The first week of a new set is my favorite in competitive Magic. It’s a Wild West format where the most powerful and tuned lists are often rewarded. With everyone eager to include the new toys, deck lists are often not optimized and, as a tournament player, we can gain a decisive advantage if we can take the time to analyze how a new set meshes into the existing Standard format. The first step is obviously deciding what we want to play.
Torrent Elemental is a card that promotes racing. This card reads, “If I can put more power on the board than you, I will kill you regardless of your defenses.” This is obviously great in board stalls where you can swing into the red zone past Hornet Queen tokens and Soul of Theros. This also is strong with Whip of Erebos in play where lifelink enables you to win the race despite your opponent having more power on the board. It also synergizes with the deck by returning to the battlefield tapped after being exiled by an activation of Whip of Erebos or a delve spell. Another consideration is that Ugin, the Spirit Dragon, one of the most hyped cards from Fate Reforged, can never entirely remove Torrent Elemental from the game.
While these are all positives, this card is not very strong in an aggressive metagame. The first couple weeks of a set release are often defined by aggression. Decks like Mono-Red Aggro, Jeskai Aggro, and Mono-Black Aggro all cropped up in October and tapered off as the format became more defined and decks like Abzan Midrange became more tuned. I think in the weeks following the Pro Tour, players will return to these slower decks, Ugin will find his best shell, and Torrent Elemental will have an opportunity to shine.
Tasigur, the Golden Fang, however, is where I want to be. He is not a winner with the vanilla test as a 6-mana 4/5 but he never costs that! In a deck like Sidisi Whip that puts so many cards into the graveyard with Sidisi and Satyr Wayfinder, he is often at 1-3 mana creature. Such a big body so early in the game is enough to stop anything from soldier tokens to Brimaz, King of Oreskos dead in their tracks. The activated ability on Tasigur provides card advantage and also can create zombie tokens in conjunction with Sidisi. It is also key to remember that Tasigur and Courser of Kruphix are best friends. If you are going to draw a blank during your draw step, you can activate Tasigur to get a fresh draw instead. Remember that since Courser’s ability is a continuous effect, your opponent will be able to see your top card when they choose the card to return from your graveyard.
As a stand-alone threat, Tasigur threatens to provide you with a stocked hand or a full graveyard for future Whip of Erebos activations. There are many times where a turn 4 Sidisi will result in a turn 5, 1-mana Tasigur, which conveniently is enough mana left over to activate Tasigur’s ability.
Be warned: Tasigur’s ability is both his blessing and his curse. While his ability is powerful, it does cause the pilot to play the game in a different way. Remember you are often a tap out strategy so don’t try to grind out every inch of value from Tasigur. Your deck is most powerful when you are snowballing out of control and Tasigur’s ability is often attempting to keep the status quo and not advance the board state.
It is also important to delve aggressively to maximize his ability but not so much you weaken your future delve spells. Even if you have the mana, it is normally correct to delve cards you will not want to see from your graveyard. For example, when casting Murderous Cut against UW Heroic, you must consider how much you want cards like Sylvan Caryatid or Satyr Wayfinder back if you were to activate Tasigur the following turn. We should be delving cards which are weak after certain stages of the game (Thoughtseize during top deck situations, Sylvan Caryatid basically every time). So if we play with Tasigur, we must also build with him as a major consideration and not an after thought like with Soul of Innistrad.
Here’s what I registered:
Sidisi Whip by Billy Mitchell
In an attempt to hit an early Tasigur more often, I added Commune with the Gods. In general, the card is rather good. It can find Sidisi, Tasigur, Whip of Erebos, and also facilitates the casting of these cards and their activated or triggered abilities. I was hooked after I cast a turn 2 Sylvan Caryatid into a turn 3 Commune of the Gods for Whip of Erebos and cast Tasigur, the Golden Fang, leaving Hornet Queen and Sidisi, Brood Tyrant in my graveyard.
I removed the 2 Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver, 1 Soul of Innistrad, and 1 Thoughtseize from the main deck to add the Tasigurs and Communes. I figured that Ashiok and Soul of Innistrad are not cards I want in every matchup. While Ashiok is fine in the aggressive matchups, I feel like it is the least flexible. It very normally is either the best card or the worst card to play and I wanted to minimize my chances activating Tasigur into a dead card. Soul of Innistrad got the cut simply because Tasigur is trying to do a similar thing but just much better. Thoughtseize was just an innocent victim. I moved the third copy of the sorcery to the board and brought it in quite often.
I am lucky enough to be a couple hours outside of Washington, DC and made the trip to the nation’s capitol for the SCG Open that weekend. As I said earlier, the Wild West format gives a huge advantage to tuned lists and strong players and I felt as though we had one of the best in the room. If this deck was off, I didn’t think it would be off in card quality but rather metagame prediction. Like I said, I chose not to play Torrent Elemental because I didn’t feel like it was appropriate. If the room was filled with other Whip and Abzan midrange strategies, I was going to have a very frustrating day. With a little over 500 players registered, it looked like we would need a record of 6-3 in order to play Day 2.
