Hi Five!

Mike Flores, author of The Official Miser’s Guide, talks about the testing he’s been doing in Standard with four different decks. Check out his results before #SCGDAL this weekend!

Today there will be [hi!] five topics:

1. Playing Ketchup

2. Grinding with Bant Flash

3. Other Bant Flash

4. The Wit and Wisdom of “Tight” Tommy Guevin

5. Sanity Check

Playing Ketchup

Different players look for different things out of the decks they want to play. I am sure you can repeat lots of the criticism and incentives—”I want to play powerful cards” or “that deck doesn’t have any way to regulate its draw” or comments about consistency and inconsistency. Patrick Chapin tends to play blue control decks—to the point that he loves Cancel more than Counterspell (“it’s easy to love Counterspell; real blue mages understand Cancel”)—but Joey Pasco almost won’t play anything else. Craig Wescoe is synonymous with White Weenie, and rainmaking red mage Patrick Sullivan Twitter handle is literally @BasicMountain.

These days I am trying to focus only on two things for my own tournament preparation: win percentage and minimizing decision fatigue.

But different players look for different things out of the decks they want to play. Grand Prix Champion and former Content Manager on this here site Steve Sadin taught me once that not very many players even know to look for: the ability to play ketchup.

It’s easy for a deck to win the games that it starts out ahead. Beatdown deck with a one-drop hand? You start out ahead.

True control against creature removal-heavy midrange control? You probably have all the time in the world.

What Steve saw as a potential source of value was the ability not to start out ahead or even to get ahead (as every viable deck can get ahead in some way or other) but simply the ability to catch up.

How does this deck catch up?

Catch-up cards include spells like Wrath of God and Timely Reinforcements.

I bring this up 1) because you might not have ever thought about evaluating your decks utilizing Steve’s particular wrinkle and 2) as I tested this week, I came to realize that many of the decks discussed below have relatively weak capacities to play ketchup.

Think about any of the G/W-based decks whose games revolve around Thragtusk. It is easy to see that they can get ahead on turn 2 with a Farseek and hopefully circa turn 4 or 5 play Thragtusk to stabilize the board. Thragtusk in this sense might be a catch-up card; it buys back the life you lost getting there and can neutralize multiple attackers. But what if the opponent has a Boros Reckoner? The G/W whatever deck needs a card like Angel of Serenity to catch up. Otherwise, you are just going to fall further and further behind while that Reckoner chops up your Thragtusks (and other creatures).

Grinding with Bant Flash

A few months ago, with the help of Josh Cho, I was able to figure out a way to get enough Planeswalker Points to play in the WMCQs this summer. I was the best man in a wedding in early April but decided to play in the Chicago WMCQ on June 1.

Josh Ravitz (my intended traveling companion and sometimes teammate) and I hashed it out and decided we would probably rather just play in the StarCityGames.com Open Series in Baltimore, MD instead. So that is what we are going to do!

Either way, I have been prepping in a very focused manner on Standard. There are different ways you can test, and different reasons you might want to play these different ways. When I am brewing up different, new ideas, I often just play for hours in the Tournament Practice Room on Magic Online, but if I am prepping for a specific event, I put in hours of focused testing in Magic Online queues (usually 1v1s just because that is the fastest way to get lots of repetitions). I play however many decks depending on how much time I have and just try to pick the deck with the best win percentage. In fact, I have been keeping records of all my rated W/L in Magic Online queues with every different deck for years.

You probably know that I already like the various Hexproof decks, but another deck that seemed very interesting to me (I got to watch Matt Costa play with it some in New Jersey and had the chance to talk to him about it) is Bant Flash.

For my first run, I played exactly Matt Costa deck from #SCGNJ.

I was a little apprehensive going into queues because I actually had problems putting wins together in the Tournament Practice Room! In addition, I am a little queasy on control decks in general due to the prospect of Cavern of Souls into Sire of Insanity out of Jund. You are just in an unwinnable position that you don’t want to be in, say, in your win-and-in. To Matt’s credit, this deck at least has Selesnya Charm to fight such an eventuality; I think other control decks (e.g., Fog) are almost irreparably positioned nowadays.

My run with Bant Flash was kind of eh. I lost 80% of my first half of the set…but then went on to finish five in a row for a 6-4 / positive record.

I was generally disappointed with the flow of the deck. I felt like against aggro decks I was very reliant on hitting Sphinx’s Revelation to stay in games from a life total perspective and would just flood out if I didn’t have a tonnage of card advantage.

