Top_Decks

A look at the green and red standouts of the purple pack.

Like Gruul in a Time Machine…

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The letter A! few weeks ago we started on what might be the Top 10 “timeshifted” cards for Constructed tournament play. However, as most experienced deck designers will tell you (whether they are identified as Jonnies or Spikes), the edge that a player will get with his deck is not based on his known and expected cards – even when they are his most powerful or central tools – but the innovations, peculiarities, and “tech” that he brings to the table when he sits down across from the opponent. It is no great accomplishment when Meloku the Clouded Mirror or Counterspell wins an individual game or match… but don't be surprised when Isao, Enlightened Bushi or Battlefield Scrounger represents the differentiating factor between very good expected deck and even better different build. Besting the so-called Deck to Beat and coming out on top with the Deck to Play is almost always a function of playing cards that are different than the expected ones, provided they are still good.

A couple of the timeshifted cards that did not make my initial Top 10 demanded some attention. They all happened to be red or green (or essentially both), so I decided to use Assault // Battery as a good starting point to talk about two-fifths of the Timeshifted color pie.

For this one, I decided to talk about any green or red card that was played in a notable Constructed deck (at least given my memory) and about how I feel that card will fare in 2006 and beyond.

Assault // Battery

Claim to Fame: Assault // Battery was played in the famous “My Fires” version of Fires of Yavimaya that Zvi Mowshowitz took to the Top 8 of Kai Budde's Rebel Chicago. The card was a reasonable monkey wrech that could be thrown into the gears of an opposing Fires or Red Zone player's machinery (his first turn Birds of Paradise or Llanowar Elves) without dipping into a unique sub-optimal card choice like Shock. The Green side of Assault // Battery was not exactly Blastoderm, but it could still curve something swinging on turn four after a Fires of Yavimaya opening and was a perfectly good follow-up to an opposing U/W deck's Wrath of God and Circle of Protection: Red.

Outlook: Assault // Battery has lost none of its versatility in the past half-decade. Billy Moreno actually claimed it was an “ideal” Flores card (because, presumably, I like these underpowered if ultimately defensible mid-range control cards). Not surprisingly, I have started running Assault // Battery in G/R Land Destruction, G/R Snow, and Zoo; it's never outstanding, but it tends to be “fine” no matter what side is played in a given game. Look for Assault // Battery to find limited, but not zero, adoption.



Avalanche Riders

Claim to Fame: Avalanche Riders was played in many decks, from aggressive Sligh variants like Sped Red in 1999 to Aaron Forsythe's dominant ANGRY Hermit deck at US Nationals in 2000, and even as a bullet component (both as a one-of and four-of) in Survival of the Fittest decks.

Outlook: Avalanche Riders is going to get played a ton. Otherwise reasonable players are throwing this card into G/R mid-range beat down decks, Wildfire decks, and 187 variants all. Generally speaking, I think Avalanche Riders is the kind of card that will be overplayed. Darwin is just better than a Demolish in most decks that would want a Demolish, and has a queer redundancy with cards like Icefall (mondo combo four mana Stone Rains). That said, for any decks that aren't based on redundant mana control, Avalanche Riders is probably worse than Stone Rain and Cryoclasm… It's basically a vanilla land destruction spell and a Grizzly Bears for eight mana, which is generally not a great deal. That said, Darwin is a fantastic jar of paste that can lace kill cards into some kind of Ponza or Vore variant. Like I said, Avalanche Riders will be overplayed if anything; it will probably be the most popular card discussed in this article.



Disintegrate

Claim to Fame: Disintegrate has always been overshadowed by Alpha contemporary Fireball. It's better-than-Blaze upside affected only a small number of creatures, whereas Fireball could deal with multiple weenies from the outset. That said, certain metagames encouraged Disintegrate to deal with particular long game problem threats such as Ivory Gargoyle. Justin Gary played three copies in his US National Championship–winning deck in 1997.

Outlook: Disintegrate is better than Blaze but worse than Demonfire, which even shares one of Disintegrate's core incentives. Disintegrate will only get played over Demonfire if people decide that they really, really, like Sedge Sliver, though it could easily crack main decks as fifth or sixth x-spells.



Dragon Whelp

Claim to Fame: This card was alternately “the worst card in” Pat Chapin's Dallas Sligh deck and later upgraded to a four-of in Dave Price's Dallas format PTQ Sligh deck.

