Despite the possibility of it being a lot of fun, I didn't want to play in the Team Sealed Open in Richmond. Standard with M14 looked awesome, so I made the commitment to drive down all by my lonesome on Saturday.
I'm not one to spread information or even hide it, so if you've been reading my articles, you'd know I was likely going to play W/B Humans. The decision was an easy one, as the deck is reminiscent of previous decks that I've had a lot of success with like Hand in Hand and W/B Tokens.
After some more tuning, this is what I played:
- 4 Blood Artist
- 4 Cartel Aristocrat
- 4 Champion of the Parish
- 4 Doomed Traveler
- 4 Xathrid Necromancer
- 1 Mikaeus, the Lunarch
Mikaeus, the Lunarch has been a dominant force in token-based mirrors. However, Michael Jacob has also tricked me into playing a one-of Mikaeus in many decks. Sometimes it overperforms, but most of the time it sucks. Drawing multiples is not something I ever want to do, hence me only playing the miser's copy.
A singleton Guildgate made its way into my maindeck as well. I was worried about the fifth Swamp being awful, and the Guildgate seemed like a fine option. AJ drew the Guildgate a lot and actively liked it, so between that and it being fine for me I will likely keep it going forward.
The last change I made to the maindeck was cutting a Tragic Slip for an Orzhov Charm. Overall, I like Slip a lot better, as one mana is a big difference from two, but I was worried about my lack of sacrifice outlets to turn it on. I also didn't want to have to sacrifice something if I didn't have to just to turn on my removal spell. Orzhov Charm was fine in my Aristocrats deck, so I played one of those instead.
Brave the Elements was good, but it's not a playable card in every matchup. A second in the sideboard is a good way to combat Bonfire of the Damned, but it does little versus Jund Midrange's potential Ratchet Bombs and Curse of Death's Holds.
The singleton Pithing Needle was for Olivia Voldaren but could also do work against Ratchet Bomb and Izzet Staticaster. For the most part, you'd rather pace your threats against sweepers, although pump spells are quite good against both Ratchet Bomb and Staticaster. Attempting to preemptively answer their answers with your own answers is generally a bad idea, but I don't mind playing one Pithing Needle.
Obzedat, Ghost Council made his glorious return to my sideboard, though I'm not sure why I forgot about him in the first place. The Ghost Council is a great way to win a game once you've got the ground stabilized. It also gains you a lot of life against aggressive decks, allowing you to stay afloat.
My tournament started well, with wins over Bant Hexproof, B/G Control, and something else I can't remember. Apparently, I'm getting old. Then the wheels fell off after a feature match loss to Phillip Fortner playing Jund Midrange and W/B Humans with Falkenrath Aristocrat. Despite being eliminated from Top 8 contention, I stuck it out, but I lost to Esper Control in the next round.
I dropped after that.
As a deckbuilder / tuner, there is almost no finer feeling than winning with one of your creations. The next best feeling is seeing someone else take down a tournament with one of your creations. W/B Humans might be an "obvious" deck with M14 in the mix, but individual card choices do matter and ultimately I was vindicated. Congrats AJ!
Against decks like Jund Midrange, Junk Reanimator, and Esper Control, I expect a rough match. Their sweepers alongside things that can gain them virtual card advantage by brick walling a bunch of your guys make them difficult matchups. Their topdecks tend to be more robust than yours, so pacing yourself and settling in for a long game can be disastrous.
For example, when facing down Thragtusk and Huntmaster of the Fells, do you unload your hand? You probably have to since you're behind on board, which then opens you up to getting completely wrecked by Bonfire of the Damned. Even our sideboard option of Intangible Virtue to make our creatures more threatening doesn't help us play around mass removal when they are pressuring us. This is part of the reason why Jund Midrange is so successful.
Against Esper Control (or U/W/R Flash), it's a little easier since their clock is non-existent outside of Sphinx's Revelation. However, in the Swiss I got Terminused three times and didn't have gas past that. By the time I finally had gas, there was a Curse of Death's Hold in play.
