At this point, U.S. Regionals is about two months away. It is not too early to start looking at the format, or to start playtesting. We do know something about the format, because the French Regionals are ongoing – but there is a lot more that we do not know.
French Regionals are taking place this month. Here’s the deck breakdown as of April 4th, with the caveat that my French is terrible and I am getting this info from French websites.
Mono-Blue Control: 22 %
Ponza / Arc Slogger: 13-19%*
Tooth and Nail: 13%
GB Deathcloud: 9%
R/G Control: 9%
(and lots of other stuff.)
U.S. Regionals will take place on June 25, 2005. That date is significant, since Saviors of Kamigawa becomes Constructed legal on June 20, 2005. In other words, the format will have another 165 legal cards, of which we know almost nothing at the moment. That will shake up the format, but we won’t know to what extent until the spoilers appear.
In the meantime, we can look at some basic archetypes, and see what we can expect. We can also draw from the experience of the French Regionals, now taking place.
Archetype: Mono Blue Control
Mono Blue control is the 500 pound gorilla of the French Regionals metagame, and elsewhere. It is a classic Blue control deck, with counterspells, card drawing and some bounce. As in the past, Blue control has to rely on control elements (often off color) to mop up threats that have snuck past the counters. In the past, this was accomplished with Nev’s Disk, Masticore, Capsize or Upheaval. Today, the answer is Vedalken Shackles – a reusable Control Magic that every mono-Blue deck is running four of. Shackles is the glue that holds the deck together – and without that glue the deck is just a pile of weak counterspells, low grade card drawing and some bounce, plus a couple expensive rares as finishers.
Mono-Blue control has a wide range of answers – although the metagame is too undefined to determine exactly what answers are most important. Everyone’s build differs. Quash is a fine card against some of the powerful cards that drive other decks, like Tooth and Nail, or against a sideboarded Boil. Some decks run Bribery, expecting a more creature-oriented metagame. Some run Time Stop, which “counters” alpha strikes and Boseiju-powered Tooth and Nails. Disrupting Shoal is not Force of Will, but the metagame may make it worthwhile – for instance if Saviors contains a must-counter two-drop that cannot be handled with bounce of Shackles.
After sideboarding, some MUC decks run Jushi Apprentice for the mirror match, as it is cheap card drawing. Other MUC decks run Threads of Disloyalty, both as anti-White Weenie / Slith Firewalker tech, and to steal opposing Jushis. MUC decks may even run 3-4 Boseiju’s in the sideboard, to destroy opponent’s copies and for the mirror match.
One ongoing debate in MUC is whether to include Wayfarer’s Bauble and/or Chrome Mox maindeck. Without either, MUCs have no real one-drop, and waste the first turn. Wayfarer’s Bauble thins the deck and accelerates mana, and can be used at end of turn. Chrome Mox allows MBC to Mana Leak the opponent’s turn 2 play, but the card disadvantage can hurt. Chrome Moxen seem better in versions running Thieving Magpies, while Baubles seem better in more controlling versions. In the later game, both cards wind up being pitched to Thirst for Knowledge.
A second ongoing debate is between Echoing Truth and Boomerang. Echoing Truth is better against multiples of creatures, which Beacon Blaster and White Weenie often seem to produce. Boomerang, however, kills Genjus. Boomerang seems better at the moment.
Decklists also vary in their choice of finishers. Meloku is amazing, but not quite as good when you want to keep mana for counterspells, and when the opponent might also be playing Veldaken Shackles. Keiga is another option, as is Genju of the Falls.
Mone-Blue control faces two scary hate cards: Boil and Choke. Most Blue mages, however, pack a sideboard card that makes playing those equally scary – Spectral Shift. Spectral Shift means someone is going to get hosed by a Boil or Choke – the only question is who.
Other potential hosers include Boseiju, Dosan the Falling Leaf and Defense Grid. I’ve talked about Boseiju. Dosan is great – right up until he gets Shackled. Defense Grid may not be enough. Finally, Damping Matrix may see more play, since it stops V. Shackles, and is useful against other decks as well.
There are a couple other strange cards that can really do a number on MUC, like Eon Hub, Veldaken Orrery and possibly one better card. I want to do some testing, though, before deciding whether that card is tech or dreck.
Finally, a neat piece of tech against the Meluko decks, as well as Beacon Green and other weenie decks, is Thunderstaff. Go ahead, look it up.
In the musty old tomes in which past scribes discuss control decks in ages past, tales are told about Disrupting Scepter. Mono-Blue Control thrives on card advantage, and D Scepter can negate that. It may be too slow, but it is still legal. It might appear in other decks, or might be more useful in the mirror. Time will tell.
Millstone is in the same category. Millstone used to be a win condition in Blue Control, and could be again.
