Unusual Directions

Do you want to play the game and see the world? Valeriy Shunkov tells you how to do both with Birthing Pod, Mono-Black, and Heartless Summoning in Standard and upcoming Grand Prix Moscow this autumn. Prepare for the Standard Open this weekend in Charlotte!

“Play the game, see the world.” This motto is the one of the main reasons for me to play Magic (along with the exciting community). This past weekend perfectly proves it for many players across the world that came to Hawaii for Pro Tour Dark Ascension. While these guys were in the one of the best places on the planet, Standard evolved because of their performance. Wolf Run Ramp and Esper Spirits almost overshadowed everything else, but don’t fall into the trap of just seeing the best decks—there are many other good decks around, and there were seven players who went 8-2 or better in Standard but didn’t make the Top 8 because of poor draft results. Today’s article will be devoted to the more over-shadowed, unusual directions of Standard and to an unusual destination for Magic tourism.

Unusual Directions Of Standard

I congratulate fellow StarCityGames.com columnist Brian Kibler with his hilarious win. Honorable mentions also go to Sam Black and Gerry Thompson for putting five copies of their exciting Esper Spirits deck into the Top 32 and to Todd Anderson who had no fear of playing his Pro Tour deck the week before at StarCityGames.com Open Richmond.

Although Top 8 was filled with Primeval Titan (three playsets) and Delver of Secrets (four playsets), the Pro Tour is a mixed-format tournament, so only three players in the Top 8 actually had great Standard performances in the Swiss portion: Matt Costa (U/W Delver), PVDDR (R/G Wolf Run Ramp) and Jelger Wiegersma (Delver Spirits).

98 decks posted a 6-4 or better record:

27 Delver of Secrets (12 U/W Delver, 7 Esper Spirits, 8 other)

17 Humans (13 U/W, 2 B/W, 2 G/W)

12 Strangleroot Aggro (8 R/G, 3 Mono Green, 1 Naya)

11 Wolf Run Ramp (8 R/G, 2 Jund, 1 Naya)

8 Birthing Pod (3 Naya, 3 Bant, 1 B/G, 1 four-colored)

9 Different Control decks

3 Mono-Black Aggro

3 Five-Colored Reanimator

9 Other decks

As you can see, blue and white are the most popular colors by a wide margin, but I believe this data to be irrelevant. Some very interesting decks have emerged in Honolulu, and many new cards proved themselves far better than the most of us expected: Dungeon Geists, Drogskol Captain, Faith’s Shield, and many more. Even old good Galvanic Blast was granted a new ability: “Fateful hour: search your library for two more Galvanic Blasts and put them into your hand.” But the real winners are the cards that were represented in a very few decks, even in just one or two—especially older ones. Why? Because these cards now have their chance to see more play, if someone pays attention to them. Standard is still wide and open to innovation, so it’s the perfect time to brew and to try new things before the serious events (like World Cup Qualifiers and Standard PTQs) start.

Some Sort Of Undying

The first winning card is clearly Birthing Pod. Pod decks were considered dead, but they were revived by cards with undying and by powerful Huntmaster of the Fells. Three Czech players used Naya-colored Pod for Top 8 records. Lucas Blohon even preferred this creation to Channel Fireball’s R/G Wolf Run Ramp deck, and he proved himself right by scoring his first Pro Tour Top 8. For reference, here is the Czech Pod.

You may note four Strangleroot Geist, four Blade Splicer, and four Huntmaster of the Fells. This solid plan allows the deck to avoid the main problem of common Pod builds: playing without Birthing Pod in play. This build combines the best part of R/G aggro decks (which were represented too) and great midgame plan with totally blow-out of Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite. This is, I believe, the only way to build Pod deck without Preordain and Sea Gate Oracle.

