One Step Ahead – Testing For Berlin

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Tuesday, November 4th – Constructed Master Gerry T didn’t quite rock the format at Pro Tour: Berlin, but his deck of choice did manage some strong finishes in the hands of others. Today’s One Step Ahead sees Gerry share his thought processes behind his extensive testing regime. He also brings us a recap of the Pro Tour from his own perspective…

Last week, I briefly chronicled my frustration with Extended. This week, I’m going to take you a little more in depth. Shortly after my two-part series on Extended, I decided that Zoo and combo, specifically UR Desire, were the best decks. Affinity was a close third. So how should I go about building a deck that beats all three of those?

I tried plenty of strategies. Loam was usually a turn slow against everything. I frequently found myself thinking that I would have turned the game around if only I had one more turn to either Raven’s Crime their hand away or stabilize the ground with a Worm Harvest. Loam just wasn’t powerful enough to justify playing a deck that was a turn too slow for the format.

I decided that strategies abusing Chalice of the Void were strong, since it could potentially be extremely powerful. An active Counterbalance would destroy most of the top decks, and Chalice was the original Counterbalance. At first, I tried it in Tron, but the deck just wasn’t consistent. You would get these awkward hands with too many artifacts or not enough colored mana.

Next up, I tried a midrange Green deck, which used to be popular on Magic Online a couple of years ago. From my Zoo testing, I knew that a couple of Gaddock Teegs wouldn’t be enough to keep combo down, especially the newer versions with Grapeshot. I normally needed to draw multiple disruption cards to beat them.

Here is the list I put together:

Midrange Base Green

4 Birds of Paradise
2 Llanowar Elves
4 Gaddock Teeg
3 Vendilion Clique
4 Kitchen Finks
3 Loxodon Hierarch
2 Grand Arbiter Augustin IV

4 Chalice of the Void
2 Umezawa’s Jitte
3 Threads of Disloyalty
3 Bant Charm
2 Thirst for Knowledge

4 Chrome Mox
3 Treetop Village
3 Flooded Grove
4 Windswept Heath
2 Flooded Strand
1 Wooded Foothills
1 Mutavault
1 Hallowed Fountain
1 Sacred Foundry
2 Breeding Pool
2 Forest

The biggest problem I found with this deck was that once my article series on Extended went up, most Zoo decks were trying Oblivion Rings. Those were conveniently good against Chalices. Attempting to resolve a Chalice for two against combo decks packing Remand was also too difficult. Had I been playing Ethersworn Canonists instead of Teegs (which would obviously be better with Chalice and Thirst, but not Chrome Mox), my combo matchup would have been a lot better. Perhaps then I would have spent a little more time on this brew.

Instead, I moved on. Chalice was definitely not as great as I had thought it was going to be. Stifle was the best performing card against storm decks, and Threads was by far the best performing card against Zoo. Blue seemed like the answer. I didn’t like the idea of an actual control deck, as eventually combo could just Gigadrowse you out, or Zoo could topdeck that last Tribal Flames. So I needed to have a clock of some sort.

After all, what’s the best answer to a Wild Nacatl? Your own, obviously.


4 Wild Nacatl
4 Kird Ape
4 Tarmogoyf
3 Gaddock Teeg
3 Kitchen Finks
2 Vendilion Clique

3 Stifle
4 Lightning Helix
2 Umezawa’s Jitte
3 Bant Charm
3 Threads of Disloyalty
2 Thirst for Knowledge

2 Chrome Mox
4 Wooded Foothills
4 Flooded Strand
4 Windswept Heath
1 Hallowed Fountain
1 Breeding Pool
1 Steam Vents
1 Sacred Foundry
1 Stomping Ground
1 Temple Garden
1 Island
1 Plains
1 Forest

This is what I started with. Mark Herberholz suggested Ethersworn Canonist instead of Teeg for multiple reasons. It protected itself from Grapeshot against TEPS, it played better with Thirst, and was easier to cast. While Gaddock has his own merits, Canonist was better for what I was trying to accomplish, which was destroying Zoo, Affinity, and TEPS.

Vendilion Cliques were quite good, but Finks were much better, especially against Zoo. Testing showed that I was a slight favorite against Zoo, a heavy favorite against TEPS, and a huge dog to Affinity, although my plan all along was to correct that with my sideboard.

I definitely wanted to increase the Threads and Finks to four-ofs, and possibly add another Jitte. The cards I had to cut were Bant Charm and Vendilion Clique, which made my matchups against random decks (such as Death Cloud) significantly worse. A couple of main deck Ranger of Eos were another nod to the Zoo matchup. Usually, I would enter the midgame at fifteen life or higher, but be unable to actually lock up the game. I tried card drawers like Thirst and Compulsive Research, but Ranger was much more powerful. Thirst and Compulsive could sometimes fail to draw me any business, but the Ranger never missed.

Around this time I received word that some Italians managed to create a similar deck, only they refused to cut Dark Confidant. To me, this signified that I was on the right track. If similar groups were coming to the same conclusions as I was, then I had to be doing something right, or so I thought.

