Black Magic – Pro Tour: San Diego *24th*

SCG Open Richmond!

Tuesday, February 23rd – Sam Black set off for Pro Tour: San Diego feeling confident, focused, and well prepared. Armed with an excellent deck from Zvi Mowshowitz, and some great Limited skills, he posted an excellent finish, one that ranks as a personal Pro Tour best. He tells his tale today… [Editor’s Note – Patrick is experiencing travel difficulties, and will be here tomorrow!]

During Grand Prix: Oakland, Gaudenis emailed me to tell me he had decided that he was playing a Bant deck Zvi designed at the Pro Tour, and asked me about getting cards together. The list looked pretty unusual at first, sporting such unusual hits as three Rampaging Baloths, but after talking him about it for awhile, the list made a lot of sense. I asked how it dealt with various problems I expected in the format, and he always had a good answer, so I decided to try it as well. I played a few sets of games against Jund and UWR Control, and the deck felt great. The list we ended up with, which is very close to the first list he sent me, was:

30 creatures, 27 lands, and 3 enchantments. Only permanents in the maindeck. I knew that I didn’t like too much removal in Knight of the Reliquary decks, because their creatures are generally better than other creatures, and it’s better to try to run the opponent out of removal by having enough threats. This build takes advantage of Exalted to make sure that your creatures are always better so that you don’t need to kill any creature they have, with few exceptions, like Cunning Sparkmage with Basilisk Collar (which I had tried to build a deck around, but I didn’t think anyone else would actually play that at the PT). I also knew that I liked playing a higher land count than people had been playing in Knight of the Reliquary decks previously. Zvi’s ability to take advantage of the new man lands to support an unreasonably high threat density and mana count was what really impressed me about the deck.

12 of the 30 creatures are really just mana sources (and Knight of the Reliquary also functionally taps for mana, but that’s not his primary purpose), so there are only 18 real threats, but with so much mana, activating the man lands becomes a very realistic part of the game plan, and that gives you 7 more real threats, for a total of 25 creatures with 3 or more power. That’s a lot of threats the opponent needs to deal with.

When the whole deck is creatures, wrath effects become a significant concern, but there’s no better solution than having 7 man lands to live through it, not to mention Thornling and Finest Hour. I was concerned about beating Jund, of course, but they assured me the matchup was favorable, which was also my conclusion from testing. You just have so many threats that they often run out of removal. You can lose to their draws that beat anyone – when they curve into Bloodbraid Elf and hit the right cascade spell – but most of the time it just doesn’t work out for them.

The sideboard is also very exciting. I didn’t want to maindeck Jace, the Mind Sculptor, because I feel like the card is generally pretty weak against Jund. Also, when you have no answers, it’s important to be aggressive enough that the opponent can’t assemble some combination of cards that you can’t deal with. However, Jace is very good against decks that don’t have a great way to attack it, particularly most other Jace decks and other Knight decks.

Mind Control was there primarily to deal with the Malakir Bloodwitch problem, which means that it comes it against Jund, but it’s also excellent against any midrange creature deck.

Bant Charm is a way to have an answer to all kinds of problems in very few sideboard slots. It deals with Howling Mine, Basilisk Collar, Eldrazi Monument, Fogs, and any creature you care about other than Malakir Bloodwitch. The primary reason they’re not maindeck is that it would hurt your Jund and Control matchups.

Negate is important for fighting control and combo decks to give the deck a little play.

Admonition Angel should win any game it’s cast against decks that don’t have removal, like Mono Green, and it has a few corner applications. It was probably the least impressive sideboard card for me.

Day of Judgment was a catch all in case anyone tried playing allies or something unexpected that has random applications in the mirror and against White Weenie, Mono Green, and similar decks.

As for the maindeck, understanding that the plan is to play game-winning threats as fast possible, all the mana producers and Baneslayer Angel should be fairly obvious.

Rafiq was extremely impressive, giving the deck a lot of very explosive draws, and regularly killing opponents who thought they had a little time. It’s also excellent for getting through Wall of Denial.

Rhox War Monk isn’t all that impressive, but it’s a solid body that works well with things to make it bigger and it’s necessary for the curve. It’s the card from the main that I’d be most willing to play around with.

Finest Hour was amazing, since very few ways to remove it from play are played, and it makes any creature win the game so quickly. It’s very good against chump blockers and great with Celestial Colonnade. It lets you put a very relevant card on the table that isn’t affected by Day of Judgment.

Thornling was a late addition over the third Rampaging Baloths due to the fact that he’s amazing against Jund, generally great with Exalted, and fits well in the curve compared to just having Baloths.

Rampaging Baloths overpower almost anything if they stay in play, and Trample is one of the best possible abilities for this deck.

Despite the fact that I discovered fairly early in my testing that I liked Knight of the Reliquary more than Jace, the Mind Sculptor in this format, I wouldn’t have predicted that I’d be playing a Bant deck with 60 permanents before I saw this list, but I was extremely happy with it. Between that and an excellent record in practice drafts, I felt better going into this Pro Tour than I ever have before. Gaudenis, Zvi, and Alan Comer where playing the exact same 75.

