Top_Decks

Three weeks of Pro Tour–Valencia qualifiers and what they mean for Time Spiral Block Constructed.

Rounding Third

  • Boards
  • Print
Author Image

The letter T!ime Spiral Block Constructed is shaping up to be an intricate dance between beatdown, control, and even a little combo. At the core of what makes this format so interesting is an air of inherent customizability born of strong mana and card manipulation options available to essentially any color, and across the gamut of different strategies. Some of the options are subtle... and at the same time obvious. This is going to be a little fast forwarding given the rest of the structure of this article, but check out Gabriel Stoffa's PTQ winner from last week's event in Minneapolis, Minnesota:

I would call this essentially a G/W deck with a slight blue splash, though it certainly shares some traits with the Antonino / Ben Lundquist deck we discussed after the recent Grand Prix. Basically Gabriel identified that he was already playing Terramorphic Expanse and Chromatic Star for Tarmogoyf... Why not add a color? With no Savannah Lions or other color-dependent one-drops there was very little cost to his blue splash. What did he get? Momentary Blink might not seem like a lot, but the rest of this article is going to be devoted to the fact that the B/U Control shell is basically the dominant force in this format, or at least the glue that holds it together, and Blink's utility there, even in a "non-Blink deck," is pretty solid. One thing that the B/U deck is good at doing is killing or otherwise dealing with creatures. When you get to play both sides of Momentary Blink, not only do you save a key creature from getting killed... in this format, you get to deny the control opponent 5, 7, even 15 life points worth of swing. Twice.

This trick would have worked great with Edge of Autumn, another non-consensus-but-awfully-common slot in most G/W Tarmogoyf shells. Momentary Blink approximates a lot of what other G/W decks are using several different cards to accomplish. It deals with the opponent's Temporal Isolation in the mirror, and seeks to win the Goyf-on-Goyf brawls in much the same way as a Stonecloaker (especially as a solo instant on flashback). Momentary Blink can beat up original trump fighter Thornweald Archer, too. This is a great splash, and I would not be surprised to see it repeated in many Top 8 reports over the course of the next couple of weeks.

Okay, back to the beginning... Though we started, in a sense, on the third and most recent week of the Valencia PTQ season, there were two previous that I would like to touch on, that we have not talked about yet except in the context of Grand Prix–Montreal. It is probably useful at this point to discuss some decks in specific.

Week One:

B/U Control, Teachings variants, and Pickles
Reanimator
WW
RDW
G/R/W Predator
U/G/W Beatdown
G/W Goyf
Blink variants
Big Green
U/G/R Control
G/R Goyf
U/G Mid-range
U/W Control
Mishra
MBC / Discard

Week Two:

B/U Control, Teachings variants, and Pickles
U/G Mid-range
Reanimator
G/W Goyf
U Pickles
G/R/W Predator
U/W Control
U/G Beatdown
U/G/W Beatdown
U/R/W Control

Week Three:

G/W Goyf
U Pickles
U/G/W Beatdown
B/U Control, Teachings variants, and Pickles
Slivers
U/G Beatdown
U/G Mid-range
White Weenie
Reanimator

As should be obvious both from the number of qualifying players and the volume represented in each of the first two weeks, the most important "deck" of the format is B/U Control. The fact that I had a very hard time categorizing this broad spectrum of decks and ended up just calling all of them "B/U Control, Teachings variants, and Pickles" is a testament to the aforementioned customizability of the format. I think that when Zvi Mowshowitz looked back on his time at R&D and said that his one great regret was not building the deck to prove that Damnation should never have been printed philosophically that this kind of an avalanche of B/U Control was what he was anticipating. Damnation is an exceptionally strong card. It is basically the same card as was the best card in Standard for some time, ported to a smaller, more creature-reliant format, and stuck in the four-slot next to essentially a perfect complement in Mystical Teachings. Mystical Teachings can do many things, but the one that is really the hallmark of the B/U deck is to just fetch more creature elimination... The icon is of course Tendrils of Corruption, perfectly complemented by Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth. The success of B/U variants can therefore be largely attributed to moment. Time Spiral Block, right now anyway, represents a point in time when all the pieces just fit. B/U is firing on several cylinders, and is actually the best at several different things that are all desirable to be the best at.

