Saturday January 18th marked the day that I, along with 346 other players descended upon a University Gymnasium in Toronto, ON for long day of grueling battles. Toronto is now internationally known for its record high PTQ attendance, so we were all strapped in for 9 rounds of Magic, all of us with the dream that the Blue Envelope might that day be ours. The event was put on by The Hairy Tarantula, home to arguably the best Tournament Organizer not affiliated with a national operation, Kelly Ackerman. Everyone had high expectations of the venue, as dictated by the full room of vendors, along with the $8k in prize structure. Yes, you read that right, $8 000.00 in prizes were given away at this event. There have been a lot of people lately discussing the diminishing returns of a 300+ person winner take all tournament. I was part of company doing exactly that on the last episode of The Eh Team, when we discussed it with Chris VanMeter, so I know it’s happening. That being the case, the prize purse for this event was nothing to be upset about, and I had been actually looking forward to playing in this event for some time. I have not made any kind of effort or run at competitive M:TG really since preparations for GP Calgary last year, so I knew I had to consult some experts on the topic of a deck list. As I briefly discussed in my article Monday, I looked far and wide for a list that I liked, and it was actually January 14th at 9:46pm that I found it. Willy Edel had been working with some of his MTGO buddies on a GR variant which splashed White for some help against some of the more troublesome cards that GR was having trouble with. The final version of the list came to my FB inbox at the aforementioned hour.
“I have a friend that is playing with the deck nonstop and says this is the perfect list. 19-2 in DE in mtgo” – Willy Edel.
This was it.
I had been piloting some other versions of this which ran Boon Satyr, and tried out some Advent of the Wurm, but ultimately, the deck felt dichotomous. It was constantly at odds with itself, and I needed something smoother. Something that was going to be neat and clean, and simple to sideboard with. The numbers in this list instantly looked right, and it felt great to be playing three copies of Witchstalker knowing that the top three decks in the format were Black, Blue, and UWx Control. I played this list exactly on MTGO for three days, and felt like I was almost ready to go. I just needed some more professional advice. Later that week, I was set to record The Eh Team with none other than Mr. GR Monsters himself, Chris Van Meter. Since I run the interviews on the show personally, I knew that I wanted to touch on a very specific subject; how to play with Xenagos, The Reveler properly. During my testing, I often found myself looking at copies of Xenagos in my hand, and was stuck wondering what good casting him would actually accomplish. Chris thankfully, had the answers for me. He told me that Xenagos forces your opponent to change the way that they execute their game plan. After you cast Xenagos, your opponent can choose to ignore him, and succumb to the boost in tempo provided by the mana advantage Xenagos can provide, or succumb to an unending stream of hasty 2/2 creatures. Alternatively, they might overvalue him, and over commit resources to his demise, clearing the way for some of your other threats. I did during testing have many Xenagos fall to a Hero’s Downfall, only to eat a Stormbreath Dragon the following turn. Either way, Xenagos forces your opponent to make a choice immediately, which will often result in a swing in tempo for your favor. When coupled with Witchstalker, who already punishes your Black and Blue opponents for acting on our turn, I could easily see how this would be a great combination. Also, deck has such powerful spells and abilities to spend mana on, that once you can execute more than one action per turn, you are most assuredly going to win the game. This phenomenon is not unlike Jund of old, where the haymakers are so violent, that as soon as you are throwing two per turn, you are basically unstoppable.
The only change that I made to the list, was a change suggested by CVM after the show. He suggested that Assemble the Legion was too slow to beat mono Black with, and Detention Sphere makes it a risky proposition against UW as well. He suggested the 4th Chained to the Rocks and a Ruric Thar over the Assembles, as they would be coming in both for Mono Black anyway, but the extra removal spell should serve us well against aggressive strategies as well. Taking that as good council, I made the change happily. That leaves us with this as the final list.
I was fortunate enough to have been invited as the bounty player at this event, which allowed me a permanent seat at the Feature table, and as such, a semi VIP experience. I never had to fight to see where I was sitting, and never got squished between people ever. If someone beat me, they got 2 packs of Theros, and if they lost, they still got 1. Additionally, people were coming up in between rounds and playing for packs also. All in all, with the attendance being what it was, and the number of people that came to sling, I played about 16 rounds of M:TG that day. I was all ready to go, and hanging with KYT, Tyler Premier, Will Blondon, Jessica Buchanan, and Joe Raffit when pairings got posted. I sat down to play against my first round opponent, confident in my list, and hopeful that it would be powerful enough to push through my ring rust.
