The day before SCG Elite IQ Centerville, I had my deck of choice mostly built, but was three Falkenraths short of a full Aristocracy. I made some inquiries the following morning, and it became increasingly clear that I’m not going to have Falkenrath Aristocrats unless I purchase them, which was not a real option. So, I change plans — I have the Prime Speaker Bant deck basically built, and just need to dig the requisite cards out of my collection and sleeve it up. On my third search, I discovered that I had in fact left my Prime Speaker Zeganas at home. This leads us to change No. 2, and I began to pull cards for Esper Control — a deck that I also had built short of a few random cards. It was these few random cards, however, that kept me from sleeving up my third choice.
The wise and oddly fashionable bird look-alike, Jack Grannan, once told me regarding Standard, “You have to play Thragtusk, Sphinx’s Revelation, or Burning-Tree Emissary.” I tried to break the system with Aristocrats, tried to play ‘Tusks, and tried to play Revelation. Since none of those options were viable, I opted to build the Burning-Tree Emissary deck of choice, RG Aggro; partly because it has fewer dead draws late than Experiment Jund, but also because my friend Taylor Gunn already had the deck mostly built and I was running out of time to register. I pulled out 12 matching Mountains and was ready to go — well, almost.
It turns out I only had 11 matching Mountains, so instead of adding a random art Mountain for No. 12, I throw a Temple Garden in the deck to round out the 75. The reasoning is that a Temple Garden lets me play Flinthoof Boar on Turn 2, Boros Reckoner on Turn 3. This accounted for about 50 percent of my decision, with the other 50 percent purely based on the need to have matching basic lands.
Gruul the World
Round 1 — Esper Control
After a brief player’s meeting, the Round 1 pairings go up. I took a look at my table number and my opponent. Slack-jawed in disbelief, and wiping the cold sweat from my brow, I double-checked my pairing to find that my eyes were not deceiving me. I would have to do battle with future Pro Tour San Diego competitor and local legend William Comminos, a.k.a. Billy the Kid, a.k.a. Wilhelm, a.k.a. Commie Bill — you get the point. This guy had a different nickname from every playgroup he encountered, none which dared to say his name more audibly than a whisper for fear they would suffer the same twisted fate that I was staring down that morning: having to face Bill in a Magic the Gathering duel.
“Roll for choice?” I asked sheepishly, looking for any kindness, any mercy, any weakness in his stoic facade.
“Sure.” His response came without so much as looking down on me. Something I had expected, but could never have really been prepared for.
No weakness found.
Our first game was a blur. I played some early threats and was met with a Turn 4 Supreme Verdict; anticipating this, I played out a second army in a single turn, which was in kind met with a second Supreme Verdict. A Sphinx’s Revelation later, my opponent was way out of my reach. He was one step ahead of me every step of the way. He was in my head so often that he started moving furniture in to get comfortable.
I needed to shake this feeling. There was no way I could win tilting like I was, so I focused on my sideboard. Boros Reckoners are just 3/3s for three in this matchup, so they come out in favor of Skullcracks while the Mizzium Mortars are replaced by a Flames of the Firebrand and Pillar of Flame. Foolishly, I glance across the table and catch a glimpse of Bill smiling — not a fun smile that softens the mood, but a determined smile — the smile of a predator watching as his prey is backed into a corner.
On the play in Game 2, I produce a pretty solid start that is met similarly with an early wrath. Again, I put a second army together and attacked in, and upon Skullcracking my opponent in response to a Sphinx’s Revelation, I apply enough pressure to win.
I looked to my opponent, hoping to see at least a chip in that granite stoicism. Much to my dismay, I was simply met with a smile — it seemed this predator liked watching his prey struggle. Making no additional changes, I take a look at my opening seven and keep a fairly aggressive hand in Game 3. I play my one-drop, “Rak Cack unleashed.” I follow that up with a Burning-Tree Emissary into a second Rakdos Cackler, “Let’s make it Rak City”. Now at 18 life, my opponent looks at his draw intently and reveals a Terminus as he taps a single plains. “One-of,” he muses as I put my creatures on the bottom of my library. If he was trying to rattle me, it was certainly working.
I look at my hand of Flinthoof Boar, Searing Spear, two Skullcrack, and a Flames of the Firebrand. I untap and draw a land so the Boar can get into the red zone with haste. The boar is quickly dispatched, but I go Ash to Ash (Zealot) off the top of my deck to keep the pressure up and quickly put him into burn range as he digs for answers. I’m finally able to bait out a Revelation with a Searing Spear and capitalize with Skullcrack to seal the deal.
