Lessons From The Couch

In order to get a handle on current Standard, GP Nashville finalist Ari Lax watched the entirety of GP Miami coverage. Check out his stream of thoughts from it before #SCGMA!

Problem 1: I don’t have an article topic.

Problem 2: I have to test for the SCG Invitational in Somerset, New Jersey next month (July 26th-28th). I don’t want to spend time playing Standard before M14 and would actually rather spend my time doing other things like testing Modern, calculating exact odds in Momir Basic, and possibly (but not probably) doing some non-Magic related things.

Realization: I’ve previously felt like I’ve learned a lot by watching coverage of an event. I also feel like I’ve been able to effectively take what I’ve learned and convey it in an article. I can also watch coverage while playing matches of Modern on Magic Online.

Solution: I watched the entirety of Grand Prix Miami coverage. Here is my stream of thoughts from the event.

Round 1

Junk Reanimator vs. R/G Aggro

(The winning deck will always be listed first assuming I don’t make a mistake. That said, the deck that won isn’t especially important in my opinion.)

Red should beat Reanimator. I’ve known this for a long time. When they are using their early turns to Mulch or Grisly Salvage, they are playing a gambling game of trying to hit an Angel of Serenity and Unburial Rites early enough to matter. The odds are not in their favor. Reanimator has to shift into a G/W midrange deck post-board to have a chance, which is something the red deck can easily be prepared to handle with enough copies of Pyreheart Wolf and Firefist Striker.

I feel like the R/G Aggro player boarded very poorly here. I disagree with Domri Rade and Skullcrack. On the former, that is a card for grinding long games against decks with no way to attack walkers. Junk turns the corner on board dominance very fast, and spending three mana to not add power to the board is losing the game. I’ve made the argument about Skullcrack a ton, but Patrick Sullivan made it on air as well. You need to just have cards that advance your board and can’t afford to sit with mana up and have the fear of a Centaur Healer or Thragtusk. Again, back to the above point, if you have Falter guys, you can just ignore the bodies on those cards and easily race if they have them and win if they don’t. Pat Sullivan wants to have Mark of Mutiny, but I disagree as I typically find one attack isn’t enough post-Thragtusk even if it is for six-plus power.

PSulli was right when discussing the intricacies of what one-drop to play when you have Stromkirk Noble and Rakdos Cackler against a Deathrite Shaman deck. No one is shocked. For the record, the answer is Noble if you have Pillar of Flame and Cackler otherwise.

Post-match discussion:

Cedric, you are a psycho with your talk of wanting a three-mana Armageddon. I want a magical bucket full of puppies, but it’s just not happening.

Terminus over Verdict greatly favors red in this format. Osyp Lebedowicz and Cedric Phillips said otherwise. The variance games of hitting an early miracle are far less important than being able to cast your sweeper every game before you die. The question is if you can beat the other 56 cards the red deck plays with your control deck, but Warleader’s Helix alone might be enough.

I was just talking to someone regarding maindeck Ground Seal in Jund. I think it depends on how much you care about Snapcaster Mage in the blue matchups. Reanimator is no longer the metagame scourge it was a couple months ago.

These player profiles for the SCG tokens are a really good idea and done quite well. Nice job (presumably) Jeremy.

Round 2

Junk Reanimator vs. Junk Tokens (Draw)

This matchup seems very bad for Tokens. Angel of Serenity versus not Angel of Serenity is the issue at hand. Midrange mirrors in this format go very deep, meaning you have to be maximizing your number of high-impact cards. Every Lotleth Troll in your deck becomes embarrassing past the first 15% of the game, and odds are most games are going past that. Think of the classic Josh Wludyka card evaluation test in these matchups. If each player has infinite mana, which card wins? If your card can’t ever win a fight in that world, it’s probably not good.

Aside: These late games are also a good example of why Junk has issues with Jund, most notably Olivia Voldaren. If Jund can stop the Angel of Serenity engine that lets Junk generate massive card advantage, they have the card that always wins the infinity mana fight.

The commentators seem really high on Lingering Souls here, but I’m not sold. Even with a Sorin emblem, the Junk deck has a lot of tools to take out a Lingering Souls. The tokens still get blocked by either Angel as well as straight up die to Angel of Serenity with no chance of rebuy. It’s a way to steal a game when Reanimator fumbles, but not much more.

