Frank takes a look at the Dutch Nationals Top 8 decks and what they mean for the metagame.

Dutch Nationals 2007

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The letter L!ast weekend a couple high profile Nationals took place. Out of these, the Japanese Nationals as well as the German Nationals were featured prominently on this very web site. I'm always happy to see tournament coverage, but I was a little disappointed to learn that the Dutch Nationals would not be covered on magicthegathering.com this year. The Dutch National Team won the Team Title at last year's World Championships, and some of the decks coming out of last year's Dutch Nationals significantly influenced the Standard metagame in the months after, and I don't think Dutch Magic has gotten that much worse since. Therefore, I will try to address the relevant Dutch Nationals in my column this week. I'll go over the Top 8 decklists and introduce the National Team.

But first, I will also share the results of my playtesting for Dutch Nats. I tried to play at least one match with every one of the major decks in order to get a feel for the metagame and to learn which decks I (dis)liked. I wrote down a couple quick thoughts on each of those decks, which is not much, but it still shows my opinion, which I'd like to share. You can find a sample decklist of each archetype in this forum thread.

Rakdos : It played really well, and I considered it to be the best aggro deck. The format is full of very good red burn and Dark Confidant and Hit // Run attract me to the black cards. Rakdos was on my shortlist of possible decks to play, but I didn't choose it because I prefer control decks.

Blue-White-Red Blink : A very strong deck, sporting lots of good cards and synergy. But sometimes it could offer some very weak draws. For example, if you draw a bunch of Grand Arbiter Augustin IV plus Momentary Blinks without any Riftwing Cloudskates or Venser, Shaper Savant in sight you are not happy. I preferred consistency over potential power, i.e. I liked Compulsive Research and Wrath of God better than Momentary Blink and Riftwing Cloudskate, so if I wanted to play these colors I would choose Angelfire.

Angelfire : This is the Standard deck I enjoyed playing with the most myself. I made this deck for last year's World Championships and liked it there. I figured it would still be fine in the current metagame, made some updates, and went 18-4 with it in various Magic Online events last week, so this was the deck I picked for my Nationals. I didn't do well myself (let's just say that it wasn't my tournament), but at least Roel van Heeswijk made Top 4 with my decklist (which I will discuss later), and I believe it still plays very well.

Gruul : It performed quite badly for me. I think Greater Goyf and Rakdos are both better.

Greater Goyf : I couldn't beat blue-red-white decks for the life of me, but it is still a strong deck. In theory I like Rakdos better, but Greater Goyf has had better results in major events so far.

Solar Flare : I liked the deck's strategy, but I found the cards inferior to Angelfire. Lightning Helix is better than Castigate, and Lightning Angel and Demonfire is a better win condition (faster, at least) than Angel of Despair and Skeletal Vampire.

Blue-White-Black Touch Blink : Touch was too random for my taste and the black variant also felt worse than Blue-White-Red Touch-Blink.

Project X : Loxodon Hierarch and Dark Confidant were fine solid cards, but the combo felt unnecessary. In all the games I played I never got to use it; instead I drew a useless Essence Warden while I was beating with Loxodon Hierarchs and Dark Confidants.

Blue-Green-White Blink : Aso-so deck. It had something going for it, but it simply didn't feel strong enough

Blue-White-Red Touch Blink : An okay deck, but I didn't like Aethermage's Touch. It was just too random; you never knew what to expect. I liked the version with just Blinks, but not the version with Blinks and Touches.

NarcoBridge : It is bad against red decks and sideboard hate, but good against control decks. Overall, it is quite solid as a metagame niche deck. It was on the shortlist of decks to play, but I chose not to run it because I feared many red burn decks and Tormod's Crypts.

OmniChord : Disappointing. I truly have to praise LSV's playing skills for winning U.S. Nationals with this deck, because I couldn't win a game with it. I never had enough creatures in play to cast Chord of Calling well, and the deck simply felt underpowered. I didn't bother trying to fix it, which I should perhaps have tried. Dutch Nationals was won with an updated and improved version of OmniChord that looks decent.

Assault Loam : Definitely one of the worst decks of the bunch. It lacked tutoring and it doesn't work without cycling lands.

Green-Black Tarmo Rack : I liked it, even though I would sometimes get draws full of bad cards like Funeral Charm and Smallpox. A problem is that this deck can only exist as long as it is not very popular; otherwise people will start packing many Dodecapods sideboard.

Selesnya Aggro : It included lots of good cards, but I felt that an aggro deck without red burn cards wasn't good enough.

Blue-Black-X Korlash : It looked way too much like a Block Constructed deck, but it still wasn't all that bad, albeit not strong enough to play.