For the Jund Midrange matchup, AJ and I independently came up with the idea that it is correct to side out Blood Artist and Champion of the Parish. Those are the only two cards in the deck that makes their spot removal efficient, so they seemed like the perfect cuts. Cutting Champion of the Parish takes away most of your free win capabilities, so that might not be the best strategy against a bad matchup.
Going forward, I expect AJ's win to have a ripple effect in Standard. W/B is clearly a good deck, and more people are likely going to believe that following AJ's win. Cards like Ratchet Bomb, Curse of Death's Hold, Terminus, Mutilate, and Bonfire of the Damned are all quite good against it, so I expect to see an uptick in those.
As a person who wants to play W/B, what does that mean? Well, for starters, you can either fight through the hate or abandon ship. I don't expect any W/B "hate" decks to pop up; instead, I imagine Jund players packing a third Curse in their sideboard and a couple Ratchet Bombs maindeck. Since that matchup can already be difficult (and we're playing our best cards for the matchup already), it looks like with even the slightest tweaks playing W/B might be a bad idea.
If W/B, one of the most resilient creature decks we've seen in quite some time, is about to get hated out of a format by a bunch of removal, what does this mean for less resilient decks like R/G Aggro, Mono-White Aggro, and Mono-Green Aggro? Well, you probably shouldn't play them.
Another thing to note is that while it did not crack the Top 8, Bant Hexproof littered the Top 16. It's also a horrible matchup for W/B despite AJ and me going a combined 3-0 against it on the day. We neglected to include anything like Paraselene in the sideboard because we didn't know how prevalent Hexproof would be and didn't want to skimp on slots for decks with sweepers.
That's likely a mistake that should be rectified. Bant Hexproof is a player in this format and shouldn't be ignored.
With Junk Reanimator all but pushed out of the format due to Scavenging Ooze, control on the decline, and Jund Midrange looking poised to dominate, you can expect removal to be at an all-time high. As a result of that, you likely won't see decks like Mono-Green Aggro and Mono-White Aggro making Top 8s this weekend, unlike last week.
Since the format has had a week and two relatively large tournaments to flesh itself out, I'm willing to bet that players will have a better grasp on the format by this weekend. For all you creature players out there, it does not bode well for you.
For me, I'm kind of lost. As most of you know, I'm best at attacking known metagames, not creating new decks or exploiting a hole in a new format. I've been waffling back and forth on what to play at the Invitational, and I might have figured it out . . .
It would only make sense for me to play U/W/R Flash and Shardless BUG for the third Invitational in a row, wouldn't it?
I think I might want to play the best Supreme Verdict deck. Terminus is amazing when it works perfectly, but oftentimes that's not the case. Instead, I'll look to Ratchet Bomb to assist my Supreme Verdicts.
The first is Counterflux over Dissipate. Not only is the "uncounterable" clause possibly the least relevant it's ever been, but there is also a bevy of Lingering Souls in the format. On top of that, I remember playing Counterflux with a single basic Plains in my deck that didn't cast it. Costa has three colorless lands!
Encroaching Wastes over Ghost Quarter is the second egregious error in that decklist. While playing new cards is fun and everything, I don't understand this. Yes, Huey did Wastes Pat Cox when he was stuck on two lands, but if you had five lands, you were probably already winning.
I don't love Ghost Quarter, but when you're falling behind due to Cavern of Souls, Kessig Wolf Run, Gavony Township, or Nephalia Drownyard, the last thing you want to do is invest your turn to kill their land. Ghost Quarter allows you to deal with their land while also playing something else in an attempt to catch up.
Sure, they get a basic, but if that's backbreaking and you spending five mana wouldn't be, I would love to see that game state because it sounds unbelievable.
