In this article I do an overview of different Premodern deck archetypes, using the decks from the Swedish Nationals as examples.
In my report from the Swedish Nationals, I showed the top 8 decks and commented particularly on the breakout Devourer Combo deck and the Dementia Drake deck. Aleksi Väänänen also wrote a deck tech about the GW Tron deck that Sakari Castrén played. Erkka Jouste and runner-up Ville Kaukoranta also wrote an in-depth report from the tournament, covering their experiences with UW Standstill, Full English Breakfast and, umm, what they had for breakfast. But there were, of course, other interesting decks played as well, in the rest of the top 8 and among the remaining 38 players. I’ve also received quite a few comments asking to see a particular deck, so in order to please all of you netdeckers and statistics nerds, this post includes two appendices with all 46 deck lists and the final Swiss standings, showing the performance of each player and deck. If you didn’t know already, the decks look best when browsing in desktop mode, in which case they are shown as pictures.
As an aside, this is enabled by an online deck list submission system through the website (courtesy of the web wizard Mattias “Slanfan” Berggren), which we tried out for the first time in this tournament. This system provided some validation for the players, since it was only possible to select Premodern legal cards, and there was a warning when trying to submit fewer than 60 cards in the main deck etc. From an organizer’s perspective, it made it possible for us to show the decks on the stream, and it makes it possible for me to push the decks to a blog post like this, without having to manually decipher and input a huge pile of hand-written paper lists. Yay! The whole thing worked smoothly, so the plan is to use the same system for the European Championships in October.
Deck archetypes in Premodern
In order to show the forest rather than the trees, I’ve classified the decks into five broad archetypes: aggro, control, prison, combo and midrange. This classicification isn’t original per se, but this is how I interpret the archetypes in a Premodern context.
The main plan of aggro decks is to play cheap threats and reduce the opponent’s life total to zero as quickly as possible. These decks don’t care much about “value”, i.e. card advantage and other resources like one’s own life total. A Suicide Black player is happy lose a card by playing a Dark Ritual to get some creatures out quickly and doesn’t mind taking damage from cards like Carnophage and Flesh Reaver, as long as the opponent can be hit even harder. Likewise, a Sligh player is happy to lose a card by directing a Lightning Bolt to your face.
Aggro decks could still deliver some value or staying power, e.g. in the form of Goblin Ringleader or Cursed Scroll, but it’s just not the main plan. In Premodern, we expect aggro decks to typically win around turn four or five in goldfish mode, i.e. if they’re not hindered. Turn three kills are uncommon but possible, if you get really good hands with cards like Hatred, Fireblast and Goblin Lackey.
Control decks, on the other hand, go for a longer game and care a lot about value. They are happy to play mana efficient reactive one-for-ones like Counterspell, Swords to Plowshares and Disenchant. As long as they stay alive, they will eventually get ahead with draw spells like Standstill, Fact or Fiction and Accumulated Knowledge. Board sweepers like Wrath of God can gain card advantage but also regain “tempo” at the same time, in the sense that your opponent has spent more mana and turns summoning the creatures that are destroyed.
Prison decks are similar to control decks in that they also go for a long, controlling game. But rather than relying on more or less situational one-for-one answers, they gain control by shutting down the opponent’s plan completely, with powerful reactive cards such as Solitary Confinement and Ensnaring Bridge. Hard core prison strategies shut down the opponent’s mana, with cards like Winter Orb and Mishra’s Helix. Both the soft and the hard prison elements create indirect card advantage, by making your opponent’s cards useless. Some of the most powerful prison cards could simultaneously shut down both your opponent’s creatures and mana, like Stasis, Devastating Dreams and Tangle Wire.
Prison decks can create very fun games, but that fun is not distributed evenly between the players. Whichever side you’re on, we have to live with the fact that there are quite a few potent prison cards in Premodern. This is in contrast to the the card design philosophy in more recent sets, in which not even a card like Stone Rain would get printed.
Magic is a game full of combos, e.g. Thicket Basilisk and Lure. But jamming these two in your lizard deck doesn’t make it a combo deck, which is instead characterized by that it’s built around a more or less degenerate card combination or engine that wins the game on the spot or within a few turns. An example is the mono-blue Trix deck—it’s only route to victory is by Donate‘ing an Illusions of Grandeur. Besides the actual combo cards, most combo decks typically include a mix of mana acceleration, card filtration and tutors, e.g. Sapphire Medallion, Impulse and Intuition in Trix.
