Zen and the Art of Deck Maintenence

Regionals, PTQs and the Standard Meta-Game                 15/5/11

By Zen Takahashi

Regionals are just around the corner and New Phyrexia is sure to make a big change. The bad guys have provided us with new tools for the coming months. Auckland Regionals isn’t just a tournament for Nationals qualification, but also a competitive testing ground for the PTQ the following weekend. Today I will go over the decks I’ve been testing for the past few weeks, what to play, and what to avoid for the back-to-back standard events.

Decks to play (Tier 1):

 UWB Caw Blade:

4 Stoneforge Mystic

4 Squadron Hawk

 

4 Jace, the Mind Sculptor

2 Gideon Jura

 

4 Preordain

3 Despise

3 Inquisition of Kozilek

2 Duress

 

2 Go for the Throat

2 Mana Leak

 

1 Sword of Feast and Famine

1 Sword of War and Peace

1 Batterskull

 

4 Darkslick Shores

4 Marsh Flats

4 Creeping Tar Pit

4 Seachrome Coast

2 Celestial Colonnade

1 Glacial Fortress

1 Tectonic Edge

4 Plains

2 Swamp

1 Island

 

Sideboard:

3 Flashfreeze

2 Condemn

2 Jace Beleren

2 Sun Titan

1 Duress

1 Despise

1 Celestial Purge

1 Into the Roil

1 Dismember

1 Day of Judgment

UWB Caw Blade, the bogeyman of the format, is still viable and still very good. This deck got some new equipment that will pose a very big threat. Sword of War and Peace will prove crucial in the mirror and with red decks, letting the deck attack the player then using its trigger to kill off your opponent’s planeswalkers. The pro white will also prove to be crucial in mirror as it makes it virtually unblockable and Caw Blade tends to have a high amount of cards in its hand at all times due to Squadron Hawk and Jace. Batterskull will be a huge threat, making Stoneforge Mystic a must-kill or a 4/4 Lifelink Vigilance will be popping out at instant speed.

However, as the format changes and evolves, this deck needs to change to adapt to the challenge. The Splinter Twin combo has proved to be a threat and the original UW Caw Blade does not have sufficient ways to deal with it. Spell Pierce also becomes worse as its counter capabilities are limited and with Gitaxian Probe becoming a staple, it will lose a lot of the surprise factor.  The addition of black helps solve many problems for the deck. Efficient spot-removal and lots of discard effects help it against the combo decks popping up here and there. Despise and Inquisition of Kozilek are insanely good against the mirror, being able to take everything from Jace to Squadron Hawk to Swords. Black also lets the deck access a much better man-land, Creeping Tar Pit can kill opposing planeswalkers quickly and can carry a sword well. The loss of Tectonic Edge is big, but with Valakut on the decline I feel like efficient removal and the addition of a good discard effect (Despise) makes this deck much better positioned than the UW version.

 

Pyromancer-Twin

4 Deceiver Exarch

 

4 Pyromancer Ascension

3 Splinter Twin

 

4 Preordain

4 Gitaxian Probe

4 Tezzeret’s Gambit

 

4 Burst Lightning

4 Lightning Bolt

4 Mana Leak

3 Into the Roil

 

4 Scalding Tarn

3 Halimar Depths

2 Arid Mesa

1 Misty Rainforest

8 Island

4 Mountain

 

Sideboard:

4 Mental Misstep

4 Spell Pierce

4 Pyroclasm

3 Jace Beleren

 



I recently made a bet with Matt Griffin that this deck (mainly Splinter Twin combo) will have more Top8s by average then Jund did this time last year. I’m pretty sure I will lose my fetchland which was at stake, but all in all I have a lot of faith in this deck. I really feel this deck is underrated. Nearly everybody I’ve talked to has laughed when I’ve told them I thought this deck will be tier 1, and laughed more when I told them I consider Magic-league results. People have endlessly finished conversations with a mere two words, “Celestial Purge?” I happen to think the answer is no.

