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By: walkerdog, Tyler Walker
Feb 11 2008 11:37am
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As illustrated by the Classic meta-game article I wrote two weeks ago, Classic is a wide-open format right now. There are multiple decks across multiple tiers that have done well in any given PE. It’s crazy out there! I’d like to take this time to review every deck you might see, and what testing has taught me about these match-ups from a generalized stand-point and also specific examples and sideboard tech you can use to help yourself against whatever decks you want to have the best chances against. This is Part One of a three-part series covering edges you can get against almost every deck you might see in a Classic Tournament.

Big bad Flash is our first focus. It uses an old-school classic in Flash (According to Flores, this used to be broken in some control decks playing

Phyrexian Dreadnought

One BA Back-up Plan.

instant-speed Morphling at their opponent's end of turn) to power out a Protean Hulk that will die when it comes into play, fetches a combination of free artifact creatures and Disciple of the Vault times four, letting the various 1CC artifacts die, setting off a huge chain of opponent's life lost. The back-up plan (since Flash is restricted to one per deck) is two to four Phyrexian Dreadnought whos' "Sacrifice unless blah blah blah" trigger is then hit with Stifle or Trickbind. Depending on the build, it is a rather durable and consistent deck, which defies logic, since it only runs one main kill-card. The reason it is so good is the redundancy of good tutors available. They can go Mystical Tutor for it, luck-sack into their one-of Vampiric Tutor, or just dig for it with Brainstorm. As for the Protean Hulk, those have free tutors in Summoner’s Pact. The deck has eight free counters, four of which don’t need extra cards in hand to play. So, how do you attack something this fearsome? And don’t forget that they have the back-up plans of Phyrexian Dreadnought and Stifle/Trickbind in an emergency. Plus, if the game lasts a turn past when they Pact, they can use those cards (Stifle/Trickbind) to stop the "lose now" trigger.

Don’t get discouraged though. There are cards available in almost every color that can be incorporated into your deck to give you game against this deck. In White, if you’re with a weenie/fish style of deck, you can run True Believer (hard to make you lose life if they can’t target you for it), Samurai of the Pale Curtain to stop the Hulk from HITTING the graveyard and Swords to Plowshares to slow down attempts at Dreadfully painful beats. Aven Mindcensor is a lot of fun in respone to Hulk dropping into play, although they can still counter it. These are all decent-to-good main-deck cards that can fit in a lot of decks. Aether Vial is a nice complement to these cards, letting you drop multiple irritating creatures on turn 2/3, and helping evade their counterspells.

Black can attack the hand with cards like Duress, Hymn to Tourach, and the like. They also have access to Smother and various other cheap creature-killers to deal with Noughts. After board, Leyline of the Void is awesome too. Don’t forget that they do have access to Reclaim to put Flash back on top.

Blue is probably best equipped to fight this fight. It runs Force of Will, Spell Snare, Counterspell, Stifle, and even Force Spike and Trickbind if it wants. Trickbind is impressive against Flash, allowing them no chance to counter the spell while making them throw the Hulk and the Flash away with nothing to show for it. Counterbalance is another important tool that is available to angry Blue Mages everywhere, and can be combined with (Sensei’s Divining Top) to virtually lock Flash out of the game.

Red and Green are pretty bad against Flash. Post-board, they can bring in some relevant cards, but really, they aren’t optimal colors if Flash is your opponent. This is illustrated by the huge advantage Flash has over most aggro matchups including Burn. When allowed to go about its business unimpaired by anything, it can win with relative ease around turn three.

Some tips for fighting Flash. If you resolve a Duress/Thoughtseize early, ignore Pact of Negation unless you’re in a position to fight a counter-war later. Cards like Flash (of course), tutors, and Stifle are better targets. Attacking their land base is not an awful plan. They run around 17ish mana sources, and usually one or no basics. Ergo, Ghost Quarter, Magus of the Moon, and the like are not horrible against them if you can disrupt them long enough to stick some of these.

