There were two Standard Grand Prix this past weekend, one in Bochum and one in Charleston. Luckily for me, Charleston was the much smaller of these tournaments. I spent a week playing Standard (after having done a bit of work the previous week) and tried quite a few decks. I managed to end up in a pretty good place for the tournament, so I want to write about how I got there and how the tournament went and conclude with some thoughts on where Standard might go from here.
I started with the Bant deck I played the previous weekend. I liked it a lot, but I found that I was winning less than I expected. As the aggressive decks were getting better, I was struggling with them. Also, I was trying to cut Azorius Charms to make the matchup against U/W Flash better, but every time I did that, the aggressive decks got harder to beat. I decided to try some other things.
I tried U/W Flash, but I had trouble with Reanimator and G/W Aggro, though I did love its matchup against Mono-Red Aggro, which is popular on Magic Online. Remember that even if the same number of people are playing Mono-Red Aggro and Bant Control online, you'll play against Mono-Red much more often because people playing it can enter the queues several more times per hour. This is an important thing to understand if you're trying to get a read on a metagame based on Magic Online queues. Daily Events won't have this bias, but I like to play two-player queues because I don't like waiting between my matches or double queuing.
I tried the Junk deck I wrote about in my last article that I designed to beat U/W Flash. I found that it did that, as I thought it would, and it was performing a little better than I expected. But again, I found that I was struggling against G/W Humans, so I decided to try playing Humans myself.
I started with my own brew:
- 3 Azorius Arrester
- 4 Champion of the Parish
- 1 Knight of Glory
- 4 Lyev Skyknight
- 4 Precinct Captain
- 4 Restoration Angel
- 2 Silverblade Paladin
- 1 Sublime Archangel
- 4 War Falcon
- 3 Zealous Conscripts
- 3 Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
I won my first five matches with this deck, which was encouraging, but then I lost my next four (and went 6-3 after that). I felt like the deck was doing some cool things. It's a little different from some of the other aggressive white decks. It tries to establish a reasonable clock and use detain to make the opponent stumble enough that it can finish them off before they take over.
Zealous Conscripts is amazing in this list, and you can make very good use of the Blink effects, particularly after sideboarding with Izzet Staticaster and Fiend Hunter. The mana is cute, and I think it's awesome that it actually works. It's possible that I could even be a little greedier and play a Slayers' Stronghold over a Plains, but it felt like my odds of being able to take advantage of it were low with only four red sources.
I felt like this deck was reasonable but untuned, and I didn't know anyone that would actually be interested in working on a deck like this and had no idea how to make it better from there.
Luckily, Jackie Lee messaged me on Facebook and asked if I had Champion of the Parish and some other cards to borrow for the GP. I immediately called her and said I was also interested in playing Champion of the Parish at the GP (but yes, I had extras she could borrow) and asked where she was at with her decklist.
She gave me her decklist, and I tried it on Magic Online. I went 7-1 with it and decided that was good enough since it was already Thursday night. Her list had a couple cards in the sideboard that I was pretty disappointed with like Ulvenwald Tracker. Tracker is an awesome card in a deck like Brian Kibler's, but this deck doesn't have enough big creatures to fight with. It felt too slow for what we were doing and too easy for the opponent to interact with in a way that would cost us a lot of time, and the way our sideboard slots worked out, if we played it, I had to have it in my deck in places where I didn't really like it, so I cut it for Loxodon Smiter. There were a couple other last minute changes we made, and in the end we played:
- 4 Avacyn's Pilgrim
- 4 Champion of the Parish
- 4 Mayor of Avabruck
- 4 Precinct Captain
- 3 Restoration Angel
- 4 Silverblade Paladin
- 2 Sublime Archangel
- 3 Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
Jackie played one extra Faith's Shield in the sideboard over the Thalia.
On Friday I actually brought all the cards I had for this deck and for Bant and worked with Andrew Cuneo, Reid Duke, Shahar Shenhar, Owen Turtenwald, AJ Sacher, and Carlos Pal, who were all playing Bant, to figure out if I should just play that again. Also, Brian Kibler stopped by and gave me his G/W list, which seemed like it was doing some very good things, so I considered playing that instead. After dinner, Jackie and I played around four games with Brian's deck and determined that, while it was doing something, it wasn't strictly better than Jackie's deck. Brian's deck was playing a very different kind of game, and I knew I wanted to capitalize on Cavern of Souls and killing my opponent before they could play their game, which Jackie's deck was better at than Brian's, so I decided to stick with what I "knew."
