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The Other Side of Pro Tour–Berlin

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The letter L!et's dial it back a week.

The column, Expect the Unexpected Tomorrow...

The last line (from Patrick Chapin): "dude, just wait till you see what we brought... :)"

I think we paid off on both fronts.

Kind of.

I was obviously as surprised as most of you when the ElfBall ("Elves!") deck revealed itself to be the deck of the tournament—second-most played as well as locking down three quarters of Pro Tour–Berlin's Top 8—but on the other hand, the unexpected was the rule of the day... and Chapin's team surely earned that smiley emoticon with the unlikely win delivered by former U.S. National Champion Luis Scott-Vargas.

Why unlikely?

Luis met his worst matchup, the dreaded Tezzerator deck, in the first round of the Top 8... and opened up with the even more dreaded 0-2. Had this been a typical best-of-three, LSV would have had to suck it up with "just" the first Pro Tour Top 8 of his career... But it was a Top 8 best-of-five, and he battled through and took the next three games in a row.


How does the Tezzerator work?

This deck is essentially a Trinket Mage deck... It gets its name from the big five-mana version of Trinket Mage, which can go and get three-mana artifacts, not just zeros and ones.

Tezzeret the Seeker can find Ensnaring Bridge to prevent the opponent from attacking. It can grab Trinisphere so as to slow down the acceleration of Storm, Elves!, All-In Red, or combo decks.

And all those Great Furnaces, Chrome Moxes, and Æther Spellbombs? ... Tezzeret's ultimate ability can just kill the opponent with a single grand swing.

One of the key cards in the Tezzerator—which can be found by the original Trinket Mage as well—is Chalice of the Void. Set it to one? You prevent the dominant Elves deck from playing Glimpse of Nature, Nettle Sentinel, and Heritage Druid.

All in all, a mighty choice for a Pro Tour, and mighty tricky. It will be interesting to see if this roguish deck can survive through the PTQ season.

My guess is that it picks up more than one PTQ victory.

So after his unlikely victory against Öberg, Scott-Vargas found himself up against maybe the scariest player in the Top 8, reigning Player of the Year and Pro Tour Champion Tomoharu Saito, with the Dragon-Elves skew on the mirror match.

Saito's Elves deck works like most.

The core combination is to play Glimpse of Nature, after which every creature played will draw a card.

With the right configuration of Elves, Saito could "break even" on mana, and cycle rapidly through his deck.

Birchlore Rangers has flirted with tournament inclusion for years, but the All-Star that took this archetype to its present dominating level is Nettle Sentinel.

Assume you have played a Glimpse of Nature and all you have in play is a Birchlore Rangers and a Nettle Sentinel. You can tap them both to produce Green Mana.

Now play any one-mana Elf.

Your Nettle Sentinel will untap. You have another Elf in play.

These two can tap to play the next one-mana Elf.

So long as you have one-mana Elves, you can continue to break even and cycle through your deck (drawing more one-mana Elves, ideally).

The deck can start to net mana with multiple Nettle Sentinels. If you have a Heritage Druid and two Nettle Sentinels, you can tap the three to produce Green ManaGreen ManaGreen Mana. Play any green spell (ideally a one mana Elf). When you play a one-mana Elf (ideally!) you get to untap your two Nettle Sentinels. The same situation we described with Birchlore Rangers is applicable, except you have Green ManaGreen Mana still floating. You are generating a profit.

Saito's version has Wirewood Hivemaster.

As you accumulate Elves you will produce Insects as well as mana. These Insects will want to be helpful, so once you have enough mass on the ground, you can tap them to play Chord of Calling for Predator Dragon.

The Dragon is very hungry and devours however many Elves, Insects, whatever, to go lethal. It is hasty and puts a skid mark on the opponent's face immediately before the two of you shuffle up for the next game.

Saito's deck was very fast, and Saito, as we mentioned, is the reigning Player of the Year. Scary stuff, right?

Luis started his match 0-2 again!

No problem!

