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Few Surprises ... But Not No Surprises

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The letter T!his past weekend was the Star City Games $5,000 Standard Open in Philadelphia, PA.

This week—and it will probably already be in progress once you are reading this article—is / will be the 2008 World Championships.

Of the three formats that make up Worlds, Standard is the most important one (they are each one-third of the Swiss rounds, but it is Standard that will be played on Sunday in Memphis). So Standard has been fairly well defined by States and Champs, Magic Online, and the smoky back rooms of secretive playtest groups, but many major championships—particularly those with Standard components—have been up-ended at the last minute by tournaments occurring just beforehand. Will Worlds be another such example?

What did the Top 8 look like?

Vengeant Kithkin
1 Winner
Faeries
3 Top 8
Red Deck Wins
1 Top 8
Five-Color Control
1 Top 8
Esper Reveillark
1 Top 8
Vengeant Reveillark
1 Top 8

So like the title of this article reads, there were few surprises making up this Top 8 ... but not none. We have seen decks like a lot of these before, but more than one have interesting tweaks, changes, and angles by which they attack the metagame. Plus, as a super added bonus, in addition to some cool videos to watch, we have some last-minute deck modification tips from the Top 8's local Pro Tour Champion! Let's begin!

Vengeant Kithkin

Corey Mann's Vengeant Kithkin
1st place, Star City Games Standard Open

Corey Mann won it all with this Kithkin beatdown deck splashing Ajani Vengeant. Note that with the exception of that awesome planeswalker (some very good players are calling it the best card in Standard), Corey's deck is four Battlefield Forges shy of being 100% Lorwyn / Shadowmoor Block Contructed legal.

Now we have seen some red-white beatdown decks in Standard recently, including Marsh Usary's innovative Painter's Servant combo deck, but Corey's deck is barely red at all. His entire red splash is to support Ajani Vengeant, four copies; that's how good the card is!

Besides splashing for the popular Planeswalker, Corey's deck ran 4 Wilt-Leaf Liege over 3–4 Thistledown Liege, a "logical" yet fairly unexpected and unusual choice for the archetype.

Wilt-Leaf Liege is just fundamentally a much stronger card than Thistledown Liege (hence the logic). The reason Thistledown Liege got / gets so much play in decks like this is that it is a Kithkin and plays all nice with Rustic Clachan and Wizened Cenn. Plus, in Mirrorweave decks, Thistledown Liege allowed Kithkin to start sequencing at the end of the opponent's turn or during combat (especially when a Mirrorweave was involved). However in "modern" Standard, the Kithkin's greatest foe is Five-Color Control, a deck that typically tops up on Cruel Ultimatum. While Wilt-Leaf Liege doesn't turn Five-Color Control into a cakewalk, it does offer a little bit of insulation thanks to the creature's synergy with opposing discard. Plus—and as we've discussed with decks like the New Girl—Wilt-Leaf Liege is a stone cold show stopper against Blightning Beatdown. The black-red deck's defining sorcery goes from being baffling burn-bomb to ... well .... It's just depressing.

First Among Equals

Jonathan Sukenik's Faeries
2nd place, Star City Games Standard Open


The highest performing Faeries deck was Jonathan Sukenik, at second place (two others in the Top 8, and more in the Top 16). Jonathan's deck ran a singleton Loxodon Warhammer in the main, and was built with a much greater focus on destroying creatures and controlling the board than most Fae.

There are a number of ways one can go about building a Faeries deck. Will you play Scion of Oona for its offensive and pleasantly evasive capabilities, or switch to Pestermite to slow down hasted red creatures and keep your Warhammer a safer bet? What about card drawing? Will you go the planeswalker route with Jace Beleren, splash white for Esper Charm, or play off the top of your deck? Sowers or Cliques? Remove Soul or Broken Ambitions? Many of the Faeries decks look almost identical, but they can definitely be segregated into different camps.

For his part, Jonathan's was more anti-aggro than many a Fae deck. In the main, Sukenik played almost a full set of Sower of Temptation and the maximum number of Agony Warps. Out of the sideboard, he rounded out the Sower of Temptation count, played both Terror and Eyeblight's Ending, and ran all four copies of Infest.

