Welcome to Mimic Week! All this week on magicthegathering.com, the regular columns will appear as usual… but with a twist. Your eight regular writers, plus at least two guest authors who've written for the site before, are hiding in the ten regular column slots—maybe even their own—under a clever pseudonym: The Mimic! Can you figure out who actually wrote each article? Tune in Monday, July 28 for the answers!
n the edge of your vision, they lurk. Behind your house or in a local park at night. Shambling forward in sinister silence. Emerging from a murky lake. Swooping across a haunted field, wings outstretched to obscure all hope, stealing your last few heartbeats in a white swath of pecking, tearing power and destruction. There they are at last: Swans!
Ok, real-life swans might not be quite as dangerous and powerful as that (in most neighborhoods). In Magic, however, Swans can be among the most explosive avians around. Specifically: Swans of Bryn Argoll. This past weekend Aaron Nicastri put the Shadowmoor Bird Spirits to good use, winning one of the first of a series of Standard-format Nationals events unfolding this summer: the 2008 Australian National Championships.
Last week, Swimming with Sharks explored the decks of the evolving Block Constructed PTQ format, so this week yours truly is going to explore this National-Championship-winning Standard concoction with Swans of Bryn Argoll. Don’t worry—you’ll still find this week’s Top 8 Block Constructed PTQ counts at the end of the article.
On the face of it, a list of cards that combines the mana costs
doesn’t sound like a decklist at all, let alone a winning one. It sounds more like a page from somebody’s trade binder. And once you know that the cards are Seismic Assault
, Beseech the Queen
, Swans of Bryn Argoll
, and Gaea’s Blessing
, it might even reinforce the idea that this is just a bunch of random cards in an Ultra Pro nine-card binder page that somebody is trying to trade away.
But these four cards across the five colors of Magic, plus some card filtering, hand disruption, and Lotus Bloom, are all it took for Aaron Nicastri to go an incredible thirteen wins and no losses in matches played on the weekend, including both the Standard and Shadowmoor draft portions of the event. (Once he had ensured himself a place in the Top 8, Nicastri also made an intentional draw and an intentional concession.)
Let’s take a look at his “Aussie Assault” deck, also played by four of his teammates and designed by a friend:
Aaron Nicastri - Australian National Championships
Swans of Bryn Argoll combo kills had been talked about a lot in the days surrounding Shadowmoor‘s release, initially brought to the public’s attention by Pat “The Innovator” Chapin. But such decks had hardly ever shown up in big tournaments until now, let alone winning a National (or dare I say Continental?) Championship. So what does this deck even do?
The primary lethal combo is Swans of Bryn Argoll, Seismic Assault, and Dakmor Salvage. With Swans and Seismic Assault on the board and as little as one Dakmor Salvage in hand, you enter Phase One of the combo. Hold on to your collective hats... This gets a little tricky:
Swans Combo: Phase One
Discard Dakmor Salvage to have Seismic Assault deal 2 damage to the Swans. Swans prevents the damage to itself and lets you draw two cards. Replace the first draw with Dakmor Salvage’s dredge 2 ability to mill the top two cards from your library and return the Dakmor Salvage to your hand. Draw the second card from Swans of Bryn Argoll off the top of your deck.
The result of these shenanigans is that Dakmor Salvage is back in your hand where it started, you milled yourself for 2, and you drew an extra card, all for zero mana. And you can go through this loop several more times, drawing free extra cards all the way. Drawing extra cards for no mana again and again has got to be just plain good, amiright?
When you draw a second Dakmor Salvage through this loop, you’re ready to execute Phase 2. Oops, did you accidentally mill your second Dakmor Salvage instead of drawing it? Not to worry: It has dredge! Just do the card-drawing loop again and replace your next draw with the second Dakmor Salvage. Now you have both Dakmor Salvages in your hand, with Swans of Bryn Argoll and Seismic Assault on the board. As George Clooney playing Danny Ocean would say: “Time for Phase Two.”
