Five Sleepers for SCG Richmond

KevinJones

For all its faults, I really enjoyed this standard format. Kaladesh is on the horizon and standard will lose a huge chunk of its previous self (origins and dragons of Tarkir). But before we bid adieu to Collected Company and its partners in crime, Jace and Nissa, the Bant daddy will have one last chance to shine at SCG Richmond this weekend. While I would be lying if I told you I planned on playing anything but Bant Company this weekend, I do wish that some cards got more love than they did throughout the format. A few of these cards won’t be rotating but I still think they’ve got a chance to put up some solid results this weekend. Some of these cards were underplayed because of the oppressive nature of a few top tier cards in the format while others were just kinda forgotten about. Join the daddy as we talk sleepers in the twilight of this standard format!

1. Always Watching: This card has been one of the main reasons human decks were able to compete with the larger, more powerful, Bant Company decks. Outside of humans the card has seen very little play. This is mainly because a midrange white creature deck without collected company is likely the wrong place to be. The card doesn’t fit in company because there’s a high threshold for non company hits and non creatures in the deck. Usually, it’s best to use creatures and spells that are both versatile and high impact. Ojutai’s Command, Dromoka’s Command, and Archangel Avacyn are prime examples. Furthermore, there’s already a critical mass of three drops. Because of this problem slower white decks that could use always watching were both inferior and weak to Dromoka’s Command. As company decks move towards Declaration in Stone to fight the Emrakul/emerge decks and the mirror and move away from Dromoka’s Command Always Watching is poised to be a powerful card. There’s an incredible synergy with Dragonlord Ojutai and the bonus to support creatures like Knight of the White Orchid, Reflector Mage, and Bygone Bishop is a noticeable bonus. The toughness boost allows them to be relevant on defense and still attack and survive combat efficiently. I think a WU Always Watching deck has been on the fringe of playability basically the entire duration of the format. I think this weekend’s open will see less commands than ever before. It’s a good time to be curving Knight of the White Orchid into Reflector Mage into Dragonlord Ojutai with an Always Watching at the ready.

2. Demonic Pact: This card has many of the same problems that Always Watching does, namely Dromoka’s Command. Spell Queller can also prevent the card from coming down and randomly might stop you from getting rid of it and subsequently cause you to die. These don’t sound like votes of confidence for the card, however, I feel like it’s rather well positioned against decks not playing Dromoka’s Command or Spell Queller. Playing pact facilitates playing another one of the most underrated cards in standard, Silumgar’s Command. It’s five mana casting cost can dodge Spell Queller and its powerful effect can catch you up even from some rather unfavorable board states. It also bounces Demonic Pact and can help relieve pressure so the pact can provide the advantage you need from it. A UB deck dedicated to killing things could splash Harmless Offering and just have the combo option as an afterthought as opposed to the focus of the deck. Demonic Pact also provides lifegain, a highly desired resource for slower UB decks.

3. Hangarback Walker: My brother, Derek, taught me how to play magic when I was small and annoying. Even then, over 15 years ago, he loved black based rock decks. He’s currently favoring GB delirium and has been doing very well online. Hangarback Walker is a two of sideboard card he’s been using to great effectiveness against other black midrange decks. The card is weak to both Reflector Mage and Spell Queller, important pieces in the best deck in the format. But, by relegating the card to the sideboard you can use it only when it’s optimal. It taxes the most important resource in the black midrange mirrors, removal. And once your opponent is forced to deal with it you have fueled delirium and are playing a deck with a ton of recursion options. Casting a hangarback multiple times will pressure their walkers, tax their removal, and could ultimately win you a lot of games. It’s also very cheap and thus has a low opportunity cost. I don’t like the card in game ones but it can be very good in the right spot. The other rock decks have very few ways to exile it and essentially have to kill it the hard way. One card that’s good against it is Liliana, the Last Hope but that’s easy enough to work around.

4. Cryptolith Rite: Another one of our local players, a guy named Steve, played rally last season and fell in love. Now he has been playing rites decks the entire duration of this format. Despite Cryptolith Rite having dropped out of the metagame almost completely he’s still playing it. Harlan Firer was up visiting daddy in New York so we could test for the RPTQ and we decided to test all day Friday and ended up playing FNM with our Bant decks as well. Steve crushed us both, convincingly. I’m not sure if the deck is actually good or not but in the right hands it’s still doing some very powerful things. Eldrazi Displacer is dominant against Bant Company, especially in tandem with Reflector Mage. You don’t have to bounce all their creatures, just enough to slow them down til you can find the Brood Monitor combo. Displacer also turns their Spell Quellers, usually an important piece of interaction, into a huge liability. For those that don’t know how the interaction works, whenever your opponent casts a spell with converted mana cost 4 or less you can target their Spell Queller with Eldrazi Displacer in response. This will free up your spell and exile theirs because it’s not a “may” ability. This is huge blowout because not only do they lose a potential attacker or blocker (spell Queller is tapped) but they also invested X mana and got nothing while you cast a spell for free! That’s pretty brutal. I’ve been playing two Eldrazi Displacer in my Bant Company decklist for this reason as well as the card’s general utility in the mirror. With sideboard Reality Smashers to shore up the matchup against various Languish decks Cryptolith Rite decks are poised to dominate the creature mirrors. I’m not sure if the deck should go the combo route with brood monitors and the like or if it should streamline itself as a Bant deck topping out with some Eldrazi emerge guys. Regardless, the rites decks have been underrated and underplayed for basically the entire format.

