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Jeff Zandi is a five time pro tour veteran who has been playing Magic since 1994. Jeff is a level two DCI judge and has been judging everything from small local tournaments to pro tour events. Jeff is from Coppell, Texas, a suburb of Dallas, where his upstairs game room has been the "Guildhall", the home of the Texas Guildmages, since the team formed in 1996. One of the original founders of the team, Jeff Zandi is the team's administrator, and is proud to continue the team's tradition of having players in every pro tour from the first event in 1996 to the present.

 

This Space For Rent

The Southwestern Paladin
Snake Versus Mongoose
Tooth and Nail versus Mono Red at Regionals 2005
June 24th, 2005

Regionals tournaments will be held all across the United States tomorrow that will determine who plays next month in the Nationals and, ultimately, who will represent our nation at this year’s World Championships. Standard Constructed (we old-timers still like to call it Type II) is relevant once more! Figuring out the right deck to play at Regionals requires a lot of thought. It wouldn’t hurt to practice some, either! Regionals has been called “Magic’s Longest Day”. Four hundred or more players assemble for a one-day tournament with a limited number of seats to the U.S. Nationals on the line. Regionals plays out in a single day, unlike events with similar attendance like Grand Prixs and Pro Tour events that play out over two days.

Selecting the right deck for Regionals involves figuring out what EVERYONE ELSE is going to play. To figure this out, you have to think in two different ways. The first one is obvious, you have to know what the best, most consistent decks are in the current Standard Constructed format. The second problem is much less obvious, you have to figure out what kinds of decks the more casual player is likely to bring to the tournament.

Tooth and Nail and Mono Red are the two decks currently atop the Type II food chain. When these two popular decks face off, the match up between cunning Tooth and Nail and aggressive single-minded mono red reminds me of the classic battle between the Snake and the Mongoose. The Snake coils and waits for the perfect moment for its deadly strike, the same way that Tooth and Nail calmly uses one land search tactic after another until it has a set of Urza’s lands in play with two Forests, at which time it plays Tooth and Nail with Entwine and strikes for the win. The Mongoose, seemingly the underdog against the snake, strikes tenaciously from start to finish, the same way that the aggressive mono red decks deal damage to the face of their opponent right from the start of the game.

This article cannot inform you properly of every nuance of Tooth and Nail, much less of the MANY different versions of mono red that are available to the Regionals 2005 competitor. What I am trying to do is give you a feel for what makes these two decks good choices for tomorrow’s Regionals competition and also to talk about some good choices for metagaming and sideboarding the two decks for the kind of opposition that these two decks will face in tomorrow’s tournament.

Let’s start with some basic archetypes, one basic one for Tooth and Nail as well as examples of the two most basic faces of mono red today.

Tooth and Nail

This is Terry Soh’s Tooth and Nail deck from the recent DCI Invitational.
While this is certainly not the first Tooth deck to make some noise in the competitive ranks, it supplies a very pure vision of the archetype.

Duplicant x2
Eternal Witness x4
Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker x1
Sakura-Tribe Elder x4
Sundering Titan x2
Mindslaver x3
Oblivion Stone x3
Plow Under x1
Sensei’s Divining Top x4
Kodama’s Reach x4
Reap and Sow x3
Sylvan Scrying x4
Tooth and Nail x3
Forest x10
Urza’s Mine x4
Urza’s Tower x4
Urza’s Power Plant x4
SIDEBOARD:
Iwamori of the Open Fist x2
Molder Slug x2
Plow Under x3
Razormane Masticore x2
Troll Ascetic x4
Vine Trellis x2

I am not a big fan of copying a decklist from the internet and taking it straight to a tournament, but you could do a LOT worse than Terry Soh’s list. It’s all there, the focus on just a few targets for Tooth and Nail and four Sensei’s Divining Top in the deck that uses them better than any other.

