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Two for the Rogues

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"Were you suffering from withdrawal or something?"
–Brian David-Marshall

The letter S!o how did you like last week's Extended PTQ preseason article?

I must admit I was pretty proud of it.

Then I signed onto Magic Online and got the digital pat on the head from the modern voice of the Pro Tour, Rich Hagon: Threats and Opportunities was already his favorite article of the year.

But I'll let you in on a secret (that won't be much of a secret) ...

I thought Conflux previews were starting this week!

So it's not that I was suffering from withdrawal (that is, not having any Top Decks columns to pen for two weeks while we were all off for the winter holidays) ... It's that I didn't want the PTQ season to get too far away from us without cramming every bit of knowledge that I could.

But lucky us, we get to review two PTQ Top 8s before the-day-after-tomorrow's blue envelope-granting trials.

Okay!

The Top 8s

Zoo
1 Win, 3 Top 8
Mono-White Control
1 Win
Faerie Wizards
4 Top 8
The Lightning Bolt Deck
2 Top 8
Affinity
2 Top 8
The Rock (Death Cloud)
2 Top 8
Storm
1 Top 8

So from a whopping two Top 8s, if I were preparing for a PTQ the day after tomorrow, these are some of the conclusions that I would start to draw:

  1. Faeries and Zoo are going to be two of the most popular decks. In order to win the PTQ , I should expect to have to play these decks maybe twice on the Saturday (and maybe more); mathematically, that means I have to be able to beat them. Both. (That is, you don't want Faeries or Zoo to be your can't-win matchup).
  2. Affinity is a real deck. From a strategy article standpoint of course we are going to go cover Affinity (especially as it won the Worlds PTQ). Affinity is the kind of deck that often peters out quickly and loses popularity ... but with appearances in basically every Top 8, you've probably got to prepare for the robots.
  3. Um ... Elves? No Elves in either PTQ Top 8 ... Gavin Verhey told me he didn't think there was a single Elves deck in the PTQ that he played in a week or two ago. This can be indicative of one or two thinks (maybe both): 1. You might not have to prepare for Elves the way that the successful players did for Berlin, and 2. The environment might suddenly be soft to the best deck of the Pro Tour .... Just something to think about.
  4. Oh, and that white deck ... hmmm ... We'll get to that in a little bit.

Faerie Wizards

One thing that you should be prepared to deal with (especially as we have already established that Faerie Wizards is one of the decks that you absolutely have to be able to beat—probably—in order to be able to win a PTQ) is that Faeries now actually plays additional colors.

... And not necessarily black for Bitterblossom (as we have come to expect in Standard).


Consider Kyle Boggemes's second place deck from the Kentucky PTQ.

His main deck is pretty similar to what we looked at from the Herberholz / Nassif brain trust last week (with the major structural improvement being three copies of Glen Elendra Archmage main deck) ... but check out that sideboard.

The Herberholz build from Worlds played a number of off-color producing lands, largely to improve the versatility of Engineered Explosives. Boggemes actually intends to tap his Steam Vents not just for red, but to play red spells.

Firespout can stay south with just red mana or touch on Kyle's Breeding Pool to slay northward as well.

Ancient Grudge is a basic include in Extended for most decks that can play it .... Thoroughly unsurprising to see it here.

So why do we see this kind of movement from the Faeries side? While it is snappy to say "because they can" in relation to the flexible mana of modern Extended, there is probably some truth to necessity being—as she often is—the mother of these kinds of innovations. With Zoo laying more Duergar Hedge-Mages, heavy reliance on permanents like Vedalken Shackles and Threads of Disloyalty might not be as consistent as the strategy once was. After all, a single Hedge-Mage will not just generate some quick—and dramatic—card advantage (killing a Threads and a Shackles and freeing a Kird Ape and a Tarmogoyf), but an embarrassing delta in time.