Outlook: I expect the public outlook to be similarly split. There will be the Chapins who hate playing it and would elect not to, and the Prices who think that it is the bee's knees, recognizing the short term damage potential feeding a burn endgame. I do not expect Dragon Whelp to be a popular card, especially in the main.



Fiery Temper

Claim to Fame: This card was played both in horrible Compulsion / Psychatog decks and Tier 2 G/R beatdown decks fed by (or would it be fed to?) Wild Mongrel.

Outlook: This card has already been adopted in near universal numbers by Rakdos. The White decks seem to want Rift Bolt as their one-or-three mana three damage burn spell, whereas the Rakdos players, with their Rakdos Guildmages and Hellbent long games, have opted for this card. In the absence of Wild Mongrel, Fiery Temper will probably not be played in Green decks unless the format becomes completely defined by Kird Ape, Watchwolf, Call of the Herd, and other /x beatdown creatures. Conversely, this is one of the best possible instants that can be tossed from the hands of Jaya Ballard, Task Mage.



Fire Whip

Claim to Fame: Believe or not, this card was in not just the Top 8 but the Top 4 of an Extended Pro Tour! Recent Hall of Fame inductee Raphael Levy coordinated efforts with Quirion Ranger for one of the strangest – but oddly effective – combinations to appear in some time.

Outlook: Fire Whip seems like it might work well with Quirion update Scryb Ranger, but Phyrexian Ironfoot is probably the ideal target. Though the latter combination, especially, seems quite playable to me, I still don't expect that the card will be popular.



Orcish Librarian

Claim to Fame: This card allegedly paid for Pat Chapin's college education. “The red Browse” was a key component of the original Sligh decks but was eventually cut when the Red Decks went Deadguy, with Lava Hounds following Dave Price like little puppies.

Outlook: Chapin thinks the Librarian is going to make a big comeback in Standard along with the reintroduction of a mid-range Red Deck, and noted RDW designer Dan Paskins has also made mention of the card already. I do not think that this card will see much play outside of a Sligh update (which may or may not be a real deck), but it is a hell of a combo with Scrying Sheets.



Pandemonium

Claim to Fame: This card was a key component to numerous combination decks, including the kind that dropped two Phyrexian Dreadnoughts and the kind that bought back Opalescence and a stack of lethal enchantments with Replenish.

Outlook: This card is clearly playable, perhaps as a redundancy in Dragonstorm, but I just don't see it being popular in the short term.



Suq'Ata Lancer

Claim to Fame: Initially a great drop that was played in a variety of Pro Tour Top 8 decks – and even made mains in Extended – Suq'Ata Lancer fell largely off the planet once Red Decks started getting two powered creatures that cost one mana. Though it was worse on offense than both Ball Lightning and Jackal Pup, Suq'Ata Lancer, defining celerity* threat of the Mirage / Visions format, was still at least a minority contributor to maximally aggressive decks like Andrew Pacifico's deck from the Top 8 of the 1998 U.S. National Championship.

Outlook: Suq'Ata Lancer is basically a Ronin Houndmaster who is better against tokens but half as good on defense. No one played Ronin Houndmaster in Constructed, so I would not expect the original to get a lot of modern love.



Wildfire Emissary

Claim to Fame: Wildfire Emissary was a complete monster at the point it was printed. Many players saw it as a Lightning Bolt–resistant, Erhnam Djinn–like drop for Pro Tour Dallas that also dodged Swords to Plowshares. Wildfire Emissary was a notable inclusion in numerous decks in 1996-1997. Jason Moungey played Wildfire Emissary and Deadly Insect to Top 8 with his Juniors “Untouchables” deck, and the aforementioned Justin Gary, winner, ran three copies main as well.

Outlook: As near as I can tell, the age of the 2/4 for four mana is over. I am not sure that the lovely Lightning Angel – which has more and more relevant abilities, and a bigger body – will see a lot of Standard, let alone let alone this guy when there is no Swords to Plowshares to worry about.



Hail Storm

Claim to Fame: Hail Storm was a notable sideboard card for a couple of Cabal Rogue–designed decks, the most famous of which was Jamie Wakefield's Secret Force.

Outlook: More than one competent person has already suggested playing this card, sort of a Green Pyroclasm. With Umezawa's Jitte out of Standard, killing Soltari Priest and Paladin en-Vec with a card like Hail Storm is a lot easier than you might expect. This is the kind of card that few expect, and almost no one plays around. If you have a Green deck that is losing to Protection from Red, consider Hail Storm. That said, the same reasons that kept Hail Storm only marginally popular in the 90s persist today. This card will be played, but only in the sideboard, and will have Tier 2 popularity at best.



