Thirst for Knowledge – A Look At What’s Changed

Grand Prix GP Columbus July 30-August 1, 2010
Wednesday, July 21st – New sets always mean new decks, and new ways to play old decks. Until just last year, though, Core Sets never really affected the game in such a way. I mean, sure, when Dragonstorm lost Seething Song back in Ravnica block the format was radically altered, but now that Core Sets rotate in the fall that wouldn’t make a huge difference these days.

New sets always mean new decks, and new ways to play old decks. Until just last year, though, Core Sets never really affected the game in such a way. I mean, sure, when Dragonstorm lost Seething Song back in Ravnica block the format was radically altered, but now that Core Sets rotate in the fall that wouldn’t make a huge difference these days. However, because of the new design of Core Sets moving forward, we get to see dynamic shifts in the metagame as a result of their release just as we do with any expansion. That, friends, is very exciting and easily the best move Wizards has made in years.

M10 was a huge deal when it was released, and M11 has made nearly as strong an impact. Granted, not that many cards have put up results yet, but enough have that it is worth taking a look at what’s changed as a result of last week’s release. There was a PTQ and a Midwest Masters event in Pittsburgh this past weekend, and the decklists found therein are interesting to say the least.

Let’s begin with the list that won the Midwest Masters event:

What we have here is more or less the “new” hybrid archetype between Next Level Bant and Mythic. I’ll admit I am surprised not to see Fauna Shaman in this decklist, as it really is the card that pulls this strategy together in my opinion, but you can’t really argue with results. The only M11 card in this list is Mana Leak, but I’m not sure I really need to explain just how important that card is. In fact, a number of the lists I’ll talk about today simply take an existing deck and upgrade it with Mana Leak, but that speaks more of the power level of the decks in the first place than the weakness of M11. Mana Leak is merely on a different level than most cards in Magic’s recent years, and so it stands to reason that literally any deck running blue in the current Standard will probably adopt Mana Leak. I mean, honestly, what deck in Standard won’t want to fit Mana Leak into its curve? I don’t care if your plan is to smash with dudes or sit back and control the board, there is just as little incentive to skip out on Mana Leak as there is to not include Jace, the Mind Sculptor. To be totally honest, even, I’d say that Mana Leak will see more play in this format than even Jace does, and that’s saying a lot. Mana Leak is that good.

The most interesting card in this list, however, is Nest Invader. We all know the story about this card: it was an underdog, and everyone thought it was bad (expect for some of us, like myself) and it eventually proved itself to be a decent card that filled a specific niche. That niche turned out to be decks like RG Monument and Jund builds, but I can easily see how it would fit right into a NLB shell. It isn’t far-fetched to say that accelerating you into a Sovereign and producing a body for the Conscription is very desirable, and without Knight of the Reliquary or more fetches, I can get behind the idea of Invader in a deck like this. Should it have been Fauna Shaman? Probably, but ultimately I just know that Fauna Shaman needed to make an appearance in the deck somehow.

To illustrate my point, take this second-place list at the PTQ the next day:

Now, this list cuts Mana Leak for Fauna Shaman (and no Nest Invader, etc), but otherwise we’re looking at something very similar. I don’t think Mana Leak is a good cut by any means, as I mean what I said about it, but I will whole-heartedly agree that Fauna Shaman is the backbone of this deck moving forward. At this stage there is little reason to play Mythic the way it once was or NLB the way it once was: this hybrid does what both of those decks do but with much more vigor and power, and that level of synergy is what pushes a deck over the top. Here is how I would build it:

Probably not perfect, but I would say that this approach will be the most efficient. You can easily shave off a Shaman or one of the noncreature spells to include a maindeck Baneslayer or maybe even a Ranger of Eos to tutor for, but ultimately I don’t know if you need a large toolbox for game 1. The sideboard lets you do some interesting things with Fauna Shaman, as fetching Sun Titan after discarding Wall of Omens, Oracle, or a Qasali Pridemage can be pretty back-breaking. The Naya decks in the Top 8s also included Caldera Hellions or Thornling, and those are also options (though clearly not the Hellion in this case). Fauna Shaman is real, folks, and the surge of results it had this weekend are proof of that. Like many have said… if they don’t have the removal spell for it the turn you cast it, you’re probably going to win. Demonic Tutoring every turn for a single green is pretty good in a format defined by good creatures.

Moving on, let’s look at the Jund list that took second in the Midwest Masters tournament:

Obstinate Baloth who, now?

In all seriousness, we’re looking at Jund at its finest, without many new things going on. The same old Battlement/Prism technology is present, and the only true new addition is Grave Titan, the One Man Army himself. Cedric went on record saying that Broodmate is much better, but I disagreed with him when I spoke about the card a few weeks ago and I still do. That much power cluttering the board that quickly is just insane. If you cannot kill him within ONE turn, you WILL die. That’s all there is to it. That’s pretty good, last I checked!

One of the other Jund lists from this event had two copies of Obstinate Baloths in its sideboard, but no other deck featured any. In fact, only one other deck in either event had any it its sideboard. Neither deck, ironically, was a Fauna Shaman deck. I suppose no one has caught on to just how good it would be to tutor for a Baloth in response to a Blightning, eh? The bottom line, though, is that Blightning didn’t lose any value, and that means that you can’t expect to see any less of the “Bloodbraid into Blightning” play any time soon.

While we’re looking at the traditional decks of Standard, here is the list that won the PTQ:

Not surprisingly, the only new thing going on here is Mana Leak. Still, what did we expect? Surely no one thought that Sun Titan or Frost Titan were going to be stomping around in a traditional UWx shell, did we? While I still think there is potential in Sun Titan and Jace Beleren/Oblivion Ring/Courier’s Capsule, I’m not sure that that is fast enough to compete with Vengevine and his new BFF Fauna Shaman. However, what I know for sure is that Mana Leak is pretty decent in traditional control decks, so here we are looking at a new turbo-charged UW deck. Other similar lists featured Jace’s Ingenuity, and naturally I can get behind that idea as well. With the reintroduction of Mana Leak into Standard, cards like Jace’s Ingenuity get much, much better, as now we can play our control decks with less emphasis on tapping out if we want to. I think UWx has a lot more room to grow than these tournaments would lead us to believe, but who knows? Does the archetype need to alter itself that much?

The bigger question I have to ask, though, is this: where is Turboland? Did all the Turboland players drop off the face of the Earth…?

Before I take off, let me direct your attention to one last list:

Tim is a friend of mine, but he had not told me about this deck until I saw the list on the PES website myself. The deck looks pretty solid, and it’s easy to see why: taking the concept of “Garruk is good with Destructive Force,” Tim has packed in lots more Planeswalkers and taken that route to victory. Wall of Omens gives him early defense, Bolt and Condemn serve as solid removal, and Cultivate, Growth, and Explore get you to Titan and then finally to Force without too much hassle.

However, the important part, and the part that I had missed? Autumn’s Veil in the sideboard. Want your Destructive Force to resolve? Well, guess what? It probably will. I very much like the idea of this list, and I know I personally will be giving it a good run in testing. Congrats on your finish, Tim, and nice deck!

It’s finals week for me, so that’ll be all for this week. Good look at your PTQs, everyone!

Until next time…

Chris Jobin
Team RIW
Shinjutsei on MTGO