||De Rosa, Antonino
ooking at those eight names—a U.S. National Champion, a Pro Tour Champion, a man poised to overtake Jon Finkel’s spot on the money list (someday!), three standing members of the 2006 Magic Invitational, two standing members of the 2006 U.S. National team, and only one intrepid amateur, poised to make his first appearance on the big stage... It would be a fine Top 8 for almost any tournament, almost certainly better than the measly tiebreaker-riding lucksack Top 8... Only...
Rounding out the team... the reigning U.S. National Champion.
The newly crowned Resident Genius.
The Player of the Year.
Nice. Top. 8.
Welcome to the dawn of three-set Time Spiral Block Constructed, and one of the finest Top 8s—and Top 16s—in recent memory of any premiere event. For a tournament a million Swiss rounds long, with such strong finishes from so many superb players, I can only conclude that Time Spiral Block is a highly skill-intensive format with tons of room to out-play the opponent, space to tune an individual deck, and high interactivity. Let’s check out the lists from Grand Prix–Montreal that will define the upcoming PTQ season.
... Okay! First, per our title, let’s check out the cheap seats, the decks that didn’t make Top 8, but maybe should have.
It must be good to be the Player of the Year. Shouta Yasooka, blue-black guru of Japan and the world, dodged three incredible players to hit Top 8 as the only 36-point player in the single-elimination rounds. Here go some of the “virtual Top 8” deck lists:
Antonino De Rosa – Blue-Green Homebrew
Ant is a good friend and one of my favorite deck designers. Back in Odyssey Block, the Hall of Fame’s Gary Wise said that, even as players like Rob Dougherty and Osyp Lebedowicz vied for Zvi Mowshowitz’s position as the best deck designer on the planet, it was ironically Ant who may have been the most innovative designer in the world. In a format with “essentially two decks,” Ant figured out possibly the most important piece of technology that a blue-green player would ever wield. Others were screwing around with Standstill and Breakthrough, but De Rosa premiered the lasting complement to Wild Mongrel, Deep Analysis.
Ever since, he has been an off-and-on big supporter of blue-green and similar decks. To an old fan, this one seems like more of the same: a little tempo, a little interaction, and a lot of face planting with great aggressive drops.
Like many of the decks you will see in the upcoming format, Ant’s features quad Tarmogoyf
s. He can break the ubiquitous Lhurgoyf by breaking Terramorphic Expanse
(land) or Chromatic Star
(Artifact), or by setting up a Call of the Herd
(sorcery), or sending a Psionic Blast
(instant). He has light permission and threats aplenty. Riftwing Cloudskate
gives this deck good time management, and Vesuvan Shapeshifter
can play redundantly or as an anti-Teferi answer. I haven’t started battling these decks against one another yet, so I am not sure about Ant’s blue-green homebrew, but my guess is that if Guillaume’s Genius Slivers becomes a staple of the metagame, Ant’s will be one of its scariest foils.
All that said, it turns out similar deck was played by The Future of American MagicTM, Ben Lundquist... because Ben was its genesis. According to my sources, only two Pros played the blue-green, and they both made Top 16! Draw your own conclusions.
DougP, one of Ben’s Clanmates on Magic Online, pointed out some cool interactions with this deck: Riftsweeper is the all-star. You will often Snapback your own Riftsweeper to set up more 187 problems. Mondo combo alert: Remember that this deck already packs Delay!
Osyp – Green-White Good Guys
It always flabbergasts me that despite the fact that he is a two-time Invitational participant, Pro Tour Champion, Grand Prix Champion, good friend of YT, &c., that we can forget that Osyp is one of the strongest deck developers in the world. He had a run during Onslaught Block that literally lapped a Mowshowitz. This deck is in a sense a boring green-white offensive deck (we’ll look at Celso the champ’s as soon as we get past the bleachers), but tuned in some exciting and atypical directions.
