Goodbye, Top

The September 1, 2008 Banned and Restricted List announcement is up. Here are the changes:
Sensei’s Divining Top is banned
Time Vault is banned
Time Vault is restricted
Chrome Mox, Dream Halls, Mox Diamond, Personal Tutor, and Time Spiral are no longer restricted
I don’t have much of an opinion about the eternal formats, but there’s already some discussion and dismay about the banning of Top in Extended. The explanation will come later on this week in the upcoming Latest Developments column, but if I had to guess, I’d think it would be a time issue. Decks that run Top benefit from using it every turn, and each activation adds time — sometimes, a lot of time — to each turn. Over the course of a match, and then over the course of an entire tournament, that’s a ton of extra time. Extra time means more matches going to time, more draws, and a general train wreck for most tournaments.
That’s my guess, at any rate — not power level issues, but time.

One more time — Extraction Rock

Lisa: Look, there’s only one way to settle this. Rock-paper-scissors.
Lisa’s brain: Poor predictable Bart. Always takes ‘rock’.
Bart’s brain: Good ol’ ‘rock’. Nuthin’ beats that!
Bart: Rock!
Lisa: Paper.
Bart: D’oh!
(Thanks to The Simpsons Archive for this text.)
Gerard Fabiano recently took the top prize at GP Philadelphia 2008 with his modification of Barra Rock (named after Giulio Barra who top foured PT Valencia 2007 with a very solid, very midrange WBG Rock build). In a recent conversation with Brian David-Marshall on the podcast, Gerard said that he picked Rock because it was just how he likes to play — and recommended just going with the style of play you enjoy.
I’ve found that, by and large, I really enjoy the “Rock” style of play — midrange, with on-board control and disruption. I’m not as fond of draw-go play, trying to figure out which things to counter and which not to. Similarly, although it can be fun to just lay down the beats, I do prefer a more controlling approach. Really, what I like is the ability to disrupt and knock holes in the opponent’s game plan. It’s a very interactive style of play. This can leave more room for mistakes, but it also just makes the game more fun.
With that in mind, and during a few of the more boring gaps in the conference I attended last week, I was considering what kind of build I might use for another PTQ this season, or if I were going to try the Last-Chance Qualifier at Pro Tour Hollywood 2008. It’s no more pure Kokusho for me — the lack of good, fast disruption means that combo and draw-go control tend to walk all over you. With that in mind, check out the extended for my most recent take on the venerable Rock archetype.

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PTQ Hollywood 2008 – Sacramento

Yesterday, SSO and I made the two-hour drive to our state capitol to play in the last nearby PTQ of the season. We joined a crowd of 206 people in the Sacramento Convention Center for eight rounds of Extended leading to a blue envelope and an invite to Pro Tour Hollywood. Incidentally, they’ve posted the full information for Pro Tour Hollywood, including side events and the last-chance qualifier.
I played Kokusho, and SSO played a slightly different version of the Red Burn deck. We both went 4-4, and had a good, if exhausting, time. I woke up at 6am, and got home at 11pm.
The full tournament report is in the extended.

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PTQ Hollywood: Burn

One of the emerging stories of this PTQ season has been mono-red burn. The canonical burn deck, called “$40 Burn” in some places, is a package of creatures that all double as burn, burn spells, and a topping of Shrapnel Blast powered out with artifact lands. The goal here is simply to race every other deck, knocking them down before they get to do their thing.
As part of attempting to talk SSO into going to Sacramento with me this weekend, I’ve put together a slightly variant take on that deck design. Full list is in the extended.

