It’s been a minute since I’ve played Standard. With the holidays rolling around, and a potential Regionals trip coming up, my focus has been shifted more to Modern recently, especially with lack of focus on constructed Magic as a whole from a coverage perspective. Once the Players’ Championship had wrapped, there really wasn’t any Magic to watch. Family obligations and holidays being on Fridays also kept me from participating at my local shops. I hadn’t really played Magic since mid-December.
In the back of my mind though, there was a looming IQ about an hour from my home on January 2, the first weekend of the New Year. I was quietly preparing for that, thinking about which deck may be well positioned for the weekend. A few visits to the regular internet watering holes showed me what had been happening in the leagues on Magic Online, and I wasn’t too excited to see that there had actually been some surprising decks coming up through the woodwork.
I saw that Jeskai Black almost entirely had gone to Painful Truths and Monastery Mentor in the maindeck, and dropped Mantis Rider all together. This got me excited, because it shored up some of the mana requirements of the deck, something that caused me to dislike the deck when I played it.
I also saw that there was a new (to me at least) build of Mardu running around built pretty much on prowess, utilizing the growing popularity of Monastery Mentor and Painful truths as well. It just seemed the deck was happy not playing Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy. I wasn’t too excited that an almost brand new archetype popped up, as I had very few videos of it to watch, and I hadn’t played against it to know its interactions as well as I’d like.
So, a couple of days before this IQ I had been planning to go to, I start the usual text messages to my long-time confidant-in-Magic Joe Cammerino. These conversations usually go something like this: I’ll tell Joe I have the best deck or a deck I’m comfortable with playing and feel I’ll do well with, then I try to convince him to tell me to play a different deck. He’ll just give me the “You’re crazy play your original deck,” or “Idk man,” (that’s when I know I’ve annoyed him).
We came to the conclusion finally that the R/G Landfall deck I had piloted to a win a few weeks ago was still fine, and I didn’t have much experience with any of the other decks. Joe convinced me that we were just going to have fun (as a Spike, a laughable statement), and hangout with others that would be attending that we were friendly with, since he hadn’t played Magic in more than a month due to his own schedule of work and personal obligations.
Joe had been a long-time proponent of running Makindi Sliderunners over Snapping Gnarlids. He was the main reason I put one in the list from a couple weeks ago. After that event, he convinced me to try to replace all of the Gnarlids with Sliderunners, which I did.
However, I immediately switched back after I drew an opening hand of Scythe Leopard, Forest, Forest, Windswept Heath, Makindi Sliderunner, Titan’s Strength, Abbot of Keral Keep. If that Makindi Sliderunner was a Gnarlid, this hand is a peach. Since I consider myself poor at designing mana bases (how many basic lands if I have x cards in that color with y mana symbols of that color), I just switched back to the tried and true Snapping Gnarlids.
I felt fine with the list, not overly ecstatic, but fine. 40 people, 6 rounds. One of the bigger IQs for our area, but not out of the norm. Time to see if this baby can put in a deep run, or if I was just getting lucky.
Round 1 – Bobby on Temur Eldrazi/Ramp
Bobby is a player from one of the local stores I visit, and we’ve played each other before. He was mostly there to have fun, and came with some of his friends. Game 1 he doesn’t even let himself play Magic when he keeps what is seemingly a 2 Lumbering Falls hand and doesn’t make any more land drops. I just knock him off before his fifth turn.
In game 2, I put him on ramp, but am not 100% sure, so I do light sideboarding, I put in 2 Arc Lightnings and take out 2 Atarka’s Command. Looking back, this was incorrect, and the Arc Lightnings should have just been Wild Slashes. I was trying to be cute though, and it was close to costing me the game.
He gets a better start in game 2, and has some Dispels for some of my early pump action. Eventually however, he gets down to one card in his hand, and six mana plus a mana dork with summoning sickness. I Arc Lightning the dork to keep him off Ugin, and the extra turn allows me to deal the damage I need to beat him.
1-0. Happy with my start, but beating a player I know from the local shops isn’t a good barometer for my day usually.