As much as Wizards R&D hates Ponza (mainly because players hate losing to it), cheap burn and powerful threats backed by land destruction often works. It seems to be working at the moment. Standard has Molten Rain, Stone Rain and Demolish as solid LD options, and cards like Slith Firewalker and Arc-Slogger to bring home the win while the LD has the opponent disrupted.
The archetype is somewhat varied, and I am not, and never have been, a red mage, so I will let others write on this archetype.
The builds seem to vary, with some playing Chrome Mox and Seething Song in an attempt to power out a quick Arc-Slogger. These builds run less LD, and blend into red aggro decks that run none. Others run a full set of LD spells, and a minimal set of finishers. Some run Firewalkers, some Pyroclasms. I didn’t really see a consistent build emerging.
The classic LD hate card is Sacred Ground, for those decks that can run it. The other method of staying ahead of LD is to run mana acceleration or land fetching. Since decks are already running Chrome Mox, Wayfarer’s Bauble, Birds of Paradise, Sakura-Tribe Elder, Solemn Simulacrum and even Wood Elves, that may provide problems for the Ponza players.
Ponza is, at heart, a tempo deck. It disrupts the opponent just enough to get fast beaters out, and win before they can be dealt with. There are some tempo beaters that may find a place in Ponza, like Lava Hounds, or whatever might appear in Saviors.
Archetype: Tooth and Nail
Tooth and Nail may, or may not, be on its last legs. It was fading when MUC could pack 4 Quash in the sideboard – and maybe some maindeck – and Ponza was maindecking Sowing Salts. However, as the metagame expanded, other decks stole some sideboard slots, and Tooth has returned to qualify at recent French Regionals. The archetype is still powerful, with the ability to tutor out a reusable, one-sided Wrath of God (Triskelion plus Mephidross Vampire), Armageddon (Kiki-Jiki and Sundering Titan) or other goodness. Tooth and Nail may be a one-trick pony, but it is a very good trick.
Tooth decks are always going to run a set amount of land fetching and tutoring, Eternal Witnesses and Teeth, and the Tooth targets. The issue is which Tooth targets to include. Kiki-Jiki is almost universal, while Sundering Titan, Duplicant, Mephidross/Triskelion and Darksteel Colossus are often seen, along with Mindslaver and Fireball. Decks may even see the return of Leonin Abunas and Platinum Angel, since fewer decks have ways of removing both.
The biggest fears this deck faces are Cranial Extraction, Death Cloud, Quash and things like Sowing Salt, Blood Moon and Temporal Adept that mess up the Urzatron. They are effective, but as the metagame evolves and broadens, it is not clear that these will be good enough against enough decks to hold a lot of sideboard slots.
Temporal Adepts are also often very good, since they can keep Tooth decks from ever getting to a reasonable mana count.
The Vernal Bloom versions of this archetype once worked, and may work again, albeit not as well as with Skullclamp. Tooth and Nail is all about getting mana, and fighting Tooth is about keeping them from getting and abusing that mana. As decks deploy hate against Cloudpost and Urzatron, they may not have sideboard room to hate out Vernal Bloom. Maybe – at worst, it is something to consider if Saviors includes an Early Harvest-type effect.
Archetype: G/B Death Cloud
G/B Deathcloud is another archetype that the forums were dismissing, but has come back to win a few qualifications last weekend. The deck has solid mana acceleration, powerful disruption and great finishers. Affinity, its worst matchup, is gone.
The deck runs a bunch of mana acceleration, including Birds of Paradise, Sakura-Tribe Elder and some mix of Solemn Simulacrum, Kodama’s Reach and Rampant Growth. It runs at least three Eternal Witnesses. It also runs some removal, anything from Echoing Decay to Rend Flesh to Terror, and disruption in the form of Plow Under and Death Cloud, and maybe Persecute. Finally, it runs some finishers, typically including Kokusho and Death Cloud, and occasionally adds Troll Ascetic and Kodama of the North Tree.
The deck has a number of removal options. Rend Flesh, Echoing Decay and Barter in Blood were my choices when Affinity ruled the roost. More recently, decks have begun running Terror, since it is cheaper than Dark Banishing or Rend, and the only commonly played creatures that Terror cannot hit are Solemn Sim, Kokusho, the untargetables and maybe Spire Golem (now appearing in MUC decks.) At the top end, G/B Deathcloud can also run Eradicate, which is great when it hits Eternal Witness. For those of you that like unrealistic options, here’s a way of teaching mono-Blue never to tap out: LifeSpark Spellbomb, make that Island a creature, Eradicate Islands. Go.
