I am finalizing the list of the 32 best Standard decks of all time to compete in the Ultimate Standard Tournament. The tournament will start soon. This week, I’m looking at the decks that were Standard legal for a time, but had critical cards banned before the Standard season ended. These cards include Skullclamp in Affinity, Tolarian Academy in Academy decks, Memory Jar in JarGrim, and so on. I want to look at whether these are so broken they should be banned. Let’s do the numbers.
What’s going on: I am going to run a tournament matching 32 of the best Standard-legal decks of all time in a single elimination tournament. The idea is to find out if modern decks can run with the best historical decks. The event will play best of five matches, with two unsideboarded and up to three sideboarded matches. The decks chosen are a selection of the most famous historical decks, as played at the time.
Here is the list of decks I’m intending to use at the moment. The list has changed a bit from last week, based on feedback from the forums. Here’s what I want to play — but notice that this list has 40 decks. The question is — what do I cut?
The List so Far
NecroPotence (Brian Wiessman, CA Regionals, 1996)
Cuneo Blue (Randy Buehler, Worlds 1998)
Covetous Wildfire (Kai Budde, Worlds 1999)
Deadguy Red (Rubin, Worlds 1999)
Tolarian Blue (Chris Warren IL States version)
Sabre Bargain (Jon Finkel, Masters 2000)
Napster (Jon Finkel, U.S. Nats 2000)
Tinker (Jon Finkel, Worlds 2000)
The Rock and his Millions (Sol Malka)
Replenish (Tom Van de Logt, Worlds 2000)
Angry Hermit (Aaron Forsythe, U.S. Nats 2000)
Brawler Ponza (Sean McKeown, Grinders, 2001)
Fires (Zvi, PT Chicago 2000)
Squirrel Opposition (Eugene Harvey, U.S. Nats 2002)
Tog (Carlos Romao, Worlds 2002)
Goblin Bidding (Wolfgang Eder, Worlds 2003)
UG Madness (David Humphries, Worlds 2003)
Astral Slide (Gabe Walls, U.S. Nats, 2003)
Skullclamp Affinity (Go Anan deck)
Ghazi Glare (Katsuhiro Mori, Worlds 2005)
Dragonstorm (Mihara, Worlds 2005)
Faeries (Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa, Hollywood 2008)
Doran (Yann Massicard, GP: Seattle)
Plumeveil Control (Charles Gindy, U.S. Nats 2009)
Naya Lightsaber (Andre Coimbra, Worlds, 2009)
Super Friends (Carlos Romao — GP: DC)
Next Level Bant (Brian Kibler, GP: Sendai)
Jund (Owen Turtenwald, GP: DC)
Rec/Sur (not sure which list — Free Whaley lists are mainly Extended.)
Death Cloud (Chris Manning, U.S. Nats, 2005)
Stompy – various
Corrupter Black – Adrian Sullivan
Machine Head – Frank Karsten
Comerzilla – Alan Comer
Accelerated Blue — a.k.a. PatrickJ.dec
Eminent Domain — Adrian Sullivan
Skred Red – Frank Karsten
Turbo Xerox – Alan Comer
Counterbalance – Frank Karsten, 2006
Quick n Toast – Oliver Ruel, 2008
Tooth and Nail or Elf & Nail
The first question is whether to cut the banned decklists — Academy, Skullclamp Affinity, JarGrim, and Elf and Nail. These decks were insanely good at the time — but are they still too good to play now? Put another way, can modern decks handle these decks?
My preliminary thoughts are that Academy and JarGrim would be very tough for modern decks to beat. The only real way to beat such Combo decks is with counterspells, discard or disruption — and those have to be fast enough to disrupt the combo before it goes off. Modern discard may be good enough — Duress is legal, of course — but modern decks play far fewer cheap counters. We will see.
I have fewer worries about Skullclamp Affinity. It was a format-warping deck in it’s time — but that was a long time ago. What Affinity did was drop 2/2s on turn 2 and 4/4s on turn 3 or so. Is that good enough nowadays? Is Myr Enforcer really that scary compared to Baneslayer Angel, Vengevine, or Sphinx of Jwar Isle? Let’s find out.
