I love the State Championship tournaments. I love the exploration of a brand new format. I revel in revealing of the new stars of Type 2. For a while I was king of Virginia States, following my 1999 win with a solid Top 4 performance in 2000. Then I started sucking, culminating with a 1-2-drop run this year, but that hasn’t lessened my enthusiasm for the format.
What’s that? Damn, I was hoping to slide my miserable performance by you all slick-like, but I guess you’re too sharp for that.
Yeah, I went 1-2 with a home-cooked G/R deck. I threw in with the deck after agonizing over what to play right up until the night before States. I had a great Affinity build I could have run – something Jim Ferraiolo and Ted Knutson had cooked up that was far and away better than any other Affinity build I’d seen… But playtesting it left me with a decidedly slimy U/G Madness-esque feeling that evoked extreme distaste. I mean, hadn’t I just spent nearly two years playing and playing against fast, undercosted creatures backed by counterspells? I just couldn’t bring myself to do it, despite it being a fine deck.
(The difference being U/G was cheesily good, while Affinity is downright degenerate. I’d be making fun of him here if it weren’t for the fact that I went 0-2 drop with our amazing Affinity build because I, um, forgot to register Broodstar in the maindeck and was forced to play with basic Islands instead. Whoops – A humbled Knut).
Our local shop had cooked up this really sick Mindslaver deck we named”Gleemax” that worked surprisingly well… But it kept stumbling against Goblins, which made me worry about playing it. Turns out the field was much more control-heavy than Goblin-infested so I probably should have run with Gleemax. For those who are interested, here’s one of the later versions:
2 Chain of Vapor
3 Chain of Plasma
4 Mana Leak
2 Trash for Treasure
4 Thirst for Knowledge
2 Read the Runes
4 Grid Monitor
3 Temple of the False God
3 City of Brass
4 Great Furnace
4 Seat of the Synod
The deck felt a little like early UZI builds, where you play the control game while you assemble your combo pieces: Mindslaver + Chain of Plasma. Mindslaver + Chain of Vapor is a backup/supplemental plan. The Legend of Chuck stayed the course and ran with the deck to mixed results, but he admitted making some errors along the way that hurt his record. The deck is complicated to play, but a lot of fun. We originally had three Isochron Scepters in the deck – why not toss a few in when we’re already running Boomerang, Mana Leak, and Unsummon? But ultimately they were cut in order to squeeze in some Starstorms. We hope to continue working on this deck to see if we can get it up to snuff.
Anyway, after reading Brian David-Marshall article on Magicthegathering.com and seeing his Moldy Hermit deck, I had a vision: Creeping Mold and Plow Under carried me to my States title in ’99… Could they help me repeat? I didn’t necessarily like the heavy LD theme to the deck (I despise Stone Rain), but the thought of mana acceleration + efficient green beatdown critters + Creeping Mold and Plow Under… It was intoxicating. This is what I ended up running:
4 Pyrite Spellbomb
4 Bird of Paradise
3 Vine Trellis
4 Troll Ascetic
4 Ravenous Baloth
3 Molder Slug
2 Plated Slagwurm
4 Plow Under
3 Creeping Mold
4 Wooded Foothills
2 Contested Cliffs
The Swarms were last-minute additions to the deck as I noticed table after table of U/W control decks being playtested prior to the tournament. Sheesh, even after Wizards tries to knock Blue’s counter power down, people still play it and it’s still annoyingly effective. Blood Moon was obviously my anti-Affinity tech… When Kai Budde drops a deck-bomb into the metagame, it pays to be prepared (though in the end, I didn’t do well enough to face any Affinity decks).
At any rate, I lost the first round to a solid player with U/W control who drew all the answers while I stumbled by not drawing threats. Then I won the second round against an Equipped White Weenie that my deck was brutally poised to crush (and our match lasted about ten minutes), and finally got severely mana screwed in two games against an aggro-Black zombie deck that took full advantage of my deck’s stumbling.
Even though I was disappointed in my performance, I got real enjoyment out of watching the rest of my friends and others play. There were all kinds of cool stuff going on. Chuck was running Gleemax, and when he crushed his first round opponent with the combo, the guy grinned at him and said,”that’s so cool!” Kid was running my Mono Black control deck, teched out with Loxodon Warhammer that seemed to be working great in the deck. With four Grid Monitors, three Promise of Powers, and two Stalking Stones, he usually had no problem finding a creature to pick up the Hammer and swing. At one point he raced a Karma in play with a double-Hammered Grid Monitor while drawing cards off Phyrexian Arena. Warhammer makes me wonder if four copies of Promise of Power are playable now.
