My Own Tragic Arrogance

The second week of Magic Origins Standard has seen some huge metagame developments, and Mark Nestico tries to get ahead of the shifts in time for #SCGRegionals this weekend by picking just the right deck.

So I’m dead on board.

By the way… I love stories that start like this. Just thought you should know.

My opponent is a nice young man named Matthew who, for all intents and purposes, just sealed the game up by playing Patron of the Valiant and attacked to drop me to five life. He left back the requisite amount of blockers to not die to my Outland Colossus and renowned Rhox Maulers. He’s also at a comfortable sixteen life. What can kill him from this spot?

He politely passes the turn and jokes, since my child-like glee is palpable at this moment, “am I dead?” The chuckles are real, and I am unable to contain them. My hand is double Act of Treason and Titan’s Strength. I steal his two best untapped creatures, swing with everyone, and his last remaining blocker can only soak the 6/6 while the rest of my stolen team bashes in. Titan’s Strength off of a (obviously topdecked that turn) Mountain seals the deal. His face is priceless before he extends his hand like a true gentleman. He laments making an attack with his Thopter token, which would have left him alive. I reason that my only out was the old draw-a-mountain-double-Act-of-Treason-and-Titan’s-Strength hand that he had no idea to play around. Better lucky than good.

From that point I embarked on a quest of great irony; winning a PPTQ the same week that I wrote about Why They Are Hurting Magic. Coincidentally it was my most wildly successful article, which makes it all the more ridiculous that I won one.

If you couldn’t tell, the format was sealed. I was passed a mundane pool that was highlighted by three Lightning Javelins, which I had to continuously remind people was not an instant. The deck had a glut of two-drops, no threes and the occasional four, and it was entirely misbuilt when I put together a R/B contraption that failed to do anything outside of casting Dragon Fodder on turn two and then hang out till I was dead. Every single round, I sided in to a R/G deck with some large creatures, still absolutely no three-drops and a distant prayer that my opponents would draw poorly and I would always curve into turn-four Embermaw Hellion off of a turn-three Nissa’s Pilgrimage. Everything went according to plan, and my bombs sans curve carried me to the Top Eight draft.

Now I’m a huge fan of reaching back into hallowed antiquity for strategies, so I feel like I should channel my inner Mike Flores and talk about a deck that was sweet years ago to draw a parallel between what could be fantastic right now. Also, States 2004!

I began my draft with a few good white and blue cards when an absolutely atrocious pack came along that only housed an Act of Treason. Sure. I’ll take it. The white and blue started to dry up, but a late Blazing Hellhound came along and a Nantuko Shade wheeled. I immediately identified that the people at this draft table weren’t going to respect the sheer power of Act of Treason and sacrificial effects. Priest of the Blood Rite in pack two or a foil Soulblade Djinn set me at a crossroads to either be rewarded for my first few picks or to follow through with R/B Husk. I slammed the Priest and was gifted with multiple Dragon Fodders plus a flow of Thopter Engineers and Firefiend Elementals. The deck was piled with twos and threes and had a very respectable curve culminating with two Husks, one Hellhound, and triple Act of Treason.

The short of it was a clear series of beating until the finals, where I was paired against one of the better local players and shout-out enthusiast Nick Ferlazzo. Nick and I reaped the benefits of being the two red drafters at the table, where his pairing of choice was green to my black. We opted to not split until the finals, where Nick graciously offered me the invite for the packs. I accepted, and here we are. Only five days removed from criticizing the PPTQ system, I am now at its mercy in a Halloween RPTQ – the last step before getting back to the Pro Tour.

You’re garbage, Nestico.

But anyhow – I hope you enjoyed my little jaunt down PPTQ lane. What I really wanted to talk about today is SCG Regionals. It’s Standard, and this format is wide-the-hell open as far as what your weapon of choice should be. It’s no surprise that what the current best deck is:

Nestico – I said you’re garbage.

So what I’m telling you is that this deck is the best one out there?

Well, for right now I feel like this is Public Enemy Number One.

Graveyard interactions against your opponent are very few and far between, outside of Pharika, God of Affliction. This gives Abzan Rally – in my head, this deck is like a company picnic where your boss tells you how where you work is the best company out there and it’s family… sorry, I digressed. Anyhow, this deck is essentially allowed free reign to assemble a combo that draws a ton of cards or kills players in a single attack. With Den Protector and Deathmist Raptor it’s even able to grind out games, and Grim Haruspex can refill your hand very rapidly.

