Battle of the Sets VIII: Introduction Part 2



Welcome to the second part of this introduction to Battle of the Sets VIII! For a reminder of what I've covered so far, visit here.

Last time, Apocalypse had just thrown its rather significant weight into the ring. Let's see if Odyssey can match up to it.

OdysseyMagic OnlineOCTGN2ApprenticeBuy These Cards
4 Upheaval
4 Standstill
4 Aether Burst
4 Careful Study
4 Roar of the Wurm
4 Call of the Herd
4 Wild Mongrel
4 Werebear
4 Nimble Mongoose

1 Tarnished Citadel
11 Island
12 Forest


Odyssey:

Overview: Odyssey, up until Battle of the Sets 7, was running a UB Tog deck, which used an abundant supply of creature-kill, card drawing and, of course, the fearsome Dr. Teeth to defeat opponents. Unfortunately, this list had a poor game against other control decks due to it's lack of good countermagic and its inability to deal with non-creature permanents outside of Upheaval. The deck was changed for the beginning of BotS 7 into a UG Threshold/Tempo decklist which seeks to win the game before an opponent can stabilize, and outlast an opponent's removal with card advantage and great size to casting-cost ratios. Oddysey has a great number of superb creatures to take over Tog's spot, featuring the best 2-drop in all of magic, a 3/3 untargetable for G, a creature with the right to BEAR ARMS, Roar of the Wurm and of course, lots and lots of Elephants. Odyssey backs up this excellent group of green creatures with some blue trickery like Standstill, Careful Study's ability to make a turn 3 Wurm a possibility, Aether Burst's incredible tempo boost and a reset button in Upheaval. Upheaval is especially nasty when you can cast it, drop a forest and lay down an untargetable 3/3 for a single green mana. It's Upheaval that gives this deck more reach, because even if the game isn't going Odyssey's way, it can stabilize the board by bouncing all permanents, and sending things back to the beginning where it's threats are the cheapest and the best. With these tools, Odyssey is a very tough deck to beat.

Power Cards: Wild Mongrel, Standstill, Werebear and Upheaval

Weaknesses: All of the green creatures that Odyssey has at its disposal are top notch and some are very difficult to deal with, but a lot of the time, other decks are playing on a level that is above beating down with green creatures, like Visions, Tempest or Darksteel.

Grade: A-

TormentMagic OnlineOCTGN2ApprenticeBuy These Cards
4 Laquatus's Champion
4 Mind Sludge
4 Shambling Swarm
4 Faceless Butcher
4 Rancid Earth
4 Nantuko Shade
4 Mesmeric Fiend
4 Chainer's Edict
2 Mutilate

3 Cabal Coffers
23 Swamp





Torment:

Overview: Simply put, Torment is a dark-hearted monster, a ruthless competitor with the second best of the best win/loss ratios in BotS history, only behind Antiquities in this category. For example, Torment recently pitched a perfect game against an overmatched Urza's Destiny, meaning that Destiny was unable to deal even a single point of damage to Torment in a brutal clean sweep, and Destiny is no slouch. The heart of the Torment deck is a concept based on getting lots of mileage out of each card in the deck, where Nightmare creatures, Chainer's Edict, Shambling Swarm and Mind Sludge allow Torment to beat other decks on a card-for-card basis, and unless decks find a way to make up for this card disadvantage, Torment will eventually emerge victorious. Torment not only supplies the stifling defence required to beat aggressive opponents, it also has the disruptive tools with which to best more controlling decks, utilizing Mesmeric Fiends and Rancid Earth to stunt early development and follow up with the devastating gut punch of Mind Sludge, which often eradicates an opponent's entire hand. If these cards don't force concessions, Torment relies on the absurd Nantuko Shade and the king of evil himself, Laquatus's Champion, to close out closer games. Champion, while not making a huge splash in any constructed formats, is incredibly dominant in Battle of the Sets. Many sets simply cannot deal with a high power creature with regeneration and the life-swinging comes-into-play effect.

Power Cards: Laquatus's Champion, Faceless Butcher, Mind Sludge and Nantuko Shade

Weaknesses: Not much. Torment's game is consistant, and can shut the door quickly on lots of decks, both aggro and control. However, there are some worse, but winnable matchups, and most are due to dead cards in the Torment deck. Of the 3 creatureless decks in the format, all three have a good chance of knocking off Torment, due to the uselessness of Chainer's Edict and Faceless Butcher as well as a lack of speed in Torment's strategy gives these decks more of a chance to sidestep Torment's disruption and either lock the game up or combo out.

