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Heart-wrenching Losses

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I wrote the beginning of this article a hundred times over in my head on the long drive home from the PTQ this past weekend. In some versions I started it by talking about how my scream could be heard multiple halls away when I heard the news of the final standings. In others I reflected on how it was possible that on top of the four undefeated players, there were seventeen x-1's at the end of round seven of the two hundred ten player PTQ.

Most of them ended with me trailing off about how this was the most tilted I've ever been in more than a decade. The one thing that was never present in any of those version though were the words I quit. This game has given so much to me, how could I ever think about quitting? Sure I took this one harder than most, who wouldn't after not being able to draw into the top eight at x-1?

Without this game, I would not have all the close friendships I have built over the years nor the money to purchase new appliances for the house I'm buying. On top of that, there is no other game that can provide the level of complexity and competitiveness that Magic offers to us.

There will always be another event. It is important to remember that in the heat of the moment when the tilt is so much that it causes you to scream to let it all out. Your friends will be there for you to help you figure out if you made a misplay or to point out that you in fact just got screwed for the umpteenth time in the last however many games.

Even if talking through the games isn't enough, they will attempt to take your mind off of it with talk of the epic tales of comic books past. All of it is part of the game. If there were no mana screw, no mulliganing, or no heart-wrenching losses, you would loose the triumphant feeling when you finally conquer your next milestone!

This is how it happened...

Lonely and Seeking in Columbus

Over the last few weeks, my confidence about Standard and my angle on it has been exponentially growing. Between second place at a big TCG Player event, first place at a decently sized FNM, and two top-eights of two smaller TCG Player events, I found myself feeling unstoppable.

This was my PTQ to win. No one was expecting my deck to be so good or so well played, I arrogantly thought.

It's important to not let your prior success get to your head. Take every game one play at a time and don't rush. Think something along these lines:

Han Solo: Keep your distance, though, Chewie, but don't look like you're trying to keeping your distance.
Chewbacca: [barks something]
Han Solo: I don't know. Fly casual.

Most of the decks I faced were to be expected, but as you will see, there were a couple of curve balls in there as well.

Round 1: Jund 2-1
Round 2: Esper Midranger 2-0
Round 3: Mono Red splash Black 2-1
Round 4: RG Dragonmaster 2-1
Round 5: Jund 0-2
Round 6: RG Dragonmaster 2-0
Round 7: RG Dragonmaster 2-1
Round 8: GB Rock 1-2

Final Record: 6-2, 17th Place

As you can see, I started out crushing the event with a quick 4-0 start. It certainly was an epic conquest to overcome my first round Jund opponent though.

Jund

Between Huntmaster of the Fells, Thragtusk, and now Scavenging Ooze, they can gain an incredible amount of life to stabilize. The first game in particular, my opponent gained fifteen life. The problem for him was that although he was drawing a bunch of lifegain creatures, he was not drawing enough removal to deal with my ever-expanding board presence.

Game two would have been more of the same, but instead I didn’t draw my third land until a couple turns after I needed to and then it took a few more after that to find the fourth. If I would have drawn lands on time, I would have curved out on him instead of struggling to stay in the game with only two lands to work with.

Game three, I had nearly the same hand as game two except this time with the appropriate lands. It was here, in the first round, that I got to see the true power of Zealous Conscripts in this deck. The card often reads, "Cast this creature and win the game."

Esper

Round two my opponent led with Watery Grave and I started taking mental victory laps. Esper Control, which he is obviously playing, is one of this deck's best matchups.

Wait. What’s that? Main deck Lifebane Zombie? Okay, well that’s certainly not typical but it seems good right now. My hand revealed exactly zero white creatures because they were already in play, but against other opponents it seems great.

He followed up with Liliana of the Veil which is also atypical but still a good card, except against me. By that point I was starting to see that this was not a typical Esper Control deck. By the time it came to turn five, the maindeck Blood Baron of Vizkopa didn’t throw me off but I still didn’t know how to beat it. Luckily I drew a Blood Artist to go with my Falkenrath Aristocrat in play and won on the spot.

Game two was more of the same beating. He must not have had enough cards to bring in against me because he again cast and whiffed with Lifebane Zombie. This Esper Midrange deck was actually quite good and looked sweet as a metagame call, just not against my deck.

Red Decks

After that, I had to play against a lot of the same archetype. The monored splashing black for just a couple cards gave me a run for my money, but sandbagging my Blood Artists helped me win a race he didn’t know he was behind in. I did lose a game to his double Hellrider draw though because I couldn’t find removal.

The Dragonmaster decks are not as bad as monored because they are not quite as fast. I lost a couple games to this deck but it was situations like me mulliganning to three cards or their double Hellrider draw when I have no removal. Overall, the matchup is great for Aristocrats.

There are many ways your opponent can play the games. I have had opponents play games where they looked like a planeswalker control deck, ones where they board in a bunch of removal spells to become a more midrange control deck like Jund, and ones where they just try to beat you as fast as possible. Of the three, I’ve found the more aggressive they are the harder it is for you. I always board in at least three more removal spells as well to defeat their huge monsters.

