he 2009s, a.k.a. state championships (the most fun tournaments of the year, in large part) were this past weekend, but I want to wait a week before trying to digest the many deck lists and snapshot of Standard that will come out of it; not all states have reported yet, and I want to make sure we can take a longer, fuller, view of the results as a whole when we move to wrap-up mode.
So for this week we have a respite of full-on fun before going over the number of just how many Jund decks littered Top 8s across the continent.
But still in Standard, still in the context of the 2009s, I decided to highlight some fun and different—but still viable—decks that made Top 8, or even won!
Spreading Seas Is a Real Card (More or Less)
Ben Tash's Spread 'Em
Standard - Winner, Kentucky 2009s
I know that we mentioned the "Spread 'Em" strategy last week, but with Ben Tash's victory in Kentucky (and additional Top 8 performances elsewhere), I figured that it might be worth a more in-depth look at this frustrating, sometimes silly—but again sometimes really effective—control strategy.
Spread 'Em plays twelve Cascade cards: the ubiquitous Bloodbraid Elf, its common sidekick Captured Sunlight, and Extended staple Ardent Plea. Bloodbraid Elf and Captured Sunlight can only cascade into Ardent Plea or one of the two-mana spells; Ardent Plea can only cascade into one of the two-mana spells. So a 3/2 body, 4 life, or an Exalted enchantment are all there essentially as redundancies funneling the Spread 'Em draw into those two-mana spells.
And there are only two kinds of two-mana spells, the namesake Spreading Seas and additional redundant backup Convincing Mirage.
As the title of this section goes, Spreading Seas is very nearly a real card.
I know it looks a bit silly, but a two-mana spell that replaces itself—regardless of its effect—is often playable. Is turning a land into an Island more or less valuable than, say, 2 life? Because Renewed Faith (generally deployed for with the text "Gain 2 life. Draw a card") was a staple of Standard and block, and heavily played even in Extended! There are many such examples.
Spreading Seas, alone, has a relatively insignificant effect on the game. It doesn't actually destroy one of the opponent's lands, just makes it less efficient. You can still tap the target for mana ... as long as you can do something with . However when about 60% of a deck's cards become Spreading Seas, you have the potential for some rock and roll.
Convincing Mirage is far less desirable than Spreading Seas (because you don't get to draw a card), but in the context of being one of so many "Spreading Seas," it can make up for the card advantage ... with card advantage.
That's how mana denial works, after all.
If you put a Convincing Mirage on, say, a tapped Savage Lands on your second turn (lucky you, you went first), your Jund opponent has almost no opportunity to make a play on the second turn, land lying fallow. Now you cast another on a Mountain or whatever, and still no plays from your opponent, with a hand is full of Putrid Leeches, Bloodbraid Elves, Broodmate Dragons ... all cards that require more than one color of mana. By denying one color of mana, you might be cornering your opponent into an unenviable Mind Twist situation, where he or she might think that hand is full of cards ... but has no capability to play any of them.
The Spread 'Em deck only works because of the discipline of playing only Spreading Seas and Convincing Mirages on the two. You literally can't play other cards like spot creature removal, Negates, or what have you without foiling the redundancy provided by the cascade spells. Then you just have a regular bunch of, you know, Convincing Mirages.
The Spread 'Em deck has a transformative anti-beatdown sideboard. The theme of playing what look like "silly" spells in the main carries over to the sideboard, with the now-Convincing Mirage-less Spread 'em Cascading into—believe it or not—Deft Duelist.
To be fair, the Duelist can be quite the Goblin Guide containment unit!
The Not-Quite-Combo Deck
Roger Sampson's Emeria Enchantress
Standard - 6th place, Connecticut 2009s
This article is supposed to be about fun (but still competitive) decks ... and as far as I can tell, Roger Sampson's deck is a full-on pack of wild dogs.
The unique feature of this deck is the presence of Mesa Enchantress. When you have Mesa Enchantress on the battlefield, every spell you cast allows you to draw a card. Coincidentally, this deck is chock full of serviceable enchantments!
Journey to Nowhere and Oblivion Ring have proven themselves to be playable in other decks in this environment. Players run them all the time as flexible answers to different kinds of permanents, or proxies for Path to Exile with no drawbacks. In the context of a Mesa Enchantress deck, these enchantments go from being about good enough to being consistent card advantage.
