The Impact Of Khans

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The Impact Of Khans

When we last left off, I was discussing the upcoming Standard format and what may be in store for the future.  The last few weeks as usual have been a whirlwind, in which I won the second proxy tournament at our LGS, was able to go to the StarCityGames Open in Indianapolis at the last minute to break in the new season, won a gameday, and then attended the Open in Minneapolis this previous weekend.  The life of a Magic grinder is certainly never dull.  I’d like now to talk a little bit about each of the formats:

Standard

In the second proxy tournament just before Khans was released, I was able to 4-0 the tournament with Mardu Midrange.  It was an update on the build I had been tweaking with 4 maindeck Anger of the Gods into the usual suspects of Goblin Rabblemaster, Butcher of the Horde, and Sarkhan.  Here is that list that I played at SCG Indianapolis that following weekend:

Mardu Midrange – John Galli, 70th place of 546 StarCityGames Indianapolis Open

Maindeck

3 Master of the Feast
4 Goblin Rabblemaster
4 Butcher of the Horde

4 Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker

4 Crackling Doom
4 Hero’s Downfall
4 Anger of the Gods
3 Lightning Strike
3 Magma Jet
2 Mardu Charm

2 Battlefield Forge
2 Caves of Koilos
2 Swamp
2 Mountain
1 Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth
4 Bloodstained Mire
4 Temple of Triumph
4 Temple of Malice
4 Temple of Silence

Sideboard
4 Nyx-Fleece Ram
2 Suspension Field
2 Reprisal
4 Thoughtseize
1 Despise
1 Utter End
1 Banishing Light

The list was designed to attack the biggest deck of the format in playtesting which seemed to be Mono Green Devotion, and then be able to put pressure on the rest.  As an aside, the Aggro matchup was extremely favorable due to the Mardu Charms and the Angers.  The plan actually was correct, as SCG Indy in particular was flooded with Green Devotion decks, but unfortunately I lost round 1 to land troubles in game 3 and was then unable to get paired against it for the rest of the tournament (since they were all winning).  I was happy to still finish 7-3, although just missed the cash on tiebreakers.  My losses were to BUG Control, Temur Monsters, and the Mardu Mirror.  The BUG Control deck was from the first round and it almost assuredly would have gone the other way had the lands been better.  Temur was a bad matchup, I knew that going in and over the course of the next few weeks it would continue to beat just about anything I put together.  The combination of Elvish Mystic into their threats was very difficult to handle from a tempo perspective, so it’d often come down to me winning the games where they didn’t have it or where I got to cast the first spell, or losing the ones where it was the opposite.  The Mardu Mirror is extremely grindy and my opponent had a lot of favorable cards for that particular matchup, such as Read the Bones and Elspeth, Sun’s Champion.

After the tournament I continued heavy playtesting and started noticing that the creatures in Mardu were very easily 1-for-1’d and that I probably needed to just take them out.  Master of the Feast was already the worst card from my Indy list, with again the theory being that he’s good against Green Devotion, Mono Red, and Stormbreath Dragon (which he is), but he’s also terrible against anything with Black removal.  This is too much of a liability in this format, especially with Abzan and Mardu now being very popular decks.  I could still see him as a sideboard option since he has the element of surprise, but it does also still suck to give your opponent cards.  The theory there too was that the cards they draw have to be kill spells for him, which some decks just don’t have.

Rabblemaster and Butcher, which have made appearances in the recent Nelson list, were suffering the same fate, and especially so in my relatively light creature build since they were some of the only targets that would be on the board.  So after noticing all this, I gravitated towards what was working and that was the planeswalkers.  I eventually settled on Mardu Control, and then saw a guy take down our TCG State Championship with a similar build.  That pretty much confirmed for me that it was correct at the time, so I took it to our LGS and lost in the finals of a win-a-box tournament against (surprise) Temur.  Here is that list:

Mardu Control – John Galli, 3-1 win-a-box Mox Mania

Maindeck

3 Elspeth, Sun’s Champion
4 Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker
2 Sorin, Solemn Visitor

4 Anger of the Gods
4 Crackling Doom
2 End Hostilities
4 Hero’s Downfall
4 Lightning Strike
4 Magma Jet
1 Utter End
2 Mardu Charm

3 Battlefield Forge
3 Caves of Koilos
2 Swamp
2 Mountain
4 Bloodstained Mire
4 Temple of Triumph
4 Temple of Malice
4 Temple of Silence

Sideboard
1 End Hostilities
4 Nyx-Fleece Ram
2 Reprisal
2 Suspension Field
1 Banishing Light
1 Empty the Pits
3 Thoughtseize
1 Read the Bones

At this point it was drilled into me that this archetype had some game to it, and that I just needed to fix matchups.  The following weekend Worlds happened, and we were able to see the first steps into solidifying a new format.  The pros had tweaked much of the expected builds, including Mardu Control which Levy’s team put together.  Their focus was more on Chandra, Pyromaster, but I still felt and feel to this day that Sorin is a much better planeswalker in the current metagame.  Chandra is fantastic, and I think she has a place, probably even in this style of list, but ignoring Sorin is a mistake.  That card is continually being valued too low, as anything that makes the opponent have to have two removal spells or a combination of attacks and removal is where you want to be.  Ultimately down the road I increased the Sorin count to 3 in the maindeck, and also added Chandra, but it all ended up being a moot point as this wasn’t the deck I stayed with.  There may be room for this archetype, as it can overpower many decks, but it has a very rough game against Control and against Temur Monsters.  I lost again to Temur at SCG States, and that was the final dagger in me playing it.  If you decide to go this route, I’d prepare your cards better for that matchup, or at least have a practiced sideboard plan that is better than my approach.

Another focus of mine had been on Mono Red.  Tom’s Boss Sligh was at it again and has had some absolutely phenomenal success in the last two weeks.  The problem for me was that I couldn’t figure out how he was winning, as his stock 75 was not doing well against my playtesting group.  I had my own list which was doing mostly well, but in general I felt the archetype was easily punished and got into too many games where you were just a few life points short of killing them.  I mean, that’s the essence of playing Mono Red, but the effect felt especially emphasized with Boss Sligh.  If you’ve read my articles, you know I prefer more of a Red Aggro deck with some “game” to it, but I couldn’t get that working for the life of me so I think Boss Sligh is just better positioned due to its speed against a relatively clunky metagame.  One thing I agreed with Tom on was no Rabblemaster in the maindeck.  The card is actually just the slowest card in Boss Sligh and easily brickwalled or killed, so Hordeling Outburst ends up being the much more efficient better choice.  You basically just want to max out on one drops in this deck, and have everything help your goal of pushing through.  That doesn’t mean you need to play reckless and flood the board only to walk into an Anger of the Gods, but it’s still style of cards that you want to have.  Here is my Mono Red list:

Mono Red Aggro – John Galli, Test Block

4 Akroan Crusader
4 Firedrinker Satyr
4 Foundry Street Denizen
4 Monastery Swiftspear
3 Frenzied Goblin

1 Hall of Triumph

4 Hordeling Outburst
4 Titan’s Strength
4 Hammerhand
4 Dragon Mantle
4 Stoke the Flames
1 Lightning Strike

19 Mountain

Sideboard
2 Goblin Rabblemaster
4 Eidolon of the Great Revel
3 Searing Blood
1 Magma Spray
1  Coordinated Assault
1 Scouring Sands
1 Harness by Force
2 Magma Jet

I like Hordeling Outburst as a card.  I believe it’s one of the best cards in Standard right now, and very closely resembles the power level that Spectral Procession had when it was in Standard.  Being able to play it on an empty board does a number of things; it forces your opponent into considering sweepers when you’ve only cast one spell, it pressures other opponents who may have a big ground fattie into trying to get a mass removal spell or dump their hand, and it combos with a large number of cards in your deck.  From Hall of Triumph, to Stoke the Flames, to Foundry Street Denizen, to Monastery Swiftspear, to Goblin Rabblemaster, Hordeling proves its weight in gold.  While Tom may be correct that you only want two, I was happy to see this card everytime I cast it in any of my decks, but especially so in Mono Red where many times it just puts a dagger in the unprepared opponent.  There’s many decks like Jeskai Aggro which just hate to see this card because they can’t effectively race it.

I’ve included a few Rabblemasters in the sideboard, and this is there to punish decks which are vulnerable to him.  Ignoring him completely as a card when you’re in Red is usually wrong, as he’s absolutely insane in a vacuum and there’s many decks that give you that window.  If your opponent is light on removal or presents a deck in which you can control their defense, he shines greater than any other card choice you could make.  Just an aside, in round 1 at SCG Indy, I mulled to 5 on three one-landers, ended up drawing only a few lands and Rabblemasters, and won the game.  That is how powerful he is, you just play him, get your popcorn out, and watch the movie unfold.

After States had passed I awaited more results before deciding what to do next.  Sure enough, the Pros came through again with fresh ideas to wet the appetite.  As I watched the Grand Prix Los Angeles stream, I saw Brad Nelson tearing it up with a new build of Mardu Midrange.  He was playing my above mentioned favorite card, and he was also playing the creatures which I had abandoned but desperately wanted to find a shell for.  The deck looked incredible on camera and I knew right away that I wanted to build it.  I would have gone that day to Gameday, but I was overdue for spending quality time with my wife and we were able to see some great views in LaCrosse, WI instead.  I mean, sometimes you just gotta put the cards down so you can see stuff like this:

vistaview

Granddad Bluffs, Lacrosse, WI

Sunday morning I looked over the written coverage and scoured the internet for information on Nelson’s list, but sadly none of my usual sources had the full 75.  I pieced together 90% of it from what I saw on stream and coverage, and went to the second Gameday event at my LGS.  We had 20 people, five rounds and a cut to top 8.  This list had its clunky moments but otherwise shined bright and carried me to a victory.  I didn’t lose a single match, going 3-0 in the swiss, double drawing into top 8, then winning all three rounds in top 8.  On the day I beat Jeskai Aggro, RW Tokens, Mardu Mirror, Abzan Midrange, Abzan Midrange, and GR Monsters.  Here is Brad Nelson’s list for those who’ve been living under a “roc”:

Mardu Midrange – Brad Nelson, Top 8 Grand Prix Los Angeles

Maindeck

4 Seeker of the Way
4 Goblin Rabblemaster
4 Butcher of the Horde
3 Wingmate Roc

3 Sorin, Solemn Visitor
1 Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker

4 Hordeling Outburst
4 Lightning Strike
4 Crackling Doom
1 Murderous Cut
3 Chained to the Rocks

3 Battlefield Forge
6 Mountain
4 Bloodstained Mire
1 Swamp
4 Nomad Outpost
4 Temple of Triumph
2 Caves of Koilos
1 Temple of Silence

Sideboard (15)
2 Magma Spray
3 Elspeth, Sun’s Champion
2 Glare of Heresy
2 End Hostilities
2 Read the Bones
2 Banishing Light

I was planning to play it again for SCG Minneapolis which my friends had convinced me on since it was my birthday weekend and since it wasn’t too hard to convince a Magic-addict like me.  I did hold out the reservation to play something else though, since we had a big crew of guys going and had just about every deck at our disposal.  The plan was to get to Minneapolis early in the day on Friday and test most of the afternoon to figure out what we liked in the format.  I was also shaky on Mardu after going 0-2 drop during the week leading up to the SCG in which I lost both rounds to Jeskai Aggro.  They seemed to be the more efficient burn deck much of the time, and despite all the lifegain in Nelson’s list I wasn’t too sure how to address that issue.

We arrived at our hotel in Minneapolis around 4:30/5:00pm, and began to test for what would ultimately be 7 hours with a dinner break.  This gave us some very good sample sets, where we recorded match results both pre and post board and threw everything in Standard at each other until we had a good idea of what we liked.  Nelson’s list was just doing average or below average, and both the Jeskai and Sultai lists in our room were overperforming.  I had proxied up a RW Midrange build that I had been working on the last few weeks, but it too was losing, except when sideboarded.  We took our dinner break, getting some delicious Benihanas Hibachi:

benihana

After scarfing down eyes-shutting-it’s-so-good Filet Mignon and Fried Rice, we got back to the testing.  Since my RW deck had been doing well post-board, I decided to just change the maindeck to reflect what I was doing with my sideboard.  The deck had similarities to the RW deck of Adrian Sullivan’s that I had played last season, as well as Brad Nelson’s list from the Pro Tour and David Fulk’s list from SCG Edison.  Sullivan’s list had an Aggro approach game 1, with a transformational sideboard into Control, whereas Fulk’s list was the opposite.  I felt like you needed to be somewhere inbetween, and I also just wanted to jam the Red cards I felt were the most fun and powerful in the meta.  I ultimately settled on this list after it was tearing through our playtesting gauntlet:

RW Midrange – John Galli, SCG Minneapolis

Maindeck

3 Seeker of the Way
4 Ashcloud Phoenix

3 Hordeling Outburst
2 Chandra, Pyromaster
4 Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker

1 Arc Lightning
4 Lightning Strike
2 Searing Blood
2 Magma Jet
4 Stoke the Flames
2 Fated Conflagration
4 Chained to the Rocks
1 Banishing Light

4 Temple of Triumph
2 Wind-Scarred Crag
4 Battlefield Forge
3 Plains
11 Mountain

Sideboard
4 Hushwing Gryff
1 Purphoros, God of the Forge
1 Goblin Rabblemaster
1 End Hostilities
2 Anger of the Gods
2 Magma Spray
1 Arc Lightning
1 Banishing Light
1 Elspeth, Sun’s Champion
1 Temple of Silence

The list was sweet, I had already partially fell in love with Ashcloud Phoenix from prior testing but it came into its own with this build.  You punished peoples early plays since this format is all about tempo, and then you were able to cast cards which were very difficult to get rid of on a 1-for-1 basis.  People might balk at cards like Fated Conflagration, but this card answers some of the big pillars in the format such as Siege Rhino, Polukranos, Ashiok, Elspeth, Stormbreath, and Mantis Rider.  Having the extra scry is almost always an option, and it enables you to get to a point where you can play two spells a turn which is another key to this format.

I wanted to play Seeker because the card is instrumental in helping you buy time in a race.  If he isn’t killed, you often end up gaining an obscene amount of life with him, with several games clocking in at 12-20 life points gained.  The deck has a great deal of synergy to allow you to play him on turn 2 and then followup with a prowess bonus.  It’s possible you want 4, but he’s one of the worst cards to draw late so I mised and just ran enough that I’d see him often but not all the time.

One of the minor points in the maindeck is the 1-of Arc Lightning.  I didn’t want an overcosted burn spell, but I kept noticing that I really wanted Lightning Strike since there are quite a few troublesome three toughness creatures in Standard.  Thus, I cut my fourth Outburst and jammed the Arc Lightning which proved itself time and time again as being a great 5th Strike.

I started out 1-0 in the tournament, but ultimately dropped at 2-3.  There were a few issues with the list, but it was mostly compacted by absolutely terrible mulligans, poor draws, and great openers by my opponents.  I don’t like blaming losses on mulligans, as there is always more to it, but variance was not in my favor on Saturday.  My third round Abzan opponent drew three Siege Rhinos in game 1 that I had to contend with, and I almost did, except I was stuck on two Red sources for Fated Conflagration which otherwise would have turned around the game.  Bottom line, the results from testing were largely thrown to the wind as I just couldn’t piece together what I needed.