Grade: A+


JudgmentMagic OnlineOCTGN2ApprenticeBuy These Cards
4 Glory
4 Battle Screech
3 Commander Eesha
4 Anurid Brushhopper
4 Elephant Guide
4 Ray of Revelation
4 Phantom Nomad
4 Suntail Hawk
4 Spurnmage Advocate

10 Forest
15 Plains


Judgement:

Overview: Ahhh, the plucky, zany GW Judgment deck that everybody seems to love. And what's not to love? Judgment is a strong, reasonably fast aggro deck with a lot of effective tools with which to do in opponents. The deck curves out with Suntail Hawk and Spurnmage Advocate, then Phantom Nomad, followed by Anurid Brushopper and from there it has lots of options: perhaps enchanting a creature with Elephant Guide or casting and flashing back a Battle Screech. Even with all of the tricks available to it, the basic idea behind the Judgment deck remains the same: beat face. The two tricks up Judgment’s sleeves are Ray of Revelation and Glory. Ray of Revelation, while dead in some matches, is a gem in others, because often, enchantments are a key part of an opponent's strategy, one that the deck would not normally expect other decks to be able to remove very easily. For example, it was instrumental in Judgment’s victory over Onslaught in the last tournament and is why Judgment almost cannot lose to Visions. Glory on the other hand is useful because it prevents creatures from being removed, allows a creature to survive a chump block and creates alpha strikes that can't be stopped. Glory can be activated either by discarding it through Brushopper, or casting it, and allowing it to be removed. Apart from these tricks Judgment is a pretty simple deck; drop threats early and often, and beat an opponent with a combination of evasion and big bodies.

Power Cards: Battle Screech, Anurid Brushopper, Glory and Ray of Revelation

Weaknesses: Judgment’s gameplan is similar to Oddysey's gameplan, but with several different aspects. Both have a good curve, both are classified as midgame control decks that attempt to beat an opponent with a combination of speed, inevitability and tricks, and both are vulnerable to the same types of strategy give or take a few matchups. I'll basically say that Judgment is a matchup deck, where if its disruption isn't effective, and its threats aren't substantive, it's going to lose.

Grade: B

OnslaughtMagic OnlineOCTGN2ApprenticeBuy These Cards
4 Exalted Angel
4 Akroma's Vengeance
4 Astral Slide
4 Akroma's Blessing
4 Renewed Faith
4 Starstorm
4 Lightning Rift
4 Shock

4 Secluded Steppe
4 Forgotten Cave
8 Mountain
12 Plains





Onslaught:

Overview: Onslaught is Battle of the Set's premier control deck. The cycling mechanic was pushed, and as a result Onslaught received the framework for an extremely effective aggro killing machine. The deck is based upon the strength of 3 cards: Lightning Rift, Exalted Angel and Astral Slide. These three cards are effective at shutting down an opponent's attack, and all three have certain strengths and weaknesses: Lightning Rift excels in removing small threats, as well as being a difficult to remove win condition, Astral Slide deals with the larger creatures and gets rid of both creature enchantments and creature tokens and Exalted Angel is a superb evasive win condition, which prevents an aggressive opponent from winning a damage race. On top of these three key cards are the 8 board sweepers that Onslaught employs. Starstorm affords Onslaught the ability to kill most creatures at instant speed, and Akroma's Vengeance is a way of ridding the board of every troublesome non-land permanent, and both cycle to boot! These 8 cards are instrumental in making aggressive opponents wary of overextending their resources onto the board, and when Onslaught isn't pressured as much by aggressive decks, the three main components of Onslaught's deck are able to work effectively and simply take over the game.

Power Cards: Lightning Rift, Exalted Angel, Astral Slide and Akroma's Vengeance

Weaknesses: Other control decks and lock decks can give Onslaught a hard time, because it's clock is usually pretty slow, and it has so many cards devoted to killing and dealing with creatures that it doesn't have much in the way of dedicated anti-control cards. Also, as Judgment showed in the previous tournament, if you can get rid of Lightning Rift and Astral Slide, you have a pretty good chance of stopping the Onslaught.

