Over the course of last weekend, my team of YT, Joshua Ravitz, and Thea Steele were fortunate enough to have mostly hung out with the triumphant Sunday squad of Reid Duke, Owen Turtenwald, and William "Baby Huey" Jensen. This was not just a sextet of longtime friends (me and Huey going back almost fifteen years), or team allegiances (as our three-plus-three by definition were), or even of Cheesecake Factory chow chow companions (though many a soggy Buffalo Blast was smashed-not-split by fumbling fork)—but of decklists. Reid Duke decklists.
You see, Master Duke made the Jund deck played by all five of the remaining members of our half-dozen. Those five Magicians posted a dazzling set of Swiss finishes.
1. Turtenwald 9-0-1
16. Jensen 8-2
31. Duke 7-3
38. Ravitz 7-3
70. Steele 6-4
37-12-1: an amazing 74.66%!
I would actually argue that it was a hair better than that. Thea started 6-0 and could have drawn into the money. She instead chose to play the last round and didn't happen to get there this time.
Apparently this week, if there is a way to get a 75% win percentage, it is to get Reid Duke to make your decklist.
I was no fool.
Having read Gerry Thompson's article last week, which had a little excerpt RE: my archetype of choice, Bant Hexproof, I quickly realized that Strangleroot Geist was exactly what I wanted in my sideboard.
Bant Hexproof was in my opinion the best deck to play in Standard last week for all the reasons I have been writing about the last few weeks. It is highly non-interactive. You can't have the wrong answer. It puts the opponent on a clock and forces them to react—probably with cards they don't even have. It is fast and powerful.
Bant Hexproof is not, however, perfect. I lost the exact same way both times. It has one huge vulnerability, and that is to decks that either have lots of removal or can play an attrition game. The traditional Bant Hexproof lists only have eighteen-to-twenty creatures, many of them being fragile 1/1s like Avacyn's Pilgrim and Fencing Ace or conditionally explosive (yet often exploded) glass cannons like Silverblade Paladin.
Bant Hexproof plays tight to mana, so even if it has cards like Simic Charm to defend its men, it is often tapped out so it can't.
In a schema that includes Voice of Resurgence (which I wrote about last week), Strangleroot Geist is the perfectly redundant compliment. The only problem was that I didn't know what to cut for it. I handed Reid these seventeen cards and said, "Cut two and they can't be Strangleroot Geist."
"What is Nevermore for?"
"I played 25 tournaments, and I don't remember siding it in."
"Looks like we're cutting Nevermore then!"
And that's how I joined Team Reid Duke Made My Deck.
Oh, and Negate...
In the car, Thea asked me why they wouldn't just play Fog in response.
Negate it is!
Here was my seventy-five:
As has been pointed out by Patrick Chapin and others (and multiple very similar lists all finished in the Top 32), the main difference between my deck and the Top 8 version is Loxodon Smiter vs. Fencing Ace. Josh Uron finished 11th with another deck that had the same spell slots as YT and Alex Mitchell, though both Josh and Alex chose to play with the card basic Forest.
Josh played with Arbor Elf and three Forests, but if I recall that was at least in part a card availability thing (Voice of Resurgence being brand new—I got mine for a song at $25 a pop, and they are already in the $40 range).
From my perspective, I wanted to make as many good decisions as possible before the tournament so I would not have to make them during the tournament. In addition to choosing the deck I thought had the best likelihood to win, I played a conservative Loxodon Smiter configuration rather than an explosive Fencing Ace one for one reason: I predicted beatdown.
Beatdown is meat for Bant Hexproof if you play right. Loxodon Smiter beats the bejeezus out of almost all beatdown guys but Boros Reckoner, and he at least takes Boros Reckoner with him when he goes down. In addition to playing an offensively elite deck with its various nigh-unbeatable aggro Avacyn's Pilgrim --> Geist of Saint Traft--> Rancor + Spectral Flight sort of draws, against beatdown you can sit back on Voice of Resurgence, Loxodon Smiter, and Nearheath Pilgrim after sideboarding and just destroy the opponent on every exchange.
I am very happy to play Smiter, soulbond with Nearheath Pilgrim, get in for four (or more) lifelink, and then just trade the Pilgrim for two more life while taxing a card. It is a game of trish Trish TRISH that the beatdown opponent has a very hard time beating—provided you have the toughness and blocking ability to play that game plan. Smiter is less exciting than Fencing Ace on the corners, but it not only gives you a redundancy on Geist of Saint Traft with the Avacyn's Pilgrim draws but also a fabulous ground defense (plus bonzer bonus against Sire of Insanity and Liliana of the Veil).
All three of us played the exact same eighteen spells, presumably all inherited from Jun'ya Takashashi by way of Unflinching Courage. So if Bant Hexproof remains a contender, I would guess that our spells are going to stay stock.
In terms of mana bases, mine is obviously the best. Who plays basic lands? Come on! That is all.
On the subject of making decisions, I made approximately two all day, they were both wrong, and I lost one match on account.