Having decided what deck I was going to play with at around 2:00 AM, I finally went to sleep.
Unusually, I actually took notes on my games throughout the tournament. I think reading everything that happened in a tournament report is painfully boring though, so I'm not sure what the best way to convey that information to you is. I think you're probably interested in how I sideboarded and probably what I played against and what I think of the matchups, so I'll try to focus on those things and give minimal details about the games.
I had three byes, so we'll start with round 4.
Round 4: Feature Match vs. Josh Utter-Leyton
Not a great way to start the day. I knew he was playing a Craterhoof Behemoth Reanimator deck Brad made, which Brad said he built to beat the midrange decks that were all over the format but that it could have problems with aggressive decks. I was hoping to come out too fast for him, and I thought I might have a good matchup here.
I know I said I'd cover the games minimally, but these games were short and memorable. I haven't even opened my notes yet.
Game 1 his turns:
Turn 1: Arbor Elf.
Turn 2: Lingering Souls.
Turn 4 Unburial Rites, attack for 39.
I wanted Garruk to kill his mana guys, and Restoration Angel didn't do anything in this matchup. He had fliers to block it, and I was looking for a good rate on power to mana. Faith's Shield is reactive, and not in a way that was going to be useful.
Game 2 his turns:
Turn 1: Arbor Elf.
Turn 2: Somberwald Sage.
Turn 3: Angel of Serenity.
Turn 5: Angel of Serenity.
I didn't side in Nevermore because it forces me to play a guessing game of Unburial Rites / Angel of Serenity / Craterhoof Behemoth and he can dig to set up whatever I don't name. I needed to be more proactive than that.
So I lost my first match to two absolutely perfect draws where I just couldn't do anything. Not how I was looking to start my tournament.
Round 5: U/W Flash
This match featured one of the few mistakes I made in the tournament—I immediately kept four lands, Faith's Shield, Champion of the Parish, Avacyn's Pilgrim on the play because I thought Faith's Shield was a second Champion of the Parish. Fortunately, I played Champion on turn 1 then Pilgrim and attacked, then he Unsummoned the Pilgrim at the end of my turn to try to set me back. But since I didn't have any other spells, this let me make my Champion of the Parish bigger. His line made sense because his plan was to play Snapcaster Mage and bounce my Champion later, but I had Faith's Shield to keep him in play. While I didn't draw much more action, he couldn't find white mana and basically lost to the Champion.
This is how I always sideboard against U/W, and I've been very happy with it. They'll never be tapped out in my precombat main phase, which makes casting Rancor risky because they might have Unsummon, so I just don't want to risk it. Sublime Archangel is expensive and vulnerable to countermagic and Unsummon and makes you run straight into Azorius Charm if you want to take advantage of the exalted. It's also horrible against Moorland Haunt.
Selesnya Charm is very narrow against them. The 2/2 Knight is really bad because of Unsummon, and they don't have five-power creatures but the +2/+2 is very important. This is because it lets you attack into four mana since if they tap out for a Restoration Angel to block one of your guys they won't be able to cast any other tricks, and you can use Selesnya Charm to win the fight. This is a huge strategic edge because otherwise you basically can't attack from turn 4 on.
Loxodon Smiter is obviously good against them, and Faith's Shield comes in because they have a lot of spells that target your creatures. Thalia is just the best. Nevermore comes in to name Supreme Verdict exclusively. They always have it, they always bring it in, and they can very rarely win a game without resolving it. I want another Nevermore in my sideboard for exactly this reason.
I don't bring in Rest in Peace in this matchup because they use their graveyard to grind out long games, which is not the axis I'm trying to compete on, so while it's a powerful effect against their deck, it's not a powerful effect in the matchup. This is an important point to understand, so I feel like I should write more about it, but I also think it's about that straightforward.
Game 2 I nut drew him:
Turn 1: Avacyn's Pilgrim.
Turn 4: Gavony Township. He had played Talrand, so I attacked but left up an Elf to activate Township so that he couldn't block, but then I played Thalia rather than actually activating the Township to stifle his ability to make Drakes.
Turn 5: Left my Elves back so that I could activate Township and cast Faith's Shield. At this point I had too many guys that were getting too big, particularly since Precinct Captain had been making tokens, and he couldn't recover without Supreme Verdict.
