It was a warm summer morning and the sun was on its way up to blind the morning drivers once more. The excitement welled up within me like how it used to when I was on my way to compete in a larger event.
Every season I search endlessly through testing and theorizing to find the best, most fun deck that crushes the metagame from just the right angle. Sometimes I find just what I was looking for and wreck up an event. Usually it happens right when we have a new format forming. I tend to be a little bit ahead of the metagame right at the beginning.
That edge is the leverage I use to be successful at this game. Of course it doesn’t work every time, and I am left with a few meager wins before many losses, but more often than not, my analysis of the initial metagame has proven effective.
As the long morning drive passes by, I found myself thinking about whether or not today would be one of those times I had my finger on the pulse of Standard or if my day would be ending early. Of course I had written an article about the deck I was going to play, but as usual it was not as well received as I had hoped. Many of my decks seem a bit unusual and abnormal so players don’t necessarily want to jump on board with “some crazy deck.” I’m no Travis Woo or Conley Woods, but I’ve had some off-the-wall brews that have been quite successful for me.
I was feeling really good about my deck today though. It was aggressive, resilient, and also had the ability to sort of combo-kill my opponent who thought they were sitting pretty at whatever comfortable life total they were at. I was still surprised that more players did not respect the design I had come up with though because it was based on a previously successful archetype.
And that’s where it all started, with a short road trip to a TCG Player event with some friends for a day of fun and Magic. As it turns out, I did have it all figured out and only one player stopped me from winning the event. I met him in the finals with my RWB Human Aristocrats deck, which is now one of my favorite decks of all time. He was the only one that event who overcame the humans turning into zombies and their vampire friends.
After the event was over, I found myself playing and winning a lot with that deck. My success was mainly at TCG Player events and so attending the TCG Player Invitational seemed like an obvious requirement to make it to.
Fast forward three months and I was freaking out about what I should play at the upcoming huge event. I had more than enough points for entry plus my two byes, but what I didn’t have were decks. That’s right, decks plural. For some reason, many players did not know this event was multi-format. Anyone playing in the Invitational would be playing both Standard and Modern. To my knowledge, this was the first event that was both of these two formats. I was excited but I needed to nail down my deck selections.
Initially when Theros created a new Standard environment for us to compete in, I was playing a midrange Naya Zoo deck I called Naya Forgemaster due to the game-winning Purphoros, God of the Forge in the deck. Inconsistency led me to try other decks like Mono-Red Devotion splashing green, but that deck was just as sketchy as the Naya deck.
I needed something powerful that would also play well over two days of competition. With a longer event like this or a Grand Prix, it’s important that your deck be able to hold up well over many rounds of play. An all-in deck may be a poor choice because of how many rounds you will be required to play. Since this was two formats, that risk was lessened, but still I wanted something consistent.
For a while, I had been toying with Master of Waves decks because it was one of the cards I identified early as a powerhouse. There was not a time when I considered playing him in a single-color deck, but there were many two-color decks I tried him in.
My goal was to build a more midrange deck that could protect Master so your finisher stayed on the board. Thus I was playing cards like Syncopate, Negate, and Dispel. As it turns out, if you are playing a bunch of aggressive creatures before turn four, your opponent will have to deal with them or die and then you can follow up with a Master to finish them off.
Since I needed a new deck, I decided to try the successful Master deck, Mono-Blue Devotion, and see how I liked it. My main concern with the deck was having as aggressive a start as possible so my opponent did not have much time to stabilize. It was for that reason that I wanted to try out Galerider Sliver. The card quickly impressed me with its ability to evolve Cloudfin Raptor as well as help your Mutavaults fly over your opponent’s blockers. Mono-Blue was also consistent and that was a quality I was looking for. Here’s the list I played at the event.
As you can see, I ended up running the list I posted in last week’s article. Overall, I was happy with the deck. Because everyone had tested against this deck, my opponents knew basically how to play against it so I did not have my normal edge of playing something unexpected.
I found the Cyclonic Rifts underwhelming and sided them out almost every match. I did like the more creatures version with the Galeriders but I think the spells maindeck could be changed to Rapid Hybridization or maybe something else. I enjoy playing the deck, but I may try adding a second color in the future. Take a look at how the Standard portion played out.
Day 1 - Standard
Round 1 - Bye
Round 2 - Bye
Round 3 – Mono Black Devotion 2-1
This match is always close, but if you have an early aggressive curve you should win most of the time. What you want to watch out for are their double-Desecration Demon hands. Those ones make for the most difficult games.
