When the PTQ Turns Into Something Else

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After my 3-0, 0-2 performance this weekend in Pittsburgh, I still firmly believe sealed PTQ’s are the best. There is just something elegant about the format, like getting back to the core of the game.

You cannot rely on the latest winning deck list or a sideboard guide to help you through your matches. You must break down your sealed pool, build your own deck from it, and then play it well in order to succeed. There is an incredible amount of skill that goes into playing sealed well. I will definitely be hitting up some more sealed PTQ’s before the end of the season.

I was a little surprised I did not find more success with my sealed deck though. After avoiding the trap of playing white for Heliod, God of the Sun and only three white creatures, I settled on a blue-green aggressive deck featuring Thassa, God of the Sea, Bident of Thassa, and Arbor Colossus. Many of my draws felt like I was playing a constructed deck against my opponents limited deck.

Winning the first three rounds was fairly easy. Once I got to the fourth round I started having to mulligan awkward hands against better opponents with better decks. That was not a good combination. While I did lose to Fleecemane Lion plus Elspeth, Sun's Champion and then Stormbreath Dragon, I don’t think I drew well enough to beat most opponents.

In retrospect, it’s possible I should have tried the underpowered red-black deck with a couple removal spells to combat those two opponents' powerful threats, but I was not sure the red-black deck could actually do anything other than kill one or two guys.

After my second loss, I decided to drop from the event. I was not up to grinding three more rounds for the possibility of a couple packs.

Switching to Standard

After talking to some friends and trading for a little bit, I thought playing Standard sounded fun so I joined an eight man side event. Mono-Blue Devotion has been a ton of fun to play and crushing a side event seemed like a good way to close out my day.

The first round went exactly as planned. I played an extremely fun match against Ben Blum who had built BUG Midrange. The night before, I had been talking to another friend of mine about his BUG list, but I didn’t like the direction he was going with it.

Ben changed everything in my mind about this archetype when he cast Prophet of Kruphix. Prophet is an extremely powerful, underrated card in Standard right now. It always reminds me of Sword of Feast and Famine, and we all know how influential that card was in Caw Blade.

There were a lot of powerful cards in Ben’s unique take on BUG Midrange and even though I defeated him, I really liked the deck. Since the other matches were not finished, we got to talking about the deck, the reason for his card choices, and the breakdown of the exact numbers in the deck.

For reference here’s his list. I didn't have a chance too copy down the whole list, so the manabase may be slightly different.

By Ben Blum

After playing a couple of games against the deck and then seeing the actual list, I had some ideas for improvements.

Right off the bat, I knew I wanted the maximum number of Nightveil Specters. That card is a powerhouse in the metagame right now and if left unchecked can win the game on its own. My favorite part about the card in this deck is how great it works with Sylvan Caryatid. Due to the five-color mana fixer, you can start casting your opponents spells right away rather than waiting for the appropriate lands.

Prime Speaker Zegana is at her best in this deck as well. Most often you are playing her as an instant speed blocker that draws cards. When a midrange deck can draw as many cards as a full control deck, it can be hard to stop. Playing her while you have Desecration Demon in play to draw a new seven cards is nearly as unbeatable as a huge Sphinx's Revelation.

What I like least in this deck are the four- and five-drops. Kalonian Hydra for example, is a great threat and a two-turn clock, but I don’t think it advances the deck's game plan of controlling the game. I think we can do better in that spot than the hydra.

Lifebane Zombie seems unimpressive in the maindeck to me as well. At the beginning of the format when everyone had green creatures in their deck, Lifebane was one of the best cards in the format. Now, devotion decks have pushed many of the green creatures out of the meta and I don’t think he is nearly as effective as before. Certainly your sideboard would not be complete without them, but maindeck seems unnecessary.

After playing with the deck a bit, I decided I also did not like Jace, Architect of Thought or Whip of Erebos in the maindeck. Here is the list I’ve been working on.