When I started playing Tooth and Nail recently, I included the Tooth and Nail targets listed in Soh’s decklist, along with main deck copies of Darksteel Colossus and Mephidross Vampire with Platinum Angel and Leonin Abunas in the sideboard. Very old school, and really, a lot of wasted slots in the main deck. That being said, I won a lot of matches using Tooth and Nail to drop Kiki-Jiki and Colossus, or Mephidross Vampire and Triskelion.
At the same time, I was playing less than four copies of Eternal Witness and Divining Top, two things you really don’t want to do in this deck.

The spells for accessing this deck’s all-important mana base don’t change from version to version (Sylvan Scrying and Reap and Sow) but the mana creating creatures do… Some versions run Birds of Paradise, a mistake I think because of the vulnerability of the Birds along with the fact that Tooth just doesn’t need colored mana enough to risk playing such a easy to kill mana producer as Birds of Paradise. Every version runs Sakura-Tribe Elder times FOUR. Decision time comes when Tooth players decide whether or not to play Vine Trellis. Vine Trellis is NOT played in this deck because players don’t have Birds of Paradise available, they are played because they block Slith Firewalkers. I have gone back and forth on Vine Trellis, and I have come to the conclusion that they are needed in your deck when you play against the diverse field of decks that will appear at Regionals.

There are lots of Tooth players that don’t like Oblivion Stone in the main deck, but I think the ability to sweep the board is good anytime. Often, Oblivion Stone has saved games for me even when I have been denied access to all three kinds of Urza’s Lands due to land destruction or been denied my Tooth and Nail spells due to Cranial Extraction. Basically, Oblivion Stone should be in the main deck because it is good against EVERY kind of deck that will give Tooth and Nail the most problems.

SIDEBOARDING TOOTH AND NAIL

I am not an expert with the Tooth and Nail deck, a fact that becomes very apparent when I try to build sideboards for the deck and when I use my sideboard. So while I cannot say with any confidence exactly what should be in the Tooth and Nail sideboard for play at Regionals, there are a number of good ideas to look at.

Whether you are thinking fully transformational sideboard like Terry Soh was in the Invitational, or just want to sideboard into a slightly more aggressive deck, you should probably have multiple copies of Ascetic Troll and possibly Iwamori of the Open Fist in your board. Cards like Razormane Masticore and Molder Slug only seem like good ideas for the fully transformational sideboard, when you plan on moving out all of your Tooth and Nail spells and most of your high casting cost Tooth and Nail targets.

Most people consider the most important cards in their sideboard the additional Tooth and Nail target creatures that they can bring in to enhance their deck’s performance against certain opposing decks. You might have extra copies of Sundering Titan or Duplicant or Triskelion. You might very likely have the Platinum Angel/Leonin Abunas combo. I think these strategies may be outdated now, but many disagree.

Boseiju, Who Shelters All is a card that you should definitely have one or two of in your sideboard. This card makes a big difference in your deck’s performance against blue decks. You have to imagine that between the mono blue Urza’s Land deck (called Toothless Tooth or Tron) and the many versions of mono blue control, you will need the power of Boseiju to make your Tooth and Nail spell resolve successfully. I have been running one copy of this card in the main deck with one more copy in the sideboard.

Plow Under is supposed to be the Super Tech in Tooth on Tooth mirror matches, but my experience has been different. In my experience, Plow Under has only been really effective when one Tooth player gets a real head start in the mana development race against the other. In these cases, when Plow Under appears to be so helpful, the cards looks to me to be only a Win-More card.

I think the REAL Super Tech in the Tooth and Nail sideboard is Sun Droplet.
The real problem, often, is red decks. You could bring in COP: Red and have it destroyed or neutered by Oblivion Stone, Culling Scales or Pithing Needle. If you bring in Sun Droplet, especially in multiple copies, (the right number I think is FOUR!) you can count on buying yourself several extra turns against even the most aggressive red draw.

At the stranger end of the sideboarding pool is Circle of Protection: Red.
This card is completely credible in the Tooth and Nail sideboard, as long as you include a way to cast it, of course. Even with only one copy of Plains or one City of Brass in your deck, you can reliably expect to get the mana to cast your COP in games two and three against mono red decks, which you will probably be playing against all day long.

