Last weekend was pretty awesome.
Many said that it was obvious I was going to play U/W/R Flash. Honestly, I didn't want to play the deck, and I jumped on it at the last second. Thankfully, I was working with Team CFB, who had a pretty nice skeleton built for me already, but most of them were no longer interested in playing it. In the end, most of the team settled on Esper Control, Naya variants, or Mono-ish Black Control, leaving me and Martin Juza as the only ones playing Flash.
I got very fortunate to not be unfortunate, if that makes any sense. My deck was good, oftentimes great, but certainly not perfect. The first weeks of a format tend to be more difficult for me, hence my lack of Pro Tour success, but I look forward to improving on the archetype going forward.
The sole reason I ended up playing Flash was because of Harvest Pyre. The ability to remove Runechanter's Pike entirely was a large enough gain that it put the deck over the top. The deck wins by grinding people out with card advantage and killing them with small value creatures.
Sometimes you need a big push in the late game, lest you risk losing to them topdecking a Sphinx's Revelation when you're ahead. Runechanter's Pike and Moorland Haunt used to provide inevitability, but both were often clunky when drawn early.
In the case of Harvest Pyre, it gives you inevitability and is also a removal spell in the midgame. It also helps that you can Thought Scour yourself with impunity, whereas before you had to worry about how important Runechanter's Pike was to you and whether you could win if it ended up getting milled.
The other thing I liked about the deck was the addition of Boros Reckoner, both as an answer to midrange decks and Saito's R/G Aggro deck. As testing went on, our decks improved and Saito's deck was no longer such a huge concern, but Flash remained good. The new cards breathed some fresh air into the archetype, and I was back on board.
One of the biggest changes to the deck was the departure of some instants and flash cards for sorcery speed things like Boros Reckoner. As I said earlier, that guy is a gigantic beating against most decks right now, and it will likely stay that way. Mizzium Mortars also made an appearance because Restoration Angel and Loxodon Smiter are powerful cards and line up "well" against Boros Reckoner, which means they are big enough that they one-for-one trade with it.
Due to most relevant creatures in the format being three toughness and the smaller creatures being made mostly irrelevant by Boros Reckoner, Pillar of Flame got the axe. I was slightly concerned with not having enough one-mana spells to fill my curve since I want to use my mana every turn in order to gain an advantage. It ended up not mattering much, as there was rarely a spot where I couldn't.
The only other thing up for debate was the counter suite. I knew I wanted some hard counters since decks like Jund and control would be popular, but I didn't want to be bogged down with them against aggro decks. Joel Larsson probably had the best solution with a scant two Izzet Charms maindeck and specific counters in his sideboard.
Instead, I went with a Counterflux and a Rewind, which could have easily been Dissipates or Syncopates. Reanimator tends to not be very popular in big events because people don't want their tournament to hinge on whether they get paired against someone who is hateful enough to pack four Rest in Peace. For that reason, Counterflux is often better than Dissipate, and it showed in my feature match against Melissa DeTora.
Rewind is kind of crappy in that it won't ever let you counter a four-drop on the draw or a Thragtusk when they've cast Farseek. However, the turns you are able to play Rewind and Restoration Angel or Rewind and Sphinx's Revelation far outweigh the downsides. Then again, blue players tend to have multiple Dispels in their sideboards these days, and the four-mana investment of Rewind often ends up being a tempo black hole. Going forward, I won't be playing with Rewind again.
I struggled with the construction of my sideboard. The anti-control plan with Jace, Memory Adepts, Oblivion Rings for their Detention Spheres on my Jaces, and cheap counterspells was always a winner. Against highly aggressive decks, I knew I wanted to side out my two counterspells and the Think Twice for something to stem their aggression, but I didn't know what. The aggro decks are highly varied between R/G, Jund, and Naya right now, and you usually want different things against them.
Past that, I knew I wanted something for Jund because Duress, Slaughter Games, Rakdos's Return, and Garruk, Primal Hunter give them a lot of ways to threaten you. An additional source of card advantage was necessary in order to beat Slaughter Games on Sphinx's Revelation, and I've gotten by with just using Jace against them as well.
You can deal with their threats, so that's mostly a non-issue. You just need to stabilize, fight through their disruption with card advantage, and ride that to victory. The problem stems from not having access to Sphinx's Revelation or them getting ahead of you on cards with Staff of Nin or Underworld Connections.
The Esper contingent of CFB used Witchbane Orb to neutralize most of Jund's spells, but I didn't think that would work well in my deck. Even if they can't target me, they can out card advantage me. I decided the best solution was to just fight through it.
Pithing Needle was a very powerful card against them since Abrupt Decay wasn't good against Hellrider. Since Hellrider is easily dealt with via other cards, Jund needs to play Abrupt Decay to kill Boros Reckoner, their new biggest threat. Because of that, things like Oblivion Ring and Pithing Needle are less good against them.
Dave Shiels, who finished 10th, ended up using Boros Charm in his sideboard to protect his threats, burn them out, and go to the dome, redirecting the damage to kill Liliana of the Veil and Garruk. I like that idea a lot.
The other option, which I employed, is to use Planar Cleansing, which was more CFB technology. Green decks like Jund and Naya will often try to beat control decks with difficult to deal with permanents, such as Staff of Nin or Triumph of Ferocity. Planar Cleansing clears everything off the board in one fell swoop, so having access to one of those sounded sweet.
My Grafdigger's Cages were for fear of Reanimator. The matchup is very bad, and they typically have anti-hate. Tormod's Crypt is likely better because the best Reanimator deck is the combo-based one. If people were playing Kenji-style Junk Reanimator, where they often side out Unburial Rites but have access to Deathrite Shaman and Angel of Serenity, then Rest in Peace is better.
