Yawgmoth’s Whimsy #109: The Post-Worlds MD5 Metagame and Whupping Sheldon

Once again, I compiled statistics from all of the PTQ T8s I could find. Here are the numbers for the entire period this format has been played. Is there a secret Affinity-killer that is on the rise in Block? The answer to this question and more is but a click away, plus bonus coverage of Sheldon Menery’s Multiplayer Challenge at the World Championships.

This is a two part article. Part one provides some PTQ results updates. Part two covers my adventures at Worlds and winning Sheldon’s multiplayer challenge.

Once again, I compiled statistics from all of the PTQ T8s I could find. Here are the numbers for the entire period this format has been played. The results are sorted by deck archetype, and give the number of decks making the top eight followed by the percentage of those decks among all T8 decks:

Ravager Affinity: 116 decks, 32%

3-color Control: 7 decks, 2%

U/G Control: 30 decks, 8%

Mono Green: 19 decks, 5%

U/W Control: 17 decks, 5%

Tooth and Nail: 53 decks, 15%

Big Red: 55 decks, 15%

R/G Decks: 30 decks, 8%

Mono-Black: 8 decks, 2%

IronWorks: 6 decks, 2%

G/B decks: 11 decks, 3%

Other decks: 8 decks, 2%

Those numbers cover May through early September. If we limit the range to August and September, the numbers look like this:

Ravager Affinity: 64 decks, 44%

3-Color Control: 7 decks, 5%

U/G Control: 5 decks, 3%

Mono Green: 6 decks, 4%

U/W Control: 3 decks, 2%

Tooth & Nail: 14 decks, 10%

Big Red: 18 decks, 12%

R/G Control: 13 decks, 9%

Monoblack: 5 decks, 3%

IronWorks: 2 decks, 1%

G/B decks (all types): 6 decks, 4%

Other: 2 decks, 1%

I don’t know that I have a lot to say about changes in the format.

Affinity is still the deck to beat. It’s numbers, and percentages, are still climbing. At least half the Affinity decks are now running Aether Vial – but not all of them. Somber Hoverguard seems to the disappearing – but not everywhere. Moriok Rigger is appearing in a lot of maindeck lists – but not all. So be prepared for Affinity, but be flexible. Affinity builds – even winning builds – have some variation.

Big Red is still strong, but not everywhere. Some tourneys had five Red decks in the T8 – and some had none. I can’t tell if Big Red is slipping to tier two or holding on. The builds are not radically different from those I analyzed a while back.

The tier two decks are R/G, Tooth and Nail, U/G Control and maybe 3-color control. You can expect to face these decks at a PTQ, but unless you are very familiar with them (and really like them) they are not the decks to choose. They are good, but Affinity is just better.

Black control may be making a run at tier two status – although the numbers are scarce enough that it could be a fluke. DC Control – a Green/Black variant – is also on the borderline, but it has been around for a bit longer and isn’t showing any signs of a breakout. It is probably a tier 2.5 deck, at best.

A few gimmick decks are still showing up at times. Every so often an Ironworks deck makes T8, or even wins. Cogs decks are also hovering at the fringes. Finally, Mono-Green Beats is still popping up here and there. The most interesting variant ran Blasting Station maindeck, which gives Mono-Green an answer to Disciple of the Vault.

I’m not going to do any card by card breakdowns this time. I already did Ravager and Big Red – and I’m tired of those two. I’ve done Tooth & Nail and U/G Control. If I see a few more mono-Black decks, that might be worth doing, but nearly everything else varies so widely that a card by card analysis is not going to reveal anything.

Beating Up on Sheldon’s Format

I got to Judge at Worlds – and that also meant I got to play in Sheldon’s Elder Dragon Highlander games. His original article on the format is here, and his report on the games is coming. Hopefully he has a list of the players’ names: my list of names is, apparently, still in San Fran. Their generals (their flagship legends – see Sheldon’s article for details) were Cromat, Lord of Tresselhorn, Darigaaz, Sliver Overlord, Treva and Arcades Sabboth – plus me. Until I find the list of names, I’ll just call them by their generals’ names.

Going into the event, all the information I had was from Sheldon’s decklist and article. Note that Sheldon listed a bunch of Wrath of God effects, and he mentioned that he planned on having at least one infinite mana combo (Palinchron) in the event. I had to assume that his deck would be typical. That meant that the format would be composed of huge creatures, powerful spells and infinite combos – in multiplayer, no less. I had to find a way of working against that format.

