Hey, everybody! It’s time again for another edition of Rhythmik Study! This week, we’ll be focusing on Pro Tour Amsterdam. Now, by the time you read this, I’ll have already set foot in the Tournament Center, shuffled up for the first seven rounds of swiss, and will hopefully be getting the rest to shuffle up for seven more. However, there is a lot to be learned from the Pro Tour — even though the Pro Tour Qualifier season won’t include Time Spiral block. Everything that happens between now and Sunday afternoon can help you earn those much needed tickets and QPs for the rest of the season, until Scars of Mirrodin hits the digital shelves in six weeks.
Now, current playtesting on Magic Online has yielded very interesting results about the metagame as a whole, and I’m a bit proud to have definitive proof for what I have been saying all along; Faeries is not as good as you think it is. Cryptic Command is too slow, and does not effectively deal with a Bloodbraid Elf. Punishing Fire/Grove of the Burnwillows combo completely nerfs Bitterblossom, Spellstutter Sprite, and even Mistbind Clique. And, if you don’t seem to remember, all of the cards that helped the Fae fall out of favor last summer are still in Standard, much less Extended, along with a ton of other threats. The only cards that give this deck a fighting chance are Ancestral Vision and Damnation — the latter of which is a must if you ever intend on not dying to Great Sable Stag Games 2-5. All that being said, I’m still expecting a good number of PTQ winners to default to this deck, since it creates the illusion of transitioning well to Extended. Expect 15-20%.
The biggest player in this format is likely going to be the Punishing Fire/Grove of the Burnwillows combo. This combo generates so much card advantage against decks that it’s just nuts. Even Punishing Fire gives a big middle finger to Kitchen Finks at the low, low price of five mana, four life for the opponent, and zero cards. During playtesting, I even had a control matchup where I won casting only Punishing Fires. This combo will be nuts until rotation, and it has already done more than enough to prove itself pre-rotation. Another interaction to look into (that I’ve even been toying around with replacing Tarmogoyf for in the Main Event) is Kavu Predator. I’ll just give you a second to read this card.
That’s right, every time you return Punishing Fire, get a +1/+1 counter. Playing a spell that costs mana? +1/+1 counter. Need a nifty combat trick? +1/+1 counter. Feel like giving your opponent an extra life only to viciously strip it from him like an older brother at Christmas? I’m sure you see where this is going. Also, notice those seven little letters in the upper-left corner of the text box? That’s right. This guy tramples! No chump blocking Bitterblossom tokens, just pure, unadulterated face-bashing. If I were playing a more aggro-oriented deck for the ‘Tour, you can bet your ass I’d be running this guy.
Major Deck Archetypes
The metagame has really developed since the announcement of what people (not-so) lovingly refer to as “New Extended” a couple of months ago. To anyone who thinks that there will be one dominant deck is sorely mistaken. There are enough cards in the pool to have blazing Aggro, demoralizing Control, and degenerate Combo.
Fae. We all remember Turn 2 Bitterblossom from last Standard season — some much more fondly than others. Not much has changed here, except the possibility to add Creeping Tar Pit, Ancestral Vision and Damnation. We all know how this works, so I won’t spend much time on it.
Advantages. This deck is really good against Combo, as it typically has enough mana for some type of countermagic by the time the Combo player starts to go for his win. The mere presence of this deck is enough to keep me from playing a dedicated Combo deck.
Disadvantages. While the Fae have always been slightly disadvantaged toward Aggro decks, the decks currently being played have enough cheap and effective threats to make a Turn 2 Bitterblossom more a sigh of relief than of frustration. Bloodbraid Elf and Punishing Fire also do their part to make sure any counter that hits the board generates a card disadvantage for the Control player. Also, the tools that were engineered by R&D last summer to put the blue menace back in their place — Great Sable Stag and Volcanic Fallout — are still there to make sure the old Alpha Dog gets left at the pound, and at the bottom of the swiss standings.
Jund. While this deck hadn’t garnered as much steam as people originally speculated, it’s still something to keep an eye out for. When all of your Bloodbraid targets end up being things like Boggart Ram Gang, Sprouting Thrinax and Tarmogoyf, board states can and do get nuts pretty quickly. Don’t expect a big showing, but I imagine there will be at least a few players eager to bring their favorite Type 2 deck into the new game.
Advantages. As noted before, this deck hits hard and hits fast. Any game that hits Boggart Ram Gang on Turn 3 and Bloodbraid Elf into Boggart Ram Gang on Turn 4 is a force to be reckoned with. Not to mention, this deck has access to both Fae Killers and Thought Hemorrhage out of the board against dedicated Combo.
