The Great Champs Experiment: Introduction and Part 1

Josh embarks on an epic series examining the current decks in the Standard metagame, looking at what they’re set to lose in the next rotation. He shares some skeleton builds that could make up the metagame come Standard Champs; excellent preparation for those wanting an edge on their local field.


Saying goodbye is one of the most necessary things one can do as a human being. Be it as menial as saying goodbye to loved ones as you leave for work; or using it metaphorically, as in saying goodbye to a large portion of Standard rotating out.

For most of us, Standard is nothing but a local specialty. Our National Championships have long since come and gone, and now we are left with a format that some of us may not really care about. True, there are other countries, there are other National Championships… but for the most part, the current Standard is a chance for us to play with Sensei’s Divining Top; Yosei, the Morning Star; and Heartbeat of Spring one final time.

We’re saying goodbye to Champions block. Soon, Time Spiral will be legal, and the legends of the block will be soon forgotten, only to be resurrected when Extended comes around. It was a fun ride for the block. I won my only State Championship when Champions was the new set in town, and I have many good memories of the block.

Champions as a block added a lot to Standard. Off the top of my head, losing Umezawa’s Jitte is a gift to many players, but losing Sakura-Tribe Elder is a curse to people who love playing with consistency in their manabases.

As well as saying goodbye, which is definitely the theme of this article, I’ll be saying goodbye to something else at the end of this extended series.

What I plan to do is simple. It may not be the most elegant thing to do, and it may not be the most popular, but I feel it is a fantastic idea, and can possibly get the ball rolling as we all prepare for our individual Champ events (which happens to be scheduled to October 28, 2006).

I’m going to take a detailed look at the popular decks of the current Standard, and the past Block Constructed format. I’m going to look into what effects are lost as Champions rotates out, and then make suggestions for skeletons – decks with the advantage of having Ravnica, Guildpact, Dissension, Coldsnap, and Ninth Edition. As more information about Time Spiral comes out, I’ll analyze those cards as well, and see if any of them fit into either the current deck that I am writing about, or see if any of them fit into a past deck that I wrote about.

I’m excited about this. I know this is a lot of work to do, but I think I can handle it well.

This article series is going to wrap up on October 27th, 2006, and after my follow up Champs report, I’ll be taking a long hiatus from competitive Magic: the Gathering. I may not come back to the game, which is fine by me, and I’m sure fine by a lot of people. I’ve accomplished pretty much everything I wanted to do when I started playing tournaments. I qualified and played in a Pro Tour, I’ve made the Top 8 in both Limited and Constructed PTQs. (When I started making Top 8s meant a lot, for some reason. I guess it still means something now, but it does not have the same aura as it used to.) I’ve made money at Grand Prixes, and I’ve won my States Championship. I would like to think that, as a competitive player, I’ve done a lot… but I know in the grand scheme of things, I’ve done absolutely nothing at all. However, I’m leaving feeling fulfilled in what I have done, so I think it is not at all meaningless. I’ll never get into the Hall of Fame, or have a huge fan base like Jamie Wakefield, but that is fine by me.

Anyway, enough of this long introduction. You know what I am going to do with this project, so let’s finish celebrating the impact that Champions and it’s follow up sets had on type two.

I’ll start off with a quick look at the decks that I feel are going to be too hard to port over to the card pool that I have mentioned.

Heartbeat Combo

We lose the namesake card in Heartbeat of Spring. Sakura-Tribe Elder; Kodama’s Reach; Sensei’s Divining Top; Maga, Traitor to Mortals… well you get the picture. At least you still have the transmute skeleton of the deck. This one will not survive unless Wizards of the Coast reprints Heartbeat of Spring or Mana Flare in Time Spiral. We could replace Tribe Elder and Reach with Farseek and Utopia Sprawl (or Rampant Growth), and there is no replacement for Top (sadly). Heartbeat, as much as it pains me, will not make it in to the new Standard.

Greater Gifts

Frank Karsten will be losing the deck that took him to the Finals at the World Championships this year. We lose the Dragon Legends, Gifts Ungiven, Top, Reach, Footsteps of the Goryo, Goryo’s Vengeance, and I’m sure I’m missing something else. I do feel that will be a Greater Good deck in the format, but without the synergy of the Dragon Legends, it will not be as good as it once was. This deck will also not make the cut.


