The long car ride home from a Magic tournament is a tricky area of every player’s weekend. The best case is you’re cradling a trophy and reliving some wonderful games. The worst is you got ninth place on breakers and are beginning to debate the merits of becoming a hermit.
Or in my unique situation, you’re heading home after your second consecutive finals loss.
Now, for many people, back-to-back finals losses in Opens would be a point of pride. Well, I’m here to publicly proclaim that those people are just plain wrong. I was happy with my play on the weekend, with seeing my friends, and with 7×7 burgers at Steak ‘n Shake. What I was not happy with was the number two. Losing is something I came to terms with years ago during Cube team drafts in Seattle (for those who haven’t tried to Cube in Seattle, give it a shot but keep your wallet in your pocket) and during Lorwyn block Faeries mirrors. (Why yes, you may look at my hand with that fancy Thoughtseize and take anything you please. Oh, and you have Bitterblossom on turn 2? You must really enjoy this mirror!)
But something I will never come to terms with and that I never want to learn to accept is second best. I could continue on this line of self-reflection, but it ends up being a weird muddle of old Army stories and a lot of refusing to lose motivational quotes, so I will refrain for now.
Anyway, second place for the second time had me thinking a lot on the car ride back to Bloomington with my best friend Miley in my ear. From her wise words:
And we can’t stop
And we won’t stop
Can’t you see it’s we who own the night?
For those who don’t know, Miley might be the new age Confucius (most likely not), but those few lines gave me a rare moment of clarity. I can’t stop, I won’t stop, and yes, I frankly do own the whole night. So I knew at that moment it was time to get back to work and stop feeling anything but motivated to better my finish. What I could do about bettering myself and taking home something besides another set of low-quality steak knives? Simply put, I had to work harder, put in more hours, and actually treat this game with the respect it deserves.
For those who didn’t follow Nashville, I was on this list:
- 1 Scavenging Ooze
- 4 Ghor-Clan Rampager
- 4 Elvish Mystic
- 4 Polukranos, World Eater
- 3 Sylvan Caryatid
- 4 Stormbreath Dragon
- 1 Xenagos, God of Revels
- 4 Courser of Kruphix
I realized after Nashville that the deck had a few major issues:
For those who know my simple philosophy, the second point is something I hate Hate HATE when it’s comes to deck choices. I do not want to give chance, RNG, fate, or hocus pocus any advantage in my games if I absolutely do not have to. So mirrors like those presented in G/R Monsters tend to favor those who can put the fattest creature on the board first and leverage that into diminishing your opponent’s board state. How that translates in my head is cross your fingers and hope your creature is bigger than what they can create. Yuck on all fronts in regards to that line of thought, but the strengths of the deck against Mono-Black Devotion and U/W Control made it an easy choice for a PTQ in Chicago the following weekend.
For the PTQ, I went back to the infamous (or is it incognito?) Phil Silberman and had a long discussion over what threats actually work outside of the core Polukranos, World Eater; Ghor-Clan Rampager; and Stormbreath Dragon. The simple answer was to strain the lowest resource available to my opponents. In the case of Mono-Black Devotion and U/W Control, that was they ability to deal with a resolved planeswalker. Both decks had four answers maindeck to all planeswalkers in Hero’s Downfall and Detention Sphere respectively. This meant I could find a small advantage in overloading a scare resource and pushing the advantage with my traditional monsters.
In Nashville, I was on the standard four copies of Domri Rade; two copies of Xenagos, the Reveler; and one Chandra, Pyromaster. This configuration gave me five planeswalkers that love to see Courser of Kruphix and a reasonable planeswalker in any matchup. I was also acutely aware that the resources available to answer planeswalkers are also the best answers to my monsters, so the choice to bump up to a second Chandra was logical. After a return of the fourth Sylvan Caryatid to the maindeck and cutting my favorite land (rest in peace Temple of Malice), I was set to jam another few rounds. The final list was as follows:
- 4 Ghor-Clan Rampager
- 4 Elvish Mystic
- 4 Polukranos, World Eater
- 4 Sylvan Caryatid
- 4 Stormbreath Dragon
- 1 Xenagos, God of Revels
- 4 Courser of Kruphix
I felt the list was the best for punishing the expected metagame of Mono-Black Devotion, G/R Monsters, and U/W Control. The maindeck Flesh // Blood was a nod to the need for an outside shot to kill something bigger than a 4/4 outside of combat.
