The Industry Standard: Ahhh! Real Monsters

Kent Ketter has been on quite the heater lately, with his most recent success being a finals appearance at SCG Standard Open: Nashville with G/R Monsters.

Heat·er [hee – ter] noun: to run so hot that you might be the answer to clean energy.

It’s what I’m on. It’s what we all want to be on. But it’s not who I was prior to this past weekend.

To say no one knew who I was prior to this past weekend is a gross understatement. I have happily existed as a non-factor in the Magic community outside of a sweet internship with the Orzhov Syndicate at Grand Prix Pittsburgh in 2013 and a Top 16 finish. Fortunately for me and my love/hate affair with this game, I’m on a massive heater, and I think I can finally chalk up something in the win column. Some might think that wins come in the form of finals appearances at #SCGCOL and #SCGNASH, but the real win comes from my new love affair with the Open Series and Magic as a whole.

With another Top 8 appearance and the requisite Open Series Points, I’m now qualified for all the Invitationals this year. What this means is I’m now fully committed to taking advantage of a tournament series that lets me play with some of the best amateur and professional players in the world while avoiding spending every weekend grinding in hopes of spiking one prize from a Pro Tour Qualifier (for those not fully aware of what the Open Series entails, I encourage you to read over the Organized Play information).

No one is here to read a love letter to Jared Sylva and Organized Play, so let me get to the monsters that are under my bed (yes, Rhianna and I are friends with the same monsters).

In Nashville, I presented this 73-card masterpiece:

The two cards in question and a personal point of improvement was the decision to run Bow of Nylea for a sweet interaction instead of more consistent performers. I’m positive my choice to play Bow of Nylea was firmly made by my love for sweet things to happen (if those things are good is a whole other story). So to reiterate, Bow of Nylea did absolutely nothing last weekend except get a few Revoke Existences sideboarded in.

Beyond that the interaction I wanted to abuse was between the newest monster in the deck, Courser of Kruphix, and the monster trainers of Domri Rade and Chandra, Pyromaster.

This interaction and all the virtual card advantage it generates easily carried me to wins against Mono-Black Devotion and U/W Control in Nashville. I felt the ability to gain any sort of card advantage against the one-for-one trade fest that is the Mono-Black Devotion matchup while still working toward casting massive monsters was a positive direction for the list. While that means Fanatic of Xenagos is nowhere to be found, sometimes the red mage needs to draw some cards before they burn everything to the ground. Additionally, overloading Detention Spheres with another planeswalker in Chandra, Pyromaster while also casting relevant attackers early makes for an interesting midgame where Supreme Verdict and Detention Sphere are both in high demand.

Creature selection was easy, as the best monsters outside of Courser of Kruphix are Stormbreath Dragon; Polukranos, World Eater; and Ghor-Clan Rampager. Scavenging Ooze was invited because sometimes four Sylvan Caryatids just don’t turn sideways enough for my tastes. While this is absolutely greedy since the deck is choked a the four spot, I felt the random body was relevant in the face of  the white-based aggro decks that have flittered in and out of the metagame recently.

Beyond that the mix of spells and other planeswalkers came down to beating what I felt were pillars of the format in U/W Control and Mono-Black Devotion. Mizzium Mortars is not dead in either of those matchups since overloading in both has some relevance. Admittedly, using it against Elspeth, Sun’s Champion tokens is weak, but sometimes it can result in a dead planeswalker or two. Xenagos, the Reveler has both threat and accelerant status, so keeping the count at two felt appropriate since it garners little advantage in multiples. Lastly, the Xenagos, God of Revels was a nod to cards that just win games on their own. I’ve considered adding more, but for now the fear of having two in my hand is too strong to ignore.

There is little of note in the mana base outside of the Temple of Malice. To put it as succinctly as possible:

My name is Kent “Can’t Close” Ketter, and I am a scry-aholic.

As noted by Patrick Chapin in his recent article, the choice to cut a Mountain for the scry land was very deliberate since an untapped green source into Elvish Mystic is your dream start. The two Mutavaults in the deck gave me all the game I needed against Supreme Verdict without completely destroying the chance of hitting my spells on curve.

Here’s a quick explanation of my sideboard:

4 Mistcutter Hydra – Because the best way to beat U/W Control is to give them the ol “Double Dragon” that would make Billy and Jimmy Lee proud.

2 Arbor Colossus – In the matchups where your other monsters are suboptimal (Stormbreath Dragon versus Mono-Black Devotion for example), Arbor Colossus gives you another option that also interacts favorably with both Archangel of Thune and Desecration Demon.

2 Plummet – Because we really do not like flyers that gain life or eat up six-point chunks of our life total.

2 Unravel the Aether – This slot was a coin flip between Destructive Revelry’s two damage and shuffling in various Gods. While Revelry is more conducive to reducing your opponent to zero life, the uncertainty of a new format means a little flexibility is worth the loss of a little damage.

2 Bow of Nylea – This was awful, is awful, and for the near future will be buried in a coffee can in my backyard to avoid any accidental inclusions in my decklists.

2 Ruric Thar, the Unbowed – I hear making our lovely opponents take six damage for their spells is a favorable interaction, but if that isn’t enough, playing a creature that has to always attack makes our combat math easier. For some of us, easier Magic is good Magic, but if you are one of those “intelligent types,” feel free to play your Hive Mind mirrors. The rest of us are here for the fireworks.

