Staying Close To Home

Sometimes, less is more. Brad Nelson is traditionally a Standard master, but the Oath of the Gatewatch advent of colorless mana has thrown a lot of change at the #SCGATL format! So what’s Brad’s plan? He provides his top lists here!

The SCG Tour®‘s next stop is #SCGATL this weekend. An oath was taken by the mighty planeswalkers on Zendikar to try and stop the Eldrazi menace. It’s our job as glorified planeswalkers ourselves to choose a side in this war and represent that side valiantly. Many have become devoid of justice and chosen to battle alongside the chaotic Eldrazi, while some still ride Rhinos, soar with Dragons, or still sadistically learn the Painful Truths of ancient grand masters. I on the other hand hold an allegiance only to myself and have yet to find a place to call home in this Oath of the Gatewatch world.

I’m lost. I’ve played with many cards and strategies over the past couple weeks but have yet to find something that truly calls out to me. This always seems to happen going into the first weekend of a new Standard format. The newest set will theoretically shake things up, but we never know to what magnitude.

It’s much more obvious when sets are also rotating out of a format, but at times like this is often more subtle. Some decks will “upgrade” by only adding a few select cards to their strategy. Others will be born thanks to the inclusion of new synergies based around the newest set’s keywords. I know all of this and usually have a better grasp on things thanks to experience I’ve gained over the past decade of playing this game. It’s not like this is all new to me!

I stand corrected. We will be embarking into unchartered waters this weekend at #SCGATL thanks to the addition of the new basic land introduced in Oath of the Gatewatch. Never did I think something like this would happen, but also couldn’t imagine how much different this would make Magic.

It’s actually brilliant from a development standpoint to make a “sixth” mana type using a type of mana that has been constant over the course of Magic’s existence. This allows lands throughout the history of the game to instantly have a new element to them. Take Rogue’s Passage, for example. This land was something a mono-colored deck could play to help get bigger creatures through uncontested. Now it produces a specific mana type while also providing an extra service. Dual lands like Caves of Koilos and Llanowar Wastes (spoilers!) can now be considered tri-lands! Reality has indeed shifted!

This changes everything! Most of my frustration from building decks over the past couple of weeks has been in my own limitations as a deck builder. The decks I’m trying to design based around the new cards feel rudimentary compared to how I would normally operate. This frustration has made me want to lean on known strategies like Four-Color Rally, Esper Dragons, G/R Eldrazi, and even Abzan! It’s going to be difficult to solve the format in the first week, which is why playing something known to be good might not be the worst course of action.

Four-Color Rally was and could easily still be the best deck in the format. I always considered the deck to be good, but never the best thing you could be doing. That was before #GPOAK and its dominating performance in the hands of just about everyone who played it. I also got to watch first-hand as Michael Majors won the Classic at #SCGCIN playing the deck for the first time. He then took second in the next Classic he played in with the deck.

It’s becoming obvious to everyone just how powerful this deck truly can be, but that hasn’t seemed to stop the deck from taking down events. Winning through hate is the first step for a deck to be crowned Tier 1, and that is exactly what we are seeing from Four-Color Rally. Cards like Infinite Obliteration and Hollowed Moonlight have started to see more and more play, but a little toy from Oath of the Gatewatch might help give the deck exactly what it needs to not fold to dedicated sideboard cards.

I’ve become more and more impressed with this card in my testing with the deck. Her third toughness is exactly what a deck like this needs to protect from cards like Kozilek’s Return and Flaying Tendrils. Thanks to deathtouch she stands tall against cards like Siege Rhino and Anafenza, the Foremost, which are oftentimes the main source of aggression from Abzan. Last, her ability to sacrifice creatures is not only a great replacement for Nantuko Husk after it has been obliterated from your deck but a great way to gain life and make games go much longer than they would have otherwise.

The other card people have been talking about putting into the deck has not been as impressive.

I was blown away by this card in the deck at first. I didn’t know what should be cut, but I knew something had to go to get four of these things in the deck. This card is actually the main reason why I picked up the deck so excitedly in the first place. My level of blind lust slowly diminished when I was missing all the other cards in the deck. I eventually decided to cut all of my copies of this card completely and stick to what was working.

