American Aggro: NAC Top 8

Feature Article from Brian Smith
Brian Smith
8/28/2006
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Recently I had a chance to play in the North American Challenge, an invitational tournament drawing on some of the better players in the North East of the United States, and placed in the top eight. The deck that got me there was unique in the field, and generated more card advantage then any aggressive deck I have played since affinity. With a deck full of cards that people had to repeatedly ask to read, I was able to take advantage of opponents that had no idea how to respond to the threats represented in the deck.

Before I get to far into talking about the deck, let me go over the tournament. To get Into the North American Challenge you have to qualify at one of several participating stores in the North East. Such well known names like Your Move Games, Neutral Ground, and the host store TJ Collectibles all participate. Living in southern Maine I played at qualifiers at Crossroad Games (my home store) and ended up qualifying at Maiden Games. The event is a $5,000 tournament, with everyone getting something, but almost all the money going to the top eight. This year was the largest NAC in terms of attendance, sporting 117 players playing a diverse field of decks. Of the information I have been able to gather the breakdown of decks was as follows;

117 Players- 25 Different Archtypes
14 Solar Flare
13 Vore
13 Boros
10 B/W Hand/Husk
7 Tron
6 White Wafo-Tapa*
5 Snakes
5 U/R/W Angel
*: I know all the Neutral Ground guys were playing this deck, there may have been others which would bring the number up.

After that the numbers start getting rather small. I personally played against two B/G/W aggro/control decks and I know there were at least a few of the U/G Ninja/Erayo decks as well. I was unaware of these numbers before going into the tournament, but that is approximately the field I prepared for. I had worked hard on making sure I had a good Solar Flare and Vore match up and was also working on my Tron match up. I was surprised by how little Tron there was and how many Boros decks. Lucky for me, the night before the event I did some testing against the Boros match and because of that made some alterations to my sideboard that would come in very handy in a Boros heavy field. I was also a bit surprised at the lack of Heartbeat, with it having a bit of resurgence in the last few weeks at major events.

So what exactly was I playing? At first it looks like White Weenie with a blue and red splash, and I suppose in many ways that's kind of what it is. It's deceiving though because the deck does not play like decks in that tradition. Let's take a look at the deck and I'll try and explain what is so different. Here is the exact build I took to the tournament;

America F! Yeah by Brian Smith
Main Deck
Sideboard
2 Azorius Guildmage
3 Court Hussar
2 Hand of Honor
4 Isamaru, Hound of Konda
1 Meloku the Clouded Mirror
3 Paladin en-Vec
3 Samurai of the Pale Curtain
3 Sky Hussar
3 Weathered Wayfarer
Creatures [24]
1 Char
3 Lightning Helix
1 Odds // Ends
1 Research // Development
3 Shining Shoal
2 Sunforger
3 Umezawa's Jitte
Spells [14]
2 Adarkar Wastes
1 Azorius Chancery
2 Battlefield Forge
1 Boros Garrison
1 Eiganjo Castle
1 Ghost Quarter
4 Hallowed Fountain
1 Minamo, School at Water's Edge
1 Oboro, Palace in the Clouds
2 Plains (290)
1 Quicksand
4 Sacred Foundry
1 Shinka, the Bloodsoaked Keep
Lands [22]
Deck Total [60]


1 Devouring Light
2 Eight-and-a-Half-Tails
1 Flames of the Blood Hand
1 Hide // Seek
1 Kami of Ancient Law
2 Manriki-Gusari
1 Meloku the Clouded Mirror
1 Odds // Ends
1 Paladin en-Vec
2 Pithing Needle
1 Shining Shoal
1 Umezawa's Jitte
Sideboard [15]





Click for full deck stats & notes!


Some people described the deck as a Boros deck splashing blue, but I think it's really closer to one of the French Nationals decks splashing red. The difference is more in the creature density and play style. A Boros deck is highly invested in its opponent's life total, trying to get four power on the table ASAP and then finish off an opponent with its tremendous reach through burn. Boros Decks typically run a 20/20/20 split of creatures/spells/land.