Hunting Moa

Claim to Fame: I swear to Akroma soaring in the skies above all the way to Dralnu ruling his zombie hordes below that I didn't know about the reprinting of Hunting Moa when I talked about the Moa Boa archetype in my Tivadar of Thorn preview a few weeks back. Really! Hunting Moa was a key to Bill Macey's U.S. Open win in 1999, but I don't recall it being played outside of that deck.

Outlook: Along with the misunderstood Orcish Librarian, Hunting Moa is the card that most made me want to write this article. Joshua Ravitz and I were brainstorming on the kinds of cards a (modern) U/G aggressive deck could sideboard in against G/R or B/R spot removal, and I thought up Hunting Moa as a sort of tempo-generating “stop sign.” Then the realistic scenarios started to play…

U/G: Llanowar Elves.
B/R: Ha, ha Dead Elf: Shadow Guildmage.
U/G: The joke's on you: Hunting Moa! My Elf is now 2/2 and your Shadow Guildmage is…
B/R: … Also 2/2.
U/G: What are you talking about?
B/R: Wait for it…
U/G: Huh?
B/R: Shock your, ahem, 2/2 Llanowar Elves.
U/G: Fail to pay echo.
B/R: I'm waiting…
U/G: Yeah, yeah. Move a +1/+1 counter onto your Shadow Guildmage. Jerk.

I really want this card to be good. Unfortunately with Fiery Temper, Rift Bolt, Lightning Helix, Last Gasp, and other cheap ways to deal three or more damage in creature decks, the Moa seems like a liability even at 4/3, at least unless you already have a Paladin in play or something. It may find niche adoption, but is unlikely to be popular.

Jolrael, Empress of Beasts

Claim to Fame: There was a time when all that Old MenTM Brian David-Marshall and Jon Becker would talk about was Jolrael, Empress of Beasts + Pernicious Deed; BDM dubbed her the “Disco (Disk, oh!) Queen” and proceeded to make 999 decks around this combination, with Pernicious Deed obviously playing the role of Magus of the Nevinyrral's Disk. To my recollection, Jolrael was never a key component of any Tier 1 Premiere Event deck, but there is a great story – penned by magicthegathering.com's own The Ferrett – about a B/G Oath on B/G The Rock where Becker is up against the mighty Ben Rubin playing for a Grand Prix Day Two and Rubin sets up the Kamahl, Fist of Krosa one-sided Armageddon… which is a turn slower than Becker's clunky Jolrael. Good times, good times.

Outlook: There is no Pernicious Deed to feed her this time, and Jolrael's wording is not conducive to a Waylay-esque “end step sidestep” … That means that if you're going to “abuse” this Legendary Spellshaper, you've got to do it fair-style… without even Kodama's Reach to get ahead on lands and cards in hand. I have thought up some… odd combinations with Wrath of God or Magus of the Disk, but I don't see these decks as being particularly fast against beatdown or threatening for Blue decks. As such, I don't envision Jolrael being a popular choice, though she is certainly playable somewhere.



Krosan Cloudscraper

Claim to Fame: Definitely the greatest thing about Krosan Cloudscraper is the feeling of despondency, and the muttering-to-himself shuffling that can be observed after any match in which it participates. No one has ever actually lost to being hit by a Krosan Cloudscraper (despite its size), yet dozens have claimed to have lost to a Krosan Cloudscraper. This creature, which is 13/13, has been a fixture in Extended Sutured Ghoul decks like Lucas Glavin's Cephalid hybrid deck for as long as it has been legal.

Outlook: No one, to my knowledge, ever played Krosan Cloudscraper because they thought it was a good card. This was simply the biggest available creature designers could find. The bigger the creature the fewer the deck slots required to pump up a lethal Sutured Ghoul, meaning that less room was required to actually win the game, leaving more room for a robust manipulation engine. Without either a Hermit Druid to immediately fill the graveyard or a Sutured Ghoul to break such a graveyard, Krosan Cloudscraper's legend seems like it will remain squarely in the nostalgia zone.



Scragnoth

Claim to Fame: The first time I ever played Tim Aten, I was Draw-Go, and he was summoning Scragnoth. Tim was then in his pre–Grand Prix Champion / pre–Magic Invitational Small ChildTM stage, and had copied Seth Burn's influential Stupid Green deck from the Top 8 of U.S. Nationals 1998. Stupid Green was a precursor to the evolved (read: black) Survival of the Fittest decks that would dominate 1998 Worlds, taking two Top 8 positions and putting eventual World Champion Brian Selden in ninth.

