he beginning of a new Constructed season is like Christmas Eve for me. I get all nervous and can't sleep the night before, and then opening the emails that I get from Greg Collins or clicking on the inevitable "Top 8 deck lists" link in the Tournament Center is like unwrapping a brightly colored parcel. What showed up? What did well? Did you see that so and so is back? Playing such and such?
From a more practical standpoint, the beginning of a new format, with its bundle of new deck lists give us a gauge on the upcoming metagame. Clicking the Top 8 deck lists is a balance between anticipation and premeditation. Half of you is curious because you love Magic and you want to see what your fellow Magicians have come up with... but the other half is already running the numbers as to how you will use that knowledge to claw your way to tournament victory later in the season, no matter how ragged your fingernails get along the way.
Who are the enemies? What did they show us? Can we figure out a way to beat them?
I suppose that we got our first glance at the summer's Block Constructed format from the Hollywood PTQs (you can check some of those deck lists out in Brian David-Marshall's article Gindy's Hollywood Ending), but last weekend's Grand Prix–Birmingham really served to solidify the top archetypes and top decks.
|Quick 'n Toast
As kind of an echo to Standard—and it makes a lot of sense given the heavily Block-flavored synergies of the linear tribal decks—one of the top decks in Block Constructed is Faeries (it has been called "the consensus best deck" in Block already, as well as Standard). Joining Faeries as one of the top decks—if not the tip top given the results of both the first PTQ and Grand Prix–Birmingham—is fellow linear tribal deck Kithkin... but Block Kithkin is beatdown with a twist! Thanks to heavy token creation and a lord with flash, Kithkin is the latest deck to try to break Mirrorweave. Rounding out the Birmingham Top 8 were two different five-color strategies, a linear Elementals, and the return of Quick'n'Toast (remember Guillaume Wafo-Tapa's Top 16 deck from Pro Tour–Hollywood?), this time piloted by the deck's creator himself.
Kithkin had some nice pedigree in Birmingham. In addition to tournament winner Lee Shin Tian, superhuman Pro Tour–Seattle Champion Jelger Wiegersma racked up yet another top finish with the so-called "Mirror Master" deck.
These Kithkin decks have many things in common, elements that diverge from familiar White Weenie decks of the past. For one, they have relatively high mana counts for the White Weenie archetype, with both Randle and Wiegersma topping up at 26 lands. Part of the reason for this is that Rustic Clachan is only half a land... The rest of the time it is used as a combat trick or a finishing poke. Perhaps the more important reason is that even though the Kithkin deck starts on the first turn with Goldmeadow Stalwart—and an awfully good opening that is—the curve goes to Cloudgoat Ranger on five mana, and the deck will craft games where it needs as much as eight operating mana in a turn.
Cloudgoat Ranger!?! What the... ?
Cloudgoat Ranger puts three little white creatures in play, just like Spectral Procession. These creatures are great friends of Thistledown Liege (or, being Kithkin proper, Wizened Cenn); either can enhance the token Soldiers from lowly 1/1s to twice-as-big 2/2s... and that's where the twist comes in!
When this deck has a creature advantage—and this works especially well when the deck has a lot of operating mana in play—it can use Mirrorweave to copy Thistledown Liege, turning all the 1/1s into... Who knows how big they are? Big enough. Big enough for the kill so long as enough get through unblocked.
The Kithkin deck is a robust aggressive deck even when it is not combo-ing off with tokens and Mirrorweave. Knight of Meadowgrain is one of the finest two-drops ever printed in a color that has had nothing but fine two-drops since Alpha, and the aforementioned Wizened Cenn is an in-tribe personal Crusade, more than serviceable whether or not it is a part of a specific finishing flourish.
All of the Faeries decks that made Top 8 played the same five spells (though PT Champ Fortier only played 19 copies instead of the 20 that the other two did). Bitterblossom
is obvious, and probably the best card of the bunch... except for Cryptic Command
, of course, which is often called the best card in whatever deck it is played; Broken Ambitions
replaces Rune Snag
from the Standard deck, and Ponder
does the same for Ancestral Vision
s. Nameless Inversion
is in either the Terror
slot or, well, a lot of people just played Nameless Inversion
in their Standard Faeries decks.