In the first round I played against a Naya Ramp deck with Wild Nacatl, Scute Mob, Rampant Growth, Harrow, Siege-Gang Commander, Earthquake, and Martial Coup. In game 2 I drew and played Mind Control on his Baneslayer Angel, two turns in a row, the turn after he cast it. That was the only game I lost in the match, as he drew Martial Coup after the second one, and he had a Martial’s Anthem in play, so that gave him 14 power to my empty board.

In round 2 I played against a Jund player in his first Pro Tour who made a few mistakes. In game 1 he had a Vampire Nighthawk and I had come out pretty slowly, so he had gone over 20 life, but I played a Rafiq. He had Sprouting Thrinax and played Siege-Gang Commander on his turn, so he’d be able to block Rafiq for awhile. When I attacked, he decided not to chump block with a goblin, instead dropping from 23 to 15 life, and I played a Baneslayer Angel. On his turn he played his 6th land and threw all the goblins at my Baneslayer Angel, then attacked with his Nighthawk, Thrinax, and Commander to put me down to 7 and him up to 17, and passed the turn, joking, “take 17?” Actually, it was more than that, and he took 22 when I played Finest Hour and attacked twice with Rafiq. I had a Sejiri Steppe, so I could have killed him even if he had left a blocker back, but if he had also chump blocked on the previous turn, there’s a good chance I was losing that game.

In the second game he had a Malakir Bloodwitch, which put me down to 7, but I played a Baneslayer Angel and he didn’t have a way to remove it, so he couldn’t attack, since he didn’t have a Bolt or Blightning to finish me off. He played a Bituminous Blast targeting my Baneslayer Angel rather than my Noble Hierarch, which didn’t make sense because I was dead if he hit a Lightning Bolt anyway. I proceeded to use the Noble Hierarch to play another Baneslayer and overpowered him before he was able to find a burn spell to kill me.

Rounds 3 and 4 were both against White Weenie, which is an excellent matchup, since all of their protections are blank and my creatures are bigger than theirs. If they have a very aggressive curve with a few removal spells they can win, but it’s not great for them. I side out Rampaging Baloths for Bant Charms and Finest Hours for Mind Controls, to lower the curve and make the deck a little more defensive, since I should always win a long game anyway. Everything went according to plan, and I was off to a 4-0 start.

Round 5 I played against Nassif playing Blue/White Control. I managed to kill him very quickly in the first game because he couldn’t find a Day of Judgment and I didn’t know he had 3, so I didn’t play around it at all. The next games I wasn’t really able to get anything going through his counterspells and Jaces, and I lost to a lot of Baneslayer Angels. Sideboarding was interesting. I knew I wanted Negate and Jace, and Rhox War Monk is terrible, so I cut all of them and a Baneslayer Angel to make room for the five cards I wanted. Knowing he had Baneslayer Angel, it was tempting to bring in Mind Control, but I wanted to stay aggressive, so I didn’t like bringing in a card that was so reactive. I also considered Bant Charm, which would deal with his Baneslayer Angel and could counter an instant if he didn’t draw an Angel, but that seemed even worse. I’m still not sure what I should have done. I ended up doing nothing, and lost to 3 Baneslayer Angels in game 3.

Limited is probably less interesting, so I’ll keep it brief and general. In both drafts, I drafted U/B. I wanted to be U/W, but I also wanted to be moderately flexible. In the first draft I took Giant Scorpion over Burst Lightning because the pack was all Red and Green, and Red is probably my least favorite color with Worldwake. I got passed a Hideous End and several Surrakar Marauders, so I was happy with my choice. A late Reckless Scholar and Kraken Hatchling let me justify moving into Blue as a second color. The second pack was terrible for me, as all the packs had been extremely deep in Black. I knew that the person who passed me the Hideous End with several other good Black cards had decided to do with Black what I did with Red and pass a lot of it and then stay out. I knew I’d keep getting good cards through him, so I was willing to get cut pack 2. As it turned out, the three people to my left were all also Black. Somehow I didn’t get much Blue out of pack 2 either, but that was mostly just a result of the packs themselves, which was unfortunate. Pack 3 was excellent for me, but I was a little worried, since I passed 3 Sejiri Merfolk and a lot of other good White and Blue cards.

In the second round of the draft, I played against the UW deck with three Sejiri Merfolk and three Marsh Treaders, and couldn’t keep a seven-card hand. I was glad that my bad draws came against the deck I probably couldn’t beat anyway, and won the other two rounds of my draft.

The second draft went almost exactly the same way. I opened Vampire Nighthawk, got passed enough Black cards that there wasn’t a reason to move into another color until a fourth pick Roil Elemental (I know some people don’t like him, and I don’t think he’s amazing, but I like Blue, I like control decks, and I was worried that if I passed him it would be taken as a strong signal, as others like him a lot), but many of them were Vampire Lacerators, which I generally don’t like very much. I didn’t get enough removal, so in the third pack I took two Twitches and a Permafrost Trap to try to get my little guys through, but the player two to my right was also UB, so I didn’t have a lot of the cards I would have liked. I opened Tideforce Elemental, but unfortunately never drew him, but my second pick was between Basilisk Collar and Vapor Snare. I have no idea what could have been taken over the Basilisk Collar, which I took, and it made my deck much better. Again, in pack 3 I felt like I was passing the perfect UW deck, this time passing Celestial Colonnade, 2 Join the Ranks, Hada Freeblade, 2 Excavators, and 2 Shapeshifters when I had already passed two Ondu Clerics in the first pack.

