YW #108: The Mirrodin Block Metagame at the Midseason

It’s now halfway through the Block Constructed PTQ season. So far, the block looks pretty solid. A lot of decks have game, and nothing — not even Ravager — is dominant. It’s time for an overview and some breakdowns.

It’s now halfway through the Block Constructed PTQ season. So far, the block looks pretty solid. A lot of decks have game, and nothing – not even Ravager – is dominant. It’s time for an overview and some breakdowns.

I have been pulling decklists from all the PTQs I can find, and compiling stats. I have just under 200 decks in my database – almost 250 if you add the decklists from the larger GPTs. I’ll provide a deck by deck breakdown on the metagame through the end of July, plus card by card breakdowns of the Affinity and Big Red decks that made T8. I’ll also throw in a new archetype I have been playing around with. If it was in a separate article, it would be headed”Food for Thought” – but it’s pretty tasty food.

The metagame for the PTQ season has been heavily influenced by the Grand Prix results. Early on, the success of Crystal Witness at GP: Zurich had a lot of people playing that. The same was true of Big Red and the Red control decks – people started playing them, and other decks that packed a ton of artifact hate. Towards the middle to end of July, people started pulling a bit of that maindeck artifact hate and replacing it with cards that were better against U/G, Tooth and the red decks. The results should have been predictable: Affinity came roaring back. Affinity was why the maindeck artifact hate was necessary in the first place, and when the hate dropped just a little, Affinity made it back into the top slots. Most recently, GP: Orlando has shown what Affinity can do, so I expect the artifact deck, and the hate, to show up in volume again.

Here are the decks that made the top eights at PTQ, then PTQs and GPTs, provided the GPTs had enough attendees for at least six rounds of swiss.






Ravager Affinity





Tooth and Nail





Big Red / Mono Red





U/G Control





RG Control





Mono Green





U/W Control










R/U March





Mono Black





G/B Death Cloud










A few notes on the table. I know some people distinguish between Big Red and Mono-Red Control. I didn’t when I started my database, and it would be difficult to go back and reenter the Red decks to make that split. That is also true of Ravager Affinity – when I started the database, I did not distinguish between Vial, Plate and Mantle Affinity decks (and they overlap), and I am not going to go back and try to reclassify the 50-odd Affinity decks already entered. I did split Tooth and Nail into U/G Tooth and other Tooth decks – then had to decide whether the deck that included just two Islands and Thirst for Knowledge maindeck was standard Tooth or U/G Tooth. I recombined them for this table.

I have to admit that my prediction that U/G Tooth would be a dominant deck is not proving out. It is consistently present, but it isn’t close to dominant.

Taking it from the top, Affinity is still an amazing deck. It just wins – even against the hate. I played Mono-Green again last PTQ, and lost to Affinity. Turn 1 Disciple, turn 2 Disciple is a win, no matter how much artifact kill a deck packs. That Affinity deck won the PTQ against a U/G deck that had March of the Machines in play – but Affinity had out three Disciples.”Play a land, Bolt you,” was pretty good.

I will do card by card breakdown on Affinity decks later. I will also build a typical Affinity build, for people to playtest against.

I am not sure whether Affinity is the best deck to take to a PTQ. Unquestionably, if Affinity has a bit of luck in its matchups and draws, it can win. It can win against hate. It is also relatively easy to make minor mistakes with Affinity. (If I had a nickel for every time I saw an Affinity player pass up a free, perfectly safe attack with the Disciple on turn 2…) Those mistakes cost you – and may cost you your T8 spot. In my experience, Affinity may reward good play, but it also punishes sloppy play.

I don’t have enough data on the percentage of Affinity decks being played that make T8. I think it is safe to say that you can expect at least one Affinity deck to make the T8 at any given PTQ. I’m not sure that you can expect your Affinity deck to make T8. I get the feel that it is like U/G in the past – a great deck, but there may be better choices if you can play perfectly and really want to qualify.