Round 2 — UR Delver
I found myself sitting across from a UR Delver deck that was certainly one of the more interesting builds I played against. I don’t have the exact decklist, but it featured such standouts as Delver of Secrets, Ral Zarek, Turn // Burn, Snapcaster Mage, and a full suite of burn. This is the kind of deck I can get behind, but in a metagame of Thragtusks and Restoration Angels, I don’t see how it can thrive. As I sideboarded, I felt that I had a pretty strong matchup.
Playing fewer lands and a full 32 creatures meant that as long as he was one-for-one with his removal on my threats, I would eventually triumph. Ral Zarek could throw a wrench in that plan, but you can’t play Ral without mana, and after a mull to five, my opponent found my hyper-aggressive deck punishes any mana issues brutally.
Round 3 — Reanimator
The suspicions that my opponent’s Turn 1 Avacyn’s Pilgrim had created were confirmed by a Turn 2 Grisly Salvage. It was here that I made my first play mistake. Realizing that I was playing against the reanimator matchup meant my gameplan had to be winning before Thragtusk hit the board, so my Turn 1 creature into Turn 2 Burning-Tree Emissary and Flinthoof Boar put me on that plan. If I had waited until Turn 3 to cast the Boar and give it haste, I could have adhered to one of magic’s most fundamental rules: You always bolt the bird. By not doing this, I left myself susceptible to his Turn 3 Restoration Angel followed by a Turn 4 Thragtusk.
I have Skullcracks, Tormod’s Crypt, and Ground Seal as options in the sideboard, but there is no way I want eight cards out of my maindeck. I’ve never felt like a resolved Ground Seal has done much of anything but slow down the aggressive player’s draws in this matchup. But Skullcrack gives me a lot of reach when the Thragtusks start hitting the board. In future rounds against this deck, my sideboard plan was:
This isn’t going to be a popular sideboarding opinion, but my thought was if he had the nut draw and reanimated a Turn 4 Angel of Serenity, then he had it. Sideboarding against nut draws makes me deviate from my gameplan way too much and as a result, lose more frequently to the average draws. It requires more testing for sure, but in the future I think I might remove the graveyard hate from the sideboard entirely. Needless to say, I lost this round, but had a better gameplan for sideboarding the matchup in the future.
Round 4 — Experiment Jund
This deck was similar to mine but splashing black, although I never saw any Experiment Ones. When stumbles on mana in Game 1 and doesn’t draw a black source, I punish his poor draw accordingly.
If I had known he was on the Jund deck, this would have been a terrible plan because Abrupt Decay does not care about Volcanic Strength and my deck can’t afford to get two-for-oned at all. As it turned out, it didn’t really matter because Stromkirk Noble into Burning-Tree Emissary and Volcanic Strength on the Noble was enough to seal the deal. My vampire quickly grew out of burn range and he didn’t draw the Abrupt Decay.
Round 5 — UWR Flash
It seemed that fate was indeed going to be a cruel mistress when I was paired against my good friend, fellow podcaster, life coach, and personal idol Taylor @Gunnin60seconds Gunn. Taylor is known for three things: being an award-winning hair stylist, extreme water displacement, and mind games in Magic. Once, in a Two-Headed Giant draft, he ran a bluff so hard that he had me totally convinced he had a spell to extort and we were on the same team so I could see his hand. I knew I had to have my wits about me if I were to stand a chance.
Taylor was playing UWR Flash featuring Boros Reckoner, a Minotaur Wizard determined to destroy decks such as my own. I knew if he drew his Reckoners early, that the game would get out of hand very quickly. These games seemed like an eternity, but actually went by very fast. Game 1 was largely a race between a few of my guys and a Geist of Saint Traft. As removal started hitting the table, I was left with a lone Ash Zealot and Taylor at eight life. My hand contained a Ghor-Clan Rampager should I get two swings in, but Taylor had me so sold on the Azorius Charm being in his hand that I sat on the Rampager and didn’t bloodrush him to play it safe. Instead, Ash Zealot went the distance.
My biggest opposition in this matchup is the combination of Boros Reckoner and removal. I can have an extremely difficult time pushing damage through, and am easily set up for getting two-for-oned if I block or try to burn the Reckoner out; instead of pushing through him, the plan was to go around him.
