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By: walkerdog, Tyler Walker
Jan 21 2008 11:58am
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As a Classic player, I tend to look towards new sets with a slightly different point of view than some.  While Planeswalkers wowed almost all of us, I dismissed them rather quickly as bomby, but just too expensive.  Time Spiral Block was generous to the Classic community, contributing both narrow sideboard cards and injecting entire archtypes with increased vigor.  In TSP we saw primarily role players printed such as Ancient Grudge, Empty the Warrens, Academy Ruins, Gemstone Caverns, Krosan Grip, and Gemstone MineLotus Bloom was a briefly important but very powerful part of storm-combo until Flash made it somewhat obsolete.  Dread Return became an important part of Dredge.

Planar Chaos wasn't hugely rewarding, but didn't exactly suck.  Damnation was tested, and people concluded that even in Black, Wrath of God is still too slow for Classic.  Extirpate recieved tons of hype, but recessed into the role of solid SB card.  Mana Tithe was tested and shown to be mostly lacking, but serviceable in White Weenie and the like.  Simian Spirit Guide was a slightly-hyped card that lived up to expectations, simple as they were, of being a mediocre free accelerant for combo and red decks.  


Future Sight was (and is) incredible.  Tarmogoyf became the Best Creature Ever, which boosted Thresh past the point of being merely "a good deck" (because of vulnerabilities to Goblins previously) and into the slot of "Best Deck Contender".  Narcomoeba and Bridge from Below had people questioning why Wizards was giving Dredge/Friggorid/Ichorid/call it whatever you want such powerful tools until they saw (Yixlid Jailor), remembered Tormod's Crypt (a TSP "reprint), and realized that simply sacrificing the Mogg Fanatic they knew was coming in Tenth Edition.  This was also a good sign to me, that Wizards was willing to push the power level of cards/decks but was aware of it, and equally willing to print suitable hosers.  FS also helped Flash briefly establish itself as the undisputable BEST DECK, due to four 0CC tutors for 1/2 of its combo, and four free counterspells THAT OTHER DECKS REALLY COULDN'T AFFORD TO PLAY!  Aven Mindcensor, Magus of the Moon and Tombstalker were other solid roleplayers that were included.
Lorwyn wasn't awesome for Classic, but had some key cards.  Thoughtseize is the Duress upgrade/alternative of course, and has seen wide play, both as an alternative to Duress and as a complement to it.  Red Black Goblins got some nice duals.  Doran, the Siege Tower was tried in BWG, but hasn't seen widespread use.  Gilt-Leaf Palace didn't seem like it mattered until Gainsay won last week's PE with a Black Green Elfclamp deck, sporting his Elfy Duals.  Gaddock Teeg hasn't been played much, due to being in bad colors (and shock-land damage in Classic actually mattering a lot) and the big combo deck not actually running a four-casting-cost-plus kill card, but does remain lurking.  Ponder became Brainstorm five through eight.

After looking at Morningtide, I think it is safe to conclude that it has more to offer us than Lorwyn and Planar Chaos in the way of Classic, probably close to on-par with Time Spiral.  There are at least a handful of cards that seem like very viable replacements or duplicates of current cards, much in the way that Thoughsieze is to Duress.  The first card I want to look at, mostly because it fits into a rather reviled archetype, is Countryside Crusher.  This may be too slow and expensive for burn.dec to maindeck, but is seems perfect for fighting control, as you drop potentially growing threat while drawing gas until he dies.  He seems fairly playable, both growing from your dead lands (more damage) AND playing nice with land destruction, primarily Molten Rain.  You lose a land and take three?  That's acceptable.  Don't forget that this is a format with a bajillion (So to speak) fetchs, cycling lands, and, well, Fireblast of course that all help get your lands into the graveyard.  He may well become Terravore for a more resiliant RDW build that relies slightly less on burn, and is more disruptive.  One last thought.  Boom targetting your land and my fetch... crack fetch in response and two lands into the graveyard, no loss of land for me, etc.

