Today’s article is a “Best of 2012” award type of thing; categories are mostly things that are pretty obvious and suggestions I got on Facebook/Twitter. This is just my pick – not actual voting. Most of those are top 3, but some of them are top 2 or top 1 because I didn’t think any other option was memorable enough.
Best Deck of 2012
If we look at just those past few months, I think I’d be tempted to say that Jund was just the deck of the year; it is certainly the most dominating deck in Modern – starting by Yuuya Watanabe’s win at the Player’s Championship:
After that, it rapidly escalated to being the biggest player in the format, and about 30% of the players played the deck at Pro Tour: Return to Ravnica – a percentage I don’t recall ever being matched in a PT (though my Twitter sources said that it was surpassed in Worlds 2010 by Valakut; it is, however, the most played deck in an actual PT since they changed to multi-format). The biggest additions to the deck was Deathrite Shaman and Slaughter Games in the board, and the deck grabbed three spots in the t8. Again the best finishing player with it was Yuuya Watanabe:
Soon after, the deck proceeded to win not one but three Modern GPs – which is, well, all of them. The biggest innovation came at the hands of Josh Utter-Leyton, and was the addition of White for Lingering Souls – a move to combat Infect, Affinity and the mirror. Josh rode his deck all the way to the finals of GP Chicago before he fell to the 75 card mirror in the hands of Jacob Wilson:
Finally, we have GP Toronto – the last Modern event of the year, also won by Jund – this time a version by Willy Edel that incorporated the inovations of before and also a couple of new, spicy ones:
So, why is Jund so good? The main reason is that it doesn’t actually lose to anything – be it a deck or a card. It is a sea of stability in a format where every deck has unwinnable matchups and sideboarded cards it can’t beat, and its cards are a mix of versatility and power, providing you good early game and good late game at the same time. It’s also hard to go wrong with Jund – a deck like UW needs to choose between Spell Snare, Mana Leak and Remand, and picking correctly will make or break your tournament, whereas with Jund you’re picking between Inquisition of Kozilek and Thoughtseize – a much more forgiving choice that takes much less guessing.
It’s hard to say which direction the deck is going to take now – the format has finally evolved in a way that decks that lose to Jund simply can’t be played, and most cards that are good in the mirror are bad versus everything else, presenting Jund players with a very hard choice. I don’t think Jund was a good deck for Toronto, and I don’t think it will be a good deck in months to come, though it will certainly remain the most played deck in Modern and the most important deck in the format.
Though Jund gives it good competition, in my mind it’s clear that the Deck of the Year is actually UW Delver. The skeleton of the deck originated in 2011, where it was Mono Blue and called Illusions, but the version that really put it forward as the best deck in the format, to me, was Charles Gindy’s from a Starcity tournament in January:
Adding White gave the deck a very powerful weapon in the form of Geist of Saint Traft, a card I have a love-hate relationship with (I love playing it, I hate playing against it). The deck was very successful in GP Orlando, where I myself played an almost identical list to a top 4 finish, losing to eventual winner Conley Woods and playing eight or nine mirror matches on the way.
Then came PT Honolulu, and I think Delver was on everyone’s minds – though it was not actually the most popular deck (Humans was, for some reason that will always remain unknown to me). It also didn’t win the tournament, but it had the best constructed record in the Swiss by the hands of Matt Costa:
Not many changes from Gindy’s list here, but we could also see in this t8 a very innovative take on Delver, played by Finkel and Sam Black – so much, in fact, that I’d be wary to call it Delver, despite it sharing the same colors and many of the cards. Still, since I’m on the topic, might as well:
Other important performances by the deck include GP Baltimore win in the hands of Matt Costa (again!), a win in GP Kuala Lumpur by Yuuya Watanabe and a win in Salt Lake City by Shahar Shenhar. The printing of Restoration Angel allowed the deck to assume a more controllish role while not losing much of its aggressiveness, and resulted in yet another win by Yuuya in Manilla.
