With Grand Prix Philadelphia coming up this weekend, I've been doing a lot of—
Actually, let me stop right there.
I'm honestly not feeling too hot about GP Philly. I'm absolutely awful at this Limited format, and I haven't really felt motivated to put that much practice into it. Couple that with the fact that I've been ice cold in events and you have a recipe for a struggle. Of course, I'm going to have to practice if I want to do well, so I will, but these kinds of tournaments are the more important ones when it comes to testing your mettle. I know I've said this before, but not everyone is going to be fully confident, prepared, or mentally ready for an event. If you want to be successful, however, you have to push yourself past that.
That said, I'm strongly considering grabbing a flight down to the StarCityGames.com Open Series in Dallas, Texas. It's a long ways away from New York City, but I really want to make a run for a spot in the SCG Players' Championship this season. At the very least, I want to get a bye for the next Invitational in Columbus, Ohio. I feel that this season is a great opportunity for me, and I want to take every chance I can get to get points. This means that my focus is more on Standard and Legacy than Limited, though I'm still working on the latter.
G/R/x Monsters is in a less favorable spot than it was a couple of weeks ago. Black-based midrange is now maindecking Lifebane Zombie, blue-based control decks are stronger than ever, and Mono-Blue Devotion is slowly rising in popularity. None of these facts bodes too well for the big green machine, but like anything in Standard, small adjustments are what define things.
The first thing I'd do with the deck is drop the third color. While Jund Monsters is indeed powerful in its own right, especially against just G/R Monsters, I don't think that the black splash is necessary anymore. Burn decks are good right now because they punish the adjustments other decks have made to fight themselves (combined with having the perfect amount of burn spells in the format to support a midgame and two different cards that fight Sphinx's Revelation very well in Skullcrack and Toil // Trouble). Why give them more of an advantage?
Second, we need to find a way to beat Lifebane Zombie. This card is a huge pain for monsters decks for obvious reasons, but getting under it seems to be one of the better solutions. Minimizing the effect of Lifebane Zombie while still maximizing your damage output and board presence is something I can get behind. Having more noncreature threats is another way to get around it. This one is simple—play more planeswalkers. All of the planeswalkers in red and green are good against most Lifebane decks, and I'd be hard pressed not to include all of them.
Lastly, we want to jam harder than Michael Jordan against the Monstars. This means that the cards that dodge Lifebane Zombie need to pack a huge punch.
There's one card that takes the monsters shell and puts it way over the top. The best part? It doesn't require a third color, gets under a Lifebane Zombie, and completely obliterates your opponent's life total.
It's also known as the Shinku Hadoken.
In Brad Nelson's article last Friday, he demonstrated these three exercises with his take on G/R Monsters. I immediately went into the lab with his list and came out with a build that is more my speed:
- 4 Elvish Mystic
- 4 Ghor-Clan Rampager
- 2 Rubblebelt Maaka
- 4 Scavenging Ooze
- 4 Stormbreath Dragon
- 3 Sylvan Caryatid
- 4 Polukranos, World Eater
No Courser of Kruphix. No Boon Satyr. No Xenagos, God of Revels. None of that nonsense. We have dropped most of the raw power at the top end for a nuanced but powerful amount of low-end synergy. Outside of the already absurd creatures at the top in Polukranos, World Eater and Ghor-Clan Rampager, everything else gets under a Lifebane Zombie. The full set of Scavenging Ooze gives you a much better mid to late game creature in midrange matchups, an inherent threat against burn and dredge, and a brick wall against aggressive creature decks.
Adding more copies of Flesh // Blood also gives you an incredible amount of reach with the aforementioned Oozes along with the obvious Polukranos, Stormbreath Dragon, and bloodrush. In fact, I'd go as far as to say that we're more of a Flesh // Blood deck than anything. We want to maximize Flesh // Blood so much that we've included an additional bloodrush creature.
I'm pretty sure that Brad was on to something by including this cool Cat. Maaka is much better than Xenagos, God of Revels in this deck and is exactly what I want to have when I'm trying to get them dead. There's a good possibility that Xenagod will make it into the sideboard, but it wouldn't be for any of the planeswalkers due to how slow it is and the prerequisite of another decent-sized creature.
Courser of Kruphix goes against everything that a monsters deck stands for to me. I'm not very interested in playing a 2/4 that gives me an advantage that isn't very necessary anymore, and I'm definitely not going to pay three for it because again Lifebane Zombie. Yes, I'm going to miss a bit more with Domri Rade and am going to lose some velocity since I can't play lands off the top of my deck. But missing with Domri is a factor I'm willing to accept, and what I lose in velocity, I gain in reach, which I'm more than fine with. I can't have it all, so I'll go with the best of what I'm looking for.