5. Chandra, Flamecaller: I almost want to put Eldrazi Displacer in the last slot here but I could write an entire article about how good that card is. Also, I’ve been playing it all along and would hesitate to call it a sleeper in the conventional sense of the word. I’m excited to board in a subjugator angel for the mirror and tap their board every turn. But alas, one last card that the format has forgotten is Chandra, Flamecaller. This fiery lady was so much better than people originally believed her to be. She saw widespread play in Mardu Green, Jeskai Black, and Ramp. But aside from the flash in the pan that was Grixis Control and some more ramp, the card has seen next to no play, especially since the release of Eldritch Moon. It could be a function of the color red being extremely weak in the current metagame. As the Bant decks move in a more attrition based, grindy direction to increase percentages against black decks and the mirror it’s likely that they’re reducing their level of instant speed interaction. This undoubtedly makes Chandra better. There will be draws that the card lines up poorly against but that’s why I don’t advocate (hehe) it out of a Jund or Grixis style midrange deck. I think the card shines amidst a critical mass of late game threats. This way you force the opponent to play around multiple things and increase the chances that they’ll make a mistake. Also, you have other options for that mana if the board isn’t good for Chandra that turn. Furthermore, you could even incorporate cards that allow you to discard the expensive walker and smooth out your draw. Tormenting voice and Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy do this well. While I do think the goggles type build of UR could be an optimal configuration (especially in postboard games), I think the best shell for Chandra is the RG delirium ramp deck, similar to the one piloted by Reid Duke at the pro tour. This deck has enough things to do at 6-7 mana that it isn’t priced into spending that turn on Chandra, Flamecaller. The added card type is great for the games where you need your Emrakul, the Promised End on a critical turn. This deck can often play Ishkanah with delirium as well. Ishkanah makes a giant spidery wall to protect your Chandra while it ticks up. Once you untap you’re likely only losing spiders if you tick Chandra down while you could always continue beating down protected by some great blockers. I think Chandra, and Ramp in general, is in a good spot this weekend.

Thanks for checking this one out! I really appreciate anyone who takes the time to read one of my articles. Writing is hard and I’m not sure I’m a truly compelling writer yet but I am glad to have some feedback and some exposure. See you next week!

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Post Invitational Musings and Gauging Accomplishments

KevinJones

A a couple of weeks ago I was all packed up and ready to hit the road for last weekend’s SCG invitational in New Jersey. My MGG teammates and I invited some friends and holed up in a hotel suite from Wednesday to Sunday. We spent the first two days trying to prepare for the most important event of the season thus far. We were joined by Ross Merriam, Todd Anderson, Harlan Firer, Frank Skarren, and Ben Friedman. Although Ben’s travel conflicts prevented him from arriving early he was able to communicate remotely and still managed to post a solid finish, losing the last round where a win might’ve given him 8th or 9th. Frank is a two time limited Grand Prix champion and is currently reintegrating himself into competitive magic. He was unable to win either of the last minute IQs at the nearby store, The Only Game in Town, and was actually not qualified for the invi. He still was a great testing partner as he was always eager to jam games despite his relative inexperience with current standard. Harlan, Ross, and Todd are all established personalities on the SCG tour and they need no introduction. Both Harlan and I won our regionals with Bant Company and were ready to bash the deck against all opposition. If nothing beat it then we would easily be able to iron out a good list and spend lots of time getting the perfect numbers. But things did beat it. Those things played the card Kozilek’s Return along with giant monsters to activate its flashback ability. Early on in testing our team was very interested in a Sultai Dredge style emerge deck that splashed for Kozilek’s return and supported elder deep-fiends and distended Mindbenders with the resilient value creatures Haunted Dead and Prized Amalgam. The deck managed to do some very broken things such as flipping Jace on turn 3, putting a Haunted Dead, a spirit, and two Prized Amalgams into play on turn 3, protecting Jace with a wall of spiders from Ishkanah, Grafwidow, and casting Traverse the Ulvenwald multiple turns in a row to chain deep fiends. The deck also was able to return a haunted dead discarding a K return and trigger prized amalgam, emerge deep fiend off the haunted dead, return prized amalgam after the k return flashback resolved. The initial testing against Bant resulted in a convincing victory by the Dredge deck. 6-1 in games. The deck was doing some of the more unfair things you could be doing in standard. It was, however, inconsistent. After I played games where I was aggressively attacking the Jaces and the green graveyard enabler cards, I was able to manage a 6-2 record with the Bant deck against the dredge deck. Andrew, Danny, Ross, Jim, and Ben all played the Dredge deck. Ben lost playing for top 8, maybe 9th, to Josh Taylor’s BW Control. But as a whole, the performances with the deck weren’t spectacular. Ben was also able to win his RPTQ with an updated version of the dredge deck that we talked about briefly Saturday night. Danny went 6-0 in the standard classic before losing two matches in a row. Jim was able to convert and top 8 the standard classic. They were both playing the dredge deck. Limited master Frank Skarren took his second loss at 6-1 in the classic as well. So it seems that the deck is actually much more consistent than it appeared. Everyone was doing pretty mediocre midway through day one and it was possible they made the wrong deck choice. Andrew managed a top 32 finish in the invitational with the deck and his choice modern deck, GU Infect. Some decent results overall for the guys this weekend. I had a pretty rough weekend myself, however. I was unable to day two the invitational, managing only a 2-2 record in modern and a 1-2 record in standard. I played Harlan’s RUG Midrange deck, the same one he played to 12-3 at GP Charlotte and 11-3-1 for 11th place at SCG Syracuse. His results were definitely good with the deck and it was also surely my type of deck. I was beaten badly by Daddy Michael Segal and his Bant Eldrazi deck in the first round then beaten just as badly by a very good Jund player in the second round. The next two rounds were better but only cause I played against blue decks. The RUG midrange deck is heavily favored against other blue decks. It plays 4 copies of Remand and has 4 Snapcasters and Tarmogoyfs, as well as a bevy of cheap permission. I was able to defeat Jeskai Delver and Grixis Control rather handily.

My standard rounds were a continuation of the mediocrity of my modern rounds. I lost round 5 to player of the year front runner Jeff Hoogland and his Jund delirium deck. After winning an academic first game my mulligan to six had duskwatch recruiter into Tamiyo, Field Researcher. One of his two copies of To the Slaughter destroyed me in short order. Game 3 was back and forth and despite being behind early I had flipped a Nissa and began to battle back. I couldn’t beat his Emrakul when it was backed by double Ishkanah activation however. Round 6 I defeated a U/R Burn player in 3 close games. The pivotal turn involved a Dromoka’s Command to prevent a Collective Defiance and kill his Stormchaser Mage. Fortunately, the command was my last card and he took the chance that I didn’t have it. I lost a close round 7 to Andy Boswell and his trusty G/W Tokens deck. The two post-board games were extremely close and I ended up on the wrong side of an Avacyn both times.