The wildly popular beatdown deck will lose a lot of its namesake men. Sakura-Tribe Elder, Sakura-Tribe Scout, Sosuke’s Summons… pretty much everything but Coat of Arms, Coiling Oracle, and Remand. There will be viable Green beatdown strategies for the format, be it the Mono-Green Aggro that I highlighted a few weeks ago or Gruul-based beat down.

Enduring Ideal

Yeah, this deck losses it’s namesake card too. I had fun casting it.

The Real Reanimator

It loses the Dragon Legends, Ideas Unbound… however, not much else. We can still port this deck over with the current huge monsters, but getting them into the yard will be harder.

I do believe that these decks are the ones that will have the most negative feelings when Champions rotates out. I think a lot of great stuff about Champs was it was a splash-heavy set. Yes, Blue decks will miss Meloku and Hinder, but I bet there will be another dumb Blue creature and dumb counter to replace them. Jitte will make aggro matches fairer, and more about skill instead of who gets the dumb artifact first.

Before I move on to the first part of this series proper, I want to take a look at the top ten cards of the block, and say goodbye to the All-Stars of Kamigawa.

The All-Stars of Kamigawa

1. Umezawa’s Jitte
2. Meloku the Clouded Mirror
3. Sensei’s Divining Top
4. Sakura-Tribe Elder
5. Cranial Extraction
6. Yosei, the Morning Star
7. Ninja of the Deep Hours
8. Isamaru, Hound of Konda
9. Keiga, the Tide Star
10. Gifts Ungiven

Honorable Mentions

Kokusho, the Evening Star
Enduring Ideal
Hand of Honor
Heartbeat of Spring

Part One: Porting the Japanese Decks to the Experimental Standard

Some people may call this a lost cause, or think that I would be better off waiting until the prerelease, but I disagree. For Champs, getting to work now could pay off in spades during the actual tournament, and with the format just adding one more set, it will be easier to plug in cards from Time Spiral and then look at the new archetypes that could spring up from this exciting creation. Remember: all test decks presented are only going to use the post-rotation of Champions Block and the pre-rotation of Time Spiral (until we get more information about Time Spiral, and that will be later on in the series.)

Let’s take a look at the previewed cards from this week. I will only be going over the ones that have been officially previewed by Wizards of the Coast. I have nothing against any other sites, but these cards are real for sure.

Gemstone Caverns

This was the first previewed card from a few months ago. I like it, but I do feel it may not be worth taking what amounts to a forced mulligan to play with this. If you draw late game, you’re just running a non-basic, non-color producing land. I fear that this card is going to be too much like Serum Powder, a card that could be seriously powerful, but one that doesn’t actually do anything to the game state.

Lotus Bloom

It’s a Lotus, but it comes into play on turn 3. I actually like this card. It seems fair, or a fair as something can be, giving you six mana on turn 3. I’m sure this card will see some serious play.

Sedge Sliver

I really like this guy. Having a low cost for a 3/3 body is great, and adding regeneration is fantastic in what may end up being a removal-based format. This guy makes combat hard, and is going to be better down the road when Troll Ascetic is back in action.

Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir

He’s not Meloku, and I can imagine some of the Orim’s Chant-like rules questions that he is going to bring up, but he seems really suitable in the Blue-based mirror matches. You can make your opponent’s counterspells dead draws, and force them to do everything on their turn. I think this card will be a sideboard staple, but has the potential to be an alternate finisher for a U/R Wafo Tapa Control deck.


It is a Preacher effect and it targets the creature in play. If the only man on your opponent’s side is a Simic Sky Swallower, it sits there in your hand. Not impressed at all by this card. I do not think this card will see any play, but I’m going to be wrong. If I could put it in any existing deck, I’d place it in the sideboard of Snow White.

Mishra, Artificer Prodigy

I’m not sure if this guy will get a lot of play in Standard. I think the best place for him would be a U/R/B snow deck, one that could get a lot of Phyrexian Ironfoots (Ironfeet?) into play, and bash while taking control of the board. He is however, a 4/4 for four mana, and with the relative ease of making a manabase, this legend could be a surprise hit out of the set.