Jund (Again)

My round five loss to the eventual PTQ winner playing Jund was a complete disaster of a match. For the resources I was given, I believe I played extremely well. My opponent, Dan, also played well and did not give me any easy outs with my poor draws.

In game one, not only did he miracle two Bonfires, but he also gained sixteen life. In spite of all of that, the win should have been mine if I would not have drawn half of the lands in my deck. My eight lands in play and two in hand at the end of the game did not help me secure the victory.

Game two I had to fight against the perfect draw for this matchup. Again he had double miracled Bonfire, but on top of that, he drew the exact removal he needed for each of my creatures on the exact turns he needed them.

When your Jund opponent has Pillar of Flame, Tragic Slip and Bonfire, it’s going to be a hard fight, but most of the time they don’t match up exactly with your draw. Their deck plays such varied removal spells that you can almost always recover to go on the offensive. That was just not the case with this game.

Jund is a matchup I am definitely comfortable playing against with this deck. This is the only Jund deck that I have lost 0-2 to since I’ve been playing this deck.

G/B Rock

Even at 6-1, I still had to play out the last round of the event against G/B Rock. Playing against this deck seems both easier or harder than Jund, depending on the draw. If they can set up Disciple of Bolas to sacrifice a creature and gain a ton of life, you are probably in trouble.

Game one, my opponent tried to play aggressively and I was much more suited to be the aggressor. Because of how my opponent played game one, however, I sideboarded incorrectly and game two was much harder on me.

The biggest problem was that I still had Fiend Hunters against a deck with as much or more removal than Jund. If I would have known his deck configuration or seen different cards from it, I would have sideboarded as if it were a Jund deck.

After stealing his Thragtusk with my Zealous Conscripts and sacrificing it to my Cartel Aristocrat, I thought I had the game locked up, but through a few unlucky draw steps in a row, I was unable to deal him that last one life point.

As it turns out, I did make a play mistake. My board was dwindling and he played another Thragtusk. My hand consisted of both Oblivion Ring and one of the Fiend Hunters I left in, but I had no way in play to sacrifice the Fiend Hunter. I decided to cast Fiend Hunter first over Oblivion Ring because I did not think it mattered. How wrong I was.

At that point, I did not believe my opponent had anything but lands in hand, but he had apparently been sandbagging a Putrefy for a couple turns. He killed my Fiend Hunter, got his Thragtusk back, blocked to kill one of my remaining creatures, and then untapped to cast Disciple of Bolas to draw five cards and gain five more life.

If I would have cast the spells in the opposite order, I believe I would have won the game. Game three was a disaster where I could not ever draw my fourth land and my opponent drew all four Thragtusks. Normally this matchup is not as hard as it turned out in this instance.

The Metagame Is Passing You By

As you can see, if you are not prepared for Kibler’s presence in the metagame, you are going to have a hard time right now. Outside the red-green deck and Jund there are not a whole lot of other successful strategies right now. Aristocrats is poised to prey on both of these decks and take a lot of opponents by surprise.

Players are still not giving legitimate credit to this archetype and are thrown to have to play against it. There is still a lot more room for growth before Standard rotates. If you still have Standard events you are heading to, keep working on this metagame and you will start winning.

For Aristocrats in particular, I think we have reached a point where Fiend Hunter is more of a liability than a resource. In addition, Thalia, Guardian of Thraben has not been pulling her weight either. She is certainly great against UWR or Esper Control but many fewer copies of those decks are floating around right now.

With those factors in mind, I have retooled the deck to be even better against the decks I am facing often. If I were able to go to the TCG Player event this weekend, here is the version I’d play.

As you can see, there have been some changes to the deck. After putting Fiend Hunter back into my deck for the PTQ, I needed another solution. I explored many possible new cards last week, but none of them seemed to fit.

Mark of Mutiny was amazing of course, but I had a hard time casting it much of the time. It also did not mesh well with Thalia, but since I decided it was time to cut her, adjusting the mana to cast Mark more reliably seemed reasonable. The new mana base has an additional land as well as more red mana. Both of those facts help with Mark of Mutiny but also Zealous Conscripts.

With the last two spots left in the deck, I decided to try out Gather the Townsfolk. They are like mini-Increasing Devotions (or actual ones on five or less life). It does have synergy with this deck, but casting too many of those against Jund is asking to be blown out. Two is the perfect number for you to have some amazing draws but no blowouts.

There were no changes to the sideboard because I loved every card. Sure I did not utilize every card in there but that allocation gives me an advantage against every deck I might have to play against. Go crush some events with this deck!

Tournament Tips

"If you are thinking about mulliganing for a long time, usually it's correct to ship it. The reason why is because most of the time, you're trying to convince yourself to keep it." - LSV

Until Next Time,

Never Give Up, Unleash the Force!

Mike Lanigan
MtgJedi on Twitter
Jedicouncilman23@gmail.com

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