Breaking Through – States in Review


The 2009 States have come to an end, and results seem to slowly be creeping in from all over North America. I managed to take the short trek down to Denver to compete in the Colorado side of States and am here to aptly tell you my story. But first, since I am sure everyone is dying for a decklist, voila!

New Year’s Ultimatum

I opted to move away from land destruction as a central theme because I expected a shift in the metagame towards more decks that would be less exposed by the loss of lands. Jund would still be popular, but the new version of Magical Christmas Land was still putting up good results against that deck. Siege-Gang Commander was a huge addition that, along with sweeper and more removal, made aggressive decks quite the easy matchup despite the land destruction version having a rough time against them.

The limited testing I got in with the deck was overwhelmingly positive. I ended up tweaking a few card slots, but nearly everything fit into place nicely. With Blue in the deck, topdeck situations were so much better as you had the potential to draw multiple cards and dig yourself out of holes that the land death deck could not accomplish very well. Siege-Gang Commander proved to be a missing and valuable piece, as he often acts like a Caldera Hellion against aggro, and a legitimate threat against control, even offering burn against Fog.

The decks I felt I should still need to watch out for were Mono-Red burn, Turbo-Fog, and decks with a lot of pinpoint hand disruption, like some W/B build with Duress and Sculler. Mono-Red would not be a bad matchup, but could certainly draw a hand that I couldn’t beat. Because of this, the Sylvan Bounties in the board were almost exclusively for that matchup, as well as Barely Boros.

Despite presenting a Turbo-Fog list in one of my articles a while back, and it performing fairly well at Worlds, I could not anticipate the amount of Fog that would be present at Colorado States. There were over 140 players in the room, and I have to guess that easily 30 of them were on some type of Fog. I personally had to face the slowest deck in the format 3 different times. I went into the day feeling pretty good about my matchup here, as I was bringing in a lot of good cards and had a solid game 1, assuming I could properly play around the few counterspells they had main.

My first match against Fog proved my suspicions true, as I was able to quickly 2-0 the deck. Alongside the maindeck Cruels, Siege-Gangs, Earthquakes, and various other burn spells, I get to bring in 3 Swerve for their counterspells and Time Warps, 2-3 Quest for Ancient Secrets to reset their clock, and 2 Sorin Markov, to present an un-Flashfreezable threat that just wins once it has resolved. This plan worked perfectly the first time. Unfortunately, I had to face off against a second Fog player, and one who sat next to me during my last Fog match no less. Raine is a very good player and recognized my boarding strategy from the first go around, taking out things like Time Warp for our game 2 to stop Swerve from being a blowout. A really bad draw that gave me turn 2 Cobra but nothing else until turn 8 cost me game 1, but luckily, he never saw Quest and I was able to utilize them to win game 2. We went to time, which was 10 minutes past everyone else’s thanks to a mid-round deck check and we ended up drawing.

At the time this seemed acceptable, but the biggest downside was that we were by far the only match playing and everyone in the room had huddled around. One of these spectators happened to be my 7th round opponent who was also on Fog. Here, the weakness of my now very visible board plan came through. After winning game 1 on the back of 4 counterspells in 4 consecutive turns while he sat on 5, my opponent opened game 2 with a Pithing Needle on Sorin. Obviously he had not seen Sorin from our match yet, but the transparency of that earlier round was proving fatal. The following turn my opponent ran out a Relic of Progenitus, despite it being essentially dead against me, because he had seen Quests earlier as well. On top of all of this, he also successfully boarded out his Time Warps, making Swerve less than amazing. These things all combined, he managed to take the match 2-0 pretty easily.

Despite this being a sideboarding strategy scenario, the entire situation did shine some light on one of the benefits of going rogue. When an opponent is aware of your game plan, either pre- or post-board, they are more readily able to make adjustments to their own game plan as a preemptive maneuver around your own. Sometimes this is mostly irrelevant due to your game plan both being vastly superior and/or not easily sideboarded against, which happens to be the case with Jund. But usually, if a player really wants to beat some archetype, they can equip themselves with the ability to do so.

Once you have gone rogue however, opponents now have no set game plan against you, much less a boarding strategy. It is true that concealing your strategy for a lengthy period of time is difficult sometimes, but usually the people who find out wont even play you, or they don’t find out until the Top 8 decklists are shared, at which point your deck has done its job and now you need to focus more on outplaying people.

I don’t mean to hark on the subject of going rogue over and over, but I constantly get questions from readers asking about my deck choices etc, and I felt this little anecdote was a good one to demonstrate some of the principles of rogue design.

Aside from the loss and draw against Fog, I felt the deck performed very well against basically everything. Other matchups were Mono-Red, Boros Bushwhacker, Jund, Mono White midrange, and Grixis Control. All of those matchups felt in my favor with my loss coming against Bushwhacker, but that fault can hardly be blamed on the deck. I managed to miss a trigger on my Khalni Heart Expedition that seemed irrelevant at the time, only to topdeck Harrow and fall 2 mana shy of casting Cruel Ultimatum as well as one Red mana shy of casting either of the Caldera Hellions in my hand as the game ground on. All I could do was stare at my 5 mana and stop myself from being stupid in the future. Of course that sent the match to a game 3, where a double mulligan and poor draw gave me what I deserved for punting the previous game.

One interesting thing that developed at Colorado States was that despite the room being so Fog heavy, the Top 8 consisted of eight fairly aggressive archetypes that should all theoretically have a bad game against Fog. Jund, Boros, Vampires, GWB Junk, and Naya Lightsaber were all on display. In the end, Jund ended up taking the trophy, as appears to have been the case many places across the country.

While Worlds and States both proved that Jund can be beat, they also proved that it does a lot more beating than being beat. This means that although the format has plenty of options available, the best deck is still clearly Jund, and by a far margin. Luckily, Standard is basically on hiatus until Pro Tour San Diego where Worldwake will hopefully shake a few things up and make the format exciting again.

In the meantime however, we have some Extended to keep us occupied. I feel like this Extended format is a lot deeper than Worlds would have us believe after Austin set the stage for the format. I have been getting a TON of requests to show off the Extended build that BDM talked about in the tournament center so I will go ahead and do that. BUT there is a catch, and that is that I will not be talking about the list due to the potential I have found in it when taking it a few different directions. I will warn those brave enough to try this that the deck is by no means “good” right now, but it does have a very solid foundation and some excellent matchups with Zoo unfortunately not being one of them.

Again, this list is not good as is, which is partially why I audibled to Zoo, but after you play a few games with it, you can definitely get a feel for what works about it it and what doesn’t. The lists that have evolved from this are significantly different, but I gotta keep something tucked away now don’t I?

Alright, well that’s it for this week! Congratulations to all of the new State and Provincial champions out there and good luck to everyone on the upcoming Extended grind. Extended always seems to be the most draining of the PTQ formats, probably because of its huge swings in the metagame. Enjoy the Holiday season everyone! Thanks for reading.

Conley Woods

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