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Attention to Detail #44
Full Circle
by Jordan Kronick
November 3, 2006

Today I've got three things to talk about, so I'll get right into telling you what they are. First and probably least importantly, this week marks one year Attention to Detail here on Pojo. For that I'd really like to thank my generous hosts, and I hope that everyone's enjoyed what I've come up with so far. It's going to keep going as long as I can stand it, but milestones are important to mark. So congratulations, me – you've made it a year.

I'm not quite done patting myself on the back howeve
r. Last week I presented a deck called Solar Pox. Not my creation by any stretch of the imagination, but my pick to be a leading contender in standard. And guess what – it's a leading contender in standard. In fact, it comes in 2nd place in the order of number of Champs tournaments that it won this past weekend, to the newest iteration of Ghazi Glare (which is less Ghazi and more Hermit). I didn't get a chance to play myself, but I'm glad to see that my predictions were right on the money. A little later I'm going to look at some of the differences between my posted version of Solar Pox from last week and the decks that were picking up the wins last Saturday.

Thirdly, and most timely to me, as I write this I'm in the middle of a Time Spiral sealed deck tournament. It's a 32-person 2x prizes flight and I managed to go 3-0 in the beginning and I've just drawn round 4 with my opponent. I'm a shoe-in for top 8 now, so I want to tell you all a little bit about my deck and what works about it (and what doesn't).

First things first (or rather, second things second) –
Solar Pox. If you didn't read Attention to Detail #43 I advise you to go back and check it out. This week's column will make a whole lot more sense if you've read the last one (and frankly, why haven't you been reading all my columns). Everyone back now? Good. My initial predictions about Time Spiral standard, way back when the set was just coming off the rumor mill, was that it was going to be a very fast format. It is that, though not in the way “fast” usually operates. A lot of the time when you think of “fast” decks you think of things like goblins and zoo and that sort of quick aggressive deck. But instead of that kind of speed, Time Spiral has given us a much more nostalgic kind of speed – as is appropriate to the theme. Though Zoo-style decks were present at Champs, the big winners were the control decks and the super-fast combo decks. Besides Solar Pox and Ghazi Glare which held the top two positions, rounding out the three was the Dragonstorm combo deck. Any deck with a potential kill as early as turn 4 or so begs to be examined. It won three Champs tournaments, and top 8'd quite a few more. So why, in a format with all kinds of quick action is a somewhat slow control deck like Ghazi Glare or a control/reanimator hybrid like Solar Pox workable? Let's look at the metagame choices that happened in the past week.

For reference, I'm going to be looking at Indiana Champs winner Robert Kadlec's solar pox deck. Here's the maindeck differences between the version I posted and the version he used:

+2 Angel of Despair
+1 Haakon, Stromgald Scourge
-2 Akroma, Angel of Wrath
-1 Skeletal Vampire
+1 Orzhov Signet
+2 Condemn
-1 Phyrexian Totem
-1 Peace of Mind
+1 Compulsive Research
-1 Dread Return
+4 Castigate
-2 Darkblast
-3 Mortify
-1 Godless Shrine
+4 Underground River
+2 Urza's Factory
+1 Plains
+2 Swamp
-2 Ghost Quarter
-2 Gemstone Mine
-1 Snow-Covered Plains
-1 Snow-Covered Island
-2 Snow-Covered Swamp

The problem with Solar Pox as it was is that it was all over the place. It packed a lot of 1-ofs but not real way to search for them. Silver bullets are usually added to a deck when you have some way of pulling them out when needed. Kadlec's changes to the deck are designed to make it more reliable. It loses some of the utility, but the question yo
u need to ask is “against what”? Losing Mortify is a pain for sure, but what was it doing in the deck that was so necessary. Your creature control is through Condemn and Wrath of God. If you're adding Condemns, you don't need the Mortifies. Of course this leaves you without some amount of enchantment control. Kablec shifted the Mortifies over the sideboard for this eventuality, but he's not without answers in the first game. He's added one of my favorite cards of the past couple years – Castigate. If you go through the list for this deck, you'll notice that the number of things you want to do on turn 2 are somewhat limited. Either you're going to play an Orzhov Signet or you're going to cast an early Smallpox. The latter is generally reserved for situations where your opponent played a one drop and you're about to get some decent card advantage. Smallpox is far more effective if you wait until it has a creature to kill as well. So instead you can cast a signet. But there's only 4 of those in the deck. So you get Castigate. If there is a true all-purpose answer in Standard right now, Castigate could be it. It takes the offending Glares out of Glare and the Dragonstorms out of Dragonstorm. These decks don't rely wholly on those cards to win, but you know whenever two of the top decks are playing a card like this as a lynchpin to the deck that choosable discard is going to surface. Once upon a time we had Duress. Now we have Castigate. It also functions well in the mirror match, where removing the creatures before they can make it to the graveyard or pulling a Dread Return out of the game (that's like making them lose 2 cards) can be a steallar opening.

