This weekend at Pro Tour Magic Origins, a perfect storm happened. There were a lot of individual things that happened to position Mono-Red where it was, and those who were able to figure out what was happening got paid off in spades.
As I was watching the weekend unfold, everything started to slowly click for me what exactly was happening, and I’m pretty sad that I didn’t key in on it myself. Rather than trying to figure out what the format would look like as a whole for the StarCityGames Regional Championships, I opted to just play what I viewed as a powerful yet fun deck: Abzan Rally.
Before we get into my thoughts on that deck, I want to take a step back and look at what happened to the format.
What do all of these creatures have in common?
Well, for starters they are all creatures that were once very commonly seen on the opposite side of the battlefield, but not so much as of lately. Courser of Kruphix may still be in a decent number of decks, but it’s nowhere near as visible as it used to be.
Abzan Aggro has all but left, and with it goes a handful of very resilient creatures. Sylvan Caryatid has been relegated to just the Devotion decks ever since Languish all but pushed my beloved G/R Dragons to the wayside.
Because Languish can punish you for investing too much mana into creatures that don’t actually do something right away or sneak onto the Battlefield early, these next few creatures have seen a huge jump in popularity:
All of these creatures are cheap enough to impact the battlefield before Languish can become an issue, and the majority of them are even great post-Languish to start rebuilding. They really are great cards, and everyone hopped on the train to Value Town.
Even cards like Jace, Vryn’s Progidy, Nissa, Vastwood Seer, Satyr Wayfinder, and Den Protector are in the control decks, be they Abzan and Sultai. Being proactive, building a board presence, and getting value out of everything is the name of the game, but there is something else afoot.
If we take a closer look at these two different lists of cards, we notice something. The creatures that aren’t seeing as much play all have more than two toughness and the creatures that are seeing a lot of play have only two toughness.
The popular creatures (and those are even seeing play in the control decks) all die to Searing Blood, which is something that hadn’t been the case for some time.
This, in my mind, is the primary catalyst for the red revolution that happened this weekend in Vancouver.
This was compounded by two cards from Magic Origins that paired very well with the pressure that we could put on our opponents with Searing Blood:
All three of the Monio-Red Aggro decks from the Top Eight of the Pro Tour had a full four copies each of these new cards. The value that we got to see gained out of Abbot of Keral Keep is just insane, and just like how we experienced with Monastery Swiftspear, Prowess is no joke and can do a lot of extra damage.
Combined with Stoke the Flames, Exquisite Firecraft gives us a critical mass of four-damage spells, which goes a long way towards just burning our opponent out. Connecting with a one-drop and hitting something with a Searing Blood really only puts us a handful of burn spells away from taking the game. It’s also pretty interesting to see that the Spell Mastery mode on Exquisite Firecraft is actually relevant. Getting the control decks to a point where we can burn them out isn’t all that difficult to do, and with no Sphinx’s Revelation in the mix, we may have quite a few draw steps to put the game away.
It’s interesting to note that while all three of the decks had Eidolon of the Great Revel in the 75, Joel was the only one who didn’t have it in his maindeck. I don’t have enough experience with Mono-Red to know if Eidolon is that big of a liability, but it will be interesting to see what happens as we move forward since I can’t imagine getting things killed by Searing Blood in the mirror feels good.
The other breakout deck of the tournament was U/R Thopters:
I believe this deck started creeping up on Magic Online, but we can see from the two copies in the Top Eight with quite different builds that there is definitely some customizability here.
Long time Magic player, all around awesome guy, and Player of the Year Mike Sigrist took a very streamlined copy of the deck all the way to the finals. The CFB/F2F Games collaboration definitely had their finger on the pulse for this one and it paid off. We were scrambling to try and get a list for this deck on the night before Regionals, and after scraping together something that we weren’t very sure of we decided to just go back to our original plans.
If you’re interested in seeing some possible updates and watching Gerry play a Daily Event with the deck, I definitely suggest you check it out here. Sigrist didn’t have any copies of Tomb of the Spirit Dragon in his 75, but the other U/R Thopters player, Stephen Berrios, had two in his sideboard. Gerry goes even deeper with two copies in the maindeck and a third in the sideboard, and if you watch the matches you can see that they are straight-up gas and win games against Mono-Red Aggro and the mirror that no other card could have.
I really like just how explosive the deck is and that you can switch roles when needed. Ensoul Artifact lets us go big real fast and start thumping our opponent with pseudo hasty (sometimes flying or Indestructible) 5/5s – those end the game pretty quickly when paired with Shrapnel Blast. If that’s not good enough, then we can go wide with our Thopters from Hangarback Walker and Whirler Rogue paired with Chief of the Foundry.
