Thirst For Knowledge – Where All Roads Lead

Claim your territory at The 2009's State and Provincial Championships!
Wednesday, November 25th – The Magic World Championships: the pinnacle of competitive play, and the final showdown for the world title. This year‘s tournament was held in Rome, easily one of the most fitting settings for the finale. With another year in the books, there is much to discuss heading into the coming year.

The Magic World Championships: the pinnacle of competitive play, and the final showdown for the world title. This year‘s tournament was held in Rome, easily one of the most fitting settings for the finale. With another year in the books, there is much to discuss heading into the coming year.

The Turkish, Canadian, and American teams were not allowed to complete their team events due to numerous disqualifications, and the star-studded Team Japan failed to put anyone into the Top 8 by the end of the weekend. Interestingly enough, the rest of the Americans also did not advance to the Top 8, leaving the final rounds of coverage devoid of two of Magic’s powerhouse countries. More interesting, though, was what else was more or less absent from the Top 8 of Worlds 2009: Blue mana.

Now, to be fair, there was an Island Manuel Bucher Bant deck, and that same deck also was packing three Seaside Citadels, but let’s be honest with ourselves — there were four Blue cards in the entire Top 8 of Worlds. Four.

Remember last year? Remember when Faeries won Worlds, and Five Color Control was hot on its heels? When Cryptic Command was in every single deck that could possibly produce Blue mana? Granted, Cryptic Command was the card that held Blue-based control together, but even in the previous few years it was clear just how powerful Blue control has always been. But now, we’re looking at a Top 8 filled with nothing but creature-based aggression decks. Wizards has gone on record saying that they want to shift the focus of the game more onto creature combat, and they’ve succeeded. From the looks of things, we’re in for a pretty ho-hum Standard format, at least until Worldwake shakes things up in a few months.

Are creatures too good? I wrote a piece a few months back talking a bit about power creep, and I used Master of the Wild Hunt as a good example of such effects on the game. Just think about that card, and ask yourself if it ever would have seen print five years ago. What about Wild Nacatl? Wooly Thoctar? Never mind that Bloodbraid Elf is essentially a Flametongue Kavu on insane steroids, right? If such trends continue, I fear that the nail being hammered into control’s coffin will be too much to handle, and that little light in all of us that wants to tap Islands will finally be snuffed out once and for all. When casting Cruel Ultimatum doesn’t get there, you know the apocalypse is nigh.

Still, it isn’t all bad. While Standard is certainly being taken over by aggro decks, at least you have a few to choose from. Jund is the elephant in the corner, with its fancy Bituminous Blasts and Maelstrom Pulses. It has the numbers, the match-ups, and the raw power. The recent addition of Master of the Wild Hunt over Garruk (suck on that, Blightning!) and increased numbers of Terminates maindeck give the deck a little more variance than it had before, but we’re talking about Jund here. The game plan is “play good cards.”

But what about something a little more…Flores?

Say what you want about Mike Flores, but the guy has made some great decks in the past. This particular list isn’t revolutionary like some of his old brews, but it does its job well enough. Much akin to its old-Standard Kowal Zoo cousin, this deck utilizes the Ranger of Eos engine to gain its card advantage as opposed to Blightning, and instead of Bituminous Blast we have Baneslayer Angel. I like that card better.

Andre Coimbra easily dispatched his finals opponent at Worlds, which is probably the most notable thing about literally the entire Standard portion of the tournament: this deck beats Jund. And when I say “beats Jund,” I mean that it’s pretty far from close. At least, that’s what I’ve been told, and that’s what I’ve gathered in my limited testing with Mike’s list.

The deck looks and feels a great deal like Rubin Zoo in Extended despite playing very few of the same cards. Your game plan is identical, which isn’t as obvious as it initially sounds. Noble Hierarch is dreadfully critical to this deck, and with it you can make some obnoxious plays that can truly outmaneuver Jund on a number of levels. Landing a turn 2 Wooly Thoctar or Great Sable Stag after sideboarding can really get you there unless they have the Terminate, and a turn 3 or 4 Baneslayer wraps things up in a hurry. The maindeck itself doesn’t go a long way in defeating Jund on any deep or meaningful level, but with sets of Purges and Ruinblasters coming in post-sideboard it quickly becomes clear why the Jund decks just can’t keep up. Bloodbraid Elf of course ties everything together, but really… can an aggro deck truly hope to go toe-to-toe with Jund without packing that guy?

So now alongside Boros and Jund there merges a third “standard” aggro deck for the format, which means that at least there is more variety, albeit at the cost of even less viable control strategies. Anyone who reads my column knows that I have tried very hard to make Blue control work in this Standard, but it just isn’t happening anytime soon. The Grixis control decks fall flat on their faces when thrown up against a Sprouting Thrinax, and the traditional White-and-Blue decks pitch a fit when their only out to Bushwhacker’s onslaught of dudes is that four-mana board sweeper sitting uselessly in their hand. It’s a grim time for us Blue mages, but at least we still have Extended.

