"He isn’t gonna make it."
I turned to Luis Scott-Vargas as we walked toward the only taxi in sight. "Why? What happened? Did he miss his flight?"
"No, actually he was at the airport at noon, and his flight got canceled. They rebooked him on two other flights, but both ended up being full."
"Crazy. He’ll be alright though. He always is. Some of our friends have so much unlikely stuff happen around them all the time that it’s pretty unreal. I don’t know. I guess I just sort of always assume every time something bad happens, it’s actually good. It’s just a question of why."
"We do run pretty good."
It was at this moment we were no sirred by the cab driver, who pointed at a long line inside the airport to get a cab. We both smiled at each other since, let’s be honest, life’s pretty funny. We picked our bags back up and started to head toward the line, if for no other reason than to explore if this really was the fastest way to get to downtown Cincinnati at midnight (since our flight had been delayed a little).
Who cares about a delayed flight? Who cares about losing a credit card game? Who cares about getting mana screwed in a couple games of Magic? Who cares about dropping your phone in a toilet? Does any of that matter? Like really matter? More importantly, does focusing on how much less you appreciate whatever is going on than what you think you want produce better results than just appreciating reality?
Life isn’t the same without purpose, but attachment to a particular outcome has brought me nothing but suffering. Whatever is going on in life is what’s going on. In my experience, it is all good. All of it. It is easy in a given moment to forget how ignorant I am of the big picture and let things bother me, but with a long view everything sure seems to work out perfectly. It is tempting to pretend suffering causes me to have an aversion to facets of life I do not like or appreciate rather than the other way around.
It was at this moment that Mary Louke ran up to Luis and me. She saw us heading toward the taxi line and Guardian Angel she is came to rescue us. She had been waiting to pick AJ Sacher up but had room for two more. We didn’t even have to wait two minutes before AJ emerged from the airport. Faster, free, and awesome chats to boot?
Life’s pretty awesome.
. . .
I’d been looking forward to Grand Prix Cincinnati since there hadn’t been a whole lot of Standard GPs lately. All the focus on Modern had been a nice change of pace, but I was ready to get back to experiencing the justice that comes part and parcel with Thoughtseizeing someone and seeing nothing relevant and them drawing Blood Baron of Vizkopa next turn.
Going into the event I didn’t know for sure which Thoughtseize deck I was going to play, but I had narrowed it down to 60% B/W Midrange, 20% Mono-Black Devotion, 20% Esper Control. I preferred B/W to Mono-Black because of the added strength in the semi-mirror and against control. Mono-Black was a little stronger against most other decks (setting aside a few other decks with serious trouble against Blood Baron of Vizkopa).
Luis was deciding between Mono-Black and Esper, which was one more piece of evidence against B/W. That night when I got to my hotel room and was actually filling out my decklist online, Josh Utter-Leyton, Eric Froehlich, and Paul Rietzl were all cool on B/W. Josh was playing Mono-Black in the GP, and Rietzl was playing Mono-Black in the SCG Open over in Los Angeles. EFro was on a B/R Devotion list that looked good, but with no testing I preferred to err on the side of caution and stick with one of the existing decks.
EFro’s list looks great, and I would definitely use it as the starting point for B/R going forward. It has some important advantages over other black decks and control decks.
The most important change EFro made was the complete removal of Pack Rat, a move I am a hundred percent on board with. I was unsure of Pack Rat going into #GPCincy and in retrospect definitely would rather have played zero. Bile Blight is just absolutely devastating, so its best matchup has been ravaged. It was never good against Esper, and too many of the creature decks have the ability to power through it now.
The other important element of EFro’s deck is the aggressive use of Rakdos’s Return. Two maindeck plus one in the board alongside a Slaughter Games (I would not mind a second at all), a Sire of Insanity, and seven one-cost discard spells is a pretty ruthless discard package! Besides, four copies of Gray Merchant of Asphodel and a couple Rakdos’s Return and you’re quickly talking about some pretty nice reach.
If I were playing at the SCG Invitational in Charlotte this weekend, I would probably play B/R (with B/W and Esper as the other options). I would experiment with a Mizzium Mortars in the sideboard. Even if it’s hard to overload, it’s a reasonable option against Blood Baron of Vizkopa. I’d also play the fourth Devour Flesh main, as I just don’t love losing to Blood Baron. I have always liked Rakdos Keyrune in decks like this, but we already have a lot of threes.
For the GP, I ended up rocking the following Mono-Black list, which was a hybrid between Wrapter’s and Rietzl’s:
In rather unexciting fashion, I ended up 6-3. My losses? Two mirrors and a B/W Midrange. My wins? Jund Monsters, Esper Control, and R/W Burn. Sounds about right for Mono-Black Devotion.
