Ascend Acoustics Sierra-LX vs. Sierra-2EX Comparison

Warning: This is long. I try to be thorough.

Goal

The goal of this was not to declare a winner; I did not go in with the assumption that one speaker would be universally better. My goal was to identify how these two speakers are different.

Background

This is where I stand on the things I least like to have compromised, and the places where I’m most willing to cut speakers some slack.

Things I’m looking for:

  • The standard metrics like flat response and wide dispersion. If a speaker is going to miss a little on flatness, I prefer bright to dark, but still prefer neutral to either.
  • Detail retrieval and handling of transients
  • Bass response, both extension and clarity. I’m a bassist, so of course this is on my list, but let’s be clear: for music, I don’t need 20Hz of bass extension. A standard 4-string bass guitar in drop D goes down to about 37 Hz, and a five-string (the low B) is around 31Hz and I’d like to be able to actually hear the fundamental, so the F3 should ideally be in the mid 30s. It wasn’t that long ago that was basically considered impossible for bookshelf speaker, but it’s not crazy anymore.
  • No listener fatigue. Silk domes have always been fine on this, but metal domes can be hit-or-miss. The aluminum domes on my old PSB Image speakers were fine, but I originally bought my first Ascend Sierra-1 in part because the titanium domes on the Paradigms I was also looking at gave me some fatigue.
  • The hard things to get right: violins, female vocals. These are the Achilles heel of many speakers.

Things I care less about (at least for this comparison):

  • HT performance. This is two-channel music only.
  • How well the speakers integrate with a sub. This is a 2.0 setup.
  • Sensitivity. My room is small, and I don’t listen at reference level anyway. Frankly, I’m often baffled when people complain about this in speakers. Preserving your hearing long-terms is good, and even if you don’t care about that, watts are cheap these days.
  • How it’s done. I don’t care actually care about things like domes vs. ribbons or cone materials or sealed vs. ported or any of that stuff, what I care about is how the resulting speaker sounds. Those things can affect how speakers sound, of course, but I would never rule out (or in) any speaker just because it used a particular kind of tweeter or construction.

Oh, and a word on measurement: thanks to a bunch of people now having Klippels, we are currently awash in measurements. I think this is a net positive. Measurements are important, even if our understanding of how measurements relate to human perception is imperfect. It’s also far from zero, though, so I think measurements are a useful tool. They may not be the final word, but they are a key part of understanding what’s going on.

Finally, for those who are not already vested in the Ascend community, when I say “Dave” I’m referring to Dave Fabrikant, the head honcho at Ascend Acoustics.

Music

It’s hard to read reviews of audio gear if the reviewer is just naming music you’re not familiar with. “Wow, the vocals on track X are amazing” is an utterly useless piece of information if I have never even heard of track X. (This is a pet peeve of mine.) I can’t possibly listen to everything so I just have my own particular list, which won’t match yours. However, I will try to (mostly) stay away from naming particular tracks and try to focus on what’s in the music that differentiates the speakers. Full track list in the Appendix—yes, there’s an appendix. I warned you this is long.

I will talk about genres a bit, though, because it’ll help set context. My two main genres are rock (and things that are rock-adjacent) and classical. There’s a smattering of other things: EDM, soundtracks, some world, some acoustic guitar and piano, some new age, little bits of blues and jazz. Not much metal (outside of Tool). Zero country. The classical does not include opera. The rock includes almost no soft rock. My taste in classical runs more toward quartets and chambers, but there’s still symphonies in there.

I listen to music essentially all the time that I can possibly get away with it. At home and at work, my real-world two-channel listening has four primary use cases:

  • As background to work that involves reading or technical writing. This will be almost entirely instrumental, mostly classical.
  • As a backdrop to work involving things like programming or statistics. Punk, industrial, EDM kinds of things preferred here.
  • As a backdrop to “sort of”” working or just plain goofing off. You know, answering emails, doing administrative stuff. Full music library for this.
  • Serious listening. Again, full music library here but less instrumental/classical.

