In a format that was supposedly filled with turn-3 combo kills and reanimated monstrosities, it seemed inconceivable that a five-mana creature would ever be of consequence. It was a given that Morphling
would not be a player in this format, and if "the best creature ever made" stays at home, it bodes ill for other mid-game bombs.
But if you look at the top tables here at Pro Tour – Houston, all you see is Spiritmongers in the red zone.
Spiritmonger, a card more or less dismissed during its two-year lifespan is Standard, is the marquee monster in the surprise Extended deck of this event.
"The Rock," a name given to the deck by its inventor Sol Malka several seasons ago, has drifted quite far from the original Phyrexian Plaguelord/Deranged Hermit base that was good back then. Instead, it is built around what are arguably three of the most powerful spells available today.
Malka did update the deck over the past few seasons to include the Apocalypse powerhouses 'Monger and Deed. But for this event, it seems that every major team was working on a version of the deck, and several slightly different versions have turned up here.
Vampiric Tutor, Duress, and Pernicious Deed are still the lynchpins of the new versions of this standby, and with the loss of Swords to Plowshares and Force of Will, the latter two are the best control cards in the format. Combo decks pall at the prospect of losing a card to Duress early in the game, and beatdown decks often cannot recover from a board-wiping Deed. And Vampiric Tutor allows the right card to be found at the right moment, including several silver bullets.
One of the biggest recent additions to the deck is Judgment's Cabal Therapy, which is the "smart players' Duress." Knowledge of the metagame and the field pays off when playing the card, and two- or three-for-ones are not uncommon with it. Combo cannot handle decks that can effectively Duress them three times in the first two turns. A popular trick has been sacrificing Yavimaya Elder to flashback the Therapy, which nets the controlled two basic lands.
Besides the ubiquitous Birds and Elves, the rest of the decks' creatures vary. Some players are opting for Spike Feeder and Ravenous Baloth for life. Some use Spike Weaver for defense. And some are still relying on the Plaguelord and the Hermit. Players seem to be split on the usefulness of Living Wish. After round 8, Darwin Kastle was in first place with a one Living Wish version, Alex Bakopoulos was in second with a three-Wish version (and no Vampirics), and Ken Krouner was in tenth with 0.
Sideboard options include: Coffin Purge and Planar Void against Reanimator, Naturalize vs. a host of problems, and several other one-of's to Tutor for. Krouner also has four Phyrexian Negators that he can bring in against creature-light decks like Psychatog.
One other innovation with the deck is the addition of white, mainly for Vindicate. Gab Tsang is one player playing such a version.
This deck is the real deal, and seems to be the one thing consistently keeping combo decks in check. And if Spiritmonger is roaming the Earth, the format is probably a healthy one.