First of all, creatures are a very iffy option in that format. Almost nothing can survive Wrath effects – not when everyone is playing them in multiples. It is possible to get Darksteel Colossus in play – but it either stays home to block or makes you a target. Things like Anurid Brushhopper are useless in a seven-player game – he dodges the first Wrath or Swords, but that’s about it. Speed creature decks are almost impossible – unless you are content to kill one or two players, then get creamed. Big fatties are better, but that comes down to drawing yours, first.

In this sort of format, a better option is to have a bunch of infinite combos, and work to go off first. That’s quite effective, but it is too cheesy – even for me. It’s not that I wouldn’t try it, but combo decks are also pretty chancy. For one thing, once people discover that you are playing pure combo, you become public enemy number one. That is not a good place to be.

The third answer to this sort of format is to introduce a global problem, then build your deck around that. From Sheldon’s decklist, it looked as if everyone would be casting big spells and big effects. That means that a lot of mana will be involved – which makes mana supplies vulnerable. I decided to build a deck that would slow everyone else down, while trying to get around the problem myself.

Put another way, if everyone else got to play lands and untap regularly, I figured that I would live only as long as no one wanted to kill me. Staying alive through sufferance is not a great plan. You stay alive in multiplayer by being helpful, unobtrusive and unthreatening – but, if anyone had actually read my articles, they might think I’m threatening no matter how low I kept my profile. In my articles, at least, I’m a good player and a threat.

Ah – delusions of grandeur. I treasure mine.

Anyway, I decided that I had to mess with everyone’s mana. Sheldon had sent me a list of generals that people had already reserved, (at that point, Lord of Tresserhorn, Darigaaz, Sliver Overlord, Sol’Kanar, and Arcades Sabboth.) Since all were three to five colors, I expected everyone to run a fair number of non-basic lands. Okay, that should make Back to Basics brutal, and Ruination and Blood Moon would be good if I was Red. I was going to be as close to mono-Blue as possible, and play B2B, Winter Orb, Storm Cauldron and Land Equilibrium (Storm Cauldron / Land Equilibrium is a cool combo.)

Given that lands were not – hopefully – going to be a primary source of mana, that left mana artifacts. I quickly added Sol Ring, Fellwar Stone, Mind Stone, Mana Vault, Grim Monolith, Gilded Lotus, Thran Dynamo, and Mox Diamond to the list. And Tolarian Academy. Then I emailed Sheldon about P9 cards:

me: I assume this is Type One. Power Nine okay, or considered showing off?

Sheldon: P9 is fine, if a little showy. Go for it; I know there’s more than one Mox Monkey running around.

Wrong answer, Sheldon, but that’s fine. I added a Mox Jet and Mox Ruby. No Mox Sapphire – I was trying to show some restraint. No Black Lotus, because I was looking for durable mana sources. Darksteel Ingot and Talismans were also a consideration – but better if I played multiple colors. Voltaic Key mixes well with Vault, Monolith and Gilded Lotus, so it was added.

Next, given that I was playing artifacts and artifact mana, I added some tricks. Karn, Silver Golem is an old favorite. (Surprise! I’ll block with Urza’s Blueprints!) I had written an article about Voltaic Construct combos, so I threw that in. Since I was really artifact heavy at that point, I added Forge[/author]“]Darksteel [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author], to make them indestructible.

March of the Machines looked like a positive option – and March plus Mycosynth Lattice almost qualified me for U.S. Nationals, so it got added.

I had asked Sheldon about Back to Basics and so forth – and also about Blatant Thievery and stuff like that. His response: There’s nothing I consider real bad form, although I’ll badmouth counterspells…while playing some 🙂 Then, in a quick follow-up: One note on bad form: Play Thieves’ Auction and I will KILL you myself 🙂 Okay, if that’s his attitude, I’ll play Blatant Thievery. I hate the card and wish it hadn’t been printed, but my deck should be able to cast it. Cave in to the Dark Side I did.

