Pro Tour Volcanic Island

Flight in

Pro Tour Honolulu is over now and the new Standard format was shaken up again with the inclusion of Guildpact and the three new guilds provided in that set, as we can easily judge from the results the Tour on the sunny island. And I realy have to say, Kudos to R&D. The format is as diverse and interesting as the last two extended seasons I played in.

Pro Tour Honolulu, the biggest individual Pro Tour in the history of our fine game, had 19 different archetypes being played by 5 people or more and also a whole slew of rogue deck designs drawing a little attention which might bring them up in the future again. But lets focus first:

1...Herberholz, Mark...Gruul Beats
2...Jones, Craig...The Zoo
3...Chan, Tiago...Howling Owl
4...Ruel, Olivier...Hand in Hand
5...Lebedowicz, Osyp...Izzetron
6...Bracht, Maximilian...Heartbeat
7...Warmenhoven, Ruud...Orzhov Aggro
8...Ruel, Antoine...Howling Owl
9...Arias Garcia, Jacob...Orzhov Descendant
10...Nygaard, Nikolas...Magnivore Wildfire
11...Moreno, William...The Zoo
12...Wafo-tapa, Guillaume...Niv-Mizzet
13...Mihara, Makihito...Greater Good
14...Yokoi, Masaki...Selesnya Good
15...Cornelissen, Kamiel...Firemane Control
16...Shiozu, Ryouma
17...Diezel, Michael...Kamehameha/Nantuko Machine Gun
18...Komuro, Shu...Greater Good
19...Al-Bacha, Wesimo...Heartbeat
20...Damo da Rosa, Paulo Vitor...Orzhov Descendant
21...Lundquist, Ben...Izzetron
22...Goodman, Ben...Ghost Dad
23...Gould, rhys...Izzetron
24...Summersberger, Helmut
25...Chambers, Adam...Ghazi-Glare
26...Lo Moro, Raffaele...The Zoo
27...yoon, Soo Han...Sea Stompy
28...Olivera, Adrian...Orzhov Descendant
29...Wiegersma, Jelger...Roxodon Hierarchy
30...Morita, Masahiko...The Zoo
31...Asahara, Akira...Greater Good
32...Kaji, Tomohiro...Howling Owl

The Zoo (incl. Gruu Beats): 5
Orzhov Descendant: 3
Howling Owl: 3
Izzetron: 3
Greater Good: 3
Orzhov Aggro (incl Hand in Hand): 2
Heartbeat: 2
Sea Stompy: 1
Ghazi-Glare: 1
Roxodon Hierarchy: 1
Ghost Dad: 1
Kamehameha: 1
Firemane Control: 1
Selesyna Good: 1
Niv-Mizzet: 1
Magnivore: 1

Unfortunately I couldn't find out what Ryouma Shiozu and my fellow countrymen Helmut Summersberger played, as their decklists are nowhere to be found on the Wizards homepage, but I think this list compiles it pretty much: almost anything is playable and you can go the distance with it if you play the deck well enough.

But the key here is: At the top of the most successful decks are decks that mainly focus on the color combinations provided by the Guilds featured in Guildpact (and I really hope that shuts up those complaints for good).

Nope, no Izzet/Is it puns here

No Genkidama, but still a blast.
For me, Blue-Red strategies were somewhere near the top for my impression of the format before the Pro Tour, but it seems that I was a bit to preoccupied by my local metagame here which can't really compete with what the Pros are cooking up for such events.

Wildfire was for me a deck that seemed hard to beat but analyzing it in retrospect there were only 5 people trying this strategy. The Orzhov Aggressive decks are playing tons of discard, and even if you counter the discard creatures that go by the name of Ravenous Rats and Shrieking Grotesque, they still succeed in their task by pulling a card from your hand. Making it even worse is that some play pro-red-creatures main and all of them play 4/4's that are virtually unkillable if not countered. The Gruul decks on the other hand have creatures with an average toughness that above 2 and therefore survive Pyroclasm, easily putting you into burn range by outrunning the Wildfire itself. The very presence of both Mortify and Kami of the Ancient Law were just the final bullets to take this deck out of competition again.

But just like a Phoenix, the Red-Blue decks found a single heir to take the spot again in the form of Izzetron. The deck that put Werner Cloete to a 6-0 in the Standard Portion of Worlds 2005 went just out of the garage again with brand new Steam Vents and Signets and putting Meloku back where he belongs, on top of the Blue control decks, compensating for the lack of Eminent Domain by playing more permission and even spot removal. Also, Meloku is a perfect anti-beatdown machine if you can survive the early turns.

