Top_Decks

Hawt Gnu Tek

  • Boards
  • Print
Author Image

I knew the week I wrote this article it was going to make it into my end-of-year reruns. Hawt Gnu Tek was just my favorite Top Decks column of 2010. It was fun to write, hopefully fun to read, and combined everything that makes for a classic Mike Flores Top Decks article: Nostalgic name-dropping lead-in, followed by innovative technology, culminating in a Grand Prix win by my favorite player of this generation, Brad Nelson. And as far as the name went ... It was full of actual hot new tech: Sarkhan the Mad and Vengevine in Jund, Royal Assassin, double Sejiri Steppes, even Sea Gate Oracle. Hawt!


This article originally ran on May 27, 2010.



The letter A! few years ago my friend (and fellow columnist on this site) Steve Sadin designed a great and innovative new deck. It was only superficially a red-green beat-down deck. Most decks of that sort at that time played with cards like Treetop Village and Kird Ape; but Steve worked at and honed his deck to the point that it almost didn't resemble other red-green beat-down decks at all.


His only green card was Tarmogoyf; he didn't have sufficient Forests for Kird Ape, but he did figure to play a pair of Pendelhavens. Steve's two drop was—wait for it—Mogg War Marshall, and he got in there with Keldon Marauders.

What Steve played with, that almost no one else played with at the time, was Greater Gargadon. Steve's Greater Gargadon was like Diamond Dallas Paige in the mid-to-late 1990s. Underrated, always seemed to be getting beaten up; but kick! Wham! Diamond Cutter! Paige would hit his finishing move over big stars in the most unexpected situations and the crowds would roar! No one ever saw it coming. Once, Paige even disguised himself as a masked Mexican "jobber" ... But when that unknown luchador struck the Diamond Cutter, the crowd popped and he tore off his mask—It was Dallas!

That was how Steve's Greater Gargadon struck.


Sometimes he would suspend it and that turn figure out how to take ten time counters off. He would essentially Armageddon himself, but ... Kick! Wham! Cutter! Take 9.

Other times, the Gargadon would loom there from the first turn ... Time counters would dribble off one turn at a time, like the drip Drip DRIP of some lethal water clock; each bead or penny sliding off to the side was like a love note to the future: "I'm coming."


But, of course, Steve built his deck for those games in the middle. Those games where a Mogg War Marshall would be worth three time counters on turn two, or Keldon Marauders could block and strike and strike again, while scribbling off to the side ... "I'm coming."

Steve actually lost his red-green deck right before the Standard portion of US Nationals that year. Legend says that it was on top of Matt Boccio's car when he drove off; something like that. More is the shame: Sadin was unstoppable, going undefeated in the Limited portion.

But fellow New Yorker Greg Poverelli took the final Magic Scholarship Series with Steve's list, proving a small measure of vindication for one of history's great and innovative Standard beat-down decks.

Greg Poverelli's Red-Green deck
Standard – Top 8 – Magic Scholarship Series 2007

Main Deck

60 cards

Karplusan Forest
10  Mountain
Pendelhaven
Stomping Ground

20 lands

Greater Gargadon
Keldon Marauders
Martyr of Ashes
Mogg Fanatic
Mogg War Marshal
Scorched Rusalka
Tarmogoyf

24 creatures

Char
Incinerate
Rift Bolt
Seal of Fire

16 other spells

Sideboard
Cryoclasm
Manabarbs
Martyr of Ashes
Threaten
Tin Street Hooligan

15 sideboard cards



I might have painted this deck as being well and truly fearless, but there was one thing that Steve feared. One proto-planeswalker-before-there-were-planeswalkers: Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir.


Teferi was like a ward against Greater Gargadon; more, it kept a red beat-down player honest. There were no taxing end of turn Lightning Bolts. There were no unexpected Diamond Cutters.


I remember one playtest game; Steve was playing at the desk computer. We were in the same room but I was battling him from the laptop, on the couch. I traded a couple of spells one-for-one, hit my curve, and stuck the Mage of Zhalfir.

Steve's yellow, Steve's wood, his lead, his holy water, wolfsbane, and kryptonite had just hit the 'field. He stayed calm, though. Over the course of the next two turns, the Grand Prix–Columbus Champion—not two months off of his historic Hulk Flash win—spent his hand to get rid of my Legendary Wizard. It was time. The notes had been flittering at every exchange.

"I'm coming."

Greater Gargadon's last counter came off. It was time. "I'm coming."

"Just a sec," I responded, tapping five.

Oh no.

"That's right."

Second Teferi.

