This is it. After this, Online Tech comes to an end. I am leaving, mainly in order to focus on finishing up my graduate degree. I want take a moment to thank all of my fans and loyal readers. I am glad I have been able to contribute with metagame updates and deck technology in the last year, and I hope you enjoyed it. With that out of the way I still have today's final column to give you. The metagame overviews have always been the main focus of this column and that seemed to me a good way to finish things off with my last article.
The Magic Online Time Spiral Block Constructed Metagame
The following is a total overview of all Block Constructed Premier Events Top 8s of the last four weeks combined. The method I use to rank archetypes is the following. For a normal tournament, I give three points to a deck that finishes in place 5-8; decks that finish in place 3-4 get four points; and decks that make the finals get six points. Then I add up all those numbers for every deck, and I divide by the total amount of points to arrive at the popularity percentage. You can click on a deck name to find a representative decklist in my deck-o-pedia forum thread. Thanks go out to Josh Clark for collecting all the event results.
The number 1 and number 2 decks have held their positions. Blue-Black-X Teachings Control has stayed in first place for a long time, and White-Green-Red Predator has stayed the most popular aggro choice.
The decks that have come out of the Block Constructed Grand Prix in recent weeks have since then been doing well in Premier Events. That includes Stock's Blue-Green Control Shifter (from GP–San Francisco), Kaneko's Blue-Green Tarmogoyf Aggro, Camilluzzi's Red-Green Haze of Rage Aggro, and Coimbra's DragonstormWild Pair (the last three from GP–Florence). You can learn more about these decks by checking out the coverage of those events. Kaneko's Blue-Green Tarmogoyf Aggro in particular has been putting up good results as of late. That deck is definitely on the rise, while White-Green Tarmogoyf Aggro has almost completely fallen out of grace.
Another interesting thing is that for the first time, Blue-White Pickles has overtaken Mono-Blue Pickles in the charts.
cicciomerluzzo1987 (Federico Del Basso)'s Blue-White Pickles
If we can believe the online results, then adding white mana and Momentary Blinks (instead of the traditional Delays or Willbenders) to Mono-Blue Pickles should be an improvement. Blink is very good with Riftwing Cloudskate and Venser, Shaper Savant. It also turns a Brine Elemental into a 5/4 for just two mana, and fizzles opposing Tendrils of Corruption. And did you spot that singleton Draining Whelk in the decklist? Lastly, by playing white you get access to Porphyry Nodes against creature beatdown decks.
But the deck that this Block Constructed season will be remembered for the most is Blue-Black-X Teachings. It has been the best deck all along, sporting the best card draw and the best creature removal. If you are interested in this deck, you will be familiar with the decklist that Luis Scott-Vargas used to win GP–San Francisco. I made a couple tweaks to it and played the following in GP–Florence to a 20th place finish:
Frank Karsten's Blue-Black-Red Teachings
I'll compare my list with the one LSV, Cheon, and PV ran to the GP–San Francisco Top 8. First, I decided to play 4 Shadowmage Infiltrator because they speed up games, they can give you better opening draws, and they can occasionally win games by themselves. I chose to cut Bogardan Hellkite because I felt its mana cost was too high and too red. I simply didn't like it too much. Instead of Hellkite I added Draining Whelk because no one was expecting them anymore. I also felt the need to improve the mana base a bit, because I was often color screwed.
Then, I made the assumption that pretty much everyone would copy the San Francisco list, since three name players had made Top 8 with it, and I wanted to tune my deck for GP–Florence versus that deck. A discerning feature of LSV's list was that it had no Pull from Eternity maindeck, only in the sideboard. Therefore, I added 2 Aeon Chronicler to my maindeck. It can be pretty potent in the mirror when suspending for a lot, and most of the time you suspend it for one to get a huge win condition out fast. Chronicler has always been good, and there is still nothing wrong with it. I cut a Mystical Teachings and the Foresees to make room for Chroniclers (you have to cut card draw for card draw, otherwise the balance of the deck is disturbed).
Another interesting feature of LSV's list is that it had a maindeck Detritivore and more in the sideboard, showing a clear tendency to go for the long game Detritivore fight after sideboard in the mirror; I even saw players who wanted to board up to 4 Detritivore plus 3 Pull from Eternity along with 2 Academy Ruins, so that keeping Ruins advantage for Triskelavus recursion would get more likely.