If there's one change that I never could have seen coming it's the removal of Akroma. She doesn't even grace the sideboard of this deck. Kadlec successfully predicted that black/red would not be making a huge presence at Champs and that one of the real offenders to the deck would be Glare. Now, Glare of Subdual itself and the oft-played Faith's Fetters are two excellent answers to Akroma. However, the Glare at least is not a very good answer to Angel of Despair. At least not if it's in play first. The Dragonstorm deck, while red, is less about burning opposing creatures than it is about winning the game outright. In the larger scheme of things, Akroma just doesn't have a place anymore. Of course this doesn't mean her second 15 minutes of fame are up. Plenty of people are still utilizing the big purple-haired angel. And if the format turns back to a more black/red one, then you can bet Akroma's going to find her way into all the Solar Pox decks of the day.

In short, the ways that this deck changed over the past week are that it was made better. It's a more reliable deck and it cut out a lot of the cards that would often be just suboptimal. In short – it was metagamed. And successfully, I might add. People who wonder how they can turn their best kitchen table decks into competitive decks should pay close attention to what Kadlec cut from his deck and what he added. Some choices were based on the prevailing metagame but a lot of it was just good sense.

Next up we have Magic Online tournament #840900. That is to say one of the Time Spiral sealed release events that started late on Thursday night. I'll hold back from simply posting a list of all the cards I got in my pool as that gets to be quite lengthy and annoying to read. Here's the deck I ended up with though:

Pull from Eternity
Temporal Isolation
Benalish Cavalry
Celestial Crusader
Cloudchaser Kestrel
Jedit's Dragoons
Outrider en-Kor
Pentarch Paladin
Soltari Priest
Zealot il-Vec
Mwonvuli Acid-Moss
Ashcoat Bear
Glass Asp
Nantuko Shaman
2x Spinneret Sliver
Sporesower Thallid
2x Thallid Germinator
Prismatic Lens
Thunder Totem
Stormbind
Jasmine Boreal
Terramorphic Expanse
7x Forest
8x Plains
1x Mountain

There were two strong pushes for my color choices. First was Stormbind. This card is an absolute dream in sealed deck. Your card quality isn't great all around, so you end up with a lot of ammunition besides just spare lands. The second pus was the large number of strong white cards in this pool. Pentarch Paladin, while it doesn't play nice with a three color deck, is huge. Celestial Crusader can be very strong but depends on a heavily white deck. In the end I decided to limit my red simply to Stormbind. I had a couple burn spells I could have thrown in but I decided they were unnecessary. The creatures in this deck are nothing incredible, but solid. She may be a vanilla legend, but Jasmine Boreal is an absolute house. And Sporesower Thallid can turn a stall into a rout. This deck is limited on removal, though it has evasion in the form of both Shadow and Flying. All in all I felt like it was a 3-2 deck. Not my best work, but I was dealing with a pretty lousy pool as far as bombs go. Though my other rares and Timeshifted cards were very cool – Mishra, foil Dragonstorm, foil Living End, Flying Men... they aren't really good per se. At least not in sealed. Given the results of Champs last weekend, I think that that Dragonstorm might fetch a decent price on the message boards.

My first match was against someone playing black/green. The whole time I was expecting the incredibly nasty Thelon of Havenwood and a horde of fungus to show up, but that never happened. Instead my opponent was content to play unrelated green and black creatures and eventually fell to my flying creatures. If there's one problem with green black it's a legendary lack of flying defense. I mulliganed once in game 2 and unfortunately got stuck with a nother bum hand. The colors never materialized the way I wanted and suddenly the match was at 1-1 and I was feeling like it might be an early night. But I pulled off another strong game in the third. Outrider en-Kor was able to feed damage onto the very beefy Jasmine Boreal (she looks pretty skinny though doesn't she?) and the 4/5 legend plowed through for the victory. I'll never mock vanilla legends again.

Match two put me up against a mixed up black/red/green deck that never seemed to materialize. He won game one against a hand that never gave me the necessary second green mana. But then the steamroller came out for game 2 and three. At one point I managed to get Pentarch Paladin into play naming white with Cloudchased Kestrel in play to turn his things white. Once he was out of creatures I started working on his lands and that was that. The third game was even worse if possible. Stormbind finally graced me with an appearance and the stream of burn was too much for his deck of mostly 2-toughness creatures to handle.

I went into match three with a bit of worry. I have a history of reaching the point where I just need one more win to draw into the top 8 and then choking. But it wasn't to be today. Instead I got a turn 2 Ashcoat Bear, turn 3 Thallid Germinator, turn 4 Sporesower Thallid, turn 5 Jasmine Boreal hand. And that game didn't last long after that. In the second game things got even sillier. All three thallids turned out to play. My one single Benalish Cavalry kept up the pressure while I gathered tons of spore counters. I kept them on the thallids predicting that he had a Sulfurous Blast in his deck. I hadn't seen any evidence of it, but it was just the kind of day-ruiner I was likely to face. Eventually I managed to get ahead on the creature count and way able to get through with the two bears. Slowly pumping them each one by one until I reached lethal levels did the trick. With lethal combat damage on the stack he showed me that he did in fact have the Sulfurous Blast in hand. I've been feeling a bit under the weather lately, but I was real happy that I managed to predict that card. It restored any wavering faith in my abilities that I might have had. And going into the top 8 with a clear sense of superiority has always worked well for me before.

I'm going to leave you with that cliffhanger for now. I promise to come back to good old tournament # 840900 next week so I can tell you how the draft went. We'll see if I chump block to the top finisher in the first round or if this funds a bunch of drafts for weeks to come. Aren't you excited to find out which? I know I am.
 

 

 

 

 

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