This plan was sketchy. I was playing around Azorius Charm, and I knew he had them, so I would have to play my Volcanic Strengths in situations where bare minimum it is as good as a Searing Spear to the dome — meaning I wouldn’t play them until he was tapped out. From there, any extra damage the aura does is just value. I knew he didn’t play Sphinx’s Revelation, otherwise Skullcrack would have been given more consideration.
Game 2 began with a pretty aggressive start on my board, and some tapped shocklands on his. He stabilized a bit to set up a race with Geist of Saint Traft before I started dabbling in a bit of Minotaur Wizardry myself. My Boros Reckoner died after playing a Searing Spear-fueled game of “Stop Hitting Yourself” with Taylor’s face. His minotaur brother quickly followed him onto the battlefield, and my few remaining creatures pushed through the last bit of damage.
Round 6 — RUG Walkers
This was a really interesting deck list that I will likely try to re-create and take to FNM in the near future. His maindeck had such heavy hitters as Tamiyo, the Moon Sage, Ral Zarek, Domri Rade, Garruk Relentless, Niv-Mizzet Dracogenius, Huntmaster of the Fells, the Izzet Staticaster + Nightshade Peddler combo, and Thragtusk. Onlookers referred to the deck as RUG Walkers, an uninspired name that hardly does the deck justice.
My opponent wins the die roll in Game 1 and passes the turn after playing a land. His army of humans proved to be no match for my amazing vampire trio of Stromkirk Noble, Stromkirk Noble, and Stromkirk Noble. The Stromkirk Triplets pretty easily coast to victory. The only removal I saw from this deck was in the form of walkers and staticasters, so Volcanic Strength seemed like a pretty solid inclusion for Game 2.
This game was slightly more interactive with his planeswalkers coming online, but damage-based removal doesn’t mix well with Boros Reckoners, and Hellrider eventually came down to seal the deal. This was an example of a very powerful and well-placed deck with a nervous pilot. I liked this guy’s deck a lot and although it seems to have a rough matchup against a real control deck, I feel like it’s very good against most of the field.
Round 7 — Intentional Draw
My opponent was 10k champion, Star City Games grinder, and chicken-nugget aficionado Lauren Nolan. Fortunately (for him), we were in a position to draw into Top 8. These cash tournaments generally play out where the Top 4 will split the cash because it is almost always better value for everyone involved. Each member of the Top 4 also receives an invitation to the next Star City Games Invitational, so at this point, my primary concern was getting a win in the quarterfinals. As I sat down across from my opponent, this task turned out to be much easier said than done.
Top 8 — Reanimator
He was playing first, and after a bit of mulliganing, I keep a hand of five — Rakdos Cackler, Burning-Tree Emissary, Searing Spear, Mountain, Rootbound Crag. He played Temple Garden and passed the turn, which puts him either on reanimator or Naya — either way, I would be facing down a Thragtusk very soon if I didn’t end this quickly. I draw another Mountain, so my first-turn Cackler is met with a second-turn Mulch into Angel of Serenity. Would my second match against reanimator end the same, or would I exact revenge?
My Turn 2 draw was a second Burning-Tree Emissary, so I successfully puke my hand onto the board and spear him in the face, and my mulligan is proving to be very effective. Almost any non-land off the top makes this a two-turn clock, which means he had to act now. On his turn, Grisly Salvage puts an Unburial Rites into his yard, essentially sealing my fate. I draw a Flinthoof Boar, which normally would have been amazing, but in this case only brings my opponent to six life before he stabilizes the next few turns with Angel of Serenity into Thragtusk into Restoration Angel.
My sideboarding goes as planned, and Game 2 is very one-sided in my favor when he whiffs on one of his digging spells. My opponent starts Game 3 with a mulligan to six, and I keep my seven although it is a slower hand — Stromkirk Noble, Ash Zealot, Boros Reckoner, Flinthoof Boar, Hellrider, Mountain, and Stomping Ground. My opponent was playing Acidic Slimes and not Thragtusks, so my Ash Zealots were free to enter the red zone with extreme prejudice.
The question after any tournament becomes: What changes should I make? I certainly want to change that sideboard around. Electrickery definitely makes the cut over Mortars and Flames, but I also want to cut those graveyard hate spells. Cards I will be trying out in those spots will likely include Domri Rade and some sort of Threaten effect. I would love Zealous Conscripts, but even I am not that greedy.
Looking back at my first Standard tournament in several weeks, with my fourth choice of deck, and very little preparation, I owe a lot of thanks to my crew, Team Cincy, for helping me get a deck together at the last minute. Adam Prosak, Taylor Gunn — you guys are the nut.
@Bluenu on Twitter
Trackback from your site.