Winning The SCG Invitational With Wild Nacatl, Part 1: Standard

Pat Cox has been on an absolutely tear, winning the Invitational one weekend and Top 8ing Pro Tour Nagoya the next. Read how it all began in Indianapolis, with a matchup guide for the RUG (No Twin) deck that got him halfway there.

As I write this I’m about halfway through a 2.5-week Magic trip from Indianapolis to Nagoya to Kansas City (with a day in Hawaii thrown in for
good measure). As you may know, Nagoya went pretty well for me too, but I’m going to focus on Indy here. I had planned on writing a single report for
the whole tournament, but the Standard write-up kind of got away from me. So in today’s article, I’ll cover our Standard deck, and Part Two will
discuss Zoo (aka The Greatest Deck Ever).

Originally, I had planned on going to GP Singapore instead of the Invitational. I figured it was close to Japan, and I had to go there anyway, but a
quick look at a map showed me that they weren’t near each other at all, and I suck at geography. To go would have been an extra ten hours of
flying and $1000. Indianapolis was actually more or less on the way, and both Orrin Beasley and the Hollands were going, so that made the decision
pretty easy. The vastly superior payout certainly helped things as well.

The format of the Invitational was half Legacy and half Standard. I felt pretty confident in the Legacy portion, since you’re allowed to play
Zoo. GP Providence was the week before, so my list was already tuned from my preparation for that tournament.

Standard was a whole different story. I’d love to tell you I spent a lot of time figuring out the format, but the truth is that I was devoting
most of my effort to Block. Ben Stark kept telling me to play his Valakut list, which was pre-sideboarded for Caw-Blade. I love me some Valakut, so he
almost had me convinced that this was a good choice. However I had flashbacks of getting crushed by Caw-Blade every round at GP Dallas and decided to
steer clear of my beloved Primeval Titans for the time being. I’m just thankful he did not give me the Vedalken Certarch deck that he piloted in
Singapore. I later asked him why not, and he told me, “I’d never do that to you.”

Another option was of course to actually just play Caw-Blade. It is the best deck in the format, after all. The issue there was that I am not the
fastest player. I have managed to unintentionally draw in Limited more than once in the last year, for example. So playing a ton of long, drawn-out
Caw-Blade mirrors was something I wanted to avoid if at all possible. Incidentally, this is the same reason I made Orrin play RUG instead of Caw-Blade
at Dallas. If I am slow, he is glacial. And he managed to get second in that tournament playing against Caw-Blade a bunch. So maybe RUG was the way to

Orrin and I had brewed up a list for me to play in the Orlando Open a few weeks prior that made great use of Beast Within but did not have the Splinter
Twin combo. I went 6-3 in that tournament, even though I accidentally conceded a round when I was not dead (Beast Within tokens do not have haste) and
misplayed during several of the rounds that I won. So the deck seemed pretty solid. We thought the combo might make the deck better, but neither of us
had any games under our belt with that version so we decided to stick with what we knew.

Here is the list that we registered:

By far, the most exciting card in this deck is Beast Within. I love this card. I tried to shove it into all of our Block decks, and green wasn’t
even good in the format! Luckily I was convinced otherwise there, but Beast Within is still great in RUG. The 3/3 is pretty incidental since you can
kill it with Inferno Titan or Jace, the Mind Sculptor. There are also very few aggro decks in the format. So even if you cannot deal with the token
immediately, taking a few hits from the 3/3 will probably not cost you the game.

Why is Beast Within so good? Well I’ll give you some situations from the two tournaments where I registered the card. Several times my opponent
cast Jace and +2ed to play around Lightning Bolt. I killed Jace with Beast end of turn, then played my own Jace and bounced the token. I have destroyed
my fair share of Batterskulls and Sword of Feast and Famine. I once killed off a Gideon that had been +2ed, allowing my Inferno Titan to swing for
lethal. (Conveniently that guy kills a 3/3 just by attacking!) In testing before the Orlando Open, I destroyed Ben S’s Valakut in response to his
casting Harrow or Cultivate several times and got rid of quite a few Primeval Titans as well.

Beast Within is also great against the Splinter Twin decks. Obviously it kills Deceiver Exarch, which is pretty huge. But a less obvious application is
that it can keep them off of two red mana. I have seen that deck lose several times due to lack of double red, and that was without their opponent
Vindicating lands. You can of course also just further set back any mana-screwed opponent by Beasting a land.