Blue-Black Teferi : Decent, but lacking without Rewind to run and Dragonstorm decks to prey upon.

Blue-Red Perilous Storm : Too inconsistent, didn't win enough, and not strong enough without Seething Song.

Mono-Green Aggro : Not good enough. Too many weak creatures, and it folds to Wrath of God and random cards like Magus of the Moat.

Rakdos10 : Too many cute but inconsistent synergy cards, not enough burn. Didn't like it.

Greater Boros : I didn't like the white cards enough. I think Greater Goyf and Rakdos are both better.

Blue-White Control : Not unplayable, but I liked Blue-Black Teferi better as a pure control deck and Blue-White Martyr better as the Blue-White long-game deck of choice.

Blue-White Martyr : Pretty good, much better than I had expected. Martyr of Sands is especially good with the popularity of red decks full of burn, and most decks are ill-equipped to deal with the Proclamation engine.

Dutch Nationals Coverage

Robert van Medevoort took the title of National Champion with his adjusted OmniChord deck, adding the surprising but powerful Skyshroud Ranger. Congratulations! Robert has had a decent season so far. He has racked up enough points to secure Pro Player Level 3 status for next year, so expect to see more of him in the future. He has a good insight in the game and had the inner drive and motivation necessary to win the tournament. His opponent was Tijs de Kler, playing NarcoBridge. He had evaded graveyard hate to reach the finals but he could not beat a Chorded Loaming Shaman in the deciding match. Joining them in the Dutch National Team for the 2007 World Championships were Olaf Koster and Roel van Heeswijk.

Quarterfinals   Semifinals   Finals   Champion
1 Olaf Koster   Olaf Koster, 3-1        
8 Adri van Binsbergen   Tijs de Kler, 3-0
       
4 Tijs de Kler   Tijs de Kler, 3-0   Robert van Medevoort, 3-1
5 Ziming Chen    
       
2 Frank Roelofs   Roel van Heeswijk, 3-0
7 Roel van Heeswijk   Robert van Medevoort, 3-0
       
3 Robert van Medevoort   Robert van Medevoort, 3-1
6 Menno Dolstra    

The Dutch website www.kvdeckmasters.nl posted some feature match coverage here (in English, mostly written by Peter van Overbeek). I'll go over the Top 8 decks and player profiles.

Standard record: 3-0-3 (3 IDs) plus 3-0 in the Top 8
Draft record: 5-1
Previous accomplishments: Worlds Team Champion 2006, solid consistent money finishes in the few Pro Tours he's played so far, and about to be Pro Player Level 3.

Robert wanted to play a control deck as he thought that would allow him to take better advantage of any mistakes his opponents might make. He liked the OmniChord deck that Luis Scott-Vargas won U.S. Nationals with, as the deck gave him a lot of options, but he felt that the deck could still be improved. Together with Bram Snepvangers, he replaced Farseek with Skyshroud Ranger (plus additional bounce lands) and Compulsive Research with Court Hussar. These are improvement for many reasons. Court Hussar is awesome because it keeps an army of Mogg War Marshal tokens at bay, it trades with Giant Solifuge, and (most importantly) it is a creature that can help to convoke Chord of Calling. The Skyshroud Ranger plus bounceland combo is an often overlooked source of mana, although it is quite powerful, especially in this deck. In the early turns the Power Ranger will accelerate your mana development, particularly if you have some bounce lands, and afterwards it taps for Chord of Calling.

Robert and Bram also tweaked the numbers in LSV's deck a bit, added a couple new one-ofs, and changed the sideboard. Magus of the Disk and Simic Sky Swallower are newcomers to the maindeck. Magus is clearly a nice Chord target, it is a nice combo with Loxodon Hierarch, and you can also do a fun trick with it by convoking out a big Chord of Calling for seven and activating Magus in response. Everything dies and afterwards Chord leaves you with a Simic Sky Swallower. Not bad. Robert mentioned the Swallower as one of the best one-ofs in the deck. Remarkable innovations in the sideboard are Ghosts of the Innocent, which is great to tutor up versus red burn decks, especially if you can copy it with Vesuvan Shapeshifter as well. Carven Caryatid is one of the most underused cards in Standard, and I am glad Robert was smart enough to pick it up. Loaming Shaman is a nice find against the NarcoBridge decks, as it can undo lots of hard work in one big sweep.

Standard record: 4-2 plus 2-1 in the Top 8
Draft record: 5-1 (His strategy was to draft the best cards that he was passed, and he ended up with blue-green twice.)
Previous accomplishments: Played in a couple Pro Tours and has been around the Dutch Magic scene for a while (hence his nickname "Uncle Tijs").