It was very discouraging to miss out on day two and lose control of my own destiny in the Players’ Championship race. I felt lost in modern and likely should’ve just played Bant Eldrazi despite having little familiarity with the deck. I took a chance on the R/U/G deck and feel like I threw away a shot a good invitational finish. I think my standard deck was good, but I played rather poorly, especially against Andrew. However, my mediocre performance left me outside smoking and shaking off the sting of defeat. While I smoked and tilted off, something I’ve been working on harnessing better than I had in years past, I noticed an imposing shadow adjacent to me, also smoking intently. It turned out that the shadow was attached to a person, a common characteristic of shadows. The person was also a magic player and happened to be the most dominant player in SCG invitational history. But Gerry T, the owner of the shadow, was not there to play great magic with mediocre Grixis decks. He was there to impart his own brand of wisdom. We proceeded to have a very interesting conversation. I lamented not knowing if I would earn my slot to the Players’ Champs or not. As it stood I was in, but a powerful performance from Devin Koepke or Ross Merriam could end up bumping me. Gerry asked me, “If one of those guys does well and passes you did you earn your slot?” I replied immediately, “Hell no!” He nodded, paused a second, and said “Well, what’s the difference if they don’t pass you? You’ve done the same amount of work and performed the same at this point regardless of whether you make it or not. So how could, would you be earning it either way?” I never really thought about it like that and was basically at a loss for words. I responded that I felt earnings were relative. That a performance that leaves you in one of the top 3 points slots at the end of a season earns you a berth to the important end of the year event. And that there’s no objective amount of points that is deemed “good enough” since everything is based off the amount of points others are achieving. So basically, you’re always gauging your success on the backs of the failures of others. Also, Gerry posits that setting the goal of reaching the PC will yield within oneself a degree of settling, of satisfaction with having reached one’s goal. I said naturally “You’ve gotta be in it to win it.” He thinks the initial goal should be to win, because otherwise you’re tempering your fire once you get there. Which again, kinda blew my mind. I have always preferred baby steps, and felt that setting a short term goal would allow me to reevaluate for the long term. But I had to ask myself, “Am I okay with losing in the tournament that I’ve been working towards all year?” And the answer is I’m not really sure. When I saw the new structure I wanted to use the momentum gained from my top 4 finish last December to springboard myself towards a return to Roanoke this December. I wanted to show everyone that I didn’t need the points from IQs to do it either. And I guess that’s what I did. All along I kept saying “get that invite, get that slot” instead of “win the players champs this winter.” So in a way I was allowing myself to be okay with failure. I think most people do this to a degree, albeit in different ways. Some people say, “get a job” or “get a girlfriend or boyfriend” not “find work that makes me happy and fulfilled” or “find someone with whom I would be honored to spend forever.” Are we all kinda missing the point? I’m not sure, I think small goals are important, but long term goals are the ones you should really never lose sight of. I’m already thinking about hoisting that huge SCGPC trophy so I guess that’s a step in the right direction. I’m out of here for this week, thanks everyone for reading my rambles about something other than decklists with Reflector Mage or Snapcaster Mage in them. I’ll leave you guys with 5 funny anecdotes from our invi weekend, take care!

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-Harlan Firer was eating some mysterious pizza off an actual glass plate while sitting in my car on Saturday morning. I have no idea where the pizza came from and can only assume that the hotel will miss their plate because it’s still in my backseat, caked with pizza. He also went 0-7 between the invi modern and the modern open. What a hungry wall of frost!

-Todd Anderson is way better at basketball than anyone would have anticipated. He’s a short stocky dude and you wouldn’t think he can ball, but that guy is tenacious! One little butt thrust box out move and I was resigned to different approaches to rebounding. Side note, Jim Davis hasn’t gotten the best of me in any athletic competitions we’ve done as part of team MGG. Danny and I beat Jim, Ross, and Harlan in two of three games with a barely mobile Andrew Jessup as our third teammate. They were only able to win once Ross tapped out and was replaced by tenacious Todd.

-Tom Ross says great things. Tom approached me before we all left on Monday morning and asked for a cigarette. I naturally responded with, “DADDYYY!” Tom spoke in his deep southern drawl as I handed him a smoke and said “You’re like a Pokemon.” Truer words have never been spoken.

-Commentary is really hard. Matthias Hunt is one of the smartest dudes around. He broke down some of the many complexities inherent to coverage broadcasting and my mind was blown. The guys who bring you these stellar broadcasts week in and week out put an incredible amount of time into doing so. We are fortunate enough to be sponsored players because it’s much easier than being behind the mic.

-I can do a front flip basically on flat ground. Harlan was staying with me in New York this week in preparation for the RPTQ at our very own Kirwan’s Game Store this past Sunday. We decided to spend Monday afternoon at one of the greatest vacation destinations America has to offer, the Jersey Shore. Harlan was pestering me to go in the ocean Monday evening before we headed home. We had been swimming earlier and were way too loose to bring or buy a towel. I was hesitant to get wet again because it would make the 2.5 hour drive home considerably less comfortable. Changing clothes in your car is illegal in the state of New Jersey and I don’t break the law. So I would be resigned to a wet butt for almost 3 hours if I did take another dip. When he threatened to splash me like a petulant child I acquiesced and basically tilt-charged into the ocean. I decided to use the favorite ocean entrance move of my 14 year old self, a crisp front flip over the wave breaking on shore. The water behind the wave is roughly knee deep and will cushion the fall if you don’t stick it. So I went for it and the next thing I knew I was standing in knee deep water and everyone was kinda looking at me. I even heard some clapping. Daddy’s still got the moves, kids!

