Pro Tour Gatecrash was technically a bust for me, but overall I felt fine with my performance. I went 7-3 in Constructed and 0-3'd a draft where I went in on a niche archetype I assumed would be good and wasn't. Sure, I severely punted a match of Constructed by not playing around a card that I should have known about, but that happens sometimes when you aren't 100% familiar with your opponent's exact list.
Rather than go over my deck or the event, I'm going to cover the spread of decks my group hit in testing that we put significant effort into.
Let's kick this off with the most popular deck.
This was the second deck we really started talking about, and it was one of the two decks I strongly considered for the Pro Tour. Craig Wescoe had previously written about a W/U/R Humans deck with Lightning Mauler to haste up Geist of Saint Traft, which is where we started from. After realizing the Humans cards were not that great, we moved to a less synergistic list that still had a bunch of two-drops like Ash Zealot and some oddballs like Spark Trooper. Over time, a lot of the cards that weren't inherently powerful got cut from the deck, and it ended up around here:
We tried Blind Obedience but found it unreliable. The card clearly leads to blowouts when you curve it into a Geist of Saint Traft, but outside of the perfect timing of it the card does approximately nothing. This was most notable against the Saito Red deck, where you would cut them off of haste but die because you couldn't stop their creatures from attacking the next few turns. Spectral Flight accomplishes the same job of getting Geist through Huntmaster of the Fells and Thragtusk without requiring specific timing. Gift of Orzhova was also considered, but the double white mana seemed awkward at times and the smaller pump means you are running a 3/3 Geist of Saint Traft into Restoration Angels instead of a 4/4 Geist.
Unsummon originally was a four-of, but we found that the fact it wasn't actually worth a card meant that multiples got bad very fast when you were trying to play defense. Generating early tempo is much less valuable when you don't have a one-drop threat like Delver of Secrets to apply pressure with and are instead relying on three-drops like Geist of Saint Traft and Boros Reckoner.
There may have been room for some number of Azorius Charms. I didn't push for it since I wanted the deck to be as aggressive as possible, but the card has a ton of live modes. Most notable is that you can clear a blocker on Geist to keep it around for another combat, effectively turning it into Boros Charm to the face from the Angel token.
Thundermaw Hellkite was in the deck for a little while, but for a threat that didn't really broaden your deck's range of attack, five mana was too much.
We avoided Sphinx's Revelation based lists because we felt like they did too much nothing. I've already voiced my opinions on this deck in pre-Gatecrash Standard, and they haven't changed.
As for the sideboard, you are very behind game 1 against Esper Control and need something to pull ahead against Jund. Assemble the Legion is the real deal in both cases. Games quickly spiral out of control with this card in play, and unlike Jace, Memory Adept, it can't be killed with Dreadbore and can actually block a Thragtusk while pulling you ahead.
I really liked this deck but decided it was a bit too fragile. Your threats are awesome, but the threat count is too limited. It's very easy to be colded by a removal spell and a slightly below average draw. The deck is still good and I wouldn't dismiss it, but be aware of this issue when you are playing it.
Our original lists of this were green-white decks that were almost all creatures and land. Most of the time, games came down to whether your opponent had a sweeper or not. We were playing the most aggressive creatures possible: twelve one-drops (Experiment One, Champion of the Parish, and Boros Elite), Hamlet Captain, Daring Skyjek, and so on.
As more of our decks added Boros Reckoner, we had to get more interactive. Frontline Medic was one solution we already had, but the Reckoner decks also had Searing Spear. Fiend Hunter was the first card added in, but it was again vulnerable to Searing Spear and competed against Silverblade Paladin and Frontline Medic for space. The real innovation (obviously by Craig) was Azorius Arrester, which often was enough to let you ignore a Reckoner.
A couple spells were tried, the most impressive being Faith's Shield. Apart from being a counterspell, it really helped in aggro mirrors. Racing Hellrider decks with this card is very easy since usually their lethal attack puts you to five at some point between Hellrider triggers, allowing you to turn on fateful hour and Fog them.
- 4 Azorius Arrester
- 4 Boros Elite
- 4 Champion of the Parish
- 4 Experiment One
- 4 Fiend Hunter
- 4 Frontline Medic
- 4 Mayor of Avabruck
- 4 Silverblade Paladin
- 2 Ulvenwald Tracker
As we added spells, we tried a Boros version of the deck with red for Boros Charm and Hellrider. The deck still had twelve one-drops, with Rakdos Cackler being added over Stromkirk Noble as Cavern of Souls on Devil casts both Cackler and Hellrider. The deck was ok but felt a bit too small in creature mirrors.
We also explored Naya versions with Burning Tree Emissary, Lightning Mauler and the twelve one-drops. They had some of the most absurd goldfishes in the format, but they were far too fragile. Too many of their cards were Grizzly Bears and lost fights to Boros Reckoner.