The second winner is Mulch. Despite the printing of powerful Grafdigger’s Cage, this format is pretty weak to dedicated graveyard-based strategies. The problem is that these strategies are not consistent enough to see play even un-hated. There are Burning Vengeance and Self-Mill decks in Block Constructed, but the first grave-based strategy to emerge in Standard is Reanimator using Mulch with new Faithless Looting and Tracker’s Instincts. Everybody tried to build Reanimator-like decks right after Innistrad (do you remember Dream Twist in Solar Flare?), and now it’s time to see that concept work.

The only card not directly involved in the Reanimation game plan is Lingering Souls. The manabase looks just horrible, but it works somehow—or almost works. Overall this deck is like Dredge: you can take the metagame by the storm if your opponents are unprepared, but playing against significant amounts of hate is a pain. Nevertheless, Adam Prosak has just won the StarCityGames.com Legacy Open in Cincinnati with his Dredge deck, which is literally unable to win against Leyline of the Void, so why couldn’t you do the same thing in Standard?

Once You Go Black

The reasons that Mono-Black shines are Gravecrawler and Geralf’s Messenger, but I really love that they awoke old and almost forgotten cards which no one considered for Mono-Black before; Skirsdag High Priest was just a crap rare a month ago. I’ve already seen builds without Skirsdag High Priest (one at the StarCityGames.com Open Cincinnati, another at FNM in Moscow), but they look weaker to me. Priest is very synergic and he generates advantage, while Phyrexian Obliterator is just a stupid big guy.

There are two builds, Mono-Black from Jasper Johnson-Epstein and B/R from Naoki Nakada (with Falkenrath Aristocrat as additional sacrifice generator). A notable addition is Steve Walsh’s deck from Top 16 of StarCityGames.com Open Cincinnati.

I like the idea, but there’s a lot of space for further exploration. First of all, I see no reason to stay in Mono-Black when Olivia Voldaren exists. There will be a lot of Human decks around, so Olivia will provide you everything you want: removal, morbid generator, and perfect finisher in one card. Red also gives us the chance to explore Falkenrath Aristocrat and the great game-ending Brimstone Volley (this deck is the first where volley is actual five-for-three instead of three-for-three).

I usually prefer something more brutal and extremely powerful, but this deck entertained me because there are far more interesting interactions and small advantage generators than I normally see. There is no reason to play just a fair deck, but this one is very interesting, especially if you are relatively new to competitive play and want to improve your skill. Nearly every game with this deck will provide you with new decisions and game states to investigate. But speaking about my dedication to something unfair and extremely powerful…

Engineered Explosives

Navigating through PT coverage, I found a feature match with a deck named Grand Summoning. This deck was invented by Hall of Famer Alan Comer for Worlds; it looked very cute, but Alan unfortunately went 2-3-1 with it. These two factors combined together often means something is unplayable, so I didn’t even try it despite my love for Myrs. But when Ari Lax posted his attempt a week before the Pro Tour, I was unable to resist: he increased the Myr count from four to seven! His attempt was very rough, so I seriously changed the list—just to find all my changes (like Contagion Engine and Geistcatcher’s Rig) in Andre Mueller’s deck!

Andre posted respectable 6-4 record, and there was one more Heartless Summoning Control in the Top 8 of the StarCityGames.com Open Cincinnati, so it’s time to consider Heartless Summoning as a real card. I dislike builds hanging solely on Heartless Summoning because it’s too easy to see your game ruined by something like a maindeck Revoke Existence in Finkel’s deck. But with solid backup represented by Grand Architect, it’s possible to play without endless mulligans and without permanent fear of Disenchant.

To be fair, this deck is not the best choice, simply because it has very bad matchup against Wolf Run Ramp. The problem probably has no solution, but something could be done, like an increased number of Curse of Death’s Hold in the sideboard. Curse takes care about Inkmoth Nexus and significantly improves Contagion Engine: killing Thrun, the Last Troll with one activation instead of two and killing Primeval Titan with two activations instead of three is a huge difference.