Okay, some additional control elements: Icy Manipulator, Meekstone, Predator Flagship, Oblivion Stone, Grab the Reins, Capsize, Dominate, and Duplicant. I ran two counterspells: Mana Drain and Force of Will (although Misdirection was my 101st card for a while.) I had Avarice Totem along for the ride. Finally, if worst came to worst, I had an Upheaval. Of course, Upheaval and a ton of mana artifacts was not all that bad a combo.

I should note that I forgot Nevinyrral’s Disk. Nev’s Disk and Forge[/author]“]Darksteel [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author] is funny. Disk does not sac – and with the Forge, it does not destroy itself: reusable global destruction. Mycosynth Lattice, Forge[/author]“]Darksteel [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author] and Nev’s Disk is – well, opponents should scoop in response. If not, they won’t have anything to scoop.

The next options were card drawing and tutors, to find what I needed. I included Tinker, Ancestral Recall, Time Spiral, Time Twister, Urza’s Blueprints, Mystical Tutor, Stroke of Genius, Thirst for Knowledge, Memory Jar, Planar Portal, Darksteel Pendant and Time Walk. I also played a Howling Mine – both because it let me draw cards, and because Howling Mine and whining is a combo. (“If you kill me, you can’t draw off my Howling Mine.”) I’m good at whining.

Trade Routes was also included, to mesh with land denial – especially Land Equilibrium. In the actual games, it protected my Academy from Wasteland for a long time.

That left creatures. For protection, I had a Fog Bank, and looked at including Wall of Souls as well. (Fog Bank made it, WoS did not.) I knew I wanted Karn, and Memnarch, Darksteel Colossus, and Sundering Titan. Trinket Mage fetched mana artifacts or Darksteel Citadel. Bringer of the Blue Dawn looked worth a try, and Goblin Welder is stupid good in an artifacts deck. Pentavus would come in if Goblin Welder did. I also played Teeka’s Dragon, because I wanted too. Clockwork Dragon is better in every respect, but I wanted to play at least one card just because.

Lightning Greaves was also an automatic inclusion. Whispersilk Cloak was a serious thought as well. I want my general to hit, and not get stolen by Control Magic or the like.

At that point, I had to choose my General. I thought about Arcanis, the Omnipotent, but he seemed too easy to kill, and he is hardly an elder dragon. Empress Galina would have been perfect in all but two respects: she’s the wrong type, and everyone would have tried to kill me immediately once I announced my General.

I almost chose Teeka’s Dragon, but it isn’t a Legend. Taniwa (7/7 trampler for 3UU, all my lands get phasing) was a cool choice, but unless I had Land Equilibrium, it wasn’t all that great. It was, however, a dragon-like legend, and could get into play fast.

In the end, however, I chose Nicol Bolas. He is an elder dragon legend, and he is a blast to play. I have always liked him. Moreover, he was RUB, so I could play Goblin Welder, Ruination, Blood Moon, Demonic Tutor, Vampiric Tutor and Tainted Pact. Tainted Pact is nuts in highlander.

That left lands. I played Tolarian Academy, Mishra’s Workshop, Darksteel Citadel, Ancient Tomb, City of Traitors, the relevant dual lands and fetchlands, City of Brass, Undiscovered Paradise (combo with both Avarice Totem and Back to Basics), plus 2 Swamps, 2 Mountains and 14 Islands.

A side note on one Mountain. Originally, I had two Unglued mountains. However, in the side event draft on Sunday, we ran short of Mountains. I reported that to the Wizards staff, and they started looking for spare lands. Time went by and the lands didn’t show, so we eventually had to make Mountains by writing”M” on spare Islands with a Sharpie.

Now Richard Garfield – yes, the Richard Garfield – was playing in a draft at that point. When he came over looking for lands, I was busy making Mountains out of Islands, so I asked him to modify one as well. I kept that one – after all, everyone knows that if Richard Garfield modifies a Magic card, the modified card is legal for play. That one was.

Late on Sunday, Dr. Garfield was kind enough to hang around and sign cards for the judges. I got my”Mountain” signed – so that’s what I played. Proudly.

On to the games. Sheldon may have a more complete report of the tourney – he was taking notes. I was too busy winning. (Or is that spelled”whining.”)

We began with Mulligans. Sheldon allows free mulligans to correct bad hands. As he put it”not to mulligan into your combo, but to get something playable.” That’s a good rule in multiplayer – multiplayer games can get really long and dull when you have a dead hand.