RD 1- Tony – RWu Devotion
Game one, after losing the roll, I see only a few cards from Tony, many of them lands, which leads me to believe that he is on UWR Control. I see all three land colors, a million scry pushes to the bottom from said lands and a pair of Magma Jets, while ultimately, I curve out taking only 2 from a Jet and 4 more from my own manabase. I am fortunate enough to see a Purphuros in Game 1, telling me what I was actually up against.
Game two, I get off to a reasonable start with a turn 1 Mystic into Turn 2 Domri Rade. Domri does his thing, drawing me cards and taking the heat from a Boros Reckoner while I nibbled away with a Mystic. I eventually dragon and double rampager it for the win.
RD 2- Sammy T – Mono Blue
Sammy T is a well known Toronto player. He is on the PT, and is looking for his chance to chain multiple PTs together to reach Gold. I knew this would be a tough one, especially since he was on Mono Blue, arguably my worst matchup. We exchange pleasantries, and catch up a bit before I lose the roll.
Game one, Sammy opens with Island, Judge’s Familiar. I sigh, and play a scry land tapped. I don’t get a chance to do much of anything in the game, since I drew about all of my lands. That said, he curved out well, perfectly dealt with the few threats I had, and we were off to game 2. At this point, I had played only RG lands, and kept the white splash completely under wraps.
Game two, I end up mulliganing my first hand, and find a suitable 6. I have a forest into turn one Mystic into turn 2 Witchstalker, forcing him to read the card. I end up using Chained to the Rocks to beat his Master and swing for lethal with stalker and a hydra.
Game three, again on the back foot, I play a turn 1 elf, only to have it met with a timely Tidebinder Mage. I end up with a flood on top of the deck while Sammy assembles an air fleet and powered by a sweet Bident, is able to draw out of his flood and take the match.
Losing early is tough, but knowing that player was Sammy T, and that I felt like I was hanging in the whole game gave me some pretty good confidence. Besides, he will make my breakers better since he was likely to win the whole PTQ. (PS. He did.)
RD 3 – Caleb – WB Humans
Game 2 I am fortunate enough to land turn 3 and turn 4 Stormbreath Dragons, making anything else he was planning to do useless.
Game 3 goes long, with me inevitably stalling his board with my creatures until I am able to put together a force of Polukranos, Stalker and Dragon, in concert with some Domri fights and a pair of Rampagers to push through Protection, I had the match
RD 4- Brian – RG Aggro
Brian sat down, and I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect. As a 2-1, he was probably fairly good at least at Magic, but his mannerisms seemed sloppy and without focus. I figured I should respect the record and not get comfortable. I of course lose the roll, and we are off.
Sitting at the almost Half way point at x-1 was a pretty good feeling. I was in the same bracket as KYT, and feeling really good about my deck. I played a bunch of Gunslinging matches, a few of which against Edgar Magalhaes, a local who top 8’d GP Toronto for a PT invite. Edgar traditionally is my kryptonite, as I can never ever beat him, but we had a semi mirror set, as he was on RG without the splash. The matches were tremendously helpful, as they furthered my education about the value of my resources, not only in general, but in the context of the mirror as well. They were some pretty epic games.
RD 5 – Spencer – Mono Blue
Spencer was wearing a shirt from one of the Local vendors, and clearly was sponsored in some way from them. I figured that it would be of benefit to stay sharp, as I would hate to get punished for a mistake. Speaking of…
Game one, I WIN the roll, and land turn 1 Mystic. Spencer plays a Cloudfin Raptor. I play a Witchstalker on two, and Spencer plays 2 more Raptors. I follow up with a Domri Rade, leaving me with a couple of options I could use the Stalker to fight the Raptor, with him only on two lands, but if I don’t up Domri, then he falls to any creature the following turn. I opt to plus by mistake, and then fall to a Tidebinder Mage evolving the team, and leaving me without a Mystic. Domri goes down shortly thereafter, as the impact on my tempo and the air force Spencer has proves too great for me to overcome.
