Did I win the Invitational? Am I competing in the Players' Championship this weekend?
It's kind of sad. I wanted it and I built two great decks, but I didn't bring my A+ game and was rightfully punished. I was really proud with what I came up with, even if both decks were "boring" on the surface.
Standard - Abzan Reanimator
This deck is great.
It has incredible lategame power while also having smooth mana, card advantage, great removal, and can even get the beatdowns started early thanks to Siege Rhino. It's as close to the "complete package" as you can get.
That said, it is not without weaknesses. My experiences at SCG Portland led me to believe that fliers plus sweepers was a combination I didn't want to face. Wingmate Roc and Drown in Sorrow, or Stormbreath Dragon and Anger of the Gods were very solid ways to apply pressure against me.
After SCG Portland, the mirror was suddenly an issue. Our version of the deck didn't try to go super late like the G/B Constellation deck, nor did it have mirror breakers like the Sultai decks had in Disdainful Stroke and Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver.
I thought that if people wanted to beat us, they certainly could.
So I set out to fix that. I wanted to try Eidolon of Blossoms in the sideboard as our Read the Bones / Abzan Charm Divination effect. Glenn Jones already wanted to play Ajani, Mentor of Heroes over Nissa, Worldwaker, and with both of those in the deck, we could easily outdraw our opponents.
Fleecemane Lion wasn't an easy cut, as I liked all the things it did for the deck, but after a late night chat with Eric Froehlich, I was able to live with it. He was certain the field wasn't going to be one where needing a two-drop was necessary and was mostly right.
The other thing I struggled with was trying to get the threat density right. Fleecemane Lion and Commune with the Gods both contributed to having more cards that didn't feel like air. Reclamation Sage maindeck was somewhat of a necessity now, and I wanted more removal. Commune with the Gods wasn't impressing me, so I had easy cuts to fit in all the things I wanted.
What I ended up with was a deck that felt like it didn't do anything unless it had Siege Rhino. I've been trying to fix that, but it's a process.
This is my current list:
- 2 Hornet Queen
- 2 Reclamation Sage
- 4 Satyr Wayfinder
- 4 Siege Rhino
- 4 Sylvan Caryatid
- 4 Courser of Kruphix
- 3 Doomwake Giant
- 2 Eidolon of Blossoms
As for the other half of the Invitational...
Legacy - U/R Delver
This deck is also great.
My main innovation was cutting Daze entirely and replacing them with a pair of Spell Snares. I felt like the deck had some weaknesses to certain cards that cost two mana, namely Tarmogoyf, Stoneforge Mystic, and Infernal Tutor, and people would not expect a hard counter out of U/R Delver.
I was correct, and Spell Snare continued to impress all weekend long.
Daze is a great complement to the aggressive nature of the deck but doesn't mesh well with the Treasure Cruise end-game. Additionally, without any mana denial, Daze goes dead very quickly. Post-board, when your opponents will have more removal, Daze will often be useless since the games will be going longer. That means that sideboarding is often easy, but I'd rather have something that was consistently good and had synergy with the rest of the deck. Spell Snare was perfect.
Glenn Jones and I considered splashing Cabal Therapy out of the sideboard since it covers a lot of bases. However, Underground Sea is not a land I actually wanted in my deck. Island and Mountain were fine (and actively good against Burn), but the second Island, which is basically all Underground Sea would be in game 1s, is not a great idea. I also thought I could cover my bases with things like Null Rod and Blood Moon, which actually worked out well.
For artifact destruction, I chose Smelt. My list is no longer burn heavy, so Smash to Smithereens had little upside outside of costing two, which allowed it to get around Chalice of the Void, which is frequently set at one. In the Invitational, I expected zero Chalices and was therefore able to play the artifact removal I wanted!
We considered Mogg Salvage (go ahead and look that one up) and liked it a lot against Stoneblade decks, but Death and Taxes was still a real deck. I wanted something to tag Aether Vial and equipment against them, and the three casting cost Mogg Salvage was not appealing.
