Four and a half years. That’s how long it’s been since my last Pro Tour. This past weekend I was fortunate enough to qualify again. My first conversion on many attempts at the RPTQ system has finally granted me a slot at Pro Tour Albuquerque. The significance of this being the first Pro Tour of the season has me significantly invested to do well not just at the Pro Tour but at the Grand Prix level as well. While that’s all well and good I’m sure what you’re most interested in is the 75 I played at the event and how I got there. Don’t worry, that comes soon enough.
Leading up to the week before the RPTQ instead of my nightly ritual of playing League of Legends from 6pm-10pm, I allotted this time of my evening to be productive and test standard. This task was even harder with the release of StarCraft Remastered. They don’t call me Gosu. for nothing….. To be honest I was pretty torn on where to start. The last time I played standard was at the SCG Invitational and was with Zombies. That event didn’t go well for me, although Zombies was definitely on my radar of decks I thought could perform well today. I spent Monday – Thursday evening testing Mardu, BG Constrictor and BR Madness. As it turns out, 20 hours of testing isn’t even close to enough time. I hadn’t even got around to trying out Zombies or Temur Energy. Brennan DeCandio had been having success with UR God-Pharaoh’s Gift (GPG) and I decided on Friday I would try that out as a last ditch effort. I called out sick from work to give me maximum time to figure out the deck. My leagues online went okay, but not great. A couple of 3-2 finishes had me a bit nervous. I decided to build the deck and bring it to a local FNM. I thought this would give me a better grasp of the deck and also what people locally had found to be good. I learned a lot about the deck during that FNM. Mostly that people are still unprepared to handle the deck and also that the deck itself has a hard time in beating Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet. I split top 4 to get some sleep for the PPTQ the next day.
*A Long story and another article short, on the PPTQ I played Eldrazi Tron and lost in the finals against Affinity.
After getting home late Saturday evening from the PPTQ I had PT top 8 competitor Steve Mann stay over so we could car pool to the RPTQ Sunday morning. This was actually a pretty pivotal moment in the success of my weekend. While Steve and I were trying to get our final 75’s nailed down for the RPTQ we talked about the Grand Prix that was going on that happened to also be Standard. We got some deck lists from that event and I decided that I was just going to jam God-Pharaoh’s Gift that some pros at the GP were playing. The list was pretty similar to what I was already playing so I felt pretty good about it. Steve and I of course started to hash out different technologies we could adapt for what we expected to face thanks to the public knowledge of these deck lists. The most important question facing us was how do you trump the mirror match? Let’s roll out the deck list I ended on and talk about the choices we made and what we decided to help sway the mirror.
4 Insolent Neonate – This is without a doubt the reason to be Red. It does everything this deck wants to do. You get to dig for Gate of the Afterlife, put at least 1 creature in the graveyard and you trigger Gate of the Afterlife when you sacrifice the Insolent Neonate.
4 Cathartic Reunion – The other stand out for red and the only other main deck reason to play the color. This fills a similar role to Insolent Neonate in that it helps dump creatures into the graveyard while digging towards Gate of the Afterlife. It also really helps insure you hit your land drops and I cannot stress how important this card is in doing just that.
4 Minister of Inquiries – Our other one drop that helps fuel our Gate of the Afterlife. Typically he’s good for two mills and then jumps in front of a bus. Sometimes he helps fix mana thanks to Aether Hub as well.
4 Walking Ballista – This guy is the most versatile card in the deck. Outside of the obvious effects it has on the surface, it also triggers Gate of the Afterlife when you cast it for zero mana. This is a pretty common play that helps you get those last few creatures in your graveyard and gain a few life in the process.
4 Gate of the Afterlife – The enabler of the deck. All of our card choices are thought with this in mind. Without it this isn’t a deck and is the second most important card in the deck.
2 God-Pharaoh’s Gift – Since Gate of the Afterlife is the second most important, this means that this is the most important card in the deck. The namesake of the deck, you will rarely ever lose a game after this card hits the table and goes unchecked.
