The Wescoe Connection – Playing Thopter Bant at Grand Prix: Houston

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Thursday, April 8th – Craig Wescoe picked up a fresh decklist the day before Grand Prix: Houston, and ran with it to a respectable Day 2 finish. In fact, he believes the deck is so strong that any other choice for the remainder of the PTQ season would be ridiculous. Today, he shares his play-by-play tournament walkthrough, with sideboarding and strategy tips!

If you have a PTQ left and you want your fate to be in your own hands, play the deck I played at Grand Prix Houston. I ended up 11-3-1 in the tournament, and all three losses and the draw were directly the result of my own play errors. I should have won every single one of the matches I played this weekend. The only change I would make to the deck is running a third Jace, the Mind Sculptor in the sideboard over the third Celestial Purge. This is the deck I played:

Until Thursday evening, I was pretty sure I was playing Wild Nacatls in Houston. Then Gerard Fabiano messaged me on Facebook and told me I should play Thopter Bant. I asked about its zoo, dark depths, and dredge matchups and he said it beats everything and to trust him that it was the deck to play in the tournament. I wasn’t satisfied with my current Zoo build, so I decided to put my faith in Gerard and play the list he gave me.

I got the cards together, registered the deck, and turned in my list before ever playing a single game with the deck. I played my first few games during the three rounds of byes — 2 games against Patrick Chapin and his Grixis Control deck and 3 games against AJ Sacher and his Congregation Zoo deck. The deck had a lot of complex decisions to make and I began second guessing my decision to play the deck — not because it was not a good deck but because I wasn’t sure I would make enough correct decisions to succeed with it in the tournament. Nevertheless there was nothing I could do about it at this point, as it was time for battle.

On the first day of competition, I played against Thepths (draw), combo Scapeshift (win), Faeries (win), Zoo (win), combo Elves (win), and Scapeshift Naya (loss).

On the second day of competition, I played against Mystical Teachings (win), Lightning Angel (win), Living End (loss), Thepths (win), Boros (win), and Thepths (loss).

Day 1 matches

On Day 1, my round 4 Thepths matchup was close, but since I did not know all the ins and outs of my deck yet, it took me longer than usual to figure out what plays to make. As a result, our match went to time and I got the Thopter combo online and would have had lethal if I had one more turn, but due to not playing faster I did not have that extra turn and earned a draw instead of a win.

+3 Threads of Disloyalty, +3 Celestial Purge, +2 Negate
-2 Trinket Mage, -1 Engineered Explosives, -1 Chalice of the Void, -4 Rhox War Monk

Against combo Scapeshift I applied some early pressure with Rhox War Monk and Tarmogoyf but on his last turn he went for Scapeshift and killed me because I didn’t have any countermagic. Games 2 and 3 involved Meddling Mages on Scapeshift and countering anything he tried to do to get rid of the mages. I sided in the Threads of Disloyalty because it was better than the cards I was siding out. Jace, the Mind Sculptor would have been much better.

+4 Meddling Mage, +2 Negate, +1 Threads of Disloyalty
-2 Trinket Mage, -1 Engineered Explosives, -1 Chalice of the Void, -3 Path to Exile

Against Faeries I got Umezawa’s Jitte online, which more than took care of Bitterblossom. The timely counterspells, in the form of Bant Charm and Muddle the Mixture, were very good, as was Jace, the Mind Sculptor. The Thopter combo was also excellent.

+2 Negate, +3 Celestial Purge
-2 Trinket Mage, -1 Chalice of the Void, -1 Tormod’s Crypt, -1 Path to Exile

Against Elves getting Umezawa’s Jitte was more important than getting the Thopter combo online since their combo is more powerful once it is online. So our plan is to disrupt their combo, which we happen to be good at. One game I mulliganed to 4 before finding a hand with land in it (2 lands, Chrom Mox, Umezawa’s Jitte). When he cast Viridian Shaman on my Jitte the game was all but over. The other two games I ended up nearly locking him out of the game with removal spells, counters, Chalice of the Void for 1, and finding Umezawa’s Jitte. He ripped a series of runners in game 3 from zero cards in hand on what was looking like it would be his final turn, but thinking he had no chance to mount a comeback, he forget to put a reminder token on top of his library from Summoner’s Pact and promptly died the following turn when he forgot to pay for the pact.

