Lessons From The Sidelines: SCG Chicago

Watching at home to get a full view of what happened at #SCGCHI through the coverage and results, Ari takes a round-by-round look as the Week One Magic Origins Standard metagame develops.

My Thoughts Leading Into The Event

The new planeswalkers are going to be very important. I expect the most popular this weekend will be Nissa, Vastwood Seer as it slots easily into existing decks, whereas people will be more hesitant to pull the trigger on buying chase mythics for untested decks. This also likely means both Archangel of Tithes and Erebos’s Titan will be underrepresented as white- and black-heavy decks haven’t been a thing lately.

Beyond that, who knows? There are a lot of powerful brewer cards in Magic Origins and I have no clue which ones people will figure out for Week One.

Round One

Pyromancer’s Goggles (Jack Fogle) wins 2-1 versus Abzan Control (Chase Stalsberg)

Savage Knuckleblade is a real nice one out of Jack’s deck. It has some of the resilience of Pearl Lake Ancient to removal in the super late game, trumps the 4/5 size barrier eventually, and works early against aggro.

Skimping on Courser of Kruphix with Languish is interesting. My issue with this logic is that you didn’t skimp when you played Crux of Fate, so what has really changed since a month ago?

This was somewhat brought up, but one of the keys to playing against blue control is managing your spells against their Dig Through Time mana. There are key points where you can extend a threat in order to force them to spend that turn not Digging and instead answering your threat, or where you don’t want to play a spell as it ramps them ahead a turn to Digging based on the number of cards in their graveyard. Example of the former: if they have four mana and four cards in the graveyard, a must-counter spell takes them off of Dig, while if they have five mana and four cards in graveyard playing a spell they can Disdainful Stroke or Bile Blight might lead to answer plus Dig. Example of the latter: if they have two cards in graveyard and four lands, playing a spell into a counter lets them hit five mana and three spells in graveyard to Dig next turn.

The big deal for the U/R deck is that it plays really badly from out of position. It has a lot more specific answers than U/B, so if they keep you under the gun and force answers, it’s a lot easier to get mismatched answers to important threats. Ugin, the Spirit Dragon is a big gain since my team first tested the deck for Pro Tour Khans of Tarkir and was how Jack Fogle won this match against Abzan, and Roast is another gain against Siege Rhino, but unlike U/B Control it’s possible to find straight-up threats that line up well against their removal. Against Hero’s Downfall, the “right threat” is limited to the one that comes back like Deathmist Raptor or doesn’t die for other reasons like not being a creature or planeswalker.

Round Two

G/B Dragons (Kent Ketter) wins 2-1 versus Abzan Aggro (Brenna Ivey)

I was wondering if Kent Ketter might have moved to Languish since his Top Eight at the Open Series in Indianapolis last month, but then I saw Sylvan Caryatid. This card was already rare in Abzan, but I really can’t imagine playing it if Languish is the cool thing. This also points towards the card getting worse overall, which in turn implies a big metagame shift because Sylvan Caryatid is so good in the Sylvan Caryatid decks.

If there is a saving grace for Abzan Aggro post-Languish, it’s that it is absolutely brutal at times. If you get behind a tick against it or they get to line up their removal well, you die really fast in pretty unrecoverable ways. Even a Languish could easily not be enough to survive if you get Fleecemane Lioned into Anafenza, the Foremost, and Abzan Charm can save their creatures if they are in position to cast it. On the flipside, its bad draws are always one level too small or too slow. Languish only seems to change things in the middle cases.

The Wingmate Roc versus Dragons interaction is a real draw here towards the Dragons list over traditional Abzan. I remember spending a lot of effort early this season on figuring out how to disable Raid for opposing Wingmate Rocs, but if you have a Dragonlord or two you can mostly ignore the 3/4 fliers. Of course, Languish also does that.

Round Three

Five-Color Rally (Matthew Tickal) wins 2-1 versus Sultai Reanimator (Toby Wheeler)

Nice stamped Mana Confluence for Matthew Tickal, but that’s a lot of that card in his deck. Brad jokingly made everyone on the team write a paragraph explaining each Mana Confluence in their deck for the last Pro Tour, and I don’t feel like writing an essay for this. There has to be a way to cut that number down.

