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By: jamuraa, Michael Janssen
Jan 30 2008 12:44pm
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Brrrr. It's cold as heck in Minnesota. I thank whoever invented heating every day when it's this cold. I can't even walk to the car half of the time -- I'll get frostbite. That's okay though, because while I'm inside I can watch some Magic Online PE top eights. This week we see some levelling of the playing field in the metagame, and start running out of popular decks to cover in the mode.

When you talk about deck archetypes, the discussion invariably leads to the three "main" archetypes: Aggro, Control, and Combo. Lately there has been a fourth game beast which has been added which most people are calling Mid-range. Mid-range lives inbetween Aggro and Control - it usually kills a lot of creatures (something very controllish) and then attacks for the win (very Aggro). The reason it's not classified in either of it's parent's is because it's not really either. However, I'm not here today to talk about Mid-range decks, I'd like to scrawl a few words about Combo.

Combo is the estranged child of the main three archetypes. It's hard to define what exactly Combo is, but I will try. Combo is a deck which attempts to do broken things. Broken things are by definition actions which are WAY in your favor, for no particular reason. Things aren't broken until someone breaks them. This is why Combo is strange - you can't just go out and build a random Combo deck - you need to define the Combo deck by the combo which it uses. The current deck which you would point out Combo is Dragonstorm. Dragonstorm isn't what I really think of as a Combo deck though.

Mark Rosewater, at the invitational which was skillfully covered by Evan Erwin, revealed the secret tripod of a strong Combo format. His three tripod components were Fast Mana, Card Drawing, and an Engine. Engines are anything that turns one resource into another. Thermopod is an engine that turns creatures into mana for instance, and Sprout Swarm is an engine that turns mana into creatures. Combo decks usually want to get a ton of mana so that they can do broken things like cast Dragonstorm for tons of copies or cast a Disintegrate for a hojillion damage.

Here's where the question comes in: why isn't Standard a good format for Combo right now? Well, we must be missing one of the three key elements of a good format for Combo, I guess. Let's look at each one of them in turn. The first element is fast mana - and I think that we have that in spades right now. Granted, we're not getting three-for-one with Dark Ritual or anything, but we have plenty of sources of mana that are speedy - Lotus Bloom, Wall of Roots, Rite of Flame, and even Garruk Wildspeaker get in on the fast mana game. Okay, so we're missing card drawing? No, we have plenty of quality card draw in Telling Time, Think Twice, (Ancestral Visions), Ponder, and a lot of other cards that are mostly in blue, but we also have card draw in green and red in the form of Harmonize and Browbeat. So we must be missing engines! Wait, I already covered a couple of engines. We even have incredibly complex engines like Mogg Fanatic, Deathrender and Enduring RenewalEnduring Renewal by itself is an insane enabler for combo decks, but I haven't seen it across a table at all.

So we have all three pieces - why don't we have a multitude of viable combo decks? My first theory is that the three pieces are just not quite meshing together right now. We aren't doing broken things with combo decks because they don't fit together quite right - they are stuck in different colors, or the mana just isn't quite fast enough and in the right color, or the engine is there, but it's not at the point where people say "man, this is broken as heck". The other theory is that people just don't want to play combo right now. The format is heavily slanted toward aggro decks - Lorwyn is tribal for a reason, and it isn't getting any less tribal when Morningtide comes out. At any rate, we get to look at a combo deck for the Mode this week, so stick around.

Statistics for Standard PEs: 1/15/2008 to 1/21/2008

This week there were fifteen standard Premier Events (PEs) scheduled on Magic Online. One event was lost this week - it was finished in one of the early rounds due to a server crash. Tha means we have fourteen PEs of meta this week, totalling 112 spots. I must be sounding like a broken record by now, but every event was 2x and in the exact same timeslot as last week. We can only hope that the advent of v3 will bring a more exciting Premier Event schedule as well. Standard Premier Events and got an average turnout of 35 players, which is just slightly less than last week. Four of the fourteen events played out their finals matches this week, leaving the rest to the splitters.