The number two deck in the format is, at present, Tooth and Nail. Tooth and Nail decks appear to be oscillating between the beatdown wins and the Mindslaver lock wins. Tooth runs four main win-the-game combos: 1) Darksteel Colossus and attack, 2) Triskelion/Mephidross Vampire/Wrath of God you, 3) Leonin Abunas/Platinum Angel/don’t lose, 4) Bringer/Slaver, take all your turns. Of these, the last is by far the most powerful – the opponent has literally no out. The other advantages are that Mindslaver has some utility before the lock is established, and that it is less vulnerable to an opponent siding in Acquire (having a Mindslaver stolen is not as bad as losing a Colossus.) I am seeing more and more Bringers of the White Dawn maindeck.

I’ll do a card by card on Tooth decks, but not this week. I still need to enter several Tooth decks into my database, and the archetype seems to be in transition.

The third most common archetype is mono-Red control decks. These also vary, so I will squeeze in a card by card breakdown of those decks as well. I must say, up front, that I am not a Red mage, and never have been, so I will limit my comments and let the cards speak for themselves.

Another Cog Deck

First, a digression. Chad Ellis, and others, have been writing about and playtesting U/W cog decks. These are built around the spellbombs and similar cogs, plus Auriok Salvagers and Trinket Mage. I like the deck idea, but the U/W version really doesn’t have a lot of finishing power unless it runs Pristine Angel. However, a significant part of the cog engine can also power a Red/White version. Brian Hartwig took something similar to a top 8 finish in Madison. Here’s my version of that archetype.

4 Pristine Angel

3-4 Arc-Slogger

4 Auriok Salvager

3-4 Solemn Simulacrum

4 Shrapnel Blast

4 Magma Jet

4 Wayfarer’s Bauble

4 Pyrite Spellbomb

2 Sunburst Spellbomb

2 Scrabbling Claws

1 Fireball / Necrogen Spellbomb / Pulse of the Fields

1 Conjurer’s Bauble

13 Mountain

11 Plains (or 10 Plains, 1 Swamp with the Necrogen Spellbomb)

This deck has three main advantages over the U/W versions. First, it has some great finishers. Arc-Slogger is, well, Arc-Slogger. Second, Pyrite Spellbombs can kill Disciples and so forth, but recurring them can end games quickly. Third, the extra instants not only kill the bears running rampant in the format, but also provide a lot of untaps for the Pristine Angels. And Shrapnel Blast to the dome is still a great finisher, especially when untapping Pristine Angel.

I’m not at all certain that this is the optimum decklist. Brian Hartwig ran Granulate maindeck, and that makes some sense. I could also squeezing in some Altar’s Lights, since Crystal Shard is a pain and removing enemy Solemn Sims is far better than killing them. Wrath of God could also be good – even this format’s inferior version Solar Tide. It needs tweaking, but it is a blast to rip through the deck to find some of the powerful kill cards.

The deck seems to playtest well against Crystal Witness and Affinity. It had some trouble, surprisingly, against the U/W counterpart – mainly because the build I was playing against had Aether Spellbombs and the Pristine Angel / Pulse of the Fields combo, and I drew land like a fiend. The deck also seems okay against Tooth and should destroy mono-Red, but playtesting is still in early stages.

Okay, that’s today’s food for thought…

Affinity Card-by-Card

As I have in the past, I have taken the thirty-six Affinity decks that made top 8 (and for which I could get decklists) and entered all the cards played. The cards are shown, followed by the number of decks that ran the cards, and the average (mean) number present in the decks that ran it. For example, if 20 of the 36 Affinity decks ran Spore Frog, and of those 20, eight ran four copies of Spore Frog, nine ran three copies and three ran two copies) then the card would be listed as Spore Frog: 20, 3.3.

Seat of the Synod: 36, 3.8

Great Furnace: 35, 3.8

Vault of Whispers: 36, 3.8

Darksteel Citadel: 36, 3.6

Glimmervoid: 34, 2.9

Blinkmoth Nexus: 14, 2.8

Tree of Tales: 3, 3.7

The Seat of the Synod numbers could be a bit misleading. Two decks ran just one Seat of the Synod – all others ran a full set of four, and none ran just three. Several decks did run just three copies of Great Furnace or Vault of Whispers, so that mean is more accurate. Darksteel Citadel and Glimmervoid numbers routinely ranged from two to four. Three decks ran the maindeck Tree of Tales / Oxidize builds, but only three, and they made top 8 relatively early in the season.

