How to Win Seventeen Consecutive Matches
cratch that .... This will only get you about 11 of the 17:
Luis Scott-Vargas's Boss Naya
Standard – Top 4, Pro Tour–San Diego
Provided you haven't been hiding under a rock for the past week, you know that this past weekend at Pro Tour–San Diego, Luis Scott-Vargas, Pro Tour–Berlin Champion and onetime U.S. National Champion, and Grand Prix Champion, and so on almost added another PT Champion title to his long list of accomplishments (most recently Star City Games $5K Champion, and probably Friday Night Magic Champion at some point), crushing the record for consecutive match wins, previously held by Ryan Fuller.
Fuller's 14-0 was accompanied by a dominating squad at Pro Tour–Tokyo that put four copies of their red-green deck in the Top 8 (probably the single best showing for a deck ever, and certainly the best showing for an individual player ever, at least until the elimination rounds). Tokyo saw future Hall of Fame members Zvi Mowshowitz and Tsuyoshi Fujita square off in the Finals.
Scott-Vargas beat Fuller's consecutive wins by three, and while he was the only Boss Naya player in the Top 8, the deck's creator, Tom Ross, managed an impressive 9th place (on tiebreakers).
I, for one, would have loved to see Naya win consecutive PTs, but LSV had to settle for 3rd.
But what about his deck?
What makes this Naya so "boss"?
Knight of the Reliquary toolbox: This version of the Naya deck plays Knight of the Reliquary in the former Woolly Thoctar slot. The Knight is easier to play and much more powerful in a long game; in addition, it lets you do all kinds of un-fun things (un-fun for the opponent, that is).
In addition to the simple pump plays (sacrifice a Forest or Plains to go get an Arid Mesa, Misty Rainforest, or Terramorphic Expanse; sacrifice it to essentially give the Knight +2/+2), this deck can find a Raging Ravine or Stirring Wildwood ... or the cutest of them all, Sejiri Steppe.
Knight of the Reliquary + Sejiri Steppe = Mother of Runes (you know, if Mother of Runes were also a Terravore).
Ranger of Eos toolbox: This is one I got wrong; half-wrong anyway: I thought Ranger of Eos would be getting Dragonmaster Outcast in the wake of Wordwake; but the red one-drop singleton is apparently Goblin Guide. Goblin Guide out of the sideboard is kind of like Ranger of Eos for Tarfire: 2 points, for one mana, a Goblin, a shot at a planeswalker, all that.
Wild Nacatl, Scute Mob, and Noble Hierarch are further joined by Birds of Paradise in this build of Naya.
Stoneforge Mystic toolbox: And here is what makes this Naya particularly special!
Stoneforge Mystic is the one-card combo that allowed Ross, LSV, and company to actually cut Baneslayer Angel from their deck! Stoneforge Mystic goes and gets either Basilisk Collar or Behemoth Sledge for Baneslayer-like (or alternately Vampire Nighthawk-like) power / shenanigans.
... And speaking of shenanigans, one of the most powerful, and comical, combinations in this deck is Basilisk Collar on a Cunning Sparkmage. Holy little kid combo, Batman! Yes, dear readers, that was not only first out of the Swiss, but ninth on breakers, and present in an undefeated Standard deck. There is, Virginia, such a thing as Santa Claus. This Naya deck is his February-flavored present to you.
Oh yeah, you can also play Bloodbraid Elf, Baneslayer Angel, Lightning Bolt, Path to Exile, Ajani Vengeant ... you know, all the best non-Blightning (non–Jace, the Mind Sculptor?) cards in the format. Naya still be Naya.
How to Hit All Your Land Drops
Taking nothing away from the eventual Champion Simon Görtzen, if there is one thing I would take away from watching his boxing matches with Luis Scott-Vargas and Kyle Boggemes, it is that Simon hit all his land drops while they stumbled. And that is not surprising given a Jund deck dubbed "No Removal, All Land":
Simon Görtzen's Jund
Pro Tour–San Diego
I see 27 lands, 2 Rampant Growths.
That's how we do.
Unbelievably, with all that land, with those two Rampant Growths ... Simon elected to keep in Putrid Leech! Putrid Leech, in my opinion, is one of the strongest cards in Jund (behind only Lightning Bolt, Blightning, and Bloodbraid Elf, in a strategy pretty packed with power). I make this comment only because so many decks with Siege-Gang Commander and Rampant Growth (e.g., the World Championship builds of that stripe) cut the Leech.
Simon kept that powerhouse two-drop, and instead skimped on the creature kill .... No four times Terminate, no maximum Maelstrom Pulses, no Bituminous Blast at all.