First up, let’s smash Academy against Jund — the one modern deck with enough discard / disruption to have some chance against Academy.
Academy versus Jund
I’m using the Academy decklist Adrian described as highly consistent. It seems pretty good. Here it is.
Chris Warren, IL States
Time to battle!
Academy is on the play. It draws Tolarian Academy, Intuition, Mana Vault, 2 Brainstorm, Lotus Petal, and Scroll Rack. That’s a keeper. Jund’s opening hand is Raging Ravine, Dragonskull Summit, Lightning Bolt, Putrid Leech, Malakir Bloodwitch, Sprouting Thrinax, Sarkhan the Mad. On the play, against an unknown deck, I would probably mulligan it (too many five-drops), but on the draw I would keep.
Academy’s opening turn is debatable. The question is whether to blow the Lotus Petal to play the Mana Vault and Scroll Rack before playing Academy, or to play the Mana Vault off the Academy. I’m going to play the Vault off the Petal, then tap for Scroll Rack and play both Brainstorms with the Academy mana. The first Brainstorm reveals Stroke of Genius, Mox Diamond, and Lotus Petal. I put back Intuition and Stroke and play the Petal, then Brainstorm again. This gives me a Mind Over Matter as well. I stack the Mox Diamond, then Mind Over Matter on top and pass. In game 1, I don’t have to worry about Duress, so I can Brainstorm on my own turn.
Jund draws a Thrinax, plays the Raging Ravine and passes.
Academy takes one from the tapped Vault, draws the Mind Over Matter, then Scroll Racks into Mox Diamond, Mox Diamond, Windfall. With UU floating, Academy can blow the Lotus Petal for Windfall. Both sides pitch their hand, and draw seven. Academy draws garbage — 2 Mind Over Matter, 2 Time Spiral, 2 Intuition, Mana Vault. With no land and nothing to play, it passes.
Jund drew much better off the Windstorm: Maelstrom Pulse, Blightning, Bituminous Blast, 2 Lightning Bolt, Savage Lands, Rootbound Crag. Jund draws another Blightning for the turn, plays Savage Lands and passes.
Academy draws a third Mana Vault, taps Academy for UU, plays Vault, taps it for 3, plays another Vault, taps that (U5 floating) and Scroll Racks for five, (U4 floating) keeping only Time Spiral. It draws Lotus Petal, Ancient Tomb, Intuition, Voltaic Key and Time Spiral. Academy plays the Lotus Petal, then Key, uses Key to untap a Vault, taps the Vault again (U5), then plays and taps Ancient Tomb. (U7 floating, life at 16). Academy blows the Lotus Petal for U and plays Time Spiral, untapping the two lands. Jund taps Raging Ravine to Bolt Academy in response.
Off the Time Spiral, Jund draws Bloodbraid, 2 Thrinax, 2 Bituminous Blast, Verdant Catacombs, and Dragonskull Summit. Academy draws 2 cycling lands, 2 other lands, Mind Over Matter, and 2 Twiddle. Academy taps its namesake land and uses some of the floating mana to play Mind Over Matter, taps Ancient Ruins and cycles a land, drawing Intuition. Academy discards the lands and discards Twiddle to untap Academy (using Mind Over Matter), cycles the Remote Isle to draw a Lotus Petal, plays the Petal, then Intuitions for three Time Spirals. Academy taps Ancient Ruins, plays the Time Spiral and draws another seven. This time it’s Mox Diamond, Lotus Petal, Twiddle, lands, and Time Spiral. It plays the Lotus Petal and Mox Diamond, then discard three cards to tap and untap Academy (now adding UUUUUUUU per tap), then casts Time Spiral again. Academy now has over 30 mana floating, and Time Spiral untapping the two lands once again. (For what it’s worth, there is only one Time Spiral left in the deck at this point.)
