This article was initially going to be about my awesome experience at SCG Baltimore, what deck I played, how I fared against the field, yada yada. Then a “severe flu” happened, according to my doctor. I was sidelined for almost two weeks.
Being forced to take off from card slinging was pretty lame for the first few days, just sitting (or laying) there, hardly able to watch coverage at some points, and eating approximately infinite soup and crackers. I wanted to be in the action so bad. I even tried to convince my dad to drive me to Baltimore while I made every attempt to recover. His reply: “Only if you walk back.” I folded.
I did, however, get a lot of time to think about where I wanted to be in the game, how I wanted to get there, and how much time I actually needed to spend doing it. Taking a good look at myself was pretty necessary at this point, mostly because I was being incredibly results-oriented. Forcing myself to put up results and “be somebody” in the community. I think if I kept going with this mindset for much longer, then I would have suffered a pretty extreme burnout. Maybe getting sidelined was exactly what I needed.
I’m a huge advocate of spending as much time as you can practicing if you’re serious about improving. This is definitely not the only way, though. Many of the best players in the world don’t play as much Magic as one would think. Have they put in a lot of time before their time of stardom? I’d say probably. It isn’t always the case though. One thing is for certain. One of the reasons why many of the best players in the world are that is because they don’t worry about how good people think they are.
That is definitely worthy of it’s own article, but to put it as simply as possible: The less you worry about how good or bad other people are, the more focus you can put into improving yourself. Gauging players is a waste of time and effort. Nobody is going to think better of you because you think you can beat anyone in your store.
Sweating the Small Stuff
My first event after recovering from my flu was an StarCityGames Invitational Qualifier at Undiscovered Realm in New York. I haven’t even shuffled a deck in a week-and-a-half (it felt like a year-and-a-half). It felt a lot like how it felt when I was at the SCG Open in Washington D.C. It wasn’t forced. I didn’t worry about winning, losing, or even making mistakes. I was back to my mindset this summer, just playing to the best of my ability, accepting that I was going to make mistakes, learning from those mistakes, and honing my ability.
I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again: If you felt that you played as best as you could, and know what you could have done differently, then you did well, regardless of if you actually won or lost. Complaining about mana-screw, flood, your opponent drawing his or her one-outer, or anything of the sort doesn’t help you get better. Get over it. Focus on if YOU could have done anything differently to prevent those situations. Don’t complain about mana screw when you kept a one-land hand on six in your Standard Bant Control deck. You could have done something about that, regardless of if you actually wind up with a hand that has a chance in that game.
I wound up making Top 8 at the IQ with Naya Midrange, a deck that feels very similar to R/G aggro in the previous Standard season. The deck is supposed to have a good matchup against the R/B aggro decks, but I think it’s mores Bonfire of the Damned than anything. I wound up getting crushed by that exact deck in the quarterfinals after a huge mistake on Turn 2, one that I made before in the same tournament.
I kept a five of Farseek, Elvish Visionary, Forest, Cavern of Souls and Selesnya Charm, I wound up playing the Elvish Visionary on Turn 2 instead of Farseek, and by the time I got Farseek off, my opponent hit with a 5/2 Falkenrath Aristocrat via exalted. If I cast Farseek first and just took the three damage from Knight of Infamy, I would have been able to Selesnya Charm the Aristocrat.
He had Thundermaw Hellkite and I would have lost anyway, but it still doesn’t excuse the fact that I could have played it better. This example is what I mean on improving through tactics, not results. It’s very easy for me to say “It doesn’t matter, because I would have lost anyway,” but what if my opponent didn’t have that Thundermaw Hellkite? What if that similar situation happens in a different game, would it not matter then? Would you be OK with letting yourself make the same play? It didn’t matter before, so why should it matter then?
Going for Broke
The Naya Midrange deck has a lot of powerful high end cards at its disposal, especially at the top of the curve. Being able to play Thragtusk, Thundermaw Hellkite, Restoration Angel, Loxodon Smiter, Bonfire of the Damned and Garruk, Primal Hunter in the same deck is nothing short of sweet. I wound up bringing the deck to a Grand Prix Trial this past weekend. Showing up locked me in for my second bye for the next season, but like the popular saying, I came to game. I wanted to try something different with the deck though, and be as greedy as possible. I haven’t seen any Naya deck that fit Thundermaw Hellkite and Garruk, Primal Hunter in the 60 along with three Cavern of Souls. I said “Challenge Accepted.”
Naya Midrange by Anthony Lowry
Not going to lie, this list was pretty greedy. I’m very happy I tried it, though. While Thundermaw Hellkite is a ridiculously powerful card, I don’t think it’s at its best potential in Naya. It messes up your manabase, even with Borderland Ranger to help support it. I think I’d rather go with Angel of Serenity for now. I was very disappointed in Selesnya Charm, and would try to make some room for Searing Spear or Oblivion Ring. Other than that, I really didn’t have any major issues with the maindeck. In the sideboard, Triumph of Ferocity and Silklash Spider were both amazing, and are very key to helping defeat the midrange and aggro decks, respectively. Garruk Relentless was pretty average, but I’ll probably keep him in, mostly because he comes down a turn before an opponent’s Garruk, Primal Hunter on the draw, which is huge.
