The Long & Winding Road – My Favorite Decks 2009

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Monday, December 28th – As I mentioned briefly a few weeks back, I wanted to include a list of my favorite decks from 2009 along with my favorite cards from this year, but the list is lengthier than I first realized and quickly grew into the article you’re about to read.

Favorite Decks — 2009

As I mentioned briefly a few weeks back, I wanted to include a list of my favorite decks from 2009 along with my favorite cards from this year, but the list is lengthier than I first realized and quickly grew into the article you’re about to read. I find it enjoyable to put together a list like this, because when I think about my favorite decks from 2009 and look at the decks that I’ve always enjoyed playing, there are so many parallels. I have been, and always will be, envious of people that can pick up a deck in any style and play it to the best of their ability, because my results almost always mirror the enjoyment I get out of playing a specific deck. If you enjoy this exercise, take a minute and post some of your favorites in the forums.

In any event, I’ve broken these out by format. I make no claim that these decks are the “best,” they’re just my favorites for various reasons. Be advised that I realize that the player of each of these decks is in many instances not the deck’s original creator / innovator. The player’s name listed is whoever ran the deck, and is not meant to give credit for the creation of the deck to that person.

Block Constructed — Shards of Alara

Esper Stoneblade, Brian Kibler

Why I love this deck:

As an outside observer of the Shards Block Constructed season, this deck seemed to come out of nowhere at the Pro Tour. It’s a great example of a deck that isn’t the best deck in the format, but one that is positioned correctly with just the right amount of surprise value. I already knew I loved Master of Etherium from Extended Affinity, and I wrote an article at the start of 2009 about Glaze Fiend in triple Shards draft. As Shards Block Constructed continued to some extent after the Pro Tour, this deck was basically obsolete by adjustments in the meta, but it was sure a wrecking ball at the PT and it was a blast to play. As I noted a few weeks back, it also probably turned Thopter Foundry into the sleeper card of the year.

Standard — Pre-M10

G/B Elves, Brett Blackman

Why I love this deck:

I chose this version more or less at random, as there were plenty of successful builds of G/B Elves around the time of this year’s Regionals; this particular deck is part of a group of four similar builds that dominated the LCQs at PT: Honolulu. I didn’t play all that much Standard this year, but when I did, this was one of my decks of choice. It was one of the earliest decks to showcase Putrid Leech, a creature the M:TG writing collective largely missed during set reviews and discussion. I actually spent the better part of a year playing decks like this in Standard and Lorwyn Block Constructed, usually Green decks with solid front-line offenses designed to beat or be competitive with Faeries (such as G/W Little Kid, Doran, and G/B Elves).

Dark Bant, Brian Robinson

Why I love this deck:

Brian ran this deck to a Top 8 finish at PT: Kyoto earlier this year, and in many ways this was a precursor for the all-out Bant Aggro that would come later (and have some brief success around the time of Regionals). This deck was basically a mash-up of the best aggressive creatures legal in Standard combined with some creature-based disruption in the form of Tidehollow Sculler and Gaddock Teeg. It was capable of tremendously explosive starts, and the way the threats kept coming made it feel like they never stopped until you were dead (or, alternately, resolved Wrath of God). Very nice deck that almost looks like it shouldn’t work on paper, but somehow did.

5C Control, Gabriel Nassif

Why I love this deck:

I chose this specific version because it’s a Pro Tour winner. I actually tested 5C Control a lot despite the fact that I never ran it in a tournament outside of FNM, just because I enjoyed playing it. Draw cards, draw cards, draw cards, resolve Cruel Ultimatum, win. One of the purest expressions of the idea of tap-out control you’ll find in the history of Magic, this deck just had to survive to seven mana to have the game in the bag against most opponents. There was plenty to dislike about this strategy, because it required constant metagaming and tweaking to stay relevant, and the deck actually beat nearly everything that could beat Faeries (similar to the role Reveillark played in earlier Standard), but few control decks were as much fun as this one.