The problems with the list were mainly the following, some of which lead to the mulligans:  The deck needs the 25th land maindeck.  I had too many draws where I couldn’t get enough land, and in testing I had been waffling back and forth on the count; I should have gone with the latter.  Aside from that, the list needs a plan for the control decks, as I played UB Control in my last round and got absolutely demolished.  I originally had Firedrinkers in the sideboard and some more ideas against it, but I expected to see 0-1 Control opponents over the course of the tournament so I didn’t want to devote much to stopping them.  In the future, I’d probably add Firedrinker back in, or find a different line against them.  My playtesting partners were telling me to play Soldier of the Pantheon, as a hedge against both Control and all the multi-color decks, and it’s possible this is correct.  The problem with Soldier is that he requires a much greedier manabase, but I need to change it anyway.  I definitely should have ran at least 1 or 2 Mana Confluence in place of the plains and/or a mountain.

I never felt the extra control elements in the board were helpful.  The original plan was to sideboard into a more aggressive deck against many opponents, and to sideboard into more control options than I already had in the maindeck against others.  I also included a “tokens package” with Purphoros, Elspeth, and Goblin Rabblemaster because I found in testing that cards like Purphoros were very difficult to get rid of for many decks and already synergized with cards in my maindeck like Hordeling Outburst.  That plan doesn’t come in against the majority of the field, so it’s probably something that can be discarded (or reinforced).  One option I had considered but didn’t put in place was to pitch the control cards in the board and instead play more hasty threats like Stormbreath Dragon.  He’s already well positioned by being protection from a color that is in multiple top decks in the format, and he’s another threat to play after your removal spells.

So as you can see, there are many ideas you can carry on for this deck, and I implore you to tinker with it if the archetype looks at all interesting.  I really liked it in playtesting and am hoping I can try and improve it rather than abandon the idea all together.  One last thing, make sure to board out Chained to the Rocks against decks that you think will bring hate in for it.  They will indeed, and you can usually supplement the loss with other removal out of the board that isn’t vulnerable to the same removal spells.

Modern and Legacy

I played in the Modern IQ at SCG Indy, running the RWB burn deck that I had been on last season.  Ultimately I dropped the Vexing Devil’s after the tournament for Monastery Swiftspear, but I think after further testing that I like Devil better.  It was a good time, and the deck started out 3-1, but I had some land trouble again in round 5 and lost a close one to UWR.  Following that tournament, I intended to play in the Modern IQ at SCG Minneapolis, but the format has now warped around a card that I think needs to see immediate ban:

treasurecruise

Just look at the SCG results from the past two weekends alone, ignoring the craziness on MTGO, and the picture is pretty clear.  Splashing U is easy, and this card is Ancestral Recall.  I messed around with it in my Burn list, but ultimately didn’t put a lot of time into the process and was mostly uninterested in playing in a semi-broken format.  I’m also not wild about Jeskai combo being a thing, even if it’s not too popular in paper Magic.

People might have differing opinions, but I expect that Treasure Cruise will get banned in both Modern and Legacy with the next release from Wizards.  Until then, I’m on a semi-hiatus from Modern and Legacy set aside a few events I want to attend.  In the meantime, if you want to play Burn, I’d probably lean towards one of the lists that top 8’d this weekend in Minneapolis.

Or you could play Ryan Hipp’s deck, since he’s a savage and took down the Modern IQ at both SCG Opens I was at.  It has blue in it, so you know my feelings, but heck he knows how to build a winner:

Blue Moon – Ryan Hipp, 1st Place at BOTH StarCityGames Open Indianapolis and Minneapolis

Maindeck

4 Snapcaster Mage
2 Vendilion Clique

1 Batterskull
2 Vedalken Shackles
3 Blood Moon
4 Cryptic Command
1 Dig Through Time
2 Electrolyze
4 Lightning Bolt
2 Mana Leak
3 Remand
3 Spell Snare
3 Vapor Snag
4 Serum Visions

8 Island
1 Mountain
2 Flooded Strand
4 Misty Rainforest
4 Scalding Tarn
3 Steam Vents

Sideboard
1 Batterskull
2 Relic of Progenitus
1 Spellskite
1 Blood Moon
1 Counterflux
1 Magma Spray
2 Negate
1 Keranos, God of Storms
3 Anger of the Gods
2 Vandalblast

I’m not sure how well positioned this deck is with so many Red decks and UR Delver decks making up the current Modern field, but he managed to get through all of that along with punishing fair decks with Blood Moon.  I think it’s the numbers game here in terms of how many of each spell he runs and the efficiency of the choices he makes.  Certainly worth a look and I’ve always considered Blue Moon to be one of the better decks in the field.

Legacy is in much the same state as Modern, with Treasure Cruise enabling Delver decks to outlast many opponents and find the key counterspells they need in many situations.  My good friend and once an author for this website Darrel Feltner was sadly at the losing end of this effect on Sunday, as he lost in the finals of the SCG Open with his Miracles deck.  I’m proud of him and it’s great to see the finish because he is one of the best players in Madison I know and he knows his deck in and out like no one else set aside a few others in the country.  He lost to UWR Delver, and while he drew poorly and his opponent drew well, it was obvious in the coverage how powerful Treasure Cruise was.  It wasn’t the key to the match, but it was unbalanced and you could clearly tell.

Khans Limited

So instead of playing Modern and Legacy this past Sunday, I decided to jam a bunch of drafts as well as a two-headed giant tournament.  I played in two drafts on Saturday, one on Sunday, and the 2HG Sealed.  I won one of the drafts, and almost made it to the finals of another.  The format is great, a ton of fun and so many different directions you can go.  My best advice is my usual advice for draft, but even stronger with this set, draft what seems naturally good as you’re going through the packs.  Don’t try to force an archetype or wedge, unless you have a specific strategy that you know the absolute ins and outs of.  I tried to go 5-color in my first draft, after reading Ari Lax’s articles on draft, but it was a disaster.  I know I didn’t execute it well, but its just a complicated ordeal and you may or may not get the payoff cards you need.  I think given 15-20 drafts that I could figure out the strategy, but it seemed easier just to draft a good deck in what was available.  My next draft was the one I won, on a Mardu plan splashing for a fourth color, followed by my almost-finals deck in Abzan.  All the clans feel well balanced, but there are certain cards I’d emphasize.

First, play as many of the outlast guys as you can.  Most of them are great, and you should have time to outlast them almost every turn if you play correctly.  The 2/3’s in this format are of premium value, specifically the following:

mer-eknightbladeabzanfalconeralabasterkirin

Evasion is big in Khans, along with the ability to successfully block a Morph creature and not lose your guy.  The above cards have those characteristics in some form, and the first one helps with the big Green decks floating around.

Draft removal.  This set has a ton of it, and we’re coming off multiple blocks where there was almost no removal in limited.  People forget that it’s great when it’s available, so capitalize on this fact.  Cards like these are incredible:

murderouscutburnawaysavagepunchkillshotforceaway

Draft a lot of morphs, as most of them are useable in both modes and combine well with other build around cards like Ghostfire Blade and Secret Plans.  Try to ignore the more vanilla ones, as you usually want to maximize on the two drops available.  I don’t like cards like Valley Dasher, but otherwise anything that costs two mana and has some basic utility is usually a must play.  You come down a turn earlier then the morphs and can trade with them, and mid game you can play two to three spells a turn which is a great way to gain tempo advantage.

Sultai is an interesting anomaly from the rest of the wedges.  It’s very strong, but utilizes all the delve cards instead, so you’re basically hard drafting any of those support pieces you can once you know you’re going in those colors.  Cards like this are very difficult to beat:

necropolisfiend

If you’re in Temur, you’re also game planning slightly different.  Here, the big Green fatties become hyper-relevant, where all of a sudden the generic morphs become your way to turn the game around and invalidate your opponent’s small critters.  I think the biggest card that I usually see in Temur is this one:

sultaiflayer

That 4 life adds up, and the fact that it includes itself is the difference between being a simple support card vs a build around card.

There’s more that I could go on ad nauseum about when it comes to Khans Limited, but alas this article is already getting lengthy.  I hope this gives you some perspective of how I’m approaching the game at the moment.

Thank you as always readers for your support and patience.  I appreciate all the feedback and hopefully I can keep the fire going!

Until next time,

Keep Tapping Those Mountains,

– Red Deck Winning

Taking 9th Place at the StarCityGames Edison Open: Feature Article by Ben Schoenbrun

monasteryswiftspearwallpaper

I recently had the pleasure of playing some test games against Ben Schoenbrun, the 9th place finisher at the SCG Edison open from this past weekend.  He wrote a report but had not had it published yet and I thought that this site fit the bill quite well.  He played Mono Red Aggro, and would like to tell you all about how to light a good fire.

Taking 9th Place at the StarCityGames Edison Open by Ben Schoenbrun

benschoenbrun

Hello All!  My name is Ben Schoenbrun and I got my background in strategy games by playing competitive Scrabble, and am regularly ranked within the top 100 Scrabble players in North America. I started playing Magic seriously during college in 2012, partially for social reasons and partially to solidify strategic elements that would help me with Scrabble.  I have since been trying to balance competitive Scrabble and Magic, as well as graduate school and hunt for jobs. I gained a reputation as a red mage after I drafted red-white heroic one too many times.

Since my first StarCityGames Open went so well, I thought it might be fun to write a tournament report.

In the weeks coming up to the tournament, I knew that I wanted to play a red aggro deck. I felt it would be a very safe choice, it fits my playstyle, and it would not be terribly difficult to build or to find the cards for quickly after rotation. I also suck at building manabases so 20 mountains seemed like something that I couldn’t screw up. I did most of my testing on Cockatrice, with a bit of testing at my local game store Clarkson’s Corner just to make sure my deck measured up when testing against people I know the general skill level of. I started with the mono red list found in this article:

http://www.channelfireball.com/articles/owens-a-win-khans-standard/

That deck did not win very many games. It kept getting stonewalled by Caryatid/Courser, and as I feared, War-Name Aspirant was incredibly awkward with Foundry Street Denizen. I knew that I would have to take the deck in a different direction if I wanted to stand a chance against Courser decks. I decided that a Sligh approach would work a lot better. After all, why play 8 one-drops when you could be playing 27? 😀 I found that this approach helped me get past Courser/Caryatid better while also having a lot of game against other aggro decks. I also made it a point to make sure I understood how to play post sideboard games and properly play around Drown in Sorrow and Anger of the Gods. I decided early on that I wouldn’t play around these cards game 1 unless it is incredibly obvious that they have them, and if they blow me out, so be it.

Here is the list that I eventually settled on:

Mono Red Aggro
Ben Schoenbrun
9th Place at StarCityGames.com Standard Open on 9/27/2014

Maindeck
4 Akroan Crusader
4 Firedrinker Satyr
4 Foundry Street Denizen
4 Goblin Rabblemaster
4 Monastery Swiftspear
2 Mogis’s Warhound

4 Dragon Mantle
3 Hammerhand
2 Searing Blood
4 Stoke the Flames
4 Titan’s Strength
1 Hall of Triumph

20 Mountain

Sideboard
4 Eidolon of the Great Revel
2 Coordinated Assault
2 Magma Spray
2 Searing Blood
1 Hall of Triumph
2 Hammer of Purphoros
2 Arc Lightning

I decided on Searing Bloods over Lightning Strikes because they are better against the aggressive decks while not being that much worse against the Courser decks. Moving forward, I would play 3-4 Lightning Strikes maindeck since it appears that Mantis Rider is in fact a thing, and my deck felt a bit light on reach. Otherwise, I was pretty happy with most of my card choices and felt that I predicted the meta fairly well. Anyways, on to the matches!

Round 1: Mark Webb with RW Aggro:

I lost the die roll. Game 1 His 3 lands were Mana Confluence and 2 Battlefield Forges, and that ended up making the difference. Game 2 I took a mulligan, got stuck on 2 lands, and he played a well-timed Rabblemaster when I ran out of burn. Game 3 I was on the play, and I was the one able to land an unopposed Rabblemaster.

1-0.

Round 2: Taylor Rowe with Naya Monsters:

I lost the die roll. I don’t remember too many of the details in this game, but I know I won games 1 and 3, and game 2 he was able to monstrous Polukranos in time to stabilize the board.

2-0.

Round 3: Daniel Antony with Mono Green Devotion:

Daniel is from the Jersey area and works at TOGIT (The Only Game in Town.) We chatted a bit about our local stores, our testing, and our experiences playing magic before and inbetween games. I lost the die roll. Game one he managed to monstrous Polukranos for a lot before I was able to take over the game. Game 2 I was able to take over after some fortunate draws. Game 3 I was able to burn him out with a double Searing Blood on a Courser of Kruphix. This was a matchup I was hoping to avoid, and I was quite fortunate to be able to get it, especially since he maindecked 3 Nylea’s Disciples and sided another, none of which he saw in our 3 games.

3-0.

Round 4: Ross Merriam with G/B Devotion:

I’m a big fan of Ross’s articles on StarCityGames, and I genuinely feel they helped me improve as a player. So I was happy to play against him; albeit nervous. It probably didn’t help that we were called to the feature match area! I won the die roll and he took a mulligan. I kept a fairly good hand and drew quite well, but I miscounted and thought I had him dead when I actually put him to a virtual 1 life (I held a Titan’s Strength instead of playing it). Oh well, I’ll get him next turn. Genesis Hydra for 5 into Doomwake Giant you say? Well, crap. Game 2 I kept a mediocre hand and got demolished by Doomwake Giant again. Turns out that card is good against a deck full of 1/1’s and 2/2’s. We chatted for a bit after the game and I also talked with the table judge, who was very nice.

3-1.

Round 5: Micah Maben with Mono Black Aggro:

Micah is a kid from NYC . I lost the die roll. I was quite happy to see him lead with Swamp into Tormented Hero, since I was like 15-0 against this deck on Cockatrice. Game 1 I was able to excecute my baseline gameplan which is more powerful than the mono black aggro deck’s. Game 2 I took a mulligan and wasn’t able to stick a creature on the board. Game 3 I was just faster than him again, and I blew him out with a well timed Arc Lightning.

4-1.

Round 6: Joseph Vazquez with Junk Midrange:

I knew I had seen Joseph’s name somewhere, and it turns out he is the co-owner of Get There Games on Staten Island. I won the die roll. Unfortunately for Joseph, he flooded out horribly game 1 and got land screwed game 2. Sorry dude.

5-1.

Round 7: Charlie Rhinehart with BW Roc Midrange:

Another StarCityGames Open champion! I lost the die roll. Game 1 he had a turn 2 Nyx-Fleece Ram and was able to stall the game out long enough to land a Sorin, Solemn Visitor and a Wingmate Roc. On the car ride up, I was talking to my friend about whether Sorin’s +1 ability works on creatures that enter the battlefield after the ability activates. It turns out the judges also had some confusion. One of them ruled that it did work that way in an earlier round, and Charlie had been playing as such, but I asked a judge just to make sure, and it turns out that it doesn’t work that way. The head judge told Charlie that he understood that such a mistake was made. It didn’t really matter though, as I scooped up my cards shortly afterwards. Game 2 I topdecked a Rabblemaster right after he played Drown in Sorrow. Mise. Game 3 he played 2 Thoughtseizes, and he knew my hand was Monastery Swiftspear and Hammerhand. He left up open Bile Blight mana and I topdecked a Titan’s Strength to blow him out. I did, however, forget that my creature got -3-3 and I dealt Charlie 3 too many points of damage. If you’re reading this Charlie, sorry about that. I managed to win from there.