4 Trophy Mage – These are Gate of the Afterlife 5-8. I wasn’t kidding when I said Gate of the Afterlife is important. A side note about Trophy Mage; there simply isn’t another card you’d rather get than Gate of the Afterlife. We tried Aethersphere Harvester, but in the end there are simply very few if any situations where you’d rather get Aethersphere Harvester than just a Gate of the Afterlife and that includes against Ramunap Red.
4 Champion of Wits – One more way to dig for our Gate of the Afterlife while also providing fuel for its fire. Champion of Wits also having Eternalize helps a lot when games go long and is a near perfect card for this deck. A neat thing to keep in mind is when you’ve already have a God-Pharaoh’s Gift in play and Angel of Invention if you bring back a Champion of Wits you will draw five cards instead of four thanks to Angel of Invention buffing Champion of Wits power.
4 Angel of Invention – This is the most frequent win condition. Most of the time your best target that can help you either stabilize a board or race in an unfavorable position.
2 Cataclysmic Gearhulk – When you’re not bringing back Angel of Invention it’s because you need to wipe an unfavorable board position. Not only does this do that but it also lets you keep your God-Pharaoh’s Gift and your Cataclysmic Gearhulk.
1 Angel of Sanctions – This is part of the tech I had been thinking about for about a week. This is perfect not only for the mirror match but against other problematic permanents like Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet as well.
4 Spirebluff Canal – Duh
4 Inspiring Vantage – This really helps us in the mid to later stages of the game. Sometimes you need to change roles in a matchup and this helps us cast our 5 drops that we typically want to bring out of the graveyard.
4 Aether Hub – This is the only other way of getting White mana in this deck. Be stingy with your energy as you don’t have many ways to get it.
4 Ipnu Rivulet – When times are desperate and you need to get your 5th or 6th creature into your graveyard, Ipnu Rivulet will be there.
4 Island 3 Mountain and No Wandering Fumarole – Admittedly you do miss having access to creaturelands against control decks like UW Approach, but having a land enter tapped is a much bigger detriment than having access to creature lands.
1 Kefnet’s Last Word – The mirror breaking tech, in top 8 against Brennan playing the mirror we both won a game on the back of Kefnet’s Last Word. If you’re expecting a lot of the mirror bring more than one of these.
2 Elder Deep-Fiend – Elder Deep-Fiend serves a couple of purposes. It helps you get blue decks to tap out so you can resolve a Gate of the Afterlife. It also helps give you a transformational sideboard plan of playing a midrange role.
2 Chandra, Torch of Defiance – This is another solid way to remove a Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet while also providing a solid midrange strategy post board with Glorybringer and Elder Deep-Fiend.
2 Chandra’s Defeat – This is a cheap interactive spell against the Ramunap Red decks and a pretty good card to have against Temur Energy.
3 Negate– This is how we protect our combo. It’s also great against the Blue based control decks.
Sunday morning came and we made the hour and a half drive to the RPTQ in Maitland, FL. I was pretty calm and collected. I feel like this format is a bit of a rock/paper/scissors situation so I wasn’t really sweating about my deck selection. The build I choose to use had foregone Glint-Nest Crane so I was hoping to dodge Ramunap Red. Thankfully I did just that and there were only three of them in the entire room. Let’s take a look at my path to victory.
Round 1 – UW Approach (Win)
This is a pretty easy matchup. You typically get to apply early pressure with not so threatening creatures in your deck. They are typically forced into not countering anything that isn’t Gate of the Afterlife. Once turn 4 happens and they would like to cast cards like Glimmer of Genius or Hieroglyphic Illumination is when you start playing your important cards. They will be forced into an awkward position of either digging for answers to your board or countering your win conditions and dying to the board. Also, depending on the amount of pressure you’re applying you can also wait until they’re forced to Fumigate and then drop your Gate to the Afterlife. Also a tip in this matchup is being aware you have multiple ways to mill your opponent. If they resolve an Approach the Second Sun you can time a mill effect properly and continue on with the game without the threat of an instant win by them.
