Everyone loves dragons. Everyone loves things with a huge casting cost. Everyone loves Draco.
I've been dying to play Draco Explosion this season, and when Nick West of Pro Tour: Columbus fame, said he had a good version that needed tweaking, I didn't hesitate. Draco Explosion, or Draco as it will henceforth be called, was a very strong deck at the end of last season, and I was surprised not to see it reappear this time round, especially in an Extended format where everything seems viable. The deck is a combination of the very powerful Scepter-Chant deck with Draco, creating a deck heavily focused on the Isochron Scepter lock with the fast and very reliable kill of Erratic Explosion. Two combos in one. It worked... Eventually.
I'll start with the list that formed most of the testing:
With no disruption other than the Chants and the Mages, it lacks the counters its predecessors had, as well as their card advantage. With 6 Tutors, 4 'Storms, 4 Ice and 3 Top, it is dedicated to finding whichever bits of either combo it is missing. The deck is very streamlined and kills very quickly and very consistently. The mana base is one that I'm still not sure is right, because it has so many options. It desperately wants more shuffle effects with fetchlands, but can't really afford them.
The most tested card that finally got cut from the deck was Cunning Wish. Combined with the Tutors, it gave the deck a thoroughly adept toolbox feel. Its problem was that it was far to slow for the deck and marginally hindered its sideboard. Scroll Rack, a card that had ruled supreme in older versions of Draco Explosion was surpassed in speed by the funny uncommon Sensei's Diving Top. However, it was so tempting to put one main to give the Enlightened Tutors something to find in the trickier matchups like Rock and Tog - in the end we held off.
The lone Magma Jet is probably the wrong card for the slot. At this stage in testing nothing better had been found, and a Jet was worth a try. It was the best card, it just seemed that with so many Tutors the last card should be a silver bullet against its worst matchup. Having only played thirty games with the deck, this information was not available, so the Jet was the safe bet. Possibilities like a Sulfuric Vortex, Millstone, Sphere of Law, Rule of Law, Energy Flux and Earthquake all become better after more testing.
The only other thing that needed finishing was a vague sketch at sideboard cards. We knew that against Red Deck Wins, your one sideboard Sphere of Law was going to be devastating, so if the matchup ended up exactly 50-50, as it did, you could feel much safer in that matchup as a whole.
This article is being written as the testing takes place, so now a break, as I dash away from the keyboard to give you the improvements that more long games of testing will provide.
Having wearily returned from a mighty testing session, luckily on Nick's behalf and not mine, we had the results we needed. A few cards had been tried, and new people had brought their own ideas. The deck's obvious maindeck weakness was to Life, but a suggested Cursed Totem soon put an end to that. A Scroll Rack definitely earned a spot in place of a Top, and another Jet seemed to squirm its way in, cutting the number of Mystical Tutors to one. Only one Draco was needed in most matchups and the second one slunk its way into the sideboard. Meanwhile the manabase got re-jigged a little.
4 Orim's Chant
4 Enlightened Tutor
4 Isochron Scepter
4 Erratic Explosion
4 Chrome Mox
4 Meddling Mage
2 Magma Jet
2 Sensei's Diving Top
1 Scroll Rack
1 Cursed Totem
1 Mystical Tutor
What was more important was that a sideboard had almost formed. As strategies had been found to combat certain decks and with certain matchups proving very good and the worse ones discovered, it worked its way into existence:
3 Boseiju, Who Shelters All
1 Wrath of God
1 Mystical Tutor
1 Scroll Rack
1 Seal of Cleansing
1 Sphere of Law/Chill/Circle of Protection: Red
1 Cursed Totem
1 Ensnaring Bridge
1 Mana Maze
The workings of the maindeck are fairly simple. There are two combos - that of the Scepter and that of the Explosion. To both the Tutors are key as they find whichever half of either combo is missing from your hand. Explosion and Enlightened Tutor are sixteen damage for 2RW and few decks can deal with an active Scepter-Chant. With so many Tutors, the sideboard is full of silver bullets to bolster every matchup. The rest of the 'board comprises of answers to the bad matchups - those of Tog, certain builds of Rock, Scepter-Chant and U/G Madness.
