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Tales from the Opening Bell

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The letter T!his past weekend gave us the first appearance of Scars of Mirrodin in heavy-fisted Constructed competition. The fur flew. Mana was Leaked. New planeswalkers appeared, and Top Decks-featured preview cards once again kicked butt.

But most of all, Primeval Titans rumbled through the Red Zone, turning it green with all their combat-Cultivated lands.

Let's explore:


Red-Green Valakut Ramp

This format—at least one week in—seems to be ruled by Primeval Titans.

There are all different kinds of Primeval Titan decks. We have seen decks that fuel Destructive Force, various three-color decks (some employing additional Titans), and Turboland. There are even pure beatdown decks, just touching for Summoning Trap and flipping up Primeval Titans for free! And of course we have the two distinct tribes of Titan decks (probably the most popular pre-Scars of Mirrodin) featured in this Top 8.


Of the Titan sub-metagame, it seems that Red-Green Valakut Ramp is the most powerful Titan deck (I would humbly submit, as a former Green-White Summoning Trap player, that the beatdown style is by far the weakest player in intra-Titan conflicts, as it can only get ahead, not catch up).

Jack Vargas's Red-Green Valakut Ramp
Standard - 1st Place - TCGPlayer.com WWS–New York City


TCGPlayer Champion Jack Vargas played essentially a classic Red-Green Valakut Ramp deck, enhanced by new planeswalker, Koth of the Hammer.

How does this deck work?

In the early game, the Red-Green Valakut Ramp deck uses its various acceleration cards to set up the big spells. Avenger of Zendikar is a legitimate finisher by itself—especially with all the ways to play multiple lands in a single turn—but the name comes from this deck's Valakut-centered butt-kicking capabilities.


The Red-Green Valakut Ramp deck, as a Primeval Titan deck, is bound to a certain amount of green mana, which is required to set up not only the Green ManaGreen Mana Primeval Titan, but a large number of Mountains. Primeval Titan's job is usually to get a couple of copies of Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle onto the battlefield. With sufficient Mountains, each Valakut becomes a Lightning Bolt gattling gun, such that with every attack, a Primeval Titan finding more and more Mountains can hit for an additional 3, 6, or 12 damage—maybe even more!


New Cards: Koth of the Hammer

Brian Flynn's Valakut Ramp
Standard - Top 8 - TCGPlayer.com WWS–New York City


Flynn went a slightly different direction; he played a deck with essentially the same competencies—tons of mana acceleration setting up big threats and ultimately a Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle end game—but varied his offense with a three-way array of Titans.

Primeval Titan (of course).
Inferno Titan, the bane of beatdown.
And new "sixth Titan" or "artifact Titan," Wurmcoil Engine!


Flynn supported his many high-end threats with even more lands than Vargas (twenty-eight lands, along with twelve pre-Oracle of Mul Daya accelerators). He added some spice to his sideboard with black for Memoricide via Bojuka Bog and good old basic Swamp (easy to find in this deck).


New cards: Wurmcoil Engine

Eldrazi Ramp

This mono-green deck was largely popularized in the United States by Conrad Kolos at U.S. Nationals 2010. Conrad conceded that the mono-Green Eldrazi Ramp deck might have been a dog to the Red-Green Valakut Ramp (Valakut can take out the straight green deck's Primeval Titan), but the green deck has such a powerful and different route paved by its specialty lands.

Eye of Ugin is a powerhouse that lets the Eldrazi Ramp player find a variety of threats, the most powerful of which is Emrakul, the Aeons Torn! Eldrazi Temples help the deck play any of the expensive-but-effective colorless cards at a discount.

Abbas Tapal's Eldrazi Ramp
Standard - Top 8 - TCGPlayer.com WWS–New York City


Tapal played largely a conventional Eldrazi Ramp deck. This deck is almost an Eldrazi-linear strategy, with basically all the tournament playable Eldrazi cards (save maybe Eldrazi Conscription) in the main deck.

