This weekend sure was something.
As you may have noticed, I wasn't in good ole' Memphis for the Grand Prix. Sadly, I've had my dates/events mixed up the last couple of weeks and thought that the Baltimore Open was last weekend and Memphis was this coming weekend.
They were the opposite.
As fate would have it, due to the winter storm, I would have just skipped it anyway. There was a car of four brave souls who went, and one of them even came back having made it to the semi-finals, but there was just too much ice for me.
Here in Roanoke, we got it too. I streamed a lot of Magic Online during the week and even some Diablo 3 on the weekend, but every time I talked about how bad the snow was and how it was shutting down everything I was kindly reminded by my viewers in the northeast that what we were getting was basically nothing.
I guess it's all a matter of what your area is used to. Six inches of snow here is like armageddon, where six inches in the northeast is just a minor inconvenience.
Once I figured out my scheduling snafu, I decided to spend time working on Standard last week to help those who were going to Memphis or battling in the last PTQs that were happening across the country. Previously I had been pretty high on R/W Aggro, but after getting shipped a R/G Aggro list and playing with it, I was hooked. Flamewake Phoenix is the truth, and while the knee-jerk reaction is to toss it after seeing Elvish Mystic, you just have to realize that Flamewake Phoenix is perfectly fine on turn 3.
I went something like 11-2 on MTGO last week while streaming with the deck, losing in the finals of an 8-man to making the incorrect decision for three turns in a row and punting a very winnable game, and then to LSV after playing an epic game 1 and getting screwed/flooded in the last two. He also had a very good sideboard plan and was on Mantis Rider Jeskai, which is admittedly a bad matchup.
My buddy who shipped me the list, along with one of my viewers on the stream took the deck to the Philly PTQ and got ninth on breaks and lost in the top 4 respectively. Here's the list that I am currently advocating:
- 2 Ashcloud Phoenix
- 4 Elvish Mystic
- 4 Flamewake Phoenix
- 4 Goblin Rabblemaster
- 4 Heir of the Wilds
- 3 Shaman of the Great Hunt
- 4 Stormbreath Dragon
- 3 Boon Satyr
- 1 Polukranos, World Eater
This list is pretty close to the G/R Aggro list that Top 4'd the Open in Houston with just a few changes, but those came after playing a bunch with the deck against a variety of decks.
For starters, you might notice that I have 24 lands in the deck. Even with the four Elvish Mystic to ramp us, hitting our land drops all the way up to five is a must for Stormbreath Dragon and Boon Satyr bestows in addition to having actual Fireball in our deck, which makes hitting land drops in the mid/lategame not as terrible. When people play against Elvish Mystic decks they always have "Bolt the Bird" ingrained in their minds, so they are usually not long for this world, and being able to curve out is the most important aspect of this deck; be it on time or ahead.
I'm also running a Wild Slash in the main, primarily for curve reasons, and because we want ways to interact with our opponents early. It's Wild Slash over Magma Spray so that it's never "dead," and we can go to the dome against something like Abzan Control or U/B Control. A lot of people have mentioned that Magma Spray is better against Ashcloud Phoenix, which is true, but it's only better against exactly Ashcloud Phoenix. Two of the deck's tougher matchups are R/W Aggro and W/U Heroic, which Wild Slash is great against. In all reality, this is a Goblin Rabblemaster format, and having cards to interact with it is important. I could even see an argument for a 2/2 split on Lightning Strike and Wild Slash in the main, but I feel like Fleecemane Lion and hitting a Seeker of the Way through a spell is important enough to warrant keeping it at a 3/1 split.
I have also cut a Crater's Claws. It's been standard to run a full four of these since they lead to some extreme blowout turns, but the majority of games that aren't just straight massacres end up being pretty grindy, and having your hand clogged with Crater's Claws can be unpleasant. Cutting a Claws for the extra land was the first thing that I did after playing a handful of games.
Lastly, we can see that I no longer have a Yasova Dragonclaw in the deck and am down to two copies of Ashcloud Phoenix. I've been pretty unimpressed with Yasova Dragonclaw, and Boon Satyr has over performed almost every time I've cast it. We now have a Polukranos, World Eater in the main to go along with more reinforcements in the sideboard. This is mainly as a reaction to Jeskai Aggro getting a little more popular and the hurting that Mantis Rider can put on us.
My buddy Jojo also cut the two Rugged Highlands and played two more basics, and felt like they were great. Hitting your curve on time is wonderful, and while the extra life might matter, it's more important to be as aggressive as possible. With all the GG and RR requirements in the deck, it may just be 100% necessary to have Rugged Highlands, but I'm taking his word on it for now.