Academy draws into Stroke of Genius, plus six cards. Discarding those other six cards to Mind Over Matter to untap Academy adds another 56 mana to its pool. Academy casts Stroke of Genius for 80 cards, targeting Jund.
Nice turn 3, Academy!
Game 2 Jund is on the play. It draws the following hand: Dragonskull Summit, Verdant Catacombs, Mountain, Lightning Bolt, Putrid Leach, 2 Bloodbraid Elf. That hand is a keeper. Jund plays the Summit and passes.
Academy draws a hand with 2 Windfall, 2 Land, Mox Diamond, Stroke, and Mind Over Matter. I think that hand is a mulligan, even with a potential turn 2 Windfall. The six-card hand is Voltaic Key, Mox Diamond, Windfall, 3 land. Keeper. Academy plays out Mox Diamond, Voltaic Key and a cycling land and passes.
Academy draws City of Brass, plays Island and casts Windfall. Its new hand is Academy, Stroke of Genius, Mox Diamond, Island, Time Spiral. Great, provided it does not get Blightninged, so it passes without playing the Mox. The Mox and land are Blightning protection.
Jund drew 2 Leeches, 2 Blightnings, and Savage Lands off the Windfall. It does not have a land that enters the battlefield untapped. On the draw it gets Blighting number three, so it attacks, pumps the Leech, then plays the Savage Lands and another the Leech and passes. (Jund at 17, Academy at 16.).
Academy draws Island, plays Academy, Mox Diamond and Time Spiral. The Time Spiral provides another Time Spiral and trash, so the second Time Spiral results in both Mox Diamonds being tapped, but Academy getting another hand and untapping its lands. Jund also got a new hand, but since it is tapped out, I’m not even going to mention what it drew. It’s irrelevant.
Academy now draws Mana Vault, Ancient Tomb, Blasted Landscape, Brainstorm, Rescind, Lotus Petal, Island. It plays Lotus Petal and Mana Vault off the Islands, then taps Mana Vault for 3, uses Key to untap it and retaps it for 5, then cycles Blasted Landscape drawing Windfall, then Brainstorms drawing Lotus Petal, Twiddle and Remote Isle, returning Island and Ancient Tomb. Academy plays Lotus Petal, taps Tolarian Academy (now floating 3UUUUUU.) It Twiddles Academy, cycles Rescind and Remote Isle, then casts Windfall (now floating UU, with the Academy untapped). Academy draws Twiddle, Lotus Petal, Twiddle, Brainstorm and lands. It plays the Petal, Brainstorms (drawing Stroke, Intuition, and another Academy, and putting two bad lands on top of its library). It taps Academy for seven U, Twiddles Academy, then casts Intuition for three copies of Mind Over Matter. It casts Mind Over Matter (nine U floating), then discards the two lands and Windfall to Mind Over Matter to untap Academy, tapping it again each time. With 30 mana in the pool, it can cast Stroke of Genius for 27, targeting itself. This leave Academy 3 cards in its library, but it can now play a couple artifacts, discard a dozen cards to untap Tolarian Academy a dozen times, then Stroke Jund for 100 cards.
Die, Jund, die.
Academy seems like a totally fair deck.
Academy has Lotus Petal, Academy, Island, Windfall, Blasted Landscape, Time Spiral, and Mind Over Matter. I think that’s a mulligan, since Mind Over Matter is almost certainly being discarded to Windfall or Time Spiral, and Windfall and Time Spiral are redundant. Debatable, but seems like a good squander — especially since Jund is already down a card, making Windfall smaller. The six is worse — Mox Diamond, Island, 2 Remote Isle, Twiddle, City of Brass. Still, Academy can cycle on turn 1, so it’s a keeper.
Jund plays Savage Lands and passes.
Academy draws Time Spiral, cycles Remote Isle and draws Mox Diamond. It plays Mox Diamond, discarding the other City of Brass, taps Academy, Twiddles it, taps both Mox Diamonds and casts Time Spiral. Its draw is bad — 2 Mind Over Matter, Remote Isle, City of Brass, Stroke of Genius, Windfall, Intuition. No artifacts. Academy passes.
