When I crush an event with a deck, all I want, more than anything, is to run it back again. After falling in the finals of the TCG Platinum event, I was ready to battle again with my awesome Aristocrats deck. This time, I would be rallying the aristocratic forces at a TCG Bronze event.
Here is my deck list with the two sideboard changes I suggested last week.
by Mike Lanigan
Let's dive right in to the report!
Round 1 -- BWR Control
One interesting point about playing against this archetype is that no two versions are the same. The type of player that is likely to play this deck likes to build their own decks and tweak them regularly. This player was no different.
From the cards I saw, his version was a bit clunky on mana and my ability to deal with cards like Vampire Nighthawk easily prevented him from stabilizing. Game one I cast a couple creatures that he killed, but my follow up of Falkenrath Aristocrat turn four into Increasing Devotion as an Increasing Savagery on turn five turned into Hidetsugu's Second Rite. Man I love Increasing Devotion in this deck.
Game two went similarly but ended with me sacrificing my board to kill with Blood Artist triggers.
Every point of damage counts with this deck. If you can attack with one of your creatures and you don't you may find yourself short damage to kill your opponent. There will be points in many games where you need to decide what role you are in. Many times, despite how aggressive this deck is, you will be the control/combo player. You should always be using your life total as a resource, but in many matchups you will be leaving the majority of your creatures as blockers.
From what some of my friends have said after trying to play this deck, it's not very easy to play. In my opinion, the hardest part is being able to calculate how much damage you have on board. That may seem obvious but as it turns out, it's not as straightforward as in other decks.
When calculating damage there are two main things you need to take into consideration. First, the maximum number of humans you can sacrifice to pump Falkenrath Aristocrat. Many games are won by creating a giant flying indestructible monster.
The second calculation is how many Blood Artist triggers you have at your disposal. That calculation is made more complex mostly by Xathrid Necromancer but every Doomed Traveler or Mutavault adds complexity to the board state as well.
Giving Cartel Aristocrat protection to make him unblockable is another important aspect to winning and ties into both of those calculations. If you are not paying diligent attention to both of these things each turn, you may be losing games you should win.
If you miscalculate you will add more turns in order to kill your opponent. Each extra turn you give them is another one they could draw answers to your board position.
Round 2 -- R/G Aggro
My mindset in this matchup or anything similar is to be as defensive as possible. If your hand is slow, don't take damage from your lands to cast a turn one Doomed Traveler that you won't attack with anyway.
The hardest part about beating this deck is Stromkirk Noble because most of the time he is unblockable. Hands that have a removal spell for him grant you access to a much easier route to victory.
Especially when you are racing, don't expose your Blood Artists early to their removal. My favorite line of play against a deck like this is playing early creatures on the first three turns and then double Blood Artist on turn four. Often they have no outs to an aggressive hand with a turn four like that.
Game one that was my line except I only had one Artist so I came one damage short of killing him. Game two, he had a slow hand and my life total never fell below eighteen. Game three I had Tragic Slip for his turn one Noble, Cartel Aristocrat and Xathrid Necromancer on turns two and three, then the double Blood Artist play turn four.
Round 3 -- Jund Midrange
A funny thing happened in game one against the best deck in the format. Even though I had all the cards that are terrible against Jund, I beat him down anyway.
The worst cards against Jund by far are Skirsdag High Priest and Fiend Hunter. Jund has so much removal that if you try to set up a game state where you are making a 5/5 demon, you won't have enough early pressure to eventually close the game out.
Fiend Hunter is similarly bad against a removal-heavy deck because it basically just delays the inevitable. You can mitigate this problem by just treating your Fiend Hunters like Murder and sacrificing them with the trigger on the stack to remove the threat permanently.
Luckily for me, my opponent kept a creature-heavy hand and I was able to use my awful cards to win the game. Game one I made a demon on turn three and four, and even used a Fiend Hunter to trigger the second activation.
Game two was much closer. My deck is much better post-board after siding out the garbage, but them being on the play allows them to slow your progress significantly. For game two, I had early Champion of the Parish action with double Xathrid Necromancer and eventually Falkenrath Aristocrat to fly over Thragtusk for the K.O.
Round 4 -- Bant Hexproof
Then in the next--I'm not going to say game here because it wasn't--he played turn one Pilgrim again into Geist of Saint Traft and then a million enchantments. I died even though I had mana to cast Devour Flesh. Great deck.
It's been a while since I was that demoralized. The twelve-year-old who beat me was on the biggest adrenaline high of his life and immediately went and told his friends how he just crushed the dude who took second place last week in that big event. Do I sound bitter? Well a bit. I got over it of course, but playing against Bant Hexproof with a deck other than Jund or one with Supreme Verdict is simply miserable.
In case you missed the memo or my round four summary wasn't blunt enough, Bant Hexproof is the real deal. I don't know if I can really call it a tier-one deck because if you want to beat it, you can just play Jund, Esper, or UWR. Any of those decks crush Hexproof regularly.
The problem is that all of the other decks really struggle against it. By really struggle, I of course mean that if Hexproof draws reasonably well they will win every time and you are just hoping they beat themselves. This may streamline the format to a place where Hexproof can't exist but I doubt it.