G/B Deathcloud can have a problem with Vedalken Shackles and bounce when facing MUC (unless, of course, you have Eradicated Islands…). One answer is Troll Ascetics, which can’t be targeted. A Troll Ascetic is a huge problem for MUC – at least, for MUC if it does not have Spire Golems. However, including Troll Ascetics changes the nature of the deck, leading it towards builds that might be more effective as mono-Green aggro.
G/B Deathcloud is mana intensive, and can be vulnerable to LD if it has a slow start and LD does not. The slow starts can also be a problem against MUC, since it can let MUC establish and build up a hand of counters. However, most of the traditional hosers, like Karma and Hibernation, don’t do all that much to G/B Deathcloud. Cranial Extraction and Bribery, on the other hand, can hurt.
This isn’t really forgotten as much as not fully explored. At PT: Columbus, some Rock decks splashed another color for special effects. For instance, Gabriel Nassif splashed Blue for Intuition, and other decks splashed Red for FTK. Now neither of those cards are legal, but a Blue splash for Gifts Ungiven (and lots of silver bullets) is very possible. Five color good stuff decks have a lot of potential.
Archetype(?): Red/Green Control
I don’t know that this is an archetype, yet. It is a common color combination, but other than the colors the decks are not all that similar.
Some versions use mana acceleration to power out land destruction and Arc-Sloggers. Other just beat with Sloggers and assorted green monsters. Versions may, or may not, also run equipment. Kiki-Jiki appears in some, but not all, decklists. I have even seen versions that rely on splice and spiritcraft. These may all be reasonable decks, but the mix is too broad to discuss the “archetype.”
Archetype: Mono-Green Aggro
Mono-Green aggro decks are a recent addition to the metagame in some views, or a resurrection of the decks I played 18 months ago, if you prefer. The decks run an aggressive set of creatures with a tight curve, plus some mana acceleration and assorted equipment.
The decks all run Birds and Tribe Elders, Eternal Witness and Troll Ascetics. Most also run Viridian Zealots (a great answer to Shackles and random enchantments), as well as Beacon of Creation. They may also run Karstoderm, Kodama of the North Tree and similar cards, and/or Genju of the Cedars.
Some decks stay pure Green, while others play one Swamp for sideboarded Cranial Extractions and/or one Island for Meluko. These are metagame calls, and those calls cannot really be made until we know what Saviors might bring.
The second debate centers around equipment. Most decks run Sword of Fire and Ice, since it draws cards, kills weenies and provides protection against two important colors. Decks may also run Umezawa’s Jitte, although that is somewhat more debatable. Jitte is very powerful, but slower than the Sword. [It is? It does different things and actually costs one less to cast and equip… – Knut, confused] Some Green mages argue that it is too slow. It is also legendary, making it worse if widely played. Playtesting and the metagame will tell.
The final debate is between the pure aggro decks, and those that try to abuse Blasting Station and token generators, like Beacon of Creation and Sosuke’s Summons. Both have advantages and disadvantages. For one thing, Thunderstaff will not stop the damage from Blasting Station.
MGA is, for the most part, a mono-Green deck. Perish isn’t legal, but Hibernation is, and MUC could easily sideboard it. More importantly, Thunderstaff does a very good job of stopping Beacon bugs, and Meloku’s illusions – unless, of course, they are pumped by Thunderstaff. Thunderstaff is appearing in a number of sideboards in France, so be prepared for it.
It’s not totally forgotten, but some old school tech. First, Fangren Firstborn was the glue that held my mono-Green beatdown deck together, back in the day. It put counters on Blinkmoth Nexus, or Birds of Paradise, and on all the components of my army. Firstborn negates Thunderstaff. Second, Viridian Zealot is a solid two-drop that beats nicely. More important, it can kill Ghostly Prison, Vedalken Shackles or opposing Jitte or Swords of Fire and Ice. Naturalize is an instant, and Wear Away splices, but Viridian Zealot beats down – and beats down hard when attacking with a Fangren Firstborn or two. Beating down hard is what the archetype is supposed to do.
Archetype: White Weenie
I should mention White Weenie. It only placed a few people in the top brackets, and hasn’t won anything, but it is still popular. White Weenie is very close to being playable, and Saviors may save the archetype.
White weenie plays 6-8 2/1 for W creatures, as many 2/2s as it can fit, some bigger beaters, Glorious Anthem and maybe some other pumpers.
In theory, White Weenie drops a lot of fast creatures, then gets its beats in before an opponent can stabilize or deploy defenses. Long ago, White Weenie could do this by casting Armageddon, which slowed opponents long enough for the weenies to make the kill. Now Armageddon is gone, and all that the deck has to replace it is a Winter Orb that dies to Pyroclasm. So far, that does not seem to be enough.