Tijs didn't have much time to playtest since he recently started on a full-time job. He tried Blue-Red-White Touch first, but he found it too random. When someone introduced him to NarcoBridge dredge, it was love on first sight. He took Stuart Wright's Top 8 list from Great Britain Nationals and added a couple Akroma, Angel of Wrath to the maindeck in order to give him some game against the red burn decks with Mogg Fanatics that burned his Looters and removed his Bridges. According to Tijs the deck is very powerful against all the control decks; you just have to evade the red burn decks. (I agree with that.)

Standard record: 4-1-1 plus 1-1 in the Top 8
Draft record: 5-1
Previous accomplishments: Top 4 at GP–Amsterdam and 28th at PT–San Diego this year.

Olaf, who you may know as MrChemistry, captain of clan Small Talk Big Play on Magic Online, had played a lot of Standard before this tournament, and in his testing NarcoBridge and Blue-White Martyr were the two decks with the best results. The deck he eventually played was a cross-over between the deck that won Slovenian Nationals (made by Magic Online's Llanowar_cz) and ideas by Jesse Hawkins, Wessel Oomens (who finished in a frustrating ninth place with the same deck), and himself. A peculiar thing about Olaf's version is the 2 Tolaria West / 1 Pact of Negation package. It gives you some protection against Boom // Bust tricks that the deck would otherwise have trouble dealing with.

I like the deck; it may very well be the best choice right now. Hate cards such as Sulfur Elemental and Extirpate are played by almost no-one, and Greater Goyf was way more popular than Rakdos, so Rain of Gore was also not a big worry. The deck is beatable, but if no one guns for it, and the metagame stays full of Greater Goyf and Blue-Red-White Blink decks, then Blue-White Martyr should be a very good deck choice. The addition of the blue card draw makes the deck consistent enough, ensuring that you find both pieces of the puzzle (Martyr and Proclamation). I did not choose this deck myself because I was too afraid of draws due to time-outs. That was not much of a concern to Olaf. He didn't get a single unintentional draw, and with 2 Sacred Mesa maindeck he could win matches quickly. In hindsight playing 1 Crovax, Ascendant Hero instead of 1 Beacon of Immortality would have been a good pick as well, if only to speed the deck up a bit.

Standard record: 2-1-3 (3 IDs) plus 1-1 in the Top 8
Draft record: 6-0 (His strategy: always draft green, take Search for Tomorrow over everything, and go many colors.)
Previous accomplishments: Top 8 in 2 English Grand Prix, Pro Player Level 3

My teammate Roel, mostly a Limited specialist, first tried a Green-White-Black deck with Elves and Birds, akin to what he played in PT–Hawaii a while back, but it didn't do better than 40-45% against the field. I then offered him the Angelfire build I had been testing. He liked it, added some Pyroclasms to the sideboard (which were very good for him), and made Top 4 in our Nationals.

I like Angelfire because it is very consistent due to the blue card draw and because it acts as a beatdown deck against opposing control or combo decks (with Lightning Angels and Demonfires) and as a control deck against opposing beatdown strategies (with Wrath of God, trading cards and creatures one-for-one, and winning in the late game on card advantage and superior win conditions). Furthermore, Lightning Angel is just an amazingly strong card, and the deck is fun to play!

I would start building an Angelfire deck nowadays with this basic skeleton:

4 Lightning Angel
4 Compulsive Research
4 Court Hussar
4 Lightning Helix
4 Wrath of God
11 other cards
6 signets
23 land

Those cards are more or less fixed in my mind. I'll outline my thought process for making the rest of the deck.

I like to have 3-4 Remand and at least two other cards that you can play on the early turns to fight fast aggro starts, such as Demonfire or Faith's Fetters. I want 7-8 big win conditions, out of which I want at least 2 Demonfire, at least 1 Aeon Chronicler, and at least 1 Firemane Angel; those are the best. The last couple slots are open and can be adjusted according to your own preferences and metagame expectations. You could add Boom // Bust if you expect many slow control decks such as Blue-White Martyr Control. You could add extra Aeon Chroniclers if you expect other control decks. You could add Firemane Angels if you expect many aggro or burn decks. You could run Crovax, Ascendant Hero if you expect many decks with Magus of the Bazaar or Mogg Fanatic. You can play Sacred Mesa if you want to battle control decks and black discard decks. And you can add a Numot, the Devastator or extra Demonfires if can't decide and just want something that is always solid against every deck. I wouldn't play Bogardan Hellkite (rather, add more Demonfires). I don't think the deck has enough creatures to play Loxodon Warhammer. And I haven't tested the Japanese-style Siege-Gang Commanders, but they may be good.