Counter-wars are usually really in their favor, as they can play theirs for free. Still, with the cheap counters that matter, you can pull these out, especially if you have some edge on them, either 8+ 1CC counterspells (Spell Snare, Force Spike, Pyroblast, etc), or something like Trickbind to attack the Hulk.

If you’re in White, Samurai of the Pale Curtain is your first and best friend, and if you can stick him, you’ll be in a lot better shape. Next, you want to have something redundant so they can’t just Echoing Truth/Chain of Vapor him out. That’s where a True Believer becomes useful. If you can have Vial with two counters and three mana open, you can re-play a bounced Samurai, or just play a second one or a True Believer, and still have mana to flash out a Mindcensor. Next, you need to set up a second line of defense, either hording Jitte Counters or several Swords to Plowshares in your hand to fight the inevitable 12/12 trampler.

Red can do things like Pyroblast and blowing up lands, otherwise, not much to do but race and pray. Green has even less options. Mostly just pray.

Lastly, Meddling Mage is a multi-color card that is pretty awesome in this kind of fight.

Meddling Mage

So he's second to Bob, he's still dreamy.

The second deck I want to cover is another combo deck. Dredge (I still prefer Friggorid, but we've moved past that at this point) is a deck that attacks you FROM the graveyard. Using various outlets to get cards with Dredge (like Golgari Grave-Troll) into their graveyard, they then try to mill themselves of as many cards as possible. This allows them to flip both Ichorid and Narcomoeba into their 'Yard. Then, they can beat down with Icky, flash back Cabal Therapy that may have shown up in their GY, and get 2/2 Zombie tokens with Bridge from Below. Then, they can sacrifice three of these assorted "free" creatures to flash back Dread Return, targeting Akroma if they want a slower (but often-times safer) kill, or Flame-Kin Zealot which will give the massive amount of 2/2 Zombie you've made by this point +1/+1 AND haste, allowing for the kill that turn.

The deck is IMMENSELY powerful, but slightly more fragile than Flash. This is due to relying on, well, the graveyard. Honestly, most of the best ways to fight this deck are in Black and Blue. Black has Extirpate (you probably want to target Dread Return, then Narcomoeba), Leyline of the Void, and discard (you want to hit their discard enablers obviously, not so much the Dredge guys), along with randomly good guys like Withered Wretch. Blue has good cards. I mean, Trickbind/Stifle can do some good work, as can stuff like countering a Dread Return, Echoing Truth on a 2/2 token, and countering their discard outlets (Remember, Lion's Eye Diamond is a 0CC SPELL, so you can still Mana Leak it, hit it with Counterspell, etc). Meddling Mage is again solid (name Dread Return usually). Trinket Mage finding a Tormod's Crypt can be useful of course, as can Engineered Explosives, since for two mana you can blow up all their 2/2s.

White and Red aren't total wusses either in this matchup. White has good removal in Swords to Plowshares (keep those Putrid Imps at bay) and Jotun Grunt if they don't have a fast draw. Mogg Fanatic in Red can remove their Bridges from the game, timed properly, and even though it is slow, Molten Rain can wreck them if they were relying on one-two mana. Green is, as in mostly cases, pretty awful at disrupting here.

The third deck I’ll look at is Burn. It is a deck comprised of cheap damaging spells like
Lightning Bolt, Lava Spike, and Fireblast. Variations include Goblins/Skullclamp-centric versions that are slightly slower, but make up for this with the ability to draw more fuel and have a better late game. This deck is also brutal when let do it’s thang, but rather fragile if you have disruption. It’s a lot like Flash in that it is fast and consistent, but it has none of the manipulation that Flash has. I mean, it’s best combo is Lightning Bolt + Fireblast. Or Skullclamp + Creatures. Or something.

The first thing that is important to remember when playing against Burn is tight play. I know that we all try to play our best at all times, but against this deck you need to remember to conserve your life point like they’re water in the desert, cuz it’ll eat them up quickly. Building and playing with basic lands is an important consideration here, as they can help against this deck and against Ghost Quarter.

