Decision-Making In Toronto

Ari Lax doesn’t just understand formats well, he’s also incredible at explaining them to the rest of us. Here, he explains his favorite deck in Standard at the moment and what makes it so good!

This past weekend, I reached a point that is now becoming an annual occurrence. I go towards a Grand Prix where I test through all the “real” choices and
hate every one of them, stumble onto some aggro deck that most people assume is the budget deck new players on Magic Online play, realize it’s actually
great, and jam it. Two years ago it was Mono-Red Aggro at Grand Prix Atlantic City, where I lost in top 4 despite beating down with three mana 1/1s and
playing Volcanic Strength. Last year it was Dredge, where I lost my last round to miss Top 8.

And this year it was G/W Megamorphs with Collected Company, derived from the list Bram Snepvangers went 8-2 in Constructed at Pro Tour Dragons of Tarkir with and the list
Antonio Moral De Leon finished in the Top 16 of Grand Prix Krakow with.

The Process

How did I get to playing this deck?

I lost.

A lot.

With everything.

The decks all sucked. Or more accurately, everything was too good, and there weren’t margins to actually play Magic. Clunk out a bit and you would die.
Miss a land drop? Dead. Lose the die roll? No way to recover.

All of the threats hit so hard when you were in position, and everything was so interchangeable from out of position. The normal decks had no real ways to
leverage back position from being behind without your opponent suddenly not doing more things.

The easy way to think about this: On turn 4 on an empty board, your opponent plays a Siege Rhino. If you Siege Rhino back, they can just kill it and attack
for four, putting you back into the same spot you started but down four life. If you play a removal spell, your opponent can just play another threat of
the same caliber because there are so many in the format and you are back in the same position. The removal is all expensive, so you never really get to do
two things in one turn to break this pattern, or it’s super narrow, which often leads to an even worse scenario where you don’t even have the option to
play your removal spell if you have to. See the case of drawing Valorous Stance against Mono-Red or similar.

I needed a deck that could play Magic off of a small number of lands, avoid flood, break serve, and possibly ignore some of the really good threats other
people were playing.

The first deck I found that was capable of this was Atarka Red. Hitting the third land was important enough that my first change was going up one or two
lands from the crazy low twenty that Martin Dang had played, but besides that, it fit a lot of the criteria I was looking for. Hordeling Outburst plus burn
spells is really non-interactive, and a lot of the threats people are playing just look like the same generic road block to flood around to it.

The key word here was most. Courser of Kruphix and Siege Rhino were still huge issues. Abzan is great, and I really didn’t want to lose to it if possible,
especially after Oliver Tomajko’s win at the Open Series in Providence. The matchup wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t great.

So I kept looking. And I remembered that I had lost to this deck when playing… I think Abzan Aggro? All I could remember was thinking two things:

“Wow, all of my cards are so much better than my opponent’s cards!”

“Wow, how did I lose that game?”

The big draw to this deck is Elvish Mystic. This is a card that breaks serve in a very direct manner. If your Elvish Mystic lives on the draw, you are the
one playing the higher impact three-drops first. If your opponent has to kill it on their turn 2, they aren’t playing a threat and you are in position to
be the first one on board.

The fact that both Avatar of the Resolute and Fleecemane Lion are sizeable bodies is huge in this last part. If you get on board first with one of those
cards, it actually matters. They hit for relevant amounts and attack reasonably well into three-drops, so getting into the first threat position is really
easy with them.

Avatar also just has a bunch of abilities for no reason. Reach? Sure, why not! Grows into an even more relevant threat going late? Pushes through Boon
Satyr or Aspect of Hydra damage, even through Elspeth, Sun’s Champion? The last 3/2 for GG they printed had a whole story on it, and it didn’t even
have this much text.

Elvish Mystic also pulls in the Den Protector + Deathmist Raptor pair very well. The problem with aggro decks in this format (and honestly the last one)
has been that it has been really easy to brick their boardstate moving into the mid-game. Mono-Red solves that by playing all of the token generators to
make blocking less profitable and turn the mid-game into a pure downhill race. This deck does it the other way, by playing Raptor as a hard to block
creature and Den Protector to keep doing relevant things later than an aggressive deck should be doing them.

The other big draw is Collected Company, which is one of the few cards in the format that actually lets you do two things in one turn. More accurately, it
is two things in one turn. There is some variance involved, but the majority of the time it’s just great. There are nineteen good hits and another eight
okay ones to hit, which if someone else did the math right on Reddit,
puts you at 64% to hit a great Collected Company (two good hits) and likely around 90% to hit at least a good creature and one of the okay ones, which is
definitely good enough for me. Company alongside Boon Satyr and Den Protector also lets you play a lot of instant speed Magic, which is always great. This
is especially insane against Esper Dragons, where you can expose a small but significant threat force and punish your opponent whenever they are forced to
act on it.

The non-Company spell split might seem random, but they are all conditional cards that serve a purpose. Drawing multiples of any of them could easily be
suboptimal, and when you do want multiples, Den Protector lets you recycle the ones you do draw. Aspect of Hydra is especially brutal there, as Den
Protector lets you double up with it on the same turn and provides a virtually unblockable body to put it on. Do you have any creatures bigger than an
18/17? Didn’t think so.