The World Magic cup represented the deck’s dying breath; by then, Zombies and Pod versions geared towards beating it had already taken over, and we got in a situation where every deck that lost to it was simply driven away, leaving only mirrors and bad matchups – much like is happening with Jund – though it still got second at the hands of Gabriel Nieves from Puerto Rico:
Soon after, the core of the deck rotated. Nowadays, the deck exists, but doesn’t play the card Delver anymore, and has taken a much more controllish approach than before, often not even playing Geist of Saint Traft.
Why was Delver so good? I believe its power was based on the fact that it was a very potent aggressive deck and a very resilient deck at the same time. Some games you would play Delver into Geist, and then you’d beat everyone; other games they would stop those, but then you would win with Moorland Haunt. Having counterspells meant you didn’t automatically lose to anything, and the combination of 21 lands, Ponder, Probe and Snapcaster Mage meant you had, on average, a better draw than everyone else.
Best Player of 2012
Third Place: Reid Duke
If the title was “best player of the last two months”, Reid would probably have won it, with streaks that include two GP t8s and an Invitational win – all with pretty much the same deck, Bant Control:
Still, it’s not because he wasn’t in the spotlight early on that he hasn’t done very well – Reid mustered a top 32 in Hawaii, a Top 64 in Barcelona, a top 64 in Seattle and, well, a Participation at the World Magic Cup; those results are actually very good, and show that Reid has grown to be a very consistent player. He has not broken the t8 of a PT yet, but if he keeps testing with the talented group of players he is testing and keeps playing as well as he has, I have no doubt that he soon will.
Runner up: Jon Finkel
It’s easy to forget how good Finkel’s year has been, because he’s played in so few events. Still, his PT finishes have been nothing short of insane, with a t4 in Honolulu, a t8 in Barcelona and a top24 in Seattle! His first two PT finishes alone qualified him to the Player’s Championship, where he finished fourth. There was a time, even after he won PT Kuala Lumpur, in which Finkel was mostly seen as an old player who occasionally played in tournaments; this is definitely no longer true, and it looks like he’s here to stay – again.
Winner: Yuuya Watanabe
Yuuya’s results this year have been nothing short of incredible; most people remember only his recent streak (which in itself would be absurd already), but the truth is that he has been having awesome results since the beginning of the year, with a t8 at GP Kobe and wins at GPs Kuala Lumpur and Manila. Yuuya bricked in Hawaii, but finished 18th in Barcelona. He then followed it up with a double Player of the Year (he had the most points of anyone and he won the tournament), and a 2nd place at PT Return to Ravnica, as well as t8s in GP Taipei and Philadelphia. In 2012, Yuuya had 5 GP top8s – there are not 80 players in the world who have 5 GP t8s lifetime! Yuuya has to wait a couple more years for his Hall of Fame induction, but he would surely make it now if he could.
Best New Talent
Third Place: Shahar Shenhar
Shahar was first introduced to the world with a win in GP San Diego (which was at the end of 2011). Since then, he’s managed another win at GP Salt Lake City, as well as a t8 in GP Columbus. He didn’t actually attend PT Honolulu, but he finished 23rd in Barcelona and t64 in Seattle, and I think we can expect great things from him.
Runner-up: Stanislav Cifka
The chess master surprised everyone with his almost flawless win at PT Return to Ravnica with the Eggs deck, and then he surprised people even more when they found out that, prior to that, he was already Platinum. Cifka is part of a group of Czech pros but have historically been overshadowed by Martin Juza, but that doesn’t stop them from having awesome results – Cifka boosts no GP top8s, but his 2012 includes a top4 in the teams GP and a t16 in PT Barcelona, on top of his win. For reference, here is the deck he played:
Winner: Matt Costa
When the year began, I had absolutely no idea who Matt Costa was. By the middle of it, we were all acting like he had been a Pro for a couple years already, because he seemed to fit the bill very naturally. His 2012 resume includes a t8 in Honolulu, as well as a top 16 in Seattle and a win in GP Baltimore.