Grade: A


LegionsMagic OnlineOCTGN2ApprenticeBuy These Cards
4 Clickslither
4 Goblin Goon
4 Gempalm Incinerator
4 Unstable Hulk
4 Skirk Marauder
4 Skirk Drill Sergeant
4 Goblin Lookout
4 Goblin Grappler
4 Warbreak Trumpeter

24 Mountain


Legions:

Overview: Oh poor Legions! One of the most universally despised sets in all of Magic, Legions is also the first set ever to be completely comprised of creatures. As a deck, Legions is a pretty straightforward goblin beats deck. It uses this smelly tribe of green men to overwhelm an opponent through the attack phase, using creatures with built-in tricks to reduce an opponent's life to zero. Even though many people like to hate on Legions as a poor set, the fact that it is all creatures gives Legions a fantastic curve and plenty of average to good creatures that work well together. Another advantage that Legions has over opponents is the fact that it is one of the only pure aggro decks in the whole format, meaning that if an opponent is only expecting a couple of creatures, Legions shows up with a horde and stomps your face in. Legions also has some mid to late game finishers in Goblin Goon, Warbreak Trumpeter's morph ability and the fantastic Clickslither which can quickly snatch victory away from an opponent that thinks they have stabilized.

Power Cards: Goblin Goon, Clickslither and Gempalm Incinerator

Weaknesses: Mass removal and decks designed to punish aggro decks are Legions' biggest problems. Legions also has 0 disruption, which means it has to race against decks that have solutions to lots of red men.

Grade: C

ScourgeMagic OnlineOCTGN2ApprenticeBuy These Cards
4 Eternal Dragon
4 Guilty Conscience
4 Gilded Light
4 Dawn Elemental
4 Decree of Justice
4 Wing Shards
4 Wipe Clean
4 Silver Knight
1 Noble Templar

4 Temple of the False God
23 Plains





Scourge:

Overview: For some reason, everyone hates the color White in magic. Personally, it's my favourite color of all time, and control is my favourite archetype, so do the math, and you'll figure out that this is one of my favourite decks. Personal affinity for the deck aside, Scourge's Mono-White Control deck is very much like Legacy's "Rabid Wombat", in that it runs lots of cantrips and creature removal coupled with 2 of the greatest control finishers that have ever been printed: Eternal Dragon and Decree of Justice. In essence, Scourge is really, really, really slow and compensates for this by running Silver Knight, Guilty Conscience, Wing Shards and Dawn Elemental, which all slow down fast aggro decks enough so that it can hit the late game.

During the midgame, Scourge is busily cycling cards and thinning the deck of plains and accumulating as many Decrees and Dragons as possible, so that when the late game hits it can start uncorking gigantic Decrees and recurring and casting Eternal Dragons. Scourge has a pretty good game against both aggro and control, due to the fact that it has some good early game buffers to stop aggro, coupled with win conditions that are almost impossible to deal with against control. It's also shockingly consistant, due to the fact that it runs 27 lands as well as 5 plainscyclers and 12 cycling spells. Scourge also has some utility as well, like Wipe Clean to deal with annoying enchantments and Gilded Light to protect itself from burn, discard and other targetted spells or abilities.

Power Cards: Wing Shards, Silver Knight, Decree of Justice and Eternal Dragon

Weaknesses: As a mid tier deck, Scourge has some problems dealing with some of the better decks in the tournament, which usually have a way of getting around either Scourge's win conditions or it's control elements. Scourge is a bit of a bottom feeder, where it smokes decks at the bottom half of the tournament, but starts sucking when its removal or win conditions can be played around.

Grade: B


MirrodinMagic OnlineOCTGN2ApprenticeBuy These Cards
4 Somber Hoverguard
4 Atog
4 Disciple of the Vault
4 Myr Enforcer
4 Frogmite
4 Ornithopter
4 Thoughtcast
4 Shrapnel Blast
4 Bonesplitter
4 Chromatic Sphere
2 Welding Jar

4 Glimmervoid
4 Seat of the Synod
4 Great Furnace
4 Vault of Whispers
1 Ancient Den
1 Tree of Tales


Mirrodin:

Overview: Mirrodin is the fastest deck in BotS. Period. Its Affinity deck can get starts so broken that it becomes almost impossible to stop, curving out with first turn Frogmites followed by second turn Somber Hoverguard, and dropping Enforcers on the third turn. Not to mention its faster aggro starts, Mirrodin can also get hands that make it incredibly hard to beat over the long term, and those cards include Atog, Disciple of the Vault, Shrapnel Blast and Thoughtcast. These cards give Mirrodin the reach and cheap card advantage that can overwhelm even an opponent that was able to stabilize the board, which gives it another dimension that makes it one of the premier decks in the format. Much like Antiquities, the true power of Mirrodin lies in its lands, where for the purposes of Affinity, each artifact land creates 2 mana, sacrifices to Atog and fuels Disciple. Along with other low-costing artifacts, these lands allow Mirrodin to drop its Affinity threats on the cheap.