In this deck, Primeval Titan is used to find Eye of Ugin and Eldrazi Temple to set up the even bigger threat creatures, or Tectonic Edge as a safeguard against Red-Green Valakut Ramp or White-Blue Control.


Tapal's primary addition from Scars of Mirrodin is Ratchet Bomb. Presumably he did not play Joraga Treespeaker or Overgrown Battlement, as they can both go boom when the Ratchet Bomb gets angry at the beatdown.

New Cards: Ratchet Bomb, Wurmcoil Engine

Tim Landale's Eldrazi Ramp
Standard - 2nd Place - TCGPlayer.com WWS–New York City


Chester Li's Eldrazi Ramp
Standard - Top 8 - TCGPlayer.com WWS–New York City


Landale and Li tore up both the TCGPlayer Trials and the Swiss in the $5K main event with their subtly awesome update to the classic.

You will notice a couple of distinct differences between the Landale/Li list and Tapal's. First of all, they play both Joraga Treespeaker and Overgrown Battlement. As such, they are much faster in the mirror; in addition, they played all four copies of Growth Spasm. Landale shared that Growth Spasm helps the deck play the fastest possible Primeval Titan ... even faster than Cultivate!

And not only did they not play new card Ratchet Bomb, they didn't play the otherwise ubiquitous All Is Dust either. Instead, the All Is Dust slot is occupied by the sixth Titan, Wurmcoil Engine.

Read All Is Dust for a second.


That's right! While this Eye of Ugin can search up Eldrazi, it doesn't "search up Eldrazi." It searches up any colorless creature ... including Wurmcoil Engine! Wurmcoil Engine is like an artifact Baneslayer Angel in this deck; Eye of Ugin-available, easy to cast, and faster to play than the Eldrazi Giants—but no less resistant to All Is Dust.


Wurmcoil Engine is both resistant to White-Blue removal and absolute hell for the beatdown.

One of the things that impressed me about this deck is how much attention the duo spent on the mirror. Case in point: They played all four copies of Terastodon specifically for other Primeval Titan Ramp decks.


New Cards: Wurmcoil Engine

I was able to grab a few minutes with finalist Landale, interviewed by the peerless Brian David-Marshall, fresh off his success. Enjoy!

Elves!

Michael Lapine's Elves
Standard - Top 8 - TCGPlayer.com WWS–New York City


Elves is a deck designed to look at its hand, dump all the cards onto the battlefield, and use the massive amount of mana those cards produce to take massive action.

This can be somewhat vulnerability exposing (especially given the presence of not only historical sweepers like Day of Judgment, but awesome new cards like Ratchet Bomb). But Elves counterbalances that with the mighty Eldrazi Monument.


In a deck with mostly Elves, this three-drop is essentially a walking Overrun. Elves can easily cast a first turn Arbor Elf or Llanowar Elves, get the ball rolling, and then fire big muscles-style. Ezuri, Renegade Leader is also a fine shield against removal or even combat interaction.


What to do with a ton of excess green mana production? How about dumping it all into a Genesis Wave? This deck can hit anything but Genesis Wave itself with a Genesis Wave; sometimes—when playing eight or more—it can even run out Eldrazi Monument!


Eldrazi Monument will defend Elves from Day of Judgment, but not All Is Dust. That's where Tajuru Preserver comes in! This little two-drop is not only also an Elf for Elvish Archdruid and Ezuri, Renegade Leader, he stops the stompings by way of Ulamog, the Infinite Gyre or any other gigantic Eldrazi creatures.

... Not that it stops you from taking 10-15 on the jaw, or anything, but you can race.


New Cards: Ezuri, Renegade Leader; Genesis Wave

Blue-Red Destructive Force

Fresh off his Top 8 at Grand Prix–Columbus, Jason Ford crossed half the country to compete in the TCGPlayer $5K. To my mind, he brought the freshest new look at the metagame.

Jason Ford's Blue-Red Destructive Force
Standard - Top 8 - TCGPlayer.com WWS–New York City


How does this deck work?