Standard, Post-M10

Combo Elves, Kenji Tsumura

Why I love this deck:

For one thing, I’ve become a big fan of Elf combo across any and all formats (even Vintage). I just love the idea of a non-Blue combo deck, especially a Green combo deck, being able to draw that many cards so quickly and consistently. Even in Standard this version was often able to effectively win the game on turn 4. While certain metagame developments kept this deck from winning as much as I thought it might, it was undeniably explosive and I had a blast playing with it. This isn’t an example of an optimal list, but it was one of the earlier ones and was obviously played by one of the all-time greats.

Standard, Post-Zendikar

Boros Bushwhacker, Christian Calcano

Why I love this deck:

I’ve always loved a fast, aggressive beatdown deck, and this one doesn’t disappoint. Christian’s list from the Philly $5K was the first time I saw this deck. It’s a typical collection of underpowered cards with tremendous synergy and the ability to beat anything that stumbles by even one turn. The early discussion on this deck was interesting to watch, with many people writing it off immediately while others quickly declared it one of the decks to beat in Standard. If you haven’t realized how much of an impact Boros Bushwhacker has had (despite Jund’s dominance in the current Standard format), check out the deck’s results since October, and remember this is just what’s in the SCG deck archive and isn’t all-inclusive.

Extended, pre-M10/Zendikar

TEPS, Luis Scott-Vargas

This deck won GP: LA, and I love it for a few reasons. I actually tested a deck very similar to this, over the objections of my friends, the week before GP: LA, so the fact that two versions of TEPS made the Top 8 of the Grand Prix validated my belief that the deck was a legitimate contender in Extended, especially if the field was unprepared — and early on when this GP happened, most decks were completely unprepared. Second, for better or worse, I just enjoy playing this style of deck from time to time. While this isn’t quite as all-in as a deck like Belcher combo, when you play it, you’re still making a decision to play an all-in style deck based on its position in the metagame, and one that requires you to make mathematical decisions that you hope will go your way. Finally, I was happy to see LSV win this thing, as well as the Pro Tour. I’ve never met the man, but it always seemed to me that he was a guy who played the game the right way and was deserving of the success he had this year — and frankly, it’s exciting to know that one of the game’s current superstars is an American. It’d been a while. Also, he plays Vintage, so… there’s that.

Combo Elves, Chris Lachmann

Why I love this deck:

Similar to the Standard version of Elves combo, I love the fact that this deck was so consistent and explosive despite being nearly mono-Green. Elves is the rare combo deck that had a viable back-up plan of going aggro, especially against Blue control (usually on the back of the token generation provided by Wirewood Hivemaster). Because Elves was so dominant at the Pro Tour, the metagame was geared to beat it for the first few months of PTQs, but by March the meta had shifted focus to Faeries and Zoo, meaning that Elves was once again a terrific choice, which Chris exploited to win a large PTQ in Philly.


Canadian Threshold, David Caplan

Why I love this deck:

Even in the year’s largest Legacy tournament, Canadian Threshold was a key player. Canadian Thresh has been one of the most consistent Legacy decks throughout 2009, with second place finishes in two of the $5Ks and the 2009 Legacy Champs. While I haven’t played with this deck, I have lost to it more than any other Legacy deck this year, and the style of game it plays is one of my favorites. I think it also shows that Legacy is a format where synergy can flourish as much as raw power.

43 Land, Owen Turtenwald

Why I love this deck:

43 Land is just so unique among Magic decks that I don’t know how you could dislike it. I picked up the cards for it after Legacy Champs (where Owen also made Top 8) and I could hardly beat anything with it, but several Top 8 finishes suggest that for those that can play it correctly, the deck is a dangerous weapon. It’s also a great deck to showcase the wide variety of potential tournament winners that exist in Legacy. I also have a deep-seated love for decks that abuse Life from the Loam, and this one is custom-built for that card.

Goblin Charbelcher Combo, Cedric Phillips

Why I love this deck:

It’s underrated by the majority of Legacy players, and I came in 3rd with it in the 2008 Legacy Champs. What else do I need to say? Belcher is a riot to play with, and is one of the fastest competitive decks in any Magic format. Although I’m still not convinced that the current builds that are doing well in Legacy are optimized, Belcher is a cheap deck to build and one that effectively bypasses a number of other competitive decks. I’m glad to see people talking about it.

