My friend Patrick Chapin told my wife that I sounded horrible on the phone the last time I had spoken to him. “I was worried,” Pat said, “that something had happened to you or Bella… And then it turned out that it had something to do with Magic.”
“Guess who didn’t think that was funny?” queried my wife, upon reporting this to me.
I did not cease flagellating myself mentally for at least a week after the aborted loss in the finals of the Connecticut tournament. I don’t like losing in general, and had my personal record in Connecticut been more relevant, the team would have lost much more than the one time for the Blue Envelopes. I literally walked around in a daze every day, thought of little else but personal failure. The possibilities, the many misplays, danced across my imagination without ceasing. I was miserable.
Rapt in this boundless depression, I, for the first time since Craig came on board, missed Flores Friday. [Hey, you’ve more than made up for it this week.-Craig]
Staring into that dank pit, that interminable blackness from which there is only one exit, I emerged with the only armor I possess more unending than the stink of squandered qualification: the desire to playtest, even break, a relevant Constructed format.
My short-term inspiration actually came from the team of Denham, Folinus, Hetherington, our opponents in the Top 4 of the Connecticut PTQ. Paul and Steve won against Ghost Dad and the mirror, respectively, per normal, whereas I got my butt handed to me by a post-Japanese G/W beatdown deck with Greater Good (rather than Glare of Subdual) main, per normal. In that Top 4 match, I lost from a position where – though on one life – I thought I was ahead. My opponent Matt Denham quite cleverly used Congregation at Dawn to put Selesnya Guildmage on top of his library and overran my double Vitu-Ghazi board with his 2/2 Saproling tokens.
At the same time, and by “at the same time” I mean “since the release of Ravnica,” I have been enamored of this card Chord of Calling (you may recall that in my Ravnica Set Review I assigned Chord of Calling the rare Flagship rating). J. Evan Dean’s new deck from Honolulu, which could summon up the (Ghost Dad hating) Ghost Council of Orzhova, merely gave me the justification to explore the hybrid route.
Ultimately, I also borrowed a limited Spiritcraft suite from Ghost Dad, but was able to constrict that sub-theme into just a few cards rather than twisting my entire deck around it as Ben, Ben, Ben, and the rest of their clan did with Tallowisp.
Without further preamble (and I’m sure you’ve already scrolled down to the mystery deck list, don’t lie), here is the deck I played in the April 1 PTQ in Pennsylvania:
- 4 Llanowar Elves
- 4 Wood Elves
- 3 Yosei, the Morning Star
- 3 Kodama of the North Tree
- 1 Viridian Shaman
- 1 Nikko-Onna
- 4 Loxodon Hierarch
- 4 Selesnya Guildmage
Believe it or not, I am pretty sure this deck is ahead against every known deck in Standard (the ones I’ve seen people play, anyway), except maybe Vore. I wouldn’t even have known it was behind Vore because I consistently thrashed Vore opponents on MTGO… but in this week’s playtest session, I won maybe 3 games out of 20 against Steve playing Vore (sound familiar?). I actually found that dizzying, particularly when he’d do things like cast a 1/1 Magnivore when I had Wood Elves and Giant Solifuge… and win. One of the reasons I played the new G/W deck was that I had never lost a single match on MTGO with it (although it’s not like I played in 100 8-Mans or anything). It just seemed to be really robust, with great card power and a lot of outs.
It’s not that I deliberately avoided playing against Heartbeat online, but I just happened to never play against it in the one week in between PTQs. When I finally played the matchup – and against a competent opponent, Don Lim* – in this week’s playtest session at Neutral Ground, I was pleasantly surprised to see that G/W was a slight favorite in game 1. Unlike most of the other decks with main deck enchantment removal, G/W puts out a threatening clock early, so that when the Heartbeat player is trying to go off, there is actually pressure on him. When he plays Early Harvest, the G/W deck can usually make a relevant response with two or three mana open, either Seed Spark with two mana or Chord of Calling for Nikko-Onna with three. In our limited testing, this was enough to delay Heartbeat’s fundamental turn past G/W’s counterpart. Oddly, the games I was losing with G/W were the ones when I had Yosei online with Miren in play… but couldn’t (or was too tentative to) lock Don for fear of Early Harvest eating my Dragon.
Playing the G/W deck was a compromise on some of the principles that made our configuration work in Week 1. For one thing, we suddenly had a deck in the line-up that 1) could be on the wrong end of a Jitte fight and 2) made the opposing team’s Wrath of God good. I brought this up to my team-mates, but Steve merely said “Shut up: I’ll play anyone, any matchup, for $50 a game,” while Paul asked me to “Imagine how well [he] would have done if [he] had known what that Greater Good deck did,” or something along those lines. It was only in actually laying out the cards and moving them from 60/75 to 60/75 did I realize that I was playing better cards than I had the week before.
