I'm not sure how much Dragon's Maze you've been cracking open since the prerelease, but if you're anything like me, it has been a ton. Between the prerelease itself, the endless drafting offline and on, and simply cracking a few open to find those last commons I needed for a deck, it feels like I've already gone through a box.
For me, the reason is pretty simple: I find Dragon's Maze to be hugely compelling.
The first card that hit me was simple:
Of course, unlike Bob, I wasn't actually playing in the upcoming Pro Tour in San Diego. I had to turn my attention to Standard. At first, a part of me was thinking I might be too high on the card, as I started plugging Far // Away into all kinds of decks, just seeing how it felt. At one point, I had a decklist that all it looked like was this:
By "spells" and "land", I just mean that I had literally written those words down. I had brainstorms of some kind of Grixis deck, or perhaps an update to Obama's America, a pet UWR/b deck I had been working on for a while. None of these things really looked like they were good enough, though.
There was, after all, a new kid on the block in this set.
When this card was first printed, I definitely thought that it looked good. Some people have jokingly said that Voice of Resurgence is merely the second coming of Safehold Elite, but I definitely think that they are underselling the power of the card.
Pretty much immediately, Voice was marked by people such as Ben Bleiweiss as the absolute money card in the set. Since then, this has only been increasingly a clearly great call. Figuring out how to make a more controlling deck that would be able to face the Voice menace was a challenge that was becoming increasingly important. Far // Away, as good as it was, was an easy card to obtain, and I could start testing with it in Standard immediately. Voice, on the other hand, was incredibly hard to obtain, and I knew that the decks I was trying out online were not making use of the tools they wanted nearly as much as I was. I had to realize that whatever good results I might be having in testing, they were even further deserving a grain of salt because they weren't taking into account Voice of Resurgence. Whatever Standard deck I went with, I had to keep in mind that the online testing wasn't giving me anything close to a full picture.
Time was ticking down though, and it was about to be "Double Standard" weekend at the StarCityGames.com Open.
I'm not sure if other areas of the country have anything like this, but I'm fortunate enough to live in Madison, Wisconsin, and for a little while now, several of the PTQs in the area have been scheduled to deliver an awesome one-two punch. Some PTQ weekends end up being double PTQ weekends, with a PTQ in Madison and one in Chicago, so that people can make a full weekend of Magic out of it. The coordination between Pastimes in Chicago and Misty Mountain in Madison on this has made for some truly great weekends of Magic, and I'm grateful to both Alan Hochman and Ben Rislove for making this work, because it is pretty awesome.
I sleeved up an Esper Control deck for both events, piggybacking on the work done by Brian Davis to some success, but working in the incredible Far // Away, and a few other cards. I merged this was some of the mana from the fabulous Nicholas Spagnolo's Invitational deck. I had pretty mediocre results in the Saturday tournament in Chicago, though the deck seemed solid.
I intended to jump ship to another deck on Sunday, but, alas, the four Voice of Resurgence I was counting on ended up sitting on a friend's shelf, so I ran with Esper again; this wasn't something I was excited about, because, in the end, the list I ran was, I think, only okay.
I didn't do great. I went 2-2 in both events before dropping. Overall, I actually think the deck has a lot of promise, but that's not the story of the weekend. I'll talk more about the deck in the future, but for now, let's talk about the two winners. Madison's PTQ happened on a Sunday, but I love Madison, so let's start there.
The Madison PTQ
As a Sunday event on Mother's Day, the Madison PTQ was a little smaller than the Chicago event the day before, but it was still quite reasonable at 145 players. Madison is generally more known for Limited than Constructed, but despite that, there were actually a large number of Madison players in attendance, perhaps most notably Brian Kowal and Ben Rasmussen, playing Bant-Flash-Ramp and Jund, respectively.
The metagame seemed a little bit wild, honestly. There had been discussion about a fair amount of Junk-Reanimator showing up for the event, but it just didn't really emerge as a huge presence in the room. Jund had a pretty solid showing, as did Naya Humans, but it practically looked like a Legacy event, it seemed like there were so many different decks. This is, I think, to be expected to some degree in a very new format. At this point, about the only event that had been worth noting was the previous week's SCG Standard Open.
The winner ended up being a local player, Drew Neperud, who qualified for his first PT with a pretty hyper-aggressive Red-Green Aggro list.