Game two, I again have a turn 2 Stalker, but 2 Judge’s Familiars plus Thassa, Nightveil Specter and Master of Waves proves too much for me. I think I misassigned my role in the game here, and kept a hand without any answers when I am the control deck in this match. I know I played the match poorly, which ultimately I have to live with.
At x-2, I’m likely out of top 8. That said, it was far too late to join the Modern side event, so I instead resolved to keep playing and stock up on some PWP, as I would love some byes later on in the MTG season.
Rd 6 – BYE BYE BYE
My opponent for round 6 clearly did not have the same level of optimism about the time I was looking to invest in the event, and decided to leave without dropping. Free wins are great, especially after coming off a terrible round of play. I was able to battle with Sketchbook Comics Owner, Joel Niddrie for a match against his Junk Reanimator deck this round, and ended up having a blast. I think we played 4 games? Doesn’t matter… I didn’t lose.
Rd 7 – Sacha – Mono Black
Sacha was on the boogeyman of the format, Mono Black. I couldn’t tell which list he was on, but he sure knew everything about my hand after double Thoughtseize into double Pack Rat. I had no real shot at anything that game. A Pack of Rats ended Game one in spectacular fashion.
SB: +2 Chandra, Pyromaster, +1 Ruric Thar, The Unbowed, +4 Chained to the Rocks, -2 Ghor Clan Rampager, -2 Scavenging Ooze, -2 Domri Rade. (It should be noted here that if your opponent is playing via Brad Nelson’s school of Mono Black, that while they are on the draw, you will not have to worry about Pack Rats or Nightveil Specters. This might lead you to also removing the 2 main deck Mizzium Mortars for an Ooze and a Domri.)
Game 2 we get to land both Domri and Xenagos into Dragon despite a turn one Thoughtseize. He also is stuck with 4 lands. We have removal for the Demon and it’s on to game 3.
Game 3 is a tough one back and forth, he has turn 1 Thoughtseize again, while I have turn 1 Mystic again. He lands a Nightveil Specter, and I can’t pass 3 mana. He drops Connections into Gary into Gary and I’m done with only one more land.
Rd 8 – Peter – BW Midrange
Game one I have to Mulligan a hand of no lands, and end up with 6. Peter plays a bunch of BW lands and a Thoughtseize. I end up with an Ooze, Domri, and a Rampaging Dragon which makes short work of his slower draw.
Game 2 I open with a hand of five lands and two Xenagos. I ship it back for four lands, Xenagos and Domri. I get Thoughtsiezed for Domri, play a scry land, leave a second Domri on the top, and proceed to chain Caryatid into walkers into dragon, and my plus to Domri shows a Mizzium Mortars on top for his turn 5 Blood Baron. That was that.
RD 9 – Ian – Mono Black
I win the play for the last round of the day. I am surprised at how alert and awake I am in this last round, and think about some of my past GP experiences where this late in the day, I have been ready for bed. I can only attribute this feeling to my renewed health and the sheer smoothness of the tournament. There were no delays, and everything has been cake. That said, I don’t remember much about the games, except for the fact that I saw no turn 1, 2, or 3 Thoughtseize from my opponent in any of the games. Given the fact that the control deck in the match had little to no way to interact with me, the games were quick and over. Not even Gary in game 2 could stop me from Gruul Smashing him out of the game.
Final Result: X-3. Good enough for 9 packs (Kelly runs a sweet prize structure) and based on my breakers, a top 32 finish! Not so bad if I consider the following results: Most of my Wins were in 2 games, 2 games lost were to Flood or Screw, and one game of mono black nut draw. Considering these things, I’m not unhappy with my results. I feel like this is a really good choice for GP Vancouver, and I can tell you for certain that I will be looking at GR as we move into the new Standard. The strategy felt naturally resistant to Thoughtseize, and the removal that we are looking at in the new standard shouldn’t really be a factor for us. Add to that an answer to all of the flying creatures that plague us, and we have something.
Thanks so much for reading this, and let me know if you are playing this over the next couple weeks and I’ll post the rest of the Sideboard notes!!
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