Feature: Reviewing the Constructed Matchups

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The letter D!ay One's Feature Match area here in sweltering Baltimore showcased a rare diversity in decks, strategies, and play styles. All five colors were represented. Beatdown, control, burn, and the strangest of rogues were represented … and the format's leading deck coming into the tournament - Tooth and Nail - was run by only one of the 12 players who appeared under the hot lights of the front tables.

The Weapons of Choice, and the Marksmen What Brung 'Em:

    · Blue UrzaTron, played by Eugene Harvey and Gerard Fabiano
    · Death Cloud, played by Lucas Glavin
    · Kuroda-style Red, played by Steve Sadin
    · Jushi Blue, played by Neil Reeves
    · Mike Long Homebrew, played by David Williams
    · Rat Deck Wins, played by Kate Stavola
    · Red Deck Wins, played by Patrick Sullivan and Gerry Thompson
    · Tooth and Nail, played by Joe Crosby
    · White Weenie, played by Mark Herberholz and Gadiel Szleifer

We haven't done a breakdown of all the archetypes played yet, but I'm hazarding a guess that these decks aren't necessarily representative of the format as a whole. That said, they sure made for some fun Magic to watch…on to the results.

Round One

Kate Stavola vs. David Williams
Patrick Sullivan vs. Eugene Harvey

Upon appearing at the venue, I coyly asked Pro Tour Historian Brian David-Marshall what the algorithm was for picking today's first round Feature Matches. Is it the all-married Feature Match area?

Eugene is most definitely not married to Dave Williams.

"Dave is married to Eugene?" came the response.

Kate Stavola was a former Magic editor for Wizards of the Coast and holds a Grand Prix Top 8. Her opponent David Williams is a controversial and charming multiple Grand Prix and Pro Tour Top 8 competitor… who is also a poker multimillionaire after his historic finish at last year's World Series of Poker. Dave brought a crazy Mike Long/David Mills concoction to the table, sporting all manner of bombs, including four big Bringers of the Black Dawn, Bringer of the Blue Dawn, Enduring Ideal, and Confiscate.

Unfortunately for Williams, Kate ran the best possible answer for combating a powerhouse long game - Rats. Both games were quick and brutal. Stavola had the combination of quick drops and disruption that make combo decks cringe; she could rip the long game cards out of Dave's hands and kill him before he could draw back into them. In the first, Kate's Ink-Eyes, Servant of Oni crashed in and reanimated Williams' Bringer of the Black Dawn (quite a spicy steal), and in the second, she had him on a short leash with multiple Nezumi Shortfangs; Dave was never really in the match.

Kate's husband, Patrick Sullivan, is the former co-owner of The Only Game In Town - better known as TOGIT - and, ironically, faced off against a TOGIT player in former U.S. National Champion Eugene Harvey. Though they are longtime friends, the deck choices between Pat and the Eugenius could not be more different. Pat, per usual, was attacking with quick red men and Eugene brought the popular new deck of the day: the mighty Blue Urzatron.

Mindslaver

In Game 1, Harvey had a quick UrzaTron and showed Pat Mindslaver. The next two games, though, were a flurry of Slith Firewalkers and Shatters; Pat's draws, though objectively less powerful than Eugene's, had the right combination of speed and relevance to win. In Game 3, Patrick showcased a subtle and highly skilled second turn. Eugene had an Island and an Urza's piece in play when Patrick had his second turn. Correctly reading that Eugene was holding Condescend, Pat led with "Chrome Mox?"

Eugene of course let the Mox hit; after the imprint, this gave Patrick enough mana to run Slith Firewalker out with mana to pay for Condescend.

The Sullivan-Stavola household 2, U.S. Nationals and Poker Champions 0

Round Two

Gerard Fabiano vs. Mark Herberholz
Neil Reeves vs. Joe Crosby

Gerard Fabiano and Mark Herberholz are two members of the sprawling TOGIT uberteam now going by the name Seven Kings. Mark's hetero-life partner Sam Gomersall was leaning over the Studio 57-like red velvet rope of the Feature Match area to root on his friend and bask in the glory of his success at last week's English Nationals.