I like Gather the Pack a lot in the Rally deck, especially if your combo piece is an instant for Spell Mastery. Jace, Telepath Unbound also seems absurd as it lets you rebuy your milled Rally the Ancestors.

I had concerns that there are enough black creatures in the format to block the Nantuko Husk, but watching the whole Grim Haruspex nonsense going on here, this deck can just go over the top of most board states.

The most impressive part of this Rally deck to me is that it has the best fair package in the format too. Playing against counter-heavy control? Guess it’s time for Den Protector, Deathmist Raptor, and Grim Haruspex to do the whole Megamorph thing and grind them down.

As Patrick says, you only make absurd combo mistakes once, like how Matthew lost game two here. I’ve been there way too many times with way too many decks. Don’t deck yourself with Grim Haruspex and Satyr Wayfinder. You can sacrifice Haruspex first and let Rally’s upkeep trigger exile your Satyr Wayfinders so they don’t keep looping.

Is it sad that in game three the thing I’m most excited for about Matthew’s Liliana, Heretical Healer is that it protects Jace, Vyrn’s Prodigy from removal? The old Vampire Nighthawk + Spellkite combo planeswalker.

I was actually afraid of this Torrent Elemental on Toby’s side for a second, then Matthew just cast Rally the Ancestors after the “Tap all creatures” trigger resolved. Nice 3/5 flier, block the rest of your stuff like it wasn’t there to begin with.

Round Four

Abzan Control (Dave Dixon) versus U/W Control (Jeff Hoogland)

Only having three copies of Darksteel Citadel in Jeff’s deck seems absurd. The mana on your two-color control deck has to be better than that, and you have to want a full set if you are playing Artificer’s Epiphany. I’m so glad the Radiant Fountain he is playing cost him a card in game two. I hope a lesson has been learned.

Every control deck in Standard for so long has been black, and I think some people have started taking the presence of Hero’s Downfall for granted. The Thopter beats from Jeff in game one certainly stymied Elspeth, Sun’s Champions out of Dave but it was a lot of work to handle the card. I can’t imagine Jeff’s deck facing down a copy of Nissa, Worldwaker and coming out ahead, and while U/B is bad there too, it at least has a shot to cut its losses early with good removal.

As Patrick mentions late into this round, Den Protector is a huge issue for Jeff’s deck. He can’t block it and it threads the needle between Valorous Stance and Last Breath. Considering Den Protector is one of the best cards in the format and is already good against your control strategy in general, that seems like a big hole in the deck.

Deck Tech: Blue-White Thopter Control (Jeff Hoogland)

Jeff’s first statement about G/R Devotion and Abzan still being the two decks to beat hits the nail on the head. Those decks are really powerful and won a lot before for a reason. They may have to slightly adjust to new threats, but if they are still the best thing to play after Magic Origins I wouldn’t be shocked.

Calling Hangarback Walker a good two-drop seems ambitious. The card appears really bad on turn two, though I may be underestimating how obnoxious adding the second +1/+1 counter the next turn makes it. It does work in this specific deck, but it really doesn’t “fit into literally anything.”

Round Five

Turbo-Fog (James Newman) wins 2-0 versus G/R Devotion (Ross Merriam)

Sad Ross

Round Six

Abzan Control (Phil Silberman) wins 2-0 versus Abzan Control (Danny Jessup)

The point about Abzan being slow to start playing two spells a turn is a big part of why it is remotely beatable. It has some good ways to recover by overpowering your opponent’s spells, but if they get ahead and match card quality in the midgame, it’s really hard to turn the board state around.

Garruk, Apex Predator is a big game in this mirror match. “+1: Destroy target planeswalker” means business, and the fact that the Beasts are 3/3s puts Garruk into a unique class where it can protect itself from Den Protector.

Abzan Aggro (Ted Loewenthal) wins 2-1 versus U/B Control (Joe Lossett)

LOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOL Valorous Stance versus Languish LOLOLOLOLOLOLOL. And Surrak, the Hunt Caller versus Languish. And Fleecemane Lion. And Valorous Stance against Silence the Believers. Joe really does not want to get counterspelled by the otherwise-blank removal spell, and he also appears to be very prepared to crush cheap Abzan creatures.