Round 6: G/W Humans
I kept a slightly awkward double Thalia hand because Thalia can be so good. It turned out he was playing a deck against which Thalia is bad, but he played his own Thalia, so at least mine were both live. I drew three Champions early enough to make them big, and he had cards like Dryad Militant that don't really do anything, so I won.
I wasn't trying to curve out and attack here; I was trying to maximize my high impact plays. It's way too easy for the two-drops to get blanked by other creatures, so I wanted tricks and removal to maximize my trumps and minimize his.
He had Riders of Gavony in game 2, which is amazing against me, but he also left Dryad Militant and Thalia in his deck, which don't do anything, and cut Champion of the Parish, which is one of his best cards. I Rancored his Riders of Gavony so that I could kill them with Selesnya Charm, then I had Rancor + Intrepid Hero, which won the game. This took some time and work to set up because I'd Rancored my Champion of the Parish early and he played a Thalia that made my line of Faith's Shield my Champion to knock Rancor off, cast Rancor, cast Selesnya Charm somewhat more expensive than normal.
Round 7: Esper Miracle Control
I had an awesome draw game 1: Thalia into Mayor into Sublime Archangel into Rancor and Silverblade Paladin to swing for 20 trample in the air. So all I saw from him was a Lingering Souls in an Esper deck.
Game 2 I played three creatures, and he miracled Terminus. I never played another real threat.
I'd sided in the right cards, but since I was on the play and he had Terminus, I wanted Silverblade Paladin so that I could hit him as fast as possible. Also, it was clear now that his deck definitely didn't have Unsummon.
He mulled to four, and I mulled to an awesome six-card hand that had Champion of the Parish into Thalia and Mayor, so he died very quickly. I dodged a bullet this round, as his deck had the full eight Wraths.
Round 8: G/W Midrange
Game 1 I played three Champion of the Parish and a Silverblade Paladin in the first three turns on the draw, and he conceded, having only cast Selesnya Keyrune. I had no idea what he was playing. I figured it must be some kind of big ramp deck since he was playing Keyrunes, but I wasn't sure, so my sideboarding kind of hedged.
Thalia might not have been so great since he opened with Strangleroot Geist in game 2, which isn't what I'd been expecting. Intrepid Hero won the game very easily because he kept playing threats into it rather than waiting to draw removal. When he finally used an Oblivion Ring on it, it was already far too late.
Round 9: G/W Aggro
For game 1, my opponent played War Falcon into Knight of Glory and followed up with Silverblade Paladin and Sublime Archangel. I had a similarly aggressive draw but without a flier. After a fast and brutal race, I ultimately won because he attacked with a Silverblade Paladin that didn't have to attack when he attacked with a bonded War Falcon and a Sublime Archangel into my four mana, three life, and no fliers, which let me block it and trade with it on first strike damage. This broke the bond it had with a War Falcon, which meant that it only did damage to me once, dropping me to one, and I was able to kill him on the counterattack.
He started with five cards, played two War Falcons and nothing that could let them attack, and died horribly to a good draw with a Mayor that he had to let flip on his turn.
Round 10: Junk Tokens played by Brian Eason (who finished 2nd)
I'd seen a list of this deck in the Magic Online Daily results that had a sideboard that was almost entirely additional spot removal, which would make his deck more or less unbeatable, but I thought it was likely he had something like that. This meant Mayor would never do anything because he could kill all my other guys and let me have a 1/1, which wouldn't flip because of his flashback.
Game 2 I had another very strong fast draw, this time with Thalia, and it turned out that the cards he sided in were Centaur Healer and Intrepid Hero, which are nowhere near as good as spot removal against me. I won very quickly.
If he didn't have removal and instead had three-toughness blockers, I wanted Mayor to let my two-power first strikers attack, and if he had Intrepid Hero, Lingering Souls, and Ultimate Price, I really wanted nothing to do with Sublime Archangel. Silverblade Paladin is worse on the draw and also weak to spot removal since it can get me blown out in combat and was my most expensive remaining creature outside of Restoration Angel, which is awesome against removal.
In the third game, he was very aggressive with his Lingering Souls tokens, which wouldn't have done a lot on defense against my Rancored Precinct Captain being commanded by a pair of Mayors. I was going to win the race, but he drew Gavony Township on his last turn to kill me.
