Meet the Pros: Andrea Mengucci

Hello Andrea and thank you for taking your time with me today! With the Pro Tour coming up, a lot of attention is on Standard. Looking at Standard from the outside these past few years has not been a pretty sight. What is the state of Standard right now in your opinion?

Standard is in a good place right now. It has quite few tier 1 decks, and they represent all the strategies of Magic:

  • Aggro: Mono Red
  • Midrange: Temur
  • Control: Blue/Black Control, Blue/White Approach
  • Combo: Gift

Those are all good decks that can be qualified as tier 1, so the format is definitely healthy. It isn’t Modern or Legacy where you have tons of different decks, but it has never been in the history of Standard. So I feel like this Standard is good and it is what it should always be.

A few months ago Wizards of the Coast announced Modern’s return to the Pro Tour in 2018. What was your first reaction to this?

I’m a little bit biased about the Modern Pro Tour because I hate Modern. It’s my least favorite format and I never play it – in fact last time I played it was World Magic Cup 2016. So I’m pretty sad about it and won’t test a lot of Constructed for the event, since the format is super stagnant and you can play any deck and go 10-0 or 0-10. But I can easily see Modern lovers standing up and shouting at me now, and I’ll be fine with that.

Everyone who follows you on social media and appreciates the great job you’re doing at ChannelFireball knows your passion for Legacy. Now all of a sudden you get to play your favorite format on the Pro Tour in 2018. Tell us why Legacy means so much to you.

I’m obviously very happy to show my Italian black bordered dual lands at the Pro Tour stage! But I don’t want this to be a thing that happens every Pro Tour or even once a year. The Pro Tour is good for innovations. You get an edge by inventing new decks in Standard and having a better strategy in Draft, but with stagnant formats like Modern and Legacy this goes away and that skill is less rewarded.

It seems like team tournaments will be a higher focus in competitive Magic moving forward. To me it is natural because you usually test as a group and root for your friends anyway. Do you feel the same way or would you rather play on your own all the time?

I really dislike where Grand Prix are going. I dislike that you have to be in a team of people to go to Grand Prix nowadays. What if you are good, but live in a environment where there are only bad players? You can just never spike.

For me Magic is an individual game, not soccer or basketball. It’s designed to be played 1 vs 1. It’s okay if sometimes you play 3 vs 3 because it’s more fun, but I feel like the 2018 Grand Prix schedule has way too many Team Grand Prix that punishes those who want to break through.

Lastly I want to hear about your personal expectations for the season. I know you’re representing Italy at the World Magic Cup. When we talk again at the end at the season, which accomplishments do you hope to tell me about?

I hope we’ll do well at Pro Tour Albuquerque, though it’ll be hard since Standard and Draft are already solved so variance will be huge once again and same for the World Magic Cup. I also have four Grand Prix coming up, so I hope to get my first top 8 in one of those, since it’s getting pretty late and I still haven’t achieved that goal in my Magic career.

To wrap up this interview, feel free to share your Twitter, thank your mom or give a shout out to sponsors. Thank you again for this interview!

Thanks for reading. You can follow me on Channel Fireball where I make two videos per week (Legacy and Vintage) and where I write one article per week (generic topic).

Also if you want to have daily tweets about Magic follow me on Twitter.

Temur’s next Move

So William Jensen crushed Worlds in what looked like a most deserved tournament win in terms of preparation and level of play. Of course he got lucky along the way but I don’t think anyone has won a tournament without luck. His and his PGO brothers’ weapon of choice was a very finely tuned version of Temur Energy (you don’t randomly put one Supreme Will and one Glimmer of Genius in your deck for Worlds), and it begs the question: “why play anything else?” An identical copy even won the MTGO PTQ on Saturday.


Temur Energy

Creatures (23)
Bristling Hydra
Glorybringer
Longtusk Cub
Rogue Refiner
Servant of the Conduit
Whirler Virtuoso

Spells (15)
Abrade
Attune with Aether
Commit // Memory
Confiscation Coup
Essence Scatter
Harnessed Lightning
Magma Spray
Lands (22)
Aether Hub
Botanical Sanctum
Forest
Island
Mountain
Rootbound Crag
Spirebluff Canal

Sideboard (15)
Negate
Abrade
Confiscation Coup
Supreme Will
Glimmer of Genius
Torrential Gearhulk
Chandra, Torch of Defiance
Aethersphere Harvester
Chandra's Defeat
Appetite for the Unnatural

To answer the question, let’s start before the rotation where I thought UB Control was a good choice against Temur and the metagame as a whole. Two important changes mean that this is no longer the case. First, the departure of Grasp of Darkness really hurts, especially against Monored where you also lose Flaying Tendrils and Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet. Vraska’s Contempt is considerably worse as the two life just isn’t enough to remedy two extra mana spent to kill Hazoret the Fervent (or heaven forbid, one of the cheaper creatures).

Against Temur it is also a blow because you now have to lean heavily on Fatal Push in the early game. With Grasp you could board out some number of Pushes and still be able to deal with early Longtusk Cubs and Servant of the Conduits. Having to keep in all four Pushes means you end up in spots like Kelvin Chew did in game 4 of the semifinals where he drew all four and had to spend two on Thopter tokens while not being able to kill the Whirler Virtuoso that made them. If just one Push had been a Grasp I think he would have won that game.

Second, you can now expect Temur to have Essence Scatter in the main deck. Having such a tempo positive way to deal with The Scarab God for good or Torrential Gearhulk while stopping the trigger is huge. Of course they don’t always have it and the God is still game over if you untap with it but it does change the matchup and the way you have to play. Search for Azcanta is getting rave reviews but I just don’t think it does enough to make UB the place to be (although I have only played 4 leagues with it).

Generally I would say the way to punish Temur is to play a focused strategy that goes over the top of them. There are two decks that I think do this in Standard, Anointed Procession decks and God-Pharaoh’s Gift decks. The problem is that these decks have either/both consistency issues and/or trouble against the other big decks (UB and Monored).
So even if you beat Temur (which you might not if they prepared their sideboard for you) you aren’t necessarily favored against the metagame. There was an Anointed Procession deck that crushed the PTQ Swiss and it looks to have addressed at least the inconsistency issues with Champion of Wits, so I will be exploring that avenue soon. For now, though, I want to play the best deck and beat the mirror, a tried and true strategy:


Temur Energy

Creatures (23)
Bristling Hydra
Glorybringer
Longtusk Cub
Rogue Refiner
Servant of the Conduit
Whirler Virtuoso

Spells (15)
Abrade
Attune with Aether
Chandra, Torch of Defiance
Confiscation Coup
Essence Scatter
Harnessed Lightning
Magma Spray
Lands (22)
Aether Hub
Botanical Sanctum
Forest
Island
Mountain
Rootbound Crag
Spirebluff Canal

Sideboard (15)
Negate
Struggle // Survive
Confiscation Coup
Carnage Tyrant
Nicol Bolas, God-Pharaoh
Chandra, Torch of Defiance
Aethersphere Harvester
Chandra’s Defeat
Appetite for the Unnatural
Nissa, Vital Force

This list isn’t revolutionary but the core of the deck is so large now that there is limited room to maneuver, in the main deck at least. I like Chandra a lot and I was actually surprised to see PGO omit her from the main. I hope it was because they wanted to strand opposing Negates and that there isn’t a bigger picture that I’m not seeing (interestingly the control decks largely omitted Negate from their main decks).

As the Worlds list indicate, the sideboard is fair game and where you really make your edge with a deck like this. I haven’t liked the Torrential Gearhulk plan that much so I want to make room for some real mirror-breakers. I think Nicol Bolas is the best for the job but I don’t know if it’s a good idea to play more than one seven-drop.

As I mentioned earlier, The Scarab God has lost a little luster with Essence Scatters being more populous, but it is still the next best in my view. However, you need to play a Swamp which I would like to avoid. The mirror isn’t everything and your mana is pretty stretched as it is. You could put a Swamp in the board but I think Swamp and a God is worse than, for example Nissa and Confiscation Coup.

By the way, I had a great chat with my friend Mattia De Colle and he brought up a good point about Confiscation Coup: what are you actually hoping to steal in the mirror? Longtusk Cub is a great target but you usually board it out. Taking The Scarab God is obviously amazing but many aren’t even playing it. Then you’re basically left with a tapped Glorybringer which means you get a two for two (I’m assuming it killed a creature so the creature and your coup for their Glorybringer and a Harnessed Lightning which they often have since you save it for Glorybringer mostly).

I guess it helps you get Glorybringer superiority but we think the game more often comes down to Bristling Hydra superiority. I will still bring in coup for the mirror but it’s mostly for mono red.