He won three in a row and found himself in another skewed mirror with Matej Zatlkaj, again with Dragon-Elves.

Zatlkaj's version is similar to Saito's, but he also has Essence Warden. This allows him to accumulate a ton of life while either player generates Elves, making it harder to "go off" under the wrong circumstances... especially for a deck like Luis's, which ran a Grapeshot kill.

The really frightening prospect (of which Saito's deck was also capable) was that Zatlkaj could use his Chord of Calling not just when "going off" himself, but by piggybacking Luis's Elves with his Wirewood Hivemaster to set up a Chord of Calling.

The Chord could then produce an Orzhov Pontiff which would wipe LSV's board, undo all his hard work... and leave his opponent with an army of Insects!

But Luis, bereft of any tricky Pontiffs or Sharpshooters, soldiered through the Finals, and won 3-0 largely on the back of some sideboarded copies of Thoughtseize.

You see as powerful as the Elves deck is, without Glimpse of Nature it is very difficult to combo off quickly. Luis could use Thoughtseize in the mirror to slow down his opponents by removing Glimpse—and subtly, to evaluate if they had the Chords necessary to break him up mid-combo—to improve his chances.

It helped that Luis had the fastest version of Elves in the Top 8, capable of winning on the second turn.


Luis played Elves of Deep Shadow over Wirewood Hivemaster as an additional one-mana Elf that could play Thoughtseize or help to summon Elvish Visionary (check out that super-low land count of only 16 lands).

His version eschewed the Hivemaster-into-Chord-for-Dragon combo in favor of a simple Grapeshot kill. LSV's deck produces many spells quickly via the break-even or profitable mana production of Nettle Sentinel, so setting up the Grapeshot kill is not usually difficult; even through a deck like Zatlkaj's, which can pull out of typical Grapeshot range with Essence Warden, could be overcome by using Eternal Witness... Luis would simply kill any Essence Warden(s) somewhere in the middle of his combination, pointing any surplus at the opponent, then later Eternal Witness the Grapeshot and get twice the storm.

Notable in Scott-Vargas's sideboard are a Pendelhaven and full set of Umezawa's Jittes. Luis typically transformed into a creature beatdown deck after sideboarding... His opponents would go all out on anti-combo cards, and he simply would not present them a deck that could be thus disrupted, instead opting to beat down with 1/1s and history's (least?) favorite Equipment.

This Top 8 was just chock-full of Elves! Here are three more Elves! lists that graduated to Sunday play:



Check out the Brain Freezes in some of those lists. Thaler actually caught Zatlkaj mid-combo with a piggybacked Brain Freeze to take a game in the Top 4!



Jan Doise's deck operates a little bit differently from the Dragon builds, though he has much of the same machinery.

Instead, Jan finished games with Mirror Entity. Mirror Entity actually turns all of Jan's Insects into Elves (Elves being one of the "all" creature types specified by Mirror Entity), which would then be eligible to team up with Heritage Druid... in order to create a bigger, potentially lethal, attack by leveraging the "X" side of the same ability.

Whatever was in play at the beginning of the turn—typically one Llanowar Elves or thereabouts—could play the role of the Predator Dragon, crashing into the Red Zone.

In addition, Jan could create actually infinite numbers, not just 200-power Dragons or "lethal" Grapeshots. Because Wirewood Symbiote becomes an Elf under Mirror Entity, it can be returned to hand like an Elf. Remember all the stuff about netting mana on cheap plays? Doise could do it over and over forever by untapping an active Llanowar Elves and returning and re-playing (and re-Elfing) his Symbiote, making for limitless mana and life.

Just be careful that you don't deck yourself with Glimpse of Nature on this one! This is a combination that doesn't actually require Glimpse (just having the right creatures in play), though practically speaking, you will probably have played Glimpse in most of the games where you can set up those creatures (there is only one Mirror Entity in the deck, for instance).

Denis Sinner's Faeries
Pro Tour-Berlin Top 8


And... Faeries!