Anyhow, I like to have a nice mix of one-of win conditions in these 7-8 big win condition slots. I am a big proponent of one-ofs in decks full of card draw and/or selection (such as this one), because it gives you more options, because it is not clear which one is the best in an undefined metagame, and because it offers you more flexibility in game plans. By, for example, including a singleton Sacred Mesa in your deck you greatly improve your matchup against Blue-White Martyr. The games will take so long and you will see so many cards that you will almost always find that single Mesa, which is pretty much the only way to beat an active Martyr-Proclamation lock. Roel chose a slightly different setup of one-ofs than I did. Most of our choices were the same, but I included Crovax, Ascendant Hero, an idea by Terry Soh, which I really liked as it is a perfect answer to many creature strategies in the current metagame. I would certainly include Crovax.

As for the mana base, that's a tough one to tackle. You have so many options for which bouncelands, signets, Ravnica duals, painlands, basics, and various other lands to play that it becomes easy to get lost. It was hard to figure out, but I think I solved the puzzle somewhat decently. Based on my experience, I felt I wanted to play the following mix of lands:

  • 3 bouncelands (card advantage, but they slow you down and are bad if they get bounced or destroyed)
  • 7-8 Ravnica duals (smoothe your mana, but you may have to take 2 damage once, especially if you run too many; I wanted at least one Hallowed Fountain and Sacred Foundry, due to Flagstones of Trokair)
  • 2-3 painlands (smoothe your mana, but you may have to take damage continuously, although they are a better draw than a Ravnica dual in the mid-to-late-game if you already have all the colored mana you need and can tap them for colorless)
  • 5-6 basics (you don't want too many as they can only give one color of mana, but you need a mix of Plains and Islands as a defense against Magus of the Moon)
  • 2-3 Flagstones of Trokair (good with Boom // Bust or against Smallpox, but bad against Magus of the Moon and the second one comes into play tapped; also note that I want at least 7 Plains cards in my deck if I go with 3 Flagstones)
  • 1 Urza's Factory (a nice late-game win condition)
  • 0 others such as Ghost Quarter and Sunhome, Fortress of the Legion (they have decent effects—especially the latter—but they are colorless lands in a three-color deck and I just prefer to have more colored mana in my deck)

So far I have just addressed which type of lands to play, not which kind of mana they should give. I want approximately 18 mana sources (lands and signets) to produce white mana, 16 to produce blue, and 14 to produce red. This distribution is based on Wrath of God (you need double white by turn four) and the amount of blue card draw in the deck (you can keep almost every hand with Islands and Court Hussar or Compulsive Research, so you want to reduce the amount of mulligans you have to take due to missing blue mana to a minimum). Red is the least played color, often for late game cards, so there is less emphasis on it, although you still want enough of every color to play a quick Lightning Angel.

Azorius Signet and Boros SignetThe signet distribution should be 4 Azorius Signet (best against Magus of the Moon) and 2 Boros Signet (better than Izzet Signet because it can tap for Lightning Helix). Furthermore, I also want to balance the double-mana signets and bouncelands with the amount of Remands and Lightning Helixes in our deck (so, at least 1 Boros Garrison, preferably more). And I don't want all my painlands to produce red—the least played color—since then you would often have to take too much damage. With all that in mind, the mana base of mine and Roel's deck was created. It's strange how much work can go into building a solid mana base, but it is still an important part of the deck that needs to work well.

On to the sideboard, this is heavily customizable as well.

Against aggro (Greater Goyf, Rakdos): You want approximately 5-6 slots against these, taking out a combination of Remand, Compulsive Research, and Demonfire. Condemn, Teferi's Moat, Pyroclasm, Faith's Fetters, extra Firemane Angels, Flashfreeze, and Magus of the Tabernacle are all fine options. I would recommend at least one Faith's Fetters and at least one Pyroclasm.

Against Angelfire: In the mirror you want to take out Lightning Helix and some Wrath of God. You should put in Condemn, Faith's Fetters, Boom // Bust, Detritivore, and/or Take Possession. Detritivore is the best, followed by Boom // Bust. But an advantage of Fetters and Condemn is that they are also good in other matchups.

Against Blue-Red-White Blink: We couldn't really think of anything that would improve the deck. Detritivore is too slow against them and most typical anti-aggro cards don't work well either. The best we could come up with was extra Boros Signets to battle their land destruction/bounce lands.