Round 2 – Mardu Vehicles (Win)
This matchup is pretty close for a few reasons. Abrade can be a real big problem, especially if it’s backed up by pressure. Mardu Vehicles is capable of applying considerable pressure, especially if they have a Heart of Kiran. It also has unconditional removal for our Angel of Invention in Unlicensed Disintegration, which most decks in the format do not have. On top of all of this, a card that would typically relieve the board pressure in Cataclysmic Gearhulk usually doesn’t help much here either thanks to them having a lot of Artifacts. Thankfully, the games when they don’t have Abrade are typically quite easy to overcome.
Round 3 – Zombies (Win)
This is a favorable matchup. They don’t have any ways to break up your combo game 1 and you have Cataclysmic Gearhulk for when they have a rather exceptional aggressive draw. Post board games are a lot trickier. They get access to Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet, Transgress the Mind and Dispossess in some cases. It’s important you bring in your Chandras and Glorybringers to give you another angle of attack and to deal with Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet before he spirals out of control. The good news is because they’re bringing in a lot of cards they slow down a lot, thus giving you time to win the game the ole’ fashioned way. (Casting five drops)
Round 4 – BG Constrictor (Loss)
This is a pretty even matchup. You have the advantage game one here again because they can’t break up your combo. Cataclysmic Gearhulk isn’t nearly as good here as it is against Zombies because they have Artifact creatures. If they get ahead with a good Winding Constrictor draw you could be in trouble. Post board games are similar against Zombies since they have the same problematic Black cards to worry about. I lost in extra turns when I could have taken the Draw. Instead I decided I wanted to go for the win and it didn’t quite work out.
Round 5 – RG Energy Aggro (Win)
It’s hard to describe what this deck was. It was basically an Electrostatic Pummeler deck without the Pummelers and combat tricks. It did have a recipe for success against me thanks to Abrade and a fast clock. Thankfully my draws were good and I had Negate post board when I needed it.
Round 6 – Mardu (Draw)
Quarterfinals – Mirror (Win)
This mirror might be the hardest mirror I’ve ever played. Game one you’re both racing towards the combo with no way to break it up. If both players are successful then it becomes about who has more Angel of Invention. Once life totals get high from trading off Angel of Invention then it’s about who can get either multiple GPG or who has Cataclysmic Gearhulk to reset the board. Then there’s another layer of who is ahead with cards in library. Once you get to the truly late stages you’ve both drawn and milled a substantial amount of cards. Utilizing Minister of Inquiries and Ipnu Rivulet will give the win via decking if all things are equal. Make sure you’re aware that the creatures you bring back with GPG have haste only on your turn, so if your plan is to mill them out use your Minister of Inquiries on your own turn when you bring them back the first time. Believe it or not it doesn’t get any easier post board either. Both players bring in Negate, Kefnet’s Last Word, Glorybringer and Abrade. There’s now a ton of interaction and ways to break up the combo. You also have to be aware of when you can and cannot tap out or fear losing to a Kefnet’s Last Word.
All things considered I believe this deck is truly busted. You just get to play a flat out combo deck in a room full of fair decks that don’t have many ways of interacting with you. I do highly recommend this to anyone looking to try out something new. Fair warning though, this deck can be extremely complex and I guarantee you will make some mistakes. The margin for error with this deck can be extremely narrow, but is quite rewarding when you find the right path. If you’re concerned about the quantity of Ramunap Red decks, you can try out Brennan DeCandio’s version that plays Glint-Nest Crane.
Four and a half years. It’s hard to believe so much time has gone by. I can honestly say I’m really pumped for the Pro Tour. I’m lucky enough to live five minutes away from multiple top 8 PT competitor Chris Fennell, who’s agreed to work together for this PT. I’ve already got a plan underway for testing and working to find a team to work with. Wish me luck as I work my way back to a PT mainstay.
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