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Mind-Boggling Technology – Innovating in a “Stale” Environment

Editor’s note: this was written before Grand Prix Dallas.

Grand Prix Dallas is coming like a freight-train and you may or may not know all of the decks. It’s just Caw-Blade and Valakut right? Wrong!

There are so many decks you may face at the Grand Prix, don’t let the Star City Open Series or GP Dallas fool you into thinking the format is based on the winged beast. The best players in the room are so far ahead with regards to skill and they also have byes. Who do you think will win the most frequently in a 9-10 round tournament if some players automatically win round one and possibly round two as well?

Gerry Thompson is definitely the best StarCity grinder and he plays a Caw-Blade variant every week. A.J. Sacher is another example of a skillful grinder that knows how to play Caw-Blade. Their expertise of a powerful blue deck is rewarded each week which can distort the format.

Grand Prix Barcelona shook the format, while the SCG Open that took place in the same weekend offered very little in terms of innovation. Brian Kibler showed that his poison deck could play with the big dogs, but what else did we learn? Barcelona showed us that my pet deck of choice (Blue/Black Control) was still just as good as it was before Caw-Blade reared its ugly head at Pro Tour Paris.

The following week featured another SCG Open and the players had a chance to adapt to the post-Barcelona metagame. The top 8 was in fact very diverse! We only had six Caw-Blade decks in the top 8! They don’t call it Standard for nothing! The other decks included RUG and an old-school U/W control variant. Caw-Blade is a deck that rewards play-skill and a deep understanding of the strategy in order to win. I don’t advise everyone to jump on the birdwagon simply because it has so much success on the SCG circuit.

Why do the same people tend to play Caw-Blade over and over again? Well, who would want to change decks when they win so often with it? The deck is very powerful and many ringers are being rewarded for their expertise. There are more SCG Opens than MTGMom can keep track of (not really, that website is quite good) and the ringers go to each one. Who would want to build a new deck for each tournament that takes place if the next one is going to be in seven days? We need to take into account travel time to each location because no one can live in a location that is near every tournament so many days taken for airports are a necessity. That doesn’t leave much time for activities that don’t pertain to SCG Opens. I can certainly understand why the same decks keep showing up at the top of the standings.

I mentioned before the impact of Grand Prix Barcelona and it’s logical that a Grand Prix would bring out more innovation. Pro Points are more valuable in many cases than SCG Open points so the drive to perform in this one tournament is higher. The amount of cash prizes awarded are also higher at the Grand Prix level. The prestige is another big part of why people have such a drive to succeed at the Grand Prix level as well as Pro Tour Invitations on the line.

You want some high quality innovation? Well take a look at this monster! It may be a little too innovative for some, so you may want to wear protective eyewear. This is brought to you by Simon Bertiou-aka I’mtwotimeGreekNationalChampwhatup

 

This deck is just pure wildness! It took me some time to decipher the average game plan, but it looks very solid. I trust that a GP top 8 deck is no piece of trash so it’s always worth taking a closer look as it could be the next big thing.

I’m sure you have seen this deck before since it’s been discussed in previous articles, but it’s the best case of innovation I’ve seen in a while. What we can learn from this deck is that Tezzeret can operate outside of his comfortable little shell of mediocre artifacts. Simon played a measly ten artifacts to get his Tezzeret to be effective. Take a look at the other Tezzy decks that feature almost twenty artifacts to make the engine run.

Here is Patrick Chapin’s deck from the top 8 of Pro Tour Paris.

 

Pat plays 18 artifacts in the maindeck in order to maximize his Tezzerets. Simon’s deck has eight less artifacts and still finds the room for four Tezzerets and even cut Jace, the Mind Sculptors to make room!

Well, that’s not entirely true- after some additional digging, I found that Simon didn’t want to win badly enough and sold his Jaces. If he wanted to win the tournament badly enough, then he would have still had access to Jace and probably would have dominated the top 8. 😉

I chose to bring up Patrick’s deck all the way back from Pro Tour Paris because this shows that there are many ways to build Tezzeret. This is a card that has many possibilities, but they are rarely being explored. It’s so powerful once in play, but does compete with the same slot as Jace, the Mind Sculptor. It will become more powerful as more sets are released as well as once we find out more optimal lists. I just think Tezzeret is not as archetypal as everyone thinks it is and needs further exploring.

Speaking of decks that need to be explored a little further…

 

Dredge-UH-Vine has been off of the radar of players for quite some time now, but it’s going to make a comeback. I don’t know how many players jammed this deck, but Andrés Labat managed to earn a top 32 with it.

The presence of Fauna Shaman makes it difficult to say who has the best list because the possibilities may as well be endless. We don’t want to copy this same list for a tournament because I’m sure each card was not tested extensively. Can a regular human really get in enough games with this deck to adequately come to a conclusion on each singleton? I would assume some guess work was involved with a deck like this.

The metagame has also shifted since GP Barcelona has taken place. Who wants to play a tool box deck with inadequate tools? You might as well be hammering nails with screwdrivers if you bring this exact list to the next tournament. There are silver bullets that need to be explored and I’m sure that someone will have a solid and updated list for GP Dallas.

This is another example of a new archetype that is far from being solved. The main point of this article is not to provide everyone with technology, but to show the deep dark corners of the format that call for innovation. Not only are many players unfamiliar with how this deck operates, but even the ones that do cannot assume they know each card in a Fauna Shaman list. It would be mighty presumptuous to play against this deck and play as if it was the exact 75. Many players at the higher level have a thirst to innovate even when it’s not their own archetype. Most of my tournament successes stem from taking a popular strategy and tweaking it in some way. If you play against a Fauna Shaman deck, it will probably have a card of two that the pilot wanted to try.

I’ve talked a lot about innovating here (perhaps more than Chapin himself). Can I put these skills to the test? I tried to make some modifications to Brian Kibler’s poison deck because it has many cards that I enjoy playing. Here is the list he took to the top 4 of SCG Open: LA.

I wasn’t impressed with Contagion Clasp against the slower control decks because it would shrink one of my creatures when it entered the battlefield. It’s good at killing a lotus cobra which is nice, but I wouldn’t want as many as four. The absence of Jace, the Mind Sculptor is a little puzzling to me because I like the ability to bounce creatures in a semi-aggressive strategy. Skithiryx, the Blight Dragon was a card that seemed bad to me at first, but it’s quite powerful and can clean up a game in a couple turns.

Putting my innovating to the test, I came up with this version.

The first card I wanted to add was Sword of Feast and Famine. It seemed very powerful to equip to a Phyrexian Crusader giving him protection from red, green, black, and white. This deck has eight man-lands so the equipment provides a truck-load of gasoline.

I added a pair of Jace, the Mind Sculptors because I was losing Jace wars due to only having two copies. It’s also a strong card to cast after untapping with Sword of Feast and Famine.

The Into the Roil is against Gideon Jura because the infect creatures have small power and toughness due to their powerful ability. Gideon does not discriminate against infect damage so he is inherently powerful against our strategy.

Feel free to add a Duress to the maindeck as well for discarding removal spells to force through damage with Sword of Feast and Famine. It’s also another way to prevent Gideon Jura from ruining your day.

There will always be players who complain about the lack of possibilities in a format. For the most part, they are wrong. We can’t base our perception of a format based on one inbred tournament series. Take a step away from the norm and try something excited and unexpected. It feels good to say that the hot new deck on the block was a design of your own.

Happy stewing and happy brewing!

-Kyle

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