Storm

Derek Thompson's Storm
Extended, Louisville PTQ-Honolulu, 8th Place


Storm (TEPS, whatever) is a deck that has existed in some way or another for some time, and seems to have persevered past the rotation of Invasion Block. Previously the deck relied on cards like Irrigation Ditch to produce more mana conceding little if any opportunity cost. Derek's deck shows us how the strategy can survive without necessarily relying on lands that explode for double mana.

So how does the Storm deck work?

This deck is all about playing numerous small cards such as Peer Through Depths and Ponder to find a relevant, powerful, or potentially lethal storm spell while simultaneously jacking storm count; Mind's Desire is pretty expensive, and mana accelerators are pretty good for moving toward the same goal (that is, increasing storm count while simultaneously producing mana to play the aforementioned Mind's Desire).

While the deck doesn't need Pyromancer's Swath in play to successfully close, it can make winning (especially with no Mind's Desire or a more humble Grapeshot storm count) much easier; remember, Pyromancer's Swath is itself a spell and can help increase the number of Grapeshots, and not just the amount of damage each individual Grapeshot copy does. So, for example, if the opponent is Zoo (which starts on about 14 life), we can easily warp in Lotus Bloom, sacrifice it for Red ManaRed ManaRed Mana, run the mana through Manamorphose and hope for the best, run out Seething Song so we have Red ManaRed ManaRed ManaRed ManaRed Mana in pool, play Pyromancer's Swath, and finally point Grapeshot at the opponent. Lotus Bloom, Manamorphose, Seething Song, Pyromancer's Swath, and Grapeshot are five spells, or Grapeshot plus four more copies of the same, with Swath in play equaling 15 points.

Note in this example we used only a couple of spells, and no Mind's Desire, and didn't even mention tapping a land. Is that powerful? Certainly it can be hard for some decks to race.

Lightning Zoo

Bradley Carpenter's Lightning Zoo
Extended, Atlanta PTQ-Honolulu, 1st Place


So how about this week's winning Zoo list?

This is not something you see every day!

Carpenter's deck starts out in places we have seen before ... Shadow Guildmage on one for Elves suppression ... Wild Nacatl and Tarmogoyf for cheap beef ... Dark Confidant and Tidehollow Sculler as a pair of black two-drops willing to roll up their sleeves and do something other than attack and block ... Lightning Angel—what the!?!

Plus, Carpenter had the audacity to play four copies!

A mere single-deck victory? Or will this be a trend? Dear God I hope it is a trend!

Lightning Angel is wonderful, of course. As for being worth the mana, that was never a question ... The only reason anyone ever hesitated playing her the first time around was the widespread use of Flametongue Kavu in Standard decks at the time. Even so, Lightning Angel was a part of Eric Taylor's Grand Prix–winning Trenches deck as well as numerous Angel-themed decks from Time Spiral Standard (fighting alongside Serra Avenger, Firemane Angel, and so on). I am just shocked to see such an expensive spell (four mana) positioned in the traditionally land-tight Zoo deck (typically restricting itself to only one- and two-mana plays prior to the widespread adoption of a select number of Oblivion Rings).

Carpenter upgraded the mana base to include 23 lands and more basics, including a Forest over the second Plains.

Of his many colorful sideboard cards, I think Gaddock Teeg is the most important (many Zoo players—albeit not those who have had to make room for Lightning Angels—run Teeg in the main). Teeg is the card that keeps board control decks from being able to fight off the power cards from some of the other decks—from Death Cloud to Akroma's Vengeance—while also restricting maybe the most commonly played mass removal card from running rampant over Zoo's many ones and twos; "zero" or no, Engineered Explosives has an X Mana in the mana cost.

Mono-White Control

Remember last week when I started talking about a Mono-White Martyr of Sands deck and I eventually ended up not talking about it because it didn't rise to Decks to Beat status? Well we can officially throw that theory out the window!

It looks like Mono-White Control might just be a breakout strategy of the format, or at least the early part of the season.

