February 07 2016 Sunday at 01:54 PM

Duels Diaries week 28 - Results and Insights from the HAKI Top 8

Hello Duelers,

Right after I said Diaries would post on Mondays, I am posting on a Sunday again because I’ll be very busy for the next few days.

This will also be a pretty abbreviated post, without as many insights.  More a vomiting of information.

As I have been doing for the past month or so, I’ll kick it off with coverage of the Hakumite, and I’ll kick off the coverage with a list of links for those who want a spoiler-free viewing experience -

CovertGo Blue (4-0, Gruul Ramp) vs smokeyalaterz (3-1, Jund Midrange)


PeepySqueeps (3-1, Jeskai Tokens) vs Mackey79 (2-2, Jund Control)


Hakeem928 (2-2, Izzet Thopters) vs DannyRetartabul (2-2, Jund Control)


Black Barney (2-2, Izzet Thopters) vs Mobius (2-2, Esper Control)


Ender1313 (1-3, Dimir Control) vs MegaBeast (2-2, five color ramp)



InfamousGemini (3-1, Naya Ramp) vs HailtotheKing (3-1, Esper Control)

Westaine (1-3, Esper Control) vs Dieverse1 (1-3, Azorius Aggro)

Tsh1rt (1-3, Selesnya Ramp) vs SteelyDanno (0-4, Sultai Control)

No video

I hope you watched what you wanted to, because now I am going to unveil what I am sure to be the top eight -

CGB - Gruul Ramp

PeepySqueeps - Jeskai Tokens

Hakeem - Thopters

Black Barney - Thopters

Megabest - Five Color Ramp

Infamous Gemini - Naya Ramp

HailtotheKing - Esper Control

Smokeyalaterz - Jund Midrange

Seedings, pairings and predictions will have to wait for an official top eight announcement, and I may not get to do a post about it since I will be out-of-town for most of the week.  What we can do is analyze the top eight.

Ramp strategies - Three out of the four ramp strategies in the field made the top eight, witht he exception being Tsh1rt’s Selesnya Ramp without Acid-Moss.  Every deck in the tournament that played Acid-Moss x4 made the top eight.  

Token strategies - Going wide is still in fashion, and it appears that no amount of sweepers can keep them down.  Both Izzet Thopters and one Jeskai Tokens list entered the tournament, and all three made the top eight.  

Blue Control - Four blue control strategies entered the event, and only one made the top eight.  Our top eight Esper player, Hail, also got two of his three match wins at the expense of the other two Esper decks in the field.  I have said this so much that you may be tempted to point out confirmation bias in my writing, but it appears that this format is hard to control.  Looking at the top eight, you can make a hypothesis as to why - can you contain a go-wide Tokens strategy and a go-big Ramp strategy with the same deck?  Sweepers, which are essential to contain go-wide decks, are not good at all vs the go-big ramp strategies.  If you have ever faced down Gaea’s Revenge with a hand of Languish and Scatter to the Winds, you know how it feels.  The fact that two of the most pushed and popular strategies from the last two season (Thopters in Origins, Ramp in B4Z) are prevalent in the meta means control is pulled both ways, and how you build and play control usually needs to shift towards one or the other.

Jund and non-Blue control - Three Jund enter, one Jund leave.  I don’t think it is a coincidence that the Jund deck that settled on seven sweepers and big monsters instead of Act of Treason and value dorks made the top eight.  Act of Treason effects suffer when decklists are public, but good players see it coming when playing randoms too.  Without sufficient pressure from the creatures in the Jund decks, the Ramp deck can take a control role and sit back until it has the right mix of spells and burn to end the game.  On the flip-side, trying  to get value out of Act of Treason against Thopters was pretty tough, and Evolutionary Leap/Vampiric Rites value can save you against random Duels decks, but they don’t really do the job against the Tokens/Ramp one-two punch of this tournament.

Aggro - Bluntly put, there was no aggro.  Dieverse1 made a case for Azorius, but I think it was a misguided list.  Coils/Pilgrim did almost nothing, the bounce spells that are supposed to create tempo rarely had positive impact against Thopters and Control, and the deck never felt well positioned after round one.  Could a deck like Red Aggro or Boros Aggro have had a good tournament?  I don’t think so.  In the classic Aggro-Midrange-Control paradigm, Tokens has become the midrange and Ramp has become the control.  I have tested the Aggro matchup with Ramp extensively, and I am confident that it is no cakewalk for even the most aggressive builds of RDW.  The Tokens matchup is almost terrible for RDW, as most of the Thopters decks feature Twin Bolt, Fiery Impulse, and other cheap red removal to go with two and three-for-one cards like Thopter Engineer and Whirler Rogue.  Given that RDW has no extremely favorable matchups in top tier, I doubt it would be a good choice for the event.  What RDW wants is a format that is so shaped by Ramp that control decks like Esper, Azorius and Dimir show up with few, or no, sweepers and early removal and instead focus on countering everything from turn three on.  RDW gets under those decks, wins easily, and gets free match wins.  This meta showed up with slow control, but most still focused on sweepers and didn’t focus on beating ramp, so RDW wouldn’t have the gimme matches it requires to make a deep run.

