Stealing A Game Day

Fun decks are what Game Day is all about, but it doesn’t hurt if you can do some serious winning while you’re having your fun. Matt Higgs unveils his latest creation, and got the Top Eight alongside all his fun.

Game Day means a lot of things to different people. For some Magic players, it is their first tournament after getting into the game; they’ve got their one-of Nissa, Vastwood Seer in their green aggro deck (because that’s what they have) and a smile on their face every time they draw it. You’ve got the other end of the spectrum, with tournament-hardened players bringing Pro-Tour-level decks to a casual-oriented event. Then you have the vast majority of players who bring a semi-competitive but mostly fun brew to Game Day because they just want to have fun.

Although I fit the last category, I settled on a deck that turned out to be completely unfair.

Willbreaker is an interesting Magic card whose closest comparison came from Beguiler of Wills, a junk mythic rare from Dark Ascension several years ago. Willbreaker, however, has a leg up: it doesn’t require haste and it doesn’t matter what kind of creature you want to steal. If you can target it, you can take it.

When I first saw this card, as with any build-around rare I did my due diligence, crafting the obligatory Battlefield Thaumaturge/Icy Blast deck to take control of all of their creatures for just one mana. You could play counterspells to protect your Willbreaker and win the game on the back of your stolen creatures. Ho-hum.

After seeing the success of U/R Thopters at the Pro Tour, I examined its pieces, specifically those pieces I’d left out of my own rough versions of the artifact list I’d been working on. Whirler Rogue caught my eye, as it did with many others in preparing for Vancouver.

With Willbreaker fresh in my mind, I checked the wording on both Willbreaker and Whirler Rogue. Yes, Willbreaker says “or ability,” and Whirler Rogue will happily target creatures I do or don’t control. They even curve into each other. That means that if on turn four I cast a Whirler Rogue and the following turn I follow it up with a Willbreaker, I get all of those things and I get their best creature right away. Well, Willbreaker just moved from Beguiler of Wills to Sower of Temptation.

Lots of creatures have abilities that target these days, many of which cost no additional mana to utilize. Blue has lots of its own, Whirler Rogue perhaps being the best at it, but green offers lots of choices, too.

Follow that up with the best artifact in Standard, Hangarback Walker, some potatoes and carrots, and you got a soup goin’!


Hangarback Walker is Magic Origins’ “play-it-in-every-deck” card, a class of card that hasn’t been around for a long time. Being colorless, castable at any point in the game, and relevant in every archetype doesn’t hurt, and even at its current price of $17.99 I still don’t think we’ve hit the ceiling. The foil copy I pulled in my prerelease pool has moved from an afterthought to a primary position in my Standard collection. There are lots of tap/untap synergies in this deck, which all help the Hangarback Walker speed up its growth. Once it cracks, you can use the Thopters with Whirler Rogue to make some insane plays either in combat or with Willbreaker to steal their team out of nowhere. Speaking of which, Whirler Rogue is a wild Magic card. I’m pretty convinced it’s just better than Master of Waves 90% of the time, as its tokens fly and stick around after the Rogue dies and it doesn’t require you build your deck around it. It’s four mana for four power always, and you can activate its unblockable ability immediately. How’d this get snuck in at uncommon? Willbreaker is the combo piece, of course, and as it’s likely to draw ire the moment it resolves, it needs to be four copies despite costing five mana and being largely redundant on a board that already contains a Willbreaker.

Harbinger of the Tides is a really exciting creature. Anyone who has read these articles for a long time know how much a love a good tempo card, especially in blue, and that is exactly what Harbinger is. It also has a favorable interaction with Willbreaker. You can target their creature, resolve Willbreaker’s ability and, as you go to resolve the Harbinger’s ability, that one will fizzle – it is no longer a legal target as it’s no longer a creature your opponent controls. Without the Willbreaker, the Harbinger is still a great defensive play, Time Walking your opponent and leaving a 2/2 to block or trade. Bounding Krasis can either force a creature to tap, buying some time, or it can target a creature for Willbreaker. If they enter combat against Willbreaker, I can flash in the Krasis, target their creature, untap it and block with it. Blowout central! Stratus Dancer isn’t on-theme, but it’s a good creature to have when you’re protecting Willbreaker or your life total from burn. It’s another two-drop, too, in the battle against red.

Kiora’s Follower was a late addition but a necessary one. It can act as ramp, target my opponents’ creatures, or target my Hangarback Walker for an extra activation. Prophet of Kruphix lets me do everything I do on a given turn twice. Finally, I included one Thassa, God of the Sea. With all these cards that provide two colored symbols towards Devotion, Thassa is a creature a significant amount of the time. Her ability to target creatures, mine or my opponents, is also relevant, giving me a machine-gun steal effect if needed.


It’s a short list. Evolutionary Leap goes along the theme and gives me an out when the removal spell finally does arrive for Willbreaker, letting me sacrifice the creatures I’ve stolen for value and dig for another Willbreaker. It also lets me eat my Thopters (or the Hangarback Walker) too, giving me some card advantage late in the game. This deck doesn’t have a single cantrip or draw spell, but the power level of each creature is high enough that a single Leap should be good enough. The other spell, Clash of Wills, isn’t really on theme but it’s just a good idea to have a two-mana counterspell.