Power Cards: Frogmite, Disciple of the Vault, Atog and Myr Enforcer

Weaknesses: Mirrodin runs a 3 color deck on a small and unstable manabase. Chromatic Sphere and Glimmervoid help with this a bit, but Mirrodin can be the victim of mana screw and color screw a good percentage of the time, leading to mulligans. Another thing that Mirrodin is vulnerable to is cheap artifact destruction and mass artifact destruction, both of which can irreparably harm Mirrodin's mana base and creatures.

Grade: A+

DarksteelMagic OnlineOCTGN2ApprenticeBuy These Cards
4 Aether Vial
4 Arcbound Crusher
4 Arcbound Stinger
4 Arcbound Slith
4 Arcbound Ravager
4 Arcbound Worker
4 Myr Moonvessel
4 Genesis Chamber
4 Skullclamp
2 Sword of Fire and Ice

4 Darksteel Citadel
4 Blinkmoth Nexus
14 Island




Darksteel:

Overview: Much like its block brother Mirrodin, Darksteel is a quick, powerful and aggressive artifact-based aggro deck. Also like Mirrodin, Darksteel relies on lethal synergy and broken, undercosted effects to get the job done. However, where Affinity's strengths are in the short term, Darksteel is like an avalanche, where it only picks up steam through the midgame until it becomes virtually unstoppable in the late game. Modular allows Darksteel to keep a constant and increasing amount of power and toughness on the board even in the face of creature removal, and the other cards in the deck are focused around making the Modular beasts better.

In Darksteel, Skullclamp is at its broken best, drawing through Darksteel's deck quickly, and ramping up card advantage. Aether Vial is a very strong tempo card, which accelerates the deck immensely, while Genesis Chamber is syngergistic not only with Skullclamp, but also with the creature density of the deck and has the ability to make Arcbound Crusher and Ravager grow to insane proportions. Lastly, Sword of Fire and Ice makes any creature in the whole deck a potent threat and affords Darksteel the ability to remove nonblocking creatures.

Power Cards: Skullclamp, Arcbound Ravager, Genesis Chamber and Arcbound Crusher

Weaknesses: Darksteel has a focused and incredibly redundant plan of attack, but unfortunately this is also one of it's weaknesses. Darksteel is beaten by decks that can stop it's one plan attack, as the all-artifact deck has no way of stopping other decks from shutting down the attack phase, like Tempest, Champions of Kamigawa, Visions or Exodus' lock decks. Darksteel hopes that Aether Vial will increase the speed at which it can kill it's opponents, but it will still be difficult battling an opponent that can shut down the attack phase effectively.

Grade: A+


Fifth DawnMagic OnlineOCTGN2ApprenticeBuy These Cards
4 Engineered Explosives
4 Pentad Prism
4 Wayfarer's Bauble
4 Etched Oracle
4 Bringer of the Green Dawn
3 Bringer of the Blue Dawn
4 Channel the Suns
4 Eternal Witness
4 Joiner Adept
1 Rude Awakening

3 Swamp
3 Mountain
3 Plains
3 Island
12 Forest


Fifth Dawn:

Overview: Even though Fifth Dawn has a very good deck, it still looks up to its older block brothers with envy. 5D, as the cool kids say, functions much like a reanimator deck does in that it has a redundant A + B strategy, where one part of the deck are enablers an the other part are the face smashers. And much like Reanimator decks, Fifth Dawn crushes lesser aggro decks beneath its spurred cowboy boot, due to it being able to put gigantic dudes in play way earlier than an aggro deck could reasonably be able to deal with them. For example, 5D has the ability to cast turn 3 Bringers in two different ways. First is Wayfarer's Bauble, Channel the Suns + a Bringer and the other is 3 different lands, Pentad Prism + a Bringer. That's the main strategy of Fifth Dawn, but it does have other options should opposing decks be able to deal with the Bringers. These 3 options consist of Etched Oracle, Eternal Witness and Engineered Explosives. Oracle is a super-efficiently costed creature with the ability to instantly transform into 3 cards, Eternal Witness allows you to get back any of the goodies that managed to end up in the graveyard while beating face and Engineered Explosives is the catch-all solution to permanents that an opponent may play that have a CC under 6 mana. The last option should things go seriously awry for Fifth Dawn is Rude Awakening, which should instantaneously win the game if it manages to resolve later on in the game. Plan "A" and plan "B" fit together quite seamlessly, and make for a fun, straightforward deck.

