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Of the fifty or so Top Decks of 2011 there were many enjoyable possible selections. But only one included an ode to Torpor Orb, sung to the tune of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. I hope you HATE it! (actually I don't, but I thought that sounded cool, confident, etc.)



You know Chaos and Winter, Mesmeric, Dispersing;
...Weaver Kumo, of Insight, of Dreams, and the Zuran...
But do you recall? The most hateful Orb of them all?

Torpor the hateful-est Orb
Had a very lovely cost
and if you ever played it
...can't believe how you just lost!

All of the actual "good cards"
Would ignore him, or just mock;
Meanwhile the hateful Torpor
Laughed off JUST ONE Squadron Hawk!

Then before that Grand Prix eve,
Shouta came to say:
"Deceiver Twin now can't untap,
Stoneforge Mystic looks like crap!"

Now all the brewers love him!
And they shouted out with glee:
Torpor the hateful-est Orb,
Good job in last week's Grand Prix!







da Rosa reigns supreme in Singapore!

The letter T!here were lots of big Standard events this past weekend... a StarCityGames.com Open, the StarCityGames.com Invitational, and of course the Grand Prix in Singapore. There was also a lot of Legacy played, but given our last couple of weeks' foci, I thought I would just talk (sing, really) about Standard.

And despite the continued success of Caw-Blade variants, I decided this week (in addition to writing that short and silly ditty about Torpor Orb) to focus on all the other interesting stuff that performed. So let's start with Torpor Orb, shall we?

Shouta Yasooka's Blue-Black Control
Standard – Grand Prix Singapore


Former Player of the Year Shouta Yasooka leads us off this week with a very different Blue-Black Control deck. It's not quite like the removal / control decks or disruption / control decks that we've seen with their varying Abyssal Persecutors, Sea Gate Oracles, or even Liliana Vess that we have see over the past few months... and his was also not really like any of the Tezzeret decks we've seen since Pro Tour Paris.

With...

Shouta was kind of scraping the mathematical bottom of the barrel in terms of how many artifacts you can reasonably play in a Tezzeret deck. Twelve artifacts is about one card in five (and you get to look at five cards with Tezzeret's "plus" ability).

...but what artifacts they were!

Wurmcoil Engine is a big finisher. At this stage, even the "regular" Blue-Black Control uses this finisher. Everflowing Chalice allows the deck to play turn-three Jace, the Mind Sculptor or Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas: It buoys the relatively low land count, and gets big in the late game. Tumble Magnet is one of the best solutions in the format to a resolved Sword of Feast and Famine. None of this is new.

...but what about Torpor Orb?

Torpor Orb is so cool some lunatic might write a song about it!

So what makes Torpor Orb so special?


From the "obvious" standpoint, it is a relatively cheap card that turns off what makes essentially every other deck in the metagame special. A Primeval Titan will no longer search up two lands. A Squadron Hawk... no longer flies into battle as a Squadron but alone. Deceiver Exarch has to deal with Torpor Orb somehow—probably Into the Roil—before it can complete the Splinter Twin combination. And our girl Stoneforge Mystic? She isn't looking for anything.


There are a number of reasons why Torpor Orb might be cool. One of them is that it is an artifact, and Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas needs ample artifacts around to be effective to begin with. Another is that Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas can make an otherwise blank (but not really) Torpor Orb into basically a Dragon. But subtly, Torpor Orb just isn't a creature.

Many other decks looking for this kind of functionality (that is, turning off Deceiver Exarch) might try to accomplish it via Spellskite. But being a noncreature artifact makes Torpor Orb immune to being cleared by an opposing Jace, the Mind Sculpror, halving a Deceiver Twin deck's usual set of outs against a hateful two.

In case you didn't see the Grand Prix Top 8, it looked like this:


Most of the Caw-Blade decks now look to be playing Dismember. This gives them a potentially one-mana answer to Deceiver Exarch + Splinter Twin, and also a mana-efficient answer to an opponent's equipping an attacker.

Vampires!

Over on the other side of the planet, Vampires proved a serious contender again for the first time in some months.

Matthew Landstrom's Vampires
Standard – StarCityGames.com Open in Indianapolis, IN


Matthew Landstrom won the Star City Standard Open in Indianapolis with his trusty Vampires. Meanwhile in the Invitational, two different Vampires decks opened up Day One Standard festivities with perfect 4-0 records:

Joey Mispagel's Vampires
Standard – StarCityGames.com Invitational


Tim Frank's Vampires
Standard – StarCityGames.com Invitational


"Vampires" has strayed a bit from the original tribe and team. For example Mispagel ran Hero of Oxid Ridge as an additional beater. Manic Vandal is going to be present in the sideboard if not the main deck—primarily as an answer to Batterskull / Stoneforge Mystic, but when you are facing off against decks with Spellskite or Phyrexian Metamorph (or even Everflowing Chalice), Manic Vandal is just going to prove a useful removal card... at least before the dreaded Torpor Orb strikes.

So why Vampires, and why now?

