There is a lot of fear in Magic
We fear new environments.
We fear ridicule.
We fear mistakes.
All these things hold us back in our lives.
Sometimes all it takes to get ahead in Magic is a little courage.
All you have to do is jump.
My life is in an interesting spot right now. I just turned eighteen on the 18th. I'm an adult now. I have a lot of huge life decisions happening right now in my life.
I'm scared. Terrified actually.
When asked if I wanted to go to the Open Series in Richmond, I was scared. I didn't want to take the roughly fifteen hour ride. I didn't want to waste my time to go 0-2 drop and have my friends make fun of me for wasting a whole weekend. I didn't want to go make a fool of myself.
But more than all of that, I didn't want to be the one regretting missing a chance at it, so I gathered some courage.
Then I jumped.
So I was going to the event. I didn't know what deck I was going to play, but felt good about the Mono-Green Aggro deck I had been playing locally and on stream.
- 4 Elvish Mystic
- 4 Heir of the Wilds
- 4 Rattleclaw Mystic
- 4 Reverent Hunter
- 4 Swordwise Centaur
- 4 Boon Satyr
- 4 Polukranos, World Eater
While the deck has good midrange matchups and has explosive potential, it isn't the most consistent and most of the creatures are kind of lame. Despite those flaws, I was able to take away some good information from playing this deck.
- Become Immense is bonkers.
- Nissa is a threat more decks should play.
- Pump spells are great right now.
Become Immense was averaging about three mana to cast, and is a card that is incredibly difficult for opponents to play around. +6/+6 is a lot of damage and is enough to win almost every combat that you might get in. I really love this card and wish it was easier to play outside of a deck with eight fetchlands to support it.
I really wanted there to be a good Nissa deck. Monsters variants are the closest thing, but I just didn't like how those decks played out. It felt similar to the green deck I was already playing, but without the nut draws. I decided to shelve her for a another time.
That left me with finding more pump spells so I did a search through all of the green cards in Standard and came across some gold:
Let me explain. Standard is in an interesting spot right now. We have a format full of powerful creatures without overly powerful removal, this is a big change from the past two Standard formats we've had. Cards like Doom Blade and Ultimate Price are nonexistent, and instead we are left with playing either slow removal spells like Hero's Downfall and Crackling Doom, or weaker removal spells like Bile Blight and Lightning Strike.
Additionally, Standard lacks an efficient mass removal spell a la Supreme Verdict (sorry End Hostilities, five is just too much), and that creates a format largely based around tempo and velocity. This means that outside of a few key cards such as Elspeth, Sun's Champion and Hornet Queen, it is very hard for someone to get back into a game that they are behind in. Most people are spending their time trying to figure out how to rebound in games they're behind in. I instead wanted to ask a different question.
"How do I get ahead?"
This all leads to Gather Courage. In a format based on tempo, cheap spells are king, and last I checked there is nothing cheaper than free! So what does this pump spell accomplish? It's three effects in one - a counterspell for heavily played removal, it allows me to beat creatures in combat, and it can play the role of Shock if necessary--that can be played for free!
Am I using hyperbole here? Absolutely not!
I would never do such a thing as I'm sure all my friends can tell you. In reality, Gather Courage does a great deal when all of the two mana removal in Standard is based around power or toughness (Lightning Strike, Bile Blight, etc). When you're on the play and your opponent tries to kill your two-drop on their turn 2, you can simply counter it with Gather Courage giving you a huge tempo advantage. This works similarly when on the offensive. If you tap out to cast a creature and then attack into an opposing blocker, what is your opponent going to do? They have to block, right? They can't just choose to never block even when you are tapped out.
So I decided I would try and find the shell that would give this card the best support. This meant most of creatures had to be green. Thankfully that wasn't a problem since all of the best aggressive creatures are green anyway. From playing the Mono-Green Aggro deck I mentioned earlier, I had a love for Heir of the Wilds, and I knew it was a shoo-in for the deck. This led me down one of two paths based on one very important question:
Which side was I on?
The power of three-drops has become very high in the past few years. Turn 3 is now when opponents are trying to swing a game back in their favor, and thus, it is crucial that your three-drop is powerful enough to overcome what they are trying to do. Both of these creatures are good at that, but I could only choose one.
I immediately jumped into the Savage Knucleblade camp. That ape is bananas! It's one of the most annoying threats I have played with or against this Standard season. It hits hard and fast and is hard to remove, something any good aggro deck is looking for. There was one problem, however: red and blue don't offer much more support in the two-drop range. Rattleclaw Mystic is good, but it wasn't the type of creature I was looking for. Even with Gather Courage, it died to most removal, and I'm a fan of curve out aggro decks more than ramp ones. Therefore, I had to send ol' Captain Knuckles back to the bin and try my hand with party girl Anafenza, the Foremost.