- 4 Burning-Tree Emissary
- 4 Experiment One
- 4 Flinthoof Boar
- 4 Ghor-Clan Rampager
- 4 Gyre Sage
- 4 Hellrider
- 1 Thundermaw Hellkite
- 4 Vexing Devil
This is an exciting little list, and I'm going to through what I think makes it tick.
I called this deck "hyper-aggressive", but if you look at the contents, that might be slightly overstating it. There are things that could make the deck more aggressive, certainly. In combination with Burning-Tree Emissary, the deck could be made more aggressive with Lightning Mauler. The 2 Rancor could be increased to, say, 4.
But making an aggressive deck more aggressive does not necessarily translate into making the deck more successful. Sometimes, given an environment, you need to slow a deck down just a touch to make it a more successful aggro-deck.
The reason that I called it "hyper-aggressive" was one card:
This is the kind of card that I always struggle with, in terms of whether it is good at any particular moment. Take Modern, for example. In Modern, if I were playing a burn deck, I would certainly be playing 4 Vexing Devils. In Legacy, it would be on a list of cards that I would consider, but that I wouldn't currently play. In Standard, things become tricky.
For Vexing Devil to really work, it has to be a card more in the line of Browbeat. With the ol' unofficial "Punisher Mechanic" of days yore, a whole slew of cards were printed that gave an opponent the choice of which side to take on a card: pain or the alternative. Browbeat was somewhat successful in this regards because there was, at certain moments in Magic history, no good choice. The question with Vexing Devil is simple: is the card positioned, in whatever moment, in whatever meta, to give your opponent, usually, no good choice.
In this deck, we might actually be at the point where this is the case.
If you take, for example, the potential for a turn two Burning-Tree Emissary into practically anything, the question of "do I start at 16 life" actually becomes a troubling one. When you add onto this nine cards with Haste (or the potential for Haste), it is troubling indeed. Thundermaw Hellkite makes a special guest appearance here as a proxy for Hellrider number five, and it does a great job in its role.
Much of the rest of the deck is actually quite in line with what we've been seeing in Red-Green aggro-decks for a while now, since Tomoharu Saito published his lists online. It is the Vexing Devil, taking the spot of the Stromkirk Noble, that is really quite interesting.
Now, long-time viewers of SCGLive know that I've been knocking on Stromkirk Noble for a while. It basically boils down to damage efficiency. I've played with Noble a lot in the past, but these days, I think the Noble's days are done, unless you happen to live in a particularly Human-heavy environment. I've actually taken to counting how much damage the various one-drops do in red-based decks when they hit play. Of all of the red one-drops that regularly see play, Noble does on average (in mean, median, and mode), the least damage (behind Cackler, Waif, and Stonewright). I haven't counted Vexing Devil, yet, but I'm confident it is much more.
Two Rancor is an interesting choice, but I think that Zvi Mowshowitz actually gives an interesting explanation for why it could be reasonable to run two in his discussion of White/Green decks. Obviously, this is a different archetype altogether, but much of the same logic seems sound.
We have to go to the sideboard to even see a single Dragon's Maze card, but it is a doozy.
Now, if you had told me that Armed//Dangerous was going to win a PTQ this weekend, I wouldn't have believed you. In theory, I could understand how it came about, but in practice, I would have imagined that it would be too unwieldy.
Thinking about it more, though, I can see many ways in which it actually could be a very efficient way to deal damage, and also wrap up a game. Against an opponent who is tapped out or otherwise, undefended, the Armed portion of the card is very likely going to be worth five or six damage, but it could easily be more if a Rancor is involved. Take a simple scenario of a Rancor on a Flinthoof Boar, which is then Armed. Five damage becomes twelve, adding on seven extra damage for a mere two mana.
Dangerous, on the other hand, can very easily be a finisher when you have a swarm. The whole team gets together to block a lowly Burning-Tree Emissary, while all of her buddies take you out.
Combining them is also interesting, providing the potential for a killing stroke,or a one-way Wrath of God. Of course, this is a hefty investment in mana, but even aggressive decks can flood, and Gyre Sage is capable of spending a lot of mana.
I'm not sure how often Drew was able to cast Armed//Dangerous, or how it worked for him overall, but I can imagine it actually having worked out quite well.
Gruul Charm is another card that is worthy of discussion. The card has been much maligned as "the worst Charm,” and maybe it is, but acting as a Falter isn't something to sneeze at. Similarly, taking out all of the Spirits from an opposing Esper deck, for example, can be a huge deal.