6-1.

Round 8: David Beaudrie with Junk Midrange:

I won the die roll. Game 1 I missed a Swiftspear trigger which may have made the difference in the game. I think I missed like 10 triggers this tournament. Game 2 he plays Drown in Sorrow forgetting that I have Hall of Triumph in play and I beat him to death with Eidolon of the Great Revel and Goblin Rabblemaster. Game 3 he mulls to 5 and keeps a 1 lander and I win on turn 4.

7-1.

Round 9: David Fulk with R/W Control:

I lost the die roll. David is from Virginia, and needed to get some testing in for the Pro Tour Honolulu. Uh oh… We start the game and he has a red white deck but isn’t playing creatures. Double uh oh… I try to play around Anger of the Gods and Elspeth as best I can, but he has 4 and 4 maindeck, and it turns out I have trouble beating those cards. If I could’ve designed my opponent’s deck to beat mine, this would be it. Game 2 doesn’t go much better. I also missed an Eidolon trigger that ended up not mattering. Did I mention I miss a lot of triggers?

7-2.

I’m probably dead for top 8 here, but I can draw into top 32, which is still good for $100 and 4 open points (which I will probably never use). My opponent wants to play it out since he thinks he can make it.

Round 10: David Gross with Naya Midrange:

I lost the die roll. Game 1 he was able to stabilize with Ajani and kill me with a Fleecemane Lion. Game 2 I keep a hand with Akroan Crusader, 1 land, and 2 Titan’s Strengths. I deal 9 damage to him on turn 2, and my friend watching says he could’ve sworn I was playing Legacy RDW. He Angers me on turn 3 and then I play Rabblemaster and he scoops. THIS DECK IS SWEET!!! Game 3 I keep a much fairer hand and manage to burn him out before he gets enough land to blow up my board with Polukranos.

8-2. 9th Place.

9th Place is a tad bit disappointing, but still very good for my first Open. I obviously had to run well to get that result. All of my opponents were very nice as well, and It was great catching up with some friends from Rochester. Congrats to Mario Martinez on the top 8 and Kevin Jones on winning the whole thing!

– Ben Schoenbrun

– Red Deck Winning

The New Standard Format

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The New Standard Format

I’ve been doing a great deal of playtesting, and in this article I’d like to show you the results and discuss the new Standard format.  I usually have a lot of stories or personal thoughts in my articles, but change is happening so rapidly with results and the format is coming so quickly that I think it’s best to just get down to the nitty gritty.  Let me show you where I believe our journey is headed:

Playtesting and Proxy Tournaments

My playtesting has consisted of a few hours of practice a day on Cockatrice, with the bulk majority of it revolving around tuning my Mardu Midrange build.  Additionally, one of my local game stores, Netherworld Games, held a proxy Standard tournament last Thursday which gave a nice peek-in to possible ideas going forward.  The tournament was around 20 people and despite the small size most of the room had significant accomplishments under their belts.  Multiple pro tour players, judges, and local grinders were all in attendance.  It was a blast, and the decks were all over the place but definitely had a large amount of similarities to draw from and show what the format’s pillars will be.  While I played Mardu that day to a 2-2 finish, I lent out a Mono Black Aggro deck that went 4-0, and there were several Mono Red lists present.  I too had been working on Mono Red, just having trouble deciding which direction is correct so I plan to discuss some of the possibilities here.

Mardu Midrange and its Genesis

Old Mardu Midrange Take 1 – 9/18/14

4 Soldier of the Pantheon
4 Pain Seer
4 Goblin Rabblemaster
4 Brimaz, King of Oreskos
4 Butcher of the Horde

2 Sorin, Solemn Visitor
1 Godsend

3 Bile Blight
4 Hero’s Downfall
4 Mardu Charm
1 Utter End

4 Nomad Outpost
2 Temple of Silence
1 Temple of Triumph
1 Mana Confluence
4 Caves of Koilos
4 Battlefield Forge
4 Bloodstained Mire
2 Mountain
2 Swamp
1 Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth

Sideboard
4 Thoughtseize
4 Nyx-Fleece Ram
4 Crackling Doom
3 Drown in Sorrow

This was the list I initially had tuned on Cockatrice and played in the tournament.  I beat a Mardu Aggro deck, a GB Reanimator deck, and narrowly lost to B/R Aggro and Mono Green Devotion.  Both my losses were fairly close, and I should have likely won the Aggro one except I made a critical mistake in one of the games.  If you’re just scrolling my article for decklists, do not copy the one above.

The list had some very pertinent flaws.  Online the manabase had been OK, but not stellar, and the mistakes fleshed themselves out over the course of the tournament.  The creature package wasn’t performing either.  If any of you have SCG Premium, you’ll note that BBD has been brewing a similar list and he came to many of the same conclusions that I reached.  I just saw his article today and was nodding my head in agreement all the way down the line, so clearly these issues that I found were valid concerns.  Cockatrice’s shuffler is also not perfect, so real-world testing gave me a second look at what needed to be done.

From the tournament, I gathered these were the issues:

  • Too much pain came from lands, too much mana flood / screw occurred.  More scry was needed.
  • Ground beaters were largely ineffective when everyone is playing Courser, Fatties, and Midrange creatures.
  • Evasion is very good, people largely had a huge issue with fliers.  Hero’s Downfall is the most common removal spell to deal with this, and it’s only x4 of one card in most lists.  Specifically, fliers with five or more toughness.  Arbor Colossus was the answer from Green decks, and you could just kill him before he does anything.
  • The deck had too many three casting cost spells, many of which didn’t stunt the early game of my opponents.
  • I needed more value, whether it be 2-for-1s, draw power, or simply anything that would keep the gas of the deck going
  • Some cards were just not good in this build because they couldn’t get through, close the game, or weren’t as relevant to the format.  Those cards were mostly:  Brimaz, Thoughtseize, Soldier of the Pantheon, and Godsend.  Thoughtseize is more complicated, so more on that later.

There were positives too:

  • Butcher and Rabblemaster were absolutely insane.  Both cards should be format pillars going forward
  • Mardu Charm’s flexibility was great, but Hero’s Downfall was just better 90% of the time.  Mardu Charm is probably still worth having, but not as a x4 of for most lists.  People love the modes, and I completely get that, but you just want to either kill all the dudes or kill THEE dude no matter who he is.
  • Crackling Doom was incredible.  This card is the new Blightning, and that is no lie.  It needed to be maindeck.
  • Drown in Sorrow was effective, but I quickly made the switch to Anger of the Gods when I figured out the mana, and have been playing it maindeck for the last week.  It kills Elvish Mystic, Caryatid, basically everything in the format aside from Courser, and it gives you a fantastic game 1 against Aggro.  Control so far looks to be more midrange-ish in build, so it’s not a fully dead card like it would have been last season, and it exiles Bloodsoaked Champion against Mono Black which is quite important.  It also gives you outs to very troublesome cards like Hornet Queen and Empty the Pits
  • Pain Seer provided good card advantage, but the life loss was too much, especially in combination with the lands.  He also just had moments where I couldn’t attack with him and he lost immediate value.

After the tournament, I talked with some of the pros in the shop about the mana, and later addressed a lot of the problems above.  My next iteration that I’d play for a few days was this:

Old Mardu Midrange Take 2 – 9/20/14

1 Ashcloud Phoenix
4 Master of the Feast
4 Goblin Rabblemaster
4 Butcher of the Horde

4 Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker

2 Suspension Field
4 Crackling Doom
4 Hero’s Downfall
4 Anger of the Gods
4 Lightning Strike

4 Temple of Silence
4 Temple of Malice
4 Temple of Triumph
3 Bloodstained Mire
2 Caves of Koilos
2 Battlefield Forge
2 Mountain
2 Swamp
1 Plains
1 Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth

Sideboard
4 Nyx-Fleece Ram
3 Despise
2 Suspension Field
1 Arc Lightning
1 Revoke Existence
1 Reprisal
1 Utter End
1 Crippling Blight
1 Banishing Light

Results improved immediately.  The manabase was fantastic, and was largely based on suggestions from local pro Matt Severa.  He was preparing a different deck for the upcoming Pro Tour in Honolulu, and I noticed some big differences with his mana in relation to mine.  I talked with him for a while and he made some good points about how running 12 scry lands isn’t actually that bad because the deck doesn’t feature any early plays (or at least ones that are necessary to play on-time) and you can always scry away extra land or unwanted cards.  In his other deck he was running a few tri-lands, but he said depending on the build they can largely be substituted as needed.  So far in every game I’ve played online, I’ve hit my colors as needed and had no issues whatsoever.  The scry lands have given the deck good staying power, and with running maindeck Anger of the Gods I’ve been able to haymaker most of the decks out there without missing a beat.  Let me tell you, it’s very satisfying to cast Anger of the Gods and then drop any one of the creatures in this deck.

Speaking of the creatures, I wanted ones that closed the deal.  This deck needed to turn the corner faster, and cards like Soldier, Pain Seer, and Brimaz weren’t cutting it.  Since big fliers were punishing people at the tournament, I turned to the biggest ones available in Master and Sarkhan.  Some people are running both Sarkhan and Stormbreath, but I think that requires more ramp or a higher land count and ultimately running 7-8 five drops of that nature is guaranteed to create some awful hands.  Master of the Feast has  a pretty big built-in liability, but the card your opponent draws almost always has to be a removal spell for him or they’re busted.  There are frequently board states where you have a Master and a Butcher, and your opponent is dead in two turns.  That’s also assuming you haven’t Lightning Strike’d them, Crackling Doom’d them, or Rabble’d them, all of which do happen.

All that said, I still am not sure on Master, so I began playing around with other options.  He’s good against most of the non-black decks, but the decks that have Hero’s Downfall do have that as an answer and most of the time have Murderous Cut as well.  When removal becomes plentiful, his upside goes down drastically, and he’s not great in multiples unless you are sure it will lead to a win the next turn.  You can sac him to Butcher though, so your opponent can’t rely on a personal Howling Mine if you don’t want them to.

Ashcloud Phoenix was one of the first options I tried out, again another suggestion from Matt Severa.  I had dismissed him early when seeing the spoiler, but after further review I started to see that he could be a big annoyance to most opponents.  The worst they can do is kill him, or exile him, but if they do the former you’re still getting a body out of him and later taking them to the dome for damage when he un-morphs.  While he doesn’t have haste, a 4/1 body is no slouch, and you can even sac him to Butcher for value.  It’s certainly not powerful enough to warrant the playset in most builds, but he’s a great miser if not a 2-of.  Furthermore, it’s important that he’s one less mana than Stormbreath, as you’re already cluttered at the top end of the deck and only running 25 lands, even if 12 of them have scry.

On the same topic of wanting more aggression, I added Lightning Strike over Bile Blight.  While Blight is still a very sick card, not being able to kill four toughness creatures without trickery and not being able to go to the dome left the deck soft in many games.  Strike is not a perfect choice, and I’m still playing around with it, but when Blight is mostly one-for-one’ing in the early format I think the burn route is a better one.  Moving Anger of the Gods to the maindeck also made it so that you didn’t need Blight’s effect, so the slot where Blight was can largely be filled with various options for the long or short game depending on your meta.

The sideboard underwent some changes too.  Nyx-Fleece Ram has been underwhelming, but I feel he’s pretty much a necessity against Jeskai Burn.  I’m currently trying out Pharika’s Cure in the same slot, as it’s typically better against Aggro, but the Ram is better as a catch-all so he’s still probably still the correct choice.

Thoughtseize is an enigma in this format.  We all know why it’s good.  It takes their best card, it protects your cards, and it’s as efficient as it gets.  I GET that.  But, it’s bad against redundancy, and in the case of this burgeoning format, that’s a plethora of fatties that all are basically the same (kill us or die!).  It’s bad against these Mono Red and Mono Black aggro decks that are just unloading one-drops on you, and it’s bad against Control decks that have lots of burn which seems to be the flavor of the day.  What it IS good against is your own mirror.  The person trying to play Mardu Control, or Temur Control, or whatever variant you choose where they sit back with a few limited threats.  For that reason, I’m still working on squeezing it in my sideboard.  Despise is relevant in many of the same situations, so the end result will probably be a combination of the two, or four of one and one of the other.  BBD made a good point in his recent article that leading with Thoughtseize into Rabblemaster feels like the old Thoughtseize / Pack Rat combo, but it’s not exactly the same and neither is the format.  I often cast Thoughtseize only to reveal a sea of creatures that I’d much rather battle with a bigger and better one of my own (or race them).  The decision to play it is probably the right one, but it’s a tough debate.

There’s some great one ofs, and that’s a good point to take you into the current list I have from this morning.  It’s still being tuned, but it has some nice options and I’m pretty happy with how far I’ve come with it:

Mardu Midrange (Updated Today) 9/22/14

1 Ashcloud Phoenix
3 Master of the Feast
4 Goblin Rabblemaster
4 Butcher of the Horde

4 Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker

4 Crackling Doom
4 Hero’s Downfall
4 Anger of the Gods
3 Lightning Strike
2 Read the Bones
1 Mardu Charm
1 Crater’s Claws

4 Temple of Silence
4 Temple of Malice
4 Temple of Triumph
3 Bloodstained Mire
2 Caves of Koilos
2 Battlefield Forge
2 Swamp
2 Mountain
1 Plains
1 Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth

Sideboard
3 Suspension Field
3 Nyx-Fleece Ram
3 Thoughtseize
1 Zurgo Helmsmasher
1 Deicide
1 Arc Lightning
1 Scouring Sands
1 Utter End
1 Banishing Light
(other considerables:  Hammer of Purphoros, Reprisal, Empty the Pits)

Mono Red Aggro

I’d be remiss if my “Red Deck Winning” website didn’t talk about a Mono Red deck!  I wish the results I’ve been getting were better, but it’s still hugely a work in progress at this point.  There were several people at the Proxy tournament trying to crack the mold with Mono Red, but most of them went 2-2 or worse as I expected.  It’s just very tough to play Mono Red against a field of Green Devotion, Sweepers, and potentially faster Aggro decks.  Rabble Red lost some pieces, where Mono Black Aggro didn’t lose much at all and quite possibly is better now than it was.  What Red does have though is Reach, along with a huge amount of cards that say “YOU CAN’T BLOCK” or “GIVE ME YOUR CREATURE”.  WR Heroic was a top 8 deck at Pro Tour Journey into Nyx, and so far it looks like that’s the way you need to take Red.  It’s a shame because there’s some truly good cards in Sarkhan, Phoenix, and Crater’s Claws that beg for a bigger build, but ultimately I think a lot of the other Midrange decks out there might be able to outclass you.  I do say that with great hesitation though, because some of my “Big Red” builds have been testing well and this format is currently quite vulernable to Burn.  Eidolon of the Great Revel is also just as great as he ever was, and I think people are forgetting he exists.

