Tournament Prep: The Season Begins
Four Tournaments, Four Weeks
My Magic team has recently reorganized and we’ve begun priming our skills for some upcoming tournaments. Over the course of the next four weeks, we’re looking at playing in the following:
StarCityGames Invitiational Qualfier Eau Claire – 1/4/14
Pro Tour Qualifier Journey Into Nyx Green Bay – 1/11/14
Pro Tour Qualifier Journey Into Nyx Madison – 1/18/14
Pro Tour Qualifier Journey Into Nyx Cedar Rapids – 1/25/14
I’m going to use this article to outline the list that I’ve arrived at after testing for the last few weeks, it should be within 4-5 cards of what I play this coming Saturday. Two of my teammates are also most likely going to be on the same list, and another teammate is playing his own version which is very close to mine.
R/W Devotion by John Galli
4 Ash Zealot
4 Burning-Tree Emissary
4 Boros Reckoner
4 Fanatic of Mogis
3 Purphoros, God of the Forge
4 Stormbreath Dragon
2 Hammer of Purphoros
3 Chained to the Rocks
4 Magma Jet
3 Anger of the Gods
1 Boros Guildgate
4 Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx
4 Sacred Foundry
4 Temple of Triumph
3 Mizzium Mortars
3 Toil // Trouble
2 Assemble the Legion
1 Last Breath
1 Chained to the Rocks
1 Anger of the Gods
1 Wear // Tear
1 Divine Verdict
Differences vs Stock
The biggest difference in my list from most out there is maindeck Anger of the Gods. I came to this direction through playtesting, quickly making the realization that I was sideboarding in Anger against a lot of decks, not just aggro. Ultimately it performed well in a lot of game one’s because against the variety of Devotion decks out there, most are terribly reliant on their early game to be able to turn on their finishers. While we are focusing on the same goal with R/W Devotion, if you know you’re playing Anger it’s easy to play around it and setup for a killing blow once you’ve swept your opponent’s side. No one really expects maindeck Anger, and its let me steal a lot of games, not to mention stay in a lot of games that I shouldn’t have been in. Yes, Mizzium Mortars can accomplish the same thing and be used as basic spot removal, but it’s really hard to get to six mana at times for the overload cost and I was finding that most devotion decks have several creatures out within the first three to four turns. Furthermore, it gives you an upgrade against Aggro in game 1 which is usually where most of those decks are tuned to beat you and ensure a game 3 on the play if there ends up being one.
Mono Blue and Mono Black Devotion both run Nightveil Specter, a key card in enabling their lethal devotion tactics, and between that and Pack Rat / one-drops, there’s a lot that needs to be answered. Just about every game against them where I’ve cast Anger on turn three or four, I’ve been able to neutralize their route to victory. It’s especially potent if you’re following it up with Hammer and Purphoros, or a slew of Ash Zealots, which should quickly exhaust any removal they have and leave you with your best finishers in hand. Anger doesn’t kill Frostburn Weird, and it still makes you take damage off opposing Reckoners, but it handles a lot of other issues which usually swing the match. The exile clause is also huge against decks like G/W and Esper Humans, both of which have incredibly pesky cards in Voice of Resurgence and Xathrid Necromancer.
The other notable change in my list from the stock ones is Magma Jet. I touched on this in my last article a lot so I won’t rehash too much, but the main reason for running it was to give this deck more gas. I’ve found too many games I had awkward land draws, and Jet goes a long way towards smoothing this out. It also helps this deck fight some tough early threats, namely Pack Rat and Soldier of the Pantheon, both of which can make you throw a fit. Frostburn Weird was underperforming, mostly because even though its a great anti-aggro card it fails the Pantheon test. It also doesn’t kill any x/2’s without using mana, which this deck can’t afford the majority of the time. This has been pretty much agreed with across the board for my team, so while I love the card and know that it can be incredibly good at times, I think in the current meta it needs to be put on the bench momentarily. This does of course reduce your creature and devotion count, but I’ve found many games that just sticking one or two creatures followed by Purphoros or Fanatic is enough. If you play carefully and exhaust their resources, it usually doesn’t become an issue.
