here is a beauty and a danger to the current status quo, to holding the World Championships at the end of the year, after States and Champs, after Standard has been allowed to germinate for a few weeks on Magic Online. For many spectators, enthusiasts, fans of the game and tournament players both, the coming of the Pro Tour—a Constructed Pro Tour in particular—is a special event. We sit at home, login to magicthegathering.com, and wonder, wide-eyed, what these geniuses will do next.
There is a danger to it. In the old days, Team CMU could spring their mono-blue decks on the metagame, or Tinker-Waters would make the red-green "anti-" decks look silly. But these days, that wonder of the Pro Tour dances precariously on the tip of a raised needle. Remember last year? Most of the undefeated Standard decks were Boros variants, some a little different than others, but nothing awe-inspiring. I suppose that onetime Player of the Year and onetime best deck designer on the planet Gabriel Nassif and his tag team partner Mark Herberholz did us spectators a solid with that Martyr-Tron deck... but the accomplishment was ultimately overshadowed by eventual 2006 winner Dragonstorm.
There is a beauty to the positioning of the World Championships, too. Remember two years ago
, the first of Katsuhiro Mori's three consecutive Top 8s, the one he won
? A unified cadre of Japanese players cracked the metagame with their green-white Ghazi-Glare deck, crashing through the tournament, placing numerous paragons into the elimination rounds, and eventually taking the crown. They were able to gaze long into the metagame established by Champs, the sea of Tide Star
s and Hinder
s in those virgin days before the universal adoption of Remand
, and really and truly dominate with the two least offensive colors in the history of competitive Magic
. They had transformative sideboards, powerful threats, and even maindeck enchantment kill! Wow. Bam!
This year's World Championships showcased a new Standard deck of such legend, excitement, and explosiveness that its long shadow hangs over even the format-solving Ghazi-Glare. This deck, a Dragonstorm update innovated by the ingenious deck design triumvirate of Pat Chapin, Gabriel Nassif, and Mark Herberholz is likely the most dominating single-tournament deck since Team ABU put four eventual victims of Zvi Mowshowitz into the Top 8 of Pro Tour–Tokyo.
Rumor has it that a prototype of this strategy had been espied in a side event at Grand Prix–Daytona Beach. Chapin, innovator of the Korlash Standard deck, the man who put Sligh on the Pro Tour map way back in 1996, and a Constructed Grand Prix finalist, was given a simple directive and a short list of scribbled-down cards: play Dragonstorm with Spinerock Knoll. Go!
Pat hybridized the Dragonstorm combo with a Pyromancer's Swath burn strategy (which had a huge amount of natural overlap with Spinerock Knoll) and played the maximum number of Fungal Reaches and Molten Slagheaps. The deck also has a great deal of misdirection to it: Chapin is a popular columnist at StarCityGames.com, and the week before Worlds, he wrote about an unrelated Skred Red update. He was able to bluff one opponent with Snow-Covered Mountain, who played tentatively (as against a board control deck) but was handed a nasty surprise with the explosive Dragonstorm kill.
So how does this new metagame monster work?
Spinerock Knoll is a corner piece to the strategy. This land is basically an Impulse, and allows the mono-red Dragonstorm to play like a "blue" deck. Ideally you will put Dragonstorm under a first-turn Spinerock Knoll. On the second turn you can, say, suspend a Rift Bolt. On the third, you warp in the Rift Bolt for 3, play a third land, play Rite of Flame for a pair of Shocks or Tarfires, and, having fulfilled the 7 damage requirement, reveal the Dragonstorm for another 20.
Of course the deck can just suspend Lotus Blooms, play Rite of Flame, rip counters off the Fungal Reaches, and run out Dragonstorm (or Empty the Warrens, or Ignite Memories) "per normal."
The third plan is to set up mana into a Pyromancer's Swath and a couple of burn cards... With the trademark enchantment in play, you don't need very many.
The Dragonstorm deck is extremely resilient, but all of its pilots expressed a vulnerability to the color black (and unfortunately both Nassif and Chapin had quarterfinals opponents with Thoughtseize and more)... but Wheel of Fate can dig the Dragonstorm players out of even a stack of Stupors. Not only is that card the natural enemy of cheap discard, it is a perfect card to have warping in the turn after you've moved in with Pyromancer's Swath.
So why so dominant? We've seen decks with three or even four copies in the Top 8 of major events before, and you can kind of
argue that there were five similar decks in this year's Top 8, whereas Dragonstorm at the World Championships could boast only two
... However, typically, for every deck that does well, even decks that defy statistics or perform above and beyond expectation at the end of a big event, there are ten failures scattered throughout the room... Except for Dragonstorm
. The deck was extremely impressive, and Chapin, who was staying at Jon Finkel's apartment in New York, was able to infect all his roommates with the fire. Ultimately Dave Williams, Mark Herberbolz, Amiel Tenenbaum, and Finkel himself all finished 4–1 in Standard along with Chapin and Nassif. Bob Maher brought up the rear with a lone—but still better-than-even—3–2. That was it. One 3–2 record in a room filled with the best players in the world, with almost every one of the best players of all time participating. The "underachiever" was a single better-than-average Hall of Famer!
Unsurprisingly, such an exciting new deck caught on like wildfire in the amateur events at Worlds, and many Northeast challengers looking for the right deck to play in Sunday's Win a Car Tournament gave it a whirl. Spencer Reiss, who had won a pre-Worlds satellite in New Jersey, got his build directly from Chapin at the end of Day One. After numerous 8-man practice events, Spencer went into the Win a Car event 13–2 with the new deck, winning quite a few side events.