Here for example here is one of the Big Red builds I’ve been working with:

Big Red 9/18/14

4 Monastery Swiftspear
2 Firedrinker Satyr
4 Altac Bloodseeker
4 Goblin Rabblemaster
1 Prophetic Flamespeaker
1 Ashcloud Phoenix
1 Stormbreath Dragon

2 Chandra, Pyromaster
3 Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker

2 Hammerhand
3 Magma Jet
4 Lightning Strike
4 Stoke the Flames

4 Temple of Triumph
4 Battlefield Forge
3 Mana Confluence
3 Bloodstained Mire
11 Mountain

Sideboard
4 Eidolon of the Great Revel
4 Chained to the Rocks
4 Searing Blood
1 Deicide
1 Arc Lightning
1 Suspension Field

Other possible considerables:  Generator Servant, Hammer of Purphoros, maindeck Chains

Red Deck Wins 9/18/2014 by Todd Anderson of StarCityGames

4 Akroan Crusader
2 Arena Athlete
4 Firedrinker Satyr
3 Foundry Street Denizen
4 Goblin Rabblemaster
4 War-Name Aspirant
3 Mogis’s Warhound

20 Mountain

4 Dragon Mantle
1 Coordinated Assault
2 Lightning Strike
4 Stoke the Flames
4 Titan’s Strength
1 Hall of Triumph

Sideboard
2 Jeering Instigator
3 Eidolon of the Great Revel
1 Coordinated Assault
4 Magma Spray
4 Searing Blood
1 Peak Eruption

I like Todd’s list, and I think it’s the foundation of where most early builds will be.  I personally haven’t been running Arena Athlete, and I’m still very high on Monastery Swiftspear, but ultimately it boils down to metagame guesses.  I think the “can’t block” clause is the name of the game right now, and Todd respects that.  War-Name Aspirant has been surprisingly strong in testing, and Mogis’s Warhound is an old standby from the BR Aggro deck I wrote about a while back.  People also forget how good Dragon Mantle can be, especially if the format leans away from Control.  That card can come out of nowhere and deal 5-10 damage if your opponent doesn’t expect it, and it gives you a great mana sink when you have nothing better to do.

The strongest cards in the deck in my opinion are Titan Strength and Hall of Triumph, as a lot of people will be coming at you with sweepers expecting Mono Red in the early format.  Mono Red always preys on early formats, and while I wouldn’t be surprised to see a top 8 berth at the SCG, I strongly doubt one is going to win.  The tools “might” be present, but putting them together is proving awfully difficult.

My two biggest problems with this list are the lack of Hammerhand and having only three Eidolon of the Great Revel in the board.  Hammerhand has been extremely good for me, putting creatures out of sweep range, disabling blockers, and doing its best Madcap Skills rendition.  Auras are not the type of card you’re particularly in the business of wanting, but I think it’s wrong not to play some number of Hammerhand as it’s just that good.  There’s certainly room in Todd’s sideboard where he has x4 Magma Spray and x4 Searing Blood which seems excessive.  If the format leans Midrange, those aren’t the correct cards, and while I love winning all the Aggro matches you put yourself in a liable situation everywhere else with that package.  Cards like Peak Eruption have a true chance to shine going forward, as Mana bases will be greedy and so far average casting costs are going up.

Lastly on Mono Red, one potential route I could see it going is a hybrid of the two lists above.  One of my all time favorite Red decks was a build that went ever so slightly higher on the curve to accommodate Planeswalkers and Grindy games, and I believe given the drastic increase in card quality as you go up the chain in this format, this might be the correct choice.  This last list is in extreme beta, so I wouldn’t jam it at a tournament just yet, but it hopefully will spark some ideas:

Big  Sligh 9/22/14 (Testing)

4 Firedrinker Satyr
4 Monastery Swiftspear
3 Foundry Street Denizen
4 War-Name Aspirant
2 Borderland Marauder
4 Goblin Rabblemaster
2 Ashcloud Phoenix

3 Chandra, Pyromaster

4 Magma Jet
4 Lightning Strike
4 Stoke the Flames
2 Arc Lightning

4 Bloodstained Mire
4 Temple of Malice
15 Mountain

Sideboard
4 Searing Blood
3 Hammerhand
2 Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker
2 Torch Fiend
1 Arc Lightning
1 Jeering Instigator
1 Mountain

Other Decks in the Format

I’m not going to go over these in detail, but these are some of the decks I expect to have some competitive life in the early format.  If you’re assembling a testing suite, this is where I’d begin:

Mono Black Aggro (by Red Deck Winning, similar to my list that went 4-0 at the Proxy Tournament)

4 Tormented Hero
4 Bloodsoaked Champion
4 Gnarled Scarhide
4 Pain Seer
4 Spiteful Returned
4 Mogis’s Marauder
4 Master of the Feast

1 Sign in Blood
2 Crippling Blight
4 Thoughtseize
4 Hero’s Downfall

4 Bloodstained Mire
17  Swamp

Sideboard
4 Grim Haruspex
4 Pharika’s Cure
3 Boon of Erebos
2 Murderous Cut
1 Hall of Triumph
1 Despise

Mono Green Devotion (by Ranjan Pradeep)

4 Elvish Mystic
4 Sylvan Caryatid
4 Voyaging Satyr
4 Genesis Hydra
4 Courser of Kruphix
4 Eidolon of Blossoms
1 Nylea, God of the Hunt
4 Polukranos, World Eater
4 Nissa, Worldwaker
3 Arbor Colossus

12 Forest
4 Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx
4 Wooded Foothills
4 Windswept Heath

Sideboard
3 Hunt the Hunter
3 Setessan Tactics
4 Nylea’s Disciple
2 Hornet Queen
1 Arbor Colossus
2 Hooded Hydra

Jeskai Burn (by Chris VanMeter)

4 Goblin Rabblemaster
4 Mantis Rider
2 Narset, Enlightened Master

2 Chandra, Pyromaster
2 Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker

2 Banishing Light
2 Suspension Field
4 Jeskai Charm
4 Lightning Strike
4 Magma Jet
4 Stoke the Flames
1 Arc Lightning

1 Island
2 Mountain
2 Plains
4 Battlefield Forge
2 Flooded Strand
2 Mystic Monastery
4 Shivan Reef
4 Temple of Epiphany
4 Temple of Triumph

Sideboard
2 Suspension Field
1 Deicide
4 Disdainful Stroke
1 Gainsay
2 Negate
1 Keranos, God of Storms
3 Anger of the Gods
1 Arc Lightning

Jeskai Ascendancy Combo (from Reddit)

4 Kiora’s Follower
4 Rattleclaw Mystic
4 Sylvan Caryatid

4 Commune with the Gods
4 Divination
1 Burning Anger
4 Dragon Mantle
4 Jeskai Ascendancy
2 Karametra’s Favor
4 Nylea’s Presence
1 Stratus Walk
2 Dig Through Time
2 Retraction Helix

2 Forest
4 Mana Confluence
1 Shivan Reef
3 Temple of Abandon
2 Temple of Mystery
4 Temple of Plenty
4 Yavimaya Coast

Sideboard
4 Circle of Flame
4 Eidolon of Blossoms
2 Keranos, God of Storms
3 Magma Spray
2 Swan Song

B/G Constellation (based off old lists, still needs updating and probably better as BUG)

4 Elvish Mystic
2 Nighthowler
4 Satyr Wayfinder
2 Sylvan Caryatid
4 Boon Satyr
4 Courser of Kruphix
4 Eidolon of Blossoms
3 Nyx Weaver
2 Nylea, God of the Hunt

4 Strength from the Fallen
4 Commune with the Gods
1 Kruphix’s Insight

8 Forest
3 Mana Confluence
4 Llanowar Wastes
4 Temple of Malady
3 Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx

Sideboard
4 Nylea’s Disciple
1 Bow of Nylea
2 Doomwake Giant
1 Agent of Erebos
1 Unravel the Aether
2 Murderous Cut
2 Hero’s Downfall
2 Thoughtseize

Jeskai Control (by  Sam Bruning, 4-0 at the Proxy Tournament)

1 Keranos, God of Storms
2 Narset, Enlightened Master
2 Elspeth, Sun’s Champion
1 Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker

3 Magma Spray
4 Lightning Strike
1 Last Breath
1 Deicide
2 Disdainful Stroke
4 Dissolve
4 Banishing Light
2 Jeskai Charm
3 End Hostilities
1 Jace’s Ingenuity
3 Dig Through Time

4 Mystic Monastery
3 Temple of Enlightenment
1 Temple of Triumph
1 Temple of Epiphany
4 Flooded Strand
4 Shivan Reef
1 Battlefield Forge
3 Plains
2 Island
3 Mountain

Sideboard
4 Nyx-Fleece Ram
4 Anger of the Gods
1 Magma Spray
1 End Hostilities
1 Reprisal
2 Disdainful Stroke
1 Pearl Lake Ancient
1 Fated Retribuition

Sultai Reanimator (by Todd Anderson)

4 Ashen Rider
4 Elvish Mystic
4 Satyr Wayfinder
4 Sylvan Caryatid
4 Courser of Kruphix
3 Sidisi, Brood Tyrant

2 Rescue from the Underworld
4 Sultai Charm
1 Whip of Erebos
3 Commune with the Gods
4 Endless Obedience

4 Forest
3 Llanowar Wastes
2 Mana Confluence
4 Opulent Palace
4 Temple of Malady
4 Yavimaya Coast
2 Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth

Sideboard
4 Nylea’s Disciple
2 Reclamation Sage
4 Murderous Cut
1 Whip of Erebos
4 Thoughtseize

Abzan (by Brian Braun-Duin)

4 Elvish Mystic
4 Voyaging Satyr
4 Wingmate Roc
4 Courser of Kruphix
3 Anafenza, the Foremost
4 Polukranos, World Eater

4 Sorin, Solemn Visitor

3 Abzan Ascendancy
2 Abzan Charm
4 Murderous Cut

3 Forest
2 Plains
4 Llanowar Wastes
2 Mana Confluence
4 Sandsteppe Citadel
4 Temple of Malady
4 Windswept Heath
1 Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth

Sideboard
2 Banishing Light
3 Nyx-Fleece Ram
2 Bile Blight
1 Utter End
3 Nissa, WorldWaker
4 Thoughtseize

Mono White Devotion (by Reid Duke)

4 Soldier of the Pantheon
4 Vanguard of Brimaz
3 Phalanx Leader
4 Brimaz, King of Oreskos
2 Eidolon of Countless Battles
1 Heliod, God of the Sun
2 Purphoros, God of the Forge
3 Wingmate Roc

4 Elspeth, Sun’s Champion
4 Launch the Fleet
3 Defiant Strike
1 Ephemeral Shields

9 Plains
4 Temple of Triumph
4 Battlefield Forge
4 Wind-Scarred Crag
4 Nykthos, Srhine to Nyx

Thanks for reading, and as always,

Keep Tapping Those Mountains,

– Red Deck Winning

The Wrath of Khans

zurgohelmsmasherwallpaper

The Wrath of Khans

Normally I’d wait until a set was fully spoiled before starting to discuss it, but Khans looks so interesting already that I think we need to get started early.  Theros was similar in my opinion, easily providing some of the most diverse testing I’ve seen along with a spring of new ideas that rejuvenated a lot of folks interest for Magic.  While the Standard format has become incredibly stale, having eight to ten competitive archetypes is fairly unheard of and that bodes well for the future of the game.  One important difference though between Theros and Khans is the direction of each set.  Theros was a mono-color based block centered around strategies that required you to play a limited card selection (devotion, etc), whereas Khans so far is a multi-color based block focused on individual card quality.  The latter breathes life into the ability to construct a wide variety of decks, which, while sharing some of the power cards, will each have a lot of nuances of their own.  If you’re stuck playing one color, there’s only so much you can choose from, and the beauty of having both Theros and Khans be legal is that you could go either route in Standard and likely be competitive.

Whenever any new big block set arrives, we have to look at what is rotating and then what the block that is staying centers around.  The biggest hits from RTR/M14 that are leaving are Sphinx’s Revelation, Supreme Verdict, two mana spot removal for Black, devotion enablers (Boros Reckoner, Nightveil Specter, Ash Zealot), Mutavault, and the Shocklands.  These were centerpieces for Standard that you had to build every deck either around or against.  Thoughtseize is also in this discussion, but it’s staying put, so we only have to keep it in mind for building purposes.

Theros block constructed fortunately had a Pro Tour to show us what life without the above was like, and these were the biggest notables from that weekend:

akroancrusaderstormbreathdragonelspethsunschampionbrimazbanishinglightcourserofkruphixpolukranossylvancaryatidthoughtseizesilencethebelieversherosdownfallbileblightprognosticsphinxreaperofthewildskiorathecrashingwave

These 15 cards give us a pretty clear indicator of what to work with and around when we get the new additions from Khans.  Before going into more detail, there is one other important card from M15 to include:

goblinrabblemaster

From the notables above, I believe we can draw a few conclusions about the new format that will be extremely important to focus on going forward:

  • Creatures with a high toughness are going to be popular.  X/4 , X/5s will be the staples of the format, so any aggressive Red deck will need to play cards that deal with those.  Whether that means a threaten effect, can’t block abilities, Stoke the Flames, Fated Conflagration, or Chained to the Rocks, you need to have access to it.
  • B/G has most of the best cards.  That’s also 2/3 of one of the wedges in Khans, so there will almost assuredly be many B/G/x decks.  That means spot removal and fatties, so plan accordingly.
  • Planeswalkers will be a centerpiece of the format, especially with few spells that answer them directly at an efficient mana cost.  Khans is bringing some more, but you’re going to need dedicated hate for them because the ones above take over the game and so do most of the incoming baddies.  Don’t forget, Planar Cleansing and Detention Sphere are also rotating, so this is really going to be free reign on just flooding the board with loyalty.  And those decks are likely to include some of these “high toughness” creatures to block any attempts at reducing that loyalty, which stresses the need for hate even more since you probably won’t be able to attack through them.
  • Red Heroic looks well positioned.  It was a powerful deck at the Pro Tour and Tom Ross has been repeatedly beating face with it at just about every tournament around.  Rabble Red has been a Tier 1 deck for the last few months, and it loses very little with rotation.  The strategy gets underneath some of these more expensive cards, especially with some key removal pieces leaving the format, and there’s a lot of cards that can eliminate blocking for the simple cost of R.  The biggest issues are of course mass removal like Anger of the Gods, Drown in Sorrow, Electrickery, and Supreme Verdict, but fortunately at least two of these are leaving.  Your opponent also has to draw those cards, be able to play them on-time, and have you not play around them.  That’s a lot to ask for, especially when you’re losing very little card selection and can play with those factors in mind.  And best of all, the “wrath”  card spoiled so far in Khans costs five mana.  We all know four mana is the bread and butter needed by control to save themselves from the onslaught (if even that does it), so this will help immensely.

