To the best of my knowledge, John Friggin' Rizzo has graduated the Swiss rounds of a PTQ exactly once. His friend Aaron Forsythe asked me for my Secret Force deck - Secret Sauce, which was co-created by Matt Rubin before he became a US Nationals Top 8 superstar - for Rizzo, and ta da! John made the break despite two Swiss losses. Secret Sauce has an interesting pedigree. My friend Paul Jordan of Stalking Tiger, Hidden Gibbons and Paul Jordan LOL was slated to run it in a Chicago PTQ the same weekend, but Dan McNeil stole his Natural Orders so that Paul was forced to play Trix. Paul won the PTQ. Rizzo's half of the story can be found here. John took out two lands for a fourth Elvish Lyrist and second Deranged Hermit, janked up the sideboard a bit (Elidamri? Squallmonger? Are you for real?), but his "Secret Survival" was Sauce to the balance.
Anyway, in thanks for that long ago PTQ Top 8, Rizzo summoned his Friggin' powers and created the shell of the Ichorid deck that got so much press at Worlds a few weekends back (cue foreshadowing). Per Osyp's insistence, I tried out the Ichorid deck on MTGO last week. The first foray was an 0-3 slide that saw all 1-2 losses... but revealed a very interesting and "fun to play" new option, if not a consistent one. I didn't take it seriously due to the record I mustered in the Casual Room and instead spent most of my time working on my Slide listing with Josh or tweaking Pat Chapin's newest implementation of my B/W cycling deck from LA.
On a lark, I decided to switch around the Rizzo deck and try it out again... and basically never lost. My record over the course of two or three nights went to 15-1, with the only loss being bullspit. The opponent was CAL; he tapped out to reuse a Cranial Extraction, naming the Ray of Revelation he knew was in my hand (previous target being Ichorids). I set up a Dredge for my entire deck... and lost. I thought I would find Wonder and kill him with Psychatog, forgetting that I had sided my Wonder out.
Anyway, I test a lot. I test more hours per week than most people actually work at their jobs, regardless of how many hours they put in at the office. Nothing else was putting up numbers like the Ichorid deck, so I switched.
I put Osyp's version through several different iterations, finishing on this one for the PTQ:
Life from the Loam left for land 18, then came back again when I figured out how to break the sideboard. You will notice that my sideboard is hyper-aggressive. I have 13 cards for Affinity and two Rays for CAL and possibly Slide... and nothing else specific. With this deck I found that I didn't want cards like Pithing Needle, and even though I will bring in Smother against Wild Mongrels or Psychatogs, I didn't want a lot of setup Duresses or generally good cards... They just make the deck worse.
Round One: Wake
Game One was pretty simple. Control decks, especially those with counters, are horrible against this deck. The reason is that you don't cast any non-free cards after turn 2 or 3 unless your draw is very loose, meaning that all his counters are worthless. Sure you cast Therapies using Ichorid and Deep Analysis, but those cards - especially Therapy - are getting the job done equally well whether the opponent counters or if they hit. Anyway, I went to six this game and it wasn't particularly close. Putrid Imp got him.
Game Two was kind of annoying. I was ahead the entire time with a fast Zombie Infestation and Psychatog, but he drew a Krosan Reclamation and Cunning Wish such that I couldn't really go all in or Dredge overmuch. Believe it or not, a Vitu-Ghazi, the City Tree worked in beautiful tandem with the repeating Fogs because, you guessed it, I sided out the Wonder. Eventually he ran out and I flipped Loam and started to go Ancestral every turn.
Round Two: Affinity
Affinity is the deck's worst mainstream matchup. Heartbeat might be worse, but inexplicably, no one plays that deck... It's too powerful and resilient I guess. Anyway, Affinity is bad because, for the versions with Myr Enforcer anyway, Affinity's average draw trumps the Ichorid deck's good draw. 3/1s that never permanently die kill pretty much everyone... but the deck that pops out fast 4/4s can, you know, block.
Game One I get rolled. He has a fast Maher and two Ravagers and my Psychatog isn't good enough.