Power cards: The Bringers, Eternal Witness, Engineered Explosives and Etched Oracle

Weaknesses: Decks that are adept at handling creatures aren't a very good matchup for 5D, because if a deck can handle an early big creature suddenly all of the setup cards in Fifth Dawn's deck become relatively useless. Plan B helps to remedy this a little bit, but sometimes it can only help out so much before the other deck does things that makes 5D cry, like Torment resolving a Laquatus's Champion, Darksteel going bonkers or Onslaught dropping an Exalted Angel.

Grade: B+

Champions of KamigawaMagic OnlineOCTGN2ApprenticeBuy These Cards
3 Meloku the Clouded Mirror
4 Hana Kami
4 Kodama's Reach
4 Sakura-Tribe Elder
1 Wear Away
1 Joyous Respite
4 Sensei’s Diving Top
3 Eerie Procession
3 Gifts Ungiven
1 Cranial Extraction
4 Rend Flesh
1 Hideous Laughter
1 Ethereal Haze
2 Soulless Revival

2 Plains
4 Swamp
8 Island
10 Forest



Champions of Kamigawa:

Overview: Champions, the first set of the Kamigawa block has far and away the best deck out of any of the Kamigawa sets. Champions is the only 4 color control deck in the whole tournament and uses Sakura Tribe-Elder and Kodama's Reach to support this wide array of colors. Champs has a whole toolbox of cards devoted to shutting down aggressive and control minded decks alike, using Gifts Ungiven, Eerie Procession and Sensei's Divining Top to locate key cards. Gifts is probably the most powerful out of any of the cards in Champions, because it has the ability to find and recur any of the arcane spells in the whole deck by choosing Eerie Procession, Hana Kami, Soulless Revival, and the arcane card that you want, there is no way for an opponent to choose an option that would not give you an infinitely recurring arcane spell of your choice, because Procession can find the other Soulless Revival in the deck to recur Kami. One of the most brutal things that Champions can do is recur Etheral Haze, which is referred to as "Hazelock", where it can indefinitely recur Etheral Haze during an opponent's turn and win via Meloku. Many decks simply do not have an answer to this strategy, because there are no permanents involved in the exchange that can be killed to break the lock, unlike every other lock deck in the tourney.

The utility cards that Champions can find, recur and use during the game are: Cranial Extraction, which excels at beating other control decks, Wear Away, which is a virtually uncounterable way of removing artifacts and enchantments, Joyous Respite, which puts life totals out of reach for aggro decks that are able to get around hazelock and Hideous Laughter, which can be a Wrath of God against some of the decks in Battle of the Sets. Lastly, Rend Flesh is a less narrow Dark Banishing, except against regenerators and spirits.

Power cards: Gifts Ungiven, Meloku, Sensei's Divining Top and Hana Kami

Weaknesses: Against many of the decks in Battle of the Sets, the game becomes a race to Hazelock, because most of the decks can't stop that when it starts to work at 6 mana. Many decks can race the lock efficiently, or can use countermagic, discard or land destruction to prevent the lock from happening, which is what Antiquities did in the last tournament to win against Champs. Also, decks that can deal damage around Hazelock have a better chance of winning before Joyous Respite or Cranial Extraction can take that piece of the puzzle away. Kamigawa is very good at beating opposing control decks, because it has the ability to recur all of the most important cards in that particular matchup, so the best approach for beating Champs is to get it over with before it has the chance to stabilize.

Grade: A

Betrayers of KamigawaMagic OnlineOCTGN2ApprenticeBuy These Cards
2 Patron of the Kitsune
4 Final Judgment
4 Terashi's Grasp
4 Genju of the Fields
4 Three Tragedies
4 Yukora the Prisoner
4 Eradicate
4 Horobi's Whisper
4 Sickening Shoal

10 Plains
16 Swamp


Betrayers of Kamigawa:

Overview: Betrayers was a set that was extremely hard to design a deck for, due to its apparent lack of depth in any one color, and the low quality of creatures all around. The second factor turned what seemed to be a given i.e. building a deck around Umezawa's Jitte, into a frustrating and poor decision. Settling on WB, Legend and I came to the decision that this deck should just give a big middle finger to all of the aggro decks in the format. This deck is absolutely filled to the brim with cards that punish aggressive strategies, like a whopping 12 spot removal spells, the fantastic Genju of the Fields with it's ability to stack life gain triggers to gain immense amounts of life, a 4 mana 5/5 with virtually no drawback, Patron of the Kitsune and the powerful Final Judgment. An interesting interaction is the synergy between Three Tragedies and Final Judgment, where one punishes an aggro deck from holding it's creatures back in it's hand, and the other punishes an opponent for putting those creatures into play, making it a lose/lose scenario any way you slice it. The deck also runs a full 26 lands, which means that it is consistent at hitting land drops, and suffers from relatively little manascrew. The last ace up Betrayers' sleeve is Terashi's Grasp, which not only gives Betrayers another way of gaining life, it also gives Betrayers a way of dealing with every non-land permanent that an opponent can put on the board.