A lot of cards nestled on the bench for the board. Cards that fell short in some way or the other but still might find a way back in include: Flames of the Blood Hand, Stifle, Leonin Abunas, Shock/Seal of Fire, Seal of Removal/Unsummon, Rushing River, Earthquake, Meloku the Clouded Mirror, Exalted Angel, Defense Grid, Arcane Laboratory/Rule of Law, Millstone, Dampen Thought ;-), Energy Flux, Sulfuric Vortex, Pyrostatic Pillar, all sorts of counterspells, Misdirection, Engineered Explosives, Extract, Powder Keg, and many others that don't immediately spring to mind.
We had a lot of hope that the deck's surprise would win several matches, where our opponents would think we were playing Scepter-Chant and we would win seemingly out of the Blue with an Explosion. In testing we had ignored the surprise factor and our results were with our opponents knowing how best to play against us. U/G was probably the worst matchup, close to 65-35 before boarding and 35% at best after. Their beatdown and counters caused a lot of trouble, it was hoped that the addition of an Ensnaring Bridge on top of the Wrath of God would help. Tog was just up main and significantly up after sideboarding, as an accurate Cranial Extraction could immediately win for them. The deck focuses on the Draco combo and so boards in the extra Draco and Rack, the Extraction-free Kaboom! and another Mystical Tutor to help find the pieces. Boseiju bolstered the land count to help against such things as Mana Leaks and making the lethal Explosion uncounterable. The introduction of instant artifact removal after sideboarding against the Rock of Oxidize and Naturalize again makes the deck fall back upon its Draco half, with the same boarding as vs. Tog without the Boseijus, and the Wrath can once again find a home.
The bullets are fairly self explanatory. The Totem completely shuts Life and Ravager down as well as U/G's madness outlets. The Mana Maze kills Aluren and Mind's Desire. The Grindstone is there to win the Life matchup if they somehow manage to go off, and for Tog and Chant. My favorite of the anti-Red cards is Sphere of Law, as it annihilates Red Deck Wins but is also slow. Chill is probably better than the COP and its attraction over the Sphere is that of speed, but for now I'll be playing Sphere of Law, only partially because I found one in an old shoe box. The Disenchant and Seal are for the Chant matchup, to clear away a Pernicious Deed perhaps, to drop the elbow on Ravager, whilst bolstering an already very strong matchup up vs. Aluren.
Looking at the matchups, we were very pleased with how the deck was performing and had almost no doubt that we would be playing it, if we could scrape the cards together, at GP: Eindhoven. It crushed Ravager, Aluren and Desire, beat RDW, and most versions of Rock. Reanimator was a joke. I played five games before giving up. Fire/Ice, Scepter, Chant, Mage and the Draco combo if they were to use a Reanimate made the matchup almost unlosable. A sideboarded Bridge ensures it as well. Tog, Chant and UG were not favorable, but they weren't unwinnable and we did not expect to see much Chant or Tog.
Overall, as I sit now going into my final preparations for the GP, I feel certain that it will do well. Now I have to have leave you again for a while whilst I scrounge all of the cards I need for the deck. All sixty-eight of them!
After a brief one hour flight and a trip to the local gaming store in Eindhoven, Sam Gomersall, Nick West, Kai Budde and I made our way to Jelger Wiegersma's humble abode to talk about the deck. Whilst at the store, the lil' champ Julien Nuijten was badgering me as to whether we were playing the 'Top' deck. That was exactly what we were playing, in his light-hearted sarcasm, he had inadvertently named our deck - Top Deck.
Fellow writer, the highly eccentric Ruud Warmenhoven had been swayed to the Topside, as had Jelger, bringing the top of Tops in the GP to a grand total of eight. The only heavily discussed item of the maindeck was the need for an Echoing Truth. In order to win versus Life was to have an out to their Aether Vial, for with it on the table it is impossible to win if they play correctly. However, we could find no card we wanted to cut for the Truth. Jet, Rack and the Mystical Tutor were all offered for sacrifice, but we wanted to cut none of them, there was even mention of cutting both the Rack and the Tutor for two additional Jets but it was difficult to heed it seriously.