Anafenza is a great-three drop, as she gives free value just by attacking. That's exactly what you want to be doing anyway, so that's not exactly a problem. The ability to also randomly hose some strategies is a nice bonus as well.
Playing Anafenza quickly turned out to be a great choice. I got access to not only good two-drops in the form of Fleecemane Lion and Rakshasa Deathdealer, but I also got Abzan Charm to remind me of the Selesnya Charm days. There's also Siege Rhino, one of the best creatures in Standard. In this type of deck, Siege Rhino's enters-the-battlefield trigger is more important than any other. Getting to drain opponents for three is a huge when you're already pushing in for large amounts quickly. Its ability is generally enough to keep the opponent off balance just long enough to end a game. It even has the added benefit of having trample, leaving it as the deck's sole gameplan against opposing Elspeth, Sun's Champions and Hornet Queens.
Playing Gather Courage led to an opportunity that the other Abzan Aggro decks in Standard don't have: I could play one-mana creatures. Those creatures are normally quickly outclassed by Sylvan Caryatids and Coursers of Kruphix, but having a pump spell that doesn't slow you down lets you play more of these cheap creatures, giving you more free game wins.
Though having one-mana creatures is nice, there's still a problem with them: people are playing lots of copies of Drown in Sorrows and Anger of the Gods in their sideboards. So my plan for postboard was to cut my one-drops and bring in Thoughtseizes, and either removal spells or Sorin, Solemn Visitors depending on how much of an attrition match I thought games 2 and 3 would be. I also sometimes sideboard back into the one-drops when I am on the play. While they may be bad when on the draw, being on the play makes it much more likely for them to go under what my opponent is trying to do. To help with the aggro decks, I felt Nyx-Fleece Ram was the best protection. It gives just enough time for my superior creatures to take control of the board and gains me life back so that I can actually tap my painlands for mana.
Speaking of painlands, I knew I wanted to play as few Temples as possible, which led to a manabase that played ten lands that cost me life for colored mana. This can be trouble sometimes, but the card quality is so high that it is definitely worth it. This wasn't something new to me for sure, as all of my success has come with some pretty ridiculous and painful manabases.
After it was all said and done, the deck was really close to this.
- 4 Bloodsoaked Champion
- 4 Fleecemane Lion
- 4 Heir of the Wilds
- 2 Rakshasa Deathdealer
- 4 Siege Rhino
- 4 Soldier of the Pantheon
- 2 Boon Satyr
- 4 Anafenza, the Foremost
Then my old buddy fear crept back up again.
"Are you really going to play a deck that you've only tested for two days?"
"What if you are wrong and look stupid?"
I went deep within myself and thought long and hard on the car ride about what deck I wanted to play. "I could audible and play Abzan Midrange," I thought. "The deck is powerful and is a safe pick for any tournament right now." I was scared that I didn't know what I was doing. That I wasn't good enough to build this deck. After a long day of thoughts to myself, I gathered some courage.
Then I jumped.
I won round one, then two, then three... I kept winning. At the end of the day, I was first seed going into top 8. I avoided what I felt was the deck's worst matchup, G/B Constellation. If I stick an Anafenza against it, I don't think there's that much they can do to stop me outside of a hardcast Hornet Queen, but the matchup is pretty bad beyond that. Overall I got a little lucky in some matches to be sure, but I felt I also played some great Magic through the day.
My only Standard loss of the weekend came in the semifinals against self-proclaimed "good guy" Shaheen Soorani playing Esper Control, where I stumbled on mana and didn't get to play much Magic. I think that matchup is favorable, as it is pretty easy to go under control, especially one as slow as Esper. The deck felt fantastic in all of my matches, and getting people with Gather Courage was always a treat.
Before I go, let me quickly say something about myself.
I have big dreams. I remember watching a video of coverage back in 2002 when I was six years old playing in a little store called Rookies. I decided I wanted to be the person on that screen. I wanted to play on the big Magic stage. Now is my chance. I'm playing better Magic than I have ever played and fear is back in session.
My name is Aaron Barich. And I am scared.
My life is in an interesting spot right now. I just turned eighteen on the 18th. I'm an adult now. I'm going to make life decisions that will be big risks. I'm scared, terrified actually.
There is a lot of fear in Magic.
I fear new environments.
I fear ridicule.
I fear mistakes.
All of these things have held me back in my life.
Sometimes all it takes to get ahead in Magic is a little courage.
Everybody better watch out, because I'm about to jump.