Contagion Engine is a must and one of the best cards in the deck. Impossible to use in Architect-less builds, it shines in this version. A pair of Drogskol Captains? Take this! Dungrove Elder? Take that! A horde of tokens? Take this again! Contagion Engine makes the deck light years better and helps to interact with the opponent. This is very important because you’re not always able to race them, even with fast Myr. Turn two Myr Superion, turn three Wurmcoil Engine is not to be ignored, but average draws are little bit weaker, so Contagion Engine followed by double proliferate of Phyrexian Metamorph will help.

Eight clone effects against Perilous Myr and Havengul Lich is the main difference between Ari’s and Andre’s builds (and yeah, Solemn Simulacrum). Both attempts are extreme, so I tried to find balanced solution. Jens Thoren was never exciting for me, but he does his job from time to time, as does Perilous Myr, while both normally underperform without Heartless Summoning in play. Clone effects are hard to judge—they are surely needed, but eight is usually too much. I finally decided to keep all four Metamorphs (for Contagion Engine) but to cut Phantasmal Image.

Geistcatcher’s Rig is another sweet card to try in Constructed. It’s like Bellowing Tanglewurm: a Limited-only card that unexpectedly became awesome in the right deck at the right time. Rig takes advantage from both discount sources and simultaneously provides death to Sword-equipped fliers and threats for its owner. This card is obviously much weaker against Drogskol Captain, so it may not deserve a place in your maindeck, but it definitely deserves a place somewhere among your 75. I finally came to the following build:

Possible options include Peace Strider, Trigon of Corruption, and many other crazy things, but they are subject to test in the actual metagame. Now it’s time to switch to the last topic for today. It’s not a deck for upcoming tournaments, but a tournament itself. Moscow is calling!

Unusual Destination For Magic Tourism

“Play the game, see the world.” I’m not a professional tourist (as some Pro players call themselves), but I like traveling and Magic. So one or two times per year I combine these preferences into a week trip to European Grand Prix with my friends. Magic is a great tool with which to find an interesting destination, which you probably would not choose in another case. I knew very little about Lower Saxony before GP Hanover in 2009, and I still know very little about Turin (where I’m going to play soon); I surely wouldn’t visit these places without a little help from the Magic Grand Prix schedule.

In my very first article on StarCityGames.com, I introduced myself as a player from Moscow. Not Moscow, Ohio, and not Moscow, Texas, but from Moscow, Russia. The Grand Prix schedule has now pointed to that very Moscow for the second time since 2001, and I’m very excited to encourage my readers to visit Moscow on the 15-16 of September this year! If you’re from Europe, there’s no excuse for skipping a great opportunity to come and see our beautiful country. If you’re from the United States, there’s a great chance to drop outdated stereotypes and to come here.

The format for Grand Prix Moscow is still to be determined. Nevertheless, I can promise that you won’t regret attending no matter what the format. The Russian Magic community is very excited about the Grand Prix, so we’ll do our best to make this event unforgettable and to take Magic in Russia to the next level.

Moreover, Moscow is a city with almost nine centuries of unique history, seriously underrated in all tourist ratings. It’s one of the best places in the world (although very different from Honolulu), and the Grand Prix is a great reason to make this trip.

Ok, time to stop the tourism speech and to break some stereotypes. You probably have a hunch that bears are not playing balalaikas on the streets, so you’re safe. High cost of traveling is more common stereotype, but in reality a flight to Moscow is cheaper than you can imagine. It’s possible to travel from New York to Moscow for less than $500! Some European airlines regularly have offers of around 150-200 Euro (for example, from Vienna and Berlin). There are obviously some problems (a visa is needed for most countries), but they are solvable and should not prevent you from attending.

To summarize, Grand Prix Moscow is far nearer to you than you can imagine! We will be very pleased to see foreign guests in our city. If you have any questions, feel free to ask me, to follow @GPMoscow2012, or read https://www.facebook.com/GPMoscow2012—you will find some useful information for foreigners who are willing to participate. To answer the most popular question, the weather will be mild (around 15 degrees Celsius/60 degrees Farhenheit).

Good luck, hope to see you in Moscow this autumn!

Valeriy Shunkov