The sideboard focused on beating U/W Control and Mono-Black Devotion by upgrading my monsters to make sure that whatever threats I was able to resolve had the biggest impact possible. This is especially important if Mono-Black rises in popularity, as you are the beatdown in that matchup so the importance of making your threats as efficient as possible is closely linked to your success in the matchup. The rest of the cards helped me stress limited resources (Unravel the Aether for Detention Sphere) or fixed problems (Plummet and Arbor Colossus for Desecration Demon and Archangel of Thune).
To summarize the event in one phrase:
2nd Place – Kent Ketter
So to say I was on a weird form of heater tilt would be semi-accurate, but I was aware that this was another great finish. This time I did it on the back of what I felt were some shrewd deckbuilding choices and reasonably play. Unfortunately, the last line of play I chose was not quite good enough to win the last game for that invite. For those interested, the scenario was as follows:
My opponent is on a mostly unknown Mono-Black Aggro list similar to what Josh Ravitz wrote about earlier this week. I’m on the draw for game 3, and my opponent has two copies of Rakdos Cackler unleashed. He has hit a series of land drops to allow him to cast his hand full of spells, as he kept seven quickly but missed his third land drop once. At this point, I assume he has approximately one creature and a possible situational removal spell. I attack in with an Elvish Mystic, leaving one back, and Ghor-Clan Rampager. My hand is another Rampager and a Flesh // Blood, when suddenly I realize my opponent is going to Hero’s Downfall my Rampager.
One line I can choose is to bloodrush the attacking Mystic and cast Blood to put my opponent to one and dead on the following turn if he can’t deal with both of my Mystics. The other line is to deal the one, put him to ten from the Mystic attack, and play Rampager post-combat in the hope he doesn’t have a Herald of Torment to kill me in two turns or I hit my third red to overload Mizzium Mortars to sweep his board.
What line would you choose?
While I swear by risk adverse play, I felt like the chance of him having a blocker plus removal was slim based on him using all his premium removal and having already cast his Lifebane Zombie. So I went with the play to put him to one and just hope he faded the draw.
This is horribly incorrect on so many levels:
1) I know my opponent is on all spells from the missed land drops.
2) I should assume Pack Rat is in his 75. It is insane and continues to be insane.
3) His entire clock was on those Rakdos Cacklers going sideways.
4) I am dead to more removal, so the threat of him killing a fresh Ghor-Clan Rampager is unavoidable.
The lesson from all of this is to listen to your gut. I refused to make the risky play time and time again with G/R Monsters and should have stuck to my gut once more. There are obviously other factors I should have taken into account, but realistically I can handle a finite amount of variables in my head, so I prefer to keep my thought loops small to ensure I can play around the more frequent scenarios with the highest level of success possible.
So with my most crushing loss of the year out of the way, I was back to where I was after Nashville: in a car chugging home with feelings of regret and Miley Cyrus. This time I skipped the epiphany and started addressing the shortcomings of G/R Monsters with the exercise of "what cards beat this outside of my colors?" While I don’t normally attempt to brew much outside of a few card changes from established players, I felt like black had some strengths that were too good to pass up.
I knew from playing Tom Ross Jund from a few weeks back that Reaper of the Wild was the real deal. I also knew Dreadbore had to be good right now. It kills everything in the mirror, blows up a quick Elspeth, Sun’s Champion from U/W and B/W Midrange, and is quite good at showing every other creature the quickest route to the graveyard sans Master of Waves.
I decided to give myself a breather from this line of thought and to get back to work on it on Tuesday. Thankfully, Cedric Phillips had other plans, which caused this reaction from me:
For those looking for a base level of card choices and how they fit perfectly into the existing framework, refer to Cedric’s article and my deck tech from St. Louis. For those too lazy to click and read, let me break down how you add a color with Ravnica shock lands in Standard:
It’s that easy! Additionally, Temple of Malice was feeling slighted after I ditched it in Chicago, so that joined the party as well. With that, I had thirteen black sources in the maindeck without a single additional tap land. Success!
For the rest of the week, I jammed the deck against anyone who would tolerate me. To start, I tried to keep jamming Ghor-Clan Rampager with Reaper of the Wilds because when deathtouch isn’t enough, a few points of extra damage must be the way to make it all better. Thankfully I realized this was all a big greedy pipe dream—also known as a Wednesday in my book—and decided to go with what the smartest person playing the deck was advocating (take that as you will, but Cedric isn’t half bad at the deckbuilding thing).