Last but not least we have a deck that just slightly taps into Red for Sudden Impact. Of course I'm talking about the Howling Owl, a very permission driven deck that abuses symmetrical draw effects like Howling Mine and bounces both permanents and spells back to the owners hand to kill them either via the above mentioned card or the namesake Ebony Owl Netsuke. The problem with that deck is that it is as good against other control decks, due to their slow plan of killing the opponent and the large spells they play, as it is bad against hyper aggressive decks like The Zoo or even only half aggressive decks when the Howling Owl is on the draw.

Don't mess with the Mob

The Enforcer
And then there is the Orzhov Guild that provided a lot of Control decks (more on that later) and an even bigger amount and variety of Aggressive and Aggro-Control decks. This deck basically comes in two standard variations.

The normal version that Ruud Warmenhoven and Olivier Ruel rode to the Top 8 are pretty much the standard for Aggro Control decks with a good mixture of creatures and removal and normally play 6-8 Rats as discard. The problem with those decks is that the Jittes and Mortifys are normally not enough removal to combat Zoo effectively in the pre-sideboard games. Ruel semi-compensated for this with creatures that have protection. But, seeing as the Zoo is a three colored deck, it’s doubtful that this is really the way to go. Another thing I dislike in Ruel’s deck is the number of 1 drops. The deck can really have a problem against Howling Owls or Magnivore if you start out on the draw with a tapped shockland that gets bounced with an Eye of Nowhere.

Second to that we have Orzhov Descendants, which focuses more on the quantity of discard as it always plays 8 Rats and a mixture of Castigate and Cry of Contrition. The main thing that differs these two decks is both the number of removal spells, as the Descendant deck normally plays Last Gasp in the main, and also the namesake Descendant of Kiyomaro, a card that pretty much celebrated its coming out party on Hawaii. The Descendant is normally a 3/5 spirit linked blocker against The Zoo, that normally draws at least two cards out of the Zoo players hand if he ever has to die. The Spirit Link also negates the pain that Bob Maher is giving you.

Which one is the superior has to be seen in the coming weeks, as I think that the normal deck actually needs a lot more tweaking. The only thing that is sure is that the Pros were able to pull out even more from the Guild of Deals. One of the stories in Hawaii was a new online brew entitled Ghost Dad a.k.a. BW Wisp. As the second name suggests, the deck is based around Tallowisp and the spiritcraft mechanic from Kamigawa Block, which seems to finally found a home in a (non-Block) competitive deck. The deck generates a lot of card advantage by tutoring for Pillory of Sleepless or other Auras or drawing cards from Dark Confidant. This allows to tap yourself out to play creatures and have removal backup from the Kamigawa shoals, which this deck utilizes a total of eight. Playing a Shoal by pitching an enchantment will give you the opportunity to search for another aura if you have the Tallowips in play, absolutely negating the card disadvantage a pitched Shoal normally bears.

The second rogue build that the Black-White color combination had to offer was the Kamehameha deck that took its inventor, Brian Diezel, up to 17th place in the tournament. Compared to the rest of the Orzhov creature decks, this deck has a lot more early game as it has ten one drops to start out the game and another twelve options to put out on turn two if you count Castigate. The deck can outrun other decks very fast by using the old combo of Nantuko Husk and Saproling Burst errr Promise of Bunrei. It also was the first deck to include Grave Pact in the sideboard, a card that can really be punishing to other creature decks and probably is a technique to keep an eye on.

Furry Animals

Sideboard Power
Finally we have the decks to beat, more or less. Please, don't be fooled that the final game was fought out between The Zoo and Gruul Beats. Craig Jones demonstrated in the Quarters that Magic is still a game of chance, as it could as easily have been Olivier Ruel going into the finals but thanks to a Lightning Helix that came from the top. I'm not saying that this is not a force to reckon with, I'm just saying it’s not the only one. So please don't concentrate to much on your matchup against these two, very similar decks and neglect the other ones.

The central question for this deck is: white spells or no. And even with the results from the tour itself, where Mark Herberholz's Gruul Beats defeated Craig Jones and his Zoo, it's very very hard to tell as it came down five matches and three Moldervine Cloaks.

The first thing you have to admit is that The Zoo actually has a better defensive and offensive game against other Aggressive decks thanks to both Lightning Helix and Bathe in Light, but the problem is the mana base that can really punish you, especially against decks like Howling Owl or Magnivore. The Gruul beats that Herberholz ran, on the other hand, has the way more consistent mana base of Forest and Mountain but has slightly lesser creature quality as he can't play Isamaru and his Watchwolf requires that the one drop came through.

It actually is a toss up but I think the mana base and the superior sideboard option of Blood Moon speaks for the Gruul without White. The last thing I have to say about this deck is that it only hurts the deck to stretch the mana base even more to try to put in the omnipotent Bob Maher. The extra cards aren't really worth it in this deck, as it can easily live from the top alone, and the life loss hurts in the mirror. Also, unlike the Orzhov Strategies, you normally don't have any sacrifice outlets when playing The Zoo, making it even worse.