In a nutshell, a deck can be classified as combo if it’s unable to win if the opponent could remove all copies of a certain card from the deck. We could call this the Jester’s Cap test (pretending that we could grab four instead of three cards). Combo decks typically want to be faster than the aggro decks. In Premodern this means being able to win on turn three or four, if undisrupted. However, combo decks may include some amount of disruptive and reactive cards to buy additional time or to protect the combo, e.g. Cabal Therapy or Arcane Denial. Combo decks don’t care about value, unless it’s drawing cards instrumental for setting up the combo.
Last, we have the midrange decks. I think of this in a broader sense as sort of a residual category, including decks that share characteristics of the other four categories, but without clearly belonging to either one of those (it could thus also include hybrid strategies such as “aggro-control” or “combo-control”). As the name suggests, midrange decks typically don’t aim for a quick nor for a very long game. They care about value, to varying degrees. Ideally, they can be flexible and take a controlling role versus aggro decks and an aggressive role versus control decks. They want to play bigger threats than the aggro decks, but the trade-off is that they can’t be too slow versus the control decks. Ravenous Baloth is a midrange card which illustrates this well. Nantuko Shade is another example of a midrange card—it’s cheap to play but its power scales up as the game goes on, making it relevant at all stages of the game. Since the midrange decks are not that fast, they need to include a sufficient amount of disruptive and reactive cards in order to have a chance versus prison and combo decks. Midrange decks can also include a combo package themselves, but it’s not essential to their game plan.
Archetype breakdown of the Swedish Nationals
The breakdown of the field, according to the broad archetypes outlined above, looks as follows:
- 12 Midrange (2 Terra-Geddon/Clysm, 3 The Rock, 1 RW Tax-Rack, 1 Survival Madness, 2 Deadguy Ale, 1 Hunting Grounds, 1 GW Tron, 1 UR Stifle-Nought)
- 12 Combo (1 Aluren, 3 Bargain, 1 Clerics, 1 Dementia Drake, 2 Devourer, 1 FEB, 1 Pattern-Rector-Ghoul, 1 TurboLand, 1 UB Stifle-Nought)
- 9 Control (5 UW Standstill 2 4c Control, 2 Psychatog)
- 9 Prison (4 Stasis, 4 Tinker, 1 Survival Opposition)
- 4 Aggro (2 Goblins, 1 Elves, 1 Land Destruction Burn)
Let me note there that there were some borderline cases, with decks that could arguably be assigned to a different category (and we’ll get back to that). Given this breakdown of the field, what general remarks can be made?
The first thing that stands out, and pointed out already in my organizer’s report, is that aggro made up only a tiny share of the field, with four decks. In particular, there was not a single Sligh deck, despite it being one of the best decks in the format. I think that this is more reflective of chance and local preferences, rather than due to people avoiding aggro for meta-game reasons (compare e.g. with the Euro Champs last year, which featured five Sligh decks). As for the chance part, there is always a random factor regarding what people and decks show up at a given tournament, and given the huge amount of decks available to choose from, a 46-player tournament is not big enough to even that out. As for preferences, a rather linear deck like Sligh may not rank that high on peoples’ pet deck lists, and for a special event like this, people are probably inclined to bring a well-loved deck. And there are plenty to choose from, even if you limit yourself to the competitive end of the deck spectrum. Finally, we should also keep in mind that not everyone plays this format to spike, which is perfectly fine of course.I do believe that aggro is in a good place in Premodern, however, and it would also be fun to see some more experimentation with, e.g., Suicide Black and Zoo decks (which Karl Pfeiffer’s wrote a deck tech about recently).
Second, combo accounted for around a quarter of the field, with 12 decks. This is a sizeable share, and I believe a larger one than in previous tournaments. Amazingly, there were nine distinct combo decks, with three distinct ones in the top 8.
Third, mid-range decks seem to thrive, accounting for another quarter of the field with 12 decks. But do keep in mind that this is a rather broad umbrella of decks.
Fourth, control decks accounted for one fifth of the field, with nine decks, and equally many Prison decks showed up. If we choose to view Prison as a control deck species, their combined numbers actually made up the largest share of the decks.
