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Classic Cube Part 3: U.S. Nationals, 2000

Written by Ezra Sassaman on . Posted in Casual Magic, Cube

Classic Cube Part 3: U.S. Nationals, 2000

Ezra Sassaman

Ezra Sassaman has been playing Magic since he got a sweet Ravnica theme deck for his 12th birthday. Since then, he has been an avid follower of all aspects of the game. In his free time, he enjoys Cube-drafting with his friends in Bar Harbor, Maine.

After a tumultuous Urza’s Block resulting in many broken fast mana starts, draw sevens, and emergency bannings, things calmed down for the 2000 Standard format. Let’s travel to U.S. Nationals of that year, with a format consisting of Urza Block, 6th Edition, and Masques Block. Because last week’s article favored decks that contained the colors white, blue, and red, I will first highlight two monocolored decks this week: Jon Finkel’s monoblack Vampiric Tutor deck and Frank Hernandez’s monogreen aggro deck.  Then, I will give a brief overview of white, blue, and red cards from this era that are important to include in the Classic Cube.

With this period of Magic’s history, we start to see the importance of creatures with high cost-to-power ratios. Finkel had access to Skittering Skirge (CMC 2, power 3), Skittering Horror (CMC 3, power 4) and Phyrexian Negator (CMC 3, power 5). Hernandez had access to Pouncing Jaguar and Wild Dogs (CMC 1, power 2) as well as Vine Dryad, which is a 1/3 with flash and forestwalk which can be cast for 0 mana!

Jon Finkel’s monoblack deck had elements of a control strategy and the ability to rely on mana-efficient creatures to finish the game quickly – a deadly combination. The suite of Dark Ritual, hand disruption, and removal is reminiscent of Necropotence decks from the Standard format of a couple years before. Duress, Stupor, Persecute, and Unmask attack the opponent’s hand, while a removal suite of Vicious Hunger, Perish, Eradicate, Massacre, and Engineered Plague leave creature decks in the dust. Instead of the flood of card draw guaranteed by the iconic enchantment Necropotence, Finkel’s deck relies on the precise card selection presented by Vampiric Tutor alongside the late-game power of Yawgmoth’s Will. The 1-of Thrashing Wumpus is an all-star against aggressive decks and will surely find a spot in the Classic Cube. Finkel’s sideboard grants him access to the sweeper Powder Keg and the one-card win condition Phyrexian Processor, which can take over the game against decks without access to direct damage spells.

While Hernandez’s monogreen deck: contained creatures that were pretty small on their own, the printing of the card Rancor (with help from old favorite Giant Growth) readily allows the army of one or two-power attackers to get aggressive in a big way. Add in some free landwalking abilities from Vine Dryad, River Boa, and Rushwood Dryad (out of the sideboard), as well as disruption in the form of Elvish Lyrist and Uktabi Orangutan, and you have a deck that is fast and versatile. To add to the allure of this deck, a player must by no means go “all-in” on an aggressive strategy. The ability of River Boa and Albino Troll to regenerate themselves as well as the itinerant Rancor and the powerful “creature-land” Treetop Village combine to give this deck a fighting chance in the long game as well. Curving aggressive creatures into Tangle Wire can really punish slower decks, while Meekstone out of the sideboard can shut down opponents who are trying to rely on bigger creatures to race with.

The 2000 U.S. nationals also brought other flavors of green to the table, with some decks opting for a RG midrange strategy that took advantage of the synergy between Skyshroud Poacher and Deranged Hermit and had access to more avenues for card advantage, such as Yavimaya Elder, Plow Under, Arc Lightning, and Ancient Hydra. This deck, with access to Gaea’s Cradle, Birds of Paradise, Llanowar Elves, and Rofellos, Llanowar Emissary, could generate absurd amounts of mana and pump it into a formidable Masticore. The bigger mana build also gave the RG player access the tough-to-kill Blastoderm in the sideboard for removal-heavy matchups.