The other new card that we played was Dismember over one Lightning Bolt. This was to deal with Deceiver Exarch. Against many decks, the two cards are
interchangeable. Both kill Lotus Cobra and Stoneforge Mystic, after all. Why not just play two or even three Dismembers then? We did actually have two
Dismembers until about midnight before the tournament, but after we looked at GP Singapore decks, it seemed like Mirran Crusader had become the norm in
Caw-Blade. That guy hits pretty hard, and for some reason, this card that costs one colorless counts as black and can’t target Crusader.
Lightning Bolt can also kill Jace, where Dismember obviously cannot.

One other consideration in deciding your Lightning Bolt/Dismember split is how much aggro you expect. Sure, Dismember kills things like Fauna Shaman
and Vengevine just as well as Lightning Bolt, but you can’t reasonably pay four life to cast a spell more than once a game against a deck that’s
attacking you. It’s possible to get the black mana off of Lotus Cobra, but you certainly cannot count on that happening.

Consecrated Sphinx instead of Precursor Golem seems to have become the norm. 3/3s without evasion aren’t exactly exciting against Batterskull.
Sphinx can block Batterskull, and you’re almost certainly winning if it lives until their draw step. The only disadvantage of Sphinx is that it costs
six, so it’s much harder to cast on turn 3 than Precursor Golem. With Precursor, if you have a Lotus Cobra in play and play a fetch, congratulations
you have three 3/3s! To cast Sphinx there, you need Explore and two fetchlands. However, you can still easily cast Jace on turn 3 with Explore or
Cobra. And the vastly increased power level of Sphinx made it worth sometimes waiting a turn.

The rest of the cards in the maindeck are more or less what RUG has looked like for months, so I will move on to the sideboard:

  • Obstinate Baloth and Pyroclasm are for aggro. Decks like Vampires and Boros are not very popular anymore, but they can beat us pretty handily if we
    are unprepared (especially after going from four to two Lightning Bolts in the main). And it’s possible Vampires’ popularity is on the upswing,
    since Megan just told me it won the last two Standard Opens.

  • The extra Dismember is there for Deceiver Exarch but can come in against any deck where you need more early removal. As I said before, it kills
    Lotus Cobra and Stoneforge Mystic just as well as a Lightning Bolt.

  • The Flashfreezes are mostly for Valakut, since that’s another deck that will smash you if you’re not actively trying to beat it. I’d certainly add
    a fourth one if Valakut ever became popular again. Flashfreeze is also obviously good against Mono Red, which Orrin and I actually both got paired
    up with, surprisingly. It’s also fine to side in one or two against Splinter Twin decks to counter the enchantment of the same name. It’s not as
    good of an answer as Dismember, since you have to leave three mana up (if you hold up two, they can end-of-turn Exarch to tap one and then kill
    you), but it will do in a pinch. There are some Birthing Pod decks that run the Exarch combo alongside Birds of Paradise, Lotus Cobra, Fauna
    Shaman, Vengevine, etc. Bring in all of the Flashfreezes against this version, since they counter almost everything in the deck.

  • Nature’s Claim is for both Splinter Twin and Equipment in the Caw-Blade deck. Now that Caw-Blade is moving away from Gideon Jura, their only
    way to threaten you is Equipment. So if you kill their Sword of Feast and Famine or Batterskull, you have probably bought yourself enough time to
    take control.

  • The extra Lightning Bolt is for aggro decks and for the “must-kill” two-drops.

  • The one Deprive is mostly just a catchall. It’s an extra counter against Valakut, since we shaved a Flashfreeze. It also is good against the pure
    combo Splinter Twin decks, since those games often go forever, and Mana Leak eventually gets blanked.

One note about sideboarding: our plan against Caw-Blade was somewhat unconventional. We decided to take out most/all of the Mana Leaks, since if you
don’t have it turn 2 on the play, it will do very little. Killing Stoneforge Mystic or the Equipment it gets is a much more reliable plan than
having two mana up when they cast it. This also lets you tap out turn 2 with relative impunity. Most lists no longer run Gideon Jura, so there is less
of a need to counter large mid/late game threats. And even if they do resolve something like Gideon, Sun Titan, or Consecrated Sphinx, you have Beast
Within to deal with them. Basically, between the creature/artifact/anything on earth removal, you should be able to deal with whatever they do, and
it’s unlikely their Mana Leaks will be able to stop your Jaces and plethora of six-drops.

Anyway, onto the matches!

Round 1 Will Cruse playing Tempered Steel

Game 1 my two Lightning Bolts conveniently show up and buy me enough time to cast Inferno Titan, which is obviously the best card on earth against this
sort of deck. Game 2 he vomits his hand on turns 1 and 2 (I believe three Signal Pests and at least two free creatures were involved). I do not have
the Pyroclasm, so he makes very short work of me. Game 3 I keep a hand with no red sources for my Pyroclasm but Halimar Depths and Preordain to find
it. I manage to get there on turn 3 and Pyroclasm to buy myself some time. I eventually cast Inferno Titan to mop up the second wave of guys, but I’m
still in pretty bad shape because he has two Inkmoth Nexuses that Titan can’t take care of. I have a turn where I have to hit both a Forest and
Nature’s Claim off of a brainstorm to not die, and I get there.