Fast forward to St. Louis and I was at the venue the morning of with a blank decklist in hand. Without thinking too much, I started filling it out and checking my numbers with minimal attention to detail. For those newer players out there, let this be a lesson:
Do not get lazy with your deck registration sheet!
Prior to St. Louis, I always took the 30 seconds to lay out my deck and sort it so I could register properly, but unfortunately for me, that morning I was on autopilot and got lazy. Instead, I registered the next great removal spell in Standard
2 Ultimate Decay
Thankfully the error was caught and properly penalized before the Top 8, so it didn’t bite me too hard, and thanks to some great draws on my part, I was able to win the match where I was given a game loss for my misregistration.
St. Louis went fairly smoothly. I beat some U/W Control decks with the duo of Reaper of the Wilds and Stormbreath Dragon. For those who are considering cutting a Reaper, please do not. The card is a headache for both U/W Control and Mono-Black Devotion while making your G/R Monsters opponents jealous of your fancy new monster. Oh, and the interaction between accelerants and Reaper against Supreme Verdict is a pretty nice one:
To address a few more quick points:
- Xenagos, God of Revels: I don’t want to float an entire turn in the mirror to get a clock later. I feel like every time I do this when I am at parity, I end up behind if they just keep playing creatures.
- Mizzium Mortars: In the mirror, overloading this bad boy can end some games on the spot. Track your opponent’s red sources and when possible try to hide your third source to bait another threat out of their hand. Enjoy the fireworks!
Beyond that, the deck preformed in such a fantastic manner in the mirror that I’m surprised the list didn’t surface earlier. Having matching threats but unconditional removal is exactly how the deck was drawn up, and I would refer to my round 9 feature match to showcase that. I had a very bad run of Domri Rade activations, but due to my removal and a few faded draw steps on my opponent’s side, I was able to pull it out for the double draw into Top 8.
After making the Top 8, the event became just another eight-man on Magic Online to me. I had to win six games to take home a trophy, so a first seed and a Top 8 full of G/R Monsters sounded great. Unfortunately, the Bearded Warrior had battled back from 1-1-1 to make Top 8 and dispatched me in the quarters, which makes my run look sad by comparison.
For game 1, I kept a double Stormbreath Dragon + double Elvish Mystic hand with only one red source. I knew this hand was strong in testing and allowed me to just ignore his creatures and get him dead him quite quickly as long as I drew another red source. Unfortunately for me, my first scry revealed an Overgrown Tomb. This is also the point in the match where I punted like I was in the NFL.
I was so blindsided by the need for double red that I refused to keep the black source for the highly relevant black spells in the maindeck. I was promptly punished by drawing Dreadbore and Reaper of the Wilds before my Blood Crypt and a few Ghor-Clan Rampagers from the Beard took down game 1. Game 2 was a textbook Jund draw with some great removal to wrap it up. We then approached my final game of the event and my introduction to triple Elvish Mystic into Xenagos, God of Revels. It was disgusting and hilarious to get taken down by my favorite one-drop, but such is life.
As for changes moving forward, Scavenging Ooze is the prime candidate for to get cut, but I currently am not sold on any single card in that slot, so I am going to test a maindeck Xenagos, God of Revels. I’m not sold on that change, but its power level lets you win some mirrors off of it alone, so testing it out can’t hurt.
Outside of that, the only real shift I want is to find a spot for another Sire of Insanity. I think people have forgotten how savage the trigger is at end of turn against any control deck. I won at least two games against U/W Control off of accelerating out the 6/4 Demon before they could react. To make room, I think one Rakdos’s Return could go. I was very cognizant of how we wanted a massive X spell against the only deck that can clear all of our accelerants, and frankly it feels like a bad interaction.
Anyway, thanks again to everyone for tuning in to a trek through the mind of a guy in love with Dragons. I’m going to get back at it this week to try to improve my game, so anyone interested in joining me in this endeavor should fire away. For everyone else, see you at the next SCG Open Series event! Hopefully I’ll finally be able to get my cup of coffee.
P.S. Thanks to everyone who puts a smile on my face during the week when I’m working on these lists. I got back into Magic for the people, and I stick around for that same reason. Also, if anyone is looking for a U/W list, I hear that Phil Silberman guy put up a good finish in St. Louis.