The longtime scourge of Standard seems to have carved out a spot in Extended as well. Faeries in this format seems quite similar to the Standard deck from last year, but with numbers tweaked and the opportunity to play more better spells.

One of those more better spells is Umezawa's Jitte, a fine tool for cleaning up any 1/1 creatures, Elf or Faerie!

And so, the Pro Tour–Berlin Top 8:

ElfBall
1 Winner, 5 Top 8
Faeries
1 Top 8
The Tezzerator
1 Top 8


... But didn't we entitle this article "The Other Side of Pro Tour Berlin"?

I just scrolled up to confirm that we did, in fact, entitle it thusly.

What could we have meant?

I was very sneaky and had the crack coverage team send me the LCQ deck lists. The LCQ format was Standard.

Do you know what else is Standard? In just two days? That's right, the 2008 State Championships!

So for this one—largely thanks to the overwhelmingly positive response from last week's videos—I produced overview videos for each of the three qualifying deck lists from the Berlin LCQ, which can be viewed below.

Three?

Yes, strangely, three.

No, no, four people did in fact qualify.

But if you look at this handy dandy Top 8 chart...

Demigod Deck Wins
1 Qualified, 1 Top 8
Faeries
1 Qualified, 1 Top 8
Blightning Beatdown
1 Qualified
B/G Elves
2 Top 8


... You will see that one of the qualifying deck lists actually hopped, skipped, or jumped away, and we only have three blue boxes: Demigod Deck Wins, Blightning Beatdown, and of course boogeyman Faeries.

Demigod Deck Wins

Guillaume Baudois
1st Place - U.S. National Championships 2008


Guillaume Baudois's version played twenty-three lands (running one Unwilling Recruit over the 24th land), but running four Ghitu Encampments main. Ghitu Encampment is an interesting card. Certainly it has value as a potential offensive threat (especially post-Wrath or post-Firespout in a room where Cruel Control or some other Quick 'n Toast variant is popular), but it comes at a cost.

When your fifth land that you just topdecked comes into play tapped... Your Demigod of Revenge sits waiting in your hand instead of screaming across the Red Zone angrily at your opponent's face. Just one small thing to consider.

On one, Guillaume ran Mogg Fanatic; this is not remarkable (Mogg Fanatic has been a favorite of red decks since it was first printed in 1997 or so)... but the little guy has not been that popular in Standard as of late, finishing behind Magus of the Scroll last summer, and largely behind Tattermunge Maniac right now.

Guillaume's two-drop is Stigma Lasher, which seems to indicate specific preparation for Kitchen Finks. The other major contender for this position is Vexing Shusher, which obviously leans towards anti-Faeries or anti-Quick 'n Toast preparation.

The preference against Kitchen Finks seems confirmed by Puncture Blast in the main (over Shock, or in some lists, Lash Out); Puncture Blast is outstanding against Kitchen Finks in that it removes that bane of the red deck immediately, with no persist shenanigans.

Not that the deck needed to win the PT–Berlin LCQ to get this notice, but obviously Demigod Deck Wins is going to be a major strategy come this weekend. Be prepared or be prepared to be burned out.

I hope you enjoy this short video I prepared on Guillaume's LCQ-winning Demigod Deck.

Axel Jensen
5th Place - U.S. National Championships 2008

Main Deck

60 cards

Fire-Lit Thicket
Ghitu Encampment
Karplusan Forest
12  Mountain

24 lands

Boggart Ram-Gang
Demigod of Revenge
Figure of Destiny
Stigma Lasher
Vexing Shusher

20 creatures

Flame Javelin
Incinerate
Lash Out
Magma Spray

16 other spells

Sideboard
Manabarbs
Pyroclasm
Spring Cleaning
Tarfire
Unwilling Recruit

15 sideboard cards



Despite the green splash I counted this as fundamentally the Red Deck rather than breaking it out as I did with Blightning (below).

We see the Ghitu Encampments again, but in this version all 24 lands.