I played a hypervolatile deck under the theory that I wanted to ride variance in the late rounds playing for Top 8. Variance indeed got me, but it went the wrong way. I can't really complain given I got exactly what I asked for. I got paired against mostly aggro decks in the early part of the day—validating my predictions—I had to make relatively few decisions (my deck did all the work), and I somehow went 4-0 against Sphinx's Revelation decks. This is much more a testament to the power of Bant Hexproof in terms of jumping all over an opponent than anything I did well.
Just one note on playing versus Sphinx's Revelation decks:
Over the course of the weekend, various players, especially those who did not have Voice of Resurgence and / or Strangleroot Geist, talked to me about playing against Supreme Verdict (generally blown out by it). I think you have to take a conservative approach to these decks. The reality is you can't stop them from sweeping you. Even if you had 100 Negates, you still can't counter Supreme Verdict.
I try to play in a way that even if the opponent sweeps me, I have a body that I can pants up. That means you might want to think twice before sending Strangleroot Geist + Rancor over Augur of Bolas. Yes, you will get damage in. But it also means you don't have a hasty body necessarily to punish them for tapping out. If you have a follow up guy (especially another Strangleroot Geist), then fine—but think a second.
I also tend not to overcommit my buff cards before the first sweeper. Pressure them a little bit unless your buff card is Rancor. Make the opponent have it unless you have a clear path to victory (say they're missing a color or missed a land drop or do something foolish like Devour Flesh against Voice of Resurgence mid-combat).
When they're tapped out, if you played conservatively and have a body—an Elemental token or an undying Geist—throw every available point of mana onto that guy and smash em. Give the opponent one turn to draw Sphinx's Revelation or another removal card!
Like I said, I was able to go 4-0 against U/W/x decks playing like this, where several of my most competent opponents were playing Sphinx's Revelation.
Round 1 - Jamal Greenidge, Jund Aggro
This was a camera match, so I assumed I was on camera, but we were the alternate and it didn't take very long so you didn't get to see my first decision of the day (which, as I said, was wrong).
Jamal had an offensively slow draw game 1 but had mana up to Abrupt Decay the Unflinching Courage I played on my Invisible Stalker. When the board is 1/1 Experiment One versus Invisible Stalker + Unflinching Courage, you are pretty happy with your lot in life.
But like I said, Abrupt Decay. Raced him anyway.
Game 2 was where I had the fumble.
Jamal had a Dreg Mangler and Thundermaw Hellkite back and Falkenrath Aristocrat tapped. I was on six. He could have sent the Hellkite in as well, but that would have only put me to one (he was tapped out) and I would have blown back for lethal.
Jamal was on nine. My board was:
So on the board itself I have twelve power; if he had attacked with the Thundermaw Hellkite, I would have sent the team, and he would have blocked the 5/5 Smiter and been dead to any pump spell whatsoever. I had three or four cards, so he obviously couldn't do that.
I had access to up to four mana with these in hand:
I was trying to play a scenario where Jamal would not block. If I created an obviously lethal attack, he would definitely block. If he blocked only one, I would Simic Charm the other and deal exactly nine. He blocked both, and I passed with two up and the Elemental on defense.
Jamal drew Thundermaw Hellkite, played Burning-Tree Emissary into Thundermaw Hellkite, and swung with the team (he could sacrifice Burning-Tree Emissary to make Falkenrath Aristocrat 5/2). I bounced the Hellkite, blocked the Mangler, and lived for the counterattack.
While I played to be an overwhelming favorite, I still missed an on-table kill.
All I had to do was bounce the first Hellkite and play Spectral Flight (probably on the already Armored Loxodon). If I attacked with everyone, Dreg Mangler could absorb three or four and the two unblocked would get him.
I obsessed on my mistake win for hours until Cedric told me I was not actually on camera since I won too quickly. Alternate!
Won 2-0, 1-0
Round 2 - Dave Ando, The Aristocrats
I will gladly play against aggro decks all day with Bant Hexproof; I think you have a huge advantage over all the green-based ones, but that does not necessarily hold true for The Aristocrats. The Aristocrats is brutal because they have a much more powerful angle on Falkenrath Aristocrat due to the presence of Blood Artist, and Lingering Souls can contain even a Spectral Flighted up Geist of Saint Traft.
In a pure race, a fair number of things have to go your way, and The Aristocrats has better tools to play an elegant game than Bant Hexproof.
And that doesn't even consider the fact that you have to stay above thirteen at all times!
I had a good win percentage against The Aristocrats in testing, but nothing where I thought I was a shoo-in favorite or could play loosely.
Dave got game 1.
I got games 2 and 3.
He tapped two mana and got me back for three.
He didn't have me.
Won 2-1, 2-0
Round 3 - Robert Beverley, U/W/R Flash
This was an off-camera feature match.
Robert is a former Connecticut State Champion and highly competent player who I have known for some years. Further, he was playing U/w/R Flash, which I assume is a nightmare matchup for me.
After about a bazillion turns in game 1, I was sending with a big Geist and its Angel into hostile territory. Robert played a Snapcaster Mage, flashed back Sphinx's Revelation for six, looked at the board, and chumped his Boros Reckoner into my bigger Gest and his 3/4 Angel into my 4/4 Angel token. He drew, shook his head, and showed me a grip of all lands.