This last problem is what did the deck in. Beyond the issues with sweepers, the deck was soft to opponents who picked off your Champion of the Parish, Mayor of Avabruck, and Silverblade Paladins while playing 3/3s.
One big note: if you decide to play this deck you can't play more than a couple noncreature spells. It's very easy to flood on spells and get threat screwed if you start stretching.
This was the best control option pre-Gatecrash and was obviously our go-to choice post-Gatecrash since it gained two dual lands.
Our first lists had a very rough time with red aggro due to haste being a thing, but we quickly discovered Obzedat, Ghost Council. It lets you close very quickly and prevents them from slowly chip shotting you out through a mass of removal. It also was a threat that you could just slam and randomly win games with against a lot of decks, which is a benefit not to be underestimated.
Our early card draw in most lists ended up as a mix of Think Twice and Forbidden Alchemy, usually leaning towards the later. Think Twice is better when you need raw cards to fight them with, usually against midrange decks where you have to grind out Thragtusk. Alchemy is better when you need to find specific cards, notably Supreme Verdict against aggro. The option to play either is definitely worth considering in the future.
Some people on our team wound up playing a very removal-heavy list of Esper in the Pro Tour. This was based off a "mono"-black brew by Alex West that was similar to what Conley Woods played to a Top 16 finish, where the idea is that you play more removal than they have creatures. In the end, the deck had consistency issues and performed poorly, but there is some takeaway here. One of the big plus sides of this deck was how it could reliably play Obzedat and rarely have to Wrath it away. If you want to play that card (and you should because Obzedat is borderline unbeatable for many decks), consider playing more than the two Devour Flesh that Ben Stark played. Tribute to Hunger is also a good card.
Overall, regardless of version, the deck had a lot of issues where it would randomly brick on a turn and die. If you don't have the right answer or miss a land drop at the wrong time, the game just ends. Making sure your deck has all the right cards is very difficult when you have only a rough idea of what to prepare for, but moving forward it should be easier. I would not be surprised to see this deck do a lot of winning in the near future.
We had a few distinct versions of this deck, but all of them shared the core of Quirion Dryad, Spell Rupture, Simic Charm, Runechanter's Pike, Unsummon, and Thought Scour. Dryad is simply a massive threat if it lives, and Simic Charm giving hexproof is one way to ensure this. Our lists often had copies of Dispel and Mizzium Skin to provide more tempo-efficient ways to do the same thing.
The first direction was a straight blue-green list with Delver of Secrets. Your cards were the least reliable, but you had the potential for Delver nut draws and could skimp on lands because your curve ended at two mana. This provided a sort of virtual card advantage as you would always draw a ton of spells and could afford to throw away card advantage for tempo. Hands of Binding was stellar here and would often let you easily race aggressive decks. The big issue with this deck was the lack of real threats. Past Delver and Dryad, there wasn't a good way to kill your opponent. Invisible Stalker was a fine body for Pike, but without Pike the card was a complete blank. We didn't try Mayor of Avabruck, but if that doesn't work, be aware this deck is a cheap threat or two away from working.
The next was a Geist of Saint Traft list with Restoration Angel. The spell count was decreased significantly here to find room for the higher-end threats and lands, so Delver got the axe, but you gained a lot of great combat tricks. Notably, Swift Justice was quite awesome, especially with Dryad getting to absurd sizes. That said, this list ended up a little on the clunky side.
As a result, we looked for good one-drop threats and came across red for Stromkirk Noble. I never played with or against this list, but the red removal is obviously great.
We also tried lists with Duskmantle Seer while trying to find a home for that card. Until Jund switched to Dreadbore to kill Boros Reckoner, Seer was awesome and almost impossible for many decks to kill.
Overall, these decks were awesome but fragile in a similar way to the U/W/R Geist decks. You are a bit light on threats and sometimes just brick games to removal. That said, all of these decks were very capable of doing good things and often stole wins with a combination of bounce and pump from nowhere. I would keep a careful eye on this shell as the metagame progresses, especially as new sets are added to the format.
This section is going to be short and easy. You can't expect to beat Jund in a midrange mirror without your own Rakdos's Returns. We tried some four-color lists, either base Junk for Obzedat or base Naya for Boros Reckoner, but the mana was really awkward. This was all to try to beat one of the big decks. Esper wasn't especially great either, the U/W/R decks evolved to beat you, and the aggro decks had a lot of cards you had real problems with.
The best way to solve this is to become more aggressive. Saito's list did this, and Eric Froehlich's Top 8 list is an extension of that idea. If you can put Jund in a situation where you are pressuring them and they can't tap out to Rakdos's Return, you can easily beat them. If you can pressure Esper with good threats, you have a real route to victory. If you are effectively a bigger aggro deck in a mirror, you can race a lot of the problem cards like Frontline Medic if necessary.