This deck has 4 counters in the maindeck and has up to 12 more after sideboard. Additionally they have Gitaxian Probe. If only words could describe how good this card is! I think this card single-handedly made this deck tier 1 status. This card lets the deck peek to make sure whether it’s safe to combo out, or whether to play around their counters. It lets you plan out your next few turns and makes sure the coast is clear. Another reason this deck is dangerously good is that it can kill you out of nowhere. People can easily bait-out pyromancer ascension combo before killing them on the spot with Splinter Twin. Tapping out after turn 3 has now become dangerously scary as they could easily cast an Exarch at end step before comboing on their turn. This card makes tapping out on turn 4 for Jace not so good anymore. All in all this deck is very underrated. It has two combos, one that can kill instantly and one that builds up. Cards like Naturalize and Celestial Purge will also not solve as many problems as people think, as they have a strong wall of up to 12 counters plus Gitaxian Probe. For all those interested in this deck, I will stick to a basic 4-of list. I’ve seen many people online get fancy with 1-off Foresee or Slagstorm which makes the Pyromancer Ascension part of the combo inconsistent.

 

RUG

4 Lotus Cobra

3 Inferno Titan

2 Frost Titan

1 Oracle of Mul Daya

1 Thrun, the Last Troll

1 Consecrated Sphinx

 

4 Jace, the Mind Sculptor

1 Karn Liberated

 

4 Preordain

4 Explore

 

3 Lightning Bolt

3 Mana Leak

2 Beast Within

 

4 Scalding Tarn

4 Raging Ravine

4 Misty Rainforest

3 Copperline Gorge

2 Halimar Depths

5 Island

3 Forest

2 Mountain

 

Sideboard:
4 Pyroclasm

3 Flashfreeze

2 Nature’s Claim

2 Spellskite

2 Into the Roil

2 Batterskull

 

This deck gained very little from New Phyrexia but I really like how it’s looking now. This deck is very well positioned now as Valakut dies down and Caw Blade and Pyro-Twin pick up in popularity. I expect a lot of aggro decks early on and with so many ways to deal with them (Inferno Titan, Pyroclasm, Lightning Bolt) you will for sure be able to keep them in check. I really like how the RUG has access to nearly every problem and the deck is very flexible. The threat base can change depending on meta and so can the 4th Mana Leak and 4th Lighting Bolt etc. However, the deck is not easy to play so I don’t recommend anyone making it and just rolling with it on the day. I recommend at least thirty games of practice.

 

RDW

4 Goblin Guide

4 Spikeshot Elder

4 Ember Hauler

 

4 Shrine of Burning Rage

4 Koth of the Hammer

 

4 Lightning Bolt

4 Burst Lightning

4 Searing Blaze

4 Staggershock

 

4 Teetering Peaks

4 Arid Mesa

4 Scalding Tarn

12 Mountain

 

Sideboard:

4 Dismember

3 Arc Trail

3 Torpor Orb

3 Mark of Mutiny

1 Flame Slash

1 Act of Aggression

 

This deck probably doesn’t make tier 1 but it’s more to do with my undying love for it after testing it for the last few days.  This deck is so well positioned right now. The caw blade matchup is a cake walk and all the aggro decks are like using a theme deck (yeah I over exaggerate).  I feel like Shrine of Burning Rage is the sole reason this deck is so good. This card made me get into RDW, and is the only card that keeps me playing the deck. This card always reaches 5-6 counters nearly every game. Killing Baneslayer, Titans and Gideon have never been easier! It also allows you to play a very controlling game against aggro where you burn everything they have as Shrine’s counters build up before burning them for the win. The addition of Dismember and Torpor Orb has also been great.  Dismember lets you deal with so many problems red used to face such as Kor Firewalker and Baneslayer Angel. I was at first sceptical of Torpor Orb but it proved to be good. Against Pyro-Twin it stops Deceiver Exarch and against Cawblade if I’m on the play to shut down all their dude’s abilities.  Even against Valakut being able to delay Primeval Titan and Inferno Titan’s trigger by a turn can be game-winning. I will probably play this deck at Regionals (I’m already qualified) but not 100% for PTQ however it is very high on my list.

 

Decks to Consider (Tier 2):

Vampires

I’m really not too sure about this tribe. However, there is no doubt about the power level of Bloodghast and Kalastria Highborn. I think this deck may be well positioned for Regionals as I expect a lot more aggro decks than at the PTQ and Vampires is very favoured over other aggro decks. However it has a weak Caw blade matchup so I don’t really recommend it for the PTQ.  I have heard of a version that’s very good against Caw blade with no Pulse Trackers, four Vampire Hexmage and a few Hero of Oxid Ridge so that definitely seems worth looking into.