I was leaning away from Purphoros and Hammer when I wrote my last few articles, but my teammate convinced me to try them again and after doing a full week of testing I can easily say that they are amazing. Getting Purphoros to reliably be a creature is not that hard, even in the face of removal, and he is incredibly good at punishing any random opponent out there. There’s very few decks that can stop an indestructible 6/5, and the extra two damage his triggered ability delivers often ends up adding to lethal in a heartbeat. It’s especially noticeable when you play Fanatic; I’ve often had to go back and figure out damage again only to realize it was enough to get there. Add the additional element of Hammer, and both of those Devotion creatures become the equivalent of a Thundermaw Hellkite dropped on your opponent’s head. Lastly, Purphoros and his Hammer give you much needed potency against Esper Control, to the point where I found it was quite honestly the difference between winning and losing those matches.
This isn’t set in stone by any means, so feel free to wildly fluctuate from what I have here. As usual, it’s always easier to figure out what comes in than what comes out, and in most cases I recommend trusting your maindeck and trying to be marginal at boarding when possible.
vs. Mono Black Devotion
+2 Assemble the Legion, +1 Chained to the Rocks, +1 Divine Verdict, +1 Wear // Tear
-2 Stormbreath Dragon, -2 Burning-Tree Emissary, -1 Hammer of Purphoros
Assemble is a next-to-impossible card for MBD to handle, Chained to the Rocks is easily your best card against them since it takes care of Demon and any relevant devotion enabler, Divine Verdict is an additional Chained to the Rocks in most senses (and doubles at killing Obzedat and other huge things), and Wear // Tear is useful against Underworld Connections and Whip.
Stormbreath Dragon usually sees the axe because he gets blocked by Demon and killed by a lot of cards in their deck that cost half his CC, and then I usually mise the rest of my cuts based on what I’m seeing. Burning-Tree is one possibility here because you don’t really need the nut draw and he doesn’t do anything to them otherwise. I like keeping in Zealot if possible because MBD can have a lot of slow hands where the additional aggression punishes them well. I know some authors have advocated for taking out all the Hammers and Purphoros’s, but MBD has very few ways to deal with those cards, specifically in tandem, so I’m not too wild about the idea of cutting them.
vs. Mono Blue Devotion
+1 Anger of the Gods, +1 Chained to the Rocks, +3 Mizzium Mortars, +1 Last Breath (may also want Shock)
-4 Ash Zealot, -2 Hammer of Purphoros
Anger is obviously the nuts against them, despite not killing Thassa, Master, and Frostburn, it takes care of everything else. Chained takes care of the rest, Mizzium deals with Frostburn and does its best Anger impersonation at times, and Last Breath handles pretty much the whole lot outside of Thassa.
Zealot is incredibly ineffective in this matchup as he just gets stonewalled by most of their creatures, and while Hammer provides colorless critters to get around Master of the Waves, it’s slow and doesn’t do anything else. Plus, if they’re casting Master, the colorless blocker / attacker usually doesn’t matter. Burning-Tree stays in to enable early two-for-ones by playing him and burning a guy or by nut-dropping into an early win-con. Stormbreath is your best friend as always in this matchup.
vs Aggro (B/W, Esper Humans, RDW)
+1 Anger of the Gods, +1 Last Breath, +2 Shock, + some number of Mortars/Chained/Verdict
– 3 Purphoros, God of the Forge, -2 Hammer of Purphoros
This is the one matchup where I’d say it’s perfectly reasonable to cut the big “Purphoros” hitters. They’re actually ok against Aggro in many situations, but Aggro is a tough matchup so I’d rather just have a plethora of removal and then drop Fanatic or Stormbreath for the victory. Stormbreath, despite being five mana, is an excellent finisher because many of the aggro decks have limited answers that are usually used on other creatures of yours and he flies over any ground and pound army. Esper Humans has a few nasties like Obzedat, Blood Baron, and Demon, so you will want to bring the added support in against that if you discover that’s the plan they’re on. Don’t worry about being too creature light here, it’s more important to be able to clear the board multiple times than it is to have a finisher on-time.
