“Plains, draw a card.”
“Mountain, blow up your Plains.”
It's 11 PM here at the Lord Baltimore Hotel as I, Todd Stevens, Tannon Grace, and many other participants at the greatest Open weekend I've ever been to play the “Basic Land” game. If you've never played, you should.
The game begins with twelve copies of each basic land (excluding Wastes) shuffled into your deck and beginning with five cards in hand. Much like normal Magic, you don't draw a card if you're going first and you're allowed one land drop each turn.
When you play a land, though, it has an enters-the-battlefield effect. Mountain is a Stone Rain, Forest is a Regrowth, Plains draws a card, Swamp is Hymn to Tourach but only for one card, and Island is Disrupting Shoal where you have to exile a basic land of the type they play to counter it. You win the Basic Land game when you have one of each basic land on the battlefield, or “Domain” if you will. It's tons of fun and an entertaining way to kill time in between rounds, or, in our case, waiting on our food.
While the event didn't go quite as well as we had hoped for, Team Constructed has been the most enjoyable experience I've ever had playing Magic. Comradery is one of the best feelings and playing on a team in an event only amplifies that aspect of the game. I'm here sharing a drink with everyone, talking about the bad beats and the awesome topdecks of the weekend, lamenting the overall poor performance of my play and deck choice while celebrating how well Todd Stevens did. Despite how I felt I played and how I felt about what I played, I had a remarkable event and couldn't have asked for more.
Let's get started with the deck I registered for the Standard portion of the Baltimore Team Open.
- 3 Verdurous Gearhulk
- 4 Walking Ballista
- 4 Glint-Sleeve Siphoner
- 4 Greenbelt Rampager
- 4 Longtusk Cub
- 1 Tireless Tracker
- 4 Winding Constrictor
- 2 Rishkar, Peema Renegade
It's been a solid three weeks since I've been able to do better than 3-2 on Magic Online with the old Delirium version of this deck. Do I think the format has shifted to the point where it's unplayable? No, but I do believe that a card like Glint-Sleeve Siphoner is far better than I originally expected it to be and building a deck to be able to abuse it properly is where I believe the deck should be headed.
During the Swiss of the event, I played against Andrew Tenjum, who played four copies of Gifted Aetherborn and three Gonti, Lord of Luxury in the maindeck to gain a significant edge in the mirror. Deathtouch is an insane mechanic, and while cards like Rishkar, Peema Renegade and Verdurous Gearhulk do their very best to outsize the competition, the simple ability to trade up with any creature while either gaining value or gaining life is enough to make me believe that these cards are the way to gain advantage in any kind of mirror.
Moving on, I played the Energy variation of B/G and was almost equally as unimpressed as I was with Delirium. That being said, at one point #TeamDapper was 5-0 on the back on Todd Stevens being undefeated on the day and Tannon Grace and I alternating which rounds we would win and lose to great success. (Quick aside: this was my first team event I've played in and getting carried is the best feeling I've experienced during a tournament.) From that point we found ourselves ending with a loss to finish 6-1-2, putting us right on the bubble and not making Day 2.
Image credit: Inklin Customs
While not making Day 2 certainly was a bane of the event, the team managed to make the best of it by playtesting a bunch of Standard for the upcoming RPTQs that many eager Pro Tour hopefuls (including me!) are flocking to by playing in the Standard Classic as practice. Tannon and I didn't get the results we wanted—he played a Mono-Black Eldrazi deck given to him by StarCityGames.com's own Nick Miller, and I played the Metalwork Colossus deck I mentioned in my article last week—but we learned a lot.
Felidar Guardian and Saheeli Rai are cards we're going to have to deal with in the metagame for the duration of their legality, and finding the best shell for them to go into seems to be where Standard is at the moment. It's not fun, it's not exciting, but being able to win with just two cards left undisrupted? It's not fair. We've learned just how unfair it is from the days of Splinter Twin days of old Standard and its dominance in Modern.
One card I've seen more and more people adapt into the four-color variations of the combo deck is Baral's Expertise. This format is largely defined by tempo and battlefield advantage, which this card does wonders with. Cards like Thalia, Heretic Cathar; Implement of Combustion; Authority of the Consuls; and Walking Ballista are all ways people try to fight the combo, and all can be dealt with in one blow from a card like Baral's Expertise. It's certainly a card that I as a B/G player don't want to see getting cast against me, as all that deck does is play to the battlefield.