After eight rounds weeding a Top 8 out of a hundred and ninety people, we ended up with two Monoblack Control, a R/B Control, a Goblin deck, a Goblin-Bidding deck, a U/W Control, a U/B Control, a B/W Control and a Kibler Zombie deck that splashed blue for Mana Leak and sideboard Mind Bends. For those keeping score, that’s 5-3 in favor of control, with the Zombie deck ending up winning the whole thing. Yep, no Slide, no Affinity, which makes Virginia a bit atypical from what I’ve seen.
Anyway, every year after States I like to review the top decks and see what new cards have made the biggest impact. In years past this has been my”See, I told you [Set X] didn’t suck as much as you thought it did” effort to shut up the naysayers that crop up after each release – only this time, most people seemed to really like Mirrodin. So while I’m not really trying to make a big point this year, it’s still fun to see what’s working from Mirrodin.
The Affinity Mechanic And Artifact Lands
The big news is that Affinity really is a competitive deck. When the Mirrodin spoiler hit, lots of people (myself included) didn’t give the mechanic much thought. It seemed overcosted and slow. But then some people actually started playing the deck, and speaking as someone who was converted by actually giving the deck a try, the synergy is really impressive.
Right now the Star City deck database is showing Affinity as far and away the most successful Top 8 performer, barely nudging out U/W control as the top States winning deck. That’s just mind-boggling for a brand-new mechanic; I don’t even think Astral Slide had as big a showing at last year’s States. Given that there are two more follow-up expansions to Mirrodin that are likely to expand on the cards Affinity decks can use, I suspect that Affinity decks will be a powerful force in Block Constructed and Type 2 for some time. You may want to pick up a couple extra copies of Hum of the Radix and Blood Moon now while you can! By the way, I think Andrew Stafford’s Affinity build is the best I’ve seen in the Top 8, though I think he’s still got a little ways to go to be optimal.
As a side note, the artifact lands are what really made this deck come together. The near universal reaction to their existence was one of hesitant curiosity. Making a land also be an artifact made it much more vulnerable in a world of Naturalize and Akroma’s Vengeance. Many published comments said something along the lines of”Could make a splash in Extended Tinker decks, and will certainly be a part of Affinity decks in block.” Another card really made the Artifact Lands something worth running: Thirst for Knowledge, but more on that card later.
After making a few really potent Invitational cards (Avalanche Riders, Meddling Mage), some of the more recent ones have been less than impressive, leading a lot of people figuring”Jens” would be another ho-hum card. I mean, it’s only a 2/2 for four mana with two minor abilities, right? Personally, I loved this card and ranked it #2 in the set for Scrye (behind Chrome Mox), and I think my hunch proved more correct than the naysayers. Jens showed up in just about every different type of Control deck, and even showed up in the weirdly cool Atog/Second Sunrise deck from Michigan. I think results have shown that he really makes any control deck better.
I think everyone knew this was a good little card; Red players everywhere hailed it as the solution to the long-hated Silver Knight. Three to four copies went straight into many Goblin decks with favorable results, and controlling Red decks gobbled them up.. Pyrite, along with Aether Spellbomb, was a vital part of Affinity decks, helping ramp up the Affinity count quickly without being a useless card later on. The Spellbombs remind me of Assault / Battery – spot removal (or something else) when that matters, but another use if it doesn’t.
Thirst for Knowledge
(found in Affinity, U/W Control, Proteus Belcher)
In our early testing with Gleemax, we quickly realized just how good this card was. An instant that dug this deep was incredibly useful, and certainly warranted a full complement of artifact lands to help defray the discard cost. The Proteus Belcher deck surely found similar results. Brian Lynch’s winning U/W deck tossed in four copies of Thirst and four artifact lands, probably also counting on Eternal Dragon helping to defray the discard cost. This is a card you’re likely to see a lot more of in the coming year.