The first debate is whether or not to play Aether Vial, or just sideboard it. Aether Vial is powerful, but in a deck that is all about beating for 2 on turn two, people argue over whether it is fast enough. White weenies decks have little trouble emptying their hands quickly, at which point playing a 2/2 via the Vial or by tapping a land and Mox is pretty much irrelevant, unless the opponent is likely to counter.
People are also passionately divided over Chrome Mox. Chrome Mox allows to play 2 Savannah Lions on turn 1, and Glorious Anthem, beat for six on turn 2. That’s solid – but the Mox means that you are trading speed for cards, which can mean you run out of threats before your opponent runs out of life.
The third debate is over equipment. Some people avoid equipment altogether, and simply run more beaters and Glorious Anthem. Others limit the equipment to cheap stuff that has a strong return on mana spent, like Bonesplitter. Others like the card advantage in Mask of Memory, while others are willing to pay more for Sword of Fire and Ice. Finally, a few are willing to wait around for Jitte to get played, get equipped and deal damage. Others, however, are not, and shun the Jitte. Finally, some players swear by Lightning Greaves, while others ignore it. Greaves does not accelerate mana all that much, but it does help solve the Veldaken Shackles problem. Without Greaves, Shackles kills off the army two creatures at a time – and that generally means WW loses the race.
White Weenie is vulnerable to a lot of spells that kill creatures, including Pyroclasm, Night of Souls’ Betrayal, Hideous Laughter and Threads of Disloyalty. It is also somewhat vulnerable to Flashfires. Its worst vulnerability, however, is that other decks play larger creatures. White weenie really needs Armageddon.
At one point, White Weenie decks splashed Red and played Magma Jets and Isochron Scepters to provide direct damage and card drawing. With artifact kill less common in the format, and aimed at Swords, this might be worth trying. A transformational sideboard with Isochron Scepter and Ethereal Haze, plus some for of milling (Millstone?) could catch some decks completely by surprise. Pulse of the Fields could also find a home in a transformed White Weenie – provided the land count was increased a bit.
This leads me into another topic: archetypes that are not playable yet, but might be if Saviors has the right cards. (I’ll be nice, and skip the tortured Saviors as savior jokes.)
First up is TurboFog. This old archetype used Howling Mine, Millstone and a ton of fog effects to lock up combat until the opponent was decked. The core of the deck would be something like this:
- Isochron Scepter imprinting Holy Day / Ethereal Haze / Dampen Thoughts
- Maybe Leonin Abunas to protect the Scepter
- Kami of False Hope (a.k.a. Moss Fog Kami)
- maybe Genju of the Fields
- Wrath of God / Final Justice
- Howling Mine
- maybe the White Myojin, or Shining Shoal as well.
- Pulse of the Fields / Sun Droplet
The deck is almost there, and a few tweaks, or some help from Saviors, might be enough to make it a force to be reckoned with. Right now, I would worry about MUC – I don’t know how this beats countermagic. Cranial Extraction could also be a problem.
Other versions of milling decks may also see play. Mesmeric Orb decks are possible, if unlikely. Dampen Thoughts decks could also see play, especially if the Splice mechanic is big in Saviors.
Mono-Black control decks are also beginning to place in at least some French Regionals, but they don’t have answers against enchantments or Veldaken Shackles. At least, not now. One solid, untargetable Black creature, or a playable answer (like Dystopia or Contagion back in the day) may be all this deck needs. Most of the tools are there.
Several other cards have powerful effects, and have the potential to foster broken decks. Kiki-Jiki is obvious, but it would be better with something like Avalanche Riders. Intruder Alarm is great, and decks built around Intruder Alarm, Lifespark Spellbomb and Forbidden Orchard are almost playable today. Teferi’s Puzzlebox, Zur’s Wierding, Eon Hub, Crucible of Worlds, Gravepact and even Furnace of Rath all provide powerful game changing effects, and only need the right companion cards to become broken.
Finally, I cannot quit without mentioning Hondens and Genjus. These are powerful enchantments, and the decks built around them are almost powerful enough to be worth considering. (almost – but not yet.) I have experimented with Verduran Enchantress in these decks, and an Enchantress effect is very good with Genjus and even Hondens. However, Verduran is a bit expensive, and too fragile. However, if Wizards were to give use another Argothian Enchantress, or another Enchantress’ Presence, these decks would come together. The enchantments necessary to make the deck work are there – the problem is just a lack of affordable and non-symmetric card drawing to pull the enchantments out of the library. Again, if Saviors provides, watch out for these archetypes.
I have a few more decks, but I want to keep something for another article.
* I define Ponza as a red deck with a reasonable mix of and destruction spells. Some decks just accelerate to Arc-Sloggers, and couple that with burn and very few LD spells. If your definition of Ponza is strict, it is 13% of the metagame. If you include speed red decks with Sloggers, it is higher.