Is there a “natural” or expected distribution of decks then, in terms of these archetypes? Not really, I’d say. My best guess about future Premodern tournaments is that each archetype will account for at least 15% of the field, but I wouldn’t raise my eyebrows that much regardless of how the remaining 25% of the field was distributed among the archetypes. Some Magic theorizing suggests rock-paper-scissors dynamics among archetypes, e.g. with aggro beating control beating midrange beating aggro. But in Premodern (and this is probably more true than not for other formats, too), I think it more comes down to the specific decks and their matchups, and even the particular configuration of the decks.
Let’s have a closer look at a couple of decks within each archetype.
Vidar Hesselman—who won the regular Swedish Nationals the weekend before the Premodern Nationals—went 3–3 with this RB Goblins build. The deck is a well-known beast at this point and doesn’t require much explanation. It’s definitely a tier one deck and the threat of a turn 1 Goblin Lackey keeps all deck builders honest, encouraging the inclusion of cheap answers like Festering Goblin. 🙂 Despite being one of the most linear decks, there are still a lot of interesting choices, e.g. whether to splash black for cards like Duress, Dralnu’s Crusade and Patriarch’s Bidding. Per Rönnkvist swears by Mogg Flunkies, whereas I enjoy a mono-red version with Ancient Tomb and Goblin Matron, to compensate for the lack of good two-drops.
The linearity of the deck is of course a double-edged sword, and the deck can be wrecked single-clawedly by a quick Masticore, not to mention hosers like Pyroclasm, Humility and Engineered Plague. Goblins also takes splash damage from the blue blasts that people need in their sideboard versus Sligh anyways. And speaking of Sligh, it happens to be one of the worst matchups, since it can either take the aggressive role (the painlands of the RB mana base doesn’t help) or the control role, with Grim Lavamancer and Cursed Scroll.
The second aggro deck is also a tribal one: Biorhythm Elves. Anton Glans went 3–3 with this build, already featured in his tournament report from Gothcon this spring. Turn 3 goldfish wins are not uncommon with this deck, thus making it even more explosive than Goblins. It’s also more fragile, however, as it needs to commit more creatures to the battlefield, while at same time lacking comeback cards like Goblin Ringleader. In fact, the land base of 14 Forest is very tight (not counting Gaea’s Cradle), in case the elves are taken care of.
With the inclusion of Collective Unconscious and Biorhythm, this build often plays like a combo deck. I still classify it as more of an aggro deck, however, since the deck is very capable of beatdown wins on the back of Elvish Champion and Overrun. Elves has no interaction maindeck, but interesting sideboard options such as Caller of the Claw, Naturalize and Winter Orb. The latter is especially nice with Quirion Ranger, a card that also excels versus Stasis and to some extent Land Tax.
I’m trying out a similar build, but scrapping Collective Unconscious and maxing out on Overrun and Biorhythm instead. I think I underestimated the deck a bit first (or didn’t build it correctly) but it’s currently my favourite deck (fun-wise).
Erik Sundberg made it to the quarterfinals with this version of UW Standstill. This deck doesn’t need an introduction either, but Erik made a few interesting choices for the main deck:
- A couple of main deck Stifle. This a very versatile and perhaps underplayed card. It can be used against fetch lands, Wasteland, opposing Decree of Justice in the mirror, Academy Rector and Phyrexian Devourer out of combo decks, and a lot more.
- Dust Bowl instead of Wasteland. This is very useful versus The Rock, and probably a better option in the control mirror as well. It’s also a way to consolidate versus combo decks by keeping their land count low.
- Forbid instead of Absorb. I’m not sure about this one, since the life gain is so crucial against Sligh, but I guess that meta call turned out to be right this time at least. The advantages with Forbid is that it can be cast off Mishra’s Factory and Dust Bowl, and it can be bought back using otherwise dead cards in certain matchups, like Wrath of God.
Magnus Holmström went 3–3 with this Psychatog build. I haven’t tested this particular build, but I can’t help feeling that it’s a bit awkward with seven three-drops (four Psychatog and three Shadowmage Infiltrator) in an otherwise draw-go style deck that cannot answer permanents other than (some) creatures, once they hit the board. Duress mitigates this a bit since you can check that the coast is clear, but I still imagine tapping out on turn three—with a grip full of counterspells—only to be met by Humility or Light of Day.
Psychatog has been discussed before on the blog, and although it hasn’t put up much results, I still think that there is more work to do on the archetype. I’d try either going more in the control direction, with cards like Sapphire Medallion and/or Nightscape Familiar combined with Intuition and Accumulated Knowledge, or to go all in on a quick Psychatog win with the full set of Gush and perhaps Foil to back it up. Or is Full English Breakfast simply the best home for Psychatog?
