Pro Tour Battle For Zendikar *40th*

Shaun McLaren has a Pro Tour title and another Finals appearance, so it’s understandable when he feels like 40th isn’t good enough. Read about his recommended deck changes and his ideas about the format being too slow before you take on #SCGSTL’s $5,000 Standard Premier IQ!

Screw the draw bracket…

…but I’m getting ahead of myself.

My story of Pro Tour Battle for Zendikar is one with ups and downs, insects and ingest, Jace and smashing face, Crackling Doom and gloom, Dig Through Times
and I’m done with these rhymes.

A tale that started with high hopes and lofty expectations and ended here:

40th place. What a cruel fate. To soar just close enough to glimpse the Top 8, to dream of what could have been, but never experience it. To touch the
warmth of eternal glory only to be consumed by the flames. Oh, woe is me! Oh, cruel fate that a cold and uncaring universe devoid of meaning has made me
wear like a tiny hat… ahem. Where was I? Yes, 40th place. Which, oddly enough, is exactly how I finished at the last Pro Tour.

Consistency? More like consistently not first place. So what went wrong? What went right? How did I end up on Jeskai?


Step 1: Always play Jeskai.

Apparently all roads leads to Jeskai. I don’t always play Jeskai, but when I do, it sure feels like coming home.

Once the set was spoiled, Abzan Aggro seemed like the level zero deck. It was already powerful and didn’t lose much. I also really liked how G/W Megamorph
played and would’ve been happy running either. The call of Jeskai is strong though, and it gained some spicy new tools. It did take me a while to arrive on
Jeskai though, and that time wasted really hurt me. I didn’t put quite all the finishing touches I would’ve liked to on my decklist, as I was busy testing
other decks and playing in Grand Prix Madison.

Grand Prix Madison was a bust after I opened one of the worst pools I’ve seen and misbuilt by stretching my mana too far to try and play enough good cards.

One of the reasons I avoided jumping all-aboard the Mantis Rider train was because I wanted to play a deck that beat Atarka Red. Jeskai does fine against
it, but isn’t exactly ideal.

Standard red decks, and aggro decks in general, used to be underpowered. As early as five years ago they were mostly fringe decks and control decks were
the top dogs. Now I feel like that situation has flipped. Red Aggro decks are actually able to withstand a lot of hate, and control decks are delegated to
being the ones waiting in the shadows, looking for an opportunity to pounce on an under-prepared format.

It also just so happened that late in testing I realized that the blue control decks would be under the radar and reasonably good. I figured lots of the
bigger teams would bring creature-light blue control to the tournament to abuse a format all about tempo with lots of decks loading up on removal spells.

Fortunately, I felt like Jeskai was a deck that could handle all of these things despite getting stretched thin. It would likely be a bit of a dog to
control and at the mercy of Atarka Red’s nut draws, but it had a lot of play and all the tools to succeed against the rest of the field. I didn’t have
enough time to get everything right, but I was happy (for the most part) with my list and the archetype.

I was confident Jeskai Black (I will personally think of it as Jeskai Doom, since it describes it and is, like, totally cool) was going to be good despite
it being a somewhat rockier uncertain road during my selection process heading into the Pro Tour.

Here’s what I played:

The manabase was one question mark I had until the end. It’s hard to say exactly what’s right, but it certainly worked fine. It allows for nut draws of
Sunken Hollow into Mountain into Plains, which gets you the mana to cast Mantis Rider or Crackling Doom on turn 3. A turn 1 Mystic Monastery means you
can’t play Crackling Doom on turn 3 without playing a tapped black source on turn 2 (since I’m not running a Swamp). But running a Swamp also comes with
costs since it only adds the least useful mana for the deck. My black splash was pretty light though, so I think having less reliable access to black mana
wasn’t a big issue.

Clash of Wills was good in theory, but ended up being pretty mediocre. I really like the surprise factor it gives. No one puts Jeskai on Clash of Wills
right now, and the other options aren’t particularly exciting. When you pass the turn with four mana up, everyone expects Ojutai’s Command, and will
certainly avoid casting something like Siege Rhino if possible. Clash of Wills is a card that gets significantly better on the play, since you’re able to
counter pretty much everything in the earlygame, especially things like Jace Vryn’s Prodigy on curve. I would often side out most of my Clashes on the draw
and favor bringing them in on the play. That’s something that works well in this deck since so many of the cards are medium quality and interchangeable, so
you can afford a card that gets way better on the play and still have enough good cards to bring in when you’re on the draw. Clash of Wills is fairly
clunky though and can be bad in the lategame. It’s also not a proactive card and does not work with aggressive draws like Dispel would.