Swans Combo: Phase Two
Discard one of the Dakmor Salvages to deal 2 damage to your opponent with Seismic Assault. Then discard the other Dakmor Salvage to deal 2 damage to your Swans. The Swans prevents the damage and lets you draw two cards. Instead of actually drawing two cards, however, use the dredge 2 on the two Dakmor Salvages to return both Dakmor Salvages to your hand, milling yourself for four along the way thanks to dredge.
Now you’ve looped back to the start of Phase Two again, except that you’ve dealt 2 damage to your opponent and milled yourself for four. Repeat until you’ve Shock, Shock, Shock, killed your opponent, 2 damage at a time. Again, none of this costs any mana to do, and you can perform the whole combo as soon as you get two cards on the table (Swans of Bryn Argoll & Seismic Assault), plus one card in your hand (a single Dakmor Salvage).
But wait, there’s danger!
Swans Combo: Danger Alert One!
There’s just one problem: What if you’re trying to go off with your combo and your opponent plays Terror
on your Swans of Bryn Argoll
somewhere in the middle?
There’s a solution! You can actually play around it. If you have an additional land in your hand, just discard it to use Seismic Assault on your Swans in response to the Terror. Then you can draw two cards, including dredging one or two Dakmor Salvages, and just keep your combo going, all in response to the Terror.
Essentially, you start to combo-kill the opponent, and the opponent plays Terror in response, so you just combo-kill the opponent again in response to the Terror. If the opponent responds to that with a second Terror or Nameless Inversion, you just combo-kill the opponent a third time in response to that.
Swans Combo: Danger Alert Two!
There’s just a second problem: Say you’re running this deck in a game going first, and you try to get your combo to go off on turn six. You have Seismic Assault on the board and you play Swans of Bryn Argoll, with Dakmor Salvage in your hand. Since you only have seven creatures in your whole deck, your opponent probably has tons of removal spells waiting, and you know your Swans is probably going to die in a flurry of Profane Commands and Nameless Inversions as soon as you pass over the turn. So you’ve got to win immediately.
You’ve played two Ponders and two Telling Times, and you have 44 cards left in your library. You loop through Phase One six times before you find your second Dakmor Salvage. Each loop of Phase One makes you mill yourself for two more cards, so you have 32 cards left in your library. Then you just have to loop through Phase Two of the combo ten times to deal 20 damage to the opponent and win.
But each time you loop through Phase Two of the combo, you have to put the top four cards of your library into your graveyard. With 32 cards left in your library, and each loop causing you to lose your top four cards to deal 2 damage, that means you end up running out cards when you’ve just about dealt... 16 damage. Oops.
There’s a second solution! Notice that the deck has two Gaea’s Blessing
s. Whenever you dredge up a Dakmor Salvage
or two, any Gaea’s Blessing
s that you mill into your graveyard will trigger and shuffle your whole graveyard back into your library. That keeps your library nice and fresh to run the whole combo a near unlimited number of times. You can get into trouble if you accidentally draw both Gaea’s Blessing
s into your hand during Phase One of the combo, but that chance is pretty small.
Swans Combo: Danger Alert Three!
There’s just a third problem: if your Gaea’s Blessing shuffles your whole graveyard back into your library, what if all your Dakmor Salvages get shuffled from your graveyard back into your library and you run out of gas?
There’s a third solution! Every time you draw cards with Swans/Seismic Assault, make sure you dredge the Dakmor Salvages back into your hand before you do anything else. Then if Gaea’s Blessing triggers, the Dakmor Salvages will still be safe in your hand. Even in Phase Two, when you are about draw two cards, just dredge both the Dakmor Salvages back to your hand in a row. Even if you flip Gaea’s Blessing on your first dredge, the Gaea’s Blessing “shuffle your graveyard back into your library” trigger won’t resolve until after both Dakmor Salvages are safe in your hand.
The Rest of “Aussie Asssault”
There are a lot of ways to build a successful Swans of Bryn Argoll deck and a lot of color combinations people can use. Beyond the main combo elements and Gaea’s Blessing, the rest of Aaron Nicastri’s deck is essentially just hand disruption to slow down the opponent and card filtering to find the combo.