Outlook: I initially naysayed Scragnoth for 2006, just as I would have in 1998, but the more I think about it, the more defensible a Scragnoth-focused sideboard might be. Imagine you have a mid-range Green deck that is solid against creatures but can't beat Draw-Go… Scragnoth might be a reasonable sideboard card. You know it's going to hit, and because Scragnoth has Protection from Psionic Blast, you know it should stick. But what about Mouth of Ronom? That's where the other half of your Blue hating package comes in… Anyone for Stonewood Invocation? No, I don't think Scragnoth will be popular, necessarily. That said, it might be very, very, good.



Spike Feeder

Claim to Fame: In the days before Ravenous Baloth, Spike Feeder was a stalwart and staple in decks like Secret Force. It was the most important card in The Rock for beating both beatdown and Trix. In Stupid Green, Spike Feeder is said to have reduced the King of Beatdown to tears.

Outlook: Many players are talking about Spike Feeder in Simic, with graft cards like Cytoplast Root-Kin especially. As it's a red-hating table-snapper in green and white, you'll have to wait until Loxodon Hierarch and Faith's Fetters rotate to see Spike Feeder as a first line of defense, but there is no reason why a deck that really, really wants to gain life can't pack these on top of its Stupid Elephants.



Thornscape Battlemage

Claim to Fame: This card contributed to the clearest format break in the history of Magic. Pro Tour – Tokyo, the epic conflict that ended with Zvi Mowshowitz's U/W against Tsuyoshi Fujita's B/U in the finals, featured Zvi's Pro Tour win and Japan's first Top 8 (of many). Many forget, however, that Team ABU put four members into that Top 8, with Ryan Fuller leading the charge to Sunday with the Pro Tour's one and only undefeated Swiss record, ever.

Outlook: Some players love a mid-range G/R deck. These players will focus on utility like Assault // Battery, and lots of two-for-ones, from Call of the Herd to this card. They will probably never be in the majority, but they will take Orzhov philosophies to Gruul, grinding out attrition wins over opposing creature decks with the consistency of a Swiss watch. Thornscape Battlemage kills just about every Rakdos staple cleanly and, in a world with Ravnica duals, puts almost no pressure on a deck's mana base if it wants to branch out into the Signet-killing game. This card will therefore be popular in one wing of G/R decks (likely the minority segment) and probably be a sideboard breaker in other G/R and Zoo sideboards.



Wall of Roots

Claim to Fame: This card was played alongside Wall of Blossoms for the Stampeding Wildebeests engine of Stupid Green, and over Wall of Blossoms in Secret Force and The Rock (at least when it was legal in Extended). A solid mid-range Green creature, Wall of Roots was both a hater of beatdown and a deceptively vital member of any team where it made the cut.

Outlook: A week before the Time Spiral Prerelease, I got a call from Renton, WA asking if I'd play Wall of Roots in Standard, asking “for 'no reason'” (I certainly didn't know it was timeshifted at that point). I said yes as a knee-jerk reaction, but I have not figured out where I would want to play this card now that I've seen the shape of the format. Many players have suggested running the Wall in mid-range Wildfire decks based on Mwonvuli Acid-Moss acceleration / disruption, but the notion of putting counters on the proud 0/5 so that you can accidentally blow it up with Wildfire seems awful to me. Definitely this card is annoying for Zoo, so it should find a role. Wall of Roots is just one of those cards that is so good you know it will be played, even if you don't know where.



Whirling Dervish

Claim to Fame: Whirling Dervish was an all-star in the dark days of the Black Summer. In Bertrand Lestree's G/W Armageddon deck, this little 1/1 for two mana even made the inaugural Pro Tour's final table. As late as Pro Tour V in Dallas, the mere existence of the Whirling Dervish forced Top 4 competitor Chris Pikula, Top 16 teammate Worth Wollpert, and yours truly at ~134 to splash Lightning Bolt and Incinerate in our Necropotence deck.

Outlook: Without a dominating black deck, I don't see this card being played. It just seems worse than, say, Vinelasher Kudzu and a stack of other options at two.




Appendix: All the Deck Lists

As far as I can tell, literally the only reason anyone would ever want to read a Magic article, let alone write one, is the opportunity to look up old, oftentimes obscure deck lists (relating them, if at all, to modern strategy being just “gravy”). Below are notes on most or all of the decks I mentioned, even in passing, up there. Enjoy.

