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By: Umii, Mike Patterson
Dec 02 2007 7:37am
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(Vanguard is an online-only format of Magic, where each player has an "avatar" that grants special abilities.  Some of these abilities include giving your creatures haste, or the ability to play spells as land.  These avatars make the format different from vanilla magic, and enable unique plays and decks.  A Standard with Vanguard Premiere Event starts every Saturday at 11 AM EST.)

If you read Mark Rosewater or Aaron Forsythe's articles at, you probably know that Wizards has been trying to create a "Tier Two" Standard, where all the cards are equally powerful, and there is no clear best deck.  Over the past year, this has been increasingly obvious, as different decks make the Top eight of Standard Premiere Events every day.  The same principle seems to hold true for Vanguard.  Last weekend, I participated in one of the first Vanguard tournament after the Lorwyn Release Events. I thought I knew what the best (and therefore, most played) decks would be, but the rest of the MODO community disagreed.  Three of my "top four" avatars
(Oni, Mirri, and Chronatog) were played by a combined three people.  Instead the most common avatar in the swiss was Dakkon Blackblade, played by four people.  Everyone else was playing something unique.  While potentially nerve-racking, it's always fun to play a tournament where you never know what's coming.

Of the Lorwyn release avatars, Ashling the Pilgrim was both the most popular and succesful, putting caliban17 into the top four.  You can see the Ashling avatar's ability below.  caliban turned the deck into a combo of sorts:

by caliban17

4x Shimmering Grotto
4x Vivid Grove
4x Horizon Canopy
4x Karplusan Forest
8x Snow-Covered Forest

4x Phyrexian Ironfoot

Mana acceleration:
4x Wall of Roots
4x Fertile Ground
4x Mind Stone
4x Coalition Relic
4x Overgrowth

Win conditions:
4x Tamanoa
4x Stuffy Doll
4x Garruk Wildspeaker

The Ashling avatar is naturally the enemy of decks with small creatures.  With Tamanoa in play, each activation of the Ashling avatar deals one damage to your opponent, while you gain two life.  You can gain more life if your opponent has creatures in play.  Stuffy Doll works in the opposite manner, where each activation deals two damage to your opponent, while only dealing one to yourself.  Garruk allows you to untap your enchanted lands for more mana, or play Beasts if you need to beatdown.  The sideboard included Extirpate for control opponents.

The one obvious problem with playing Ashling decks is that if you have less life than your opponent, you can't win (I realize this is obvious in a Madden-esque, "The key to winning football games is to score more points than your opponent," way.  To be more specific, this deck has trouble coming from behind).  Some people tried to solve this problem by including burn in their decks to make sure they never fell behind in life.  However, burn has less synergy than other cards.

I decided to play an evolutionary Red Green Oni deck, since I thought I could slice through an Ashling and Heartwood metagame while dodging Mirri and Chronatog.  Here's the deck:

Oni Aggro
by Umii

Lands (22):
8x Forest
6x Mountain
3x Gemstone Mine
4x Karplusan Forest
1x Pendelhaven

The Acceleration:
4x Birds of Paradise
4x Llanowar Elves
3x Boreal Druid

The Fat:
4x Phyrexian Soulgorger
4x Ravaging Riftwurm
4x Keldon Marauders
4x Sheltering Ancient
3x Lavacore Elemental

The Bulldozers:
4x Stingscourger
4x Volcano Hellion

Like any Oni deck, the goal of this deck is to drop 5/x creatures from turn two onward.  Older versions of Oni decks only had Phyrexian Soulgorger, Sheltering Ancient, and Keldon Marauders as fat, and supplemented them with Primal Forcemage to turn Birds into 3/4 monsters.  Primal Forcemage was especially good in storm versions of Oni, since it made all Empty the Warrens tokens 4/4.  However, since this is a straight aggro deck, and not a storm deck, I found the Forcemages slow.  If it's turn two,and you have the option of laying down a 2/2 or a 5/x, the 5/x is more sure to cause damage

Another advantage of this deck is that with the addition of Ravaging Riftwurm and Lavacore Elemental, there are eleven fatties with Vanishing that can stick around the turn after you play them. Older versions of Oni aggro could have problems keeping its creatures on the board.  For example, if you have Sheltering Ancient and Phyrexian Soulgorger in play during your upkeep, you're forced to make the choice of which creature to keep.  In contrast, if you have Ravaging Riftwum and Keldon Marauders in play, you can return the Marauders without worrying about the Riftwurm dying.

Finally, the "bulldozers" serve the important purpose of clearing the way for your fat.  One of the oldest enemies of Oni decks is chump blocking, since only Sheltering Ancient has trample.  When Ravnica block was legal, Momir reanimation decks could stall Oni for four turns until they reanimated a Blazing Archon, and that would end the game (before sideboard Threaten was discovered).  With Stingscourger and Volcano Hellion, creatures can't get in your way.  There is also synergy between these bulldozers and Sheltering Ancient in that you can put a counter on your opponent's creature, remove the creature,and swing for ten damage.

