It's only been two years since I stopped grinding PTQs and I'd already forgotten why I stopped.
It's Saturday night and instead of doing blow with a bunch of hookers or robbing liquor stores like I normally do, I'm sitting at a table with a decklist on my phone and my trade binder out. The worst part? I'm using the n-word!
There is a word that starts with N that you never want to use in a trade (ok, two n-words, neither of which are going to make the trade go any smoother) and that word is need. If you utter the word need during a trade, you might as well stop wearing a belt so they can pull your pants down easier. You can say "like" or "interested in" or "could use" but never use the n-word. Either n-word, whatever.
Not heeding my own advice, I used the n-word in my quest to assemble a mono green deck for the PTQ at RIW hobbies in Livonia, Michigan on Sunday. Since I just opened a TCG Player store I planned to go and try and trade for as many Standard staples as I could to power through my probation period sales-wise before I went about listing the stuff from my former eBay inventory. I'd have to pick up a ton of shocklands and similar cards, so trading at a 200+ person PTQ seemed like the play.
Actual Magic Games Played
Since I was going to play the event and the deck I was being lent was not my style at all, I opted to play the Nguyen list from the SCG Open (Huey Jensen's vastly superior elf list with the white splash would be published and discovered during the car ride to the event, thus making me regret my life). It seemed straightforward enough and since I haven't played Constructed in a while I figured the easier to pilot, the better. Besides, it was a turn 4 deck and I was there to trade, not go to time.
I've included a brief tournament report.
- Round 1 -- Bant Hexproof. I won. The only play I remember is being able to swing for lethal game one because I tapped two Mutavaults but used the mana to make them elves so I could tap Elvish Archdruid for 5 instead of 3, and when I Garruked in a Craterhoof, the 2 creatures I swung with were big enough. Not the techiest play on earth, but I was proud of myself. Elvish Archdruid is kind of insane.
- Round 2 -- Jund. I won.
- Round 3 -- Bant Hexproof. I lost. I have no idea whether I could have played tighter and won this match. I mulliganed a 1 Mutavault 6 green card hand into a no-lander into five excellent cards that ran out of gas and lost the race game two. I hear this is a good matchup for me because I am a turn faster, but mulling to 5 negates that advantage unless you topdeck well.
- Round 4 -- Bant Hexproof. Seriously. I won this one.
- Round 5 -- Bant Hexproof. Again. We got deck checked and despite my best efforts to randomize the deck in a way that would not result in me having to mulligan to five, I mulliganed to five. Game two I lost the race.
At 3-2 I dropped since everyone in my car wanted to go home and I forgot that I was there to trade.
Could I have played better and won some of those matches I lost? I'm not really sure; maybe if I knew the deck better I could say with more certainty. I do know that ordinarily if I'm playing a deck that has a good matchup against another certain deck, having 80% of my matches be that deck can be considered quite a gift.
However, the fact that I was just playing to entertain myself in between trades made the fact that all I played all day was a non-interactive matchup between two decks that have to race to see whether green wins on turn 4 or Bant wins on turn 5 left me feeling slightly empty. I had fun playing Standard for the first time in three years, though, so that's something.
The all-star of the deck is Elvish Archdruid, and it isn't close. Doubling the power and toughness of your elves, allowing you to do shenanigans like using Mutavault to activate itself and not lose a mana in the process and helping you power Craterhoof and pumping your Mutavault because sometimes that is relevant--this card does it all. I would play no fewer than four copies. I'd play more than four copies of this guy if I could. But you can't.
Or Can You?
Today as I was checking Twitter I noticed there was a bit of hubbub in a conversation between Jon Johnson, Helene Bergeot and Riki Hayashi. As I was working backward trying to figure it out, my cohort Joey D texted me to tell me what had happened--apparently some shady bidness went down in Houston and Jon was linking the MTG Salvation thread to let Helene know about it.
I won't summarize too much because I have no choice but to assume that you, as readers of my article, are literate. Read what happened, but also remember to do what I did and take it all with a grain of salt.
I will, however, summarize a little bit. The "tl;dr" is that a player in a PTQ in Houston had 4 Archdruids in play--and hadn't won yet?--and much to the surprise of his opponent, he revealed a fifth copy of Archdruid with Garruk, Caller of Beasts' +1 ability.
That would normally be a whopping +5 to all of his elf creatures, but his opponent wasn't worried about the extra power/toughness boost because while that is very close to the number of Elvish Archdruids you're allowed to have in your deck, an error of as few as one copy in the wrong direction is extra not okay. A judge was called, a deck check was performed and six copies were found.