Ponder, Telling Time, and Beseech the Queen work to assemble your combo pieces. Thoughtseize and Vendilion Clique disrupt the opponent’s hand, while Vendilion Clique also steps in to block and kill an attacker, or occasionally even filter your own hand. Lotus Bloom provides the fast mana for a burst of tutoring and combo activity on turn 4.
Although this is certainly a crazy combo, the craziest thing about the Aussie Assault deck is the mana: 7 Vivid lands, 4 Gemstone Mine, 4 Reflecting Pool, 4 hybrid lands, and 4 painlands (on top of 4 Dakmor Salvage) can create almost any color in the game, and combining + + + all in the same deck certainly takes advantage of that. Especially useful is Graven Cairns’ ability to convert huge amounts of colored mana towards or . Even more useful is Lotus Bloom’s ability to produce or or most of all in one shot.
Just remember one thing: special abilities aside, a 4-power, four-mana flier is nothing to scoff at. Nicastri won Game 5 of the championship match with the deck’s Plan B: just smashing in with Swans of Bryn Argoll until finalist Brandon Lau’s black-red tokens deck was destroyed.
How to Beat the Swans Deck
Many options spring to mind:
Hand disruption like Thoughtseize
, Vendilion Clique
, Mind Shatter
, or Distress
can strip away key combo elements long enough for your own offense to do its job.
Likewise counterspells can prevent the key combo elements from ever hitting the board, though you will have to have enough counterspells to survive one or two getting taken by the Swans deck’s own hand disruption spells.
Terror & Disenchant
When destroying the Swans combo pieces on the board, you’ll have to be careful to make sure that the Swans player doesn’t just go off with his or her combo again in response to your kill spell or Disenchant. If the Seismic Assault lands on the board first, you can safely Disenchant or Naturalize it before the Swans of Bryn Argoll shows up. If the Swans of Bryn Argoll lands on the board first, you can safely get rid of it with Nameless Inversion, Terror, Wrath of God, Oblivion Ring, etc. before the Seismic Assault shows up. But once both combo pieces are on the board and the Dakmor Salvage is in the opposing hand, it’s hard to make Terror and Disenchant work effectively.
That’s where Krosan Grip, Sudden Death, and Word of Seizing (with a Greater Gargadon suspended or a Nantuko Husk) can help out using split second. Cast any of them during the enemy combo, and the combo falls apart. Just make sure you get your own plan in gear before the Swans deck draws replacement combo pieces.
By far the best split second card against a Swans/Seismic Assault deck is Extirpate. Hit one Dakmor Salvage and you can remove all four from the game, cutting the engine out of the combo. Be careful: the Swans player can dodge Faerie Macabre or Tormod’s Crypt by going off again in response.
One colorless mana. “I name Seismic Assault.” Done.
Standard Australian National Championships Top 8
Gray boxes represent Top 8 appearances. A blue box signifies the winner.
|Black-Red Creature Tokens
|Dragonstorm / Pyromancer’s Swath
You can find the full coverage here.
More Standard-Format Innovation
Yours truly can’t resist showing these two awesome Standard decklists (faithfully related by coverage reporter Ray “blisterguy” Walkinshaw) that won Last Chance Qualifiers on the night before the Championships along with several others to grind their way into the main event.
Neil Crompton combined a huge number of creatures that happen to be red-green and happen to be Goblins with a huge number of lords that pump red-green creatures, pump Goblins, and are themselves red or green and Goblins. Tattermunge Maniac, Vexing Shusher, Boggart Ram-Gang, Boartusk Liege is a pretty sick curve. Despite all these red-green spells, the deck runs only Mountains, taking advantage of hybrids to play all the two-color spells.
Geoffrey Marshall won his LCQ with a take on the classic MBC using Dusk Urchins and Beseech the Queen to fill in the gaps.
This Week’s Block Constructed PTQs
Here are this week’s Block Constructed PTQ results.
|Incandescent Soulstoke Elementals
|Green-White-Black Scarblade Elite
|Quick ‘N Toast
|Black-Red-Green Wort / Inversion / Colossus
|Green-White Wilt-Leaf Liege
Check out all the full decklists here.
Of course, with cards from all those different sets, a deck as crazy as Aussie Assault is one you’ll only find in formats Standard-sized and larger.
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