So will Dragonstorm remain the best deck to play?
Like many metagame breakers, Dragonstorm may not be the right choice for the long haul. Chapin said that besides having several of the best players of all time behind their deck, the Dragonstorm group had the power of surprise behind them. People had no idea how to play against the new build on Day One, but by Sunday, the Top 8 competitors had plenty of opportunity to test. Walking the side events it was easy to see the effect that the deck had on the metagame, even from players who were not themselves adherents. Maindeck Story Circle? It was like Masques Block Constructed 2007 at some tables. Thorn of Amethyst, Imperial Mask, and even more exotic solutions peppered the 8-mans.
Here are a couple of other tools, for existing decks: Our newly crowned World Champion Uri Peleg played three Riftsweepers in his sideboard. Riftsweeper is one of the best cards against Dragonstorm because it can trump Wheel of Fate while helping out against the more common Rift Bolts and Lotus Blooms. Stopping any suspend card while setting up a fast threat can be pretty good, but Dragonstorm almost needs Wheel of Fate to escape heavy discard.
Andre Coimbra suggested Mistbind Clique, a card Faeries is already playing. "You can tap them out, including the Spinerock Knoll, in response to their third spell, before they've dealt seven damage." I know I would be frustrated on the wrong end of that one!
The World Champion
In a tournament, and Top 8, littered with the old Golgari colors, our World Champion spiced it up with a little Selesnya, a wee bit of Orzhov. His signature change was merely to add White to a strategy otherwise similar to the black-green midrange decks, to the tune of four copies of Doran, the Siege Tower
main, and one planeswalker-answering Oblivion Ring
in the side.
Peleg's deck really loves a first-turn accelerator. From Birds of Paradise he can move to Doran, Ohran Viper, or even Hypnotic Specter!
As with a couple of the top decks from this event, Uri played not one but two planeswalkers, both the near-universal Garruk Wildspeaker and the arguably more powerful Liliana Vess. This helped to give him the ability to attack the opponent from numerous angles. Doran actually improves Ohran Viper, making the already dangerous heir to Ophidian a virtual 3/3. Tarmogoyf gets better than ever, going to *+1/*+1 from */*+1 (at the very least giving it the ability to smash another Tarmogoyf to death); even Birds of Paradise starts hitting in the sky, going positively Cloud Sprite. He can swarm or Overrun with Garruk Wildspeaker, finish with Profane Command, or dial it back to 1998 with a black-green "Living Death" care of A Villainess.
Profane Command is some kind of a versatile endgame spell. It allows you to win Fireball-style to the face, win evasively from the Red Zone, or basically entwine a Barbed Lightning (or get even bigger).
My split between these two archetypes (Black-Green Mid-range versus Elves) is fairly arbitrary. For the Midrange decks I basically chose the ones with Ohran Viper and more planeswalkers, and for the Elf decks I went with the decks that have Wren's Run Vanquishers and Imperious Perfects.
These decks have many cards in common and function in similar fashion. The Elf decks are more proactive. They can go Llanowar Elves, Vanquisher, Perfect 1-2-3, or, given an accelerator, attack with Mirri the Cursed (!!!) in the sky on the third.
The Midrange decks have a variety of threats that they can bring to bear. Some are high-end Elves like van Heeswijk's Nath of the Gilt-Leaf or Huber's Masked Admirers (still awesome in the late game). Others are the six (!) planeswalkers in the latter. Basically, these decks can attack the opponent from several different angles, taking cards with Nath and Thoughtseize, obviously dominating the Red Zone with crazy threats like Tarmogoyf, or finish long from behind a wall of chump blockers with Profane Command. They can threaten early with Ohran Viper to get ahead in the short term, or jam into a tremendous attrition advantage with the nearly inviolate Masked Admirers. Basically all of these decks have a potential ace against beatdown in Loxodon Warhammer, and all of them play a hefty amount of creature kill. Subtly, the Warhammer can be key against Dragonstorm, too. While that deck is powerful, it is not infinite, and a little life gain can make some games impossible to win with burn.
The Mannequin Deck
Last, but not least, an update to the Mannequin deck...
Otsuka's version differs in a couple of places from the decks we have seen coming out of States / Champs or Grand Prix–Krakow. In addition to a little mana acceleration, Kotaro has a real way to say "No" in Cryptic Command, giving the deck a little more play up against true control or combo.
Besides those, Otsuka's deck remains a single-minded card advantage engine... All two-for-ones with Makeshift Mannequin to two-for-one again.
Notable by their absence: Grim Harvest and Profane Command
A Couple of 5-0s...
Not every great deck made Top 8. Here are a couple of undefeated Day One decks for your enjoyment and analysis:
One half of the Sliver Kids backed up their PT victory with a strong 5-0 Standard start Day One. Chris went with a mid-range green-red deck. This version echoes the "big mana" of previous versions but adds a Snow sub-theme for Skred and Scrying Sheets. Even at the end of the weekend, many top Pros were advocating Green-Red Big Snow; just keep in mind that most consider it a dog to the potentially overwhelmingly powerful Dragonstorm.
Blue-Green Faeries returns!
Doubtless these decks have already affected your local Standard tournaments and have probably been played against you on Magic Online.
As a fan of the game, I am overjoyed to see some of the new decks that came out of this year's Worlds. The updates to the black-green decks, the surprise rise of Dragonstorm, and the steady performance of Mannequin, even in a slightly altered form, show that the format is still wide open: You can successfully play an established deck or approach a tournament with the knowledge that there is still room for innovation.
Next week is the last Swimming with Sharks of 2007. See you there!