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Sticking to Your Guns

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The letter T!his past week in San Diego, California, popular TCGPlayer.com writer Craig Wescoe proved triumphant at Pro Tour Dragon's Maze. Just last week, Top Decks was commenting on Wescoe's love of the White Weenie archetype... and at Pro Tour Dragon's Maze he was able to knock out dozens of fellow pro players with small white (and green!) creatures laid out in front of him.

And for everyone else?

Here is how the Top 8 of Pro Tour Dragon's Maze looked:


Selesnya Aggro

Craig Wescoe's Selesnya Aggro
Block Constructed – Winner, Pro Tour Dragon's Maze


Craig joked during the Pro Tour interviews that the one card he contributed to this seventy-five was Civic Saber... but the rest was the kind of deck a longtime Magic reader might imagine Craig Wescoe playing.


Wescoe's GW deck can start out quickly with Dryad Militant—a 2/1 that can drop on the first turn given any land but Selesnya Guildgate—but is steadier than it is speedy. This is a deck that not only has heavy hitters like Loxodon Smiter but a tenacity and relentlessness. Voice of Resurgence is hard to handle. Not only is it the quintessential Magic card (a 2/2 for two mana) but is also exceptionally resilient against removal and synergistic with a swarm.


Call of the Conclave plays Watchwolf while Selesnya Charm does, seemingly, "it all" (removing Obzedat, Ghost Council from the table; going over the top of an opposing blocker; or giving Craig a Knight to start swinging). Both of these cards produce token creatures, which is, of course, highly synergistic with the populate mechanic. In this deck, that means extra capitalization on Rootborn Defenses. You can block to gain value, trade, or keep damage off—hopefully slaying many an opposing threat while keeping your side of the table alive and well. Rootborn Defenses is also a kind of Dismiss for Supreme Verdict. You might not be able to strictly counterspell Supreme Verdict, but Rootborn Defenses certainly makes it feel like you can! You know, with extra value in the form of an additional token creature.

...and sometimes, that token creature is a huge 5/5 from Advent of the Wurm! Not 100% "weenie," as is Wescoe's usual way of doing things, but awfully effective in any case. How great is it, as the weenie beatdown deck, to be completely comfortable with the opponent nabbing you with a two-for-one or three-for-one with a Supreme Verdict? You kind of smile and wink and counter it with your Rootborn Defenses, or just shrug, let it hit, and make a 5/5 at the end of the opponent's turn? Either one is just fine. Swing in with your Civic Saber!


Craig's deck starts off steady and flexible, is clearly powerful, but can go completely over the top if you give it the chance. The creatures are already high quality, but if you want to get into a "fair fight" with them, you are going to feel the world is a bit unfair, I think, once the game goes to boards. Druid's Deliverance is a Rootborn Defenses—a populate catalyst—that punishes opposing aggression for over-committing. Five—not four, but five—copies of Unflinching Courage (when you consider Gift of Orzhova as the redundancy) make racing conventionally on the ground difficult at best. And then Trostani, Selesnya's Voice? My recommendation is to get it off the table as quickly as possible if you are the opposing beatdown deck.

Only you can't.

The games where Trostani is in, you might not have relevant removal at all. You have to close out quickly, because if you don't, you won't. Trostani is huge on the backside and keeps blockers coming forever; you know, while gaining unending amounts of life. Trostani is the top of the power curve for a sideboard strategy of lifegain and perpetual blocking/defense that can only be categorized as hell.


So what kind of opponent is exactly the kind that this sideboard is meant to anticipate, meet on its own terms, and counter? The quintessence of aggression in Return to Ravnica Block is probably...

Boros Aggro

Josh Utter-Leyton's Boros Aggro
Block Constructed – Top 8, Pro Tour Dragon's Maze


(As long as your opponent is not nothing-but-blockers-and-lifegain) This strategy seems like one of the most fundamentally sound and offensively effective available. Boros here comes out super fast. Foundry Street Denizen, Legion Loyalist, and Rakdos Cackler all help this deck to start out with the initiative, and it just gets worse.

Gore-House Chainwalker is a kind of Call of the Conclave—a 3/2 on the second turn—but Burning-Tree Emissary is the two-drop you really want; it can, of course, often give you both its own 2/2 body as well as a Gore-House Chainwalker. Once you have three creatures in play, battalion starts getting interesting. Firefist Striker can help keep blocking under control (or at least key blocking) and once you have Frontline Medic on the battlefield, you can just start to race. Get in with three or more creatures and they can all walk away from the fight to attack another day. The Boros guys are smaller and less resilient than the Selesnya ones, but when Frontline Medic is part of the equation, it is hard to imagine a battalion more brave.