- Lifebane Zombie was pretty good even though I didn’t face all the best matchups for it. Just seeing their hand is pretty sweet.
- Duress maindeck was super hot.
- Devour Flesh as a four-of made me really happy.
- Whip of Erebos was absolutely awesome.
What didn’t work?
- Pack Rat was really bad for me. I wanted to board it out against literally every single one of my opponents. Wrapter had warned me that Pack Rat might not be good anymore (he had switched to Mono-Black after testing Sphinx’s Revelation all week), but we weren’t sure enough.
- Twenty-five lands was pretty sketchy. Yes, I lost two matches to non-competitive mana screw, but when I play one fewer land than everyone else playing this sort of deck, I deserve it.
- The semi-mirror. It’s not terrible, but I do not want to face B/W or B/R with Mono-Black and suspect there will be a lot of them this week.
It’s pretty speculative, but I can’t help but wonder about making a hybrid of B/W and B/R.
This build is almost surely too slow of course, with eleven scry lands; eight shock lands; and both Elspeth, Sun’s Champion and Rakdos’s Return at the top of the curve. Without Supreme Verdict, it’s more difficult to make up the tempo loss of playing so many Temples. Still, they are so good that I just want to rock as many as humanly possible.
Maybe that’s a sign that I should be playing Esper.
The scry lands are so good! It’s not just that you are paying a mana for the Opt; it’s that you are getting a Volcanic Island that makes you buy an Opt. Compared to Steam Vents, it is actually closer to half a mana that you end up spending on the Opt. It’ll be interesting to see how many Temples people play in Modern once the UR one hits from Journey into Nyx. The UR one will be the best in Modern since that is the color combination most looking for any extra library manipulation it can get, but I bet it causes ripples that end up with more of the other ones seeing play.
While I may still be on the black tip, this past weekend was certainly won by Esper. Finishing first and second in both #GPCincy and #SCGLA, Esper completely dominated. I expect some amount of backlash next week, so I’m not sure it’ll actually keep the top spot. It is however why I want to go the EFro route and pack Slaughter Games (usually for Sphinx’s Revelation) with Rakdos’s Return, Sire of Insanity, and tons of one-for-one discard to make sure the big guns successfully demolish Esper players’ hands.
Grand Prix Champion "Daddy Long-Shuffles" himself, Kyle Boggemes had a couple little twists in his otherwise standard Esper list. The full package of Nightveil Specter is an interesting way to try to gain edge against the mirror and black decks. I also like the mix of lifelink five-drops, with Archangel of Thune being better against red and Blood Baron of Vizkopa being better against black.
In terms of the maindeck choices, I like moving away from Azorius Charm. It’s a great card of course, but it just isn’t that good right now. Cycling it is also more expensive than normal because of wanting to spend tempo scrying.
The mixture of two-mana removal is always in question in Esper. Kyle’s use of two copies of Doom Blade and one Last Breath alongside two copies of Azorius Charm and two copies of Syncopate is fine, and from the looks of it there isn’t much room for variation. The important thing is his use of ten sources of black (unlike the six to eight some play), which I am a fan of.
Brad Nelson’s maindeck is basically the exact same, with a second Last Breath instead of the second Syncopate. The most important difference is a sideboard full of cheap one-for-one removal spells instead of the transformational creature package. If I were to play Esper, I would mix it up and try to bring a sideboard people haven’t prepared for, but I think both Brad and Kyle’s approaches are very valid. There are enough Lifebane Zombie floating around that I slightly prefer Brad’s path though.
#SCGLA winner Jason Janasiewicz managed to escape the two copies of Syncopate versus two copies Last Breath question by cutting the two copies of Azorius Charm to make sure he had room for both as well as a maindeck Revoke Existence.
Well, at least Ricky Sidher in second place has a little more variation in his list:
Of course, I would just play the same boring maindeck as the other three, but I appreciate that someone mixed it up a little.
Meanwhile, in the Legacy Open . . .
- 2 Wall of Blossoms
- 2 Tidespout Tyrant
- 2 Venser, Shaper Savant
- 2 Vendilion Clique
- 4 Noble Hierarch
- 1 Emrakul, the Aeons Torn
- 4 Misthollow Griffin
- 4 Shardless Agent
- 1 Deathrite Shaman
See, that’s what I love about Legacy players. They couldn’t care less. We’re talking straight up just walking down the street with both hands in the air, one-finger victory salute in each direction.
Food Chain + Misthollow Griffin gives you unlimited mana for creatures, which is effectively game over with Tidespout Tyrant (bounce all their permanents, repeat your cantrip creatures unlimited), and obviously Emrakul, the Aeons Torn is a pretty big game (particularly on turns 2, 3, or 4).
