Last week and this week are both Pro Tour Qualifier (PTQ) weeks for me. The grueling battle of "what to play" struck me like never before because it's time to take one of these down and simply play the deck that gives me the best chance.
This time around, many hours were spent testing everything from G/R Aggro, Hexblade, Wolf Run Ramp, Human Aggro variants, Birthing Pod variants, and a few others. The purpose of trying everything in the realm of decks I like to play was to see if there was a clear edge for the brand new format, because more seems to be changing than we think.
Friday I began by playing around with a ton of ideas, from completely rogue back to G/R Aggro which there is familiarity with. Friday Night Magic was even a part of the testing; in fact, I brought a G/R Infect combo deck that underperformed but overperformed in testing before Friday Night Magic. Eventually I dropped it after some additional testing and results and started looking for the next deck.
I tried to think of what the best cards seemed to be, and my conclusion always kept going back to Blade Splicer. And when you are using Blade Splicer, you should also be using Restoration Angel. In fact, I still think there is something here, but I can't quite pinpoint why I'm not sold:
Perhaps this list should be geared towards a more midrange style of play like Ken Bearl did not too long ago, but I still feel like being aggressive in a deck full of Blade Splicers and Blade Splicer rebuys is where you want to be. This style of deck also makes Venser's second ability useful, which is rare.
Besides being uncomfortable with the build for Sunday's PTQ, I just felt like there may be something better, so onwards I went to the next deck.
More and more decks were tested (really, I spent a ton of time on it), and I remembered Michael Hetrick doing well with RUG Pod so the decision was made (or so I thought). Hetrick has had some good success with the deck, and I trust him as a grinder and player. Also, RUG Pod is a deck that I have some familiarity with, so I played a few games and figured that was what I'd play in the PTQ.
While I was playing my last game before bed, Tacks from Magic Online pointed out to me that a B/W/R Unburial Rites deck won a tournament with over 200 players. I saw the list and was sold. But it looked slightly too complicated to play without practice, so I tested some more. The deck felt amazing.
- 1 Sun Titan
- 1 Thundermaw Hellkite
- 3 Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite
- 2 Gisela, Blade of Goldnight
- 3 Griselbrand
Besides the deck's sideboard geared too heavily towards Zombies in my opinion, I only made a few changes. Gisela felt underwhelming when Wurmcoil Engine was doing similar things but had a chance to live much easier. So I cut Gisela, Sun Titan, and Thundermaw Hellkite (M13 not legal on Magic Online) and added three Wurmcoil Engines and the fourth Lingering Souls. I also made a few sideboard changes, but I'd continue to make more; it still doesn't feel quite right. The changes overall felt good though.
Of course, some misplays and bad luck took ahold of me during the PTQ next day, but it definitely was not the list. I dropped at 3-2 in a field of 203 players.
With the Magic Online PTQ behind me and some frustrating decisions on both deck choice and my play skill, I'll be going through the agony of choosing the right list for next weekend's paper PTQ. The StarCityGames.com Standard Open results from this past weekend in St. Louis will definitely help me make my decision. It appears that green-based aggro decks are as popular as they were right before the release of M13. Rancor really pushed the strategy to the max, so now I have to decide whether I should join the field or try to beat the field. Of course, many think Delver is still the best deck, and you can never count it out.
So what options does that leave me with? Everything from U/W Midrange, G/R Aggro, Frites, Zombies, Pod variants, and maybe even Tempered Steel. This week I'm not looking for the best deck; I'm looking for the deck that gives me the best chance to take down the PTQ. The deck needs to be able to beat random decks early and meta decks late.
The idea here is much the same as CFB's Worlds list, which I'm still fairly fond of. The list doesn't use any M13 cards unless I'm missing something, but the Mirran Crusader out of the sideboard is really strong against the mass amounts of green-based aggro decks. Hero of Bladehold is a card that whenever I see it hit the battlefield unanswered, it almost always feels like game over.
Running nineteen lands is a little less than ideal; however, the Gitaxian Probes help filter that out a little and we still have Mox Opal. This list needs testing against the field, but this is perhaps my first stop.
There's a wealth of knowledge already after week one with M13 to ponder over so I won't be setting in stone what I'm going to play this weekend just yet. Nonetheless, I'd like to find something early so that I can test it versus good players and good decks as much as possible in my spare time this week.
Bad deck choices are something I need to improve on, and choosing Tempered Steel may be an awful decision. That said, I know the cards that I want in my 75, and they include any mix of the following:
There are others I'd like to play as well, but the point is that these seem like the strongest cards in the format. Finding the right mix to play together in a deck is a difficult decision and one that I really want to figure out as soon as possible.
In fact, many of these cards exist in W/R Humans, which placed 12th this past weekend at the SCG Standard Open in St. Louis.
- 3 Alabaster Mage
- 4 Champion of the Parish
- 2 Doomed Traveler
- 2 Fiend Hunter
- 3 Hero of Bladehold
- 3 Lightning Mauler
- 3 Mirran Crusader
- 1 Riders of Gavony
- 3 Silverblade Paladin
- 2 Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
This is a deck that looks really appealing to me as I love red removal right now in addition to some of the powerful Humans. After playing with Slayers' Stronghold, I'm sold on that as a great land too. Without playing the list above, here's how I'd build it to begin with.
- 4 Champion of the Parish
- 2 Doomed Traveler
- 2 Fiend Hunter
- 4 Hero of Bladehold
- 4 Lightning Mauler
- 4 Mirran Crusader
The idea of W/R Aggro has always looked appealing to me, and it's possible that the breakout variant is right around the corner. The changes in my list are guesswork right now, but Ajani, Caller of the Pride makes you a little less susceptible to blowouts in the form of board sweepers. He also acts as double strike similar to the card he replaced: Silverblade Paladin. Mirran Crusader just feels stronger right now against all the popular green decks, and he is even harder to kill with an Honor of the Pure out. Doomed Traveler is mostly underwhelming, but Ajani and Honor of the Pure actually make him a little more playable, plus you always want to have fast starts with this deck.
W/R Humans is probably the most exciting deck in an archetype I'm very comfortable with. All of my thought processes about deck choice this week will definitely be influenced by PV's most recent article about professional playtesting. This was perhaps one of the most useful articles for me personally in quite a while.
Winning a PTQ is important to me as a deckbuilder and for personal achievement. The point of this article wasn't to ramble on about my week, but to offer insight into a PTQ grinder's thought process when choosing a deck to play, whether right or wrong. Hopefully you can take something from this article when preparing for your next PTQ. Don't settle for what others think is the best or what won last week; look at all your options and get a feel for what the best option is for you. Without an actual team it will take a lot more testing, so be prepared with a deck early and know your matchups. At least that's my plan this week.
What do you think I should play?