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The Ohio State Champ Takes on Indiana

Written by Mike Keknee on . Posted in Competitive Magic, Standard

The Ohio State Champ Takes on Indiana

Mike Keknee

Mike Keknee is a Magic grinder from the Columbus area. He has managed to put together a solid resume with four StarCityGames Open top 8s, including a win, as well as a Pro Tour appearance. He is also a co-host of the At Your End Step podcast available on iTunes and MTGCast.

Hello everyone! It has been a while since I have had both the chance and a good enough reason to write. As much as I enjoy it, between working full-time, podcasting (At Your End Step BUMP!), and playing Magic, writing tends to get pushed to the end of the spectrum. However, current Standard and a string of nice finishes have inspired me to go ahead and write about a sweet strategy hiding just beneath the thin veneer of Dark Jeskai and Megamorph decks.

I was originally inspired by another friend of mine’s list. He won a PPTQ with a Grixis colored dragons deck. The shell seemed powerful and I quickly adapted it. The test run came at the Star City Games Ohio States event. Testing went, in a word, well as I was able to take down the event with a single loss in the swiss as my only blemish.

See, the Browns can be winners!

See, the Browns can be winners!


The deck felt good, and I felt confident taking it to Grand Prix Indianapolis. Without further ado here is Light Grixis, Mardu Blue, 4 Color Dragons:

This list has a few minor changes, including doubling down on the blue splash, as compared to the list I won the states event with. Here is a link to that original list if you are interested in seeing the changes that were made. Overall though, the strategy remains the same. This deck looks to control enemy threats with early removal before turning a corner with powerful four drops. Let’s take a look at the different elements of the deck.

The Creatures:

The deck starts with some of the more ubiquitous creatures in the format. While the price of these cards may frustrate players, there is no denying their power level. Hangarback Walker continues to be the little engine that could. Against red decks, it offers a road block that helps you stabilize. Against decks that lack clean removal, it constitutes a threat that continues to grow until it becomes an attacking version of the The Abyss. Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy is one of the best two drops of all time (sorry, not sorry), and it does a lot of heavy lifting in this deck. One of the downsides to decks like this is the heavy land requirements. This list has 26 lands, so it is nice to have a way to filter those land heavy draws. Then, once flipped, you get take lines of play that are currently considered great in Modern. Have you ever experienced the joy of flashing back a Kolaghan’s Command? If not, consider adding it to your Standard bucket list.

After this, you have probably noticed a rather conspicuous absence of a certain three drop; you will find no Mantis Riders here. This deck wants to be in the position to kill the hasty flyer and then go bigger than it. This deck gets to capitalize on the power of Draconic Roar and on a less-stretched manabase. We skip them and go straight to Thunderbreak Regent and Pia and Kiran Nalaar. Thunderbreak Regent continues to be one of the best things you can do in this format. While it has a weakness to Crackling Doom, it makes up for this in its ability to get in a bunch of free damage. Between its own trigger and Draconic Roar, the damage really piles up. In a format full of Gideons, I am more than happy to sleeve up a creature that flies over most threats and almost always gets value. The other four drop is Pia and Kiran Nalaar. The siege-gang parents are the current monarchs of value in Standard. Against the go-wide strategies, dropping three creatures on to the battlefield generally buys a ton of time. Against other decks, the card is a stabilizing force that guarantees you get the chance to progress your game plan. The card also has additionally value as a way to crack open your large, delicious, Hangarback Walker eggs. All of these 1/1 flyers also team up pretty well with the next threat on the chain as well.

Progressing to the end game, there are two copies of Kolaghan, the Storm’s Fury. Kolaghan is a powerhouse that steals games from out of nowhere. There many times that she is just a lava axe that puts immediate pressure on your opponent. Other times, she represents lethal on board states where your opponent feels pretty safe. It is important to remember that her trigger stacks with other dragons. At the GP, an opponent forgot this and passed the turn at 18 life, knowing I had Kolaghan. The subsequent dash and attack (on a board with a Thunderbreak Regent and three thopter tokens) equaled 21 damage and the game. I have even been able to attack through a Silumgar, the Drifting Death with three dragons.

Beyond this there is one copy of Tasigur, the Golden Fang and Dragonlord Silumgar. Tasigur is an addition from the Dark Jeskai decks that has been very powerful. This deck can’t take advantage of Tasigur’s activated ability like Jeskai decks can, so one is the right number. Dragonlord Silumgar is a powerhouse curve topper than can take out an opponent’s defensive setup, or heavily swing a board state. With so many Gideons running around, I am very happy to have a way to steal some tempo. Additionally, cards like Ugin, the Spirit Dragon and Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger have started seeing more play. On day two of the GP, I was able to take an Ulamog and force my opponent to concede lest his whole library get exiled.

Overall, the threats in this deck are powerful and multi-faceted. Each one has synergy with the entire deck, while also being able to dominate a board by itself.

The Spells:

The removal package this decks offers is situated really well in a format dominated by Dark Jeskai. Starting with Fiery Impulse and Draconic Roar, this deck is consistently able to kill early Jaces, Mantis Riders, Wardens, mana dorks, and pretty much anything an opponent will play in the first few turns. For the creatures that go bigger than this, Crackling Doom is there to clean house while maintaining pressure. There are definitely a few creatures than can clog this up, namely Anafenza, the Foremost and Savage Knuckleblade, so in those matchups you will need to be a bit more careful with your removal. Luckily, the amount of thopters this deck can pump out team up well with three damage removal spells to take these threats down. You can definitely run into issues if you use these spells inefficiently, so be aware of how you sequence in those matchups.