I don’t think this means that Aggro doesn’t have a future in this meta, but it is crippled.  As I try to make a deck that goes under Tokens and Ramp, I look to the go-tall strategy.  While it is still vulnerable to red removal, we can’t get past that.  My Aggro testing lately is focused on Red, Gruul and Boros decks that move in quickly on landfall, prowess, or double-strike threats, as opposed to going wide.  I admit it could be a dead end, there are still so many Fiery Impulses and Twin Bolts in the meta, but I don’t think Aggro has any other choice right now.

Observations -

Eight out of eight top eight decks have enchantments, meaning cards like Felidar Cub and Reclamation Sage will always have targets against the best decks in the format, and are likely worth running in any/all decks where appropriate.

Eight out of eight decks have creatures that would be great targets for Gilt-Leaf Winnower, which I don’t see much of.  Given how valuable the menace ability is for pressuring Planeswalkers, a one-of Gilt-Leaf should likely be a Black deck staple.

Three of the eight decks have cards that I would consider decent targets for Reave Soul, which explains the massive decline in the card’s popularity.  Defenders of the card should probably hang it up now.

Eight out of eight decks have cheap value dorks like Gatecreeper Vine, Perilous Myr and Eldrazi SkySpawner.  What can we derive from this?  Fleshbag Marauder is not likely to hit what you want it to.  This is kind-of a shame because Fleshbag would be great against ramp if we didn’t always have a Gatecreeper, Jaddi, Reclamation Sage or Scion ready to die.  It is probably time to stop relying on F-bag and building decks around his rise from the grave.

Colors of the Top Eight -

Red - 7 decks

Blue - 5 decks

White - 4 decks

Green - 4 decks

Black - 3 decks

Red is a cornerstone of late-game and early-game strategies, mostly because it has the best early game removal (Fiery Impulse, Radiant Flames) and the best late game removal (Rolling Thunder).  Blue, Green and White fight over who is Red’s best buddy, and Black is clearly the odd color out.  I really hope Black gets pushed in Innistrad, because that is Black’s homeland, and Nightmare was my first love as a young magician.  Black certainly got hosed in Origins and B4Z hasn’t fixed it.

Most popular commons -

Perilous Myr - 12

Acid-Moss - 12

Fiery Impulse - 10

Gatecreeper Vine - 8

Twin Bolt - 8

Most popular uncommons -

Thopter Engineer - 9

Whirler Rogue - 9

Rolling Thunder - 7

Most popular rares -

Radiant Flames - 8

Nissa’s Renewal - 6

Pia/Kiran - 6

Mythics where all over the board.  Greenwarden is number one at 4 copies.

Making some meta-assumptions now, if we see the field moving away from control for reasons mentioned we get the aggro-tokens-ramp paradigm.  If we admit aggro is highly disadvantaged here for reasons I’ve mentioned, we are left is a tokens-ramp paradigm, and that does appear to be what is happening in our XB1 tournament.

What strategies could be strong in this meta that we haven’t fully explored?

Both decks, Ramp and Tokens, rely on red spells for removal.  The weakness of red damage-based spells is that they struggle against big threats.  Big threats is typically where black removal shines, but since we don’t have much/any of that…

So we are looking for decks that deploy big threats in the midgame, while ramp is ramping and before tokens have swarmed the board completely.  Here are some strategies that may be able to do battle in this area -

Husk strategies, which I have played and written about exhaustively but still feel I haven’t quite perfected.

Green Monster strategies, which have been pretty reserved for the most part because we have a consistency issue.

Ramp-as-control strategies, basically taking the ramp deck and making it a bit slower to beat other ramp and thopter decks.

Husk strategies -

DJ gave my U/G Ramp deck a thrashing in the iOS Round Robin with something like this, I think it has changed a lot since the post.  DJ is a reader, maybe he’ll update us in the comments.