The French Weenie decks on the other hand are more creature heavy and rely more on card draw and search to give them an edge in the mid-game. The Red White and Blue or American Aggro deck relies heavily on the card generating powers of a number of cards in the deck and these search digging engines produce a tremendous amount of gas in the mid and even late game, allowing the deck to go toe to toe with control builds even after the initial onslaught has slowed.

This is normally the section where I list cards and go over their relevance in the deck. Instead I'm going to go over components of the deck as they are illustrated in a particular match. So let's get on to the tournament.

Match 1: ??? – Playing B/W Hand
I usually take very good notes when I play, but due to the heat, crowded conditions and trying to focus on the game at hand, I didn't even manage to get my opponents name written down. First names were not included on the pairings, and I couldn't find this kid later on to get his name. Oh well. Anyway he was playing what appeared to be B/W hand, though he had a few unconventional choices in the deck like main deck Orzhov Pontiff and Hypnotic Specter.

Game 1: Like I said, my notes are a bit poor, but the life totals tell a fairly simple story. I never get hurt and he takes life loss in chunks of four, with what I remember as Isamaru and Hand of Honor. He drops a turn three Hypnotic Specter, but it meets its doom at the wrong end of a Shining Shoal. He lands a Fetters and then plays a Ghost Council, both giving him much needed life. Just as it looks like he may have stabilized the board though I drop a Sunforger, equip on my Paladin I played after the Hand was disabled via Fetters and proceed to win the game the following turn.

Game 2: I side in my Jitte hate (+1 Jitte, +2 Manriki-Gusari) and bring in Mr. Tails as well. Between card search, Azorius Guild Mage and the additional sideboard cards this deck can generate better jitte advantage then any I can think of.

My opponent comes out fighting this game and gets a turn two hand on the table to trump my turn one Weathered Wayfarer….or does it? On my turn I activate wayfarer and get a Quicksand, and put it into play, then pass the turn. At some point he sends the hand into it. I have kept a shaky hand, with only Isamaru as my other critter and a Jitte, Sunforger and Manriki-Gusari in hand. After his Hand eats the Quicksand I play out Isamaru, who gets a Fetters on him. Fetters out of his hand I start dropping equipment. Eventually I have a Weathered Wayfarer with all three pieces of equipment on it who keeps killing anything in its path. The game ends with the swing of a 12/9 Weathered Wayfarer.

Post Game: There isn't much to say here, besides noting that creatures with protection form black are good against B/W especially if they have pump effects. This match, and a few others also highlight how good that single Quicksand is.

Match 2: Kevin – Playing B/W/G Aggro Control
Every tournament I seem to run into this stuff, and I never test for it. I was practicing against a field very similar to the numbers listed above, not for B/W/G a triad of colors I just don't see as high tier at the moment. Despite what I think of the color combination, I do think this stuff is bad for my deck in particular, so I am more then disappointed with this match up. I was hoping for Vore or Tron…oh well.

Game 1: His life total takes up over two columns in my note pad. I get him to 11 and then he is back up to 18. The culprits in the life swing are of course Loxodon Hierarch of whom he sees three of over the course of the game. I on the other hand hit a patch of land in my deck and draw at leat 6-8 in a row. I need to learn to shuffle. Lucky for me despite his crazy board position of a pair of Heirarchs, 2 Shrieking Grotesques and some other random guys I have an Azorius Guildmage who is working over time to keep his side of the table tapped down. I can tell he is as frustrated about not finding removal as I am at drawing land. Just when it looks like he may be able to start over running me and I'm down to five life I pull out a Jitte and begin swinging with a paladin. As his board position Crumbles away he drops a Wrath of God. A Court Hussar follows the wrath and picks up where the paladin left off. A Putrify removes the Jitte but the damage is done. Sky Hussar finishes the game for me.