Game Two he has a turn 1 Maher and a fast Cranial Plating, should win in three hits. I answer with a second turn Psychatog and he flips Erayo. Flipping Erayo is actually dismal against this deck because, again, it never casts spells... it just Dredges them. Anyway, I dropped the Wonder and put him away with big Troll shenanigans for 18 out of nowhere. I am assuming he didn't see the kill coming or that he could chump with some ground guy.
Game Three I made a third-turn Kataki with Riftstone Portal tricks. This game was kind of miserable... I had Psychatog for a discard outlet but drew Putrid Imp on turn 2. I already had a Grave out, but played the second Grave untapped (I guess so I could Smother?) and ran the Imp out anyway. Oh well, two life more wouldn't have mattered as his board disappeared the next turn... but it was still a mistake.
Round Three: Affinity
Game One he went to six and ran a first turn Arcbound Worker. I threw out a blind Cabal Therapy for Arcbound Ravager, of which there were two in his hand. Zombie Infestation deterred any 1/1 attacks while the machinery came online.
Game Two I made Kataki on turn 2. Thanks, Putrid Imp!
Round Four: Burning Tog
Game One I got a fairly good draw with Psychatog and Ichorids. He had to spend his mana holding the ground, which gave me a lot of freedom. I thought for a few moments about how I could lose the game and flashed back a Therapy blind (with Ichorid), hitting Fact or Fiction on what should have been his lethal turn and stole it the next with Ichorids and my own Tog.
Game Two I made an illegal triple block on his Meloku, which gave me the time I needed to set up the late game. I had Wonder, but my lands were Riftstone Portal and Cephalid Coliseum, but neither of us noticed this (a spectator brought it up after the game ended). I don't know how the game would have gone if Meloku had stuck, but I'm pretty sure it would have been a lot harder to win. Pretty scummy all in all (sorry).
Round Five: Gifts Rock
Game One I got kind of a bland draw, which was evidenced by the fact that he had time to Gifts Ungiven into Cranial Extraction (which I didn't give him), recur the Extraction, and re-play it three times without getting, you know, killed. Like I said, the draw wasn't good; I think I Dredged a lot of blanks or something.
Game Two I got Extracted for the Zombie Infestation he knew was in my hand (missed Cabal Therapy) and beat him up with Ichorids. One of the things I like about this deck is that it is really resilient. The New York crowd fears Ichorid a lot and has been trying to figure out Caltrops or Powerstone Minefield to stop the 3/1s... forgetting the fact that Ichorid has lethal Togs as early as turn 3. Similarly the Infestations can win with Zombies, or can just serve as Golgari Grave-Troll enablers. I don't think that Extraction is very good against Ichorid, except maybe the card Ichorid itself.
This game is interesting in that I actually cast Golgari Grave-Troll. In the midgame he got a 4/4 into a Deed and I didn't feel like spending my graveyard, so I showed him a 10/10 regenerator... It got him eventually.
Game Three he took two flights to Paris and I kept Putrid Imp/Stinkweed Imp. Putrid was playing Carnophage on turn 2, and hooked up with some 3/1s immediately after. I actually gave him a shot by hitting Smother with an Ichorid Cabal Therapy (flashback) rather than Loxodon Hierarch when his board was Forest, Forest, Forest (he ripped the Heath), but then I just Dredged for my entire deck the next turn and hit with an Imp and all four Ichorids once Wonder showed up.
Round Six: Ruel Tog with Syncopate - ID
Round Seven: Wouldn't tell me - ID
Top 8: Gifts Rock
So after an unrelenting string of blowout victories in the Swiss, I did the only thing I could in the Top 8: Mulligan to four. The only hand I could reasonably have kept in the 7, 6, or 5 card hands was the first:
That hand had neither land nor Dredge card... and it was the best of the first three. My remaining three hands shared a lone Riftstone Portal for lands because I'm that damn good. I eventually kept Zombie Infestation, Zombie Infestation, Deep Analysis, Chrome Mox... and got Cabal Therapied for Zombie Infestation on turn 2 (nice deck).