Jaya Ballard, Task Mage

Wow. Fantastic. The body stats are not that impressive, but ignore that fact for now. She has three abilities, none of which suck. Jaya is going to see major play in Standard, and I think she might have some implications in Extended as well. It must be nice having a permanent Blue hoser, or Incinerate, or Inferno. It‘s also nice to see that Spellshapers are coming back into play, and I absolutely love this card. (See the B/R snow burn deck.)

Serra Avenger

I cannot say it any better then the esteemed Mr. Flores, so I’ll leave it to him. This guy will see play. It may not be in a control style deck, but the angel has to be better then Leonin Skyhunter, right?

Stronghold Overseer

I like Shadow as a mechanic, and I like the ability of the guy. When I saw him I thought of Phyrexian Plaguelord for some reason. I am not sure if this guy fits into anything current, but if he does I would try to put him into Solar Flare as a dragon replacement.

Now, we move into looking at current Standard decks. What I plan to do is start off with the Japanese Top 8 decks (Part two will cover any Netherlands decks that are new, and more of the current Standard). I’ll analyze what they lose, and what each may gain. This should create a skeleton gauntlet of decks to test.

No more words… let’s get to the decks!

Out of the Top 8, we have several different archetypes with Counterbalance control, Black/Green Aggro, Sea Stompy, Erayo, B/R Sand Burn, and U/b control all making appearances. Erayo will not survive the rotation, and Counterbalance control strategies may have a harder time without top in the format.

I’ll start with Structure and Force.

Key Losses


Sensei’s Divining Top
Umezawa’s Jitte
Meloku the Clouded Mirror
Miren, the Moaning Well
Minamo, School at Water’s Edge
Shizo, Death’s Storehouse


Threads of Disloyalty
Ink-Eyes, Servant of Oni
Yosei, the Morning Star

Wow. That sure is a lot of cards to be replacing. I think the best way for this deck to evolve will be to lose a color (either Black or White, obviously). Both colors offer a lot, but I would stick with White for this deck. This might also have something to do with the fact that I will be looking at a skeleton U/B deck later… It’s possible to add Teferi here, and without Top in the deck I do not think I would play Counterbalance, opting instead for more countermagic. You need a finisher for the deck, so for testing purposes, I would use the undervalued Windreaver.

This list is borrowing heavily from Mike Flores and his U/W Control.

This is your basic Blue/White Control deck. It counters a lot of stuff, kills a lot of stuff, and wins with a close to unstoppable creature. This would, in my opinion, be close to an ideal list for early Champs testing.

Moving right along, we will look at Sand Burn. This is a deck that looks to throw burn at the opponent’s dome, and is fairly easy to play.

Key Losses


Genju of the Spires
Flames of the Blood Hand
Mikokoro, Center of the Sea


Pithing Needle

With this deck you have to replace a land (I’d toss in another basic), Genju of the Spires (easily replaced, I hope, by Jaya Ballard), and Flames of the Blood Hand (pretty much any burn spell should do). The sideboard looks like it will be easy to fix. Maybe Boiling Seas to just hose some Blue Mages? (We could also run Stone Rains, and I think that is the best way to go.)

Skeleton B/R Sand Burn

4 Dark Confidant
4 Rakdos Guildmage
3 Jaya Ballard, Task Mage
4 Seal Of Fire
4 Char
4 Hit/Run
4 Shock
4 Cruel Edict
3 Demonfire
4 Volcanic Hammer
12 Snow-covered Mountain
2 Snow-covered Swamp
4 Blood Crypt
4 Sulfurous Springs

2 Bottled Cloister
4 Stone Rain
2 Martyr Of Ashes
1 Shard Phoenix
4 Cryoclasm
1 Pyroclasm
1 Quicksand

Man, I really like having Hit / Run in the deck! It’s nice to have another way to deal with creatures that cannot be targeted or burned out. With Hit / Run you also get a bonus of dealing damage, staying with the theme of the deck.

Next, we’ll look at the Black/Green Aggro deck. This quick package can cast some of the more unfair three-drops on turn 2, and is remarkably consistent. After the beats are laid down, Demonfire comes down and mops up the game.