I figured I would sidestep that fight and target the matchup in a different manner. I chose not to fight the long game Detritivore wars and to go beatdown instead. I cut the Detritivores (I already had Chroniclers to suspend now anyway) and even cut the white and the Pulls. I wasn't going to need them and now I could cut the Plains as well to improve the mana base. I also cut some nonbasics so that Detritivore could not catch me in a vulnerable position with only nonbasics in play. Where some players were going up to 2 Urza's Factory and 2 Academy Ruins, I went in the other direction: down to one of each. I wasn't planning for a long game anyway. I also cut 1 Tolaria West (never liked the card anyway, but I guess you need some of them if you only want to play 3 Urborg, which is the a better number than 4 if you run less than 4 Tendrils of Corruption) and tried to cut Terramorphic Expanse or River of Tears to get even less nonbasics, but eventually decided against that as I still wanted to be able to play a turn-three Shadowmage.
Instead of Vores and Pulls, I opted for Shimian Specter and Ancient Grudge plus Boom // Bust. I expected my opponents to cut Damnations for Detritivores and Pull from Eternity, leaving them defenseless against an early offence of Finkels and Specters (if one stays alive for multiple turns, you are usually winning). Furthermore, their Pulls would become dead cards. I would still have Aeon Chroniclers after board, but I would never suspend them; I would only hardcast them as approximately a 5/5 for five mana. And while people were expecting Detritivores from me, they would probably not be ready to deal with Ancient Grudge or Boom // Bust (which is a nice combo, as they devastate the opponent's mana when used in tandem). And Boom // Bust is quite good with all the creatures that I was boarding in, as they improve the chance of doing an Armageddon when I am ahead on the board position.
I cut all the situational slow nonsense. No Imp's Mischief, no second Pact of Negation, no Extirpate. I just wanted to be fast and to attack. Because I had decided to cut white, I replaced Return to Dust with Venser, Shaper Savant to deal with opposing Take Possessions. Venser would also work well with Boom // Bust, bouncing an opponent's Coalition Relic before playing Bust. I also made a couple minor changes... I replaced the second Strangling Soot with a Tendrils of Corruption to be better against Red Deck Wins. And I added Vesuvan Shapeshifter; they are good against pretty much everything and I have always liked having them in my board. Leaching an opposing Brine Elemental, containing a Tarmogoyf, or trading with Calciderms, they do everything you want. Lastly, I cut a Coalition Relic because my deck needed less mana overall now, and I added a Take Possession to the main, because no one was expecting them anymore, and they gave me an out in the mirror if it came down to a late game after all, annexing an extra Factory or Ruins if needed.
I was very happy with the way my choices worked out. I was always able to finish any mirror matches within the 50 minutes round time, and I wouldn't change a card in hindsight. Finally, I'll give you some global sideboard plans against the major decks:
Against Blue-Black-X Teachings: +3 Shimian Specter +1 Venser, Shaper Savant +2 Bust//Boom +2 Ancient Grudge -4 Damnation -1 Slaughter Pact -1 Tendrils of Corruption -2 Void
Against Blue-Green Tarmogoyf Aggro: +2 Vesuvan Shapeshifter +2 Slaughter Pact +1 Void +1 Venser, Shaper Savant -1 Aeon Chronicler -1 Take Possession -1 Cancel -1 Draining Whelk -1 Haunting Hymn -1 Mystical Teachings
Against Green-White-Red Predator: +1 Void +1 Tendrils of Corruption +2 Vesuvan Shapeshifter +2 Slaughter Pact -1 Draining Whelk -1 Haunting Hymn -1 Mystical Teachings -1 Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir -1 Cancel -1 Aeon Chronicler
Against Mono-Blue Pickles: +1 Spell Burst +2 Vesuvan Shapeshifter +1 Slaughter Pact +1 Void -1 Pact of Negation -1 Haunting Hymn -1 Draining Whelk -1 Take Possession -1 Careful Consideration
The Magic Online Extended Metagame
The following is a total overview of all Extended Premier Events Top 8s of the last four weeks combined.
Blue-Black CounterTop Tog is establishing itself as the deck to beat, although a recent version by Gerry Thompson and Luis Scott-Vargas that has been doing quite well recently in online events doesn't even play the trademark creature:
gelgep's Green-Blue-Black Counterbalance
Let's see. Counterbalance
? Check. Dark Confidant
? Check. Sensei's Divining Top
to abuse them (and Trinket Mage
to fetch it)? Check. Psychatog
? Uhmm... Absent! Psychatog
has been replaced with Tarmogoyf
. I am not sure I would actually agree with that; in my opinion Tarmogoyf
is the most overrated card from Future Sight
(it's good, but I don't think it is as good as the hype machine may make it out to be), but maybe I am biased.