My Fires
Zvi Mowshowitz, Top 8, Pro Tour – Chicago 2000

Relevant Cards: Assault // Battery

The Top 8 of Pro Tour Chicago was littered with Fires of Yavimaya variants. Pro Tour Champions Finkel, Dougherty, and Pustilnik (and Grand Prix Champion Brian Kibler, with a “no-Fires” cousin) all joined Zvi on Sunday. Even though the last match was a face-off between Budde and Kamiel, g/W Rebels versus U/W Counter-Rebels, few could discount the sheer power of The Fix.

“The Fix” was zargon imported from the gambling world, implying how fundamentally unfair the draw of Birds of Paradise or Llanowar Elves, into Fires of Yavimaya, into Blastoderm, into Saproling Burst, could be. In this deck, Blastoderm could strike for all 20!

Zvi's version was not the most versatile, but certainly the most efficient, of the Top 8 decks. His was the only deck with Assault for the opponent's Birds and Battery for those terribly depressing days with no Blastoderm. Unlike the other base-G/R decks, all full-on with mana and more mana, Zvi actually had something – being Dust Bowl – to do with his excess lands (25 plus eight accelerators being “a lot”). A testament to the raw power of the Fires mana base, Zvi's Two-Headed Dragon was not even the biggest Dragon played in the Top 8.

Sped Red
Jamie Parke, Top 8, 1999 World Championship

Main Deck

60 cards

Ancient Tomb
Ghitu Encampment
15  Mountain
Wasteland

24 lands

Avalanche Riders
Fireslinger
Jackal Pup
Mogg Fanatic

15 creatures

Arc Lightning
Cursed Scroll
Hammer of Bogardan
Pillage
Shock
Stone Rain

21 other spells

Sideboard
Arc Lightning
Flowstone Flood
Masticore
Scald
Shattering Pulse
Thran Foundry

15 sideboard cards


Relevant Cards: Avalanche Riders

Jamie followed up his 1999 U.S. Open win with a Top 8 at Worlds. He didn't win there, but at least he was eliminated by eventual World Champion Kai Budde in what was considered by the Speds an unwinnable matchup.

Jamie's deck hybridized the aggressive Deadguy Red strategy, leading on Jackal Pups, with a medium-speed mana denial plan. Ancient Tomb was good for the second-turn Stone Rain after the game opened on “best Pup,” which would invariably crumble any chances an opponent would have of winning, so behind would he be on the board. Avalanche Riders played Stone Rain 9-12 here, though they could also block green creatures short term or deal a couple of points of damage going into the endgame burn suite.

ANGRY Hermit
Aaron Forsythe, Top 8, 2000 U.S. National Championship

Relevant Cards: Avalanche Riders

It's a good thing Renton, WA snapped up Aaron Forsythe to be Magic's Lead Developer… Otherwise the Pro Tour's Constructed formats might be snapped in two! U.S. Nationals was a “clear break” for Aaron's design, putting both him and Mike Turian in the Top 8 and earning Standard top honors for Dan Clegg as well. Even though Aaron himself lost to eventual Champion Jon Finkel with Napster, he earned a spot on the U.S. Team; Finkel notwithstanding, it is difficult to argue that he didn't have the tournament's overall best performing design.

Main deck, Avalanche Riders helped to create a tempo advantage alongside Plow Under, and out of the sideboard, it did a couple of damage, which was important for a Blastoderm that could only hit for 15.

U/R Thaw Control
Justin Gary, 1997 U.S. National Champion

Relevant Cards: Disintegrate, Wildfire Emissary

Before he became a Pro Tour Champion with numerous top finishes (especially in Extended), Justin Gary was an unknown kid who stormed the scene by taking U.S. Nationals in '97.

In the world before Whispers of the Muse, let alone Fact or Fiction, decks like Justin's lived and died with Thawing Glaciers. Besides that key card advantage measure, Justin's National Championship deck was as straightforward as it looks… All solid spells that could trade (Incinerate), resist trading (Frenetic Efreet), or control the game (Binding Grasp or Force of Will). Long games were won by the concerted effort of creatures and burn spells.

As far as our “relevant cards” here, Disintegrate was a murderer of River Boas and Ivory Gargoyles, and Wildfire Emissary started off armored against the resurgent Swords to Plowshares (the introduction of the block system, specifically Alliances and then Homelands as part of Ice Age Block, reintroduced Swords to Plowshares to Standard, where it had been absent at 1997 Regionals).