Before diving into the new cards, lets look at what some of the existing Heroic shells have available to give us an idea of where we could start the future:

Tom Ross’s last Boss Sligh “Heroic” list before “Rabble Red” became the official version:

Boss Sligh
Tom Ross
Standard (7/17/14)

Maindeck
4 Akroan Crusader
4 Ash Zealot (rotating)
4 Firedrinker Satyr
3 Frenzied Goblin
4 Legion Loyalist (rotating)
4 Rakdos Cackler (rotating)
2 Rubblebelt Maaka (rotating)

18 Mountain

4 Dragon Mantle
3 Hammerhand
4 Madcap Skills (rotating)
2 Stoke the Flames
4 Titan’s Strength

Sideboard
2 Phyrexian Revoker
2 Forge Devil
2 Goblin Rabblemaster
3 Eidolon of the Great Revel
3 Skullcrack (rotating)
1 Harness by Force
1 Seismic Stomp (rotating)
1 Mutavault (rotating)

And what won this last weekend’s SCG Open:

Rabble Red
Thomas Graves
1st Place at StarCityGames.com Standard Open on 9/6/2014
Standard

Maindeck
2 Ash Zealot (rotating)
4 Burning-Tree Emissary (rotating)
4 Firedrinker Satyr
2 Firefist Striker (rotating)
3 Foundry Street Denizen
4 Goblin Rabblemaster
4 Legion Loyalist (rotating)
4 Rakdos Cackler (rotating)
3 Rubblebelt Maaka (rotating)

19 Mountain
2 Mutavault (rotating)

3 Lightning Strike
4 Stoke the Flames
1 Titan’s Strength
1 Hall of Triumph

Sideboard
2 Boros Reckoner (rotating)
3 Eidolon of the Great Revel
1 Dynacharge (rotating)
3 Magma Spray
2 Skullcrack (rotating)
1 Harness by Force
2 Mizzium Mortars (rotating)
1 Mutavault (rotating)

While there are a lot of actual cards that are rotating on both lists, most of them aren’t critical or ones that can’t find replacements.  There’s other one drops that were borderline playable, or could be substituted in, and there’s a lot of cards that did similar things (like Titan’s Strength and Rubblebelt Maaka).  Obviously the stuff being lost will be missed, and did serve important roles, but Khans should bring at least one or two playables yet (still so much to be spoiled), and there’s a few Red M15 cards that might see action now that weren’t being played simply because the stuff rotating was just a small cut above them.

The most important aspect to remember is this:  If your opponent’s game plan is to cast a Polkranos, Elspeth, or Thoughtseize, redundant Red cards that cost a fourth of that are going to have a field day.

Khans Is Coming (Spoiler!)

I’m not really one to warn people about spoiler content in my articles.  This is 2014, if you haven’t seen Khans cards on the internet already or been salivating over them daily, I would like a one way ticket to the cave you live in please.  Lets start looking over some of the awesomeness that we actually get to play with in two weeks:

SarkhantheDragonspeaker

I was pretty sure Sarkhan was going to be multi-colored and have marginal abilities, man does it feel good to be wrong sometimes.  This guy looks fantastic.

He passes a lot of “tests” for Planeswalkers which is the first area you have to start at with evaluations.  His plus ability brings him to five loyalty which makes it pretty difficult to kill him with attacks or burn.  His plus ability turns him into a pseudo Stormbreath Dragon, which is already a powerhouse playable card.  Sure, he loses protection from White, but there’s upside to counteract for that.  He is indestructible in his plus mode, while at the same time “turning off” during their turn effectively eliminating most sorcery speed removal outlets.  I believe Stormbreath Dragon is still going to be very good, but one of the things that seems to make Sarkhan even better is that he can kill creatures if that’s the mode that’s more important to you at the time.  One of the big tests for Planeswalkers is if they can protect themselves or not, and not only does he do this but he also kills creatures with the almighty “four” toughness in this new format.  His ultimate ability doesn’t kill them on the spot which is a shame, but it’s still powerful and likely would lead to a win shortly thereafter.  Besides, I could easily see alternating between his first two abilities for the majority of time he would see play since they are the bread and butter of what you want to do in almost every game.  And lastly, being a Planeswalker rather than a creature is another plus over Stormbreath Dragon since there is simply less removal in the format for that card type.

I haven’t been this excited about a Red card in a long time, and the feeling appears to be mutual from just about everyone I’ve talked to.  While he will need to be in a bigger Red shell, this guy is ready to start an inferno.

anafenzatheforemost

Yes I know, not a Red card.  But this set is just too sweet so I’m going to talk about other colors here too, especially since us Red mages will probably be dealing with these cards very soon.

Anafenza is just all around awesome.  She can be an EDH Commander, she’s got an excellent rate by being a 4/4 for three mana, her first ability is pure value, and her second ability is relevant in many situations.  I shudder just thinking about the games where someone plays this and then plays a Reaper of the Wilds the following turn.  It almost feels like a card from the old Mythic Bant lists that were a giant force in Standard for a long time.  She competes slightly with Courser of Kruphix at three mana, but there’s going to be a lot of decks that want both cards and she’s going to find more play in an aggressive shell anyway (rather than Ramp, although she’s still fine there).  Loxodon Smiter was a great card in Standard, so I can’t see why she won’t be either.

narsetenlightenedmaster2

Narset may not be as eye-popping on paper, but she seems possibly playable, and is a fun card even if she only ends up being relegated to the EDH tables.  The biggest knock on her is her lack of evasion and her base stats (3/2) which make her a hard sell at being a finisher for Control.  Being able to protect herself and cast free spells in a deck largely filled with non-creature spells is a good thing to have, and I could see the biggest impact in a mirror match.  Control mirrors often are dictated by who is able to play their lands on time and regularly along with having continual “gas”.  She provides that gas, along with a threat.

Midrange decks and Heroic Red aren’t bothered by her though, and this is where I think she falls short and thus may not catch on.  Maybe I’m just excited to build an EDH deck with her, who knows, but she looks sweet.

seetheunrwitten

Summoning Trap was a heavily played card in Standard for a while, and this card shares a lot of the same characteristics.  I can see Ferocious being active most of the times this is cast, and the thought of having two absolutely game ending gigantic dudes enter the battlefield for six mana is absolutely frightening.  Those “Souls” from M15 that weren’t being played before might just have met their red carpet.

abzanascendancy

Abzan Ascendancy looks amazing, I’m extremely surprised this is not a mythic rare.  I’ve already seen authors like Craig Wescoe discussing applications for it, but it should be obvious on paper why it’s so good.  It’s a psuedo “Crusade” at a mana cost that is already acceptable in Standard for one (see Hall of Triumph), and it effectively wrath-proofs your creatures.  Even outside of an aggro deck, this card is just extreme value at a minimal cost, and if my predictions on the format come true it’s in a color combination with some of the most powerful cards.  You could even go deeper and setup a deck with a plethora of wrath effects and then nickel and dime your opponent to death with tokens provided by both the Ascendancy and other generators of yours.  What it doesn’t do is provide a threat or defender at its mana cost, and that is always an issue, but the upside here looks far greater than any negative I can see at a surface glance.

marduascendancy

Goblin Rabblemaster anyone?  Stacking triggers with him or putting this in a Purphoros tokens deck looks like a blast, and if I’m reading this card correctly it could quite possibly be like a nerfed Spectral Procession on a stick which I can’t see being unplayable.  The second ability is a nice added protection clause against Anger of the Gods and Drown in Sorrow, but the main upsell here is that this card (much like Rabblemaster) demands that you deal with it or the board state or die shortly thereafter.

temurascendency

Temur Ascendancy might not have enough oomph to make it in Standard, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it does.  You have one half of Hammer of Purphoros, and an exceptionally powerful ability for the other half.  The color scheme is the only awkward part, but why all the wedges wouldn’t find homes in competitive decks is beyond me.  Casting, say, a Polukranos after this, drawing a card, and smacking your opponent for five on turn four, is straight nutterbutters.  And is anyone else noticing a trend?  This card is yet another fantatstic EDH card.

hardenedscales

This card is a set too late (would have been sweet with Simic), but it’ll be a blast for EDH.  I also feel like the fact that it’s one mana will get people to experiment in Standard, depending on how many enablers it has and how many do-nothings you can afford in your deck.

sultaicharmmarducharmtemurcharmjeskaicharm

I can’t remember the last time a charm wasn’t used in Standard (or almost every format for that matter), and judging from the exceptional abilities of these ones I don’t see that changing anytime soon.  These all look great, and all seem like must plays in their wedges.  For reference, you can find the English translation for the one on the “Charme” one here – Temur Charm.  For those of you who played when Shards of Alara was in Standard, you probably remember how fantastic that format was for draft and sealed.  This set looks largely the same, with a bigger value upside, so I expect people to play this limited format for as long as it stays affordable.  If you can’t tell from this article yet, yes, I am excited.

abzanguide

I don’t know if this card is going to make it in Constructed.  I wasn’t playing Standard for the brief time period when Morph was legal, so while I’ve played it in Eternal formats it’s always been a bit of a mystery to me.  On paper, this card looks pretty good in my opinion, but I also think it will depend on how active people are at killing any Morph creature they see.  It doesn’t have evasion, it doesn’t have protection, and it’s a common, so likely this is just a very solid limited card, but it’ll make games interesting nonetheless.  I like that it’s a Human Warrior too, as that will enable it in archetypes that might need to stretch for playables.

mantisrider

Efficiently costed, powered, and every ability is relevant.  If this wedge has the potential for aggro, this card looks like it’s an auto shoe-in.  Yes kids, it dies to removal.  That’s never prevented anything from being playable so if you’re one of those who dismisses a card everytime you see something else in the format that kills it, please get over that evaluation issue or you’ll be the one screaming “I had all these!” when your opponent beats you down with this little guy.

savageknuckleblade

For me Savage Knuckleblade falls into the same category as Anafenza.  Another efficiently costed creature with great abilities that looks immediately playable.  If your opponent doesn’t kill this card the first turn it hits the battlefield, I don’t see many ways to deal with it.  It dodges removal, it gets big enough to one or two-shot people, and it can give itself haste.  This guy is super scary, and while he doesn’t have evasion the fact that late game you could just play him with haste and bounce him when they try to do anything looks pretty hard to stop.

flyingcranetechnique1

10/10 for the name alone, Flying Crane Technique looks grossly powerful.  The strange part will be trying to make a six drop work in an aggressive deck, but this might just be the top-end of a midrange deck that wants a way to push through board stalls.  Even if it’s just a 1 or 2 of in the sideboard, it looks absolutely devastating and should end the game on the spot.  And while I know I’ve repeated this ad nauseum (no pun intended), it looks like a wildly fun card for EDH.

On the flipside, watch this card become a huge staple.  I definitely see the potential for a big hit in the works. . .

murderouscut

Black has lost some critical removal pieces like Doom Blade, Ultimate Price, and Devour Flesh, so Murderous Cut might just “make the cut” (feel free to stop reading, I know, terrible).  Any deck that wants to play this is probably playing Thoughtseize and Bile Blight, so that’s two cards already that are likely to be in your graveyard by the time you cast Cut, and assuming you’re running fetchlands this has now become a two mana Murder.  It gets worse in multiples, but having this as a 2-of in combination with x4 Bile Blight and x4 Hero’s Downfall puts Black decks almost back to where they were before.  At least Pack Rat and Mutavault are gone. . .

jeeringinstigator

Initial thoughts are that Jeering Instigator is unplayable, BUT, I do say that with great hesitation.  A surprise Threaten that can be played during your opponent’s turn is a strong effect in a color that always wants it.  He’s also a Goblin which is probably being overlooked by most, but that’s important when Goblin Rabblemaster is one of the best Red cards in Standard.  I could see a turn where he unflips, steals a guy, and pumps your Rabblemaster leading to game, set, match.  Let’s hope that possibility is more reality than myth.

icyblast

Icy Blast reminds me of Sleep, except it’s an instant and it’s conditional.  I think this card’s playability is entirely dependent on what finishers your deck runs, or just an acceptable game-ender in midrange strategies.  It’s probably going to see play in this block in particular because of the fact that UWR Aggro has some strong options, but time will tell.  Bottom line, there’s room for this if your build supports it.

rakshasadeathdealer

We have a lot of comparisons available for Rakshasa.  Putrid Leech, Lotleth Troll, and Nantuko Shade were all Standard staples at some point in time, and while this might be the worst of the group it’s part of a strong design-type in a color combination that already looks strong.  I say “worst” because this card can’t protect itself unless you have four mana or you take a risk and play it early hoping you buy a turn.  That said, it can get really big, and aside from the first turn it’s tough to kill.  The real question will be whether the mana cost or the mana intensity will keep it from seeing regular play, but I imagine it won’t.  He looks like a good card, and he’s a Cat Demon which I’m fairly sure is the best creature type I’ve seen in Magic thus far.  Aside from Phelddagrif of course.

wingmateroc

Wingmate Roc looks crazy!  I hope there’s some hype getting built for this guy, because I personally believe he deserves it.  He’s five mana for six power, both sides have evasion, he gains a ton of life if he lives a turn, and if he dies he made your opponent discard a removal spell and left behind an evasive creature with a high toughness.  Sounds like a purely win-win scenario to me, and a great top-end to a midrange strategy.

heraldofanafenza

Herald looks to be the most playable of the Outlast cards so far, because a 1/2 for 1 is already OK, but generating tokens and +1/+1 counters is a great way to make him relevant later in the game (something most one-drops don’t have).  I like the design, and I just hope that he doesn’t see the bulk bin on account of the fact that he’s not a 2/1.

icefeatheraven

Icefeather Aven appears to be a great limited bomb, and I could see him being an interesting miser in Standard as well.  The fact that there will be so many Morph cards in Standard will allow you to pull some Tom Foolery, and that is the name of this man’s game.  He’s a tempo oriented card and he has the stats to do that no matter what mode you decide to play him in.

cracklingdoom

As some commenters on the spoilers pointed out, this is one more way to deal with Sarkhan (which is sad), but it’s also just a solid value card.  It reminds me a lot of Blightning, which saw immense Standard play, and in a format which I’ve discussed looks to be filled with giant creatures, it’s what the doctor ordered.  R/W/B is looking increasingly like the new “Jund”, so it will be an interesting journey to see what else comes out of the next set to support the color scheme.

rattleclawmysticpromo

Its fragility is going to be the main factor holding it back from being a reliable ramp choice, but otherwise Rattleclaw Mystic might be in some dangerous builds.  I can see a deck playing Sylvan Caryatid into this, followed by something gigantic the next turn.  At the very least, this is my number 1 pick for FNM fun out of this set, I expect to see some hilarity ensue.

siegerhino

Wow.  As a Red mage, let me tell you I don’t want to see this thing.  Incredible stats, an elusive five toughness, trample, and a six point life swing.  I can only imagine when people start to blink this in and out of play.  You’re essentially looking at “Thragtusk light” here.

adamantnegation2

A very effective counterspell for blue, especially in a slower format like Standard where you are frequently only casting one spell a turn.  There’s tremendous upside in decks that can support the Ferocious clause, and I’m expecting foil versions of this card will be in high demand.  Still, some of the time it’s just a bad Dispel, so I’m fine with it being in existence.

ivoryruskfortress

This pairs well with Monstrous cards, but outside of that there’s not much that will be in the format to make it exceptional.  It’s definitely a card I could see being very strong once we get a few more sets out though, as the body is huge.  Looks pretty fun for Doran EDH decks too.

sageoftheinwardeyepromo

Wizards is really pushing for a UWR Aggro deck, and this combined with Mantis Rider is a capable force.  It’s yet another four toughness creature with evasion, and I personally would love to live the dream and cast Flying Crane Technique with this in play.

ankleshankerpromo

Ankle Shanker is pretty expensive for an Aggro deck, and I think it’s going to be held back by its low stats.  It does however basically read “5 mana:  Get a 2/2 with haste and make your entire team unblockable,” so for that alone I expect it to see play, just more likely in a Midrange shell.  What I think is the most exciting part about this cycle of creatures is that each one of them is providing a way to get through a stall, and that is one of the most common problems with Midrange decks.  It’s going to be a wild west atmosphere when each of the wedges has something that says “I win” at their disposal.

suspensionfield

A limited Journey to Nowhere is still a Journey to Nowhere, and this in combination with Chained to the Rocks will give Aggro decks some effective cards to answer all the giant creatures in the format.  My biggest worry with this card is that the format is going to be “enchantment aware” since now we are going to be heavily relying on enchantment creatures.  This could create a greater use of enchantment removal or more people including misers of those cards as an attempt to create big blowouts.  This card’s condition is also easier to meet compared to Chained to the Rocks, so I’d imagine it will have application across more archetypes than Rocks has so far.

