Lessons From The Sidelines Of #SCGDEN: Part 2

Ari Lax returns to give you a Pro’s-eye view of last weekend’s Open Series event! Ari’s analysis is top notch, and you’ll need it to keep you fighting fit for #SCGINVI!

Day Two

I would say up nice and early, but Mountain Time might be the best possible for event viewing from Eastern. Pacific is just a little too far away, and Central is basically no difference, but Mountain? Just right.

Also, I’m starting to think the right play at events might be to double down on dinner Saturday night and just have leftovers in the morning. Yes, I am 100% serious here. I go really deep on my self-maintenance logistics for Magic tournaments.

I think that the absence of Denver local pros in Day Two is a bit of a shock, but it tells you something about the format. Specific deck tuning is a big deal, and just jumping in with a slightly dated stock list is really bad. This is probably because people see so many cards so quickly, so having access to the right ones somewhere matters a lot as you will find them.

Round 10

Logan Mize (Abzan Aggro) wins 2-1 versus Kevin Kingsley (Atarka Red)

Goblin tokens make paying three mana for a 4/4 look really stupid. I guess we already knew this from literally months and formats ago at Pro Tour Dragons of Tarkir.

Worth noting in the end game of game 2: Kingsley attacked with a bunch of Goblins and left back an Abbot to block a Siege Rhino in a spot where he was lining up to combo kill, but because of how high Logan’s life total was (23) and the fact that Kingsley had two Titan’s Strength and no Become Immense meant that he was better off not attacking and keeping the Abbot on the battlefield due to prowess. Two Titan’s Strengths and a Temur Battle Rage on an Abbot is 22, with the only draw to blocking with the Abbot being that you can trade off for the Rhino and hope Logan bricks off while you get multiple attacks in, but if he bricks off and you just Goblin block, he dies exactly to Abbot and your last Goblin.

Arashin Cleric is in an odd spot in the matchup. It’s obviously really important because you have to get on the battlefield early and the 1/3 body is almost necessary to manage Goblin tokens if you don’t have Radiant Flames, but you also need to go somewhere quickly from that point to capitalize on the stability Cleric provides before they overwhelm you. Just Cleric’ing them isn’t enough, but not Cleric’ing them is also pretty bad.

To echo what Patrick said after the match: This is a very proactive, aggressive matchup. Mulligans are much less important than getting on the battlefield on time. Seven-card clunkers aren’t going to get anywhere (note: a bunch of Goblin tokens and Atarka’s Command is not a clunker).

Joe Lossett (Five Color Bring to Light) draws 1-1-1 Timothy Koerber (Jeskai Black)

Patrick made a point about how big you can go in this Standard format as we watched Joe Lossett chain Abzan Charm into Treasure Cruise into Nissa, Vastwood Seer and flip, but this is a different kind of big than previous formats. When I hear go big, I think of Cruel Ultimatum or Tooth and Nail where one spell just kills them. Here it’s more that you can build a deck that chains card advantage and buries someone in incremental amounts of cards.

Having Languish after sideboard here is kinda odd. Jeskai Black rarely has multiple creatures on the battlefield to clear up, especially as Jace is only briefly a creature. There is value to having a tutorable Wrath effect for those odd spots, but as we see here, having that be the sweeper that doesn’t hit Tasigur, the Golden Fang or Dragon tokens off Dragonmaster Outcast is awkward. Are you leaning on Languish to kill Mantis Rider? That can’t be a good plan as you are down on mana and life and position on that trade.

Round 11

Logan Mize (Abzan Aggro) wins 2-1 versus Todd Anderson (Jeskai Black)

“People have control over the number of draws they get. Todd does not get many draws.” – Patrick Sullivan.

If you are going to play a slow deck, learn to play it quickly if you want to win the tournament.

The description by Patrick of Todd’s deck is really good. Todd has a bunch of must kill creatures but not enough that his opponents can leave in the required removal density and not get burned by Todd just overwhelming them with removal spells and card draw.