My round three match was illustrative of how these advantages could work.  I played anti_tech, the one player playing Mirri, who was using a huge number of one drops to lock up the board, including Treefolk Harbinger and Llanowar Augur.  In game one, he was on the play, and played turn one Birds of Paradise, turn two Dryad Arbor.  I made my first play turn two, playing Stingscourger bouncing Birds.  He shrunk it, and let it hit, bringing him to 14.  The next turn I played a Sheltering Ancient which hit for four, bringing him to ten.  On turn four I was able to play Volcano Hellion, killing his Dryad Arbor, and trading with a Boreal Druid, leaving him with two creatures in play.  On turn five, he played Harmonize, and on my turn six I empty my hand, playing mana creatures, the Stingscourger from turn two, and the Sheltering Ancient from turn three, dropping him to three,and making the win academic.  The key to this game was my ability to disrupt his creature base, so that he could not gun down my creatures with Mirri's ability.  Older versions of Oni would have simply folded.

As I've written in the past, I think the Oni of Wild Places avatar is one of the best avatars in the abstract, and I felt with these innovations I could take it to the top eight.  It has good matchups against untuned or slow decks, and really only a mediocre matchup against Chronatog.  This bad matchup has been strengthened due to the inclusions of more "must kill" creatures than they may be able to handle, and a few creatures to clear away any Martyr of Sands chump blocking.  I am happy to report that this was the case, and I made top eight in a breeze, facing a Mirror Entity deck that was just not fast enough, a Goblin Warchief Faeries deck that was a turn or two too slow, and the Mirri deck I mentioned above.

The Top eight like the swiss, was diverse:

2x Dakkon Pickles Combo
1x Oni Aggro
1x Ashling control
1x Dakkon Rock
1x Heartwood Faeries
1x Akroma Merfolk
1x Chronatog Swath combo
I won't cover the Dakkon pickles decks because their construction is fairly straightforward: put sixty good blue cards in one deck.  With Dakkon, you don't have to worry about drawing too many Brine Elementals since you can play extras as land.  One cute inclusion was Fathom Seer, which lets you return islands spells to your hand.

In the top eight I faced the Heartwood Faeries deck, and lost very quickly. The deck was Blue Gree with Birds, Wall of Roots, and comes-into-play creatures Mystic Snake, Spellstutter Sprite, and Pestermite.  While I think Oni decks normally have good matchups versus the land-bouncing versions of Heartwood decks, the counter-spell heavy Faeries version is a nightmare.  By turn two they have counterspell mana open, and half of their counterspells are also creatures, letting them chip away at your life total.  Oni decks generally only cast one relevant creature per turn, so it can be difficult to develop momentum while they continue to develop their board.  I also psyched myself out before the tournament by removing Pyroclasm from my sideboard since it is irrelevant against Ashling decks.  I could have used it.

I asked Raven_1, the pilot of the Dakkon Rock deck for his decklist:

Raven's Rock
by Raven_1

4x Call of the Herd
4x Tarmogoyf
2x Tombstalker
1x Nath of the Gilt-Leaf
1x Dauntless Dourbark
3x Masked Admirers
1x Detritivore
4x Siege-Gang Commander
1x Cloudthresher

4x Liliana Vess
3x Garruk Wildspeaker
2x Boom/Bust

Mana acceleration:
4x Fertile Ground
2x Mind Stone

4x Damnation
4x Shriekmaw
4x Profane Command
1x Slaughter Pact
1x Terror
2x Nameless Inversion
4x Pyroclasm
1x Lash Out
2x Seal of Primordium
3x Eyeblight's Ending

The strange number of two and three of cards is due to Raven assembling the deck only an hour before the PE.  The reason I am featuring the deck here is it is one of the few succesful non-blue Dakkon decks, and it made the finals.  It also was the source of my favourite play of the tournament: with Liliana Vess in play, Raven cast Bust, letting his planeswalker win the game for him while he continued to make land drops.  I think with a little cleaning up, the deck could have good matchups versus a lot of the field.

What will next week bring?  I would make the conservative prediction that Dakkon, Heartwood, and Ashling will be the most popular avatars.  Of these three decks, I think Ashling has the most potential to be interesting, in that it can be designed to be resilient againt Dakkon and Heartwood.  Given the number of counterspells I saw in the top eight, I might also recommend an activated-ability based avatar like Braids.  Whatever decks people decide to play, I'm sure there will be surprises in the top eight.


Chronatog list by Umii at Mon, 12/03/2007 - 16:37
Umii's picture

If you want to see one, I'll try to get a list for next week.

by PredatorGR (Unregistered) (not verified) at Sun, 12/02/2007 - 09:33
PredatorGR (Unregistered)'s picture

thanks for the update!

i played in that event with my mono blue dakkon control deck but it didn't perform very well.

0-2 against ashling (i wish needle would work on avatars lol) and 1-2 against chronatog.

i guess i just faced my 2 bad matchups.

anyways,ill try again next week.

could you by any chance post an updated chronatog list?





Awesome by JXClaytor at Sun, 12/02/2007 - 16:48
JXClaytor's picture

Thank you so much for doing these recaps.  I had no interest in the format until you started to write about them, you're doing a great job!

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