The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse
Let's face it, not everyone felt like going to Costa Rica for a Grand Prix this weekend. I didn't even feel like driving to Ohio for a PTQ, so Costa Rica was out of the question. Some west-coasters elected to go to the City of Angels this weekend to play in the SCG Open there. If you were there, you were privy to a controversy that had the twitterverse abuzz with frenzied activity for hours on Sunday night. Someone had played an illegal deck on camera and the judges just sat by and watched.
I'd Be Remiss If I Didn't Call That Sentence Sensationalist Journalism
Maybe that last sentence was sensationalist, but it was not inaccurate. It's called a hook. I'm told members of the industry use it to attract readers to the body of their work. The fact of the matter is that someone played a deck which, in the current rules enforcement framework, is not strictly legal.
Jeff Liu ran a deck in L.A. that some of you are familiar with, called "Four Horseman," so-named because... I have no idea. As far as names go, it sounds cool but doesn't tell you anything about the deck. In a lot of ways, it's the perfect deck name.
Four Horseman gets down by milling the bejesus out of itself using Mesmeric Orb and infinite untaps from Basalt Monolith. Then it gets a Blasting Station online (by saccing Narcomoebas to Dread Return Sharuum the Hegemon) and throws every available Narcomoeba at the opponent. When it runs out of them, it mills some more until it hits [card Emrakul, the Aeons Torn]Emrakul[/card] to shuffle the any illusions back into the library and continue the fun.
Guess what happens each time you start the combo and hit an Emrakul before binning Dread Return? That's right, chief. You ain't goin nowhere.
So What Exactly Is Illegal Here?
So the combo can randomly screw you a bit. What's the issue? Well, let's think about it. If the opponent has no way to disrupt the combo, you keep going, right? And even though there is no way to "whiff" exactly with the mill engine in place, your opponent can still demand that you demonstrate the ability to go off with the combo, which can take a long time if [card Emrakul, the Aeons Torn]Emrakul[/card] keeps popping up early. This is a problem for several reasons.
First of all, you can't ask your opponent to agree to a shortcut. If it were a self-sustaining combo between three pieces you already had out, that would be one thing. But you have to be certain that agreeing to a shortcut would result in a particular game state. This is per rule MTR 4.2 regarding shortcuts.
Since you can't guarantee you'll get [card Sharuum, the Hegemon]Sharuum[/card], Blasting Station and Dread Return into the yard with three Narcomoebas in play before hitting an [card Emrakul, the Aeons Torn]Emrakul[/card], you can't ask the opponent to shuffle up for game two. Now this is speaking strictly within the framework of the rules, and the opponent could concede once they understand the inevitability of the combo. However, you can't rely on that and hope to go all day without anyone asking you to demonstrate it.
Another issue is not knowing how many times you will need to mill yourself (and shuffle everything back in when you hit an [card Emrakul, the Aeons Torn]Emrakul[/card]) in order to get Dread Return, [card Sharuum, the Hegemon]Sharuum[/card] and Blasting Station into the yard with an empty stack. Since you can't say how many times you will need to execute this loop before you get the combo, it's considered prima facie slow play.
To quote IPG-4.3 regarding Slow Play --
It is also slow play if a player continues to execute a loop without being able to provide an exact number of iterations and the expected resulting game state.
A dishonest player could execute more loops than necessary in order to run out the clock. If you take 40 minutes to execute the combo game one, you are 5-10 minutes from victory in the match, and by the way you're allowed time to resolve each mulligan. Since it is impossible to predict (or enforce) how many loops will be necessary to get the rest of the combo on the board, it's an opportunity for slow play and makes the deck strictly illegal.
Now a judge can rule that the player be allowed to continue to compete in the event, which is what happened in L.A. Some of the twitterverse was not happy about it.
All of this goes to show a savvy player like Jeff can come up with ways to change the game state after a failure to go off in order to skirt the rule about an interation of the combo not having an effect on the game state and therefore resulting in a slow play penalty. Said Jeff,
There were a lot of goofy things I did to avoid making it an identical game state at various times throughout the day. Sometimes it was resolving a Narc, sometimes it was declaring combat, sometimes it was Cabal Therapying to change the number of creatures in play. Sometimes it was just casting an extra Ponder for whatever reason.
It is also notable that I did not receive a single warning the entire day, despite having three judges come by at various points, and all of my matches finished with plenty of time remaining in the round. Also, I only played the Orb/Monolith combo for game ones basically.
That last sentence alludes to the deck's ability to board into Painter's Stone and/or Show and Emrakul for games two and three.