Disadvantages. Just like its predecessors, Jund Ramp and Alara/Zendikar Standard Jund, this deck doesn’t really start hitting big until Turn 3, and uses a lot of man-lands that come into play tapped. If you can capitalize by being significantly faster or significantly more controlling, this matchup should be very easy.
Conflagrate. This is a new deck that has been recently thrown through the gauntlet, and from what I’ve seen is at least a very fun deck to pilot. The deck revolves around playing both Angel’s Grace and Ad Nauseam to be able to draw out your deck (Including 3-4 Simian Spirit Guides for extra mana) and playing Conflagrate for zero, then flashing it back using your entire deck (now in your hand) to pay for X.
Advantages. This deck reminds me of TEPS from Extended seasons past. Nuts hands can end games on Turn 3, and the consistency is high enough to still be able to win on Turn 6 with a bad hand. The deck also plays Pact of Negation as its counter of choice, which, if you haven’t noticed, has a nifty little interaction with Angel’s Grace that lets you go off on the following turn without having to ever actually pay for the countermagic. After sideboarding, this deck is also at an advantage because the graveyard hate of choice has been Tormod’s Crypt or Relic of Progenitus, which do nothing against a Conflagrate in the graveyard.
Disadvantages. While it is powerful, ]Conflagrate Combo is also the epitome of fragile. Resolving a Thought Hemorrhage for almost any card in the opponent’s deck can leave the opponent with no way to win. Hitting either Ad Nauseam, Conflagrate, or Angel’s Grace leaves the opponent with almost no way to win, and Leyline of the Void prevents the opponent from ever being able to Flashback Conflagrate, requiring them to have three extra mana to go off to play the Wipe Away that they will have invariably boarded in
Living End. This is the only deck that did not lose a single card from the announcement of New Extended, and there is a good chance this will be the deck to beat. This deck focuses on using the cycling cards from Alara Block (plus a few Street Wraiths and Twisted Abominations for good measure) and casting Demonic Dread or Violent Outburst to cascade into Living End to bring back all of the discarded cards, while simultaneously being a Wrath of God (which often ends up just being a Plague Wind). The deck has even started carrying a one-of Dryad Arbor which can be fetched up with Verdant Catacombs as to not make Demonic Dread a dead card against dedicated Control decks.
Advantages. This deck is akin to Dredge in Extended’s previous iteration. Without the correct tools, it’s almost impossible to beat Game 1, and without the correct hate cards, is still close to impossible to beat to following games. This deck completely wrecks Aggro decks by generating completely insurmountable card advantage with one spell.
Disadvantages. Just like how this deck has a hard time losing without facing hate, it also has a hard time winning when it faces hate. Leyline of the Void and Turn 1 Relic of Progenitus leave the cascade player with a hand full of dead cards until they draw the Krosan Grip (or similar card) they boarded in. This is compounded by the fact that any player who actually wants to win the tournament will be boarding in graveyard hate, if only because of the splash damage of dealing with the ever-popular Reveillark decks. This deck also diverges from Dredge in that it is incredibly soft to countermagic. Even a well-timed Venser, Shaper Savant can be enough to make the Living End player lose their hopes.
Reveillark. While this is really multiple decks, I feel like these can all be classified as one deck. These decks use many cards with two or less power and comes-into-play effects like Mull drifter, Avalanche Riders, and Rifting Cloudskate, in combination with Momentary Blink and Reveillark to generate ridiculous card advantage over a number of turns. Some builds also use Body Double and Mirror Entity to “go infinite,” stacking multiple X=0 triggers, causing the board to die, using Body Double to copy Reveillark each time, and bringing back a creature to draw a bunch of cards (via Mulldrifter), thereby gaining infinite life (using Aven Riftwatcher), dealing infinite damage (using Mogg Fanatic) or blowing up all of the opponent’s lands (using Avalanche Riders).
Advantages. This deck has very good consistency, and without proper hate, can overrun an opponent with card advantage in the late game. Some builds have also been using Fauna Shaman since she does everything you want her to do — she stocks your graveyard with creatures to bring back with [/card]Reveillark[/card], she tutors up win conditions, and she’s a 2/2- meaning when Reveillark dies, she comes back to do it all over again. Another advantage is that Reveillark‘s ability triggers when it leaves the battlefield, meaning that Path to Exile doesn’t stop it, and Momentary Blink triggers it!