Power cards: Genju of the Feilds, Yukora the Prisoner, Final Judgment and Three Tragedies

Weaknesses: Though Betrayers has a polished game against most aggressive decks in the tournament, against other control decks it starts to suck pretty badly. Suddenly running a deck filled with ways to deal with aggro decks doesn't seem like that great a strategy, especially when an opponent's gameplan is to win without the use of creatures. Terashi's Grasp and Three Tragedies gives Betrayers a glimmer of hope in such matchups, but most of the time, it is forced to play the beatdown, which is a role that it doesn't like playing.

Grade: C+

Saviours of KamigawaMagic OnlineOCTGN2ApprenticeBuy These Cards
4 Charge Across the Araba
4 Eiganjo Free-Riders
4 Promise of Bunrei
4 Descendant of Kiyomaro
4 Pithing Needle
4 Hand of Honor
4 Kitsune Loreweaver
4 Kataki, War’s Wage
4 Ghost-Lit Redeemer

24 Plains





Saviors of Kamigawa:

Overview: Saviours made its first appearance in the last BotS tournament, and things didn't go all that well for it. Unlike its two block brothers, Betrayers and Champions, it was unable to beat its first opponent, where it got pummeled three games to one against Fifth Dawn. The decision to keep Saviours a white weenie deck over a similar black weenie deck with larger creatures comes down to two things. First of all, with so many artifact-based decks at the top tables, Kataki, War's Wage is a great answer to the decks that need to have a large amount of artifacts on the board at one time, like Mirrodin, Darksteel and Urza's Saga, and seeing as though the black deck won't be enough to raise it above the bottom tier, a deck packing Kataki could turn the tides against a top tier of decks that are based largely around artifacts. The second reason is Charge Across the Araba, which gives the WW deck a much faster clock than the black deck, and the ability to end the game quickly, even when an opponent seems to have stabilized. Another smaller factor is that Hand of Honor is better than Hand of Cruelty, due to there being more black creatures in the format than white.

The deck is about as straightforward as one can get. Play a bunch of weenies until you get 5 mana, then cast Charge Across the Araba FTW. The two cards that make Saviors more potent are Pithing Needle, which has a lot of meaningful targets in the metagame, and Promise of Bunrei, which not only strengthens Charge's effect, but also makes the deck more resistant to mass removal effects.

Power Cards: Pithing Needle, Kataki War's Wage, Hand of Honor and Charge Across the Araba

Weaknesses: See Legions.

Grade: C


RavnicaMagic OnlineOCTGN2ApprenticeBuy These Cards
4 Birds Of Paradise
4 Civic Wayfinder
1 Gleancrawler
1 Nullmage Shepherd
4 Loxodon Hierarch
4 Selesnya Guildmage
4 Watchwolf
4 Faith's Fetters
4 Glare Of Subdual
3 Chord Of Calling
3 Seed Spark
1 Tolsimir Wolfblood

7 Forest
4 Plains
4 Selesnya Sanctuary
4 Temple Garden
4 Vitu-Ghazi, the City-Tree



Ravinca:

Overview: Ravnica is a great set that was designed to push the strength and creative process involved with multicolored cards. Ravnica was also a pleasant surprise from the last Battle of the Sets. Its first, when it was able to beat its first two opponents; Arabian Nights and Mirage. Even though Ravnica was successful in this respect, it has been changed from its WGR list to a more controlling WG list modeled mostly after the successful GW block deck. While Ravnica loses the quickness and burn that red brought, it gains consistency as well as Glare of Subdual, Faith's Fetters and the incredibly useful Chord of Calling. It kept most of what made it a successful deck in the past, which is mostly Watchwolf, Loxodon Hierarch, Birds of Paradise and Selesnya Guildmage, and with its new more solidified manabase, it can now support the powerful Vitu-Ghazi, City Tree. Tolsimir Wolfblood, Gleancrawler and Nullmage Shepherd all make great Chord targets, each providing a different, potentially game-breaking effect. I predict that with these changes Ravnica should do much better in the upcoming BotS season.