Interesting (to me at least) is the preference for Magma Spray over Shock. This is a different look at a Kitchen Finks killer, albeit a limited one when you are trying to burn the opponent out (though you can make the counter-argument that the U.S. National Champion's Skreds were similarly "limited").

The biggest structural break (besides a green splash primarily for Spring Cleaning in the sideboard) is the removal of Ashenmoor Gouger in favor of a second two-mana threat; Jensen played both Vexing Shusher and Stigma Lasher, but no 4/4 for three.

Faeries

Jorge Pinazo's Faerie Wizards
2nd Place - U.S. National Championships 2008


The major deviation from the norm here is obviously the hybridization of Stonybrook Banneret and Sage's Dousing onto the Faeries core.

Noticing that many of the Faeries he was already playing—Spellstutter Sprite, Vendilion Clique, and Mistbind Clique—were already Wizards, Jorge realized the synergy with these normally Merfolk-exclusive cards. Sage's Dousing seems pretty great if you have enough Wizards; it essentially doubles the Dismiss count.

Here is a short video I did on Jorge's Deck:

The other Faeries Top 8 finish was more conventional:

Per Nystrom
7th Place - U.S. National Championships 2008


Blightning Beatdown

Oscar Almgren
4th Place - U.S. National Championships 2008


So what do you get when you walk away from the red deck two-drop argument and cram a Bitterblossom and a 3/1 trampler into Spell Snare's favorite mana slot? Incentive to play hot new card Blightning, apparently.

Oscar's deck has a lot of the trappings of the conventional Demigod Deck, but more raw power thanks to dipping into a second color (and that dip does not seem overly painful by the way, thanks to the superb dual lands available in Standard, plus the fact that Demigod of Revenge has friendly color requirements).


Blightning seems really exciting. Don't forget that cards along the lines of Stupor have been good enough before, many times... Blightning is like a turbo-charged Stupor that kind of spits in the opponent's face while simultaneously kicking his butt. "Yeah, I'm getting card advantage here and everything, but on the other hand, you take 3 damage." Just a really elegantly designed (and quite adequately powerful and efficient) card.

The only caveat here is that the black-red Blightning version is almost certainly a dog to the straight Red version of the Demigod strategy. The mana isn't overly painful, but every point matters when you are racing; Bitterblossom is a great threat, but it is a liability at least part of the time in the Faeries matchup, and I don't see that changing when we go Red v. Red with these competing builds. Still, this deck should be a contender on the back of Blightning, if not the most popular archetype.

Here is a short video I prepared playing with Oscar's deck:

Plus, there were some black-green Elf decks in the Top 8 as well...

Michal Jedlicka
6th Place - U.S. National Championships 2008



These Elves seem to love a Bitterblossom (Bitter Awesome) much more than usual favorite / lord / etc. Imperious Perfect.

Elsewise, they are pretty straightforward decks, good creatures, good spells, similar to the decks that won last year's World Championships and the Standard Pro Tour–Hollywood.

In addition to these decks, I would make sure to prepare for Cruel Control. There has been some talk around the 'Net that Cruel Control doesn't need Cruel Ultimatum, but it seems like the card I lose to most when I am facing that Five-Color Control deck. So basically, I'd love it if people stopped playing Cruel Ultimatum. If you can comply with this desire and you are playing in the New York State Championship, it would be much appreciated!


This is what you have to worry about:

There are many strategies for getting around a Cruel, such as sandbagging your Cryptic Command in Game 1, or siding in something like a Hindering Light in Game 2. However if your opponent is Cruel, he can play around this by waiting until he has nine mana in Game 1 (Negate) rather than firing prematurely, or siding in a really problematic card like Vexing Shusher or Guttural Response (which is good like everywhere anyway). That is why you lose to Cruel Ultimatum; because people can play well enough to actually resolve it through resistance!

So watch out. In addition to Faeries and the red decks (and possibly Kithkin / White Weenie), I think Cruel Control will be the most popular deck of the tournament. Do yourself a favor and review Cruisin' for a Blue Again.

Good luck this weekend (unless you are playing me, of course).

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