Game 2: I can't over state how hot it was in this place for this tournament. With sweat pouring covering my hands my card sleeves were starting to stick and my note taking suffers badly. My one note on this game is “Wayfarerà Quicksand = good.” I assume it played some major role but I don't remember. What I do remember is that I keep a hand full of all the perfect early cards but only one land and a Wayfarer. On the draw it's a gamble as he'll have Last Gasp mana before I can tap the Wayfarer to get more land. My gamble pays off as I draw a land on my first pull and then the wayfarer gets put to work. I think he plays a Castigate, and followed it with a Watchwolf. Turn two I do remember getting a Quicksand and playing Isamaru. A paladin hits turn three and the wayfarer grabs a Karoo. With plenty of mana and threats I know I rolled over my opponent much easier than I did in game one. Both Court and Sky Hussar drew me some cards before it was over.

Post Game: At a glance this deck just looks like a janky white aggro deck with some splashes. The deck is extremely consistent though due to the tremendous amount of card draw. Weathered Wayfarer, Sky Hussar, Court Hussar, and Sunforger all draw you cards in some form. When combined over the course of a game this really adds up to high quality threats and a consistent mana base considering three colors and no green. This match really highlighted just how good Weathered Wayfarer really is. Let's take this opportunity to take a closer look at the card;

Mid
Low
 Weathered Wayfarer
$10.04
$8.25
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Flawsome 2 $8.25
Comic Book Depot 2 $8.95
Black Gold 2 $9.00
Sunshine Games 1 $9.00
Moose Loot 1 $9.24
ConlonGames 1 $9.25
EMG Marketplace 1 $9.25

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Weathered Wayfarer: I said it in my last article and I'll stand by it still that Wayfarer is the best one drop currently in standard, and has been horribly underutilized since its release in 9th edition. One mana, and a tap: draw any land in your deck. It thins your deck, smooths your mana, can be land destruction against Legendary Lands, and at worse can be used with Sky Hussar to net you more. Allowing you to really make use of utility land, like Quicksand, proved invaluable to me, and was a key play in four of my matches. Few other one drops can create this kind of card advantage.

Azorius Guildmage: The other card that completely saved me was Azorius Guildmage. Although she would be my undoing before the tournament was done, Kevin repeatedly noted that she was “a very annoying card.” Her and Isamaru held back a pair of Hierarchs and Shrieking Grotesques until help could arrive. Later in the match when we traded some creatures I was afraid he may try to regen a few of them by activating one of the elephants regen effects, but she was able to eliminate that as an option by simply leaving 2U open.

Match 3- Robby – Playing B/W/G Control
I was really hoping for a Vore match up, I could see them al over the place. Shining Shoal, Weathered Wayfarer and Paladin en-Vec are good in that match up I Hear. Nope. I get another B/W/G deck, this one much more control oriented than the last. By turn three he asked me if I was “playing that deck that had been written about on TCGplayer the week before”. The smart answer would be to act confused and say no I'm playing Boros, but pride got the better of me and I confessed to having written the article on said deck and was indeed playing it. Robby told me that he was going to play it as well, but didn't have a chance to get all the cards together for it. Just as well…I wasn't ready for the mirror match.

Game 1: We are sitting at table 4, right next to the comfy seats...but not in them. While the top table got nice cushioned seats it did not get a fan and was by far the hottest part of the entire play area. I win the roll and proceed with an excellent hand that plays a first turn hound. After that it's a bit blurry to me, but the life totals tell the story of a Hound that only connected once before becoming blocked by a Loxodon Hierarch, who sent his life total up to 21. A pair of Samurai block the elephant on the attack. With his side of the table depleting he drops a Wrath of God to clear my Men. Court Hussar lands next turn on my side and finds a Sunforger for me. Sunforger goes to work fetching a Lightning Helix to kill some critter. After playing a Phyrexian Arena he finds a Mortify to kill my Hussar, and I activate the Sunforger in response to the creatures demise. Odds would be the clear choice as if it counters the spell great, but if copied I could kill the Arena. Unfortunately I had already used the ends half earlier in the game and with no more creatures in hand I go looking for the Development half of Research/Development, in order to either create some creatures or net me cards. He chooses to let me draw three, and one is a Paladin en-Vec and, on my draw at the beginning of my next turn I find Meloku. Although he sees a Skeletal Vampire which could have been bad, it is no match for the amount of threats I just found.

