Two Saturdays ago (September 12th, for those of you counting) I traveled to a Standard PPTQ at Macnarb Games in Mississippi, a store at which I had never played. I would say it was a harrowing journey, but it really wasn’t: a stop at Subway for breakfast and an uneventful two-hour car ride later, we were registering for the tournament and writing out decklists.
Here’s what I played:
It was very similar to the list I played at the SCG Invitational a few weeks before, but I had cut the Wingmate Rocs for the second Herald of Torment and another interactive spell, which I felt made the deck a little more streamlined and powerful. In addition, I finally took the plunge and cut Thoughtseize from my sideboard altogether, replacing it with some more proactive solutions to the control matchup in Evolutionary Leap and Vryn Wingmare, which were both completely untested but solid in theory, and Ajani, which I knew from experience was fantastic in attrition-based matchups. The reason I don’t like Thoughtseize in the 75 is because all of the decks we’re bringing Thoughtseize in against have better topdecks than we do and also have some way to nullify Thoughtseize’s effect (either by getting the card back with Den Protector or by finding another copy with Dig Through Time), so taking their best card and crossing our fingers doesn’t always work. I wanted proactive ways to answer problematic cards like Languish and Elspeth, so I found a few permanents that would give me a bit of card advantage (Vryn Wingmare provides a virtual form of card advantage by essentially blanking some of our opponent’s spells for at least a turn). These changes proved to be critical, as I ended up playing against four control decks over the course of the tournament.
Forty-two players showed up, which made six rounds of Swiss with a cut to top 8.
Let’s get to the matches, shall we?
Round 1: Esper Dragons.
I was very surprised to win game one, seeing as my opponent fairly easily ran me out of threats on turn six or seven. However, he proceeded to flood out, giving me time to draw some more creatures. Rakshasa Deathdealer was ridiculously powerful, as it usually is in this matchup. The most interesting sequence came late in the game, with two targetless copies of Dromoka’s Command sitting in my hand. I cast a Deathdealer and my opponent stole it with Dragonlord Silumgar. My draw was another Deathdealer, and I had enough mana to pump it and fight the Dragonlord with one Dromoka’s Command, getting back my first Deathdealer. My opponent sacrificed a Haven of the Spirit Dragon to get his Silumgar back and stole the Deathdealer again. I untapped and knocked my deck, knowing I needed to draw a creature to go with the second Command. My deck obliged serving up the best creature possible: Fleecemane Lion. I counted my lands, then counted again. I had exactly nine mana to work with. Cast, Monstrous, Fight, good game.
In game two, my opponent stalled on four lands and, despite my having to spend about five turns killing an Ashiok, Vryn Wingmare did an excellent job of preventing any Languish or Dig Through time shenanigans until it was too late.
Round 2: Esper Dragons
I honestly don’t remember much about this match other then that I won it in two games without seeing a sideboard card. I think my opponent had a Perilous Vault as their primary sweeper in game one, which slowed them down, and then I had the Self-Inflicted Wound for their Ojutai. Sometimes your deck just does what it’s supposed to and your opponent’s deck doesn’t quite get there.
I think Esper Dragons is one of the worst matchups for Abzan Aggro (but not necessarily for Hangarback Abzan), so I was very relieved to have won the first two rounds so easily. I headed across the lot to the gas station for a drink and a sandwich, then settled in for round three.