I will note, this is the matchup I’m focusing on the most at the current moment, so some of these reflections may need further review.
vs G/R Devotion
+1 Divine Verdict, +1 Anger of the Gods, +1 Chained to the Rocks, +2 Shock, +3 Mortars
-4 Ash Zealot, -2 Hammer of Purphoros, -1 Magma Jet, -1 Burning-Tree
The problem here is, no matter what you add, you’re going to have to cut some good cards. Ash Zealot is again stonewalled by this archetype, they just have a million guys that they can block with and his first-strike isn’t very relevant when he only has two power and most of their guys have three power or more. Mortars is important in combating Stormbreath Dragon, Verdict is good against Polukranos and any other big guys they might have (Mistcutter Hydra), Shock helps with the early game as you usually want to pick off an Elf or a Scavenging Ooze if you can, and Anger is great again at cutting off their devotion.
If anything, you could elect to not bring in the fourth Anger, or possibly only run 1-2 of them, and instead bring in more spot removal like Last Breath. Their deck is more aggro-ish than it looks on paper, with the only exceptions being Polukranos, Stormbreath, and Planeswalkers. If you cut off some of their early game, it’s very easy to stall them until the point where you have some Fanatic and Purphoros chains going and it’s too late for them to catch back up.
vs G/W Aggro
+1 Anger of the Gods, +3 Mizzium Mortars, +1 Chained to the Rocks, +1 Last Breath, +2 Shock
-3 Purphoros, God of the Forge, -2 Hammer of Purphoros, -3 Ash Zealot (feel free to cut differently)
The sideboard here is clearly up for debate, but this is a match worth giving attention to. While you haven’t seen G/W in a top 8 recently, it’s still around, and it’s gaining popularity online. I’ve seen it alot on MTGO and Cockatrice, so absolutely be aware of what it’s trying to do. The deck is incredibly strong with Voice of Resurgence/Scavenging Ooze into Boon Satyr into Advent of the Wurm, into Mistcutter Hydra. I’ve had multiple times this week where an opponent flashed in an Advent token (as expected) at end of turn, and then bestowed Boon Satyr onto it. If this sounds like an unwinnable situation, it’s not, as I actually won several of those matches, but it’s a powerful play nonetheless and just one example of some of the explosive hits this deck is capable of delivering. Games two and three your focus is extreme removal. You cannot afford to have a guy suited up with Unflinching Courage, because at that point Chained to the Rocks is typically your only viable removal. Additionally, Fleecemain Lion going monstrous is absolutely badsauce for you, so the game is basically kill everything they play at all costs. They have just about no draw-power, so you will win the gas battle if you play the one-for-one game with them.
One thing to be aware of, as briefly mentioned above, is Boon Satyr. That’s about the only card in this match that I think can shift the tide of the game if you’re not expecting it, so if they’re leaving three to five mana up for whatever reason, just presume that play is going to be made and act appropriately.
+2 Assemble the Legion, +3 Toil // Trouble, +1 Wear // Tear, (possibly +1 Divine Verdict if they have Obzedat)
-3 Chained to the Rocks, -3 Mizzium Mortars (unless Blood Baron present)
While it’d be nice to have a few more cards against Control (and feel free to add 1 or 2 to the sideboard), this package basically replaces the dead cards. Assemble is not the best card you can bring in against them, but it doubles at being good against Mono Black so it’s an easier sideboard slot then something solely dedicated to Control. For some of the PTQs I might add in an additional board card or two here, but at smaller events and at the IQ, I think Control is going to be less played than other archetypes. You also have a great game 1 against them, as Hammer of Purphoros and Purphoros, God of the Forge are their worst nightmares. Magma Jet gives you the extra gas you need to stay with them, so despite basically being a Shock in this matchup it’s critical to have the scry.
Toil // Trouble is better to me than Skullcrack because while you have to have Skullcrack and open mana at the time they Sphinx’s Revelation, Toil // Trouble can be played at any time for value, and it negates any life gained by Sphinx’s Revelation anyway since they take one additional for each card drawn. To me, the three Toil // Trouble are basically Fanatic #5, 6, and 7. Wear // Tear is useful against Detention Sphere and Assemble the Legion, but it’s not an actively aggressive threat, so I like it better as a miser in any matchup I bring it in against. If this was an artifact / enchantment heavy metagame then I’d absolutely play more, but it’s not.
Good luck to the rest of you who will be trying to qualify this season, follow me on Twitter @RedDeckWinning to keep up on tournament updates and last minute changes.