The Format that wouldn't break

In retrospect, probably the cockiest claim of the weekend came from the Beach House Boys saying that they broke the format with their "Roxodon Hierarchy" deck, an enhanced Orzhov Control deck that taps into green for Loxodon Hierarch, Vitu-Ghazi and sometimes Putrefy. In the end, only one of them, Jelger Wiegersma, finished in the Top 32 with that deck. This can easily become the prime example of how slow playing control deck work in this format, despite a full set of Wrath of God and Cranial Extraction in the main deck.

Howling Owl eats this deck for obvious reasons and we’re back at the old-fashioned Rock, Paper Scissors game, but this isn't really the only thing. Decks that run the Gruul strategies have very effective early beaters with the standard of first turn 2/3, second turn 3/3, which is enough to beat you to at least twelve before the first Wrath comes off a Signet. And after that you normally have to keep up with Giant Solifuge and very effective burn, not to mention that Loxodon Hierarch life gain can easily be compensated or held of with Flames of the Blood Hand.

The Orzhov Aggro-Control decks have a quite different way to keep you at bay, and the name of the game is discard. At a normal game, Descendants will take at least two cards out of your hand in the first three turns, if not more, and the Haunt ability of Cry of Contrition can and will punish you for playing the Wrath, normally negating the card advantage effect you intended to create. It's really a tough game for Black-based control decks at the moment, even with shenanigans like transmute toolboxes.

The main thing to change is the distribution of removal if this deck wants to stay in the format. Removal spells that cost at least 3 Mana are not fast enough and I think we will see Last Gasp on the rise in the upcoming weeks, a card Orzhov Descendants already utilized.


It Finally found a home
Other than the main contenders mentioned above, we were able see a lot of rogue strategies coming out last weekend. We already discussed two with the Ghost Dad and Kamehameha deck but the format holds even more surprise action.

The first to mention here would be Heartbeat. The Heartbeat of Springs/Early Harvest driven combo deck now saw Top 8 action in two different formats back to back on the Pro Tour (not counting Worlds) and it seems to be very nice indeed. The edge that Maximillian Brachts deck had that made it superrior to other builds of Heartbeat was the sideboard, which essentially gave it the option to swiftly change between a Combo deck that tries to Fireball you out and a creature driven Control Deck. How much success this deck will have is to be seen, due to the high number of discard effects in the format.

After that we have Ghazi-Chord, a homebrew by J. Evan Dean that propelled him into competition over a Last Chance Qualifier and from there into the Top 64. The deck looks very similar to the Worlds Ghazi-Glare strategies, but logically eliminated the Glares as Mortify is running rampant and even The Zoo is packing main deck Kami of the Ancient Law. The deck taps into Black for Putrefy/Mortify and Angel of Despair with everything being held together by Chord of Calling.

The Last deck to keep an eye on would be Sea Stompy. This deck at first looks quite like a degenerated Zoo deck, but have very little in common. The Sea Stompy is a UGR Aggro Control deck that tries to generate a little card advantage through cantrips like Remand, Electrolzye, or Ninja of Deep Hours, putting together a better board position via Birds of Paradise and then blowing up a junk of lands with Thoughts of Ruin. I can't really tell much about the deck as I haven't seen it in action yet, but it seems interesting enough and has a good amount of things going.

Dinosaurs will die

From my perspective, the format of Honolulu spelled the very end of two specific deck types: Ghazi-Glare and Greater Good. Ghazi seems on the fall as Wrath of God is on the rise again to combat creature-oriented strategies, and Ghazi lacks the punch of Gruul and overall doesn't have the game against control compared to Aggro-controllish Orzhov Builds. The high abundance of Mortifies and Kamis of the Ancient Law are just an even better argument to cut lose the Glare. I think Dean’s deck is a step in the right direction, but I'm not sure if this is enough.

Greater Good, on the other hand seems to be on a slower path descending, but to be honest, it's not quite good as it used to be. As in Ghazi-Glare, the main strategy focuses a lot around a four mana enchantment which is a rather bad strategy when Mortify is on a rampage, but the discard oriented strategies of the Orzhov are also very hard to come by with this deck, even if you manage to discard a dragon for the first one. Also, the Howling Owl is a very bad matchup as it constantly deals you damage while you are still building up your combo and then is able to smack you in the head when you go off with either Sudden Impact or sometimes even Cerebral Vortex.

Up and Coming

The coming weeks will be very interesting as to how Standard will develop. I think saying control is dead is an exaggeration, but the Gruul and Orzhov creature strategies are really giving them a run for their money. I think the format will essentially come down to a redistribution and reiteration of removal spells. Pro Tour Honolulu seems to predict a very open format after all with only little Rock, Paper, Scissors feel left that looks very exciting to explore and compete in. Good luck for your next T2 tournment.

Credits: Writing: chaosof99; Banner: chaosof99; Editing: Goblinboy


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