Round 2 Chris Kronenberger playing Birthing Pod

Game 1 I see cards like Fauna Shaman and Birds of Paradise and assume I’m playing against a Vengevine deck. I tap out for Jace, the Mind Sculptor on
turn 4, and he end-of-turn casts Deceiver Exarch and kills me. Oops. Game 2 it turns out this is also a Vengevine deck, and a couple of those make
short work of Jace and then me.

I don’t know enough about this deck to say how good/bad it is in the format, but it did seem like a pretty neat idea. And it definitely had the
surprise factor going for it.


Round 3 Tim Landale playing RUG Twin

Game 1 Landale is mana-screwed, and I Beast Within a land to take him completely out of the game. To be honest, I do not remember the other game(s),
but I end up taking the match. On a side note: Orrin thinks this deck should be called RUG Deck Twins. I think he is a corny idiot.


Round 4 Andrew Shrout playing Birthing Pod

He starts with some combination of Fauna Shaman, Birds of Paradise, and Lotus Cobra, so I figure he must be playing the same deck as my round 2
opponent. I later find out he doesn’t run the Splinter Twin combo, but it was probably still right for me to be wary of it. Combo or not,
basically every creature in the deck dies to Inferno Titan. Often, two or even three creatures will die to a single three-damage trigger. I masterfully
drew a Titan each game.


Rounds 5-11 Legacy

Since I will be covering my Legacy deck in Part Two of the report, I am going to skip over those matches for the moment. But I went 5-2 in the


Round 12 Patrick Sullivan playing Mono Red

I have the sick read and put him on Mono Red and me on getting crushed. I lose game 1 handily and come close in game 2, but he manages to kill both of
my Inferno Titans and then Shrine of Burning Rage me out. If I had drawn an Obstinate Baloth this game, I probably would have won. But I did Pyroclasm
him, so I guess I can’t expect to draw all of my sideboard cards.

I likely would have lost the match anyway, but Shrine of Burning Rage dealt a ton of damage to me both games. It’s possible you should side in some
number of Nature’s Claims to deal with the card, but that seems a little awkward since it has no other targets, and they’ll usually have three
mana up (meaning that Nature’s Claming the Shrine will only save you one or two damage).


Round 13 Corbin Hosler playing U/R Splinter Twin

Game 1 he gets flooded while I build up a hand of answers with the help of Jace, and I manage to eventually get him with an Inferno Titan. Game 2 goes
fairly similarly but ends prematurely when he accidentally draws two cards off of my Consecrated Sphinx. My hand was something absurd like Beast
Within, Nature’s Claim, Deprive, and Mana Leak, so I was likely going to win regardless.


Round 14 Lukas Parson playing Birthing Pod

I had played Lukas in the Atlanta Open but during the Legacy portion so I was not sure what to put him on in Standard. I see the Fauna Shaman and Birds
of Paradise again, but now I’m not sure if I need to play around the Splinter Twin combo or not. He eventually casts an Exarch, and that answers
that question. He has a turn where I’m tapped out, and he can kill me if he draws a second red mana for Splinter Twin, but he gets a Misty Rainforest
instead. He later informs me that most of his red lands come into play tapped, so it was not terribly likely for him to get there. To be perfectly
honest, I did not know that at the time. But either way, I think it was right for me to go ahead and get a threat on the board.

Game 2 is fairly anticlimactic. He mulligans to five and does manage to hit his land drops and some guys but packs it when I have the Inferno Titan.
Despite the mull to five with Top 8 potentially on the line, Lukas was very gracious in defeat. We discussed the match for a few minutes after its
conclusion, and he wished me luck.


There are four 10-4s at this point (including both pilots of this deck), and only one or two of us will make Top 8, so I have to sweat for a while. I
think I am in good shape because I know Orrin’s breakers aren’t great, but I do start to get nervous when I hear Patrick followed by the
wrong last name in seventh. I manage to sneak in at eighth over Gaudenis, much to Dan Jordan’s chagrin. Since the Top 8 was Legacy, I’m going to
hold off on covering those matches until Part 2 of this report. But in case you can’t wait, here’s a preview: Taiga, Wild Nacatl, kill you.

