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Finding the Right Mix

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

I don’t get to big tournaments very often, so when I do go to one, I put all of my effort into preparing. And then some.

Tediousness has a positive effect on me. Doing the same thing over and over until I have it down to a science interests me. I’m no stranger to spending 10 hours working on a specific configuration of a deck, just to scrap the configuration altogether and try a new one for another 10 hours. I don’t know what it is, but I’m intrigued by the act of taking the time to figure out everything you can about the smallest thing.

I’m the same way with my other expensive hobby, spending hours on end to make the perfect DJ mix before doing it again! One of the goals is similar: To develop something that will give me the best position in a given setting. The fact that each of my “careers” has the factor of no two events being exactly the same gives me incentive to work on it each time.

Playing in a tournament is like going to a show or nightclub, only you’re the DJ, and it’s your performance that determines how well the event goes.

Educated Decisions

Ultimately, the end product is something I’m comfortable with. Reliable. I’m generally not a fan of audibles or last-minute card choices, mostly because there’s a good chance that most of them are based off of what you see in the room, something your friend tells you, or lack of confidence in one’s decisions. Unless someone gives me a damn good reason, I’m not going to play this “super-tech” card my friend told me about five minutes before the player meeting, over a card that is going to give me exactly what I’m looking for.

I actually think “tech” in general is grossly overrated. Too many players actively try to find obscure, unusual, and/or downright inapplicable cards, just for the sake of doing it. They apply no reasoning. While I understand the action of this seemingly awesome, but actually lackluster, card in your 75 and using it is great for telling a story, you aren’t going to a PTQ, Grand Prix, or Pro Tour to “tell a story.”

Sure, you’ll have that card win you a game once in the tournament, but are you really playing that card because it’s the best card for the role that you’re looking to fill? Do you even need that role in the first place? This is assuming that you couldn’t have played said game differently, keeping you from being in a bad spot in the first place. Oh, come on … don’t sit there acting like you haven’t created a conundrum in your head before, where you find that one situation that makes your decision justified. “But when my opponent Path’s my Delver of Secrets when he’s at three life, that one-of Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle in my RUG Delver deck is going to be awesome!”

It’s OK. I’ve done it, too. You should hear some of my stories …

Archetype Selection

This week is my first SCG Open since Washington D.C. I went 8-2 in the Standard portion of that event, which was good enough for 11th place in one of the biggest Standard Opens ever. When preparing for that event, I grinded R/G Aggro against Delver decks constantly, learning as much as I could about that matchup. I knew that deck was going to be popular, so I wanted to make sure I had a handle on both sides.

This time there is no obvious best deck in the format, though R/B aggro has been making a surge in results, taking down two American Grands Prix in a row. Everyone is going to be gunning for it, but I’m not sure how best to directly combat it. Bant Control is certainly the deck with the most obvious answers, but I can’t help but feel that if said Bant deck stumbles, it’s a ridiculously difficult fight. Being a stone master (A.K.A. Reid Duke) certainly helps, but my lack of familiarity with the deck — and with control in general — made it an unattractive choice for such an event.

The next option was playing mono-red, but Rhox Faithmender single-handedly steered me away. I wanted something with more staying power that could reliably combat Thundermaw Hellkite, Supreme Verdict and Thragtusk. If it meant I had to sacrifice a little bit of reach, then that’s fine.

G/W seemed to fit what I was looking for, but there are a ton of ways of building it. I knew I didn’t want to play a humans theme because of cards like Azorius Charm, Searing Spear and Loxodon Smiter. I didn’t want to work that hard to make my one-drops good. The mana dork route looked more attractive, because I could power out Loxodon Smiters and Restoration Angels and such. It also makes Gavony Township much better, since it comes online sooner. The more I thought about it, the more I wanted to go a bit bigger than the other G/W decks, while still being able to combat the control and R/B decks.

Searching for Answers

These were the core cards I wanted:

4 Avacyn’s Pilgrim
4 Arbor Elf
4 Loxodon Smiter
4 Restoration Angel
4 Selesnya Charm

These cards don’t need much explanation, but it’s the cards that aren’t on this list that are more interesting than it seems. The three-drop of choice, while seemingly obvious, isn’t an easy choice. Silverblade Paladin has proven itself as one of the best creatures in the format this past week, and can definitely pack a huge punch when given the chance. I question it’s power level when not having Rancor, though, and I’m not sure if I’m playing Rancor. The more midrange you become with the deck, the less effective Rancor is. And the less effective Rancor is, the less effective Silverblade Paladin is.

