One Door Closes, Another Opens

Andrew Shrout talks about Storm at Grand Prix Richmond, making Top 4 of a Standard PTQ with Naya Aggro, and his new gig on the StarCityGames.com coverage team!

Grand Prix Richmond is going to end up being one of my most memorable tournament experiences for a number of reasons. I didn’t attend Grand Prix Las Vegas last year, so it was by far the largest tournament I’ve ever attended. It was my last shot at earning an invite to Pro Tour Journey into Nyx, so in that sense I felt quite a bit of pressure, especially after making some bold claims last week about my deck choice. Most notably, though, I’ll remember GP Richmond as my last chance to play in a tournament run by StarCityGames.com as an outsider.

That’s right—I’ve accepted a position in Roanoke, Virginia, and starting next week SCG Open Series: Seattle, I’ll be appearing at events as part of the coverage team! I packed up everything I own last Thursday, drove over the mountains to meet up with some other Roanokians on their way to the Grand Prix, and am currently being graciously hosted in the home of Todd and Kali Anderson while I get myself situated. This means I’ll be actually competing in tournaments quite a bit less, but I fully intend to get back on the proper Magic Online grind in order to stay sharp. I’ll continue to write weekly in addition to my coverage duties.

So how was my last hurrah as a citizen? Sadly, I had a mediocre performance at the Grand Prix. I played Storm (hopefully to the surprise of no one) and got off to a 6-0 start before losing the last three rounds to miss day 2. I don’t feel like I was especially "hated out" or that I suffered because my opponents came prepared; I simply ran hot early in the day and ran cold later on.

I still think Storm is the best deck in the format, and if I had another shot, I wouldn’t hesitate to register it again. I’m aware that Storm did not "succeed" at the Grand Prix in that it didn’t manage to carry anyone to a 13-2 record, but in a tournament that big, the 13-2 cutoff represents less than one percent of the field. I saw no major shakeups to the metagame in Richmond, and I’ll almost certainly be casting Grapeshot in Modern for the foreseeable future.

I did make a few tweaks to the list. This is what I registered:

The only maindeck tweak was to cut the third Grapeshot to restore the fourth Goblin Electromancer. I still maintain that three Electromancers was the right call for the field we expected in Valencia, but I expected substantially less Zoo and as a result fewer decks to play the twelve-count package of Lightning Bolt, Lightning Helix, and Path to Exile backed up by a quick clock. I don’t care about losing an Electromancer to removal against Jund or U/W/R since neither deck can really pressure you in the meantime, but Electromancer is a serious liability against Zoo. I expect four to be the correct number going forward unless things really start to change up.

The only other maindeck change is really just an extension of a sideboard change; we added one Hallowed Fountain to enable Wear // Tear in the sideboard. I’ve always hated Echoing Truth in Storm because it’s only a temporary solution to the deck’s most feared hate card (Rest in Peace) and because it’s unreliable against varied hate. Wear // Tear is a clean solution to literally every problem permanent in the format and occasionally allows for the proper blowout when fused.

My teammates had a running tally of five fused Wear // Tear on day 1, but unfortunately I don’t know what the total count was for the tournament. I personally contributed just one, responding to turn 1 Relic of Progenitus, turn 2 Bitterblossom out of a W/B Tokens deck with Pyretic Ritual, Manamorphose, Wear // Tear. I was very happy with this inclusion and will consider it a stock aspect of my list going forward.

The rest of the sideboard changed very little, though some of the numbers were tweaked. I was happy with a pile of two-ofs considering how little you actually want to sideboard with this deck in most matchups. I initially had three copies of Wear // Tear and three copies of Empty the Warrens, but I realized on Saturday morning that six anti-hate card slots was far too many and trimmed one of each to make room for two copies of Blood Moon. I mostly wanted Blood Moon because it seemed like Jund and Junk were on the rise, both of which have become much more vulnerable to Blood Moon after the loss of Deathrite Shaman.

