GP: Omaha: Slaying Marvel with Gruul Aggro and a Side of Bacon

Written by Carl Wilt on . Posted in Competitive Magic, Standard

GP: Omaha: Slaying Marvel with Gruul Aggro and a Side of Bacon

Carl Wilt

Carl Wilt is a 20+ years player, and 15+ year judge, who has a strong affinity for all things Gruul. Pretty much any limited success he has seen is a direct result to playing (mostly bad) RG decks that no one was prepared for. Though, for one week only, we was the top rated player in Indiana by virtue of the season resetting on a GP weekend that no one else in the State played. It may be his crowning achievement.

I was neither born or raised in Nebraska. Thanks to the Air Force, though, I spent nearly 20 years of my life there. As a result, given that so many of my adult years were spent there, I kinda, sorta, maybe consider the 37th state home. Or at least tied with my actual home of origin, Ohio. When I saw during the annual announcements last Summer that the GP schedule included Omaha in 2017, I knew I would be attending, regardless of format. I have yet to miss a “hometown” GP, having attended the first ever Modern GP in Lincoln, NE in 2012, and the previous Omaha GP, also Modern, in 2015.

Personally, I’m more of a Modern aficionado, and will usually choose to play that format above all others. Omaha was Standard. Right off the bat, I was out of my comfort zone. Due to life in general and other interests, I’d only played in three paper events in the last year: GP: Indianapolis in August of 2016 (Modern), SCG Indianapolis in February of 1017 (Modern), and a lone Amonkhet Pre-release in April. I hadn’t played Standard outside of a few MTGO matches in well over a year. Seems to me, I was in perfect form to drive 600+ miles to play in a GP.

Choosing a deck is always difficult for me. Perhaps because I’m completely inflexible, I pretty much insist on always playing Gruul. No, I will not bastardize my beloved Gruul by splashing other colors, so Naya, Temur, and Jund can all just take a back seat. Theros Block Standard was pretty much my Nirvana. Of course, I also eschew the “net deck”. This has nothing to do with me thinking that net-decking is bad or lazy or done by lack of ability. For me, it is simply that I have finite time. As such, taking any deck directly from the “Best Decks” lists on the net and piloting them in any event of significant size leaves me at a severe and obvious disadvantage against opponents who have more knowledge about my deck than I do.  I’ve been playing long enough, and have enough overall experience, that I can, with a certain degree of success, extrapolate what any brew I play will do. Sure, I’m wrong sometimes. I also play very badly more often than not. But, every once in a while, the stars align and all is right in the world.

For Omaha, I knew I wasn’t playing Marvel, or Zombies, or Vehicles, but I scoured some lists to see if there was a Gruul deck that I really liked. To say the pickings were rather slim would be an understatement. During the course of my pursuit, I came across four options. There was the Gods list from Zvi, both a Pummeler and an Energy Aggro list from MTGO, and a sweet Creativity list from Conley Woods. Let’s do a quick review of each.

Zvi’s list really went all-in on the Gods plan, and utilized several discard outlets to take advantage of both Fiery Temper and Honored Hydra. My concern with the list was that it just didn’t feel like it did enough, and it didn’t seem efficient enough, to get to where it wanted to be. Other than Hazoret the Fervent, nothing had haste. Nothing could simply attack out of nowhere and win. I played a handful of games on XMage with it, and felt that it was something I would play at an FNM, but wasn’t keen on for Omaha.

Looking over the lists from MTGO did give me a couple options. This first list is a dedicated Pummeler list:

This second list is from a streamer I enjoy tuning into, ThunderMo_Hellkite. If you like turning guys sideways and watching them smash, I suggest you check him out. He does support more than just Gruul colors.

My issues with both of these lists probably lies in my experience with R/G Landfall almost two years ago when Battle for Zendikar released.  I did everything I could to try to make Landfall work in a dedicated deck. Alas, it was not to be. I ended up playing a bunch of sub-optimal decks and getting crushed at multiple FNMs. I even managed to 0-3-DROP several MTGO queues as well. Whether the Pummeler deck, with all the pump spells, or just the Energy Aggro deck, all I could see was a stack of losses piling up as I forced something that was inferior.  Obviously, I was probably incorrect, as my good friend, Austin Scarborough, piloted the Pummeler deck to a 10-5 finish at the GP. But, my feelings towards the deck colored my perceptions, so it was off the list.

The last deck I looked at was the Gruul Creativity deck that Conley was testing leading up to the GP.

I just loved this deck. I spent hours watching Conley stream it. I did have apprehensions about the deck. See, I’m no Conley Woods. I don’t think like Conley, or play like Conley. Watching the streams, I realized this as lines I saw and thought to play were completely different than his. And his appeared to work out a high percentage of the time. A deck of his creation that he could take to a 10+ win GP would more than likely net me nothing more than four wins in the same event. That’s not to say that the list wasn’t a possibility. I planned on building the deck, and there was about a 10% chance that I was going to shotgun into it the morning of the event. An interesting thing happened though.

