It is officially mom's spaghetti time for me. After Pro Tour Fate Reforged I have twelve pro points on the season but am not qualified for any remaining Pro Tours. I quickly determined that making the top 8 of a Grand Prix would net four more pro points and a qualification for Pro Tour Dragons of Tarkir in Brussels, which would yield at least three points as well. That would leave me at nineteen, one short of the Silver that would effectively qualify me for the following two Pro Tours.
A quick check of the schedule showed Memphis, Miami, and Cleveland as options for Grand Prix in the next month. Unfortunately, only the first of these, Memphis, feeds Pro Tour Dragons of Tarkir, while the others would qualify me for Pro Tour Magic Origins in Vancouver.
If I want to make a serious run at the Pro Tour, Memphis is key.
Granted, I could accumulate some points in Miami and Cleveland and make Silver in Vancouver, but the sooner I make Silver, the more chances I will have at a strong Pro Tour performance that could catapult me to Gold.
So after returning from Washington D.C., I turned back to Standard, picking up the R/W Aggro deck I played to some moderate success last month. In the weeks I spent away, R/W took a much more prominent place in the metagame, eventually becoming the most popular deck. The various flavors of Abzan were still popular, and U/B Control was still hanging around, but the most important changes I needed to make were to combat the mirror.
That meant taking advantage of the following two cards:
Soulfire Grand Master is a card that overall I was unimpressed with because of how poorly the body matches up to the other creatures in the format and how mana intensive the recursion ability is. However, granting your burn spells lifelink in the mirror is excellent, making it a great creature there. The fact that I wanted more two-drops to consistently apply pressure in the early game solidified it as a singleton, while the fact that it plays poorly in multiples ensured I would play no more than that.
The R/W Aggro mirror is often about who establishes a board presence first, since the threats are so powerful that they must be answered very quickly. The person who cedes the early advantage may have the removal spells to stop these threats, but unless they can play multiple spells in the same turn, they will always remain in the role of answering opposing threats. Wild Slash costing a single mana allows you regain the initiative after falling behind early (particularly important when on the draw) or further an early advantage into an insurmountable one.
With a week off from long traveling, I played a PTQ in central New York last Saturday, registering the following list:
- 2 Ashcloud Phoenix
- 4 Goblin Rabblemaster
- 1 Monastery Mentor
- 4 Seeker of the Way
- 1 Soulfire Grand Master
- 4 Stormbreath Dragon
Outpost Siege is another card that has gained a lot of popularity and become a staple of the archetype over Chandra, Pyromaster. While my experience with Siege was limited, I had been unimpressed by Chandra because of how difficult she was to defend, which is the exact issue that Siege solves. Everyone I talked to about Siege praised the card, so I made the full swap from my previous lists .
The last significant choice I made for this list was playing Monastery Mentor over Brimaz, King of Oreskos. Brimaz has become more popular in R/W because it is great in the mirror. The body does not die to any cheap burn spells and plays well in combat while simultaneously playing offense and defense. Still, I was wary of adding a double white spell to the deck, and my early experiences with Mentor had been positive.
I ran through the swiss rounds of the PTQ without losing a match. The deck felt great, and I was excited to take some of the pressure off in Memphis with a win there. Unfortunately, I talked myself out of the winning line in the top 8 and was left with half a box and thoughts of what might have been.
I was playing my first mirror of the day and unfortunately mulliganed to five cards in the first game. After a few turns of killing my threats, my opponent played an Outpost Siege, and I knew the only way I would possibly win the game was to play very aggressively.
I drew and cast an Outpost Siege of my own and attacked my Seeker of the Way into three goblin tokens from a Hordeling Outburst. Surprisingly my opponent declined to trade, and after combat the life totals stood at my 24 to his 15. With a hand containing Stormbreath Dragon, Stoke the Flames, and Lightning Strike, I was only four points away from stealing the game.
My opponent untapped, killed my Seeker with a Lightning Strike, and cast a Seeker of his own. When I found a fifth land on my turn I quickly reached for Stormbreath Dragon before realizing that a Stoke the Flames on my Dragon followed by a lifelink attack with Seeker would be devastating. My opponent would be incentivized to tap out to use his Siege cards so the Dragon would likely have another opportunity to attack freely. Instead I opted to use Chained to the Rocks on the Seeker and hold up my own burn spells.