Considering these late games are about expending your mana the best, the Innistrad spell lands are super important. Stretching your mana to play more good cards is quite likely just worse than being able to play two or three of these unless you the good card you are stretching for is Kessig Wolf Run. We have been spoiled by these and the Worldwake manlands for the past several years, and from playing this last block I can tell you that balancing your deck between powerful cards, mana, and utility gets much more difficult when you can’t just play awesome spells that also make mana.

Osyp is correct. Philadelphia is one of the best event sites in the country, mostly because of Reading Terminal Market.

Sin Collector seems good on the play and bad on the draw versus Reanimator. On the play, you can usually hit Lingering Souls or Unburial Rites, but on the draw, the first is not going to happen.

I’m not sold on Sigarda, Host of Herons in this matchup (it was boarded in on the Junk Tokens side). It might be fine out of Junk since that deck goes toe to toe on the ground with Jund, but it seems pretty bad against Junk in this context. Maybe out of a deck where you never care about Thragtusk attacking and have a lot of Selesnya Charms for their Angel of Serenitys, but as a 5/5 (see: loses to 5/6) that gets chumped by Souls tokens in a race, I’m not impressed. Blood Baron of Vizkopa, on the other hand, seems nutty if you can deal with the 5/3 side of Tusk.

I never realized the Sam Black Zombie token is holding its eyeball out to read. That’s sick in both definitions of the word.

Pat/Osyp talking about Turn // Burn makes me realize how good it is with Geist of Saint Traft. Turn your blocker, Burn you or the other one. Larry Swasey made the right choice for the PTQ this weekend.

Pat and Osyp are saying Lingering Souls isn’t really a card that people can’t beat. Funny how things can change based on inherent aspects of the format (bulkier creatures compared to last year, not a lot of 1/1 fliers like Modern).

A discussion was started about whether being a more consistent deck is relevant at a Grand Prix compared to a PTQ. Personally, I don’t think it matters. A good deck is going to be good at any event. If you know nothing about the format, consistency is generally a hallmark of a good deck and an easy heuristic for deciding what to play, but that doesn’t mean “inconsistent” decks can’t be made good enough (see: Kiki Pod).

Round 3

Naya vs. Junk Aristocrats & Naya vs. Bant Hexproof

I really like this Naya deck, or more accurately a Naya deck. I’ve seen a lot of lists of this; the issue is mostly making the right configuration. There are way too many playables at every slot. I think the right list is Thundermaw Hellkite; Aurelia, the Warleader; and Boros Reckoner, but that’s just one of a massive number options.

“Saddle up and ride” may be my new favorite phrase for suiting up a guy with an Aura/Equipment and jamming. Thanks, Pat.

I have no idea how Junk Aristocrats beats Bant Hexproof after seeing how poor it is against Unflinching Courage. I would expect a lot of sideboard hate to be required.

I disagree with Osyp regarding playing Farseek in Naya. I just want to jam some guys at them and not play 30 “lands.”

Round 4

Bant Hexproof vs. R/G Aggro

A lot of talk was had about the Hexproof player being Shahar Shenhar. “Making decisions” is overrated. Sequencing decisions is always important, and the key is always the scoreboard.

Madcap Skills is interesting. I wish I knew the land counts on these lists. If they have twenty or more lands, Skills seems wrong, but with eighteen or nineteen lands, there is enough room for the creature count you need and the burn spells you need to support two or three Madcap Skills as a powerful “haste” body.

I think Silverblade Paladin has to be where it’s at for Hexproof. Unflinching Courage makes the double strike so much better.

Skullcrack is actually good in this matchup. Last I saw Fog is fairly common (and is here), and you just want to cut down on high drops in exchange for things that cost less. I would want to board in two if I had access to them.

First strikers on defense into a single large attacker that ends the game extremely fast is the B plan for Hexproof here (A being Unflinching Courage). As a result, Pyreheart Wolf is actually important for the red deck here. In case you couldn’t tell, I really like that card.

Watching this match has convinced me you can’t play red in this format. Even if Reanimator is a good matchup, Jund is the real deck you have to beat, and you have real issues with Huntmaster of the Fells. Unflinching Courage is also unbeatable, and that card is one of the other pillars of the format.

Junk Reanimator vs. Jund

Mull to four? Jeeeeeeez.



Congrats to Harry Corvese (on Junk Reanimator) for that win.