Speaking of which, the Extended portion went much better. Yes, it’s definitely true that Zoo was the most-played deck once again (and Naya Zoo at that, which is somewhat eerie given the final result of the Top 8), and that most of those Zoo decks were card-for-card what Kibler won Austin with, but control was still a force to be reckoned with all weekend. Let’s look at LSV’s list from the Extended portion:

Now that is a control deck. This deck is actually disturbingly similar to the deck that my good friend Jayme Nostrant has been working on, although with a few key differences. Luis has already explained a lot of his card choices and thoughts on the deck, but it should be known that this strategy works very well in the current Extended. I’ve found through my testing of the format that now, more than ever, having actual card advantage over the opponent (that is, real cards in-hand and not virtual card advantage) plays an overwhelming role. When our best removal spell (Path) nets our opponent a card (though it is only a land) and our only true source of raw card-drawing is Thirst for Knowledge (which is often NOT card advantage, though it does make up for Chrome Mox’s resource severance), a card like Gifts Ungiven can truly shine. Gifts allows you to often draw as many as three to four cards, as you can craft your deck in such a way that you will always be able to get the pieces you need. Gifts is so good, in fact, that when coupled with the Thopter/Sword combo it often becomes hard to lose to Zoo decks. In most situations during testing, Gifting for the “combo” more or less forces the concession seeing as untapping at that point literally puts the deck out of range for any of Zoo’s tricks.

Vedalken Shackles is a card that I personally find little use for in this metagame, but I understand why it is included. The issue with it is that it doesn’t do anything against the Thopter combo, nor does it help against Hypergenesis or Hexmage Depths. Still, you can’t Tezzeret a Threads of Disloyalty into play, so I suppose that is one thing it has going for it. Speaking of Tezzeret, that is another card that I wasn’t overly impressed with but am content with giving another go. Most of the time when I cast Tezz I wasn’t getting to do what I wanted with him — that is, I had the notion that if I was playing another combo piece or something in place of it that I would have been better off. Still, with so many players managing to do so well with this deck it seems to me that clearly taking another look at Tezzeret as an archetype is well worth doing.

The other interesting deck from the Top Extended Decks was this little number:

Yes. Yes, that’s right. Those are Bitterblossoms, and those are indeed Mistbind Cliques. Was it a fluke? Was it simply random chance that Takahashi did so well with this deck, or does it hold some real merit? I think some of the numbers may be a tad bit off (three rather than four Ancestral Vision is a little suspect), but otherwise it’s a solid frame and a good place to start testing. The list seems to generally have a strong game plan against most of the other decks in Extended, and through the clever use of Mistbind Clique it shouldn’t be all that hard to lock out even the most combo-centric opponents. I’ve been dying to play Faeries in Extended again, and this list has me very excited to give it a whirl.

Despite the new innovations, the format is still largely centralized around a few key decks. For Extended, we’re looking at something like this:


Tier 1
Hexmage Depths
Naya Zoo

Tier 2
All-In Red
Death Cloud
Next Level Blue/Fae

That’s not a terrible-looking metagame, although having the ratio of combo-to-control-to-aggro be 3-1-1 is a little disheartening. Combo is simply absurd right now, though, and so I guess as long as we have control decks (like LSV’s deck, despite the fact that it has its own combo and as such could also be described as one for the aforementioned ratio) around to keep them in check, I’m not too worried. A lot of the fringe decks in Tier 2 still need further exploration. I know that once Thanksgiving is over I plan to crack down and do a lot of Extended testing, and so getting acquainted with Extended Faeries will take up many a night, I’m sure.

Standard doesn’t look as fun as Extended, sadly. No, our meta looks like this:


Tier 1
Naya Zoo

Tier 2
Eldrazi Green
Mono-White Aggro/tokens
Spread ‘Em

As you can see, Standard is a little more concentrated in its Tier 1 than Extended is. Jund is really in a Tier all its own, but both the Naya and Boros deck can fair very well against it and manage to stay remotely strong versus the meta, so they’ve earned their keep. The Spread ‘Em deck is actually very good, and a strong solution to Jund specifically, and the Eldrazi Green deck still has staying power despite falling a bit off the radar. Emeria Angel-driven White aggro decks will likely be on the rise soon, as playing Emeria Angel as a Spectral Procession is pretty sweet if you play enough fetchlands, which does nothing but help you. The Dredge deck is insane strong if built and played correctly, but very weak to any form of graveyard hate like Relic of Progenitus or Jund Charm.

Still, States is quickly upon us. The Extended season is still a way off, and so talking about that this early is a fool’s errand. Instead, it is important to devote the next week or so to thinking about Standard. The Naya deck is very powerful, and its ability to beat Jund while also being a good overall deck concept make it a good choice, but I think I’d personally like to play Islands somehow. Maybe Cruel Ultimatum? All I know is that next week I’ll have a lot more time to write, and so I’ll be sure to bring you an up-to-dated look into my testing and what decks I’m considering for States.

But for now… the stage has been set.

Until next time…

Chris Jobin
Team RIW
Shinjutsei on MTGO and everywhere else

***Bonus Section: Bad Beat Of The Week***

Allow me to set the scene. It’s late one Monday night in my apartment, and I’m testing with my friend Joe. In play I have four tapped lands, a Chrome Mox, and a Lightning Angel that has done three damage. He has no permanents, not even lands.

He draws his card, plays a land, pitches two Spirit Guides, and then plays Violent Outburst. Looking down at my hand, I breathed a deep sigh and cocked my head at the two Mana Leaks sitting there. Still had… all these…