The most talked about thing was the sideboard. Nick had come up with the idea of Leonin Abunas as a slot vs U/G as it was a sizable blocker and dealt with their Naturalize and Oxidize. We found a better and more universally used out - Hanna's Custody. I don't imagine that many of you know what this card even does, but it is far more efficient and cheaper than the Abunas. A Tsabo's Web more than earned its place, for all Red deck with Rishadan Ports could cause problems. We foolishly kept a Wrath of God and a Grindstone in, and they were never used to any effect. After a night of frantic tinkering a hideous collection of fifteen cards had emerged. Everyone recognized that it was awful, but we didn't know what to cut or even what was needed the most, so here was the clunky toolbox of silver bullets and outs we had concocted:
2 Boseiju, Who Shelters All
1 Ensnaring Bridge
1 Cursed Totem
1 Tsabo's Web
1 Mana Maze
1 Energy Flux
1 Hanna's Custody
1 Sphere of Law
1 Circle of Protection: Red
1 Seal of Cleansing
1 Wrath of God
1 Deep Analysis
It could cope with almost any eventuality, but deal with none. The Flux had been added as a back up plan against Affinity, as had the Bridge for UG and Reanimator. Both anti-Red cards were needed, as was the Maze for Mind's Desire. The extra Totem may have been a bit of overkill, but it helped deal with Life and Aluren. The techy card was the Deep Analysis. It came in versus Chant, Tog and Rock as a lovely mid-game refill, but was there primarily to deck Life. If they had a recursive Serra Avatar or Volrath's Stronghold on the go, the Deep would soon put an end to it.
The testing continued furiously the next day, after a filling Subway breakfast, whilst we waited for our byes to run out and the fun to begin.
As all the results are all checkable thanks to the superb coverage on Sideboard.com, I will not go into details, but needless to say that Topdeck might almost have been the most covered archetype in the feature match area. Ruud lost playing for the Top 8 to the eventual winner Sebastian Roux, Jelger conceded the last round for a better chance to make money, whilst I had conceded an earlier round for much the same reason. Three of us made Day 2, with only Nick missing. I think the results speak for themselves. What we quickly realized was that the deck is ridiculously difficult to play. And I mean ridiculous. If you cast a Top on turn 1, you are in for a very complex game where you will probably make several mistakes and lose it, however, had you played properly, it could never have been lost. We attributed almost all of our losses to misplays.
The sideboard was diabolical, as we had suspected. Cards like Grindstone were never used, the Wrath was superfluous, the extra Totem seemed unnecessary, the Flux and the Bridge overkill. Hanna's Custody was worth its weight in gold, coming in in every match, as everyone seemed to be packing artifact removal. The Tsabo's Web was also amazing. Red decks with their Ports could sometimes Port and Wasteland you out, even when you had a Scepter-Chant in play. If I were to play the deck again, and I will throughout the English PTQ season, I'd play 3 Custody and 3 Web, cutting the Wrath, Grind, Flux, Bridge for two more Custody and Web. The Totem maindeck would also probably get cut, making the Life matchup a difficult one, but an extra Jet or an Echoing Truth seems really useful.
With these changes in mind, I attended the 130ish player, two-slot PTQ in London. Top sliced its way through the swiss, finishing on an unblemished 5-0-2. It continued its rampage through the first round of the single elimination and then I decided to throw away the crucial semi final with a horrendous misplay. It left me with one definite impression, that maybe a faster kill mechanism was needed vs. Life after sideboarding, and argument for the return of the Grindstone, otherwise it is difficult to achieve anything other than a draw. With additional Deep Analysis in the sideboard, Tog can be beat quite easily after sideboarding thanks to the insane power of Boseiju.
Overall, I felt the sideboard was still missing something, namely a good answer to UG. Engineered Explosives are very tempting to put in the deck, as well as additional Disenchants (probably an Orim's Thunder as the last one). The Explosives might even make it maindeck, as the Totem has not really proven itself. In a bolt of inspiration, I realized what the spare card main should be. What was needed was another Top. I wanted to try Lightning Angels but their sheer novelty was not enough to earn them a berth. Hanna's Custody should probably have three slots, and as this is very much a working article coming to an end, I shall list the refined sideboard one last time:
I wish anyone who wants to play it the best of luck. It is incredibly fun, incredibly complex and very satisfying. It has very few bad matchups and can win virtually every game so long as it is played properly. I will be playing it again next weekend with one more attempt to qualify for Philly.
Best of Luck,