Whirler Rogue is another card that is deceptively powerful. In a lot of games, we have to get scrappy and grind out the last few bits of damage so the Rogue’s unblockable ability is surprisingly good. One of the tricky things that you can do is tap your Ghostfire Blade to activate the ability, similar to tapping your Tangle Wire as one of the requirements for the card’s upkeep trigger. Speaking of Ghostfire Blade, the card is just insane in this deck. With an equip cost of only one for most of our creatures, it’s a great way to punch through some damage on our Thopters both regular or Orni.
I think that U/R Thopters is the real deal, and I expect to see it continue to evolve and do well as we look forward to Battle for Zendikar.
As for myself, I ended up playing Abzan Rally at Regionals to a very mediocre 5-3 finish, sneaking into the Top 32 for a couple of points and a shiny $50.00 check.
I liked the deck, and it definitely felt powerful. My three losses were to an U/R Thopters deck, which seemed like a nightmare, to a Mono-Red Goblins deck who did Goblins things to me very fast (that I never played an Arashin Cleric or a Collected Company didn’t help), and to Abzan Constellation when I got severely out-tempoed by Herald of the Pantheon.
I really like Shaun McLaren take on Abzan Rally (you can read about it here) and wish that I had figured out Elvish Visionary. Cutting down on the Elvish Mystics and playing some Sylvan Caryatids isn’t that bad of an idea either, since they play much better defense and help us get the WW we need for Rally the Ancestors.
Here is the list that I ended up playing:
- 2 Nantuko Husk
- 2 Fleshbag Marauder
- 4 Elvish Mystic
- 2 Mogis's Marauder
- 4 Satyr Wayfinder
- 1 Reclamation Sage
- 3 Grim Haruspex
- 3 Merciless Executioner
- 3 Den Protector
- 4 Deathmist Raptor
- 4 Liliana, Heretical Healer
The deck was very fun to play, but also quite difficult. I’m not sure how much I like cutting Den Protector and Deathmist Raptor completely like Shaun did, but Elvish Visionary does seem pretty sweet in the deck. Liliana, Heretical Healer was very good, but I think that this is probably the only type of deck that she’s going to shine in. The first time you get to Collected Company into Liliana and a Fleshbag Marauder, you will definitely fall in love. Figuring out the combo kills, how to sequence your creatures, and when to just value Rally were the toughest parts of playing the deck, but overall I had a blast.
It’s easy for me to say that I should have just ran Bant Heroic back again, since Tom made Top Eight and Todd ended up winning the whole thing with the deck, but it was my choice to Rally and I stuck with it. We probably just should have been playing the U/R Thopters deck though.
I think that Abzan Rally is very good when we are in a field of Abzan Control, but when we are expecting a lot of Mono-Red and U/R Thopters I would likely stay away.
I will be traveling to Washington DC this weekend for the Open Series, but if I were going to San Diego to battle in the Grand Prix I would likely be on U/R Thopters with Tomb of the Spirit Dragon. It’s fast enough to beat some decks before their hate matters, it has a resilient gameplan against grindy decks with Hangarback Walker and Thopter Spy Network, and it can go blow-for-blow with the aggressive decks thanks to Tomb of the Spirit Dragon.
As for Legacy, my starting point is going to be OmniTell. I can see that the different Grixis decks are getting pretty big, which means that something like Leyline of Sanctity might be worth trying out in the sideboard, but I already feel like that matchup isn’t all that bad. Dig Through Time can get us back into the game if they happen to have a good Cabal Therapy draw, and we can always just kill them on turn two.
One interesting thing is the fact that the Lands decks are now playing a full four Trinisphere in their sideboard hoping to get us by putting it onto the battlefield off Show and Tell and then getting to untap and kill our Omniscience with Krosan Grip. It might just be a case of waiting until we can Show and Tell and then cast a spell, but either way I think that the matchup is still favorable for us.
Miracles is extremely popular, so I’m sure that I would still like to be on the Young Pyromancer sideboard plan, but I’m hoping that some Legacy events will fire when I hop on MTGO this week to get some games in so I can figure it all out.
I’m hoping to put up another good finish this weekend to make up some ground in the Season Three points race. I’m currently sitting eighteen points away from Danny Jessup in first, which means that things are going to heat up as we get closer to the Season Three Invitational in New Jersey.
I don’t have Dragons this time, but me and my Emrakuls are coming for those Open Series points in DC!