Also worth mentioning for burn is Shard Volley which probably ISN'T a good fit for Classic, as you need to sac Mountains to Fireblast after you fire two-to-three burn spells at the opponents head on that turn.  It should be tested, but my instincts say it won't be very useful.  Spitebellows is another card that probably won't be played but MIGHT be as a way to answer cheap fatties (like Tarmogoyf) in a color that can be given a lot've trouble by those kind've creatures. 

Next we'll move on from Burn to... Goblins?  Yes, the little Red Men, who got minor boosts last set (cool new Dual for us?  Yes please!) continued to get better in a second Tribal set.  Imagine that.  The first Goblin to consider is one of the new warchief variants, Frogtosser Banneret.  Goblins wins when it gets a Warchief to fuel a bunch of Gobs to attack with along-side Goblin Piledriver for the kill.  Being able to play more cost-reducing men and possibly a turn earlier, along with enabling another creature we will look at next.  Probably will be used in some manner of "Six total Warchiefs" configuration, allowing you to cut Goblin Recruiter down to a one-of for Goblin Matron to tutor up, then flip into a pile of men with Goblin Ringleader.

Next up, we have Earwig Squad.  Earwigs are disgusting.  I just have to get that out there.  I've hated them more than any other bug you can name since I was a kid.  Earwig Squad will be disgusting for combo players.  Previously Goblins was mostly an aggro-combo deck that typically performed acceptably against other creature decks, solidly against control, and was awful against combo.  Now, with the aquisition of Auntie's Hovel, Goblins can consistently play some number of MD or SB one-mana discard.  Duress, Thoughtseize, Cabal Therapy, you pick!  Next, they can beat down a little, and assuming they drop a turn two Banneret, can accelate into a turn Earwig Squad which can be crippling to decks like Flash, StifleNought and Dredge, who only have so many ways to win.  Earwig Squad alone isn't going to scare anyone, but supported by Goblins new ability to easily have discard early and access to an in-color Leyline of the Void, maybe a sideboard card going forward.


Just one last Goblin, and we'll move on.  I saved this one for last, because he's my favorite of the bunch.  Goblin Ringleader is pretty bad against some decks, but you still wish you could access what he offers if you can disrupt those decks long enough for him to be relavent.  He tends to be back-breaking against aggro, sometime game-winning against control (if he resolves), and bad against combo.  Sensation Gorger is possibly a suitable replacement out of the board.  He has more or less the same effect for you, while having a (Teferi's Puzzlebox) effect against combo, who usually wanna sculpt their hand.  Lim-Duls vault could make this look bad though.  IF you run this card in the sideboard, you'd like still want to keep Recruiter's in to stack your "every four cards" optimally.  You should be able disrupt combo a lot more efficiently than previously.

Mind Shatter is the new Mindtwist.  It will be strong in Standard, GREAT in Block, may see some play in EXT (Green Black Big mana anyone?), and will be mostly ignored by Classic players.  We have this cool little card called Hymn to Tourach, and, well, it's just more efficient and better.  I think it is a card to get if you like black in other constructed formats of any sort, but isn't up to par for Classic play.  

I rather like Murmuring Bosk.  It may give Black White Green decks a slight boost into the playable realm.  Currently that deck wants to try to do things like have W or B open on turn one (for discard or Swords), BB (for Hymn), G1 (Goyf), or WW (Pale Curtain) on any given turn two, and maybe even GG1 on turn three (for Eternal Witness).  The mana for that deck is something of a mess.  If you try to avoid the horrendous color requirements, you end up losing the powerful cards you need to compete.  So, as a Forest that produces three colors, with a drawback that we may be able to play around due to Doran, the Siege Tower, Murmuring Bosk seems like it has strong potential.


The next card is a sleeper for me.  I think that Black White Green Treefolk be only be a decent Standard  strategy, but it may be a strong Classic strategy.  Bear with me.  First, you would be in BWG, fairly strong colors in terms of disruption and answers.  Duress, Swords to Plowshares, Hymn to Tourach, Pernicious Deed, etc are all cheap, strong, early plays.  Murmurming Bosk can help us have the best multi-colored mana in Classic.  Doran is a huge fatty.  Then, if we drop in this new card, we have potentially Dark Confidant five through eight.  Leaf-Crown Elder.  Not only does he allow you to spit out a free Doran if you want him to, he also gets Eternal Witness into play, netting you two cards.  I'd recommend sticking in a playset of Treefolk Harbinger and probably Goyfs, along with Bobs, spicing it up with appropriate disruption and removal, and creating a Rock-style deck that has more card advantage sources and cheaper fatties.  Troll Ascetic is a Shaman too... maybe it should just have some Black and White removal and disruption, and be a Shaman-Treefolk beatdown deck.