Tog Goyf list is more a mid-range version than a control version. It doesn't even play Counterspell, it doesn't have that many card draw spells, and instead it has more creatures and Umezawa's Jitte. It also has Threads of Disloyalty instead of Smother, anticipating lots of Tarmogoyfs and fewer Psychatogs and Terravores. It also has Riptide Laboratory, a card that pretty much everyone had forgotten about, but that can prove to be pretty awesome. It allows you to re-use Trinket Mage, it locks your opponent with Venser, Shaper Savant, and it removes Dark Confidant when your life total gets too low. And it allows you name another card with Meddling Mage if you change your mind.
Yes, this deck has white cards in the board too (and even Vindicate maindeck). Adding Loxodon Hierarch to a base black-blue deck may seem a bit awkward, but there is enough mana fixing around to make it viable. This deck may very well be better than traditional CounterTop Tog, but we will have to wait until the Extended Pro Tour to find out for sure. Speaking of the Pro Tour... there is one deck that is certainly going to have a major (if not defining) impact on that tournament, one way or another.
mystilplix's NarcoBridge Ichorid
The recent addition of Narcomoeba and Bridge from Below has made the deck much more powerful. The deck truly breaks the dredge mechanic in half now, and it can consistently win on turn two. You mulligan aggressively until you find a good hand, and then start with a Putrid Imp on turn one and discard Golgari Grave-Troll. You dredge it back on your second turn, discard it again to Putrid Imp and then play Breakthrough. You dredge into more dredge cards and mill over half your deck, hitting two Narcomoebas in the process. Then you flashback Dread Return on Cephalid Sage, getting some Bridge from Below Zombie tokens into play as well. Cephalid Sage ensures you can dredge the rest of your deck, and by then you should have found another Dread Return, a Flame-Kin Zealot, some additional Narcomoebas, and more Bridge from Belows. A bunch of hasty 3/3s will eventually attack for the kill. It's just like in Standard, but faster.
This game description I just gave didn't even mention Ichorid, which used to be the backbone of the traditional Ichorid deck. In the NarcoBridge version, the Ichorids are more of a backup plan than anything else. Heck, mystilplix's version only runs 2 Ichorids! To make matters even crazier, it has just 10 lands! While that may sound like too little (and maybe it still is), remember that this deck only needs one land; the second land is close to a dead card as all the cards that you actually want to play cost just one mana. Cards like Tolarian Winds are simply too expensive for this style of deck, crazy as that may sound. Yes, the deck is that fast and that powerful. But it is also very hateable.
With enough sideboard hate (Leyline of the Void, Tormod's Crypt, Yixlid Jailer...), the deck can be beaten. Just adding one or two of those is probably not enough, especially since NarcoBridge Ichorid can also fight back with Chain of Vapor or Simplify against Leyline of the Void, and most versions have Pithing Needle against Tormod's Crypt as well. Mystilplix's version even has Chain of Vapor in the maindeck, which is very interesting as it indicates that he was preparing for maindeck Leyline of the Voids. We are heading for some crazy times again.
If people want to dedicate themselves to hating it, then NarcoBridge Ichorid will not win the Pro Tour. But how many graveyard hate cards can people afford to run? Adding four Leylines and four Crypts and four Jailers to your sideboard will ensure that you beat NarcoBridge Ichorid, but you are sacrificing lots of sideboard options against other decks in the process. I would not dare to make a prediction on how many players will run NarcoBridge Ichorid or on how many Leyline of the Voids will be in people's decks in Valencia. Perhaps many Ichorid decks will show up that will crash into seas of sideboard hate. Perhaps no one will dare to play Ichorid while everyone has their sideboards stuffed with then-useless graveyard hate. Perhaps everyone will remove their sideboard hate, anticipating that no one will dare to play Ichorid. But in that case, Ichorid will become the best unstoppable metagame call again. It's a delicate dance, and I am very curious to see which gambles will pan out.