Logan played this match super conservatively, but I think that it was a mistake in a few spots. He was playing around things in spots where Todd was starting to build up velocity, would get further ahead with the extra time, and Logan wasn’t quite ahead enough to really force Todd’s actions unless he moved in on the small amount of action he had. I think when you are in those kinds of spots, you are actually the one being forced into the play of hoping they don’t have the specific blowout card in order to win.

Heir of the Wilds just feels so blah. You obviously need to get on the battlefield somehow with this deck, but the fact that you are letting your opponent trade up with Fiery Impulse just sucks. I’m really hoping a reasonably castable 2/3 is printed in the next set just so your earlygame is more solidified.

One of the problems of Treasure Cruise Jeskai came up here: You are a really land-heavy deck for trying to execute a plan of generating velocity and trading. Hitting a glut of lands somewhere can happen and can cost you the game. This is one of the reasons I like Painful Truths, as it is way easier to set up quick Jace or Soulfire Grand Master loops with that card to power through those spots. Dig Through Time solved this issue by never purely bricking at the cost of making your deck a little less fluid and a little less able to just bury someone in cards. I think that against Esper Tokens, Abzan, and the mirror, the raw card count matters a ton, and I wouldn’t move back towards Dig, but as long as you skew appropriately to shore up the Atarka Red matchup, Painful Truths is…well…the truth.

Round 12

As Patrick and Cedric talk through the day two metagame breakdown, I’m shocked that so few Esper Dragons decks made it. I was expecting about double the ~6% that did.

Logan Mize (Abzan Aggro) wins 2-1 versus Tom Ross (Atarka Red)

Okay, the specific matchup of blocking Monastery Swiftspear is a good spot for Heir of the Wilds. It’s probably also a big card in the “don’t get run over” phase of the mirror, and Abzan Aggro still has the top share of the metagame, so being good there while playing a card that is at the least fine elsewhere is a good choice.

There isn’t a lot to talk about here. Logan hits early plays or he just dies. He follows up with midplays or he just dies. He has a removal spell or he just dies. If he has one of each piece, he assembles the combo menu and Tom is locked out of the game.

As we see again, the mana in Atarka Red cost Tom some tempo in game 3 when he cast Den Protector on turn 2. This was one of the other things I liked about R/G Landfall over Atarka Red: the even split meant that things curved out a little better off just basics. Or maybe that was just because I had 24 lands and didn’t miss land drops nearly as often.

Matthew Tickal (Four-Color Rally) wins 2-1 versus Sean Joyce (Jeskai Dragons)

I like the idea of Jeskai Dragons if Esper is on the downswing. You have Radiant Flames and Arashin Cleric to cover Atarka Red, and as people slow down their decks, the “drawback” of Dragonlord Ojutai and Thunderbreak Regent being clunkier than traditional Jeskai threats starts mattering less. Same with the drop in Crackling Doom. Draconic Roar, Mantis Rider, and Thunderbreak Regent adds up a lot of chip shot damage real fast.

Infinite Obliteration looked really bad here. Standard usual Cranial Extraction issue of being a costly spell that doesn’t affect the battlefield, and the Rally deck is fine just value beatdowning you and doesn’t need to Nantuko Husk combo to win.

Round 13

Todd Anderson (Jeskai Black) wins 2-1 versus Tom Ross (Atarka Red)

“The matchup is about the battle over the creatures on the Jeskai side of the battlefield,” according to Patrick, red expert. This makes sense: Soulfire Grand Master, and to a lesser extent, Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy, are what Todd needs to be able to stabilize the battlefield. The lack of Mantis Rider really hurts Todd here, as the ability to block and clock at the same time is huge.

This is also a draw of the Atarka Red deck over R/G Landfall. Against the decks like Todd’s that are light on blockers and high on removal, you just crush them with Goblin tokens.

As a result, Todd got kinda bowled over game 1, and looking at his sideboard he feels a little short for the matchup. Of course, if you just draw both of your Radiant Flames right when you need them… good game regardless.