Blue: 10

1 x Jace, Vryn's Prodigy

4 x Eldrazi Skyspawner

3 x Whirler Rogue

2 x Drowner of Hope

Black: 25

3 x Vampiric Rites

4 x Bone Splinters

3 x Carrier Thrall

4 x Altar's Reap

1 x Liliana, Heretical Healer

3 x Fleshbag Marauder

4 x Nantuko Husk

2 x Smothering Abomination

1 x Ob Nixilis Reignited

Multi-Color: 1

1 Sire of Stagnation

Land: 24

6 x Island

7 x Swamp

2 x Sunken Hollow

2 x Drowned Catacomb

1 x Rogue's Passage

4 x Dimir Guildgate

2 x Evolving Wilds

Green Monsters strategies are something I’ve given renewed attention to since they may be good in the meta.  I still have my Temur Monsters around, and I’m working an almost all green deck that uses green dual-lands to take advantage of converge cards.  Infuse with the Elements and Wild Instincts are generally “bad” cards, but they have pretty big impact while the opponent is ramping or working on a wide board.

Temur -

4 Fiery Impulse

1 Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy

2 Abbot of Keral Keep

1 Undercity Troll

4 Snaping Gnarlid

3 Skyrider Elf

3 Bounding Krasis

2 Radiant Flames

2 Exquisite Firecraft

2 Woodland Wanderer

3 Zendikar Incarnate

3 Infuse with the Elements

2 Brutal Expulsion

2 Chandra’s Ignition

4 Island

4 Mountain

4 Forest

2 Lumbering Falls

2 Cinder Glade

2 Rootbound Crag

2 Hinterland Harbor

2 Sulfur Falls

4 Evolving Wilds

I don’t know about the Abbot/Undercity numbers, I think I have the right amount of two drops but I don’t know about the mix.  Radiant Flames may be too cute, but I see it like a one-sided board-wipe sometimes.  It is good against chump blockers but not pro-active enough if they don’t play chump blockers.  Zendikar Incarnate + Chandra’s Ignition is a throwback to Origins season, but Infuse goes great with Incarnate also.  26 lands feels right, missing a land drop or a color has a huge effect on the deck, so going up to 26 lands increases the odds of both hitting land-drop four and having all three colors by about ten percent.  Speaking of lands, the deck wants to play green, blue, red, red for sources.  You don’t need double green or blue to play every spell we have, but you need double red for the finishers like Firecraft and Ignition.  Overall the mana is friendlier than most three color decks right now.

Green Converge Aggro

I admit pieces of this look like crap, but the general strategy speaks to me and it is a work in progress.

3 Scythe Leopard

3 Undercity Troll

4 Snapping Gnarlid

3 Skyrider Elf

1 Nissa, Vastwood Seer

4 Tarjuru Stalwart

3 Bounding Krasis

2 Wildsize

2 Dwyenen, Gilt-Leaf Dwen

2 Woodland Wanderer

3 Infuse with the Elements

2 Outland Colossus

1 Woodland Bellower

1 Gaea’s Revenge

2 Island

4 Forest

2 Lumbering Falls

2 Sunken Hollow

2 Cinder Glade

2 Canopy Vista

2 Woodland Cemetery

2 Rootbound Crag

2 Hinterland Harbor

2 Sunpetal Grove

4 Evolving Wilds

The Dwyenen elf synergies don’t always pay off, and when they do it isn’t huge, but a few extra points from Stalwart or Skyrider are about the best we can do without two more Woodland Wanderers.

The mana has been cooperative so far, which is surprising.  Be sure to look at your hand and think about how to sequence, but normally I can play two-drop into three-drop into four-drop more than I expected to.  Infuse has been so good at closing games that I added two Wildsize for more of the effect.  

The last of the strategies worth exploring more is Ramp as Control.  Here is what I have brewed up, but I haven’t gotten too far with it -

Not Black Revisited

1 Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy

3 Gatecreeper Vine

2 Evolutionary Leap

3 Rolling Thunder

1 Nissa, Vastwood Seer

4 Natural Connection

2 Radiant Flames

4 Brilliant Spectrum

4 Mwonvuli Acid-Moss

1 Gideon, Ally of Zendikar

1 Kiora, Master of the Depths

2 Planar Outburst

2 Angelic Edict

1 Oblivion Sower

1 Nissa’s Renewal

1 Emeria Shepherd

1 Omnath, Locus of Revenge

1 Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger

3 Plans

1 Island

2 Mountain

3 Forest

2 Lumbering Falls

2 Cinder Glade

2 Canopy Vista

2 Prairie Stream

2 Clifftop Retreat

2 Sulfur Falls

4 Evolving Wilds

That is where I am leaving you for this week, thanks for reading and I hope you have fun trying out some strategies I’ve written about.  May you give Ramp and Thopters the beatings they require, as I will try to do in the top eight.

<3 CGB