About a week and a half before the Pro Tour, we spent a decent amount of time on decks very similar to what won the event. We had a token list with Intangible Virtue, Midnight Haunting, Lingering Souls, Hellrider, and Rally the Peasants as well as a Humans list with Knight of Glory, Knight of Infamy, Falkenrath Aristocrat, Cartel Aristocrat, and Champion of the Parish.
These decks were fine, but they weren't amazing. The issue was that very few of the cards in either deck were straight up awesome. Falkenrath Aristocrat and Lingering Souls definitely were, but Knight of Infamy wasn't extremely high in raw power. They all do things that might be great in certain games, but I just wanted my cards to be good all the time. I didn't want a bunch of mediocre hands with Knight of Infamy and Cartel Aristocrat when my opponent could play free 2/2 into a 3/3 on turn 2.
Stomping Ground Aggro
This was the first deck I built for testing and was what I actually decided on playing. While the colors changed, the idea remained the same.
My first list was inspired by Craig Jones' famous Pro Tour Honolulu 2006 list with almost direct analogues for all the cards. Isamaru, Savannah Lions, and Kird Ape became Rakdos Cackler, Dryad Militant, and Experiment One. You had two Watchwolf copies in Flinthoof Boar and Call of the Conclave. Loxodon Smiter was the big three-drop, replacing Burning-Tree Shaman. The burn was even similarly powerful between Skullcrack, Boros Charm, and Searing Spear.
The mana was a little too awkward without the painlands from last time around. Turns out M10/Innistrad duals aren't great when you are trying to cast one-drops. I then spoke with Brad Nelson about a bigger Zoo list he was planning on recording a video with. His list focused on Frontline Medic plus Hellrider, playing Avacyn's Pilgrim and more lands. We set these aside at some point and didn't really come back. They were fine first lists, but nothing really inspiring.
We then worked a lot on a green-red list with Hellrider and five-drops based off of Andrej Selivra's list from the SCG Standard Open in San Diego last month. The deck often let you play really great games against aggro where your creatures were fine defensive options early on and suddenly would start cracking in once you turned the tide around turn 4. It also was a pile of haste guys, so it was great against control. The deck had issues with midrange and Boros Reckoner, as well as a lot of fluidity problems. You could easily draw a mismatched hand against an opponent and die instead of curving perfectly.
The big lesson of that deck was that Wolfir Silverheart is the best five-drop in the format. Thragtusk gains life against aggro, but it can easily be run through with enough guys. You can't break through a Silverheart. Thragtusk sometimes gets to crack back to try to race evasive threats, usually when in multiples or with a Restoration Angel. You cannot race a Wolfir Silverheart. There might be arguments for Thundermaw Hellkite in some decks, but realistically Silverheart just bashes people.
Thinking about the issues with this deck and looking at lists led me to Jund Aggro. This was after Saito had released all of his Burning-Tree Emissary lists, and I saw no reason Jund couldn't be another one of those decks. We had bounced around a lot of ideas about Aristocrat in the red-green midrange deck previously, but we never moved in on them. This was the first list I brewed up to attempt to do all of these things:
- 2 Arbor Elf
- 4 Burning-Tree Emissary
- 4 Dreg Mangler
- 4 Experiment One
- 4 Falkenrath Aristocrat
- 4 Flinthoof Boar
- 2 Ghor-Clan Rampager
- 3 Strangleroot Geist
- 3 Wolfir Silverheart
Compared to the previous red-green deck, this list had a more explosive start with Emissary and answers to Boros Reckoner with Dreadbore and Abrupt Decay. To put a time frame on this, I made this list on Tuesday night before the Pro Tour. The deck was performing quite well, but I hated Strangleroot Geist. Playing a five-drop was also slightly awkward, but Arbor Elf made it just barely possible.
Upon arriving in Montreal, I found my teammate Emanuel Sutor testing with a R/G Aggro deck based on his discussion with Denniz Rachid, Elias Watsfeldt, and the rest of their team. It was a solid two colors as opposed to Saito's near mono-red list, but it had Mogg Flunkies and Experiment One as upgrades on Ash Zealot and Stromkirk Noble as well as four Ghor-Clan Rampager. The deck was fine but had issues with Boros Reckoner.
Over the next few hours, we merged the two ideas into the following:
- 4 Burning-Tree Emissary
- 3 Dreg Mangler
- 4 Experiment One
- 4 Falkenrath Aristocrat
- 4 Flinthoof Boar
- 4 Ghor-Clan Rampager
- 4 Mogg Flunkies
- 4 Rakdos Cackler
At the Pro Tour, I went 7-3 with the list, and Emanuel went 8-1-1. I unfortunately don't have time this week to write about more of the nuances of the deck, but you can expect a full primer next week along with updates.
Hopefully this gives you some insight into how I arrived at the deck I did for this event and gives you some unfinished ideas to work with. Testing is often about building off of bits and pieces of old ideas, so putting what my team had out there now that we don't need it is the least I can do.
- Ari Lax