Having the numbers right next to the names on the display really makes this match mean something. This is actually Tom just playing to overtake Todd in the Players’ Championship race on the spot. And of course, as per the result, Tom just getting shut right down thanks to the top of Todd’s deck.

Round 14

James Nguyen (Esper Dragons) wins 2-0 versus Henry Brachhold (Abzan Red)

Maindeck Duress? Oh boy, that’s no fun for the control player.

Hands like James’s game 1 are what I hate the most about Esper Dragons this year. Lands, Ruinous Path, Ultimate Price, Foul-Tongue Invocation? Where is that actually going? The fact that all of the cheap threats have settled on things that die to Ultimate Price makes it a keeper as you aren’t just cold to Fleecemane Lion like could happen last year, but things can fall apart really easily. It’s possible that the hand is fine against everything but decks you don’t beat game 1 anyways (Atarka Red), but it just looks so bad.

James sacrifices a Flooded Strand with a ton of lands on the battlefield after connecting with Dragonlord Ojutai the previous turn and taking a land. I’m pretty sure that is wrong, as you put two cards worse than a land back in your deck and only pull one bad card. Not that it matters once you are connecting with Ojutai multiple times, but it’s worth remembering this as it comes up a lot with Dig Through Time or Serum Visions where the change in live draw percentage does matter.

I really do not like running out Den Protector without flip mana open in this matchup. That’s how you out-card the Esper player, and letting them one-for-one your best card with one of their worst cards (spot removal) is just not getting the maximum value out of your spells. Make them at least trade a counterspell for it. The spot Henry ran it out was also one where he wasn’t leveraging Dig Through Time by forcing James to tap mana instead of casting a draw spell; if anything, he was putting cards in James’s graveyard earlier than he had to.

I also don’t like exposing both Den Protectors on the battlefield at once. The rebuy loop is one of the best ways to just run Esper out of things. It’s possible that Henry has enough Kolaghan’s Commands that he assumes he can reestablish the loop if needed and that pulling further ahead in the immediate term is more important, but with less than three non-Den Protector Regrowths in my deck I’m very concerned that not saving one Den Protector in hand is an easy way to die to stupid removal spells. The one other argument I can see is that just a single 3/2 might not be a good enough clock when you know James has nothing.

Todd Anderson (Jeskai Black) wins 2-1 versus Anthony Petropoulos (Jeskai Black)

Todd’s in-play mana of Prairie Stream, Mystic Monastery, two Shambling Vent makes me feel physically ill. It was a given that as people’s answers lined up properly and the format slowed down this nonsense would be less punished, but come on. This is just too much for me.

Note that I do really like Shambling Vent in this archetype, but there is a real cost to having too many non-fetch and basic lands in your deck. Admittedly, without Mantis Rider, you need to fetch untapped Battle lands a lot less frequently, so that is another upside of having that card.

The turn where Petropoulos tried to stick his second Dragonmaster Outcast was actually really well done. He took Jace off of the -3 for the answer Flashback, he baited the Ojutai’s Command counter on the less relevant Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy first, and had the answer back to clear the rebuy Soulfire Grand Master. Lots of things going on, all of which Anthony had pretty well lined up.

These mirrors are super messed up. From any topdeck position one player is a single draw away from being up 3-5 cards because the card draw spells are so good, and because everything slants so low to the ground these low econ positions pop up a ton where everyone has traded off their cards and someone just rips into chain of two-for-ones.

I don’t remember seeing the feature match extra turn display counters before, but they are real nice. I personally would have used ascending rarity coloring on the Time Spiral symbol, but it’s probably an unnecessary embellishment. This also would involve using the mythic coloring on a set without mythics, but coolness would be more important than accuracy in this case.

Round 15

Tom Ross (Atarka Red) wins 2-1 versus Matthew Matthaei (Atarka Red)

I really can’t do this any better justice than Patrick’s commentary. Just watch. Highlights:

“The first time you die that way it’s pretty frustrating. The fifth time you start to consider that’s just maybe how things work.”