Round 5

Bant Control vs. Jund Aggro

Advent of the Wurm is a good addition alongside Kessig Wolf Run. I also really like the choice of pairing the more board-oriented Bant Control cards with maindeck Jace, Memory Adept.

Maybe I should just say I like Andrew Shrout style decks. I feel like this deck is reaching the point where a split between Sphinx’s Revelation and Prime Speaker Zegana is correct.

On the side of Jund Aggro, being able to balance aggression with Olivia Voldaren has been a potent weapon since the start of this format. Zombies did it, Emissary Jund did it, and now this is the latest list to do it. If your opponent is playing Falkenrath Aristocrat and Thundermaw Hellkite, expect this card out of the sideboard.

Round 6

Jund Aggro vs. Junk Reanimator

I honestly missed this matchup. I listed to Glenn Jones about a Modern deck choice and was promptly rewarded with three match losses in as long as this 2-0 beating took. I then 4-0ed a Daily Event with the deck, and it was the worst time I’ve had winning in a long time.

Junk Reanimator vs. Junk Aristocrats

Yes, Junk is very likely to mulligan. No, the smaller midrangey deck does not win. See round 2.

Round 7

Grixis Control vs. Junk Aristocrats

You would think the grindy value aggro deck is a good matchup versus one-for-one control, but Grixis has all the tools to fight it. I expect at least one Curse of Death’s Hold (or the Izzet Staticasters we later saw) on top of the Jaces to take down Lingering Souls. Immortal Servitude is a beating, though, especially with Voice as a pseudo Cavern of Souls.

Is Divination actually better than Pilfered Plans? I can’t say for sure without seeing Patrick Chapin list, but unless he has a reason to target himself, there is just enough value they can get from targeting them that I wouldn’t want it.

Contrary to the commentators, I would want Duress in this matchup even if Olivia and Izzet Staticasters are my big concerns. Jace is enough of a powerhouse against my Spirit tokens and as Grixis’ primary card advantage engine; I think a good plan might be to board down on your more marginal cards that are soft to Staticaster (not Lingering Souls).

Round 8

Dinner. Even couch commentators need a break.

Round 9

Jund vs. U/W/R

Reid Duke (on Jund) still says Ground Seal main. Good enough for me.

This match seemed fairly uninteresting to me, but Ruric Thar, the Unbowed looked pretty awesome. It’s like a Sire that does something if they have the kill spell for it.

Junk Reanimator vs. Jund Aggro

This Jund Aggro deck really feels like Aristocrat, Thundermaw, blanks. I think if you want to play it you have to fix the last part.

Preview Card

Dark Prophecy has a lot of powerful text on it, but that doesn’t mean it will see play. I don’t think the current Aristocrats lists are quite in position to utilize it, but I think you can play something like the straight B/W Immortal Servitude lists with this card. You might even be able to splash Voice of Resurgence.

Round 10

U/W/R vs. Junk Reanimator

The lack of Avacyn’s Pilgrims and Arbor Elfs in this Reanimator list makes sense given my above comments on needing each card to matter. 1/1s are quite blank against decks like Jund, especially when it gives them Pillar of Flame and Abrupt Decay targets.

Costa (on U/W/R) definitely has to turn the corner in game 2 assuming the Cavern is on Angel. No matter how many cards you draw, eventually an Angel of Serenity loop draws more. Turn // Burn gives the U/W/R deck an answer it didn’t previously have, letting it kill an Angel of Serenity in response to the exile trigger that would otherwise be three Raise Deads, but it’s easier to kill your opponent when your Turn // Burns are also stretched to answer Thragtusk.

Junk Reanimator vs. Bant Hexproof

9:56 AM: Patrick Sullivan says this broadcasting is his testing for the SCG Invitational in Somerset, New Jersey. Looks like someone else figured it out. Good thing I’m a level ahead since I get to do a broadcast after M14 (July 20th in Richmond, Virginia).

Round 11

Jund vs. Junk Aristocrats

Brad Nelson (on Aristocrats) put up an absurdly good fight for missing land drops when on the draw against a Farseek start. The Voice of Resurgence / Skirsdag High Priest interactions Brad had open on turn 4 of this game were quite awesome. High Priest’s usual issue was always having enough bodies to activate it after a morbid trigger, but when you have Young Wolf, Voice of Resurgence, and Doomed Traveler, that make untapped bodies when they die, making Demons seems easy.