I mulliganed my first hand, which had some big Blue spells, Memnarch and City of Traitors as the only land. My second hand was marginal, but it had a Talisman, a Fellwar Stone, my Richard Garfield Mountain and Tolarian Academy. Not strong, but I didn’t want to abuse the rule, so I kept.

I started the game with Academy, go. That is not wise – Academy is a target – but I was totally screwed if someone else played it. Then I played minor mana artifacts and diddly squat for a while. And complained about how my deck wasn’t doing anything to lower my profile.

My left hand neighbor – also a Peter – was playing Cromat, but it was obviously a combo deck. I was able to point to him, at times, to redirect attacks. I also had some luck in that only one player was particularly aggressive – Mr. Slivers Overlord. He overcommitted, but only attacked with a few slivers.

Darigaaz had a Molder Slug. That could have been tragic – for me – but the first time it appeared, it got Terminated. That made me feel good – right up to the point where he played Volrath’s Stronghold.

There were three turning points in this game – and I hope I remember them correctly and in the right order.

The first was when an opponent played Balance to rid the board of creatures and cut everyone to one card. That stopped the attacks for a while, cut everyone’s land count and left me in good shape (Tolarian Academy and some mana artifacts will do that.) Better yet, I was untapped and the one card I had left in hand was Stroke of Genius – so I Stroked for eight cards just before my next turn.

The second turning point was when I played my Goblin Welder. I was actually baiting counterspells, but it resolved. Then I attempted to equip it with Lightning Greaves. Cromat had a Magma Mine with counters and could have killed the Welder, but he let it live. I think he was assuming he could go off and kill me instead of the Welder, but I think it was a mistake. An untargetable, active Welder, several artifacts in play and more in the graveyard is just too good.

The third play was the second time my opponent tried to cast Molder Slug. I had Mana Drain. Then, on my turn, I used the Mana Drain mana to cast Ruination. I was baiting counterspells, but it resolved. I lost the Academy, but everyone else lost a lot more – including the Molder Slug producing Stronghold. Then I used up the rest of the Mana Drain mana casting Back to Basics. Since the board had been relatively clear before that, (Balance) I wasn’t worried about being overrun while taking control.

Shortly thereafter, I Tinkered away my Darksteel Citadel for Forge[/author]“]Darksteel [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author], making the Lightning Greaves pretty good cover for the Welder. Then I pulled Mycosynth Lattice off the top. That almost got the table to scoop, but they decided to soldier on. Finally, I got Planar Portal working, and tutored for March of the Machines. That was game. It is bad enough when everything I have is indestructible – but worse when all of my opponents’ lands die to state based effects before they can be tapped for mana.

The three big reasons why I won that game.

1) The Welder lived. (Although I would probably have been okay without it.)

2) The board got cleared a couple times before I made a move.

3) I had looked non-threatening (and whined enough) that people discounted me right up to the point where I trashed everyone else’s mana and locked up the game.

In game two, I did not expect to be discounted. I wasn’t – people were attacking me as soon as they got creatures on the table. I cast Howling Mine and tried the”Hey – Howling Mine! Kill me and you won’t get the extra cards!” ploy, but that got the appropriate response:”Yeah, we all have to make sacrifices.”

Politics works better when people don’t already hate and fear you. However, about turn 5 or 6, I found a usable line. I responded to a declaration of attack phase with something like:”Okay, I know my deck is annoying, and I won last game, but did you notice that Cromat has Staff of Domination on the table, six mana available and Worldgorger Dragon in the graveyard? Does the fact that he is one Animate Dead away from winning bother anyone?”

Presto – attacks went elsewhere. At least for a while – a turn and a half later Cromat tried for the Visions version of Animate DeadNecromancy – targeting the Worldgorger Dragon. I had been waiting for this, and once the remove ability was on the stack, I targeted the Dragon with Capsize (with buyback.) Cromat had Force of Will, but so did I. He wound up with the Dragon in his hand and everything else removed from the game.

That made me a target again.

Somewhere in here, a Pernicious Deed fired off for nine mana, wiping out a lot of creatures including a really big Forgotten Ancient. I tried for Sundering Titan, but it met Evasive Action. I had tried for a Welder a couple times, but it got targeted with removal, so I Capsized it (with buyback) in response. Then Masticore came out to play, and the Welder sat in my hand.