White is the best color to fight Burn. With cards like Pulse of the Fields, Circle of Protection: Red, and the like, White tends to be able to shut

Ivory Tower
down the Red Deck at some point. Artifacts are important too. Ivory Tower can beat it by itself, eventually gaining more life than burn can hope to do in one turn. Sun Droplet is also pretty solid, although it can be overwhelmed with a fiery one-turn burst of burn. Umezawa’s Jitte also is pretty back-breaking, as not only do your threats get better, you can gain life repeatedly.

Black’s discard is good, especially two-for-ones like Hymn to Tourach. The other thing Black must do is have a solid threat. Dark Confidant is shaky here because he burn through your life quickly, but sometimes you just want to draw gas off of him. Tombstalker is huge here, as you can shred both player’s hands, and then have a 5/5 flyer to win in four turns, tops. Gerrard’s Verdict probably should get some love here as a two-for-one that can heal you if they decide not to pitch gas.

Blue can play a counter-fight, and can run a nice Trinketmage package to fetch up a singleton Ivory Tower, an idea advocated by Dangerlinto. Counterbalance is also beastly against this deck, stopping most spells aside from Fireblast, and you have Counterspell for that right? That’s about it for Blue’s options, but I think that was plenty of good ones.

Green doesn’t have much available. Again. I suppose if they’re with Goblins, (Hailstorm) might be solid, but really, not much to see here. Move along.

Next up I have two interviews with the top two finishers from the 10 Feb PE. First up is the People's Champ, the Defending U.S. National Champ, GP Winner, and all-around good guy (Plus a member of The Cheontourage), Luis Scott-Vargas! He was rocking his old-school fob account for this tourney, and here's what he had to say.

6:04pm: walkerdog : so, what make you decide on the classic PE?

6:04pm: fob : classic is a fun format and i enjoy playing it.

6:04pm: walkerdog : have you played in any of the PEs (classic) before this one?

6:04pm: fob : yes, i've played in a few others.

6:05pm: walkerdog : what deck did you run? Something Rockish is my guess?

6:05pm: fob : it's a counterbalance-based control deck. so not really rogue

6:05pm: fob : Ugrw

6:06pm: walkerdog : any card a particular MVP?

6:07pm: fob : it's got all good cards so that's hard to answer

6:07pm: fob : force, c-spell, snare, top, CB, trinket mage, shackles, goyf, stp, ee,needle,tops, fetch lands

6:07pm: walkerdog : little bit've Deed too?

6:08pm: fob : ancestral visions also
6:08pm: fob : no, no black
6:08pm: fob : at least nothing that's been seen ^_^

6:08pm: walkerdog : roger

6:08pm: walkerdog : what decks did you run into today?

6:09pm: fob : UB flash, UGr threshold, UBr flash, UBw CB/top +bob/tog +enlightened tutor package control

6:09pm: fob : i lost to threshold.

6:09pm: fob : won against the others. i played against the UBr flash deck twice.

6:10pm: walkerdog : nice record against flash...

6:10pm: fob : also i won against mono black.

6:10pm: fob : yes.

6:10pm: walkerdog : how do you feel against RDW/Burnish stuff?

6:10pm: walkerdog : CB + life gain too much for them?

6:11pm: fob : a quick CB+top is key game 1.

6:11pm: fob : the die roll is really big also

6:11pm: walkerdog : gotcha

6:11pm: fob : being able to presure them is a big point as well

6:12pm: fob : with goyf.

6:12pm: fob : if you don't have counter/top in play, they'll win unless you have goyf

6:12pm: walkerdog : I hear that

6:12pm: walkerdog : well thanks for your time

6:12pm: fob : you're welcome

6:13pm: fob : bye.

I appreciate LSV sharing his time and his list during his prep time for the Finals. His opponent in the Finals was one ConradKolos, another well-known online player and also a U.S. Nats Top 8 star.

7:25 walkerdog: would you mind a quick interview once the tourney is over? (He won like ten seconds after I PMed him this)

7:25 ConradKolos: haha

7:25 walkerdog: oh nice

7:26 walkerdog: mind sharing your deck, and what decks you played?