Most of the rest of the cards have fairly clear purposes. Act of Treason, Skullcrack, Ground Seal, and Bonfire of the Damned all have pretty obvious applications (even if I am a little unexcited by Skullcrack), and only Electrickery might be a true surprise, though it has seen play in a number of U/W/R Flash decks as a fast control element. Electrickery particularly shines, though, in The Aristocrats matchup, with Blood Artists becoming very sad indeed when it arrives.
Overall, I'm quite impressed with Drew's deck, and I think it would be a great choice for anyone who is looking to take control of the attack phase.
On to Chicago!
The Chicago PTQ
I think the big reason I reversed the order of these two PTQs has more to do with the player who won the Chicago PTQ than anything else. My old friend Adam Jansen took it down with Jund, bringing him back to the Pro Tour for the first time in something like fourteen years. He's done some awesome things in Magic, but it all began for him way back in 1996, at the JUNIOR Pro Tour in Dallas (back then they split the event into adult and junior divisions) where he lost in the Top 8 to Patrick Chapin.
Ever since he's been a great innovator, and awesome player, even if he has taken time off from the game in the middle. One of my favorite things about Adam is his willingness to be open-minded. During Invasion Block Constructed, he made a competitive monored deck in a world full of great mana and gold cards, and at least two people took it to Day Two of Grand Prix Minneapolis.
It's because of this innovative spirit that when someone like Adam picks up a deck like Jund, I think you need to pay attention. Adam may like to innovate, but he also likes winning. If you think his name is familiar, it may be because he recently won the SCG Open Series Legacy event in Milwaukee.
Here is his list from the PTQ in Chicago:
Savvy readers will already know that this list is practically the same card mix as used by Owen Turtenwald to such great affect in New Jersey.
This deck has already been quite well explored in the past, but I think it is worth discussing the few differences in the main.
If you've played as much Rakdos Keyrune in Standard as I have, you know that the card is intensely powerful. A single Keyrune in play can utterly change the character of a board state, and if you are engaged in any other active play in the game, it has a profound impact simply by being on the table. Unlike a second Ground Seal, a second Keyrune actually does change what is happening on the board, and they both serve as partial mana. By dropping a Ground Seal, Adam's deck is certainly a little worse against Snapcaster Mage and Unburial Rites, but is likely better in every other match.
True counterspell-based controls decks were fairly hard to find in Chicago, so losing that element of the card isn't a huge deal, particularly with so many otherwise potent cards. The upside of a Forest is two-fold: an actual land to retrieve in case of Ghost Quarter, and more likely to impact games, a touch extra help for Woodland Cemetery and Rootbound Crag when you're developing your manabase. Chicago has a notoriously aggressive metagame, so a shift like this makes sense to me.
+1 Ground Seal
-2 Tragic Slip
-1 Rakdos's Returns
Here, this seems like a set of minor switches. The missing Cavern of Souls and Ground Seal from Owen's main live instead in Adam's sideboard. Sire of Insanity is here instead of a Rakdos's Return. Pillar of Flame takes on a touch of the role reserved for Tragic Slip and/or Mizzium Mortars, but might be the better choice right now, simply to fight Voice of Resurgence. One Ruric Thar sits in place of a single Vraska, doing perhaps a better job of locking out control decks, but a worse job at answering randomly problematic cards.
I asked Adam if he had any post-tournament ideas for how the deck might be improved and he had two interesting changes.
The first was a fairly simple change to the main, to fit in the fourth Bonfire of the Damned into the main. This is a pretty radical shift declaration, if you ask me. As Adam put it during the tournament, Jund is often just a collection of cards that can win the game on their own. While a Bonfire of the Damned is usually pretty lackluster in your hand, a Miracle-trigger can make Bonfire win games that are otherwise unwinnable.
His other change was to replace a Liliana in the board with Barter in Blood. In the matchups where you are generally wanting to use Liliana, it is typically to take out creatures and then still have a permanent after. With decks like Naya Humans, you want the extra removal, but Liliana is still pretty lackluster about doing the job. Just using Barter in Blood to take care of the job more overwhelmingly makes Barter potentially a better sideboard card.
I'm thankful to Adam Jansen for sharing his insights, and I'm excited he did so well! Great job, Adam! Welcome back to the Pro Tour! Also, congratulations to Drew Neperud for his victory as well!
I found out that Adam will be coming to SCG Open Weekend in Nashville, where I will be joined by Osyp Lebedowicz in commentating on what have become, to my mind, two great formats: Standard and Legacy! See you there!
Until next time,