If you’ve played at any large event in and around Ohio, then you may recognize me or at least my nickname, Big Tears, which is proclaimed proudly on the back of my shirts. I’ve been playing Magic since the Tempest block, but like many players I returned in the last few years from an extended absence. Since I picked up the game again, I have embraced competitive play in a way I couldn’t when I was in high school. It helps that the Columbus area is full of high-level players, all of which help create an amazing Magic community. That’s why it was even more special when I was able to hoist the trophy in Columbus.
This past weekend capped a run that I’m still slightly in disbelief about. A few weeks ago I decided to make the trek to Indianapolis to play in the SCG Standard Open. Despite warnings of weather, that tournament topped 700 people. This meant that there were eleven rounds on the docket. I managed to go 9-1-1 en route to my first Open Series Top 8. Unfortunately, I was paired against the wrecking machine that is Owen Turtenwald. I was excited to finally make it to the elimination rounds, but it was disappointing to exit after a pretty lackluster quarterfinals showing. My friends and I managed to make it out of Indianapolis before the weather became truly horrific, so at least there was an upside to getting crushed on camera.
I knew that the Open Series in Columbus was just around the corner, and I wanted to try to run it back. After my poor showing in the Top 8, I wanted to prove that my deck is not just a flash in the pan. I have been playing some variation of my Big Boros list since the Invitational in Indianapolis. I managed to cash and go 6-2 in Standard. Since then I’ve gone X-2 in most of the major Standard events I’ve played in with the list. It was nice to do well, but I wanted to push through to the top. In Indy and Columbus, I was finally able to do just that with the following list:
- 4 Chandra's Phoenix
- 4 Boros Reckoner
- 4 Young Pyromancer
- 2 Purphoros, God of the Forge
- 2 Stormbreath Dragon
Let me begin by saying that I’m a brewer at heart. While I will play the best deck when needed, I generally like to play something of my own design. My reasoning for this has nothing to do with disdain for playing another’s list. In fact, that is by far one of the best ways to understand a format. It instead has to do with my own comfort level. While the current Standard environment definitely has a lot of viable lists, the best ones (specifically the devotion lists) have consistently risen to the top. The last few months of Standard have led to a pretty stable metagame.
This has meant that playing the right deck each week has been less important than playing the best Magic possible. To do this, you have to really know your deck in and out. I definitely know my list in and out, and that’s where I’ve been able to gain matchup edges. Players are so entrenched in current Standard and so many matches play out the same that unknown lists immediately favor their pilots. That isn’t to say that everyone should ditch their current deck and play some crazy brew since the best decks in Standard are the best decks for a reason. I simply feel more comfortable piloting something on the fringe.
Now let’s talk about the specifics of the deck. I know at first glance it looks weird, and quite honestly I thoroughly enjoyed listening to both Cedric Phillips and Patrick Sullivan trying to figure out what the deck was. It may seem awkward to have Young Pyromancer and Elspeth, Sun’s Champion in the same deck. However, the deck really does run smoothly. I’ve been calling it Big Boros, but it’s really a midrange deck at heart. The deck has the ability to switch strategies on the fly, and that has been the key to its success.
The ability to do this is based in the scry mechanic. I can’t even begin to tell you how excited I was when Magma Jet got reprinted. There’s a reason that Wizards has been so stingy about putting more than "scry 1" on the bulk of new cards. Between Magma Jet and Temple of Triumph, you’re really able to craft the draw you want. Without scry, I don’t think I’d feel nearly as comfortable playing something like Assemble the Legion in the main. It’s an obviously powerful card that feeds on Mono-Black Devotion, but I never want to draw it against Mono-Blue Devotion. Scrying allows me to be much more effective across various matchups.
Another key card in the deck is Young Pyromancer. This card has been hyped since its release, but as Patrick Sullivan said, it hasn’t done as much in Standard as it has in older formats. This is due in no small part to the large number of free and inexpensive cantrips in Modern and Legacy. That being said, Young Pyromancer is an absolute monster in aggressive matchups. An unchecked turn 2 Pyromancer allows the deck to present aggressive opponents with a clock while still burning out their creatures. It’s especially powerful in matchups like white-based aggro when your opponent has a deck full of Soldier of the Pantheons and Boros Elites.
Young Pyromancer is also the key to beating Mono-Blue Devotion. Master of Waves is a rough card, so you need to be able to kill all of the creatures that lead to a high devotion count. An early Young Pyromancer allows you to be aggressive while killing all of their devotion enablers. The best start that this deck can present is a turn 2 Young Pyromancer followed by a Magma Jet to kill a creature. You get to attack, you get a token, and you get to fix your draw and transition to the later part of the game. It feels amazing every time you do it.
By far the most fun part of playing the deck is assembling (pun most definitely intended) the combination of Purphoros, God of the Forge and Assemble the Legion. Purphoros really has a ton of utility in this deck, and there is a ton of ways to trigger it with Young Pyromancer; Assemble the Legion; and Elspeth, Sun’s Champion. Purphoros offers a fast clock that also allows you to deal with planeswalkers pretty easily.
