All right, time for some real talk.
Yes, I did win the Standard Open at the SCG Tour® stop in Indianapolis. Yes, it was Week 1 for the new Standard. Yes, I had red in my deck.
No, I did not play Chandra, Torch of Defiance.
“I thought we had something, Chris.”
Well, I will say that Smuggler’s Copter happened, but that doesn’t really answer everything. There are a lot of moving parts in the new Standard, and this is how Team Cardhoarder happened to end up on a sweet build of an obvious deck that performed extremely well for everyone who played it.
The start of my preparation for the event was to see what kind of cool decks I could find that would use either Chandra, Torch of Defiance or Noxious Gearhulk. These were the two cards that I wanted to play. From B/R Control decks to G/R Monsters decks to weirdo Delirium decks, I just kept running into the same problem over and over again.
Smuggler’s freaking Copter.
Finding ways to interact with da choppa would prove to be very important in the new Standard, and to be honest, it’s even more so than what I expected.
I figured that there would be a lot. All of the aggressive decks would adopt it. There might even be some middling decks that are looking to take advantage of utility creatures that weren’t that great in combat or maybe have some madness synergies.
I did not expect there to be 32 copies out of a possible 32 in the Top 8.
I did not expect B/G Delirium to be jamming four.
Enough story. Here is the deck that I won the whole thing with.
- 4 Thraben Inspector
- 4 Selfless Spirit
- 3 Depala, Pilot Exemplar
- 2 Pia Nalaar
- 4 Toolcraft Exemplar
- 4 Veteran Motorist
This is an Andrew Tenjum deck. You also know some other Tenjum decks. Devin Koepke’s winning Bant Company deck was a Tenjum build. The U/W Eldrazi deck that broke the Modern format in half was a Tenjum build.
Needless to say, it’s a very good thing that I get to work with Mr. Tenjum.
This deck, though, oh man it performed beautifully. It has so much play to it, and not just the main, the entire 75. Switching between roles flawlessly. Turning the corner on a dime and pressuring the opponent before they are ready for it. It really can do it all.
We knew that Smuggler’s Copter was going to be a thing. In fact, we swapped our Incendiary Flow in the deck to Harnessed Lightning for the simple fact that it can actually interact with Smuggler’s Copter. The big innovations, though, were the Dwarven tag-team of Veteran Motorist and Depala, Pilot Exemplar.
We found it in testing, but I really honed my skills during the event. One of the good ways to fight against Smuggler’s Copter is to just play right back at them. It’s not “free” to Crew, so making sure that we are getting more out of our Crews was key. The +1/+1 from Veteran Motorist and the Anthem from Depala, Pilot Exemplar definitely helped, but the real spice was Weaver of Lightning and Galvanic Bombardment out of the sideboard. Playing to the battlefield and answering multiple things at one time were key in fighting back against opposing Copters.
I would kill for a Manic Vandal in this format.
We did exceptionally well in Indianapolis. Thirteen out of thirteen Team Cardhoarder members made Day 2, eight of which cashed, and we put three copies of the deck into the Top 8 with a fourth, Lucas, losing his win-and-in Round 15 match.
I learned a lot during the course of the event, so let me share that with you, since I expect this deck and these strategies are likely going to be parts of the format for some time.
Smuggler’s Copter is absurd, obviously, but playing with it properly is key. Remembering that it loots when you block is important (why does this even happen?), and looting properly was key in my success this weekend.
I don’t think that the line is as clear as others think when they say to just always loot, but with Veteran Motorist you can often get perfect information and make your decision off that. One such was against Chris Andersen in a mirror early in Day 2.
My hand was land #4, Galvanic Bombardment, Skywhaler’s Shot, Harnessed Lightning; I’d just scryed Gideon, Ally of Zenikar onto the top of my deck. That turn I attacked with a Smuggler’s Copter and declined to loot since I already knew what was on top and wanted all of the cards.
Obviously I don’t have complete information, but a lot of my opponents over the weekend were discarding removal spells and ways to interact or push their pressure, and I felt like a lot of games I was able to stabilize or fight back against their Copter advantage was because of their looting decisions.
Again, Crewing and looting with Smuggler’s Copter isn’t always 100% free, so making sure that you are pacing properly and getting the maximum out of it all is very important.
Depala, Pilot Exemplar was phenomenal over the course of the event. As an Anthem for your other Dwarves and Vehicles, she really helps you go bigger in combat. It is also nice that she makes your Veteran Motorist and Toolcraft Exemplar not have one toughness and therefore always dead to Liliana, the Last Hope or triggers from Weaver of Lightning.
I got to activate her X ability multiple times over the course of the event. In fact, I was able to steal a game from Ryan Hovis and his unique B/G Graveyard deck by drawing four cards on his end step with her.
Pia Nalaar was also very good, primarily at making creatures not block or providing two bodies for only one card. She does have diminishing returns as she is a legendary creature, but her upside is real great. If we didn’t already have Depala as an insane three-drop I could see playing more, and I do love that she was a four-of in my Top 4 opponent’s deck.
Interestingly enough, I sacrificed more Clues to Pia Nalaar’s ability than to draw a card.