+3 Threads of Disloyalty, +1 Chalice of the Void
-3 Thopter Foundry, -1 Sword of the Meek

Against Saito Zoo, coverage of our match can be found here (Round 8, Brian Kibler)

I lost one game because he had early pressure, on the play, backed by removal and Bant Charm. The other two games were won on the back of Thopter combo, including one game where he cast 2 Qasali Pridemages and 2 Bant Charms and still had no way to beat me because I just kept putting Thopter Foundry on top of my library with Academy Ruins. Against a version of zoo without artifact kill I would leave Chalice of the Void in and always set it to 1, after casting your Path to Exile if you have one of course.

+3 Threads of Disloyalty
-2 Muddle the Mixture, -1 Chalice of the Void

Against Scapeshift Naya, playing for an undefeated Day 1 record, I punted 2 of the 3 games pretty badly. I definitely should have won all three games. The first game I won handily removing his creatures with Path to Exile and Bant Charm while attacking him with Tarmogoyf and Rhox War Monk. Game 2 there was a scenario where I am at 3 life with the Thopter combo online, 3 lands untapped, and a Celestial Purge in hand. He plays a fetchland and attacks with Plated Geopede. I declare no blocks, thinking for some reason this would induce him to break the fetchland. He obviously passes priority and instead of casting Celestial Purge on the Played Geopede, I sacrifice Sword of the Meek to make a Thopter token. He casts Lightning Bolt in Response, targeting me. So now I have to sacrifice and artifact in response to go to 4 life, which only leaves me with 1 mana left over (not enough to cats Purge). Moreover, I have already declared no blockers. So I die.

The correct play is to just go ahead and Purge the Geopede. And then untap with the combo online. This way I do not die to Lightning Bolt. The second best play is to make a token before blockers. This way if he bolts me in response I can make another token and gain enough like to live through the Bolt and then be able to block the Geopede and untap with the Thopter combo online. So I punted that game. Then in game three I had Jace, the Mind Sculptor in play and the Thopter combo online. I bounced his Vinelasher Kudzu, leaving him with a Plated Geopede, 5 lands, and nothing else. I am at 16 life with 3 lands untapped. On his turn he plays a fetchland, sacrifices it, then casts Scapeshift for 6, including a Sejiri Steppe that gives his Geopede protection from blue, and 2 Flagstones of Trokair, which kill each other and get two more lands. He then attacks me for 21 and all I can do is make three more tokens and go to 19 life. If I bounce the Plated Geopede instead of the Vinelasher Kudzu then I would have another turn to untap and make more Thopter tokens and play a Green creature so that he cannot possibly kill me. There is nothing like losing a match that you should have won 3-0, but fortunately this was the last round of the day, so I had the rest of the night to recover from being on tilt.

+3 Threads of Disloyalty, +2 Celestial Purge
-2 Trinket Mage, -1 Engineered Explosives, -1 Chalice of the Void, -1 Stoneforge Mystic

Day 2 Matches

Against an Esper Mystical Teachings deck I just had way too much going on. He tutored for Extirpate to disrupt my Thopter combo, but then couldn’t deal with my creatures and card advantage via Jace, the Mind Sculptor, Stoneforge Mystic, and Thirst for Knowledge. There came a humorous moment in the game where my opponent flashed Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir into play. This is how the interaction went:

Me: Attack with Thopter tokens.
Opponent: Flash Teferi into play before blocks.
Me: *picks up Teferi and reads it* Okay, before blocks, Bant Charm Teferi.
Opponent: You can’t, it says only as a sorcery.
Me: *picks up Teferi and reads it again* Oops, sorry, I thought it said only on my turn.
Opponent: Block a token with Teferi.
Me: *picks up Teferi and reads it again* That thing flies too!?
Opponent: Oops, I forgot the tokens fly.
Me: Geez, neither of us knows how this Teferi card works.

In the next game he missed his third land drop and I accelerated into a turn 3 Jace, the Mind Sculptor with Negate backup (off 2 Noble Hierarchs and a Chrome Mox). I proceed to fateseal him for 5 turns in a row, and then ultimate him with it. The interesting part is that none of the 5 cards I looked at were lands, and so the fatesealing never actually mattered. He simply was never ever drawing a third land.

+2 Negate, +2 Meddling Mage
-2 Trinket Mage, -1 Engineered Explosives, -1 Chalice of the Void

Against Thepths I sideboarded the same way I did on Day 1 and I think the match came down to both of us getting the Thopter combo online… but I had Bant Charms and Celestial Purge for his, and he did not draw any way to disrupt mine.