Initial Impressions

I posted this already to the Ascend forum but want to keep everything complete, so here that bit is again:

First thing: if you’re standing such that your ears are noticeably above the plane of the tweeters, it’s no contest—the LXs are clearly better. The difference in vertical dispersion is quite pronounced. When my son first came into the room he immediately liked the LXs much better. I had him sit down and he decided maybe he jumped to conclusions. If you’re putting these in your HT and you care what it sounds like when you stand up, you’ll want the LXs. (This is my current minor annoyance with my HT, which uses Duos. Sounds great when you’re sitting, but when you stand up, you really notice the dropoff.)

So far—but let’s note that it’s really, really early—I don’t universally prefer one over the other one. Some tracks it’s a wash (in fact, frankly, for some tracks it’s hard to hear much difference at all), some tracks sound better on the LXs, and some sound better on the EXs. Note that “better” in many cases is hair-splitting. There were also some where a difference was apparent, but preference wasn’t.

I think treble detail retrieval and transients are indeed still better on the EX. It’s not dramatic but if you listen in the right places it’s there. Cymbals are just a teensy bit crisper, stuff like that. Part of it might be that the EXs seem a just a little bit brighter. Not a lot, but I can tell it’s what I’m used to. LXs are probably more neutral overall. (What really needs to be broken in here are my ears; I’m just used to the EX sound.)

I concur with everybody else who’s said anything about the bass on the LXs. When I first heard the EXs, I declared that Dave had broken physics getting that much bass out of a bookshelf speaker with a 6″ woofer. Well, I guess he merely bent physics with the EXs, because the LXs are another notch (or two) past that. Absolutely bananas for a bookshelf speaker. If you went to an audio show 20 years ago and put these behind a screen, nobody—including probably Dave himself—would guess how small they are.

So, what held up over more extensive testing?

Testing

Since I kind of need to have the house to myself to really do this properly, and my wife is still mostly working from home, it took me a while to get through the enormous playlist I used to test. In between the more serious listening, I had the LX’s on for all my “listening while working” time. This was to get me more used to the LX sound, since I had so much experience with the EX sound.

For the actual testing, I typically listened at around 80dB continuous. First, that’s loud enough that the Fletcher-Munson curve is pretty flat so I’m really hearing the full range. Second, it’s not loud enough to have hearing damage be a concern. It’s a little quieter than reference level, which is fine because I rarely listen that loud anyway.

I listened to every track in its entirety, switching back and forth between the speakers every so often. I often went back and listened to specific passages multiple times when I wanted to get a better sense of a specific difference. I took notes on every single track, but that’s way to long for this.

Results

Overall, the first thing that needs to be said is that in a lot of cases, the differences between the two were pretty small. More than once when I switched between the two speakers, I had to re-check to make sure I had actually switched, so sometimes this was a bit of a hair-splitting exercise. Sometimes, however, it was not. I’m going to focus more on the places where it was not, but keep in mind that depending on what you listen to, the differences may not be particularly large. With that, a small disclaimer: these are both excellent speakers, so please take anything that sounds negative here with a grain of salt—this is negative relative to another excellent speaker, not in an absolute sense.

The differences that I came to think of as “the big three” were these:

Flat Response

Honestly, you can pretty much get this off the spins for the respective speakers. The LX measures incredibly flat, and that’s what you hear. It’s just more neutral than the EX. Switching from LX to EX was often most noticeable in the bump to the treble the EX has relative to the LX—it sometimes sounded almost like an EQ was turned on. The EXs measure brighter, and they most definitely sound brighter. This relative equality of mids and treble often makes the LX sound like they have a fuller midrange, but there were instances when the brightness was subjectively pleasing to my ears. Most times the neutrality of the LX was a clear advantage. If you have a negative response to a little brightness, the LX will be much more up your alley.