I will board in Carnage Tyrant in the mirror but it’s really there to crush UB. Bristling Hydra is your best threat against them and the tyrant is even better. It’s basically Bontu’s Last Reckoning or game over. Nissa is also quite the boss against control, I only lost one game where it stuck and that was because I punted.

Initially I wanted to cut Appetite for the Unnatural because it just seemed unimportant but with Anointed Procession and God-Pharaoh’s Gift on the rise, it gets to stay. This is also where I hope Struggle // Survive will come in handy. These decks can seem like tough matchups and you can easily lose to their good draws. They are inherently inconsistent though as they need Anointed Procession or God-Pharaoh’s Gift respectively to do broken things.

Since you have answers to both of them, it is possible to keep them from functioning properly in which case you just need to make sure to close out the game before they can find another one. This is a prime example of why Temur is the best deck: it might only be an 8 on the power level scale but it is an 8 almost every game, whereas something like tokens regularly varies from 2 to 10.

The final point I want to discuss is flooding. My list has 22 lands, the Scarab God version goes up to 23. Then you have 4 Attune with Aether which thins your library a bit but still almost counts as a land, and 4 Servant of the Conduit. That’s almost half your deck just making mana (yes you get a bit of extra energy but still).

Variance and observation bias probably plays a role here but I’ve flooded a lot since I picked the deck up a couple of weeks ago and I can’t help but wonder if there are too many mana sources in the deck. I don’t have any conclusion so feel free to chime in but I will try shaving a servant since it pretty much always gets killed turn 2 and is a pretty bad draw late.

I hope I can find something that beats Temur consistently before the Pro Tour but I am content with it as my fallback plan. Let me know what ideas you have for both. Thanks for reading.

Introducing: Michael Bonde

Hello and welcome to Team Snapcardster! Could you give a quick introduction of your self?

Hello there! My name is Michael Bonde, I live in Aarhus in Denmark and I am 30 years old. I am partly a Magic “pro” and finishing my education this year as a teacher in English, History and Sports.


For the people (shame on them!) who might not be too familiar with your previous accomplishments, can you highlight a few of them?

Of course I will. My resume is a bit across formats:

17th PT Shadows over Innistrad (lost win & in for top 8)

3-4th at Grand Prix Strasbourg (Legacy)

3-4th at Grand Prix Madrid (Limited)

5th at Grand Prix Sao Paulo (Team Limited)

10th at Grand Prix San Diego (Limited)

1st at Bazaar of Moxen 8 (Vintage)

1st at StarCityGames Worcester (Standard)


We have all played Magic for quite some time, and we all have different reasons to do so. What keeps your engine running after all these years?

I see the game as a giant puzzle. Every new format brings something different to the mix and draws on different information from the past.

This makes almost every game different in some degree, but still within the region that one can practice and master. I love dedicating myself towards a goal of trying to become the best, within my own style of play. Being able to follow this process and see results is really something unique – for me at least.

In the beginning it was the mastering of play by play, and even though this is still an evergreen focus, more and more layers add-on which makes it even more complicated and interesting.

What is your favorite format and why?

I’m always a bit torn when someone asks me this question, because the answer is I really just love magic! The formats I often play the most are Legacy, Draft and Sealed.

Legacy is a static format where you can build up a giant database of decks, plays, matchups and try to get perfect information due to many matchups and games play out alike and there is often a right or wrong thing to do. Drafting and doing sealed are on the other hand a bit more fluid. You get to solve the “format” and every game is completely different. You need to be aware of both drafting the correct deck, color pairs, card choices in each color and compared to picks already made. Furthermore it is insanely complex and a very fun topic to dig into and discuss with peers.

Looking into the crystal ball, what does the next 12 months have in store for you MTG-wise?

First of all I am in the Pro Players Club with Silver.

My plan is to qualify for 2-3 of the Pro Tours this season and as a minimum cross the threshold for being Silver again for next season.

This means that I will be playing more Magic Online Championship on Magic Online, play a fair amount of Grand Prix’s and try and do my best at the Pro Tour scene.

Nothing is given, but I will do my best to evolve as a player and have fun while doing it.

Thank you so much for taking your time. Feel free to leave your Twitter handle, so people can keep up with your magical endeavours in the future!

Follow Michael Bonde on

Twitter: @lampalot

Magic Online: lampalot

Twitch: MichaelBonde

5 lessons from Nationals

We’ve waited 6 years and last weekend we finally had nationals again in Denmark; two days of Standard and draft to determine who would represent us at the World Magic Cup alongside Martin Müller. More importantly, for me at least, it was two days where all the awesome people I’ve met in the Danish Magic community met up, even the ones that have stopped playing. It was impossible to be bored because I was either playing Magic or I was hanging out with some of the funniest people I’ve met. I already cannot wait for next year, and I’m sure it will be even better. But we are here to learn, so let’s take a look at some of the decisions I made and see if there are any takeaways.


1. Metagaming

First up is deck selection. I started with UB since it had just won me a Pro Tour invite and the metagame hadn’t really changed since. I was a bit concerned when Mardu Vehicles won one GP the week before and UB won the other. You may think that UB winning was a good sign but it just meant that now everyone knew about it and would get a lot of reps in against it if they played online. Also the GP’s showcased GW Ramp which is a horrible matchup. I stuck to my guns, though and Thomas Enevoldsen was also on board so I hoped we could come up with a good list. This was the result:

UB Control by Anders Gotfredsen

Creatures (6)
The Scarab God
Torrential Gearhulk

Spells (28)
Fatal Push
Grasp of Darkness
Censor
Negate
Essence Scatter
Supreme Will
Disallow
Flaying Tendrils
To the Slaughter
Glimmer of Genius
Lands (26)
Fetid Pools
Aether Hub
Sunken Hollow
Choked Estuary
Swamp
Island
Evolving Wilds

Sideboard (15)
Gifted Aetherborn
Lost Legacy
Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet
Hour of Glory
Dispel
Negate
Contraband Kingpin
Liliana, the Last Hope
Never // Return
To the Slaughter
Summary Dismissal
Aether Meltdown

The key change was removing Kalitas from the maindeck and putting in a fourth gearhulk. Thomas suggested it but I wanted to try out the third god as per Dolars list. I had just won so many games with the god whereas I always felt like my gearhulks got killed by otherwise dead removal. Turns out that while The Scarab God is still a great card, the new kids on the block (GW Ramp, Mardu Vehicles and the mirror) aren’t as weak to it as, for example, Temur Energy, whereas gearhulk is great against ramp and control at least.

It looked like most of the good players would be on GW, Mardu or UW so gearhulk made the most sense. The only change I would have made in hindsight is an extra Summary Dismissal over one of the sideboard creatures though I can’t decide which one. The format is a lame duck now so it doesn’t matter much. As for the process it was mostly: I suggested something radical and Thomas countered with something reasonable which we then settled on. Not much to improve upon.

Jokes aside, I think the main problem I would have gotten into by myself is overvaluing the recent results and what I thought the people I knew would bring. I was counting on over 100 players and I had a reasonable expected metagame for maybe 20 of them. The rest would probably still be playing decks like Zombies, Mono Red and Temur Energy so we should still keep the deck strong against those. You should try to metagame against the winning metagame but with only 6 rounds of Standard, there were too many variables to do that properly.


2. Remember you have an opponent

The first stretch of constructed went without any mistakes that I can identify, winning against Zombies and losing to Mono White Eldrazi. I think it’s a good matchup but my draws lined up poorly. Then came draft. I first picked Hour of Promise and second picked Reason/Believe. I think both of those were correct but I locked in on GUx ramp way too early. I should have been either UB Control or UW Aggro. I don’t think it was nerves but I just felt uncomfortable during the whole draft, and didn’t manage to think things through before the judge yelled ‘draft’.

Oh well, at least I opened Glorybringer to splash alongside my Chaos Maw. I beat Simon Nielsen as you would expect, but then I threw a match against local game store operator and nice guy Johannes Kristoffersen. His was a UB control deck with Torment of Scarabs (the one I should have drafted on his right). I won game 1 and game two I had a Glorybringer in play that hit him down to 9. He had Torment out and I was down to 1 life with no other nonland permanents and 1 card in hand. My next turn I discarded and drew Scrounger of Souls.

I figured I might as well play it in case, for some reason I would rather sacrifice Glorybringer and let the Scrounger’s lifelink negate the Torment so I wouldn’t have to discard all the time. The problem was that he hadn’t played anything for a long time and had 4 or 5 cards in hand so I should have seen the Countervailing Winds coming and just tried to ride my Glorybringer to victory. He had also complained a bit when he milled his Final Reward off a Winds of Rebuke so chances of him having another removal spell for the dragon seemed low. I also lost the last round of the draft to finish day one at 3-3 and thinking I was out of contention (which turned out to be true).