Mutavault is the chase rare of the set, following Wizard's new tradition of reprinting old good cards up one rarity.  We've seen Duress - Thoughtseize, Loxodon Warhammer - Loxodon Warhammer (oh wait... they didn't even change it... maybe Jitte was the reprint), and now Mishra's Factory - Mutavault.  Mutavault is good.  Really good.  It fits into some decks slightly better than Factory, due to the "all creature types" text.  The tap ability of Factory will be missed, but it is still a very strong card.  I would recommend getting them before TOO later, as this isn't the first set of the block any more, and the uber-cheap, uber-good Lorwyn rares we've been seeing won't be repeated as much with the second block, PLUS this is actually more of a LAST block, as the next mini-block starts soon... we won't seen Planar Chaos amounts of packs being cracked due to this.

Bitterblossom is interesting.  I think of it like as much like Phyrexian Arena that costs one less, but that plays a crappy 1/1 flyer for 0CC each turn.  Control can theoretically drop this and just sit back and win.  It is slightly slow to kill, but 19, 17, 14, 10, 5, 0 (six Turns), and the ability to chumpblock non-tramplers DI makes this a card to try.  I think it might even fit into  Blue Black decks, sort've in the theme of Thresh, in that it drops this threat, then protects it until the opponent dies.  Negate is a strong common, probably a VERY good SB card in some decks.

Last, pick up any cheap cards you think might be "Decent" for Classic.  This is obviously the Goyf Gambit, as Tarmogoyf at one point was a two to three Tix rare.  Here are some cards I would recommend if they're dropping below three tix.  Vendilion Clique is a solid Fish card, little expensive, but nice, especially in concert with Aven Mindcensor.  Scapeshift may have combo potential later as cards like Tolarian Academy are printed, and already finds you Tron.  Maralen of the Mornsong is very interesting, but I'm not sure how you break her, especially since they get the first "tutor".  Noggin Whack is something to consider IF you like the Rogues in the Goblin deck.

That is my list of cards to take a look at in Classic.  The set isn't overwhelmingly powerful, but has a couple likely contributers, and then a lot've possibilities.  Next, I have a breakdown on the Classic meta, and some points in regard to the expense of Classic.

The Classic meta is wide-open right now.  As IceAge4Life pointed out in his last weekly round-up, aggro-control and Flash were the story of the last PE.  However, following his trending information, the following decks have all posted at least two PE Top Eights in the last month.  Dredge (Five Top Eight appearances, 2 wins), UGr Thresh (4/1) Flash (3/1), StiflNought (also 3/1), UW Landstill (2/0), Pale Ale (2/0), Burn (2/0) Mono-Black (2/0), and UGr Landstill.  There are at least 4-5 contenders for best deck, and there are another 2-3 decks that are not the best deck, but can beat the best deck consistently, and can run the table with some luck.  In no particular order, here are my list of the top decks: Red Thresh, Landstill, Dredge, Flash, B/W Pale Ale (I'm sticking with Pale Ale as the name, even though I used that name due to a snafu), Affinity (I don't like the deck, but it does what it does), and maybe (insert your favorite deck here).  

Red Thresh is a powerful deck that run the best color (Blue), exploits the "best card in Classic", Force of Will, runs the best creature, Tarmogoyf, the best deck manipulation that can be imagined Brainstorm, Ponder and fetchlands, and is a flexible enough frame to do things like adding Counter-Top to the deck.  It's weaknesses are that it only runs eight to ten threats, can be blown out by Burn (although this tends to be overstated), and sometimes is eaten alive by it's mana-base against other aggro.

