rom Adelaide in Australia to Winnipeg in Canada, players all over the globe are doing their last-minute tuning before their first step on the Road to Worlds—Regional Championships. This weekend is one of the busiest Magic weekends on the annual calendar with almost 50 different Standard tournaments churning players upward into their National Championships later on this summer.
While many countries will have their Regionals scattered across the coming weeks, and a few have even taken place already (check out the bottom half of the article for a couple of interesting decks that have popped up in Japan already), Regionals weekend is when the mass computing power of the Magic community is harnessed to solve the Standard equation.
There are some more variables to work with going into the weekend than in years past with the start of a PTQ season utilizing the same format as well as the recent Magic Online Season 1 Championship. You may not be able to see your way past the rocky range of Windbrisk Heights that have utterly dominated Standard over the past few weeks. In yesterday's Top Decks Mike Flores showcased the number of Heights that were in the top 8 of the two Virginia PTQs—a staggering 12 of the 16 decks were Heights variants.
But only one Heights-based deck won a PTQ. The other went to Tommy Ashton and an unexpected Bant deck that he likens to Fires of Yavimaya decks of Standard formats past. I was drafting with some friends this past Saturday and there was a constant buzzing of cell phones and chiming of text messages as reports of the Bant deck featuring Finest Hour kept pouring in. While the Heights decks have not quite earned the enmity that Faeries managed in past years it was still the overwhelming favorite in the field and everyone in our draft was cheering for the underdog.
That underdog ended up on top for the Saturday PTQ—although the Heights surged back with a vengeance in the Sunday PTQ with seven of the Top 8 spots and a blue envelope. Tommy Ashton, a 22-year-old from the DC area who is finishing up his first year of law school, earned the ticket to Austin. He agreed to talk about the evolution of the deck, why he likens it to The Fix, and how he would tinker with it for Regionals.
Tommy Ashton's Finest Hour
Standard - Winner, PTQ-Austin, Richmond VA
This will only be the second Pro Tour for Tommy, who last played at PT–Charleston to a Day Two finish alongside John Moore and Stephen King. East Coast players are well aware of Tommy as a terror of the PTQ scene and the winner of multiple Regional Championships. He has not been playing in as many events as he had in the past; the first year of law school will take its toll on a Magic career.
He did not even play in any PTQs for the Honolulu season and mostly plays online—where he stumbled across his winning deck list featuring the exalted enchantment that was not picked by many of the pundits as one of the top cards in Alara Reborn.
"I had been exclusively playing Brew online, and then started working on Swans splashing white, but basically was just figuring out how to beat Tokens and Five-Color while not tying myself down to a certain deck," explained Tommy about the origins of the deck. "The Bant list skunked Black-White in a five-game set—even though it was seen as just a joke deck I was trying on a lark—and that's when I turned to it seriously. Finest Hour was just a new card with exalted; I tried out a LOT of them. I hoped it would be something to do when I didn't have Rafiq; turns out it's better than the clunky goofball card that it appears to be."
Tommy worked online with Yoel Izsak, Jarvis Yu, and Charleston teammate, Stephen King to fine tune the deck after it showed some early promise.
"Meddling Mages and Cryptic Commands left the deck almost immediately," said Tommy as he went on to list the cards that were given auditions to be in the deck. "Jhessian Infiltrator and Shorecrasher Mimic proved their worth, Kitchen Finks stunk, Ardent Plea was nice except it sucked with Birds of Paradise, Jenara just got blocked by tokens nonstop while not adding anything. I tried a bunch of different cards out in a short time, and whittled it down to just being a straightforward aggro deck. I even had Manamorphose in the deck the day before the PTQ because the mana was so bad.
"When it was beating Tokens with tramplers and beating Five-Color with Finest Hour, Treetops and timely counters, I figured it was solid enough to just take out the cards that weren't directly contributing to the core of the deck—explosive starts, evasion, the ability to put the opponent away if they don't have a Terror in their opener."
Back in the days when Fires of Yavimaya was on top of the Decks to Beat lists the deck became known as "The Fix" for hands that opened with an Elf into Fires of Yamimaya followed by a hasty Blastoderm on turn three and four 3/3 hasty saproling tokens the turn after. It was a brutal opening that was hard to recover from. That a veteran player like Tommy likens his deck's ideal hand to that deck should make Regional competitors sit up and take notice.
"It doesn't really play much different than what Fires of Yavimaya decks were doing years ago," he explained. "You want The Fix, a.k.a. a one-drop accelerator, a turn-two play—Infiltrator, Mimic, or Monk—and then a blowout card like Rafiq or Finest Hour on turn three or four. Sometimes you will instead just play a "normal" draw, like turn one Treetop, turn two Mimic, turn three hopefully something to activate him. It's particularly nice if you Bant Charm their Finks and bash for 5. You're just positioning for a turn where you can blow them out with Rafiq or Finest Hour for double-digit damage, and other than that you're just Stompy with four Bant Charms. It's pretty simple most of the time."
If you are wondering if this deck can beat Tokens, you need only look to Tommy's match-ups in the tournament.
"I figured there'd be infinite Black-White and Green-White Tokens, and I was right. I played seven decks with Spectral Procession: two Green-White, three Black-White, one Black-White Kithkin, and one Boat Brew," he recalled. "I thought I'd run into at least one red deck, but I didn't, and I'm not sure if they just all failed on the day or if there weren't that many."