3. Don’t get married to your first picks

I started out day 2 with quite a masterpiece of a deck; I first picked Ambuscade, second picked Puncturing Blow and then took Adorned Pouncer and Vizier of the Anointed and got a sick UW deck:

UW by Anders Gotfredsen

(40)
Proven Combatant
Adorned Pouncer
Oketra's Avenger
Anointed Priest
Sinuous Striker
Devoted Crop-Mate
Eternal of Harsh Truths
Aerial Guide
Champion of Wits
Vizier of the Anointed
Steadfast Sentinel
Curator of Mysteries
Supply Caravan
Aven of Enduring Hope
Angel of the God-Pharaoh
Traveler's Amulet
Act of Heroism
Strategic Planning
Cartouche of Knowledge
Compulsory Rest
Unquenchable Thirst
Trial of Solidarity
Oketra's Monument
Plains
Island
Desert of the Mindful
Survivor's Encampment
Endless Sands

Yes, getting third pick pouncer is an easy signal to see, but I’m still proud I did the right thing and didn’t try to stick to either of my first two picks. I don’t remember an easier 3-0, and that’s no slight on my opponents; Three ways to give my aggressive creatures flying, and of course the combo of Oketra’s Monument and Trial of Solidarity spelled doom for all three of them.


4. If you’re gonna plan, plan for everything

At the start of the day someone also told me that x-3 was enough for top 8, so hoopoe started to creep back in. It was amplified when I sat down across from Kenneth Brandt in Standard because I thought he was playing UW Approach. When he played a Fortified Village, and I realized he was on GW Ramp, it was quickly quenched again, but I drew Lost Legacy both sideboarded games, hit the only Eldrazis he had in hand and he didn’t draw any others. It seemed meant to be.

I actually think I could have won game 1 as well and it’s an interesting case of planning ahead. I am at 4 with The Scarab God in play and he attacks with his World Breaker. I have the choice of bringing back his Thraben Inspector or his Linvala, the Preserver. I took the Inspector and chumped because if he played one more creature I would get a 3/3 from Linvala. He then played a second World Breaker.

Next turn he played Ulamog and I had to Disallow the trigger and then eternalize Gearhulk to Disallow Ulamog himself, but now I had less than 4 mana left and had to block with both my creatures, returning the god to my hand. Now I had no choice but to play the god and eternalize Linvala to survive leaving me open for his second Ulamog.

If I instead had brought back Linvala to start with, I wouldn’t have had to chump with my god and I could have brought back his first Ulamog after he cast his second, giving me the first attack, and I think I could have chumped his first Ulamog attack letting my second attack trigger eat the rest of his library. I did plan ahead in trying to get the extra 3/3, but I didn’t consider my life total in that plan. When you start planning turns in advance, be aware that some factors that seem unimportant or under control now might not be so in a turn or two.


5. Never give up (and learn math)

In the last round I was up against Lasse Hansen on Temur Energy, and everything looked to come up gravy. This was one of the decks I was hoping to face after all. We traded games and in game 3 he hit me to one with 3 thopter tokens but I untapped with gearhulk and The Scarab God in play and 8 mana. I was pretty sure I was dead, but I brought back a Whirler Virtuoso to go up to 4 energy and scry 1 just in case there was a card I had forgotten about. I bottomed another god and drew a Sunken Hollow. I was about to just scoop but decided to make him play it out; there were a bunch of people watching and they should get their money’s worth.

When he attacked, I realized I actually had a shot: I brought back a Rogue Refiner to go up to 6 energy and if I had Fatal Push on top of my deck I could eat his entire board (he had gotten excited and attacked with all his ground guys as well). I made a wish and flipped…. Swamp. Can you spot my mistake (it didn’t end up mattering but slightly decreased my chances anyway)? By waiting until his turn to reanimate the Rogue Refiner I cost myself a scry and land + push had to be either the first and second cards or the second and third cards of my library. If I reanimate it in my upkeep, the first card has to be either land or push and then the second, third or fourth has to be the other. I had 4 push left and let’s say 10 untapped lands left out of, say 30 cards (the specifics don’t matter as long as they’re the same for both scenarios).

In the first scenario I get 4/30 * 10/29 + 10/30 * 4/29 + 16/30 * 4/29 * 10/28 + 16/30 * 10/29 * 4/28 = 14.45% chance to win. In the second scenario I get 10/30 * 37.1% + 4/30 * 73.5% = 22.2% chance to win. There are two important lessons here: First, Magic can be very complicated and often comes down to math and probabilities, so do yourself a favor and familiarize yourself with the hypergeometric distribution.

Obviously, you can’t do these calculations in the middle of the match but if you do them during practice, it improves your intuition which is often what you will have to rely on in-game. In this scenario there was an 8% chance of winning to be gained and I’m sure it can be even more. Second, never give up! While I didn’t physically scoop here, I had already resigned myself to losing and while it didn’t cost me here (if I had made the correct play and brought back Rogue Refiner on my upkeep I would have drawn The Scarab God and lost) I would prefer to give myself all the percentages possible, and I hope this will serve as a reminder for me in the future.

Lasse ended up in ninth place, which is also what I would have gotten, so it was much ado about nothing (except the extra 75DKK he got compared to my 16th place). Congratulations to our new national champion, Bjarke Larsen, and my friend, Control Maestro Andreas Bendix for making the national team. I hope Martin Müller will put Denmark back in the top 8 of the WMC where they belong when I’m not on the team. Thanks for reading.

Look ma, I made it to the ProTour!

This article will be about two things; my personal experience of qualifying for my first Pro Tour, and the UB Control deck I used to do it. I will start with the deck since I assume that will be the most interesting to people who don’t know me. Let’s kick things off with the list:

UB Control by Anders Gotfredsen

Spells (28)
Yahenni’s Expertise
Fatal Push
Grasp of Darkness
Censor
Negate
Essence Scatter
 Glimmer of Genius
Supreme Will
Disallow
To the Slaughter

Creatures (6)
Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet
The Scarab God
Torrential Gearhulk
Lands (26)
Fetid Pools
Sunken Hollow
Aether Hub
Choked Estuary
Island
Swamp

Sideboard (15)
Negate
Dispel
Yahenni's Expertise
Bontu's Last Reckoning
Gifted Aetherborn
Summary Dismissal
To the Slaughter
Never // Return
Liliana, the Last Hope

This was a perfect storm of being both a powerful, consistent deck and a great metagame call, and with the results from GP Denver, that looks to continue being the case. The most common decks are Temur Energy, God-Pharao’s Gift, Mono Red, BG Constrictor, RG Ramp, Zombies and UW Approach. I have no problem facing any of these decks and I’ll go through all of the matchups, but first I have some general notes on the deck:

“Best card in Standard(?)”

This card is the reason to be UB instead of UR or UW. The only cards in the above decks that can deal cleanly with The Scarab God are the white exile removals, Cast Out and Stasis Snare, but they are only in the UW Approach deck which, as I’ll explain later, is close to impossible to lose to (there are of course also counterspells but it’s mostly Censor and Supreme Will, which you can play around).

All other decks need two cards and many of them have no way to keep it from coming back. If you get to untap with it or play it on 9 mana, it will immediately dominate most games, and I often had a Torrential Gearhulk in the graveyard along with a counterspell, which is basically game over for anyone (or they might have Goblin Dark-Dwellers in their yard, which is how I sealed the last game of the RPTQ). Against Mono Red, I actually like it more than Kalitas because you can just slam it on turn 5 and unless they topdeck an Ahn-Crop Crasher (I assume they would have played it sooner if they had it, and then you have probably either countered or grasped it), they are completely brick walled.

Alongside my new favorite insect buddy we have all the run of the mill control options: removal, counterspells, Glimmer of Genius and Torrential Gearhulk. There is nothing groundbreaking about it, which kind of proves my point that the god is what makes this deck the best. Censor and Supreme Will are key for a strategy like this since you can’t be stuck with a bunch of them in hand and not be able to deal with something on the board. You can customize a lot of the spells in the deck but I would be hard pressed to play less than 4 of each of these.

“A sign that you will win this match”

Temur Energy has been the top dog for the last couple of weeks. It won the MOCS two weeks ago, an MTGO PTQ a week ago and this weekend it put 3 copies in the top 4 of GP Denver. It also had 3 or 4 copies in the top 8 of my RPTQ for what it’s worth. In short, you want to be able to beat this deck and UB is great at it. You have Fatal Push for their Longtusk Cub, To the Slaughter for Bristling Hydra and Chandra, Torch of Defiance and Grasp for Glorybringer and everything else. This is of course only needed if they resolve, and all your counterspells are great here.