Ted winning is a real shock to me. There’s so many cards lining up poorly just among the ones we saw. Maybe he had a ton of discard to bring in or something, but the Valorous Stance still being in the deck implies something else. Or maybe he did and Joe had Dragonlord Silumgar too that he needed a removal spell for? I don’t know, this just seems like a very poor matchup for Abzan Aggro.

Round Seven

G/R Dragons (Jessy Hefner) wins 2-1 versus Bant Heroic (Caleb Scherer)

I will never cease to be amazed by how poorly Heroic performs under pressure and how fast the G/R Dragons deck kills people.

Having spent years knowing Michael Jacob, I am significantly less skeptical than Patrick is of Caleb Scherer claim of living solely off of peanuts. If Animal Crackers can sustain a human for multiple weeks, peanuts have to be better.

Worth noting: literally killing everything Heroic plays immediately is usually right, but it can backfire if you come up one short. Forcing them to commit makes their eventual last creature that much worse. In terms of application, I’m not really sure how this changes plays or if it even should, but it’s worth thinking about this being part of the reason Hero’s Downfall is that much better against them than Bile Blight, secondary to the whole “it always works” part.

Jeskai Aggro (Gerry Thompson) draws 1-1-1 with G/B Constellation (Ross Isley)

This game shows off one of the big issues I had with the Jeskai deck at Grand Prix Providence. You do all of these things, but it really lacks a punch. There’s a ton of dancing around to make your more-situational, less-powerful cards line up reasonably against things that have a much greater card-for-card impact. There’s a lot of times where you found yourself with Valorous Stance lined up in hand against an x/2 threat, like Eidolon of Blossoms here. Gerry might find some route to not-death because he’s literally made a career out of it with Faeries, Caw-Blade, and Innistrad-era Flash, but I’m more interested in winning easier games.

Other Jeskai decks in the format like Shaun McClaren’s from Pro Tour Khans of Tarkir or Jim Davis from the Open Series in Dallas earlier this year avoided this issue by not playing an exchange game and just bashing with Mantis Rider and killing your opponent early. If the format’s removal lines up to make Mantis Rider good again, expect that style of deck to pick up again and for me to possibly play it again. For now, I remain unconvinced.

Round Eight

U/W Control (Jeff Hoogland) wins 2-0 versus Abzan Control (Danny Jessup)

This Artificer’s Epiphany seems like nonsense. I didn’t want to play Divination, so does making it an instant really make me want to play it more? What about it being unreliable in the best place for Divination, which is hitting land drops around turn five when you can’t reliably have a Darksteel Citadel on the battlefield?

Thopter Spy Network seems really nice at solving the “running out of win conditions” problem the control deck can have in heavy-removal matchups. As I briefly mentioned in my report from Pro Tour Dragons of Tarkir, there are decks that can just spam enough removal to break through a couple copies of Ugin the Spirit Dragon, Silumgar the Drifting Death, and Pearl Lake Ancient. You can play a ton of Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver to be likely to win the mill fight, but that puts a ton of a conditional card into your deck. Just by being an enchantment, this card blanks the best removal spell in Hero’s Downfall

Any time the control deck has to counter a Siege Rhino that isn’t lethal, it just feels bad. The Abzan deck has so many things that actually put them up a card on resolution that are must-counters that when your negated value is just a drain three it seems like you could have spent a less-important spell on it.

Nissa, Vastwood Seer feels like it just adds to the same advantage that Den Protector or Deathmist Raptor provides here: another card that is fine at basically any stage of the game but gets incrementally better over time. That said, the interaction against Ugin, the Spirit Dragon is really unfavorable as both it and the token have converted mana cost of zero.

Five-Color Rally (Matthew Tickal) wins 2-1 versus Abzan Control (Phil Silberman)

There is a really, really good reason Rally the Ancestors exiles itself. This deck already goes off and chains really well, I can’t imagine it ever fizzling with the line of end-of-turn Rally, untap with Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy in play and flip it if the Rally ended up in the graveyard.

Nice Elspeth against that combo deck making some irrelevant 1/1s after tapping you out. Whenever a deck makes that card look bad, it automatically catches my attention because that is really hard to do.

Deck Tech: Five-Color Rally (Matthew Tickal)

First of all, I’m very glad this is happening to other people here today and not to me at the Pro Tour.