Eldritch Brewin’

KevinJones

The SCG Tour stop that came through Columbus a few weeks back was the first chance for Eldritch Moon to unleash itself on the standard format. And it definitely made it’s presence felt, albeit not how everyone might’ve anticipated.
Bant company was absolutely dominant, the deck made up roughly one third of the day two metagame and accounted for three of the top eight slots, including the winner. It makes sense because the deck is very powerful, it’s flexible, and it mulligans well. Also, it makes great use of the premier standard weapon of Eldritch Moon in Spell Queller. I do think that there’s ways to attack it and while there’s not too many different ways, one solid plan is to play a large number of flying creatures, especially ones that dodge the tempo loss from Reflector Mage. Creatures that fit this criteria include Archangel Avacyn, Bruna, the Fading Light, Dragonlord Ojutai, Linvala, the preserver, Dragonlord Dromoka, Mirrorwing Dragon, and some others. One thing that’s quite obvious is that several of these creatures are angels, enabling you to reanimate them with Bruna, the Fading Light. I think Bruna is great and is likely the most underrated card in the set. Her four mana counterpart, Gisela, the Broken Blade, could be the most overrated, but combined they do some truly awesome things.

More recently, Pro Tour Eldritch Moon took place in Sydney, Australia and was won by Lukas Blohon and his creature and planeswalker heavy version of B/W control. The various emerge and delirium decks were the true breakouts of the weekend, however. Owen Turtenwald propelled himself to a second player of the year title and a 2nd place finish with an innovative Temur Emerge deck built around Emrakul, the Promised End and the green creature selection spells, Gather the Pack and Grapple with the Past. The deck uses these cards to search for, and ultimately recur, their giant Eldrazi, Elder Deep-Fiend and Emrakul. The green spells also fuel delirium and conveniently place Kozilek’s Return in the graveyard to be triggered by a giant alien. The deck is quite powerful, but will surely lose a bunch of it’s surprise value in the coming weeks. It is also a perfect segue to a unique idea that’s been bouncing around my twisted little brain ever since the set came out.

Bant Angels is my little brainchild that I’ve been too lazy to actually sleeve up and play. The issue here is mainly a fear of failure. If this deck sucks then I won’t have this little fantasy to fall back on. The idea behind the deck is essentially to play these green spells to help ensure that we can meld our giant Eldrazi Angel, Brisela on or around turn 7. Here’s a rough decklist.

This deck might seem strange on the surface, and that’s because it is, but there’s a lot of speed bumps and this format isn’t particularly fast anyway. I originally included Declaration in Stone as a cheap removal spell but upon further revision I feel that having ways to kill your Brisela is bad with so many Emrakuls floating around. For what appears to be a slow ramp type deck this is actually capable of some faster draws with Wharf Infiltrator and Gisela, the Broken Blade. I’m not likely to bust this brew out at the invitational, but I can safely say that it’s coming soon to a side event or FNM near me! And onwards to the next idea I can’t get away from.

Spell Queller and Languish both push the format in two interesting directions. Queller makes expensive spells and creatures good and Languish makes large toughness creatures and flash creatures good. Some of these overlap, but then Reflector Mage makes expensive creatures bad. Or at least if you play them, they better have an enters the battlefield effect comparable to a card worth of value and/or be game winning on their own. Midrange creature decks that aren’t Bant Company have a pretty high bar to hop if they wish to be a factor in this format. Also, Bant Company has an intense restriction on the number of cards it can play that aren’t company hits. For these reasons we haven’t seen much of either card in the next deck on the brew menu despite them being two of the cards I’ve most wanted to play with for the entire format. The next deck is built around the awesome “combo” of Always Watching and Dragonlord Ojutai. This pairing saw some play in WU Humans right around the release of Shadows over Innistrad, but ever since the most popular humans deck became the white splash red version, Ojutai has seen very little play in standard. This is unfortunate because the card matches up very well against most of the format. The natural weakness to Languish can be easily remedied by Gideon, Ally of Zendikar and the aforementioned Always Watching. Giving Ojutai vigilance can prevent any of the conventional problems faced by expensive creatures. Reflector Mage, Declaration in Stone, Grasp of Darkness, etc. all of these are rendered moot when you can attack without losing hexproof. The one problematic card for this combination is Thalia, Heretic Cathar. Your Ojutai being tapped immediately upon entering the battlefield defeats the entire purpose of Always Watching. The marked decrease in Bant Company post PT Eldritch Moon should mean less Thalias and less Dromoka’s Commands as well. Both of these trends should fare well for the Always Watching and Ojutai deck. I like this deck so much that I almost played a version of it at SCG Baltimore. The last few slots were tough to nail down, but I was very impressed with Ojutai and Always Watching. Not to mention the strength of Knight of the White Orchid when used in tandem with anthem effects. The number of spirits in the format has greatly decreased since week one as well, and consequentially, Gideon is in a much better spot. The option to always crack for an emblem is important because you’ve got enough early creatures that you can leverage the emblem better than other Gideon decks, like B/W midrange and even better than some of the draws of the old G/W tokens deck. If I was battling with this deck in an event this weekend I would likely build it like this.

The last brew I have for everyone today is a resurrection of a forgotten archetype. The Cryptolith Rites decks were a force throughout the entire tenure of SOI standard. I’ve seen exactly one good finish from a Rites deck since the release of Eldritch Moon. A B/G Rites build took down the Orlando stop of SCG regionals, one of the largest regionals in the country. Max Molesch’s winning decklist is;

