The Thursday night before the Regional PTQ in Lenexa, Kansas I found myself trying to get some matches in on MTGO. The Esper Dragons deck was popping up everywhere, and my testing had not yet accounted for the new kid on the block. Despite most of the rest of the world discounting the choice, I was still battling with my Chromanticore deck.
I played three 8-mans that night, and lost all of them in Round 1. Two of these matches were against Esper Dragons. There was a time in my Magic career when this result would tilt me right off the deck. I was mulliganing a bunch and losing to the de facto best deck, which in practice played dramatically different from the control matchups that I had solved.
I've audibled enough in my life to know that the night before I jumped in the car was too late to end up on a different good deck. The best that I could do was play with the flex slots in the deck I had prepared with.
Sultai Charm no longer made a ton of sense in the maindeck with Whisperwood Elemental on the decline. The best plan that I could come up with was to maindeck two Thoughtseize to make my game one better against control and toss a couple Duress in the sideboard to enhance this plan in a three-game match.
Rather than test the changes, I got some sleep so that I could be a good carmate, and possibly do some of the driving. It's important to not just leach off of your car, but to contribute positively to the trip. Being on a good sleep schedule is also extremely important.
While the changes that I made were untested, I had played the portion of the deck that remained unchanged so much that I wasn't too worried--even in light of my Thursday night beatings. This was the deck that I had won my PPTQ with, the deck that I scooped up random QPs with in my down time, and the deck that I was 70-80% with across several months of live events. I channeled the timeless lesson of Tomfidence and made my way to Lenexa.
Friday morning Jon Puffer and Nic Balega picked me up from my apartment bright and early to make the seven hour drive to Lenexa. I had met both at events but this was my first time traveling with them. Getting into a car with people you've never traveled with for the first time can be a little nerve racking, but they're good guys and unlike my regular travel mates I was hearing all of their stories for the first time. You can never have too many friends.
Friday consisted of receiving very poor customer service from both our hotel and the bar next to the event site. On top of that, Jon snores like a dying bear and Nic is a blanket hog. If not for melatonin, I wouldn't have gotten any sleep at all.
On our way to the site Saturday morning I picked up a NOS energy drink which I nursed between rounds so as not to take in too much of...literally any of the ingredients in a NOS energy drink at one time.
With 71 players in attendance, that meant that seven rounds of swiss and a Top 8 match stood between me and a PT invite. Jason Schousboe sacked into the bye in round one, while I started battling it out.
Round 1 vs. G/R Devotion
Remember how I said that there were fewer Whisperwood Elementals in Standard? Well, my Round 1 opponent was likely packing four. Thoughtseize is great in these matchups though, and the Ultimate Prices in the board make a huge difference. This matchup is quite favorable, and outside of them casting a couple unanswered Whisperwood Elementals there's not much they can do if the Chromanticore deck is performing.
My opponent had at least two copies of Ugin, the Spirit Dragon, which is kind of a problem. Thoughtseize helped me play around Ugin in meaningful ways though, and I came out on top of a resolved Ugin in one of the games. Morphing Sagu Mauler gives you a huge edge against potential Ugins.
Round 2 vs. Esper Dragons
After winning game one of this match I was feeling very good, but then I lost both sideboard games, in which I'm supposed to get a lot better in the matchup. Ultimately, what the match came down to was how I sequenced Duress and Thoughtseize.
The reality of the matter is that sometimes the first discard spell just takes something crappy like an Anticipate to slow them down, while the later discard spells are needed to hit actual gas. The deck leans so heavily on Dragonlord Ojutai that it's imperative that Thoughtseize hits this card, and waiting as long as possible to play the discard spell that hits creatures will have the highest upside.
Round 3 vs. Abzan Aggro
Abzan Aggro is among my deck's best matchups, as they have all the Abzan-y things that I don't really care about in Fleecemane Lion and Siege Rhino with none or fewer of the backbreaking cards like Elspeth, Sun's Champion and End Hostilities. Anafenza, the Foremost is a problem, but milling gas before it comes in and/or Murderous Cut make that kind of a wash.