Butcher of the Horde was on the weaker side, particularly based on the matchups I faced. It’s a nice card with Hangarback Walker, especially when it comes
to slicing and dicing a Gideon, Ally of Zendikar. It’s also a nice potential source of lifegain against aggro decks, and just a solid body overall,
especially in a format lacking instant speed removal, but it’s too clunky against control decks. Going forward I would likely cut it from the deck and move
towards more Tasigur, the Golden Fang. I think Butcher of the Horde and Clash of Wills primarily made the cut due to my fear of Gideon, Ally of Zendikar,
but I think I went a little overboard in that regard. Speaking of which, Gideon, Ally of Zendikar is a card I’d gladly put in Jeskai, except it really
stretches the mana too thin.

Utter End was excellent. Exiling Hangarback Walkers, Jace, Vryn’s Prodigies that couldn’t be returned with Ojutai’s Command, planeswalkers from control
decks, and enchantments like Silkwrap or Mastery of the Unseen. Utter End deals with a lot of Jeskai’s problem cards. The biggest problems Jeskai decks run
into are aggro decks going wide with tokens, enchantments, planeswalkers, and decks that don’t run targets for your removal.

Hangarback Walker was good. It’s an excellent filler card that is reasonable in pretty much every situation even though it isn’t usually outright bombastic
and can be a little clunky or a worse turn 2 play than Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy. It’s a proactive card against control and aggro, which is how I like my Jeskai
decks – low to the ground and proactive. It functions as a removal spell/speed bump in the earlygame with the option to become a real threat in the


My first draft had Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa to my left. The draft went pretty smooth, despite not seeing any blue, which is pretty much what I always want
to be pairing with black, red, or white. Honestly, I just don’t like green. I first picked Turn Against over Woodland Bellower, cards of similar power
level with one really strongly in a color I don’t want to be. I was mostly mono-red after pack one after seeing barely any blue. Thankfully, a nice B/R
Aggro deck came together. My loss came to PV in a feature match in round 2, and my other two matches were easy wins.

Standard started nicely with a couple wins over Atarka Red and Jeskai, and I was off to a crisp 4-1 start. That is, until I faced the Painful Truths Esper
Control deck in a long drawn match that ended up sending me to…

Draw Bracket Hell!

That’s right, I acquired the dreaded draw and was doomed to face control decks the rest of the tournament. I ended up playing five control decks during the
Standard portion of the tournament. My deck did not do well, going 1-3-1 against them, despite me trying to tune my list to be better against control at
the last minute. My 3-0 performance in the second draft (a solid U/R Ingest deck) was painfully followed by three losses to control decks. At least I
managed to close out the tournament with a couple wins and end up with a respectable 10-5-1 record.

Control Decks

Magic is a thinking game. Too often when playing a control deck does it feel like you have to play speed Magic. Especially when you’re playing a control
mirror, or midrange versus control.

There are 50 minute rounds at the Pro Tour, yet each round usually goes into time 10+ minutes beyond that. The system feels rushed while still feeling slow
with plenty of downtime all the same. 50 minute rounds with fetchlands just doesn’t work well.

Assuming players sit down and the match starts immediately when the clock starts, if a match goes to three games, you might have your time broken down like

– 6 minutes sideboarding.

– 10 minutes of miscellaneous shuffling.

– 34 minutes for playing

Which means you’ll have about eleven minutes per game. How much of that can be used to actually pause and think about a boardstate? Not much if you want to
finish a match. There are plenty of mechanical actions that take time: tapping lands, drawing cards, attacking, untapping, etc. You have to do most of your
thinking while performing all the other actions, which can leave things feeling very rushed.

What are some potential solutions assuming longer rounds aren’t wanted? Maybe change the way the clock works and how players go to time. I can imagine a
system with 65-minute rounds with no extra turns and no extra added time for deck checks or judge calls. As soon as the 65 minutes are up, match slips are
signed and the next round goes up. Of course, there would also inevitably be ways to exploit this system. It would punish people getting deck checked or
those who need to call a judge. The system we have now might not be ideal, but do better options exist?


The Pantheon’s deck that put Owen Turtenwald and Jon Finkel in the Top 8 looks great, so going forward I would want to discard what didn’t work and take
what did work with my deck and fuse it with their version.

Here’s what I’d start with:

Step It Up

I need to step up my game. I fought hard and I lost, but I’m still not playing perfectly, or near enough to the perfect threshold that I’m satisfied. I
will learn and improve.

No more excuses. No more blaming things on bad luck, bad matchups, or a bad sealed pool, or getting stuck in the draw bracket. Only wins or losses and the
goal to get better.

I’m feeling good though. I’ve really enjoyed the decks I’ve played recently and expect a breakthrough soon. For now, though, I’m just going to get some
games in with Jeskai. It’s a great deck with plenty of tools for dealing with practically everything the format can throw at it.