cleverimpersonator

Oh baby.  Everybody loves clone effects, and this one looks like the grandaddy of them all.  If this card doesn’t see play I will be amazed, and it’s one of the best card designs to come along in a while.  Any game where this gets played is immediately going to be more fun, not to mention the shenanigans I expect to see people come up with.  In Standard, this has to be one of the scariest cards if the format ends up being a compilation of various Midrange wedge decks.  Like any clone the biggest risk is that there may not be anything relevant to copy, but I’d expect that more often than not it will just be incredible.  Copying your opponent’s Garruk?  Sign me up.

sorinsolemnvisitor

I initially had a positive reaction to this card, but saw it get a lot of flack online when it was spoiled.  After looking over it for a while, I think the fact that his first ability doesn’t do anything on an empty board combined with the fact that you’ll have to go back and forth between his first two abilities rather than support his ultimate will limit his play.  He seems like a very solid 1-2 of in Tokens or Midrange, or as a curve-topper in some kind of BW Aggro deck, but he’s not like the Lord of Innistrad version which allowed you to apply continual pressure regardless of the matchup.  Lifelink is nothing to sneeze at though, and he’s aggressively costed with a high loyalty count so he should be involved in Standard if BW proves to be a strong combination.  His plus ability also combos nicely with Elspeth, Sun’s Champion, which was easily the most powerful card in Theros Block Constructed.

mindswipe

Syncopate + Fireball for one mana more is an intense combination.  This card looks great because of how flexible it is, you don’t need a dedicated control deck to run it.  I don’t see why any deck with access to these colors would not want this card, as it’s a fantastic finisher and early game can stop cards on critical turns (aka the big 4/5/6 drops of this new format)  Rakdos Return saw play for similar reasons to why this one will, and I personally think Mindswipe will have a much bigger impact since an early counterspell is often more important than discard.  Additionally, if that UWR Aggro/Midrange deck materializes, this is a perfect answer to board wipes or other cards that could counteract your strategy.  I don’t see it as a 4-of, but definitely 1-2.

utterendpromo

I think the key for this card is not necessarily that it has the ability to kill just about anything (note Planeswalkers), but that it’s an instant.  For whatever reason, Dreadbore didn’t see a lot of play (especially compared to Hero’s Downfall), and I think the main gripe was that it was a sorcery.  Utter End is costly, but its flexibility on all fronts will make it a format staple.  This is another card that I’m absolutely sure will be a big one in Standard, and I know the cow jokes will be milked to the utter end of the format.

deflectingpalm1

These type of effects rarely see much play, but they are great misers and sideboard options.  This is a sweet hose in the mirror, and although you probably would just want to have a burn spell or creature instead, I could see someone just wanting to have a more flexible 75 and running this.  I’d almost never maindeck it, but I wouldn’t fault you if it was in the board.

sagumauler

The mana cost is pretty high and he can be countered, but otherwise Sagu Mauler looks like an ideal creature to ramp into, or morph into if you’re playing against a Control deck.  There’s not much that effectively gets in the way of a 6/6 trampler, and when you can’t target this with removal spells things start getting grim fast.  He seems to compliment a heavy creature strategy well too, as providing additional bodies to prevent him from dying to Grave Pact effects will make him everything but wrath proof.  I really want to see this card be played, it will just depend on the speed of the format.

Good luck to all of you who will be attending the pre-release.  My all-time favorite draft format was triple Shards of Alara, so I’m looking forward to basically a return of that with Khans of Tarkir.  This set is both competitive and Commander heaven, can’t wait to break open the goodness. . .

Keep Tapping Those Mountains,

– Red Deck Winning

Past, Present, and Future

kothofthehammerwallpaper

Past, Present, and Future

It is the end of a season.  It is almost time for Worlds.  It is the beginning of a new path for Magic.  For those of you who were online yesterday, you probably saw the news regarding the changing of Magic’s set design and rotation.  I’ll touch a bit upon that along with going over my tournament weekend and where I’m at with decks in all formats.  It’s been a while since I’ve had an article and you readers are overdue for some updates.  Without further adou. . .

Past

This past weekend I attended two pro tour qualifiers in my area, and both went pretty well with narrow misses at obtaining my longtime goal.  I’m sad that the Modern season is over, but the experiences I’ve had between last season and this one have truly made me love the format.  Wizards did a great job at creating a format where a wide open metagame can exist, and where new ideas are birthed at an almost constant rate.  Every Modern tournament I’ve been to I’ve played against at least five or six different archetypes, and the vast majority of them have been competitive.  If you’re reading my articles and haven’t played the format much, you should pick it up today.  The season might be over but it’s absolutely worth your time.

After my last article and tournament, I became quite determined to get over the hump in my game.  I knew the issue for me was practice time and comfort level, and as limited as my time and money is if I was going to do well in the upcoming weeks, I’d need to address the issue.  I doubled my efforts on Cockatrice, playing for several hours almost every day, waking up early, going to bed late at night, playing at lunch, basically whenever I could squeeze in time between other stuff I had going on.  I tried to engage some of my fellow burn players a bit more online and in person, bouncing off ideas and questions I had.  I proxied up the big archetypes I was having trouble with, gold-fished some and practiced live matches with others.

Needless to say, the efforts paid off.  I doubted whether it was worth the time or not, but this weekend proved to me that it makes the difference.  I ran the same 75 cards as last time, changing out 1 card on Sunday, and felt very comfortable piloting it other than some grave play mistakes on occasion or some nervous matches when I was in contention.

Saturday’s PTQ was in Fond Du Lac, Wisconsin at a roller rink.  The host Bryant Cobarrubias was welcoming and friendly and overall made the tournament go smoother than many others.  It was a refreshing change from the last one I went to in Chicago, despite having disco balls above our heads, intimate mood lighting, and a chilly AC.  The scene was pretty funny, and as my wife later put it “you guys look like you’re doing male speed dating”.

FonDuLacMagic
(Photo Credit:  Bryant Cobarrubias)

The tournament started off well with a win against a Utopia Sprawl Primeval Titan deck.  It was a younger kid playing the deck which was part brew, part netdeck, and I lost game 2 due to repeat Primal Commands only because I didn’t realize he had them.  Fortunately his deck was just a turn or two slow, and I was able to take the match.  That largely is the story of why this particular build of Burn I believe is the best right now, because you’re simply a turn faster than almost everything in this format set aside Affinity, Infect, Storm, etc.  All the fair decks like Jund, Junk, and Pod are expending heavy resources like Abrupt Decay and Thoughtseize to counteract threats that only cost you one mana and do more than that in damage.  Plus, with the reliance on shock lands being so heavy in this format, your opponent has often done a quarter of the job for you in the first few turns.  A lot of people who first see the deck balk at the presence of three colors in a Burn deck, knowing that you too will be taking lots of damage, but when the risk comes at the reward of having a reliable turn 4/5 kill, it tends to not matter in 80-90% of the matchups.

I lost round 2 playing against one of these fair decks, B/G Rock.  It was embarrassing.  I misplayed, knew correctly how the situation worked, but just duffed it after thinking about my play for a long time in the tank.  I was in game 3 and had a Shard Volley in my hand along with an active Grim Lavamancer and a Goblin Guide in play.  My opponent was essentially in lethal range within the next turn, but had a Tarmogoyf on the table.  For some reason the notion got into my head that I needed to kill this Goyf since it was both preventing me from attacking and also would kill me in a few turns if I left it go unchecked.  I don’t know how my logic circled around to this, but I ended up Shard Volley’ing it, forgetting that the instant would make it grow a toughness bigger, and a nearby judge pointed it out after both my opponent and I missed it.  The Tarmogoyf lived, I no longer could get her for lethal in another turn, and I was killed by the same Goyf.  It’s almost never correct to kill a creature in the first place, which I know very well, but sometimes the pressure just gets to you.  Sadly, this is pretty costly in a big tournament like this, but I pushed on.

The later rounds were almost entirely a cruise, relying on knowing how the matchups work and being thankful for the practice time which was largely spent against any deck with Steam Vents in it (which is pretty much the format).  I lost one other round midway through the tournament to a player from my town who was on Scapeshift, and it was really just a matter of not drawing enough gas.  That matchup is almost always easy, as the outs they bring in are largely ones that you can play around (Spellskite) or counteract (Obstinate Baloth/Skullcrack).  The combo is a threat if you have a slower hand, which was the case here, but you rarely lose a game on the play and they almost never have enough disruption early to prevent you from going off first.  I lost the third game with my opponent at 1 life, and beat Scapeshift at least once if not twice during the remaining portion of the day.  Overall, I finished in 19th place and viewed the day as a good practice session going into Sunday.  A fellow grinder Greg Ogreenc (who in combination with Jasper Johnson-Epstein designed this Burn deck) made top 8 in Fond Du Lac, but sadly got paired against the worst matchup (Affinity) and lost a nailbiter in 3 games.  Thankfully one of our other Madison natives Matt Severa, playing Faeries, took down the tournament so not all was lost on the day.

I got home that night at 8:30pm and was exhausted.  I talked with my wife for a while and then tried to muster some sleep after looking at Magic articles online.  Next thing I know I woke up at 2 a.m., couldn’t fall back asleep, and then left my house at 3:30 a.m. to meet with my ride.  The drive took less time than we thought, but it was still 4 hours on top of what we did the day prior.  We arrived at Fantasy Flight Games Center near Minneapolis, and the next PTQ began.

Round 1 I had no idea what was going on.

My opponent was playing Steam Vents.deck (ah so familiar), but the card choices in game 1 weren’t enough for me to get a pin on what he had going.  I saw Snapcaster, Remand, Bolts, and all UR lands, so to me it seemed like he could either be a UR Control deck, a Delver deck, or Twin.  I thought that maybe he was playing the Twin combo in the board and when I went to game 2 I brought in 1 or 2 cards for that matchup just incase.  I didn’t want to overload on it if I was wrong, but I also didn’t want to be dead to it.  He was playing well throughout our match, but I was able to get game 2.  It was during that game that he scry’d with Magma Jet and accidentally revealed a Blood Moon.  The lightbulb turned on at that point and I realized I was playing against Blue Moon, a deck that I didn’t know much about other than seeing a decklist at the time of the Modern Pro Tour.  I had a sideboard plan for it (see my last article), and followed that for game 3.  It was very close, I was able to get him down to 1 life but had to pass the turn knowing that I was probably in danger with him having a few cards in hand and being at 8 life.  Sure enough, he cast Snapcaster at the end of my turn to flashback a Lightning Bolt, untapped, then cast another Lightning Bolt and an Electrolyze.  Not a good way to start out, but I wasn’t too jaded since the games were played very well on both sides and there was nothing I could do.  My opponent Lito was a very nice guy and I wished him good luck on his way up the chain.

I wouldn’t lose after that until much later.  Round after round, I either pummeled or squeaked out of intense situations, as this deck does.  It’s much like a Boxer in a fight, you need to time your hits correctly and sequence your moves.  It’s very easy to misplay this Burn deck.  You need to be doing the math on every turn you take and thinking of what possible outs your opponent has as you usually win with exactly lethal in a lot of games or with burn spells off the top of the deck.  Playing a few two mana burn spells because you have a few in your hand when you could have played three one mana burn spells and then finished with a two mana burn spell often can be the deciding factor between you being at the smelly tables in the back or up front with the champions.  There’s a lot of critical applications to keep in the back of your head too.

For instance, in one round Greg was playing against a Jund player and when the Jund player went to cast Anger of the Gods against a field of Goblin Guide, Grim Lavamancer, and Vexing Devil, and all looked lost.  But Greg cast Boros Charm giving his creatures indestructible and took the match.  It’s plays like these which don’t always seem obvious (since you’re usually totaling damage counts), but are extremely relevant to the long-gain results.  Another example came for me at the end of the day in Fond Du Lac when I looked dead on board against Pod, with him at 9 life and me facing lethal when I passed the turn.  I had a Lightning Bolt and a Rakdos Charm in hand, and he had an Archangel of Thune, a mana dork, a Voice of Resurgence, and an Elemental token from the Voice.  I passed the turn, declared I had upkeep effects, and then during his upkeep cast Lightning Bolt to trigger the Voice of Resurgence ability, then cast Rakdos Charm to trigger it again, and then chose the mode to deal each player 1 damage for each creature they control.  It was exactly lethal, and had I not seen the play I would have been X-3 and not X-2.

Going into the 8th and final round of the Minneapolis PTQ, I was in 9th place.  I was the last person with a 6-1 record, and as such I wouldn’t be able to draw in unless a lot of others played it out which wasn’t going to happen.  I sat down and talked with my opponent, and it turns out he was 5-1-1 and had been paired up, so it was going to come down to the winner of this match to determine which of us would make top 8 and try to battle for a plane ticket to Hawaii.  One of my car mates Keenan watched on as I fidgeted in my chair trying to collect myself and focus on the fact that this deck was good, I knew it well, and it was performing like it should all day.  I had the play in game 1 and picked up my starting hand to see this:

aridmesablackcleavecliffsriftboltriftboltriftboltlightningboltlightningbolt

Or really I should say this:

matchesnapalm

After suspending a Rift Bolt I passed to my opponent who played this on his turn 1:

slipperyboggle

What a fitting piece of artwork for how that made me feel.  One more win to go in, willing to face just about any matchup, and then BOGGLES.  I just had to hope I could race, as I was looking at arguably one of the best possible hands I could have with Burn, and he was going to need everything he had to stay in this game.  Bad matchup or not.

I drew into running bolts of various kinds, he was able to play a Daybreak Coronet and gain life, but then cracked a fetch to play another creature and went down to six.  “Untap, Bump, Shard Volley, Kill You.”

Game 2 I mulled to five.  Burned him for a while and attacked with Guides/Devil, but he was eventually able to assemble a Gladecover Scout with a Spirit Link and Daybreak Coronet, gain 8 life, and put himself well out of reach.  I think I was a turn or two away, but without a Skullcrack I couldn’t do anything to keep myself in the game.

MinneapolisMagic
(Photo Credit:  Dan Bock)

In game 3 I opened with Electrickery, a Goblin Guide, a burn spell, and some lands.  It wasn’t ideal, but Electrickery is one of the huge sideboard pieces against Boggles so I figured it was better than going down to 6 cards.  Electrickery ended up 2-for-1’ing him when he tried to Rancor up a Gladecover Scout, and Guide was getting in for some good damage along with some burn.  Things were looking good too as I had drawn a Volcanic Fallout.  My opponent was able to get out a Kor Spiritdancer, and when he attempted to suit it up I cast the Fallout to sweep our boards and do us each 2 damage.  The next turn he played another Spiritdancer, and it met with a Lightning Bolt when he tried to again suit it up.