Interesting sequencing question from game 2: You have two Wolf tokens from your Garruk in play and are playing Cartel Aristocrat and Blood Artist into three untapped mana out of Jund (they missed a land drop and have no other cards in play). What order do you play them in? I think Brad played it correctly by leading with Blood Artist. You aren’t going to sacrifice an extra guy to Aristocrat if they kill Artist later on, and if you lead with Cartel Aristocrat, they can try to kill it in response to Blood Artist and force you to sacrifice a Wolf. You would likely rather sacrifice the creature without power to save Aristocrat from a removal spell.

Curse of Death’s Hold needs more respect. It seals games against both Aristocrats and R/G Aggro and is reasonable against the bigger Jund Aggro decks.

Round 12

U/W/R vs. Jund

Well, Ground Seal was a nice one there, shutting off Snapcaster Mage in a crucial point of game 1. I trust in Reid’s Jund deckbuilding choices, and now there is evidence on camera suggesting he is correct.

Ruric Thar having reach is something I always forget about, but it seems especially insane right now. Thundermaw Hellkite matches up very poorly against the card.

Board state: Reid has no cards in hand with Kessig Wolf Run, a Beast token, and Ruric Thar in play. Matt has Azorius Charm in hand, Think Twice in graveyard, and two Restoration Angels in play. Both are around seventeen life. Reid attacks with both creatures, Costa double blocks the legend, and Reid pumps it with Wolf Run. Matt opts to take six and Charm it then Think Twice, drawing a counterspell for the Ruric Thar on the way back down. I would have also considered letting everything trade and after damage Charming the Beast token (it still is an attacker until after combat). Reid’s deck is more threat dense than Matt’s, especially with an in-play Wolf Run, so being plus one card from the Think Twice might not be enough there, especially as Matt has no remaining Revelations. At the same time, Matt’s line puts him to basically dead if he doesn’t rip one of only a couple outs.

There was a turn where Reid has six mana to Costa’s eight. He knows one of Costa’s two cards in hand is Sphinx’s Revelation, and he has the option of Garruk, Primal Hunter or Rakdos’s Return for four. He opted for the Garruk, got it Thundermaw Hellkited after Matt’s Revelation, and then ripped another land. I may have tried to Rakdos’s Return first. It leaves Costa keeping his two best cards off the Revelation but prevents him from doing something like countering the Return and Warleader’s Helixing your Garruk. Basically, I like Rakdos’s Returning into their open Revelation assuming you think they don’t have a counter since it ensures you remain close to card parity.

Round 13

Naya vs. U/W/R

I wonder how many spell lands this Naya deck plays. The need to have turn 1 green sources for cards like Avacyn’s Pilgrim while playing double red spells definitely constricts the number of Kessig Wolf Runs and Gavony Townships you can play. I feel like finding out how you can play two or three of these lands is key in building the Naya decks and might be a reason to not run Boros Reckoner (or to not run mana guys and play Farseek). I also really don’t like Ghor-Clan Rampager with all this mana ramp. Your early turns aren’t being spent on good bloodrush targets, meaning Rampager is just one of the worse four-drops most of the time in this list.

I feel like Chase (on U/W/R) was being a little too proactive in killing things this game. If you want to play this deck, I would rewatch the last two rounds and see how Costa plays his removal and life total versus how Chase did. Specifically, Warleader’s Helixing the Avacyn’s Pilgrim early game 1 seems aggressive. His play gets much better past that point in terms of closing the game, but that specifically exposed him to threats he shouldn’t be able to lose to.

Round 14

Cedric’s post-round 12 breakdown of archetypes in Top 8 contention (9-2-1 or better) was interesting. There was way more Reanimator at the top tables than I expected and way less Jund. I was not shocked that Bant Hexproof was about 20% of this bracket, and after watching Matt Costa play I was also not shocked that U/W/R was putting up numbers as well.

Junk Reanimator Mirror

Mulligans again Harry?



Ok, sure, why not.

Also, I’m now seeing that the mana guys are important for the mirror match, which appears to be almost 100% about Acidic Slime and the one-drops about almost 0% to die.

In other news, the midrange mirrors are still very uninteresting to me.

Round 15

Naya vs. U/W/R (Draw)

Very glad this matchup was for Top 8 because I wanted to see this Naya list. It looks like exactly what I want to do from the one game I saw.

