Brewing With Black And White

Chris Lansdell is looking for new angles for #SCGPHILLY’s Standard Classic! He has a particular legend on his mind, a hero he thinks is too good for the trade binder. See what he’s sleeved up!

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<p>Game Day weekends are just about the only time I get to play local tournaments that cut to Top 8. I try very hard not to miss them, but recently they have done a great job of falling on the same weekend as Grand Prix and other travel commitments. When I realised that I would be home for <i>Oath of the Gatewatch</i> Game Day, I went to work on a brew that would finally get me that sweet, sweet playmat. Somehow I have made it to three Game Day finals and a dozen or so Top 8s without ever sealing the deal.</p>
<p>But what to play? The addition of <i>Oath</i> has not done a great deal to the Standard metagame: Four-Color <a href=Rally is still the best deck, Eldrazi Ramp is even better, and Abzan is still very good. Because I am me and therefore am incapable of playing stock decks, I can’t play any of those. There are plenty of cards I want to try, but as time ticked down the morning of the tournament, I wasn’t going to have enough of it to go deep. My FNM deck was out, having failed spectacularly to win anything except an early drop to go and see Deadpool. Definitely the correct play.

Finding the inspiration for a new brew can be challenging. Reading articles, watching coverage, playing Limited, talking to friends, poring over boxes of bulk rares, and flicking through binders are my main sources, but none of those was doing much for me. Wait, what’s this stack of cards over here? Oh cool, a bunch of rares I forgot about. Hmmm, why aren’t we building around Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet and Ayli, Eternal Pilgrim? Why indeed! I started yanking black and white cards out of various binders and threw together some semblance of a deck.

Sidebar: Organizing

As much as I love brewing, I loathe and detest the physical act of building a deck. As I search for the optimal way to organize my collection, I have cards in seven different binders: Standard staples (sleeved in red KMC Hyper Mattes and in a four-slot binder), Modern staples (same), Standard playables (sleeved in random sleeves in some random binder), commons and uncommons from white to black, commons and uncommons from red to gold, Standard trade binder, Modern/Legacy trade binder. I sleeve the staples and all my decks in the same sleeves to avoid the constant sleeving and resleeving that comes with playing a different deck each week, but it’s still a chore. I am more than open to suggestions for better ways to do this, because I dislike building decks so much right now that I procrastinate like this and end up with a slapdash pile more often than not.

Going Somewhere, Pilgrim?

As I tinkered with the deck I could already tell it was better than my usual last-minute efforts. Aside from just playing a load of good cards, I had actual synergy and a cohesive game plan that matched up well with what a lot of people locally were doing.

I have been dreaming of making Ayli work since she was spoiled. A 2/3 for two with any one of her three abilities would be playable, so it stands to reason that having all three makes her impossible to ignore. As our plan revolves around gaining enough life to turn on her super-Vindicate, we’re going to want to build our deck to suit.

Hidden Dragonslayer both gains us life with its lifelink and keeps big creatures off the battlefield. Main deck Arashin Cleric seems weird, but the relatively high toughness and the enters-the-battlefield trigger both do solid work here. Mastery of the Unseen can gain silly amounts of life, as we know, but it also fills up our side of the battlefield with creatures when we are flooded. Liliana not only has lifelink, she also combos nicely with Ayli’s sacrifice ability, both to flip her and to put creatures in the graveyard to return for more lifegain.

When building the deck, I knew I wanted Eldrazi Displacer to combo with Wingmate Roc, which might be the best white creature in Standard right now. Attacking with the Roc to turn on its own raid ability is very powerful. As I filled out the deck, I realized the other synergies we had to play with: Gideon, Ally of Zendikar can go up, attack, get blinked, and make a 2/2. Blinking a manifested Silkwrap, land, or planeswalker lets it return to the battlefield face up and ready for action. Instant-speed Silkwrap your land? Yes, please. The best blink target, though, is Wall of Resurgence, enabling us to really load up on counters on that Shambling Vent for even more lifegain.

I freely admit that Felidar Sovereign is cute here, perhaps too cute. In my defense, it is a solid card that is hard to attack through and is going to live through all red removal. Will it ever win us the game? Maybe, but it definitely won’t if it’s not in the deck, right? I wish I could tell you why Secure the Wastes is in here, but “it goes well with Sorin, Solemn Visitor and with Gideon emblems” is the best I can do for you.

I seem to be in love with Evolving Wilds / Wastes manabases right now, mainly because they offer a lot more flexibility in two-color-plus-colorless decks than fetchlands do. Playing two Wastes with so many spells requiring two colored mana might be a little risky, but the trade-off of having extra Displacer activations is well worth it.