According to the MTG Salvation thread, the offender's entire defense amounted to, "my friend was going to give me two Avacyn's Pilgrim." It was at this point that I started to regard the forum post with a bit of skepticism. However, clearly the offender wasn't disqualified from the event because while this happened in Round 6, he managed to win the entire event and will be getting a flight to Dublin on WOTC's dime.
I wasn't there and there's no video evidence to look at, but one thing I will say is that if I know that I have an illegal six copies of Elvish Archdruid in my deck (which is close to but not in excess of the number of copies I'd run ideally--it's that good) I'm probably not using Garruk's +1.
I'm probably going to say "You know what? I think the play here is to try and get there with a big pile of 5/5 Elvish Archdruids that are granting a whopping +4/+4 bonus to all of my elves" and maybe hold off on revealing five cards out of a deck that I know has an incriminating two copies of Archdruid. But that's just me. I was 3-2 after round five of the event I played in with this deck so there may be nuances to the deck I haven't picked up yet.
As I read more of the comments in this thread, I start to get even more skeptical. A lot of the condemnation hurled at this player seems trite to me. "He played with clear sleeves!" Wow, that's damning. "He always seemed to have his sideboard cards!" I don't even know what that means. "He had blank Checklist cards!" I'm pretty sure he only had Garruk Relentless // Garruk, the Veil-Cursed. It's not like he's going to windmill a checklist card and say "Oh, this was a Huntmaster" in a monogreen deck. Wait, why is he playing Avacyn's Pilgrim?
I started to feel like the internet detective agency may have botched this case a bit when I scrolled down some more and read a statement issued by the Head Judge of the event, found at this link.
Not only was a lot of what was in the original posting somewhat ill-informed (yeah, turns out there were no Avacyn's Pilgrim involved) but the judge seemed to indicate it was likely the player bought the deck in its entirety from the store hosting the event and sleeved it before the tournament started.
The point is, most of the extra accusations from the original posting were superfluous and mere attempts to fabricate a body of evidence against the player. The only thing that matters is that a player had some number of Archdruids in play (the Head Judge isn't confirming that it was four like the original posting indicated) and the player revealed one which led to a deck check on the spot, a game loss penalty being issued and the player playing the rest of the event with a legal deck which matched his list.
With this legal list, he made Top 8 and won from there to take first prize. Should he have been DQ'd? The Head Judge doesn't, and I'm pretty sure that carries more weight than a guy posting on MTG Salvation who says "It's incredibly difficult to top 8 a nine-round PTQ unless you have really good luck, or you cheat." An alternative, third way to make the Top 8 is to play well. Funny how no one mentions that possibility when they have a torch in one hand and a pitchfork in the other.
However, as a final thought I do have to point out that the Head Judge's statement where he says:
As an aside... some would like to point out the significance of the Archdruids here, but I think that's overstated. Archdruid can't drop until turn 3. This deck likes to play turn a threat turn 2, like predator ooze. That can't happen without a 1-drop mana creature. This is not to say that Archdruids are not quality, and do not have an impact on the game--just that I think the particular significance is being overstated.
shows he doesn't know the first thing about playing this deck.
Elvish Archdruid is a very good card.
Who Else Got Lucky and/or Cheated This Weekend?
There was a GP in Rimini, which I know is where Fellini is from and that's about it. There's a beach or something, right? Anyway, there was also a GP, but it was M14 Sealed and Draft, so it might as well not have happened. A player named Christoph Aukenthaler won, and that's all the news that's fit to print.
There was a GP in Calgary, also.
There was a GP in Calgary, which I know is where the underwhelming Calgary Flames are from and that's about it. There's a beach or something, right?
Anyway, Wizards didn't see fit to update their own website with coverage of either GP Rimini or GP Calgary so I was forced to get the updates from Gathering Magic. And by "forced" I guess I mean "I know where I'll be getting all of my updates from now on." Obviously I like Gathering Magic.com and if you're not reading my articles and listening to our podcast over there, you're at least going to be forced to patronize the site when I force you to click the following link to get decklists.
Not a bad layout over there on GM. Thank Carlos Gutierrez, a gentleman who used to write for QS and does great work for GM.
Maybe at the time this is published it will be announced who will replace Jon "never even met Heather in person, stop being ridiculous" Medina on "The Eh Team", but I have my suspicions that it will be Canada's sweetheart Alexander Hayne.
Hayne was not able to address these rumors because this weekend he was busy winning GP Calgary with UWR, a deck that Americans call "American control" but which Canadians would call "Holy ^&*$, American people sure are ignorant and self-centered" if they weren't so polite. I'm not Canadian, so I will say that whenever I hear some neckbeard refer to UWR as "American" I automatically assume they shop at Walmart and own no fewer than three "jock jams" albums.
