After Dublin, After Milwaukee

Adrian Sullivan talks about how he made the Top 4 of SCG Standard Open: Milwaukee with R/W Aggro and a couple other decks to consider for SCG Standard Open: Seattle this weekend.

To begin, I want to thank everyone that gave me some congratulations about my finish at the StarCityGames.com Standard Open in Milwaukee last weekend. It’s not like it was being in Dublin, but still it was gratifying to be slinging the red spells. There is always something nice about going to a tournament and having a really well-honed weapon in your hands.

For me, this meant a deck designed by Adam Jansen. Jansen has gotten a lot more notice as of late, but old-school Chicago players will always remember Adam for his years of innovative deckbuilding, going way back to his Top 8 finish in the Junior Division of Pro Tour Dallas in 1996. Chicago players have a long history with red decks, as anyone who was playing in the ’90s will tell you. Even now Chicago-land has more red players than other areas typically have.

When I looked at the various lists from Dublin, one of the things I was struck by was how little there was in the way of surprises there. One of the things I was pretty pleased by about the article I wrote last week was how relevant it ended up seeming after both the Pro Tour and SCG Standard Open: Milwaukee were over. All of the decks I talked about in that article are decks that I think are a real factor to bring to any Standard tournament. Even my take on Mono-Blue Devotion, which was quite rough and in need of honing, was certainly worth thinking about as a proto-PT deck.

The one deck I didn’t talk about that I thought was a real deck for the weekend was the deck that I played; it just didn’t feel reasonable to talk about the deck with Adam Jansen and Ronny Serio playing it at the Pro Tour. Here is my build of the deck:

This is very close to the list that Adam and Ronny played (72 of 75) and is basically the maindeck that Adam started with before I got involved in helping him test it. Adam’s list before SCG Standard Open: Worcester was a Fanatic of Mogis deck, basically this maindeck minus four Stormbreath Dragons and one Mountain and plus one Boros Charm and four Fanatic of Mogises.

That list was a real monster and basically put the kibosh on everything I threw at it, including my early version of Mono-Blue Devotion, a B/W Midrange deck, and many other decks. One of the issues of the deck though as the early SCG events began to influence testing was that Fanatic of Mogis was just looking worse and worse and was basically not that great against other red decks.

It wasn’t that it was terrible exactly. I played a ton of matches with the deck against other red decks at SCG Open Series: Cleveland in between rounds, and it could make games turn around, especially when you were hiding behind a Boros Reckoner. Even so, however, it wasn’t great and was definitely one of the worst cards in the deck.

By the time the Pro Tour date was knocking on the doorstep, Fanatic of Mogis had been set aside for Stormbreath Dragon largely because it was able to pull the same kind of damage tricks as Fanatic but even more consistently. Unfortunately, against red this was still a bit problematic, as five mana is just an incredible amount of mana and many times games would already be over one way or another by then.

At first I was resistant to the change to Stormbreath Dragon, mostly because I’d been so impressed by Fanatic, but really it all boiled down to something simple—they largely acted like the same card in most matchups, with Stormbreath Dragon being better against controlling decks and Fanatic of Mogis being better against the aggressive decks, but playing Stormbreath Dragon in the main could free three or four slots in the sideboard.

Once I was on board, I was struck by the way the deck played out much like a deck I played in Standard for a great portion of the last year with a lot of success, a red-based aggro deck designed by Ronny Serio and me with much the same game plan: start small, go big.

There is something really powerful about this kind of plan actually. The early aggression sets the opponent on their heels and the follow-up just sort of knocks them out. Once I started looking at the new deck as an extension of what Ronny and I had been working on for forever, it was easy to get on board. I only really had one "real" event that I had the opportunity to play it at last year when it was at its prime, but the concept of it was very informative for how I wanted the other deck to play.

Looking at the deck, you can probably see the ways in which the deck that I played at #SCGMKE is reminiscent of this one. One of the things that I knew that I wanted to be able to do was to shift into a much more controlling deck against the right opponents so that if games went long I wouldn’t be at the mercy of my opponent.

In a way, the existence of Stormbreath Dragon alone nearly takes on that role in the current deck. But it can’t really do it alone. Chandra, Pyromaster makes up the other half of the equation, and I’ve had games go to a surprisingly deep stage of the game and still be under control. In one absolutely insane game versus W/G Aggro, my opponent resolved first one and then after it was dispatched a second Trostani, building their life total to over 30 while I was stuck at five life, and still I managed to overcome them, largely on the back of the incredibly resilient late-game potential of the deck.

At the same time, if you want to be aggressive, there are plenty of avenues to do so. You don’t have the explosive draw of the Burning-Tree Emissary builds, but you are still an eight one-drop deck that can follow up with a ton of haste and burn. Boros Charm plays an incredible role here in helping to just end games.