Jund has got five lands, Sarkhan the Mad, and Maelstrom Pulse, and draws Sprouting Thrinax. Pulse kills the Mox Diamonds (Academy cycles Remote Isle in response, drawing Rescind). The Pulse leaves Academy with just two lands — one of which does not tap for mana — and no other permanents.
Jund draws another Pulse, plays Thrinax and a land, and passes.
Academy draws another Windfall and discards the spare Academy.
Jund draws another land, beats with Thrinax (Jund at 19 Academy at 17), then plays Sarkhan the Mad and makes a Dragon.
Academy draws yet another Windfall, and discards it.
Academy draws a Mox Diamond (no land in hand) and scoops.
Academy is on the play. Its hand is Voltaic Key, Island, Academy, Mind Over Matter, Windfall, Time Spiral, Blasted Landscape. Not insane, but the chance of a turn 2 Windfall for seven (unless Jund mulligans a lot) is solid. Academy opens with Island and Voltaic Key, and passes.
Jund has an opening seven of 2 Catacombs, Rootbound Crag, Swamp, Leech, Thrinax, Ruinblaster. Great hand in any other game, but no relevant disruption. Its six has Duress, Leech, Catacombs, and lands. Better. Jund draws Bloodbraid, plays Verdant for Swamp, and plays Duress. Duress takes Windfall.
Academy draws Mox Diamond (no land except Academy), plays Academy and passes.
Jund draws Forest, plays the Ravine, then attacks for 4.
Jund draws Duress. Jund’s hand is Bloodbraid, Duress, Lavaclaw Reaches, Forest, Rootbound Crag. It can Duress, or cast Bloodbraid and cascade. The Cascade could hit Blightning, the last Duress, Sprouting Thrinax, Maelstrom Pulse, one of the last three Leeches or Lightning Bolt. The Cascade seems like the better odds — but it cascades into an unkickable Ruinblaster. However, the beats send Academy to 7 — dead on the board next turn.
Academy rips Mana Vault. It plays the Vault off the Blasted Landscape, then taps the Academy, the Island, the Mox Diamond and the Key/Vault combo to produce UUUUU5. Academy casts Mind Over Matter, leaving U3 in the pool, discards one Time Spiral to Mind Over Matter to untap Academy, taps it again and casts the second Time Spiral with just U floating. Time Spiral untaps the lands, and gives Academy 2 Intuition, 2 Windfall, Twiddle and two lands. Academy taps its namesake for UUU, taps Blasted Landscape and cast Intuition for 3 Mana Vaults, then plays and taps one. (UU3 floating.) Academy casts the second Intuition for three Lotus Petals and casts one. It now uses the lands and Twiddles to untap (via Mind Over Matter) Academy, ending up with 21 Blue and a colorless mana in its pool. It casts Windfall for four cards.
It draws Time Spiral, Mox Diamond, Windfall, and land. After casting the Mox Diamond, using Mind Over Matter to produce another 24 Blue mana with Academy, it cast the Time Spiral. (It is now floating 36 Blue mana.)
Academy draws badly — 2 Brainstorm, 2 Twiddle, Blasted Landscape, Lotus Petal, Mox Diamond. Academy cycles Blasted Landscape and draws Windfall. (Ka-ching! Time Spiral gave Jund a seven card hand, and Jund is still tapped out.) Academy plays the Lotus Petal, both Brainstorms, and then discards six cards to Mind Over Matter to generate another 42 Blue mana. Then it casts Windfall. Since Jund has seven cards in hand, Windfall is another draw seven.
Academy draws Twiddle, Brainstorm, Intuition — no need to list the rest of the cards. Academy Intuitions for three copies of Stroke of Genius, uses the other cards to Twiddle its namesake, then decks Jund with Stroke.
Academy won on turn 4 this time — a bit slow, but it was Duressed early on.
I played a few more games all with Jund on the play. Jund won two out of three — once on the back of Blightning followed by Elf into Pulse killing two Mana Vaults, once with a Duress, Blightning draw. However, just when I thought the matchup was looking almost reasonable, I played a few more games. Academy ripped off three straight turn 2 kills.
