Hi, my name is Ruud Warmenhoven and I have finished in the Top 16 at every Extended pro-level tournament I have ever entered. In all these events I played a weird deck that most people would call rogue and wouldn’t include in their testing. I have been seen casting such hits as Battlefield Scrounger, Constant Mists, Lightning Angel and now Sensei’s Divining Top and won games with them. On top of that, for almost all of these events I hardly tested these decks at all.
I’m also a very bad player, because also, in all these four pro-level tournaments, I made mistakes that knocked me out of Top 8 contention and I can still vividly recall every single one of those instances, which makes for some uplifting self-reflections now and then. At Grand Prix Eindhoven I think I made the flat out worst mistake of my career in Magic, and since you’re all paying for this, I’ll be happy to share it with you.
Let me tell you some more about my life first, even though empirical research has proven that fewer than 5% of you actually care about this. I’m in college right now, studying Organization Studies, which is a social way of looking into managing organizations and basically turns me into a consultant making me explain to managers where and why they screwed up. Odds are that I’ll be as bad as the next guy, since only 20% of all organizational change programs succeed and 33% can be chalked up in the “complete and utter failure” column. It still takes a lot of time (I actually should be writing my Bachelor thesis right now) and makes Magic a lot less important, even though it’s a nice back up plan that keeps me busy through some weekends and gets me places. What I’m actually trying to say is that because my life is so incredibly interesting that I didn’t have the time or motivation to test and was just set on playing Rogier Maaten (who you should all know by now) Affinity list.
This all changed on Friday, when I read about the U/W Solution deck. I liked the deck instantly since I like silver bullet decks, reminding me of a Dump Truck deck I won a PTQ with that had about nine (!) one-ofs main deck and two Raise the Alarm in the sideboard which I only ended up boarding in against Psychatog all day. Trust me, not a good strategy that one. Ben Dempsey’s list had some holes though, as I didn’t like the consistency of its draws, having 5-8 cards you really want to draw for a certain matchup and about the same number of cards that you don’t want to draw in a certain other matchup. I did like the Enlightened Tutor for answers approach and started toying with adding Tutors to Affinity, but the idea was quickly dismissed when I found out that they really hurt your explosiveness and everybody and his mother knows that adding colored cards to Affinity is a trademarked Bad Thing.
When I arrived at the site, I immediately ran into Nassif who was waiting for Dutchies as well to go eat, which we finally did after about two phone calls too many. It always strikes me how such intelligent people as Magic players can be so bad when putting their preferences in order and actually stating them. If I had a dime for every minute I wasted on selecting restaurants, waiting for people at a tournament site or finding my way around with a bunch of friends I would be richer that Richie Hoaen, a fact that may or may not be true already.
Anyway, during dinner with the low-budget group at the local Subway, I get to catch up with my English friends Quentin, Sam, and Nicholas who all have a thing for weird decks and would probably all have played Dampen Thought in Extended if Nick hadn’t thought of this little gem, later dubbed Top-deck by no other than the smallest World Champion ever*:
4 Meddling Mage
4 Orim’s Chant
4 Fire / Ice
2 Magma Jet
4 Enlightened Tutor
1 Mystical Tutor
4 Erratic Explosion
4 Isochron Scepter
2 Sensei’s Divining Top
1 Scroll Rack
1 Cursed Totem
4 Chrome Mox
4 Flooded Strand
4 Shivan Reef
4 Forge[/author]“]Battlefield [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author]
2 Adarkar Wastes
1 Tendo Ice Bridge
1 Reflecting Pool
2 Boseiju, Who Shelters All
1 Mana Maze
1 Deep Analysis
1 Wrath of God
1 Ensnaring Bridge
1 Cursed Totem
1 Hannah’s Custody
1 Seal of Cleansing
1 Tsabo’s Web
1 Circle of Protection: Red
1 Sphere of Law
1 Energy Flux
The English had been testing with Jelger at his place and fill me in on all the details. The sideboard was still a work in progress and ended up quite crappy. The Grindstone–Deep Analysis suite is there to beat Life, Mana Maze is a bad way to stop Aluren and Desire from going off and Hannah’s Custody is an obscure Tempest rare that states that Artifacts can’t be targeted anymore. And yes indeed, we had a hard time finding those. I personally would rather run a transformational sideboard like I did in Columbus where my Scepter-Chant brought in 4 Exalted and 3 Lightning Angels, but not having played a game with this, I deemed it wiser to keep my mouth shut and just try to understand the deck in general. I must admit this probably is the hardest deck I ever played because there are infinite choices to be made with Top, Rack and to a lesser extent Brainstorm. You also have to know really soon which combo you’re going for. Jelger is especially good at this. He was watching a practice game of Quentin during the byes and was only seen shaking his head turn after turn. When facing a series of difficult decisions that took quite some time it quickly became a custom to say that “Jelger would have already won by now”.
During the rest of the evening I learned more and more about the deck and I even got a few games in the next morning against Red Deck Wins, and I began to appreciate the deck more and more. Having two combos enables you to play like the Cephalid Life deck, going for whatever is best in a certain matchup. The problem is that in some matchups, neither of the two ways really work well because they have counters and locking them with Chant doesn’t accomplish much (Psychatog and U/G after boarding). Fortunately, against other decks you can go both ways, for example versus Red Deck Wins and Cephalid Randomness your opponent is likely to take a lot of damage from lands and split Fire / Ices so it’s entirely up to you whether you use that Enlightened Tutor to soft-lock them with Scepter-Chant or throw a Dragon at their head.
