source you control is going to add one copy of Brain Freeze for the purposes of storm. Pay attention to this deck – it could be one of the more significant developments of the season.


Cold Shower

Jeff Novekoff

2nd Place Chicago, Illinois – 2/12


4 Adarkar Wastes

4 Flooded Strand

8 Island

1 Plains


4 Cloud of Faeries

4 Sunscape Familiar



3 Brain Freeze

3 Intuition

4 Accumulated Knowledge

4 Cunning Wish

4 Brainstorm

3 Snap

4 Merchant Scroll

1 Flash of Insight

1 Turnabout

4 Sapphire Medallion

4 Chrome Mox


Sideboard:

2 Deep Analysis

3 Prismatic Strands

1 Brain Freeze

1 Snap

1 Echoing Truth

1 Rebuild

1 Stifle

1 Orim’s Chant

1 Intuition

1 Turnabout

1 Flash of Insight

1 Words of Wisdom


In last week’s column I alluded to my original assignment which was to write about Solitary Confinement for the “10 Decks…” mega-event. I dismissed the deck last week, but I appear to have spoken/typed too soon. The season’s biggest PTQ so far was held in Philadelphia with almost 190 players in attendance. There were seven different decks in the Top 8 – 8 if you count the Black/White Life deck and Living Wish-based Green/White versions as two different lists.


There was one Aluren deck in the Top 8, which seems surprising since Mike Clair estimated that the field was almost one-third Aluren. What was surprising was the presence of Michael Reitemeyer’s Solitary Confinement deck. The deck operates by getting Confinement into play with Squee in the bin. From there you can lock an opponent who relies on either attacking, decking, or targeting you. Of course, you never draw another, card so what at first appears to be a two-card combo is in actuality a three card combo with the third piece being Compulsion which allows you to dig for cards –hopefully finding you more Squees or something that helps find Squee, like Accumulated Knowledge or Intuition.


It should be noted that this deck is a virtual auto-loss for Red Deck Wins, Goblins, Affinity, and, to some extent, Blue/Green. Against RDW you can actually play the enchantment on turn 3 with a Squee in hand and your opponent can just scoop. They can’t even rely on Sulfuric Vortex in the remaining games because the Vortex is not loss of life but damage that is trumped by your enchantment.


The problem for the deck lies in game two with many of the other archetypes where they have some way to disrupt your game plan such as bounce or enchantment removal. The deck is also vulnerable to hand destruction in the early turns although Brainstorm offers you some modest protection. Most versions rely on the Spirit Cairn for the kill, but I really like Reitemeyer’s addition of Exalted Angels.


Because the deck really needs to find both Confinement and Compulsion, I prefer to have three Enlightened Tutors in my build with a Wishable fourth in the board. I also like to have one copy of either Arcane Lab or Rule of Law so that you can set up a hard lock with Forbid and Squee.


Confinement

Michael Reitemeyer

8th Place Philadelphia, Pennsylvania – 2/12


10 Island

4 Flooded Strand

4 Adarkar Wastes

4 Plains


4 Squee, Goblin Nabob

2 Exalted Angel


1 Enlightened Tutor

4 Compulsion

2 Forbid

2 Counterspell

2 Serum Visions

4 Solitary Confinement

4 Brainstorm

2 Cunning Wish

3 Chrome Mox

4 Force Spike

3 Intuition

1 Spirit Cairn


Sideboard:

1 Enlightened Tutor

2 Chalice of the Void

2 Exalted Angel

1 Stifle

3 Disenchant

1 Echoing Truth

2 Holy Day

2 Damping Matrix

1 Scour


MichaelJ covered the next two decks in his weekly dip in the shark pool over at magicthegathering.com, but in the interest of thoroughness I will touch on both here myself. The first deck is a hybridized deck that owes DNA to both Scepter Chant and Solitary Confinement. What is really interesting to me about this deck is that it has even more ways to fuel the Confinement lock thanks to the Scepter – the deck parts interact very nicely. You can use the Blue side of a Fire / Ice to “cycle” through a card every turn while looking for your Squee. Better yet, Accumulated Knowledge will grow your hand every turn assuming you have at least one other in the bin. This version features Arcane Lab but no Forbid. Fortunately you can make your own with a Counterspell on a stick.