The counter-argument is to “not be midrange” and/or “just be aggro”. But that isn’t the point. Knowing how cards scale in effectiveness as the nature of a given archetype changes is super important. Just jamming a “good” card into a deck without reasoning is going to end up being a bad idea more often than not.

The other three-drop I’m considering is Wolfir Avenger. He’s pretty well positioned because it can fight Thragtusk, Zombies and Champion of the Parish. Having him come down on Turn 2 is pretty important as well. He also isn’t prone to combat tricks like Silverblade Paladin, and he is great to cast during or after a Supreme Verdict. Running some number of both isn’t out of the question, but it depends on how big I want to go. I’m unsure exactly how good Armada Wurm is right now, and if it’s worth considering over Garruk, Primal Hunter or more five-drops.

Another interesting conundrum is Thalia, Guardian of Thraben versus planeswalkers. Thalia is an incredibly effective card against control decks, and it has proven so time and time again in multiple formats. She is extremely limiting on your deck as well, allowing only a handful of cheap spells in your maindeck. Planeswalkers are almost out of the equation (at least when building optimally). Garruk, Primal Hunter and Farseek are cards I really want to cast because they allow me to head in the direction I want to be heading.

While Thalia isn’t by any means bad against aggro decks, I get so much more breathing room if I bench her. Farseek does feel a tad underwhelming in a two-color deck, but I’m not opposed to splashing another color. Black seems good because of Sorin, Lord of Innistrad, Lingering Souls and Ultimate Price. Red gives me Bonfire of the Damned and Huntmaster of the Fells. Blue only seems to give me Sphinx’s Revelation, and I think the other options are more attractive.

I also want to explore the possibility of Cloudshift. This card makes protecting your soulbonds much easier, while making Thragtusk even more insane. I feel compelled to play Centaur Healer over Loxodon Smiter though, and while I’m at it, Trostani, Selesnya’s Voice. Armada Wurm seems awesome with Cloudshift, too, now that I think about it. My issue with all of this is Supreme Verdict/Terminus. Cloudshift is pretty embarrassing when someone casts a sweeper, but Rancor and Faith’s Shield don’t help against sweepers either. Cloudshift This may be too cute to bring to the event, but it’s definitely something I’d want to try at some point.

Yeva, Nature’s Herald has impressed me a lot lately. Her second ability isn’t incredibly relevant, but sometimes you just need an instant speed 4/4. Restoration Angel is the only other big threat at the four-drop spot other than Deadbridge Goliath. I’m a big fan of the Goliath because I actually think it’s a heavy hitter that gives you a ton of upside the longer the game goes. But for now, the instant speed of Yeva outshines. I’d much rather have an Restoration Angel than Yeva, Nature’s Herald, but I definitely can’t complain about adding her to the curve. She also does some neat things with Wolfir Silverheart should I choose to play it.

Subject to change, of course.

Collective Blessing has been growing on me, and one that’s been doing very well on Magic Online this past week. I’m eager to try it out, since Strangleroot Geist and I haven’t hung out in a while anyways. I’m pretty excited to be casting Strangleroot Geist again. In a field of super-fast aggro decks, Strangleroot Geist is great at holding things down long enough to set up your Collective Blessing, which is very difficult to beat when resolved.

Garruk Relentless is powerful against opposing Thragtusks, and ground creatures in general. And it doesn’t seem very uncommon to use Garruk as a four-mana removal spell. Resolving a Turn 3 Garruk is backbreaking against Bant Control, especially because cards like Detention Sphere are on the decline (due to the inclusion of Augur of Bolas).

This configuration is exactly what I’d want to bring to an Open Series this week. It has a strong early game against the current aggro decks, enough removal for both small and large creatures, and an endgame that’s completely out of nowhere, and doesn’t require too much set up. Hopefully I can come to a good enough list, and most importantly, play it well. I hope to see you guys there.

Until next time, I have a trophy to win.

Thanks for reading

~Firebranded
Twitter: @aulowry

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