Against a Lightning Angel deck, I basically just played the role of a control deck, making sure I did not fall into burn range. This matchup seems pretty easy since our creatures are all better than theirs, and we have a combo that immediately wins us the game.

+3 Threads of Disloyalty, +2 Celestial Purge (for Lightning Angel and Ajani Vengeant)
-2 Trinket Mage, -1 Engineered Explosives, -1 Chalice of the Void, -1 Path to Exile

Against Living End I lost game 1 because I started off with early pressure but gave him a turn to Living End my team away, with him only getting back a Jungle Weaver. Wrathing my board gave him enough time to set up for a bigger Living End a few turns later to win the game. Game 2 I got Chalice of the Void into play, combined with creature pressure, and I had Muddle the Mixture for his Living End after he Krosan Gripped my Chalice of the Void. Then in game 3 I had established control of the game. He had 4 creatures in his graveyard and three lands in play. I had 5 mana out and 3 creatures in play. My thought process was “Okay, I’ll play Trinket Mage to get Chalice of the Void, then play Tormod’s Crypt, and if he has Violent Outburst in response to the Tormod’s Crypt being cast, I’ll Muddle the Mixture his Living End and then cast Chalice of the Void for 0, and he’ll pretty much be locked out of the game.” So I tap three and cast the Trinket Mage and search my library. I pass a Relic of Progenitus and consider whether that is better than Chalice. I quickly realize Chalice is better since it stops his Living End from being a Wrath of God, and I already have the Tormod’s Crypt to protect against the Living End if he has an artifact removal spell. So I choose the Chalice, and as I’m shuffling I say “Play the Chalice for zero” and as expected he casts Violent Outburst in response and I Muddle the Mixture his cascaded Living End. I then play the Tormod’s Crypt, and immediately realize I played my artifacts in the wrong order and put my Crypt into the graveyard and say go. He picks up his graveyard and puts it to the side and I say “No, I’m not sacrificing Tormod’s Crypt, it’s getting countered by Chalice of the Void.” Awkward. Next turn he kills my Chalice and cascades into Living End, bringing back 4 creatures. I’m holding Rhox War Monk and Tarmogoyf, which I play out, but he ends up casting a creature every turn thereafter and outracing me. Had I played the Crypt first instead of the Chalice, I would have had 3 creatures in the graveyard and 2 in play, and he would have had zero. So Living End would basically only act as a Fog, and playing one creature a turn (none of which were Shriekmaw) would not have cut it against my team. So I punted another match, and now had to win out to make Top 8.

+4 Meddling Mage, +1 Chalice of the Void, +1 Relic of Progenitus, +1 Tormod’s Crypt, +2 Negate, +3 Celestial Purge
-3 Thopter Foundry, -1 Sword of the Meek, -1 Umezawa’s Jitte, -2 Stoneforge Mystic, -2 Jace, the Mind Sculptor, -3 Path to Exile.

Against Boros Deck Wins, coverage of our match can be found here (Round 14, Pete Picard)

I got Umezawa’s Jitte online both games, and the second one he had Smash to Smithereens for it, but then he could not beat the Thopter combo. I think the only way he can win is by drawing multiple Smash to Smithereens and enough extra damage to kill me before I can set up again (while also killing me before I can gain enough to life via Jitte and War Monk to be out of burn range).

+3 Celestial Purge, +3 Threads of Disloyalty
-2 Trinket Mage, -1 Engineered Explosives, -1 Chalice of the Void, -2 Jace, the Mind Sculptor

Against Thepths, coverage of our match can be found here (Round 15, Adam Yurchick)

Game 1 was a really close battle of attrition that ended with him going all in on the Thopter plan, me having the removal spell for Thopter Foundry, and then finding a Trinket Mage to search out Engineered Explosives and blow up his Thopters. Then I fatesealed him out of the game with Jace, the Mind Sculptor. Then the second game he missed his third land drop and was stuck on Urbog, Dark Depths, and Vampire Hexmage. I was holding Path to Exile and Threads of Disloyalty with three mana in play (and about to play a fourth). I cast Path to Exile on his Hexmage, hoping he would go all in by targeting Dark Depths in response, and then I could play a land and Threads of Disloyalty Marit Lage for the win. Obviously I am up to something if I am casting Path during my main phase instead of saving it to use on Marit Lage after he blows up Dark Depths, so he is not going to target Dark Depths with Hexmage. Ben Lundquist said I should have cast Threads on the Hexmage so he makes a 20/20 in response and I can Path Marit Lage and he ends up with Island, Urborg instead of Island, Urborg, Dark Depths. That was still not the misplay of the match…