For me, all of the other decks are so beatable for Aristocrats 3.0, I feel I have two options. I can try to find a solution or just accept that I will likely lose to that deck and use those sideboard slots for something else.
After an exhaustive Gatherer search, I found some options for dealing with Hexproof, although I don't know if any of them will really work. Devour Flesh and Liliana of the Veil are not going to cut it, so if you want to go the edict route, Barter in Blood seems like the best option.
Racing their giant lifelinking creatures seems impossible so trying deal with the enchantments is always an option. For this method, you could use Erase, Wear // Tear, Paraselene, or my new favorite contender, Devout Chaplain.
Hover over that one for a minute. Devout Chaplain is not a card on anyone's radar, but in this deck I actually think it could be crazy good. You have the humans to support it, but it may prove to be too slow since your first activation will be on turn four.
Next, we have the cards that just buy us some time. In this category we have Skullcrack to negate the lifegain, but that is more of a racing option and I don't think it's likely to work.
The other choice to buy time is Riot Control. Not only will Riot Control negate their gaining life, but it will give you extra turns to try to deal them enough damage. Because Riot Control costs three mana, that may be too much tempo disadvantage to deal them enough damage. I even thought maybe Terminus could work if you can miracle it early enough, but that seems too risky.
Since none of the other options are great, we may be to a place where players need to start putting a Glaring Spotlight on the Hexproof creatures. For me, this is the next avenue of attack I will pursue.
Round 5 -- G/W Aggro
Normally a deck like this or Naya Midrange poses no problem for Aristocrats, but this version was quite different than most. Due to faulty scouting, I thought this guy was also playing Hexproof so in game one I used my Tragic Slip to kill his Avacyn Pilgrim.
When your opponent is casting creatures you can target, wasting your removal like that does not actually help you win. As it turns out, my opponent was playing Rancor and Unflinching Courage to suit up his Voice of Resurgences, Loxodon Smiters, Silverblade Paladins, and Sublime Archangels. Had I not wasted my removal there, I could have easily won game one by two-for-oneing my opponent.
This was the match I really missed that Doom Blade that no longer resided in my sideboard. Game two, I mulliganed and had to keep a sketchy hand. It did not turn out well and I lost 0-2 pretty quickly.
At this point, I went to the standings before the next round started. As it turned out, my tie breakers were decent so if I won my next round, I had a good shot to make the top 8 cut. There were many fewer players than last week so that helped too.
Round 6 -- Jund Midrange
Game one, I was on the protect the queen strategy. The first time I heard that term was back when Baneslayer Angel was first printed. For example, you didn't always want to jam your Baneslayer on turn five because then you could not stop your opponent from killing her. If she was allowed to survive, she took over the game more than most other Magic cards that have ever been printed.
The same goes for Falkenrath Aristocrat. Rarely is it a good idea to play your four-mana bomb without another creature in play. In this game I did just that. Fortunately, he did not have removal for my Fiend Hunter I had to play before I had a sacrifice outlet and Falkenrath was able to take the game down.
The second game I had the most aggressive draw all day with double Champion of the Parish and double Doomed Traveler. However, even this insanely fast start can be overcome by Jund unless you can follow it up with something like Xathrid Necromancer. Since I was able to do that, I easily fought through double Bonfire of the Damned. It's hard for them to win when all of your creatures replace themselves.
Once I had that board state set up, all I had to do was leave mana open for my Tragic Slip to kill Olivia Voldaren in response to her taking my win condition. If you wait until they use the five mana ability and kill her in response, they never control your creature to sacrifice her.
Quarterfinals -- R/G Aggro
Excitement welled up within me as I snuck into seventh place. This meant I had my work cut out for me being on the draw every match, but I knew I was up to the challenge.
As I spoke earlier, against an aggressive deck like this, try to be as defensive as possible. Use your Cartel Aristocrats to survive until you can get Blood Artist online or enough blockers in play to start attacking.
Because his version had Madcap Skills I was able to gain a huge advantage since he ran his enchanted guy into my Doomed Traveler plus Cartel Aristocrat start. He never really came back from there. Sure he played a couple other guys and attacked, but his forces were not enough and I began attacking him much earlier than normal for this matchup.
Game two he did not have a one-cost guy and a rather slow hand. I killed him on turn five since my Blood Artist lived.
Semifinals -- UWR Pyromancer
Let me first say, my opponent's deck was sweet. He was using an old Delver of Secrets // Insectile Aberration shell but with Young Pyromancer instead. Here's the list of cards I know were in his deck.
Obviously that is likely not enough cards because he is probably not play all four-ofs of those cards, but it gives you a good idea about what I was playing against. It was hard to adjust to playing against this deck on the fly and I could see it easily catching on because it seems well-positioned right now.
Game one, he played turn three Geist and I thought I was in for a quick loss. He could not find a way to force in damage from the creature though and I quickly clogged the board with threats. Eventually I was able to force in damage with a Cartel Aristocrats he didn't want to lose creatures to chump block with. Then once I attacked, I sacrificed all of my creatures for their Blood Artist triggers.