"Those are my two favorite decks in the format," commented Sam about Gerard's Blue UrzaTron and Mark's White Weenie (Sam made his Nationals team with Blue UrzaTron… and lost to White Weenie).

Mark Herberholz's White Weenie ran into trouble.

This matchup favors White Weenie, though Gerard is quick to point out that it's about even in Game 1, especially if he is on the play. Mark's potential advantage comes from his four main-deck Damping Matrixes. These cards shut down a lot of the artifact-driven power of Blue UrzaTron, giving him exactly the openings he needs to get in there with Isamaru, Hound of Konda and the rest of his aggressive squad while the control deck scrambles to answer.

In Game 1, Mark had a bunch of guys… but so did Gerard. Sadly, Mark's guys were 1/1 and 2/2 white creatures whereas Gerard had multiple Triskelions… perfect for pinging 1/1 and 2/2 white creatures. A Mindslaver and an Echoing Truth (played on one of his own Triskelions to reset both bombs) later, and it was time for Game 2.

In the second, Mark's strategy was completely online. He had multiple Glorious Anthems and the Damping Matrix out. Mark crashed in with a huge Leonin Skyhunter, forcing Gerard to chump with one, two, three consecutive Melokus. Gerard, on one life, questioned Mark's aggression, saying that if he had Echoing Truth he would have been able to bounce the Glorious Anthems and come back with a 2/4-on-2/2 block… but Herberholz just smiled and won.

Game 3, though, ended anti-climactically. Gerard had a fast defense and ready UrzaTron. One Meloku later, and the White Weenie deck was simply overpowered by a mana-driven flyer horde.

Neil Reeves against Joe Crosby showed us one of the most exciting see-saw duels of the day. Neil brought a Blue Control with main-deck Jushi Apprentice and Joe was the Feature Match area's lone Tooth and Nail. Game 1 was a battle of attrition where neither player had a distinct advantage. Joe connected with Plow Under… but lost Sundering Titan. Neil had the cards… but Joe had the resources in play.

Joe Crosby, left, battled Neil Reeves in a tough Game 1.

On one of the key turns, Crosby sent two Triskelion counters into a Jushi Apprentice and passed. Neil had a rough turn. Though he had several cards and eight mana, Reeves didn't have a counterspell. Neil tapped six of his mana to play two more Jushi Apprentices and Boomerang Joe's Vine Trellis, passing with two cards in hand and Blue ManaBlue Mana open. This pretty much signaled that he didn't have a relevant counter, but Randy Buehler pointed out that had Neil tried to bluff with four or more mana in play, he would have just forced Crosby's hand.

Joe had an even harder turn. Neil was playing with no tools and elected not to bluff, but because Crosby actually had it, setting up how he wanted to sculpt his big turn was a legitimate dilemma. The Boomerang set Joe's mana back so that he could not go for the immediate win. Instead, he tapped four mana to Reap and Sow for his missing Urza's piece, then tapped 10 mana, laying Tooth and Nail down and challenging Neil to have a Mana Leak. He didn't.

Crosby had a Sundering Titan in his graveyard already, and his version played only one copy of the inimitable 7/10; he therefore couldn't get it for his Kiki-Jiki compliment. Joe elected to get Viridian Shaman under the theory that he could duplicate Triskelions to fight the Jushis already, so Shaman could help against Spire Golem.

Way ahead, Joe followed up with big attacks… inadvertently losing his Viridian Shaman. Neil was on the ropes and on low life but his last two cards were bothVedalken Shackles. Because Joe had swung with Kiki-Jiki the previous turn, Neil was able to steal it with the first Vedalken Shackles, and the next turn take Eternal Witness with the second Shackles. A lone Bribery often borrows both Kiki-Jiki and Eternal Witness from an opposing Tooth and Nail player, but I have never seen a pair of Shackles do the job against the biggest of the big archetypes. Neil stabilized on two life before Joe conceded, moving to Game 2.

The second game was far less exciting than the first. Joe had Sensei's Divining Top to start but was stuck on two lands - duplicate copies of Urza's Mine. Meanwhile Reeves had a quick Jayemdae Tome and never lost control of the game. He could have started the Boomerang sequence at any time, but opted for a methodical card advantage/threat plan that did not take long to elicit a concession from Crosby.