Round 2 – Alex on Esper Dragons
I find out that Alex had just won a sealed PPTQ type event on Magic online the day before this event, and he is playing in the PTQ type event the day after this event. I send him my best wishes for making the Pro Tour, and hope he did well!
Game 1, I’m able to curve out on him pretty handily. His interaction was a Silumgar’s Scorn on turn 2 followed by a Foul-Tongue Invocation revealing Dragonlord Ojutai on three. However, when he taps out for Dragonlord Ojutai on turn 5, he gives me the green light to just combo him out for more than lethal.
Game 2, his interaction is a bit better, since I slow my deck down postboard, but I play the chip damage game. When he runs out of Negates and Scatter to the Winds, his only action in hand is Dragonlord Silumgar and Ugin, the Spirit Dragon, both for which he doesn’t have the mana. I just keep attacking him until he Duresses me, sees my hand of Wild Slash and Abbot of Keral Keep while I have five damage coming through next turn on board, and he concedes.
2-0. I love playing Splinter Twin in Standard.
Round 3 – RJ on Dark Jeskai.
From everything I’ve read about the R/G Landfall deck, Dark Jeskai is the hardest matchup for the deck. Really it’s any black/white control style deck, it’s just Dark Jeskai is the most prevalent of those. However, I’m positive against the deck in matches going into this round.
Game 1 goes exactly how the matchup plans it. I mulligan to five, and don’t really put up much of a fight, his deck is just so good at beating me game 1, I just accept my fate after a few turns and he establishes multiple Soulfire Grandmasters and a thirty life point advantage over me.
Game 2, I dodge Negates to land an Outpost Siege, and I just grind him out of the game. We trade for a while back and forth, but eventually he either runs out of steam, or has to take damage from Painful Truths to draw more cards while I’m essentially playing with a one-sided Howling Mine.
Game 3, I am very excited to keep a hand of Rending Volley, Rending Volley, Outpost Siege, 4 lands. My friend Joe later on told me he thought that hand was sketchy, but your opening hand should be based on what the matchup is about. The keep was correct also, since RJ’s plan was to use his turn 2 Jace to find white mana. My Rending Volley meets his Jace, and we both play land go for many turns. Actually I play land go, RJ gets stuck on lands. I eventually force through a Sarkhan and Outpost Siege, and start making Den Protectors, while he finally finds his white mana in an untimely Shambling Vent.
3-0. I’m really happy at this point. I’m playing well, mulliganing correctly, and having a great time with my friends.
Round 4 – Mike on Abzan.
Abzan to me always seems like a scary deck, and rightfully so. They can curve just as well as my deck can, they just don’t have the combo element. Instead they have stupid Siege Rhino. Their creatures are generally better than mine as well.
Game 1, we both do our thing for the first couple of turns. Him not having a Warden on 1 is very good. He ends up with an Anafenza, the Foremost and an Heir of the Wilds in play against my Scythe Leopard and Snapping Gnarlid. We both attack back and forth for a while. My main concern is to just keep my life above three so I don’t get Rhino’d out. I’m not sure if he was scared, or just didn’t have anything, but he didn’t cast many more spells, and with me dead on the next turn, I just go for a series of pump spells, and he has no answers.
Game 2, he’s a bit more threatening with his curve. He gets the Silkwrap on my Swiftspear on turn two, Silkwrap on my Den Protector on turn three followed with Warden, and I never draw another creature while he Rhinos into Wingmate Roc.
Game 3 he misses his third land drop for a bit, and doesn’t play a turn two creature, which means I’m able to just thrash him. He eventually drops an Anafenza, and I get the win when I draw my out of any land, and attack through his Anafenza with a 3/3 Scythe Leopard, 4/4 Snapping Gnarlid, and enough mana to Become Immense and Temur Battle Rage.
4-0. My shot at top 8 is looks really good. I’m favored, but not locked, since I’m one of three undefeated players. And of course, I get paired down.
Round 5 – Matt on Atarka Red.
I offer my opponent a draw, as getting a draw this round pretty much locks me for top 8. He considers it, but denies, which is fine. So we play the game of two ships passing in the night.