My tournament played out like this:

Round 1 – Bye
Round 2 – Bye
Round 3 – Win vs. Scapeshift
Round 4 – Win vs. U/W/R
Round 5 – Win vs. Jund
Round 6 – Win vs. W/B Tokens
Round 7 – Loss vs. U/W/R
Round 8 – Loss vs. Living End
Round 9 – Loss vs. Big Zoo

I felt unstoppable in rounds 3 and 4, plowing through multiple counters to win convincingly. Round 5 was an on-camera feature match against Christian Calcano. Amusingly, Calcano and I were rooming together for this tournament, and the other two in our room, Chris Fennell and Craig Wescoe, were also facing each other down the hall in the Pink flight. Because we had discussed our lists the night before, I knew that Calcano was playing Jund, and I expected quite a test. Calcano mulliganed to oblivion in game 1, but our second game proved to be quite close. I managed to pull it out by casting Past in Flames with only one mana floating, paying life to Flashback Gitaxian Probes from my graveyard and hitting a land off the top to give me the mana to go off.

W/B Tokens is one of the easiest decks in the format to beat in game 1, and they need to rely on heavy sideboarding to turn the tide. But I had the aforementioned Wear // Tear blowout in game 2 of round 6 and was able to get Pyromancer Ascension going from there.

I wish I remembered more of my round 7 match. I had a turn 3 kill in game 1, but I got smothered by cheap counters and pressure in the post-board games. I normally love the U/W/R matchup because they struggle to apply enough pressure, giving you plenty of time to maneuver around their interaction, but my opponent flipped the script with Thundermaw Hellkite in game 2 and Geist of Saint Traft in game 3, closing me out quickly.

Round 8 is my only real regret of the tournament, as it was very much winnable if I had just been slightly more creative. I won game 1 easily; it’s something of a recurring trend that a lot of Storm’s matchups are really lopsided in game 1, and Living End is no exception. I figured that most people who played Living End would use Michael Hetrick’s list from the Pro Tour with four copies of Leyline of the Void, so I brought in Wear // Tear and Swan Song but made the mistake of cutting Lightning Bolt, leaving just Grapeshot to win with and failing to mix up my win conditions to play around Slaughter Games. Sure enough, my opponent got me with the Games the turn before I could go off. He named Grapeshot, and I conceded.

I realized as soon as I scooped up my cards that I could still have very easily won. I was about to get Pyromancer Ascension active and would have been easily able to draw my deck from there. I thought I had no win condition, but it would have been academic to find all four copies of Pyromancer Ascension, turn them on, and then cast, copy, and counter some rituals to make ten 2/2s with Swan Song. I bricked off on several cantrips to fizzle out in game 3, proving that there is some justice in the world after all.

I didn’t quite get my head back on straight in time for the last round, so I don’t remember too many of the details except that I cantripped into a lot of lands and got rolled over in two games. My opponent was an excitable young man who was playing in his first Grand Prix, and his buddies stood over his shoulder the whole match cheering him on. I think a part of me was cheering for him too. My deck was anyway.

Bonus Standard Content!

The weekend between my return from Spain and my relocation to Virginia, I had the opportunity to play in one last PTQ in Bloomington, Indiana. With all the focus on Modern leading up to the Pro Tour, I had hardly thought about Standard at all, so I turned to the Magic Online Daily Event results to see if I could find something spicy. Sure enough, in the first event I checked, SCG’s own Brad Nelson had 4-0ed with an intriguing Naya Aggro deck, so I messaged him to ask for a list, and he obliged. I spent one afternoon playing eight-mans to get a feel for the deck, eventually made some changes, and took the list to a Top 4 finish at the PTQ.

This is the list I played:

Brad’s original list had Solider of the Pantheon, but I hated not being able to target them with my various combat tricks, so I cut them for an extra Loxodon Smiter, a 23rd land, and some maindeck Mizzium Mortars. This deck is essentially G/W Aggro splashing red for combat tricks, which is exactly the sort of proactive angle I was looking for in Standard, and Brave the Elements in particular is a fantastic place to be when the entire format has devolved into a pile of midrange monocolored blockers. I intend to tinker with the archetype a little more in the coming weeks, as it’s looking like my next opportunity to actually play competitive Magic will be the Standard Grand Prix in Phoenix.

Until then look for me on coverage, and if you’ll be at the SCG Open Series in Seattle or Los Angeles, please make a point to introduce yourself. I’ve put in all my time as a grinder on the eastern side of the country, and I’m eager to get a taste of the West Coast Magic community!