Conley is just getting back into paper Magic, and while he had planned on attending the GP, he had no cards for it. He sent out the Bat Signal ™ on Facebook a few days before the GP looking for cards. Since I had all the cards and was planning on having it built anyway, I made the offer that I would just lend him the entire deck, saving him time and effort from borrowing cards from multiple people and trying to locate all those people and return stuff when he was done. He accepted my offer. Unfortunately, through a series of ride and health issues, he was a late, last minute, scratch from the event.

Enough with the preamble. What did I actually choose to play? Let me give you a list, and then I will provide a summary of some of the choices.

So, this was the 75 I took into battle. I feel like I do owe a bit of an explanation on some of the choices.

As I stated earlier, I really did not relish the idea of playing an Energy Aggro deck. That being said, there is a significant lack of power in the one-to-three drop range for Gruul. All the real power is with the Energy creatures. As such, I had to concede that my early game would revolve almost entirely around that. Where I differed was that, with the exception of Rhonas the Indomitable, I insisted on having nothing but creatures with haste above the two-drop slot. I wanted my creatures to turn sideways as soon as possible, and to change my opponents’ lines of play. Sure, they could wipe the board, or set up trades in such a way to believe they were stabilized, but I could almost always attack right back, and get in for a quick four damage. My high desire to have haste threats was also one of the reasons I deviated from the norm and did not play Bristling Hydra, instead choosing to go with Crocodile of the Crossing. Simply having a 4/3 that sits for a turn and can protect itself once, assuming previous energy was used, didn’t seem that scary to me when I could be swinging for four, or even five if I dumped the counter on another creature.

The single Decimator of the Provinces was game breaking. In a format where there are going to be a few board stalls against the likes of the quasi-mirror, Zombies, or Vehicles, having a way to go “over the top” was great. I would even consider a second one, in place of Collective Defiance, if I were to play again. It was that useful. The ability to turn five, Exert Glorybringer, and turn six, sacrifice Glorybringer to Emerge the pig for a mere four mana took more than one opponent by surprise.

Many of the sideboard choices were expected inclusions, but there are a couple that I was asked about. Insult/Injury and Burn from Within are the two that were most commonly questioned by friends. Insult/Injury served a dual purpose. Not having byes, I feared I would play against a random New Perspectives deck, and I really did not want to lose to fog/cycle-for-200-minutes plan. It also was useful against Marvel. A lot of the plan against Marvel is to make them have it, and hit, on turn four or five, or they just lose. Insult is a perfect card for that. Burn from Within was about the best X-spell I could play. It hit players or creatures, and allowed for an answer to other gods or Ulamog, since it removes indestructibility.

Rather than going round by round, I’ll provide a brief summary of my days, and how my match ups went against each archetype.

My pre-GP day, on Friday, was excellent. Really, other than getting to catch up with my awesome Omaha crew friends, I got the sweet news that I got the Glorybringer playmat. See, originally, only those that registered by May 1st were going to get the mat. I didn’t register until the 2nd and was disappointed I wouldn’t get one. I was loathe to pay an extra $40 to get both the GP mat and the secondary mat with the upgraded entry fee. Apparently, there were so few pre-registrations by the cut-off date that they extended the date to move the mats. It was a pleasant surprise. My day one ended at 6-3, with my final round loss. While disappointed that I didn’t get to 7-2 to end the day, I was at least happy to know there were some more rounds to play and I didn’t have to pour money into side events all day Sunday. My day two started rather poorly, with a loss, followed by a round 11 bye. I managed to rattle off three more wins before taking a loss in the final round for my win-and-in for cashing. Overall, I finished in 99th place out of 832 players. Not a bad finish for someone who tested two games on Xmage with my final deck, and never actually shuffled up the physical cards I played until the first round. Overall, in the fourteen actual rounds I played, I faced six different archetypes. Here’s how those matchups went.

UR Control, Rnd 6, 0-1

This match played out almost how I expected. I crushed him in the first game. I brought in Prowling Serpopard and Nissa, Vital Force for Pig, Collective Defiance, Blossoming Defense, and two Harnessed Lightning. The next two games, I mulligan into oblivion once, and fail to draw any sideboard cards in the other. Both games, I did manage to get my opponent into single digits until they took control. It was unfortunate, but it happens. I don’t think this matchup is that poor.

Mardu Vehicles, Rnd 15, 0-1

My only match against vehicles builds the entire event. I did offer my opponent the draw into Top 64, but was given the, “No, sir.”  We played and I mulligan to four cards game one, seeing only two mountains as my lands, and not playing a single spell. I bring in both Manglehorn and two Sweltering Suns for Collective Defiance, Blossoming Defense, Pig, and one Harnessed Lightning. I mulligan immediately in the second game, but proceed to draw useful things and run over my opponent. I misplayed the third game. After another mulligan, I kept a hand of Forest, double Attune, Elephant, Sweltering Suns and Crocodile. I locked in on playing Elephant on turn two, so played turn one Attune for second Forest, and turn two Attune for Mountain and play Elephant. I just assumed I would draw the second red. I never drew another land, never got rid of his vehicle enabling creatures, and lost. Not sure exactly how it plays out if I play correctly, and I may have still lost, but I never gave myself a chance.