Round 4 – Esper Control 2-0
Even though this seems like an awful matchup, it's in your favor more than you might think. You need to force them into a place where they are tapped out for Jace, Architect of Thought or Supreme Verdict so you can resolve Bident of Thassa. Once Bident is online, they won't be able to keep up with your card advantage.
Round 5 – Naya Control 0-2
I think this is a tough matchup, but your win percentage is directly dependent on the number of Anger of the Gods they draw. Usually they need two Angers plus strong followup plays.
Ending 2-1 (4-1) was disappointing but my loss was a bit out of my control. My opponent’s hand was basically perfect in game one, and in game two I couldn't cast my spells. It would have been interesting to see what happened in game three, but I tried not to focus on it too much because we had some Modern to play.
Deciding on my Modern deck was a little challenging as well. I’ve talked a bit about the Grixis Delver deck that I was piloting in PTQ’s and GP’s before in my articles. That deck was naturally a possible contender for my Modern deck, but I ended up not going with it because of what I expected the metagame to look like.
It’s important to consider all the factors going into an event. Take this event for instance. Players most likely qualified for this event by trading for their points or by winning in Standard. Many players would be scrambling for a Modern deck I felt safe to assume there would be more Affinity, Burn, and Jund as well as some random decks through most of the field.
As it turns out, I was correct in this assumption. I talked to countless players that were just hoping to get lucky in Modern. One guy was even playing Slivers because he did not have any other Modern cards. In a field like that, Grixis Delver does not seem well positioned to me.
Going on the assumption that the metagame would be random and out of the ordinary, I wanted to have a proactive and powerful game plan. It wouldn’t hurt if it was a deck that I had played before so that I could base some of my lines of play on actual experience rather than just theory. This Modern event felt more like the second week of Theros Standard than an actual developed metagame.
It had been a while since I’ve played a Pod deck, but I thought that might be a good choice for this event. With Naya Pod specifically, I felt like many players would not know how to play against it and so I would be able to do well with it. I could not come up with a better solution, so that ended up being the deck I went with. Here it is.
As you can see, the main deck is fairly standard by this point. I tweaked some numbers and cut a couple one-ofs, but for the most part the deck is similar to any other version you are likely to play against.
The sideboard though, now that’s a sight to see. A total of zero opponents would expect me to have a Gifts package post-board especially out of Naya Pod. That was one of the reasons I was drawn to play the transitional sideboard. I'm not certain that it is good enough to play in a wide open metagame like I would normally expect at a GP or PTQ, but for this event, I thought it was fitting. Here's what I ended up playing against.
Day 1 - Modern
Round 6 - BUG Mill 2-0
This round I played Ryan Hipp who writes for magic.tcgplayer.com. The match was a crazy rollercoaster ride where we were keeping track of how many cards were left in my library. The whole time, I was trying to decipher what was left in my deck based on my hand and graveyard. It was intense.
Gavony Township won the first game along with my aggressive mana creature draw. Game two was much closer but I was able to find a way to combo and win once I blew up his Ensnaring Bridge so I could attack.
Round 7 - Esper 1-2
My opponent started out game one by playing only black and white cards. I sideboarded to play against this "B/W Hate Bears" deck. Despite what I wrote down I was playing against, my opponent decided to play a different deck in game two and three, this time with blue mana.
After destroying my color-screwed opponent in game one, my deck decided that I needed enough lands for both players. Unfortunately this happened not only in game two but also in game three as well. There were three or four turns in a row that I had any nonland permanent as outs in both games. I was disgruntled to have this happen two games in a row, but there was really nothing to be done.
Round 8 - R/G Tron 2-1
Tron is always an interesting match for this deck. On the one hand they have maindeck Pyroclasm, but on the other, they don't have many ways to stop you from completing your combo. Despite this fact, when you don't draw the combo pieces or the ways to tutor for them, they can race you easily with Wurmcoil Engine.
Game one should be vastly in your favor, but it was not for me this time. Game two, I stalled for a long time and then eventually comboed him out. Game three was an interesting one that showcases how powerful this deck can be when you are not making infinite attackers. My play sequence went like this.
Turn 1 - Land, Noble Hierarch
Turn 2 - Land
Turn 3 - Land, Avalanche Riders
Turn 4 - Pay echo
Turn 5 - Cast and blow up Torpor Orb with Qasali Pridemage then copy Avalanche Riders with Phantasmal Image
Turn 6 - Cast Restoration Angel to get another land destruction spell and a concession
Sometimes this is a tempo/disruptive deck.
