Baltimore Of The Same

BBD had a good, not great weekend at #SCGBALT. Find out about his thoughts on Standard, the Pro Tour, and the metagame at large heading into #SCGKC!

Welp, that wasn’t particularly exciting or particularly surprising.  SCG Baltimore was taken down by Mono-Black Devotion in a top 8 featuring a heavy dose of both Mono-Black Devotion as well as Mono-Blue Devotion.  Two decks that have continued to dominate all the way since last fall.  Two decks that will, in all likelihood, continue to dominate until rotation this fall.

As for myself, I succumbed to the beck and call of Pack Rat.  Considering that the SCG Open was so close to the upcoming Standard Pro Tour, I didn’t want to play anything spicy at the Open.  While, most likely, anything spicy I came with would just end up getting beaten by either Mono-Black or Mono-Blue anyway, I still didn’t want to risk having a strong finish and spoiling a deck that I might consider playing at the Pro Tour.

I ended up just playing B/W Midrange.  It’s an archetype I have played in the past a number of times, and I tend to prefer it over Mono-Black Devotion.  I don’t like Gray Merchant of Asphodel that much, and I like Obzedat far more than I should.  There are some downsides to B/W Midrange.  For one, Gray Merchant is actually good at closing some games that Obzedat can’t, and you also just have a lot better mana.

B/W, on the other hand, also has some advantages.  Against decks like Monsters, I’d much rather be playing B/W.  You still have the same Thoughtseize, Rat, Lifebane, Demon, removal draws that Mono-Black can boast, but you also have access to cards like Obzedat and Elspeth that actually do things in the matchup, whereas Gray Merchant of Asphodel usually doesn’t do a whole lot other than drain for a few and chump block.

I also like Sin Collector against quite a few decks, and having access to Sin Collector drastically improves a lot of matchups, such as Burn or any U/W/x control deck.  Likewise, access to cards like Deicide can help significantly against a deck like Mono-Blue Devotion.  I was able to beat Mono-Blue Devotion this weekend and Deicide on Thassa and Deicide on Domestication was pretty instrumental in helping me win post-board games.

This is the list I played.

I ended up going 7-3.

I lost round 2 to UWR Control packing Keranos.  Keranos basically single-handedly beat me in both games.  In game 2, I had a Deicide and knew he had Keranos in hand from an early Thoughtseize.  I decided to Deicide his Detention Sphere on my Lifebane Zombie and try to get aggressive, since I had a Demon as backup in my hand and his hand wasn’t very strong.  He ended up drawing a Supreme Verdict off of Keranos, and thanks to help from Sign in Blood and Thoughtseize, it didn’t take long for Keranos to finish me off.

I feel like I had a shot to win this game if I had just saved my Deicide for Keranos instead and tried to win a longer, grindier game.  At the time it seemed like a judgment call gone wrong, but in retrospect, I am fairly certain that it was just completely wrong period.  Between all the discard spells, all the draw spells, and powerhouses like Obzedat, I think I am favored to win most games, even ones that go long.

I did learn something unique from this round.  My opponent drew a card one turn and just put it in his hand instead of revealing it to Keranos.  We both agreed that he had missed the trigger, but we weren’t sure if he is supposed to reveal the card or not anyway.  We decided to settle it the best way we possibly could think of.  We rolled a dice to randomly determine whether or not he should reveal the card.*

I’m kidding, of course.  That would be the worst way to handle it.  Instead we called a judge and let the judge sort things out.  As I had seen him put the card in his hand and since he realized the mistake right away, we both agreed on which card in his hand was the one he had drawn.
The judge ruling was that he has to reveal the card and that the effect still happens, even though he missed it.  Last Breath was flipped over, I took three damage, and the game continued.  That seemed backwards to me, but it was a judge who I know had a strong handle on the rules, and I was so unbelievably far behind in this game that I thought I couldn’t possibly win anyway, so I just shrugged it off and accepted it.

I should know better than to doubt the Obzedat.  My opponent had six to seven cards in hand to my nothing.  I was at ten life to his twenty, but somehow Obzedat started to pull things together for me.  He cast a few Revelations, but Obzedat continued to plink away as he continued to draw a full house of Supreme Verdicts over Detention Spheres.  The last turn of the game, he revealed a spell and then attacked me with two soldier tokens and a Mutavault.  I was at three life and had Ultimate Price in my hand.  Even if I Price a soldier, I take exact damage and die.  He was at four life, and his hand was a bunch of blanks, as I had Thoughtseized the Last Breath away so he couldn’t gain life with it.

Obzedat could have finished things the next turn if I managed to draw a second Obzedat, a Whip, a Sign in Blood, or a Bile Blight to clear out his tokens in play.  That three damage turned out to matter, and I began to wonder if I had been given a faulty judge ruling.  It seems weird that even if he misses his trigger, and the card touches his hand, that he would still get to fire off Keranos’s ability anyway.

Even weirder was when I found out that it was actually the correct ruling.  Apparently Keranos isn’t a trigger at all, but is required to happen every turn.  Had we not agreed on the card in his hand, then the judge would have just randomized his hand, put a random card on top, and the game would be rewinded back to his draw step.