“How do you feel about casting Abbot here?” – Cedric

“You can’t take it with you.” – Patrick

Okay, maybe I’ll say a few things. There’s a turn where Matthew attacks with a dashed Zurgo Bellstriker into Tom’s Goblin tokens where Tom is forced to block, and that’s 100% right. It’s only blocking the same one Goblin that it takes down at minimum on the forced block, so just getting the trade on your terms is the right play.

I was also shocked with how long game 1 took, especially after the player on the draw double mulliganed and had to burn an Abbot early.

I just looked at the standings and pairings after game 1 and things got really messed up. Tom was the top 11-3 player and was in position to draw…except he had to get paired down to the bottom 11-3 despite pairings defaulting to top down for the last round. This is what happens when long events have so many people who can’t play each other twice in the end game.

Top 8 Decks

2 Atarka Red

2 Jeskai Black

1 Abzan Aggro

1 Five-Color Bring to Light

1 Four-Color Rally

1 Esper Tokens

Nice spread of the expected decks in the format, besides the notably absent Esper Dragons.

Tom’s deck is fairly stock. Maindeck Goblin Heelcutter is interesting but looks a bit clunky on paper, while the Fiery Impulse on top of a set of Wild Slash really signals he respects the mirror and Todd’s deck. Not shocking.

Marino’s deck is the more interesting one, pushing closer to the all-in combo style of landfall with more pump and Makindi Sliderunner. Worth noting: I don’t recall seeing a lot of Surge of Righteousness through all the rounds (there are a few in the Top 8). Makindi Sliderunner sounds a lot nicer in that context. I also like not having to play four Zurgo Bellstriker, as I don’t really even like that card outside the legendary issues. That said, 21 lands with Sliderunner and sideboard four-drops really sounds like nonsense to me. I would definitely lean towards 22 here.

Todd’s deck is Todd’s deck. There are literally weeks of documentation on it from him, and I’m sure more will come after this event. Everything about it except the five total Mystic Monastery and Shambling Vent and the three Infinite Obliteration makes immediate sense to me. The large number and split of Treasure Cruise and Painful Truths, using delve slots on Murderous Cut, maindeck Duress, and so on.

Zach’s deck is on the complete opposite end of the spectrum and also makes a lot of sense. I’m honestly shocked he even plays two Ojutai’s Command and not one or zero in his very aggressively slanted build. Treasure Cruise works better with Monastery Mentor than Dig Through Time, Anticipate supports both very well, the extra one-drop spells with the bias towards Duress maximizes prowess and delve, and the lower land count meshes it all together to keep up velocity. After watching this weekend, I would consider Painful Truths over Dig Through Time and would use the delve slots to upgrade Valorous Stance to Murderous Cut, but that’s about it. No idea what Fate Forgotten is doing in the deck over just another Utter End though.

Only two Wingmate Roc in the deck reflects the mirror becoming less relevant. And by that, I mean going from 30% to 15% of the metagame. This is still just Abzan.

My big comment is that zero copies of Painful Truths is probably the wrong number. It’s also odd to not have the fourth Den Protector somewhere in the 75 as that card gets so good in multiples in certain matchups.

Multiple Complete Disregard really signals Joe is afraid of the long game Ojutai’s Command. It does mean Joe’s removal suite is clunky, but it covers the bigger threats very well.

I also really like the fact that red is basically out of Joe’s deck, with just a Kolaghan’s Command and Crackling Doom maindeck. Having those with a Smoldering Marsh as one of your red sources is a bit awkward, as you then need to effectively double down on black sources to cast them, but that’s life.

Having two Languish and no hard sweeper is odd to me. Maybe Crux of Fate isn’t good enough and Planar Outburst is too hard to cast in our base Sultai deck?

I can’t help but wonder if Surge of Righteousness is actually the two mana removal Joe’s deck wants in the sideboard seeing as it’s already clunky and can be forced into odd spots if it can’t deploy removal on time.