Power Cards: Watchwolf, Loxodon Hierarch, Glare of Subdual and Chord of Calling

Weaknesses: Although it is hard to judge what the exact weaknesses of such an overhauled version of Ravnica would be, I would imagine that decks that are able to keep the board clean of creatures and can effectively control the board should have an easier time beating Ravnica than most.

Grade: B+

GuildpactMagic OnlineOCTGN2ApprenticeBuy These Cards
3 Angel of Despair
4 Blind Hunter
4 Plagued Rusalka
4 Shrieking Grotesque
4 Ghost Council of Orzhova
2 Skeletal Vampire
4 Orzhov Signet
4 Castigate
4 Pillory of the Sleepless
4 Mortify

8 Swamp
5 Plains
4 Godless Shrine
2 Orzhova, the Church of Deals
4 Orzhov Basilica




Guildpact:

Overview: Guildpact is an interesting set, in that there were many different routes that this set could potentially go when looking to create a deck. Should it opt for the Gruul Clan, and its impressive size to casting cost monsters? Should it be the Izzet, with a good controlling game, and the late game nightmare that is Niv-Mizzet? Or should it utilize the ghostly Church of Orzhova, with its impressive array of utility creatures? Through testing, the WB guild turned out to be the logical choice, due to the fact that it is both the deepest guild, as well as having some total bombs in Ghost Council and Angel of Despair. The deck also has some good controlling cards like Mortify, Pillory of the Sleepless and Castigate, as well as good utility creatures which are needed to feed the hungry Ghost Council. Evasion, lifegain, removal and large creatures make this deck pretty good against aggro decks, and the 8 discard effects help out a lot against control trying to deal with Guildpact's threats. All in all, it's a pretty good all-around deck, doing well in many different areas and having some excellent creatures and spells devoted to disrupting an opponent's gameplan.

Power Cards: Ghost Council, Angel of Despair, Mortify and Skeletal Vampire

Weaknesses: Like the cliché goes, jack of all trades, master of none. Nothing could be more true with this deck, as in its aggro control frame, it lacks the ability to quickly kill opponents and doesn't have too many cards devoted to killing creatures. Ghost Council is also pretty key to beating opposing decks, being both the biggest threat, a great blocker and very difficult to remove, and if it doesn't show up, Guildpact may be in for a short night.

Grade: C+


DissensionMagic OnlineOCTGN2ApprenticeBuy These Cards
4 Kill-Suit Cultist
4 Lyzolda, the Blood Witch
4 Rakdos Guildmage
4 Squealing Devil
4 Rakdos Augermage
4 Seal of Fire
4 Demonfire
4 Rise/Fall
4 Hit/Run

4 Blood Crypt
3 Rakdos Carnarium
3 Rix Maadi, Dungeon Palace
8 Mountain
6 Swamp



Dissension:

Overview: Dissension is quite similar to Invasion's red/black aggro control deck. Both use discard, burn and disruptive weenies, and not surprisingly both have a similar approach to defeating an opponent, which is to make an opponent discard all their relevant cards, play low cost threats and burn away or kill anything that can block. There are a few important differences, however. First, Dissension has Lyzolda the Blood Witch, which is probably the best card in the whole deck, because she turns all of your creatures into shocks, and a lot of the time a shock/cantrip which helps to reduce the effectiveness of an opponent's removal. The Fall side of Rise//Fall does a good job mimicking Hymn to Tourach, and is a fine turn two play, but is best used when one is sure that the opponent has no land cards in hand. Hit//Run is an excellent card that punishes opponents for playing expensive creatures or artifacts, but is also useful because it compliments Dissension's burn strategy as well as getting around untargetable, regenerating or pro: red/black creatures when coupled with other removal.

Importantly, along with some of these great cards, Dissension has a solid curve with 8 good first turn plays, 12 good second turn plays and 8 excellent third turn plays as well as 2 separate ways to use built up mana later on in the game with Rakdos Guildmage and Demonflame. This means that Dissension comes out of the gate quickly and can maintain constant pressure, even in the face of removal. Finally, Dissension has a step up on virtually all control opponents because it plays the excellent Rix Maadi, Dungeon Palace, which is incredibly good when playing against a deck that wants to keep cards in it's hand.

Power Cards: Lyzolda, Rise//Fall, Rix Maadi and Hit//Run

Weaknesses: Even though Dissension hasn't been run through the gauntlet yet, it being so similar to Invasion lets one see that Dissension is going have trouble with midgame aggro decks like Urza's Destiny, Nemesis and Ravinca. This is because larger creatures are much harder to burn than smaller ones, and are able to beat up Dissension's smaller critters in the red zone, especially when supported by cheap removal or blockers to stop Dissension's early attacks.