The bridge card that may in fact be the most important spell in the deck is Kolaghan’s Command. This card is quite impressive here. It can control opponents’ draw steps. It kills a lot of important creatures. It can blow up your own Hangarback Walkers in response to exile effects. It also just consistently gets back threats. If every creature in this deck is powerful, then drawing extra copies of them is also inherently powerful. A lot of opponents have no recourse for dealing with the second copy of Pia and Kiran Nalaar or for fighting through multiple Thunderbreak Regents.

There are a number of singleton spells and effects that are important and powerful. Most of these can be doubled out of the board (Dispel, Treasure Cruise). Treasure Cruise specifically may seem odd, but Dig through Time is difficult to cast consistently, and the fact that Treasure Cruise is a sorcery means it dodges all of the maindeck dispels running around. Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker is the singleton that I am most happy to see. While there are certainly a number of swam decks where the mad dragon man matches up poorly, but there is no better value threat that kills a Gideon and sticks around afterwards. I don’t want more than one, but I certainly don’t want less.

The Manabase:

Overall, the manabase here is very good. The white splash is essentially free, and it only features one land that must enter the battlefield tapped. You could definitely make changes, especially if you do not like painlands. I value untapped lands more than the negative consequences of Battlefield Forge, but I can certainly understand cutting them for more copies of Mystic Monastery. Basic Island may also seem counter-intuitive, but it is the single most important card for casting Jace on turn two. Lastly, while the manabase is strong, the deck is still very color intensive. You may be interested in more utility lands, but I do not think there is room for more than one. I am using Haven of the Spirit Dragon, but other strong options are Blighted Cataract and Foundry of the Consuls.

The Sideboard:

The sideboard is pretty straight forward. A number of the most popular strategies right now feature very few real creatures and focus on spells and planeswalkers. One only need to look at the list the Ray Perez took to the finals of GP Indy to know that you must have a plan to deal with these control and token lists. Duress is the answer in these matchups, and I promise you want all four. This sideboard has proven to be quite versatile in allowing this deck to transform on the fly. While some people might want to overload on counterspells in the board, it is important to remember that we want cards that work well with Jace. In that scenario, unique effects like Rending Volley, Silumgar’s Command, and discard spells trump a ton of countermagic.

There are certainly ways to tailor the board more to your playstyle or local meta if needed. Radiant Flames definitely underperformed at the GP, and it may be right to consider options like Surge of Righteousness or Arashin Cleric. A friend also suggested something like Crux of Fate. While I wasn’t high on the idea, there are certainly enough Wingmate Rocs running around that it may be worth considering.

Pulling It All Together:

Overall this lists stands in a unique section of the current metagame. The deck has a good matchup against Dark Jeskai , the various Megamorph decks, and the ramp decks (especially with access to four duress). It also has a positive postboard percentage against Atarka Red, though game ones are a tossup. The Abzan matchup is very build and draw dependent. The low to the ground versions featuring Wardens, Heir of the Wilds, and Gideons are generally easy to beat. The bigger the deck goes, and the more Wingmate Rocs they play, the trickier they get. As the format solidifies, more will need to be done to prepare for the tokens decks. The board is very strong against them, but Crackling Doom can be embarrassingly bad game 1. The card I am definitely looking to try play going forward is Disdainful Stroke. Countering Wingmate Roc and friends seems to be the place I want to be in the immediate future. It may also be time to consider Infinite Obliteration. If it’s good enough for Patrick Chapin, then it may be worth reevaluating.

As for the GP, here is how my tournament went:

Rounds 1 & 2 – Byes

Round 3: Armand Bulnes playing Demonic Pact – Win (2-0)
Round 4: Sean Rice playing Sultai Megamorph – Win (2-0)
Round 5: Corada Caruso playing 5 Color Collected Company – Win (2-1)
Round 6: Matt Costa playing Dark Jeskai – Win (2-1)
Round 7: Brian Demars playing 4 Color Rally – Win (2-0)
Round 8: Andrew Eales playing Atarka Red – Loss (0-2)

Andrew ended up going undefeated on the day, and I definitely got punished for playing a bit too aggressively.

Round 9: Brandon Burton playing Atarka Red – Loss (0-2)

I had a great time playing against Brandon, unfortunately I mulliganed to four in game two and didn’t really play Magic.

Round 10: Andrew Tenjum playing Jeskai – Win (2-0)
Round 11: Todd Anderson playing Dark Jeskai – Loss (0-2)

Todd was definitely a master in this matchup boarding out his Mantis Riders. He was the first Jeskai opponent to do this against me which definitely wasted a few of my draws in a very close game two.

Round 12: Allen Sun playing Grixis Aggro – Win (2-1)

Allen’s deck was sweet and had a number of unique ways to steal games. Probably the most fun match of the tournament.

Round 13: Shahar Shenhar playing Bant Megamorph – Win (2-1)
Round 14: Alex Majlaton playing R/G Eldrazi Ramp – Win (2-0)
Round 15: Robert Vaughan playing B/W Tokens – Loss (1-2)

Overall it was a really fun tournament. I played against a parade of high level talent and had a lot of great games. This deck was able to stand its ground against the tier 1 decks in the format piloted by some of the best players in the world, so I am happy with the results.

I definitely think this deck is a fine choice going forward. As Dark Jeskai and Abzan focus on beating each other and their respective mirrors, this deck sits in fine space, capable of bringing down both. I suggest giving it a try. The first time you throw a Hangarback Walker at an opponent to get a bunch of thopter tokens, then untap and dash a Kolaghan, you will be hooked.

Thanks for reading, and if you are interested in hearing more about the deck, try listening to the podcast I am a host of – AtYourEndStep.

-Mike Keknee

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