Jace, Architect of Thought is a troubling card at times for this deck, but a Purphoros in conjunction with creatures makes it much easier. You can knock Jace around with some two damage triggers and/or pump your team with Firebreathing. Most players forget about this ability until it’s too late and they’ve lost a permanent or the game to an army that has doubled in power. While Purphoros rarely attacks in this build, there are draws involving Boros Reckoners where the big man wakes up and cracks in for a ton. The entire deck is built to be able to change game plans, and cards like Purphoros offer a ton of utility.
The sideboard is the final component of the deck’s versatility. I tried to craft it to be able to shift the maindeck drastically from one direction to another. It isn’t uncommon for me to utilize six to ten cards in multiple matchups. A perfect example of this is how I approach Mono-Blue Devotion. When playing against Thassa and friends, I actually board in eleven cards. All of the expensive permanents come out (Assemble the Legion, Elspeth, etc.) as well as the Chandra’s Phoenix because it being able to come back doesn’t play a huge role in this matchup. In turn, I become a deck with roughly twenty removal spells and efficient finishers. Once again, scrying here is key, as it allows me to dig for sideboard cards in given matchups.
Overall, the deck has done extraordinarily well against the top decks in the format. Its best matchups are the aggressive decks because the removal suite in the deck plus Young Pyromancer normally stymies their best starts. Additionally, Mono-Blue Devotion is a positive matchup. While Master of Waves combined with their best draws is still tough (that’s true for every deck), generally our removal is better. Mono-Black Devotion is much closer to 50/50 and is pretty draw dependent. Having haymakers like Assemble the Legion helps to steal a number of close games, but sometimes they draw two or three Desecration Demons followed by some number of Gray Merchants and that’s too much to come back from.
The control matches normally come down to how many Detention Spheres the opponent draws to deal with the permanents the deck dishes out. Esper Control is a much better matchup than U/W generally, but Stormbreath Dragon is superior against U/W due to their lack of spot removal that interacts with the 4/4 flier. The only matchup that has felt truly awful in the current format has been the B/R/W Midrange deck. Cards like Obzedat, Ghost Council; Rakdos’s Return; and Assemble the Legion are all tough to fight through by themselves. When they’re in the same deck, it’s near impossible to beat their average draws. Luckily that deck isn’t very popular since it loses to its poor manabase pretty consistently.
The actual tournament was a crazy event. I was suffering from a pretty nasty cold thanks to my wife, and I promptly lost round 1 in a crazy game 3 to Mono-Blue Devotion. My opponent ripped back-to-back Master of Waves off the top to seal the deal, and I was pretty sure that a repeat performance was out of the question. I managed to turn it around next match when I was sadly paired against a good friend playing G/R Monsters. Thus began a run of nine straight rounds, including a ridiculous match against a Burn opponent where I was at three and facing lethal if he had any burn spell.
I went into the tank and found a line where he had to attack with his whole team, have only one burn spell, leave no removal in his hand, and I had to topdeck a basic land to attack for lethal. I was pretty excited to have found the right line to win the game (eventually taking the match in game 3), but I was keenly aware of the extremely small chance I had of winning that game. To Top 8 an event of this size and with so many good players, you need to play tight, but it doesn’t hurt to borrow Saint Traft’s angel every now and then.
The Top 8 was some of the tensest Magic I’ve ever played. I feel like I played as tight as possible throughout the elimination rounds. Unfortunately, my opponent in the quarterfinals, Mike Williams, made a pretty devastating mistake in my favor. Facing down a Stormbreath Dragon, he attacked me with an Aetherling (after a pump to five) and played an Elspeth. He telegraphed the Elspeth before his attack by quickly tapping six lands then untapping them. I knew my Dragon would die and that he would need to flicker his Aetherling before it happened. In my head, I knew I still had a window to win if I drew either my Elspeth or more Dragons. Instead, he played the Elspeth and immediately blew up the world.
As I put my Dragon into the graveyard, I recognized what had happened and pointed to his Aetherling. The next turn I was able to kill his Elspeth with my remaining tokens. I drew Stormbreath Dragons across the next two turns and was able to put the game away. Looking back, the game was still going to be close due to the double Dragons lurking near the top of my library, but obviously that was a brutal mistake that helped me win. I hope Mike doesn’t take it too hard since he seemed to be an impressive player. In fact, he hadn’t dropped a match all tournament.
The semifinals and finals were much better matchups, and I felt like maybe it wasn’t so farfetched to get there. When I drew Stormbreath Dragon to take down the last game of the finals, it was a pretty cathartic moment. I had cashed a number of events and been close to the top, but it felt amazing to be handed the trophy by Reuben Bresler, a Columbus native that I’ve known for some time. The fact that a large number of my friends and Comic Town teammates were there made it even better.
Overall, the weekend was an amazing experience. It’s interesting how goals can change pretty quickly. First it was making the Top 8 at the huge Open in Indianapolis. Then it was the win this past weekend in Columbus. Now I’m queued for multiple Invitationals, and people have already started talking about the Open Series Leaderboard for the season. I’m pretty excited to try to step it up even more this year, but for now I’ll settle for my win and for getting the chance to write this article, where maybe I’ll get one of those sweet editor’s notes. [Editor’s Note: Just this once I suppose.]