Round 1: Temur Aggro with Flamewake Phoenix, Lose, 1-2 (0-1 Overall)
This was a matchup I was unfamiliar playing. The deck is not extremely popular and is often built in various ways, usually tied together by Savage Knuckleblade, Ashcloud Phoenix, and Stormbreath Dragon. We played three games and I was behind at almost every point. In game 1, my opponent started the party with turn 3 Knuckleblade but a Whip of Erebos and a Sidisi quickly changed the tide. When my opponent went on the defensive, I had enough removal to end the game in two turns.
In the following two games, I just got ran over. Partially because of some mulligans but mostly due to the power of the hasty fliers. Flamewake Phoenix does a lot to change the matchup. The card is very difficult to remove and will often deal 6 or more damage before dying the first time. Temur Aggro has gotten a lot stronger by adding a second powerful 3-drop while remaining a mainly two-color deck.
Round 2: Mardu Aggro with Brutal Hordechief, Win, 2-1 (1-1 Overall)
Although I dropped a game in this match, it overall didn’t feel particularly close. My opponent did not have the most aggressive of starts in any of the games and an early Sidisi or Tasigur took care of any Brimaz or Goblin Rabblemaster shenanigans. My opponent did have Brutal Hordechief in his deck but unfortunately it never saw action in any of our games outside of chump blocking duty. I feel like that deck has legs but needs more plays on the lower end of the curve.
This was an example of a potentially powerful deck diluted by too many ideas. I felt fairly safe when I Thoughtseized my opponent’s only creature and left her with only 3 Aqueous Forms and a Stubborn Denial. I was also terrified when I saw her mana base included a Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth. What is that for!? When we finished the match, I was so excited to ask about the new cards from Fate Reforged that I never found out the purpose of the Urborg. In short, the levels of power and consistency of our decks decided the match before we even sat down.
As an aside, I feel like UW Heroic is one of the few decks that did not improve much from the release of Fate Reforged. While it did get some new cards in Monastery Mentor, Refocus, and Valorous Stance, no card greatly increased the potency of the deck. I feel like the most widespread adaptation, Valorous Stance, encourages fighting rather than going around its problems like Feat of Resistance did. While I expect the deck to remain popular for the immediate future, I do question how popular the deck will be after the format settles down.
Round 4: Red Aggro with Flamewake Phoenix, Win, 2-0 (3-1 Overall)
This Flamewake Phoenix deck was not as strong as my first round opponent’s. In Temur, there are 12-16 creatures that allow Flamewake Phoenix to return from the graveyard. This deck requires a lot more work. The only natural 4-power creature in the deck was Stormbreath Dragon but the deck did play Titan’s Strength which allowed for slightly more recursion at the expense of surprise. I think I would have preferred to see the deck play something like Break Through the Line, Goblin Heelcutter, or Collateral Damage alongside Goblin Rabblemaster. The curve seemed a little too high to be fast enough and the creatures too small to contend in the mid- to late-game.
Round 5: Abzan Superfriends, Lose, 0-1 (3-2 Overall)
This was a grind fest that I unfortunately did not have the time to finish. My opponent played a very value-oriented game with Ajani, Mentor of Heroes, Sorin, Solemn Visitor, and Elspeth, Sun’s Champion headlined by Siege Rhino. Gross! As much value as Sidisi Whip generates, it can’t compete against this deck in the late game. We played a very long two games and we went to turns in game 2. On turn 5 of extra turns, I attacked for 11 and put my opponent to 10. He had 3 cards in hand and 6 lands in play against my Hero’s Downfall and Disdainful Stroke in hand and Whip of Erebos in play for Doomwake Giant. I asked for the concession and he respectfully declined. I really should have thanked him. I have no interest in playing against the draw bracket. I am confident in my abilities but playing against the slower decks of the format (UB Control, UW Control, Whip strategies) in the draw bracket might be a death sentence for me. At that point I needed to go 3-1 to make Day 2 and not having a draw would mean an easier road.
Round 6: Mono-Green Devotion with Temur Sabertooth, Win, 2-0 (4-2 Overall)
Going into the tournament, I thought without a doubt that Whisperwood Elemental was the best green card in the set. After game 1, there was no doubt in my mind that the honor belongs to Temur Sabertooth. That card is both Mother of Runes and Kiki Jiki, Mirror Breaker. Standard hasn’t seen anything like this since Restoration Angel. This is probably an overstatement but it’s close. The card is an engine of the deck and is a must-kill target. It can bounce any other creature its controller has in play, be it Voyaging Satyr, Polukranos, World Eater, or Hornet Queen. Of course, the beauty of returning Hornet Queen is spawning 4 new Insect tokens each time and making combat terrible for your opponent.