Second, the really messed-up part here is that the core engine of the deck doesn’t rotate. Rally the Ancestors, Nantuko Husk, and Grim Haruspex are all legal next year, as are Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy, Den Protector, and Deathmist Raptor. You need to figure out a new Mogis’s Marauders and losing Satyr Wayfinder hurts, but that’s more filling in the details than anything else.

Chord of Calling is an interesting choice. Is that actually better than additional dredge spells at finding your Nantuko Husk? I’m also wondering if we don’t want to push harder on the Den ProtectorDeathmist Raptor package than just a 2-3 split.

The “kill Ashiok” note Matthew makes is pretty huge. That card being a problem means that a normal Magic card found in a common deck can cause issues for this deck, meaning the amount it skews the metagame is minimized. Anafenza, the Foremost is similar.

Round Nine

Abzan Megamorph (Steve Rubin) wins 2-1 versus Turbo Fog (James Newman)

Starting at 24 life off multiple Thornwood Falls and a Radiant Fountain is a big game for a deck that is just trying to have one life left. It’s even more pronounced here than it is with U/B Control.

Double Sphinx’s Tutelage plus Dictate of Kruphix kills shockingly fast for a mill engine. It’s still something like a five-turn clock, but your deck is designed to simplify living five turns into casting a few Fogs.

The Day’s Undoing part of this deck is… interesting. It feels like the deck wishes it could have anything else that didn’t reset its clock and wasn’t so risky, but has to settle for Timetwister. Yes, I did say ‘settle for Timetwister’ as silly as it sounds.

Come on Steve, we lost a lot of ground at Pro Tour Dragons of Tarkir by not playing enough discard. Zero copies of Duress today? Really? Now you have to board in Arashin Cleric. I hope you are happy.

In game three, the commentators are talking a lot about not liking Pearl Lake Ancient here. It seems that card is more as a trump to control in games two and three. I’m not actually sure they can’t answer it, but it seems a lot harder for them to do once all the Hero’s Downfalls leave the deck. Note another marginally sad Day’s Undoing nonbo here with Prowess.

I agree with Pat that Icefall Regent seems much more appealing here than Pearl Lake Ancient. I remember getting crushed by that card out of eventual Top Eight competitor Andrew Olschwager’s U/B Dragons at Pro Tour Dragons of Tarkir and it seems like it presents a similar bind here. Bonus points for Monastery Siege doubling down on increasing the cost of answers to it.

Deck Tech: Turbo Fog (James Newman)

The deck seemed about as expected. I did laugh at the following:

“Naya Dragons? Just not draw enough Fogs”

“He… just… uhh… Dromoka.”

Nice Fogs. I have a six drop G/W Dragon. We really do live in the future of Magic design where creatures can beat the crap out of spells. This would not fly in the last two decades.

Round Ten

Jeskai Tokens (Kevin McKinsley) wins 2-1 versus G/R Devotion (Brad Nelson)

I’m pretty excited to see some Jeskai Tokens action. That was a deck that has kind of fallen off the map but still feels really powerful. The use of Ojutai’s Command here is interesting, but if there are Jaces and Soulfire Grand Masters to maximize the Unearth mode, it seems powerful.

Game one is a real huge vote for Jace. Just another thing that the deck can do that looks absolutely absurd.

Game two reminds us about one reason why we saw the decline in Jeskai Tokens. Dragonlord Atarka is a massive problem. Tokens does have a lot of ability to recover and Kevin was able to do so, but often Dragonlord Atarka is backed by Haven of the Spirit Dragon, which gives you the option of dying to an 8/8 flier or Valorous Stance resulting in another Plague Wind and still dying to an 8/8 flier.

Round Eleven

U/W Control (Jeff Hoogland) wins 2-0 versus Rally the Ancestors (Matthew Tickal)

There’s a lot of interesting back-and-forth here. Jeff has all of the counterspells, but countering Rally the Ancestors puts it in the graveyard for Den Protector or Jace, Telepath Unbound to loop. So Matt can combo out, but Jeff has the ability to make a ton of artifact blockers that hold off the Nantuko Husk plus Mogis’s Marauder Intimidate kill.

Game one went about expected for a turn-four Thopter Spy Network. If Matt doesn’t kill very shortly after the enchantment hits the board, it rapidly becomes impossible to win as Jeff not only clogs the board for Mogis’s Marauders but draws a bunch of extra counterspells.