Brad Nelson's Human Reanimator deck had multiple Ray of Revelations in the sideboard, and Kenji's deck hasn't been very popular lately, so I played Cage instead. In the future, if I play any hate at all, I'd play Tormod's Crypt or maybe Purify the Grave. Since the Human Reanimator deck is all in on Angel of Glory's Rise, Purify might be good, but it won't stop them from hard casting it.
I never expected the mirror match to be a big deal. For two months, I played U/W/R Flash to reasonable success, and not many people tried to follow in my footsteps. Then, mostly because of Boros Reckoner, the deck started popping up all over Magic Online. Whether that would translate into the Pro Tour metagame was something I was unsure of.
As it turns out, U/W/R was the most played deck (although it was only 13% total), but the coverage team failed to separate them into versions with Geist of Saint Traft or no. The Geist versions are meant to be far more aggressive than my version. If you're going to separate aggro, midrange, and Humans, you might as well separate U/W/R into aggro or control.
Despite Bant Hexproof being potentially well positioned, I wasn't particularly scared of Geist of Saint Traft. Clearly, I've learned my lesson since, but at the time I thought with Boros Reckoner and assorted other things like Supreme Verdict and Restoration Angel, it wouldn't be a big deal. Instead, I lost to Geist twice.
To top it off, most losses to Geist are frustrating. The card is either incredible or does nothing depending on how much traction you can get, so there are more games where you're just one missed land drop away from stabilizing or they topdecked in the one turn window you gave them.
I knew my Top 8 matchup favored me game 1. He had 24 land and only Azorius Charm for cantrips, so his Revelations should be worse than mine. Additionally, he only had two Izzet Charms for counterspells, which I could easily play around.
Post-board, things got dicey when four Geists and two Thundermaw Hellkites came in. Geist was either going to be awesome or terrible, depending on each of our draws, but they ended up being awesome for him. I stumbled several times, and somehow he out-Revelationed me.
To protect my sanity, I will no longer lose to Geist of Saint Traft with U/W/R.
That brings the list to this:
The sideboard is still a work in progress, but I like everything else.
Essence Scatter returns to the maindeck! Finally, there are decks with different creature types again! Even if they Cavern of Souls a Thragtusk, you can Essence Scatter their Restoration Angel. In the mirror, it's one of the best cards to have access to. It's cheap, and most of the creatures are very dangerous.
I'm stealing Joel's Izzet Charms since they are fine removal, fine at digging for lands, and people won't play around them (at least yet) when casting giant X spells. Goodbye Think Twice, you're a little too slow now.
The Supreme Verdict, as I told Martin, is essentially training wheels. There are very few games where your only out is a four-mana sweeper, so it's nice to have that to dig for. However, we still have Mizzium Mortars as an expensive sweeper.
You don't need Blasphemous Act. Yes, it's cute, but against the decks where sweepers are good, dealing them thirteen damage isn't nearly as good as costing four every single time.
The mana base was rock solid. I considered another R/W dual instead of the second Mountain, but it's tough to get the mix of lands correctly. You want your colors, but you don't want to take damage. I can't stress enough how important it is using your mana every turn, and taking damage in order to do it isn't the way to go.
If you were always on the offensive, it wouldn't matter, but U/W/R is frequently playing from behind. In my second win and in, I lost a game due to my first four lands being shocklands and ended up getting burned out by a topdecked Skullcrack.
The Geists are mostly in my sideboard to fight theirs, at least until I find a better solution. The more controlling decks, like Esper, are already prepared for Geist, so assuming those will shift your matchup is ambitious. I still like the Jace plan, but Harvest Pyre is a good strategy as well.
I wouldn't mind an extra land in the sideboard. Most of the games I lost involved awkward mana draws in matchups where it was imperative I keep pace with them mana-wise. Ghost Quarter is a fine answer to Kessig Wolf Run, which is beatable but annoying. Cavern of Souls could be interesting but is likely worse than Ghost Quarter.
The good matchups are anything that is trying to attack you. There are several ways to stop aggression in the deck and plenty of ways to pull ahead once you've stopped them. The control decks that don't pressure you are also very easy because they give you a chance to gain some card advantage and set up the Harvest Pyre / Boros Reckoner combo.
Nephalia Drownyard and Kessig Wolf Run are the cards that provide clocks for those control decks, but I wouldn't start to maindeck Ghost Quarters just yet. As I said, you need to keep pace with them, and losing a land to turn off their special land isn't worth it a lot of the time. Practice those matchups and get used to crafting an in-game plan to beat them.
The Aristocrats might prove to be difficult, but from what I heard, the matchup is close. The return of Izzet Staticaster might be warranted in the future.
The most difficult matchup is Human Reanimator, mostly because you can't interact with what they're doing. Aggressively digging for Harvest Pyre is probably your best bet, although you have to stave off their aggression in the meantime. Packing more hate is reasonable depending on how popular you expect the deck to be.
I like U/W/R Flash because reacting is fun, drawing cards is a good way to ensure your deck does the same thing nearly every game, and Sphinx's Revelation is so overpowering. It also doesn't have many bad matchups.
I'm hooked again.
@G3RRYT on Twitter
P.S. Thank you for your support during the Pro Tour! I had a blast, and it made it even more enjoyable to see that so many people were rooting for me. Exiting in the quarterfinals wasn't the ending I was hoping for, but it gives me the drive to do better at the next one.
I've played in 33 Pro Tours now, and this was my first Top 8. It just goes to show that you can do anything you put your mind to, and it means a lot to me to accomplish something I've spent over a decade trying to do.
Don't give up!