Zombies, Rnd 2 & 4, 1-1

Both of these matches played out exactly how I thought they would. This is as close to a 50/50 matchup as there is, which is exactly what I thought. In fact, even the game count over the two matches was 3-3. I bring in all three Sweltering Suns and Heaven/Earth, and take out Collective Defiance (you may be noticing this card comes out quite a bit…like, pretty much every time), Blossoming Defense, and two Harnessed Lightning. It quickly turns into a creature battle, and by bigger creatures hope to get there before their lords make things more difficult. These were two of my more enjoyable matches of the two days.

Junk Rites, Rnd 1, 1-0

This was a deck I was completely unprepared for. It was nowhere near my thoughts as I was getting ready for the tournament. I boarded in Sweltering Suns for Collective Defiance, Blossoming Defense, and Harnessed Lightning. Overall, it was not a bad matchup and big, fat creatures turning sideways quickly seriously impacts the Rites deck’s ability to stabilize and set up their plan.

Temur Energy, Rnd 7 & 13, 2-0

Playing against this deck, it just feels like it’s a worse Marvel deck, without the ability to Marvel. Neither match was very competitive, nor really that compelling. I board in Sweltering Suns for Collective Defiance, Harnessed Lightning, and Blossoming Defense, and then proceed to just turn all the fatties sideways until I win. I’m sure this deck had some good matchups, or at least better than what it had against Gruul Aggro. I’m just not sure exactly what those are.

Marvel, Rnd 3, 5, 8, 9, 10, 12 & 14, 5-2

Yep, you are reading that correctly. Exactly half the matches I played were against the bully of the format. As I stated earlier, my plan against Marvel is to force them to have Marvel, have six Energy, and hit Ulamog on turn four or five, or just lose. This is a matchup where creature with haste crashing in early and often really pays off. My sideboard plan against Marvel is pretty simple. I bring in both Manglehorn, one Insult/Injury, two Sweltering Suns, Burn from Within, and Kari Zev’s Expertise. I remove Pig, Collective Defiance, Blossoming Defense, and all the Harnessed Lightning. Overall, I like my plan. Are there times they do have it? Obviously. But, winning roughly 70% of my matches against the top deck in the format seems to indicate that I’m not dead to it and things played out the way I expected.

I loved this deck, and would play it again in a heartbeat. There are changes I would make. Collective Defiance doesn’t belong on the deck. I’m also kinda iffy about Blossoming Defense. While randomly useful, it was never so useful that I just had to keep it in. When I needed to make that one more cut, it was frequently chosen. It is not unreasonable to think I could play a second Pig and Heaven/Earth main, while adding a third Manglehorn to the sideboard.

While this isn’t a Tournament Report proper, I would be remiss if I didn’t include a brief set of Props and Slops.

Props:

To my Omaha crew for doing so well. James Russell went 11-4 (33rd) to cash with Esper Vehicles, Austin Scarborough went 10-5 (77th) with RG Pummeler, and defending GP: Omaha champ Erik Peters went 10-5 (68th) with Jeskai Vehicles. Special mention to Steve Perigo, who made day 2 with his differing version of Gruul Aggro, before dropping to celebrate the 15th Anniversary of his 29th birthday.

To Nick Allmaker, who graciously allowed me to crash at his place for the six days I was in town. It was much appreciated.

To AJ Anton, who hosted a nice post-GP BBQ at his place Monday night, even though work requirements didn’t permit him to play.

To my round 14 opponent, Nick Ingram, who, even in defeat, had nothing but good things to say about my deck, and got a copy of the list to play at his local FNM. An all-around good dude.

Lastly, to most of the staff that ran the event and the Cascade Games crew. Round turnover was phenomenal both days, and the event ran like a well-oiled machine.  You did a great job.

Slops:

Only one to give out. To the judge who felt it was necessary to interrupt my round ten match because I got a phone notice beep on my phone, which was in my pocket, while he saw someone at a nearby table sending a text, and felt it necessary to warn both my opponent and me about the use of electronic devises…which neither of us were using. Look, if you saw me with my phone out during a match, or I asked to read something on my phone during a match, by all means, give me a stern warning or lecture. Interrupting my match to tell us both not to do something we weren’t doing? That’s unacceptable. If not for my good nature and affable attitude, there was a possibility I would have taken the rest of the day to stop you between judge calls and the like to warn you not to do something you weren’t actually doing…like bringing in outside food or drink to the venue.

All in all, Omaha was awesome. The event was well run, and I got to spend several days catching up with some of the best friends a person could ask for. Hell…it probably would have been great had I gone 0-4 drop and just hung out with my buddies.

Until next time…

Peace….
Carl Wilt

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