We all knew it was good. We all feared it. The second coming of Fireblast, but a little trickier to implement. A few people worked it into their Affinity builds as a finisher. Others added it to R/x control decks that ran some artifacts. VA States Top 2 competitor John Upton’s B/R Control deck is one of the most impressive uses of the Blast that I’ve seen, and Affinity fans ought to take a look at his decklist- while not an Affinity build, there’s some tech there worth mining.
(found in Affinity, Goblins, Zombies)
One of the most hyped and sought-after cards in the set, many people found Chrome Mox in practice to be a bit narrower in use than initially thought. Setting you back a card just to get a dash of speed isn’t worth it a lot of times. The loud exception to this is Affinity, which can use this card to get off to a blistering fast start, and even if drawn later on it can serve as a +1/+1 boost to Broodstar, a sacrifice to Shrapnel Blast, or a card to pitch to Thirst for Knowledge. Kibler’s Zombie deck has also made good use of the Mox; it uses seven to eight sources of constant card drawing to overcome commitment of the imprinted card, and in return it gets the benefit of playing Phyrexian Arena on turn 2 and the bone-crushing Persecute on turn 3. A few top placing Goblin decks also traded in cards for speed and succeeded.
Promise of Power
(found in MBC, B/W Control, R/B Control)
This is one of my favorite cards in the set. Card drawing against control, a fat flier against beatdown, and a late-game powerhouse. An obvious inclusion in MBC (though I think most people run too few copies), and some smart B/W control players had success running them over the relatively tame Ambition’s Cost (though a reworking of the mana was likely necessary).
(found in MBC, R/W Control, U/W Control)
Everyone expected big things from the”Second Coming of Nevinyrral’s Disk,” but it made a much quieter splash in practice, probably due to its heavy mana commitment. MBC ran it because it really has few options in dealing with problematic enchantments and artifacts.
(found in MBC, Zombies)
I’m sure I wasn’t the only one whose jaw dropped when I saw the spoiler for Mirrodin and found an improved Drain Life. That was quite unexpected! Another quite obvious inclusion in MBC, it’s also been a surprising hit in Kibler’s aggressive Zombie deck as a way to both”go to the dome” a la Fireball and to recoup some life loss from Black’s card-drawing spells.
(found in Proteus Belcher, U/B Orb)
Another extremely hyped card going into States, not many Top 8 decks had this little uncommon on their decklist. Two of the three”Proteus Belcher” decks (Nick Roman and Harry Shipley) that made Top 8 used four Scepters as a way help create tokens (with Raise the Alarm) to set up their combo, but ultimately I think Michael Stephen’s build using Decree of Justice alongside Raise the Alarm is a more elegant solution. Brian Kelley’s Black Blue Control“Orb” deck used a few copies of Scepter as a way to help increase the potency of its many instants – including Brain Freeze – to help facilitate the milling win through Mesmeric Orb.
Damping Matrix found a home in some maindecks and sideboards as a way to shut down the special abilities of creatures, in particular goblins. I imagine the side effect of shutting down some critical artifacts with activated abilities was helpful too. The problem with the Matrix is that most players want to use creatures and artifacts with cool abilities in their own decks!
The Proteus Staff/Goblin Charbelcher combo looks janky as hell, but apparently it’s not as bad as it appears, sending three players into their state’s Top 8. I suspect that this deck takes a lot of”deckstacking” practice!
Alex Masters Lecky added two copies of Liar’s Pendulum into main of his second place Mono White Control deck and a third copy in the sideboard. I can’t help but think this card is in here for sheer personal style and that he won in spite of it. But maybe I’m wrong…
James Cady’s first-place U/W Cloudpost Control eschewed the”traditional” Temple of the False God mana accelerator for Cloudposts, and used Weathered Wayfarer to get ’em. I suspect his Rewinds netted him some rather massive Decree of Justice soldier tokens…
Aaron Breider’s Fling–Atog deck features Second Sunrise (yep, that was expected) and Grab the Reins (what?!?). If you can’t force your Tog through for lethal damage just Fling him at your opponent! If you haven’t seen this deck before it’s because it’s been shoehorned into the”Affinity” category, though it’s about as far from a stock Affinity build as you can get. I can’t wait to put this together and give it a whirl.
In conclusion, it looks like Mirrodin is a huge hit, with plenty of fun and powerful cards that fit just about every person’s style. Whether you like aggro, mid-range, control or combo, each deck has viable options now in Type 2.
It’s a great time for Magic!