I’m interested in taking it a step farther though. I’ve always liked the rites decks that based themselves off of a Bant shell. I think the mana is a bit tight for the fourth color, but we can definitely merge the powerful emerge mechanic with a Bant rite deck. Elder Deep-Fiend will prevent your opponents from casting the sorcery speed sweeper effects that have always been the bane of Cryptolith Rites decks. This deck ends up looking very similar to one of the early decks from my testing gauntlet. It also shares several cards with the U/G Emerge deck that Gerry Thomspon wrote about when the set first came out. Eldrazi Displacer is a very powerful trump against the other creature decks. It’s also a fantastic foil to Spell Queller that has reasonable stats in it’s own right. Reflector Mage gives the Rites strategy some much needed interaction as well as a way to deal with Kalitas, even if only temporarily. You can Reflector Mage a tough threat and then emerge it to cast an Elder Deep-Fiend and prevent them from recasting their crucial threat for a second consecutive turn. This is a level of interaction the rites decks were previously unable to attain. Decimator of the Provinces is another way to break through board stalls and an awesome dimension the deck didn’t have before. The toughest questions regarding a deck like this are the correct creatures to play in the 3 drop slot. With 4 emerge creatures you definitely want the full allotment of Matter Reshapers. You also want Displacers and Reflector Mages and some utility creatures that help hit land drops, namely Nissa, Vastwood Seer, and Pilgrim’s Eye. Depending on the metagame, Eldrazi Skyspawner could also be great. Elvish Visionary and Duskwatch Recruiter are musts at the 2 slot and could be supplemented by a couple copies of Selfless Spirit to help against removal heavy decks. Loam Dryad lets you come out of the gates quickly and helps you hit your colors while still playing a handful of colorless sources. I like 3 copies of Elder Deep-Fiend and 1 Decimator of the Provinces to diversify the threats and give a payoff to your utility three drops. 4 Collected Company and 3 Cryptolith Rite, and you’ve got a sweet little pile of synergies. The list looks something like this.

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These are three decks that this format hasn’t really seen yet. I can’t guarantee they’re all tuned and tier one, but they’ll definitely get some wins at your local FNM and weekly standard events. One downside to not playing a bunch of IQs is I’m rarely able to play brews in smaller tournaments. I usually only play in the bigger tournaments. And this weekend is one of the biggest tournaments the SCG Tour has to offer. My teammates and I will be inviting some friends to join us as we hole up for a few days and take cracks at standard and modern for the season two invitational in New Jersey. Come say hello if you see me there and hopefully next week’s article will be all about the token I get to make as an invitational champion. Thanks for reading, I hope you try out some of these creations, let me know how it goes!

Rattlechains and the Future of Standard in Eldrich Moon

KevinJones

This past weekend I set out to nearby Worcester, MA with the intention of battling some legacy and gaining some more points for this season two points races on the SCG Tour. I definitely played some legacy. Unfortunately I can’t say I played well or very long. I ended up 5-4 with two byes as two of my wins. I would guess that being relatively out of touch with legacy contributed to some poor play on my part and gave me a few losses that better pilots might’ve been able to pull out. Also, the legacy iteration of Grixis Delver is incredibly powerful and incredibly hard to play. I played two leagues online to prepare and it wasn’t close to enough. The tournament was won by upstate New York legacy ringer, Ed Demicco. His Grixis Delver deck relegated Gurmag Angler and Cabal Therapy to the board favor of some main deck Stifles. I have no idea if that’s the optimal configuration going forward but I do know that Ed always plays Grixis Delver, and always does well, so I’m hesitant to question his deck choices.

On a side note, I’m pretty glad the SCG Tour is moving away from legacy as a focal format on the circuit. It’s tough to keep up with the pace of two dynamic constructed formats on a week to week basis. Three is just impossible I think. Also, legacy is hard, and the cards are expensive, so casual legacy testing isn’t something that happens very often. I have never owned a legacy deck, but I do own most, if not all, of my standard and modern decks. I’m not saying this matters too much, my teammates and I obviously have the resources to get whatever cards we need for tournaments, but I enjoy keeping up with formats and being able to battle decks against my friends locally. Round 3 at Worcester was my first sanctioned legacy match since the last legacy open. Also, if you play legacy you might have to play against Lands, Daddy hates lands. Lands is stupid. This rant is over.

One upside of our dreadful performance in Worcester (the first time since Team MGG started working together that we didn’t put a single player into day two) was that my teammates and I were free to grab some of the points offered to us by the standard and modern Classic events. Jim and Pete opted to play modern with Jeskai, a decision I can’t fault them for. Andrew decided to play modern Infect. Again, pretty tough to argue with that decision. Dan and I decided to battle in the standard Classic. He went with a relatively unchanged version of the 4c Rites deck he piloted to a top 8 in Orlando. I decided to hit up my ghostly buddy, Rattlechains, and join up with the chain gang for the day. Don’t call my deck a pile because A; scoreboard! and B; it’s actually very good. This deck is incredibly synergistic. Even simple things like mana sinks and what turns you tap out seem to gel together very well. For example, you might be on the draw with a Knight of the White Orchid and no other two drop. Well, Thraben Inspector lets you sink that two mana into a clue so you didn’t waste the turn and can still get value out of your Knight. Along the same lines you might’ve had a Rattlechains to play turn two. In that case your third turn can be Knight, get a land, play a land, crack a clue. So before you get too lost in the random situational analysis I’m all too likely to drop into, check out the deck I played.

I managed a record of 6-0 which let me draw twice into the top 8. Once there I faced Bant Humans and Tom Ross’ WR Humans before falling to Pro Tour standout Mike Sigrist and his GW Tokens deck. GW is normally the best matchup for this WU deck, but my draws were fairly lackluster and his were great. I might’ve also side boarded wrong. I didn’t have enough answers to the card that single handedly won him game two, Evolutionary Leap. Also, Mike is great and just played extremely well in both games. Much of this is moot because we really want to discuss the future. This deck is a harbinger of things to come. And, believe me, things will be spooky! Let’s talk upgrades to WU Aggro from Eldritch Moon. I’m pretty sure the deck will look completely different but several of the cards will stay in the list.

Spell Queller: This card is broken as hell. It allows you to have a potent answer to most of the threats your opponents can muster in the early turns. Also, it counters most removal and every Counterspell except Silumgar’s Command. This card is especially efficient at countering your opponents’ Counterspells because it’s not guaranteed that they’ll be able to counter something when your Queller dies. Also, even if your opponent does kill this creature, all they’ve done is spent a card to get the spell they should’ve had in the first place, likely 1-2 turns later. UW isn’t looking to answer things forever. We have an evasive clock and a variety of tough to answer mid-range threats as well (namely Gideon, Ally of Zendikar and Archangel Avacyn/Avacyn, the Purifier). We often just need to put something away to make sure we can set up. Spell Queller fits beautifully in this role. Especially because this format, while not especially fast, is extremely tempo based. Their turn 4 Languish might not matter on turn 5 or 6 because you’ve got a Gideon down or you can follow their Languish up with an Avacyn or an Elder Deep-Fiend. The built in protection that a UW Spirits shell provides in Mausoleum Wanderer, Essence Flux, and Rattlechains is enough to push this card to the top of my list, sitting right next to this guy…..