On to the "fair" decks: traditional aggro. Kird Ape and Incinerate are still doing well. Affinity and Boros Deck Wins with Tarmogoyf have fallen down in the popularity rankings, while Goblins and Red Deck Wins with Tarmogoyf are on the rise. A good reason for this may be the addition of Mogg Fanatic with Tenth Edition. It is a Goblin, so it is a very nice fit for the Goblin deck for obvious reasons. Mogg Fanatic has also made Red Deck Wins with Tarmogoyf much better. These decks used to be worse than Boros Deck Wins, simply because the white version had more and better one-drops (Savannah Lions and Isamaru). Now Mogg Fanatic has lessened to need to play white for good one-drops.
Owen Turtenwald's Red Deck Wins + Goyf
Extended (Winner Gen Con Extended $1000 tournament)
This is the most popular aggro deck online right now, and it looks solid. Rift Bolt and Blistering Firecat are interesting choices that have an amazing damage to mana cost ratio. An idea by guygs18 is to cut the Sulfuric Vortex from the board for Leyline of the Void, anticipating lots of Ichorid decks.
I want to round up my discussion of Extended with an interesting Haterator deck:
SOS_Brigade's GW Turbo Hate
The list starts out with some Birds and Elves that can lead into Loxodon Hierarch and Exalted Angel, which are never bad against red burn decks. Those cards won't raise any eyebrows, but then this decklist gets funky. Imagine it starts with a turn one Elf that accelerates into a Root Maze and Suppression Field on the second turn. If the opponent plays fetchlands such as Polluted Delta, then this will slow him down considerably. Once the opponent pays two mana to activate his fetchland, Aven Mindcensor comes down and with a bit of luck, your opponent won't be able to find anything. Then you play Chalice of the Void for one or two and Trinisphere to ensure that your opponent won't be able to play anything cheap, and while he is still struggling with his mana (as Root Maze and Suppression Field are still locking his fetchlands) you play Plow Under to set him back even further. Glowrider from the sideboard also fits the theme.
On the one hand, this list looks like an utter pile with many cards that are very weak against many decks. On the other hand, I don't think I would want to face this deck if I were playing Aggro Loam or TEPS Desire. Maindeck Suppression Field against cycling lands and Seismic Assault is a nightmare, and when Rite of Flame suddenly costs three mana to play, the Desire combo won't run as smoothly. And the deck can still easily beat red burn decks with Worship, and Ichorid NarcoBridge decks with Tormod's Crypt from the sideboard. This is the kind of deck that I would never like to play myself, as it gives far too many horrendous do-nothing draws, but it is a deck that can still beat you.
The Magic Online Standard Metagame
I'll now go over the Standard Premier Events Top 8s of the last three weeks combined, sorted by average popularity. I split up the results into multiple weeks, so that you could see which decks are on the decline and which decks are on the rise. I lumped Week 37 and Week 38 together, as due to the Masters Edition release events that took over the Premier Event room, the amount of Standard PEs in these two weeks was roughly equal to the amount of Standard PEs in one normal week. You can click on a deck name to find a representative decklist in my special Standard deck-o-pedia. Thanks go out to Josh Clark for collecting all the event results.
NarcoBridge Dredge (usually the green-based control version with the Nantuko Husk + Stalking Vengeance kill, rather than the blue-based combo version with the Flame-Kin Zealot kill) and Green-Black TarmoRack have been the two defining decks of the Standard landscape in recent weeks. Even though they have been falling in the standings since last week, I would still not cut those Tormod's Crypts or Dodecapods from your sideboard. You need them if you want to beat these decks. I would guess that you have heard enough about Golgari Grave-Trolls and Dread Returns by now, so let's take a look at the TarmoRack deck.
Kitayama Masaya's Green-Black TarmoRack
Standard (Winner 2007 Japanese Nationals)
This deck tears away your hand with Stupor, Augur of Skulls, and Cry of Contrition, and then plays The Rack to punish you for having a small hand size. This list seems to have found a good balance between creatures and discard, not overloading on the latter too much, which I like. It can actually put down some pressure with Tarmogoyf (which goes well with discard spells), Call of the Herd, Treetop Village, and Dark Confidant. I like how this deck also runs Damnation, so that it can defend against blazingly fast starts by beatdown decks or dredge decks. And Tombstalker in the sideboard also seems like a very good fit.
