Let’s get right into it.
Chris VanMeter did an excellent job with tuning, playing, and mastering the heavyweight version of G/R Aggro a couple of weeks back in Syracuse. We did a
lot of talking about the deck the week prior, and we both agreed that the deck was absolutely insane. He proved that by completely dominating any and all
who stood in his way.
I’m on the sidelines, frantically jotting notes down on my phone. Anything you could think of was on there, from the small holes that were in the deck’s
massive stature to how different decks were sideboarding against us. I wanted to know every single thing I could about our weapon of choice.
Every single thing.
I was doing it because I needed to figure out how to make it better. I needed to understand what everyone else was trying to do to make sure I could stay
at exactly the right distance ahead. If you aren’t ahead enough, you risk getting hit with even-level playing field stuff. If you’re too far ahead, you
risk not being prepared for what everyone is doing this week. I’m very prone to confusing myself when it comes to keeping the right distance. I would oft
think that I need to scale back a bit because I’m further than I actually am, resulting in a regression. The opposite also occurs, where I feel like I’m
too far behind, and wind up jumping ahead further than I need to.
I used to be very afraid of putting out my ambitious ideas and getting ridiculed, shunned, or verbally and/or socially punished for the way I view the
game. But at some point, I don’t really know when, I decided that Magic is way too awesome of a game to deal with anything that doesn’t involve my view on
it. The lines of right and wrong are more blurred than any other outlet I’ve ever experienced, and they can change with every single little action you
take, from a card you draw, to a card you play in your deck, to how you sit in your seat during a match, to how many times you blink when you see a card. I
decided that if I’m going to get the most out of my version of Magic, then I need to surround myself with people who want me to have that. If winning was
the only thing that kept me happy in Magic, then I would’ve quit days after I started.
I’ve always had this thing where I’d never want to talk to the Roanoke crew. Contrary to popular belief, I actually get extremely nervous and anxious when
around people I respect greatly, so when we got more involved with the tournament, I got more and more nervous and worried. What if I’m just wrong about
everything I suggested? What if I’m never trusted again? Blah blah blah…
None of that ever mattered though.
They want to see each other succeed just as much I want to see them succeed. They consistently do well because they care about each other’s success as much
as they do the cards in their 75.
You simply can’t find that nowadays.
I’m not trying to claim credit for all the hard work that Chris has done. It was him that put in the legwork, both in the tournament and out, but his win
had much more of an impact on me than I think I’ll even realize. I’m much more confident in doing my own thing now. I’m much more resistant to the nerves
that go into what others take for granted. If you offered me to go back and claim his spot in the proverbial winner’s circle, I’d decline it every time.
It was that important to me.
I wanted to carry this confidence for Spring States, and I knew that Pro Tour coverage would take place smack in the middle of the afternoon on Friday, so
my goal didn’t involve anything too crazy. I knew I was going to play either G/R Aggro again or Abzan Aggro. The Open Series in Syracuse left me to believe
that the matchup wasn’t great, but numerous people have told me the matchup was better than I thought. I did like a lot of what Abzan Aggro was doing
anyway, but I didn’t think any of the five-drops were that good.
This was what I had in mind:
- 4 Fleecemane Lion
- 4 Heir of the Wilds
- 3 Anafenza, the Foremost
- 4 Rakshasa Deathdealer
- 4 Siege Rhino
- 4 Warden of the First Tree
- 1 Mardu Strike Leader
- 2 Anafenza, Kin-Tree Spirit
Collected Company was on my radar, but I wasn’t really a big fan of what the other colors had to offer. Anafenza, Kin-Tree Spirit was pretty attractive in
Abzan Aggro, but sustaining it was incredibly tough. The tension between multiple Collected Company is also a thing, so keeping it to a number where you’ll
see it every so often but you don’t impede on your other action is important. Siege Rhino is too strong not to play, so it’s still fine to play both cards
in the same shell.
I wasn’t too high on the G/R matchup, however. It’s weird because of what I previously said, but the Mana Confluences hurt a lot when you’re being
pressured by Dragons. The Mono-Red matchup is kind of okay, but again, Mana Confluence causes things to go south super quick. I just didn’t have enough
information on what to do about it, so I ended up shelving it for the time being.