Plow Under

Round Three

Lucas Glavin vs. Gadiel Szleifer
Gerry Thompson vs. Steve Sadin

Lucas Glavin first appeared on the scene as a child of Magic Online. Learning the ropes during Odyssey and Onslaught Blocks, his mastery of Psychatog helped Lucas become the only Your Move Games champion ever to beat Neutral Ground in the former Grudge Match. Since then, Glavin has had multiple high-level appearances, including second place at the most recent Grand Prix-Boston. Gadiel Szleifer is America's hottest player. Still young enough to compete in the JSS, the :B standout made Top 8 at Pro Tour-Columbus, and won both a Grand Prix and the Kamigawa Block Constructed Pro Tour in the last 12 months. This matchup featured board control vs. aggression, Death Cloud against White Weenie.

Game 1 was a strange duel. It looked like Lucas had total control of the game, firing out two or three Plow Unders via Tribe Elder acceleration and Eternal Witness recursion… but he never had an answer for a flying creature. Improbably enough, a Leonin Skyhunter or so was good for the game.

The next two games, though, were all Glavin. In the second, Lucas got off Kokusho, the Evening Star and started to connect. Once Gadiel was low enough, Lucas showed him a Death Cloud for eight. In Game 3, the Legendary Black Creature of choice was Ink-Eyes, Servant of Oni instead. Combined with Hideous Laughter and Green 187 Ogres, the Rat Ninja made short work of the Pro Tour-Philadelphia Champion.

Magma Jet

The opposite Feature Match was all Thompson. In Game 1, Sadin's hand looked superb for beating Aggro Red: land, Wayfarer's Bauble, Solemn Simulacrum, and eventually Arc-Slogger. But Gerry had exactly the right answer: a turn-two Zo-Zu the Punisher. The little Goblin that could put eight points of extra hurt on Sadin, who could not stay in the game once Gerry summoned Arc-Slogger.

Game 2 was a combination of Sadin getting his best draw and Thompson flying to Paris twice. It was a brutal flurry of Magma Jets from Sadin and a quick concession into Game 3.

In the deciding duel, Gerry kept a zero land hand on the play. He had a Chrome Mox, though, and summoned a first turn Frostling, tossing Arc-Slogger. Sadin's hand was solid despite a mulligan, and would give him third turn Culling Scales on the draw. Miraculously, Gerry topdecked four straight lands, following up with Slith Firewalker, Seething Song into Sword of Fire and Iceplus an equip, and finally that pesky Zo-Zu from Game 1. Sadin missed a Fireball opportunity on his second turn, but it isn't likely that this would have made a difference given how the game played out.

Interestingly, Steve would have won both Game 1 and Game 3 if he had simply won the die roll.

Judging solely on the basis of the early Feature Matches, we could call the following:

    Big Winner: Red Deck Wins at 2-0
    Big Loser: White Weenie at 0-2
    Big Question Mark: Blue UrzaTron at 1-1
    Other finishes:Death Cloud, Jushi Blue, and Rats (winners); Kuroda-style Red, Tooth and Nail, and Mike Long Homebrew (disappointments).

Confiscate

After his 0-1 opening, Dave Williams came back to finish the Constructed portion at 2-1 with his unusual deck. "Tooth and Nail is a bye," said the World Series of Poker finalist. "They just don't do anything that hurts you."

Dave's deck has only 20 lands and difficult drop requirements, but ramps up with Chrome Moxes, Birds of Paradise, Kodama's Reach, and the ubiquitous Sakura-Tribe Elder. Unusual for this format, Dave plays only one Sensei's Divining Top.

"I hate it. It's the worst card in the deck," he said.

Dave's deck is a difficult one to play against because his card choices are so unusual. Who has tested against Enduring Ideal in Standard? He wins a lot of games with Zur's Weirding, although his most memorable victory had to be on the back of Confiscate.

"I took an Oblivion Stone when he had five mana open. It hit and he asked, 'So that just happens?'"

With the diversity of the format and the great stories that are already cropping up, it will be interesting to see how Constructed finishes up in Saturday's final rounds.

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