Then you play The Scarab God and get to enjoy all of the delicious ETB triggers from their creatures. Be aware that some Temur decks splash for The Scarab God (and Nicol Bolas) themselves so try and save an Essence Scatter or Disallow for it. Bontu’s Last Reckoning, Never // Return and To the Slaughter Negate come in from the board for Kalitas, Expertise and a counterspell (not completely sure which one, maybe since we are bringing in two potential answers to Chandra).

Try to line up your answers as listed above and try to save the hard counters for last. For example, if you have the choice between Fatal Push and Essence Scatter for their cub, use push. If you have the choice between Disallow and To the Slaughter for their hydra, use To the Slaughter. Be aware of Confiscation Coup on your god post board.

“A sign that you will win this match”

Next is God-Pharao’s Gift. Currently the most popular version is UR but all them share important traits: crappy creatures and then some number of 3 and 7 mana artifacts that can actually beat you. Luckily we are packed with counterspells for them and if you kill Minister of Inquiries they can have a hard time filling their yard to activate Gate to the Afterlife. You should at the very least be able to slow them down and The Scarab God is game over when you untap with it in play.

They have Dispel after board but they need to draw both Dispel, Gate/Refurbish/Gift and some ways to fill their graveyard to beat just a single counterspell from you and their are in a real hurry before we get to five mana. This is about as easy a matchup as you can get in Standard.

“A sign that you will win this match”

Hyper Aggro has traditionally been the bane of control decks and I will say that this is the matchup where I am least certain about my opinion, but I will go out on a limb and say that it’s a fine matchup. You have cheap removal, cheap counters, removal that can kill a resolved Hazoret the Fervent and threats that can close the game out fast. As I mentioned above, The Scarab God is still great here (noticing a trend?) and you get to bring in Gifted Aetherborn, Liliana, Never // Return and an extra Expertise, while lowering your curve a bit (I like to cut one Gearhulk, one Glimmer, To the Slaughter, Disallows and Supreme Wills for the rest). I’m torn on the expertise because your main concern is keeping your life total high and so you can’t really afford to just take hits from their creatures to set it up.

Let’s say they play Falkenrath Gorger turn 1. Do you Fatal Push it if you also have expertise in hand? I think you have to. Then they play Kari Zev, Skyship Raider. Do you grasp it? Again, I think you have to. Then they play Earthshaker Khenra or Ahn-Crop Crasher.

Now your expertise can kill one creature. If you say go and they play another haste creature, do you counter it or take 5 damage? Maybe this is getting too specific but my point is that I don’t really like a 4 mana sorcery speed removal spell when I’m trying to keep the board clear and have mana open on their turn to counter Chandra, Hazoret and Glorybringer. It can still give you a chance in the games where you stumble a bit so I think two is an appropriate number. Again, I’m not sure it’s a great matchup but I just keep beating it over and over again on Magic Online so, running the risk of being too results oriented, that’s what I’m going with.

“A sign that you will win this match”

This is a Midrange and so plays out similarly to Temur except BG is more straightforward and they rely more on synergy which is good for the all removal and counterspells deck. I guess you can lose if they somehow resolve Dispossess and Lost Legacy but that should be rare. Maybe turn 3 Nissa on the play if you have neither Negate nor Censor but it’s still a pretty slow clock if you can keep Winding Constrictor off the table. Negate, Never, To the Slaughter and Reckoning replace Kalitas, Expertise, a Disallow and a Censor for game 2.

“A sign that you will win this match”

You can lose game 1 to ramp if they get to play Ulamogs before you get enough lands into play to be able to afford losing two of them but after board you get an extra Negate and 3 Summary Dismissal along with a To the Slaughter and Never to replace your useless Fatal Pushes and upgrade two Grasps. So not only can you counter a lot of their ramp, when they finally get to 7 or 10 mana, you have clean answers to their top end. They bring in Tireless Tracker and Thought-Knot Seer but they still fight on the same axis and your counter magic has that axis on lockdown.

“A sign that you will have a fair fight this match”

This is a close one. They have a lot of recurring threats and threats that produce more than one creature and after board they get a few more along with Transgress the Mind. Game 1 is usually pretty easy as they tend to draw a couple of removal spells that don’t do anything until it’s too late but try and make sure that Diregraf Colossus doesn’t get to make a token and that Liliana’s Mastery doesn’t resolve. I bring in all 3 sweepers, Liliana and Never for To the Slaughter, 2 Disallow, a Censor and a Supreme Will. As with the other matchups where I shave counterspells, I’m not 100 percent sure about which ones are actually correct to cut and it also depends on your opponents play. If they always play around Censor, trim those, if they play very aggressively you can trim Supreme Will instead since Censor will often be as good and you might not have time to spend 3 mana for card selection.

“Ask your opponent to just concede so you can go get lunch. He’s not winning”

I said the Gift deck was about the easiest matchup in Standard, well this is the easiest matchup I can remember ever playing in any format. You have all the time in the world and as soon as you’ve drawn 3 of your 4 Negate/Disallow along with enough lands to pay for Supreme Wills and Censors you can’t lose game 1. My opponent in the RPTQ even had a Sphinx of the Final Word main but when he played that and then Approach on 14 mana I could respond with To the Slaughter and Negate which is one of the better feelings I’ve gotten from a play.

It was even more satisfying because I had replaced the maindeck Never//Return with To the Slaughter specifically because I kept facing UW players online who had Sphinx main. Post board they get some hard counters but so do you along with 4 more answers to Sphinx. They probably also bring in a couple of Linvala, the Preserver and/or Regal Caracal and maybe Torrential Gearhulk but you still have Essence Scatter along with all the other counter magic and they just aren’t able to compete in the slightest as long as you don’t draw all spells or all lands.

As you can see from this walkthrough, the current Standard metagame doesn’t really contain any problems for UB; I might not be certain of how good the Mono Red matchup is but I’m sure it’s nowhere near as bad as it is for UR Control (I haven’t played against UR Control with this deck but you are very similar and so I would assume it to be quite even).

I guess Mardu Vehicles is still a deck and that might be problematic but I haven’t faced it at all and from what I hear it’s bad against Temur Energy so I wouldn’t expect to face it anytime soon. Unless something changes drastically, I will bring this to Nationals and I wholeheartedly recommend you do the same. If, by some chance, this deck picks up in popularity, I will figure out the mirror before then and write another article.

Now it’s time for me to get a little sentimental because this past Sunday was a culmination of 6 or so years of trying to get on the Pro Tour. In fact, the last 3 years it has pretty much been the only thing on my mind. Almost every day when I came home from work, I would fire up Magic Online and play until I went to bed. Work, Magic, sleep, repeat. Even at work, I would constantly be thinking about Magic.

I have had a lot of close calls; 1 GP win and in, 10 or so PTQ top 8’s along with a bunch of good GP performances in the first 9-12 rounds only to get crushed in the last rounds. When you have that many near misses, you can’t really blame it on just bad luck anymore. I have enough insight to know that I am theoretically good enough to compete on the Pro Tour, but when the matches got important I would crumble under the pressure.

I qualified for the World Magic Cup twice but failed to make enough of the opportunity to get on the Pro Tour. Both years Denmark top 8’ed the WMC, I lost in the finals of one of the WMCQ’s. Many times, I have contemplated giving up and just do a regular 9 to 5 job and be “normal”, but I couldn’t quite bring myself to do it. About a year ago, I decided to dedicate myself even more and go to all the European GP’s. Around Christmas, when my results kept being #mediocre, I tried to focus not so much on winning but more on just enjoying the competition, the game and the awesome people I have met on the GP circuit.

Brad Nelson and other great players have written articles telling you some variant of “don’t focus on the results” and I have really tried to take that to heart. Make no mistake; I think this game is a lot of fun and I have made a lot of friends that I would love to hang out with outside of Magic, but it can be hard to justify spending that much time and money on something “just” for fun.

So a couple of months ago I began seeing a sports psychologist to deal with the root of the issue: If you present me with a situation, I will usually be able to tell you what the correct play is but when matches become important, my thought process goes awry and I mess up. I am not sure how much of this qualification I owe to my shrink, and I know I have a long ways to go, but I know I’m making progress, so maybe in a year or two, it will just be my strategic ability that limits my performance.

And when I sat down for my top 8 match in the RPTQ I could feel a difference in my mentality; I didn’t like the matchup (BR Control with Scorpion Gods and tons of discard. I wouldn’t expect to face it though) but at least this time, I wouldn’t just be throwing the match (You might think that I didn’t literally throw matches away but the one of Lasse Nørgaard and Martin Dang who sat behind me for the WMCQ Final against Christoffer Larsen will testify that it is true).