There’s also something volume-dependent about this, as one might expect. In general, the quieter you listen, the more the highs and lows are de-emphasized (this is the Fletcher-Munson curve in action). Every once in a while I turned the volume down, and when I did that, the (relative) treble boost in the EX became less apparent. The louder you listen (up to a point), the larger the advantage is for the LX.

And, of course, some people like a little V-shaped EQ in their audio world. In general, if that’s something you want, I wouldn’t be trying to get it out of the speakers, I’d just EQ it in. This is what the loudness control is for. But I can certainly see how, if that V is your thing, especially in a short listening session, you might see less advantage for the LX. There were a few tracks that I did think sounded a bit better with the extra brightness.

Vertical dispersion

I didn’t actually move around much during testing and sat mostly with the tweeters exactly at ear level, so I mostly didn’t hear it… but when I did stand, well, my initial impression in this regard held. The LX just wipes the floor with the EX here. I didn’t do any really near-field testing, but I bet the LXs are better in that context because of this.

Bass Response

Not only is the bass extension better, but the LX is just a more visceral speaker, even when level-matched. The LX is the window-rattler that really hits you in the chest. When the kick drum and bass are slamming, when the timpani are thundering, you want the LX. They really do sound much bigger than the EXs. The EX is a great bookshelf speaker, no doubt, and it actually delivers really impressive bass for a modest-sized bookshelf speaker. I was not previously unhappy with the bass from the EX, and always thought the bass was the biggest improvement of the EX over the regular Sierra-2. But the LX just sounds like something else entirely. I kind of want the rest of the family to go out of town for a day or two so I can set up the LXs in my living room and crank them up, just to hear them in a bigger space. I have never had this urge with the EXs.

One has to be careful with this, though. I mean, it’s not like they go down to 20Hz or something so don’t let your expectations get too carried away here, but they really do handle bass in a way the EXs simply do not. It’s quite something. If you don’t have the space for towers or a sub, these are a great way to go.

Then the “small two” differences:

Detail Retrieval, Transients, and Imaging

This is the one place where I think the EX has an edge, though it’s a small one. The fact that Dave (and my other favorite speaker designer, Dennis Murphy) have been using RAAL tweeters for a long time is not accidental. The new Titan dome is, however, really impressive. But the RAAL still has some advantages, and here’s where those are.

As a result, the EX (narrowly) carries this category. For example, in one of the classical pieces that’s primarily a string quartet, there’s occasionally a harpsichord quietly in the background. This sounded better and clearer on the EX. Cymbals are a little crisper on the EX. (Interestingly, I only found this to be true for real cymbals. This was much less apparent with the EDM/soundtrack stuff that clearly uses a drum machine.) Violins, acoustic guitars, and the upper range on electric guitars all sound just a little bit more pleasing on the EX. I found overall slightly better separation between instruments with the EX. The EXs also have more airiness. There is something lovely about the RAALs that the LXs don’t quite always get. But, to be clear, they are very close. There is a difference, to be sure, but not a large difference.

I think a very substantial fraction of the perceived difference is also a phantom. It took me a while to realize what was going on here. Part of the reason the top end on the EXs sounds clearer because is because it is louder relative to the midrange. That is, the relative brightness of the EX makes the high end seem even better, simply by virtue of less masking by the midrange. The more I listened, and listened closely, to the LX, the more I realized that most of the time it really is just as good at most of this, it’s simply not as bright. There is something real about the RAAL, but I think the actual advantage here is perceptually inflated by the brightness. Still an edge to the EX, but it’s a small advantage indeed.

Midrange

I wasn’t planning on writing a section on this but it’s enough of a difference between the two speakers that it’s worth talking about. First, let me say that I’ve heard both the EXs and the Ascend RAAL Towers side-by-side in the Ascend listening room. The Towers have slightly better bass (not by as much as I had expected), but for me the real separator between those two speakers to my ears is the midrange. Mids are more clear and open-sounding on the Towers. A lot of the early commenters on the Ascend forum commented that the LXs are more “tower-like” than the EXs. I think that’s true, and it’s not just in the bass.