CounterTop Progenitus, Johnathan Mosier

Why I love this deck:

This is a fully-functional CB/Top control deck that can also win with Progenitus. I love Progenitus. You do the math. I discussed this archetype in more detail earlier this year, and I think it should be a competitor for some time.

Hybrid Painter, Matt Elias

Why I love this deck:

It isn’t so much the deck I love, although I had some success with it earlier this year, but rather the two things that came out of playing it. I still have the Black Lotus that I won from this tournament, and the acquisition of that Lotus is really what set me down the path of trying to eliminate proxies from my Vintage deck. The other great thing that came out of this tournament was that I got to know several of the guys on my Vintage team at this event, so I made some friends as a result of this tournament and got involved with a team that has helped improve my Vintage results.


Fatestitcher Ichorid, Sean Orcutt

Why I love this deck:

Similar to Belcher and 43 Land, I love Ichorid / Dredge decks in general because I enjoy Magic decks that approach the game in fundamentally different ways than the game is normally played. This deck split in the finals of a 113-player tournament, but there is still a stigma attached to Dredge. Many people still believe that it makes top 8s but doesn’t win events. In Vintage alone over the past few months, Dredge has proven it can win tournaments, in case that performance early in the year didn’t convince anyone. It won a Blue Bell, an NYSE, and the Philly Open IV just in the past three months. In Legacy, it also won the 2009 Champs. Although mana versions have become more popular of late, there is a certain purity to this style of build that I really like. I piloted a similar build to a second-place finish at the May Blue Bell and have playtested with various Vintage Dredge decks ever since.

Meandeck Beats, Stephen Menendian

Why I love this deck:

In one of his earlier Vintage on a Budget articles, Stephen lamented that budget decks in Vintage aren’t unsuccessful because they are budget decks, but rather because they aren’t developed and tuned by high-level players and deck designers as we see with “powered” Vintage decks. He’s since been on a mission to prove that point, and one of his best proofs is the development of Meandeck Beats. Although the more successful versions from the 2009 Vintage Champs were Green/White builds, Meandeck Beats is very well-positioned for the current Vintage metagame. This is a deceptively powerful deck that is perfect for players who are new to Vintage, but is also powerful enough to merit consideration by Vintage regulars.

Tezzeret, Paul Mastriano

Why I love this deck:

In order to understand why I love this deck, you have to realize that this deck won a large Vintage tournament BEFORE Thirst for Knowledge was restricted. Paul’s list played a full set of Mystic Remora and Dark Confidant, and played no Mana Drains. I love the fact that this deck just out-drew opposing Tezzeret decks, and I especially love the fact that it has no Mana Drains, which everyone assumes are an auto-include in Tezzeret decks. Seeing Paul’s face when his Tormod’s Crypt was countered by Force of Will from Steve Silverman’s Ichorid sideboard in the semi-finals was priceless as well. In any case, this deck is a great example of Vintage metagaming as well as proof that even in Vintage, almost no card should be considered an “automatic” inclusion.

Zen Oath, Matt Elias

Why I love this deck:

If you’ve read my articles this year, you know I’ve played Oath in the majority of my Vintage tournaments this year, and I’ve had a lot of success with it. I made a decision in June to try out a build that moved away from James King’s Hellkite Oath, and I gave up on it after one tournament; I went back to that design and tweaked it for a tournament in early September, and split in the finals. The key innovation in that deck was the combination of Time Vault and Voltaic Key, and the inclusion of red for Ancient Grudge and Red Elemental Blast. With the release of Zendikar, the deck got even better, resulting in the version above. As with any Vintage deck, it requires constant updating to stay current, but this version of Oath is having a lot of success, and I think the development of this deck is probably the thing I’m proudest of, as far as Magic goes, in 2009. In the last three weeks, Oath decks based on mine have won tournaments in Houston, Manila, and New York. If you take nothing else away from everything I’ve written in 2009, trust me on this one: this deck is very, very good.

I hope everyone had a happy holiday season, and have a happy New Year — I can’t wait to see what 2010 has in store for us…

Matt Elias
[email protected]
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