This deck’s Rally the Ancestors look so much worse when you don’t have Nantuko Husk. I guess I knew that from watching the Wall of Mulch Rally deck in testing for the last Pro Tour, but it feels more pronounced here because Nantuko Husk is so much better than Wall of Mulch at restocking your graveyard.

It seems like Matt’s best plan here is just to use Deathmist Raptor and Den Protector to push as far as he can and use Rally to punish Jeff when he runs out of answers or taps too low. This also hammers home the Den Protector weakness inherent to Jeff’s deck of 1/1 blockers.

Round Twelve

W/U Heroic (Logan Mize) wins 2-1 versus G/W Company (Andy Ferguson)

Three Gaea’s Revenge in Andy’s sideboard feels… I’m not sure if ambitious or overkill is the right word. When I played G/W Company at Grand Prix Toronto I did so in part because the Esper Dragons matchup was so easy, and there’s a real concern that if you draw seven-drops you lose your ability to maneuver the early game and just fall too far behind. Gaea’s Revenge does matter a lot and might make up for the lost edge in raw power, but that’s only if you aren’t already dead to a Dragonlord Ojutai. I would rather just have a cheaper card, or even less of my late-game thing so I never draw two early on.

“The only opportunity cost is your time, which is worth nothing because you are on the internet already” – Patrick Sullivan, Old Soul.

Hornet Nest seems beyond exceptional here. There’s often this pipedream of Dromoka’s Command plus Hornet Nest exploding out a bunch of insects, but there’s rarely a good chance to do it against most Hornet Nest matchups as all of their creatures are so small that you would rather keep the Nest around to block. Against massive Heroic creatures there’s a good chance that your opponent just has a massive creature in play that lets Dromoka’s Command upgrade your Nest into a full-on Hornet Queen or more.

After playing a ton of Magic Origins Limited I had a sudden fear of Celestial Flare when Andy Ferguson attacked with a Monstrous Fleecemane Lion. Same thing with these Lions being blocked by this “unkillable” Battlewise Hoplite. It obviously is relatively unfounded against Heroic here, but I just have memories of getting both my Lions and Mutavaults Flared playing against U/W Control last year. I don’t think a lot of decks can play the card, but it’s certainly a worthwhile option to consider if you can.

The difference between Heroic with and without Ordeal of Heliod when trying to race is absurd. Without Ordeal you basically always get clocked by any reasonable aggro deck, and if you have Ordeal you are ahead by multiple turns. That alone makes me want Heliod’s Pilgrim in small numbers to ensure I always have access to that card when I need it, though it’s also possible that is too slow against Goblins or other hyper-aggressive nonsense. Or you can just maindeck four like Logan and assume three games of that is good enough to get them.

Round Thirteen

G/R Devotion (Ross Merriam) wins 2-1 versus G/R Devotion (Brad Nelson)

The lovely Devotion mirror. Forgive me while I spend this time editing instead of gleaning insights into this already well-tested and thoroughly miserable matchup. At least this one resolves with someone getting Plague Winded on turn six instead of getting semi-Plague Winded at 500 life on turn 43.

Abzan Control (Danny Jessup) draws 1-1-1 with Abzan Control (Taylor Atchison)

The early-game morph battles in this matchup are really interesting. There’s a lot of subgames about not exposing Deathmist Raptor to Abzan Charm at a convenient point, using this knowledge to sneak in Den Protectors that won’t immediately be Downfalled, and then the ripple of this into the midgame as you determine if you can expose a planeswalker to a potential 3/2 unblockable. The fact that Abzan Charm plus Den Protector one-shots a fresh Elspeth through tokens is a big part of this. If I play Abzan at this Pro Tour, I’m going to need to play and talk through a lot of mirrors.

Similar to the whole countering a Siege Rhino out of control issue, using an Abzan Charm on a Siege Rhino feels kinda bad too. It’s just a 4/5, Charm could be two cards. Though I guess using a Hero’s Downfall on a Rhino also sucks because you need all of those for Elspeths. Basically, any time you have to use anything but your own Rhino or a sweeper to kill an opposing Rhino is a positive trade for your opponent, even beyond the drain three value gained.

I’m now understanding why Tasigur, the Golden Fang was slowly being removed from lists. When Danny snuck in his Tasigur in the midgame my immediate though was that he was just going to die to Elspeth’s -3. Unlike Rhino, when you follow up an Elspeth -3 with another Tasigur you just get brick-walled by tokens.

