It's another Friday night and I'm leaving Bloomington, Indiana at some ungodly hour to drive somewhere to battle other magicians. Luckily, this time I got to bring my two best Magic friends, Mango and Evan, along to battle with me. This sounds like a small difference to your normal tournament weekend but trust me, team battles are the best battles and you need to try it soon.
This weekend's festivities took place at Grand Prix Nashville and once again the tournament hall felt better than it ever has once we sat down as teams and it all started. Most of you know I get really excited about Magic in general. The game is thrilling and challenging, but for those who run into me at team events, you really get to see me having a great time. This is especially important right now for Magic players, as cheaters have been trying to undermine us at every turn, we have to draw together as a community and sit down for some team bonding (aka team drafting).
Get close to your Magic friends people, grow the community closer, and we can start to protect ourselves from those out to undermine this game we love. It's either that or everyone is just drafting for the bragging rights. I'm not sure which is the real reason, but let's assume we battle as teams because friends are the real key to Magic.
Life lessons aside, GP Nashville was another great weekend of Magic thanks solely to doing it with my friends. I want to take this chance to beg everyone to ask their local game stores to run more team events. We need this format to get more attention so the rest of the Magic community can get a chance to play the single best format in Magic. I would love to see the Open Series host more Team Sealed on the IQ circuit and possibly a Team Sealed States event.
Even if none of that happens, even just one more chance to sit across from three opponents and battle it out is a victory. So get out there and ask for it!
Let's get back to Standard and all the goodies it has been showing us these past few weeks!
From GP Stockholm we had this gem in the Top 8 from Lukas Blohon:
- 4 Elvish Mystic
- 3 Hornet Queen
- 4 Satyr Wayfinder
- 4 Sylvan Caryatid
- 2 Brain Maggot
- 4 Courser of Kruphix
- 2 Doomwake Giant
- 4 Eidolon of Blossoms
- 1 Pharika, God of Affliction
Early in the format, I was all about going as wide as possible with various flavors of Green Devotion, as I wanted to make as much mana as possible and play splashy cards. Unfortunately, decks like Jeskai Aggro were only interested in being the fun police and making it tough out there for a green mage. Lucky for us, Forests are pretty powerful right now, and we found a new angle of attack. Instead of playing the aggro smashing builds with Polukranos, World Eater, we have access to the more streamlined package of Commune with the Gods and Satyr Wayfinder ensuring we hit the lands and creatures this deck needs at every stage of the game.
First off - this is not Green Devotion. This deck has a much more fair gameplan in mind, so if you are looking to make tons of splashy plays and win the game at you leisure, this is not the deck for you. If you're looking for a finely tuned value machine, you came to the right place.
Outside of Eidolon of Blossoms, the card advantage present is a bit more subtle. The earlygame fixing offered by Commune with the Gods and Satyr Wayfinder translates into cheaper Murderous Cuts and more Whip of Erebos targets later. For those not aware, one mana spot removal spells are the real deal, and Murderous Cut is no different. Lightning Bolt and Swords to Plowshares are a good reference, and Murderous Cut does the exact same thing in this deck.
A big reason to pick this strategy over other midrange decks is the power of Whip of Erebos in the format right now. Jeskai Aggro is trying to burn people out, Mardu is hoping to race you in the air with Butcher of the Hordes and fantastic removal like Crackling Doom, and Boss Sligh is still chipping away at life totals at every single Standard Open. Whip of Erebos doesn't care about any of that and gives you an easy way to close out games with all those threats you dumped (Hornet Queen) into your graveyard early in the game. Triggering Eidolon of Blossoms and Doomwake Giant is just icing on the value cake that is this deck.
One card kinda threw me for a loop:
I was pretty hesitant to say this was actually doing something good for this deck, but after some time behind the wheel I realized many of your matchups are decided by a few key cards. Brain Maggot gives you a way to check for that key Elspeth or Siege Rhino and tuck it away for a turn or two. I've found that making your opponent have to sequence one additional spell differently is enough to get in such a position where your boardstate is too much to overcome for the fair midrange strategies
While the maindeck is both powerful and consistent, the sideboard is where I think this deck really begins to distance itself from its predecessors. By having Whip of Erebos, you no longer need Nylea's Disciple or the other anti-aggro cards of old, and instead you just keep attacking in with lifelink and growing your board to ridiculous sizes. This means the control and midrange matchups get all the attention they could ever need. A full set of Thoughtseize ensures the sweepers that are bound to come in never get cast and possibly cut off that one threat they wanted to start to wrestle back control after a long series of removal spells. Arbor Colossus roadblocks every dragon and demon you could run into while also keeping pesky Goblins and mantis riding monks at bay. Having access to such a massive body really ensures your postboard matchups against fliers have the early ability to interact until the Hornet Queen drops in with her friends
Some things to keep in mind if you sleeve this deck up:
- You have a low land count, so keeping those dicey one or two land hands without Satyr Wayfinders or Caryatids is ill-advised. This deck is quite mana hungry and even with redundant ways to accelerate, if you don't get your foundation set, your strategy will never start to come together.
- Sideboarding is very tough. With lots of cards having four copies in the sideboard, it's important to know when you want all four copies and when 2-3 will suffice in a given matchup. I highly advise you have your sideboard plans written down and refined for both play and draw situations. Many times the small change of play versus draw means a world of difference when it comes to key points of the game. Also realize if you cut all your card filtering effects postboard, your Whip of Erebos will be much more fair. Learn to balance the various elements of this deck and know when a certain aspect is unnecessary.
- They will always board in a sweeper. Face it folks, this deck hates a sweeper. It is the easiest way to make our first few turns mean nothing, so also board for the sweeper and just be thankful when they do not have it. You can operate just fine with an extra Thoughtseize in your hand, but you will not win the games where you walk face first into a sweeper followed up by a threat. This deck has some spot removal to make sure that your opponent has to present a couple threats, but when you are behind, your ability to claw back into the game rests solely on Whip of Erebos.
- Whip of Erebos will change games all on its own. This doesn't mean you need the card to make the deck operate nor does it mean you should just slam it down on turn 4. The importance of Whip is in its ability to transform your earlygame plays into lategame interaction. Sometimes it does this with its lifelink but many times bringing back an additional enchantment every turn for a constellation trigger is just too much for some decks to handle. Use your Whips often but don't fixate on the card and think you have lost if they deal with one early on.
I think hybrid decks such as this and Mardu are the way Standard is going to evolve. By taking card engines present in other decks and modifying them slightly, you get to present a different angle of attack or another layer of interaction not seen before in this format. Just this past weekend a Jeskai Heroic Combo deck took down the Open Series in Oakland. This Jeskai Ascendancy deck wasn't interested in combo kills or long turns of drawing and discarding even though it was capable of such a feat. Instead, Ivan Jen took a Jeskai Ascendacy shell and filled it with aggressive creatures begging to enter the red zone. The result was a nightmare for aggro decks to play against, and the control decks couldn't keep up with the card filtering plus pump effect offered by the Ascendancy.
This weekend in Columbus I will be looking for a new combination of strategies to take down the Standard Open. This is probably going to start with Satyr Wayfinder and Murderous Cut, but who knows where I will end up before Saturday?