In the third round of the draft I played against that UW deck, which also had Shepherd of the Lost and two Kazandu Blademasters, and though I was able to win game 1, I was not able to get the match. I should have sided out my Lacerators and tried to play entirely to live long enough to win with Roil Elemental, but I didn’t, and It would have been very hard to win anyway.

In the first round back in Constructed, I played against Jund. In the first game, his draw was pretty good, and he just ran over me. In the second game I kept one land and 4 Noble Hierachs. I didn’t draw land for awhile, but I drew Lotus Cobras, which he killed as I played, and then a Bird. He used his Maelstrom Pulse when I played my second Hierarch, so then, having drawn land, I was able to play two more, and eventually get ahead and win the game with some Mind Controls. I barely won the third game after playing a lethal Finest Hour and passing, and he played Bloodbraid Elf and hit Great Sable Stag, one of the only cards in his deck that didn’t win him the game.

I don’t remember what I played against in Round 13, unless it was the match I just described, and then I don’t remember what happened in Round 12. There’s one round I don’t remember here, but I won it.

The next round was against White Weenie, and my draw in game 1 was so bad that he must have decided I was a control deck, because he somehow managed to beat me with Luminarch Ascension in game 3.

In the second to last round I played against Martin Juza playing Junk/Knightfall, and in the first game he drew 2 Knights of the Reliquary and 2 Basilisk Collars, and I didn’t draw any Knights. The game went on for about 40 minutes because I had Rafiq and Finest Hour, and there were a couple of turns where he attacked with Baneslayer Angel rather than equipping Basilisk Collar to it to block and trade with my Baneslayer Angel, which let me gain about 60 extra life. I kept playing because for most of the game I could win if I drew a Rampaging Baloths or Thornling, but I just kept drawing Forests and mana creatures.

For game 2 I brought in almost my entire sideboard. Our plan was: +2 Jace, +3 Bant Charm, +4 Mind Control, +1 Day of Judgment, -1 Thornling, -4 Rhox War Monk, -3 Finest Hour, -2 Rafiq of the Many. If I had realized that his sideboard plan involved Martial Coup, I also should have brought in the three Negates. In game 2 he played Knight of the Reliquary, and I played Jace to bounce it. He replayed it and I took it with Mind Control. He played Baneslayer Angel and I took that too. This meant we might actually have time to play a third game, but it would still be tight.

I really didn’t want the round to go to time, partially because Martin had said we wouldn’t draw, and I really didn’t want to have the conversation that would happen if we ran out of time. I had a Jace, but it was never quite safe to play it, so I played Knight of the Reliquary and 2 Baneslayers instead, then promptly lost to Elsepth plus Martial Coup. If I hadn’t been trying to end the game so quickly, I think there’s a very good chance I could have won.

In the last round I played against Time Sieve, and I figured I’d probably lose game 1 and win the next 2, as Negates and Bant Charms are very good in that matchup. As it happened, I drew Rafiq, my best card against him, and his draw in game 1 was bad, so I managed to win that one. The second game he was able to stop me from killing him by countering his Fog because he had Negate backup, but eventually he ran out of answers, possibly in part due to Thornling’s indestructibility, and had to play Open the Vaults to put 4 blockers into play a draw a few cards and hope I wasn’t playing Sejiri Steppe, since I had Knight of the Reliquary in play… but of course I was, so he died.

All in all, I still think the deck is excellent, particularly because Jund won the tournament, and its matchup against Jund is quite good. I went 7-3 in Constructed, Gaudenis went 9-1, and Zvi and Alan went a combined 5-5. Boss Naya probably put up better numbers, and I think that deck is excellent as well. The last deck that impressed me was Patrick Chapin & Company’s UW Control deck. I think those were the best three decks in the tournament, and despite Jund winning the tournament, I don’t think it’s the best deck anymore. I’m somewhat reluctant to recommend Mythic – Zvi’s name for the deck, in case that was unclear – as a deck choice, because I’m not sure that it has a good matchup against Boss Naya or UW Control, but neither is especially bad either. Game 1 is favorable, and with a fourth Bant Charm in the board (either over an Angel or Day of Judgment) you can fight the Sparkmage/Collar combo that is the only real problem with the matchup. As for the control deck, the fact that they play Tectonic Edge makes the matchup much worse than it would be against another control deck, but it’s still not terrible.

I’m sure you’ll be reading a lot of other opinions about the data from the Pro Tour this week, but that was my experience. I felt like I was well prepared, confident, and understood both formats, and had a good deck for Standard. I had my best PT finish as a result.

Thanks for reading…