One side of the format, yes, is based around one of the strongest two-drops in years... and yes, this is still a game dominated by awesome two-drops. The problems from the other side of the metagame are two: 1) it's a little rough on the Tarmogoyf side, that is the side good at making an awesome two-drop, when the other side is good at killing multiple creatures easily or killing one creature very profitably, and 2) well, they just steal your Tarmogoyf anyway, in one of two different ways, either philosophically (putting it where it doesn't "belong," that is, the B/U deck itself) or by tapping 5 ManaBlue ManaBlue Mana, which is worse for the Goyf decks.

The customizability of this format is vast, as will be the B/U decks we discuss in a moment. Regardless of where they deviate—Shadowmage Infiltrators, Teferi long or lock games, Pickles combinations or not, Cancels or Korlashes—every successful one will have certain elements in common. Be prepared for these!

1) Damnation. Most if not all will have four copies of this card main deck.

2) Tendrils of Corruption. Some will play all four copies main deck; I would not bank on the opponent playing fewer than two copies, especially with Mystical Teachings. In long game situations you will often not be able to play a creature that can be targeted by Tendrils at all unless you have some tricky plan, say Stonecloaker, Momentary Blink, or Greater Gargadon. Look for opportunities to stick a Vesuva on the opponent's Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth... Right after he's just discarded a bonus Urborg to Careful Consideration is probably the best gap to gamble.

3) Card drawing. Do not be surprised by B/U decks with as many as twelve dedicated draw slots main deck. This past weekend I played Shadowmage Infiltrator and Foresee and Careful Consideration. Most decks will play about three copies of Mystical Teachings, many all four. Some will run Think Twice. Their goal will be to bury you in an avalanche of card advantage, generally chaining Foresee two-for-one into Damnation three-for-one, following up with more two-for-ones and never letting go.

4) Mana ramp. There is no way a slow deck of this school should be able to run with Tarmogoyfs into Calciderms... The reason B/U has been, and continues to be, dominant is because it plays a long game more quickly than the one-land-per-turn rule should allow. Every single deck that follows these principles will play four Prismatic Lenses, and most of the up-to-date / tuned models will have adopted Coalition Relic.

Adrian Sullivan qualified for I believe his second Pro Tour with a U/G Gaea's Blessing deck way back in 1997 or 1998. With Time Spiral's purple reprint of that beloved Weatherlight do-nothing, he has finally got the chance to recreate The Baron, his then-highly innovative control strategy that paired green with neither black nor white. I am guessing Adrian was heartbroken at not being able to run Wall of Roots in this deck, another reprint that was present in his original, but the B/U base probably would not have allowed for it even with Terramorphic Expanse (notice Adrian has only the solo Forest). The Baron is similar to many other B/U decks... It has the four Damnations and a Tendrils backup plan, and it can play both sides of Mystical Teachings. The two unique features are 1) Pickles combo; most Pickles decks at this point are straight blue or U/G, and 2) Gaea's Blessing; this is the card that allows Adrian to call his deck a reborn Baron, not just B/U Teachings. Blessing allows him to recycle his cards, particularly card drawing and profitable answers, in long attrition matches against other base-B/U decks.

Adrian's deck was a Week One deck, scoring the same weekend as the Grand Prix. In Week One of a PTQ season, innovative deck designers will often get the chance to pounce on a field, where most players fall either into playing predictable re-hashes of Pro Tour decks or awkward and untuned attempts to run the new third set cards. However the nature of B/U changed a great deal following GP–Montreal. Check out Gerry Thomson's Week Two winner:

This deck is highly reminiscent of Olivier Ruel's deck from Montreal. Its unique element is Coalition Relic. Between Coalition Relic and Prismatic Lens and twenty-seven lands, this is one of the most mana-heavy models in recent memory. Gerry had to be able to do something with all that mana... He went with an expensive finisher in Bogardan Hellkite (Mystical Teachings-eligible thanks to flash), Take Possession, and Haunting Hymn. Note that a fourth-turn Haunting Hymn is pretty easy with this deck, so long as it follows a Coalition Relic. Olivier ran Tarmogoyfs as his finishers, a Psychatog-like cleanup crew that could block in the early game if need be, but Gerry replaced those with Shadowmage Infiltrators, which are better at seizing the initiative after a Damnation or building to an advantage against non-red opposition in the early-to-middle turns. Jon Finkel is one of the most underrated and underplayed threats in the present Time Spiral Block Constructed format in my opinion, and I am surprised that more players don't run him. He is actually quite wicked in B/U-on-B/U, and will win the game all by himself if unanswered for, say, two turns.

All that said, this deck is a mite monster-light. Gerry has three Take Possessions that play double-duty. Of course they are threat suppression, dealing with what might kill you. Perhaps more importantly for this deck in PTQ-length rounds, Take Possession on Tarmogoyf or Mystic Enforcer is also a lovely way to win.

Coalition Relic allows this sort of deck to go absolutely greedy on the role players. Ancient Grudge (red and green) in my B/U deck? Why not? What about Return to Dust? He's got them. Color discipline? There is very little reason to pay attention to that old nagging voice when Coalition Relic lets you splash, say, White ManaWhite Mana in your B/U.

An archetype that is hot on the heels of B/U in terms of wins—two in Week One and a follow-up in Week Two—is reanimator. The strategy is simple... Use Looter il-Kor or Bonded Fetch to dump a massive threat—say Akroma—and then follow up with a Dread Return the following turn. Body Double gives the deck redundancy, and Bridge from Below gives it resiliency in a format with very little applicable hate (while Tormod's Crypt was the most popular sideboard card at U.S. Regionals, you don't see very many played in Block).

Here are the three qualifying builds:



Each of the above has something interesting going for it... I'm not sure which is the right way to take this deck right now. Delay, as in Suarez's deck, seems like a monster when you already have the lead. On balance, I love the Psychotic Episodes in Connor's deck, so synergistic with his blue creatures and Gathan Raiders. Then there is Ripple's deck, which splashes—successfully—with a non-greedy / quite fantastic graveyard-piggybacking Tarmogoyf, a mighty threat that can take all kinds of names with or without Body Double or Dread Return online. My initial analysis is that this strategy is for real; sharpen your Snapbacks.

As strong as B/U has been so far this season, if I had to make a recommendation for the control-hearted, it would be for Josh Ravitz's deck, second place in New York:

Josh actually got this deck from the man himself, Kenji Tsumura, and rode to his finals finish with modifications and a sideboard primer hand-delivered by the current best player on the planet (how lucky). Josh said all his matchups during the day (but one Swiss loss to G/W) were very easy. His deck is highly favored against B/U, and can run with basically anything due to the presence of the Pickles combo to lock out a long game. The increased number of storage lands lets him get to that position more quickly when under pressure. Keep in mind that Josh's second place is a result of his conceding the slot to Phil Napoli, a friend, in the finals... Though to be fair, he said that G/W is the blue deck's rough matchup, and Napoli was packing the Lebedowicz special Scryb Ranger—a minority, if successful, specialized customization itself—awesome against Pickles in every possible way.

Unlike many other Block Constructed formats, Time Spiral seems to be giving us the ability to differentiate our decks without greatly damaging their power, fundamental turn, or core strategies. That is half a result of the strong mana fixing that R&D has continued to gift us with since Ravnica Block and the advent of the Tier Two metagame, and half due to the fact that players are currently piggybacking off of each other's resource dedication with Tarmogoyf, Body Double, and Take Possession, and can cheat on space (wonderful metagaming in itself). More than ever, that means that in addition to having good ideas, we have to keep well informed of other players' innovations in order to keep up.

Think big, think hard, stuff your pockets with rabbits' feet and four leaf clovers, study and grow strong. Good luck!

  • Planeswalker Points
  • Facebook Twitter
  • Gatherer: The Magic Card Database
  • Forums: Connect with the Magic Community
  • Magic Locator