I really like this deck… a lot. You can just trot your Confinement out on turn 3 vs. beatdown and sit back on your stick vs. control. I think you will be seeing much more of this version as the season progresses.


Scepter Confinement

Kazuki Kurashima

4th Place Osaka, Japan – 2/12


4
“>Flooded Strand

4
“>Adarkar Wastes

3
“>Underground River

2
“>City of Brass

1
“>Reflecting Pool

4 Island

3 Plains


3 Squee, Goblin Nabob


4
“>Isochron Scepter

3
“>Fire/Ice

3
“>Orim’s Chant

3
“>Cunning Wish

4
“>Counterspell

4
“>Brainstorm

2
“>Intuition

3
“>Compulsion

1
“>Arcane Laboratory

3
“>Solitary Confinement

2
“>Enlightened Tutor

1
“>Humility

3 Chrome Mox


Sideboard:

3
“>Exalted Angel

1
“>Orim’s Chant

1
“>Echoing Truth

1
“>Disenchant

1
“>Intuition

1
“>Stroke of Genius

1
“>Stifle

1
“>Arcane Laboratory

1
“>Meloku the Clouded Mirror

1
“>Fire/Ice

1
“>Smother

1
“>Diabolic Edict

1 Grim Reminder


Shaun Mack’s winning deck from Knoxville should be a popular choice this weekend as it has seen plenty of play in past seasons. Other left-field decks from two weeks ago went on to do very well this past weekend – GAT, Enchantress, Kiki Opposition, Squirrel Opposition, and Temporary Solution to name a few – and players looking for a new drug may like the high the find in doing sixteen with the double-E.


Draco-Explosion

Shaun Mack

1st Place Knoxville, Tennessee – 2/12


5 Mountain

7 Island

2 Lonely Sandbar

4 Shivan Reef

2 Polluted Delta

2 Faerie Conclave


3 Draco


4 Fire / Ice

1 Mystical Tutor

3 Erratic Explosion

2 Scroll Rack

4 Accumulated Knowledge

3 Mana Leak

2 Earthquake

4 Counterspell

3 Intuition

2 Cunning Wish

3 Volcanic Hammer

4 Brainstorm


Sideboard:

2 Pyroclasm

3 Stifle

1 Shattering Pulse

1 Mana Short

1 Fact or Fiction

1 Snap

1 Echoing Truth

3 Gilded Drake

1 Sonic Burst

1 Rack and Ruin


Finally, we have another deck from last week’s discard heap. I mentioned that I believed the presence of Aether Vial would impede control decks such as traditional wish-based Tog and Blue/White control from carving out a niche for themselves. Not only did Tog continue to post finishes in its Dryad-less incarnation but Shaheen Soorani took eighth place in Maryland this past Sunday with a Blue/White control deck straight outta Onslaught Block.


What can I say? Wrath of God, Counterspell, and recursive Dragons are good. I would love to see the look on any of the players with artifact lands when Shaheen resolved a turn 5 Akroma’s Vengeance.


Blue/White Control

Shaheen Soorani

8th Place Rockville, Maryland – 2/13


3
“>Temple of the False God

2
“>Adarkar Wastes

9 Island

4
“>Flooded Strand

6 Plains


2
“>Eternal Dragon

2
“>Exalted Angel



4
“>Wrath of God

4
“>Force Spike

3
“>Absorb

4
“>Counterspell

2
“>Akroma’s Vengeance

3
“>Decree of Justice

2
“>Renewed Faith

3
“>Cunning Wish

4
“>Brainstorm

3 Fact or Fiction


Sideboard:

2
“>Sphere of Law

2
“>Damping Matrix

1
“>Stroke of Genius

1
“>Disenchant

1
“>Capsize

1
“>Stifle

1
“>Forbid

1
“>Arcane Laboratory

1
“>Enlightened Tutor

1
“>Orim’s Chant

1
“>Pulse of the Fields

1
“>Rebuild

1 Thwart


Next week I will attempt to look at the field beyond the Top 8 to give you an idea of what is lurking out there in the first seven rounds of a tournament and not just the Top 8. As for this weekend, I suggest you play any deck you know well because it really seems like anything can win in this field. Personally I would probably go under the hood of the Scepter-Finement deck and tinker around a little and take it for a joyride.


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