If you look back at the original articles I had about Team Constructed PTQs, you’ll see my Top 10 rankings for the cards in Standard include spells like Yosei and Umezawa’s Jitte… The weird thing was I wasn’t even giving anything up.
The biggest incentives to Combo Deck were Loxodon Hierarch and Vitu-Ghazi, the City Tree. The Japanese had Hierarch as their #1 card and Gabe Walls assured me that Vitu-Ghazi was the Beach House’s #1 (an exaggeration, probably, but the point was taken). I wasn’t losing any of those cards… I was mostly losing one-for-ones like Mortify, Putrefy, and Dimir House Guard. In exchange I was just getting different one-for-ones and search… except I was getting card advantage on the same classes of cards (Seed Spark, Viridian Shaman, Nikko-Onna; Wood Elves, Chord of Calling). The inability to straight up remove a Meloku or Keiga (and ultimately care about that Keiga) was annoying, but I found that Kodama of the North Tree was sufficiently difficult to remove that I was not actually behind against The Best Threats, even if they were scary in play.
If this deck looks similar to, say, Tomohiro Kaji’s deck from the Top 8 of the World Championships, there’s a reason for that. I based the deck heavily on the Worlds Top 8 Ghazi-Glare decks, but added the Chord engine in place of Congregation at Dawn and Arashi, the Sky Asunder. Despite the structural similarities to the Worlds Ghazi-Glare, the capabilities of this Chord engine deck are much more intricate than they might seem from a passing glance. In testing, for example, I would often get into a stall position with another g-x creature deck and then use the Chord to bust out. A common strategy against, say, Heezy Street was to Chord for Yosei at the end of turn, untap, and bash for five in the sky. The opponent would be behind JUST to the Dragon, but of course in a long game I would have already drawn a Yosei, so THAT ONE would come down, complete with two Time Walks (more than enough to win in most cases). The trade-off for this deck is an inability to put three dumb Elephants on top of the deck against Gruul Deck, Heezy, or Zoo… but since you usually draw a Hierarch and a Chord, say, that loss of Tutor power is not exactly game over.
The real reason I grew to love the G/W deck was a dramatic turn in a game against Ghost Dad:
- My board was Loxodon Hierarch and six untapped lands.
- He had Ghost Council, some 2/2 and a Tallowisp, and six of his own.
- Ghost Dad tapped for Thief of Hope, triggering Tallowisp and searching up Pillory of the Sleepless. His last three mana put that Pillory onto my Hierarch and he sent all.
- During combat, I used Chord for three to find Nikko-Onna, destroying the Pillory on my Hierarch; Elephant jumped in front of Legend, 2/2 fought 2/2, and the ‘wisp came in for one.
- Tapped out and with damage on the stack, I played Shining Shoal, moving the 4 damage from Ghost Council onto the Tallowisp and triggering Nikko-Onna’s Unsummon ability (i.e. reloading for the next enchantment). So basically, I swept the board and tapped him out, leaving a dramatic advantage on my side of the table.
Early versions of the deck had as many as two Ghost Councils in the sideboard and one in the main deck (despite a complete paucity of Black mana), but I found that I was drawing the Ghost Councils too often, and worse, that I was siding them in on “good card” account in even non-Ghost Dad decks, which was not good for the old win percentage. Ultimately, the dominance of plays like the one above and the fact that the strength of the G/W is a mix of power and consistency persuaded me to remove the last Ghost Council from the deck, which was a key driver of the win percentage of the eventual version.
In the later versions, the lone maindeck Shining Shoal toggled between that Instant and Hokori, Dust Drinker. I sided out Hokori on any excuse, and only Chorded for it as a singleton once. “He’s Green,” “He has Karoos,” and “He is an Annex deck” were all justifiable Hokori hacks… so I decided to tell everyone to play Goblin Flectomancer.
I was happy with the deck and ceased testing for a bit, and in fact had never actually tested the Heartbeat match, so I didn’t know how winnable game 1 was. The theory was that I could Chord for Goblin Flectomancer and steal Heartbeat’s Early Harvest the turn it was going off. Becker suggested this card, whereas Josh said, “I would always draw it.” Sure enough, Brian Kowal, a friend I had given the deck to for testing, pleaded with me to “just play the Beach House deck” after a “disgusted” testing session against Zoo. “I thought this deck was supposed to be good,” he said (I told Brian I had never lost a match… but then again, I had never actually played with Flectomancer myself). It turns out Brian drew the Flectomancer about seven games out of ten, in a matchup where even if he could have cast it, it wouldn’t have been very good.