I lost game 1 but game 2 he got mana screwed and game 3 he mulliganed into a poor hand and didn’t draw out of it. I have heard myths of winning important matches like this (Oscar Christensen won his win and in at GP Birmingham against an Ad Nauseam player who just did nothing for two games in a row), and always lamented the fact that it didn’t happen to me. Now I’ll have to find something else to complain about, I just hope it won’t be that I got terribly unlucky and scrubbed out of my first Pro Tour. Jinx.

It was so heartwarming to see so many people congratulate me on Facebook and Messenger, and I feel so fortunate to have so many people care in the slightest about how I do. I am a social person and while I try not to chase recognition, of course it’s great when you get it, but ultimately, I started this chase for me; because I want to make me proud. I can finally say that I am proud of my Magic career, but I am not good at settling and I already have a new goal: Become a mainstay on the Pro Tour, and/or make top 8 of one. I’ll get back to you in 20 years or so, probably. Until then, my best piece of advice is to be honest about what weaknesses are keeping you from achieving whatever goals you have for yourself, and do whatever it takes to remedy them.

Next week I’ll be back to tell you about my adventures in Metz and AKH-HOU Limited. Thanks for reading.

Hour of Devastation? Blue 5 mana sweeper

Last week, I told you about the BR Midrange deck I was trying to combat Ramunap Red with. Today I’ll tell you why I’m not playing the deck anymore. I know you’re thinking “if last week was wrong, why should I believe what you’re saying today?” It turns out, the deck has a good matchup against Ramunap Red which was why I chose it, but it also turns out that the red menace is quite beatable. Playing a deck that is almost entirely designed to beat one deck can be fine if that deck is a huge part of the metagame, but I played against it only once or twice per ten matches.

The other 8-9 I played against everything from Zombies (good matchup) to RG Ramp (close to unbeatable). The BR deck is great against linear creature strategies but struggles pretty much everywhere else and everywhere else is currently too big a place for me to be comfortable playing it.

In essence, it comes down to the old adage of threats being better than answers in an open metagame. Make no mistake, this is a very open metagame despite Ramunap Red dominating the Pro Tour. It’s not like right after a rotation where you don’t know what decks people will bring, it’s just that the decks you can expect to face are vastly different. I still wouldn’t want to bring a deck that gets crushed by Ramunap Red, and it’s still the deck I would expect to be most popular at an event, but there is so much else going on in Standard right now. What I want is to find the next God-Pharao’s Gift deck; a deck that has a more powerful game plan than anyone else. The reason I don’t choose the actual God-Pharaos Gift deck is that people are ready now with Scavenger Grounds and Abrades and then the deck can easily fall apart. If you’re looking for the most powerful card in Standard, there is really only one answer:

 

“Now, if only we could get to 10 mana”

 

The problem, of course, is that Ramunap Red isn’t really in the business of giving you time to cast this bad boy. But if we spend all our slots on ramp and cheap cards that buy us time, maybe we can get there. This is what the RG Ramp deck does and I am currently trying out different builds. Hour of Promise is as real a card as they come and Kozilek’s Return is in a great spot right now. My main issue with the deck is consistency; If you don’t draw Hour of Promise, 10 mana is a lot, and if you don’t draw Ulamog, you’re often just buying time to die a few turns later. Here is my current list, mostly courtesy of Gabriel Nassif’s stream:

 

Another problem which, I guess, is an extension of the first one, is that you’re quite threat light and in a way linear, so people can beat you if they want to. Lost Legacy is obviously great against you but even Transgress the Mind and Doomfall can poke a big hole in our plans. Luckily no one seems to be playing Lost Legacy at the moment. I have felt pretty good playing Ulamog decks against control because control decks in standard are so reactive that you can run rings around them by diversifying your threats post board. Game 1 they are going to have a ton of dead cards and I don’t expect they will be able to answer all our big eldrazi. Not that I would expect to face dedicated control decks in this metagame but I bring it up for completeness.

 

So how do we combat our inconsistency issues while maintaining our powerful game plan. I looked to some rares and mythics, you might not even realize are still in Standard. Here is how I planned to crush (spoiler alert) my opponents:

Creatures (11)
Greenwarden of Murasa
Jaddi Offshoot
Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger
Walking Ballista

Spells (24)
Censor
Crush of Tentacles
Gift of Paradise
Haze of Pollen
Hour of Promise
Nissa’s Renewal
Weirding Wood
Lands (25)
Botanical Sanctum
Forest
Island
Lumbering Falls
Shrine of the Forsaken Gods

 

“Now, if only we could get to 10 mana”

 

Before Magic Origins rotated out, Steve Rubin played a UG Crush deck at Worlds and it was sweet! It ramped and then looped Crush of Tentacles with Den Protector. We might not have Nissa’s Pilgrimage anymore but there are still plenty of good ramp options. Greenwarden of Murasa is a poor replacement for Den Protector but it will have to do. We also get a new toy with Walking Ballista which combos with Crush in two ways; you can play it for zero to surge Crush if you only have 5 mana, and when you have a lot of mana you can play a big Ballista and then use all but one counter from it and get it back into your hand. We also get repeated lifegain with Gift of Paradise and repeated clues with Weirding Wood. It can be annoying to have to ramp your mana back up again after each Crush though. The rest of the cards, like Haze of Pollen and Jaddi Offshoot try to buy us enough time to get a bunch of mana in play.

 

After a couple of leagues and some brew talk with second year(!) gold pro Simon Nielsen, a couple of things became clear: Permeating Mass is probably better than Jaddi Offshoot. Spring // Mind is better than Weirding Wood and I’m frankly embarrassed that I forgot that card existed. Kozilek’s Return might be too important to the ramp strategy to forgo. Hour of Promise is likely better than Nissa’s Renewal since without renewal we can trim basics for deserts. Even without any other delirium payoff, Traverse the Ulvenwald makes perfect sense in the deck. Simon made the next draft:

Creatures (15)
Champion of Wits
Permeating Mass
Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger
Walking Ballista
World Breaker

Spells (21)
Crush of Tentacles
Gift of Paradise
Hour of Promise
Kozilek’s Return
Spring // Mind
Traverse the Ulvenwald
Warping Wail
Lands (24)
Botanical Sanctum
Evolving Wilds
Forest
Hashep Oasis
Island
Lumbering Falls
Mountain
Sanctum of Ugin
Scavenger Grounds
Shrine of the Forsaken Gods
Wastes

 

 

At this point, I think we were trying to do too many things; delirium, Kozilek’s Return, Crush of Tentacles. For example, Simon didn’t think Crush was good enough and I agree that now it just looks like a ramp deck that randomly has a few copies. I think you have to focus more and I still wanted to explore blue before just conceding that RG Ramp is just a better direction. I played some more with straight UG versions but the results were still very varied. There is of course some implied inconsistency by having a deck with such a span in converted mana cost but I had more problems with drawing low impact cards in the late game, than I had with not getting off the ground. Here is how I plan to fix it without completely surrendering the early game. If this doesn’t work I’ll look elsewhere, since I’m playing the RPTQ on August 20 and I need something by then that I know works.

Creatures (11)
Champion of Wits
Greenwarden of Murasa
Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger
Walking Ballista

Spells (27)
Censor
Crush of Tentacles
Dissenter’s Deliverance
Gift of Paradise
Hour of Promise
Part the Waterveil
Spring // Mind
Traverse the Ulvenwald
Lands (22)
Botanical Sanctum
Forest
Hashep Oasis
Island
Sanctum of Ugin
Scavenger Grounds
Shrine of the Forsaken Gods

Sideboard (15)
Permeating Mass
Tireless Tracker
Pulse of Murasa
Negate
Summary Dismissal
Dispel

I also should mention the sideboard as another reason I wanted blue instead of red. The RG Ramp lists I’ve seen have pretty much no way to win the mirror with any consistency. I’ve seen plenty that basically only contained one Void Winnower and that is in no way guaranteed to win you the matchup. Ramp is already heavily dependent on its draws to line up and the mirror just seems like a complete die roll.

With blue we get access to a bunch of countermagic that can lock down opposing ramp decks, and they are also great against control. With UR and UW Control starting to put up some numbers that should become relevant. Actually, some of the UW lists look like appealing places to go if this doesn’t pan out. But I haven’t given up on 8/8 octopuses yet, and I hope you haven’t either. If you have any suggestions for cards I might have forgotten about or just ideas or comments on the deck, let me know in the comments.