Game 1, his Wild Slashes keep the board clear for his Zurgo Bellstriker to hit a few times with Titan’s Strength. Game 1 here is bad for the landfall deck because of the lack of interaction such as Wild Slash that the Atarka Red packs. He chips me out, and eventually wins on the back of Zurgo and a Swiftspear in front of an Atarka’s Command.
Game 2, he is stuck on two land for a while, and I draw some sideboard interaction. I’m able to start playing Abbots into Hordeling Outbursts, while he can’t keep up being on just two mana.
Game 3 goes very similarly to game 2, but he’s on a mulligan to 5. It’s not really close, and my only fear is dying to the combo, which I never see.
These games with Atarka Red and the mirror are just not that much fun. It’s a lot of racing and whoever has the least punishing draws during the game usually just wins without any hope for the opponent.
5-0. Locked for top 8. Going into round 6 as top seed, surely I’ll just be able to draw, as the two 4-0 players that got paired against each other above me drew.
Round 6 – Ryan on Jeskai Black.
I offer the draw, but some strange circumstances with his girlfriend needing breakers for seeding in top 8 makes him say negative on the draw. Doesn’t really bother me too much, as I’m locked for top 8 even with a loss, but having the round off after playing my heart out for the last 5 rounds would have been nice. Then again, at a GP, you don’t get to draw this early anyway, so playing is fine.
Game 1, it’s actually pretty close. His turn three Monastery Mentor is really what seals the deal, as it puts me on a squeeze to find the win. I do find the line for the win, and I do attack for lethal against his no blockers the turn before I would die, but he has the Crackling Doom for my Scythe Leopard with Become Immense.
Game 2, I play the “dodge Negate” game. I end up resolving an Outpost Siege, and just grind him out with my value creatures. He can’t really remove the Outpost Siege without paying for an Utter End, and if he’s doing that, I just make a pretty large attack.
Game 3, I mulligan to 5, and almost win. I play the grind game that I love so much with this deck, and am literally handed the win by my deck. Ryan had tapped out the turn prior to deal with a lethal Atarka’s Command on his end step. My draw? Den Protector. I have Atarka’s Command in my graveyard. Ryan is at three. I have seven mana. I win!
But wait. I played a morph. I go to flip it up, and before I tap mana, I realize I had used one of my two green sources to pay for the morph. So that line is shut off. I pass the turn, and Ryan untaps, plays a Soulfire Grandmaster, and Roasts my Den Protector, putting him out of range. I’m never able to resolve an Outpost Siege, as Ryan has been representing Negate the whole game, and he eventually wins.
5-1 at the end of swiss. And I feel really bad for that Den Protector. I’m so sorry, deck. Please forgive me and my incompetence!
So I’m third seed going into top 8. I get paired against…Joe. My BFF. My travel buddy. My confidant-in-Magic.
Quarterfinals – Joe on R/G Landfall.
Joe and I just sit down to pretty much a casual match. We agreed to split any prize won by either of us, as one of us would be headed to top 4 anyway. We have just a fun match after a long day. What a way to cap it. In the end, the deck is filled with karma after I bungle what would have been a perfect day. I mulligan to five in game 1 and game 2, and the hands I keep are just worse than Joe’s curve out with landfall creatures and fetchland hands.
Joe would end up taking the match, which I’m happy with anyway, as he told me after that he needed the invite. I would have just conceded to him if that was the case. Apparently the way Open points were wiped out means the invite from points that he thought he had had fallen through.
Unfortunately, Joe lost in top 4.
Days like today make me feel like my win a few weeks ago had been validated. I can still game and go 5-1 to top 8 a longer event. I also think that R/G Landfall is the best deck in Standard still. When a deck is built such that it can afford to have a versatile 13-15 card transformational sideboard for its worst matchup, for which I’m 4-1 lifetime against in IQs and other competitive REL events, then the other matchups must be really solid.
I feel R/G Landfall is the best deck in Standard hands down, and this past weekend has convinced me of that. You can play whatever mangled 4 color battle land, Khans tri-land deck you want, but you better be able to both answer the combo plan, and answer the grindy long game the deck can put on the table. I have no idea why people aren’t playing this deck, but it’s not hurting my secret weapon: Standard Splinter Twin.
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