Game 2: I mulligan to 6 and keep a decent hand. I start out a little slow with Isamaru and no back up. In my hand is a pair of jitte and a Sunforger. The hound meets his end via Last Gasp and I have equipment but no critters. I get a paladin and prepare to really do some damage. He plays Yosei. Paladin swings past the Dragon and connects. This confirms for me that he must have a wrath in hand. The dragon swings in for five and takes me to ten life, and is followed by a Wrath of God. Following this I draw into a large swath of land, and Robby uses Crime to bring some of my own creatures out against me. A jitte joins the Sunforger on the table without a friend, and in the end I am run down by my own guy.

Game 3: Despite my game two loss I feel confidant, as I would have been fine had I drawn anything but seven straight land. The game gets under way and I am only taking damage from my own land. I play conservatively, letting out one beater at a time and try to get a piece of equipment on it. Eventually I wear him down, and we both are just about out of cards, though I have a Meloku and Sky Hussar in hand. Just when I think I can take control of the table he plays a Phyrexian Arena. Knowing it's now or never I play Meloku to accompany the Jitte on the table. He of coarse pulls removal off the two cards he draws and nails my win condition, though not before I make a triad of flying tokens. It's at this point that time is called and I am just hoping to be able to swing past a few times for the last 14 damage I have to do. On my first turn I equip the jitte and swing in removing two counters for seven damage. I then play a Court Hussar who digs up a Lightning Helix. On his turn he plays a Skeletal Vampire, which would have been a huge problem if not for the new found helix. With the come in to play effect on the stack I bolt the Vampire to make sure he isn't regenerated. The two bat token by themselves are no match for the illusion tokens and a Jitte, and thus I move to 3-0.

Post Game: Multiple times in this match the toolbox of instants the deck supports came in handy. Against a deck with so much removal it's difficult to get Sky Hussar up and running, this makes Sunforger and Court Hussar that much more important. Odds/Ends got played in two games and proved to be a very good main deck card.

Mid
Low
 Research // Development
$0.68
$0.23
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Mom's Basement Games 4 $0.40
Yiz Games 4 $0.49
Multiverse Gaming 1 $0.49
Mind Sculpt Games 3 $0.51
Panzer Games 1 $0.52
Dark Star Games 1 $0.52
Card Monster Games 3 $0.52

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Research/Development: Game one could have gone either way until Development resolved. Casting this card off a Sunforger nets you as many cards as Tidings when your opponent gives you three cards. This is one of my favorite cards in the control match, and I've been pleasantly surprised with its usefulness. Although I didn't use it in this tournament, the research part can really open up your options, should you need them.

Match 4: James – Playing Boros
I think James saw the end of my last match and had an idea what I was playing. Like most people he just assumed I was playing some janky concoction that shouldn't be too difficult.

Game 1: I win the roll and start with Isamaru. He plays a turn two Hand and I bolt it with a Lightning Helix. Creatures continue trading back and forth, with his burn eliminating more of mine, giving him a few more on the table. I however find a Jitte via Court Hussar, though can not get it equipped due to consistent removal from his side. After baiting a few helix's and a Char out of his hand I finally feel that it is safe to drop Meloku, despite having only 2 additional mana open. With a loud sigh, James scoops his side of the table after drawing his next card. Meloku + Jitte = good.

Game 2: He's on the play and I keep what looks like a good hand. His first turn play of Eiganjo Castle and an Isamaru changes this opinion. My three land hand just became a two land hand. I play an Isamaru on my turn to clear the table. He burns my turn 2 Hand and starts beating on me with a Paladin and Hand of his own. I stall on two lands with a Court Hussar and a paladin in my hand, and no Shining Shoals in sight to buy me more time. I scoop when at six life and draw into another non-land card.

