I've said it before, I'll say it again: the Wisconsin State Championship tournament is one of my absolutely favorite events of the year. I think that is why it kills me that I had to make a choice not to play in the event this year. One of the unfortunate casualties of the move to store-based PTQs is the inability of the larger Tournament Organizers - people like SCG's own Pete Hoefling, and Midwest people like Steve Port, Mike Guptil, Alan Hochman, and others - to be able to coordinate so that this fun event isn't butting up against other events. In the end, I ended up down at Alan's store, Pastimes, where I did my best to win a Sealed Deck PTQ with a terrible pool; I dropped at 2-2.
In Wisconsin, Steve Port (of Misty Mountain in Wisconsin and Legion Games in Minnesota) has long run his State Championship tournament with an awesome prize: free entrance to his events for the year. As a result, there was always a lot of buzz going into the event. Add to that the rivalry that had sprung up between Madison and Milwaukee, and you had an amazingly exciting tournament, ever since it was first won by Milwaukee's Rob Castro back in 1997 with Five-Color-Green.
This year, States had an impressive 141 players. I say "impressive" because it was competing against a 162-person PTQ that was only a short drive away in Chicago, and competing against Grand Prix San Jose (congrats Williams, Sperling, and Rietzl!) which stole away, by my count, no fewer than 24 potential players - though perhaps much more.
Let's get right to it, and look at the results of the Swiss, a clean cut at 6-1-1:
1 - Phillip Bailey - Jund Ramp
2 - Ryan Sabin - Esper Control
3 - Alex Bernstein - White Weenie
4 - Brian Macak - G/W Aggro
5 - Jacob Pleasants - Bant Aggro
6 - Aaron Friedrich - Jund
7 - Brandon Semerau - Junk Tokens
8 - Eric Turben -U/W/R Control
Here is the first take-away:
This is a wide open format .
Look to the SCG Standard Open in Providence , and you'll agree that this is the case. In that event, six archetypes made up the Top 8, and in WI States, eight did. That's awesome.
A part of that is certainly because we still haven't distilled this format down to the clearly dominant archetypes, sure. But a part of it is that there simply aren't as many oppressive cards. Is there an analog to Primeval Titan? To the perfect storm of Delver/Ponder/Vapor Snag/Gut Shot? To Sun Titan shenanigans? There may indeed be such a thing, but as of yet, we haven't discovered it yet.
Talking to people from other states, this indeed continues to be a similar conclusion. My friend and occasional collaborator I@n DeGraff took a red-based Aggro deck (designed by former Chicago burn-slinger Ronny Serio, working in collaboration with me, as we so often do on Red decks) to a third place finish in Kentucky States. I@n said that Kentucky was wildly full of different archetypes. Listening to the reports from SCG Providence, and from State Championships (like IL, MN, OH, IN, and others), it certainly does seem to be the case.
This is exactly the time that makes for exciting Magic. My thanks to Ben Rislove of Misty Mountain Games in Madison for supplying the lists for this article.
In Wisconsin, when it all fell out and was done, we saw the second victory for Bant. Last time, it was 2009 in the hands of then-best-active Magic player in Wisconsin, Tommy Kolowith:
- 4 Baneslayer Angel
- 2 Birds of Paradise
- 4 Emeria Angel
- 4 Knight of the Reliquary
- 4 Lotus Cobra
- 4 Noble Hierarch
- 4 Rhox War Monk
- 2 Rafiq of the Many
A cool deck, to be certain. This year, the "new" Bant was piloted by Jacob Pleasants:
- 4 Champion of the Parish
- 3 Knight of Glory
- 2 Lyev Skyknight
- 3 Precinct Captain
- 4 Silverblade Paladin
- 3 Sublime Archangel
- 4 War Falcon
- 3 Geist of Saint Traft
- 3 Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
This is an incredibly intriguing deck to me. It doesn't at all try to mess around. In terms of the capacity for aggression, this deck does nearly everything it can to amp it up short of playing Wolfir Silverheart. This deck isn't particularly tricky in any way. It just goes for the throat and tries to end the game as quickly as possible, utilizing a tight curve.
The sideboard is particularly interesting to me. Between Feeling of Dread, Ulvenwald Tracker, Nearheath Pilgrim, and Lyev Skyknight, this deck looks like it is designed to be able to dominate in a race between creature decks. Picture starts like turn 1 War Falcon, turn 2 Knight of Glory. On turn 3, whether it is a Rancor, a Silverblade Paladin or any number of other cards, the amount of damage that can be on the table is just crazy. Then, with Skyknights or Feeling of Dread to keep you off-balance, another aggressive deck could just be in a world of pain.
Aside from that, though, the deck has access to other great cards as well. Detention Sphere is a great catch-all. Grafdigger's Cage can utterly take out certain problem matchups. Ulvenwald Tracker can dominate an opposing deck as well. The great thing about any of these cards is that they fit so seamlessly into the plan of this deck, which is largely just trying to get down a clock and nullify problematic cards along the way.
The main deck has several cards that I just love the look of in the deck.