Anyway, Hayne's deck doesn't contain a ton of surprises, frankly. Ratchet Bomb is making a big splash in control decks, all of which may put a damper on the token decks players like to run. If you plan on casting Advent of the Wurm or Scion of Vitu-Ghazi, plan on also running Pithing Needle.
Hayne's deck is tough to pilot but it is indeed powerful. The deck loses 100% of its creature base to rotation, and there are no real substitutes--expect UWR to go back to the drawing board completely at rotation. Aetherling will be a factor moving forward, but I can't really guess much else.
Stephane Gerard took time out of his busy schedule of playing for Liverpool FC to get second with Jund. Jund is starting to run Lifebane Zombie. Removing their Thragtusks, Huntmasters, Restoration Angels, Scavenging Oozes, Angels of Serenity and other annoying cards is a good play. That list shrinks considerably upon rotation. That is not to say good green and white creatures won't replace them--they always do.
B/G Control as run by Trent Douglas here and Jeff Hoogland elsewhere is an attempt to get as many cards that I couldn't figure out why people weren't running very often--Mutilate, Vraska the Unseen, Deadbridge Chant, Gaze of Granite, Sever the Bloodline--into one deck.
I had contended that Mutilate would work fine in a three-color deck given the number of shocklands available and the effectiveness of even a 2-point mutilate on turn 4, but that was a tough case to make. The case for Mutilate in a two-color deck is easier to make. With rotation poised to take Mutilate off the table, we'll likely never know how good it could have been this entire last year.
Gaze of Granite is going to get even better if token-based strategies become more popular. Pithing Needle that. Trent's list is saucy and I am a big fan. Find a way to jam in Archdruid and I'm sold.
Maindeck Burning Earth? Adam LaForge thinks so! Monored gets an important tool in this saucy little enchantment that tripled in price this week. I hope you squirreled these away when they sunk to $1--twitter followers of mine will remember my indicating that I saw more requests for Burning Earth last weekend than requests for Archangel of Thune, Kalonian Hydra and Garruk combined. The ceiling may be around $5 for Burning Earth, but buying in at $2 or maybe even $3 seems acceptable. I would just pick these up in trade, frankly.
I think Fiendslayer Paladin may be what Bant Hexproof needed to grow the beard. It makes every aura played into a virtual Unflinching Courage, and its protection from red and black spells make it hard for you to get X-for-oned. Other color decks can contend with him, but Bant Auras is an eggs-in-one-basket sort of deck and everyone knows that by now.
Everyone I talked to said their testing saw them go from four Witchstalker main to two main to four in the board to two in the board to "man, why did I put two Witchstalkers in my board? I never bring them in!" As you'll remember, I had a lot of opportunities to talk to Bant Hexproof players. Fiendslayer seems like it sucks outside of decks which put auras on it since it is underwhelming in unsuited combat.
Haunted Plate Mail? I can't say. Magic players as a group have done dumber things than run Haunted Plate Mail and Fiendslayer together. A lot of local players in my area were snapping up Plate Mails last weekend, but none of their decks made top 16 at the Classic in Lansing. I am leaning "no" but I reserve the right to pretend I always thought Plate Mail had potential.
Almost 2,700 words and I haven't even brought up the Open or the Invitational? I can't believe you're still reading.
It is a bit misleading to Group the Top 8 finishers the way the site does because one deck or the other could have really carried the player, but if you dropped like four matches in Standard, you're not making Top 8 no matter how good your Legacy deck is, so this is the best we have and we're sticking with it. I will give some general impressions and let you peruse all sixteen decks.
I mentioned Jeff Hoogland's G/B list already. I like it and I like him. He's a solid grinder, he's one of the only people playing who actually brews deck anymore and he made a Knight of the Reliquary deck for me to play in Legacy that is basically Maverick plus winning more often. He's sticking with it and has for almost six months. Ponder that the next time you want to complain about Legacy being "too expensive"; when is the last time you played a deck in Standard for six months?
Shardless BUG is everywhere. I think Shardless Agent is pretty weak in Commander--although some decks run only one card at 2 mana or fewer and use it as a 100% accurate tutor--so I doubt it's getting reprinted in next year's Commander decks and is safe from reprint for a while.
Honestly, I tend to err on the side of "Shut up, that isn't getting reprinted" because I think people use the r-word too often. Sometimes it's okay for a card to be worth more than $5. If this game is too expensive for you because you have to pay $15 for a Shardless Agent that you'll only be able to use for ten to fifteen years, there's always chess.