Game 3: Being on the play is much better in this match, and I'm feeling confidant about this. I draw into a good hand and start off with a hound again. We trade creatures back and forth a bit, but Court Hussar digs up a Sunforger for me. I don't remember the details but the short of it was that I swing into him for 6 then 7 and then he scoops. Sunforger searched up a Helix at some point to remove a blocker and put myself at a comfortable 17 life going into the home stretch.

Post Game: Game one and three went quite well for me, and I didn't even see my most powerful card for the match in Shining Shoal. Testing had shown that trading early while setting up mana and searching out a jitte or Sunforger was the best strategy in this match up. Both the first two games, even the third to a point he had superior board position due to his increased access to burn. Despite this, the card draw and search capability of the blue splash trumped this by adding a better chance to find Jitte and or other game enders like Meloku and Sunforger. The blue splash ensures more gas to run on, and that in the end is what most often decides an aggro match up.

Mid
Low
 Court Hussar
$0.49
$0.09
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Traveling Merchant 2 $0.09
Noble inc 3 $0.10
White Lion Games 4 $0.11
War Torn Front 1 $0.24
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Court Hussar: I really undervalued this card during Dissensions release, and would go as far to say that it is one of the best cards in the deck. As much as I like the Arbiter, I ended up cutting him in order to fit more of this guy, and I'm glad I did. In both the above games that I won, it was Court Hussar that found the card that swung the game into my favor. Although one damage is rather limited this card is one of the better targets for equipment, with its Vigilance ability. Even Manriki-Gusari turns this guy into a 2/5, which is excellent at holding back some of the larger beaters. With a Sunforger it becomes an offensive force at 4/3, again with the ability to defend on your opponents turn.

Match 5: Josh – Playing Solar Flare
From the aggro match to the Control match I went. This was the match up I had spent the most time testing as I rightly suspected it would be the most popular at the tournament. My decks biggest strength against Solar Flare was that aside from Angel of Despair the deck had no way to destroy equipment. This generally meant that I could drop a guy, equip and swing until he was dealt with, then drop another. With even a little early damage, any of my guys with protection from black could race a dragon if they had Sunforger or Jitte.

Game 1: I'm now at table two and know that a win here means I get to take it easy for the next couple hours if I don't get paired down. I win the roll and miss dropping anything turn one. I make up for it though and play a turn two Hand of Honor. Turn four I play a Jitte and equip to the Hand, and he Wraths it away on his turn. I play Court Hussar and equip the pitchfork of doom. I think He plays something before losing the game, but the short of it is that guys and Jitte do him in.

Game 2: This was a back and forth game that I thought for sure I was going to win. I get out a Hand early and get a Jitte on him. He drops an Angel of Despair to kill my Jitte. Thinking I'm all sneaky I drop a second Jitte and swing past the angel with my Pro Black guy. He then drops a second angel and wipes the smile off my face. I play a Weathered Wayfarer and he drops Miren, the Moaning Well. Due to all the life I gained from the Jitte counters the ten damage he swings for doesn't hurt as much as you'd think. On my next turn I tutor up a Ghost Quarter to kill the problematic land. He takes a minute looking over our life totals and decides to sacrifice one of the angels. The other angel eats a Devouring Light on the attack step which prompts a Wrath of God from his second main phase. I answer on my next turn with Meloku, but only get to make three tokens in response to a main phase Mortify. Isamaru and a wayfarer join the tokens and Sky Hussar begins working overtime to find some game breaking card. An opposing Court Hussar and Yosei are keeping my men at bay. I find some more beaters, but he finds Meloku who trumps them. Despite being at 22 life, it's a short few swings for Meloku and his flying army to put me away.