MONO RED

AGGRO MONO RED

The accepted wisdom about mono red decks is that they are split between extremely aggressive designs featuring Chrome Mox and Seething Song for mana acceleration for the deck’s only five casting cost card, Arc-Slogger. (some versions, like the one below, also contain a single Kumano, Master Yamabushi in the five mana slot)

The deck below was designed by Josh Ravitz, putting together several of the more aggressive red elements into a cohesive decklist that brings the early damage and also uses mana acceleration to bring Arc-Slogger into play a few turns earlier.

Arc-Slogger x4
Hearth Kami x4
Kumano, Master Yamabushi x1
Slith Firewalker x4
Vulshok Sorcerer x4
Chrome Mox x4
Genju of the Spires x3
Magma Jet x4
Molten Rain x4
Seething Song x4
Sowing Salt x2
Stone Rain x1
Volcanic Hammer x2
Blinkmoth Nexus x3
Mountain x15
Shinka, the Bloodsoaked Keep x1
SIDEBOARD:
Duplicant x3
Oblivion Stone x3
Pyroclasm x3
Sowing Salt x2
Zo-Zu the Punisher x4

CONTROL MONO RED

The second standard philosophy for mono red is a little slower and is considered more of a control strategy. These versions typically use fewer cards for mana acceleration, if any, and feature a more devastating arsenal of direct damage spells like Beacon of Destruction and Pulse of the Forge.

This is Osyp Lebedowicz’ version of mono red from the Invitational. Even though Osyp finished last in the Invitational competition, he won all of his Type II matches, thanks to the super-powered Mike Flores-inspired mono red design.

Arc-Slogger x4
Solemn Simulacrum x4
Beacon of Destruction x3
Magma Jet x4
Molten Rain x4
Pulse of the Forge x4
Sensei’s Divining Top x4
Shrapnel Blast x4
Sowing Salt x1
Wayfarer’s Bauble x4
Blinkmoth Nexus x4
Mountain x20
SIDEBOARD:
Boseiju, Who Shelters All x2
Culling Scales x2
Duplicant x2
Fireball x4
Flamebreak x2
Sowing Salt x1
Stone Rain x2

Osyp had the advantage of knowing his competition better than you are going to know the hundreds of people playing at Regionals with you, and this advantage allowed Osyp to make some pretty radical decisions with his decklist. However, this deck is an excellent example of the kind of mono red deck that gives up some early game destructive ability on turns one through four in order to deal game-winning damage on turns six through eight.

Mono Red as a Single Design Concept

I really see more similarities than differences between the two flavors of mono red decks. While practicing on Magic Online, I found myself revolving some of the same cards in and out of my red deck, and, at the same time, seeing my red deck look more like the agro mana-accelerating example at times and other times looking more like the slower mono red deck. The more different things that I tried over the last month, the more that I realized that the best mono red decks are really the SAME DECK. Chrome Mox? Seething Song? Main deck Duplicant? Slith Firewalker? These are all simply choices the red mage makes when preparing his own deck.

It took Mirrodin block constructed play to convince me that Seething Song was a tool that actually belonged in aggressive red decks. After using Seething Song to play Arc-Slogger on turn three literally HUNDREDS of times, I can defend the use of Seething Song in the mono red deck. Now let’s talk about the other tools of mana acceleration commonly in use by the Type II red player.
Chrome Mox has become less interesting to me with every passing day. I LOVE playing Slith Firewalker on turn one. I DO NOT like removing a red card from play for the advantage of beating with Slith one turn faster. The biggest problem with including mana acceleration in any deck is the way that these types of cards can be such bad draws late in the game. There is NO WORSE late-game draw for a red deck than Chrome Mox. In fact, once you have three or four mana in play, chances are you don’t want to draw a Chrome Mox any more. Seething Song, while not exactly an awesome draw later in the game, continues to be useful LONGER into the game than Chrome Mox. Wayfarer’s Bauble is better than these as a late game card because it can remove one more Mountain from your deck and help in a small way to make your next draw better. The Bauble, however, has been letting me down in the early game. You feel pretty good playing a Bauble on turn one, but you often have better things to do on turn two and three than to pop the Bauble. Of course, the turn one Bauble can still pay dividends later, as a tool to give you three new cards to look at with your Divining Top later in the game, or as a sacrifice for Shrapnel Blast.