Third Place: Gerry Thompson
Most people equate Gerry to a “deck tuner” rather than a deckbuilder, but these days information spreads so quickly that people very rarely actually come up with an entirely new deck. Gerry is known for coming up with good lists, and then having to come up with an even better list next week, tuned to beat his previous one, because everyone just copies what he plays. Most of Gerry’s lists find themselves winning the SCG tournaments, and his take on the UW(r) archetype was enough for a t16 in GP San Antonio and a T8 in GP Charleston:
Runner Up: Sam Black
Sam has been cited as the best deckbuilder in the world by some people, and if you want to have him as first place I don’t necessarily disagree. He is usually recognized as the person behind the two innovative decks from Team Starcity – the aforementioned Delver Spirits deck from Hawaii and the Bant Hexproof deck from Barcelona, which put Finkel in the t8 and Gaudenis in the finals:
Another one of his successful creations was the Goblin Bombardment deck, which he took to the t8 of GP Atlanta:
Winner: Shouta Yasooka
In any other year, I wouldn’t have considered Shouta the winner; he always comes up with different decks, but I happen to think they aren’t exactly good, even if he always does well with them. This year, though, Shouta blew me away with his designs. The most awestriking thing is not the decks themselves, but the fact that he works solo for most of the time, whereas Sam Black, for example, has a team to support him. Of his 2012 decks, two come to mind – the first, his PT Barcelona deck, which I think was both the best and the most interesting of all decks and he piloted to a 9-0-1 finish:
Everyone thought of the Reanimator deck, but who else thought about splashing Falkenrath Aristocrat to create an infinite combo with Fiend Hunter and Angel of Glory’s Rise? Certainly not me.
His next deck was the creation that took him to 11-1 and an eventual second place finish in the Player’s Championship:
Shouta loves [card]Aether Vial[/deck], and this time it felt like he really struck home – the combination of Snapcaster, Witness and Cryptic Command, as well as the sideboarded Huntmaster of the Fells, made it feel like he was playing a different format than all of us when his deck worked properly. Unfortunately, the prevalence of Deathrite Shaman makes this deck a bad choice now, even if it’s all legal.
Best Card of 2012
Third Place: Restoration Angel
Restoration is a sweet, sweet card – it gives you a lot of choices and it is extremely powerful. 3/4 Flash Flying for 3/4 is already a decent card on its own, and you add to that an ability that is often the equivalent of drawing a card and you have yourself one of the most powerful creatures in recent years. Costing a single white and being an aggressive and defensive card at the same time, Restoration Angel finds a home in most archetypes – She is best if you’re playing Blue, since you can blink Augurs and Snapcasters (and sometimes Izzet Staticasters) and you get value from passing with open mana, but she’s also a key player in any sort of Naya deck where you can blink Huntmasters, Borderland Rangers and Thragtusks. Every new creature they print has the potential to make Restoration Angel better (well, every non-Angel), so there is no reason to assume this card won’t be a major player in Standard until it rotates out.
Runner up: Lingering Souls
Lingering Souls is a very powerful card, though it’s not so easy to find a home for it. It’s solely responsible for Black mana in many archetypes, including the Delver Spirit deck, and it even made a splash in Legacy in Tom Martell’s Indianapolis deck:
A mark of the card’s power is the length they went to try to contain it; first, it was automatically banned in Block constructed, and then they printed a variety of cards that can’t help but feel like Lingering Souls hosers – Thundermaw Hellkite, the new Jace, Ash Zealot, Rakdos Charm all feel like they at least had the card in mind when they were designed.
Winner: Snapcaster Mage
Snapcaster fights for the title of best creature ever made (alongside Dark Confidant, Tarmogoyf, Stoneforge Mystic and the combo creatures – Hermit Druid and Goblin Recruiter), and there is no denying its power across multiple formats. The card was not released in 2012, but that was when it had the biggest chance to shine, being a key player in all the Delver decks (even the new ones, without Delver), as well as multiple Legacy decks (where it brings back Brainstorm, Swords to Plowshares and Counterspells) and even some combo decks, like Scapeshift.
Now, some quick “awards”:
Best play: This is tough, since I didn’t see a fraction of the plays that were made, but I’ll have to go with Samuele Estratti’s play against Tom Martell at PT Honolulu. If you aren’t aware, it’s here.