Here is Scott Honigmann's winning deck list:

Scott Honigmann's Mono-White Control
Extended, Louisville PTQ-Honolulu, 1st Place


The main deck is pretty straightforward for a deck of this type, with the numbers queered somewhat by the addition of Runed Halo chomping up four main deck slots (though it must be nicely effective against Sulfuric Vortex).

The Mono-White Control deck—this style anyway, rather than the Ranger of Eos build that Brian David-Marshall wrote about last week—is built blending two highly compatible models: 1) Onslaught MWC and 2) Martyr of Sands as a Stage Three strategy.

The Onslaught plan is based on the big spells and big cyclers, like Eternal Dragon, Decree of Justice, and Akroma's Vengeance. It is supplemented along the way by cards that fit into the big spell strategy, such as Crovax, Ascendant Hero.

The second model the deck is built on is a Martyr of Sands plan. Just gain 18 per turn (or even 24 ... or even 48 ... or even ... How many Temples is that?) until the opponent gives up! (That's a plan, anyway ... plus few decks can actually interact with this combination).

Chalice of the Void is there as a kind of main-deck resistance to Elves. You can set the Chalice to one and probably not win (immediately), but gain sufficient time to lock down the game with removal and / or an incremental Chalice set to one.

The unusual stuff is present in Scott's sideboard: Two wildly "off-color" options in Boil and Extirpate. Were they worth the limiting splashes?

Scott Honigmann took the time to talk to us—even though it was almost the middle of the night—to help improve your understanding of this powerful deck.

Top Decks: What decks did you beat in the Top 8?

Scott Honigmann: The Top 8 wasn't even fair. There was only one Rock deck, and the Faeries player I beat in the Finals took him out in the round of 8. But to answer the question, Zoo, Affinity, and Faeries ... I played out Dragons and then Boiled him in Game 2.

Top Decks: What are the deck's best matchups?

Scott Honigmann: Zoo, Affinity, and Faeries [just like the Top]. Faeries is obviously good after sideboarding with Boil, but I like the main deck matchup too.

Top Decks: What about bad decks? What deck don't you want to see?

Scott Honigmann: Any type of The Rock! That deck is just so impossible to beat! Luckily I didn't face it at all during the PTQ, and the only one to make the Top 8 was in the other bracket and lost to the Faeries player I beat in the Finals.

Top Decks: What deck, if any, did you lose to during the course of the day?

Scott Honigmann: I only had two close matches the whole day (burn). I didn't draw Martyr. I did however have Angel's Grace. : )

Top Decks: What card was your MVP?

Scott Honigmann: Martyr! Martyr of Sands allows you to turn around a great many games that you are losing. Many decks can't deal with it at all.

Top Decks: Why did you select Mono-White Control?

Scott Honigmann: Choosing a deck for a PTQ is largely a dice roll anyway. So I picked a deck that I felt was decent against everything but one deck; plus I don't consider The Rock to be a Tier One deck, just not a dominant deck. The Rock is the kind of deck you aren't surprised to see in the Top 8 ... But probably won't see them winning the Finals.

Top Decks: I assume if you had it to do all over again, you would play the same deck ... But what changes, if any, would you make if you had to run it back?

Scott Honigmann: For this tournament I wouldn't have changed a card. However the metagame is going to change, and I think you have to respect that, at least in your sideboard. For example, I think Faeries might move to Tormod's Crypt or Relic of Progenitus to beat the white deck ... Why not consider Pithing Needle as a potential response?


One thing that is a true testament to Scott's deck choice is that he played all fifteen sideboard cards.

Boil might have been a superstar in the Finals, but Exalted Angel came in every single match ("but you take different cards out each time so you can't play her main").

You certainly can't complain about that.

Great job Scott! Great tournament, and we all thank you for your time.

I hope you found this Extended update to be helpful. For even more information, please check out the Top 8 deck lists page.

Next Week: Conflux previews actually begin!

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