Playing Academy is so much fun! I have to keep this in the tournament. This is great!
I’ll compromise by killing JarGrim. JarGrim is yet another combo deck — but it was banned in about a month. Academy may have trouble with other decks – decks like Draw-Go.
Time to try a different match-up with a different broken deck.
Go Anan Affinity verses Naya Lightsaber
I’m using Andre Coimbra list from 2009 Worlds. I tend to grab a premier event list for all the old decks, so I’m continuing the trend with the new. I wish I had a list with the Cunning Sparkmage / Basilisk Collar sideboard tech, but I’ll play what I have.
Here’s the Affinity list.
Affinity draws Darksteel Citadel, 2 Disciple of the Vault, Welding Jar, Thoughtcast, Arcbound Worker, Shrapnel Blast. With nothing to cast, until it draws colored lands, but a 1/1, this seems worth a mulligan. (For what it’s worth, the first land was a Seat of the Synod, three cards down. A Chromatic Sphere was next.) The six was a pair of Myr Enforcers, Electrostatic Bolt, Chromatic Sphere, Welding Jar, Frogmite. This is a tough choice, but any land gets a Frogmite down, and Affinity is on the draw, so I keep.
(A note — these are practice games. I haven’t played Affinity for years, and I’m rusty. Live with it.)
Lightsaber plays Forest, Hierarch, go.
Affinity draws a Disciple and drops the Welding Jar.
Lightsaber draws and plays Arid Mesa, beats for one, and passes.
Affinity draws Ravager and passes.
Affinity draws a non-land and scoops.
Bad mulligan decision? Let’s try again.
Lightsaber plays Oran-Rief, tapped, and passes.
Affinity draws Darksteel Citadel, plays Seat and passes.
Lightsaber draws and plays Mountain and a Nacatl.
Affinity draws and plays Welding Jar, then blows Chromatic Sphere for a card and Blue mana, and draws a second Skullclamp. Disciple eats a life. Affinity uses the mana to equip Frogmite and beats for three. (Naya at 15.) It then plays Skullclamp #2 and equips Frogmite with it. Frogmite dies (Naya at 14) and Affinity draws Darksteel Citadel and Electrostatic Bolt.
Naya draws Wild Nacatl. It locks down Furnace with Ajani, then blows the Arid Mesa for a Mountain. It casts Ranger of Eos, getting another Wild Nacatl and Scute Mob. It plays out the Scute Mob and a Nacatl. Affinity Shrapnel Blasts Ajani Vengeant at end of turn, sacrificing the locked Great Furnace.
Naya rips a Forest, then plays Baneslayer and Noble Hierarch, and uses Oran-Rief to put a counter on both. It beats for five with the Nacatl. Affinity chumps, and draws another Frogmite off the Skullclamp.
Naya draws another Ranger of Eos, and attacks with the first Ranger, the Nacatl and the Baneslayer. The Enforcer and Frogmite trade with the Nacatl and Ranger, but the Baneslayer gets through for 6. Affinity draws Frogmite and Glimmervoid off the Skullclamps. Naya then plays the second Ranger, fetching Wild Nacatls. It plays all three Nacatls, and pumps them all with Oran-Rief.
Affinity draws Vault of Whispers, plays and double clamps the Frogmite, and draws Myr Enforcer and Skullclamp #3. It plays the Enforcer, but against three 4/4s, a 3/2 and a 6/6 Baneslayer, that is nowhere near enough. [Nice Green Baneslayer, Pete. Bennie Smith will be happy. — Craig, amused.]
I don’t see that big a problem with Affinity anymore. I may look for a different version — one with Cranial Plating over Welding Jars, perhaps – but I see no reason to leave it out of the tournament. Affinity was fast in a relatively slow world, but it will not fare as well in a world of 5/4s for three mana and Path to Exile.
Let me know what final changes to make to the list of decks. What do I cut? What have I missed? Sound off in the forums.
“one million words” on MTGO