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A Look Into PPTQ Week

Written by Zach Cramer on . Posted in Competitive Magic, Standard

A Look Into PPTQ Week

Zach Cramer

Zach is a Northeastern Magic grinder who specializes in eternal formats. When building decks, he has a strong preference to Blue cards, toolboxes and combo decks. With a recent RPTQ finish just short of an invitation, Zach hopes to take his skills to the next level and play on the Pro Tour.

Greetings all! I’ve been away for a little bit trying to find my way in the Standard world but today I’m back to talk about my weekend of PPTQs. I really want to hone in on the preparation, the two decks I played, and what I discovered.

Last Monday, I started my preparation for the weekend’s PPTQs with a fresh set of GP data to comb through. My mind was very fixed on the mostly red but a little bit of black vehicles deck. The reason that I considered this choice was because of the results that Rb Vehicles put up a GP Birmingham. The deck dominated taking six of eight slots in the Top 8. Simon Nielson ended up taking down the event with a strong plan for the mirror. This supremacy was a real statement on the power of the deck and its solid, established, place in the metagame. What’s more, the ability to get bigger and smaller within the 75 was also interesting to me. With this meta-narrative on the surface, I really wanted to do two things:

#1: Have a favorable matchup against the decks that did well at GP Birmingham, with a main focus on beating the Vehicles deck.

#2: If all else fails, play the best version of Red (Black) Vehicles possible, with an edge in the mirror.

Essentially: Beat ‘em or Join ‘em.

As most of you know by now, I really like trying to beat them before I join them. I like to find the next best thing, I love to find the tech, the solutions, and I love to play a deck that isn’t being targeted, and oftentimes isn’t even at the shooting range (Whaddup Bitterblossom). The major conclusions that I drew was that resilient threats like Rekindling Phoenix, Scrapheap Scrounger and a multitude of Planeswalkers are what is giving these new vehicles decks a lot of their power. But, these threats can all be curbed by Vraska’s Contempt. Looking at decks like Misplaceginger’s BG Deck that played a bunch of Vraska’s Contempts and The Eldest Reborn to try and outgrind Vehicles was appealing to me, but, all of the spot removal in Abrade, Fatal Push, and Unlicensed Disintegration made me less interested in playing a deck like Snake. Moreover, going Llanowar Elves into Glint Sleeve Siphoner only to be curb stomped by Chainwhirler was really frustrating. What’s more was that trying to play around Chainwhirler and removal with a slower, more resistant BUG variants with Servant instead of Llanowar Elves and Bristling Hydra or Blossoming Defense felt like I was playing on their terms, rather than doing the most proactive thing I could. From there, I tried to gravitate to ways to blanking the tools within the R(b) deck (I keep saying Red (Black) because the black splash was always very low on actual black cards and black spells). This led me in the direction of UB Control, specifically the Wafo-Tapa list from the PTQ that played lots of counters, lots of instants, and lots of Disallows. Being able to have a Cancel into the glut of 4s in the Vehicles deck felt very good and Censor felt well positioned as the R(b) decks slowed down. I also really liked going back to The Scarab God as the format was starting to forget about it. However, the deck had a lot of trouble with Heart of Kiran and even more trouble with Scrapheap Scrounger. The solid mana base, the 8 Vraska’s Contempt plan (Torrential Gearhulk has a good friend), and the smooth cycle spells made me happy with the list, but, I couldn’t solve the aggressive draws and found myself losing if I stumbled in the development stages. I was forced to go back to the drawing board.

Friday afternoon found me looking to build the best version of the GP winning deck. The first thing I aimed to do was lean away from aggression. This may seem strange because the decks that I just talked about folded to pressure and aggressive draws so abandoning those principles seemed wrong. However, I really wanted to have a sideboard plan that beat the mirror and wanted to construct my deck in a way that protected the powerful cards that would be winning me the game. Card advantage like Karn and Chandra are best when the spells you’re drawing are powerful in and of themselves. Cards like Walking Ballista, Heart of Kiran, more Removal spells and even defensive, midrange creatures like Pia Nalaar would make my cards that drew more cards draw more powerful cards and more powerful answers. Another thing I realized was that once I was leaning back and taking a little bit of force off the gas and then play Duress to reactively respond to decks after board. Duress is good versus everyone. They’re all bringing in these non-creature spells and Duress is one of the few cards that answers a lot of the problems in the format. If I was playing black, I was definitely registering Duress. From that, I had a lot of controlling elements, a lot of removal to curtail aggressive decks, not to mention Chainwhirler’s effect on go-wide strategies, now all that was left was being able to beat the threats on the board. I ended up playing a variation of a list run by PinkBomb that featured additional black mana and 4 Vraska’s Contempts in the sideboard. Noticing a trend here?