How to beat Ramunap Red (… and zombies)

This weekend, the Pro Tour finally happened and Standard is alive again. The top 8 contained 6 Ramunap red decks, and red was the talk of the weekend.

It’s a very powerful deck with some very fast draws and at the same time a lot of staying power between Hazoret, the Fervent and Ramunap Ruins. If you think you can just play a truckload of cheap/mass removal and be safe, you have another thing coming. So is this the new caw blade? First of all, we need to look deeper than just the decks in the top 8.

This has always been overvalued, because remember the Swiss includes 6 rounds of draft. We also have to keep in mind that basically all the top pros/teams brought Bomat Courier and friends to the table and it was almost 25% of the starting metagame so you should expect to see some copies doing well.

I prefer to look at the decklists published on the coverage page sorted by standard record. That reveals the following: 1 Ramunap Red went 10-0. 2 Zombies and 1 Ramunap Red went 9-1. 1 Ramunap Red and 1 BG Constrictor went 8-1-1. At 8-2 were 6 Ramunap Red, 2 BG Constrictor, 2 Zombies, 1 Four Color Vehicles and 1 Temur Energy. Going down 7-3 there were 12 Ramunap Red, 13 Zombies and 7 BG Constrictor with a few copies of assorted other decks.

Any of these could have been in the top 8 depending on their limited records. Considering that there were more than twice as many red decks as zombies and almost three times as many red decks as constrictor, you could argue that Ramunap Red actually did worse than the other two. Additionally, there was a Standard PTQ on MTGO on Saturday with a top 8 of 3 Zombies, 2 Constrictor, 2 RG Ramp and zero(!) Ramunap Red decks. What I take from all of this is that Ramunap Red is very beatable.

It will continue to show up in the coming tournaments because a lot of people will just copy a list from the pt top 8, especially the winning one, but the decks you should really Metagame against right now are zombies and BG Constrictor. Luckily, all three decks have a comparable game plan: cheap aggressive creatures backed up by resilient, hard-hitting top end threats. First of all we need cheap removal; these decks hit the board early and hard and if you take too much damage from their cheap creatures, you will be hard pressed to keep up answers to their late game.

Second, you need a way to take over the game, once you’ve dealt with their early onslaught. You need to close the game out fast or it could slip away to their top decked Hazoret, Dark Salvation or Verdurous Gearhulk. Lastly, you need to be prepared for their sideboard plans. All of them pack extra punch and Resillience in the board, mostly in the form of Planeswalkers like Ob Nixilis Reignited, Liliana, the Last Hope and extra copies of Chandra, Torch of Defiance. Don’t just board in a bunch of extra Fatal Pushes and Sweltering Suns, lest you risk losing to one of these.

My current way to deal with these 3 decks is BR Midrange. It started just after Hour of Devastation came out, when I saw this list 5-0 a league:

BR Midrange

Creatures (9)
Glorybringer
Goblin Dark-Dwellers
Gonti, Lord of Luxury
Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet

Spells (25)
Abrade
Chandra, Torch of Defiance
Doomfall
Fatal Push
Hour of Glory
Liliana, Death’s Majesty
Liliana, the Last Hope
Live Fast
Magma Spray
Never // Return
Lands (26)
Aether Hub
Canyon Slough
Endless Sands
Evolving Wilds
Foreboding Ruins
Mountain
Smoldering Marsh
Swamp

I took it for a spin and liked a lot of it, but there were a few problems; there was too much of a gap between the early removal and the late game.

You often needed to be able to play 5-6 removal spells in the first 4 turns to have enough room for your 5 drops to take over. And then other games you needed to draw much less removal and more big threats because they had a slower start and answers to your first 2 threats. It was basically the classic non-blue control deck problem where you needed to draw the right half of your deck without any card selection.

I knew I wanted 4 Liliana for sure because it was both removal and threat at a cheap cost but other than that I wasn’t too sure. Then last week, Paul Rietzl 5-0’d a league with a similar deck that also top 8’ed the MTGO PTQ the weekend prior:

BR Midrange - 5:o Standard League by Paul Rietzl

Creatures (12)
Demon of Dark Schemes
Glint-Sleeve Siphoner
Glorybringer
Goblin Dark-Dwellers
Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet

Spells (22)
Abrade
Chandra, Torch of Defiance
Collective Brutality
Doomfall
Harnessed Lightning
Liliana, the Last Hope
Live Fast
Ruinous Path
Lands (26)
Aether Hub
Blighted Fen
Canyon Slough
Foreboding Ruins
Mountain
Smoldering Marsh
Swamp

The key for me is the 4 Glint-Sleeve Siphoner.

It might look out of place in a control deck but it helps keep the cards flowing and at two mana, it will rarely be stuck in your hand, and you can play it and a removal spell on the same turn in the midgame. It also puts the opponent in an awkward spot for sideboarding because if they board out their removal, they could just flat out lose to it but if they keep removal in for it, they lessen their chances of enacting their own game plan because of a card you might not draw.

It even presents them with a dilemma in-game when you play it turn two because they have to spend mana to kill it in which case it did the same for you as a removal spell; keeping one of their threats off the board.

Along with the 4 Lilianas you have strong proactive early plays that are good against both aggro and control meaning the losses to ‘drawing the wrong half of your deck’ become much less frequent. I was not satisfied with the removal suite though; nothing at 1 mana and 6 at 2 is just not going to cut it against Ramunap red.

I also think you need ways to deal with Hazoret in a deck like this and Doomfall won’t hit it when you don’t have enough cheap removal to keep their small stuff off the board. I want some Grasp of Darkness instead of Harnessed Lightning and some combination of Fatal Push and Magma Spray. Spray is very good in the metagame but Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet is a big part of our plan and push is much better against gb so I think 3 Fatal Push, 1 Magma Spray will be good for now.

You want more against Ramunap red and zombies but that’s what sideboards are for. I’ll give my current list before discussing further:

BR Midrange by Anders Gotfredsen

Creatures (11)
Glint-Sleeve Siphoner
Glorybringer
Goblin Dark-Dwellers
Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet

Spells (23)
Abrade
Chandra, Torch of Defiance
Doomfall
Fatal Push
Grasp of Darkness
Liliana, the Last Hope
Live Fast
Magma Spray
Ruinous Path
Lands (26)
Aether Hub
Canyon Slough
Evolving Wilds
Foreboding Ruins
Mountain
Smoldering Marsh
Swamp

Sideboard (15)
Chandra’s Defeat
Magma Spray
Never // Return
Ob Nixilis Reignited
Lost Legacy
Dispossess
Transgress the Mind
Dreamstealer
Sweltering Suns
Chandra, Flamecaller

Against the current “big 3”, the plan is pretty straightforward; keep the board clear for the first few turns, stick a planeswalker or Kalitas and snowball the advantage from them.

If you have Liliana for turn 3, let one or two of their one toughness creatures live. If you have Kalitas, try to conserve your removal until he hits the board. It’s not easy knowing when you should play him turn 4 and when you should wait until you can leave up a removal spell the same turn.

Some of the red decks play Collective Defiance but people almost always copy the winning list (especially when it’s someone as well known as PV) so I would default to running it out turn 4 for now. Zombies have both Grasp of Darkness and Dark Salvation so here I would lean towards having removal the same turn as I play Kalitas.

Of course some games you see their hand with turn 3 Doomfall and the choice will be easy.

Doomfall is an interesting card for standard. I didn’t even consider it for constructed when I first saw it but it has the same kind of flexibility that makes Supreme Will good; it has an “answer” mode and a mode for when you don’t need to deal with something they have played.

The big difference of course is that Doomfall is a sorcery, and sorcery hurts a modal card much more than a one dimensional card. Specifically, exiling Hazoret after it has attacked you once is unpleasant. Unfortunately, discard spells tend to be sorcery so we’ll have to make do. It is bad against Ramunap Red and servicable against Zombies and good against Constrictor but I think you need it main to not auto lose game 1 to decks like ramp and control.

Just having a few makes a big difference when you’re playing Goblin Dark-Dwellers, and as long as it’s not completely dead in any matchup, I think you can get away with it.

The thing I’m most uncertain of is the mix of 5-drops. Goblin Dark-Dwellers is both a good card and a personal favourite of mine, which I fear makes me a bit biased.

The problem is that a lot of the time your first opportunity to play is on an empty board and it happens that you don’t have Live Fast in the yard and either no Doomfall or the opponent has no cards in hand. Glorybringer is often fine to jam on an empty board, though it is true that removal can answer it cleanly compared to the goblins.

There are also situations where the opponent has 2 or more creatures and you can’t really afford to exert it to kill one of them leaving you tapped out and defenseless, where goblins can both kill a creature and stay back to block.