Here is my current list of Four-Color Rally.

Gideon, Ally of Zendikar isn’t a card you would expect out of the sideboard of a deck like this, but it’s something I believe deserves the slot. The same goes for a singleton Wingmate Roc. What these cards do is give the deck a subtle chance at winning the game in an alternative way when opponents come packing a ton of hate for the deck. They don’t play a role in the normal game plan and will hurt the deck’s Collected Company and Rally the Ancestors, but that doesn’t mean they won’t be good. These are not that tested, so I wouldn’t suggest blindly following my lead, but you could test them a little and see for yourself.

Next up on my short list of potential choices is Esper Dragons. Part of me is scared to play this deck since cards like Thought-Knot Seer and Kozilek’s Return really change the game for G/R Eldrazi against Esper Dragons. It also has a relatively close matchup against Four-Color Rally which makes me think that Rally could just be a better choice. That said, it’s been a deck I’ve played quite a lot with and have always had great results with.

Not much changes for the deck. Grasp into Darkness is a potential upgrade for the deck, but the mana requirement is too much for the deck to handle. This two-mana removal spell is very good for the format but would only find a home in a deck not trying to also have UU up on turn 2 for Silumgar’s Scorn. Esper Dragons is just going to have to deal with Silkwrap and Ultimate Price as its turn 2 removal spells, which isn’t even that bad.

The biggest appeal for playing this deck right now is that counterspells are always decent at the start of a format if the deck doesn’t lean on them too heavily. Playing control in the first week of a new format tends to be a bad decision, but Esper Dragons isn’t a traditional control deck. The deck’s game plan against old and new decks alike is to play a couple of spells to control the board position before deploying Dragonlord Ojutai. It doesn’t really matter what an opponent is doing unless they have an extremely easy way to deal with Dragonlord Ojutai. This is pretty much why the deck suffers against Mardu-based decks running Crackling Doom and why I’m not afraid of G/R Eldrazi, thanks to the new inclusion of Kozilek’s Return.

Esper Dragons does get to turn a relatively bad matchup into a good one thanks to Flaying Tendrils. Atarka Red was always a rough matchup when they sprayed the board with numerous token-generating effects, but things will significantly change now that we have a decent way to handle these “go wide” draws.

All-in-all this deck wouldn’t be anything special for the event, but shouldn’t end up being that bad either. I obviously don’t want to travel six hours predicting a mediocre finish, but it will take a lot more than a new set to scare me off this deck, at least for #SCGATL.

Here’s my current list of Esper Dragons.

Not much has changed from the list I played at #GPOAK. I’m not sure if this is due to ignorance or guided by the fact that I don’t want to change too much going into the new format. Who really knows what everyone else is going to do? That makes me not want to lose too much equity against decks like Abzan and Jeskai Black, since they will most likely show up in numbers close to what they have been.

Those are the two decks I am seriously considering playing this weekend. Now, I do have a couple of decks I could potentially play if I decide to visit Oz before finding my way to #SCGATL. That, or actually tune them well enough to gain the courage.

Kozilek’s Return changes the game for G/R Eldrazi Ramp. I don’t want to go into intense detail about this deck since I did that a few weeks ago, but this card’s been shining more brightly than my expectations of it. I’ve seen this card do so many disgusting things that I could see myself playing G/R Eldrazi Ram. The deck’s just not as good as G/R Devotion was last season, which makes me fear playing it in a tournament setting. Not to say the deck is bad, but just not what I want to be doing when I’m traveling to play in an event solely for enjoyment. I do think the deck is very good and could see those with some luck behind them take it all the way to the Top 8.

Even though I haven’t really innovated with Oath of the Gatewatch, that doesn’t mean others won’t. I’m self-aware enough to know that my talents exist once I know what people are going to be doing. Others out there are the true deck designers and many of them will be heading to #SCGATL to blow us all out of the water with their new Eldrazi innovations. I’m going to do my best to put up a fight with one of my three decks, but I look forward to watching some of the brew masters do what they do best. I hope to see you all at #SCGATL!