Round 3: Jeskai (Jody Keith)
I rode up with Jody, and while I had never played against him, I knew he was a very strong player. He was on Jeskai with the full four copies of Ojutai’s Command, a matchup which was very good for me if I got on the board early and very bad for me if his draw came together. His draw came together, I struggled to deal with his Jaces, and I ended both games with Self-Inflicted Wounds sitting in my hand. Even though I don’t play Hangarback Walkers, Harbinger of the Tides is a massive beating against my deck. There was one situation in game two where I managed to put five counters on a Warden of the First Tree (which was a 1/3 courtesy of a flipped Jace). Jody had a Harbinger of the Tides, a Soulfire Grandmaster, and an unflipped Jace in play to complement the flipped Jace on four counters, as well as an Ojutai’s Command in the graveyard. I attacked the flipped Jace with my 6/8 Warden, needing to gain some life pretty badly, and Jody blocked with just the Harbinger. Jace and the Harbinger died, and I finally had the edge on board, but Jody just untapped, flipped his second Jace, and flashed back Ojutai’s Command to draw a card and return the Harbinger, which bounced my Warden. Over the space of two turns, I had gone from having my back against the wall, to having a fully leveled Warden, to having my back against the wall once more, all due to the power of Harbinger of the Tides. Seriously, that card is bonkers.
Round 4: Atarka Red
My opponent didn’t find green mana in game one, but his draw was too fast for me anyways. Game two, he over-committed his mana into a Lightning Berserker which died to Ultimate Price, leading to him not being able to Wild Slash my Warden of the First Tree in time. I eventually leveled it all the way and put the game firmly out of reach. In game three, my opponent mulliganed to six on the play, kept a landless hand rather than go to five, and said go. You can imagine how that worked out for him.
At this point, I was feeling pretty good about the tournament. I had beaten my worst matchup twice, lost to a good player, and gone on to beat a positive but close matchup. I just needed one more win to draw into top 8.
Round 5: Abzan Control
My second worst matchup after Esper Dragons. Gulp. But nothing was going to keep me down this tournament; on the play, I opened on Warden, Deathdealer, Anafenza, and lands, a hand which would survive even Languish. My opponent quickly fell to my onslaught. In game two, I had a more reasonable draw, but my opponent failed to find either the second Languish or an Elspeth to put the game away after stabilizing, and I was able to claw back into it.
Round 6: Intentional Draw
I had done it! I had made top 8 of the first Standard PPTQ I had played in. But it wasn’t time to celebrate yet; I still had three tough matches to win.
Quarterfinals: RG Dragons
My opponent opened with a turn two Sylvan Caryatid, which got hit by one of my maindeck Self-Inflicted Wounds. He followed up with a Morph, while I cast an Anafenza. Herald of Torment jumped my Anafenza into the air, taking my opponent down to six life. I stared at the two copies of Siege Rhino in my hand and smiled.
Game two was equally one-sided, with me failing to draw a third land and barely clinging to life against multiple copies of Xenagos. If I had been given one more turn, I might have been able to claw my way back into the game, but it was not to be.
Semifinals: UB Thopters
Game one was pretty straightforward: my opponent couldn’t find a Languish, and while Crux of Fate is good, having to use it on a single Rakshasa Deathdealer is a losing proposition. Eventually, I made a Monstrous Fleecemane Lion and got enough counters on it to attack through a Silumgar, the Drifting Death, and that was that.
Game two was where Evolutionary Leap shined. My opponent did mulligan to five, but came extremely close to pulling out of it, and if I hadn’t drawn about five cards off of the copy of Leap I resolved I might not have gotten there. I just played slightly behind curve and made sure to always leave up a single green mana if my opponent went for a removal spell, and there was nothing he could do.
Finals: Mono-Red Aggro
We agreed to a prize split, with me getting the invite and about 30% of the rest of the prize.
I won the first Standard PPTQ I attended! This is huge for me, as I know have an opportunity to get onto the Pro Tour for the first time ever, and the RPTQ is Standard, which has traditionally been my strongest format. I’ll just have to practice my butt off once Battle for Zendikar is released and hope the set after that doesn’t shake things up too much.
If you’re looking for a good deck for the last week of THS-KTK Standard, try my Abzan Aggro list. It’s efficient, powerful, and brutally aggressive. One of the strongest things you can be doing in formats like Standard where the removal doesn’t always line up perfectly is play aggressive, resilient threats that force your opponent to have multiple different types of answers.
When in doubt, get them dead.
@CasperZML on Twitter
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