Elder Deep-Fiend: Can you say “pushed for constructed”?! Dear god. I was very excited to try this card out. That was back when I thought it was a “comes into play” ability and that it only tapped non-lands. This is actually disgusting. A UW or Bant deck can easily follow one of their utility 3 drops up with this guy, stealing your opponents’ turn and adding a 5/6 to your board. The best part is after you attack for a bunch you can just pass with a bunch of mana up and a wealth of threats represented. It doesn’t really cost much considering lots of your three drops have “comes into play” abilities anyway. They usually get a card’s worth of value on casting, especially when you’re getting a card out of each one with something like Bygone Bishop. You can even do some shenanigans with Samctum of Ugin to ensure that your opponent will be missing multiple untap steps essentially. Even if you don’t have another creature in play you can always sacrifice the first Fiend to play a second one for two mana, maybe with counter backup. While the spirits deck and it’s tricky flash dynamics make it a great fit for the giant octopus, it might be even better suited to replace reality smasher in the Bant Rite deck that saw some play this season. That deck seems like the best shell for Foul Emissary, a variant of utility creature particularly suited for emerge. Casting fiend on turn 4 off the Emissary leaves you with 8 power in play and them tapped out. You can attack and hold up mana for Collected Company. Lines like this seem scarily powerful in standard.

Mausoleum Wanderer: We make the shift from an 8 mana creature to a 1 mana creature. This one is really good too. However, you can’t toss this guy in any deck, like you could Thraben Inspector. But this creature has a higher ceiling. Inspector always replaces itself which is why it’s likely the best overall one mana creature in standard. Wanderer can trade for some pretty high quality spells though. Furthermore, this format was already tempo based and is shaping up to be even more tempo based. The fact that you can safely develop your board knowing this guy provides insulation against a fourth turn Languish is huge. The combination of Wanderer being a mediocre Collected Company hit and also being very good against Collected Company makes me inclined to believe that you don’t need green in the best spirits decks. I would hate to be the pilot of a conventional Bant Company deck when my opponent has this guy and other flyers. Company decks have enough trouble with untapped lands and the fact that a flashed in spirit will turn this guy from a Cursecatcher to a pseudo Spell Pierce is pretty ridiculous. You can even play some spirits out at sorcery speed and then attack for 2 or 3. That’s a ton of value for one mana.

A danger of one mana 1/1s is that they can be outclassed by conventional creature curves. Mausoleum Wanderer’s pump ability helps it scale well as the game plays out. Still, anthem effects are at a premium in decks like this because they often play bounce effects and conditional permission. The opponent will resolve their powerful spells eventually and the viability of a flashy aggro control deck like spirits hinges on its ability to shut the door inside of a reasonable time frame. There’s two obvious ways to do this. They already dominate standard and slot right in atop the curve of our UW spirits deck. Archangel Avacyn and Gideon, Ally of Zendikar are two of the most powerful threats standard has to offer. Avacyn needs no discussion here seeing as she has flash is huge and can provide a game changing ability in a pinch. The fact that Gideon is great against the removal that is normally great against the deck is important. It provides a different angle of attack if you’re battling an attrition based midrange deck. But the way Gideon really shines is with his ability to immediately provide an emblem. 3 power flyers close the game way faster than their two power counterparts, and the added toughness boost can help to dodge certain removal spells. This brings us right into the next card I want to discuss.

Collective Effort: This card wins races all by itself. Flash type decks can struggle with resolved creatures, especially larger ones. This provides some relief for Reflector Mage. Having the ability to kill big creatures and pump your team is doubly desirable because it provides redundancy in two important roles, Gideon and Refkector Mage. Removal that you can cash out for extra damage in a racing situation is unbelievably valuable in decks that switch roles in the ways I envision spirits will. Lastly, you might kill an enchantment and get some awesome value.

Selfless Spirit: A turn one Mausoleum Wanderer followed by one of these is a great opening. When you realize that your third turn Spell Queller will nab their best play on turn 3 or 4 and that it might be doubly insulated from removal by two other evasive bodies that are still providing a clock and require no additional mana investment you should get scared, boo! Faeries is back, they’re just called spirits this time around. Also, white is by far the best color in standard, and the fact that the trickiness of the archetype can be augmented by the raw power that some of the great white cards have is pretty terrifying. Oh, by the way, Ojutai’s Command will now sometimes make all your creatures indestructible and do something else. You might counter an Avacyn and make your team indestructible. So the combat blowout still happens, just for the other side. Can’t wait to start brewing with these guys.

This past Sunday was the first live testing session for Team MGG with Eldritch Moon. Hopefully the lists will start getting better. Things come together quickly when an event is looming though. 5 days before we registered the Bant Company deck that dominated SCG Baltimore we were content to play a UR Dragons deck is thrown together that actually saw some play towards the end of the format. Let that be a vote of confidence to those of you struggling to find a new list in the new format. Often we are all just as lost as you are. I hope the card evaluations discussed above helped you find some perspective. I’ll leave you off with the roughest list for a UW spirit deck. Thanks for reading as always, see you next week when someone on the Internet will have likely broken it by then!

Grixis Delver Primer: Part Two

KevinJones

Welcome back! So, last week we went over the cards I played in the main deck and sideboard. We were also privy to the ridiculous spectacle that was my travel situation. This week we’ll be talking about the actual tournament and some of the side boarding choices I made. I won’t cover a sideboard plan for every deck in modern because that’s not a time effective endeavor, but I will talk about the most popular match ups and let everyone know how I boarded in the rounds I played. Let’s get into it!

