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A man called Bard lived with many friends up in the mountains of Virginia. His friends, like him, were Magic players. Everyone took turns claiming they were the best, or they broke the format, but not Bard. Accomplished enough to earn the trust of his peers, Bard was too self-doubting. He found it very tiresome to make bold claims he was unsure of. Time after time Bard sold himself short. His friends would believe him until seeing his prowess firsthand. Many would ask Bard why he would say such untrue things, but he never had an answer.
One day, just like any other, Bard was unsure of his deck choice. His statement was met with disapproval, as all his friends didn't believe him. They ignored his affirmation, and ventured onward with his technology. Later that day they had all been defeated, yet Bard ventured on. Frustrated, they stomped up to Bard to accost him for their actions. Perplexed by this outrage, Bard could only shrug.
You see, the moral of this story isn't that of crying wolf. Doing well and having confidence are not mutually exclusive. Some would even say that a lack of confidence is what keeps competitors striving for every edge they can obtain. Bard doesn't say these statements of uncertainty as a ploy, but simply never wants to become complacent. It's your job when following in Bard's footsteps to also put effort into respecting his process, and not just his lists.
Oh, what a day, what a lovely day! For as long as I can remember my brother Corey, and I have dreamed of participating in the single-elimination rounds of a professional event together. It almost even happened in 2015 when we both were going to have "win-and-ins" in Round 15 of Grand Prix Miami. In a disappointing turn of events, we ended up paired against one another. At the beginning of this year, we had another opportunity at Grand Prix New Jersey, but I didn't hold up my end of the bargain, losing out late into Day 2. Finally, after eight years of playing this game competitively, we finally did it. We finally got to do the "eagle!"
Nowm I'd love to go on and on about how awesome my brother is, but that's not going to help you qualify for the Pro Tour. Today we are going to get into the nitty-gritty of Standard, and discuss B/G Constrictor, starting with why I decided to play the deck at Grand Prix Minneapolis.
It all began on a warm summer's day in Roanoke, VA. I'd just gotten back from Japan and was rather burnt out from playing Magic. That said, I had a tournament coming up, and I'd learned a long time ago that if you're going to do a job, it might as well be done right. I grabbed my computer, and began decompressing everything I thought I knew about the Standard format.
The first place I, and most likely everyone else, went was figuring out what impact Ramunap Red would have on the format. It was clearly the deck of Pro Tour Hour of Devastation, but would that translate into dominating the format? Sure, Ramunap Red is a great deck, given how well it mitigates flood and how it has more reach than any red deck in recent memory, but it's still a linear aggressive deck. Odds are that people will be prepared for the deck, making it nearly impossible to consistently navigate it to a good finish. I knew for this reason alone I wouldn't want to play the deck again.
I picked up Team MTG Mint's Mono-Black Zombies list and played around with that. Resilient, consistent, but underpowered and rigid. Mono-Black Zombies is a great deck, but it's just too inflexible for me. I like to be able to make more decisions on a turn-to-turn basis than the deck can provide. Powerful, of course, but just not my cup of tea, even though I've tried it so many times.
Next up on my list was Sam Pardee's B/G Delirium build. I love me a Tireless Tracker more than life itself, but playing this deck didn't make me feel good about the strategy. Both Grim Flayer and Tireless Tracker felt outdated, rustic. In days past their abilities had more impact on a game, but right now things are just too fast-paced for their slowed-down country ways. I started talking with Sam Pardee about the deck, and he had similar concerns. He suggested trying Sylvan Advocate, and I did just that. Sylvan Advocate gets around Shock, but also can attack and block against Ramunap Red. This can be crucial when it comes to beating the deck, as you have to put some pressure on them in the early turns so they can't just clog the battlefield up and burn you out.
Sylvan Advocate was just great, but I still disliked the rest of the Delirium package. Oddly enough there wasn't much of it left in the deck, but still Evolving Wilds and Traverse the Ulvenwald felt too slow, not just against Ramunap Red but other decks as well. Traverse the Ulvenwald was great in the mirrors, but outside of that, it often felt like it cost me more games than it won.
Traverse isn't even that good against the "combo" decks of the format like G/R Ramp or U/W God-Pharaoh's Gift. The best way to defeat these decks with B/G Constrictor is to go for the throat and curve out. Traverse the Ulvenwald is too slow to get online against them, and even then searching for creatures rarely will get you out of a bad situation. Relying on spells is the name of the game against them, anyway.
I did some research, and decided to take a stab at the most outdated variant of B/G Constrictor.
- 4 Verdurous Gearhulk
- 4 Walking Ballista
- 2 Catacomb Sifter
- 4 Sylvan Advocate
- 4 Winding Constrictor
- 3 Rishkar, Peema Renegade
Oath of Nissa has become a forgotten card in B/G Constrictor for some time now. This variant was starting to pick up velocity but almost immediately got sideswiped by Four-Color Saheeli. Quickly forgotten, B/G Constrictor had to constantly adapt to defeat the combo energy variants that began to take over Standard. Finally, with Ramunap Red running the show, this variant of B/G could possibly come back. Someone just had to give it a try.
My initial results with the deck were better than anything else I tried, but still nothing special. My brother Corey Baumeister and teammate Seth Manfield both gave the deck a shot, though, and really liked it. Both smashed their first League with the deck and locked it in. I was forced to find something better with limited time, or do the same. In the end I took the path of least resistance and jumped on the bandwagon with them.
The advantages to playing Oath of Nissa are simple. You want to make sure you function as well as possible in the first turns of the game. Traverse the Ulvenwald variants will be better against you, but Oath of Nissa is what you're looking for when faced with matchups like Ramunap Red, Mono-Black Zombies, U/W God-Pharaoh's Gift, and G/R Ramp. That's because Oath of Nissa facilitates early-game consistency and explosive mid-games. B/G Constrictor has many synergies built into it, and finding cards that combo together can help the deck when you get to four to five mana. They're not great in the late-game compared to Traverse the Ulvenwald, but there's no guarantee you're getting that far anyway.
Second, trimming lands right now isn't a good idea. Magic's sped up greatly thanks to eight-set Standard, which means you rarely want to take the time off play Traverse the Ulvenwald for a land. At the same time, you'll want to play Evolving Wilds, which just adds to the deck's sluggishness. Making your first five land drops on time and having them untapped is crucial right now for any deck. Even after sideboarding, there are cards in each deck that may go unanswered. Since we aren't interacting with everything our opponents bring to the table, games won't be slowing down as much as if we were killing all of each other's stuff. Curving is by far the most vital aspect of Standard Magic right now.
We don't even have to single out Traverse the Ulvenwald here. Attune with Aether is played in B/G Energy to help support Longtusk Cub and Glint-Sleeve Siphoner. Both great cards, but not really what I'm looking for against this specific metagame. Maybe if things shift around, but for now I'd rather my creatures have three toughness, or interact well with Nissa, Voice of Zendikar better than these two do. They are just not better enough than current options to justify playing such a low land count.
That's why it's easy for me to suggest this variant of B/G Constrictor moving forward. Normally I'm more timid suggesting a deck to players looking for a well-educated suggestion for their Pro Tour qualifying events. I know this run of RTPQs is very important for many players out there, which is why I don't take articles around this time lightly. I want these words to help players on their journey to the Pro Tour. With all of that said, this is the list I'm suggesting for this weekend.