Two Weeks Late

Last weekend, Brian Kibler made Top 8 of GP Anaheim with his Block Constructed Jund deck. Read about what inspired him to design the deck after PT Avacyn Restored and how he settled on his exact decklist for the GP.

I like to think there are some things I’m good at in Magic. I have no illusions that I’m the strongest technical player in the history of the game, because to this day I still sometimes make major blunders that cost me. No one will ever call me a Limited mastermind, since I’m never one to cruise through the Draft rounds of a Pro Pour unscathed. But if there’s one thing that I am good at in Magic, it’s dissecting formats and figuring out how to best attack them.

That’s why Pro Tour Avacyn Restored was such a gigantic failure in my eyes. Not because as a team we didn’t manage to put anyone into the Top 8 for the first time since we started working together, but because our entire vision of the format was so fundamentally flawed that we were bound for disaster. It was particularly awkward that the most played deck in the room was Naya midrange, which is the exact type of deck I have a tendency to build and yet our testing gauntlet never contained a real version of it. We were building decks to beat a metagame of Boros and anti-Boros decks when the actual Pro Tour was a veritable forest of, well, Forests.

Here’s what I had to say about it on the awesome "Walk the Planes" video series (starts at 10:48 and lasts until 11:22): 

About halfway through PT Avacyn Restored, I had already crystalized an idea in my mind about what I would have played if I had the opportunity to do the tournament over again. The deck that I played there was built for a world with anti-Boros cards all over the place, with resilient creatures like Strangleroot Geist and Wolfir Avenger instead of mana accelerators like Avacyn’s Pilgrim and Scorned Villager. When the rest of the field showed up with Pilgrims and there wasn’t a Geistflame spotted in the building, my removal-resistant early game mattered a hell of a lot less than the fact that I was always behind in the race to Huntmaster or Garruk, whether on the play or the draw. I knew that I wanted to be the one getting the jump with mana creatures the next time around.

As for Huntmaster, it didn’t take me long before I realized that I didn’t even want it in my deck. That may sound crazy especially coming from me, one of the biggest proponents of Huntmaster of the Fells since it was released, but the reality is that Huntmaster just isn’t a high impact card the way Block plays out. In Standard, Huntmaster is great at producing bodies to block things like Geist of Saint Traft, and the damage its flip abilities deals lines up perfectly to kill opposing Delvers.

In Block, though, Geist and Delver aren’t major players. The creatures that see play in the format are things like Restoration Angel and Wolfir Silverheart. In a world of small creatures, Huntmaster is awesome, but when even the smallest creatures are getting +4/+4 from the big bad Wolf, a couple of 2/2 bodies just don’t cut it. And in those instances when they are going to matter, they’ll very often just get wiped away along with the rest of your board by Bonfire of the Damned.

Don’t get me wrong—Huntmaster is an awesome card, and in the right context it’s fantastic. If I thought the field was going to be full of Boros decks, I would have packed my deck full of them like I did at the Pro Tour. But in a world full of Bonfires and Silverhearts? I had a different four-drop in mind.

The best card for me by far at the Pro Tour was Falkenrath Aristocrat. Which is a little embarrassing, really, because it was in my sideboard. I had added the Aristocrat relatively late in testing when I was looking for an anti-control measure and didn’t play a game with it until the event itself, but I was sure it would be good. Good was an understatement—Aristocrat was awesome, serving not only as an incredible evasive threat but also as a great defensive measure against opposing fliers like Restoration Angel and Sigarda. It could help you come back from behind against a Garruk, which is a huge deal in green mirrors, and alongside a Wolfir Silverheart represents twenty power attacking in the air over three turns: four, eight, eight, dead.

Not only that, but Aristocrat is incredibly difficult to kill. With a single additional creature on the battlefield to sacrifice, Aristocrat can live through most of the removal that sees play in the format from Pillar of Flame to Brimstone Volley to Bonfire of the Damned, miracled or not! Only Terminus and black removal like Dead Weight, Sever, and Tragic Slip kill her outright, though Zealous Conscripts does a pretty good job of convincing her to kill herself.

But Conscripts is a better friend to the Aristocrat than an enemy. In my early versions of the deck I had the full set of four Wolfir Silverhearts, but it didn’t take long for one of them to get pushed out for a second copy of Zealous Conscripts. Conscripts is one of my favorite cards from Avacyn Restored for the sort of game breaking power it gives to creature decks, but it’s even better alongside Falkenrath Aristocrats.

Hitting your opponent with their own Silverheart or Huntmaster or whatever is good, but being able to eat it with your own Aristocrat afterward is even better. One of the downsides of playing Conscripts in most decks is that it doesn’t have a very high impact until your opponent plays an individually powerful permanent. With Aristocrat, though, that’s fine; it’s fine to just play Conscripts and steal a Borderland Ranger or whatever to get in for a lot of damage and get the creature out of the way for future attacks.