The rest of the main deck, barring Faerie Conclave from Tenth Edition, is essentially the same as the Standard version, complete with the flexibility to choose Pestermite or Vendilion Clique, just one Sower of Temptation or a whole lot... or to juggle the numbers a little bit some other way. I would be very surprised to see any serious Faeries decks that did not play a full complement of Mistbind Cliques, Spellstutter Sprites, and Scion of Oonas; as you know, these make up the creature core in the Standard version, and that has not changed with the transition to Block.
Quick 'n Toast
Manuel Bucher played a deck very similar to his maverick and highly successful Standard design from Pro Tour–Hollywood, a big ball of card advantage masquerading as a control deck. Everything in Quick 'n Toast is about getting ahead: All the creatures (save Plumeveil
) have some sort of built-in card advantage, be it drawing additional cards with Mulldrifter
, destroying a creature with Shriekmaw
, destroying many flying creatures with Cloudthresher
, or the Persist that makes Kitchen Finks
so relentless; even Plumeveil
has a kind of card advantage in that it can appear out of nowhere to drop a creature with a surprise block.
The spells are more and more card advantage, surprise 187s from Makeshift Mannequin (again drawing cards, killing creatures, gaining life, and so on... probably surprise blocking half the time), board sweepers, and heavy card drawing from Mind Spring (according to Bucher, Mind Spring was his VIP).
The cool thing about this deck, as with its Standard predecessor, is that Quick 'n Toast can basically play whatever it wants. Bucher rocked out all five colors, burned the grass with the red side of Firespout, scarred the sky with the other side; creatures in the air... really, really dead against this deck. Bucher could go up to four Cloudthresher and four Firespout in sideboarded games. He had for Makeshift Mannequin, or for Mind Shatter, and could muster the for Austere Command... Yep, all in his blue deck.
Turn one: Flamekin Harbinger
Turn two: Smokebraider
Turn three... Horde of Notions!
Horde of Notions is an easy cast for Levy's deck, provided he has Smokebraider. This card just seems absurd to me. First of all, it does everything; it's more or less Akroma, Angel of Wrath, smashing with haste, trample, and vigilence the turn it comes out. The thing about Horde of Notions in this deck, though, is that it is so synergistic with the evoke mechanic. On top of being an absurd and speedy threat, it can reanimate with the best of 'em, piling card advantage on top of warm bodies on top of more card advantage.
Because of its heavily Elementals makeup—33 of the 36 main deck spells for a start, counting Nameless Inversion—Levy's Elementals deck boasts literally the coolest interaction in the wide world of mana bases: Primal Beyond plus Reflecting Pool. Sure, Vivid Crag and Reflecting Pool gives you a similar effect, but in this deck, Primal Beyond essentially comes into play untapped, which is a huge upgrade over a Vivid land in any case, but especially for a deck with one-drops.
Something to keep in mind for both Quick 'n Toast and Elementals is the metagame effectiveness of Cloudthresher. You can respond to a White Weenie deck's Mirrorweave with Cloudthresher (evoke if need be) to kill some 1/1 fying tokens if not Kithkin on the ground, taking a lot of wind out of that deck's sails. This can be quite the master strike against Spectral Procession's tokens... but watch out!
If you time a Cloudthresher wrong (or even a Plumeveil for that matter), you can actually be helping the opponent get to a critical amount of damage more quickly. It can be very tempting to run Cloudthresher out there during combat to kill a lot of little guys and maybe fight off the straggler who lived through it with a block. Sometimes this will be the right play! But don't forget there is another side to this coin. If you make the first move, the opponent might copy your 7/7 or 4/4 after it hits play... which might just be lethal in and of itself.
The beauty of the new format is that it is so new. For the most part, the future hasn't been etched in unchanging diamond history yet. The new deck lists give us framework, and tools, a place to start, and something to play... but they aren't the limit of what can be done by any means. Will White Weenie Kithkin Mirrorweave soldier through the PTQs and summer Grand Prix season as the top deck, or will it fade like last year's opening Grand Prix victor, Green-White Aggro?
There are many ways to find out, but the best one still has to be living it. The PTQ schedule is located here. Good luck getting to Berlin!