 

Tezzeret

I can nearly guarantee that there will be a top tier Tezzeret deck in the future, although there doesn’t seem to be one currently.  Tezzeret decks can be built in very different ways depending on the meta and can be very flexible. I expect a Tezzeret deck to pop out when the format stabilizes properly. I do still think this deck is very viable in its current form. Pre-New Phyrexia, I tested the Mind Hammer list and it was very good. I do think the deck isn’t a bad choice for Regionals and PTQ and to anyone who’s going to play it, I recommend obvious changes like adding Spellskite etc. but not changing list drastically as it can potentially screw up the whole deck’s game plan.

 

Kuldotha Red

It may surprise a few people that I actually think this deck is good. With sweepers being played at an all-time low (no Day of Judgments in Caw blade, no removal main in Valakut) makes this deck not a bad option. However I’m still a bit skeptical about it and can’t really see myself playing it.  I recently talked to Jonathon Sukenik (Top20 in Magic online player of the year, 3 Star City Games 5k Top8s) about the deck and he believed that it’s very under-the-radar.  Seems like a gamble to play it - I can see big rewards but also big losses.

Goblins

This deck is more consistent and resilient but about a turn slower than Kuldotha Red. It has a solid matchup against Caw Blade and RUG which makes me consider it; however it has a weak matchup against aggro decks which I expect to be popular at Regionals

Big Red

So as you can see a lot of red decks made the list. I really believe red is a solid colour. I haven’t really tested big red enough to know how good it is but I’ve heard good things about it. Its Tumble Magnets and Koths keep caw blade in check, with heavy amounts of burn making aggro matchups favourable. Its Valakut matchup seems heavily unfavourable but hopefully Valakut dies down and this deck will be pretty good. Although in all honesty, Caw Blade seems like a better option in most ways as a mid range deck than Big Red except in specific meta games (aggro heavy or caw blade heavy).

Tempered Steel

There was a big hype about this deck but so far there haven’t been any results to make me recommend this deck. Still, I’ve goldfished this deck a few times and I must admit it’s much better than before. I still think it’s inconsistent but the power level is definitely up there. If you are playing this deck, I definitely recommend four Blade Splicer, four Vault Skirge and at least three Spined Thopter.

MonoWhite Paladin

I haven’t actually tested this deck yet but from information I’ve received, this deck seems like a more consistent but less explosive version of the Quest decks. I’ve heard some insane plays such as:

·         Turn 1 Flayer Husk

·         Turn 2 Stonforge fetching Sword of War and Peace

·         Turn 3 Puresteel Paladin, play Flayer Husk, draw a card

·         Turn 4 Drop Sword with stoneforge, cast Squadron Hawk, attach all equipment and swing.

However, I can see this deck having some clunky draws with Flayer Husk and Mortarpod.  I can see this deck being more consistent than Quest decks and I’m sure will be popular at Regionals so may be worth watching for.

MonoGreen Aggro

This deck is underrated currently. I could see this deck even being in the “decks to play” section but I haven’t tested it enough to confidently put it there. It’s a much more consistent and brutal version of Elves and is a turn faster than any other aggro decks. Some basic turns include:

·         Turn 1 Elf

·         Turn 2 Leatherback Baloth or Fauna Shaman

·         Turn 3 Vengevine or discard Vengevine to Fauna Shaman and get a Baloth or something and cast Elf

·         Turn 4 Wolfbriar Elemental

This deck is good and is resilient against pyroclasm effects. Leatherback Baloth is a beast and I have loved every single second with this card.

Soul Sisters

This deck has been picking up a lot of attention due to its infinite life combo (Leonin Relic-Warder + Phyrexian Metamorph + Soul’s Attendant or Suture Priest). I’m not sure how good this deck really is as this combo seems easier to disrupt then Deceiver Exarch + Splinter Twin.  However, this combo will be more surprising and I expect people being unprepared for it game 1. I feel like the second Soul Sister(Suture Priest) being 2 mana and loss of Ranger of Eos and Elspeth being huge but maybe the combo can make this deck viable again. I hold potential for this deck and I feel like it’s a “win big or die trying” type deck for Regionals.

Grixis Twin

This deck has risen in popularity over the last few days. I don’t like having the Pyromancer Ascension as a Plan B but having access to disruption probably does make this deck better. However, I don’t like decks that are too focused into one combo unless it’s insane like Dragonstorm. Also a mirror match with this deck seems dreadful but overall this deck seems to be good and probably should be in “decks to play” section but I didn’t add it in there because I’m not sure if these results will continue.