Frogmite: 36, 4.0

Disciple of the Vault: 35, 4.0

Arcbound Ravager: 34, 3.9

Somber Hoverguard: 31, 3.7

Arcbound Worker: 29, 3.9

Ornithopter: 19, 3.7

Myr Enforcer: 17, 2.9

Atog: 10, 2.4

Myr Retriever: 9, 2.2

Qumulox: 3, 3.3

Arcbound Stinger: 1, 4.0

Moriok Rigger: 1, 2.0

Slobad, Goblin Tinkerer: 1, 1.0

This is equally predictable. Every single deck ran four Frogmites. Two decks did not run Ravagers (running Qumuloxes and Somber Hoverguards instead.) Another deck skipped the Disciples – it was also more focused on the Hoverguards and fliers, and on Cranial Plating – but that still seems like a bad decision. Somber Hoverguard was the biggest change from the old Skullclamp versions – Hoverguard is an evasion creature, and something that does not die to artifact removal – making it particularly solid in this metagame. It is also, along with Ornithopter, a Cranial Plate delivery system. The other big change from the Type Two metagame is the decline in Myr Enforcers. A 4/4 ground pounder is just not that exciting anymore, and the numbers seeing maindeck play have been decreasing as the block progresses. The other cards are some of”those things that make you say hmmmm,” but the guy playing the Stingers did win it all at a competitive 98 person PTQ.

Thoughtcast: 34, 4.0

Cranial Plating: 32, 3.7

Chromatic Sphere: 29, 3.8

Shrapnel Blast: 27, 3.5

Welding Jar: 17, 3.6

Aether Vial: 12, 3.9

Night’s Whisper: 9, 2.8

Paradise Mantle: 7, 3.4

Chrome Mox: 3, 2.7

Pyrite Spellbomb: 2, 3.0

Leonin Scimitar: 1, 4.0

Serum Visions: 1, 4.0

Talisman of Dominance: 1, 4.0

Thirst for Knowledge: 1, 4.0

Tooth of Chiss-Gloria: 1, 4.0

The other spells category is a bit more mixed. First off, however, although I argued that skipping Thoughtcast in the Regionals Type Two metagame was reasonable, this is block and Thoughtcast is a given. Cranial Plating is almost an automatic inclusion, with most decks running at least three. Chromatic Sphere is a mana fixer and card drawer, and was in three-quarters of the decks. Shrapnel Blast was in slightly less. Below that, the numbers vary.

I know that people are categorizing decks, based on the GP: Orlando builds, as Vial Affinity, Mantle Affinity and Plating Affinity. I’m not sure that those categories fit, however. There seems to be a lot of variety in the builds, and the categories overlap.

The final category (the hmmmm stuff) is still interesting. The Talisman deck also ran the Qumloxes, so the extra Blue sources make some sense. The Chrome Moxen confuse me a bit, and I was surprised to see how unpopular the Pyrite Spellbombs were. The Leonin Scimitars were the most surprising, and I turned the speculator up a few notches when I saw them. Maybe they are intended to help Somber Hoverguards live through E-Bolts and Arc Slogger activations. Maybe they were included because the costs were the same as Skullclamp. Maybe the player had a foreign foil set he just had to play. Maybe I need a new speculator.