I'm also not a fan of Matt's Thundermaw Hellkites. I never have been, nor will I likely ever be. As I've noted a million times before, Flash wins because its spells are cheaper, which allows it to capitalize on big Sphinx's Revelations. When you start adding a bunch of clunky cards to your decks, that advantage goes out the window. You start looking like a Jund Midrange deck that's playing an X spell to draw cards instead of Garruk, Primal Hunter.
If you watched Matt's match in the Top 8 of Grand Prix Miami against Brad Nelson, you've seen exactly what I mean. On the last turn of the game, he was able to resolve a Sphinx's Revelation, but he didn't have enough to mana to use expensive answers on Brad's plethora of threats.
Is playing Flash a mistake? Maybe, but nothing else seems correct. W/B is a solid backup plan, but I'm considering everything. Brad and I briefly discussed an Izzet Staticaster / Nightshade Peddler resurgence, and even attacking with Gladecover Scout is not off the table.
At the Open in Richmond, two very interesting scenarios came up.
I was on the draw for game 3 against Jund Midrange and kept:
We both played lands for the first turn, with me not opting to cast Appetite because I wanted to wait until he drew a couple more cards so that I'd have the best chance of hitting his best card. Given my slow, awkward hand, not casting was not likely going to disrupt my "curve."
He played a Scavenging Ooze, I played my Aristocrat, and then he attacked me.
Given that I had drawn two lands in my first two draw steps, do you block?
Scavenging Ooze is a fine card against me but nothing backbreaking, especially since I have enough lands to cast Lingering Souls and flash it back in the same turn if it ever comes to that. With my hand being basically all-in on Obzedat, I felt like I needed to preserve my life total a bit.
An argument could be made that since Obzedat was my only threat but carries a lot of reach perhaps I should get aggressive in order to cut his draw steps. If I draw anything like Lingering Souls or Xathrid Necromancer, the Cartel Aristocrat becomes a real threat. The problem with that line is that he still has Scavenging Ooze in play to gain him some life back and potentially get big enough to stop Obzedat from attacking.
I snap blocked and liked my decision.
After the match, we discussed that attack, and based on both our hands, it was correct for both of us to want that trade. He had a pair of Huntmaster of the Fells and a Thragtusk and was likely going to be using his mana for the near future. Cartel Aristocrat could make his Huntmasters nearly irrelevant in combat, so he wanted the Aristocrat off the board.
I don't think the play is cut and dry, but it's interesting when situations come up where both players actively want to make a trade.
In the finals of the Open, AJ's opponent, Andrew Boswell, debated mulliganing this hand on the play:
As I walked up, I read over the shoulder of coverage reporter Reuben Bresler, who had already typed up that Andrew started the finals with a mulligan. I considered that strange since he was holding seven cards that I would definitely keep.
Sure enough, Andrew kept, although he deliberated for quite some time before doing it. Despite never drawing a green source and losing, Reid Duke, Owen Turtenwald, and Huey, who were all watching the match, told him that it was a good keep. I agreed, though many people did not.
What do you look for in an opening hand? Sure, it would be nice to have perfect mana and a perfect curve, but that isn't always possible. I see far too many people keep hands that have the tools to dismantle someone but are lacking a resource even more scarce than lands.
Take Andrew's hand and replace Curse of Death's Hold with Thragtusk or some other card that despite being powerful isn't at its best in the matchup. I wouldn't keep then. As it was, he had all the tools to destroy AJ and even had a Tragic Slip to slow down any Champion of the Parish starts. Granted, we had been siding out Champion, but that's beside the point.
One of fifteen green sources in a reasonable amount of time and the game was likely his. What else can you ask from an opening hand? You get draw steps each turn! Obviously, it's a calculated risk, but so is mulliganing or keeping a worse hand in a different match. If you only kept perfect hands, you would mulligan nearly every hand.
In reality, you should mulligan anything you think you can't win with. With that hand, I'd be confident I could win, and it wouldn't take much.
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