Thalia is one of the big ones. Pressing into the mana of your opponent is one of the best things you can do to an opponent in a fresh format. It basically boils down to the fact that most new decks are not optimally designed, and mana is often one of the weakest elements of how they are built. Thalia, in addition to simply being a great creature, is strategically positioned really well in the early parts of a format.
Sublime Archangel is another. Every time I see this card in play it is just an utter beating. I'm not sure that there shouldn't be four of this card in this deck (and nearly every deck like this one), but I can see how mana considerations could matter. It really does just create crazy beatdowns, sometimes out of nowhere.
Finally, more than anything else, Silverblade Paladin just seems so incredible to me. Double strike is the closest thing we have to the power of Infect, in terms of damage efficiency. When you make a non-double striking creature into a double striker, usually this is somewhat busted. When you throw into the mix Rancor and Exalted, the Paladin is just scarily powerful.
In his path to win the State Championship, Jacob was in the middle of the pack in the Swiss, first beating GW Beats, moving onto UW/r Control, and finally defeating GW Tokens. To me, this is a sure sign that his deck has what it takes to fight against anything.
Kudos to Jacob Pleasants, joining a long line of players who have worn the Wisconsin State Champion crown. Outgoing champion Owen Turtenwald was at the Grand Prix, and unable to defend his crown. Hopefully, next year there won't be a scheduling conflict and many people would be able to return to the fray for the championship!
Brandon's deck only barely touches into black, supporting Flashback in the main of Lingering Souls and sideboard access to Sorin. Whether you call it WG/b Tokens or Junk Tokens or WG Tokens, it really is splitting hairs in some ways. With the land as Brandon has it, I actually think there may have been some room for something like Vault of the Archangel or other black cards.
To me, it looks like there is clearly a space of strength that this deck is coming from, but it also looks like it might be a little unfocused, particularly the sideboard. Other than a little bit of change to the land, I think the main deck might be served by taking a lesson from SCG Champion Marc Blesso:
The biggest thing I like in this deck is the 4 Borderland Ranger, 4 Thragtusk. This is followed up by maining the Sorin, Lord of Innistrad. Adding a few more cards like this for their sheer power seems like a great way to go.
- 1 Falkenrath Aristocrat
- 3 Huntmaster of the Fells
- 4 Thragtusk
- 3 Thundermaw Hellkite
- 4 Vampire Nighthawk
- 2 Olivia Voldaren
The varieties of Jund Ramp that we've seen continue to be wildly diverse. Check out another third place list from the SCG Standard Open in Providence:
These two lists have a lot in common, but they also show the world of play that is available to someone that is seeking out a good deck in the Jund Ramp archetype. Elliot's list practically has creatures as an afterthought. Aaron's deck, on the other hand, runs a fair amount more creatures. One of my favorite part of Aaron's deck is the 3 Thundermaw Hellkite, which I think are just phenomenal in a world of Thragtusk (particularly if you are running Thragtusk of your own).
One card I like in the sideboard is Appetite for Brains which seems like it is a great sideboard card in fights against any number of controlling strategies. A few other cards could perhaps be increased in the board (Rakdos's Return is fast becoming one of my favorites), but I'm not certain what needs to be shaved to make the room. Perhaps Knight of Infamy? Until the meta pans out more, it could be hard to say.
Here, sitting in fourth, a more true-control deck in the hands of Eric Turben. This list is practically the same list as SCG Cincinnati Standard Open champion Todd Anderson's list, so I don't think that there are much in the way of lessons here.
One thing I do note is that Eric dropped a Think Twice in favor of a Sphinx's Revelation. I actually think that this is going to be a trend you'll begin to see more of as people test out UW/r Control. In my own version, I currently have 0 Think Twice, for example. We'll see as the format pans out.
At the tail end of it all, here is now the updated Wisconsin State Champions list!
1997 - Milwaukee's Rob Castro - Five-Color Green
1998 - Milwaukee's Jake Welch - Ponza Red
1999 - Milwaukee's Waiken Soo - Rector/Bargain
2000 - Madison's Mike Hron - Classic Fires of Yavimaya
2001 - Madison's Mike Hron - Weenie Fires of Yavimaya
2002 - Madison's Adrian Sullivan - Burnt Ponza
2003 - "Appleton's" Lukas Duchow - Astral Slide
2004 - Madison's Adam Kugler - my deck Kooky Jooky
2005 - Madison's Adrian Sullivan - Eminent Domain
2006 - Madison's Levi Stenz - Orzhov Control
2007 - Madison's Mike Jones - UG Pickles Prison
2008 - Milwaukee's Colin LaFleur - Feldman Fish
2009 - Oshkosh's Tommy Kolowith - Angel-Bant
2010 - "Madison's" Jed Grimmer - U/R Frost Titan
2011 - Milwaukee's Owen Turtenwald - "Mono"-Green Wolf Run
2012 - Somewhere's Jacob Pleasants - Bant Aggro (I'm sorry I don't know where Jacob is from!)
Until next week!
-If I can compile them all, I'm hoping to put all of the T8 decklists from this year on my Facebook page! I might also add in all of the Wisconsin State Championship lists of all time, just for fun.
-Check out my Twitter!