The most amazing swing, however, came when Darigaaz cast Bringer of the Black Dawn. In trying to find a response, Cromat played his last card, then activated his Temporal Aperture – and found Balance. That would wipe out a lot of creatures, empty everyone’s hands and destroy all but four lands per person. I had a ton of mana, Grab the Reins and Capsize. I Grabbed the Bringer and threw it at someone, then Capsized the Temporal Aperture (so everyone would have at least one card in hand after Balance resolved.) My card was Goblin Welder.

Goblin Welder resolved. It got Greaves. I had Sundering Titan and a bunch of other stuff in the graveyard. That was the good part. The bad part was that I was at three life – partly from attacks, but mainly from my own Ancient Tomb.

This game took forever – and that was mainly my fault. I couldn’t really kill anyone quickly, but I was forced into Goblin Welder / Sundering Titan tricks to keep everyone else from killing me. Ingrid, who had finished head-judging her tournament by then and was waiting for the next game commented that I had the game in hand – but I pointed out that all anyone had to do was topdeck a Lightning Bolt and I would lose.

At one point, I used Mystical Tutor to fetch Upheaval and went for the reset, but someone had Spite/Malice. I had a lot of mana at one point, but Gorilla Shaman had nailed my moxen – although I did get rid of that problem with Duplicant.

Finally, I got Predator, Flagship and Voltaic Construct into play. That let me attack with Sundering Titan and untap him when I needed a blocker. Predator Flagship also allowed me to kill fliers – and even loft them first, something our group calls”skeet shooting.” However, I didn’t have enough mana to really make that work.

I got my first kill by resolving Back to Basics. We had already been playing for almost two hours – in this game – and I had trashed everyone’s mana. I now had Back to Basics and recursive Sundering Titan. One player – with a duals heavy deck – conceded. (Dinner in SF over slow stagnation – who chooses that?) Over time, Sundering Titan killed three other players.

Sundering Titan is just stupid.

For that matter, I wasn’t playing all that well, either. I got to bed around 5:30am Friday night, almost as late Saturday, and had been judging for several hours before the game. I’m pretty sure I made some mistakes – and for a while I thought I had floated 17 mana, cast Upheaval, then let Evasive Action for three counter it – but that was Spite / Malice. Still, I should have Welder/Sundering Titan at least once more, to cripple more opponents, but I was too tired / lazy / dumb.

Eventually it was just me battling against the Sliver Overlord and Arcades Sabboth (a.k.a. Sheldon.) I was holding them off, but just barely. I had Memnarch and Teeka’s Dragon in hand, but not enough mana to cast them. March of the Machines was in my graveyard, but Karn was still in my deck. If I drew it – or a tutor – I could animate Gilded Lotus, get infinite Blue mana, then steal the board with Memnarch. I also had Blatant Thievery somewhere in my deck, and a few other outs. I even had Time Spiral in hand – but since I was relying on my Welder, that wasn’t all that good an option.

On the down side, I was at three life. Sheldon was at 100+, and the slivers player was still in double digits.

The end came shortly thereafter. Sliver dude dropped Soltari Guerillas. Sheldon then copied it with Clone. I killed one shadow guy immediately with Duplicant, and had the mana available to kill the other with Predator, Flagship. However, the slivers player then tutored for Hull Breach, killing my Lightning Greaves and the Back to Basics. With the Greaves gone, Sheldon killed the Welder with Blue Elemental Blast. Then Sheldon untapped and attacked with the shadow dude, an unmorphed Exalted Angel, the Nantuko Monastery that Back to Basics had locked down and another random creature. I had enough mana to untap the Sundering Titan and kill either the Angel or the Soltari, but not both.

GG. (Other than the fact that I lost, that is.)

Sheldon soon overwhelmed the slivers player. Sheldon had a lot of stuff – Sliver Overlord had Constant Mists. Eventually, however, the Overlord ran out of land, and Sheldon sailed over to end the game – a game that took about three hours!

Of all the Legends played as Generals, only Lord of Tresselhorn actually made it into play. No one else ever cast one. Sheldon has some thoughts about fixing that, however. He probably has some thoughts about getting rid of my deck, too.

I had done rough designs of at least a half-dozen decks for this format. I may write about them in the future. If I end up judging at an event Sheldon is at in the future, I will play one of those.

Kudos to Sheldon for a good format. Sorry I broke it.


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