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Back in the Saddle

Written by LegitMTG Staff on . Posted in Competitive Magic, Standard

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It’s been a frustrating couple of months when it comes to Magic. I was unable to qualify for the last Pro Tour while only managing a single MTGO PTQ Top 8 in the process. This season has been a lot of the same frustrations. I lost playing for Top 8 of the last PTQ I went to and only managed a 3-2-1 record at the PTQ before dropping. I was hoping to change my fortunes when I arrived in Hollywood, Florida, two weekends ago to play in the Standard PTQ. I played Jund in my previous PTQ and it felt pretty good. There were a lot of adjustments I wanted to make, however, so I was quick to adjust my list for this PTQ.

Zhur-Taa Druid? No Bonfire of the Damned? Curse of Death’s Hold? Who are you and what have you done with the John Cuvelier I know? This list was very much a metagame call based on the most recent SCG results. A new breed of Naya Aggro has emerged along with a Naya Reanimator deck splashing black. While we do want the sweet spot of the 10-removal spell package, cards like Abrupt Decay and Dreadbore are slow and, to be honest, somewhat awkward when your aggro opponents all have four Strangleroot Geists and four Voice of Resurgences. I moved the Pillar of Flames that normally reside in the sideboard to the maindeck, which forced me to adjust the mana, adding two Mountains to have a more consistent Turn 1 Pillar of Flame.

I’m sure the card that’s most intriguing is the Zhur-Taa Druid. Having only eight Forests prevents me from playing Arbor Elf, but I still want to be capable of the Turn 3 four-drop plan. Playing the Druid allows us to basically play Farseek five and six. The added bonus of being a blocker and direct damage effect is just gravy. (A special thanks to Hayden Bedsole for bringing this card to my attention.) The lack of Bonfire of the Damned can be attributed to a few things. It’s simply not fast enough to handle the aggressive decks unless you miracle it, and even then you probably won’t kill more than a single creature unless it’s for at least three. Bonfire of the Damned is a terrific card against the Aristocrats, which is why I put Curse of Death’s Hold in the sideboard. Having a solution to Lingering Souls and Falkenrath Aristocrat all wrapped up in one card is just too good to pass up. You may also notice a lack of Sire of Insanity. I opted to play Rakdos’s Return instead because without Bonfire in my deck, I needed a “fireball” effect for late-game scenarios. In addition, Sire of Insanity isn’t very good in the current metagame, because there is a big lack of traditional control decks such as Esper and USA control. The full set of Olivia Voldaren in included because Reanimator is still the most popular strategy in Standard, and Olivia is the best answer to them beside cards like Rest in Peace.

Predicting My Own Demise

You ever get that feeling before an important tournament that the only way you will lose is if X happens? I had that feeling about AEtherling destroying my dreams of another PTQ win. When looking at this deck, the only flaw I saw is being unable to handle AEtherling, which is why I included a Pithing Needle in my sideboard. Its versatility is the reason I used it over something like Slaughter Games.

Round 1 vs. Naya Aggro: As I predicted, we get paired up against the SCG Winning list. A summary of this match: Eight Strangleroot Geists, five Voice of Resurgences and a mulligan to four with no Pillar of Flames gets me in three games.

+1 Barter in Blood, +1 Abrupt Decay, +1 Dreadbore
-1 Groundseal, -2 Rakdos’s Return

Round 2 vs. Esper Control: In three really close games, including a mulligan to five in Game 3, I manage to find a near perfect hand. My draw steps also sync up very well with his draws as I find the best answer for every card he plays. His version of Esper was a bit unique as he played the full amount of Lingering Souls.

+1 Curse of Death’s Hold, +2 Duress, +1 Ground Seal, +1 Thundermaw Hellkite, +1 Pithing Needle, +1 Vraska the Unseen, +1 Underworld Connections
-2 Mizzium Mortars, -4 Pillar of Flame, -2 Tragic Slip.

Round 3 vs. Junk Reanimator: This takes three games, but my opponent keeps a very loose hand in Game 3 and is punished for it. If you can’t make a play until Turn 5, you probably shouldn’t keep!

+2 Ground Seal, +1 Thundermaw Hellkite, +1 Dreadbore
-2 Liliana of the Veil, -1 Pillar of Flame, -1 Mizzium Mortars

Round 4 vs. Naya Reanimator: This round is against my first skilled opponent in Lee Steht. He’s on the new Reanimator deck with Boros Reckoner and Harvest Pyre. I have a land issue Game 1 and his Sire of Insanity empties my hand and my life. I’m able to put enough pressure on in Game 2 to secure a win before he can stabilize. In Game 3 he digs about halfway through his deck and is unable to find an Unburial Rites. Bad beats!

+2 Ground Seal, +2 Curse of Death’s Hold, +1 Thundermaw Hellkite, +1 Deadbridge Chant, +1 Abrupt Decay, +1 Dreadbore
-4 Pillar of Flame, -2 Liliana of the Veil, -1 Tragic Slip

Round 5 vs. Junk Reanimator: A fast Thragtusk followed by a Rakdos’s Return gives me the win in Game 1. I mulligan to five in Game 2, but it doesn’t matter as Thundermaw Hellkite gives him a good thrashing.

