I’m at an odd crossroads writing this article. Two weeks ago I played in Grand Prix Miami to a solid result with the G/W Devotion deck that defined the
tournament. Last week I chose to stay home rather than brave Grand Prix Cleveland, as a result getting the rare opportunity to actually participate in the
Magic Online Championship Series for this month, which was Modern. This weekend is the Prerelease of Dragons of Tarkir, a set that has some of the deepest
implications for Constructed in recent memory, and immediately following is the Season One Invitational in Richmond. I hope that you won’t mind getting a
little bit of everything.
Grand Prix Miami and the Psychology of a Team Deck
I played the same 75 in Miami as the Brad Nelson contingent to a top 32 finish. I won’t delve too deeply into discussing how well positioned the deck is as
the format stands or how to beat it since things are undoubtedly about to change with Dragons of Tarkir, but I do want to discuss an understated aspect of
the deck and perhaps Magic in general.
I had the best deck (perhaps not list) in the room and was miserable. Largely all day, both days. I thought I knew what I was getting into. I talked about
Mastery of the Unseen two weeks ago and spent a lot of time on Magic
Online playing decks similar to what I would eventually do battle with in south beach, but having MTGO available to organize your permanents and do most of
the calculations is a much different animal than facing it in real life. The very first game I played in the tournament I undoubtedly punted to a lack of
aggression and not figuring out that my opponent’s Elspeth emblem was going to kill me 60 some odd chunks at a time four or five turns in advance. Down a
game and facing less than fifteen minutes on the clock I was lucky enough to cobble together some solid and aggressive draws to take down the match before
immediately being thrown into the grinder against Sam Black where we held up the room far too
long before game 1, ultimately ending in a draw. Never have I felt so deflated in a tournament before even taking a loss.
G/W Devotion makes spinning a Sensei’s Divining Top every turn look like child’s play.
Despite the fact that nearly everyone I knew that played the deck with a winning record incurred multiple draws, it should come as no surprise that one
person didn’t – Brad. He actually put in the work and played the deck a great deal in real life and had the necessary speed both in decision making and
dexterity to complete his matches. I don’t believe that he ended up playing a mirror match in the tournament for what it’s worth, but the lesson stands:
You can’t just expect to be handed a deck and perform optimally with it. Even though I have a ton of experience with green midrange decks and feel
comfortable navigating the games from a tactical standpoint, I hadn’t cultivated all of the skills necessary to succeed in this (perhaps rare) case, and it
was extremely relevant. The more mental energy that’s taxed by the little things that should be second nature, the faster the encroachment takes hold on
your fundamentals, and that’s when a tournament starts to fall apart.
One of my largest takeaways from Miami is that my aggression towards clock management that I began to cultivate deeper in the tournament shouldn’t be an
exception to G/W Devotion or any other deck I pilot, but simply a part of my game. In the past I’ve often only been truly mindful of a lowered pace of play
when the match clock was beginning to wind down, but if five minutes into the round it appears that your Abzan Midrange opponent is not setting a tone that
implies three completed games, you can make a point of it without coming across as rude. Vigilance should not have the connotation of being a jerk. Another
thing I often note about players is that they seem afraid to ask judges for time extensions. If something occurred within the game that required both
players to stop and figure it out, or even if a judge call was a brief question, ask for the extension. An extra minute or two can matter, and both players
are entitled to the full 50 minutes of their match.
The last lesson I want to touch on is that Grand Prix Miami taught me a great deal about what playing optimally actually is. Talking with Gerry Thompson
in-between rounds, he joked with me that I was a [CEDitor’s Note: Radio Edit!] because over the course of a year playing tournament Magic, I
probably steal hours of my opponent’s time by playing a little slower than usual in attempts to be “perfect.” Undoubtedly, this event in particular doesn’t
bode well for that counter, as I had to take some truly complicated and long turns, but the point is that as the rounds progressed I started to play a
little faster and looser. This can be accounted to not only developing a comfort with the deck that should have come through practice, but more or less
trusting my gut and sticking with my intuition. Does it really matter if I sequence correctly to gain an extra three life with Mastery of the Unseen or
generate an extra mana with Nykthos when I’m over 100 life and making Polukranos a truly formidable monster? Probably not. At that stage, and in many more
across Magic, what is actually important is looking at the bigger picture, whether that means closing the games out to ensure a completed match or just to
have some time to relax and go to the restroom and get some food after the round. It is not my intention to undermine the importance of sound technical
play, rather I just want to assert that a tournament is a lot more than simply a collection of games played. Draining one’s self constantly in attempts to
strive towards some subjective notion of perfection can be detrimental.
So rather quickly, how would you beat G/W Devotion if it continues to run rampant after Dragons is released? One of my two actual losses in the tournament
was to getting absolutely manhandled by a gentlemen playing G/B Constellation. Between having a solid card drawing engine in Eidolon of Blossoms; Doomwake
Giant to cut off my mana production and ensure that going wide with Mastery of the Unseen wasn’t an option; Erebos, God of the Dead to just plain embarrass
my strategy; and Ugin, the Spirit Dragon residing at the top end to clean up any other messes, I felt thoroughly outclassed. It was no surprise that he cut
through four or five other G/W Devotion players in the tournament to a strong finish. I noticed that G/B Constellation was doing relatively well at the
midpoint of SCG Dallas but wasn’t able to close out. An important thing to note as was demonstrated in the final round of Day 1 between G/W Devotion and
G/B Constellation is that devotion can fight on multiple angles, both going late with Mastery of the Unseen, or just jamming efficient creatures like
Whisperwood Elemental. It is imperative not to oversideboard to fight one axis of the deck when it is perfectly capable of simply drawing the other. If you
have a proactive gameplan that already matches up well with what they are doing, it is actually playing into their hands to slow down with reactive cards
since drawing a bunch of air is precisely how you will lose.