The basic idea is that Estratti convinced Martell he had a second pump spell by pretending blocks had already been declared; this gave Martel the “chance” to block with his Beguiler of Wills that was going to win the game, which he did. He did it so quickly that not even the commentators noticed.
Best tournament: GP San Jose. Teams is just very awesome, and this tournament gets first place even though I did badly because of how fun it is and of what it represents – i.e., the return of team tournaments.
Best tournament site: Barcelona. PT Barcelona was in the heart of the city, it was very close to hotels and to a Shopping Mall (that had excellent Gelato – very important). The place was very beautiful and also close to tourist attractions – overall a winner in every way.
Worst tournament site: Seattle. We had to take a half-hour bus from the hotel and the tournament was literally in the middle of a working dock (or whatever you call it). The only food available consisted in two Food Trucks that were predictably always extremely full when it came time to eat. My Hall of Fame induction was there, though, so it’s somewhat excused.
Best tournament location: Honolulu. It’s hard to beat Honolulu; it’s so different while, at the same time, being so similar to what we’re used to. It’s very beautiful and, despite having gone there three times already, I always end up staying longer and finding interesting things to do.
Worst tournament location: Worcester. It should not take over an hour to get to a GP from a major airport, and it took me over two to get to Worcester by public transportation. Honorable mention goes to GP Lincoln and PT Montreal next year – whose idea is it, really, to make tournaments in cold places in the coldest seasons?!
Biggest design mistake: For me, it’s a tie between Pack Rat and Cavern of Souls. I actually love the concept of Pack Rat, and I think it’s very close to being constructed playable, but it ruins Limited games like no other card has ever done. Cavern of Souls is a card I particularly hate and wish it hadn’t been printed, but that’s not news if you read my articles.
Best Organized Play change: The communication. A couple years ago, it was impossible to get a hold of anyone that worked for Wizards; nowadays they are all on various social media, Twitter especially, and they listen to all of our suggestions and complaints. Knowing that this is the case, we don’t have to despair when something bad happens – we didn’t like Planeswalker Points, for example, but we could reach them and tell them that, and they listened. Individual decisions that were great were the return of team events, the Player’s Championship and the expanded PT and GP Coverage.
Worst Organized Play change: In this regard, I think the worst change is an actual non change – the continuance of the World Magic Cup Qualifiers. Most people didn’t like the fact that they are three tournaments instead of one – large countries make it extremely hard to justify traveling hundreds of miles to a tournament where only one person is happy, and small countries miss the feeling of an “important tournament” that was Nationals. They tried to solve this by increasing the payout for the World Cup, but that was never the problem to begin with (everyone thought the prize of playing the World Cup was sweet already), and I don’t think the situation is going to change much.
Best Commentator: Now that there is video coverage for everything and streaming, there are a lot of people who have been doing a great job, but my personal favorite is, I think, Patrick Sullivan.
Best Card I had no Idea was Even Playable: Feeling of Dread. We had a lot of control decks for PT Barcelona, but they were simply too slow and could never win against aggro unless they miracled Terminus, because they died before turn six. Feeling of Dread solves this problem spectacularly and it was never a card we even considered.
Best Moment for Me: My Hall of Fame Induction. It was a combination of over a decade of effort and something I’ll take with me forever. The Hall of Fame Dinner was also quite an experience.
Best deck choice for me: UB Control in Baltimore. The deck had pretty much no bad matchups, and preyed on the decks that had done well at the last PT.
Worst deck choice: It’s a tie between playing GW in Barcelona (where we misread the metagame badly and the most popular deck was a bad matchup) and playing Jund in GP Toronto (which had no good matchups in the top 30 tables).
Best Airport (for some reason, multiple people asked for this when I asked for suggestions): Dallas / Fort Worth. The Airport is gigantic but the Airtrain makes moving around it incredibly simple.
Worst Airport: I don’t think I flew to it this year, but the Madrid airport really made a horrible impression on me; it was hard to get anywhere. London Heathrow is also very annoying if you’re in an international connection, though it’s awesome if you have to spend time there.
This is what I’ve got for today; I hope you’ve enjoyed it, see you next week!