Toolcraft Exemplar was quite underwhelming, but that was honestly to be expected. My issue is that it cannot play defense basically at all. It is great at attacking, at Crewing, and at providing tempo as a one-mana play, which are all things that we were looking for in Game 1, but in post-sideboard games, things slow way down and it was an easy cut. I basically sided out in almost every matchup.
It’s likely that it needs to stay for the above reasons, but I still felt like it was the worst card in our deck. This was followed closely by the second copy of Skysovereign, Consul Flagship.
The issue is that we really never want to draw two, but there are times where it’s a complete bomb. With the amount of scry in the deck, I think it can safely be one copy, but you have to be wary of that when scrying early if you ship one to the bottom.
Skysovereign, Consul Flagship is huge in the mirror and is quite fine against the B/R aggressive decks, but I still wish that we only had one in our 75.
The Ugly (Well, More Like Medium-Plus)
Having the flexibility to bring it back in when we are on the play is all right, but even then, how often is it going to be better than Gideon?
I actually just want some number of Gideon in the maindeck.
Declaration in Stone is another card that was mediocre. In fact, in my mirror sideboarding plan, I was cutting all of them since, again, games are likely to go quite long. I do like potentially keeping one or two now that the Gideon plan is out there and Declaration is all right at taking care of 2/2 Knight Ally tokens if we get really behind.
I want to talk a little about Selfless Spirit because, while I think it is kind of mediocre, it does play an important role. It can create great combat scenarios for us either on offense or defense and can Crew Copter. In fact, it is also a bit of a trump in the Copter-on-Copter battle, since we can make ours indestructible. It also pressures planeswalkers pretty well, but it does have some things against it.
I think it’s likely still pretty good if we are on Dwarves, but I think there might be another option.
This tournament may be remembered for Team Cardhoarder dominating with W/R Vehicles and me snagging my fifth trophy. It may also be remembered for having 32 copies of Smuggler’s Copter in it.
I want to point out that Donovan Lachney was 12-0 when I played against him in Round 13, luckily beating him. I think he had one of the (if not the) best decks in the tournament, and a more refined list is likely the best route to take these Vehicle decks.
- 4 Thraben Inspector
- 4 Thalia's Lieutenant
- 4 Hanweir Garrison
- 2 Thalia, Heretic Cathar
- 3 Pia Nalaar
- 4 Inventor's Apprentice
Now, we didn’t have Inventor’s Apprentice in our deck. It wasn’t just because Toolcraft Exemplar was a Dwarf and played off cards like Depala, Pilot Exemplar. It’s because the 2/3 just wasn’t impactful enough and was a pretty embarrassing draw late in the game.
The difference here is Thalia’s Lieutenant changes everything. Making Inventor’s Apprentice into a 3 / 4 is pretty huge and the synergy it has with Hanweir Garrison is awesome. I actually really like Garrison, especially with Smuggler’s Copter. Both are great threats, and it really forces the opponent to choose what they want to interact with.
All in all, I am very happy with the weekend. Not only did I take the trophy, but our team performed exceptionally well and our intuitions about the metagame were very close to being spot on.
For those of you wondering, here is how I sideboarded in the “mirror” and against the R/B Aggro deck.
Comments from Last Week
Each week I like to end my article by highlighting a couple of comments from my piece last week. Make sure you add your input in the comments so that you may be highlighted in the following article!
“With the Exception of Legacy, I run Abzan or some derivation thereof in every format I play. If, in theory, I was to convert that “very” nice G/B build to Abzan, what would you suggest as the first step?”
– Robert J. Keefer
Thanks for the question, Robert! I actually have been thinking a lot about Abzan. It gains access to Grasp of Darkness and Natural State, which are both awesome answers to Smuggler’s Copter. You can still play Copter yourself, and it’s especially nice in a three-color deck. I would start with Servant of the Conduit and Aether Hub. Between those cards and a mixture of the fastlands from Kaladesh, the creature-lands from Battle for Zendikar and Oath of the Gatewatch, and the Shadow lands from Shadows over Innistrad, you can really get a three-color manabase working.
This is all to play Gideon, Ally of Zendikar, though. Watching people put him onto the battlefield on turn 3 was extremely inspiring and seemed quite unfair for whoever was sitting on the other side of the table.
“Nice article. I don’t know if anyone else feels this way, but Liliana has been really lackluster in my testing because of these Vehicles. I’ve just been cutting her from control decks.”
– Terrence McAllister
Terrence, your comment really hits it on the head. Liliana is quite poor against all of the Vehicles, and with Smuggler’s Copter in particular being difficult to interact with, I can get behind removing her from decks. This is one of the reasons we felt so comfortable playing twelve creatures with one toughness in our deck.
That being said, though, once the format starts to even itself out, or if there is a creature that can kill artifacts when it enters the battlefield in the next set, expect to see her crop back up in popularity. You can’t keep a good necromancer down!
I just want to thank everyone for all the love over the weekend. It really was a thrill to make it into the elimination rounds for the first time since hopping back on the SCG Tour®, and winning the tournament made it all that much sweeter.
My next event will be in Milwaukee for the Modern Open, so let’s get back on that horse and see if I can keep myself from falling back off.