Why do we see a single Loxodon Warhammer in so many Faeries decks? First off, Loxodon Warhammer is most often used as a kind of proactive Healing Salve. Decks that run it would not necessarily do so but for the life gain. Fae is no exception; in fact, the life gain can be quite substantial in a deck that is vulnerable to the Red Deck and can fall behind, well, anybody thanks to its own Bitterblossom. Now speaking of Bitterblossom, Loxodon Warhammer goes nicely with that card, turning individual 1/1 Faerie Rogue flyers into significant threats; in fact, a Faerie wearing a Warhammer will usually be able to trample over the other guy's Faerie (in a mirror). When this card comes online, it is obviously a useful tool for racing.

There were two other similar decks in the Top 8:

Dan Jordan's Faeries
3rd place, Star City Games Standard Open


Jon Albert's Faeries
6th place, Star City Games Standard Open


Red Deck Wins

David Kilmartin's Red Deck Wins
4th place, Star City Games Standard Open


David Kilmartin sped up the Red Deck Wins model by playing Boggart Ram-Gang at the three and replacing Ashenmoor Gouger with Tattermunge Maniac. With Tattermunge Maniac in the mix, Kilmartin's red deck had three different high-quality one-drops to get damage in early.

His choice of two-drop was Stigma Lasher. As we have seen in various deck lists, the Red Decks of the current Standard can play a variety of different drops at the two, with Stigma Lasher probably edging out Vexing Shusher as the most popular. Stigma Lasher on the play is actually quite devastating for decks planning to overwhelm Red with Kitchen Finks, Ajani Vengeant's Lightning Helix, or Primal Command. In fact, a strike can translate into a Mind Twist.

Magma Spray is just more Kitchen Finks hate. This card can't go to the opponent's face, but it really, truly, duly kills Kitchen Finks (and can also disrupt a Reveillark deck's game plan).

That solitary Reflecting Pool (over the fourth Ghitu Encampment?) .... I assume it was a head fake.

David's sideboard was actually quite interesting. The last time we saw Dominus of Fealty was, well, never .... Kind of a persistent, singularly effective, Unwilling Recruit on wheels.

The quadrangle of Chaotic Backlashes is what really demands attention. Many red decks will roll over and die when threatened by enough Spectral Procession tokens, but David's deck had a big burn spell to try to overwhelm the bad good guys, even without Painter's Servant to set it up.

Esper Reveillark

David Irvine's Esper Reveillark
7th place, Star City Games Standard Open


Dave Irvine's deck is something that you may have seen before but we haven't really discussed in Top Decks ... until now!

This deck is an extremely synergistic collection of functional creatures. It's got disruption (Tidehollow Sculler and Fulminator Mage), card advantage (Mulldrifter), and Control Magic (Sower of Temptation). All of these creatures have 2 power or less, making them all Reveillark-eligible.

Irvine's deck can attack a particular opponent relentlessly and redundantly, knocking one of the three legs out from under his stool and never letting up. For instance, Dave could play third-turn Fulminator Mage, pop it; return it with Makeshift Mannequin; pop again, and eventually recoup it with Reveillark for Stone Rain, Stone Rain, Stone Rain action (hopefully all while blocking).

Or he could start on the first turn with a Thoughtseize (very quick), follow up with Tidehollow Sculler, then round out the one-two-three with an offensive Esper Charm .... Probably not the average use of Esper Charm in this deck, but certainly effective against a hapless opponent who has already declared a mulligan or two.

Or Dave could play an attrition game against the opponent's creatures, play Wrath of God to sweep, and clean up with a Sower of Tempation on whatever the opponent held back.

This deck can do a great many things with 2/x creatures, or sit behind Kitchen Finks (against red) or go beatdown with them (against Faeries), or anything in-between.

Vengeant Reveillark ("Boat-Brew")

Osyp Lebedowicz's Vengeant Reveillark
8th place, Star City Games Standard Open


Top Decks looked at this top deck a few weeks ago in the feature Rogues Around the World. Brian Kowal won a Game in the Gulf Cruise Qualifier with the red-white Vengeant Reveillark deck, albeit a less tuned one than Osyp used to make Top 8 of the Philadelphia tournament.

Brian collaborated with Osyp on this one, and they cut a Murderous Redcap to bring the Boat-Brew down to the correct number of 60 cards.

The deck is extremely robust, and capable of playing multiple different game plans, all strong.

Osyp says that one of the key incentives to this deck is that it "plays the beatdown" role ... but still has more card advantage than most so-called "control" decks. "You are playing Ranger of Eos for a pair of Figures and tripping Windbrisk Heights and they are trying to assemble the colors to play Esper Charm .... It's kind of embarrassing for them. A control deck cannot win the attrition war against this deck."