Round 4 vs. Esper Dragons
Once again I win game one, leveraging the fact that my opponent's maindeck is likely out of Crux of Fate after he cast the second copy, leaving me only to worry about Foul-Tongue Invocation. I was pretty convincingly destroyed in game two, and game three largely came down to luck.
We both mulliganed, and my manabase consisted of more Sylvan Caryatids than lands for the duration of the game. If either of my opponent's Dig Through Times yielded a Crux of Fate, I would probably just lose. There's not much to say here. Sometimes you run good.
Round 5 vs. Abzan Control
Abzan Control is tougher than Aggro, but still favorable. I kept a one-lander on the draw in game one that was great if I saw a second land quickly. I didn't and I died. Games two and three went much more the way that I would script them, and I took the match. The bottom line is that Sagu Mauler is larger than Siege Rhino.
Round 6 vs. Atarka Red
Game one is rough, because you're playing a Standard deck against Mono-Red. In games two and three I came out of the gates just as fast or faster than my opponent, and never fell below 15 life. The green dorks are great at blocking here, the removal out of the board is great, and Chromanticore is often unbeatable even without hexproof.
Round 7 ID vs. U/W Control
In round seven I drew with Ryan Hipp, who was playing a wonky blue-white deck with Monastery Mentor, Secure the Wastes, Brimaz, King of Oreskos, Dragonlord Ojutai, and Elspeth, Sun's Champion as win conditions. I'm not sure how the matchup would have played out, but more importantly Hipp's deck isn't exactly something that you can expect to play against.
Top 8 vs. Mono-Red
I know that my opponent is Mono-Red, and by virtue of seeding, I get to play first. I keep this hand (or something close) in game one:
This hand is on the weak side, but when you have this hand, the best possible scenario is that your opponent is playing Mono-Red. Wayfinder trades for a lot of stuff, and you have a decent chance of setting up an early Chromantiflayer, which if you succeed in doing you just can't lose.
I stumbled a little in game one, but more importantly my opponent missed his second land drop for a while, and I snuck out with a win, which left me feeling very confident. In game two I got straight run over, and never really had a shot.
Game three was a clinic both on my deck performing and my opponent's deck not performing. Once again, he stumbled on lands, but either way I had an early Drown in Sorrow which I soon followed up with a Chromanticore, which ended up exiled with a Soulflayer immediately after it died. At this point in time, losing wasn't a possible outcome.
6-1-1 and q'd for Pro Tour Origins!
The decklists have been published, and people still likely won't view Soulmanticore as a "real" deck. That's fine. This article isn't for the closed-minded. I win with this deck a ton, and I believe that if the flex slots are tuned correctly that it can win in any metagame.
Esper Dragons is definitely the scariest boogeyman to date, and if I were picking up Soulmanticore for the first time I would make sure that I understood what was important and how to play this matchup.
Their cards that matter are Ojutai and Foul-Tongue Invocation, with Crux of Fate being strong, but much less important than the other two. Phoenix beatdown and Torrent Elemental help you keep up on cards, though Thoughtseize is your most important weapon.
I like where the maindeck is at right now, though it's probably true that a copy or two of Hero's Downfall belong on the sideboard. Even with Ojutai being the card that Dragons plays for, you still want to board Murderous Cut out against them due to it being dead so often. Downfall at least kills random Ashioks and Ugins. As of this writing, I'd turn the Ultimate Prices into Downfalls and call it a day.
Major props to everybody who has supported me over the past year as my results have gotten more consistent. I finally no longer feel like I peaked at Magic in college. Biggest thanks to Dan Skoglund for being the only person dumb enough to play my deck regularly and being a great partner to bounce ideas around with. Props to my girlfriend Kari for supporting me in my pursuit of extreme nerdage, and to Nic and Jon for being fun travel partners.
Slops: Dragonlord Ojutai
Thanks for reading!
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