Nothing special in the land department; 24 sources felt correct, especially with four Kiora’s Follower, and the color split seemed decent. Because my land count was potentially a bit low, I kept my tapped land count low too, eschewing the full set of Thornwood Falls for a couple of Forests. Mana Confluence, while temping, seemed too dangerous given the lack of life gain both pre- and post-board.


In preparation for Game Day, I made specific decisions I might not otherwise have chosen. In preceding iterations of the sideboard I’d had more spells, but eventually I moved it to an all-permanents fifteen in the board.

Mizzium Meddler is a great choice against a lot of aggressive and midrange decks. It blocks most of the mono-red deck’s primary attackers, even killing some outright, and it’s great at redirecting a burn spell. Particularly worth noting, it is one of the few ways to stop an Exquisite Firecraft that can’t be countered. It’s also good at redirecting a Lightning Strike or Bile Blight away from your Willbreaker. An all-around solid choice.

Kiora, the Crashing Wave is a way to change it up on your opponent. Her +1 interacts with Willbreaker and, like Harbinger of the Tides, the ability fizzles when you steal the creature, meaning it can deal damage in combat when your opponent attacks Kiora. Because this deck already features 31 creatures, this is a great way to throw out a different kind of threat.

Profaner of the Dead and Hornet Nest are two sides of the same coin. Hornet Nest is a great choice against Mono-Red or any aggressive strategy on the ground, and Profaner of the Dead is helpful for those decks and it’s a nice way to bounce Thopters and most other kinds of tokens. Most decks you’d want both, but it gives you a bit of variety in your answers.

Den Protector is just solid. Do I need to talk about how good this guy is?

Finally, and potentially my favorite card, I included a Perplexing Chimera. The Chimera interacts uniquely with Willbreaker. Say you have a Kiora’s Follower, a Willbreaker, and the Chimera in play. Your opponent casts a spell. You exchange your Chimera for their spell. The spell and ability both resolve, then steal your Chimera back with the Follower. If they’re in topdeck mode, this is a hard lock, and they will be hard-pressed to cast another spell that game. Seemed great against decks with low removal or ones prone to living by its topdecks!

This past Saturday I put the finishing touches on this deck as I showed up for Game Day. My local shop was hosting it for free with booster packs as prize support, so I felt even better about inviting a long-time friend who’s recently gotten bit by the Magic bug again. I lent him a deck that I’ll talk about next week and, when it was time to battle, 35 eager players crowded around the pairings screen for our seating.

Round One – Jackson (Abzan Megamorph)

Jackson, while considerably younger, was a formidable opponent. In game one he found three Den Protectors, continuously recovering removal and Siege Rhinos. I was able to make a 9/9 Hangarback Walker, but after he exiled it with Abzan Charm I was up a creek without a paddle.

For game two I sided in all of my Kioras, and the first one came to play right on curve. After he cast Hero’s Downfall on the first one, I cast another. I defended her long enough to get her ultimate off, and I went for it despite the fact that I knew he had an Elspeth in hand to block my Krakens. With a Whirler Rogue in my own hand, though, I knew I could sneak them through. He spent a couple turns killing Krakens, but soon he ran out of removal and I took him from 26 life down to 8, then from 8 to dead.

In game three, which went to time, I was able to stick Willbreaker with lots of support. With no removal in sight for him and an awkward Infinite Obliteration that removed all of my Hangarback Walkers, I started to steal his creatures. On turn two of five, I had enough for the lethal attack.


Hmm, it beat a real deck piloted by a strong player. That’s a good sign!

Round Two – Kelby (Sultai Dragons)

Kelby was shuffling when I sat and greeted him. I won the roll and he mulliganed to six. I didn’t have a ton of land, but soon I was beating him down with Kiora’s Followers and Bounding Krasis. I guess it can get aggressive if my opponent draws two copies of Haven of the Spirit Dragon and no black sources. In game two, Kiora showed up again and while he cast three copies of Hero’s Downfall, I was able to make more creatures than he had removal. I countered a critical Foul-Tongue Invocation, revealing Dragonlord Ojutai, to prevent him from gaining life. I followed that counter up with a Bounding Krasis at end of turn which gave me ten points of attacking power against his eight points of life.


Dream train’s still on the tracks.

Round Three – Marcus (Ascendancy Combo)

Marcus was enigmatic about his deck choice but he is a strong local competitor, most recently making it to the finals of an old-style PTQ back in December. After seeing Temur colors, I started to scratch my head. I did my thing, but after he stuck a Jeskai Ascendancy while my shields were down with Clash of Wills in hand, he combo-ed off a turn or two later with Retraction Helix on his Sylvan Caryatid, bouncing Tormod’s Crypt and digging for Altar of the Brood.