Game 3: With only ten minutes left in the round we are scrambling a bit to get to game three. I don't remember much at all about the early part of the game except that he gets Descendant of Kiyomaro on the table and with the same number of cards as me tries to cast Compulsive Research to get ahead. I counter with Odds, and get a copy of the spell, leaving me even with him and keeping the descendant tiny. I also pull into a Sunforger and put it on the table. Every creature I try to attach it to gets either mortified or wrathed away. With his cards dwindling I drop Eight-and-a-Half Tails onto the table. I'm at ten life he has eighteen, and time is called. Finishing his turn he plays Angel of Despair, targets the Sunforger and I make it Protection from White. End of turn I hard cast Flames of the Blood Hand, dropping him to 14. My turn I draw a Char, equip the Sunforger to Mr. Tails, make him protection from White and swing past the Angel of Despair to put him at 8. Something happens where the angel gets chumped or doesn't attack, and I finish the turn with a Sunforger activation to tutor up a Helix to his head, putting him at 5. On turn three of time a pro white Mr. Tails swings for the win.

Post Game: Josh would later comment to me that it took him a bit to realize that in this match up he was often the beat down. He noted how when in game two Sky Hussar went into card drawing mode, he had to get in damage ASAP as he would quickly lose out on card advantage. The Meloku he pulled certainly saved him that game, but the almost reckless creation of tokens was done to put me on as short a clock as possible before I could find an answer. This was an important observation I thought as it put the notion of the traditional aggro vs. control match up on its head. In many ways I feel that the deck I played is a control deck that masquerades as a weenie deck.

Mid
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 Eight-and-a-Half-Tails
$3.00
$0.87
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Crazy Squirrel Games 2 $1.33
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Again my creatures with protection offer the big damage in the match. In game one it was a Hand with a Jitte and in game three it was Eight-and-a-Half-Tails with a Sunforger. Tails was particularly deadly in that match, as he could protect the Sunforger from destruction as well as himself. Earlier Paladins and Hands had demanded Wrath of God, so by the time Mr. Tails was on the table he essentially handed me the game. This combination of hard to remove creatures, and overpowering equipment give the deck finishers that are very efficient. Combine this with the card draw part of the deck and you can be sure that they come together often.

Match 6-7: Intentional Draw
Being one of three people still undefeated at the end of five rounds I find myself ranked number two and am able to intentionally draw with my other undefeated opponent. The way the chips fell, everyone with 17+ points would make it into the top eight, this would include four undefeated players and four players with a single loss. It's nice at least that no one missed out on bad tie-breakers alone.

In the undefeated pack of four three of us were from Maine, which I thought was a very strong showing. You never know how strong your local game is unless you put your guys up against the outside world, and we had three in the top eight and half of us made the top sixteen. Considering the caliber of the competition I thought this was something to be proud of.

Top 8 – Not what you Might Expect
The deck lists that made up the top eight are not exactly what you might have expected. Only a single Solar Flare deck made the top eight, and no B/W. Only a single Vore deck did, and regardless of how good a player he was, his chances against the rest of the top eight looked rather poor. Considering the deck split I mentioned at the beginning of the article I found that somewhat surprising. The rest of the decks were ones that few people were playing, and in no particular order looked like this;

Very Burn Centered Boros
U/G Graft Beats
Zoo
WW/r/u
U/G Ninja Erayo
Magnivore
U/G/W Control
Solar Flare

This was for the most part quite a departure from the make up of most of the field. I knew I would not be paired up against Zoo, burn or Graft for round one, as those were the other undefeated slots. I was hoping for Vore, though I would be happy with Solar Flare. I had no clue how the Erayo/Ninja match was, and I wasn't real keen on the U/W/G control match up, though I figured I had a much better shot at it then the other creature decks like Zoo.

Quarterfinals – Ben Lundquist playing U/G Ninja Erayo
I get paired up against Lundquist who is fresh off a second place finish at Nationals. Before we get started we get a chance to look over each others deck lists. While I know this is rather standard and quite fair, it does take a bit of the surprise factor out of a few of my more unconventional choices. Cards Like Odds/Ends are much better when the opponent has no idea they are coming. His list looks very similar to the one Max Bracht ran at German Nationals. There is however a sideboard card that I cant quite read that looks like Shuriken. I ask Ben if this is in fact the card name listed and he confirms. Looking at his sideboard I can see that the deck transforms into a ninja control deck that will most likely side Erayo out for game two or three. Carven Caryatid, Threads of Disloyalty and Shuriken all look bad for me. That said, I think I should be able to do some damage game one, and I hope I can eek out game two or three.