The deck was super good, so I was super excited about it. I was so excited, I ran a Top8Magic Podcast about the deck before the PTQ… Forum denizen Pselus, loyal RSS Subscriber that he is, heard about it, and… Well, I’ll let him tell that story for himself.
As for my own PTQ, it wasn’t particularly exciting. Round 1 I played against a B/W Rats deck where he got pretty optimal disruption, Castigating my Jitte, flipping a Nezumi Shortfang, and finding key beaters of his own (including Hypnotic Specter). I mised my Shoal to kill the Specter and just set up behind a City-Tree. At one point I made a minor error of holding a Brushland to prevent a point off Stabwhisker the Odious; I thought to myself “I hope he doesn’t rip Ravenous Rats,” and… you know where this is going.
I got enough tokens that he wasn’t attacking, and ripped a Chord after buying back some Loxodon life. One end-of-turn Yosei later, and it was game 2.
In the second, I kept a multiple Karoo hand where I would end up having to discard on turn 2 unless I drew a Llanowar Elves. He played Ravenous Rats on his turn 2, so that made it easy for me. You’d think Rats drawing multiple Hypnotic Specters and a Jitte versus my nothing would be ahead, but I played three Faith’s Fetters (and the fourth was the card I dropped to Rats) on Specter, Specter, Specter, and had 2 Hierarchs for my guys. Late game I got Glare online with some Saprolings… but it didn’t matter.
My stupid team-mates both 2-0d their opponents, too.
Round 2 I played against Owling Mine. Owling Mine is a very winnable matchup for my deck in general, but he missed land drops despite hitting a second turn Howling Mine, and was understandably frustrated. The maindeck Shoal came in handy to avoid triple Ebony Owl damage, but the game wasn’t really close; in fact I had a Seed Spark in reserve and had dropped the Shaman on Howling Mine before he could get much advantage.
After boards, my deck is a bit stronger against Owl… Four Shining Shoals to get under the Ebony Owl and move Sudden Impact damage, three Seed Sparks, and two Viridian Shamans. Again he missed land drops despite a Kami of Crescent Moon, so it wasn’t a very difficult win. But again, it didn’t matter.
“Thanks for showing up, Mike,” said Paul. “… Not that your games mattered or anything.”
With the 2-0 under our belts, we dropped from the PTQ with a 1700+ rating despite my ill play in the finals the previous week.
Unlike the first week or so of PTQs, I think that the format is more open now. It is much more difficult to predict the opposing decks (and in the mere one week delta, our B/W opponents went from almost entirely Ghost Dad to other aggro versions), but I think that it is still a safe bet to metagame against Ghost Council as long as your choice is not married specifically to beating Ghost Dad and you are aware that the better teams will have a Heartbeat deck. Osyp thinks that his version of the B/W aggro is the best in the format, and the 8-0 he posted in the Pennsylvania PTQ does nothing to diffuse that estimation. Meanwhile, I think that the G/W deck in this article is on a very short list of elite Standard decks (quite believable, given the fact that it is based on a successful World Championship design); not to steal Pselus’s thunder, but this version of G/W was played in exactly two PTQs (to my knowledge), and came away with qualified teams in both cases (congrats by the way)**. I built the deck with our Week One defaults in mind, and you will notice that on top of the main deck Hierarchs, my sideboard is filled to the rafters with anti-Red cards… This is no accident: I lost to Heezy Street in Week 1, Round 2; each of my team-mates’ singular losses was also to Heezy Street. As such, it is one of four known decks that I would recommend for this week’s PTQs. I would suggest three of the following:
Of these, Heezy Street is the odd man out because a member of my mailing list didn’t design or template it it loses to Ghost Dad, so it’s the, um, odd man out as far as I’m concerned; that said, my team greatly respects the fact that it is the only deck to have beaten each of us, or more to the point, the only deck to which either Steve or Paul fell. There are always exceptions for new decks, of course, so stay open minded even given my recommendations. It bears mentioning that Steve thinks that Vore is the best deck in the format and that he’s only ever lost to a Heezy Street with 5/5s and wins all the tough matchups (Gruul Deck, G/W, Heartbeat) in testing where other people fail. I don’t have it in my short list for next week just because I think Vore is really difficult to play properly and if The Great One can’t win with it, the deck can’t be for everybody.