The game went long like the first, but that big tempo swing bought me a lot given the resilience of my Voice.
Won 2-0, 3-0
Round 4 - John Lafreniere, Gruul Aggro
You can watch this one online here.
Cedric told me he disagreed with my playing Ethereal Armor in game 1 when I had a triple Loxodon Smiter draw; he thought I could have John put me on a different deck than Bant Hexproof (I mean who else plays Ethereal Armor?), and I was a whiz bang fave to win as Smiter is more-or-less my best guy in the matchup and I drew three.
John blasted an Avacyn's Pilgrim with Mizzium Mortars. I just wanted, worst-case scenario, to have a guy with five-plus toughness so I could get my offense on in case he was heavy on Mortars or God forbid lived long enough to Overload.
Won 2-0, 4-0
Round 5 - Michael Decoste, Naya Aggro
Like I said, I made what I thought were two big decisions (the first being in round 1); both were wrong, and one caught me.
I smashed game 1 and liked my game 2 on the back of Voice of Resurgence.
Michael drew multiple Pillar of Flame, which is what he really had to do, and somehow got an insane rush draw and killed me hella quick.
We got to a spot where I had a tapped Smiter wearing two Rancors and he was on six.
So I was on eleven, and he had a fist full of cards but only five mana. Remember—I put him on multiple burn cards and was playing Protect the Queen up until this point.
So here's the decision.
Inexplicably, I tapped his guys!
So, obviously, he threw his hand at mine.
I should have just let him brain me for four. Or paid two, tapped him, and still had Simic Charm up. How can he do seven to nine with five mana? I can even tap / bounce up to four blockers—I already had lethal!
Long story short, we played several more turns, and I never drew so much as an Avacyn's Pilgrim. Lands lands lands, all men dead men—the one flaw of this deck.
Completely and utterly deserved this one. :(
Lost 1-2, 4-1
Round 6 - Edgar Flores, Esper Control
Edgar kind of stumbled game 1. Nothing much to say about that—sometimes you have the complicated / reactive deck and you lose to the doofus Little Kid with one dude wearing 100 Auras.
Second game I pretty much got destroyed by all his removal / card advantage.
Edgar correctly did not block, so post-combat I bounced his Evil Twin.
He replayed, this time copying the Geist, which I think is correct.
I trucked again, and we traded the front sides of our Geists; he returned as the Voice. I ended up with an Elemental shortly after and played out guys to make it bigger / lethal then trucked.
Edgar played Sphinx's Revelation, which I Negated; he made an Elemental off his Evil Voice and destroyed me on the block. :(
... Only he didn't. I was like what-what! It was my turn, so he didn't get an Elemental at all, ergo had to make a vastly different block. I had Strangleroot Geist in grip, so even if he topdecked a bomb I could haste / buff in.
So I got game 1 on Edgar's stumble and game 3 on some confusion around new cards, which is one of the reasons we should play them. Looks a lot like luck, doesn't it?
Won 2-1, 5-1
Round 7 - Edward Sockol, Esper Control
Edward and I split the first two. I got the first one and got badly raced by Obzedat, Ghost Council in the second. I had my Unflinching Courages out in game 2 but added them back for game 3 due to how I lost the second.
Great start on six in game 3.
Me: Land, Avacyn's Pilgrim.
Him: White or U/W land.
Me: Land, Geist of Saint Traft.
Him: White or U/W land.
Strangleroot Geist had to do a lot of work to get us out of that one.
Won 2-1, 6-1
Round 8 - Andrew Grenz, Esper Control
Again, I split the first two with the Esper Control deck.
Even though I got through my Esper run 3-0, it felt quite uphill. Far // Away was spectacular against me, not just because my offense is predicated on eight Hexproof creatures but because of the Esper use of Snapcaster Mage for card advantage.
Won 2-1, 7-1
Round 9 - Andrew Hadam, Junk Reanimator
Camera feature match! If I won this one, I could draw into the Top 8.
You can watch this one here and decide for yourself if heroes could have done much better.
Lost 0-2, 7-2
Round 10 - Marc Blesso, Jund Aggro
Not to be too anticlimactic, but 9th place money is the same as 32nd in a Standard Open. So after losing my win-and-in, drawing was the right play. Jund Aggro was a good matchup though! I can only assume I would have learned from my Simic Charm error in round 5 and gone 8-2 (which is the same as 7-2-1 in everything but bragging rights).
So I decided to ensure $100 bills for myself and Marc rather than pressing to see if I could later complain about coming in 9th-10th.
So how did Team Reid Duke Made My Deck hash out when all those rounds had finished?
20. Flores <-- That's me!
4/6 Top 32, 5/6 money finishes (and again, Thea could have drawn into Top 64).
Owen's 2-1 in the Top 8 actually dragged the Jund win percentage down! Huzzah!
Jund: 39-13-1 - 74%
Bant Hexproof: 7-2-1 - 75%
Hey! 74% is still pretty good—but it's no 75% (that could have been 80%). In other words, get Reid Duke to make your decklist. I sure did. Would do again.
Reid: I actually think you deserve credit for your Bant deck.
YT: Funnier this way.