Tomi Leung made it to the semifinals with this Stasis deck. The deck has put up some results before, but I’d say it’s still a bit underrated. My main concern with this build is what to do if you don’t draw Stasis, given the absence of tutors? I think it could be worth adding a couple of Intuition to make the deck more consistent in this respect. I’m not sure if Howling Mine is needed at all either, and I’d probably add a third Black Vise too.
Jonas Stattin, who is part of my playgroup in Stockholm, went 3–3 with Tinker Prison. It’s a slightly tweaked version from the one I played at the Bromma Bash tournament, cutting two Urza’s Bauble for a second Stroke of Genius and a second Sky Diamond. Jonas and I discussed adding an Icy Manipulator to answer a specific weakness of the deck: Phyrexian Dreadnought. But as the story goes, Jonas forgot to add it to his deck and went on to lose against the Colossus. Oh well.
Tinker Prison is a rather straightforward and powerful deck, unfair at times, but fragile to artifact removal in general, and hosers like Null Rod in particular, so Tinker players need to be wary of metagame shifts in this direction. A pro tip when facing the deck, by the way, is to aim your artifact removal at Thran Dynamo), at least early on in the match.
Svante Landgraf played this UB Stifle-Nought to a 3–3 record. I appreciate that this build goes all in on the combo, playing the full set of Vision Charm, mana acceleration in the form of Lotus Petal and the mini engine Gush + Foil to back up the combo. It’s sweet to see Lim-Dûl’s Vault finding a home too.
This Life deck is on the funkier end of the combo spectrum, but Simo Partinen managed to play it to a 3–3 record. The idea of the combo is to target Daru Spiritualist or Task Force a zillion times with Nomads en-Kor or Shaman en-Kor, creating a really tough creature. Thereafter you can gain infinite life with the white ability of Starlit Sanctum or with Worthy Cause. At some point thereafter you can hopefully win in style with Test of Endurance or Unspeakable Symbol! (I didn’t even know that the latter card existed, is it some kind of joke about the artist Prince?)
We’re thus dealing with a three-card combo. This seems a bit ambitious, but there are two different cards for each combo piece, tied together with Eladamri’s Call and Living Wish. The deck also has an alternative game beatdown plan in the form of Exalted Angel (or by wishing for Mystic Enforcer). Clerics thus fails the Jester’s Cap definition of a combo deck (no rules without exceptions!), but a combo deck it is, nevertheless.
Messa played this Deadguy Ale build to a respectable 4–2 finish. Messa was part of the Swedish Magic scene way back in the days, and from what I understood, this was his first tournament appearance in a long while, making it even more respectable.
The deck is straight-forward, yet illustrates the midrange archetype very well, since it can play at many different gears. Dark Ritual into Hypnotic Specter is as good as it ever was, delivering both beatdown and card advantage. You can get grindy with Phyrexian Arena and one-for-ones like Swords to Plowshares, Duress, Disenchant and Vindicate. Or you can get really aggressive with Spectral Lynx, Nantuko Shade and Phyrexian Negator (from the sideboard), while attacking the opponent’s mana with Wasteland and Vindicate. Also, Phyrexian Scuta! For more ideas about Deadguy Ale, see the recent deck tech by Gabriel Farkas.
We end our deck odyssey with The Rock, another midrange classic. This one was played by Erik Björnholm, who made it all the way to the semi-finals where he lost versus Mikael Lindén’s Devourer combo. Another similar The Rock build made it to the quarterfinals in the hands of Erik Gunnars. There were only three in the starting field, and it also took down Bromma Bash, so I think it’s safe to say that the deck is real. Erik’s and Erik’s build have a lot of common with Martin and Martin’s (that’s me and Martin Stark), but a notable difference in theirs is the inclusion of Birds of Paradise, omitting Wall of Roots and Wall of Blossoms, respectively. Erik Björnholm’s build also includes a couple of Llanowar Elves and skips Mishra’s Factory entirely. I’m not a fan of these choices as it weakens the Sligh matchup and decreases the utility of Pernicious Deed and the resiliency versus e.g. Wrath of God, but apparently it worked for him. But the inclusion of Phyrexian Plaguelord is sweet—I wonder if it did any dirty work in the tournament?