B/W Rats: 2-0, win
Owling Mine: 2-0, win
Some specific card notes:
Even though this deck only plays three copies of Jitte, it is well prepared to win a Jitte fight, with Seed Spark and Viridian Shaman starting, Loxodon Hierarch and Miren tricks, plus Faith’s Fetters after board. Glare of Subdual also goes a long way in neutralizing the opponent’s Jitte. I never side this card out.
#1 card in Standard according to the Japanese. I can’t say I mind drawing it ever.
Glare of Subdual
You will be tempted to side this out in creature matches… the same ones where you are bringing in Faith’s Fetters; think about that. This deck doesn’t have a Greater Good sideboard, so generally speaking whatever you can bring in is very good, but Glare is broken in this deck. It’s not that there aren’t other operable cards, but in most creature matches, they aren’t better than Glare. Also, don’t forget that Glare can tap Howling Mine, and that a tapped Howling Mine isn’t helping them or hurting you.
This guy really impressed me in the hands of Denham, Folinus, Hetherington. He is the workhorse of the deck, and the best friend a Kodama could have. I like it because I like attacking for two, and because it is a nice pre-Sanctuary two-drop play, especially if you have the hot Llanowar Elves draw.
Chord of Calling
The engine that runs the deck… Sideboard all four out against most aggro decks in favor of one-for-one defense. The only exception is if you know you are fighting Blood Moon, because in that case, you have to tap Green creatures to drop Nikko-Onna (the deck hasn’t got even one basic Plains to bust out). The goal in most beatdown matchups is reaction speed because your late game of Jitte, Glare, and giants is better than whatever Zoo or whatever has. The surest way to lose is to have a Chord you can’t cast clogging your hand when what you need is a Faith’s Fetters.
Kodama of the North Tree
The other thing that put me on this deck was that my friend Pat pointed out that no deck in the format can beat a resolved Kodama. If you ever get Kodama next to a Selesnya Guildmage (especially via Chord, when the opponent isn’t expecting it), the big Legend is basically invincible. This is your best threat against any deck with Meloku. Most of them can only defend against North Side by putting DI in front of it, and if you have a clean Chord for Selesnya Guildmage against tapped mana, the opponent will many times get a nasty surprise.
Who knew this guy was Green? Solifuge works two ways: Against a deck like Heartbeat, the goal is to hold or lower your fundamental turn and hope that the opponent stumbles: Solifuge is key there. Against most creature decks, Glare of Subdual plus Solifuge is basically game. The opponent can only stop the mighty 4/1 by blocking, and if you have the Glare… he ain’t blocking. This is a fine card to cut, by the way, if you need it for Heezy Street, Gruul Deck, or whatever. It’s a good card in G/W but strategic only in that it races Heartbeat passably well.
This singleton comes in against Meloku. I was fine with my main anti-Meloku measure being “play Kodama of the North Tree” like in Honolulu testing or Kamigawa Block, but the Spider was a concession I made to Becker after moving the one Shining Shoal to the main. It is really quite a useful catchall singleton that spits on the best threats in the format without actually trading.
There you have it, my secret deck (that turned out not so secret). On MTGO I was ahead of all the defaults. B/W decks just didn’t win, regardless of configuration… there are too many ways this deck can get ahead with token generation and Glare of Subdual, or win Jitte fights, without even getting to the real threat cards. Sometimes you lose to the Stomping Ground decks maindeck (especially on the draw), but brining in the max on Shining Shoal and Faith’s Fetters puts them in a lot of problems as long as you’re not manascrewed. I’m not sure why this deck is good against the Blue decks, but I was just winning against Vore and Wafo-Tapa… (I guess based on my big Legends?) To be fair, Steve was stomping me like it was nothing, and in sideboarded games he just swapped Genju of the Spires for Meloku and ended up even further ahead than in the lopsided game 1s. Again, the G/W is one of the only decks in our stable that can run with Heartbeat due to main deck enchantment removal. Heartbeat is not exactly the matchup I’d be looking to face every round because, hey, it’s Heartbeat, but the matchup is fine and if you stick to the plan of gaining a positional advantage early and leaving up sufficient mana to Chord or Seed Spark strategically, you will win more than you lose.
* If you don’t know who good man Don Lim is, he was an important developer of ZevAtog and the principal creator of the Parallax Replenish deck that ruled Standard in the summer of 2000. Don is a good friend and Neutral Ground regular, as well as a key figure in the parallel development of Napster and Replenish.
** Charles “Tuna” Hwa (onetime editor of The Dojo, and principal figure in Deckade, available exclusively from Top8Magic, not to mention my life) says that a 2-0 drop doesn’t count as a PTQ win. To that I say: Where’s Tuna’s Blue Envelope?