In this writer's opinion, multiple judges clearing a deck/player means that the spirit of the rules were enforced, if not the letter. The combo wasn't used by Jeff in an unsportsmanlike manner and he avoided warnings due to his careful play and earnest reliance on winning with the combo rather than running down the clock. What the judges allowed was ultimately less disruptive than ejecting a player for breaking a finicky rule that was never intended to prevent a deck from being viable, but rather to discourage a style of play.
That said, I would not recommend playing this deck at an event where judges may rule against you to protect the integrity of the event. A slow play infraction is not only a bad way to lose, it's something that will follow you for the rest of your career.
I was sort of hoping someone would make an angel-themed deck to play at the SCG Open in LA. Angel of Glory's Rise is a card right now (don't tell the people who have been bulking them out to me all week) and Restoration Angel will be a card until it rotates. No one obliged me. Let's see what they did jam in the City of Angels instead.
Delver everywhere. Hooray.
The winning list piloted by Keyan Jafari jammed [card Talrand, Sky Summoner]Talrand[/card] which is more fun than if he hadn't, I suppose. Really, I'm just ready for this Standard season to be over.
Samuel Pardee's U/W Midrange list was the only interesting deck in the entire Top 32. It's good to see someone still remembers how unfair Consecrated Sphinx is. Expect to see Drogskol Reaver occupy that slot if we don't get anything promising from Azorius. So far the Sphinx-esque stuff they have showed me seems strictly worse than a [card Baneslayer Angel]Baneslayer[/card] that draws cards. Four Blade Splicer seems like the right number here, and a lot of phyrexian mana removal rounds out an interesting list.
Even the Wolf Run Blue deck jammed four copies of [card Bonfire of the Damned]Bonfire[/card]. I guess players are sticking with what they know (and already have built) with the season winding down. Blerg.
The Classic may have been more interesting.
Richmond Is Where They Filmed Portions of the New Lincoln Biopic
More of the same. Delver won here too, but G/W Midrange was hot on its heels. Players are getting their kicks with Pod and phyrexian mana while they still can. A lot of pod decks in the Top 16 here, which is good to see. Birthing Pod is a fun card and we're going to miss it. Not many Delver decks, but it's still a bummer that a Delver deck won.
Not much you haven't seen here so we can probably just move to Legacy.
U/W Miracle Control is proving to be a real deck. I got quite the primer on this deck during a sit-down with early adopter Kenta Hiroki. I learned that this deck requires incredibly tight play, but if you can manage it it has everything you need to get there.
The winner was Michael Hetrick who showed up loaded for bear with a sideboard of thirteen unique cards. It's still confusing to see Moat over Humility but a format with more Maverick and Merfolk is less bothered by Humility than it is Moat, I guess. Still, Griselbrand and [card Emrakul, the Aeons Torn]Emrakul[/card] laugh at Moat and weep at Humility. Maybe the Moat in the winning sideboard and the zero copies of Sneak and Tell in the Top 32 say everything that needs to be said about the format.
Where's our Academy Rector deck? Finance pundits have been crying "BUY!" on this card since it was $12 weeks ago. It hit the $30 peak that was predicted despite materializing an astonishing zero times in a Top 32 since then. Who is playing this card? Where are they playing it? Until this deck starts winning stuff, maybe its $30 price tag isn't justified. I'd like to see a deck running this strategy crack the Top 32, but I am still waiting.
You know what else costs $30? Patrick Sullivan's entire deck. Burning his way to third place, Sully (as he likes to be called) was in classic form, casting burn spells at his opponent's face and laughing as they tried to extinguish the flames on their backs.
Burn gets there. It punishes bad draws and greedy mana bases. It punishes unfamiliarity with your own deck with straightforward lines of play. It is probably the hardest deck to master the way Patrick Sullivan has. It's really easy to deal 16 damage with a given hand in a burn deck. Unfortunately, you have to deal more than that, typically, and it's not always easy to see the best line of play until you've already run out of gas. I am a big fan of burn and I congratulate Sully on his success.
Six different decks in the Top 8 is encouraging to say the least. Legacy continues to be a dynamic format, and I'm looking forward to see how cards like Abrupt Decay affect the meta. I'm guessing Counterbalance's days are numbered. Legacy continues to surprise, with decks like "Four Horsemen" randomly popping out of the woodwork and perennial favorites like Goblins continuing to muster competitive showings.
So Long for Now
Again, check out the RtR spoiler page and leave me some feedback. We want to know if that's something you all like and want us to do with future sets.
Until next week, may all of your loops result in a fundamental change to the game state.