In game two, after siding in all my Mizzium Meddlers, I snap-kept with one in my opener. The game was pretty similar for him; I attempted to Clash of Wills his Jeskai Ascendancy, but he met that with a Swan Song. When he was ready to combo off, I cast Mizzium Meddler to redirect his Retraction Helix, thinking I got him. Then he cast a second Retraction Helix. Oops.


Man, if that doesn’t do it, I think that’s just gonna have to be a match I lose.

Round Four – Foster (Abzan Outlast)

Foster, a fellow Pokemon TCG player (I’m more of a former player, but it’s always nice to meet someone that plays), was making his stand with Abzan. In game one, I encountered a reasonable amount of aggression with Fleecemane Lion and random white two-drops, dropping me to ten life, but I stuck the Willbreaker and slowly crawled back. When I’d stolen all the things he held dear, we went to game two.

In game two, Kiora came back in and I was able to resolve her early with protection. As with round one, I protected her long enough for an emblem (Foster thought she needed seven loyalty counters to ultimate, not five), and I attacked through his high-powered blockers with Whirler Rogue and my Misty’s Magikarp Kraken tokens.


One more win would put me in Top Eight. Could we do it?

Round Five – Brandon (Naya Aggro)

Brandon had done pretty well on an aggressive Naya list today. He stuck in on-time Goblin Rabblemaster in game one, and I was able to trade it off for a reasonable Hangarback Walker to stop the bleeding. In a mighty attack that included a Shaman of the Hunt, he brought me tumbling from eleven to two life. I untapped, desperate to find an answer against four Goblin tokens, some of which had +1/+1 counters. As he untapped and drew, he said with a grin, “well, that’s game right there.” He cast a Kolaghan Forerunner as a 5/3 with dash. He reached to turn his creatures sideways, but I quickly flashed in Bounding Krasis, which tapped his Forerunners. He still attacked with the rest of the team, putting me to one life as one unenhanced Goblin got through. He quietly returned the Forerunners to his hand. I was still dead to burn, but I ripped a Stratus Dancer, quickly slid it face down, and passed with two cards in hand. He revealed a burn spell of the top, again with a smile. I morphed my Dancer, keeping me alive. At the end of turn, I cracked a Thopter to Evolutionary Leap and found a second Dancer, which I cast the following turn, this time deflecting a Stoke the Flames two draw steps later. I clawed my way back somehow, taking him down with flipped Stratus Dancers.

In game two, he didn’t draw green mana and Hornet Nest made his attacks awkward. I killed him with Insect (Beedrill) tokens and wrapped up the match.


Got there! Time for the Top Eight!

Quarterfinals – Levi (R/W Prowess)

Levi was a PTQ Brussels competitor and, at the time, was a major proponent of the B/R Dragons deck. In game one I had to mulligan to six, but I stabilized at eight life while he had a couple Monastery Swiftspears and a Seeker of the Way. Without drawing much in the way of spells, I was able to steal his team and kill him. Game two was a non-game for me. We both mulliganed to six, but he kept a solid set, casting an Abbot of Keral Keep turn two in order to play on-curve. A couple turns later he cast a second one, using the Wild Slash he revealed to kill Kiora’s Follower. He untapped, cast four burn spells, and hit me with a pair of hilariously-powerful Abbots.

The final game was a bit closer, but his burn spells did me in again. In a critical sideboard mistake, I sided out my Clash of Wills. As the final burn spells flew at my face, I looked at my hand to see two cards for which I’d removed for those Clash of Wills.

Bonus Games – Jarett (U/R Thopters)

One of my MBA classmates, Jarett, was up to play his first Standard event. While an avid and successful Limited player, he prefers to keep things to forty-card decks. He lost out in the last round and ended up 3-2 to miss the Top Eight, but we played several games on the side.

As a summary, Phyrexian Revoker was a really big problem for me. Every time he cast it naming Kiora’s Follower, I was too short on mana to make things happen, dying under a hail of Thopter tokens and/or Shrapnel Blast. On the games where I resolved Willbreaker, though, he had to Shrapnel Blast it on the spot or he was dead. A lot of them were very close, and I believe I’m favored in the match. Profaner of the Dead is a much better sideboard card here than Hornet Nest, and if I’d played him in the tournament I’d have been glad for it.

Four free packs and two copies of Languish later (one from the promo and one from a booster), I couldn’t even begin to complain. This deck is, without a doubt, the best deck I’ve played in at least a year. It was flexible, sturdy, and multi-faceted. It won multiple times without ever casting a Willbreaker, and the sideboard choices were excellent given the metagame. It felt solid in your hands, and you always had tons of great choices. Clash of Wills was a great complement to the rest of the strategy.

This went toe-to-toe with real decks and won. A lot. If it’s fun to play and uses lots of cards people have never heard of, so I’ll love to play it win or lose. It is, however, nice to win once in a while.

After some analysis of the deck, I’d make some minor adjustments, namely, cutting one Willbreaker (four is too many of the same five-drop) for a Rogue’s Passage, a card in the original draft of the list. It’d probably look like this.

What did you play at your Game Day? Did you play it safe with a known deck or go big with something fun? Did you get the champion playmat or at least a Top Eight Languish for your ingenuity and cunning?