Outside of Temur Sabertooth, this matchup is the same as pre-Fate Reforged Standard. If you keep the board clear of fatties, then you will eventually run over their mana dorks with your 2+ power creatures. Be sure to chump check your opponent whenever you can threaten a Doomwake Giant activation. Some players may consider blocking your Sidisi with a Courser of Kruphix or a zombie token with a Sylvan Caryatid but the threat of losing the mana acceleration will normally allow you to get in some free damage.
Round 7 & 8: Abzan Aggro, Win & Win, 2-1 & 2-0 (6-2 Overall)
These matches were more or less a blur of fallen Siege Rhinos. Tasigur really changes how this match up unfolds. Before, we were attempting to stabilize behind a wall of Insect tokens and hoping Anafenza, the Foremost didn’t stifle the effectiveness of our deck. Now we have a 4/5 wall in the early game that blocks Fleecemane Lion and Raksasha Deathdealer and also threatens to buy back our numerous removal spells. I had an opponent return Hornet Queen and Whip of Erebos with Tasigur activations to avoid me receiving a Bile Blight or Murderous Cut as we moved into the endgame. I want to test this matchup further but I feel like Abzan Aggro may be one of the Sidisi Whip’s better match ups now.
Abzan decks in general seem like the biggest losers in the Fate Reforged party. Abzan Aggro is arguably the most tuned aggro list but it didn’t really seem to gain anything from the new set aside from Warden of the First Tree, which is a dubious inclusion at best. The Abzan Midrange and Whip variants seemed underrepresented despite being powerful strategies. My thought is that, since the deck did not receive many exciting additions, many people put down the deck for this event in favor of playing with some new cards. I think Abzan Midrange with Tasigur, the Golden Fang will be popular once people decide how to build it.
Round 9: UB Control with Ugin, the Spirit Dragon, Lose, 0-2 (6-3 Overall)
This was my first game against Ugin in any capacity and he did not disappoint. The card very easily takes over the game with the help of a little countermagic to protect him. The main deck Thoughtseizes were helpful here. Even in the early game, I would recommend removing Ugin with Thoughtseize. I feel like we have enough ways to pressure our opponent but overcoming Ugin, the Sprit Dragon is a huge huddle to victory. The deck is powerful but that card is very likely the reason players will be gravitating towards it in the weeks leading up to the next Star City Games Invitational in March.
As far as the match up goes, be sure to add pressure to the battlefield but don’t overextend. After sideboarding, only use countermagic for the haymakers like Ugin, Interpret the Signs, and Liliana Vess. Also feel free to add the planeswalkers to deck after sideboarding. At the very least, they force your opponent to respond. Although I haven’t directly tested this hypothesis, I believe your control opponent will die when exposed to an unrelenting swarm of krakens or if they lose their entire hand and graveyard. However, this is just a hypothesis. I am considering Negate as a possible sideboard slot over the second Kiora, the Crashing Wave. If UW Heroic actually does decline and UB Control’s popularity increases, I think I will make the switch.
This was the last round of Day 1 and, as expected, 6-3 was enough to make the cut to Day 2. This may sound silly but I was extremely proud of myself. This is my first Day 2 at any event and it felt good doing it in a format in which I felt very prepared. At this point, I had a little time to walk around the top tables and see what decks were in the field. The decks were fairly close to what was around previously with the bold exception of the prevalence of the WR Aggro lists. It’s not as though the deck did not exist before, it’s just that it did not appear in the numbers that it did before. In fact, it wound up being the most represented deck on Day 2! I needed to make sure I had a plan against this deck if I played against it.
This was the first time I played against Monastery Mentor all tournament and I was not disappointed by the card. This was the obvious home for this card upon its release and the card is insanely powerful alongside Jeskai Ascendency. The card, however, has a massive bulls-eye on its head and, as one of the only creature cards in the deck, is a lightning rod for all the game 1 point removal spells. As long as Monastery Mentor stays in check, the matchup is very similar to when Goblin Rabblemaster was the main 4-of creature.
Now that the deck plays Wild Slash, the deck can trigger Jeskai Ascendency with all tapped creatures and only 1 mana which is not something the deck could do previously. Be sure to keep that in mind prior to blocking Monk tokens with a Courser of Kruphix or Tasigur, the Golden Fang.
When my opponent won the die roll and opened with Opulent Palace, I was hoping that I would have the stronger opening. It is very easy to fall behind in the mirror without a good balance of threats and removal. When my opponent curved Sylvan Caryatid into Sidisi into Torrent Elemental into Whip of Erebos, the game was just over. Unless your opponent is way behind on the board, Torrent Elemental is often the beginning of the end.