The BUG Prophet
by Mike Lanigan

One main question I have about the updated list is if thirteen removal spells is enough. I committed a little bit of heresy by cutting the fourth Hero's Downfall, but it was getting clogged in my hand too often. The card is one of the best in the deck though, so the fourth may find its way back in.

The replacement I found for Kalonian Hydra was Polukranos, the World Eater. He's just as effective as a threat, but adds the ability to interact directly with opposing creatures. He also provides another huge body so you can draw more cards with Prime Speaker.

Polukranos reminds me of Olivia Voldaren and can be quite problematic for your opponents to remove. You might activate his monstrous ability for just 2 or 3, but that is often enough. Your other removal spells can take down the bigger threats and he will clean up the rest.

In this midrange control deck, Scavenging Ooze is a natural fit. With a bunch of removal spells and Desecration Demon tempting your opponents to sacrifice their creatures, your ooze will grow quickly. In the mid- and late-game, it becomes a huge threat for your opponent to deal with.

Finally, you may have noticed the presence of Rapid Hybridization. Playing with that card in Mono-Blue Devotion showed me just how powerful it really is.

Giving them a 3/3 can be a drawback, but often your creatures are so much larger that a 3/3 just cannot compete. You don’t have the combo with Tidebinder Mage to tap down the token like the blue deck does, but many of your cards already invalidate it.

I know this spot needs to be removal, but trying to play the guessing game between Doom Blade, Ultimate Price, and Devour Flesh led me to find something that deals with any threat. Don’t underestimate the benefit of it costing only one mana. A cheap removal spell is a huge boon in a mana-intensive deck that wants to use all of its mana every turn.

Overall, this deck has proven itself powerful not only in theory but also in testing. I look forward to refining it over the next couple of weeks. If you have an interesting deck list that has been doing well in the metagame, please post it in the comments below and I will take a look at it.

My PTQ ended up turning into me having a great time delving into the inner workings of someone's unique deck that they've been carefully constructing. What did your last event turn into?

Tournament Tips

“When you win, you couldn’t have done any better.”

- Patrick Chapin

This is the attitude I have at every event. Certainly there will be times where the number of lands, both too few or too many, will stop you from winning. Those things cannot be avoided, but that does not stop me from wanting more.

Take the TCG Player Invitational for example. Many of my friends and readers have been encouraging and supportive about my 21st place finish. From my perspective though, I can’t stop replaying the last round over and over trying to find different plays I could have made that would have changed the outcome. If I would have won that last round, I would have finished in the top 16 or possibly in the top 8 with good enough breakers.

Even if I had won the last round though, I would be focused on, “well I could have done better if this would have happened.” I am not the best player, nor the most successful, but this attitude of striving for success is what has made me as good as I am.

Until Next Time

Unleash the BUG Prophet!

Mike Lanigan
MtgJedi on Twitter

2 thoughts on “When the PTQ Turns Into Something Else

  1. “I know this spot needs to be removal, but trying to play the guessing game between Doom Blade, Ultimate Price, and Devour Flesh led me to find something that deals with any threat.”

    Have you considered Putrefy? I’d also probably want the 4th copies of Abrupt Decay and Hero’s Downfall somewhere in the 75 (preferably main since they aren’t dead against control).

    How has MD Golgari Charm been performing for you? Is 2 too many or just right?

    Gaze of Granite seems good with Desecration Demon, although you probably want it out of the board since it kills your own Oozes and Caryatids. If you need more dig/draw than just Zegana, Reaper of the WIlds, Read the Bones, and/or Underworld Connections seem like strong options, although I don’t know what you would cut to fit them in.

  2. Hello Mike,

    I’m also trying to build a BUG midrange deck, my biggest problem is against UW/Esper control…
    The mass removals, detentions spheres and elspeths are just crazy.
    I feel that the deck doesn’t put enough pressure against controls, what do you think about it? How are you doing against them?

    see ya

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