Winner - Split - Second - Semifinals - Quarterfinals

Colors Deck Name Placings Percentage
Elves 16% (-1%)
Mannequin 13% (+7%)
Pickles Blink 13% (+1%)
Big Mana 8% (-1%)
Rock 7% (+3%)
Goblins 5% (-7%)
Traumatized 5% (+5%)
Knoll Storm 4% (-2%)
Faeries 3% (+1%)
Wild Blink 2% (+0%)
Primal Mannequin 2% (+2%)
Doran Rock 2% (-3%)
Sonic Boom 2% (+0%)
Faeries 1% (+0%)
Reanimator 1% (-3%)
Merfolk <1% (-3%)
Tokens <1% (+1%)
Mana Ramp <1% (+1%)
  Other 3% (+0%)
  Inaction 1% (+0%)

Elves stays on top for another week, but is followed closely behind by Mannequin and Pickles Blink. Pickles Blink has been very strong in acquiring top spots lately after being almost nonexistent just a month before. It's preying on a lot of the Doran Rock and Big Mana decks it looks like because they are the ones which lost the most overall since Pickles Blink's appearance. Elves isn't dominating quite as much as it was before - the metagame seems to be deciding on it's Rock, Paper and Scissors. Rock is surprisingly making a comeback, and Doran Rock is dropping in response.

The big gainer this week is Mannequin - returning creatures from the graveyard in order to abuse comes-into-play effects isn't all this deck has to offer though. There were games that I didn't see a single Makeshift Mannequin slung and the deck still was winning. The big loser this week is Goblins, which lost a significant amount of spots this week, almost mirroring the performance that Mannequin made on the climb. I can't quite figure why Goblins fell out of the vogue for making top tables, but I suspect it has something to do with the Blinking craziness of the third place deck.

There are four decks in this week's "other" category. Two are almost identical copies of each other, focusing on a red-green strategy which is very similar to the old burn em and bash em strategy. Another was a red-green-white deck which used Fiery Justice, but was not trying to break (Boom//Bust) like the last deck we saw using Justice was. The final deck got hands which were just too bad in order to actually spot his deck out, but it was blue-black control and used Mystical Teachings.

Mode of the Week: Knoll Storm

Knoll Storm
Standard-Lorwyn deck played at Worlds 2007 by Thomas Drake
Creatures
4 Bogardan Hellkite

Other Spells
4 Dragonstorm
4 Grapeshot
4 Incinerate
4 Lotus Bloom
1 Pyromancer's Swath
4 Rift Bolt
4 Rite of Flame
4 Shock
4 Tarfire
Lands
4 Fungal Reaches
4 Molten Slagheap
10 Mountain
4 Spinerock Knoll
1 Vesuva

Dragonstorm

Knoll Storm is the closest thing you can call to a combo deck in the current standard metagame. I have been avoiding including this deck in the coverage here, because I had a strong inclination when it showed up and was huge in early January that it would get hated out pretty quick by the quickly-changing metagame on Magic Online. I was not wrong, but I realize that it is probably in for the long haul at this point, probably staying around the same levels that it is at this week for a while.

The main focus of Knoll storm is to cast Dragonstorm with as many storm copies coming onto the stack as possible. The deck has two ways of accomplishing this. The first way is to go balls-to-the-wall and cast a bunch of Rite of Flame in order to get a bunch of mana, also pumping up your storm count, and casting the storming dragons with a high count that way. The other way that it can accomplish this is by hiding a spell under Spinerock Knoll. Spinerock Knoll kindof substitutes for a lot of drawing in this deck, as it lets you look at the top four cards and pick out the best one, a sort of Impulse. The trick is to make it possible to actually trigger the Knoll and get the spell for free. In order to accomplish this, the deck packs a wholloping twenty burn spells which all cost less than two mana to cast. This performs the dual purpose of lowering your life total while at the same time pumping the storm count and triggering the tricksy Spinerock in order to cast that finisher.