I think I like Temporal Isolation main deck... It’s critical in a lot of matchups and quite strong against a Bogardan Hellkite, Korlash, or other gigantic fat man. That said, Hedge Troll seems awesome. Sedge Sliver is making the rounds in Red Decks, and Hedge Troll seems just great. I fear for the Hedge Troll that he will not see a lot of long-term play (due to Troll Ascetic in Tenth Edition), but Osyp’s deck seems to have found a home for this good man.
Not everyone ran Stonewood Invocation main, and after a glance at Osyp’s listing (which includes Scryb Ranger), I was surprised at the paucity of Spectral Forces. I suppose he has sufficient fatties, especially with Mystic Enforcer, which interacts so tightly with the Tarmogoyf engine. That said... Osyp has the littlest Tarmogoyfs on the page; no Chromatic Stars, no Edge of Autumn Engine.
...Or does he? In what may be a simply ingenious move, Joe Black can piggyback his opponents’ Tarmogoyf customizations. No Chromatic Star? The fact that the other guy plays cards to help his little monsters go Go GO makes room for Osyp’s Hedge Trolls and other unique elements.
Speaking of Chromatic Star and Edge of Autumn, next up is...
Andre Coimbra – Predator.dec
Andre’s deck combines the graveyard synergies of Mystic Enforcer and Tarmogoyf with a little love from the color of chaos. He gets Fiery Justice main and Greater Gargadon and Fatal Frenzy out of the sideboard. Fiery Justice is an odd card... It can generate card advantage, but why would a beatdown deck want to ship the opponent five life? For that matter, Grove of the Burnwillows? Isn’t that about the worst land an aggressive player can muster?
Here is a home for Kavu Predator
. This little Grizzly Bears
undoes all the—pardon the abysmal diction—damage
(context!) done by Grove of the Burnwillows
and Fiery Justice
. Thornweald Archer
is another great addition. It looks like Andre was setting up for a lot of green-white decks. Thornweald Archer
can fight any Tarmogoyf
, no matter how gigantic, and Kavu Predator
is one of the few creatures that can get as big as the ‘goyf, Korlash, &c. Andre has a fair number of pump spells for only 16 creatures, but Chromatic Star
and Edge of Autumn
+ Flagstones of Trokair
can help power through his deck, almost Comer-style.
Those are three decks—three different looks at the card Pierre Canali called “another Psychatog or Jitte”—that tied for Top 8 but missed out on breakers. Now for the Top 8, and most likely the decks you will have to battle on the way to a Valencia Pro Tour invite:
Celso Zampere Jr. – Green-White ‘Goyf – Champion
Celso, the only non-Level Six Mage on Raaala Pumba, may be coming into his own to chase teammates Willy Edel and Paulo Vitor Damo Da Rosa with this win. STUDY THIS DECK. My gut says that a green-white build on the order of Celso’s will be THE most popular deck of the PTQ season. It is straightforward and has powerful cards (most importantly Tarmogoyf) and awesome interactions like Edge of Autumn + Flagstones of Trokair. Temporal Isolation main gives Celso another permanent type (Enchantment) for the ‘goyf... and Bound in Silence out of the board plays one up from there. I wouldn’t go trying to trade too aggressively against green-white this season. Osyp ran four copies of Thrill of the Hunt in his sideboard, but Celso eschews Stonewood Invocation for main deck Thrill. Yikes!
On the G/W/x note, Don’t miss Gabriel Schwartz’s look at a similar deck to Coimbra’s. He plays many of the same Predator.dec interactions, but at first glance, his deck seems a little more consistent (better pump-to-threat ratio), and more outs.
With two copies of three- or four-color (it really depends on how you look at these things) Teferi Control in the Top 8, you’d think that the newly crowned Resident Genius Guillaume Wafo-Tapa, who just won the Pro Tour with such a deck, would be among them. Answering the critics that claim that he “just builds the same deck in every format,” Wafo-Tapa brought about as different a deck as he could to the Canadian GP.
Guillaume Wafo-Tapa – Wild Slivers
So how does this monstrosity play out?