We covered a lot of ground in this article. Did you find the archetype breakdown useful and do you agree with the categorizations? Or is there any other aspect you want to see highlighted when breaking down future tournament results? You’re welcome to comment and discuss in the Premodern social media channels!
Appendix I: Standings
These are the final standings after the sixth round of Swiss of the Swedish Premodern Nationals 2019.
|1: Ville Kaukoranta||14||64.81||66.67||FEB||Combo|
|2: Erik Sundberg||14||61.11||66.67||UW Standstill||Control|
|3: Erik Björnholm||13||60.19||56.25||The Rock||Midrange|
|4: Mattias Berggren||13||57.41||66.67||Dementia Drake||Combo|
|5: Tomi Leung||13||55.56||66.67||Stasis||Prison|
|6: Jeff Ecklund||13||54.63||58.82||UR Stifle-Nought||Midrange|
|7: Mikael Lindén||13||52.78||71.43||Devourer||Combo|
|8: Erik Gunnars||13||50.93||56.25||The Rock||Midrange|
|9: Max Sjöblom||12||59.26||64.29||Bargain (Bloom)||Combo|
|10: Kim Valori||12||54.63||64.29||Bargain (Bloom)||Combo|
|11: Messa Bouchaib||12||52.78||62.5||Deadguy Ale||Midrange|
|12: Magnus Holmström||12||49.07||64.29||Psychatog||Control|
|13: Joackim Falk||11||60.19||63.64||4CC (red)||Control|
|14: Matias Hirsilä||11||58.33||63.64||Stasis||Prison|
|15: Mats Törnros||10||50.93||66.67||UW Standstill||Control|
|16: Joakim Gill||10||48.15||50.00||TurboLand||Combo|
|17: Sakari Castrén||10||46.3||53.85||GW Tron||Midrange|
|18: Joakim Almelund||9||60.19||46.67||Devourer||Combo|
|19: Jonas Stattin||9||59.26||50.00||Tinker Prison||Prison|
|20: Svante Landgraf||9||57.41||50.00||UB Stifle-Nought||Combo|
|21: Jonas Bjärnstedt||9||57.41||50.00||Terra-Geddon||Midrange|
|22: Vidar Hesselman||9||53.7||53.33||RB Goblins||Aggro|
|23: Simo Partinen||9||52.78||50.00||Clerics||Combo|
|24: Nirko Korhonen||9||49.07||54.55||Stasis||Prison|
|25: Anton Glans||9||48.15||50.00||Elves||Aggro|
|26: Samuli Sippu||9||47.22||50.00||Deadguy Ale||Midrange|
|27: Michael Lindryd||9||47.22||47.06||Psychatog||Control|
|28: Janne Laurila||9||45.37||50.00||RB Goblins||Aggro|
|29: Micke Thai||9||40.74||50.00||Bargain||Combo|
|30: Erkka Jouste||7||48.15||46.15||UW Standstill||Control|
|31: Mattias Björklund||7||47.22||40.00||Hunting Grounds||Midrange|
|32: Lucas Gustafsson||7||47.22||41.67||Terra-Geddon (no Tax)||Midrange|
|33: Joel Grenehed||6||54.63||35.71||Tinker Prison||Prison|
|34: Gustaf Åkerlund||6||51.85||38.46||The Rock||Midrange|
|35: Mikael Johansson||6||48.15||41.18||Ankh Burn||Aggro|
|36: Christopher Clemedtson||6||48.15||38.46||Pattern-Ghoul||Combo|
|37: Andreas Cermak||6||48.15||33.33||RW Tax-Rack||Midrange|
|38: Christoffer Ordén||5||41.11||30.00||UW Standstill||Control|
|39: Per Henriksson||4||41.67||25.64||UW Standstill||Control|
|40: Emil Andersson||4||37.04||35.71||Tinker Prison||Prison|
|41: Joel Larsson||3||51.85||37.5||4CC (black)||Control|
|42: Daniel Ivarsson||3||48.89||27.27||Stasis||Prison|
|43: Daniel Sunhede||3||46.3||28.89||Tinker Prison||Prison|
|44: Oskar Wall||3||43.52||28.57||The Rock||Midrange|
|45: Carl Engwall||3||38.89||28.57||Survival Opposition||Prison|
|46: Aleksi Väänänen||0||51.85||14.29||Survival Madness||Midrange|