Landstill is a hard deck to fully quantify due to how many variations of decks have squeezed in a U1 enchantment.  The basic control build seems to include some, although not necessarilly all, of the following cards: Swords to Plowshares, Force of Will, Engineered Explosives, Mishra's Factory, Faerie Conclave, Counterbalance, Sensei's Divining Top, (Nantuko Monestary), Counterspell, Brainstorm, and Nevinyrral's Disk.  Essentially, it drops man-lands and Standstill, then either kills them or forces them to break the Standstill, allowing for drawing more strong cards (more manlands, counters, removal, etc).   A good example (and slightly unique build) is IceAge4Life's "UW Tutrostill" in the Classic Quarter database.  This deck is somewhat loose to aggro and heavily disruptive decks that can attack the graveyard too.

The aggro-control build is rather new to the scene, although I'm sure someone has stuffed it into their UW fish deck or whatever in the past.  Largebrandon and Moranl are our innovators in this case, jamming the little enchantment that could into a mishmash of Blue Red (and in the case of Moranl, gree) aggressive creatures, manlands, and controlling (counter) spells.  Grim Lavamancer, Mogg Fanatic, Faerie Conclave, and Force of Will were key cards in this craziness.  Can have trouble with Flash, being not QUITE controlling enough to have the edge, and bigger Zoo decks that can drop creatures that are a little too fat for the UR deck to deal with.  BW can beat this, although that's in very limited testing (a.e. 1 PE match agains the green splashing version).

Dredge and Flash are most powerful decks in a vacuum.  Both CAN win on turn one, although turn two-three is more realistic (and usually better protected).  Both run a simple plan with lots of redudancy (tutors in Flash, plenty of cheap discard outlets and dredge sources in Dredge), and both will crush people if they don't have a well-defined, strong plan against them.  Four Leyline of the Void is NOT enough, although it is a very healthy start.  Their weaknesses are GY hate, discard (in the case of Flash, not so much with Dredge), Engineered Explosives (in the case of Dredge, not so much Flash), and an aware meta-game.  While four Leyline may well not win one player a match against Flash/Dredge, it probably will win two to three matchs against them throughout a tournament.  An aware meta is what most people rely on, and that failed them last week, when three Flash decks (nice job Winston, Java, and Dragon) took advantage of a decent amount of RDW and people's forgetfullness (a.e., they got used to Flash not performing very well, and lessened their hate).  

Affinity does much the same as the previous two decks, but in a slightly slower fashion.  It is an explosive aggro/combo deck that will kill you around turn three to four.  It is slightly easier to slow down, but harder to actually kill than the other two.  It is a solid deck, but also tends to take advantage of complacency.  Again, that means if your deck isn't inheirantly maindeck (a.e. (Samarai of the Pale Curtain), Kataki, War's Wage, Ancient Grudge and the like), or doesn't have a heavy sideboard plan against them (say, four Null Rod and two Hurkyl's Recall, you will probably lose.  Your other option is to turn the game into a race (Combo out with Flash before they can win and the like).

I list Pale Ale in the company of these decks because I have proven it deserves a place among them.  While this may be a little generous on my part, I am going to stick it here due to the fact that I am NOT a particularly strong player, and it let me walk through the Swiss during the two PEs I have played it.  It is much like Red Thresh, in that it plays a series of powerful cards such as Hymn to Tourach, Dark Confidant, Swords to Plowshares, and Duress that combine to become a whole greater than the sum of their parts (ala Voltron).  It also runs cards that are solid alone, and shine in certain matchups.  This includes the previously mentioned Duress (it's rarely BAD, but it is very strong vs control and combo), Samurai of the Pale Curtain, who is a little weak, but trades with Threshed up Mongeese, hates on all sorts of graveyards, rocks Affinity (unless they're just able to hook a fly up with Cranial Plating) and is a heckuva good man.  Ale is a little weak against Flash game one IF Flash has a very good hand, and Ale doesn't have a particularly strong hand.  It tends to win games two to three with relative ease due to the eight copies of graveyard hate and plenty of discard, but it isn't a bye.  Decks in the Landstill mold tend to be very hard on Black White, due to having lots of the right answers.  The super-discard hand can beat them pretty badly, but if you don't get two to three cards out of their hand (preferably one or two of them chosen by you), you will lose.