"I think the best match-up is probably Green-White Tokens," he continued to break down the deck's match-ups. "Because they can't kill quicker than you, and can't really interfere with Infiltrator or Shorecrasher Mimic. I also really like the Black-White, Elves, and Five-Color match-ups. The latter might not seem that great, but twice on the day, my opponent cast Cruel Ultimatum and was dead the following turn without me casting a spell. I can't think of many decks that regularly beat a resolved Ultimatum."
He went on to say that a deck with Mogg Fanatics and Fulminator Mages was his worst possible match-up.
"A red deck that burns my accelerators if I draw a lot of painlands and no War Monks or a Black-White Kithkin deck with turn one Stalwart and Zealous Persecution to blow up Birds and Hierarchs," said Tommy, who still had qualms about his deck's painful mana base. "I guess the theme is decks that put me on a clock and mess with my mana—the land mix is pretty hairy. Luckily, Red-White has big problems with all the Black-White tokens."
Tommy managed a 7-0-1 record in the Swiss and faced off against his worst match-up in the seventh round when he played against a Boat Brew player who was paired down with a 5-1 record.
"Game 1 he had Mogg Fanatic for my Noble Hierarch and followed it up with two Fulminators, and Games 2 and 3 I barely won the turn before he could untap with a critical mass of Siege-Gangs and Reveillarks," said Tommy. "In fact, Game 3 I was at 5, facing lethal attackers, and Siege-Gang activations the next turn. I drew Rafiq to go with Finest Hour to get in there twice with a doublestriking Treetop Village to kill him from 19."
With his Top 8 berth locked up, Tommy had a rocky road to the title with a gauntlet of Pro Tour veterans in his immediate path (you can find all decks in the Top 8 here.). He played against his good friend and fellow East Coast PTQ terror Brad Taulbee, who was sporting Black-White Tokens. Tommy reports that he "barely pulled it out Game 3 with a topdecked Jhessian Infiltrator, with Finest Hour on the table, that he had no answer for."
"In the semis, I played David Irvine with Green-White Tokens—while someone else played his signature Esper Lark in the other semifinal match—and I won a close Game 1 on the back of Rafiq and Infiltrator, and then a quick Game 2 with a timely Negate," recalled Tommy of his literal path to victory. "In the finals, I played Ben Friedman with Black-White Tokens, and even though he got me low Game 1, neither game was really close, since I drew perfectly both times and had an Infiltrator with Rafiq Game 1 and Finest Hour Game 2."
The Fix was in, and based on how many requests for deck advice Tommy has been inundated with over the past week, it should be something you can expect to see at Regionals this weekend. Just don't expect to see Tommy playing it—or playing at all.
"I probably won't be playing in Regionals, since I'll have trouble finding the cards—most of what I played with was borrowed—and I may be qualified on rating after the PTQ anyways. It'd be a nice break to qualify on rating for once," said the two-time Regionals winner. If he was going to play he did think The Fix Reborn was a fine choice.
"It's definitely a blast to play, and I am not exactly sure what it's weak against—other than land destruction—so I think it'd be a good bet for qualifying this weekend. The only thing that I'm not sure about is the matchup against red decks, because I never played any and didn't have time to test it, so if that matchup turns out to be fine, there's nothing I'd rather play," he said before going on to offer some last-minute tuning advice.
"The changes I would make would be playing 2 Elspeth instead of 2 Kitchen Finks, turning a Mystic Gate and a Reflecting Pool into a Plains and an Island, and taking out Captured Sunlight and Cloudthresher from the board, playing 4 Burrenton Forge-Tender, 2 Path to Exile, 4 Kitchen Finks, 3 Negate, and 2 Sower of Temptation."
Fog over Tokyo
I received an email from Japanese coverage reporter extraordinaire—and recent addition to Japan's Magic brand team—Keita Mori with the results from last week's Tokyo Regionals.
"Here are the Japanese Regional Tournament results including deck lists in English," said Keitia by email. "The Top 3 people qualified for Japanese Nationals. Personally, I think the first place finisher's 'Turbo-FOG' deck is something very spicy."
Spicy indeed, but not the only heat in the Top 8. You can check out all the decks but I wanted to call out the Turbo Fog deck and the eighth place Elementals deck as a pair of intriguing alternatives to the standard Standard fare. Rumor has it that the Elementals deck has the Tomoharu Saito seal of approval.
Koji Takanashi's Turbo-Fog
Standard - 1st Place, Tokyo Regionals
Toshiki Ogihara's Elementals
Standard - 8th Place, Tokyo Regionals
When I was ticking off upcoming Standard events last week I overlooked Grand Prix–Barcelona, which takes place next weekend and will set the stage for the Seattle, Hawaii, Sao Paulo run that I had mentioned last week. In order for you (and me) to be able to keep better track of events I am going to be adding a rolling calendar of events on a weekly basis for you coverage junkies out there. For a more comprehensive schedule, go here.
||Regionals (Canada) feeding Canada Nationals
||Regionals (USA) feeding U.S. Nationals
||Regionals (AUS) feeding Australia Nationals
||Regionals (NZ) feeding New Zealand Nationals
Magic Online Release Date: Alara Reborn
||Grand Prix–Barcelona feeding PT–Austin
||Grand Prix–Seattle/Tacoma feeding PT–Austin
||Block Constructed / Draft
||Grand Prix–Sao Paulo feeding PT–Austin
||SCG 5K: Atlanta
Firestarter: Choose Your Weapon!
What deck will you be heading into battle with this weekend—be it at FNM tonight or Regionals tomorrow? Has the information about Standard that has come out in the past few weeks led you to scale the Heights or go around them? Head to the forums and tell us what your metagame weapon of choice is going to be. I am hoping to attend New Jersey Regionals this Saturday. Hopefully I will see you there!