Dallas Sligh
Patrick Chapin, Top 8, Pro Tour – Dallas (Junior Division)

Pat Chapin teethed his first Top 8 in the Dallas Juniors, where he finished “only” Top 8, but led in the Swiss. This version of Sligh – a true Sligh / Geeba deck rather than Deadguy Red, Sped Red, Red Deck Wins, or Ponza Rotta Red – was a precursor to the early game–attendant design elements (specifically mana curve) that all serious decks use today.

As we said before, Dragon Whelp was Pat's least favorite card (though David Price would up the count to four for his Paris PTQ version in essentially the same format), while crediting Orcish Librarian with his college tuition (remember, this was Junior Division).

G/R Beatdown
Jeff Cunningham, 2003 Standard Masters

Relevant Cards: Fiery Temper

Though it was by no means universally accepted, the thinking at this time was that R/G was ahead of both U/G Madness and Psychatog decks (the so-called Big Three of the era), and also the favorite against Cunning Wake. Whether or not G/R could win the ground game against U/G was thought to be irrelevant. The game plan was to get a few points in then finish with Grim Lavamancer and the many red spells; after boards, Ensnaring Bridge would best all but the most clever U/G mages. Elephant Guide was supposed to make Wild Mongrel really unattractive for a Psychatog to block; with 4-8 available madness burn spells pumping Wild Mongrel even as they toasted ‘Togs, this, by in large, remained true for the duration of the format.

I picked ffej's version of G/R beatdown from the 2003 Chicago Masters event just because it was one of the few that actually played Fiery Temper (Violent Eruption was stock, but not all versions ran both madness burn spells). Of the three (that played Fiery Temper), only ffej escaped the first round, with a win over John Larkin.

Relevant Cards: Fire Whip

You have to look pretty hard to find a notable deck playing Fire Whip (unless you have an encyclopedic memory of notable deck lists, I suppose). Raphael's strange “no Death” version of Survival of the Fittest ran multiple blue locks instead of the more common graveyard suite. Like the original Five-color Green decks, Levy ran Winter Orb to beat control, but Opposition from Urza's Block gave the darling of 1998 Regionals another level of complexity.

Survival decks in general are the most difficult decks in all of Magic to play; this truth is similarly difficult to describe because a Survival deck can blow the opponent out playing 51% correctly as easily as it can at 99% play. The key to the deck's power and difficulty are both tied into the card Survival of the Fittest. This card allowed Raphael to get whatever card he needed amongst the myriad one-ofs to deal with the opponent's threat (Ghitu Slinger for small creatures, Gilded Drake for large creatures, Peacekeeper for swarms, Sliver Queen or Tradewind Rider to go proactive…). His miniscule mana base and strange array of support spells did not make Levy's trial any easier.

Like the other interwoven elements of this unique look (Squee and Survival of the Fittest, Tradewind Rider and Gilded Drake), Fire Whip was individually reasonable, but especially strong with Quirion Ranger setting up the reload.

Dred Panda Roberts
Adrian Sullivan, Top 32, Pro Tour – Rome 1998

Relevant Cards: Pandemonium

The goal was to get either one Pandemonium in play with two Dreadnoughts, or two Pandemoniums with one Dreadnought (or proxies for Dreadnought like Reanimate) to deal 24 damage as a combo. Adrian's Pro Tour – Rome deck was among the most influential of all time, a precursor to Skull Catapult and any Yawgmoth's Bargain combo deck in that it used Necropotence as a kind of Time Spiral or Prosperity rather than “just” a perfect threat reload tool in an efficient disruptive beatdown deck.

I've written about this deck a couple of times before, and a couple of times before for this very site and this very column. As such, you can read about it here or here if you wish.

Please just believe me that, at least in 1998, this combination worked. Thank you for your time.

Celerity Red
Andrew Pacifico, Top 8, 1998 U.S. National Championship

Main Deck

60 cards

17  Mountain
Wasteland

21 lands

Ball Lightning
Goblin Vandal
Jackal Pup
Mogg Fanatic
Mogg Flunkies
Suq'Ata Lancer
Viashino Sandstalker

22 creatures

Cursed Scroll
Fireblast
Incinerate
Shock
Sonic Burst

17 other spells

Sideboard
Mogg Maniac
Nevinyrral's Disk
Price of Progress
Pyroblast
Spellshock

15 sideboard cards


Relevant Cards: Suq'Ata Lancer

Pacifico ran a straightforward and aggressive Red Deck. His focused more on the haste element, with not just four Ball Lightnings but two Sandstalkers and – especially for our purposes – three Suq'Ata Lancers, which were all together placed to get his turn two Mogg Flunkies reliably into the red zone even if his one drop had been killed. Obviously heavily focused on offense and early game beatdown, Andrew's deck finished on any of several burn spells, may of which dealt four individually.