Disadvantages. Just like Living End, this deck becomes collateral damage of all powerful graveyard-based strategies. Since an arguably more powerful graveyard-based deck exists in the format, people are prepared with 4-8 cards in the sideboard that also work in this matchup. While it’s not impossible to win with graveyard hate in play — a 4/3 flier is nothing to scoff at — it still has a lot of trouble, and I think it will be too much trouble to float above the hate.
Scapeshift. Another port from the old iteration of Extended, current Scapeshift is modeled more like the “Aggro Scapeshift” than the version dedicated to what Ben Stark affectionately referred to as the “one-card Combo.” The current decklists focus on beating down with Tarmogoyf, Bloodbraid Elf, and Kitchen Finks until the coast is clear to finish off the opponent with a Scapeshift for anywhere from 6 to 8 Mountains and one or two Valakut, the Molten Pinnacles.
Advantages. Okay, in case you haven’t seen what will be my inevitable deck tech with BDM, and my win this weekend (as I write this the Monday afternoon prior to the event), I’ll try not to gush too much about this deck, giving away that it will likely be the deck I’m playing. All joking aside, I wouldn’t be considering the deck to play if it weren’t consistent and quick. Punishing Fire and Lightning Bolt are able to remove immediate threats while the creatures bash in for the win. Path to Exile is also a blessing for this deck, because the deck aims to get as many land out as quickly as possible, using Search for Tomorrow and [/card]Rampant Growth[/card] to power out the high-end threats. This version of the deck also doesn’t fold to Leyline of Sanctity as Scapeshift is able to grab Grove of the Burnwillows and Treetop Village instead of lands that force targets, all the while, thinning the deck to increase spell density. The sideboard also has access to Volcanic Fallout and Great Sable Stag. Some lists are even adding a single Swamp to play Thought Hemorrhage out of the board.
Disadvantages. As noted before, Leyline of Sanctity can be a huge problem for the deck if you let it, it ends up letting Lightning Bolts and Punishing Fires get stuck in your hand and forces Valakut to target you or a creature in play. Elves is also a rough matchup without Volcanic Fallout or Punishing Fire. Lastly, most dedicated Combo decks are really rough without a nuts hand or a Turn 3 Thought Hemorrhage.
Elves. For anyone who dabbled in Elf Combo during Lorwyn/Alara Standard when it was covered in the Building on a Budget archive, or who played it during last Extended season when Matt Nass won with it at Grand Prix Oakland, the new version of the deck has become an amalgam of the two. The loss of Cloudstone Curio and Glimpse of Nature made way for Ranger of Eos and Regal Force. This deck also has none of the consistency issues that the Standard version had with the inclusion in some versions of Fauna Shaman and Summoners Pact. Some are even going as far as including Emrakul, the Aeons Torn as a one-of to grab with Fauna Shaman and win immediately.
Advantages. During playtesting, I found that this deck was comboing out as early as Turn 2 with the right hand, and was killing as early as Turn 3 or 4 with decent hands. The deck can pull almost card it needs at any moment and, if unable to utilize it that turn, can utilize it the following turn to devastating effect. It even has the ability to toolbox Burrenton Forge-Tender, a card that completely nerfs the deck’s biggest enemy — Volcanic Fallout.
Disadvantages. Without Heritage Druid, the combo is very hard to pull off, and can be slow enough to let any other deck combo out. Living End is also almost unwinnable Game 1, since a requirement of Elves to win is to overextend, a Wrath of God effect takes too long to recover from, and the Main Deck has no way to stop a Living End. It also has trouble with Faeries packing Damnation or who are able to counter the necessary spells.
Through the Grapevine
I also have word from a very reliable source that there are some decks being thrown around for the Pro Tour by the higher-level Pros. A Merfolk deck, akin to Merfolk Fish in Legacy has been talked about, as well as a return to Time Sieve from last year’s Standard era. Unfortunately, this edition is starting to err on the long side, so I’ll have to leave you with this: Which deck will come out on top, and will an MTGO Academy staff member be on the top of the heap? Make sure to keep your eyes glued to the coverage here, as well as the official coverage on the Wizard’s website. Until next time, play tight, and if I don’t see you in Amsterdam, I’ll see you next week!
Jeph “Rhythmik” Foster
Writer’s Note. Of course, in my infinite narcissism, I neglected to give a shoutout to Michael Hetrick, aka _Shipitholla. I would like to go ahead and carve out this space to wish him tons of luck in the Main Event, and to congratulate him on finishing just below me. (: