It was 10 pm, I was two hours from home, and had been playing Magic for the past eleven hours. Then it was happening. I was in the Finals of the TCG Platinum event at the always-amazing Empire Games Center and I started mulliganing away my chances. Over and over again until I was down to, that's right, three cards. They were aweful ones too. You'll never guess what happened next...
Flash back to 9:30 that morning.
My friends and I pull into the northeastern Ohio parking lot, the second car to arrive. My carload and I obviously start freaking out and checking the almighty interwebs for the answer to our plight. After much searching we all breathed a sigh of relief as the event was in fact happening, just not until 11 am.
This allowed time for Eat'n Park to happen, an awesome happenstance. Do not underestimate the big breakfast before an event. It provides time for two important things. First, nourishment. Having enough mental energy because you ate and drank enough during the day has a much larger impact on your tournament than you'd think.
The second thing breakfast helps with is allowing your friends to tell you how crazy your deck is. Well, at least that's how it worked for me.
Here's the list I played for the 156-player TCG Platinum event.
by Mike Lanigan
All of these card choices seem logical to me, but from other people's reactions, I know that isn't true for everyone. At least the base of human creatures to support Champion of the Parish should be straightforward. Then, think back to the original Aristocrats deck. This version is really a new version of that deck rather than an update to Aristocrats: Act 2, which featured the Boros Reckoner plus Blasphemous Act combo.
The next card that stands out is most likely Fiend Hunter. This creature/removal spell is definitely the most high-variance card in the deck. When you cast it against nearly any aggro or midrange deck, Jund excluded, the card is bonkers. Against a controlling deck it may well be the worst card in your deck.
That variance is worthwhile due to how many games it helps you win. It gets sided out often.
Thalia may seem out of place here, but she did a great job disrupting not only the spell-heavy decks, but also holding the ground with her first strike ability against aggro. If you have a spell-heavy hand with her, you can sacrifice her for value when you need to play your spells or just pay the extra mana. She rarely gets sided out and is much better than something like Imposing Sovereign.
Next up, we have the "when I saw this on your deck list, I couldn't take it seriously anymore" card, Increasing Devotion. Yes, this five-mana spell does sit in your hand sometimes. Yes, it is castable even with just twenty-three lands.
There were a total of five games where I cast my five-mana sorcery and all five of them I won handily. You could replace this card with something cheaper or different, but you cannot replace what it does for this deck.
The reason the card made it into the deck in the first place was because I needed a late game card I could use my mana on. Increasing Devotion has a long list of applications in this deck but I played it for one main reason. If the only spells you cast are Blood Artist, Falkenrath Aristocrat and Icreasing Devotion, it adds up to exactly twenty damage on turn five.
In addition, it can be a crazy pump spell, create your own Army of the Damned, or create a Blood Artist-fueled Fireball. I wouldn't play any more copies, but the two copies in this deck do some serious work.
Let's find out how this crazy list did in the event.
Round 1 -- B/W Tokens
Game one my opponent got an early lead with lots of Lingering Souls. Luckily my own army kept the pressure up and when I pulled ahead on board he had to start using his tokens as blockers. The game went for a while, but my life total was never under ten.
Game two was even more in my favor. I brought in Sin Collector and Curse of Death's Hold instead of my Tragic Slips and may have taken out the Fiend Hunters as well. None of that really mattered because my clock of turn four and five Falkenrath Aristocrat speedily decreased his life total without any flying blockers to stop them.
Round 2 -- G/W Aggro
This was in interesting deck featuring Call of the Conclave, Voice of Resurgence, Loxodon Smiter and Trostani, Selesnya's Voice. Seems like it would be a terrible match for me until you remember that Aristocrats 3.0 is impressive in how well it switches between aggro and control roles.
He had a sick curve game one and I struggled to keep up. Luckily Xathrid Necromancer provides a steady stream of blockers and I finally stabilized at one life. Since I used my life total as a resource and did not block with all of my creatures, I was able to attack for sixteen points of damage which was his exact life total.
As you can imagine, Fiend Hunter was amazing in this match up. Game two went similarly except I had an extra removal spell to slow down his early assault. Obzedat, Ghost Council finally joined the party and gained me enough life and time to finish off the game.
Round 3 -- BWR Act 2 Aristocrats
Game one, my opponent got mana screwed and didn't put up much of a fight. Game two was quite a close one though. It started with me ahead on board and him struggling to keep up. He killed my first Blood Artist, but I drew a second one. Even though my opponent was behind on board, he went on the offensive. I was confused at first but then when he attacked me to exactly thirteen, I knew what was going on.
Post-combat, he cast Boros Reckoner and then Blasphemous Act. Unfortunately for him, he didn't understand how the triggers worked. Instead of sending us to game three, he just died to my Blood Artist triggers off his own spell.
His line of play would have been perfect if he had just killed Blood Artist, draining his life at the end of my turn and then killed me on his next turn, but that is not how it panned out.
Round 4 -- Esper Control
This type of control deck has exactly one shot to win this match: cast Terminus or Merciless Eviction. If their gameplan involves anything else, you are a huge favorite to win. I would go so far as to say that this match is something like 80-20 in your favor.
Fiend Hunter and Tragic Slip are usually next to useless so even though I did not have a fast clock and he was able to bounce all of my creatures with an overloaded Cyclonic Rift, he did not really have a chance to win this game.
In the second game, I get to bring in ten cards from my sideboard and replace all the bad ones. My opponent must not have been so lucky because he still had Cyclonic Rifts (at least two) and Devour Flesh against my deck filled with creatures that replace themselves. The match was over quickly.
Round 5 -- BWR Control
This was as close as matches come in Standard. We are playing the same colors but vastly different spells. He has a pile of removal spells, including four Warleader's Helix and I have guys that give me more guys when they die. You would think this match was easy but they still have all the removal and Olivia Voldaren just like Jund.
Game one I thought I had an unbeatable hand. I kept double Champion of the Parish, double Doomed Traveler, and then proceeded to draw seven lands. Eventually I could not keep up on board with only lands.
Game two I kept a much slower hand of Xathrid Necromancer, double Falkenrath Aristocrat and beat him easily. This goes to show that this deck is capable of many powerful hands using a variety of cards.
Game three my opponent missed his fourth land drop and that tempo loss allowed me to pull far ahead. There was one turn where he could have cast Warleader's Helix and cast something else instead. If he would have gone that route, he would have had another turn to stabilize.
All in all, this was a tough match against a solid player with a cool deck.
Round 6 -- R/G Aggro
Against any deck like this, here is my mind set: be defensive, trade with their creatures as much as possible, and try to get your Blood Artist to survive. The most important aspect though is to pay attention to the board state.
Many of my opponents, like this one, did not think they were in danger of losing at a healthy life total of seventeen. Much of what this deck is capable of is sitting in play right in front of you, like how many triggers you can get from Xathrid Necromancer or Blood Artist. I may be at eight and you may be at seventeen, but if I can sacrifice all of my creatures to make a huge Falkenrath Aristocrat to kill you, I still win the game.
It seemed like my opponents did not realize just how many creatures I could get from Xathrid Necromancer as well. The answer is lots of them. If there are ever two in play, you most likely win immediately.
Game two, I thought I was going to win at one life for the second time in this event, but my opponent top-decked a burn spell to stop that from happening. Game three, I was able to stop his early onslaught quickly and then held up my single black mana to Tragic Slip his only out, Hellrider, while I chopped away at his life total.
If I had been more aggressive in this game, I believe I would have died easily. My opponent however, was not aggressive enough and gave me time to set up my board.
Round 7 -- ID with Junk Reanimator
There were three undefeated players and I was the one who got paired down. Even though my opponent had a loss and was not guaranteed to make the top eight, he chose to have his win-and-in the next round instead of facing me while I was undefeated.
This does not happen often, where your opponent draws with you like this, but I would have been happy to face this match up. It ended up working out for him since he won the next round and made the top 8.
Round 8 -- Jund Midrange
Despite both of us being a lock for top eight if we drew, my opponent wanted to play out the match. This made much more sense once I was told this event was using the play/draw rule based on your ranking going into the top eight.
This match there were a lot of lands drawn in games one and two. Game one, I'm the one who drew all the lands, and game two he was. Game three, he got stuck on three lands for a turn or maybe two. That brief uninterrupted time gave me time to wear away his life total. Not the most interesting match, but it was interesting to see two solid players trying to win while mana-flooded or light on lands.
Just like that, I was in the top 8! I felt like my hard work over the last year was all paying off. Looking at my results showed I consistently did better when I was bringing my own brew to battle and that's exactly what I did here.
Quarterfinals -- Naya Midrange
Just like the match against G/W, Aristocrats showed once more how easily it can switch roles. I was on the defensive for the first half of game one, but then I got in a few small hits until my opponent was at eleven and then was able to set up the kill with the other cards in my hand.
Game two was not as close because Fiend Hunter is that amazing in this match. If you are playing against Xathrid Necromancer, you need to decide if attacking is the best way to win the match or not. They will block and be able to attack you back for as much or more than they could have anyway, so be careful and plan your attacks with that in mind.
After a quick 2-0, I tried to figure out who my next opponent was going to be and did some scouting. While I was scouting the other matches an infectious thought entered my head. I had broken my curse!
Many of you may know that I have been successful at a variety of events in my career. What you may not know is that up until this point, I have never won a match in the top 8 of an event. It seemed like every time I would top 8 an event, some crazy circumstances would occur where I draw the most off-the-wall hand or get all or none of my lands and quickly head home after entering the top 8. That is no longer the case and I couldn't be more excited!
Semifinals -- Jund
In the semis I played against my round 8 opponent. It did not start out well for me. I wondered if I could win with only five cards to my opponent's seven. On top of lots of mulligans, I made a fatal misplay.
This game featured the amazing sequence of Skirsdag High Priest into Fiend Hunter. Luckily he played Olivia so I had a target for my creature/removal spell. From an onlooker's perspective, my attacking with both of my unimpressive creatures into his empty board seemed a fine thing to do. What I meant to do was only attack with the Fiend Hunter. I had a feeling he had an Abrupt Decay in hand to get his creature back, which would have been fine if I had not attacked with an extra creature for no reason.
Additionally, I had two Champions in my hand that I had drawn after the beginning of the game to follow up combat. This line would have left me with a 5/5 demon and three other creatures. Instead, I died quickly to Olivia.
After going down to five cards game one and making a misplay, I still kept my head in the game. It was hard though, since I had to mulligan to five for the second game in a row. Fortunately, my opponent also had to mull to five, and I ended up drawing quite well. The third Falkenrath Aristocrat off the top was the one he couldn't handle and I narrowly won the resource-light game.
Ironically, game three went similar to game three the first time we played. My opponent missed his fourth land drop and I used that tempo advantage to pull too far ahead. It was a close match against a really good player. Game two in particular was one of the most intense games I've ever played.
Finals -- Esper Control
It's now the finals, my opponent is commenting on how horrible this match is for him as he is looking over my deck list, and I am confidant I am going to win a pretty big event.
Shuffling up, my seven has zero lands. Throwing that back, my six is a clunky hand with only one land. Since I was on the play, one land hands are much worse. The five's no good and the four doesn't have any lands. Finally I keep my three card hand.
Here is the one that almost made dreams come true:
Obviously if I had known this, I would have kept my six card hand. But if I were in this situation again I think I would make the same mulligan decisions.
Before we started, once I had my three cards settled my opponent said one of the most memorable things of my career. "His deck is insane. He doesn't need cards."
How true he was. It started by top-decking a Champion of the Parish and then a bunch of land in a row. Then there was a Falkenrath Aristocrat and a Xathrid Necromancer. The game went on and on. Eventually, he cast the normally out-of-place-in-this-match-up Tamiyo, the Moon Sage. That was the card that held me back and helped him win. Once he had an emblem, there was little I could do about an army of Lingering Souls.
Game two was not much of a game. It consisted of Esper Control being as defensive as possible trying to stop my onslaught of Xathrid Necromancer, double Falkenrath Aristocrat, and Increasing Devotion. I put him in a place where he had no outs and had to use the Lingering Souls he drew to just stay in the game.
Game three started out with my confidence sky rocketing as my opponent began mulliganing all the way down to five cards. My opening hand was no good but I kept six decent cards. Then I drew a land, and another land, and another. My chances of winning this game kept going down. Even though my opponent was out of cards with only some Lingering Souls, he did have Vault of the Archangel to race my meager aggression.
If I had only drawn my Curse of Death's Hold or fewer lands or any of a hundred different things, but I did not. I made it to the finals, but that's where myself and my deck ran out of steam.
It was an epic match with a crowd of spectators. This was by far the longest match of the day but also the most enjoyable. Mark was a great guy to play against and I hope we meet again in another finals so I can have another chance to beat him.
The event was amazing and my deck was not only tons of fun to play, but very good as well. My opponents could not find answers to all of my threats. The Jund match is challenging, but winnable, which not many decks can say right now.
There is a lot of play to this deck. You have many decisions to make and even little ones like which creature type to name on Cavern of Souls are crucial to winning games.
Until Next Time,
Unleash the Aristocrats Force!
MtgJedi on Twitter
P.S. Here's the link to the top 8 decks of the event.