The deck also has some backup options in the form of, well, lots of burn to the head, or putting down a Pyromancer's Swath and using a crazy many storm count Grapeshot, which now does three damage per copy instead of one. Now let's talk about the meta around this deck for a bit, and why it's not surviving in the current Standard. The main problem with the deck is that it gets hated out easily by some fairly easy to spot white cards. The first is Rule of Law, which totally busts the storm plan of the deck. The second is Story Circle, which destroys the plan to hit with lots of burn and red damage sources. I once played a deck in a PE shortly after Knoll storm premier with both in the sideboard, and it simply wrecked any Dragonstorm deck. It also did decent against other decks (It was green-white Mana Ramp), which is essential. At any rate, I expect to be seeing at least a couple people playing Dragonstorm at any of the PEs that I watch from beginning to end.

Outlier of the week: Wild Blink

I have been noticing this deck as a small player in the metagame for a while now, and have been grouping it with the other Blink decks in the meta before this week, when it was the only Blink deck which is around to be noticed. I was lucky enough to catch up with the pilot and creator of this deck PT Anan and have a few words with him about the deck that made the finals table three times this week!

The main focus of this deck is the Wild Pair, which PT Anan says has been a favorite card of his for a while now. He used it when Ravnica was in standard with Chord of Calling, and he wanted to continue to use it. Almost all of the creatures which are played in the deck can fetch at least one other creature - and Wall of Roots has the distinction of being able to fetch different creatures based on whether you decide to take a counter off of it as soon as the trigger goes on the stack. PT Anan has abused it a few times in order to get many copies of Riftwing Cloudskate into play on the same turn, each one costing essentially one mana, and bouncing a Wall of Roots which gets replayed in order to trigger the Wild Pair once again. As a kind of bonus, Momentary Blink is included to repeat the use of all of the good comes-into-play effects of the creatures.

The best matchups for this deck are slow decks which don't do much on the early turns like Knoll Storm and Big Mana, which are kindof slow in coming out. They give this deck time to set up it's mana and put out a Pair, which drives the rest of the game with Bounce effects going crazy. He also said that blue-white Snow Control was a good matchup, but it doesn't get played that much anymore. The worst matchup pre-sideboard according to Anan is the Sonic Boom deck, which puts up a wall of counters before you can get any good creatures down, or counters your Momentary Blinks. Still, post-board you can take down the Guile based decks fairly easily. Elves, Rock and Goblins show about 50-50 chance of winning pre-board, and you would usually bring in some Wrath of Gods and Teferi's Moats in order to stall the ground. Pickles Blink is not particularly hard says Anan, as you just steal key creatures with the Sower of Temptation.

This deck definitely has some potential for use in this metagame, it is very versatile. I'd like to thank PT Anan for letting me publish the decklist, and for sharing his insight into the deck with me. I am always thankful when I can talk with a good player about a deck, especially if it is interesting in the current meta. This week I think I am going to take a look at a bunch of Combo pieces that are in the standard format right now. You never know, I might break some card that noone is expecting - and you certainly could as well. What do you think about the current state of Combo in Standard - I'm always looking for input. Until next week, Good luck in the PEs!

4 Comments

ljkjlk by Anonymous (Unregistered) 24.6.182.163 (not verified) at Sat, 02/02/2008 - 22:53
Anonymous (Unregistered) 24.6.182.163's picture

yay elves

by Lazarusl (Unregistered) 75.27.179.103 (not verified) at Sat, 02/02/2008 - 12:24
Lazarusl (Unregistered) 75.27.179.103's picture

Note: Wild Pair says total power & toughness. You play the Wall of roots, Wild Pair triggers, before it resolves you use the wall's ability to make a mana, making it 0/4(4 total), Wild Pair ability resolves, and you can go get the Cloudskate (2/2=4 total p/t).

RE: >>WTF????????? by Morph (Unregistered) 217.129.93.74 (not verified) at Sat, 02/02/2008 - 12:40
Morph (Unregistered) 217.129.93.74's picture

With the Wild Pair trigger on the stack, you get mana from Wall of Roots and put one -0/-1 counter on it. Wild Pair trigger resolves, see's a 0/4 and lets you get a 2/2 creature :)

WTF????????? by Anonymous (Unregistered) 68.54.220.231 (not verified) at Sat, 02/02/2008 - 10:14
Anonymous (Unregistered) 68.54.220.231's picture

i thought w,pair worked like...if i play a 2/2 i go get a 2/2...so how can you get the other card by playing wallo roots