Vapor Snag was my nod to Tarmogoyf (and Kor Firewalker out of the Stoneblade sideboards), which was also a blue card to pitch to Force of Will. Overall, it performed fine and added another angle to my deck that another burn spell wouldn't have.
My Spell Snares, Blood Moons, and Vapor Snag all caught people off guard, which is one of the few ways to gain an edge in a big tournament like the Invitational. I generally dislike the "They'll never see it coming!" argument, since most of the time, whether or not they see your bad card coming doesn't actually affect the way the game plays out in a meaningful way. In this case, these cards were all capable of winning me games because people walked right into them.
Following Grand Prix New Jersey, I removed the Hydroblast from my sideboard. It felt like I could do better with the slot, but that ended up not being true. Post-board, so many people have Pyroblasts against you that it's difficult to ever resolve a Treasure Cruise. Hydroblast is the perfect card to fight their Pyroblasts and win those counterwars. The fact that it does things like counter Sneak Attack, counter Searing Blaze, and destroy Goblin Guide were huge upsides.
I didn't really want to play U/R Delver though. I figured people might be ready for it and they were. My adjustments made sure I was ready with anti-hate, so the deck actually felt pretty good. It was difficult to justify anything else when Glenn Jones kept beating me up with Monastery Swiftspears. I did get to try some spicy brews though!
I figured Temur Delver would have a good shot against U/R Delver, plus it had a wall of countermagic that was difficult for combo decks to break through. Obviously winning the die roll is important with any Stifle deck, so I wanted to get in some games to see how brutal it actually was to be on the draw each game.
That never really happened.
U/R Landstill was one of the decks I was looking at, but Glenn decided he wanted to try it out, which left me without the means to try it myself. Still, Glenn playing the deck provided a lot of useful information, so it wasn't all for naught.
The one thing I disliked about the Temur Delver decks was that they basically needed another one-drop threat alongside Delver of Secrets, but Nimble Mongoose didn't play well with Treasure Cruise. Monastery Swiftspear didn't play well with all the countermagic and Stifles, so that wasn't a great option either.
I started looking at this deck:
As Glenn pointed out, trying to piece together Phyrexian Dreadnought and Stifle might not be the wisest choice in a field that has a lot of maindeck Pyroblasts, but I thought it could work. Post-board, you have Sensei's Divining Top and Counterbalance to overlord their Pyroblasts, in addition to the Treasure Cruises you already have maindeck.
Unfortunately, I didn't get a chance to play with this one either.
Thought Scour Decks
Several of my brews centered around the interaction between Thought Scour and Treasure Cruise. After all, if you could cast Ancestral Recall on yourself as early as turn 2 in Legacy, what sort of deck would you want to build?
Being able to cut Careful Study might be what this deck needs to put it over the top. Thought Scour and Mental Note might just be better versions of Careful Study that also allow you to play Treasure Cruise. Maybe some copies of Dig Through Time are better than Treasure Cruise though, since you're mostly looking for specific cards.
You might run into situations where you have a Griselbrand in hand with no Brainstorms in sight, so maybe a maindeck Show and Tell or two would be good. A singleton Careful Study might also be fine, but I definitely don't want to play a bunch of that card if I can avoid it.
With Thought Scour and Mental Note, it might be worth it to make the deck more redundant and play only Griselbrand and Jin Gitaxias, Core Augur. You lose out on a little bit of utility by not being able to play the Entomb targets that are matchup specific, plus you're drawing slim to an opposing Karakas. That sort of version might also just be a worse Tin Fins deck, but it's worth considering.
When Reanimator was great, it was because Mystical Tutor gave it redundancy that it hasn't ever had since, even with the advent of Griselbrand. The Thought Scour / Mental Note engine alongside delve cards might be exactly what you need.
Another shell I've been considering for Reanimator is playing Wasteland alongside Daze and possibly Stifle. Wasteland is great at fighting utility lands that the deck would otherwise have issues with, plus it makes your Dazes live going into the midgame. Adding Stifle to that might be a bit much, but when you consider that you can basically take the Temur Delver shell and cut the twelve creatures that deck typically plays for basically any win condition, Reanimator starts looking like one of the best routes to take.