The sideboard has changed a little bit too. In my last iteration of the deck, I had Whisperwood Elemental in the sideboard, and while I was pretty happy with the card, they decided to play Xenagos, the Reveler at the PTQ. Xenagos, the Reveler is going to be good in all the same matchups that Whisperwood Elemental was, but he is a spot lower on the curve and is a little tougher for the control decks to handle. Sultai Control has access to Sultai Charm in addition to Hero's Downfall and Murderous Cut, and U/B Control gets the same Hero's Downfall and Murderous Cut that handle the Elemental. Now with Xenagos, the Reveler, it limits them to exactly Hero's Downfall, which is already stretched a little thin by the rest of our deck.
The other great thing about Xeangos, the Reveler is that it plays very well with our deck. Whisperwood Elemental is obviously a powerful Magic card, but Xenagos, the Reveler can do some real stupid things. Our deck is full of haste creatures, creatures with bestow, and monstrous. We can even use the +1 to draw cards with Shaman of the Great Hunt if necessary. I've played my fair share of Xenagos, the Reveler, and I'm happy to sleeve him up once again.
Everything else besides the Polukranos, World Eater is the same except for the Reclamation Sage. Previously, we had Destructive Revelry and/or Back to Nature as our enchantment/artifact hate, but after playing a bunch against the Abzan decks with Courser of Kruphix, I really wanted a disenchant effect that wasn't dead when I didn't need to kill a Courser. Reclamation Sage is a great hedge against those types of decks, as we can normally punch through a Courser of Kruphix in game 1, but after sideboard they usually have a bunch more removal, and the games get a bit grindier--perfect conditions for Courser of Kruphix to generate advantage.
I know that one of the things that helps me when I'm trying to learn a deck is to understand the sideboarding. Please be aware that this is not 100% correct, and you should be adjusting your plan based on cards you've seen and whether you're on the play or draw.
VS Abzan Control
I can see possibly wanting more Polukranos, World Eater after sideboard, but it does just die to all of their removal. Cutting Lightning Strikes is right, but be aware that they may have Fleecemane Lion in. It's not at its best against us, but it is a blocker and is almost impossible to deal with if it goes monstrous. We still have Crater's Claws to deal with it, but I can see wanting to bring the Lightning Strikes and the Rabblemaster back in on the play.
Overall, this matchup is fine for us. Flamewake Phoenix is very tough to deal with, and they usually end up doing some damage to themselves with their lands. The majority of our threats have haste, which makes it a bit tough to play against.
VS R/W Aggro
R/W Aggro is admittedly one of the bad matchups for the deck. It is definitely winnable but quite an uphill battle. Chained to the Rocks is huge against us, and they can put on a lot of pressure. I was a huge advocate for R/W in the past and still think that the deck is very good. G/R is better against the control decks, but R/W is likely better versus the rest.
Sage hits Chained to the Rocks and Outpost Siege, which we need to contain since we are turning into more of a control deck than an aggro deck after sideboarding. We can't really afford to flood out here, and since we are bringing in a bunch of cheaper interaction, I like cutting a land.
VS U/B Control
It may seem a little counterproductive to cut an Elvish Mystic in a matchup where Xenagos, the Reveler is so good, but with them having access to Crux of Fate now, we really can't afford to draw a mana accelerant in the lategame.
VS Sultai Control
I actually like leaving in a Lightning Strike to help pressure planeswalkers. Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver in particular can be pretty rough for us to handle, and while U/B Control might have the 'walker, the Sultai decks definitely do.
VS Jeskai Aggro
This matchup is rough. Mantis Rider combined with the control plan that it sideboards into can be a beating. It's still winnable, but we have to navigate the game very closely. Flamewake Phoenix is pretty outclassed and can't play defense, and Shaman of the Great Hunt just gets caught up in a barrage of Wild Slashes.
Here is where having the extra land helps, since I don't feel that bad about cutting an Elvish Mystic.
VS W/U Heroic
Along with R/W, this is the other tough matchup for the deck. We don't have a ton of ways to interact and have to rely on controlling their first couple of creatures and letting Goblin Rabblemaster take over the game.
VS G/R Devotion
As long as we can control their mana accelerants early, we can pull ahead. I like bringing in a Reclamation Sage to kill a Courser of Kruphix or a Frontier Siege, and sadly, we need to have the Barrage of Boulders for Hornet Queen--but it's not all that bad. Without a bunch of removal we will frequently build up a board and alpha for the win with the Falter.
I heard from a lot of people that they took the G/R deck this weekend and had a lot of success. PTQs, PPTQs, and IQs. Sadly, it doesn't look like the deck fared that well in Memphis at the Grand Prix, or in LA at the Open.
Baltimore is this weekend (I'm sure of it this time), and I will be battling Modern. I talked about how I was going to play Affinity in a previous article, and with two byes I actually think it would be pretty dumb of me to not just play the actual best deck in the format and give myself a shot at doing well. Make sure you check out my stream this week to see me fumble my way through learning U/R Splinter Twin. I have some experience with the concept, as I played Temur Twin for a bit, but I'm sure there will be plenty of mishaps.