I have been MOST pleased with Guardian Idol as the turn two mono red play I like best when I DO NOT have a Slith Firewalker to send into battle. If I’m playing second against Tooth and Nail or black rat decks, my turn two Slith Firewalker doesn’t get past their Sakura-Tribe Elder or Ravenous Rat.
Playing Guardian Idol here is always AT LEAST as good as popping a Bauble (an option you only have if you played Bauble on turn one). Guardian Idol is my choice (a pretty unusual choice to some) over Mox or Bauble because it is NEVER a dead draw like Mox and because it accelerates my mana for a total cost of two mana instead of Bauble’s total cost of three mana. (one to play the Bauble and two to pop it at some point to get a Mountain).

With mana bases between twenty and twenty four land, today’s mono red decks don’t have much trouble getting to four mana by turn four, but having the fifth mana available for turn five Arc-Slogger plays is the job best suited to one card and one card only. Solemn Simulacrum is always a card you think of as mana acceleration, but he really is. Simulacrum also provides the 2/2 creature you need in the early game against other aggressive decks as a blocker, and believe me, the Simulacrum LOVES to block, die and faithfully deliver ANOTHER card to you. After some decks sideboard in Circle of
Protection: Red against you, Solemn Simulacrum gives you yet another reason to love him.

Another card that I’ve been liking a lot in the red deck is Shock. Good old one mana creature removal. On turn one, you can clear the path for your turn two Slith Firewalker. Shock also lets you destroy your opponent’s turn one or two Slith Firewalker on your first turn as well as ensuring that a green deck’s turn one Birds of Paradise goes directly to the graveyard. Shock may not be good enough for a “Pro Tour” version of the red deck, but I think Shock is EXACTLY the kind of card you need for the field in an unpredictable event like Regionals.

The mono red deck has evolved a lot in the past few months in one important respect, land destruction spells. While full-on land destruction mono red Ponza decks are still entirely respectable, standard mono red decks have been running up to seven or eight main deck land destruction spells in order to help against the all too prevalent Tooth and Nail decks. A month ago and through the DCI Invitational event, the number of land kill spells in mono red decks dropped to a very standard six, always including four Molten Rain and usually joined by two Stone Rains. A lot of people (myself included) have also tried making Sowing Salt the fifth and sixth main deck land destruction cards. Lately, however, in an attempt to be more balanced against a larger field of opposing decks, mono red decks have been falling back to just four Molten Rain cards with any other land destruction effects sitting in reserve in the sideboard. I agree with this, and can even imagine running NO land destruction spells in the main deck in order to pack a few of the higher end damage spells like Pulse of the Forge or Beacon of Destruction.

Sensei’s Divining Top is a very puzzling card to me when it comes to mono red. Everything about the top makes you think about slower strategies, about future card draws. At first glance, it’s hard to imagine filling card slots with Divining Top that COULD be filled with fiery blasts of direct damage and creature elimination effects. Still, the Top must be considered as an important card for any deck that contains a certain number of shuffle or deck manipulation tricks. In mono red, Divining Top finds a good home in builds that include at least eight cards that shuffle your deck. It’s easy to reach this number or more with completely credible mono red deck cards like Wayfarer’s Bauble, Solemn Simulacrum and of course Magma Jet. How many Divining Tops? This would appear to be the Big Question. As a fan of aggressive red decks that play just fine with ZERO Tops, I could imagine the best number to be two or three. Three sounds better to me. I have to say that it has been very fun to use Divining Top to essentially hide a game winning card from black discard players. Against rat decks that empty your hand, the ability to top deck a winner become more and more valuable.
Divining Top helps you do that. Also, only the red mage can truly enjoy the trick of tapping the Top to draw an extra card and then casting Shrapnel Blast sacrificing the tapped Top before it goes to the top of your library.
Techy, fun, and very dangerous to your opponent.