In other news, Siege-Gang Commander is getting played in more and more decks, pretty much in every red deck it seems. But one of those in particular was special. Here is some new tech coming out of the Magic Online Premier Events.
juju_dawg's Red-Green Token Aggro
Scatter the Seeds? Fists of Ironwood? Is this deck for real? Yes, it very much is. Along with the Mogg War Marshal / Siege Gang Commander connection, this deck will keep churning out tokens. It then plays Gaea's Anthem or Overrun to turn the tiny 1/1 men into credible threats. Turn-one Llanowar Elves, turn-two Fists of Ironwood and another Elf, turn-three Scatter the Seeds, turn-four Overrun, good game. The reprinting of Overrun in Tenth Edition has made this deck a powerhouse.
juju_dawg won a huge 4x Open tournament with this deck, and I don't think that was a fluke. Even though this deck just looks like a casual fun token theme deck, it should be respected. If the metagame stays full of decks that want to trade one-for-one (think about TarmoRack's Terrors, Blink's Riftwing Cloudskates, or Gruul's Incinerates) then this deck is a fine choice, as your opponent can never destroy all of your token creatures. You will simply overwhelm him. However, take note that if people start playing more Wrath of Gods or Damnations or (even worse) Crovax, Ascendant Hero, then this deck is not going to cut it.
Lastly, I want to relate my difficulties in properly classifying various White-Green-Blue decks from the Premier Event Top 8s as Momentary Blink or OmniChord variants. I chose dependent on whichever it resembled the most, but in the end I realized that some players had actually been trying to build a mix of Blue-Green-White Blink and OmniChord decks. Kotarosato04's hybrid looked like an OmniChord deck, but on second glance it contained Tarmogoyf as well, which used to be a Blink exclusive (along with Deadwood Treefolk as a techy Chord target). And other players took Blink decks as a starting point and added Chord of Calling, as it can search for the necessary Loxodon Hierarch or Venser to start the Blink madness. Chord and Blink are both fueled by the same kind of creatures, so combining the best of both worlds is something interesting to think about.
So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish
Well...that is the end of the Online Tech days. Online Tech will be discontinued, and the Magic Online deck lists and metagame information will be carried over to the Michael Flores Swimming With Sharks waters. I have definitely enjoyed my time writing this column; it gave me a good purpose to direct my efforts to and it gave me some self-actualization. I also hope you have learned a thing or two from me. If you want to check Premier Event results in the future, I can direct you to www.magicthegatheringstats.com. If you want to read more about the Magic Online specific casual formats, I suggest you bookmark www.puremtgo.com. I want to thank Scott Johns for giving me the awesome opportunity to feature my writing here on the Mothership. I also want to thank Josh Clark for collecting tons of Premier Event information and decklists every week. Without him, this column would not have been possible.
I'll wrap up by explaining why I decided to leave. The main reason is that my last school year before my graduation has just begun (I am currently getting a Masters degree in Operations Management & Logistics), and I want to focus on that a little more. Combining a weekly column with at least one Pro Tour or Grand Prix tournament every month can be rough already—especially if you factor in the hours of playtesting that this Fanatic tends to put in—but if you add in fulltime study, it simply becomes too hectic, especially during exam periods (I have no idea how I managed to survive last year). I felt I needed some leeway time and breathing space, so I reshuffled my priorities a bit and chose to cut down on the amount of time I spent on Magic. That involves less playtesting, less traveling to overseas Grand Prixs, and (unfortunately) no weekly column for me. I will still keep playing in all the Pro Tours and I may very well write an occasional Magic article now and then, but I will simply take it less seriously than I had done and spend more time on my studies instead.
And taking a step back from the hardcore Pro Tour lifestyle is probably a wise call. Play the game, see the world. I am grateful I was able to experience it; my first years on the Pro Tour especially were a very exciting time. I met a lot of great friends through the game, I got the accomplishments and acknowledgement I desired, and I got to see the whole world. But after a couple years the flip side becomes apparent and even though it does not have much to do with quitting the writing gig, I want to tell you about that side too. If you really immerse yourself in the pro Magic lifestyle (and the same holds for the pro poker lifestyle), it can get unhealthy and stressful if you let things get out of balance. I had started to build my life around Magic without putting it in proper perspective, and Magic had started to feel more like a job than like the leisure pursuit it should be.
It doesn't have to be this way. There are more meaningful things out there; I want to find new challenges in life and I want to contribute to solving some of the major problems this world is facing. Playing the best game of all time as a hobby is a fine thing (and that is how I will view it when I go to Pro Tours from now on), but I decided I didn't want to dedicate my life to it anymore. As for writing... I may return. Somewhere, sometime.
Choose your future. Choose life.
Until next time, thanks for reading!