Instead: 27 lands.
And what lands they are!
Not satisfied with only four copies of Raging Ravine, our most recent Pro Tour Champion dipped also into the Lavaclaw Reaches drawer to pull out a pair.
Simon addressed one of the principal vulnerabilities of the Jund strategy—the perceived fragility of its mana base—and shored that up with mana to spare on his way to a haymaker-laden path to the PT promised land. You stumble against these decks chock-full of Bloodbraid Elves, and you get punished. This time, it was Jund doing the punishing. Props to Görtzen!
Land drops: hit.
Trophy: back home to Germany.
Craig Wescoe's White Weenie
Pro Tour–San Diego
I actually thought those Dread Statuaries were a misprint, initially.
It turns out that a one-color deck that otherwise picks up the cards facing a mighty Malakir Bloodwitch might really want a 4/2 creature land.
Wescoe's deck is pretty straightforward otherwise .... Just a bunch of the best beatdown creatures with a light Stoneforge Mystic toolbox.
I was actually surprised to see no Ally subtheme or Elite Vanguards, but this mix seemed to serve Wescoe expertly.
In case you recognize the name but aren't sure from where, Craig was the primary designer of a number of high-performing decks, most notably Brian Davis's Necropotence deck that finished behind only Bob Maher at 1999's Pro Tour–Chicago.
How to Create Great Fear
Niels Viaene's Esper
Standard – Top 8, Pro Tour–San Diego
Sign Niels up for the Sinestro Corps, grab Bats and the Scarecrow, distribute Yellow Rings, hide behind a creaky door, sneak up on little kids, cut eyeholes into your momma's best white sheet, prepare for spit-takes, and cross your fingers ... because there is something to be scared of.
There is everything to be scared of, actually.
For example, I would be terrified of what would happen to me playing against this deck.
It can mana-screw Jund with Spreading Seas, dominate the game with Jace, the Mind Sculptor, or blow back beloved Blightning with a—gasp—Hindering Light ... and that isn't even counting the Open the Vaults portion of the deck!
That part lets you set up with Glassdust Hulk and Architects of Will, overdraw (and ultimately reload) with Courier's Capsule, and bring it all back with Open the Vaults. And if you happened to discard a Filigree Angel (with Sanguine Bond in play) or Sphinx of Lost Truths ... your opponent will probably just be shaking his or her head.
There's one more thing: Brian David-Marshall mentioned in the commentary he would like to see a little more mana in this deck, and while that is usually sound advice levied from him to me, I think I will play devil's advocate on this point. Niels played only 20 lands in a 61-card deck, which in the abstract is on the very low side for competitive deck construction. However, he also played with three Borderposts, which are essentially primary mana sources (call it 23 in 61) ... but also eight one-mana cycling creatures and four Spreading Seas. Those put the deck—amazingly—to about 29 in 61; I know the deck looks like it needs a little more mana, but the generally held math seems otherwise.
Verdict: No reason to be scared (of the mana base).
Otherwise: Be afraid. Be very afraid.
You can look at the other four decks from the Top 8 here, or any number of top performing or otherwise interesting decks here.
So what's next (for this article)?
How to Make it There
In our zeal to promote last weekend's Pro Tour, we kind of glossed over the Grand Prix–Oakland results ... and the fact is, most people reading this column are not yet on the Tour.
Here's what recent events have taught us:
Adam Yurchick's Dark Depths
Extended – Top 2, Grand Prix–Oakland
GerryT.dec is still the best deck in Extended.
Honestly, I don't think any deck has a good matchup against this deck.
At a recent PTQ I won a miracle Game 2 with a Dead // Gone off a Hail Mary Bloodbraid Elf, then set up Blood Moon in the third ... only to lose to a board full of nonbasic Mountains + a natural draw of Thopter Foundry + Sword of the Meek in the first three turns.
The fact is, this deck is special.
There are lots of great decks, but it's fairly unusual that I see one and flat-out wish I had designed it. This is without a doubt one of those cases.
The Vampire Hexmage + Dark Depths combo is too good.
It's probably better than Illusions of Grandeur + Donate. Sure, Illusions let you gain 20 life in the middle, but the modern combo can 1) actually deal 40 over two turns, not just 20 in one, and 2) it costs a sum total of two mana. TWO!?! Basically, for the same mana that other decks are spending on a Qasali Pridemage, Meddling Mage, Punishing Fire, or Arcbound Ravager—all very good cards, mind you—this deck just kills you—KILLS YOU.