Phew, deep breath.  I drew another burn spell or two.  I put him down to four life and passed the turn with no cards in hand.  On his turn he played a hexproof creature, put a Daybreak Coronet on it, and passed.  If I draw Boros Charm he is dead, and if I draw Skullcrack I can buy another turn and put him at 1 life.  I had not drawn one of either yet, and we had probably drawn about 20 cards or so by that point, so the odds were not great but more favorable then a lot of bad situations.  I drew. . .

aridmesa

My heart sank.  I wished him good luck in the top 8 and sat there stunned.  15 rounds of Magic over the course of two days, one win away from making top 8 against what would ultimately be a very favorable field for Burn.  It was a great experience though, I was able to play against the vast majority of the archetypes in existence and now have a pretty good grip on how the matchups go for the future.  I had a fun time with friends, especially my car mates who were cracking me up all weekend with jokes, and it meant a lot to me to improve as a player.  In Minneapolis I also beat Jasper heads up in the later rounds, so while I was sad to see a friend have to get knocked out of contention, I was glad to get past one of the better players in this game at least for one tournament.  After the Swiss we stayed until the end of the top 8 and watched as Greg took down the whole thing.  He even got revenge on the Boggles opponent in the Quarterfinals, and beat Jund for the crown.  Another pro who many of you might recognize from StarCityGames, Matthias Hunt, also played our list and finished in 10th.  The PTQ that we didn’t attend on Saturday in Iowa was won by Burn as well.  Overall, it was a strong weekend for the archetype and proof that Mountains really can win.

Present

Here are the decks that I would play at the current moment in each format.  They don’t win too many points on originality, but they give you a good chance to win:

Standard:

Rabble Red:

Maindeck
3 Ash Zealot
4 Burning-Tree Emissary
4 Firedrinker Satyr
2 Firefist Striker
4 Foundry-Street Denizen
4 Goblin Rabblemaster
3 Legion Loyalist
4 Rakdos Cackler
3 Rubblebelt Maaka

3 Lightning Strike
4 Stoke the Flames

1 Hall of Triumph

18 Mountain
3 Mutavault

Sideboard
1 Hall of Triumph
4 Eidolon of the Great Revel
3 Magma Spray
1 Harness by Force
1 Searing Blood
1 Mizzium Mortars
1 Electrickery
2 Skullcrack
1 Seismic Stomp

Modern:

RWB Burn:

Maindeck
4 Goblin Guide
4 Vexing Devil
4 Eidolon of the Great Revel
3 Grim Lavamancer

4 Lightning Bolt
4 Bump in the Night
4 Lava Spike
4 Rift Bolt
1 Shard Volley
4 Boros Charm
2 Skullcrack
2 Searing Blaze

1 Marsh Flats
4 Arid Mesa
4 Scalding Tarn
1 Blood Crypt
4 Sacred Foundry
4 Blackcleave Cliffs
2 Snow-Covered Mountain

Sideboard
2 Rakdos Charm
2 Skullcrack
2 Searing Blaze
2 Combust
1 Smash to Smithereens
1 Volcanic Fallout
1 Spellskite
1 Shattering Spree
1 Sudden Shock
1 Grafdigger’s Cage
1 Electrickery

Legacy:

Burn:

Maindeck
4 Goblin Guide
4 Eidolon of the Great Revel
3 Grim Lavamancer

4 Lightning Bolt
4 Rift Bolt
4 Lava Spike
4 Chain Lightning
4 Price of Progress
3 Searing Blaze
4 Fireblast

2 Sulfuric Vortex

4 Arid Mesa
4 Scalding Tarn
2 Wooded Foothills
10 Mountain

Sideboard
3 Ensnaring Bridge
3 Flame Rift
2 Vexing Shusher
2 Smash to Smithereens
2 Mindbreak Trap
1 Searing Blaze
1 Searing Blood
1 Sulfuric Vortex

Pauper:

Goblins:

Maindeck
4 Goblin Arsonist
4 Goblin Sledder
4 Mogg Conscripts
4 Goblin Bushwhacker
4 Goblin Cohort
4 Mogg Raider
4 Mogg War Marshall
3 Sparksmith
3 Goblin Matron

4 Lightning Bolt
2 Death Spark
2 Goblin Grenade

17 Mountain
1 Teetering Peaks

Sideboard
4 Pyroblast
2 Goblin Fireslinger
2 Electrickery
2 Flaring Pain
2 Gorilla Shaman
1 Sylvok Lifestaff
1 Sparksmith
1 Death Spark

I think everyone at this point who’s been playing Red decks can tell you that it’s all about the all-mighty Eidolon of the Great Revel.  That card has put in so much work in the past few months.  It can be a liability in aggro/burn mirrors when you’re on the draw, but otherwise it’s one of the most influential cards in every matchup.  It also gives you free “game” against combo decks that you otherwise would have had nothing against in game 1s.  You’ll notice I listed Rabble Red for my preferred Standard deck at the moment, and it’s not to slight RW Burn at all.  I think RW Burn is well positioned, but it requires even more intense piloting then the Modern and Legacy versions, and it can be durdly at times or hugely dependent on card choice.  It’s very much like a UW Control deck in the sense that you have to tailor it properly for the always evolving metagame, where as Rabble Red just has a straight forward game plan and presents a difficult clock for many of the decks in Standard.  The sideboard is versatile and covers most of the tougher matchups with some good singletons to reinforce the already good ones.  You can play around Drown in Sorrow and Supreme Verdict and if done properly it’s quite difficult for your opponent to have the right answers.

Future

Yesterday Wizards of the Coast announced that Magic will be moving to a two set system, with the usual process being a big set followed by a small, rotations after each block, no Core set, and ultimately three blocks in Standard.  The article is an interesting read, and if you haven’t seen it yet I recommend taking a look HERE.  There’s a lot of wild speculation that I’ve seen over what this will mean for card prices, and to tell you the truth I’m not sure what will be the outcome until we actually see it firsthand.  My guess is that card prices will simply be more volatile, but it could largely be about the same.  It’s a good move for the game otherwise, and will help to keep Standard fresh for years to come.  I’m surprised this is coming so quickly on the heels of the new PTQ structure announcement, but change for Wizards is long overdue, so maybe someone up there is finally starting to “get it”.

Khans of Tarkir doesn’t have much spoiled yet, but all the buzz and the few cards shown so far look exciting.  It seems to feature Red quite prominently, and the new Raid mechanic is just what the doctor ordered.  Being able to punish your opponent with the element of surprise damage is the push over the top that decks want in this color, we just need to see how many cards end up being playable.  For those that haven’t seen any of the cards yet (SPOILER), this is one of the ones released (note* not playable)

marduheartpiercer

I’m really hoping that Goblins gets a bump, since we already received the awesome Rabblemaster in M15 and Goblin Bombardment is about to be reprinted.  A legit two mana Goblin specifically would be nice, or a Lord or two.  As some of you know from my articles I was testing a Goblin build just before M15’s release, and while I never put the polishing touches on it I believe it was just a good card or two away from being viable.  Maybe we’ll even get Siege-Gang Commander. . .

While this isn’t future news, there’s another deck in Modern that popped up late in the season that looks like an absolute blast to play.  It did well at a Modern IQ in Dallas back in March, and then was taken to a top 8 berth by Judge Sewall in a recent Nebraska PTQ.  Behold the greatness:

RW Stax

Maindeck
2 Magus of the Moon
4 Simian Spirit Guide

2 Wrath of God
3 Anger of the Gods
3 Lightning Helix
4 Chalice of the Void
4 Ensnaring Bridge
2 Damping Matrix
4 Blood Moon
2 Leyline of Sanctity
1 Ghostly Prison
1 Assemble the Legion
2 Ajani Vengeant
1 Chandra, Pyromaster
1 Gideon Jura
1 Elspeth, Knight Errant

7 Plains
2 Mountains
2 Clifftop Retreat
4 Sacred foundry
4 Arid Mesa
4 Temple of Triumph

Sideboard
3 Defense Grid
2 Wear/Tear
2 Wurmcoil engine
2 Rest in Peace
2 Stony Silence
2 Leyline of Sanctity
1 Nevermore
1 Baneslayer Angel

The pilot of the deck lost to R/G Tron in the Quarters, but this is a matchup that could be shored up by a large number of card choices available.  Tron isn’t even very popular in recent months, and supposedly this deck absolutely crushes Pod which is a place I’d rather be.

Conclusion

I’m going to be on break from big tournaments for a while, probably until at least late October.  Thank you again for continuing to read my site and all the support, I will try to keep up the battling and hopefully bring you a “Pro Tour Report” sometime soon.  Until then,

Keep Tapping Those Mountains,

– Red Deck Winning

Battling to Qualify: A Modern Experience

volcanicfalloutwallpaper

Battling to Qualify:  A Modern Experience

The struggle to reach the professional tour in this game is real.  It’s a tale that’s told by the look on a face, the projection of a tone, the desperate travel plans made at the 9th hour, and the perceived desire in ones words.  This Sunday I went to a Pro Tour Qualifier in Chicago, and this time it felt different.  They always stir up familiar emotions and passions, but this particular one covered a lifetime of experiences in one very long day.  The good, the bad, the ugly; they were all there.

A few weeks ago I was talking with local grinder Louis Kaplan, and we were comparing our endless string of “almost” getting there tournaments.  And by “there” I mean that coveted blue envelope that means more than the world to many competitive Magic players.  Making the Pro Tour has been one of my biggest dreams since I was young, and while time is against me, the fire burns as bright as ever right now to try and fulfill that dream.

Last Monday I was browsing Facebook, when I noticed a notification pop up.  I clicked on it to read “Alan Hochman with Pastimes Games is hosting a $5,000 Prize PTQ in Chicago”.  I haven’t seen PTQs mixed with cash payouts before, although other players were quickly informing me that these things have been around for a while.  Regardless, this was a very reasonable reward for your time and effort if for some reason you don’t get to make a dream come true.  I shared the post with my town’s MTG group, and discussion started on who all was going.  There were a few of the regular grinders who already had it planned, along with hitting either Minneapolis or St. Louis the day before for a double-PTQ special.  Sadly all the cars were full, and most of my usual crew were in complete boycott of Pastimes after their experiences at the recent Grand Prix.

I looked in my wallet.  Heck, not even a ball of lint.  Credit Cards stretched to the brim as usual, savings tapped, bills to pay.  Brakes on the car squealing.  Just finished the tail end of a two-week long move across apartments.  Work crazy as usual.  My playtesting of Nicholas Heal’s GP Minneapolis Red Deck Wins build had been going poorly.  I’m thirty years old, and probably starting a family in the next few years, and the last thing my wife needs is another weekend where I’m running away to play a game that I’ve played since I was ten.

Those are a few of the million reasons I had not to go.  But the dream. . .

I hopped on Cockatrice.  It’s not the greatest testing tool, but it lets you put yourself through the paces of a deck easy enough and you can scour for good opponents if you’re patient.  I eventually settled into playing a few games with a guy and we started having some conversation in chat.  He was from Finland, and he was looking to play in his country’s WMCQ soon.  He was worried he wasn’t going to have enough Planeswalker Points because there was only one other big tournament in his area and it was two weeks before the WMCQ.  It was 100 miles away and there literally weren’t any other major tournaments over the course of an entire year except for these two.  This made me pull up my DCI number online to compare some things, and I clicked over on the history tab to relive some nostalgia.  My first big tournament listed was a PTQ from January, 1999.  Fifteen years ago.  My god.  FIFTEEN YEARS!  It just seemed so unreal even though I remember the days.  But more importantly, it reminded me, this isn’t “just a game”, this is a dream.  I know I’m coming across super serious in this article, but this look back hammered it home for me.  There’s no point to let all this time, effort, and passion go to waste, you have to keep battling to get what you want.  And here I’ve been given the opportunity to play in multiple high level events every single weekend.  Of course like anyone with an actual social life outside of Magic I can’t do that, but it still gives me no excuse to let chances slip through my fingers if I can make something happen.

I messaged my good friend Travis to see if he had some fetches I could borrow.  He did.  I got ahold of a few judge friends in my area who were going to be involved in the event and was able to secure a ride for Sunday.  At this point there was no turning back.  Now I just had to find a list to work with.  If you remember from my last Modern article, there were choices and I wasn’t certain what direction to go (surprise).  Every time I have to figure out my list these days, this is what I feel like:

heartattack

I thought, if anything, I kind of like what the local pros who I really respect have played or listed recently, so probably best to crowdsource them and see what feels best to me.  I messaged Jasper Johnson-Epstein and Adrian Sullivan to see where their updated Burn lists were at.  Adrian messaged me back briefly but didn’t sound terribly confident about the deck.  Jasper messaged me back an updated build and sideboard plan, and things looked good so I began to assemble the cards.  I tested online a bunch over the course of a day or two, and then at 11pm after a long afternoon of drinking with friends I got a little Facebook ding from Adrian right as I was about to hit the hay.  The gist of it was, I should play his GR Burn list because it was better positioned, had Ghor Clan, and while he still thought Burn wasn’t a good choice at the moment, it was the better list.  I respect the hell out of both of these guys after watching them ascend to greatness many times, and because they’re both excellent Red mages.  My brain was racked, so I wasn’t sure what to do and went to sleep.

My alarm went off at 5 A.M., although since it was the night before a PTQ I was already up at 4 A.M. with the hamster wheel spinning thinking about what to play.  I met up at a parking lot to catch my ride down to Chicago, and when we got to the tournament site after our two hour drive, I started working to put together Adrian’s list.  I still liked Jasper’s, and had it sleeved, but Adrian was really trying hard to convince me otherwise the night before.  Something felt unpolished about it though, and ultimately Jasper found me, sat by my table, and detailed out all the reasons why playing more creatures and Ghor Clan in this “style” of a deck was not the place I wanted to be at the moment.  Modern is currently a removal heavy format, and you just want to play along that all familiar Burn axis that they can’t defend against.  I had more experience with Jasper’s list anyway, so I crossed out the differences on my registration sheet and re-sleeved his deck.  Yes, the schizophrenia was in full fever friends.  Thankfully, I think I made the right choice (at least for that day), and I was happy playing it throughout.  Here is the list that I played:

R/W/B Burn, 56th Place, John Galli, deck design by Jasper Johnson-Epstein

Maindeck

4 Goblin Guide
4 Vexing Devil
4 Eidolon of the Great Revel
3 Grim Lavamancer

4 Lightning Bolt
4 Bump in the Night
4 Lava Spike
4 Rift Bolt
1 Shard Volley
4 Boros Charm
2 Skullcrack
2 Searing Blaze

1 Marsh Flats
4 Arid Mesa
4 Scalding Tarn
1 Blood Crypt
4 Sacred Foundry
4 Blackcleave Cliffs
2 Mountain

Sideboard
2 Rakdos Charm
2 Skullcrack
2 Searing Blaze
2 Combust
2 Volcanic Fallout
1 Spellskite
1 Stony Silence
1 Sudden Shock
1 Grafdigger’s Cage
1 Electrickery

Sideboard Guide from Jasper (rough, from his older list so ignore cards that aren’t in the current build but I adapted it as I played):

It’s fine to cut a Mountain on the draw much of the time, but not great when bringing in three-mana spells and/or Searing Blazes.