While it's not winning every event or putting up the best results across the board, it's restricting deckbuilding to the point where the sideboard and maindeck options of what you're able to play are limited to where they're overlapping with the ability to fight the combo. The Rock, Paper, Scissors metagame has a flaw in this sense where one of the key elements isn't Scissors but a Swiss Army knife with twenty different customizations that you, the opponent, don't get to know ahead of time.
Personally, I believe the card Saheeli Rai should be banned.
Felidar Guardian has a ton of applications in the format as a card that reuses many of the enters-the-battlefield effects of cards like Oath of Nissa, Whirler Virtuoso, Rogue Refiner, and many others. Saheeli Rai saw almost no play prior to the printing of Felidar Guardian and has few applications in competitive play aside from being a combo piece, while Felidar Guardian could potentially be incorporated in some type of value-based Bant or four-color deck.
For the sake of the format, I believe that we would be much better off without Saheeli Rai being a legal Magic card in Standard.
From there, I want to take a short break and touch on Modern, where my teammate Todd Stevens, between the Modern portion of Team Constructed and the Modern Classic the following day went 17-1 with Eldrazi Tron incorporating four copies of Kaladesh all-star Walking Ballista!
It took me a while to be okay with the fact that he was playing Eldrazi Tron because of how the Players' Championship went. Needless to say, after a single League with the deck, I was convinced. The deck could assume a control or aggro role based on the matchup and draws while also having access Karn Liberated, who can literally get you out of any game state you might find yourself in by restarting the game.
I won't go into it too much because I'm sure Todd Stevens can give a much better analysis than I later this week, but I will say that I'm highly likely to be sleeving up some of my Weatherlight Mind Stones this weekend at the Open in Indianapolis.
For those of you not diving headfirst into the Wild Wild West that is Modern this coming weekend, you may find yourself playing in a Regional Pro Tour Qualifier with hopes of qualifying for the very first time. What should you expect? RPTQs are much like Day 2 of an Open as far as skill is concerned, so having experience in that department is always a bonus.
From my own experience, players tend to play very safe decks for these events. What that means is it's highly unlikely you'll be playing against anything outside of the three pillars of the format in Saheeli Rai combo, one of the many flavors of B/G, and Mardu Vehicles. My suggestion is this: pick what you know best and run with it. There's, unfortunately, not much you can do in the format that will best all three of the archetypes on a consistent basis. They are far too well-refined to have a specific weakness exploited, despite my best efforts over the past month or so.
I put my money where my mouth was this past weekend. After the conclusion of Day 1, I decided to test my metal (pun intended) in the Standard Classic and played Metalwork Colossus. I was very impressed with the deck overall, starting out 3-0 in the event, but the inconsistencies eventually caught up with me. There are lots of moving pieces in the deck, and if you kick a leg out from under this deck, the whole thing collapses.
I say that, but it is a deck that absolutely destroys almost every variation of Winding Constrictor deck out there with ease. If your metagame is flush with the little 2/3 that could, I would recommend giving Metalwork Colossus a try this RPTQ.
Helpful hint: make sure you can count to eleven!
Last, I've come to realize that, despite knowing how degenerately powerful the combo of Saheeli Rai and Felidar Guardian is, I've yet to dip my toes into trying it myself. From all the variations I've seen, I believe that the four-color value version is best and may look like this:
I've only experimented slightly with Elder Deep-Fiend in this type of list and was overall unimpressed. Yes, it can just close out normal games on its own, but being a card that requires setup in a deck all about setting up a two-card combo can get a little clunky at times. Personally I'd just want to cut the clunk and have a consistent gameplan. People play scared of the combo way too often, and that's when the planeswalker plan shines brightest as Chandra, Torch of Defiance can just start a tempo chain that could be too hard to come back from if it's put on an almost-empty battlefield and left unscathed.
That's going to be it for me this week! I'll be spending the remaining days between now and this weekend with my eyes scouring everything I can read about what to be ready for in Modern. Huge thanks to StarCityGames.com® and the awesome Judge staff for putting on a great show for this Team event! From my understanding, it was a great success, and I look forward to getting to play in more of these types of events in the future!