Blinkmoth Nexus is a good card, but I have found that the goals of the mono red deck are better served by paring down the amount of total land played, essentially replacing Nexus with Guardian Idols that are harder to get rid of in the mirror match, accelerate my mana base and provide late game damage much like the Blinkmoth Nexus provides. When you draw a land in today’s mono red decks, it needs to be a Mountain.

MY MONO RED DECK

Arc-Slogger x4
Hearth Kami x3
Slith Firewalker x4
Magma Jet x4
Molten Rain x4
Solemn Simulacrum x4
Seething Song x4
Shock x4
Shrapnel Blast x2
Sensei’s Divining Top x2
Guardian Idol x4
Mountain x21

Sideboarding options are many and varied.

Three or four Sowing Salt will help you shut down the speed of the Tooth and Nail deck, but will not necessarily help you beat that deck any quicker.

Duplicant is a good sideboard choice that gives you a way to get rid of Darksteel Colossus or just about anything else that gets in your way. I think two Duplicants is about the most you would ever realistically sideboard in.

Flamebreak and Pyroclasm are both credible answers to weenie decks or against the most aggressive creature-based red decks. Flamebreak is the preferred answer to green aggressive decks with Troll Ascetics, but Pyroclasm really does most of the same work with an easier to cast card. Of course, it’s not too hard to come up with three red mana in this deck, so you have to imagine you would rather have Flamebreak most of the time, but can use Pyroclasm if, frankly, you have difficulty corralling the rare and hard to find Flamebreak.

Pithing Needle is the red mage’s answer to Circle of Protection: Red.

Culling Scales is another good way to get rid of COP’s, but is not valuable against players using Divining Top.

The Effect of Saviors of Kamigawa

Pithing Needle. That’s about it. There is no doubt that Saviors is going to have more of an impact on constructed play, but for whatever reason, there won’t be many Saviors cards in the winning decks in tomorrow’s Regionals tournaments. The set may simply be too new, or the cards may not be powerful enough compared to the cards from the Mirrodin block where current Standard Constructed play is concerned.

Adamaro, First to Desire seems like a card with real possibilities, particularly against control decks and Tooth and Nail. On the other hand, the usefulness of this card, depending entirely on the number of cards in YOUR OPPONENT’S HAND, is so out of your own control that I doubt it is a good choice for tomorrow’s big tournament.

When to Choose a Rogue Deck Design

There are advantages to playing a deck that ISN’T one of the most popular designs. For one thing, every person you play against won’t know the exact contents of your deck from the first card that you play. In my opinion, there is only ONE other good reason to play a rogue deck, and that would be if it is a deck design that YOU have personally practiced enough times and have been successful against the most popular decks. Even though this entire article has been talking about tweaking only slightly the most popular decklists from the past several months, I want to say that INNOVATION is alive and well. Magic is a great game BECAUSE you can (and should) create your own decks. After all, every popular deck was SOMEBODY’S original concept.

To be successful at Regionals, you have to do three things: have a good deck, play mistake free and get a little lucky. Tomorrow will be the ten year anniversary of the Regionals tournament in the U.S. and I am proud to say that I have played in every one of them. My combined Regionals record is
42-21-2 and NO Nationals qualifications. I went 9-2 last year in a bit of a heartbreakingly long day. Tomorrow I will give it another shot with either Tooth and Nail or Mono Red!

Of course, I would love to know what you think!

Jeff Zandi
Texas Guildmages
Level II DCI Judge
zanman@thoughtcastle.com
Zanman on Magic Online


 

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