This is what I’d go with for this week:
Naya Midrange 2.0 by Anthony Lowry
This is not set in stone, but it’s where I want to start for this week. I know I say this about nearly every deck I put up, but I’m very excited to be playing this archetype, despite the huge popularity of R/B aggro. As always, any questions or comments are more than welcome.
Standard Power Rankings
As a disclaimer: This section is only my opinion. This is not the end all-be all of the format, and it should not be taken as such.
10. Kessig Wolf Run
Kessig Wolf Run is one of the only cards in the format that can race multiple Thragtusks and Sphinx’s Revelations for doing something as fundamental as it gets, hitting your land drops. It’s one of the reasons why Naya decks have so much game against Bant Control, and is only going to get better as the format moves into Gatecrash.
9. Unburial Rites
Still a necessary component to reanimator lists, Unburial Rites into (insert huge creature here) is still going to win games, plain and simple. No matter your flavor of reanimator, this card is still the most powerful Game 1 tool in the format, and can still punish those that skimp on the graveyard hate.
8. Falkenrath Aristocrat
Let’s ask ourselves a serious question. How many times have you prepared for fighting opposing Gravecrawlers, Knights of Infamy, Thundermaw Hellkites and Hellriders, only to get completely destroyed by a Falkenrath Aristocrat? It’s OK, we’ve all been there. I can only name about three or four cards off the top of my head that can profitably deal with an Aristocrat heads up, and some of them are either really bad against everything else, or aren’t practical. Our rich vampire friend has spawned many a frustration among players, and will continue to do so for tournaments to come.
7. Cavern of Souls
Having Cavern of Souls in the format is highly influential on how people build and play their decks. You can’t go too far in on your countermagic because of it; you may not be able to afford to lose the pseudo-free mana-fixing in your creature deck by not playing it; and you have to keep it in mind when you’re playing cards that don’t interact favorably with it (in Cavern’s case, noncreature spells). This will be a trending thing as the list goes on.
6. Garruk, Primal Hunter
The best planeswalker in the format, and it’s not particularly close. Garruk, Primal Hunter almost single-handedly drove Jace, Architect of Thought out of the throne. Garruk gives green decks a way to keep up with the Sphinx’s Revelations of the format, while still being able to profitably answer Thragtusks, assorted zombies and stalemates. Jace is much better than Garruk at breaking stalemates, but isn’t nearly as effective at handling the ground creatures being played right now without help. Did I mention the synergy with Kessig Wolf Run? Garruk, Primal Hunter is a mainstay for green midrange decks, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him more often with Jace as well.
5. Restoration Angel
I’d say that Restoration Angel has never been better than she is now. Never mind the obvious synergy with Thragtusk, Centaur Healer and [cardThundermaw Hellkite[/card]. (Didn’t think of that one, did you?) There hasn’t been a better time to be a 3/4 flyer, which can trade with a Thragtusk, dodge a Searing Spear, hold off a Thundermaw Hellkite for a turn, keep the wheels turning after a wrath, or force a sacrifice against a Falkenrath Aristocrat. Restoration Angel will be turning bad situations into great ones, one end step at a time.
If you’re building a green midrange or control deck, then you’re playing four of these. Reid Duke said recently that the percentage of games he’s won with Farseek on Turn 2 far outweighs the game’s he’s won without one, and as an avid Rampant Growth enthusiast, I certainly believe him. Farseek is the reason why midrange decks can get away with playing so many four- and five-drops, and why cards like Sphinx’s Revelation are so much better when a Farseek has been cast on Turn 2. Farseek is the second major pillar of the format.
Woah, woah, woah. Why the heck is this card not No. 1? Well, for starters, the aggro decks have figured out how to beat a Thragtusk. Actually, no, the aggro decks have figured out how to beat multiple Thragtusks. It goes without saying that the card is still probably the most influential card in the format. It’ll always be played, and it’ll still take over games, no matter how prepared one could be.
2. Sphinx’s Revelation
It’s pretty surprising to me how long it took for this card to catch on. Sphinx’s Revelation is pretty much the reason why control decks can exist right now, and is the most powerful heads-up card in the format by far. When one Revelation resolves, even for an amount as small as two, the game can become incredibly hard to win for the opponent. If another one resolves after that, then go to Game 2. I haven’t been playing long, but this is one of the most powerful momentum-based cards since Primeval Titan.
1. Thundermaw Hellkite
The card that makes blue mages squirm in their seat. The card that makes players let out a sigh of worry when their opponent says: “Are you tapped out?” or, “You’re at five?” Thundermaw Hellkite is the best finisher, the best answer to Thragtusk, the best answer to planeswalkers, the best answer to Sphinx’s Revelation, the best red card, the best creature, and has a pretty sick mohawk to boot. It’s so difficult to answer Thundermaw in this current format without having that answer be bad against many of the other threats Thundermaw decks could be playing. You’ll be dying to many more Thundermaws through Gatecrash and beyond.
Thanks for reading
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