Round Fourteen

W/U Heroic (Logan Mize) wins 2-1 versus Abzan Control (Bruce Edelman)

Talk all the crap you want about the little 0/4 that could, but Lagonna-Band Trailblazer still curves out real nice. It’s not pretty, but this Trailblazer, Defiant Strike, Ordeal of Thassa curve is almost as good as the Favored Hoplite version.

Bruce was given the choice game one of chump-blocking with Siege Rhino or Tasigur at one point and attacking with the other. He opted to bin the Banana King, but that seemed wrong to me. Is Rhino’s Trample really that much more relevant when attacking? All of his cards in graveyard were removal, so it’s not unreasonable that a Tasigur activation would give him another Hero’s Downfall or Abzan Charm. Maybe I’m missing something mathwise. Logan was at thirteen life after the attack, so I guess keeping Siege Rhino lets Bruce kill Logan through a x/2 chump block with a second Rhino drawn? Or maybe Logan should read into that as Bruce having multiple Tasigurs in his deck and trying to prevent a potential blank topdeck, though I’m unsure if that’s something that actually matters or tells Logan anything.

Thinking more about it, Heroic was a really nice choice for this weekend. Everyone is all about the obvious Languish decks, and that is a card that is fine against Heroic but very beatable for it. Honestly, it’s probably easier to beat than the Crux of Fates it is replacing. Languish also pushes people towards U/B Control over Esper Dragons, which lowers the number of Foul-Tongue Invocations in the format, and the power of Languish against Abzan Aggro and Dragonlord Ojutai reduces the number of Self-Inflicted Wounds. Across the board, it looks like the metagame as a whole became way less prepared.

Round Fifteen

Mardu Dragons (Matthew Check) wins 2-1 versus Jeskai Aggro (Tyler Winn)


I’m trying to think through what exactly chased Goblin Rabblemaster out of the metagame or made it not immediately identifiable as the major player it was at the start of the year. I think part of it is that Draconic Roar got big, part of it was that the Rabblemaster decks either were too threat-light to beat Esper Dragons or too soft to Drown in Sorrow, and the last part was that the turn to Siege Rhinos, Deathmist Raptors, and Devotion meant that there were a lot of blockers that were either hard or bad to remove. The card is obviously going to shine the first week of the format against brews, but I’m unsure how much sticking power it has. It will still be the best red three-drop in the format, but it’s no longer the massive draw it was last fall.

Untapping with Mantis Rider is basically lethal. Again, another card that was chased away by the metagame train of Thunderbreak Regent plus Draconic Roar into Esper Dragons into Siege Rhinos for days. It does shine against G/R Devotion, and I can see a lot of worlds where this card turns out to be very powerful for a period of time. It’s easy enough to reposition your deck to beat it, so don’t get stuck on it.

I have no idea how Cedric got three drafts in after school plus Warcraft III by 1am. He either skipped classes, was finishing drafts in two hours or less, or definitely is confusing 1am with 2 or 3am [CEDitor’s Note: We play pretty fast (and loose) Magic in Ohio, Ari. Getting three drafts in was easy.]

As for Pat’s nostalgia, Kamigawa Block has actually aged pretty well. Ben Peebles-Mundy is constantly trying to get everyone on the East Coast to draft Champions-Champions-Betrayers and that format is quite good.

Having played the Jeskai side, I really disagree with Pat on the power of Thoughtseize. This is not the Jeskai Charm deck from Pro Tour Khans of Tarkir. The current Jeskai decks are really about positioning and lining up answers, and it’s really easy for Thoughtseize to pull apart the house of cards. I will note that some of this is skewed by the Abzan matchup where they are clearly ahead going long if you can’t line everything up, but it’s easy to have everything fall apart against Thunderbreak Regent or Stormbreath Dragon if your answer gets plucked away.

G/R Devotion (Tuan Nguyen) wins 2-0 versus Mono-White Devotion (Jordan Haukereid)

The fifteen seconds we saw here were not shocking. Dragonlord Atarka was in play, the board presence-based opposing deck was losing to it.

Top Eight Decklists:

Abzan Control (Bruce Edelman)

Yup, called the two copies of Tasigur, the Golden Fang.