I don’t like the lack of Merciless Executioner and Fleshbag Marauder here. Every time we saw those cards on camera they were super impressive, and it’s usually easy to loop Edicts with huge upside. I’m also not sold on Abzan Ascendancy. I don’t know enough about the deck to comment on Elvish Visionary over Den Protector, and Liliana, Heretical Healer over Catacomb Sifter, but those two changes mean this deck seems more combo-heavy than Matthew Tickal’s version which is more beatdown-value oriented in the face of people showing up with hate. The lack of removal in Paul’s maindeck confirms this. I want to say I like the more resilient version as we saw Matthew bashing Hallowed Moonlight and Infinite Obliteration all weekend, but there might just be enough raw power here that it doesn’t matter.

Ctrl + F. “Painful Truths.” You already know what I’m going to say here.

That’s also a lot of Silkwrap for a deck with four Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy. My first instinct is to play more removal I can Flashback or exile to delve.

Seeing Stratus Dancer again makes me very happy. That card is great. I don’t have a precise explanation here, it’s just really good.

Overall, this deck feels oddly clunky for a Monastery Mentor deck. Lots of tapped lands, lots of five-drops. At least we are starting four Duress, which legitimately seems great in the format if you are doing these kinds of things.


Joe Lossett (Five-Color Bring to Light) wins 2-1 versus Todd Anderson (Jeskai Black)

Patrick has Todd as the favorite here, and watching the earlygame I actually think that he missed another even bigger reason for this: Abzan Charm. Cutting Mantis Rider bricks Abzan Charm as a removal spell, likely leaving Joe’s deck interaction light. Charm still plays as a draw two and might be better at times in that mode, but the loss of flexibility is a big hit. Joe said he never sideboards it out, but making his one of his best cards just average is a big win.

To double down on Cedric’s ancedote, it’s really crazy to me that an efficient prowess with an upside creature isn’t good enough. Seeker of the Way deserves better than losing the fight for deck space to Soulfire Grand Master.

Kinda shocked that Joe didn’t take down the Jace with Lumbering Falls right after clearing the Soulfire Grand Master with Complete Disregard. Firing that in while Todd doesn’t have Crackling Doom mana up seems great, but it’s possible that I wasn’t following the game well enough, and it was more likely from Joe’s point of view that Todd had Ojutai’s Command for the Den Protector he stuck and not Crackling Doom.

Game 1 felt odd. Not a lot of big card advantage cascades, just lots of chip shots that balanced and suddenly someone bricked for too long and the other player had a small amount more, not a huge amount.

Todd has more Open Series top 8s than I have Opens played I believe. That’s crazy.

“I don’t recall Todd and Joe ever being paired against each other despite playing so many events.” Yeah, Todd doesn’t end up in Joe’s draw bracket.

Game 2 looked basically over on turn 3. Shout out to quiet workhorse Utter End for being the only way a bunch of decks can actually ever beat the stupidly game dominating Mastery of the Unseen.

Patrick never played a Breeding Pool deck? I’m sure there was one in a Tribal Zoo list at some point.

Trying to protect Jace early with Dispel seems like an awkward line for Joe. Dispel seems at its best trading up for a high impact Ojutai’s or Kolaghan’s Command, not trading for a Fiery Impulse. I would just play as if they don’t have it, especially on the play when they specifically need Impulse and won’t get to three mana for Crackling Doom before Jace gets online. The turn 3 Jace implies to me that either A) Joe just drew it that turn or B) he had multiple Dispels and felt that he needed to trade his resources off or risk just getting out positioned with the wrong answers in hand for creatures and dying.

I had a moment deep into game 3 where I thought it was awkward for Joe to use Utter End on a card that wasn’t Mastery, but then realized Todd might not even have enough cards left to finish the game with Mastery at some point.


Vikram Kudva (Esper Tokens) wins 2-1 versus Joe Lossett (Five-Color Bring to Light)

Silumgar’s Command is a nice, clean answer to Gideon, Ally of Zendikar. It’s sad it doesn’t cost one less.

“Lossett’s deck is not great at removing Jace on the draw.” Seems like a job for Ultimate Price, a card which I previously mentioned actually looked pretty good against the earlygame threats in the format.