Game 1: I win the roll (very clutch) and curve out about as perfectly as one can. Turn one Isamaru, turn two Hand, turn three Paladin. It's backed up Court Hussar and Helix's. Ben notes that this was a rather good draw on my part and I agree. Soon after we move to game two.

Game 2: I know that now it's going to be a much harder match, as not only does he have lots of hate for me, but going second is a bit tougher when dealing with ninjas. I side some of my utility instants in order to bring in Kami of Ancient Law, Hide/Seek Manriki-Gusari and Pithing Needles. I get a turn one Hound, and he steals it via a Threads of Disloyalty. I play a Hand of Honor, and it too gets stolen via Threads. I try to kill a Threads with Hide/Seek and it meets a Disrupting Shoal. I draw into an Azorius Guildmage to stem the bleeding. He draws a card on his turn and the smirk from Mike Flores standing behind him tells me it's bad for me….yeah his third Threads of Disloyalty nets him another of my guys. Bathe in Light would have been good right then, but oh well. On to game three.

Game 3: Despite the disappointing outcome of this game I enjoyed this game very much, as Ben had some excellent plays, and I think I held my own through most of the game. Win or lose this was an exciting game to play I thought. It starts out looking good for me despite a mulligan, with Weathered Wayfarer, and followed by a turn two Pithing Needle naming Ninja of the Deep Hours. He fails to drop a third land and I get a Paladin on the table, but he stops the assault with a Carven Caryatid. I play a Court Hussar and start developing my land base as I have a pair of Sunforgers and a Sky Hussar in hand. I'm fairly confidant that if I can gum up the board a bit I can Overwhelm him with those two cards. The turn before I am about to play Sunforger he drops Shuriken, and proceeds to kill my Paladin and Isamaru. The fact that he left my Azorius Guildmage alone meant he had a Threads for it. Had I not put my own Guildmage on the table so he could steal it via threads, I think I could have pulled out this game, as Sunforger on any of the Court Hussars would have been enough advantage that I could pull it out. Instead my own guildmage neuters many of the cards I had been relying on, namely Sunforger and a Quicksand that my Wayfarer had dug up.

Using Higure the Still Wind to make his Ninja's unblockable. I am rather powerless to stop the ninja assault. With my life down to a precious 4, I see an opening to a possible come back. An end of turn Sunforger activation is countered and leaves him with only two mana available, though I have to tap a pain land to do so and bring myself to three. During my turn I play out numerous scenarios in my head and all end up with me dead next turn. I tap two wayfarers to draw a card off the Hussar, hoping to find my second Pithing Needle to name Higure or a Lightning Helix. Neither materialize and after some consideration I equip the Sunforger to Court Hussar, attack into a Carven Caryatid and then Helix the stolen guildmage. With my Quicksand now freed up I am able to kill one of the Ninja of the Deep Hours and only Higure, and another Deep Hours connects with me. Had Ben Remembered he had Okina, Temple to the Grandfathers in play he could have killed me right then , but I sigh in relief when he says five damage, leaving me at one. He passes the turn and again I tap the wayfarers to draw an additional card, but no luck. He's been attacking with his Birds of Paradise knowing I have Ends in my deck, so I know I can't rely on that.

I equip the Sunforger again, and pass the turn. My only options are gain five life via Seek removing a Higure from his deck, or a Lightning Helix to a Deep Hours. Both plays end up life neutral, so on his attack step I remove the Sunforger to get a Helix, brining me up to a precious four life. He plays Ninja f the deep hours off a bird of paradise (the old Pithing Needle had long ago been bounced and then Disrupting Shoaled) to do five damage. Oh well.