Last weekend, I played in the Magic Online Championship with Tasigur Twin, courtesy of Todd Anderson.
I didn’t perform very well, but I closed out the event largely for the experience. Unfortunately, most of my tournament was largely split between easily
destroying my opponent or mulliganing a bunch of one landers into oblivion. The thing that stood out though, even when I was utterly crippled on resources,
was how incredibly well Tasigur performed. He was easily the best card in my deck, and virtually almost any hand containing both him and a Thought Scour
meant that he was capable of coming down on turn 2. I have a lot of interest going forward in playing him in Modern, and even Legacy, as he compares quite
favorably to Tarmogoyf, with black being the superior color in Eternal formats.
Another deck containing Tasigur won an event this weekend here in Georgia. Local Atlanta native and all around good guy Chris Boozer qualified for the
regional PTQ with this spicy Japanese number:
Chris noted that Sorin, Solemn Visitor should likely replace his older iteration. Although I have some reservations regarding a 22-land deck featuring four
Creeping Tar Pit, this is exactly the combination of powerful cards and synergy I’d like to start exploring in Modern the next time I’m preparing for an
A New Format
The unique timing of the Invitational on release day is going to make for a stressful and exciting tournament. It is difficult to say whether untested
brews will be jammed fearlessly or rather insecurity and even just raw card availability is going to rule week one of Standard. I, for one, can’t wait to
try out some stuff between now and then because as everyone knows by now, Dragons of Tarkir is incredibly powerful. One card I can say for certain is going
to define the early stages of Standard is Dromoka’s Command. Not often are we blessed with a card that is both efficient and versatile, and with the
extreme prevalence of enchantments in Standard right now, granting G/W decks a clean answer to Chained to the Rocks, Courser of Kruphix, and Mastery of the
Unseen alongside others is a game changer. Although I wouldn’t be surprised to be shuffling up the Command in two weeks, the card I’m actually most excited
to try is Myth Realized.
I suspect that it has applications in quite a few shells, and it reminds me to some extent of Shrine of Burning Rage in the past. It is a cheap deployable
threat that looms menacingly simply as a result of you playing Magic. Although it doesn’t have the ability to just go straight upstairs like Shrine could,
it does have the ability to go on offense from the get go and simply be a reasonable blocker against aggressive strategies. Sure, it may turn on removal
spells to some extent, but it doesn’t have to be activated until the coast is clear, and forcing your opponent to leave up mana fruitlessly is a powerful
Here’s where I’ll be starting:
It’s clear I’m trying a lot of new things here. The problem with U/W Control in this previous format was that it had almost no means to get on the board
and interact while having less powerful answers than U/B and Sultai Control. Now with Myth Realized and an additional functional two-drop in Hidden
Dragonslayer alongside Ojutai’s Command, we have a lot of options for prolonging the game, gaining life, and interacting before closing out with our
massive Monk or Elspeth. It’s possible that this deck needs a bigger closer like Pearl Lake Ancient or Ugin the Spirit Dragon, but I’m initially interested
in gauging the value of the new cards. The fact that we are now able to shave some lands and play Anticipate and ultimately a lower curve to fuel Dig
Through Time bodes well for these types of control strategies. I like Narset Transcendent as a sideboard option to overwhelm midrange and control when
after sideboard we are loaded up on relevant cheap interactive spells. The fact that it can find our threats like Mastery of the Unseen and Myth Realized
is also awesome.
The second approach to Myth Realized I’m interested in is a Jeskai Tokens update:
25 Lands, 35 Spells. It’s true that Raise the Alarm may have been the weakest link in the previous incarnation of this deck, so it may raise the question
of why would you add more. The answer is synergy. When every nonland in your deck triggers Myth Realized, Jeskai Ascendancy, and for the most part, goes to
the graveyard to power up Treasure Cruise, we may have a real monster on our hands. Secure the Wastes also functions as a huge mana sink going late that
can create some combo kills out of nowhere when paired with Ascendancy. Whether decks like these are going to be fundamentally stunted by Dromoka’s Command
remains to be seen, but I think it’s fair to say they have a lot of potential.
Legacy at the Season One Invitational
This might be the end of an era for me. I’m no longer excited to be playing Stoneforge Mystic in Legacy. Although having access to Umezawa’s Jitte (and to
a lesser extent, Batterskull) grants a great deal of flexibility for dismantling a lot of outlier strategies, basically everyone is prepared for equipment
these days. Stoneforge is slow, mana-intensive, does not clock quickly, and requires you to play additional cards that are often your worst possible draws
in your deck. Even in the matchups where your equipment shine the brightest like Elves and Death and Taxes, you often have to jump through hoops to connect
Jitte, not to mention they simply have answers to it like Abrupt Decay or Mother of Runes. I was probably just too attached and should have stopped playing
with the card earlier, but in a no fuss environment like the Invitational I’m a lot more excited by clean efficient cards like Tarmogoyf or even the
aforementioned Tasigur. My Legacy records in the last two Invitationals have been less than stellar with Jeskai Delver, and I’m interested in turning that
My two frontrunners as it stands are U/W/x Miracles and Shardless Sultai, and I haven’t decided which will be my weapon of choice, but I know I won’t be
peeling Batterskull on turn 1 and hating every minute of it.