Most players who spend any time playing Onslaught
block constructed conclude right away that blue is awful. However, the next step in understanding this block wasn't quite as obvious: because blue is so bad, no one ever counters your spells. Well that means it's ok to invest six or even eight mana into one spell! As the pros playtested for this event, their cards just kept getting more and more expensive. The result is a lot of fun to watch: enormous monsters are attacking everywhere
. Here are a few of the highlights:
Kai Budde and Brian Kibler are familiar to most sideboard writers both for their achievements and for their many articles examining constructed formats. They didn't work together for this event, but they came to some similar conclusions about what works. Both concluded that Explosive Vegetation is one of the best and most important cards in the format. It costs four, but that's ok because you really want to get to six (or more) mana as soon as possible so you can start playing out your fatties. Kibler and his playtest group even chose to run Wirewood Elf so they could vegetate a turn earlier! Budde settled for Krosan Tusker as his creature mana source.
Both Budde's deck and Kibler's deck include lots of creature sweepers to deal with the other creature decks and then multiple different legends for when it's time to actually win the game. Budde runs both Silvos and Kamahl whereas Kibler is sporting Silvos and Akroma. After every round all the people running Kibler's deck gather and tell stories about the amazing things that the Angel of Wrath managed to accomplish in the previous round. They're usually giggling like school girls as they swap these tales and they pause periodically to marvel at how weird and neat it is that an 8-mana creature is actually really, really good.
Remarkably, the Explosive Vegetation decks aren't the only ones sporting huge men. Most Slide variants include a "high cholesterol" sideboard, with creatures ranging from Avarax to Akroma to Rorix. Meanwhile there are several varieties of beast decks running around with mana curves that start out with Ravenous Baloth and then go up from there. One popular strategy is to play lots of the cycling beasts and then use Patriarch's Bidding to get them all into play after they head for the graveyard via cycling or Read the Runes.
Even the goblin decks have been getting into the action with the 6/6 Goblin Goon
playing a starring role in the deck. The most successful goblin decks look to be those that include Skirk Prospector
as a way to get out the Goon a turn earlier. They happily sacrifice the 'Specter on turn 3 to get out either Clickslither
or Goblin Goon
and they defend this play by comparing it to playing a creature enchantment on the Prospector. Dave Price won a Pro Tour by enchanting his red weenies with Giant Strength so why not? In theory, the goblin deck is supposed to lose to Slide, but Slide doesn't have a really good answer for turn 3 Goon. That puts so much pressure on them that they have to start sliding it out every turn until they can Vengeance it away. It turns out that Slide is only really good against the weenie rush aspect of the goblin deck and decks with lots of fatties (especially ones with haste) can give it fits. Bob Maher and his cohorts are among those running goblins and their deck also includes Rorix
(along with extra lands) in the sideboard for those occasions when they need even more fatness. I've heard a lot of Slide players lamenting their losses to goblin decks ...
Remarkably, none of those decks are actually running the biggest men in the tournament. That honor goes to Team Your Move Games members Rob Dougherty and Darwin Kastle, who use not just Wirewood Elf and not just Explosive Vegetation, but also Goblin Clearcutter to bust out huge dragons. They're running four Imperial Hellkites, four Kilnmouth Dragons, and three copies of Rorix Bladewing. Kilnmouth Dragon routinely comes down as a 14/14 that taps to deal 9 damage.
It's not at all clear how this format is going to turn out, but whatever happens it sure looks like fun to play. The weenie strategies look good at first, but there are so many good creature sweepers (and several different decks that can run some combination of Starstorm, Slice and Dice, or Akroma's Vengeance) so in order to be successful, weenie decks have to adapt. Luckily, at least one appears to be able to do that. Meanwhile the medium speed creature decks can be tuned to beat either Slide or the weenie decks, but it remains to be seen if one of them can beat both. Then there are these gi-normous fatty decks that look like nothing that has even been successful at this level of competition before. They've got ridiculously expensive cards, but with no blue decks out there saying "no" that's ok because those cards have ridiculously powerful effects on the game. And then Slide decks are sitting there with a target on their forehead, but enough good cards and synergy that many chose to run them anyway, but with huge monsters in the 'board for the surprisingly frequent occasions when Exalted Angel just isn't big enough to get the job done.
When we in R&D talked about how bad blue would be in the creature block, we always imagined that we were clearing a path so that 5 and 6 mana spells (especially creatures) would finally be playable. I never dreamed I would hear anyone explain that his game at the Pro Tour came down to a race where one guy had to play out his Akroma before the other guy could kill him with Biorhythm, but I heard exactly that story after round 1. And it looks like we'll all be listening to similar stories all weekend.