There are a group of decks that perform erratically, but are good to remember.  Boros and Zoo decks are usually represented in any given PE, and they are somwhat viable if they get to play all the aggro-control decks (Red Thresh, BW, Mono-Black and the like) that seem to be rather popular at the moment.  The match-up with the Dredge/Flash gang is pretty bad.  RGB Zoo has had some nice performances.

The second-tier combo decks (not bad by any means, just slightly slower than the previously discussed) are Ideal combo and Storm combo.  They tend to do the same thing, more or less.  Ideal ramps up mana with Invasion sac-lands, rituals, Lotus Bloom and the like, then casts Enduring Ideal to get an enchantment that answers their opponent's threats.  This includes Form of the Dragon, Solitary Confinement, and Dovescape.  Storm does the same thing (ramping mana), but with more emphasis on chaining a lot've spells together, then tries to either hit a Mind's Desire for a stack of free spells, hoping to either eventually kill with Tendrils of AgonyEmpty the Warrens.  It also abuses Burning Wish to go get any needed storm case card from the sideboard.

Goblins used to have quite a few appearances in Classic PEs, but has seemed to die out.  It is another deck that can feed on the aggro-control decks, can abuse Skullclamp, and might be worth considering.  Burn.dec is rather widely played due to relatively inexpensive card cost, and has made some people some packs, but continues to become worse and worse as people don't blow it off anymore, and actually bother to test it and practice against it.

Mono-black is a slightly weak deck overall, and oftentimes blows their hand just to get all the opponent's cards, then lose to topdecks.  It wins many of it's games from the same situation (out-topdecking the opponent).  One decent build running around lately uses Anvil of Bogardan and Chains of Mephistopheles to lock out the opponent from ever drawing, and then let them win due to Mishra's Factories, The Rack, and Dark Confidant (as he isn't a true "draw", you still get the card).

Right now, the format is very healthy.  Control (StifleNought, Landstill), Combo (Flash, Dredge), and Aggro (well, aggro-control kind've counts in Eternal formats, so Red Thresh, BW, various Zoo builds, Mono-Black, and Burn) are all well represented in both the PE swiss rounds and PE Top Eights.  Force of Will, the current money-card in the format, appears in around 50% of viable decks, and closer to 75% of the "best" decks, which indicates that it is very important, but that decks can be built without it also.
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I probably missed a deck (I'll be looking at Bomberman soon) and a card or two that will matter to Classic, but I hope you enjoyed the summary, and the look into potential Classic additions.  As always, feel free to ask questions, either here or on MTGO.  The new set looks like it has something to offer it, so try it out.

0 Comments

Good article by Guest (Unregistered) 142.92.129.74 (not verified) at Tue, 01/22/2008 - 09:45
Guest (Unregistered) 142.92.129.74's picture

However I'd like to point out that Countryside Crusher only triggers on lands hitting YOUR graveyard.  So he doesn't quite 'play nice' with LD cards like Molten Rain and Boom/Bust.  That said, he's note quite Terravore, but a fine replacement if you can't afford 1GG.  Remember, reading is TECH.

Well written and balanced by DRAGONDUNG at Tue, 01/22/2008 - 10:06
DRAGONDUNG's picture

I think you have covered the meta game very well and represented most if not all of the top decks.  I like how the shift in the meta allowed for flash to really shine in the tourny before last.  To be honest while i like to be thought of as being smart i preffed my countertop deck to the flash in that tourny.  However while testing i put the build of flash i used together during the week before and found that it was performing way too good in the practice room not to use.

Good point by walkerdog at Tue, 01/22/2008 - 10:41
walkerdog's picture

CC doesn't play as nicely with Molten Rain as I was thinking/brainfarting, but his synergy with B/B is still fine.  Thanks for the kind words everyone.

Great Stuff by Cyrrix_chipset (not verified) at Mon, 01/21/2008 - 15:22
Cyrrix_chipset's picture

great article.  I enjoyed it.

Another great article by MagicStop (Unregistered) 68.210.217.143 (not verified) at Mon, 01/21/2008 - 17:34
MagicStop (Unregistered) 68.210.217.143's picture

Thanks for your continuing love for the Classic format :D Nice overview... Good to have the metagame in perspective.