The StarCityGames Season Four Invitational is this weekend, and the format is shaping up to be in a similar state to where it was around the past Invitationals. Decks with Whip of Erebos and Hornet Queen are winning tournaments, and people are settling in for good, long games of Magic. Even dedicated Abzan decks are finding room for enough card advantage and planewalkers to ensure their deck has enough gas to compete past turn 10.
Yuuya Watanabe has impressed once again with his take on Jeskai basically creating an entirely new archetype in Jeskai Tokens. Myself, Brad Nelson, and Chris VanMeter all played the same 75 of Jeskai Tokens with only one card different from Yuuya's deck by cutting the fourth Seeker of the Way for a Magma Jet. Overall the change was good, and we had a finals appearance and two 7-2s with the list, only losing to non-Whip Abzan.
The traditional Jeskai matchup was very good, and Jeskai Tokens makes one-for-one removal like Heroes Downfall, Chained to the Rocks, and Crackling Doom look really foolish... so much so that I imagine Jeskai Tokens will push out both traditional Jeskai Aggro and Mardu Midrange.
SCG Portland was the last weekend for me to try new decks before the Invitational and the Players' Championship on upcoming weekends. W/U Heroic has been having some trouble in the last couple tournaments. Orry Swift was able to dodge Mardu Midrange or the mirror match all the way until the finals of Grand Prix San Antonio, really just destroying a constant stream of Sylvan Caryatid and Courser of Kruphix decks. If Mardu Midrange and Jeskai Aggro stay pushed out, then W/U Heroic is due for good matchups against the field.
The adjustments to the deck are mainly in response to a higher expected field of Jeskai Tokens. The deck needs some cards that work well attacking and blocking simultaneously, so a Triton Tactics and two copies of Brimaz, King of Oreskos made their way into the sideboard. Now that so many creatures are tokens or utility creatures, Singing Bell Strike isn't worth a slot anywhere anymore. Eidolon of Countless Battles has also been progressively getting worse since the inclusion of Heliod's Pilgrim, as it's now easier to chain together Ordeal of Thassas and not really need a big swingy card like the Eidolon.
Stubborn Denial is a card I previously didn't like in the maindeck, but now there are more non-creature spells than ever. Even if it's not ferociously online early, it still tends to nab key spells or make the opponent play around it, which gives you time to assemble a four- power creature.
This is how I like to sideboard in the popular matchups.
Jeskai Tokens isn't an easy matchup. Of nearly the twenty games ones that I've experienced with the matchup, whoever was on the play won every single time. Both decks snowball their respective advantages with synergies, and neither deck plays well defensively.
Of Jeskai Tokens and W/U Heroic, it comes down to how you expect people to build their Abzan decks, whether it's Shaun McLaren's traditional midrange or Gerry Thompson's Whip of Erebos build.
Stubborn Denial really shines here especially since they'll probably be sideboarding out their normal creatures like Seeker of the Way and Goblin Rabblemaster and taking a much more controlling role with Anger of the Gods and End Hostilities. Since Glare of Heresy will only hit Jeskai Ascendency post-sideboard, you don't want to flood on narrow effects that deal with it, so Erase and Mortal Obstinacy should get the job done. The Lagonna-Band Trailblazers help against the expected Anger of the Gods and Magma Sprays, and you try to play a deck that can go just as long as them if necessary.
The reason to play Heroic is that you're good against some of the best cards in the format, which are Sylvan Caraytid and Courser of Kruphix. Green decks tend to block well on the ground and shore up excess creatures with expensive removal in Hero's Downfall or Utter End. You can make bigger creatures than them and circumvent their blocking with Stratus Walk and Aqueous Form. Their removal matches up really poorly against your one-mana counterspells, leaving them casting only one spell a turn while you're often casting many.
The maindeck is well-suited against the green decks, as they're the biggest expected portion of any field, so sideboarding against them tends to be light.
Seeker of the Way isn't very important and often gets swept up in a Drown in Sorrow. They have multiple sweeper effects, so Ajani's Presence is pretty good. They will often cut Sorin, Solemn Visitor and not have enchantments other than Courser of Kruphix, so Glare of Heresy and Erase tend to get stuck in your hand.
- 2 Fleecemane Lion
- 3 Hornet Queen
- 1 Reclamation Sage
- 4 Satyr Wayfinder
- 4 Siege Rhino
- 1 Soul of Innistrad
- 4 Sylvan Caryatid
- 4 Courser of Kruphix
- 2 Doomwake Giant
A bit easier than the Midrange version as they do a fair amount of durdling as opposed to outright killing you. A bunch of early Siege Rhinos sucks, but that's what any Abzan build does. It's a basic "Protect The Queen" plan where you set up a huge evasive creature and back it up with a string of Gods Willing effects.
- 3 Hornet Queen
- 4 Satyr Wayfinder
- 4 Sylvan Caryatid
- 4 Courser of Kruphix
- 4 Doomwake Giant
- 2 Eidolon of Blossoms
- 4 Sidisi, Brood Tyrant
- 1 Pharika, God of Affliction
Sidisi is easier to deal with than Siege Rhino, as Sidisi and the zombies she creates are blockable and can largely be ignored. They don't have Abzan Charm either, and really have to lean on Murderous Cut to kill your creatures. As with Abzan Reanimator, the goal here is to use evasion to get past their blockers.
Your toughest matchup, so hopefully you dodge it. The combination of Crackling Doom and Chained to the Rocks in high numbers backed up with a solid clock like Goblin Rabblemaster or Butcher of the Horde is exactly what this deck doesn't want to tangle with. Your best hope is to have enough card advantage to where their efficient removal can't keep up. You also sideboard out a land because you really need to draw a bunch of spells on time and are rather prone to flooding out or being stuck with auras in hand.
- 4 Battlewise Hoplite
- 4 Favored Hoplite
- 3 Heliod's Pilgrim
- 4 Hero of Iroas
- 3 Seeker of the Way
- 1 Eidolon of Countless Battles
The mirror match typically involves one player or the other getting run over and hopelessly chump blocking. The first person to fire off their Ordeal of Thassa is a huge favorite to win. It's rather popular online but hasn't been showing up much lately because of how miserable the Mardu matchup is, so I don't expect to face the mirror all too often.
One of the better matchups. Their removal is slow and never puts you under any pressure. You are very capable of beating them with card advantage, and sometimes they'll simply not have the right answers at the right time. Be wary of Bile Blight and Drown in Sorrow; diversify your threats accordingly. It's often best to jam even something good when they pass with five open mana or the requisite mana for Dig Through Time and make them make a decision to interact with you or draw cards. Esper Control and U/W Control play out similarly and are sideboarded nearly the same ways.
History has repeated the past few Invitationals, and it looks like W/U Heroic is in a good spot to take advantage of the format coming around full circle. The deck is about as correct as you can get after a few months of tournaments and results, and I wouldn't be surprised to see it doing well. Heck, even Joe Lossett nearly made top 8 of SCG Columbus with W/U Heroic, and if he can be convinced to attack with creatures, it has to be good! Good luck everyone, and see you in Seattle this weekend.