+2 Ground Seal, +1 Thundermaw Hellkite, +1 Dreadbore
-2 Liliana of the Veil, -1 Pillar of Flame, -1 Mizzium Mortars

Round 6 vs. Naya Reanimator: Four rounds of Unburial Rites in a row and I’m still going strong. I play multiple Olivias through his own in Game 1 to finally keep one in play. I use it to do what Olivia does best and take over the game. I get him to seven in Game 2 but he topdecks Angel of Serenity to wipe my board and any chances of winning. I get some help in Game 3 as we trade heavy hitters until he floods out while I keep laying on the pressure.

+2 Ground Seal, +2 Curse of Death’s Hold, +1 Thundermaw Hellkite, +1 Deadbridge Chant, +1 Abrupt Decay, +1 Dreadbore
-4 Pillar of Flame, -2 Liliana of the Veil, -1 Tragic Slip

Round 7 vs. Naya Aggro: I haven’t really played a variety of opponents this tournament, but I was OK with this one. I notice he shuffled his deck while looking at it before Game 1. I wasn’t sure if he was seeing the cards or not but I gave it a really good shuffle. It didn’t really seem to matter as he rolls a 12 and plays four Loxodon Smiters and three Boros Reckoners in the top 15 cards. I made sure that wouldn’t happen again Game 2 by pile shuffling his deck and then reshuffling afterward. Not surprisingly, he went down to five cards. The issue, of course, is I also went down to five cards before finding my first land. I stall on four lands with three Thragtusks in my hand as I watch my life total plummet. I draw the land I need just in time and the wave of Thragtusks proved to be too much. I do my same pile shuffle technique in Game 3 and we both keep seven. He comes out guns blazing, but my Huntmaster of the Fells into Thragtusk keeps me alive. I watch as he proceeds to flood out after I kill his last creature. My lesson here is if you think your opponent is doing something shady, make sure his deck is really randomized. A judge was watching our entire match so I didn’t have to ask him to watch my opponent as he shuffled my deck. Otherwise I would have called a judge to do so.

+1 Barter in Blood, +1 Abrupt Decay, +1 Dreadbore
-1 Groundseal, -2 Rakdos’s Return

My 6-1 record earned me the fifth seed heading in to the Top 8.

Quarterfinals vs. Bant Flash: I send a Rakdos’s Return at his face in Game 1 after I baited the Dissipate with a Huntmaster of the Fells. He responds with an Advent of the Wurm to start chipping away at my life. I wasn’t overly concerned since I had the Putrefy for it when I untapped. The problem was his draw step followed with Simic Charm into another Advent of the Wurm. Even Thragtusk wasn’t enough to save me from his aggressive draw. He goes down to five cards in Game 2 and I’m able to beat him with much ease. The final game brought my fears to fruition as he drops an AEthering with one open mana while I have no removal in my hand. I use Garruk to draw five cards, desperately trying to dig for an answer I knew wasn’t there. What I could do, however, is find another Thragtusk or Huntmaster of the Fells to keep me alive. Unfortunately I found neither and my Olivia in my hand didn’t have enough mana in play to support killing or stealing the AEtherling before it killed me.

+1 Liliana of the Veil, +1 Abrupt Decay, +1 Dreadbore, +2 Groundseal, +2 Duress, +1 Thundermaw Hellkite
-4 Pillar of Flame, -2 Tragic Slip, -2 Mizzium Mortars.

It was quite unfortunate that I couldn’t justify bringing in the Pithing Needle. If I had seen the AEtherling in either of the first two games, I would have brought it in instead of the Dreadbore. Sure enough I managed to predict my own demise at the hands of AEtherling.

The Top 4 continued on with Bant Flash against the new Naya Aggro and USA Control against the new Naya Reanimator. Aggro and USA advanced to the finals, where it took three games for Naya to come out ahead.

Vegas and Miami

It was very good for my confidence to make another PTQ Top 8 because I haven’t made one in a while. Overall I was very happy with how my deck performed and would only make minimal sideboard adjustments. The only two cards I wasn’t overly excited about were Underworld Connections and Deadbridge Chant. My opinion is probably skewed, however, since I didn’t play against a mirror match and the Connections comes in against Esper and the mirror, and Chant comes in against the mirror.

With no more IRL PTQs until the very last week of the season, I’m turning to GP Vegas and Miami for my golden ticket back on the Pro Tour. I am very excited for Vegas since Modern Masters is very similar to a poor man’s Cube or a better version of Master’s Edition from Magic Online. Since I cube more than most people I know and won the Master’s Edition IV Championships, I have to believe I am at least favored to make it deep into GP Vegas. Either way it going to be an amazing time and I hope to see many of you there.

John Cuvelier
Gosu. On MTGO
@JCuvelier on Twitter

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