That is, the LXs have not only more midrange relative to the highs, but I think the mids are again more clear and open-sounding on the LXs. (I’d have to listen to them side-by-side with the Towers to comment meaningfully on how they compare there.) I would say the difference here is again pretty small, but it’s there. (Humorously, I just looked back at my review of the S2EXs after upgrading from the base S2s, and I said almost exactly the same thing there about the change in midrange with that upgrade. I guess this really is just the next step for the Sierras.)

This led to some interesting results. I like the EX slightly better for violins, and if there were pieces that were just violins I’d probably take the EX—but once the cellos come in, the advantage for the EX vanishes, because the LX midrange is better. Flute solo? EX. Full orchestra? LX. Acoustic piano pieces are be better on the EX when just working the high keys, but once the left hand gets in there, the advantage generally flipped to the LXs.

A few other areas worth commenting on:

The Tough Stuff: Female Vocals and Violins

As I noted above, I found the EXs to be very slightly better with violins. I think this was generally true for most instruments where the bulk of what you care about is at the high end. Flutes, too, are challenging instruments and marginally better on the EXs.

I went hard into listening closely to female vocals kind of late in testing when I had a pretty clear sense of how the two speakers compared, and even then I was a little surprised on this one. The extra air in the EXs didn’t really do all that much for female vocals, and even with high-pitched singers (e.g., Kate Bush)—the stronger midrange of the LXs compensated. I have to call this one a draw.

Soundstage

Overall both speakers do this really well, with soundstages that are both wide and deep. Since the EXs have the slightly clearer high end, I kept expecting the soundstaging to be better on the EX. Even when I was looking for it, I couldn’t find it. Now, I know it’s weird say instrument separation on the EX is marginally better but not the soundstaging. It’s hard to explain. The EX did a better job of making two instruments sound distinct, even if both speakers put those instruments in the same place. I have to call this a tie.

Fatigue

I’ve owned the EXs for years with no fatigue ever. The good news here is I didn’t have any with the LXs, either. Whew.

Horizontal Dispersion

Horizontal dispersion is pretty much a wash. There may be some difference between the speakers on that score, but the combination of my room and my ears was not precise enough to distinguish them. I can’t vouch for a bigger room being further away, though.

Fun

Dave and has commented several times that the LXs are designed to be “fun,” and folks on the forum seem to generally agree. First, I think it’s awesome that someone who’s spent countless hours fiddling with a Klippel still has that perspective—good on you, Dave. More important, though, is the question of whether the LXs are, indeed, more “fun” and if so, what is it that makes them fun?

Honestly, I was a little skeptical about this because I’ve never had a problem with the “fun” level of the EXs, but I have to agree that the LXs are more fun. I think that can be attributed to a couple things.

First, the better vertical dispersion. You can move around more without feeling like the treble has gone AWOL. There’s a certain freedom to that, which is fun.

The other one is the better bass performance. There’s just more slam, more of that bass thump that you can feel as much as hear. It’s not just bass extension (though that’s improved, too)—the LXs just feel like they hit you harder even when not pushing the lowest of the low end (and again, I worked to make this comparison level-matched). Like I said before, they’re just more visceral. And as a bassist, I think I’m contractually obligated to believe that’s more fun.

Also, I have to say, there’s something fun about watching the LX woofers do their thing when the bass is loud. All woofers move, but not all woofers move like these do. The EX woofer looks better with that cool shiny phase plug and all, but when the LXs are cranking you it’s fun to see the crazy high excursion.

Power handling might be part of it, too, for some people. Since I’m in a small room I can easily hit over 100dB with the amp turned barely past noon, I can’t really comment directly on that.