The short answer is that with Caw-Blade taking up so much of the top tables, and with Caw-Blade so concerned with beating itself—all the card choices revolving around stealing mana from a Sword activation, or getting ahead of an opposing Jace, the Mind Sculptor with a Jace Beleren—there is less space for cards like Day of Judgment or even Gideon Jura that have traditionally plagued creature decks.

Remember that back around Pro Tour Paris, Caw-Blade ran fast life gain like Sylvok Lifestaff, whereas today you need to actually untap with Stoneforge Mystic in order to get the Batterskull down before turn five. The light spot removal in Vampires can help prevent that. Vampires, packed with Go for the Throat, Arc Trail, Gatekeeper of Malakir, and of course Lightning Bolt has roughly a billion ways to break up Equipment. You can Arc Trail a Stoneforge Mystic the turn the opponent passes, or Gatekeeper a Batterskull token even after "the worst" has happened. Sword of Feast and Famine will produce a creature you can't block, but you have every opportunity to Go for the Throat or burn a potential protection from black creature before everybody gets set up, and Gatekeeper of Malakir can slay the Swordsman regardless of protection.

Meanwhile, with few if any copies of Day of Judgment or Gideon Jura looming, you can start slugging with Vampire Lacerator and Pulse Tracker, plop every guy you draw onto the battlefield, and keep swinging essentially without fear of sweep.

Does Caw-Blade currently have the upper hand in this metagame? Yes—of course, yes.

Given the format conditions, does a deck like Vampires have an open door to do some damage? Also yes!

Red Deck Wins

On the subject of burning a creature before it can be equipped with something nasty (say, a Sword of War and Peace), Patrick Sullivan made Top 8 of the Invitational; unsurprisingly, this was his Standard deck:

Patrick Sullivan's Red Deck Wins
Standard – StarCityGames.com Invitational

Main Deck

60 cards

Arid Mesa
Mountain
Scalding Tarn
Teetering Peaks

20 lands

Ember Hauler
Furnace Scamp
Goblin Guide
Spikeshot Elder

16 creatures

Arc Trail
Flame Slash
Lightning Bolt
Searing Blaze
Shrine of Burning Rage
Staggershock

24 other spells

Sideboard
Dismember
Kiln Fiend
Shatter
Vulshok Refugee

15 sideboard cards



This time Patrick slimmed his Red Deck down to 20 lands, and included fast one-drops like Furnace Scamp. The absolute top of Patrick's curve was Staggershock at three.

Patrick echoed his former success with a continued devotion to Ember Hauler and Searing Blaze, and overall chose his cards for fast damage and many ways to prevent ever being hit by an equipped white creature.

As with many other decks in this format, PSulli's Red Deck dipped into Phyrexian mana to solve problems; in this case Dismember as a solution to Kor Firewalker (or, say, a one-mana solution to the Deceiver Exarch problem). But unlike so many other decks, PSulli chose to battle Batterskull with Shatter rather than Manic Vandal (I guess he caught wind of the Torpor Orbs half a world away).

For anyone frustrated at the state of the current Standard... I suggest checking Patrick's decks out. For the decade or so I have known him, the Rainmaker has consistently done well with the seemingly underpowered red cards regardless of whatever Brainstorms or Necropotences the rest of the room has brought, and the adoption of an overlooked card like Furnace Scamp, a card "he has big plans for," is just one more notch burnt into his belt.

Now I know I said I was going to skip over Caw-Blade for a week, but who isn't going to make an exception for US National Champion Michael Jacob?


Well, maybe we aren't actually breaking any promises... Jacob's deck played a Stoneforge Mystic package, but there was no attached "Caw," as it were.

MJ's deck is essentially a Deceiver Exarch deck splashing white for the best two-drop in Standard. He is taking advantage of the significant crossover in cards between these top strategies—Jace, the Mind Sculptor; Preordain; Mana Leak; Spell Pierce; Into the Roil; and so on can be played in either deck—to produce a mash-up capable of winning with either draw.

Against some decks he can play for second-turn Stoneforge Mystic / third-turn Batterskull or Sword, and against others the Deceiver Exarch + Splinter Twin win. Or better yet, especially when his opponent isn't certain of what's going on, Jacob can hassle with the more aggressive white splash, get the opponent to tap a bunch of mana in order to avoid being beaten by Batterskull, and then snap back the other direction for his Exarch kill.


Hybrid decks have basically been my favorite for as long as I can remember, and even the straight Exarch decks have been leaning back on Consecrated Sphinx or Inferno Titan anyway as an alternate kill... Why not the actual next-best thing you can do in Standard as Plan B? My guess is that—at least until we see a shakeup, potentially later this month—"Twin Blade" may be a hot strategy online and/or for PTQ play.

This weekend is one of those big events all this stuff we talk about in these columns is meant to lead up to: Pro Tour Nagoya. Check out live coverage here on DailyMTG.com all weekend, and back here as we switch to yet another format to see what the Pros are up to in Block Constructed! Have a great one, and good luck gaming yourselves, if you are hitting the tables.



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