UB Control

Playing this deck is like going to a gun fight with a sword. Your Caw Blade matchup is very weak, but all your other matchups are solid. The addition of Despise does make this deck much better. I recommend this deck in any meta with low numbers of Caw blade, and vice versa. It will probably be a good choice for Regionals and I guess also for PTQ if you play as well as Wafo-Tapa.

 

Decks that I don’t recommend (Used to be good/never was)

Infect

This deck probably is playable in the form of tier 2 but I have an absolute burning hatred for this mechanic that it nearly made me quit Magic. Even if this deck reaches Affinity power level, I will never consider it. In all seriousness though, I feel like the UB version was well positioned before due to the high number of RDW and Boros but now with Caw blade sweeping the scene, I don’t recommend it.  I’ve seen various G/x versions but I don’t like their inconsistency.

Vengevine decks

They can’t beat the Deceiver Exarch combo and are a turn too slow for this format. I definitely think a good Vengevine deck will become viable soon but right now I’ll stick to something that can deal with the combo and is well placed with the meta game.

Ramp decks (Valakut, Eldrazi Green, Genesis Wave)

Ramp decks in general seem very bad right now. It just doesn’t have enough ways to deal with things without making it too slow for the format. Here are some common plays that Valakut just fold to game 1:

·         Turn 2 Stoneforge fetching Sword of Feast and Famine

·         Turn 3 Deceiver Exarch, Turn 4 Splinter Twin

·         Turn 1 Goblin Guide

·         Turn 1 four Archive Trap GG!

After-board, you do have answers but this results in your deck being too unfocused or too slow. I’ll keep about a mile away from considering a ramp deck right now and I have a feeling it will be like this until it rotates if Caw blade keeps on dominating.

Boros

I never liked Boros as it had some very awkward draws. It was an aggro deck that needed to draw lands for its Landfall dudes yet not draw too many and run out of gas.  An aggro deck having to run 26 lands just seems wrong. I commonly faced the problem of drawing too much land and not enough gas, or too little lands and not having enough power (landfall). Having to draw the right number between spells and lands in an aggro decks just seems too much to ask for. I can see a version without any landfall and being like RDW splashing for Stoneforge Mystic and Squadron Hawk being good though.

Elves

I love Elves. It was the tribe that carried me to a PTQ victory. I hate having to say this but Elves is just not good enough right now. If you kill their lords, you’re left with a bunch of mana dorks and when many decks run same amount of removal as you run lords, it’s not where you want to be. If you really want to stick to green, play MonoGreen Aggro over Elves.

Strobe-Red

This deck designed by Patrick Chapin stars Kiln Fiend and Immolating Souleater and packed with spells like Assault Strobe and Panic Spellbomb. I see no future in this deck and I hope to crush people’s dreams as they devote their lives to Immolating Souleater and I kill it with a Gut Shot. DERP!

Machine Red

This deck is cute and all with its artifacts but it seems like a worse version of midrange Red. The artifacts don’t seem worth it over playing actual red spells.

Birthing Pod

A bunch of people online have been brewing Birthing Pod decks and they all seem bad. At first I thought it was ok, and then I read that you need to get a card with +1 converted mana cost. It’s a very slow way to expand your board while your opponent is actually doing stuff and killing you. Also with artifact removal becoming more popular I don’t expect this deck to be good at all.

Quest

The chance of getting an active Quest for the Holy Relic by turn 3 is roughly like 45 % (rough maths). If you don’t get Quest online quickly, you’re like a bad weenie deck. Also with artifact removal being more and more popular, many people have the same amount of artifact removal as to the number of Quests you play! I don’t like having to play such a dependent deck. If you somehow have some kind of undying love for Quest, I’ll definitely recommend a GW version with a Vengevine Plan B or a WU version with Trinket Mage and Spell Pierce over a mono white version.

 

Personally I would recommend these decks (in order)-

1.       RDW

2.       Caw Blade

3.       RUG

 

That’s it for today. Hopefully this guide will help you in deck selection for the upcoming events. This is my first article and hopefully not my last. Direct any feedback to (email:planeswalkerzen@gmail.com). Next time I write it will most likely be a Tournament Report on Regionals and what I recommend for the PTQ. Good luck to all those competing in Regionals and PTQ over the next few weeks and hope some of you win some invites to play in Nationals and Pro Tour Phillidapheia!

 

Cheers,

Zen Takahashi

 

*This deck was written before Star City Games Orlando. I don’t expect a huge metagame shift but there is a chance a new Caw blade type deck pops up that crushes the top8 so remember this was written BEFORE (For those Star City Games Orlando results check here - Editor)

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