Only playing two Den Protector seems odd. A lot of the power in that card is the loops it sets up with the second copy of itself to negate removal in the late-game. The Fleecemane Lions in the sideboard are also odd, but a reasonable call if Bruce was trying to level control players who were taking out Languish against his deck. The card is certainly much worse than it was when the Lion plan first surfaced at Grand Prix Memphis, both due to Languish and the rise in Devotion decks that can mostly ignore it.

G/R Devotion (Tuan Nguyen)

Besides the Sword of the Animist, Haven of the Spirit Dragon, and Ashcloud Phoenix, this seems really straightforward. I don’t like the Sword as it seems like your usual attacker to ramp will be a mana creature that dies and leaves you net even. I really like the Haven as looping Dragonlord Atarka is the draw to the other Atarka decks compared to this one and the cost of one Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx isn’t as big as it would seem in this deck. Ashcloud Phoenix I’m basically a wash on and would have to see the card in play to judge it.

Jeskai Tokens (Kevin McLeskey)

I’m assuming that Kevin is using Sphinx’s Tutelage in his sideboard as more enchantments to overload U/B’s counterspells and Perilous Vaults. I’m unsure if that is actually better than just a bunch of Negates, but it’s worth a try. It’s also possible that some mix is the right way to maximize the strain you put on their answers, and Kevin is doing that. Admittedly that’s a lot of slots spent on counters and Tutelage, but the Tokens cards are pretty inherently good against aggro.

I’m also interested in the choice of Seeker of the Way over Soulfire Grand Master. That implies to me that Kevin believes the Tokens deck already has enough late-game gas and wants the more powerful attacker over playing for a longer game. He could easily be right, but my gut says at the very least a split seems worth considering. Maybe you don’t want the second Grand Master early, but the deck digs deep enough that one or two would make a huge difference.

W/U Heroic (Logan Mize)

Logan knows what he wants. Less Ajani’s Presence as there is Languish over real Wraths. Not a lot of the bad creatures. Lots of Ordeals, lots of unblockable. The only numbers I’m questioning are three Temple of Enlightenment and only two sideboard Treasure Cruise. I would assume you want +1 copy of each, but then again Logan has approximately three hundred times the experience I have with this deck.

U/W Control (Jeff Hoogland)

Did you really not have the extra dollar for that Darksteel Citadel?

I would almost rather have the two copies of Mystic Monastery be Temples, but I guess Adrian Sullivan played two Opulent Palace and two bonus Temples with only one less colorless land at Pro Tour Dragons of Tarkir. You can certainly get more value out of your lands here somewhere, but it’s close enough for Week One.

I might want more copies of Swift Reckoning. Last Breath seems really bad against anything except for Goblin Rabblemasters, which admittedly is a bit of an issue for the rest of your kill spells.

G/R Devotion (Ross Merriam)

Nissa, Vastwood Seer is better against Abzan and other midrange decks. Deathmist Raptor is better against control. Make the right choice based on metagame.

Mardu Dragons (Matthew Check)

The Seeker of the Way/Soulfire Grand Master split is always interesting to me. There is always six of them, but no one actually knows if 4-2, 3-3, or 2-4 is right.

Not sure what Brimaz, King of Orsekos is doing. Maybe it was a Week One “mop up the nonsense” kind of threat?

G/R Devotion (Chris Andersen)

Chris wanted to beat control more than Ross did, or he just played his old list because he didn’t want to worry about new things. The Den Protectors in the sideboard are effectively replacing the two Nissa, Worldwaker in Ross’s sideboard, which is interesting when you think about Ross’s maindeck three-drop being anti-syngeristic with his anti-control sideboard card whereas Chris’s Deathmist Raptors make it so Den Protector is a reasonable option.

Top Eight Predictions:

Kevin McLeskey looks to have a clear path through his half of the bracket assuming the G/R Devotion (Tuan Nguyen) versus Mardu Dragons (Matthew Check) matchup breaks the expected way in G/R’s favor. If Kevin’s previous matchup against Brad Nelson was any indication, he should breeze through all Devotion opponents. Good luck Ross, you will need it.

On the other side, I think Jeff Hoogland likely can clear through to the finals. Chris Andersen should make short work of Bruce Edelman’s Abzan Control, while Jeff’s deck has a lot of unique aspects that punish Logan Mize Heroic deck. Most notably: colorless is not a valid color for Gods Willing, and getting through Thopter tokens is going to be very difficult for Logan.