7:34 ConradKolos: and i played two red decks (one with green creatures like mongoose or whatever), the other straight burn and a Helm of Awakening/top/Brainfreeze deck in the swiss

7:34 ConradKolos: draw draw

7:35 walkerdog: awesome

7:35 ConradKolos: in the top 8 i played threshold, the mirror, and a 4c counterbalance deck

7:35 walkerdog: this matchs up pretty well with most decks right? good control elements for every angle and whatnot?

7:35 ConradKolos: actually no
7:36 ConradKolos: its pretty bad against other counterbalance decks, cause they have narrow spells like spell snare to help resolve the stupid thing
7:36 ConradKolos: and its weak to pyroblast , especially if the mirror has it
7:36 ConradKolos: and its weak to graveyard strategies like flash and dredge

7:36 walkerdog: better against aggro due to the 2-color mana-base?

7:36 ConradKolos: right

7:36 walkerdog: gotcha
7:37 walkerdog: any cool plays you want to share from the tourney?

7:38 ConradKolos: none in particular, mostly that no one knows how to play into counterbalance top
7:39 walkerdog: maybe an example or two?

7:41 ConradKolos: ok, well once someone responded to my look with a lighting bolt, but i had a fetch land, so basically i got to counter his spell and had a free look at a fresh library after everything happened

Decree of Justice

7:41 ConradKolos: if he had just waited, i would have had to take that look on my upkeep
7:42 ConradKolos: and people still try to stifle things that dont work 
7:42 ConradKolos: like standstill and balance
7:43 ConradKolos: you should probably try to get fob's deck
7:43 ConradKolos: cause it was really good
7:44 ConradKolos: anything else?

7:44 walkerdog: no, I appreciate your time
7:44 walkerdog: congrats on the win

Thanks also to Conrad for taking time from his busy PE-winning schedule to chat it up with me. LSV did say that if he could've draw ANY fetch-land or White-producing land, he had a STP for the win. I am enjoying seeing and playing against Pros and well-known players in the Classic format.  I would like to mention, looking at CK's list, that his Calciform Pools look broken.  Charging them up to 4-5 while both sides stall under Standstill, then firing off a MASSIVE Decree of Justice feels like cheats to me!

LSV's deck is indeed kind've crazy.  It has a great counter-base, the counter-top brokenness (Should we start talking about Counterbalance bannings?  Probably not yet, but...), Goyf, FoW, Meddling Mage, a Trinket Mage package, and more.  I haven't had time to test it yet, but it definently is worthy consideration.  It reminds me a lot of Zherbus's Four-Color Control, except it spurns Black for Red.  It seemed slightly more aggressive, and able to pressure the various Landstill Variants that are popular now.  Apparently it's fine against Flash, given he 3-0ed it in the tourney.

I'll be back next week with Part Two of my Doubtless Apple series, covering more decks, and bringing up all the ways that Green can't disrupt anything.  
Take care until next time,



dangerlinto's picture

There aren't very many decks left to play where Trinket Mage into Ivory Tower is a good option against RDW.  It's fine enough to try as a 1x of in a deck that uses Mage heavily though (say Bomberman, which usually has to play a long game), espectialy since the best option - Pulse of the Fields, isn't normally tutorable by cards run in those decks.

I also think you vastly overrate white's ability to deal with the stiflenought option in flash.  If all you are running is 4x stp, and they are running 8+ disruption suite, the odds are in the nought's favour.  The real killer would be a Samurai and a Moat.

 Lastly, I'm surprised the Moat wasn't mentioned.  Against a whole slew of decks, it's a game-ending card. 


But good article, Walker, as usual.

Thanks for your input by walkerdog at Wed, 02/13/2008 - 07:24
walkerdog's picture

I agree that JUST 4x STP won't deal with Nought, but if I wasn't quite trying to approach this as a "mono-color way to deal with things", but more as a look at what each color can do.  We usually run 2-4 color decks, and if you have white as one of your colors, you probably have STP x 4.  I agree, straight White Weenie or whatever would probably be in trouble when Nought dropped.  Good point on Moat also, although that was coming in the Aggro fighting parts ;).

dangerlinto's picture

There aren't very many decks left to play where Trinket Mage into Ivory Tower is a good option against RDW.  It's fine enough to try as a 1x of in a deck that uses Mage heavily though (say Bomberman, which usually has to play a long game), espectialy since the best option - Pulse of the Fields, isn't normally tutorable by cards run in those decks.

