Dragons, Satyrs, & Hydras

Chris VanMeter talks about the G/R Monsters deck he used to win a Super IQ and why you should consider it for SCG Standard Open: Indianapolis this weekend.

2013 may have just come to an end, but I’m just getting started.

The first quarter of the new season for the StarCityGames.com Open Series has already started, and I’m on a mission to qualify for the StarCityGames.com Players’ Championship this year. I ended last year in the Top 10 point earners, and I didn’t even have an Invitational Top 8. I’m currently in sixth, and my goal is to stay in the Top 8 for total points for the entire year.

What all does this mean? It means that I’m going to be playing a lot of Magic this year, and I’ve already started.

I’m on a mission to acquire as many Open Points as I can this year, and since we can get points from Invitational Qualifiers (IQs), Super IQs, and Elite IQs, there’s a tournament somewhere almost every weekend for me to battle in.

This past weekend I "won" a Super IQ in Charlotte, and I was very happy with my deck choice and that I got to rack up six more points. I say that I "won" the tournament because after we decided to split the Top 8 cash prize five of the remaining eight people dropped from the tournament since they were already qualified for at least the next Invitational and wanted to spend their Sunday night doing something else.

I, on the other hand, was on the hunt for some points, and after winning my Top 4 match, my opponent, happy with his qualification from making it to the finals, offered a concession since he could care less about the one point and just wanted to go home. How lucky!

Last week I played G/R Monsters in our Versus video, and while I did get a bit lucky with some of my draws, I felt like the deck was built well (for the most part) and would be well positioned for the first part of the season.

Here is the list I ended up on:

The list I settled on ended up only being a few cards off from what I played in the Versus video. I wasn’t too happy with Clan Defiance, and taking Brad Nelson’s advice I swapped it to Flesh // Blood. Flesh // Blood plays so well with Ghor-Clan Rampager, and it can get in a bunch of damage if we happen to have any non-mana-producing creature in play.

I swapped a couple cards in the sideboard, namely cutting the Pithing Needle and a Shock for two copies of Plummet. Desecration Demon is the card that usually gives me the most trouble, and I want a surefire way to swat it out of the air. Hitting Nightveil Specter is also sweet, and Mono-Blue Devotion has Cloudfin Raptor and Judge’s Familiar that we can hit if we need to.

I played a Peak Eruption over a Chandra, Pyromaster because I couldn’t find another of the powerful planeswalker. It was my biggest regret on the weekend, and that slot should definitely be a Chandra, Pyromaster moving forward. I missed having her in multiple matchups, but the one that stood out the most was against a U/W/R deck. I had a Peak Eruption in my hand the entire game that was useless, but if it had been a Chandra, Pyromaster, the game wouldn’t have been close.

Ghor-Clan Rampager was by far the best card in the deck and overperformed the entire tournament. Coming into the tournament, I thought most people had forgotten about the card due to the success of Mono-Black and Mono-Blue Devotion, and as the tournament played out, my suspicions were confirmed. Not knowing that your opponent has Ghor-Clan Rampager in their deck makes being on the defensive a nightmare.

It also makes for some sweet kills out of nowhere. I had one game against an Esper opponent who searched for a Detention Sphere or a Hero’s Downfall for four turns to answer my Domri Rade that was bricking every turn but still ticking up; when he failed to find one and cast an Elspeth, Sun’s Champion to make some tokens against my simple Boon Satyr, he felt like he might be safe. A Domri Rade emblem and double Ghor-Clan Rampager later and he was long gone.

This deck really is an example of the line of thinking that there are no wrong threats, only wrong answers. Standard is a format that is full of narrow answers for a myriad of different threats, and in environments like that I like being on the aggressive side of things. I had been on W/R Aggro previously, but I think that the G/R Monsters deck is much better suited at doing this. This deck is full of mana and powerful threats that can end the game by themselves.

The devotion mechanic changed the face of Standard and has currently brought us to a point where Thoughtseize is the best "answer" to everything. Getting huge payoffs for relying on the synergy of your deck has enticed a lot of people to play lackluster cards like Cloudfin Raptor because they work extremely well with the rest of the deck, and a card like Thoughtseize goes a long way in breaking up the synergy.

At Grand Prix Louisville, where Brad, Todd Anderson, and Brian Braun-Duin all made Top 8 with Mono-Black Devotion, I was still stuck on playing G/R Devotion. They all had correctly identified just how powerful Thoughtseize (and to a lesser extent Hero’s Downfall and Mutavault) were, while I was still enamored with the gimmick of using Burning-Tree Emissary and Voyaging Satyr to make a bunch of mana with Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx to power out big awesome spells.

There is no Burning-Tree Emissary and no Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx here anymore. We are a lean, mean fighting machine that won’t be broken up by a simple Thoughtseize or Hero’s Downfall.