The major misplay was when I removed two Jitte counters to force through 4 extra damage instead of just letting the Jitte go up to 4 counters. I was at 13 life with Path to Exile and 2 Bant Charms in hand, so I figured I was not worried about Marit Lage, and the only creatures I cared about were one-toughness (Dark Confidant and Vampire Hexmage). He was tapped out so I wanted to force through the damage now before he could have Smother or bounce mana open. The card I forgot about was the card I died to the following turn: Rite of Consumption. If I left the Jitte counters alone I could have gone up to 21 in response to the Rite of Consumption, and been able to continue beating down with creatures and accumulating Jitte counters and drawing into more cards, still holding Path to Exile and double Bant Charm, and he would have had to pull off a miracle to win. Instead we go on to game 3, where he drew a bunch more cards than me and got his Thopter combo online while disrupting mine, and my tournament was over.

Post-Tournament Analysis

Against the first Thepths opponent, I earned a draw instead of a win because I played too slowly to get the one extra turn I needed. Against Scapeshift Naya I made a token at the wrong time to lose game 2 and then bounced the wrong creature and died to an unblockable 21/21 at 19 life to lose game 3. Against Living End I played Chalice for zero before playing Tormod’s Crypt and lost because of it. Finally, against Adam Yurchick in the last round playing for Top 8, I forgot to play around Rite of Consumption, a card I could easily have played around, and lost because of it. So basically the cards afforded me the opportunity to win every single one of my matches this weekend had I played them slightly better.

With this said, there are a few caveats: (1) I managed to Top 16 the tournament and pick up $500 and 3 pro points despite my misplays, (2) I made a lot of really good decisions, despite making a few really costly ones, with a deck that is very difficult to play and with which I had no experience playing coming into the tournament, (3) Upon reflection I’m able to pinpoint exactly what I did wrong in each match, (4) I can write a report about a deck that is literally the stone nuts in this format.

As I said in the beginning, the only change I would make to the deck is replacing the third Celestial Purge in the sideboard with a third Jace, the Mind Sculptor. Although I sideboarded the Trinket Mage package out a lot, it is really good against the deck’s tougher matchups and still usually not bad against the decks I side it out against. I’m not 100% sure where the deck originated, but from what I understand Chapman Sim won a PTQ with a similar list of his own design in Oakland and then Allen Jackson and Gerard Fabiano improved the deck by adding more card drawing, taking out the unnecessary cards, and adjusting the sideboard, and then I got the list from Gerard the day before the tournament.

I keep thinking about the topic Zvi Mowshowitz and Ben Lundquist recently wrote about, here and here, I feel like my misplays fell into two camps: lack of knowledge of the format (Rite of Consumption on Marit Lage and powering up a 21/21 Plated Geopede) and boneheaded errors (playing Tormod’s Crypt into my own Chalice and making a token after blocks for no reason and then dying to Lightning Bolt). The only costly mistake that may have been directly the result of lack of experience (with the deck, as opposed to with the format) was the draw I earned in round 4. Granted, my tournament was not exactly a success, but I feel more comfortable with the idea of switching decks last minute now, especially if the person I get it from has tested it extensively and gives me a run-down on how to play it and how to sideboard.

As a note of caution: this deck is difficult to play well, and will probably require you to take more time to think through some of your plays than usual. Moreover, you will be putting the opponent in a position where he will also require more time than usual to make the right play. As a result, your matches will take longer. So to remedy this, I advise you to do as I did for most of the tournament, and tell your opponent before the match that there is a good chance the match will go to time, and to please take shortcuts whenever possible (such as going ahead with their turn while you are shuffling instead of waiting for you to present). This will lessen the chance of picking up unintentional draws.

So here is my advice to you: play this deck. With this deck, moreso than with any other deck in the format that I have played (including Zoo, Thepths, and Dredge), your fate is in your own hands. There are no hate cards that will randomly beat you; there is no combo in the format that you are not equipped to handle; your spells are as powerful as those of any other deck in the format; your mana is very good (including 7 accelerators and 5 basics to evade Blood Moon); and nearly half the cards in the deck can generate card advantage in some form or another, so you can recover from mulligans and keep up with opposing card advantage strategies well. If you’re tired of losing to bad luck, you will have only yourself to blame if you play this deck and don’t win the tournament. That has been my experience at least.

Good luck… erm… Play well with the deck in your next tournament!

Craig Wescoe