The morning of the event started off in fantastic fashion as we stepped outside, jersey clad, into 95 degree Texas heat. We hopped in an Uber (Uber code wjcxk) and fortunately our driver was awesome! He had a huge shiny silver pickup truck, an Alamo sticker and a Punisher sticker on the back window, and numerous small trinkets with the names of popular gun brands on them. One perk of traveling around the country slinging cardboard is the chance to meet people who are every bit as diverse as America itself. This experience was no exception. It was cool to talk to someone who had many of the common traits of Texans. It made the trip feel very real to me and for that I thank our driver as well as the awesome waitresses and bartenders we met throughout our four day visit. Everyone did a great job of making us feel welcome in our very temporary homes. When we got to the site a quick resleeving of my deck was followed by an exhaustive search for a Countersquall that was fruitful at the cost of four whole dollars. The tournament was huge, capped out at 1,000 people. I wandered around during the end of round one and saw lots of the aggressive decks, mainly Burn, Zoo, and Infect. I also saw a fair amount of Jund and a few Grixis and Jeskai decks. Eventually round two was paired and I sat down in the feature match area to battle. My first few rounds went as follows.

Round 2: Win 2-0 vs Bradley playing Jeskai Control. Jeskai is a bad matchup game one and a good one post board. This is one matchup where Hero’s Downfall would’ve been way better than Dreadbore. I would’ve loved to board out 2 of the 3 Terminates but Dreadbore doesn’t answer Celestial Colonnade. I want all the removal that doesn’t go to their face in a pinch to kill Colonnade. I had to leave Dreadbore in because it’s so good against Nahiri, the Harbinger. It ended up winning me the match because it killed a random Elspeth, Sun’s Champion that my opponent was surely going to stabilize with.

Round 3: Win 2-1 vs Jeff Hoogland on Blue Kiki Chord. This match was on camera and I thought Jeff played pretty well. My deck definitely looked a bit scrappy here but it got the job done with a couple copies of Delver of Secrets.

Round 4: Win 2-0 vs David with Naya Allies. David is a former Massachusetts resident and we’ve battled before at the famed Jupiter Games legacy events years back. It was great to catch up with David and a pleasure to play him again. Unfortunately his draws were pretty bad and Tasigur, the Golden Fang backed by removal spells made short work of his allies deck.

Round 5: Loss 0-2 vs Andrew Jessup with Green Blue Infect. Against a great player and teammate was a poor time for my deck to not show up. I didn’t draw very many removal spells in game one and was forced to take a bunch of damage. By the time I had removal spells I was at a high amount of Infect damage and a timely Spell Pierce killed me as I was forced to play out all my interaction in combat. I missed a few too many land drops in game two and that was that.

Rounds 6 and 7: Wins, 2-1 and 2-0. I bounced back from my loss with a close 2-1 win over Paul’s 8-Whack Goblin deck and a convincing 2-0 win over Chris’ Scapeshift deck. These decks are both doing unfair things, albeit differently.The Counterspells shined in both of these match ups, as did the delve creatures.

Round 8: Loss 0-2 vs Timothy Thomasson with Blue White Merfolk. I feel like this match up is pretty bad. I was significantly far ahead in both games and just kinda lost. He played to his outs and hit them, especially in game two. The more I think about it the worse I think the match up is. They have a fast clock, interaction and disruption. Their interaction (Vapor Snag and Harbinger of the Tides) adds to their clock and is good against your delve creatures as well as your Delvers. I believe Cavern of Souls makes the match up even worse since it causes your counterspells to be dead. I didn’t have enough cards to board in to take out all the counters. Kira, Great Glass-Spinner is pretty tough to beat as well. Tim was a great player and a classy opponent, so hats off to him. This was a match up I hope to dodge in the future. His white splash also gave him Path to Exile which helps with Tasigur and early flipped Delvers.

Round 9: Win 2-1 vs Josh with RG Valakut. Game three of this match was the closest game I played on day one. I had Crumbled his Valakuts to dust only for him to untap and Through the Breach Hornet Queen into play. What the hell?!?! I was so mad, but I was also alive. Between careful management of my removal spells, and attacking exactly when I had to, I was able to manage the tokens. Two turns before his last 1/1 token was poised to kill me he drew a Primeval Titan. The Titan would’ve easily finished me even without the Valakuts. Luckily I had drawn my one Vendilion Clique and it stole his Titan and blocked the token. The next few turns involved a standoff where he held a lethal Bolt and I held the Countersquall he knew about. I also had a second one he didn’t know about and he decided to go for it when he drew a Summoning Trap a few turns later. I Countersquall it and he Bolts me. I squall that too. Then I’m able to win a few turns later with Tasigur and a couple running Snapcaster Mages. I was very fortunate to win this match and Josh took it in stride, partially because he “wanted to play legacy anyway.”

After squeaking into day two on the thinnest of margins I was just happy to be playing some free magic on Sunday. After an awesome Texas dinner, and some unbelievable gelato, we headed back to the room for some much needed rest. I slept great and woke up ready to battle. Little did I know how strange the first three rounds would be.

Rounds 9,10,11: vs Bant Eldrazi all three times. Win 2-1, 2-0, 2-1. My round 11 opponent was Max Dresslar. Our game two was the closest game I played in the entire tournament. I was able to survive after he top decked back to back Reality Smashers. The one Vampiric Link on a Tasigur bought me enough life to top deck a Kolaghan’s Command on the last turn I could to squeak it out. This match up seemed very close to me. It is definitely one of the match ups where Delver of Secrets pulls it’s weight. Similar to the Merfolk match up, you have way more counterspells than you can possibly board out. I left in one Spell Snare because of Spellskite and the possibility of Rest in Peace. It’s probably better to leave 1-2 Mana Leak in because it’s better if they happen to not draw Cavern of Souls.

Round 13: Win 2-0 vs Tuan with GW Bogles. My opponent was sitting next to me the previous round and had played Jim, so I was paying attention to the match. I knew he was playing Bogles, a nightmare match up for Grixis decks. However, the combination of a heavier focus on counter magic and cheap proactive threats like Delvers and delve creatures gave me the draws I needed to win 2-0. I also think my opponent’s draws were very bad and he was admittedly inexperienced with the deck. The deck is fairly straightforward but it has some important decisions and I would say with confidence that it’s not as easy to play as people tend to think.