Keranos is a weird card.

*An aside about dice rolling: In most tournaments, the head judge makes this announcement: “Do not, under any circumstances roll dice to randomly determine the outcome of a match.  Doing so is an offense that will land you a disqualification.”  Well, as it so happens, judges happen to be one of the easiest groups of people to troll.  One of my favorite things to do in tournaments is to loudly announce when I see a judge nearby: “Would you like to roll a dice to randomly determine…” then I pause for dramatic effect as I watch every judge in the nearby county do a double take and run over before I finish with: “… who gets to go first?”  We then high roll to see who gets to be on the play with the added benefit of scaring every judge that side of the Mississippi.

This was taken to the next level at the Legacy Open in Columbus when I was intentionally drawing with Mark Rankin.  As Mark is someone I know, I figured I could run the ol’ Judge gambit with him.  As I saw a judge approaching I loudly exclaimed: “Mark, would you like to roll a dice to randomly determine the outcome of…”  The judge started running over saying “NO! No! No!”  I then finished the sentence with “…who gets to write ‘Intentional Draw’ on the match slip?”  We then proceeded to roll dice, Mark won the dice roll, and he had the honor of writing ID on the slip.

Apparently, the head judge got wind of this taking place and confronted us, along with a squadron of other judges, about rolling dice.  I had to explain that we were just rolling dice to see who got to fill out the match slip.  Thankfully there were plenty of spectators who were able to verify that this was exactly what happened.  The head judge seemed annoyed that his time was wasted, and I was chastised to never do it again.

Considering I actually felt for a second that I could get investigated and maybe DQed from the tournament just for making a joke, I probably won’t ever do it again, but I have to say it was definitely worth it while it lasted.  Randomly determining the outcome of inconsequential things with a dice roll is just pure value.  Trolling judges who are trained to pick up on certain phrases is even more value.

And now back to the less randomized section of this article…

After getting spanked by Keranos, I ended up winning a bunch of rounds in a row against decks mostly consisting of Pack Rat and Thoughtseize.  B/W Midrange is pretty solid against Mono-Black.

In round 9, I faced Andrew Boswell playing G/W Aggro.  I knew what he was on, as I had watched him crush my boy Shaheen Soorani earlier in the tournament.  Game 1 was a really gross game for both of us where he cast all four Selesnya Charms and I cast all four Hero’s Downfalls (most of which killed those Selesnya Charm tokens).  We both sat there passing the turn for a while before I finally established Lifebane Zombie + Whip of Erebos in an attempt to race his two Knight tokens.  Eventually, I was able to draw running white sources to cast the Elspeth that was rotting in my hand all game and despite double monstrous Fleecemane Lion, Elspeth was able to run away with the game.  I knew he couldn’t give trample anymore without Selesnya Charm left in his deck.

Game 2, he just ran me over on the play.  Game 3, I kept Godless Shrine, Swamp, Pack Rat, Bile Blight, Lifebane Zombie, Hero’s Downfall, Hero’s Downfall on the play. It was a perfect hand if I hit a land, but I didn’t, and Voice of Resurgence made my Bile Blight useless.  I found the land the next turn, but at that point I was pretty far behind.  I also opted to go for the “make a bunch of Pack Rat” plan and got destroyed by Banishing Light.  In actuality, I should have just cast a removal spell every turn and hoped he ran out of guys before I ran out of removal spells.  That would have given me the best chance of hitting enough land drops to stick the Blood Baron of Vizkopa that I had drawn.

The last round I played against Jund Monsters and just got run over by Xenagos, the Reveler which is basically par for the course in that matchup.  I’ve done it enough on the Jund side to expect it on the reverse side.

I felt that the list was fairly strong.  I really liked having access to four Sign in Blood and zero Underworld Connections.  Connections is often super clunky, and Sign in Blood was as smooth as blood-red silk.  Sign in Blood was also quite relevant as a damage source in some games, including one game where my opponent had to sacrifice his Erebos to my Desecration Demon so he didn’t take six damage from it and then die to the Sign in Blood he knew I had in my hand.
I think if I had been playing this archetype a lot more in recent months that I would have performed better.  Standard right now is a format with a couple of extremely powerful decks that continue to put up good performances week in and week out.  Mastering those decks (and also waves) can yield strong, consistent results.  As for myself, I have been all over the place in Standard lately, trying out new strategies or coming back to old ones for brief stints.  As a result, I haven’t been able to fully master a singular strategy, and that rust was felt when I made some suboptimal lines that cost me at least one match and potentially others as well.

I also didn’t play any copies of Orzhov Guildgate which was clearly a punt.

For Legacy, I opted to stick with Miracles. I’ve been having good success with the deck and intend on sticking with it until it gets to the point where I don’t think it’s good anymore or I personally am not enjoying myself with it anymore.  It’s been tempting for me to try out other strategies, but at least for the time being, I just want to stick to this deck, master it, and see if the results continue to follow.