Key Losses


Genju of the Cedars
Umezawa’s Jitte
Ink-Eyes, Servant of Oni
Shizo, Death’s Storehouse



This seems easy enough. However, the loss of Jitte (the best card in the deck) hurts this tight little package a lot. I’m going to replace them with Moldervine Cloak. Genju of the Cedars is going to become the remaining two Putrefies, and the one Ink-Eyes that is lost will be replaced by the forth Giant Solifuge. Shizo will become a Quicksand, something that can deal with Paladin En-Vec. We need to replace the disruption in the board and have room for four slots, so I’ll be using Blackmail to test the skeleton matches.

I see a lot of promise in this deck. Against control you gain so much card advantage with the Specters, Vipers, and Confidants. Against Aggro, the matchup now becomes one more of playskill instead of who keeps Jitte out the longest.

We’re just about done here with the Japanese skeleton ports, so bear with me. Soon we’ll have what appears to be a very strong set of decks with which to test until Time Spiral comes out. This next desk is similar to the Blue/White Control, as both look to lock down the board and win with a huge monster after denying their opponent threats.

Key Losses


Sensei’s Divining Top
Disrupting Shoal
Umezawa’s Jitte
Meloku the Clouded Mirror


Pithing Needle
Threads of Disloyalty

This is my favorite deck to come out of Japanese Nationals, and the countermagic suite is packed. We are losing six pieces, so we can replace the Hinders with Rune Snags, and fix what I think may be a glaring oversight with the lack of Mana Leaks. To replace the artifacts, I think we want to run some artifact mana, because we are going to be powering out more expensive spells. Coldsteel Hearts are going to get played. We need some card drawing, and we have Tidings in the format – that makes sense to me. However, we should gain enough advantage off an early Dark Confidant. Now we just need a finisher, something insane in the air… yeah, losing Meloku hurts a lot. I’ll miss him. It comes down to a choice of three: Rimefeather Owl, Cerulean Sphinx, or Mahamoti Djinn. Rimefeather Owl has great synergy with the deck, so I think he is going to get the spot, but Cerulean Sphinx has a protection from removal, and Mahamoti Djinn has a great big butt. I think it is also natural to include the fourth Boomerang in the deck.

To replace the five cards in the board, I would say we run Annex and include a fourth Last Gasp.

Sea Stompy is next on the list. I chose to use the version that did not have Stone Rains in the main, but I have this sneaking feeling that the land destruction aspect of 8StoneRain.deck will be felt here. Everyone should be familiar with the deck by now, as it is essentially Zoo without the heavy burn element and replaced by countermagic instead.

Key Losses


Ninja of the Deep Hours
Umezawa’s Jitte
Meloku the Clouded Mirror
Thoughts of Ruin.


Threads of Disloyalty
Meloku the Clouded Mirror

Losing the Ninja almost takes all the appeal out of the deck. However, I feel that this tempo can still be played. We have room for the fourth Viper, and need to fill up the other three creature spots, which I would do with Giant Solifuge. Jitte gets the Cloak treatment, and Meloku and Thoughts of Ruin can become more disruption. We’ll run four Stone Rains here. We still have one spot to fill, so I am going to add a Demonfire.

The sideboard is easy to fix here; we’ll toss in three more Demonfires.

Good old Solar Flare, the deck of National Champs from Australia and the United States. This one may be one of the hardest to port over, but I bet it can be done. We still have great monsters that can be made zombies, so all is not lost!

Key Losses


All the Legendary Lands
Kokusho, the Evening Star
Meloku the Clouded Mirror


Descendant of Kiyomaro
Cranial Extraction

This may not be so bad after all.

To replace the legendary lands, we’ll add one basic for each color, and for Mikokoro and Miren, we’ll add the other two Watery Graves. We have great reanimation targets with Angel and Valkyrie, so we’ll put in Court Hussars to replace the Kamigawa legends.

The sideboard will be hard, but since this is a skeleton, we’ll add some removal, the forth Mortify, another Persecute, and four Last Gasps.

I’ve presented six possible decks to test and fool around with while we are awaiting the new set, and later on in the week I’ll be looking at the Netherlands and Spanish results, and the newest previewed cards.

Thanks for reading, and I hope that this series inspires some work for the upcoming Championship weekend!