The Boros Aggro deck is perhaps the most straightforward in this Top 8; but I would guess that many players have question marks around the presence (or not-presence) of two cards in particular:

Temple Garden... what the heck?!? There aren't even any green cards! Why take 2 damage? The secret is in the Burning-Tree Emissary. As we have said on multiple occasions, Burning-Tree Emissary makes for some of the most explosive draws. It does, however, cost de facto Red ManaRed Mana in an RW deck. Temple Garden here is a "Plains" that can help cast Burning-Tree Emissary. Tricky and non-intuitive (and sometimes seemingly unnecessarily painful); subtle, though, especially given the nature of the deck.

Boros Elite... is not here. What gives!?! This is a Boros deck, right? A battalion deck, even! Where is the mighty Boros Elite? This is actually another "Temple Garden"-style issue. Utter-Leyton chose to weight his deck in the direction of red. He only played the three Plains in addition to his obvious Sacred Foundries and so not-obvious Temple Gardens. Is Boros Elite a more, ahem, elite one-drop than some of the other choices? Probably. But not if Josh can't cast it consistently on the first turn! And starting on a Plains is poison for the potential explosiveness of Burning-Tree Emissary in any case.

That is how you have a Boros deck that doesn't have the Cadillac Boros one-drop, but does often start on one with the half-name "Rakdos."


Congrats to our 2013 Player of the Year, Joshua Utter-Leyton!

Hard to Pigeonhole (Four-Color Midrange)

We move now from Utter-Leyton's simple and straightforward deck to Rob Castellon's unusual and hard-to-categorize one.


Wow!

So... what is going on here?

This is a deck that has quite a few different themes going on, across every nonblue color.

This is a value deck. It is full of two-for-ones in Gatecreeper Vine or Sin Collector. While not two-for-one enters-the-battlefield in terms of cards, Centaur Healer continues this theme while also bridging to the next.


Centaur Healer is a great defensive blocker... and it is not alone. Voice of Resurgence has much the same vibe. And what about Alms Beast? It's huge! And like Honey Badger, Alms Beast just don't care. Alms Beast is a huge monster that will just tangle with whomever. It is so big. Gain life? Sure, go ahead and gain life. Castellon's deck is built to keep going over the long haul.


Expensive creatures—expensive windmill slams—like Blood Baron of Vizkopa, up to the seven-drop Angel of Serenity, continue this theme. Castellon wants to play a long game where he has better cards over a high end.

Perhaps his most powerful high-end card is Deadbridge Chant.


Deadbridge Chant puts the top ten cards into its controller's graveyard... which makes for a sort of Golgari Sphinx's Revelation. This not only becomes a route to multiple cards over time, some of which "merely" go to hand, some of which Tinker into play (you know, the often-powerful and high-end creatures), not only make for a great synergy with Angel of Serenity (either as a Deadbridge Chant beneficiary or as a six-to-seven up the curve), but takes us to yet another theme: the graveyard!

Angel of Serenity is joined by Deadbridge Goliath, giving the deck a bit of a scavenge theme as well.


So, not obvious at all!

Everything to everyone, almost.

Especially when you consider the addition of this card to the sideboard:


I wished to high heaven that Castellon also had a Maze's End way to win, but in this deck it is merely a testament to his desire to play a long game, especially against other long-game decks. Maze's End here is a sign a midrange shopkeeper puts into the window saying, "I am not going to miss any land drops... what about you?"

Sphinx's Revelation Decks Various

All the rest of the decks in the Pro Tour Dragon's Maze Top 8 played three if not four copies of Sphinx's Revelation; ditto on Supreme Verdict.


And yet... they approached the process from three to five different angles. Even the three Esper-colors decks all had different takes!

WU Control

Andrejs Prost's WU Control
Block Constructed – Top 8, Pro Tour Dragon's Maze

Main Deck

60 cards

Azorius Guildgate
Hallowed Fountain
10  Island
Plains

27 lands

Aetherling

3 creatures

Azorius Charm
Cyclonic Rift
Render Silent
Renounce the Guilds
Sphinx's Revelation
Supreme Verdict
Syncopate

26 other spells

Jace, Architect of Thought

4 planeswalkers

Sideboard
Angel of Serenity
Boros Reckoner
Dispel
Keening Apparition
Precinct Captain

15 sideboard cards



Andrejs Prost played the most straightforward of the true control decks: two colors only, four copies of Sphinx's Revelation, and four copies of Supreme Verdict.

Everything about this deck is pretty straightforward; it is mostly four-ofs with little ambiguity. The only potential head-scratcher is Renounce the Guilds, which is just a Diabolic Edict most of the time (unless Prost has his own Boros Reckoners in, and he can play around this). Renounce the Guilds is obviously a foil to opposing Reckoners and quite a few other cards; it even gives Prost an instant-speed answer to a resolved Sire of Insanity from Castellon's deck (you know, one of the worst possible scenarios for a WU deck).