1 Flesh // Blood –  While the interaction between this card and Ghor-Clan Rampager is powerful, I felt it was especially weak in a projected Mono-Black Devotion and U/W Control metagame. If G/R Monsters is taking a more prominent role in your metagame, feel free to work them back into the maindeck. As for now, this is a fifth removal spell for creature matchups and a nice way to interact with Domri Rade in the mirror.

With the bulk of the relevant text out of the way, let’s get to some interesting interactions, which I have basically broken into three parts.

Part 1: Drawing Lots Of Cards

My primary plan against U/W Control was to assemble a combination of Courser, Domri, and Chandra as quickly as possible. I felt like being able to interact with various control strategies outside of the red zone allowed my monsters to dodge a few Detention Spheres and Hero’s Downfalls.

Additionally, allowing scry lands to become more relevant late game is highly useful since this deck needs to keep card quality high as long as possible, so moving a redundant land or accelerant to the bottom gives us the best chance to cast all the monsters.

A great example of interaction outside of combat came in my Top 4 match against B/W Midrange. In game 1, I was able to put on a Courser of Kruphix clinic with Domri Rade to play enough lands from the top to ensure I kept drawing monsters. This put my opponent’s Thoughtseizes and spot removal in a bind since his one-for-one trades were less efficient when he had to spend his third, fourth, and fifth turn trying to interact with my engine before the real fat hit the board. I can’t say I lost many games where I assembled Courser of Kruphix and Domri Rade, but when I did, it was a particularly close game involving my opponent’s army of Desecration Demons and my life total.

Part 2: Monsters, Monsters, Monsters

I like casting big angry creatures as quickly as possible. This probably stems from overuse of Wild Nacatl and Kird Ape in my formative years, but its current manifestation in the form of Hydras and Dragons sits quite nicely with my quest to reduce my opponent’s life total. In the current Standard metagame, I think a large portion of the format can be summarized by a look at the efficiency of threats. Mono-Black Devotion has a two-drop that can win games on its own, U/W Control has a planeswalker that can sweep you immediately or kill you in three turns with an army of 3/3 fliers, and G/R Monsters gets to put undercosted threats into play until either the opponent stops killing them or they lose the desire to be a punching bag.

I can’t really recall a great interaction where I accelerated monsters into play and had to actually interact with my opponent. I was lucky enough to steal a win from a nasty R/W Aggro deck during round 7 on the back of fat guys in large numbers. With such a strong curve of creatures, most of your aggro matchups are decided by your ability to just keep playing better creatures and put them in front of whatever is on your opponent’s side of the table.

Part 3: Racing For Profit

This last section is the definite holder of the smallest sample size to draw from, but sometimes you just gotta race. In the mirror specifically, your ability to race (see Chandra, Pyromaster and Xenagos, God of Revels) is incredibly important. This also extends to being on the play against Desecration Demon, but I didn’t realize that until the Top 8.

During the Swiss, I played against a G/R Monsters opponent in an off-camera feature match. The match was pretty typical, with both of us casting accelerants and monsters, but sometimes a God shows up to the party. As soon as Xenagos, God of Revels hits the table in the mirror, your ability to rip games away from opponents skyrockets. Getting a 10/10 hasty Polukranos or an 8/8 Stormbreath Dragon is incredible, but even a 4/6 Courser of Kruphix will do just fine.

Chandra, Pyromaster even does some nice work here by providing devotion for Xenagos and making blocking incredibly difficult. In my quarterfinals match, Chandra took over the race all on her own. With a typical curve of monster into monster, the followup Chandra and her +1 ability gave me two free combat steps. While this is not commonplace since protecting your card advantage engine is probably good gameplay, sometimes Chandra will take a dive for the team to get some extra damage through.

After a couple days of thought on the event and my list, I think I have some good changes to move toward if you expect G/R Monsters to rise in popularity and Mono-Black Devotion to fall off slightly:

To highlight the changes from my Nashville list:


Temple of Malice Mizzium Mortars Xenagos, the Reveler Scavenging Ooze


Temple of Mystery Sylvan Caryatid Flesh Chandra, Pyromaster

I wanted to add some ways to interact better with larger monsters, so Chandra’s +1 and Flesh // Blood get the nod over the aggro-loving Mizzium Mortars and Scavenging Ooze. The Sylvan Caryatid is to hedge against the glut of four-drops in the deck. The swap of Temple of Malice to Temple of Mastery is a nod to losing a triple red card in Mortars and the need to consistently be able to cast our double green spells on time.

A quick explanation of the new sideboard options:

2 Gruul CharmFalter a combat step and enjoy a few wins in the mirror. Maybe blow up some blue flyers if you must.

1 Xenagos, the Reveler – I’m happy to board this in against Mono-Black Devotion and U/W Control, but hitting two in the mirror leads to a dead card rotting in your hand. This also lets me trim a Mistcutter Hydra, as they’re both threats against U/W Control and Hydra was only for the U/W matchup when I was drawing up the original list (Mono-Blue Devotion is a horrible matchup so accounting for that is a useless exercise).

Your feedback is encouraged, and I would love to hear any thoughts on the archetype and the updated list I just presented. I’ll also accept long-winded criticism of my play on camera, your thoughts on my choice of Canadian clothing, and any opinion on the 7×7 burger at Steak ‘n Shake and its ability to prep your body for a long drive to a Magic tournament.

The last few weeks have been one heck of a ride. Here’s hoping the heater never ends.