Grade: A

ColdsnapMagic OnlineOCTGN2ApprenticeBuy These Cards
4 Blizzard Specter
3 Phyrexian Ironfoot
4 Martyr of Frost
3 Rimefeather Owl
4 Rimewind Taskmage
2 Heidar, Rimewind Master
4 Controvert
3 Commandeer
4 Krovikan Whispers
4 Rune Snag

2 Snow-Covered Swamp
15 Snow-Covered Island
4 Scrying Sheets
4 Frost Marsh




Coldsnap:

Overview: Coldsnap as a set is quite a small set, but one thing that it has in abundance is counterspells. Rune Snag, Commandeer, Controvert and Martyr of Frost are all solid counterspells, and they give Coldsnap a deck with the capability to prey on decks that are designed to beat aggro decks. The large counterwall is coupled with Scrying Sheets, the land that doubles as a draw engine. This is a great combination, because it allows Coldsnap to keep mana open to counter, and if nothing is worth countering, it has over a 50% chance of drawing a card at the end of an opponent's turn. In the creature control department, it falls down to 3 different cards with different methods of controlling the pest population. Krovikan Whispers is a temporary control magic with a negligable drawback, Rimewind Taskmage taps down creatures, lands and artifacts before they can be used for ill and Phyrexian Ironfoot is a big, cheap snow creature that has the ability to attack and block similar to a vigilance creature. What Coldsnap really wants to do is postpone and stall the game until it is able to cast Rimefeather Owl and protect it, and if Coldsnap has played enough lands, it can end the game the next turn by turning all of an opponent's lands into snow lands.

Power Cards: Rune Snag, Martyr of Frost, Rimefeather Owl and Heidar, Rimewind Master

Weaknesses: Coldsnap has a problem with faster decks with lots of cheap threats, because it can stress Coldsnap's countermagic and creature control to the breaking point, and without a method of resetting the board, Coldsnap can quickly become overwhelmed.

Grade: B+


Seeding

The seeding will be organized so that the top eight decks will comprise the top tier and will face off against the bottom eight decks in the bottom tier, the next best 8 decks will make up the second tier and will face off against the third tier. All of the decks will be randomly paired with other decks in the corresponding tiers. The numbering is purely for organizational purposes, and does not correspond with the deck's ranking.

Tier 1:
(1) Darksteel (2) Mirrodin (3) Apocalypse (4) Torment (5) Urza's Saga (6) Tempest (7) Antiquities (8) Visions

Tier 2:
(9) Champions of Kamigawa (10) Onslaught (11) Dissension (12) Exodus (13) Urza's Destiny (14) Fifth Dawn (15) Mercadian Masques (16) Oddysey

Tier 3:
(17) Invasion (18) Coldsnap (19) Judgement (20) Scourge (21) Ravinca (22) Betrayers of Kamigawa (23) Urza's Legacy (24) Arabian Nights

Tier 4:
(25) Guildpact (26) Nemesis (27) Mirage (28) Alliances (29) Saviours of Kamigawa (30) Legends (31) Ice Age (32) Play-in

Play-in division:
(1) Fallen Empires (2) Planeshift (3) Homelands (4) Legions (5) Stronghold (6) The Dark (7) Prophecy (8) Weatherlight


The Play-in division will be organized much like a bracketed tournament, and the matchups will be as follows courtesy of random.org:

(8) Weatherlight Vs. (5) Stronghold
(4) Legions Vs. (6) The Dark
(1) Fallen Empires Vs. (2) Planeshift
(3) Homelands Vs. (7) Prophecy




The play-ins are fighting one another for the chance to occupy the last remaining spot in the normal tournament, and the competition is quite fierce. In the prior tournament, Nemesis was able to emerge from the play-in unscathed, and in the tournament before that, Homelands was able to snag the main spot. I wonder who will get the honor this time?

The play-in tournament is personally one of my favourite parts of the tournament, because even though their card quality level is much lower than in the main tournament, the decks are actually extremely entertaining to play because their power levels are relatively the same as one another. It's hilarious watching an Abbey Matron blocking a rampaging Barrow Ghoul, or watching Abbey Matron doing pretty much anything.

Tune in next week to read what happened to the decks competing in the play-in division, as well as the pairings and matchup analyses for the main Battle of the Sets tournament. Until then, feel free to discuss the decks, your favourite sets, predictions for the Play-in tournament and anything else that happens to cross your mind in the article discussion area, and I'll be happy to address any of the questions and queries you may have regarding the tournament!

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