Ever wonder why some decks show up, do extremely well, and fail to replicate that success immediately afterwards?
Sure, some decks just aren’t actually that great, but for the most part there is often a time and a place for decks to shine. Maybe sideboard cards against the deck are at an all-time low, maybe the deck’s largest predators have fallen by the wayside, and so on. Everything in Magic is cyclical, and figuring out where the circle currently is at – and putting yourself right in front of it – is an extremely important talent.
There’s a reason that Brad Nelson is often touted as the King of Standard – he does this better than almost anybody.
So when it came time to choose my Standard deck for the Season Two Invitational last weekend, I was faced with some difficult choices. I had been playing Abzan Megamorph Control for a while now, and while the deck was solid it felt like the format was adapting. New decks like G/B Dragons were quickly finding ways to go over the top of the Deathmist Raptor engine, and every other deck was learning to adapt as well. I expected a ton of teched-out Deathmist Raptor decks, ready to battle the mirror from many angles.
I was pretty much resigned to joining the fray until Andrew Jessup decided to show me a different path.
- 4 Elvish Mystic
- 4 Polukranos, World Eater
- 4 Sylvan Caryatid
- 2 Boon Satyr
- 4 Courser of Kruphix
- 4 Rattleclaw Mystic
- 4 Whisperwood Elemental
- 4 Dragonlord Atarka
- 2 Surrak, the Hunt Caller
I’m not sure exactly what brought him to play the deck, but when I arrived on Thursday he was playing the deck in a few grinders and doing very well. The deck was extremely well-positioned against any deck featuring Siege Rhino or Deathmist Raptor, and while it was definitely a dog to Dig Through Time control decks and Crackling Doom Mardu decks, both of those seemed to be at an all-time low thanks to Deathmist Raptor and friends.
While not a deck I really care for that much it, seemed to be perfectly positioned. When I heard that much of the SCG Roanoke crew (Brad, BBD, etc) were also on the deck, I was sold. They were working on the Genesis Hydra version of the deck, and I was pretty sure that our See the Unwritten package would be excellent at going over the top of them as well.
This left us with the following potential matchups:
G/R Devotion (with Genesis Hydra)
Any Collected Company deck
Any random Deathmist Raptor deck
While the control matchup was definitely bad, we had a reasonable sideboard and really didn’t expect to see much of it.
My matchups ended up as follows:
Bant Heroic – Win
Mono-Red – Win
U/B Control – Loss
G/W Devotion – Win
R/W Dragons – Win
Esper Dragons – Win
Mardu Dragons – Loss
Jeskai Tokens – Loss
Unfortunately, hitting poor matchups is definitely an occupational hazard when you decide to play a matchup-based deck. I was able to fight through a number of them, but not enough to really make a dent. My last two losses dropped me all the way from possible Top Eight contention to just barely scraping 61st place to cash.
Frustrating, to be sure, but considering that G/R Devotion was the deck of choice of half of the Top Eight, it’s hard to think my read on the format was that far off. It’s not like there weren’t Siege Rhinos in the room, as on Day One Andrew rattled off a perfect 4-0 in Standard by defeating four Abzan Aggro decks in a row. Unfortunately they just never made their way across the table from me.
If there was a Standard Open this weekend, would I run this deck again? Probably not, but that’s a bit more of a personal choice. The deck is certainly not my style, and I didn’t really find it that enjoyable to play. I was willing to overlook this because I felt it was so extremely well positioned, but with the cat being out of the bag so to speak people will be more ready for it. Of course, that doesn’t mean the right time for it may not come again.
The deck is extremely simple, linear, and powerful. Amusingly enough, it’s actually the exact list from the Top 8 of Pro Tour Dragons of Tarkir with a slightly updated sideboard. Nothing fancy at all – the deck does what it does and it does it very well. If your opponents are unprepared, endless Dragonlord Atarkas will likely smash them. If they are prepared? You may be in trouble.
For Modern, I almost took a very similar plunge.
It’s amusing to think that I almost played G/R big-mana good-matchup all-in-big-stuff decks in both formats.
However, in the end I decided not to pull the trigger. G/R Tron was definitely a known quantity going in, and the hate cards in Modern are far more devastating than anything that could have been thrown at me in Standard. Blood Moon was expected to be everywhere, and with Jund being the level zero deck it was pretty apparent that G/R Tron would have a good matchup against it. Because it was not a stretch that G/R Tron would be popular, I expected people to be prepared.
Good choice Jim!
Despite Ali’s finish with the deck, I’m still happy I chose not to play it. G/R Tron is a pretty high-variance deck, and Modern blue decks really afford you tons of leeway in effecting the outcome of your games. I also saw quite a few copies of Blood Moon, Fulminator Mage, Molten Rain, and so on all day. I tried many decks, liked very few of them, and ended up on the one I felt rose to the top:
This choice did not come lightly, as I spent much of Thursday night and Friday morning trying out all assortments of decks and hating most of them. I was fortunate in that what I ended up with was actually pretty good. The deck plays an extremely powerful suite of spells, and one of the best threats in the format in Tasigur, the Golden Fang. Seriously, Tasigur is insane. He’s cheap, he hits hard, he draws you cards, he doesn’t get Lightning Bolted or Abrupt Decayed… I even heard that he will make you breakfast if you ask him nicely – I just hope you like bananas on your Cheerios.
I decided to play Go for the Throat over Terminate because the latter just seemed so awkward on the mana. Fetching a basic Island is often important, and playing Terminate just seemed like much more trouble that it was worth. With the popularity of Kolaghan’s Command, Lightning Bolt, and other cheap removal, I figured that Affinity would be at an all-time low and thus Go for the Throat would be essentially just as good as Terminate. I also knew that Tasigur, Gurmag Angler, and Tarmogoyf would be everywhere and I wanted to make sure I had plenty of good, clean answers.
Spell Snare was also awesome, as so many decks are reliant on extremely-powerful two-mana spells. Snapcaster Mage is actually everywhere, and Spell Snare is the best answer to Snapcaster Mage that is also really good against tons of other stuff too. Of course, it’s also amazing with our Snapcaster Mages as well.
Kolaghan’s Command was very good, but is not nearly as good in this deck as it is in Grixis Twin or non-Delver of Secrets Grixis decks. Kolaghan’s Command is amazing in longer games, but with Delver of Secrets in your deck you definitely want to be taking a more aggressive stance. It also battles for the same three-mana slot as Electrolyze, which is a bit awkward.
I would definitely recommend Grixis going forward for Grand Prix Charlotte, but I’m not exactly sure if you should be playing Delver of Secrets or taking a slightly more controlling stance, perhaps with maindeck Keranos, God of Storms. Regardless, the shell is definitely both very good and very adaptable.
Despite the mediocre finish, Columbus was an absolute blast. Let’s wrap it up it old school:
- Awesome food, especially Melt and Buca di Beppo
- Ben Friedman, Brad Nelson, and anyone else who bought me a drink or wished me happy birthday
- Nicole for making Day Two of her first Invitational
- Jake Mondello for finding me $100 worth of Blood Moons to borrow in less than five minutes
- The audiobook of Star Wars: Heir to the Empire, for not only making the drive more bearable but also being extremely well-done with great sound and music
- My super sweet Legacy deck that’s still a work in progress