The Boat-Brew is also a capable sit-there deck. As suggested by Osyp, it can sit there and accumulate card advantage with the best of them. It has fast beaters (Mogg Fanatic and Figure of Destiny), mana acceleration (Mind Stone), two-for-ones (Knight of the White Orchid and Murderous Redcap), three-for-ones (Ranger of Eos), four-for-ones (Siege-Gang Commander), and inevitability in Reveillark!

Plus, possibly the strongest card in the format, Ajani Vengeant (that is Osyp's pick, anyway).

Many readers questioned the Vithian Stingers in Kowal's sideboard the last time we talked about this deck, but the current version actually features a transformative sideboard. The "modern" Boat-Brew can run an eight-pack of protection from white against Kithkin .... Voice of All and Stillmoon Cavalier can prevent the opponent from attacking at all, and next to Ajani Vengeant, race at will.

Some suggestions from Osyp:

-1 Burrenton Forge-Tender
+1 Flamekin Harbinger

Osyp thinks the red matchup is strong enough to move the Forge-Tender to the sideboard. Playing Flamekin Harbinger in the main allows the Vengeant Reveillark to use Ranger of Eos to actually tutor up Reveillark! Fight with the Harbinger, get it into the graveyard, and you can recoup the little Flamekin for more and more Reveillark action.

-3 Murderous Redcap
-1 Kitchen Finks 
+4 Spectral Procession

The first Murderous Redcap has already left the deck; Osyp advocates taking out the rest of them and one Kitchen Finks for Spectral Procession. Spectral Procession is a natural friend to Windbrisk Heights, and arguably better against an offensive Red Deck than even Kitchen Finks .... You can hold back to chump Demigod of Revenge while still racing.

After chatting with Brian and Osyp about this deck, I had the chance to make another video on the Vengeant Reveillark:

Five-Color Control

Michael McGee's Five-Color Control
5th place, Star City Games Standard Open


Mike McGee's Top 8 Five-Color Control deck has a secret.

Did you see what it is?

It was actually 75/75 the same as Bryan Lynch's Rhode Island State Championship-winning Five-Color Control deck!

This deck has a lot of unusual elements. Let's start with the creatures: two Cloudthreshers and two Mulldrifters only .... Mulldrifter is almost always an automatic four-of in Five-Color Control ... but not this one.

To supplement card drawing, the Lynch / McGee deck played not just the stock quartet of Esper Charms but also three copies of Jace Beleren ... strong card draw, better in the mirror. But wait! The planeswalkers don't end with Jace. Like many of the top decks, this one packs possibly the strongest of the strong, It Girl cat-bomb Ajani Vengeant.

This deck has an edge against other control decks thanks to the planeswalker action, but it is dismal against Faeries. As such, Bryan / Mike played a powerful sideboard against the First Among Equals with Jund Charm for instant sweep potential and Chameleon Colossus as an inexorable racer.

Mike took the time to do some Q&A for my beloved readers after his Top 8 appearance. Let's get to 'em!

Top Decks: Why did you play the deck?

Mike McGee: I played the deck because I wanted to play a deck that between my friend Eddy and I we could both play decks that ran blue. We only had enough cards for one copy of Faeries and one Five-Color Control. It's just very good against every deck that isn't Faeries and has a good matchup in the mirror due to Ajani and Jace.

The mana base is very stable with two filters of each. The only way—if you have seven or eight mana in play—you can't play Cruel Ultimatum is to have three of the possible six lands that can't get you black or red without having one of the blue-red or blue-black filter lands.

TD: Would you play it again? What was your favorite card?

MM: The best main deck card is Cruel Ultimatum—it can turn around any game if it resolves—but my MVP was Jund Charm. A lot of people just don't expect it and their sideboard plan with White Weenie and red-white is Reveillark anyway, so it can just blow them out with multiple options. You have "Pyroclasm" at instant speed if they try to make Figure 4/4 or you can remove the graveyard when their Reveillark gets removed from play with Condemn.

TD: What is the best matchup?

MM: Straight White Weenie.

TD: What is the bad matchup?

MM: Faeries. Game 1 against Faeries is almost 80/20 them, then after sideboard it becomes around 50/50. To win you need to draw your non-dead cards to have a shot and it's still tough. I should have lost all my matches against Faeries but I got very luck with their having terrible draws or making huge mistakes. It's auto-lose if they have Bitterblossom.

Thanks, Mike!

I made a pretty interesting video about this deck that I think you'll enjoy:

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