Abzan Rally is unique in the context that it is able to absolutely abuse G/R decks to the extreme: because they don’t kill quickly enough and Rally has plenty of time to set up between enablers and Collected Company. This flips the script on the Week One de-facto best deck in G/R Devotion and, for all intents and purposes, it only had one copy in the Top Sixteen. G/R Ramp with See the Unwritten outperformed it by making a Top Eight, and the format has reacted to G/R’s dominance by having two Bant Hexproof decks in the Top Eight as well.

At this point, the decks that I enjoy like Jeskai Aggro may be suffering the side effects of Abzan Rally’s ability to goldfish you since you lack the ability to interact with them properly. This puts decks like Abzan or G/B Constellation back on the map since they can play Pharika or even Agent of Erebos without it altering their fundamental strategies.

This is an example of a strategy that can be employed to defeat Abzan Rally. It has multiple ways to dig for Pharika, and it can keep up on card advantage. Kruphix’s Insight is particularly effective, and in this shell it basically reads “2G: Draw three cards.” It is chock full of synergies that in a G/R-dominated format would be less than stellar. However, now that the format is warping around G/R Devotion, decks like Abzan Constellation become the predator for the decks looking to prey on it. Sigh. My kingdom for a Crypt Incursion.

As for me, I’m entertaining battling with either one of these at Regionals:

Abzan Control is tried and true, and Christopher’s take on the deck is an industry-standard glance into the future of this archetype. I’m not terribly keen on the singleton Duress in the main, but with Rally the Ancestors and all of the enchantments in Bant Heroic, it might be correct going forward. Skimping on Den Protector feels bad. I understand Dragonlord Dramoka, and with Mono-Red taking a Top Eight slot when it was supposed to be dead it would appear Chris was simply ahead of the curve.

Harlan Firer take on Jeskai Aggro bears a striking resemblance to what Gerry Thompson was advocating last week, and his twelfth-place finish means that it wasn’t a fluke. Mantis Rider is still a good place to be, and it’s possible that this deck can just outright race Rally with burn spells and haste creatures, not to mention being able to cheaply pick off early Elvish Mystics. The frankly silly number of Fleshbag Marauders and Merciless Executioners might throw some serious monkeywrenches into that plan, however.

If we’re brewing, does this format allow for the return of classic choices from last season?

Does the fear of Languish mean that Abzan Aggro or Mardu Dragons are obsolete options that we should shy away from?

Abzan Aggro is an interesting option to think about. A deck that plays four copies of Anafenza, the Foremost is attractive against Rally, and playing multiples of both Dramoka’s Command and Thoughtseize main gives it plenty of game against Bant Heroic. Our greatest concern is, of course, against Abzan Control or U/B Control since their multiple Languish draws can serve as a damning nail in the coffin that we’re not built to recover from.

This begs the question of what you expect to be the more dominant representation at Regionals: will it be the best decks of old, or the best decks of new?

How about this:

Danny Jessup was able to get a Top 32 on a perpetual mulligan to five every game he played, and that’s actually documented.

What blows me away about his version is that Tragic Arrogance might be one of the most underrated spells in the format. Casually sitting in bulk binders already, this card against Heroic and Rally is absolutely disgusting and in the mirror match it can cripple your opponent and leave you with the superior board. It requires setting up, but there is almost no coming back from it once it resolves.

Jessup’s version might be the cleanest, best deck to come out of the weekend, but because of the glut of mulligans he suffered he had to “settle” for an eighteenth-place finish. Sometimes you don’t need flash: you just need a perfectly tuned deck, and in the still-infant stages of Magic Origins Standard Danny is giving you the best weapon possible.

So what are you playing this weekend? Make sure to let me know and maybe you can help me take a Regionals trophy home. Regionals in the old days was my favorite tournament of the year, and winning one in 2009 gave me the bug for Magic on a scale I never knew could exist.

Damnit! I forgot to turn off my inner Flores. Also, States 2004!

Good luck at Regionals this year, Kiddies. I can’t wait to see how well you all do.

May the luck that I had at my PPTQ shine upon you.