The next deck I had lined up was a potential evolution of G/R Aggro. It utilized the most powerful Dragons in the colors and kept the same shell intact.
- 4 Elvish Mystic
- 4 Sylvan Caryatid
- 4 Stormbreath Dragon
- 4 Courser of Kruphix
- 2 Dromoka, the Eternal
- 1 Dragonlord Atarka
- 4 Thunderbreak Regent
- 1 Dragonlord Dromoka
The white splash seemed strong because Dromoka’s Command was obviously insane. Having Dromoka, the Eternal was pretty nice too since it didn’t really
affect the splash all that much. Haven of the Spirit Dragon helps cast it along with Dragonlord Dromoka, and your sideboard greatly improves. I wasn’t sure
if the splash actually helped as much as I thought. It’s not exactly the most elegant thing to do, and I certainly feel that the third color barely holds
together, but I’ll probably explore this a bit more later. I wish I had more information to go with because it definitely looks sweet to build upon.
Lastly, there was a more ambitious splash for G/R.
- 3 Sylvan Caryatid
- 4 Stormbreath Dragon
- 4 Courser of Kruphix
- 4 Satyr Wayfinder
- 1 Kolaghan, the Storm's Fury
- 2 Sidisi, Undead Vizier
- 2 Dragonlord Atarka
- 4 Thunderbreak Regent
- 1 Dragonlord Kolaghan
“Evil Dragons,” as I’d like to call it, is yet another direction we can take things. Thoughtseize gives you a nice way of making holes in your opponent’s
reactive gameplan. That, coupled with the punishing power of Dragonlord Kolaghan, make for a very potent midgame that specifically preys on Abzan Control.
For the Modern portion, I was pretty set on playing Burn, but I definitely had other decks on my radar.
One of the biggest things to keep in mind about Modern is that it’s incredibly tough to gain an edge in the matchup department. You will do much better if
you just pick a deck or range of decks and stick with that. I was super confident in the nuances of a fair range of decks, mostly because I spent a long
time working on them, but some of these stood out as possibilities.
W/B Tokens was one of my first Modern decks, so I’m always keeping an eye on how to improve it. The midrange matchups are great, but you struggle a lot
against Splinter Twin. Auriok Champion helps this problem a heck of a lot, but having a decent clock is troubling. Pack Rat does a decent job of applying
pressure, but you don’t want too many because it’s very easy to get outclassed. This isn’t Standard where everything has a snowball effect. Although Pack
Rat is pretty nice with Intangible Virtue, Bitterblossom is often more impactful, so the split is in Bitterblossom’s favor. There also aren’t very many
cheap sweepers nowadays, so the need to be more resilient isn’t as big a deal (another thing that Auriok Champion helps with).
The problem with the deck is that your creatures all suck by themselves, and they need a ton of help to really get going. Despite boasting great Affinity
and Abzan matchups, you can easily fall short because of your own consistency issues while also lacking a fallback card to keep them busy. Also, if you do
happen to run into Pyroclasm, Whipflare, or Anger of the Gods, then you’re going to struggle to regain traction. If the format slows down by about a half a
turn, then I’ll probably pull the trigger on it.
And finally, there’s this masterpiece.
- 1 Grim Lavamancer
- 2 Dark Confidant
- 3 Tidehollow Sculler
- 1 Olivia Voldaren
- 2 Falkenrath Aristocrat
- 1 Thundermaw Hellkite
- 1 Gurmag Angler
This one is definitely out of left field, but Kolaghan’s Command is that good. It’s really hard to explain the card choices, so let’s just say
that this is very much a Lowry deck. We aren’t really trying to do something absurdly powerful, but we are trying to prey on the decks that do absurdly
powerful things. The forgotten Falkenrath Aristocrat makes its appearance here because of how difficult it is for B/G/x decks to answer outside of
Lingering Souls. Olivia Voldaren is as powerful as ever, and the color combination in general boasts the largest suite of removal in the format. This is
definitely one of my leading candidates for decks I want to work on in the future, but it’s going to need a whole lot of time and work before I take it to
a large event.
With the Pro Tour coming to a close, it’s pretty clear that there really is no best deck in Standard, but every deck has its own identity. Modern is in a
similar spot, and there is still so much unexplored space. I’m excited to see how Providence will turn out!
How has the Pro Tour influenced your view on Standard?