For simplicity’s sake, let’s assume Wafo-Tapa has managed to resolve Wild Pair
. Now every creature he plays is like a Demonic Tutor
for a specific size. He can use any 2/2 Sliver to get Dormant Sliver
, and from there, draw into whatever he likes. Gemhide Sliver
gives his Slivers the ability to tap for mana, complimented nicely by Reflex Sliver
(why wait?) The many 2/2 Slivers are half-synergistic with bullets like Venser, Shaper Savant
and Mystic Snake
; both are fed by Whitemane Lion
, who has his own built-in reset button, kind of a Sliver chain all by his lonesome.
While some Sliver decks use Basal Sliver to kill the opponent with Disintegrate, Guillaume’s has Reflex Sliver into Might Sliver to attack for the win or can lock the opponent out with Telekinetic Sliver.
The U.S. National Champion went with a very different version of polychromatic control for this one than the Player of the Year.
Paul Cheon – Korlash Hybrid
Shouta Yasooka – Teferi / Tombstalker
Shouta’s deck is very much in the flavor of the Pro Tour decks, though he peppers in a good many new cards (Venser, Tombstalker, Slaugher Pact, Take Possession, Coalition Relic). Interestingly, he decided to keep four Cancels and add two Delays on top. Though he plays many singletons, Yasooka has only two Mystical Teachings.
On balance, Paul Cheon’s deck is very different from the norm. One Teferi. Three Shadowmage Infiltrators. Four copies of Korlash, Heir to Blackblade.
Besides his creature mix, one of the innovative additions of Paul’s deck is Psychotic Episode (no Cancels or Delays). Psychotic Episode is kind of a more proactive look at Cancel anyway, and one that fits nicely with enablers like Careful Consideration. To borrow a phrase dating back to the dawn of Madness in Constructed, it may just be the case that this deck is insane.
With this Top 8 banished of Red Decks and of small-, medium-, and large-sized green-red, the most important remaining strategies seem to be Pickles variants; both blue-green and straight blue versions made Top 8.
The simple skinny on the Pickles combo is that you flip Brine Elemental to lock the opponent out of a turn, then flip Vesuvan Vesuvan Shapeshifter (copying the Elemental), locking him out of the next. Vesuvan Shapeshifter conveniently flips every turn, for the bargain price of . The blue-green version adds Thelonite Hermit to the mix, allowing for mad token production, specifically four Saps a turn care of and a Vesuvan Shapeshifter.
Ootsuka – Blue-Green Pickles
Last we have possibly the best, Kenji Tsumura with straight Blue Pickles.
Kenji Tsumura – Blue Pickles
This deck borrows heavily from Tsuyoshi Fujita’s mono-blue deck from the recent Pro Tour, which he called Old-School Draw-Go. The card advantage comes from Ancestral Vision, a mediocre topdeck but the best possible play for the deck on turn one. Kenji cut the counters a bit, making Tsuyoshi’s deck even less Draw-Go-ish than before, also swapping hard counter Dismal Failure with soft-but-swift Delay.
Kenji’s deck is a semi-hybrid. It can play like a generic Teferi Control deck, or it can go for a Pickles combo (Brine Elemental
+ Vesuvan Shapeshifter
). Straight blue decks in this format are among the best against
(other) Teferi Control decks, with Vesuvan Shapeshifter
s capable of dealing with opposing Mages of Zhalfir. Don’t expect Kenji’s deck to miss a lot of early game land drops. He’s almost 50% mana, and has Fathom Seer
and Ancestral Vision
smoothing him out in the middle turns. I would suggest testing this deck a lot if you are interested in it. The old-school land-heavy decks play a lot differently than “modern” Ravnica
Block-informed control decks, and going purely on Kenji’s loss to Celso in the Top 4, I’d guess that the soon-to-be-inevitable green-white matchup is a rough one (I know Columbus winner Steve Sadin played mono-blue in Montreal and expressed displeasure at the green-white matchup). Still, total control plus
a passable combo is nothing to ignore, especially when it has the pedigree of a Tsumura selection at the most recent event.
Time Spiral Block is shaping up to be a really exciting format, with both beatdown and control finishing high at recent events and at least two and a half combo decks poised to shake down the unprepared. My guess, though? You can’t keep red down throughout the entire summer season.