The event itself featured a reasonable result, a deck that crushed the mirror, but, a pretty humiliating loss to Mono White Enchantments, which is likely the nightmare for a deck that can’t interact with one resolved enchantment, not to mention the other 16 enchantments that were being played. I also lost a not-particularly-close set against BG Snake, which I dubbed a favorable matchup. Both matchups likely could have been improved with the move back towards more aggressive threats and getting on the board so the removal would be more punishing. While my effort to adapt to the metagame were mostly fruitful, I did face a blind spot in my deckbuilding and I suffered the consequences. Overall, I think the Red Black decks can’t skimp on Heart of Kiran, need early pressure to make the walkers as crushing as possible, and can stand to lower their curve in order to be mana efficient and have multiple double spell turns.

On Saturday night, I was about to drive home from a disappointing finish when I came across Jeff Cuttingham’s BG Constrictor list. Something I love to do before a long drive is find a new decklist or deckbuilding angle to challenge. Jeff’s deck was the perfect project. 22 Lands, 4 Ravenous Chupacabra, 4 Verdurous Gearhulk, 0 Brontodon, 4 Jadelight Ranger, 2 Merfolk Branchwalker, no spells outside of Adventurous Impulse and 3 Aethersphere Harvester in the 75? So many interesting decisions but none of them compared to this beautiful sideboard:

3x Lifecrafter’s Bestiary
4x Fatal Push
1x Aethersphere Harvester (Reasonable)
2x Duress (A little low, but, maybe worth the room)
2x Nissa, Vital Force (An excellent way to pressure planeswalkers)
3x Shapers’ Sanctuary (*airhorn sounds* we found our tech!)

Shapers’ Sanctuary sounds like a great card in the current metagame. Think about all the things it hits, aside from the traditional removal spells, it triggers off Glorybringer, Ahn-Crop Crasher, Earthshaker Khenra, Gideon of the Trials! Being able to win the card advantage war against attrition decks felt like a great idea to try and the other above decisions facilitated a lot of live draws, early pressure, post-board selection felt like a great way to reverse a lot of the deckbuilding decisions I made the day before. After a tournament with the deck, I cannot recommend this deck enough. I was so impressed with Jeff’s deck, his plans, and the serious diversions he made. I obliterated the Rb decks with Sanctuary and Harvester, I raced the aggressive decks and I could out-grind Fumigates and Settles. I had an excellent run through the swiss and sadly fell to a Green Stompy deck that ended up beating me with a Skysovereign that I couldn’t beat. I’ve played a lot more with the list and I don’t even know if I’d change a card. The list is phenomenal and provided all the answers to the questions that I was asking.

So, what’s the takeaway? You’ll notice that I gave you a lot of information about conclusions that I made but I didn’t end up utilizing them, nor did they pan out. Does that make them less true? Not a bit. All of these clues led me back to a deck that did everything I wanted it to do, even though it still fell victim to some of my reservations and didn’t play 4 Duress or any Vraska’s Contempts. Was my decision wrong? Maybe, but, I learned a lot and have a lot of conclusions to propel me into another week of Magic and get me closer to the perfect deck next time. Another huge takeaway was that I took two lists and didn’t change anything about them in order to figure out where to go next. It’s very possible if I added Brontodons, Lands or cut Gearhulks from Jeff’s list, I never would have figured out just how potent your deck can be when you maximize selection elements and hone in consistency. These conclusions were ultimately invaluable when thinking about what directions I want to go to next. The interesting thing about Standard is the cyclical nature of the format. A conclusion that doesn’t pan out one week might be the perfect answer the next. Testing, tuning, and learning what makes decks tick is the best tool in your arsenal for a format like Standard.

Looking towards the future, Autumn Burchett wrote an incredible article about the current standard metagame and I think she’s very right about needing to look broadly at what the metagame is doing and what questions it’s asking you. Originally, my article focused on some similar ideas but she did it so much better so I tried to go in another direction. She more than deserves the plug and makes the Starcity Games column so much better. Back to the metagame, I think this Snake deck is answering the questions well and I’m excited to play more with it. More than anything, however, the takeaway I’m trying to bring up is that doing the research about where things are going is very productive and being willing to try something new and go in a new direction, or maybe even make an informed decision to return to the past might be a good place to be. Just this weekend, Corey Baumeister went 8-0 in the MOCS with an even more mono red list that went big with Phoenix, Karn, Chandra and good old dog Hazoret. White Black vehicles challenged black removal with Knight of Grace and God Pharaoh’s Gift is still floating around. Where do we go from that? That’s a good question. I’m looking forward to figuring it out and I promise I’ll let you all know when I figure it out. Until next time.

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