Game two was one of the closest games I've played in a long time. Also, the board state was so crazy in combat that I asked the judge if he was paying attention to the stack, which of course he was. If I had hit four mana in this game, I think I would have been fine, but I was stuck on two mana for a couple turns and then three for the rest of the game.
I played as best I could under those circumstances, but ultimately after a ten minute turn calculating damage, putting triggers on the stack, my opponent responding to them, and me responding to those spells, I came up a couple damage short of killing him.
I saw my shot to win a game I should have had no business winning and I took it. Unfortunately my opponent had two removal spells and not the Warleader's Helix I thought he had, so I couldn't win and he won on the swing back. It was an epic game and the crowd as well as the competitors enjoyed it.
After game two, I asked for a short break to calm down and clear my mind. I'll admit I was a little bit tilted after nearly winning a game with serious mana restrictions and crazy combat scenarios like that. Half a bottle of water and three minutes later, I prepped for game three.
Because I took my time there, I was able to come up with a better sideboard plan for game three. The main difference was that I had sideboarded out a lot of my removal since I didn't see the Young Pyromancer until game two. That changed for game three.
One of the reasons I think this deck is so good right now is because of the well-formulated mana curve of the creatures. In game three for example, I played a creature on turns one through four and then followed up with removal for his awesome blockers. In a lot of cases, you are playing two spells a turn which most opponents can't keep up with. Thalia was an all-star in this game and restricted what my opponent could do to stop my onslaught.
Finals -- Jund
During the top-eight games and in between the matches one of my earlier Jund opponents and I were routing for and encouraging each other to do well. We were the two x-2's that made it into the top eight and so were in opposite brackets in the top eight. He won out and so did I. It was a great part of this event for me and we had some really good games in the finals.
Game one I got to show off the resiliency of my deck because even though his Jund deck had Bonfire along with a bunch of other removal spells, all of my creatures replaced themselves when they died. So, my opponent had to spend his turn killing my creatures, but that did not stop me from attacking him on my turn. In fact, most of the time after all his removal spells, I did more damage to him on my turn than I would have done otherwise.
It helped that Blood Artist punished him for killing my creatures. In this game, my board state looked like it had not changed many times because I drew many redundant spells. When he destroyed my board, I replayed basically the same creatures on my turn. Even his Thragtusk plus removal was not enough to stop my human onslaught.
Game two was the complete opposite for me. I was able to defeat my opponent with only six cards in game one because they were a solid six, but in game two although I kept a reasonable six, it did not pan out the way I hoped. In this game, I never had more than three lands but that didn't matter because there were not things I could cast anyway. His unchecked Olivia Voldaren earned a quick concession from me.
Game three was an epic battle, as it should be in the finals of any event. Again I was on six cards and my opponent was lucky enough to keep his third seven card hand. For this game I kept a hand with mana that I would always keep. The lands in my starting hand, Isolated Chapel, Cavern of Souls and Mutavault, were the only ones I would have access to during the game though.
Turn two Thalia served my army well and helped slow my opponent down. On turn three I had a hard decision of whether to choose human or vampire for Cavern. Had I known I wouldn't ever draw another land, I would have named human, but the Falkenrath Aristocrat in my hand told me to name vampire. What that did was to leave the Sin Collector stranded in my hand.
If this situation were to come up again, most likely I would make the same play. Statistically I should draw another land on the following turn and I had other good plays for my turn three. As I drew for the following turns, each showing me no lands, my chances fell to win the game. Even with this dire situation unfolding, I played to my outs and put him dead to any land in my deck. Even on my last turn I kept my life total at three so if I drew a shockland, I would still be able to win.
Thoughts and Wrap-Up
Despite losing in the finals for the second week in a row, I played well and I played to my outs. In tense matches like this, it's easy sometimes to let the stress of not drawing well overcome your ability to make the correct plays. When you find yourself in this situation, try to calm your mind and focus on playing the best game you can.
For me, taking a quick break in between games helps tremendously. Take your time and think through your plays. This is something I have been working a lot on over the last year. This is an area where everyone can always improve on, but the better you get, the more games you will win.
For this weekend, I will still be battling with my main deck. The sideboard needs a little shaking up for a couple reasons. First of all, the plan against Hexproof proved ineffective so that needs updated. To be honest, I'm not sure which of Glaring Spotlight, Barter in Blood, or Devout Chaplain plus Erase is the best plan, but they will all need testing before I can determine which gives me the best chance to win.
In addition, I realized that Obzedat, Ghost Council is rather hard to cast in my deck, and few of my wins over the last two weeks have come at his hands anyway. As of now, I think I still want a five-drop that can ease some of the aggressive matchups, but this time, I am going to run Blood Baron of Vizkopa. The two five-costs are similar in most ways but I would sideboard them in slightly different situations.
The final card I want to come back into my sideboard is Doom Blade. There were a few times this weekend where I knew I wanted to bring in a Doom Blade or two that unfortunately I did not have in my sideboard. That will change for this weekend.
If you have questions about playing this deck, feel free to post in the comments below or message me on Twitter.
Until Next Time,
Unleash the Aristocrats Force!
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