Both Shardless Agents and Baleful Strixes are in very high demand. I wouldn't discourage investment in them as I think they're poised for a price increase, but that's a big gamble some players are unwilling to make. I think stores being unwilling to make that gamble has a lot to do with the price not going up already. No one is really hoarding these. Remember, somewhere in America there is a Walmart or Target or sports card shop with a Night of the Ninjas on its shelves. Go find them, hand the cashier $20 and profit.
I don't have too much else to say about the unsurprising decklists from the Invitational. I would say there is merit to studying these decklists because a higher caliber of player generally attends the Invitational, but G Fabs and Brian Braun-Duin both got Top 8 at the Open so who knows? There just isn't a ton of financial investment opportunity this weekend, but expect that to change soon.
The winning Jund list didn't have many surprises. I don't know why Scavenging Ooze ever plummeted when M14 came out. We knew Jund was going to jam a bunch of them maindeck, and they did, and the price is closer to correct right now. $20 is the ceiling, but I never dreamed $10 was the floor, even with it coming free with a $10 game putting downward pressure on the price.
Huey Jensen's second place list is what I would have played at the PTQ if I'd known about it. I like the creature package, and Ranger's Guile probably belongs in the board. Four Garruk isn't too many--it draws an insane amount of cards and this may be the deck that can run it and run it well. Do I have hope for it going into a future with no Craterhoof Behemoth? I'm not sure.
I called Garruk a sell at $30 and even though it dipped and is back at $30 on SCG, I am not confident it will maintain it. This is coming from a guy who drew four creatures with his +1 ability this weekend the turn before he Craterhoofed someone into Bolivian. He's good, but he's narrow. Narrow is bad.
Either Theros is going to have a good burn spell, or Monored is going to be smothered in the cradle. Shock is a pretty shitastic way to try and enable Chandra's Phoenix, and losing Searing Spear, Pillar, Brimstone Volley and half the creature base is going to leave monored players at a loss. Young Pyromancer is good when your burn spells are good, otherwise you're stuck playing two colors. No Burning Earth wielder wants that just yet.
I'm noticing that the thrust of my analysis this week is how a lot of these decks are going to get worse. That's not me being a pessimist, that's just me having no information about the archetypes that will be possible when Theros is out. If rotation will make a card that is going to be legal after rotation worse because it will lose its entire deck, trade out of it. We'll know what to pick up when the time comes.
Enough talk of Standard!
Bummer. G Fabs won with the same UWR Delver deck that Erick Smith won the Invitational with. Is this what you people wanted? UWR winning in Standard and Legacy? Delvers everywhere? Well, you got it! Fabs beat Death and Taxes in the final, which seems doable for this list that draws so many cards.
Can we still call Death and Taxes a pet deck? I thought it was "cute" when I paid $40 each for Karakas less than 18 months ago to assemble it. I gradually turned it into Junk and Taxes because why would you not play Knight of the Reliquary and Hymn to Tourach? You wouldn't not, that's why. I think Death and Taxes caught fire in Europe and that enthusiasm is making its way west. Not a pet deck anymore, this deck is a contender. Unless your opponent is Fabiano, I guess.
Eight decks in the Top 8? Seems like a great format to me.
Sneak and Show manages a Top 8, but it hasn't managed many of those lately. The deck is unfair but also a bit inconsistent and everyone is ready for it now.
"I wouldn't pick up judge foil Show and Tell because it's about to get banned" -- the same people who think Zendikar fetches are getting reprinted in Theros and call G Fabs' deck "American Delver."
Pet deck of the week may go to Epic Storm. I like the Burning Wish builds and so does everyone else--the card is now sold out at $25.
I think if you have the choice between investing in Sneak Attack and Show and Tell, it's a no-brainer. Show and Tell makes so many fun decks possible. The Omni-Tell deck jamming three Dream Halls (now sold out at $12) looks less powerful but probably more consistent and more fun for everyone.
A lot of Shardless BUG here, too. It's a big gamble to pick Agents and Strixes up right now if you think there will be a reprint, but I don't and I see how many people want sets of these, even at $25 each. The success of cards like this make the MSRP investment in Commander and Planechase sets a no-brainer.
Even the white and red Planechase sets are worth more than $20 now because of EDH-caliber cards in them. When the Commander decks come out next year, I hope you remember the lesson we all learned from Scavenging Ooze.
I spent entirely too much time writing this, but having just read it all, you knew that. Join me next week to learn more about what not to buy.