Because of Mystical Teachings, many of these decks only played one copy. The second one took Steve—or more properly, Steve's Gargadon—by surprise.

Second Teferi. Damn. What a beat-down. Unbeatable. Damn.

I figure that's what many of Brett Blackman's opponents must have been thinking this past weekend.

Brett Blackman's Mythic Conscription
Standard – Top 8 – GrandPrix–Washinton D.C.


Do you see that mana base? Many Mythic Conscription decks play only one Sejiri Steppe; many Knight of the Reliquary decks have taken even the one out.


But not Brett. Not the Champ (last year's Pennsylvania State Champ). Not the Junior Super Series Superstar.

He cut a Stirring Wildwood for a second Sejiri Steppe.

So many of games come down to either a Sejiri Steppe blowout (often when the opponent doesn't know about the free Cho-Manno's Blessing that the Knight of the Reliquary is capable of) or forcing the opponent into blowing his single copy.

Once they have the Sejiri Steppe out of the way, these poor naive souls think: it is on. Now we can strike. Now we can use that piece of removal we really want to use. Now we can act without fear of ...

Of ...

Is that?

Oh no.

"That's right."

Second Sejiri Steppe.

What a beat-down.

(And hawt gnu tek).

The rest of Brett's deck is relatively standard for this Standard powerhouse: great creatures in the vein of Mowshowitz & Co., Finest Hour and Rafiq replaced by Sovereigns of Lost Alara-into-Eldrazi Conscription.

As with most Mythic Conscription decks these days, Brett's runs main deck Jace, the Mind Sculptor. While it is arguable whether or not this card is actually strategic to the Mythic game plan, you can't argue with its annoying-ness in the face of the format's popular control decks (especially on the third turn). Plus, the "Unsummon" line on Jace is an effective short-term solution to an opposing Malakir Bloodwitch.

A less common addition is fellow Mythic planeswalker, Gideon Jura. In addition to potentially pre-empting an opposing planeswalker, Gideon sets up an effective alpha strike. Against another creature deck, you can have all of your opponent's little guys run at your five (hopefully getting in awesome blocks with Baneslayer Angel or whatever), then counter with a lethal rush to the jaw.

So how did the rest of the Top 8 look?


Jund Variants

The most popular deck in the Top 8 was, unsurprisingly, Jund.

But as we discussed last week, Jund is just four little letters next to each other on a line. The decks that did well certainly resemble one another in terms of their Savage Lands and Bloodbraid Elves, but not necessarily how they play out over the course of a game.

Owen Turtenwald's Jund
Standard – Top 8 – Grand Prix–Washington D.C.


Owen Turtenwald played something pretty close to a classic Jund deck.

While its 26 lands put it near the "all lands no removal" zone ... Owen actually played a ton of removal! Four Bituminous Blasts, four Lightning Bolts, four Maelstrom Pulses (presumably for planeswalkers), and Terminates too!

Hawt Gnu Tek: Prophetic Prism

Often, a second turn Spreading Seas on the play will keep a Jund deck from playing anything on the second turn ... often the third turn, too. Two Spreading Seas and the opponent might not make a pre-Bloodbraid Elf play. However Prophetic Prism helps take the edge off. You can play Prophetic Prism even if you have nothing but Islands in play! While it's certainly not a Get Out of Jail Free card, it can give Jund quite the ray of hope.


Bradley Carpenter's Jund
Standard – Top 8 – Grand Prix–Washington D.C.


Look at how different Carpenter's deck plays out!

It really plays almost no removal!

(Just Maelstrom Pulse ... presumably for Planeswalkers.)

The deck is almost all creatures, building towards Vengevine. All plays lead to Vengevine. That makes for a high frequency of re-buys.

A nice conceptual leap Bradley made was to add Hell's Thunder. Along with Bloodbraid Elf and of course Vengevine, the Hell's Thunder made for more hasty beat-downs. Hell's Thunder—because it is inherently disposable—is all the better with Sarkhan the Mad.

Upgrade a 4/4 flyer [that was going to die anyway] for a 5/5 flyer? With a likely re-buy the next turn (if you want one)? Not bad!

Hawt Gnu Tek: Vengevine + Sarkhan the Mad

Joshua Wagner's Jund
Standard – Top 8 – Grand Prix–Washington D.C.


All three Jund decks played Sarkhan the Mad. Bradley's made for Vengevine re-buys (with 5/5 profits) and even more Hell's Thunders. Both Owen and the former US National Champion Joshua can curve a five mana Sarkhan the Mad into a Broodmate Dragon "Fireball" the next turn. But what's even hotter (or at least weirder) in this list?