Luminarch Ascension is not so much "good enough" to play as a legitimate breaker. There are a good many decks in this format that shake and shiver at the thought of a turn-two Ascension. Again, in this deck, the turn two looming threat is also a kind of cantrip.
The last tier of main deck enchantments includes Pacifism and Sigil of the Empty Throne. Pacifism is a card that has been played off-and-on, sporadically, over the last nine years or so, but has never really been a Tier One kind of card. Once it starts drawing extra ones ... Pacifism starts looking more viable.
Sigil of the Empty Throne is a card that my good friend Brian David-Marshall has been trying to harness since it was first spoiled ... but at five mana with no initial utility (despite a deep throng of dependencies), Sigil of the Empty Throne has, to date, found itself with an empty dance card. However, with Mesa Enchantress in the mix, there seems to be more incentive to playing lots of enchantments ... both White permanents can share the possibilities, profitably.
Sampson's deck is one long list of creature murderers, with Day of Judgment and Path to Exile bolstering the enchantment set of Journey, Ring, and Pacifism.
The cool thing about playing so many enchantments that are already "good enough" is that Roger's deck does not need to play a specific way. It can play cards off the top, trading one-for-one against creatures, eventually winning with Baneslayer Angel; or it can fill its hand while doing the same thing.
What? No Rewind?
We have been featuring Shaheen Soorani-built white-blue decks forever. This is Shaheen's latest take on his favorite color combination:
Shaheen Soorani's White-Blue Control
Standard - 5th place, Virginia 2009s
Shaheen claims this deck is a shredder of beatdown decks, and it is easy to see why. Unlike many of the control pretenders in the format, this one plays a lot of fast action ... Knight of the White Orchid can be generating card advantage on the second turn. There are counterspells, but they are the fast action sort that you can play either on the second turn (you know, before you've lost the game), or with spare mana once you've started to put your stamp on it.
One of the things I find positively charming about this build is how much life gain is built into it. Kabira Crossroads and Sejiri Refuge on top of the Baneslayer Angels and Walls? For its part, Kabira Crossroads is almost as good as a spell.
As a strict white-blue deck, this one has no single haymaker on the order of a Cruel Ultimatum, but between Elspeth, Knight-Errant; Baneslayer Angel; Mind Spring; and the corner-case Iona, Shield of Emeria, it looks to make do.
Top of the Molten Pinnacle
Nick Stadtmiller's Valakut Ramp
Standard - 3rd place, Michigan 2009s
It's like Doom Blade Guy says ... Oracle of Mul Daya might as well have fear, because she is one of the scariest motherlovers in all the planes of the multiverse.
Nick Stadmiller's deck is one that can harness the power of the Oracle for tremendous card advantage and Tinker-like expensive effects.
With shuffle plays like Harrow, Rampant Growth, and Terramorphic Expanse, Nick can get fresh looks to put more, different, lands in play. The most important of these, of course, is Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle. Valakut with the Mountains found by the Oracle and Harrow especially make for a lockdown long game. Every additional Mountain is dangerous, and the lives of individual creatures hang by a thread, especially with more than one copy of Valakut on the battlefield; the double Valakut board gives even Baneslayer Angel pause.
This version differs from "mono" Valakut decks by diversifying its threat base. The mana ramp afforded by the green portion of the deck can just as easily power out Bogardan Hellkite as set up a Molten Pinnacle long game.
With the 2009s come and gone, where will you show off your mastery of Standard (other than the MTGO 8-player queues, that is)? Well, multiple independent organizers have been lacing together some great cash tournaments to swell the hearts of local heroes and give players another reason to keep up with the old Constructed in the midst of a Limited PTQ season.
This weekend in St Louis, Star City Games kicks off their new Invitational series. The St. Louis tournaments (Standard on Saturday, Legacy on Sunday) boast $5,000 in prizes (each), and set up top finishers for next year's $50,000 Invitational. You can find more information at StarCityGames.com.
Personally, I am likely to be gaming in Philadelphia (on Sunday, anyway). Saturday is a Limited PTQ, but Sunday is a $5,000 tournament in the City of Brotherly Love featuring Hall of Fame gunslingers Rob Dougherty and Darwin Kastle. You can find more information at TCGPlayer.com.
In a time of uncertainty, we can rest assured that this will be true: Next week, there are going to be lots of deck lists to go through!