I also think you vastly overrate white's ability to deal with the stiflenought option in flash.  If all you are running is 4x stp, and they are running 8+ disruption suite, the odds are in the nought's favour.  The real killer would be a Samurai and a Moat.

 Lastly, I'm surprised the Moat wasn't mentioned.  Against a whole slew of decks, it's a game-ending card. 

But good article, Walker, as usual.

Thanks by walkerdog at Mon, 02/11/2008 - 22:49
walkerdog's picture

Thanks again everyone for reading and commenting.  I know I make 1-2 pissy remarks a week, usually involving how I keep a 3-4 land hand and draw nothing but land in game one, then a 2 lander and see no lands until turn 8 of game two in a draft.  We all do it at SOME point; it's the flaw in playing an anonymous game of luck that in almost all other aspectics is wonderful.  Sometimes you just have a bad game and are mad.  I'm not condoning this kind've behavior, rather, I hope people understand how it sounds when they say those kind of things, so they can cut down on it (myself included).  As for CK's deck, seems like a solid build.  Keep an ear out for cuts from Part Two.

Oh come on... by Anonymous (Unregistered) (not verified) at Mon, 02/11/2008 - 12:15
Anonymous (Unregistered)'s picture

"(Should we start talking about Counterbalance bannings?  Probably not yet, but...)"

If you want to be serious about Classic you really have to stop this stuff everytime a 'card' wins a single PE. First Skullclamp, now Counterbalance. Next up Lightning Bolt ?! :>

The article itself was solid though and very nice that you were able to finish it in such a short time.

The other decklist would have been interesting and maybe more in-depth questions for Conrad, like why no Academy Ruins + Explosives/Artifacts and what is up with that single Chrome Mox ?

I hear ya by walkerdog at Mon, 02/11/2008 - 14:17
walkerdog's picture

The "ban Clamp" talk felt like it was slightly knee-jerkish, espcially after I took a good look at the deck that ran it.  It was a solid deck built around 'Clamp and good-stuff.  The CB line was mostly joking, but I should've clarified that I was musing those musings based on the fact that it's being shoe-horned into virtually every U/x Deck, that's how good it is.  I didn't mean it that seriously though, just an off-hand remark.  Thanks for your feedback, and glad you liked the rest of the article!

by Dreager_Ex at Mon, 02/11/2008 - 21:31
Dreager_Ex's picture

I know this conversation gets old but you really can't blame someone for being a sore loser on MTGO. Compared to a real life game where even if you lose you get to chat it up and build a relationship with your opponent so even if you draw into nothing but land you can still have fun... as opposed to MTGO where when you draw land you get owned and it ends there.

Obviously I won't condone poor attitudes but it is a legitimate and almost instinctual response. I've seen some of the nicest people I have ever known lose their temper by playing MTGO.

Anyway about the article I think you did an excellent job walkerdog It was very insightful. It almost makes me wanna open my wallet and buy a Classic deck..... almost.. lol

lsv by Anonymous (Unregistered) (not verified) at Mon, 02/11/2008 - 15:54
Anonymous (Unregistered)'s picture

gotta say i was a little surprised that fob is lsv  i have been playing him in the tp room and he is a bit of a sore loser. mana screw happens . deal w/ it or mulligan  instead of grouching out your opponent for saying "gg". also why does no one remember that my deck is 4c thresh? i def played stps against fob and conrad during the swiss and top 8. any ways nice article and speedy too. get some sleep man!

by Montolio at Mon, 02/11/2008 - 16:43
Montolio's picture

I really enjoy your articles Walkerdog. I am a true Classic fan & love reading about all the top decks & how to counter them. I am looking forward to your next episode on "Doubtless Apples". I will also take Conrad Kolos deck for a spin & see how it rides.