The Untouchables
Jason Moungey, Top 8, Pro Tour – Dallas (Junior Division)

By in large, the Top 8 of the Dallas Junior Division was more interesting than that of the “grown up” Pro Tour, which featured almost uniformly black or white decks, and only one U/R. Moungey's deck was a strange hybrid between Erhnam 'N' Burn e'm and Prison. He had a Prison lock (Winter Orb + Icy Manipulator), but also a heavy creature element (eight fatties main, and some more in the side). Note that with all his Diamonds, Winter Orb would many times have a negligible effect on Jason's development.

The nickname “The Untouchables” came from the fact that Moungey's Insects and Wildfire Emissaries could not be touched with conventional removal (Swords to Plowshares, Lightning Bolt – at least one – or Icy Manipulator). He was therefore blanking the opponent's cards while dominating the board with powerful threats and answers. Because he had many Bolts, Plows, and Manipulators himself… It was not unlike the predicament a Giant Solifuge puts the opponent – flush with removal but short on blockers – into today.

Secret Force
Jamie Wakefield, Extended PTQ Winner, 1999

Main Deck

60 cards

16  Forest
Gaea's Cradle
Wasteland

22 lands

Elvish Lyrist
Fyndhorn Elves
Llanowar Elves
Spike Feeder
Spike Weaver
Uktabi Orangutan
Verdant Force
Wall of Roots

27 creatures

Creeping Mold
Natural Order
Overrun

11 other spells

Sideboard
Choke
Lifeforce
Root Maze
Sliver Queen
Tsunami

15 sideboard cards


Relevant Cards: Hail Storm, Spike Feeder, Wall of Roots

It now strikes me that this version of Secret Force did not in fact play Hail Storm. The version Jamie played to win during High Tide 1999 was hyper-tuned against blue, with Choke, Tsunami, and Root Maze all feeding one another. However if you read his victorious “It's All About the Dinosaurs” Jamie specifically mentions not having the Hail Storms but pretending to side them in against Jank and burn because he was so famous for playing the card.

In this deck, Hail Storm was a racer. Jamie used it early to keep his life total high so that he would not get burned out after he had a clear advantage on the board.

Spike Feeder was just ideal against beatdown, but also a key to Jamie's beating other creature decks. He would attack on the ground and move +1/+1 counters to get maximum value from the board, winning with Limited-style combat tricks. Spike Feeder was obviously great against any opponent trying to burn him out.

Wall of Roots was just great given Jamie's strategy. Believe it or not, Secret Force's default plan was to put out a guy and then play Natural Order to get Verdant Force, kind of like a proto-Tinker deck but with green creatures instead of Darksteel Colossus or Mindslaver (ironically, Jamie would beat Alan Comer's Tinker deck in the first round of Maher's PT Chicago, though Comer would be the one to make Top 8, where he would lose to Raphael Levy's aforementioned Five-Color Green deck). With Wall of Roots, Jamie could play a relatively robust creature on turn two that would not get Shocked to death like a Fyndhorn Elves, then immediately go to four mana for the Natural Order using the Wall for both sides of the cost.

VGC Moa Boa
Bill Macey, U.S. Open Winner, 1999

Relevant Cards: Hunting Moa

This deck was an aggressive racer. It fought in the Shadow world with eight Soltari creatures and did everything in its power to speed up the 2/1 clock, with both Rancor and Hunting Moa contributing there (and the Moa could pull Soltari Priest out of Cursed Scroll range while blocking or buying life points or turns). Hunting Moa and River Boa were “real world” creatures who had conditionally good statistics, and could hold the ground while the Shadows swung. This deck cared very little about controlling the game in any conventional sense, though Armageddon was clearly designed to hold a lead once it had been gotten. Even Bill's sideboard cards were chosen specifically to race… just check out Constant Mists. All I know beyond the obvious is that Macey once swung with his first turn Mother of Runes when his opponent had nothing.

He never made that mistake again.

Relevant Cards: Jolrael, Empress of Beasts

What can I say? The Rock is… The Rock.