Continuing this trend, another card that you may notice missing from the deck is Mutavault. While the card is obviously very powerful, I don't think it's necessary anymore. We aren't very good at making use of it, and there are way too many things brick walling it now. This hasn't stopped very many other decks from playing it, but the drawbacks are exponentially amplified in this deck. You desperately need the mana at all times, and you can't afford to miss a color when you need it most, more so now that you're playing a set of Scavenging Ooze, bloodrushing with Rubblebelt Maaka, and needing red and green for Flesh // Blood.
If you really want to play one, then you can probably shave the Temple of Malice or a Nylea's Disciple, but I wouldn't recommend it as of this writing. I'm not a fan of being greedy with my mana base, but I could very well be wrong on this conclusion.
My sideboard does not mess around when it comes to fighting blue decks and hyperaggressive strategies. Four copies of Nylea's Disciple and four copies of Mistcutter Hydra represent that. While I believe Courser of Kruphix is the better overall card in multiple matchups, Nylea's Disciple also functions as a pseudo-removal spell against Gore-House Chainwalker and the other three-power creatures of the format. It also attacks, which doesn't seem like a big deal, but when it comes down to it, it's exactly what we want to be doing. The difference between three power and two power is very big, and having access to a watered-down front-side Thragtusk is still good enough.
I think that the weakness of this sideboard is its inability to effectively kill a Desecration Demon. The additional Xenagos, the Reveler helps mitigate this problem, but the plan against Demon is to push as hard as possible with bloodrush and Flesh // Blood, doing everything we can to get ahead of it. It's possible that cards like Wasteland Viper and Bow of Nylea could apply in this situation, particularly with Polukranos, World Eater, but that often feels like a pipedream. Both of those cards are very good in the mirror match, which is important when you drop the third color, so they aren't terribly narrow. I have no interest in Plummet, but an Act of Treason effect may fit my plan a bit better.
In Legacy I've been piloting Omni-Tell for a few months now, but I think it's time to shelve it. I initially picked up the deck because Enter the Infinite is one of my favorite blue cards. I had a seventeenth-place finish in my first outing with the deck along with a few deep runs in a couple of other Opens, falling short multiple times. The Invitational in Charlotte was the death knell for me, going 1-3 in the Legacy portion and losing to Andrejs Prost in round 7 of the Open in the 5-1 bracket after hard casting Omniscience twice after multiple Show and Tells and Dream Halls.
I know this sounds very results oriented, but the free win potential of the deck is simply not there anymore. When you have Show and Tell, a lot of games come easy, especially with Pact of Negation maindeck. Without it, you wind up having a metric ton of air, and the slightest bit of disruption can completely destroy your game plan. I certainly don't think the deck is bad by any means, but it isn't what I want to be doing anymore. I want to be more aggressive and flexible, and U/W/R Delver is something that I can see myself playing for a long period of time.
With Michael Majors winning the Legacy Open in Charlotte with this list and the help of U/W/R Delver specialist Noah Walker, I know that this flavor of Delver is where I want to be. The question is how aggressive I can be with it. Adding a Snapcaster Mage is already a bit ambitious, but I think I can get away with playing a Sword of Fire and Ice as well. What excites me the most about this deck is the ability to change roles almost at will. I know that I want to be aggressive most of the time, but in situations where I need to hit the brakes, I won't feel on edge when I do.
Defending against an opposing True-Name Nemesis is the big concern, and that's probably the reason why Delver players have moved to BUG lately. Outside of countering it, I think that putting myself in a position to race is the best option available. This gives me even more reason to play Sword of Fire and Ice, and it'll probably wind up in the maindeck at some point.
If I do wind up going to Dallas, I'll definitely be sleeving up these two decks for the weekend. I know that I've stressed my own preferences and suits, but I think that I'm at the point where I know exactly what I want out of a deck. I want to maximize my strengths when going into an event. This is something many players overlook when analyzing other players' decks. It's very hard to recommend changes to other players when we don't even know what that player was thinking or what that player's style is.
All of that said, I highly recommend you go out and stick to your guns when playing Standard. If the Standard Open in Milwaukee taught us anything, it's that the players that put in the time to work on the format are the ones that get rewarded. There's a reason why the Adrian Sullivans, Brian Braun-Duins, and Chris VanMeters of the world are consistently doing well. Their dedication is nearly unrivaled, and they don't make excuses. I want to replicate their determination, and a seemingly outlandish trip halfway across the country may be just what I need to do that.
Either way, there will be some serious card slinging this weekend.