Round 14: Win 2-0 vs Pete Ingram with Jeskai Control. I was paired up to my teammate at table one and he elected to concede since it would lock both of us for top 8. I was in the zone and ready to battle a win and in and was slightly relieved/disappointed when I was paired against Pete. I’m not sure what I felt initially but after the concession locked us both for top 8 I felt great. I knew there was still work to be done, but it had been awhile since I had even cracked the top 8 of an open. It’s odd to get basically scooped into top 8 and something like that has never happened to me before. As a team we have the goal of putting as many of us in the Players’ Championship as possible. When Pete is locked for top 8 regardless crushing me out of contention (12-3 would only make it with great breakers) undermines the larger goal we have as a team. Like I said, it’s a strange situation, but it means several of us are going deep in the same tournaments. So in that regard I think it’s a good problem to have. Pete, Andrew, and I all shook our round 15 opponents’ hands and drew into the top 8. Jim was playing Jacob Baugh but was mathematically locked for 7th even with a loss. Jim lost and ended up in 7th. Occupying half the top 8 with my teammates in an event I really didn’t even want to attend was a surreal feeling. I was growing frustrated with my mediocre performances as of late. I felt like I was letting the team down and not pulling my weight. This event marked the dissolution of those sentiments. I know one event doesn’t actually change much, but it does provide confidence and I did throw a few “told you Grixis doesn’t suck” jabs at the other guys on the team. I can’t thank these guys enough for putting up with me week in and week out. We all have our own quirks and the team mentality requires you to sacrifice a bit of yourself at times. That can be tough for some people to reconcile with, but all these guys have given their all for us to ride this awesome experience as far as it goes. I’m not even referencing stuff like concessions. Lots of energy is put into all the work that it takes to get there and shuffle up with a deck in hand and a yellow jersey on. Getting there is half the battle. So I just wanted to thank these guys for being awesome teammates and for giving me someone to share the anxious flights, late nights, and long days with.

I’m not going to say much about the top 8 matches as they were all covered.

Sideboarding with Grixis Delver is pretty flexible and oftentimes obvious. Unsurprisingly, the issues lie in the gray areas. Ancestral Vision is often swapped for Delver of Secrets. Jeskai, Grixis Control, Abzan Midrange and possibly Jund are decks where you might seek to win an attrition game instead of a tempo based game. It often depends on play style though, if you think such a plan is overly anticipated by your opponent you can leave the Delvers in and get ’em. I also like doing this when there’s a short amount of time left in the round and am much more likely to do it on the play than on the draw. I’ll go over some of the more common match ups.

Burn:
-2 Remand, -1 Vendilion Clique, -3 Terminate, -1 Dreadbore
+2 Countersquall, +2 Magma Spray, +1 Vampiric Link, +1 Kolaghan’s Command, +1 Dispel
The BR removal spells often cause you to take damage and blue mana is essential early to keep Spell Snare on. Magma Spray kills everything the Terminates kill anyway, just be careful of Atarka’s Command and prowess tricks.

Affinity:
-2 Remand, -1 Mana Leak, -1 Dreadbore, -1 Gurmag Angler
+2 Magma Spray, +1 Kolaghan’s Command, +1 Engineered Explosives, +1 Vandalblast
Your cards are very good here. Mana Leak stays in as a concession to the power of Etched Champion but countering any 2 or 3 mana spell is usually fine in a pinch.

Infect:
-2 Remand, -1 Spell Snare, -1 Mana Leak, -1 ?
+2 Magma Spray, +1 Kolaghan’s Command, +1 Engineered Explosives, +1 Dispel
Take damage, stick threats with mana untapped, don’t cast your removal unless you have more or have to. Be careful of their Spell Pierces on Snapcaster turns. Don’t be afraid to leave Tasigurs, Anglers, or Aberrations back to block. The match up is about forcing them to act.

Jeskai:
-4 Delver of Secrets, -1 Terminate, -3 Lightning Bolt
+4 Ancestral Vision, +2 Countersquall, +1 Kolaghan’s Command, +1 Dispel

I was pretty happy with how I played (excusing the turn against Pete in game three where I thought I had another K Command in the graveyard and had to sheepishly Electrolyze him with my Snapcaster Mage). Most of you probably know that I was able to grab the trophy after three close games against Andrew, who played his Infect deck masterfully, as usual. Those matches are covered and they were pretty interesting to play so I can imagine them being great to watch as well. It was great to be holding an SCG Tour trophy again after an almost 2 year drought. Thanks to everyone who watched me from home in New York, it’s great to have friends and family that support what you do. Thanks to all the people who had kind words to say over text or on social media. Thanks to everyone at Kirwan’s for a warm welcome back to work and for letting me write this extremely wordy two part article. And lastly, thanks to the SCG guys for giving us this awesome forum to sling our spells and make our own stories.

Jim and I ended up at a Jazz club late Sunday night that was literally underground. Sometimes my life feels normal. I go to work during the week, play some softball, hang with my girlfriend, and play some magic at the local stores. Just the same things most of my friends in my town do. But then it’s midnight central time on a Sunday night and I’m in an underground Jazz bar in Texas wearing a bright yellow jersey and talking about life with another professional magic player. Not what I would’ve expected when I was in college and staring off into the perceived abyss that is one’s late 20’s. It might be objectively weird and cause me to fly way more than I want to but I wouldn’t trade it for anything. The arc of competitive magic is so awesome and so unique that sometimes I feel like a secret agent in the real world. Maybe that’s slightly hyperbolic, but it’s interesting to have a whole world that you’re a part of that most people have little to no understanding of.

“You were in Texas last weekend, why?!”

“I’m a professional Magic: The Gathering player. My teammates and I are funded to travel the country competing in tournaments to garner exposure for our brand and the brands of our partners. It’s an interesting life but I like doing it.”

or

“The Daddy was born to battle. So the Daddy must battle. If he’s called to Texas for the battle, he must go! Through wind, rain, missed flights and state lines, the Daddy must battle on!”

Which answer do you guys think I gave?