Separately, I had a game where I locked an opponent on Azorius Charms and Snapcaster / Charms, keeping him to three mana for quite some time—and I flooded out anyway. The guy who had been confined to his first ten cards for the first six turns outdrew the deck that resolved a Sphinx’s Revelation for four. No wrong threats.

Bant Flash is quite vulnerable to certain cards. I had to play against a G/B/W Reanimator deck with Voice of Resurgence, Sin Collector, and Thragtusk—basically the anti-my deck. I couldn’t even make it look good.


Table 1

Other Bant Flash

I was more enthusiastic about trying the Voice of Resurgence / Runechanter’s Pike version of Bant Flash.

I talked to Matt after his X-2 performance. He was very high on Voice of Resurgence (and luckily I got mine to play in my Bant Hexproof deck before they went way up in price!); I separately came to the conclusion that the strategy wanted Runechanter’s Pike. I also thought the deck wanted Farseek for a couple of reasons (and I see Farseek as a substantially better two-drop than Augur of Bolas). Anyway, this is the version he proposed post-#SCGNJ:

I didn’t bother to practice in the Tournament Practice Room before going on this run.

There were some interesting runs. For example, I felt completely outclassed by Jund (he had Farseek to set up) and hit a Garruk, Primal Hunter before I even had operating mana. But hey, five-fives.

There was a truly scary Parallel Lives deck. I don’t know if Parallel Lives is a real thing, but his Advent of the Wurm was a heck of a lot better than my Advent of the Wurm and his Armada Wurm was even better than it usually is.

The deck seems very good against other Flash strategies; though I only went 1-1 against U/R/W decks in the second series of ten, the first one I timed out. I took too long to try to win with an Armada Wurm, and he had a ton of Warleader’s Helixes. I got game 2 but had only two minutes to win the third (he had barely more, but barely was enough).

Though I had an overall good run against Gruul Aggro type decks (3-1, or 3-2 if you count the Mono-Red Aggro loss), I never felt that commanding. They have a lot of ways to interact with you (Pillar of Flame at the least), and the card Boros Reckoner actually takes a lot of work to deal with. That is what I mean by not having ketchup cards.

Costa built this build to push a tempo deck’s advantages—which manifest when it is kind of already winning. Unsummon against Boros Reckoner is not the easiest fight unless you either have the initiative or a window to reload; often you end up just trading, and if they have a trick? Ghor-Clan Rampager, an instant to go along with a little first strike? Even an Advent of the Wurm can have problems.

A wise Magic writer once said…

Blah, blah, blah. Words, words, words.

And those six syllables hold true still today. Remember what I said about win percentage at the very top? Same 6-4 as run one. Interestingly, I had a worse ratings delta, which probably indicates that I was losing to weaker players since my rating was higher during the first run.


Table 2

The Wit and Wisdom of “Tight” Tommy Guevin

Do you know the name Tom Guevin?

Tight Tommy was one of the Magic: The Gathering Pro Tour’s first big personalities. He was a PT finalist in Year One and developed into quite a trash talking character.

Tom was an unprecedented strategic genius. You know how everyone today knows you take your Mana Leaks out for Ousts against beatdown in U/W, kind of morphing from a true control deck to a board control deck? Tommy invented that. Back in 2000, our team had by barn-hull and shenanigans obtained an honest to God cardboard copy of Aaron Forsythe US Nationals Top 8 deck and were running it up against Napster. Jon was playing the G/R side to learn the secrets of this deck, and I was going through the motions for Napster. Matchup was looking like it could go either way, though Jon is obviously many times the player I am.

Tom happened by and watched some games.

“This whole game is on the board.”

It was one of the most profound things anyone had ever said in Magic. This whole game is on the board. Tom realized we didn’t want Duress and Persecute and that stuff. This was a big breakthrough in thinking back in 2000. Duress was the kind of card that was ubiquitous in black maindecks back then; and more, Aaron’s deck had cards we actually wanted to remove from his hand. Cutting discard was relatively unprecedented but allowed Jon to focus on the board.

The eventual National Champion told me to get out of the way, and Tommy played the black side while Jon absorbed the ins-and-outs of the enemy.

Tom’s observation about Duress against Blastoderm trickled down to Mana Leak into Oust ten years later.

The craziest Tight Tommy memory I have is from Pro Tour LA 1999. He was side drafting against Randy Buehler and Erik Lauer (years before either were on R&D obviously). Tom did some sort of awesome something, started trash talking Randy, and leapt up onto the table and started firing off the DX-chop in the future Magic boss’s face.