The only maindeck card I’m unsure of is the Surrak, the Hunt Caller. It’s acceptable, but not great. The only Collected Company sized body I found that I
would want to play over it is the fourth Reverent Hunter, but that card is a liability against Esper Dragons and other removal-heavy decks. High Sentinels
of Arashin was suggested by a Pittsburgh area player who has been working on this deck, but without testing, I wasn’t willing to risk the slot. As I said,
Surrak is at the least acceptable, and Sentinels could have easily been just terrible.

The sideboard I played needs a little bit of work. A lot of the numbers are fundamentally there, but some of the specifics need shifting around. Hornet
Nest in particular underperformed against Mono-Red, but I’m unsure exactly what you want there. You need to be able to break up a swarm of tokens, which is
difficult with just green and white cards.

The Grand Prix

Counting the “play for pride” post-round 15 draw, I ended up finishing 8-4 in matches played, beating four versions of Red Dragons (G/R, Jeskai, Mardu, and
R/W), Esper Dragons, Abzan Megamorph, and Abzan Aggro, while losing to Bant Megamorph with Ajani Steadfast, two Red decks, and Abzan Control.

Highlights and Deck Notes:

-My Esper opponent tried to play Anticipate before untapping for their fourth turn. It wasn’t safe, and they were suddenly facing down ten power. Then game
2, he tapped out for Dragonlord Ojutai when facing down a Deathmist Raptor and an Elvish Mystic. My turn ended with his Ojutai having chump blocked and him
at four life facing down a monstrous Fleecemane Lion, twelve other power, and a Mastery of the Unseen. It still wasn’t safe.

-I got smashed by Ajani Steadfast out of the Bant deck. It’s the real deal in these grindy mirrors, especially when giving Dragonlord Ojutai vigilance.

-At least two opponents forgot about reach on Avatar of the Resolute. It was not good for them.

-The biggest problem cards I’ve encountered are Soulfire Grand Master, Anger of the Gods, and Elspeth, Sun’s Champion. Elspeth when backed by removal and
Siege Rhino can be difficult to break through, while Soulfire Grand Master will grind you out and is hard to race, and Anger is just obviously good against
Deathmist Raptor and aggro in general. The fact that two of these problems are white permanents may mean that you want more Glare of Heresy, which is also
good against some lower tier priorities, like Fleecemane Lion dying before it goes monstrous and Ajani Steadfast.

-Looking at the G/W list Craig Wescoe top 8’ed the Grand Prix with, the G/B lists Brian Kibler posted in his article last week, and the G/U list with Silumgar
Sorcerer that Ian Barber

played at the Starcity Open in
Providence, then again to a RPTQ top 4

, there is a lot of room for innovation in this archetype. Specifically, Kibler’s and Wescoe’s lists featuring Hero’s Downfall and Brimaz, King of Oreskos
imply that the mana in my list may have been conservative. Wescoe’s deck likely solves a lot of the issues I had with Red decks, as Avatar of the Resolute
and Boon Satyr exchange for lifegain in Courser of Kruphix and Seeker of the Way, and big dumb idiot Reverent Hunter becomes Brimaz, which can attack and
block. It’s also even possible a three-color list would work, but I’m not so sure I want to go that far. The problem with that is you get tricked into
playing three-drops like Anafenza, the Foremost that pair very poorly with Elvish Mystic.

-Moving forward, I expect a pretty steep decline in the amount of Esper Dragons and a rise in green creatures. As a result, I expect the big winner to be
Red Dragons. Anger of the Gods is great against Deathmist Raptors, and Dragonlord Atarka is a big breaker in these mirrors. There’s still a little too much
Dromoka’s Command to want to be G/W Devotion, but if I had an event next week, I would look into Ondrej Strasky’s G/R Devotion. I want to also
consider the super spiteful anti-creature R/B Dragons deck
Seth Manfield played early in our Pro Tour testing, but I have real concerns about that deck being able to handle Den Protector and Thoughtseize.

-I had two matches at this Grand Prix where time was a concern, both in Megamorph mirrors. I finished both of them in the allotted timeframe, but my
opponent’s reaction to the situation was drastically different. In one of them my opponent appropriately picked up the pace, and despite a 25-minute game
1, we managed to finish with time still on the clock. The other… not so much.

The exact scenario that occurred was in game 1. With the clock at 32 minutes, a stalled board with five creatures to my six, life totals at my three to his
fifteen, and no cards in hand, my opponent drew his card and tanked. And tanked. And tanked. At around two minutes with no action, I reminded him that he
needed to play at a reasonable pace. He snapped back, “I’m not a pro, you can’t make me make these decisions quickly,” which was probably the most absurd
thing someone has said to me at an event in the last two years.

Everyone gets the same round clock to play with. At the time, we were both X-2 looking to make Day Two, and the draw kills us both. I play my turns quickly
with the intent of not reaching that point, and both myself and the rules expect other people to do the same. Expecting my opponents to match my aggressive
rate of play is definitely unreasonable, but everyone has to be aware that there is a line to how long you have to figure things out and still finish the

I’ve never unintentionally drawn a match at a Grand Prix or Pro Tour, and I intend to keep it that way for a long while.