In game 2 of my Top 4 match this past weekend against B/W Control, my opponent cast Thoughtseize on turn 1, and I revealed the following:

Stomping Ground Mutavault Elvish Mystic Scavenging Ooze Stormbreath Dragon Xenagos, the Reveler Xenagos, the Reveler

He aptly sighed, rolled his eyes, and after writing my hand down chose the Elvish Mystic on the off chance that I could get mana screwed.

All tournament this happened. My opponent would cast Thoughtseize, see these threat-heavy hands, and end up losing to all the cards that they knew I had in my hand.

Being resilient to Thoughtseize is the most important reason I’m in love with this deck right now. The other reason I’m on board for some monsters is the threat variety. We are able to attack our opponents on so many different angles that it makes it very difficult for them to have the right answers for our threats.

Domri Rade threatens to generate massive card advantage or control the board by killing off opposing creatures all while possibly building to a game-ending ultimate. Without another one-drop mana dork, Domri Rade is seeing less time on the battlefield on turn 2, but sometimes you get the appropriate draw, which is a very good feeling. Domri Rade can only really be handled by Hero’s Downfall and Detention Sphere, but because the rest of our deck is so planeswalker heavy, these types of removal spells are heavily taxed.

Xenagos, the Reveler is extremely underrated and is a big part of why I believe this deck is in a good spot. Previous iterations played one or two total in their 75, and I love having three in the main. His +1 can allow us to explode onto the board if our hand is stacked, but just using his 0 ability every turn can create an overwhelming board state. Xenagos is also pretty good at keeping Desecration Demon at bay, which can be huge in certain situations. Boon Satyr and Ghor-Clan Rampager both play well with the 2/2 hasty Satyrs that Xenagos creates, letting us get in a lot of damage when our opponents aren’t expecting it.

Garruk, Caller of Beasts is in the deck only as a one-of, but when you actually get him in play, it will make you want more. I think that having just one is correct, but if anyone played a second, either in the main or in the sideboard, I definitely wouldn’t blame them.

In addition to the planeswalker threats, we also have some of the most efficient creatures to pummel our opponents with:

Polukranos, World Eater is quite a monster, and there are times where we can even play it as early as turn 3. Being able to activate monstrosity ahead of schedule to kill opposing creatures like Master of Waves or Soldier of the Pantheon is awesome, and Polukranos can end the game very quickly.

Speaking of ending the game quickly, Stormbreath Dragon puts a hurtin’ on our opponents very quickly. The Dragon is particularly potent against all the flavors of control decks with Supreme Verdict and/or Sphinx’s Revelation, and activating monstrosity isn’t outside the realm of possibility thanks to Xenagos.

This past weekend I had an interesting situation where my U/W opponent cast a Jace, Architect of Thought and used his -2, revealing three lands. I had six mana in play and had missed on my Domri Rade +1 activation on my turn but had a Stormbreath Dragon putting on pressure. I split the piles as 3-0 because if my opponent had taken the three pile he was dead to the seventh land on top of my deck. He ended up putting them on the bottom by reading the situation, but I still won a turn or so later when he missed on finding Supreme Verdict.

The sideboard has some interesting cards, but I ended up using everything at least once (with the Peak Eruption being the exception).

Bow of Nylea turned out to be pretty sweet. I didn’t play against the burn deck, but it seems awesome there since I can use it to gain life or kill a Chandra’s Phoenix. I did play against B/R Aggro and the G/R Skylasher / Madcap Skills Aggro deck that got popular a few weeks back. I brought Bow of Nylea in those matchups since I imagined that the games I would lose were where they would have a fast start and after I stabilized they would be able to piece together just enough burn to kill me. Bow of Nylea puts a stop to that by allowing me to gain three life a turn, which is pretty huge against any deck with Shock or Titan’s Strength in it. It might even be feasible to bring in against any of the Desecration Demon decks as a way to continue to push through damage.

Mistcutter Hydra is still awesome and even more so with Ghor-Clan Rampager and Flesh // Blood in the equation. Being able to put an uncounterable threat into play against the U/W Control decks is pretty huge, not to mention that it’s immune to Azorius Charm and Detention Sphere. Now that people are moving away from Celestial Flare to Last Breath, Mistcutter Hydra is only getting better.

I still think Plummet is where we want to be for the sideboard, but it might be worth having the third Shock back. The smaller aggressive decks can be a huge pain, and Shock is very good at slowing them down.

Flesh // Blood didn’t really do much, but there was never a spot where it was the only card that would win for me. There were a lot of situations where it was clumped in with other cards that would also win and I never drew it, but I still think it’s worth having. It’s for sure better than Clan Defiance at least.

The first Open Series of the new season is this coming weekend in Indianapolis, and I can’t wait! I’m fairly sure that I will be on G/R Monsters in some shape or form, but I have no idea what I want to play in Legacy. I expect it will have Brainstorm in it, but who knows—I have Chalice of the Voided a bunch in my day.

I hope that everyone had an awesome Christmas and a safe New Year’s Eve. 2013 was a delight, and I can’t wait to keep battling Magic as much as I possibly can in 2014.