Against NarcoBridge: Take out slow win conditions like Aeon Chronicler or Firemane Angel, and maybe Compulsive Research. Graveyard hate in Tormod's Crypt (or Jötun Grunt) is best, and Magus of the Moat can lock them down as well, if they are playing the Flame-Kin Zealot rather than the Stalking Vengeance kill. If you have Teferi's Moat or Pyroclasm against red decks, you might as well put them in against dredge as well.

Against TarmoRack: Take out some combination of Remand, Demonfire, and an easily destroyed win condition like Numot. Anti-discard cards like Dodecapod or Quagnoth (the latter is probably best, but you never want to draw two, that's why we played a 1-1 split) work really well. But Condemn and Teferi's Moat can also be boarded in if you have them.

It may seem to end with a sideboard full of one-ofs, but if you have so many options and you want to give yourself some flexibility in some matchups (for example, Condemn and Teferi's Moat may be worse than other options against the red aggro matchup, but they work against other decks as well. However, you don't want something like 4 Condemn since then you have too much to board in for those other matchups to the point where the cards you would take out are actually better), then balancing it all becomes hard and some awkward one-ofs become unavoidable. I personally didn't like Flashfreeze much and wasn't convinced of the third Pyroclasm, so I ran 1 Condemn and 1 Teferi's Moat instead. Other than that Roel's sideboard was identical to mine.

Frank Roelofs's Mono Black

Standard record: 4-1-1 plus 0-1 in the Top 8
Draft record: 5-1 (His strategy: always draft green if you can.)

This deck was made by fellow Top 8 competitor Ziming Chen. Frank just took it up. The deck has many very good matchups (basically all aggro decks such as Greater Goyf) and many very bad matchups (basically all combo decks such as Blue-Red Perilous Storm). It goes about even against Blue-Red-White Blink decks. The deck seems like a good way to build a solid mono-black mid-range deck, and I like how almost every creature in the deck is a real threat that has to be dealt with immediately; you can't let a Graveborn Muse live for long.

Ziming Chen's Mono Black

Standard record: 5-1 plus 0-1 in the Top 8
Draft record: 4-2

Inspired by a Mono-Black Korlash deck out of my deck-o-pedia, Ziming adjusted it for a metagame full of red decks (by adding Tendrils of Corruption, for instance). Looking at the combined Standard record of him and Frank Roelofs, this may be a deck to keep an eye on; it has proven it can compete. The difference between his version and Frank's version are the Krosan Grips in the board (plus Overgrown Tomb, which can be fetched by Korlash) against decks like Angelfire that can have annoying enchantments like Teferi's Moat, Story Circle, Sacred Mesa, and Faith's Fetters.

Menno Dolstra's Greater Goyf

Standard record: 3-1-2 (2 IDs) plus 0-1 in the Top 8
Draft record: 5-1 (drafting preferably green or blue, avoiding white)
Previous accomplishments: 2 GP Top 8s, a PT Top 32, and he is the only person in the Top 8 with a fan club.

MennoD picked up this deck from the U.S. Nationals coverage; someone went 7-0 with it and it had won the JSS. It was easy to get all the cards together on Magic Online to test a few games, so that's why Menno chose this deck. He felt the deck was strong, but it was a bad pick for the metagame, as there were many hate decks (such as Blue-White Martyr and the mono-black decks).

Adri van Binsbergen's Greater Goyf

I think Adri left right after the quarterfinals, as I couldn't find him anywhere on the venue when I started my short interviews.

Well, there you have it! The Dutch Nationals are over and have given us an interesting update on OmniChord, a new contender in Blue-White Martyr, my take on Angelfire, a nice Mono-Black build, and the indication that Greater Goyf may be the best aggro deck in the format.

Meanwhile, on Magic Online

I quickly skimmed over the Standard events of last week. Angelfire (16%) and Blue-Red-White Blink (14%) are in places one and two, demonstrating the dominance of Lightning Angel. Not far behind are Red-Green Greater Goyf, NarcoBridge, and Green-Black TarmoRack (each 12%), offering a variety of strategies that you have to gun for. Solar Flare (8%), Rakdos (6%), Green-White Glare Aggro (6%), Blue-Black Teferi Control (5%), OmniChord (5%), and Gruul (5%) make up the rest of the field. Interesting trends are the increasing popularity of NarcoBridge and Green-Black TarmoRack (be sure to pack those Tormod's Crypts and Dodecapods) as well as the increasing popularity of OmniChord and the decline of Blue-Black Teferi Control.

Furthermore, some of the Vanguard abilities have changed, and the Masters Edition release events have been announced. Finally, Flash and Vampiric Tutor are restricted in Classic and Flash is banned in Prismatic.

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