So yeah, that’s what kind of time Legacy is on. God bless ’em. Seriously, while Standard players are all busy arguing over the second Last Breath or the second Syncopate in Esper (the 73rd week in a row Esper has been a thing), Legacy players are doing stuff like this. And this isn’t even the weird stuff. Legacy players are into some freaky things.
Right, because it’s totally normal to have twice as much land in your sideboard as in your maindeck.
Goblin War Strike? Yeah, got a real strong Goblin theme, do ya? Just gotta get paid for your dedication to the Goblin tribe?
God bless Legacy players!
Amusingly, one-land Belcher wasn’t even the highest-finishing deck with twice as many land in its sideboard as its maindeck:
Because who needs lands, right? Lands are for suckers!
In all seriousness, what format features as much land in the sideboard as Legacy? There are a lot of filthy lands in this format, but Legacy players just do stuff like play Savannah in the sideboard of their deck with green and white mana main in order to better support their Sacred Ground sideboard plan (to protect the Savannah).
- 1 Oracle of Mul Daya
- 1 Emrakul, the Aeons Torn
- 1 Kozilek, Butcher of Truth
- 1 Ulamog, the Infinite Gyre
- 4 Primeval Titan
God bless Legacy players!
Standard formats come and Standard formats go (some slower than others), but Legacy just keeps the weird stuff 24-7-365.
Speaking of Legacy, I’ve heard a lot of people talking about the reserved list again lately.
Spoiler: It’s not getting repealed.
(And while we’re at it . . . Spoiler: No changes to the Modern banned list next time around.)
I am completely a hundred percent against the reserved list without question. It’s stupid. However, you make choices, and you live with them. The reality of the situation is that preserving the reserved list is important to Wizards of the Coast and Hasbro maintaining the level of corporate integrity they hold themselves to. Most everyone agrees it was a mistake to promise to never reprint dual lands, power, and more, but now that we’re here, what does that tell us?
Can’t reprint power? Sorry Vintage.
Can’t reprint dual lands? Sorry Legacy.
Dual lands and power are pretty unreal expensive, but that’s nothing compared to how expensive they’d be if the formats were more widely played. Just look at Modern’s explosion and the rise of $100+ fetch lands. Fortunately, WotC can actually do something about that.
And that’s the point. At the end of the day, the reserved list cripples WotC’s ability to support the older formats, which is why Modern is so important to Magic’s health long term.
Is killing the reserved list impossible?
I mean, nothing is really impossible, and killing the reserved list is merely about as impossible as invisibility cloaks (category 1 impossible) rather than time travel (category 2) or faster than light speeds (category 3). The question is whether that same old fight is the best use of resources. I personally don’t think it is, but if you do, you gotta follow your heart.
All I would recommend is focusing on what is different about your plan, what are you proposing that changes the discussion, because this has been an ongoing issue for many years now. Those that are burdened with having to make these tough decisions have found it to be conclusively the one way. If you want a different result, you have to add some new dimension to the equation. You may not value the corporate integrity that goes along with WotC standing by the reserved list, but obviously they do, so you have to take it as a given that it is important to them.
Personally, I think the biggest lesson to come out of the reserved list debacle is to not promise to never do something ever (and to not put pressure on WotC to make such promises). The promise WotC made in this case was to never reprint the reserved list cards, attempting to alleviate the damage done by Chronicles. It may not have worked out well, but at least players have increased confidence that cards are going to be worth something and that WotC isn’t going the Yu-Gi-Oh! route and reprinting old super rare cards as commons.
Speaking of old cards, at Grand Prix Richmond I did a Next Level Deckbuilding Seminar, which ended up involving an old card Solomon draft against one of the audience members. The full video of the seminar can be found here.
How we ended up settling on Modern Masters-Time Spiral-Betrayers of Kamigawa heads-up Solomon Draft is a little confusing to me, but sometimes you gotta be prepared for formats you never expect I guess. Quite a few people have asked about that draft, so if you’re looking for a little insanity, it can be found here.
It seems like it wasn’t too long ago that some people thought M10 and the New World Order card design philosophy were going to kill Magic. Sure enough, Magic has quadrupled in size and popularity since then and is still the most awesome game in the world. It’s funny to think that the majority of all Magic players have never played during a time when heavily taxing on-board tricks like Samite Healer were common.
Anyway, I’m out for today. Good luck to everyone playing at SCG Open Series: Charlotte featuring the Invitational. I could pretend to hate on everyone just playing Esper or a black deck, but I would too. I do have one question though. If you were to design a card to have been in Born of the Gods that would have mixed the format up and pushed the format in the direction you think would be the most fun and best for the game . . .
What would that card be?
See you next week!