Junk Aristocrats vs. Bant Hexproof

I guess I was a bit wrong earlier. Brad won game 1, and it looked pretty easy. The Hexproof deck needs some very specific things to run over Junk Aristocrats. Even in game 2 where Diego (on Hexproof) had Invisible Stalker and Auras, Brad (on Aristocrats) just killed a few Auras and easily raced.

I agree with Pat on Strangleroot Geist out of the Hexproof deck here. It seems terrible, only providing marginal chump blocks against an Aristocrats deck full of evasion and ways to not care about the random 2/1 offensive body.

Top 8

Bant Hexproof
R/G Aggro
Junk Aristocrats

That’s seven different archetypes, and the double up isn’t even one most people had on their radar coming into the event.


Junk Aristocrats vs. U/W/R

I feel like Brad (on Junk Aristocrats) should have just sat on Gavony Township early in game 1 and made 4/4 Spirits instead of casting spells. Costa was too light on lands to play Revelations that matter and had zero Thundermaw Hellkites and only one Supreme Verdict main, meaning that Brad was under basically no pressure to act.

Moving to game 2, jeez is that Thundermaw Hellkite a nice one. Can we just maindeck that?

Watching game 3 here and earlier matches, Obzedat has an…interesting place in the metagame. It isn’t an absolute game breaker in a world of Turn // Burn, Putrefy, and Thragtusk, but it plays a very specific role as a larger threat that doesn’t die to Oblivion Ring or Supreme Verdict. If you want exactly that, it’s good.


Jund vs. Junk Aristocrats

Curse of Death’s Hold yet again smacking down Lingering Souls.

Between games 2 and 3, Osyp hits it. Weaker individual cards in this format need a lot of early backing. It seems obvious, but there are so many awesome cards that people are repeatedly forgetting this.

Osyp also hits on one of the keys of the format in game 3: all of the midrange decks turn the corner really fast. Part of this is Thragtusk, Angel of Serenity, and Thundermaw Hellkite being five-power beaters. Part of this is Kessig Wolf Run, Bonfire of the Damned, and Rakdos’s Return. Regardless, aggro is actually held to finishing a game early. There is not a window to do some old school tricks involving slipping in burn through counters. If you ever stop going toe-to-toe with them, you die.


Jund vs. Junk Reanimator

I’ll leave this one to Brian Braun-Duin.

The Wrap Up

Big takeaways:

– Red aggro takes a very specific metagame to be good. You need Bant Hexproof to be virtually hated out and then another layer of midrange mirror inbreeding and then to call that U/W/R will be misbuilt or not matter and then accept jamming into Jund every fourth round.

– Bant Hexproof is something that gets people who aren’t prepared. Unfortunately, it looks like preparing for it is easy enough that the top players found room to do so. There were a lot of copies of this deck in the Top 16, but after watching round 15 of Brad Nelson vs. Diego Pedraglio, I’m unimpressed.

– Your exact list matters a lot. Drawing blanks in midrange mirrors is punished in the significant percentage of games where answers for the game breakers are traded. Last-minute sideboards that don’t have exact swap numbers behind them are not an option.

– If you are trying to stay low on the curve, you need to be able to close games with evasion or reach and do so quickly. The midrange decks don’t mess around and kill you fast on the way back.

– This format is very skill intensive. Because of the last few points, most decks are higher up on the curve. Sequencing your spells is huge since you have them in hand much longer. Timing your spells to bait answers is huge as specific threats (Olivia Voldaren) and answers (Bonfire of the Damned) can be completely backbreaking if you walk into them. Because there is so little non Sphinx’s Revelation card draw, every card you play also counts a ton.

– Your life total is very much a resource. Few decks really have reach.

Curse of Death’s Hold is awesome. So is Thundermaw Hellkite.

– If you are playing red-green midrange, figure out if you can play Kessig Wolf Run and enough Cavern of Souls to beat U/W/R early on. If not, try to find a different plan against U/W/R that lets you still play Cavern of Souls. Seriously, just play a bunch (read: more than one) Kessig Wolf Run.

What would I play if I had an event tomorrow? Probably Peter Ingram Naya deck, but if the event mattered and I didn’t have time for a few matches, I’d play Jund. Hopefully, if you are attending SCG Standard Open: Worcester, Massachusetts this weekend, you have some time to figure these things out.