Round 11: G/W Aggro
Another G/W Aggro opponent with War Falcon and Dryad Militant who didn't want to side out Dryad Militant. I sided the same way I had been, cutting my two-drops for tricks and removal, and won a pair of close games.
Round 12: U/W Flash played by Ben Friedman
Game 1 I played two Champions and a Paladin, and he died. He'd played Island, Moorland Haunt, Think Twice, and Thought Scour, which drew him into more card draw rather than lands, and my deck wasn't going to give him time for all that.
I sided the same way I always do in this matchup.
I had Thalia and two Mayors that forced him to use his mana awkwardly, which is exactly what his deck doesn't want to do. When he has to do that, playing around the few spells he can still cast at relevant times is extremely easy, and I was able to play cautiously to never let him into the game without a Supreme Verdict, which he didn't draw.
Round 13: Mono-Red Aggro
I was land light game 3, but he gave me some extra time by forgetting to unleash his Rakdos Cackler. I had a lot of removal, so I was able to kill his Stromkirk Noble, Thundermaw Hellkite, and two Hellriders while staying at a reasonably high life total and grind him out because I'd drawn so few lands (and therefore so many spells).
Round 14: Reanimator played by Brad Nelson
The winner of this match would have enough points to draw into Top 8 or, in Brad's case, lose into Top 8.
The first game was a pretty close race. I had a good draw, and he had a strong but not absurd draw. I think I might have been able to win the race if I had been on the play, but I was on the draw.
Game 2 I played turn 1 Champion, turn 2 Thalia, turn 3 Champion, turn 4 nothing. I had Garruk, but I couldn't cast it because of Thalia. Meanwhile, Brad played turn 1 Elf, and then on turn 2 he played another Elf and no land. I think he kept one land, Elf, and Mulch, hoping to Mulch into lands on turn 2 and develop smoothly, but Thalia crippled him. Thalia later forced me to let him untap with a Somberwald Sage, but I think the fact that he hadn't been able to cast spells like Tracker's Instincts meant that he didn't have anything to punish me with. He conceded the next turn when I Garruked his Sage.
For game 3, I sided out the Garruk for a Mayor because I felt like on the draw there was no way I'd be able to kill something with Garruk in time and would rather have the added pressure on turn 2.
He played a Tracker's Instincts game 3, which revealed an Elf and an Angel of Serenity, and he took the Elf, so I then played Rest in Peace and had an Oblivion Ring for his Somberwald Sage. When he got back up to eight mana, he didn't have anything, and I killed him.
I was in fifth place, the lowest of the 12-2s, so I got paired down against Pat Cox, who was 11-2-1. He couldn't draw but would be in if he won, so we had to play.
In both games, I kept hands that had good early plays but very few spells because I needed to come out early and grinding him out isn't what this matchup is about. But I drew almost all lands, and he had Supreme Verdict (his one maindeck). I sideboarded the same way I always do against U/W.
It was an extremely frustrating way to go.
Moving forward, if I were to play the deck again, I'd want another Nevermore if I thought Supreme Verdict decks were going to be as popular as they were in Charleston, but I'm not sure that's going to be the case. Going into this tournament, U/W Flash was the deck to beat, but I'm not sure that it still is. It didn't do amazingly in Charleston, and the Craterhoof deck is excellent against it because it can match it on card advantage from flashback and has Deathrite Shaman and access to Cavern of Souls. Additionally, I'm not sure how U/W Flash matches up against the Rakdos deck that won the GP, but I imagine it probably had to beat some U/W decks over the course of the tournament.
With that in mind, it might be more important to focus on beating those decks. I'm not sure how those matchups are, but another Faith's Shield would probably be very good against the Rakdos deck. I'm not sure what the best way to fight Craterhoof is. The most obvious to me are a third Rest in Peace (but I don't think that's the right way) and Prey Upon. Prey Upon is low impact, but Somberwald Sage is the card I'm most afraid of from them. Fog is cute, but it's the wrong way to go because Angel of Serenity is the real card they're trying to beat you with after sideboarding. It's also possible that Ulvenwald Tracker is fast enough in that matchup that it's just better than Prey Upon.
Overall, the deck was awesome. While it might not be positioned as well as it was this week, it's definitely a powerful deck that has a lot of good matchups, and that won't change. This is a deck that I expect to see as a continued force in the metagame.
Thanks for reading,