Zvi (who incidentally playtested with Becker and eventually won the Grand Prix in question) would describe The Rock as an incremental and gradual card advantage deck. It does very little in the short term, but ekes away at the opponent one Yavimaya Elder, one Wall of Roots, one Cabal Therapy at a time, eventually swinging with one or two 6/6 creatures hidden somewhere in its palette of, well, everything. The Rock was and is viable almost entirely on the basis if its Pernicious Deeds… Becker's were just a mite better due to Jolrael by way of Living Wish.

I already talked about how his Legendary Green Monster (the only Jolrael, Empress of Beasts on Day 2 of this particular event, according to ctrl+f, by the by) was a hair faster than Ben Rubin's Kamahl, Fist of Krosa, but if you want all the gory details, here is the Feature Match report, care of Serious Fun's The Ferrett.

Relevant Cards: Krosan Cloudscraper

Glavin's deck was the ingenious combination of two different Extended combination decks, Life and Cephalid Breakfast. The Life combination is either Nomads en-Kor or Shaman en-Kor + Daru Spiritualist, with the en-Kor repeatedly targeting the Spiritualist whether or not damage is present, such that the Spiritualist gets essentially infinite toughness, at which point Worthy Cause or Starlit Sanctum can grant the enormous life total.

The Cephalid Breakfast combination is Nomads en-Kor or Shaman en-Kor targeting Cephalid Illusionist repeatedly, such that Lucas's entire library (or at least enough of it to matter, given his cards and the game state) becomes his graveyard. Once those cards are in the graveyard, Lucas can use Krosan Reclamation (which can itself be in the graveyard) to put Exhume and Reanimate in his library, presumably only those cards, depending, again, on his hand. Then he reanimates a Sutured Ghoul, which would in turn chomp up Krosan Cloudscraper's 13 power and cobble 7 more power from among the dead. Dragon Breath would smell Sutured Ghoul coming and give it haste, setting up a single attack for 20+ where once there was just a Cephalid Illusionist and perhaps a 1/1 or 1/2 of dubious occupation. All in all, the attack would take a single turn to win.

This was obviously a difficult deck to play around given that a beatdown deck would have to contend with “infinite life” while any deck would have to worry about a one turn kill. Particularly comical was Lucas's Top 8 match with Osyp Lebedowicz's Brain Freeze deck because – talk about strategy superiorityboth players were trying to mill out Glavin's library.

Stupid Green “SGD” – Seth Burn, multiple Top 8s and 9th Place, 1998 U.S. National Championship

Relevant Cards: Scragnoth, Spike Feeder, Wall of Roots

For a “Stupid” Green Deck, Seth's was remarkably multi-layered and strategic. It was an early breaker of Survival of the Fittest, even though it was not a “Survival” deck. SGD had no Squee, Goblin Nabob like Levy's Five-Color Green deck, and instead had to rely on the self-contained 187 power of Wall of Blossoms or Uktabi Orangutan for card advantage.

Like Secret Force, SGD could go to turn three Stampeding Wildebeests (its “Natural Order”) with either Llanowar Elves or Wall of Roots. The “drawback” on Stampeding Wildebeests would then become an advantage, picking up Wall of Blossoms or gaining, say, two life from Spike Feeder before picking that up, only to re-play such annoying permanents.

Difficult as it might be to believe, the Null Brooch + Scragnoth sideboard was almost unbeatable for straight Blue.

ABU G/R
Ryan Fuller, Top 8, Pro Tour – Tokyo 2001

Relevant Cards: Thornscape Battlemage

Not only did Fuller run the only 14-win Swiss of any tournament, not only did his team (including Chris Benafel, the man who took Ryan out in the quarterfinals) win the Team Masters event, but four copies of this G/R deck ended up in the Top 8!

You may have to deal with more cheap 3/3s today than in 2001, but otherwise? This kind of G/R beatdown deck is easily translatable to modern Standard (how much better is Giant Solifuge than… anything?).

Relevant Cards: Whirling Dervish

This archetype, from way back at Pro Tour I, was one third of the triumvirate that created the Rock / Paper / Scissors model for Magic metagames. The goal was extremely simple: Play a monster. Blow up all the mana. Kill the now-manascrewed opponent with said monster. Recover yourself with Land Tax… if you want to.

Whirling Dervish was not itself central to Bertrand's strategy. However, before Craig Jones and his Lightning Helix, Lestree's Whirling Dervish was half of the most famous topdeck in Pro Magic. Eventual Champion Mike Loconto was dead on board with no ready out… But he peeled the Swords to Plowshares he needed to get out of it and eventually go down in history as the game's first Pro Tour champ.

 * Modern Magic would keyword this internal zargon as “haste.”

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