My first round went almost entirely according to plan. My opponent drew well, including a triple Siege Rhino draw in Game 1, but I was able to keep him back while building up my life total. Attacking would not win the race because of my lifelink creatures, so he was left staring at my battlefield with no viable way through. From there, things would swiftly go downhill.

Sidebar: Tilt

Magic: The Gathering is a card game, and as such is subject to randomness. You can call it luck, the heart of the cards, even karma. The fact is that variance is going to help you and hurt you in roughly equal amounts over the course of your time playing this game. The idea, as we get better and better, is to minimize the impact that the randomness has on our matches. We make good mulligan decisions, we play cards that help us draw through land clumps, and we make smart choices that play around our opponent drawing straight gas every turn.

We know it won’t always work. Some portion of games in a tournament will be decided by your opponent drawing terribly. Some, you will draw terribly. If you can line your worst draws up with their best ones, so your unwinnable games face their unlosable ones, you’re going to have a good day more often than not.

The key is to remember these things while you’re staring at seven three-drops in hand and two lands on the battlefield. And then you draw a land that enters the battlefield tapped. It can feel like your deck is trolling you when this happens, but in reality it is just variance. I used to get incredibly upset at these games, but I have had some success recently in refusing to call anything “lucky.” If we attribute that characteristic to anyone or anything, we open ourselves up to the concept that some people deserve it more, or are destined to win. That is the best way to Tiltsville.

Results-Oriented Thinking Is Bad, Right?

I would not win another round. My next ten games in order went: opponent nut draw, mana screw, opponent mana screw, mana screw, poor draw, mana screw, opponent nut draw, mana screw, opponent flood, mana screw. Not a single real game of Magic. To say I was disappointed would be to grossly understate the truth of the situation, and not least because the deck felt so good when the games were actual games of Magic.

Results can be a good indicator of the power of a deck, but in this case they are a good indicator that variance exists, that I am not good at mulligan decisions, and that the mana base might be off slightly.

This deck is good. I do not often play the same deck twice, but this one is good and fun enough to make me do that. In looking at the list, it does seem like it lacks a little bit on the top end, and although that seems right, it actually plays out very differently. Were I to play it this weekend, I would cut Secure the Wastes and Felidar Sovereign for a Sunscorch Regent and another Stasis Snare. Yes, it’s possible I love Sunscorch Regent too much.

It also occurs to me that we could turn this list into an Esper one without much effort, giving us access to two of my favorite cards in Fathom Feeder and Ojutai’s Command. Oh, and I guess we can play Reflector Mage too, if you insist. It might be good with Eldrazi Displacer. I’m not sure.

I would dearly love to squeeze something like Bloodsoaked Champion in here to really take advantage of Ayli’s lifegain, but it doesn’t fit at all. Risen Executioner is a possibility, however. Hmm, good synergy with Kalitas and Liliana as well! Man, I am so good at this game (I am not good at this game)!

What Else Can a Pilgrim Do?

We’ve seen Ayli pop up already in the Four-Color Rally lists that are pretty much universally acclaimed as the best deck in Standard. She’s pretty darn good there, and she is the key to the engine here. I remain convinced that she has plenty of utility elsewhere, too.

Deathmist Raptor recursion is one possibility. Looping Den Protectors allows you to sacrifice the Raptors each turn for fun and profit. Hangarback Walker (remember that card? Reflector Mage has a lot to answer for…) is best friends with Ayli, both as protection from exile or bounce effects and as token fodder to feed to the Pilgrim.

Can we also find a way to slot her into an Abzan Assault Formation deck? Yes, I can hear your jank alarms going off from here, but a deck that runs Siege Rhino can’t be that bad just by association. Sidisi’s Pet isn’t that bad (it actually is) and we also get to do five damage with Tasigur and Sylvan Advocate. There we go. Broke it.

In Modern she works very well with the new Painter’s Servant / Teysa, Orzhov Scion combo, gaining us as much life as we have mana. I was already very interested in trying out http://www.starcitygames.com/events/coverage/abzan_company_with_eric_hawkin.html target=new>this deck from #SCGLOU (bless you Eric Hawkins), and if we can shoehorn Ayli in there, it gets even more attractive to me. After we have removed all the eligible creatures from their side of the battlefield, we do still need a way to win. Gaining all the life and then slowly removing the rest of their permanents is a perfectly reasonable way to do that, I would say.

We might not know how to pronounce her name, but hopefully now we have some idea of how we want to use her. Ayli is way too good to stay in your binder. As always, thanks for stopping by, and until next time…

Brew On!

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