All went well as my opponent tapped out for a Chandra, Pyromaster that would not appreciably add to his clock while the extra cards it would gain would be irrelevant, as I was planning to end the game very quickly. I drew a Stoke the Flames over the next two turns and was able to deal my opponent the full fifteen in the next two turns.
That's weird. Wasn't this supposed to be a story about how I lost? Oh that's right! When my opponent played his Chandra I managed to talk myself into using a Lightning Strike and my Stormbreath Dragon attack to kill it rather than my opponent, somehow thinking that I could win a longer game despite my opponent having three more cards than I did. My opponent killed my Stormbreath Dragon with a Stoke the Flames on his turn and easily won the race, since I wasted seven points of damage.
I lost game 2 after keeping a fine two-land hand and missing my third land drop, putting me behind in the race to cast dragons. After wishing my opponent good luck I could only walk away disgusted with myself for getting away from the only winning line.
Most players will tell you that they prefer losing to their own mistakes because it means they have an easy path to improvement, and in general, I agree with that sentiment. However, I am under pressure to succeed quickly so the margin for error is slim. I have to be my best, and in that match I almost was. Instead I fell victim to a problem that has plagued me for years: overanalysis and failure to trust my intuition.
In Magic you hear about two types of players: those that play very deliberately by thinking through the various lines of play and coming to a conclusion in the moment and those that rely on intuition to find the right play without having a concrete reason as to why it is best. In reality, we all use both types of decision making.
Often the intuition side of things is called "auto-pilot" and deemed a bad method, but you cannot analyze every decision in a game or you would never finish. Over time, simple sequencing like playing your lands that enter-the-battlefield-tapped first or attacking before spending unnecessary mana becomes an ingrained play pattern. This process is beneficial for saving mental energy over the course of a long tournament, as long as you know when to slow down for truly difficult and important plays.
Oddly enough, the mistake I made above was after correctly slowing down because the decision of whether or not to continue my aggressive line or kill Chandra would completely determine the rest of the game. This was a decision that merited deeper analysis, but in doing so, I incorrectly biased myself away from my intuition.
After a long enough time, your intuition becomes so attuned to the game that you will subconsciously recognize patterns you have seen before. Sometimes that results in you reading what card they have in their hand, and sometimes it reveals the correct line of play in a complicated boardstate. I have been telling myself for years to trust my intuition more and yet I continue to talk myself into worse lines.
In this case I think my primary error was risk aversion. Taking the aggressive line puts the entire game into the hands of the top of my deck, which is an uneasy proposition. I have generally prided myself on recognizing when to take such lines, but when I had a lot on the line I retreated into the safety of playing not to lose. You might think that playing Burn at a Pro Tour would leave me immune to such fears, but that is not how it played out.
So that leaves me with Memphis. I still like R/W for this weekend as long as it can deal with the return of the G/R Devotion decks. On paper, the matchup seems great for R/W since you have the efficient white removal, a solid clock, and problematic flying threats. Still, the power of G/R Devotion cannot be ignored. The major issue facing R/W right now is the tension between trying to beat the mirror and trying to beat the various Courser of Kruphix decks, since they often require very different tools.
Of course, if G/R Devotion appears to be too strong I could move to the deck that served to be its foil back in the beginning of the format.
Turning Hordeling Outburst into Mantis Rider yields huge returns against green decks, and access to Disdainful Stroke makes turning into a control deck much more viable than it is in R/W. Moreover, the control plan out of Jeskai is particularly effective against G/R Devotion, where your early creatures are often ineffective.
The other natural foil to G/R Devotion, U/B Control, is a poor matchup for R/W that gets better with the shift to Jeskai, as the card draw and counterspells let you play an aggro-control game plan, and you do not have dead cards like Chained to the Rocks before sideboarding.
Gaining Valorous Stance was huge for Jeskai against its natural foe, Abzan, because you are no longer dead to a resolved Siege Rhino, while Wild Slash helps compensate for your number of lands that enter-the-battlefield-tapped against aggressive decks. This deck has a lot going for it on paper, but that is almost always true of three-color decks, since they have access to so many powerful cards, but I strongly dislike playing aggressive decks with such awkward mana.
I am almost certainly going to play a base R/W deck in Memphis. Let's just hope my intuition leads me to the correct build. And that I'm wise enough to listen this time.