What Glorybringer excels at, which I initially underrated, is end games, and while the goblins are also hard to block, 4 flying haste power is a big deal. Hopefully further testing will give me a clearer indication of which way to lean (if any).

I think we should have the aggressive decks covered by now so let me finish with the two other decks I would expect to face: UR(x) control and RG Ramp. Both are going to be very tough game 1 (maybe you should even move the Doomfalls out of the main and just concede game 1 to be even more sure to crush aggro.

But you still have a shot against control since they have a lot of useless removal, so maybe they are fine). Against control, hope to draw as little removal as possible outside of the stuff that kills Torrential Gearhulk; it is possible to just run them out of wincons. You have value creatures, discard and planeswalkers so you can come out on top if you pace your spells properly. Try to hold on to your discard until you can play it and a threat the same turn to overwhelm their mana.

Post board we get even more discard and a new favorite of mine; Dreamstealer. This is a nightmare for them. They have to spend a removal spell on it the first time around and when it comes back they can’t even block it with gearhulk so it’s a guaranteed two for one and if they don’t kill either half, they pretty much just lose on the spot. I haven’t played against ramp yet but it looks rough.

You only have 3 Doomfall that really do anything game 1 and unless you can snipe their only Hour of Promise, it don’t know how you win game 1. You get to bring in more discard along with a Lost Legacy, but it’s probably not enough to make it a good matchup overall. Ramp might pick up in popularity now and I will consider adding another Lost Legacy to the board in that case.

I really like this deck as it has a lot of play to it and a lot of room for innovation to the list. I just saw someone has 5-0’d a league with 4 Gifted Aetherborn instead of the siphoners. If I keep facing all aggro decks, that is a change very much worth considering. Give it a try if you like grinding, and let me know any ideas you have for the deck.

Support the Team: Buy the cheapest Hours of Devastation Boosters at Games-Island.eu

What can we get banned next?

Welcome back, I hope you enjoyed the Grand Prix Las Vegas either on stream or in person, it was a great celebration of all things Magic, and I hope they do more events like it. While I didn’t get any of the results I was hoping for, it was still an awesome week filled with gambling, drinking, great food and great friends. What more could you ask for?

Now that I’m back, it’s time to head back into standard. The format is a lame duck as far as I know with no more competitive events before Hour of Devastation but the format has already been explored quite a bit after the latest banning. Since I don’t think Hour of Devastation has any cards that will spawn a standard dominating deck, it can be useful look at this metagame and maybe find some new cards that can be part of a deck that can exploit it. The big dog right now seems to be temur energy and it’s not going anywhere, but it is very beatable if you want to. It’s just a bunch of good creatures, some Harnessed Lightnings and some Chandra, Torch of Defiance. Just be careful not to rely on just tons of spot removal, since Rogue Refiner and Tireless Tracker will have you for breakfast. You have to have counterspells if you want to outgrind these cards.

The real glue of both Saheeli and Marvel decks

This would point us in the direction of a control deck but beware, because the scourge of control decks is still lurking out there:

Lands (24)
Aether Hub
Concealed Courtyard
Inspiring Vantage
Irrigated Farmland
Needle Spires
Plains
Spire of Industry
Spirebluff Canal

Spells (16)
Aethersphere Harvester
Gideon, Ally of Zendikar
Harnessed Lightning
Heart of Kiran
Metallic Rebuke
Unlicensed Disintegration

Creatures (20)
Scrapheap Scrounger
Spell Queller
Thraben Inspector
Toolcraft Exemplar
Veteran Motorist
Sideboard (15)
Anguished Unmaking
Ceremonious Rejection
Chandra, Torch of Defiance
Cut // Ribbons
Fumigate
Metallic Rebuke
Nahiri, the Harbinger
Needle Spires
Release the Gremlins

This list just finished 7-1 in the standard portion of the StarCityGames Invitational in the hands of Corey Guild, and it is a nightmare to be reactive against. 1-drops, resilient 2-drops, a must answer 4-drop and even counterspells?! The only upside is that it isn’t that widely played because it doesn’t match up that favorably against temur and bg energy, and because the manabase causes some inconsistency (I hope. If that manabase doesn’t get you in trouble, then no one would ever play anything but 5 color decks).

Last of our targets we have gb energy and/or delirium. Aggro decks built around Winding Constrictor with the ability to grind with cards like Tireless Tracker, Nissa, Voice of Zendikar and Ob Nixilis Reignited. That is actually the theme of all these decks; they are capable of some very aggressive starts but have enough resiliency and raw power that they can win long games as well. At first, I focused too much on the grindy aspects and thought I could go over the top with a gw delirium deck that had Fumigate, Descend upon the Sinful and Ishkanah, Grafwidow to buy time and then Ulvenwald Hydra into Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger to finish. The problem was, as you might have sensed, that I would often be dead before I could cast my sweeper. I still haven’t given up on the idea but I think a third color is needed to shore up the early game.

The reason I mention the gw deck despite it’s lack of success is that there are multiple upgrades coming next week: Hour of Promise and Hour of Revelation. Hour of Promise gives you turn 6 Ulamog by itself since it can fetch 2 Shrine of the Forsaken Gods. If you play either mono green or just one support color, chances are you can play some deserts to not only enable Hour of Promise but also some of the strong colorless cards from Oath of the Gatewatch. Hour of Revelation is a strict upgrade over Planar Cleansing and one of the problems I frequently faced was pressure from creatures, planeswalkers and/or vehicles at the same time.

The downside is that you can’t rely on having permanents in play so stuff like Corrupted Grafstone and Cast Out will probably have to hit the bench. That sounds like it’s worth it to me though and I think Hour of Revelation will be a big player in standard. It may actually prove my initial statement, that the new set won’t push new decks into the top tier, wrong.

 

There has already been some uw control decks popping up here and there including from Gabriel Nassif (https://www.channelfireball.com/articles/control-is-viable-in-standard-and-it-crushes-energy-decks/). He has been playing uw in modern for a while now and seems to be forcing it a bit so we shouldn’t necessarily take his word for it. More importantly, uw is getting another new card that could quietly be the most important card in the set: Supreme Will. Mana Leak and Impulse would both be very playable in Standard and I’m not sure that paying one more mana to get to choose between them is noticeably worse (in an aggro/tempo deck Mana Leak would be much better but in a purely reactive deck Supreme Will could be better). A lot of the shard and wedge charms were very good in standard despite only two of the modes being used the vast majority of the time so having it be mono colored and having only two useable modes is a fine deal, especially when one of the modes is straight up card selection. I’m thinking a list along these lines:

(35)
Supreme Will
Hour of Revelation
Censor
Essence Scatter
Negate
Glimmer of Genius
Torrential Gearhulk
Hieroglyphic Illumination
Disallow
Fumigate
Immolating Glare
Blessed Alliance
Kefnet the Mindful

While I would love for this deck to be great, there is a glaring hole; the early removal. With Supreme Will decreasing the need for double blue on turn 3, maybe we could test the limits of our mana?

(60)
Supreme Will
Hour of Revelation
Harnessed Lightning
Censor
Magma Spray
Glimmer of Genius
Torrential Gearhulk
Fumigate
Kozilek's Return
Hieroglyphic Illumination
Disallow
Kefnet the Mindful
Essence Scatter
Negate
Irrigated Farmland
Inspiring Vantage
Spirebluff Canal
Aether Hub
Mountain
Island
Plains

This manabase is on the surface quite a ways off from Frank Karsten’s recommendations but with so much cycling and card selection I’m willing to give it a try. I’m more worried about how we’re actually going to win the game. You have sweepers that kill your own gearhulks but I imagine that will possible to plan around, it’s more about how reliably Kefnet can win the game; Hour of Glory might see play but probably not too much and you should be able to counter the one copy they might have. It does suck that he is a win condition that does pretty much stone nothing until he starts winning the game, although if you play him turn 3 on the draw, your opponent can’t really play a planeswalker so there is that. I look forward to trying it out.

If a god can’t win the game, then what is even the point of gods?

One last point is the cool things you can do with your sideboard; Spell Queller has been a staple in uw control sideboards for a while but now we also get Nimble Obstructionist allowing us to be really annoying for any slower deck when they have to decide how much removal to keep in. Maybe we even go up to include a couple of Archangel Avacyn. Other than that I have really been impressed with Shielded Aether-Thief in the Marvel sideboard and while we don’t produce near as much energy here, we also have far less ways to spend it. We can round out with some cheap counterspells and maybe a few extra sweepers.