Joe can beat a Sorin, Solemn Visitor emblem via Jace flipping in response to the Abyss trigger or Nissa doing a lot of work. Of course, I’m always a fan of making Vampires and getting your value out up front. Also kinda blown away at how embarrassing Sorin looks next to Gideon.

Silkwrapping Jace is okay, but kind of a liability in this matchup. It seems easy in a long game for Joe to set up an Utter End or Silumgar’s Command blowout to get back the “dead” Jace and go crazy.

The Jace Flashback a Command or Tutor game here is great. “I want to take this three-for-one line, but I guess he is taking the other one.”

Double Siege Rhino is still as awesome as ever. Joe had actual nothing besides a Rhino early game 2, then drew another and just was immediately driving the game. Even when Kudva had three planeswalkers on the battlefield at once, Joe was very close to just killing them in combat and taking over the game.

I can’t actually remember the last time I saw a Sorin emblem, if ever. I certainly was always too busy making Vampires to get to six counters when I played the card.

The way these sideboard games ended has a really unique feel. A hole opens, Vikram lands a threat that creates an incremental advantage, and Joe has no way to rectify the battlefield. This was a big part of what Ugin, the Spirit Dragon added to the control decks last year when it was printed, and I wonder if you want some big anti-planeswalker tool like it in your sideboard this year. It’s also possible that effect just doesn’t exist or is too slow, but I want to go digging.


Lee Marino (Atarka Red) vs Vikram Kudva (Esper Tokens)

Hooray, a match that is probably fast!

The play of putting your opponent to one life when they have painlands or fetchlands that get shut off just feels so satisfying every time it occurs. It’s not the same when you shut off their spells, it’s specifically the additional insult of killing their lands by killing them that resonates with me.

Lee opted to sideboard into the midrange strategy here, but I would lean towards almost no sideboarding and just finding room for some Rending Volleys. At least with Outpost Siege the midrange plan was contingent on being able to kill all of their stuff, which you can’t if their stuff is mainly planeswalkers. Four Duress makes it sound awkward to just jam on Vikram, but I would just trust in the power of my deck and assume that he has to shave a little on Duress or risk just getting normal Magic beatdown’ed out of the match. This is even further magnified by Vikram’s four Silkwrap over instant speed removal. Note that my experience is with Atarka Red, which has a little more inherent card advantage with Den Protector and more threats that draw the spot removal to begin with, but it just feels wrong to try and play the midrange deck against the deck designed to do that without a tool to go over the top of them.

On the subject of Silkwrap, we see the exact issue I mentioned with Jace game 3. Silkwrap in play, Surge of Righteousness in graveyard, and a Jace with nothing to Flashback.


– I don’t want to play Atarka Red. Just watching Todd play Radiant Flames against Tom was enough.

– I don’t want to play Esper Dragons. The best decks feel super grindy, and last year that was really the downfall of Esper towards the end of the season.

Painful Truths has to be one of the most important cards in the format. Pretty sure I’m playing 2-3 regardless of what deck I choose, even if I play Four-Color Rally.

– If I play Abzan Aggro, I’m going to put a lot of work into the Atarka Red matchup to make sure I don’t mess it up and under-sideboard, as if you do that you just die real easily because your deck’s base matchup against them is pretty bad.

Overall, the games seem like they play as deep as the games last year, but they feel different. Last year was a lot about lining up answers properly, with the Temples helping you find the right cards for your situation. This year, the mana means you can just play the best of everything, so the answers you play are all just blowouts too. It’s about maintaining velocity instead of lining up the right answers with things, much like the Treasure Cruise era of Modern or Legacy.

In both of those formats the key was in having the right trump threats, and this feels like the same thing. The trumps we saw this week were Mastery of the Unseen, creature-lands, and Ojutai’s Command. Things that are a bit trickier to answer and create some inherent value to begin with to minimize the impact of an eventual trade. These are the cards I’m going to look for moving forward, and if they are found before then, the next step is figuring out how to re-trump them.