The deck I worked the most on was this spicy number:
With U/R Delver still getting a ton of hype, building a bigger U/R deck seemed like the place to be. BBD did it with his Stoneforge Mystic / Young Pyromancer brew and eventually won Grand Prix New Jersey, but that didn't strike me as the best version of that idea.
Punishing Fire is great against U/R Delver, Stoneforge Mystic, and Elves, but it's no longer the lock it used to be. Elves can last ditch Natural Order out a fatty, and Punishing Fire doesn't come close to beating True-Name Nemesis, especially if it has equipment on it. I was very close to maindecking an Ancient Grudge just because of that.
Using Delver of Secrets in a more midrange shell doesn't make sense to a lot of people, but I actually like it. You can either be threat light or play medium-costed threats like Snapcaster Mage, but I didn't want my deck to be as clunky. Delver of Secrets gives you a legitimate clock against combo decks and against everything else, you trade one-for-one on mana with their Lightning Bolt or Swords to Plowshares, which makes it easier for Tarmogoyf to stick around. Additionally, having the majority of your threats be blue is incredibly nice for Force of Will.
I was pleased with the deck overall, but it never seemed to get complete control of a game. It was looking more and more like Counterbalance should have been maindeck for that reason. Sensei's Divining Top and Punishing Fire are both incredible mana sinks, but playing them together leads to situations where you're trying to do too much. I've done it before, but it wasn't perfect.
AJ Sacher was the first person I went to with this skeleton since he's played Baleful Strix / Cabal Therapy control decks before. As always, he had several words of wisdom that helped shape the final changes to the deck.
Card Advantage Decks
I almost audibled to Shardless Sultai. There was a point where the deck was finally starting to get a lot of recognition and was considered one of the best decks in Legacy. Ever since Treasure Cruise was printed, the deck was mostly written off (even by yours truly).
Most of the "Treasure Cruise killed Shardless Sultai" talk is blasphemy though. Aside from U/R Delver, the other Treasure Cruise decks are still good matchups, and U/R Delver is still fine. If you can avoid Price of Progress, you're typically in good shape.
I'll definitely be playing this deck sometime soon.
On Sunday, I was going to play Legacy, because that's what I always do. Then the idea of playing in the Modern Premier IQ occurred to me, and it sounded like a great idea. I had yet to play Modern during an Open weekend and had been playing a ton of Legacy lately, so the change of pace sounded nice.
I set out to find Abzan cards, but came up a little short. Josh Ravitz would be my normal go-to for cards, but he ended up getting a hotel in Tacoma rather than commute each day, so he didn't have access to all his stuff. Since I played U/R Delver in Legacy and had been slowly acquiring cards for the deck, I happened to have most of the Modern stuff!
After a quick glance at Patrick Chapin's Worlds decklist, a failure to find Threads of Disloyalty, and a failure to actually re-read Chapin's article for what changes he recommended, I registered this:
Aside from getting Choked in one match (and immediately bee lining to Chapin to ask him why there weren't more Sulfur Falls), I went undefeated, eventually splitting in the finals! Chapin said his deck was busted, and while some of the games were close, U/R Delver outperformed my expectations.
I split the finals because my girlfriend was waiting for me. Despite feeling like Abzan Midrange is not the best matchup, I definitely wanted to play for first place after what happened last weekend in Portland. Some other time perhaps.
After playing with Chapin's version, I have a few ideas for what I would play in the future.
I have no idea if the higher mana curve completely kills the velocity of U/R Delver, but I'm eager to find out. This deck has lifegain, resilient threats, better removal, an actual Disenchant, and Choke protection, so it looks pretty sweet.
So that's my Season Four Invitational story. At one point, I was 7-2, but then it all came crashing down. All three of my Standard losses were likely my fault, so that could have made my Invitational go a lot better. I definitely squandered this opportunity.
Thankfully, the Modern Premier IQ gave me a little redemption.