Electrostatic Bolt: 13, 3.6

Shrapnel Blast: 13, 2.1

Annul: 11, 3.3

Terror: 11, 3.0

Furnace Dragon: 10, 3.3

Atog: 8, 2.3

Moriok Rigger: 8, 3.1

Oxidize: 8, 3.1

Viridian Shaman: 8, 3.3

Glimmervoid: 7, 1.0

Seething Song: 6, 3.3

Tree of Tales: 6, 3.3

Vex: 6, 3.0

Blinkmoth Nexus: 5, 2.0

Island: 5, 1.4

Genesis Chamber: 4, 3.3

Override: 4, 2.5

Myr Enforcer: 3, 2.0

Pentad Prism: 3, 3.0

Qumulox: 3, 3.0

Shatter: 3, 3.7

Somber Hoverguard: 3, 1.0

Slobad, Goblin Tinkerer: 3, 2.0

Condescend: 2, 3.0

Darksteel Citadel: 2, 1.0

Detonate: 2, 4.0

Night’s Whisper: 2, 2.5

Shattered Dreams: 2, 3.0

Echoing Truth: 2, 3.0

Scrabbling Claws: 2, 3.0

Scale of Chiss-Goria: 2, 4.0

Relic Barrier: 2, 3.5

Aether Spellbomb: 1, 3.0

Damping Matrix: 1, 4.0

Emissary of Despair: 1, 3.0

Engineered Explosives: 1, 3.0

Grab the Reins : 1, 2.0

Molder Slug: 1, 1.0

Pyrite Spellbomb: 1, 1.0

Thirst for Knowledge: 1, 3.0

Quicksilver Behemoth: 1, 2.0

Bonesplitter: 1, 2.0

Echoing Decay and 1 Swamp: 1, 3.0

Myr Retriever: 1, 1.0

Krark-Clan Shaman: 1, 4.0

Some of these ideas were expected. The mirror match sideboards of Tree of Tales / Oxidize and Viridian Shaman is still present, but it gets a boost from Oxidize. Adding a Molder Slug seems like overkill, however. The Furnace Dragon sideboard was also expected, although the Pentad Prism addition is a nice touch.

Some of the ideas look pretty good. Krark-Clan Shaman would be pretty good against the Ironworks deck’s Myr tokens – and would be a real surprise against Rude Awakening if the opponent didn’t think it through. Damping Matrix seems iffy, but in those decks with more Blue fliers and less Ravager action, it could work. Echoing Decay is removal that kills Tel-Jilad Chosen and Glissa – but do you really need to add a sideboard Swamp to play it? Considering the artifact removal those decks pack, maybe you do.

If I am going to have an affinity deck counter something of mine, let them use Vex, not Override. I want to draw the card. Of course, Override is not necessarily going to counter much against the Tooth decks that have six billion mana available.

Relic Barrier and Scrabbling Claws have both long seemed like good ideas, at least to me. However, my playtesting of Ravager sideboards is woefully inadequate, so take that with a grain of salt.

Here’s my playtest version of Affinity. It isn’t a teched-out build to play in the PTQ, but it should give you a pretty good idea of what you might expect. Of course, if you have a lot of playtest time, you could build Aether Vial and Paradise Mantle versions as well, but if you want just one in your gauntlet, try this:

Basic Gauntlet Affinity

4 Seat of the Synod

4 Great Furnace

4 Vault of Whispers

4 Darksteel Citadel

3 Glimmervoid

1 Blinkmoth Nexus

4 Arcbound Ravager

4 Arcbound Worker

4 Disciple of the Vault

4 Frogmite

4 Somber Hoverguard

2 Ornithopter

4 Chromatic Sphere

4 Cranial Plating

3 Shrapnel Blast

4 Thoughtcast

3 Welding Jar

That should give you a pretty good feel for the likely matchup – and if your deck cannot beat this deck, reconsider your deck choice. Affinity is still here, and it will be here all season.

Big Red Card-by-Card

On to a card by card of another force in the metagame: Big Red. I found and entered (and am thoroughly sick of red after) 26 decklists. I’m using the same format – here we go.

Mountain: 26, 17.0

Darksteel Citadel: 19, 3.9

Blinkmoth Nexus: 15, 3.3

Great Furnace: 11, 3.6

Stalking Stones: 2, 2.0

Not a lot of surprises here. Red decks and Mountains sort of go together. The decks packing Shrapnel Blast generally run Darksteel Citadel.

Arc-Slogger: 26, 4.0

Solemn Simulacrum: 21, 4.0 (see below)

Slith Firewalker: 16, 4.0

Furnace Whelp: 10, 3.1

Furnace Dragon: 9, 2.6

Megatog: 6, 3.0

Five decks did not, according to the decklists, run Solemn Simulacrum. Those decklists also tended to be fifty-six cards. I think it is safe to assume the missing cards were Solemn Sims. Arc-Slogger is, of course, the other creature that every red deck packs four of. After that, the choice of evasion creature, and/or speed creature, is a matter of taste and predicated metagame. The Slith Firewalkers seem to be a more recent metagame shift – they are showing up more often in recent weeks than earlier.