Ford's deck has four basic classes of cards:

Jason's big stuff was all either Destructive Force or things that lace up with Destructive Force, for example Frost Titan and Inferno Titan. The Titans have 6 toughness, and therefore live through Destructive Force.


Essentially Ford would take over the game with his one-for-ones, then put his stamp on it with one of his Titans. Destructive Force was not necessary, strictly, for the win ... but it certainly made games difficult for the other guy.

New Cards: Koth of the Hammer, Volition Reins

White-Blue Control

Pedro Quintero's White-Blue Control
Standard - Top 8 - TCGPlayer.com WWS–New York City


White-Blue Control might seem like a straight port from pre-Scars of Mirrodin Standard, but if you look at the specific choices that Pedro Quintero made, you will see a deck that is about as rich in the new set as possible.


I am not going to go through the basics of how to play a White-Blue Control deck as it is the oldest and most well known serious strategy, ever. Instead I'll talk about all the new cards that Pedro played, and how they fit in.

Ratchet Bomb: This card seems awesome in White-Blue Control. As hinted, I played a Green-White Summoning Trap deck with lots of cheap accelerators (Joraga Treespeaker, Birds of Paradise, and so on). While the deck was a slight dog to other Primeval Titan decks, if there was one deck that I consistently smashed, it was White-Blue Control ... but not Pedro's build! The mere presence of Ratchet Bomb forced me to re-think how to approach the match-up ... and was absolutely punishing when I was wrong.

Elspeth Tirel: Pedro never actually used the Nevinyrral's Disk ability on the weekend! He used it primarily for tokens production, would consider running a third.

Leonin Arbiter: Leonin Arbiter is a powerful way to slow down both decks that rely on cards like Arid Mesa and green Primeval Titan decks (whose entire early games are typically a conclave of Cultivates).

Revoke Existence: Catchall enchantment/artifact removal.

Volition Reins: Pedro shared a great story about stealing—believe it or not—a Jace, the Mind Sculptor on the way to the Top 8.

Seachrome Coast: Apparently these enter the battlefield untapped even if they are your third land (write that down); Pedro played them to help his consistency hitting Preordain on the first turn.


New Cards: Ratchet Bomb, Trigon of Mending, Leonin Arbiter

I was also able to grab a few minutes with Pedro, to talk about his deck. Unfortunately Brian David-Marshall couldn't help out with this 'cast ... as he was battling for his own fabulous prizes in the Top 8 of Day 2. Great job Brian! Long story short, you have to settle for Yours Trult (but Pedro is great nevertheless):

The Top 16

Let's just touch on some of the new, different, and interesting decks that just missed:


Trinket Mage for Memnite is yet another way you can re-buy a Vengevine!

This deck, full of "enters the battlefield"-effect creatures like Squadron Hawk, Sphinx of Lost Truths, Frost Titan, and of course Trinket Mage is a vine home for "enters the battlefield"-friendly Venser, the Sojourner.

Axel Jansen's White Weenie Quest
Standard - Top 16 - TCGPlayer.com WWS–New York City


Just a more tuned version of the "all-in on Argentum Armor" White Weenie strategy. In addition to Quest for the Holy Relic and a Magical Christmas Land of free (or simply cheap) creatures, this deck can use Stoneforge Mystic to find the expensive equipment, cast it for cheap with the Mystic's ability, then save about four mana with the help of Kor Outfitter.

Jim Davis's Blue-Red-Green Shaman
Standard - Top 16 - TCGPlayer.com WWS–New York City


Grand Prix superstar and former New York State Champion Jim Davis shows us more Trinket Mages and Memnites setting up Vengevines; his blue-red-green list also has Trinket Mage finding Basilisk Collar, making it good friends with fellow mage, the Cunning Sparkmage.

Oh, and Inferno Titan + Basilisk Collar does that. Yes, that. What you were thinking.


I hope your creative juices are flowing, because this weekend is State Championships time! More results, more new decks, and hopefully more good times next week!



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