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Quirks of the PTQ week

The middle of the week saw a new crop of PTQ decks appearing on the PTQ Hollywood 2008 page, per usual. Also as usual, Northern California decks were absent. Come on, Matchplay — get those decklists in! You can read my PTQ experience from last weekend, but I’m afraid I can’t comment much on the overall pool of competing decks. We need Riki Hayashi hanging around and counting decklists or something.
What do we learn from the decklists this week? Well, first off, if you want to attend a small tournament, go to one in Anchorage in early March. 15 participants. The Honolulu PTQ was also small at 40 people. All the other tournaments were over 80 attendees, with the biggest being the 156-person PTQ in Des Moines, won by Adrian Sullivan. Of course, the San Jose PTQ was 180 people…but once again, it’s not being reported.
When I look at the decklists from each week, I’m looking for two things. First, I like the general feel of what made top eights, as there’s some chance that will inform people’s deck choices for the coming weekend, which will in turn inform my thoughts about what I’ll be playing against. Second, I want to see what odd, quirky things people managed to top eight with.
In that latter category, this week delivers with some fun notes. Click through on the links to get to the top eight decklists for that PTQ.
Paul Ewenstein’s sixth-place finisher at the Boston PTQ is a Gifts Rock deck, an archetype that’s not particularly in favor right now. In this case, Gifts lets him have a bevy of one ofs, including a singleton Damnation, one Extirpate, one of each of Primal and Profane Commands, one Putrefy, one Smother, one Vindicate, one Shriekmaw, and most fascinating of all, one Reveillark. I have no idea under what circumstances you find yourself thinking, “If only I had a single Reveillark!”
Rusty Kubis made it to third place in Des Moines with a G/W aggro deck packing such Extended favorites as Worship, Otherworldly Journey (Kamigawa represent!), Phantom Centaur, and Tallowisp. Seems weird, but hey — how many Extended decks can actually kill a Phantom Centaur? Especially with Saffi waiting in the wings to bring it back (ah, right — Saffi’s in there, too).
Honolulu saw the return of Ninjas, with Michael Ching’s sixth-place finish. Unlike the second-place finisher in LA, Michael is all in on the Ninja plan, with Higure, the Still Wind in the main. He still has the Standstills. I have to respect his solid 4-4-4-3 sideboard that includes four more Ninjas, as well as Stifles, Threads, and some Crypts.
Rick Powell hit fourth place in Manchester with a Scepter-Chant (AKA “No Stick”) deck that packs a little extra something in the form of a pair of Leonin Abunas that presumably sits in to guard the eponymous No Stick and three Lightning Angels. Just because. It honestly looks janky, but apparently it works.
We round out this week’s PTQ touring in New York, where Josh Meckles took Gifts Rock to fifth place in a field of over a hundred. His deck looked pretty normal, until Meloku caught my eye. However, it wouldn’t have merited posting about it until I realized that in addition to the Clouded Mirror, Josh ran a single Visara the Dreadful. Go on, click through. Although I’m never one to turn down a 5/5 flyer for six mana (and my deck of choice runs four of them), I wonder for which matchups you Gifts and show the opponent Eternal Witness, Genesis, Meloku, Visara.
As a final fun note, the given in Extended right now is that you really need to be prepared for Dredge, and that that probably means 6+ cards in your sideboard dedicated to the Dredge matchup. Consider this quote from feature match coverage of PT Houston 2002:
This weekend in Houston there is a sea of Reanimator despite the fact that everyone else knew the deck was popular. The average sideboard seems to have 6 to 10 cards specifically against Reanimator and even many main decks have cards that were chosen because of their ability to deal with a single huge monster. Coffin Purge, Diabolic Edict, Chainer’s Edict, Reprisal, Gilded Drake, Parallax Wave, Rushing River … there’s a lot you can run if you want to beat Reanimator.
It seems that living from the graveyard is a popular way to avoid interacting with other decks…until they decide to bring the hate.

Extended changes

Up until the first of this month, the plan for Extended was a massive rotation in October of this year, during which every set before Mirrodin would drop out of Extended — this would mean the loss of the Invasion, Odyssey, and Onslaught blocks, as well as Seventh edition.
In the most recent DCI Banned and Restricted List Announcement, Wizards announced a change to this policy. Instead of occasional, massive shifts in Extended, they’re now going to a model of dropping the oldest block off each year as a new block comes in.
I find this somewhat funny, as I just listened to old coverage (PT Philadelphia, I think), in which Randy explains the rationale behind shifting Extended in giant chunks, rather than in block increments.
With the new change, Wizards is still dropping Invasion and Odyssey blocks from Extended, along with Seventh edition. Onslaught, however, stays in. On the new schedule, this means that Onslaught will not rotate out until late 2009.
So what’s the upshot of all this? Well, all of Invasion block is gone with the rotation, so there will be no more Vindicates, Deeds, or basically any other worthwhile multicolored card not from Ravnica block. In addition, the Invasion sac lands that power out Ideal and TEPS will be gone.
On the other hand, we have another year of Onslaught fetchlands ($$$) and Instant-speed Storm spells. Hmmm.
Assuming no changes, then, we’ll lose Onslaught in late 2009, Mirrodin in late 2010, Kamigawa in late 2011, and so forth.

Bay Area PTQ for Pro Tour Hollywood 2008

Yesterday I attended the second Bay Area Pro Tour Qualifier feeding into Pro Tour Hollywood 2008. According to the tournament organizers, we had 180 attendees, which puts us on the high end for PTQs for this season (compare with the attendance numbers shown here.
I did not win, but I enjoyed most of my games, and thought I (and my Kokusho deck) did well. My tournament report is in the extended.

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Prepping your deck and your trade binder for the PTQ

Still trying to decide what to play at the next PTQ? In this article Riki Hayashi talks about the Changeling Ninja deck that took second place at the last Los Angeles PTQ:
There are very few actual good cards in this deck. When Trinket Mage is the best mainstream card you’re playing, something is certainly amiss. (Okay, maybe Umezawa’s Jitte, but Trinks sees more play in Extended.)
Like the Wizards deck, this deck gets by because these draft rejects can combine to form a mighty Voltron-like warrior. When you stack enough synergies together, even Mothdust Changeling can become a monster.

He also talks about which cards you should bring as trade/sale-bait for last-minute shoppers. That’s probably worth looking at.

Dundee and Los Angeles

As I went to take care of an errand today, I listened to show 18 of DeckConstruct. In it, Dan talks about attending a PTQ in Dundee (that’s in Scotland, and is a very lovely town) that had 22 attendees.
In contrast, the Los Angeles PTQ on the 16th had 186 attendees.
Also, second place in Los Angeles went to ninjas. Seriously.