Post Game: I couldn't be unhappy with this really. Sure it was disappointing to lose, but I felt I played well, and Ben in the end outplayed me. I don't mind losing that way so much. I think my largest misplays were not in the game so much as in the sideboarding I did. I took out the Shoals, which was a bad idea in retrospect, as they can deny the ninja's their card draw and act as removal for unblocked critters. With so few creatures capable of attacking in his deck, and considering the transformational nature of his deck I should almost have swapped to more of a control oriented build and maxed out my creature removal. All in all I feel the deck held up well, as it was in the end my own Guildmage that doomed me.

DECKID=13951

Although it didn't pan through for me, Sky Hussar proved how valuable he could be. Had he dug into a vital card and saved me via Pithing Needle or another Guildmage, I would be writing instead about how this card won me the match. By the end of the game, Sky Hussar had drawn me more cards than a Tidings, and for no mana and just a few tapped Wayfarers that couldn't block, this seems rather good. Sunforger also almost gives me hope in the end, and what this all means is that Ben overcame a lot of card advantage on my side of the board.

In the end Ben would go on to win his Semi-Final match and then beat Brian Lynch and his U/W/G Control deck to win the NAC.

Post Tournament Thoughts on the Deck
So far in sanctioned play this deck has gone 11-1 for me, so I'm fairly happy with it. Still it has to be tuned a bit more. The card I was really unimpressed by was Samurai of the Pale Curtain. While it's great to be able to stop kamigawa Dragon effects, opponents generally will just wait until they kill the pest and then drop the dragons. The deck does well enough against Husk that I don't need the added bonus of Pale Curtain. I did learn that creatures with protection are critical, and that Azorius Guildmage can win entire games herself. Thus I have adjusted the deck to -3 Pale Curtain, +2 Hand of Honor, +1 Azorius Guildmage. I still really want to Squeeze one more Lightning Helix in the main deck, but can't find a spot (though I suspect I will soon). There also needs to be a better way to deal with artifacts and enchantments, and either another Hide/Seek or Kami of Ancient Law should work its way into the board.

Coldsnap
Coldsnap became legal while I was driving home from the tournament. In all I'm not sure the set will add much to this deck. The most important potential addition is most likely White Shield Crusader. Just because the Hand can square off against other ground pounders and come out on top, I will most likely stick with them until rotation. Another option I will be heavily testing in the Sideboard is Jotun Grunt.

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While not something you generally want to slap down on turn two, he seems like he'd be really good against Magnivore and any other deck that plays lots of spells or spells from the graveyard. You can also use his upkeep “cost” to Recycle any instants back into your deck for Sunforger to reuse. Currently white without black has very little graveyard hate or manipulation. The grunt is an option to keep an eye on.

In the way of instants I don't see anything particularly interesting. Vanish into Memory has potential as a one of utility card for the deck, but I honestly think there are better options. The other card that seems like it would combo well with Meloku and Weathered Wayfarer is Lightning Storm. Still with the double red in the casting cost and the bizarre effect the spell feels quite clunky.

Final Thoughts

I think this deck will continue to be competitive in the Coldsnap Standard environment, as I don't see any very large changes taking place. While Time Spiral could certainly upturn the entire format, this deck does not lose much from the rotation. Those of you trying to put a deck together a deck who do not want to use Kamigawa cards could substitute Savanah Lions for Isamaru, White Shield Crusaders for Hand of Honor, and the Shoals with another Lightning Helix and more burn/utility instants. I also suspect that since Ravnica was so weak in the white two drops (mostly due to Kamigawas strength in that area) that Time Spiral will be offering us at least a few very good small white critters.

In the end I had a great time at a very exciting tournament. Thanks to T.J. Collectibles for a great event, and thanks to the staff that made it run so smoothly. Of all the decks I have put together from my own little brain this is my favorite to date, and I am 100% convinced it has potential. It has a solid match up against decks as diverse as Magnivore, Boros, Solar Flare and Tron. Not many decks can make that claim, and I have yet to get into a match that felt un-winnable. It is versatile and adaptive to the deck you are playing against, giving you plenty of options. Sometimes those options are all we need, just some additional space to squeak past your opponents plan and end a game on your terms.

-Brian Smith



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