I played the exact same 75 that I played to a top 4 finish in the Columbus Legacy Open last month.

I continue to stick by the card choices I have made here.  I’ve played cards like Entreat the Angels and was not impressed in the slightest.  In fact, the event I played Entreat was my worst performance with Miracles, and Entreat was actively bad the majority of the time.  I started sideboarding them out and just relying on Jace to win games and I was winning significantly more that way.  It was extremely clunky for me every time I saw it and trying to resolve Entreat in a relevant time frame in a format that has Spell Pierce, Daze, Flusterstorm, and Force of Will alongside mana denial like Wasteland and Stifle is no easy feat.

Entreat the Angels is admittedly quite good against decks like BUG or Jund, but it is really awful against a lot of other decks.

I vastly prefer the Stoneforge package.  Stoneforge Mystic takes up the same number of slots as Entreat the Angels, but is far less clunky.  A turn 2 Stoneforge Mystic is really strong against a lot of decks the same way a turn 3 Nightveil Specter out of Esper Control is against Mono-Black in Standard.  If they don’t answer it they fall too far behind, but if they do waste a turn to kill it then that also suits your game plan.  That means they aren’t doing other things on their turn and you can untap again with the board in the same configuration as it just was the prior turn which greatly favors a deck like Miracles.  Stoneforge is also relevant as a shuffle effect with Sensei’s Divining Top.

Lastly, Stoneforge is relevant as a Squire.  Since this deck only packs one piece of equipment, and sometimes you draw it, Stoneforge is often on Squire duty.  Secondly, sometimes the top of your deck is very strong, but you still want to increase your board presence, so you’re forced to just run out a Stoneforge Mystic as a Squire and forgo the whole shuffling thing to keep your deck intact.  There’s nothing quite like administering the Squire beatdown.  In fact, I dealt fourteen damage with a single Stoneforge Mystic over the course of a Miracles mirror in the last round of this tournament.  If that’s not good, clean Magic, then I don’t know what possibly could be.

I’ve said it before, and I’m sure I’ll say it again, but Legacy is freaking sweet.  Here are a few highlights of some of the awesome things that happened over the course of the weekend:

My round one opponent played Turn 1 Garruk Wildspeaker against me in game 1.  Let’s just say he didn’t waste a lot of time messing around before just getting right into the meat of things.  It involved four Kobolds, a Gaea’s Cradle, and a Garruk Wildspeaker.

Thankfully, I was on the play, and Gaea’s Cradle was his only land, so he had to keep untapping my lands with Garruk.  I got to make plays like “Turn 2 Counterbalance, and also activate Top end of turn.”  When he went for the Garruk overrun a few turns later, I had three copies of Swords to Plowshares to avoid death.  When he tried a follow-up Garruk Wildspeaker, I was able to reveal a Jace, The Mind Sculptor to counter it with Counterbalance.  Jace.  Greater than all.  Squire into Batterskull was enough to stabilize afterward.

I countered multiple spells over the course of the tournament with Terminus.  An Elves opponent tried to stick Ruric Thar, the Unbowed against me when I was at three life.  I activated Sensei’s Divining Top and showed him the Terminus I was floating to Counterbalance.  A few rounds later, I countered a Terminus in the Miracles mirror by flipping one with Counterbalance.

I didn’t actually Terminus very many people, but I did counter a lot of spells with it.  That is the main reason it’s in the deck after all!  Gotta hit those sixes.

I had a sweet round against Dredge midway through the tournament.  In the first game he mulled to five, and I was able to Force of Will his Breakthrough on turn 1.  That led to a game where I was able to hardcast Batterskull and bounce it back to my hand multiple times over the course of the game to get rid of some Bridges from Below via the Germ token dying.
In game 2, I didn’t see any of the sideboard copies of Rest in Peace I brought in, but I was able to remove three Bridges from Below thanks to flashing in a Vendilion Clique to legend rule the Vendilion Clique I already had in play.  All things told, it was a surprisingly interactive match between Dredge and a deck packing the best graveyard hate spell in the format.

I ended up losing to two different BUG decks and picking up a draw in the Miracles mirror.  Despite losing twice to BUG, I actually don’t think BUG decks are that terrible of a matchup.  Sure, Abrupt Decay is a rough customer, but their clock is usually so abysmal that it is easy to just grind them out with the value Sensei’s Divining Top provides.  Liliana of the Veil is the real enemy, but Council’s Judgment helps a lot in that regard.

Next week is GP Boston-Worcester, and after that the Pro Tour.  I need to acquire at least a top 16 at Boston or a top 75 at the Pro Tour to lock up Gold for next year.  There is an enormous difference between the perks of Gold and Silver, so this ends up being pretty important for me.  Needless to say, I have put a lot of work into Modern, and I intend on putting a lot of work into Limited and Standard in the next two weeks.  I plan to do well at these events.

While Baltimore didn’t do much to showcase new ideas or decks in either Standard or Legacy, I’m hoping the Pro Tour will be different.  At the very least, I’m going to be trying to make it different.  And if I fail…at least Khans of Tarkir is on the horizon.