Its opener is the stupidest opener in recent memory.
Urborg, Thoughtseize; Dark Depths, Hexmage.
Really, that's it. Two mana, remove your answer immediately set up the victory on the second turn.
Really, I am not over-selling this one bit.
The deck was always good, but Gerry Thompson's shoehorning of the Thopter Foundry / Sword of the Meek combo into this deck is what makes it music. Yes, Lucas Siow played both combinations in Austin, but Gerry's version retains the awesome speed of the core Vampire Hexmage / Dark Depths combination, rather than just the cool factor of playing both combinations (which it retains).
Just thinking about the Thopter Foundry upgrade where non-hybrid decks are (or were) playing Bitterblossom as the 20/20 blocker is just dizzying.
This is the deck to beat, make no mistake. It isn't the only deck, but I think it's hard to make the argument that it isn't on top of the mountain right now.
My only comment on Adam's version is that I think that you really want to play four copies of Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth. Those extra basis points on getting the turn-two unstoppable stupid draw are too enticing in my opinion.
Tomoharu Saito's Hypergenesis
Extended – Top 8, Grand Prix–Oakland
Hypergenesis just won't die.
The biggest reason in this case is Saito's inclusion of Worldwake's Terastodon. Take the old Hypergenesis deck and graft on a kind of Violent Ultimatum .... It's pretty compelling.
One cool trick is to put both Terastodon and Oblivion Ring onto the battlefield with Hypergenesis. You can cover your Terastodon with your Oblivion Ring and target your Oblivion Ring with your Terastodon. That will give you one of the 3/3 Elephant tokens and give you a full Violent Ultimatum-esque re-buy when the Terastodon (re)enters the battlefield. Your opponent will have a bunch of 3/3 Elephants but it probably won't matter (if you are making this play).
Conley Woods's Haterator
Extended – Top 4, Grand Prix–Oakland
Conley Woods is the ingenious goofball that all the other rogue deck designers wanted to be when they grew up, you know, before they grew up ... which is really ironic given they are all grown up now, and most never reached Conley's level of roguish design or skill.
Conley is just something else.
I really wonder what it's like to wake up one morning and decide, you know what I want in my sideboard to beat [Dredge / Sword of the Meek / insert whatever Living End you want here]? Sideboard Samurai of the Pale Curtain. That's it.
I mean it's one thing to wake up with that thought on your brain ... and it's another to be actually right.
Conley is probably the only man I know who can stuff his Extended sideboard with a bunch of Tier Two Standard (or previously Tier Two Standard) white creatures and actually come up with an upgrade against existing Extended options ... but like I said, the man was right. He had the right tools for what he wanted to do, and what he wanted to do was hate everyone.
This deck is just a Picasso of hate. An Albrecht Durer woodcut of hate. A Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Heart's Club Band ... of hate.
Its hate is so passive.
It is like, You know what I think I will beat down with today? Aven Mindcensor. That has flash, right? And if someone can't search for their land, or seven lands for that matter ... I mean, I guess ... Take 2 already!
That is the kind of deck this is.
Petr Brozek's Landfall Boros
Extended – Top 8, Grand Prix–Oakland
To me, this is the game changer. I still think GerryT.dec is the best, but if there is a deck that is destined to legitimately shake up the metagame, I think it is this one.
I really love how Brozek ignores something like the existence of Tarmogoyf and instead pushes the landfall mechanic so aggressively; it is a testament to vision, almost as much as it is an example of effective deck design.
I think in a sense Brozek brings together so many of the qualities that define his peers in success and deck design. I mean a lot of people probably thought of Shard Volley + Flagstones of Trokair, but it is another thing entirely to fit that combination into a worthwhile deck, and another thing still to be able to actually succeed at the tables with it in front of you.
Matt Nass's Elves
Extended – Winner, Grand Prix–Oakland
Along with the winning Elves deck played by Matt Nass, I think these are all decks you will want to be aware of. Gerry Thompson's deck—as executed in this case by Adam Yurchick—is going to be ubiquitious at the remaining PTQs. I would hazard a guess that there will not be one single PTQ Top 8 that lacks at least one copy (except perhaps due to a paucity of Dark Depths in some geographic area) for the rest of the season.
However, the other decks are all new-ish as of the Grand Prix and deserve your attention, if not as decks to play, as decks to be prepared to play against.
Brozek Boros is quite fast and definingly synergistic. With Worldwake, Saito was able to breathe new life into the almost forgotten cascade combo deck. Conley's deck gave us our first significant look at Jace, the Mind Sculptor. For certain, it won't be our last.