Throughout the tournament, Orrin and I were saying how our Standard deck must be bad, since literally no one else was playing RUG without Splinter
Twin. But we ended up at a combined 11-3, so maybe we were onto something. As you probably noticed, I somehow played against Caw-Blade zero times in
the tournament. But I know Orrin played against it at least twice and won, against very good players no less (Kenny Mayer and Ari Lax). I played
against it three or four times in the Orlando Open and felt very good about the matchup. There is a lot of interaction, and you actually get to play
Magic, which is certainly a lot more fun than playing Caw-Blade mirrors.

Moving forward, I think the main thing to figure out is if this deck is actually better than the Splinter Twin version. It’s hard to pass up on a
two-card combo in your deck with a lot of card selection. But you do lose a lot of your interactive cards in making space for the combo. And while it
is not as flashy, Inferno Titan kills people just as dead as four billion Deceiver Exarchs. I’m sorry that I do not have a definitive answer for
you here, but I have not had a chance to play Standard again since the Invitational.

Assuming we stick with this version, I do not think the deck requires a lot of changes—though you can certainly tweak it based on your expected
metagame. The Lighting Bolt/Dismember split is pretty dependent on what other people are playing. If Splinter Twin is popular and Mirran Crusader is
not, you can skimp on Lightning Bolts. If aggro makes a comeback, you don’t want a bunch of pay-four-life spells in your deck. Also, if you
expect a lot of aggro, you can add the Avenger of Zendikar back into the deck. But let’s be honest: as long as Batterskull can be cheated into
play on turn 3, there will probably not be many aggro decks around. If you are hard up for space, the miser’s Oracle of Mul Daya can certainly be
cut. But that guy can be pretty awesome at creating card advantage with his friend Jace, the Mind Sculptor, so I am hesitant to give him the boot. We
had also considered adding a Nature’s Claim to the maindeck since it’s so good against the expected field, but you already have Beast Within as a

Here is a quick sideboard guide for some popular matchups:


In:     1 Lightning Bolt, 3 Nature’s Claim

Out:   4 Mana Leak

I explained the logic for this earlier in the article.

U/R Twin

In:     1 Deprive, 3 Nature’s Claim    

Out:   2 Lightning Bolt, 2 Inferno Titan

Lightning Bolt actually kills nothing in this deck, and Nature’s Claim is great because it kills both Spellskite and Splinter Twin. It’s pretty
dangerous to tap out against this deck, so we do not want the full amount of six-drops.


In:     1 Lightning Bolt

Out:   1 Dismember

The main purpose of either spell in the matchup is to stop turn 2 Lotus Cobra, so might as well have the one that does not cost life. I could see
siding out a Mana Leak instead on the draw, since you cannot counter turn 2 Cobra. But I wouldn’t cut more than one, since there are so many
late-game cards you want to stop.


In:     3 Obstinate Baloth, 1 Lightning Bolt, 3 Pyroclasm

Out:   3 Beast Within, 1 Oracle of Mul Daya, 1 Dismember, 2 Lotus Cobra on the play/2 Mana Leak on the draw

Both Lotus Cobra and Mana Leak are pretty bad against them, with Leak actually being miserable on the draw. I just talked to Orrin, and we think you
can maybe leave in the Dismember when you have all of the Cobras in, since you can make a black mana or two on turn 3.

RUG Twin

In:     1 Dismember, 1 Lightning Bolt

Out:   1 Oracle of Mul Daya, 1 Inferno Titan

You cannot side in Nature’s Claim here, since they might just side out the combo and turn it into essentially a RUG mirror, leaving Claim with no
targets. In case they do not side out the combo, you want to have your Dismembers in. Worst case, they can kill a Lotus Cobra or shrink a six-drop to
kill it with a Titan trigger.

The reason to side Inferno Titan out is the same as against U/R Splinter Twin: it is dangerous to tap out against a combo deck so late in the game. If
you are fairly confident that they will not leave the combo in, then you can keep the Titan. To make room for the combo, they’ll likely not have the
full amount of Mana Leaks. So you’ll probably resolve your second six-drop, if not your first.

Mono Red

In:     3 Obstinate Baloth, 1 Lightning Bolt, 3 Flashfreeze, 3 Pyroclasm

Out:   3 Beast Within, 1 Oracle of Mul Daya, 1 Dismember, 4 Mana Leak, 1 Lotus Cobra

This is another matchup where both Mana Leak and Lotus Cobra do very little. But you have a hard counter to side in, so Mana Leak gets cut over Cobra.
Hey, if Cobra lives, you might steal a game with an early Inferno Titan! (But you should probably not hold your breath.)

Check back in the next day or two for Part 2 of my Invitational report, where I’ll discuss the Legacy portion of the tournament, including the Top 8.
That’s right, an article about Zoo by Pat Cox. Who wouldn’t want to read that? I’ll also be bringing you a Top 8 report from Nagoya in the
near future, so be on the lookout for that. Thanks for reading!

Pat Cox