Zoo: +2 Searing Blaze, +1 Skullcrack, +1 Flamebreak, -4 Goblin Guide
Affinity: +1 Electrickery, +2 Rakdos Charm, +2 Searing Blaze, +1 Skullcrack, +1 Stony Silence, +1 Sudden Shock, +2 Volcanic Fallout, -4 Goblin Guide, -4 Vexing Devil, -2 Boros Charm
UR Twin: +1 Spellskite, +2 Combust, +2 Rakdos Charm, +1 Skullcrack, -2 Lightning Helix, -2 Searing Blaze, -1 Rift Bolt, -1 Rift Bolt (play)/-1 Mountain (draw)
URg Twin : +1 Spellskite, +2 Combust, +2 Rakdos Charm, +1 Searing Blaze, +1 Skullcrack, +1 Sudden Shock, -4 Goblin Guide, -4 Vexing Devil
URw Twin: +1 Spellskite, +2 Combust, +2 Rakdos Charm, +1 Skullcrack, +1 Volcanic Fallout, +1 Sudden Shock, -4 Goblin Guide, -4 Vexing Devil
UWR: +1 Skullcrack, +1 Sudden Shock, +2 Volcanic Fallout, [+1 Flamebreak if they show Geist], -2 Searing Blaze, -1 Vexing Devil, -1 Vexing Devil (play)/-1 Mountain (draw), [-1 Vexing Devil if they show Geist] Combust isn’t usually good here, but some builds have Baneslayers and Restos along with the Colonnades, so season to taste.
Storm: +1 Grafdigger’s Cage, +1 Rakdos Charm, +1 Rakdos Charm (draw), -2 Searing Blaze, -1 Mountain (draw) Skullcrack isn’t great, and Fallout has some real utility if they show Empty the Warrens.
Jund: +2 Searing Blaze, +1 Skullcrack, +1 Sudden Shock, -4 Vexing Devil
Blue Moon: +1 Skullcrack, +1 Sudden Shock, +2 Volcanic Fallout, +1 Rakdos Charm (draw), -2 Lightning Helix, -2 Searing Blaze, -1 Mountain (draw)
Infect: +1 Spellskite, +1 Electrickery, +2 Rakdos Charm, +2 Searing Blaze, +1 Sudden Shock, +2 Volcanic Fallout, -2 Lightning Helix, -3 Skullcrack, -2 Boros Charm, -2 Rift Bolt
Melira Pod: +1 Grafdigger’s Cage, +2 Rakdos Charm, +2 Searing Blaze, +1 Skullcrack, +1 Sudden Shock, +2 Volcanic Fallout, -4 Goblin Guide, -4 Vexing Devil, -1 Lightning Helix (Electrickery?)
Kiki Pod: +1 Grafdigger’s Cage, +1 Rakdos Charm, +2 Searing Blaze, +1 Skullcrack, +1 Sudden Shock, +2 Volcanic Fallout, -4 Goblin Guide, -4 Vexing Devil
Bogles: +1 Spellskite, +1 Electrickery, +1 Skullcrack, +1 Flamebreak, +2 Volcanic Fallout, -2 Vexing Devil, -2 Lightning Helix, -2 Searing Blaze
Goryo’s Vengeance: +1 Grafdigger’s Cage, +2 Rakdos Charm, +1 Skullcrack, -1 Lightning Helix, -2 Searing Blaze, -1 Lightning Helix (play)/-1 Mountain (draw)
Scapeshift: (my own notes since Jasper didn’t have them in by accident) +1 Sudden Shock, +2 Skullcrack, -2 Searing Blaze, – 1 Mountain (draw)

The Tournament:

The tournament site was an old standby that I had been to several times, the Odeum in Villa Park, IL.  Let’s just say this thing was not built for a Magic tournament, yet because the greater Chicago area is apparently “limited” with regards to affordable venues, it’s used over and over again by Pastimes.  I went to a Regionals there in the early 2000s, and Magic players were playing Soccer on an indoor Soccer field.  Only, this was the same indoor Soccer field that the Regionals event was also being played on.  Yeah. . . . .

It was hot in the main event room at this current PTQ.  So much so that I was literally sweating through my shirt and having trouble concentrating for a while.  Granted, I’m on the heavier side, although certainly no Boggart Ram-Gang.  But the dream. . .

Round 1 vs B/G Rock

This matchup seems to favor the Burn side, but it’s a tough deck and can go either way depending on draws.  I was playing against Greg who is a reasonable player from the Chicago area, and the games were very close.  The main thing here is that you’re faster than them, and you want to dump your initial hand as fast as you possibly can so that you can avoid them getting any value out of their Liliana once it comes down.  Scavenging Ooze and Discard are your worst enemies, followed by Obstinate Baloth and Batterskull out of the sideboard.  Thus, Skullcrack is very live, as is Sudden Shock since it kills Ooze at times before it can get out of control.  Sometimes you run out of gas, but if you don’t, they usually can’t keep up.  Vexing Devil is pretty awful here other than providing tempo, so following the Jund sideboard plan worked well for me.  Fortunately I had been casually testing this matchup with some friends before the tournament started so this was the perfect deck to line up against in Round 1.

(Win) 1-0

Round 2 vs Affinity

The Affinity matchup is absolutely nuts.  Both decks are balls to the wall and are trying to out maneuver each other.  Burn in this format definitely can’t afford to kill many creatures, so the more Searing Blaze “effects” you have, the better.  Arcbound Ravager, Cranial Plating, and Vault Skirge are all major thorns in your side.  In game 1 of this match, my opponent got two Signal Pests, a Memnite, and a Vault Skirge down within the first turn or two, and I was soon backpedaling trying to deal with the Skirge before the life imbalance cleaned my clock.  Sadly killing creatures runs you out of gas and his army just kept piling on until I was very dead.  Be willing to take a lot of damage in this matchup and stay dedicated to burning them.  You only care about a few creatures, and if they have Etched Champion you’re probably in trouble.

Game 2 you get to bring in almost your entire sideboard, so that helps slow them down quite a bit.  Stony Silence shuts off all the modular madness and Cranial Plating, your sweepers gain you critical value, and you have a lot of redundancy to try and make sure your removal sticks.  Beware though, they often bring in Welding Jar or Spellskite, so you may need to save removal for these if you have enough to go around.  In fact, game 2 of this match came down to just that, as I was piling on the burn to the point where my opponent was very low, only to watch him double galvanic blast me, play a Spellskite which I was forced to respond to with a Shard Volley, and then cry as I couldn’t draw a second land again to play my lethal Skullcrack in hand over the course of the next three turns.  Also, be sure to be extremely careful with how you play out the lands in your hand; both the damage from your Shocks/Fetches and the ability to cast Searing Blazes on time are incredibly relevant.

(Loss) 1-1

Round 3 vs Burn

The burn mirror isn’t pleasant with this build because there’s really not a good sideboard plan for it and you have a lot more ways to damage yourself then they do (assuming they’re more Mono Red or strictly RW).  You have to play your lands tapped as often as possible, trust your knowledge of the archetype, and put strength in the fact that you have higher impact / a greater redundancy of  burn spells than they do.  The Burn mirror could have its own detailed article all by itself, but in this round it really came down to who was on the play.

There were a few mistakes my opponent made too, but in game 1 I won with him having lethal in hand, game 2 he did the same back to me, and game 3 I switched it up again.  I experimented a lot more than I should have with my sideboard in this match, going so far as to bring in Spellskite to neuter all of his 3/4 damage burn.  I don’t like that it’s an unaggressive card here, but the tech worked out in the game that I played it since he otherwise would have been able to kill me were I not able to reduce a lot of damage.  Eidolon is something you have to be very careful with, but it’s an absolute monster when you’re on the play or if your opponent stumbles.  It can also be a liability when you’re behind, so I’d like to hear thoughts on how others play it to get a gauge for different strategies.  Personally I feel very comfortable playing him as I’ve been jamming it in Standard for a long time now, but I see many mages backing themself into a corner.

(Win) 2-1

Round 4 vs Tron

This matchup honestly feels like it is a bye to me.  They have scary scary cards that they can play, and turn 3 Tron is absolutely a thing, but if you have a half decent hand they don’t really have much of an answer.  Wurmcoil Engine is the end game, so get your Skullcracks ready.  I won this match very quickly with little trouble at all.  Just be aggressive and know what cards are important and when they’re going for them.

It isn’t always pretty though.  I went over to watch Jasper playing against Gifts/Tron the following round, and as I come over I see chaos unfold.  In game 2 Jasper’s opponent tries to cast a Sphinx’s Revelation which gets Skullcrack’d, he then tries to Unburial Rites an Elesh Norn into play but has his graveyard exiled by Rakdos Charm, and then his opponent follows up with a Wurmcoil Engine which then leads to Jasper top-decking a Lava Spike to kill him before the Engine has a chance to attack.  Game 3 is even crazier as I see a Karn sitting on 11 counters, followed by an Oblivion Stone blowing up the world, leaving Jasper with 1 land in play and nothing else.  Jasper then proceeds to Bump in the Night his opponent twice and that was all she wrote.

(Win) 3-1

Round 5 vs Faeries

Ah, the Fae.  Any Red mage playing during Lorwyn/Shadowmoor will remember this awful menace of a deck, and its only become stronger in Modern.  Now they have access to Pack Rat, along with better counter-magic and removal.  In fact, another fellow Madison native Matt Severa made top 8 with it, and a different pilot that I don’t know was in the finals as I was leaving.  It’s the ultimate tempo deck, but fortunately for you it plays Bitterblossom which is just the absolute worst against Burn, and you have a suite of sideboard cards that are uncounterable.  These games were the most intense ones of the tournament for me, but it was a lot of fun.

Both of you are largely playing at instant speed, and Grim Lavamancer + Eidolon of the Great Revel are beasts if left unchecked.  Your spells are cheaper and have a higher impact, but they have a lot of cheap counter magic that can potentially run you out of gas.  My biggest advice here would be to make sure you sandbag your uncounterables until the very last minute, and stretch each card as far as it will go.  Your creatures are excellent diversions here, as all of them are either must kill or act as removal spells vs many of their creatures.  Also worthy of note; do not bring in Combust unless you see some insanely specific reason for it.  You want all damage cards here if possible to keep up with the pace.  The only creature Combust kills that you even lightly care about is Mistbind Clique (or the Faerie it’s championing to be correct), and if that card is coming down most of your other burn spells can respond to it, or you simply don’t care at that point in the game.  Rakdos Charm can be important too if they have access to Swords, Batterskull, or just as a finisher.

(Win) 4-1

Round 6 vs UR Twin

I found Twin to be a difficult matchup, although Jasper is confident that it is not.  As you can see from the sideboard notes, there are intricacies depending on the versions.  The hardest part about playing against any deck like this, is if you play cautiously in anticipation of the “combo”, they can just attrition you out through native means.  Game 1 I had no idea what was going on, I thought he was on UR Aggro which is seen a lot on MTGO (Delver, Pyromancer, Lavamancer), only to have him combo kill me six turns in.  Game 2 we sparred blows and I was holding Rakdos Charm for his combo, but an early Spellskite was preventing my creatures from getting through.  I held onto Charm too long (although he did have the combo in hand), and the game slipped away from me when it may have gone the other direction if I had immediately gone after Spellskite and then tried for the win the next turn.  This was also a match where I kept a sketch one lander in game 1, and it did not pan out well.  At least I didn’t feel too bad when my opponent went on to top 8, and we later had a discussion about how he too was a big grinder without a blue envelope.

(Loss) 4-2

Round 7 vs Scapeshift

They are a slower combo deck than you, and you have disruption for most of their stall tactics (Spellskite, Obstinate Baloth, Nature’s Claim, etc).  Skullcrack for their lifegain and Sudden Shock for Sakura Tribe-Elder are the keys, along with having any kind of half-decent hand.  Game 2 was pretty hilarious, I had quadruple Eidolon of the Great Revel and had to Lightning Bolt him in response to me casting the third one because I almost forgot that I would have been dead to my own Bolt otherwise.  Fortunately I caught it in time, and then he died to his unsuspending Search for Tomorrow during his upkeep before he could cast a second Obstinate Baloth.

(Win) 5-2

At this point it looked fairly clear that I would miss top 8, but top 16 was a reality.  Cash payout to 32nd.

Round 8 vs RUG Twin

A chance at revenge.  The RUG version seems a little more durdely, and for the most part I liked that he was focused on a beatdown plan moreso than the combo.  Games 1 and 2 were close, of which we split when the other person had the kill the next turn.  To be fair, in game 1 I was again stuck on another 1 land sketch keep, so that should play up the strength of Burn even more considering the battles these games were.  Game 3 I was cruising along just fine looking like things were going to be wrapped up shortly when all of a sudden a Huntmaster of the Fells hit the table.  I didn’t have ways to interact with it immediately, and as a result he unloaded a flipping fiesta of lifegain and wolves until I was buried to death by an army.  It was a new card addition that he had made between the PTQ he had attended the day before and this one.  Looks like the change paid off.

Make sure to note the sideboard differences on this one vs UR Twin.  You play more creature removal here, mostly to keep tempo, but also for corner cases like this.  I followed the board plan correctly, unfortunately I just couldn’t draw what was needed in time.

(Loss) 5-3

Round 9 vs Affinity

My opponent was really hyper this round and it was throwing me on tilt.  He had the energy of a five year old boy and was trying to make cheesy jokes from the minute we sat down.  He introduced himself as Dac Fayden and kept trying to get me to acknowledge it.  I on the other hand was incredibly drained from the day and just focusing on trying to make a little cash.  I like socializing before and during matches, but I just wasn’t prepared for his over the top excitement.  We went to three games, with a lot of similar interaction to the previous Affinity match, but ultimately he nickel and dimed me to death with Blinkmoth Nexus and tried to ask me to pick a color for his Mox Opal when I was dead on board.  Sigh.  I definitely could have had a better attitude for this match, but it just felt like the entire tournament was falling apart during it.  The grind is real. . .

(Loss) 5-4.  My opponent finished in 32nd.  I congratulated him on the cash and went to do what I do best; play Purphoros in EDH.

Switching back to a positive note, a reader and casual acquaintance from previous tournaments hung out with me over the course of the day and played a really sweet Mono Red deck to a strong finish.  The list should whet the appetite of even the least dedicated of Red mages, this thing is just pure beauty:

Koths and Bolts by Davis Merced, 11th Place at PTQ Chicago

Maindeck

4 Boros Reckoner
4 Simian Spirit Guide
1 Magus of the Moon
3 Thundermaw Hellkite

4 Lightning Bolt
4 Skred
1 Red Sun’s Zenith
2 Pyroclasm
2 Volcanic Fallout

4 Koth of the Hammer

3 Relic of Progenitus
4 Blood Moon
1 Batterskull

21 Snow Covered Mountains
2 Scrying Sheets

Sideboard
4 Combust
2 Eidolon of the Great Revel
2 Anger of the Gods
2 Dismember
2 Shatterstorm
1 Vandalblast
1 Pyrite Spellbomb
1 Chandra Pyromaster

He had an article feature at Grand Prix Richmond for a strong finish with the previous iteration of the deck, it’s definitely worth checking out if you’re interested in playing the archetype.  There are some weaknesses vs non-interactive decks, but otherwise this list is impressive.  Davis is a cool cat, a die hard Red Mage, and a fellow Bulls fan to boot, so I couldn’t recommend his stuff any more here.  Dropping a turn 1 Blood Moon on someone is for sure a place I’d like to be in Modern.  And if you don’t like Koth, I don’t think I can fix your problems.

The writeup can be found HERE

I know this article was a long one, but I’m sure a lot of it will resonate with my fellow grinders.  And for all of you aspiring to become better Magic players and better Red players, please keep up the fight.  Don’t give in to all the people telling you that you can’t win unless you play other decks.  Practice, practice, and practice some more.  That’s my biggest weakness despite how much time I do put into the game, but thankfully it’s always something that can be worked on.  And while you should play other decks to gain useful knowledge from the process, when it comes to tournament time I always believe you have a better chance, well as Davis put it in the writeup, when you “play what you know”.

Keep Tapping Those Mountains,

– Red Deck Winning