As for who wins the finals, I’m really unsure. I think Kevin is ahead as Jeff isn’t the best at clearing an Ascendancy or Tokens without Bile Blight, but I could easily be wrong.

It appears Kevin has made a really good call for the weekend. Abzan and Devotion are the two decks to beat, and the latter is a bit soft to a resolved Ascendancy and the former is skimping on enchantment hate.


W/U Heroic (Logan Mize) wins 2-0 versus U/W Thopter Control (Jeff Hoogland)

Well then, or I’m just wrong about that. Can’t really count game one for anything, but game two really looked like Jeff was struggling to find his footing the whole time. The removal suite he had really hampered his options when facing down Logan’s creatures. It didn’t come up, but thinking about it I likely underestimated how backbreaking a Monastery Mentor backed up by Ajani’s Presence is here. Jeff would struggle to get the card off the board, and Mentor goes wide to match Thopters and has Prowess over them.

G/R Devotion (Ross Merriam) wins 2-1 versus Jeskai Tokens (Kevin McLeskey)

The shift to heavy planeswalkers here by Ross Merriam is really brutal for anyone not playing Hero’s Downfall. The answers to Xenagos, the Reveler and Polukranos, World Eater are really different besides paying 1BB and killing anything. It really helps that Stoke the Flames is pretty mediocre against all of Ross’s big creatures bar Whisperwood Elemental, I think the same transition out of something like G/R Dragons would be significantly less powerful.


W/U Heroic (Logan Mize) wins 2-1 versus G/R Devotion (Chris Andersen)

Uninteractive ramp loses to evasive creature combo. Yup, knew that one already. Logan Mize clearly knows his stuff for winning what is clearly one of the more important matchups. Four Aqueous Form, thanks for the games.

G/R Devotion (Tuan Nguyen) wins 2-1 versus G/R Devotion (Ross Merriam)

Game one looked like a clogged board mess, which seems completely uncharacteristic. I expected more of Atarka sending people back to the Stone Age.

Don’t forget to do the math about what happens if you play creatures before activating Nykthos or Xenagos. Tuan missed putting a Sylvan Caryatid onto the battlefield one turn in game three, which cascaded into a two-mana deficit each subsequent turn.


G/R Devotion (Tuan Nguyen) wins 2-1 versus W/U Heroic (Logan Mize)

Oh look. Aqueous Form puts you into a lot more races, and Ordeal of Heliod wins them. Synergy! That said, I can easily see a less focused Heroic list getting outmatched by G/R Devotion, either by being brick-walled or by just being raced by a rapidly expanding board.

I’m not sure if I missed anything, but it really looked like Sword of the Animist did nothing there. I was also completely unaware it was Legendary until right now.

I guess Tuan hit his out to the matchup in game three. Otherwise known as Heroic being Heroic.


Abzan beat the crap out of a metagame of less-refined decks. G/R Devotion did the same and came out ahead of Abzan. Logan’s Heroic deck did some of that and snuck through the Abzan into what should have been a good bracket but it just didn’t go his way.

I’m interested to look and see what Matt Tickal’s Rally deck lost to down the stretch.

There’s a lot more red moving down the line of results. The Goblins decks all finished a dozen or so slots out of contention, but there are a few midrange red decks in the Top 32 that surprised me to see. There’s surprisingly few control decks, which implies to me that either Languish isn’t what U/B is really looking for, that Languish drives off Dragonlord Ojutai, or both.

The big thing from this event I see happening is sideboard strain. With the advent of the Rally strategy, we are being pulled in an awful lot of directions. You needed hate to beat control and aggro and then have room to shift your deck a bit against a spread of midrange decks, but with Rally the Ancestors the sideboard slots you are going to use on them don’t have a ton of overlap unless you are blue.

What do I expect next week? Less Abzan, and about the same amount of G/R Devotion. If I had to choose a breakout deck, it would be an evasive aggro deck that is less all-in than Heroic. Of course, I’m willing to be surprised. If we learned anything here, it’s that Magic Origins provided the format with a lot of crazy options. My hope is that I’m the one surprising people at the Pro Tour with one of them and not the other way around.