As you could imagine, Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver out of the sideboard really swings the matchup post-board. Even though Torrent Elemental is a game changer, it shouldn’t be destroyed unless the situation is dire. For you How I Met Your Mother fans, Torrent Elemental leads to the Cheerleader Effect. When put into a large group, the flaws of this card are minimized. If this was a 5-mana unblockable 3/5 creature, it would never see play. If you spend your removal on the supporting cast, this leading lady looks less like Meryl Streep and more like Tara Reid.
Round 12: Abzan Whip, Win, 2-0 (8-4 Overall)
This game was not very close. In game 2, a turn 3 Courser of Kruphix game allowed me a bury my opponent with removal spells. On turn 4, I had the option to play Sidisi, Brood Tyrant or Whip of Erebos. While Sidisi is arguably the stronger play, it would come at the expense of a Murderous Cut. I opted to play Whip of Erebos which allowed me to play Sidisi, Brood Tyrant into Murderous Cut the following turn on a Siege Rhino. I coincidentally revealed a second Murderous Cut which destroyed another Siege Rhino. When Courser revealed a third Murderous Cut, my opponent conceded at 22 life.
Round 13: RW Aggro, Win, 2-1 (9-4 Overall)
I finally get to see RW Aggro in action. This was also my first exposure to the Siege cycle from Fate Reforged. Outpost Siege is quite an powerful card. I think the Khans choice (the Chandra, Pyromaster +0 ability) is the most common use of this Siege as it adds a lot of value in the mid- to late- game as a 4-drop enchantment. These decks top out at 5 mana and this curves perfectly into that phase of the game. Remember that you can play lands that are exiled from Outpost Siege. The Dragons choice also adds a lot of reach in the end game by giving value to your 1/1 tokens in the late game. Expect to see this at future events!
This matchup plays a lot like the other midrange matchups in the current metagame. The only creatures that matter in this matchup are Goblin Rabblemaster and Monastery Mentor. More so the Mentor. Doomwake Giant can clean up any 1/1 Goblin tokens but Monk tokens are very difficult to remove outside of Bile Blight. When you have the chance, remove the Monastery Mentor and allow your beefier creatures to dictate the battlefield.
I continue to find this match up better and better. Valorous Stance can kill Courser of Kruphix but it can’t protect against Bile Blight. Shu Yun seems like a strong threat but it is quite mana intensive. I don’t think that the Shu Yun’s ability can be activated without putting the protection shields down. As long as you can chain two removal spells together (one during the opponent’s end of turn and the second during your main phase), you can normally remove their threats without too many issues. Do not try to be greedy and maximize your the strength of your removal. You just need to keep their board clear of creatures and strand the Auras in their hands. A Whip of Erebos will undo any early aggression and will put the game out of reach for the Heroic player.
Throughout this tournament, I feel as though I played very well. This is where I began slipping. My sequencing was poor throughout these games, highlighted in game 2 where I drew all 3 Polluted Deltas and I didn’t fetch them early enough. Eventually I drew an Island which effectively lost me a draw step. I conceded the game with two Doomwake Giants in hand and no fifth land.
I think this matchup is still quite good but Monastery Mentor certainly adds strength to their side of the fight. Soulfire Grand Master, while strong with Jeskai Ascendancy and Stoke the Flames, is not a very powerful card by itself. The ability is not practical until the deck has at least 6 mana to buy back something like Lightning Strike or Raise the Alarm. I feel like Seeker of the Way is just better as an aggressive creature. Casting a 6-mana Lighting Helix with Buyback is not the most powerful thing you can be doing in a deck with Treasure Cruise, Jeskai Ascendancy, and Monastery Mentor.
Final Result: 10-5 Overall for 48th Place
Overall, the deck was super powerful and I think I had a good grasp on the metagame for the first weekend of Fate Reforged. Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver was rightfully placed in the sideboard. The reanimator decks are on the decline and for now Ashiok is not as strong as it was a couple weeks ago.
Tasigur, the Golden Fang is the truth. I found the card to be insanely strong as a 1-mana 4/5 creature. The most frustrating thing all day was having a strong graveyard and flipping over a Sylvan Caryatid when I activate Tasigur.
I think going forward this deck will remain strong but the sideboard may need tweaking. Pharika, God of Affliction was underwhelming all day and I think I’d rather play something that increases my control matchups. I am considering Negate or the third Disdainful Stroke. My inclination is towards Negate as it counters Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver, Jeskai Ascendancy, Erase, and Hero’s Downfall as well as Ugin, the Spirit Dragon, Whip of Erebos, and Jace’s Ingenuity.
Let me know if you have any other ideas for how to attack the new metagame!
Thanks for reading,
@badluckbandit on twitter
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