I always hope uw control will be great in the new format and this time is no different. Will Supreme Will and Hour of Revelation be enough to finally get there? Am I insane for not having any Pull from Tomorrow in the lists? Should there be planeswalkers even despite Hour of Revelation? Let me know what you think in the comments.

Standard

Why Standard is not (that) bad at all.

Editorial Note: 13. June 2017. Aetherworks Marvel is out.

Hi folks. My name is Anders and I’m here to talk about standard, and before you close this tab let me tell you that it is not as messed up as the internet mob will have you believe. Let’s take a look at what people say is wrong with standard:

1: Turn 4 Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger is unbeatable. This is true, but there are two things to consider; it doesn’t happen that often but it is of course not a good thing for magic when it does; and there are ways to stop it from happening, mainly censor and negate. I have played Marvel since the Pro Tour and it is very rare in the mirror to face a 10/10 library eater on turn 4. And the games without turn 4 Ulamog are great games of magic. It is very similar to the copycat mirror but I think actually more fun because turn 3 Saheeli on the play was much harder to stop and put the opponent in a terrible spot. Now you at least have Censor which does great work in slowing things down and letting both players play magic.

2: Marvel decks are pushing everything else out of the format. That’s just not true. There were 3 GP’s last weekend and 8 of the 24 top 8 decks were Marvel with only one in each non-american GP. The top 8’s featured several different archetypes beyond Marvel with UW flash winning Manila and GB constrictor winning Amsterdam against UR control in the finals.

3: Playing Aetherworks Marvel is a lottery, takes the skill out of playing. In the case of turn 4 Ulamog, yes very little skill is involved, but plenty of decks have nut draws where the deck basically plays itself. Turn 2 Constrictor, turn 3 Rishkar isn’t that hard of a line to see and that has won plenty of games. As soon as we leave nutdraw territory though, Marvel is quite intricate to play, especially the mirror and UR. I played it in Grand Prix Amsterdam myself and lost at least two rounds because I missed a tricky line of play. Stuff like when to leave up and play around Censor, how to manage your energy reserve, and even when to hardcast Ulamog can be difficult. Against UR control for example you should not play Ulamog into a counterspell unless they have 2 threats in play to remove. Against RG Energy aggro I won a game because I Harnessed Lightninged their turn 2 Longtusk Cub and spent 0 energy. I’m not saying these are top pro plays but they are not exactly intuitive either.

This standard is all fine This standard format is all fine

Now, I am not going to tell you that I don’t think Marvel is the best deck but you can easily choose another archetype and be successful. Since I don’t think Marvel will be banned it makes sense to talk about the deck to help you learn how to play it. First, let’s find a list to play and I don’t see a better starting point than Brad Nelson’s winning list from Grand Prix Omaha:

Temur Aetherworks by Brad Nelson

Creatures (8)
Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger
Rogue Refiner

Spells (52)
Chandra, Flamecaller
Attune with Aether
Censor
Dissenter’s Deliverance
Glimmer of Genius
Harnessed Lightning
Negate
Aetherworks Marvel
Woodweaver’s Puzzleknot
Aether Hub
Botanical Sanctum
Cinder Glade
Forest
Island
Lumbering Falls
Mountain
Shrine of the Forsaken Gods
Spirebluff Canal
Sideboard: (15)
Negate
Shrine of the Forsaken Gods
Aether Meltdown
Confiscation Coup
Dispel
Radiant Flames
Tireless Tracker
Ulvenwald Hydra

What a masterpiece! I love how streamlined the maindeck is for maximizing Marvel. Most other people were fiddling around with Whirler Virtuosos, Gearhulks, maindeck Tireless Tracker and such. I even shaved a Woodweaver’s Puzzleknot. Paul Dean and Brad Nelson realized that game one is about Marvel -> Ulamog against basically everything but UR control. After sideboard, most everyone will have ways to deal with Marvel so they just went straight for hardcasting Ulamog with a third Shrine of the Forsaken Gods and Ulvenwald Hydra. Getting a guaranteed 2 mana towards Ulamog along with the biggest creature on the battlefield is great in the mirror and not getting hit by Negate is great against the way most blue decks are set up against Marvel.

It also seems great against Spell Queller decks. I played a single Oblivion Sower in the main to help hardcast Ulamog and I’m not sure which I like better. Hydra is better if you can count on it resolving, but I like Sower better against UR and if more people play Disallow in the mirror (I had one in the board and a few of my mirror opponents did as well). My choice for next week would be a split with Hydra main and Sower in the board. I would assume that most Marvel lists will contain Hydra for the next few weeks so would like 2 Disallows after board.

I’m not that high on Confiscation Coup and I’m not sure about Dispel vs. Negate. Dispel is almost only for forcing through your own stuff and countering things like Chandra, Torch of Defiance in the mirror can be paramount. I’d go for just one Dispel for now. Tireless Tracker is in a weird spot right now. It’s obviously a great value machine to have in play but Censor means it’s not a guaranteed two for one on turn four and if your opponent untaps and plays Marvel you can be in big trouble. It’s still great against UR, and also on the play against stuff like UW since you can run it out on turn 3 and they have almost no way of removing it.

The last contentious spots for me are Dissenter’s Deliverance, Radiant Flames and Chandra, Flamecaller. We have seen Manglehorn and Sweltering Sun’s take their place in other lists but I like Brad and Paul’s choices more. Deliverance can be played main unlike Manglehorn, freeing up sideboard space without subtracting too much from your game 1 plan. I had cut Deliverance because I wanted to deal with Marvel on the stack but Deliverance is a great card against Vehicles and they did well enough last weekend to expect it for the foreseeable future.

Sweltering Sun’s could also be in the main (although cycling 3 is obviously harder to find time for) and it can be hit off Marvel. On the other hand, with all these Shrine of the Forsaken Gods (and I would like another Island for Disallow) double red is not trivial, and if you need a sweeper, you most likely need it early. More importantly, Zombies have taken massive beatings since the Pro Tour and they are pretty much the reason for running 3 mana sweepers so there’s actually an argument for cutting them. Big Chandra also loses a lot of luster with the decline of zombies. I’ve talked to several players who cited the 0 ability as a great way to turn dead Ulamogs into real cards but hardcasting Ulamog is becoming a larger and larger part of the game plan and in the mirror you often can’t afford to discard copies of him. She is still a powerful card and good at pressuring planeswalkers so I’m looking to play one for now. Here is the list I would play if I was playing this weekend:

Temur Aetherworks by Anders Gotfredsen

Creatures (8)
Rogue Refiner
Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger

Spells (52)
Attune with Aether
Censor
Dissenter’s Deliverance
Glimmer of Genius
Harnessed Lightning
Negate
Aetherworks Marvel
Woodweaver’s Puzzleknot
Ulvenwald Hydra
Chandra, Flamecaller
Aether Hub
Botanical Sanctum
Cinder Glade
Forest
Island
Mountain
Shrine of the Forsaken Gods
Spirebluff Canal
Sideboard: (15)
Negate
Disallow
Shrine of the Forsaken Gods
Shielded Aether-Thief
Dispel
Tireless Tracker
Oblivion Sower
Baral’s Expertise
Whirler Virtuoso

Whirler Virtuoso has made it back into the deck, this time in the board. I have replaced Radiant Flames with it because it has more utility against Vehicles and GB, both of which appear to be on the rise. They are joined by Baral’s Expertise which is the best card I could think of against GB and maybe there should be another one somewhere. Their creatures can get out of range of your sweepers pretty easily and Expertise doesn’t care how many counters are on them. Virtuoso also doesn’t care and both are great at buying time which is what the matchup is about to me.

Lastly, I’m playing Shielded Aether-Thief instead of Aether Meltdown. The only situation where Meltdown seems better is against flyers, notably Heart of Kiran, but we are already playing 3 Dissenter’s Deliverance and Aether-Thief has much higher upside. It is a lot better when you also have 3 damage sweepers but I still prefer it to the enchantment.

Today’s article has two main takeaways.

1: Standard isn’t all bad.

It has some bad aspects, but so do all other formats. There is diversity and a lot of great gameplay so no need to ban anything.

2: Be careful assuming that a metagame is solved.

Brad Nelson has done well in established metagames many times before by adding subtle twists to existing tier 1 decks. Maybe your Naya Planeswalker brew doesn’t have what it takes to compete but taking a successful deck and tweaking it to beat the metagame you’re expecting is a recipe for success. If you have a good reason for thinking a certain card of combination of cards are good in a popular matchup, don’t be afraid to pull the trigger just because no one else has done it yet.

Next week is GP’s Vegas which is sure to be completely awesome, wish me luck and good luck to everyone else going. I love to discuss magic so please comment with your opinions on any of the stuff I have talked about.