Forge[/author]“]Pulse of the [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author]: 26, 3.3

Magma Jet: 21, 3.9

Molten Rain: 20, 4.0

Electrostatic Bolt: 19, 3.9

Shrapnel Blast: 19, 3.6

Flamebreak: 13, 3.2

Fireball: 10, 2.5

Talisman of Impulse: 10, 2.5

Talisman of Indulgence: 10, 2.4

Detonate: 8, 3.3

Seething Song: 8, 3.6

Beacon of Destruction: 3, 1.7

Wayfarer’s Bauble: 3, 4.0

Chrome Mox: 3, 4.0

Pyrite Spellbomb: 2, 2.5

Shatter: 2, 2.5

Barbed Lightning: 2, 4.0

Damping Matrix: 1, 4.0

Scrabbling Claws: 1, 4.0

It’s interesting that the one card that every deck ran was Forge[/author]“]Pulse of the [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author]. Flamebreak and Molten Rain are usually present, although often in the sideboard. After that, the number of decks playing any given card drop off significantly, as people chose their favorite burn. The Barbed Lightnings and Scrabbling Claws are newer tech – or newer dreck. Your call.


Flamebreak: 14, 2.5

Grab the Reins: 14, 2.9

Shunt: 12, 2.9

Echoing Ruin: 11, 3.5

Shatter: 11, 3.5

Detonate: 9, 3.8

Furnace Dragon: 7, 1.9

Electrostatic Bolt: 6, 3.3

Granulate: 6, 3.3

Furnace Whelp: 5, 2.4

Molten Rain: 4, 4.0

Seething Song: 4, 2.8

Damping Matrix: 3, 4.0

Beacon of Destruction: 2, 2.5

Drooling Ogre: 2, 4.0

Duplicant: 2, 3.0

Magma Giant: 2, 2.0

Forge[/author]“]Pulse of the [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author]: 2, 1.0

Slith Firewalker: 2, 4.0

Relic Barrier: 1, 3.0

Fireball: 1, 1.0

Leonin Bladetrap: 1, 1.0

Rain of Rust: 1, 3.0

Sculpting Steel: 1, 4.0

Shrapnel Blast: 1, 1.0

Solemn Simulacrum: 1, 4.0

Wayfarer’s Bauble: 1, 4.0

Talismans (any): 1, 4.0

Thought Prison: 1, 3.0

Flamebreak is either maindeck or sideboard in nearly all Red decks – sometimes both, with some maindeck and the rest sideboard. Most of the other cards are self-explanatory. The Thought Prison is interesting – mono-Red discard! Drooling Ogres are amusing. The Relic Barriers were in a Furnace Dragon deck, which makes sense. (“Hey Affinity boy – Tap your land every upkeep until everything goes away.”) Some of those other cards look unlikely, though: does anyone really need Rain of Rust? It is additional LD, but at that cost, is it ever necessary? And was the single Leonin Bladetrap really played, or was it just something the player left, visible, on top of his/her sideboard to spook the Rude Awakening players?

Anyway, there you go. I don’t think I am going to update the Affinity and Big Red listings much unless I see massive changes in the archetypes – I’m pretty sick of entering cards for both mono-Red and affinity. I will do card by cards of some other archetypes in the future. I have databases running for Tooth and Nail, U/G Tooth, U/W, Crystal Witness and Red/Green.

As a parting shot, here’s an archetype I don’t expect to do card-by-cards for: mono-Blue control. Counterspells and card drawing: It’s a blast from the past! It also won a PTQ in London recently.

Paul Calver’s MUC in MBC

19 Island

4 Cloudpost

4 Annul

4 Serum Visions

3 Darksteel Pendant

4 Echoing Truth

4 Condescend

4 Darksteel Ingot

3 Pulse of the Grid

4 March of the Machines

3 Last Word

3 Mycosynth Lattice

1 Beacon of Tomorrow


3 Scrabbling Claws

2 Oblivion Stone

2 Acquire

1 Last Word

4 Damping Matrix

3 Vedalken Shackles



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