Between Pro Tour New Orleans and a full Extended PTQ season for Pro Tour Osaka, the Extended metagame has been well explored over the last few months. As a result, many players showed up to the Masters Grinder with decks that had already been well established. The usual cast of characters of Oath, Sligh, Donate-Illusions, Junk and of course Miracle Grow were all present. Even though this suggested that the Pros had spent most of their time before Nice working on their draft game rather than Extended tech, two decktypes stood out from the crowd as being very original and certainly out of the focus of the metagame.
Christian Luhrs showed up to Nice with the following mono-Red artifact Welder deck:
Pro Tour Nice Masters Gateway: Welder Red
Artifact based decks have been very popular since Urza's Saga provided the tools to make them. From the infamous “Deep Blue” Academy deck to Jon Finkel's 2000 World Championship Tinker deck, the combination of accelerated mana and broken artifacts to abuse them with is too good to ignore. The current Extended environment has seen this deck become less popular, yet today Christian Luhrs is playing a nearly “mono-brown”, all artifact deck. In fact, he isn't even running blue for Tinker. Instead, he is running red for Goblin Welder, which happens to be his only maindeck card with a color. Unlike the Tinker deck, which is usually defined by massive amounts of mana thanks to Voltaic Key, Grim Monolith, and even Thran Dynamo, Luhrs' deck is more about abusing Goblin Welder to break the symmetry of cards such as Tangle Wire and Smokestack. Between those two cards and Sphere of Resistance, the opponent has a hard time keeping resources on the table, and cannot cast spells to get out of the situation.
What really makes this deck tick, however, is the Welder. All sorts of tricks can be done to squeeze maximum efficiency out of every artifact in the deck: he can weld between two copies of either Tsabo's Web or Urza's Bauble to draw an extra card every turn, weld away a Smokestack or Sphere of Resistance on the opponent's end step, produce card advantage by welding an artifact in response to a Disenchant-type effect, and of course a smaller artifact such as Phyrexian Furance or Urza's Bauble can be quickly traded in for a Masticore or Smokestack. Because of all these options, Goblin Welder decks are often very difficult to play. It is especially hard to figure out the proper play with Luhrs' deck, because the strategy is to cripple the opponent's ability to play spells (idealistically clearing his board with Smokestack), while avoiding the synergistic nature of those artifacts.
Luhrs has been a big fan of this type of deck for a long time, and has been playing different versions of it for about two years now. He played it at Worlds in Toronto, and at Euros the year before. “It's a lot of fun to play, especially with the combination of Goblin Welder and Smokestack”. Luhrs started off the Grinder 2-0, beating two Oath decks. “Actually, it's not that good against Oath decks. I had pretty good draws, and my opponents had some very bad draws. What are the good matchups for the deck? “Dumb people.” Apparently, the complexity of the deck is enough to throw some players off their game. And what are the bad matchups? “Well, Oath…even though (laughs)…also, Sligh in the first matchup isn't that good.” Things do get better in the second game, thanks to Luhrs' sideboard technology: Rejuvenation Chamber. “It's good! At Toronto (Worlds 2001) I had four maindeck Voltaic Keys, so against Sligh I played the Chamber and gained sixteen life!” As far as predictions go, Luhrs doesn't think he'll be able to make his way into the Top Two. “I don't think so…this is really just for fun.”
The other deck making a splash in the Grinders is a Japanese Donate-Illusions deck that utilizes the Oath of Druids engine.
Pro Tour Nice Masters Gateway: Oath of Trix
Tsuyshi Ikeda and Jin Okamoto
Pro Tour Nice Masters Gateway: Oath of Trix
Some of these card choices seem a bit odd, but upon further analysis they actually make a lot of sense. Aboshan is a great, cheap answer to Miracle Grow's Winter Orb, because it can be Oathed up to tap down the mana crippling artifact. The Donate-Illusions combo provides an efficient alternate kill, and the combo pieces can be shuffled back with Gaea's Blessing if something goes wrong. Tsuyshi Ikeda, the primary designer of the deck, explained through translator Keita Mori, "After Grand Prix Sendai, Trix, The Rock and His Millions, and Miracle Grow were very popular. Trix can only make someone lose twenty life, so things can get tricky if someone plays a Spike Feeder. The original Trix deck used Fire/Ice to get around this, but now in Japan the strategy has changed to maindeck Morphling. With Miracle Grow becoming more popular, normal Trix isn't as good, and the Oath deck is much better because Oath is great against Grow. Of course, this is before the Super-Grow strategy."
The Blessings also provide other benefits aside from being able to play the combo multiple times. "We tested Recall in the blue/red version, but now we have Gaea's Blessing, so we can play the combo again and again. We can use Accumulated Knowledge for four multiple times, so the deck works really well." The deck won a Qualifier in Japan, yet it hasn't really hit the radar of players elsewhere. "The players on the Pro Tour don't know about the deck, so that gives us a big advantage. For example, I'll play turn two Sapphire Medallion or Merchant Scroll, and no one thinks I'm playing an Oath deck." The deck is named Fireball Special after Ikeda's store in Japan.
Ishida's version is a bit different, since it Oaths out Cognivore instead of Morphling. This is because it doesn't run Blessing, which means an Oath will trigger, milling a ton of instants into the graveyard. This makes Cognivore obscenely big, and while most players would scoff at the idea of using any kill card other than Morphling, using a creature that can be in the range of 10/10 flyer is certainly respectable.