Saheeli Rai at GP Pittsburgh

Written by Austin Matthews on . Posted in Competitive Magic, Standard

Saheeli Rai at GP Pittsburgh

Austin Matthews

Austin is a PPTQ/Open level grinder from Birmingham, AL. He's got an Open top 8 under his belt and is looking to continue adding to his resume.

I don’t like continuing to write about X-4 records, but here we are…

Grand Prix Pittsburgh didn’t go how I had hoped. It was my 3rd Grand Prix in a row where I was out of day 2 contention by the 8th round. Part of that could be blamed on my lack of preparation since I didn’t decide to go until the Wednesday before the tournament, but most of it should be blamed on my careless play and bad deck choice. I ended up playing a list similar to Gerry Thompson’s 4C Saheeli Pro Tour list. This is the 75 I registered:

I had been playing this archetype since the first week of the format, so I felt somewhat comfortable with the style, though I had been on a more Delirium-themed version with Vessel of Nascency and Traverse the Ulvenwald. I ultimately decided that my version was a little too durdley, so I audibled to Gerry’s list due to the rise of Vehicles as a tier 1 deck. While I stand behind my logic, I feel that I underestimated just how popular the various BG decks would be and failed to appropriately prepare for them. I don’t believe my list was necessarily bad versus them, but I certainly could’ve tested against the archetype more, as I was clearly unfamiliar with how the matchup played out. I ended up dodging Mardu all day but played 3 BG decks in the 7 rounds I played after my single bye. I don’t think the matchup versus BG is bad. In fact, it’s probably slightly in our favor. I just lost to my manabase more times during the GP than I had over the course of the 2 full weeks I had with the deck previously. I think that’s the biggest issue with the deck. Despite having mana fixing in Aether Hub, Attune with Aether, Servant of the Conduit, and Evolving Wilds, sometimes you just draw too many Forests to reliably cast your blue, red, or white spells on curve.

Well, at least I got to PTQ the next day.

After a great dinner in downtown Portland with some friends (shout-out to Redbeard’s Bar & Grill), we went back to the hotel to discuss our deck choices for the next day’s PTQ since only one of the four of us was playing day 2 (another made it but decided to join the PTQ instead of play day 2 at X-3 – I think this is going to be a common decision for players in the future). We all discussed what we expected to see, and we agreed that BG would likely be the most popular deck. With that in mind, I didn’t want to take a deck with as much inconsistency as 4C Saheeli, so I audibled about 30 minutes before I went to sleep to Jeskai Saheeli. I knew that Jeskai Saheeli’s matchup versus BG was good, so I felt confident even without testing it. I forgot to save my list before I submitted it, so here’s my best attempt at remembering:

I’ve never been more correct about what deck to expect at a given tournament. Out of the 5 rounds of the PTQ, 4 were versus a BG variant. I couldn’t have hand-picked better decks to play against, but this tournament also gave me one of the most tilting matches throughout my years of playing Magic. I was playing against BG (obviously) in round 3 when neither of us had picked up a loss yet. In game 1, I mulliganed to 4. It sucked, but it’s part of the game. I ended up almost stabilizing until he stuck an 8/8 that I couldn’t find an answer to. Onto game 2. I was frustrated with having to mulligan so much, so I kept what might be one of the worst hands you could keep with the deck. It was Felidar Guardian, Dragonmaster Outcast, and 5 lands. Keeping that hand essentially meant that I was content with not casting a spell until turn 4 when I could cast a vanilla 1/4 for no value. My opponent Transgressed me, took my Guardian, then proceeded to stick a few threats that I couldn’t find answers to. I will always remember my decision to keep that hand, and as far as I’m concerned, it’s the reason I’m not currently qualified for the Pro Tour. I didn’t play a deck that wasn’t a BG variant until the last round of the tournament when I got paired versus 4C Saheeli, which was basically the same version I had played the day before. When I was playing it, I always felt like a dog versus the Jeskai version due to the lack of interaction and my threats being a little too slow to appropriately pressure Saheeli Rai. It played out exactly like that. I comboed him on turn 4 or 5 both games.

I was 4-1 in a PTQ! Still live for top 8, just a few more rounds… wait. Nope. The reason round 3 sticks out in my mind so much is because of the way the structure of the PTQ was. You had to 5-0 one of the 8 32-person pods in order to qualify for the top 8. Oh well, at least PTQs pay out well. I should be able to cover most of my expenses for the trip with… oh yeah. Never mind. I just get a box. I basically just made it to the semifinals or finals of a PPTQ that cost twice as much as normal to enter ($50). The concept of the PTQs is great, but the implementation was poor and the payout borders on exploitation, but what’s new for Grand Prix?

Ok, I don’t mean to be a downer. Enough complaining for one article.

Overall, Grand Prix Pittsburgh was a blast. Even though the drive from Birmingham took about 12 hours, I’d do it again in a heartbeat. Pittsburgh is a beautiful city with some of the most gorgeous architecture I’ve ever seen. Here’s the view from inside the event center:

So, let’s talk about what I would play this weekend. I won’t be making it out to a Grand Prix or the SCG Tour, but I will be attending at least 1 PPTQ. The metagame in Alabama tends to lean heavily toward midrange or control decks and is usually a week or so behind the Magic Online metagame, so I’m expecting a lot of BG variants and Jeskai Saheeli. With this in mind, I’ve decided to play either Jeskai Saheeli or Jeskai Control, with a more detailed plan versus the mirror.

I found myself winning most of the time with Torrential Gearhulk rather than the combo itself, so the advantage of playing the Control version means I get to execute a more focused version of that game plan without being forced to play cards that don’t do much without their counterpart.

On the other hand, the combo offering an instant way to win the game gives me a more reliable path to victory. Having dead cards in your hand while playing control is a bad feeling, but that doesn’t happen as much as you’d think. Saheeli Rai has a lot of use in the deck outside of making 60 trillion cats. I had a game where my opponent, at 13 life, passed the turn with me having 0 power in play. I cast Torrential Gearhulk on his end step to flash back a Glimmer of Genius, then untapped and cast two Saheeli Rais having both copy the Gearhulk and flash back removal spells for their blockers. Similar situations came up all tournament. I would say the card that felt the clunkiest was Felidar Guardian, so I’ll be moving down to 3 copies in the main deck.

This is what I would feel comfortable registering for a tournament tomorrow:

A few things to note: Cutting a Felidar Guardian over a Saheeli Rai is because of Saheeli having more utility than Guardian. She can stop an opponent’s Planeswalker from ultimating, can help find an answer or the other combo piece, and, most importantly, can copy Gearhulks. Nahiri has earned a spot in this deck because, while she can’t deal with a Heart of Kiran, she can handle any other problematic Vehicle or non-vigilance creature and can threaten to out-value your opponent by grabbing a Gearhulk from your library. The single Shock is a nod to Vehicles and the fact that some of the BG decks have been playing Glint-Sleeve Siphoner. The Quarantine Field is in the list because it’s a clean way to deal with both Vehicles and Planeswalkers. The card that is the hardest to deal with out of BG is Lifecrafter’s Bestiary, so it’s also a clean way to deal with that. I cut an Anticipate and replaced it with a land, because most of the time I was looking for a land anyways. Release the Gremlins should come in versus BG. The only targets are Verdurous Gearhulk, Walking Ballista, and Lifecrafter’s Bestiary, but those are all very essential threats to deal with.

I had a blast in Pittsburgh and can’t wait to go back. My next big tournament will likely be the RPTQ in Memphis, TN in early March and then Grand Prix Orlando later that month. I hope to see some of you there. Thanks for reading!

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