While the RG deck used a few Plow Unders and maybe a singleton Avalanche Riders to attack an opponent’s mana, monored decks of the era were much more devoted to land destruction. The version in this particular Top 8 contained a full four copies of Avalanche Riders, Stone Rain, and Pillage as well as two main deck copies of Tectonic Break, a new red “Armageddon”. Even the lands Rishadan Port and Dust Bowl could hamper the opponent’s mana base! In typical “Sligh” fashion, this deck would go right for the face with old burn spells like Earthquake and Hammer of Bogardan, complemented by the new suite Seal of Fire, Shock, and the “free” Cave-In. When an opponent’s mana base is crippled from multiple Stone Rain-effects, having only a few maindeck creatures is no big deal – there were probably games when the 2/1 creature-land Ghitu Encampment was enough to finish off the game in tandem with a few Shocks.

The Top 8 of 2000 U.S. Nationals also contained a monowhite aggro deck, also known as “White Weenie”. This deck contained the classic white staples Armageddon and Disenchant, backing them up with efficient creatures such as Mother of Runes, Ramosian Sergeant, Fresh Volunteers, Longbow Archer, and Steadfast Guard. Instead of green pump spells like Rancor and Giant Growth, this deck took advantage of team-enhancing enchantments like Crusade and Glorious Anthem. While we saw white decks of the first Pro Tour make liberal use of Wrath of God (even the “aggro” decks), faster decks in 2000 standard got an upgrade in the form of Parallax Wave. If your opponent dies before the fading counters run out, it doesn’t matter that they were going to get their creatures back! Cards like Parallax Wave and Meekstone enabled new aggro decks to use “Wrath” effects without killing their own creatures.

Finally, Mike Long’s monoblue control deck made use of the new finisher Morphling, counterspells, and big draw spells like Stroke of Genius and Opportunity to take over the late game. For control strategies, Urza’s block added the versatile Miscalculation as early interaction, while spells such as Rewind and Thwart could be cast for effectively no mana.

While I would love to add the best cards of every deck to the Cube, a few restrictions first have to take place.

  1. Cost: inputting these decks into a deck pricer returns a Top 8 full of staggeringly expensive Standard decks. Unfortunately, as time goes on, some older cards become prohibitively expensive. The lands Rishadan Port and Gaea’s Cradle are WAY too expensive to be considered in the Classic Cube. For Jon Finkel’s deck, Vampiric Tutor and Yawgmoth’s Will are a bit above the threshold, so they will also not be included. Mike Long’s control deck contained the expensive Palinchron, Treachery, and Grim Monolith, all a bit too pricy.
  2. Limited vs. Constructed: some of these decks contain cards that made sense in 2000 Stanard but do not make sense in cube. I will avoid narrow hosers like Stromgald Cabal, Perish, Engineered Plague, Light of Day, and Boil. However, cards that are solid on their own and are especially good against a certain color, such as River Boa, will be included. Also, the 1-of rule for most cubes decreases the effectiveness of cards such as Eradicate, which gain value if four-ofs are being used.

With these considerations in place, I present the summary for cards being added to the Classic Cube this week:

White: Mother of Runes, Ramosian Sergeant, Fresh Volunteers, Longbow Archer, Steadfast Guard, Crusade, Glorious Anthem, Parallax Wave

Blue: Morphling, Miscalculation, Rewind, Thwart, Opportunity, Stroke of Genius

Black: Skittering Skirge, Phyrexian Negator, Skittering Horror, Thrashing Wumpus, Duress, Vicious Hunger, Stupor, Massacre, Persecute, Unmask

Red: Avalanche Riders, Ancient Hydra, Shock, Tectonic Break, Arc Lightning, Pillage, Stone Rain, Cave-In, Seal of Fire

Green: Pouncing Jaguar, Wild Dogs, Albino Troll, River Boa, Rofellos, Llanowar Emissary, Rushwood Dryad, Uktabi Orangutan, Yavimaya Elder, Blastoderm, Skyshroud Poacher, Vine Dryad, Deranged Hermit, Giant Growth, Plow Under, Rancor

Artifacts: Masticore, Meekstone, Powder Keg, Tangle Wire, Phyrexian Processor

Lands: Dust Bowl, Forbidding Watchtower, Faerie Conclave, Spawning Pool, Ghitu Encampment, Treetop Village

Thanks for reading! As always, you can keep up with the Classic Cube list here.

Best,

Ezra Sassaman

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