Real control decks were my worst nightmare, and the best solution I could think of was playing Sulfuric Vortex. When you cut Dark Confidant, Tribal Flames, and Tidehollow Sculler from your Zoo deck, your matchups against random decks become much worse. Most of those cards have an “Oops, I win” factor to them, whereas nothing had that in my deck.

After taking the Zoolution for a few runs through Magic Online eight mans, I decided this wasn’t the deck I wanted to play at the Pro Tour. Regular Zoo just seemed so much more powerful. What did I have to cut to start playing regular Zoo? Threads? It didn’t even really occur to me until this point that Threads wasn’t even doing most of the work in the Zoo matchup. It was an overall combination of Helix, Finks, and Jitte that won most of my games. Threads was great when it stuck around, but Oblivion Ring seemed to always quash that plan.

In the end, I managed to create a deck that defeated the big three, but I didn’t expect those decks to make up more than 60% of the metagame. I needed something that actually stood a chance against the rest of the field.

Here is the Zoo list that I would have played at the Pro Tour, had I not had some sense talked into me:

4 Kird Ape
4 Wild Nacatl
1 Akrasan Squire
1 Figure of Destiny
4 Dark Confidant
4 Tarmogoyf
4 Tidehollow Sculler
2 Kitchen Finks

4 Lightning Helix
4 Tribal Flames
4 Oblivion Ring
2 Rise/Fall
1 Umezawa’s Jitte

4 Wooded Foothills
4 Bloodstained Mire
4 Windswept Heath
1 Flooded Strand
1 Overgrown Tomb
1 Sacred Foundry
1 Temple Garden
1 Blood Crypt
1 Stomping Ground
1 Godless Shrine
1 Steam Vents
1 Plains

2 Kitchen Finks
3 Ranger of Eos
1 Rise/Fall
3 Sulfuric Vortex
3 Kataki, War’s Wage
3 Stifle

Easily the best thing about this list is the Rise/Falls. They are quite possibly the sickest answer to your opponent’s Threads of Disloyalty. They also double as combo or control hate, should you get lucky with your Hymn to Tourachs. I was actually fairly excited to attack again. I felt like I knew what the deck the needed, as I had spent several hours thinking about what I didn’t want to see them cast. Playing both sides of every matchup always helps.

Enter John Penick. While most of you probably don’t know this fine fellow, you will soon enough. He is the definition of a ringer. Anyway, he was the one who talked some sense into me. He brought the idea of Faeries back from the dead. It made me question why I had dropped Faeries to begin with. Obviously, the number one reason was that it was barely more than even against Zoo, and miserable against Affinity.

At this point, most sideboards I saw had four to seven dedicated hate cards for Affinity, and most decks had Stifles main for combo. Some of the higher level groups were rumored to be testing nothing but Blue decks. Were Affinity, TEPS, and Zoo even the decks I should be worried about?

Faeries seemed like an amazing choice if I could dodge Affinity, and mise against Zoo. I mean, I have access to Blue and Black mana… surely I should be able to do something about the Zoo menace? I mostly gave up on Faeries ever beating Zoo consistently because I felt as if other decks could achieve that goal easier. I was right in that regard, but Faeries now had some addition merit. I would be able to easily defeat those with control decks.

After some quick testing sessions against Zoo, I decided Faeries was the deck to play. After some last minute brainstorming on the plane, and even more last minute play testing at the event site, I had my list.

The maindeck Stifles may look out of place, but I was still a little worried about combo decks. I definitely wanted the full amount of Stifles in the 75, but when you cut them from the maindeck, your sideboard numbers get really awkward. There would be some matchups where you would want to bring in twelve and only board out eight.

Rich Hoaen complained about the Mistbind Cliques and sided them out against everything, but I liked them. They really help against Zoo and other control decks. I wouldn’t say that they are uncuttable, but I did almost play a third in the PT and never boarded them out. If you want to cut anything, it should probably be Mistbinds or Stifles.

Penick and Rich were adamant about always wanting to draw Jitte. I also feel that way most of the time, but I also tested a ton of games against Zoo where drawing multiple artifacts was stunting my growth, either because of the lack of things to Chrome Mox, or just having a bunch of things that didn’t do anything when I was behind. Obviously, if we knew Elves would be as big as it was, we would have played a third, but still.

The basic goal of the deck is to get one of your many engines online, whether it be Bitterblossom, Dark Confidant, Umezawa’s Jitte, or even Riptide Laboratory. If one of those starts doing its thing, you will probably win. Nassif recommended his Mono-Blue Faeries deck to me, as he liked not having to get draws where you are just all in on a Confidant. However, you also don’t get free wins off those types of cards. In control mirrors (and against most decks for that matter), I would definitely want to have the 1B cards in my deck rather than not.

Before the Pro Tour, I knew that Elves existed, but I had no idea it would be as popular as it was. However, due to my insistence that we are able to defeat Zoo, our deck was mostly good against Elves anyway. TEPS and Affinity were largely non existent. My read on Blue decks was spot on, and Death Cloud/Doran decks represented a solid portion of the field. I was definitely happy with my choice before, during, and after the Pro Tour. So what happened? Clearly my name isn’t up in lights.