Game Two I flew only to six cards and won quite easily with Psychatog. It was almost the fabled one attack kill, but I missed a land with my non-Dredge Deep Analysis flashback. I could have gone Wonder into trips Troll DA/Dredge, which is +18 cards in the 'yard (+16 net), and very crowd pleasing. Unfortunately I had to wait until turn 5 and trips Ichorids alongside Dr. Teeth for the win.
Game Three I flew to six and kept kind of a crappy draw with:
I drew Putrid Imp and made it with Mox + Cabal Therapy. The long-term goal was to eventually recover with Life from the Loam (just Dredged the Grave-Troll every turn), but that didn't really work out as Life from the Loam was near the bottom. It's possible this was a bad keep because this hand basically concedes Deep Analysis as a dead card unless Loam shows up in the first, say, two Dredges, but I didn't think I could improve overmuch on five.
We traded a little early and then it was his Ravenous Baloth against my Ichorids (Fiend bought it to Putrefy, giving him back a Deed which he used to kill my Imp and Mox), where I needed him to draw two blanks in a row in order to win; he drew Eternal Witness and Putrefy, which pretty much trumped my "never see another card" plan of Dredging Grave-Trolls to feed two Ichorids every turn.
The end of the day was obviously depressing. Usually, I am good at identifying my errors, but I don't think I had any control over winning either Game One or Game Three. Had I been a little luckier on Life from the Loam, I definitely would have won Game Three, and if I had Psychatog in my opening Hand, I would also have won (imprint on the Mox would have given me access to Blue mana to flash any of several copies of Deep Analysis over the course of the early turns). Even with my ill luck, the deck almost advanced, which says a lot for its power and viability.
The Ichorid deck is for real. I don't know if it's the "best" deck, but tons of generally accepted and played strategies are completely invalidated by it. For example, against Boros you will typically see the opponent desperately frying Ichorids because he has no other recourse. You can't lose to a deck like NO Stick if they don't get the Scepter and the Chant exactly... Again, their defensive measures like Wrath of God just don't do anything.
If you want to run this the last week of qualifiers, I have to suggest testing a lot. This deck mulligans more than any other deck I've ever played, and correctly flying to Paris is an important skill. People generally questioned both my ships and keeps in the Swiss, not because I was wrong, but because they didn't perceive the reasons why any particular hand was good enough to keep or not. The hand I kept in Game Three of the Top 8 was a lot weaker than some hands I had shipped earlier in the tournament, but I felt like there were many ways it could improve (and I was right, at least in the pre-Deed short term). Moreover, it is correct to pitch random cards to Putrid Imp at surprising intervals during the game; sometimes you need to feed Ichorid with even a Stinkweed Imp, and sometimes you just want Threshold for the extra point. Sometimes, believe it or not, you need to fly over a Sakura-Tribe Elder. For players who have trained themselves to maximize card advantage for the past decade, the tactics and operations of the Ichorid deck will be maddening.
I don't know how to improve the deck objectively, but it was suggested that you need another Incarnation. I Dredged desperately for Wonder quite a bit, and there were tons of games where my opponents would have just lost to any Incarnation when they were setting up their own long games. The deck will almost certainly pick up in popularity a lot for this coming weekend, so even if you aren't going to play it yourself, you might want to consider graveyard hate in whatever deck you do run. Finally, I have no idea how to beat Heartbeat. Heartbeat wants to deck you, you more-or-less deck yourself on purpose; you are a beatdown deck, they have a bunch of Fogs... Bring in the Rays and the matchup is still pretty awful.
As for next week, I'm not sure if I'm going to run Ichorid again... I think it was ahead of the curve last weekend, but with more anti-graveyard cards coming up, I can't see it being as much of a stealth bomber, even if it's still good. I think that among archetype decks, the same deck that I was suggesting at the beginning of the season is still the right choice. Ichorid is yet another deck that has trouble beating Heartbeat.
Shark - per always
Luis, Elias, Manning, and especially Mark Schmit - vehicle cohabitants
Osyp and Josh - cheers and pestering
Rizzo - strong idea
Glavin (i.e. quite possibly the best deck designer in North America) - class and persistence both
Mulligans - to four specifically
Breakers (sorry Manning)