The last piece of the puzzle was Tragic Slip. Tragic Slip is an incredibly efficient removal spell when it comes to killing X/1 creatures but falls short against larger creatures without an enabler. I knew I wanted a cheap removal spell to kill opposing mana creatures, but I also wanted a good way to deal with opposing Silverhearts. Thankfully, thanks to Falkenrath Aristocrat Tragic Slip could easily serve both of those roles. In the early game, I could use Slip to take out opposing Avacyn’s Pilgrims so I could get Garruk online first, and later on I could sacrifice an extraneous creature to my Aristocrat so I could kill a big opposing creature for the low, low price of one mana.

This was my original build: 

In the week leading up to Anaheim, I decided to get some games in with the deck on Magic Online. I played primarily in the two-man queues to a great deal of success. I was winning at a remarkable rate against just about everything I played against, from Naya to Spirits to various forms of Reanimator. On Wednesday night before the GP, I decided to kill two birds with one stone and get some playtesting in while streaming the Daily Event that evening.

That may not have been the best plan on my part.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I really enjoy streaming and getting a chance to interact with my viewers and help them out in their efforts to become better Magic players. But I had a Grand Prix coming up in a few days, and here I was not only playing in a Magic Online Daily Event under the nick "Kibler" but also broadcasting it to the hundreds of people who decided to tune in, telling them about my great new deck and all the reasons it’s awesome. And then I showed up to the tournament and this happened:

Oops. On the one hand, it was really cool to see so many people doing well with my deck or at least very close approximations to it (I’m not so arrogant to think that no one else could have possibly realized that Jund with Aristocrats could be a good deck on their own), but on the other hand, one of my only losses in the Swiss was to the mirror match against a player who told me he got the deck from my stream. I nearly lost another match late in Day 2 in the same situation. I’m certainly not going to refrain from streaming in the future, but I might not play decks right before Grand Prix when I know that the last thing I want to run into is the mirror match. Then again, finding out that Dzy copied my list after playing me in the two-man queues and went on the win the MOCS the morning of the GP certainly helped assure me that my deck was good. Maybe Barcelona was just a blip on the radar after all, eh?

After that Daily Event, I made a few changes to the deck. I decided I wanted to increase the number of proactive cards, since one of the ways I found I was losing was just to flooding out on a combination of land and removal, both of which were very high percentages of the deck. I was continually impressed by Olivia, especially how powerful she was against the Angel Reanimator decks that looked likely to be extremely popular. Their only real answer to her is Fiend Hunter, which you can handle easily with Garruk at a profit, and then they have to kill both your Olivia and your Garruk to get back into the game! I decided to cut a Sever for an Olivia and then the other for a Devil’s Play, since Devil’s Play could serve as removal early and a kill spell late if need be. I found that I rarely had trouble getting triple red for the flashback, since I was already actively fetching for Mountains to enable Olivia anyway.

When I got to the Grand Prix and I was trying to put my deck together, I could not for the life of me remember the last two cards in my sideboard. It took me the longest time to remember that they were Appetite for Brains. Being completely unable to recall a card in your sideboard is often a sign that it’s not performing up to expectations, and this was no different. I decided to cut them for a pair of Triumph of Ferocity in anticipation of a rise in popularity of Miracles or other control decks. I also replaced the second Olivia in the sideboard that I’d moved to the maindeck with a second Grafdigger’s Cage, leaving my deck looking like this:

The deck was absolutely awesome for me all tournament. After my three byes I finished Day 1 at 8-1, with my only loss coming to the mirror match as I mentioned above. On Day 2, I dropped one match to Christian Calcano’s U/R Control deck in which he went through all but five cards in his deck to beat my double mulligan in game 2, and then I won out until I faced Paul Rietzl in the final Swiss round. At first Paul told me that he wanted to play for the chance to go undefeated, a choice which I told him I respected, but when we ultimately sat down in the Feature Match area he filled out the slip as an intentional draw.

My quarterfinal match against EFro was super close. His was the only deck in the Top 8 I didn’t really want to play against, as I felt like I had an edge against all of the rest. In game 1 I got trounced after stalling on mana against a Tamayo and drawing nothing but Tragic Slips after my opening hand, though I still had an opening if I drew a land for Zealous Conscripts the turn he ticked his planeswalker up to eight.

I ran over him in the second game, and then in the third he managed to keep me stuck at zero creatures for my Triumph of Ferocity for much of the game. I awkwardly drew both my single flashback spell—Devil’s Play—and the single Grafdigger’s Cage I had sideboarded in against his Feeling of Dreads and Think Twices, made all the more awkward by the fact that if the Devil’s Play had been one of the Severs I’d cut for it I would have won the game handily. As it happened, I had to settle for a Top 8 finish; but hey, a GP Top 8 isn’t a bad way to start off the season. I’ll take it.

I know Block is essentially a dead format now, but if you are among those who play it on Magic Online, I can’t recommend this deck enough. Many of the overviews of the deck I’ve seen have called it just a pile of the most powerful red, green, and black cards in the format, but I hope if you’ve learned nothing else from this article that it was designed with a bit more of an eye to detail than tossing all of the mythics into the same pile. This deck has all the tools to fight against the major players in the format and has a huge edge over a significant portion of the field. I just wish I hadn’t built it two weeks too late for the Pro Tour!

Until next time,