If you don’t know what the DX-chop is, Degeneration X was the most popular wrestling faction at the time, and this was at the height of wrestling’s popularity in the United States, just before the WWF / WWE IPO.

Imagine someone doing this…

… Right in the face of Team CMU.

I spit you not. A grown man leapt up onto the table and rasslin’ slash Magic Miked Randy and Erik. As I recall, the draft never finished because people wanted to get some sleep before the tournament.

When I was lamenting my choice of PT Junk at Bob’s Chicago the next year, Tight Tommy reminded me I had recently said something about there not being any wrong threats, only wrong answers; I thought back over the previous year of attacking in nonstop PTQ and Regionals victories and thought that yeah, that was probably true—only I wasn’t the one who said it. Dave Price did. Understandably, Tom made fun of me for playing a deck full of flexible answers (even though I did make day 2).

I was thinking about this moment with Tom while losing a game with my new Naya Ramp deck.

I even had the Farseek!

My opponent went first turn Stromkirk Noble, second turn Volcanic Strength. I had the tools for Warleader’s Helix, but he went to 5/5 before I could fire off. No wrong threats. Jerk.

I was actually medium disappointed in the Naya run.

Honestly, it seems to be not a very great deck. I wanted to play all kinds of cards that would put my opponents in life gain hell. Huntmaster of the Fells AND Thragtusk AND Warleader’s Helix. Results were…not the best. 0-2 against Gruul Aggro is saying something when your deck is supposed to be the life gain / blocking deck.

The most interesting win was against U/R/W Control. I had kind of a slow draw, and he went Boros Reckoner. I blocked it with a Surprise! Restoration Angel. He had a Boros Charm and another Boros Reckoner; I, of course, lost the Angel. Luckily, I had another Angel. Surprise! He had another Boros Charm. I drew either three or all four Angels, though, and eventually went into Thragtusks and Advent of the Wurms. It was one of those games where I wanted to concede on turn 4, kept playing, and ended up winning in a blowout. Weird.

As I said, the deck ended up “not the best” but I can at least tell you what I was thinking when I put it together.

A lot of Naya-ish Ramp decks have an eight pack of fives—Thragtusk and Thundermaw Hellkite, say. I thought I could lower the curve to accommodate Advent of the Wurm while creating a natural 5/5 into Garruk, Primal Hunter sequence.

It turns out there is a huge glut at four. I ended up cutting a Restoration Angel for a Borderland Ranger but still never resolved the four slot.

My original idea was just to play the very best drops—Voice of Resurgence, Boros Reckoner—but Voice got demoted to the sideboard and Boros Reckoner kind of never made it in. I decided I needed the flexibility of a Mizzium Mortars in beatdown matchups—and managed to get smashed by that Mountainwalking Vampire regardless.

This deck ultimately has too many flexible answers. Renounce the Guilds for instance. Boros Reckoner is one of the worst cards for this deck, so obviously you want a way to beat it, hopefully without getting fleeced for cards. One problem is that you usually have Voices in against Reckoners at the same time, which can prove awkward with Renounce the Guilds.

Not a great version, as I said—but still 4-6.


Table 3

BTW how the hell is 6-4 3 (or -5) and 4-6 -30? Jeez.

Sanity Check

So I played a fair number of tournaments over two or three days, as you can see, basically breaking even on win percentage.

How much did any of this have to do with decks? Isn’t Bant Flash supposed to be one of the very good decks? I didn’t have time to run another ten-game set, but I squeezed in half a set with my new favorite deck, Star-Spangled Slaughter.

All credit to reader Taylor Schmaltz for his idea of Judge’s Familiar. Here is my new list:

Barring some sort of super weird earth-shattering transformation, I will be battling with Geist of Saint Traft and Spectral Flight at the next Open; very likely this list, though I can imagine playing four copies of Boros Reckoner (probably cutting two Nearheath Pilgrim).

One thing I want to test is a second Slayers’ Stronghold (the deck seems to have inevitability against control due to Slayers’ Stronghold in concert with Cavern of Souls), but that makes for dubious mana if we play a lot of Boros Reckoners.

Remember what I said I care about in Magic deck selection right now?

A wise man once said, “You don’t need reasons if you have results.” In my experience, nothing is putting up results like Lowry’s take on Hexproof.

Table 4

I realize this is only an incremental five games over last week’s run, but I did perform against Door (Fog / Combo), aggro, control, midrange combo, and control again. Or the entire em effing metagame.

P.S. Geist of Saint Traft wearing Gift of Orzhova is hard to race.


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