Prost finishes games with Ætherling. Morphling all grown up, Ætherling is poised to be the next big finisher in Constructed Magic. You can already see Ætherling pop up in not only many of these Block Constructed control decks, but in Standard builds various. It is great at defense (huge blocker), next to impossible to kill once it resolves, relentless as an Invisible Stalker on offense, and plays offense/defense like a Serra Angel.

And before you cry "it costs six!" remember that Ætherling beats the tar out of a Thragtusk given time, and is a heck of a lot faster than a Nephalia Drownyard.


One. To. Watch.

RWU Control

Andrew Shrout's RWU Control
Block Constructed – Top 8, Pro Tour Dragon's Maze


Again, we see a relatively straightforward WU Control deck, but here adding red for more flexibility in threats and answers.

Shrout's Prophetic Prisms help him run through his ponderous long-game deck and help give him his third color.

With red comes Counterflux (over Render Silent) as the three-mana Cancel variant of choice.

And with red comes Assemble the Legion over one Ætherling.


The red-splashing version of WU makes for some better creature defense... Izzet Charm is a fast and flexible answer, and Turn & Burn is a potential big play. But Mugging out of the sideboard gives the deck unprecedented defensive deck speed for a WU build.

Shrout played only three Sphinx's Revelations but his red splash gave him access to Thoughtflare as a fast redundancy to five (and at five); but the really surprising (and I assume ultimately very effective) splash was Rakdos's Return!


Technically part of his red-splash cadre, Rakdos's Return gave Shrout a tremendous (and probably unexpected) additional tool. Thanks one Godless Shrine! Bigger thanks to Prophetic Prism.

Esper Control

All of the PT Dragon's Maze Top 8 Esper decks had similar outlooks and many tools in common. All three played four copies of Jace, Architect of Thought and (again) three or four copies of both Sphinx's Revelation and Supreme Verdict, as well as three or four copies of Far & Away.


Far & Away can play Wrath of God, dealing with multiple creatures at once. One half can handle hexproof men, making it a dangerous answer even in Standard. The Far side is synergistic with a player's own Sin Collector or Angel of Serenity, but even more effective against an opposing Advent of the Wurm token or other token creature. To that end, Dramatic Rescue (played in the sideboard of several Top 8 decks) is a good answer to token creatures, and one that trades at value.

The three colors and wide potential card palette of Return to Ravnica Block allowed for the most variation in certain specific answers (Devour Flesh, say, versus Detention Sphere versus counterspells). Mihara, for instance, started Psychic Strike but played only one Syncopate, while PT finalist Dustin Ochoa went with the full four copies of Syncopate.


The greatest variation came in creatures/finishers. All three decks played two copies of Ætherling main but explored low-end initiative plays like Precinct Captain (Mihara); relatively quick value options like Sin Collector (multiple decks); or multi-format star fatties like Obzedat, Ghost Council and Angel of Serenity (Ochoa).


But between the three, several themes were consistent: great answers, card draw, good creatures, and powerful finishers.

Similar decks were played by...

Dustin Ochoa's Esper Control
Block Constructed – Top 8, Pro Tour Dragon's Maze


Makihito Mihara's Esper Control
Block Constructed – Top 8, Pro Tour Dragon's Maze


Matej Zatlkaj's Esper Control
Block Constructed – Top 8, Pro Tour Dragon's Maze

One More for Gate Week!


Ahlberg didn't make Top 8, but his Maze's End deck did produce a very solid Constructed record. For our purposes here during Gate Week, it is a pretty perfect way to finish an article!


This deck obviously plays a ton of Gates—twenty, in fact—giving it some redundancy against land destruction. Ahlberg really went in on the Gates theme. His only main-deck creature was Saruli Gatekeepers, a respectable 2/4 chosen to keep him alive while he searched for more and more Gates.


The style of lands Ahlberg played allowed him to run every single color, so he could touch on best-of-breed answers from everywhere. He could sweep with Merciless Eviction or Mizzium Mortars, go one-for-one with Mugging, Putrefy, or Warleader's Helix. He could draw cards not just with Sphinx's Revelation... but Urban Evolution! And in this deck, Urban Evolution might be even saucier; for one, it is generally faster, but the concept is that you want to get a bunch of lands in play and Urban Evolution helps you do just that.


Most of the decks from the Top 8 have existing Standard analogues; even Castellon's four-color multi-themed beast has traits of Jund and Junk... but Ahlberg's Gates is something quite a bit different. If you want to brew up something really different for Friday Night Magic... I can't think of a better inspiration.

At least not during Gate Week.




 
Mike Flores
Mike Flores
@FiveWithFlores
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Michael Flores is the author of Deckade and The Official Miser's Guide; the designer of numerous State, Regional, Grand Prix, National, and Pro Tour–winning decks; and the onetime editor-in-chief of The Magic Dojo. He'd claim allegiance to Dimir (if such a Guild existed)… but instead will just shrug "Simic."

 
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