Round 1 I sat down across from none other than Guillame Wafo-Tapa. We have a history…

At Grand Prix: New Jersey, he made a game losing error against me that catapulted me into Top 8.

At Pro Tour: Valencia, I could have cast Enduring Ideal up into the four open mana of his UG Heartbeat deck, or I could Burning Wish for Duress, cast it, play Boseiju, and then cast Ideal next turn. Dovescape kolds his entire strategy.

I figure that he could have eight outs between Remand and Cunning Wish for Envelop, so I make the safer play, Duress a largely irrelevant card, and then lose when he draws his three outer Early Harvest, has to Desire for five, and then easily gets there.

He didn’t have anything to stop the Ideal.

I was pretty excited for this pairing. This is the matchup I wanted, although not necessarily against the player. I was out for revenge. I played to the best of my ability game 1, and was up a game after about fifteen minutes.

In game 2, I had a turn 1 Dark Confidant that eventually got Repealed. I ended up a little land shy and couldn’t make good use of my several one-mana counterspells. He was a little mana shy also, but was able to make better use of his spells, mostly due to Glen Elendra Archmage. I had to replay Dark Confidant on defense, but couldn’t ever trade with his guys because of his Riptide Laboratory. Bobby killed me. I’m almost certain I threw this game away, but can’t exactly pinpoint where. I decided not dwell on it, as I had a match to win.

We started game 3 with about fifteen minutes on the clock, and I quickly mulliganed a hand that would have been spectacular with a single land, as it had a Chrome Mox. My second hand was acceptable. I started with a second turn Vendilion Clique and saw that he is again, short on lands. I put a Venser on the bottom and Mistbinded him on his third turn. Mutavault and the Clique eventually get him to one, but I couldn’t beat through his pair of Archmages before a topdecked Shackles took over.

Second round I lost to Kenny Oberg teammate playing Tezzeret control. Despite him moving all in on Tezzeret’s ultimate ability, only to find out that he couldn’t attack due to his own Ensnaring Bridge, I lose 2-0. Basically, Faeries has a very difficult time dealing with an active Shackles, and he forced it through both games.

Round 3 I defeated a Doran deck, and round 4 I beat a Death Cloud deck. Game t3 was pretty awkward. I mulliganed a no-land hand on the play into a very good one-lander. He Thoughtseized my only two-drop and I missed my second land drop. I got there on turn 3, only to have my entire hand Persecuted away. And yet, my opponent doesn’t win this game.

Round 5 I got a little overzealous against Elves and end up losing because of it. Justice exists, and as proof I got extremely flooded game 2. My opponent had me dead on board, but didn’t want to attack for fear of a trick, hoping my Confidant will kill me. Instead, I drew six lands or Moxen in a row, and when he drew another guy and could safely play around two potential tricks, he decided to kill me.

Sixth and seventh round I finally got to play against some Zoo decks, and barely lose one game. While playing for Day 2, I got paired against a burn deck. He won the die roll, and killed me on turn 4 when I have Bitterblossom, Jitte, and untapped Island, and two other lands, when my hand held was Spell Snare, Spellstutter Sprite, and another land. Basically, if I got to untap, I couldn’t lose.

Second game I had the nuts. During his turn 1 draw step, I Vendilion Clique him, leaving only a Jitte in my hand. His hand contains Rift Bolt, Incinerate, Sulfuric Vortex, Keldon Marauders, and lands. Taking Rift Bolt is the obvious choice, as it plus any other burn spell could kill my Clique. I manage to rip the land, and get some Jitte counters. Sadly, my opponent drew a Shrapnel Blast and I drew six lands in a row. The nuts isn’t even close to good enough.

In hindsight, I would consider the Elvish menace as a viable deck, and then realize that I should add a couple of cards simply to solidify the matchup. I really liked the deck, and just felt like I didn’t do it justice with my play. Gadiel started 8-0 and Rich Hoaen was 8-2 because they both crashed. Granted, both are insane masters, but both are also semi retired. Richie attempted to champion his Dark Confidant to Mistbind Clique at least once in the tournament. He won that match.

I’m writing this on Saturday night, and still cannot believe that more people weren’t actually prepared for Elves with Canonists, Jittes, and Explosives. Granted, Elves can be very resilient to most artifacts due to Viridian Shaman, but still. Six copies in the Top 8? That is simply absurd. That is what happens you take Counterbalance out of a fast format, people. You might not like getting all of your spells counterspelled from time to time, but at least it opens the metagame a little.

Big, huge, enormous sized congratulations to Luis Scott-Vargas for finally pushing through that barrier. You really deserve it, man. Sorry that you have a tough matchup in the Top 8, but hopefully you’ll ramp up to Viridian Shamans and get there. Hopefully you just get your ninth, tenth, and eleventh turn 2 kills against him. [And, as we know, Luis went all the way! Congratulations to LSV! — Craig.]

I’m really sorry I don’t have anything Standard related this week, but I simply haven’t had the time. I will do a lot of brewing in the coming week, and will hopefully have a winning Champs report next week. After all, I did make Top 8 last year with a 65-card maindeck…