Hot Gnu Tek: Royal Assassin

Love it!

I mean, really ... How is an Exalted-leaning Mythic deck supposed to get past that little guy? Thumbs up.


The other half of the Grand Prix–Washington DC Top 8 was white-blue decks ... either White-Blue Tapout or Red-White-Blue Planeswalker variants.

Red-White-Blue Planeswalkers

Carlos Romao's Red-White-Blue Planeswalkers
Standard – Top 8 – Grand Prix–Washington D.C.


When he won the all-Psychatog World Championships with his straight blue-black version, Carlos Romao's Hawt Gnu Tek wasn't in the cards ... but in his style of play. Carlos let his opponents draw all the cards they wanted; he had a limited number of Counterspells, and saved them for only Upheaval and Psychatog itself. If you didn't know about how the wheels turned behind the most impressive Standard performance of all time (undefeated Standard portion, [obviously] undefeated Top 8, winning every mirror on the way to the World Championship), you might have missed the fact that there was any Hawt Gnu Tek at all.

This time Carlos forces you to look a bit closely as well. At first glance ... there isn't a whole lot of Hawt Gnu Tek. This is a Red-White-Blue Planeswalkers deck, right?

Just look at how many planeswalkers!

His version packs a whopping fifteen planeswalkers, starting low with Jace Beleren.

Jace Beleren takes up the usual Divination slots in this deck. First of all, Jace Beleren is a higher quality card than Divination. Even before considering the [+2] ability, it has the option of drawing more cards (for you) than Divination.

... But it's really a jerkface against another white-blue or red-white-blue control deck!

When you play Jace Beleren on the third turn, you automatically pre-empt the opponent's Jace, the Mind Sculptor! This allows you to steal home court advantage when the opponent thinks he's on the play. Unless he has an Everflowing Chalice, the opponent is going to have to make a trade he doesn't really want to make in order to get his own Jace onto the 'field (Oblivion Ring or "wasting" a Jace, the Mind Sculptor).


This is of course going to give Carlos the option of playing another (this time upgraded?) Jace on his fourth turn. What a beat-down!

Of course you can just play Jace on turn three, draw a card; Elspeth or Ajani on turn four, draw a card; then take whatever planeswalkie-talkie fifth turn you like ... Do you want to expend your Jace and play the big brother Jace, the Mind Sculptor? Or do you want to keep your Jace around and just curve into Gideon Jura? Surely that is worth "loaning" the opponent one measly card.

Jace Beleren is not faster than the usually-played Divination, but there is a subtlety in its ability to dominante the mirror that hearkens back to Romao's Psychatog win.

Michael Stanfar's Red-White-Blue Planeswalkers
Standard – Top 8 – Grand Prix–Washington D.C.


Hawt Gnu Tek: Sea Gate Oracle

Michael also chose to eschew Divination, but he decided to go another way. For a Red-White-Blue Planeswalkers deck, this one is unusually offensive. Stanfar had main deck Luminarch Ascension (a fine weapon in the mirror, or especially against straight White-Blue Control decks), but also the Sea Gate Oracle ... Court Hussar junior, or a Divination with a balled fist.

White-Blue Tapout

The white-blue decks that did well in this Top 8 are pretty textbook examples of the Tapout school. Of all the decks in the Top 8, only Kyle Boggemes and his one Deprive boasted a main deck counterspell. Otherwise, it was all about tapping mana on your own turn for something worthwhile.

Kyle Boggemes' White-Blue Control
Standard – Top 8 – Grand Prix–Washington D.C.


Brad Nelson's White-Blue Control
Standard – Top 8 – Grand Prix–Washington D.C.


Both played a sideboard Jace Beleren, echoing more or less everything we said about Carlos (albeit to a lesser degree). But as far as Hawt Gnu Tek goes? If there was any, it didn't much live in the cards.

The choice of White-Blue Control—given the surge over the last month or so of Red-White-Blue Planeswalkers (as both one of the most popular decks and as a killer of White-Blue Control decks)—was a certain one. Red-White-Blue Planeswalkers seems to be marginally more popular than White-Blue Control, but indications from the National Qualifiers seemed to say that the latter would be more likely to win a tournament.

And that's what happened!

Both Kyle and Brad advanced from the quarterfinals, with Brad the eventual winner.

Good choice on that one ;)

  • Planeswalker Points
  • Facebook Twitter
  • Gatherer: The Magic Card Database
  • Forums: Connect with the Magic Community
  • Magic Locator