I ended up in fourth place at SCG Standard Open: Milwaukee with the deck (9-2-1), and Adam Jansen finished 7-2-1 with it at Pro Tour Theros. Both he and I thought the deck played out incredibly smoothly, and I know that it was very rare that I felt like I wasn’t in a match.

My two losses were against Mono-Blue Devotion and in the semifinals against a much smaller Mono-Red Aggro list. Here is the path I took to the Top 4:

Round 1: W 2-0 vs. Mono-Red Aggro (Mogis build) [1-0]
Round 2: W 2-0 vs. Esper Control [2-0]
Round 3: L 1-2 vs. Mono-Blue Devotion [2-1]
Round 4: W 2-0 vs. B/R/W Midrange [3-1]
Round 5: W 2-0 vs. W/G Aggro [4-1]
Round 6: W 2-1 vs. U/W Control with Master of Waves [5-1]
Round 7: W 2-0 vs. Esper Control [6-1]
Round 8: W 2-1 vs. Junk Midrange [7-1]
Round 9: ID w. Jonathan Brostoff playing B/W Midrange (below) [7-1-1]
Round 10: W 2-1 vs. U/W Control [8-1-1]
Top 8: W 2-1 vs. B/R/W Midrange [9-1-1]
Top 4: L 0-2 vs. Mono-Red Aggro (Mogis build) [9-2-1]

Overall, 19-8 in games, which feels pretty outstanding despite the fact that the last match ended quite sadly.

Now, some of you will look at round 9 and rightly wonder why on earth I drew, even with a friend. After all, it is absolutely the case that if you care about the collective finish of you and your friend, a draw is a losing proposition—it is only worth two match points collectively as opposed to three for a win. That being said, as we debated what we wanted to have happen, we realized this was the case—to make Top 8, we’d have to win either this round or the next round, and if we had a win, the other match could be a draw. Did we want to play against each other in that match or play against someone else at the top tables?

We chose the random opponent.

It’s worth noting that I think this is only a reasonable course of action in the second-to-last round and only if your tiebreakers are sufficient that you won’t end up being at real risk of actually being passed up and missing Top 8. You also have to acknowledge that you’re trading in the guarantee that one of you will make Top 8 with a chance for both of you to make it, one of you to make it, or neither of you to make it.

Jonathan was playing the B/W Midrange deck that I worked on with Collin La Fleur, a former Wisconsin State Champion who recently departed for Oregon. I thought Collin’s list was quite exciting and worked on it quite a bit, making only a few nudges here and there before arriving at this list, which I shared last week.

Of course, Jonathan decided to go with the blue-free version of the list (bawk bawk, Jonathan) since he’d had so much success with it at the Illinois State Championship. I tried to talk him into the touch of blue, but here is what he went with at #SCGMKE, finishing in nineteenth place (tied for Top 16):

One of the great reasons to choose to play a deck like this at an upcoming Standard event is that it has a really great matchup versus the Mono-Blue Devotion lists that are out there. The biggest part of it is that you can simply tear apart their relevant creatures. In the normal world of Magic, when you aren’t on day 3 of a Pro Tour, you only play best of three as opposed to best of five, so the sideboard answers that can help the Mono-Blue Devotion lists compete with a strong package of removal are far less likely to save the day. For the same reason that these decks can struggle against Supreme Verdict, they also struggle against black-based removal. Jonathan, for his part, deftly defeated the "blue menace" in his clashes with it.

After talking with Jonathan, I’m still interested in this deck playing blue. Adding in some of the lessons from Pro Tour Theros (particularly Kentarou Yamamoto’s deck), I’m still very pumped about the deck, but I’d run it like this currently:

Overall, this is just a general dropping down of the curve, albeit at the cost of Gray Merchant, but I don’t mind making that small sacrifice. The introduction of a single Pack Rat is actually pretty awesome and taken directly from Yamamoto. I had had a Pack Rat in a deck last year as a sideboard card in an unwieldy B/U Control deck, and I was quite impressed by it. I like the way it can serve a double role as threat and answer depending on what you’re dealing with on the other side of the board.

I actually just really like this deck when you’re dealing with anything that isn’t lightning fast. You have all of the tools you need to put up a fight against anything that gives you the time. Unfortunately, unlike something like the deck piloted by Paul Rietzl and Patrick Chapin, this also means that you’re often giving your opponent a great deal of time as well, but fortunately this deck is better equipped to play a long game than most.

I’m heading down to Grand Prix Louisville to slug it out again this weekend. Will I see you there? What will you be playing?

Until next week,

Adrian L. Sullivan

@AdrianLSullivan on Twitter

Bonus Decklist Section!

Here is my current version of "Blue Elemental Blast" (or Mono-Blue Devotion if you prefer):