Though hard, the deck is incredibly fun to play if it fits your style. I was discussing the format with Kamiel and Jeroen and we all liked the fact that you can just play “your deck” and do well anyway, even though I would have been first to bet money against Jeroen making money at this GP. The results prove me wrong, so I’m glad I didn’t. It does create some evidence for the theory that in a format as complex as Extended where it’s impossible to know all the decks inside out and most people aren’t very familiar with all the major decks, you should just play the deck you like best and have the most experience with, even though it shouldn’t ever win a match (Jeroen), has a decklist that might as well be 75 random cards (Kamiel) or runs Sensei’s Divining Top.
Since I don’t have the time to give a round by round (I’m leaving for TOGIT/Atlanta tomorrow and am still about 2000 words short of a research proposal) or any stories about your Magic idols dancing on tables and trying out new pick-up lines, I’ll just limit it to some tips at playing the deck and that terrible mistake you’ve been reading this far for. Sideboard also loved the deck since I got about five feature matches while there were plenty interesting characters playing like Kai Budde, Gabriel Nassif and Reinhard Blech.
The most important thing in playing Top-deck is knowing what combo to go for. First, check if your opponent is in range or whether you can get him there. If you have enough time and all the pieces, by all means just kill them. In matchups where a Scepter-lock equals winning that counts as well (creature decks without Vial). If you don’t have all the pieces yet, you probably have some way to dig and stall which should also be fine in most cases. Top/Rack/Brainstorm with the shuffle and scry effects gets you what you want fast.
Mulligan away every hand that doesn’t get you anywhere. You’re playing combo and just need two specific cards, so 5 hot ones are way better than 7 random ones. You can keep a one-lander with Brainstorm or Top, but please mulligan ones like the following:
Meddling Mage, Meddling Mage, Brainstorm, Enlightened Tutor, Erratic Explosion, Mystical Tutor, Tendo Ice Bridge
Yeah, this deck really is something. At least this opener gave Kai a good laugh. As did the deck in general.
Try and think what you would do with this one:
Erratic Explosion, Erratic Explosion, Chrome Mox, Mystical Tutor, Forge[/author]“]Battlefield [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author], Flooded Strand, Island
I initially shipped it instantly but then it was pointed out me that this hand actually combo’s turn 3 after tutoring for Enlightened Tutor and Draco.
The Top is also a tricky card and requires some planning ahead; I once had it in play with an Scepter on Magma Jet and kept looking at four new cards every turn, while keeping a Draco lingering on top, trying to find an Explosion. Seeing the Mystical Tutor first would have been quite ironic.
Sometimes the Top lets you down though. In my Feature Match with Jeroen I was Topping like a mad man all game, which scared Jeroen a lot but didn’t actually do anything, since he had already Extracted all my win conditions. I did have lots of fun though. Be sure to remember that you can stack the abilities, putting the Top on top and then putting it as the third card, for example if you need to hit two land drops fast or know that you want to shuffle it away next turn. It can also matter whether you Top before or after draw when searching for lands. If you are desperately in need and absolutely have to draw a land, you’d rather wait until after your draw since you can see one card deeper that way. Otherwise you’d rather Top in your upkeep so you can keep it in play instead of on top of your library after getting the card you wanted.
Scroll Rack can be even worse. I was Racking for six in one game for a couple of turns drawing into shuffle effects and my head nearly snapped because of all the possibilities. After my Scepter-Chant opponent laid down a Scepter with Chant to complement his Scepter on Fire/Ice, I did have all the tools to win. I used another trick that Quentin taught me – responding in my upkeep to his Scepter activation with a Orin’sChant of my own, thereby taking away his opportunity to play the spell that Scepter grants him (read the Scepter if you find this hard to believe) and going off after that.
Another Chant trick that might come up when playing U/W Solution is that you can use Orim’s Chant to “counter” the leave play trigger of Parallax Tide. The trick is in the triggers. If a Tide has zero counters, the “remove a fade counter” trigger still goes on the stack. If you Chant them in response to this, they can’t play Stifle yet (unless they have two and can counter this trigger and the “leaves play” trigger next turn) and you will get your lands back. Had I known this, I would have beaten Jean Charles Saulvin and be in a great position to Top 8.
But this wasn’t my worst mistake. After that match (which ended in a draw), I played Patrick. He was also running the Solution, which isn’t a very good matchup after boarding, especially if you don’t know the Chant trick (it came up in this match as well). In the first game he’s beating me down with Meddling Mage (on Scepter) and Silver Knight while holding several cards, even after a Brainstorm. I’m at eight and am holding Enlightened Tutor, double Explosion, Orim’s Chant and Scepter with him in range due to Adarkar Wastes. I don’t have Red mana however, but draw into a second Tutor and Explosion with a Brainstorm, having four lands in play. On his turn he beats me down to four and passes. So at the end of his turn I Tutor for Chrome Mox and am certain of the win. My Brain disagrees though and decides to let me play the Mox first so he won’t suspect anything when I cast a Chant on my turn. This is completely irrelevant, since there’s nothing in his deck to stop Chant and you can probably all figure out that he Stifled the Imprint ability and kills me on his turn. Blech.
“Is this deck a good choice for the PTQs?” is what you’re probably all wondering now. I would say so, even though you’ve lost a bit of the rogue factor and won’t have people casting Cabal Therapy for Counterspell (happened three times over the weekend) or holding back afraid of the Scepter deck’s counters and then getting nugged for exactly sixteen. Be sure your Cephalid opponent hasn’t drawn his Krosan Reclamation then. This may or may not have happened to me.
Jelger stated that this is the absolutely best deck in Extended as long as you play it flawlessly. The problem is that the deck is built in such a way that makes “playing flawlessly” virtually impossible. But by all means, do try. And think of Nick West when you Enlightened Tutor for Sensei’s Diving Top… I know he’d appreciate it.