Round 9 - UB Merfolk 2-0
This deck was a popular choice for the event because it's new and shiny. I'm not sure it's actually good though. For my deck, it was not hard to beat. Basically you just have to race them. They cannot disrupt your plan much, so as long as you can slow them down or pull off the combo, you should have an easy win.
After the day was over, my final record was 7-2 which automatically qualified me for day 2 and some amount of prize. I was happy to be playing on day 2, but disappointed my record did not turn out a little better. I felt I really should have went 4-0 in Modern instead of 3-1.
Day 2 - Standard
Round 10 - Mono Black Aggro 2-1
This deck was interesting, extremely aggressive, and hard to keep up with. If I did not have the Galerider Slivers in my deck I surely would have lost this match. They were clutch in allowing me to fly over my opponent's blockers. Game one, he was never really in because I grew an extremely large Cloudfin Raptor and held the ground with double Frostburn Weird. I was able to finish him off with an unblockable Thassa.
Game two, I almost won but my draw was a bit clunky and I just couldn't keep up with his fast start on the play. In game three, he tried to disrupt my hand and kill my guys but his deck did not do a good Mono-Black Devotion impression and I was able to keep playing threats then win the game.
Round 11 - R/W Devotion 1-2
I would say this was my favorite deck of the weekend. It was similar to the deck I played, Red-Green Devotion, but instead this one splashed white for Boros Charm and Chained to the Rocks. Mono-Blue has a hard time dealing with Chained to the Rocks for their Master of Waves. I was chained down in game one and that allowed him to win the race. Game two, he could not keep up with my triple one-drop hand plus other guys to evolve the two Cloudfin Raptors. Finally in game three both of our sequences were insanely good, but his was better. Here was mine on five cards.
Unfortunately his draw was even sicker.
Turn 1 - Land
Turn 2 - Ash Zealot
Turn 3 - Burning-Tree Emissary, Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx, Chandra's Phoenix
Turn 4 - Chained to the Rocks, Ash Zealot, Fanatic of Mogis
Turn 5 - Lightning Strike and Boros Charm for the last 7 points of my life total
I would say his draw was unbeatable for my deck. A draw like that should beat any deck in the format.
Day 2 - Modern
Round 12 - GR Tron 2-1
Game one, I had Birds of Paradise and Wall of Roots plus an active Birthing Pod, so I was able to follow the four-part chain to win the game quickly. Game two, my turn three Avalanche Riders was too slow and I couldn't catch up to his natural tron draw. Game three I played some tempo creatures and lost some to Pyroclasm, but I was able to assemble the combo after destroying his artifact.
Round 13 - Affinity 2-0
Once again, my deck showed me how much of an aggro-control deck it can be sometimes. I was on the play and used my Deceiver Exarch to tap his mana on turn two, then blink it twice with Restoration Angel two turns in a row. Even though I had the game locked up with my creatures attacking, I still finished with the combo because it killed him a couple turns quicker.
Game two showed me that the Gifts Ungiven package can really blow players out sometimes. I played Wall of Roots on turn two into Gifts on turn three and on turn four, he had no more creatures in play thanks to Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite. It was a beating.
Round 14 - UWR Control 1-2
This last match of the day was a feature match against a pretty good player. Game one was a long and grindy affair as games in this match tend to be, but I was able to tap him out on his turn and combo him off.
Game two I made a poor decision and allowed him to Path to Exile his own Aven Mindcensor when I believe redirecting it to my Spellskite would have won me the game. As it turns out, I could have killed him easily early in the game except I had naturally drawn both Kiki-Jiki's so I couldn't bring them in with Birthing Pod or play them without the proper mana.
Game three was a frustrating way to end an event. I sat eagerly awaiting my lands for many turns in a row to no avail. He did kill three mana creatures with burn spells which punished my light land draw. I fought with the resources I had and eventually drew another land or two but it was too late.
Final Record: 10-4
I felt so close to top 16 or top 8 depending on tie breakers at my first huge event, but I couldn't quite make it. My play was tight for the majority of the weekend and there were only a couple matches where I thought I did not play optimally. Both decks are great and I will play them both again, most likely with minor changes. My time is coming soon. Stay tuned next week to find out what happens next in my journey to qualify.
Until Next Time,
Unleash the Force!
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