The Final Verdict

As I expected, neither speaker was universally better than the other—but it was a near thing. The LX is almost always better. I wasn’t going to crown a winner but honestly I do think overall that the LX is a superior speaker. The LX is better at more things, and for some of those things, the difference is pretty large. Where the LX it’s worse, it’s not much worse. (Someone on the Ascend forum said that when the ES is better, it’s 20% better and when the LX is better, it’s 80% better. It’s hard to argue with that.) The fact that the LX is cheaper is the deal-sealer. If you don’t already own Sierras and are in the market, go buy the LXs now, before Dave raises the price!

I mean, I guess I can imagine cases where the EX would be the preferred choice over the LX. First, you know you will have your ear level with the tweeter; going vertically off-axis wipes out the EX (in a relative sense). Second, you really prioritize high-range clarity. For me, it would be if I listened primarily to sparse acoustic music, e.g., solo acoustic guitar. (I preferred the EXs for Michael Hedges and Rodrigo y Gabriela, for example.) Third, you either don’t care as much about bass extension or have a well-integrated sub to handle that. Fourth, you listen a low to moderate volume levels. It’s kind of a weird set of things all together, so I’m not sure how many people are in that situation. For most folks I’d say if you have to choose between them, get the LXs.

The LXs are also cheaper, which is bananas. What I really don’t understand is Dave’s strategy from a marketing perspective—I cannot imagine the LXs won’t wildly cannibalize sales of the EX. That’s Dave’s problem, though, not mine.

The much more tricky one for me would be “if you already own EXs, should you upgrade to LXs?” As of this writing I haven’t seen pricing on the upgrade, but I’m going to guess it’ll be around $900 for a pair of speakers. The LXs are mostly better, but are they that much better? Assuming I’m in the ballbark, I’d probably only recommend that you do it if you really care about the bass or if you find yourself listening vertically off-axis. If my HT mains were EXs, I would definitely upgrade them to LXs just to get the better vertical dispersion—the other advantages are just freebies. In particular bass extension is less of a concern for HT because that’s with a sub anyway. (Side note: I have to wonder if Dave is going to produce Duos with the Titan tweeter. This would probably also mean new woofers for the Duos, but I would almost certainly make that upgrade.)

So, for my small room where I sit perfectly tweeter-level pretty much all the time and only rarely listen loud? I would probably not spend the money to do the EX to LX upgrade. The EXs are still great speakers and I would be perfectly happy just keeping those in my study, despite having heard and preferring the LXs. If someone forced the issue and said in my study I could only keep the EXs or the LXs, but it would cost me $900 to keep the LXs, I’d probably stick with the EXs. Fortunately I’m not in that situation.

So, there you have it.

Appendices

Musings on Engineering

I’ll just quote myself from my review of the S2 (coming from the S1 NrT):

I was originally trained as an engineer and while I’m not one now (nor was my training in speakers or acoustics), I do enjoy a bit of wild speculating from an engineering perspective. I’ll be the fist to admit I’m not really qualified here, but when has that ever stopped anyone on the internet?

When, indeed. So here goes. I’ve been thinking about the design of the EX vs the LX and the idea of compromises, or maybe trade-offs. Dave has said several times on the Ascend forum why he likes the RAAL tweeters: low moving mass, wide and linear horizontal dispersion, no break-up modes, and essentially zero stored energy. These are all highly desirable properties, to be sure.

But that doesn’t mean they don’t come without some downsides, too. The RAALs are expensive, don’t have great vertical dispersion, and generally need to be crossed over higher than domes. That last one in particular leads to other compromises. To really get the midrange, you either have to ask an awful lot from the woofer (the 2EX approach), or you just have to grit your teeth and go with a three-way design (the approach taken with the Towers and the Philharmonic BMR). Of course, if you’re locked into cabinets with only two openings—and bless Dave for sticking with that, giving us all the chance to upgrade, which I personally have done many times, thank you—you’re stuck with a two-way design (unless you want to go to concentric drivers, which is another set of tradeoffs). The EX woofer is great and handles this really well, but it’s a big ask. I think the EX woofer is amazing given how wide a frequency range it has to cover and how well it does so. I have to think part of the motivation for the LX was to not ask the woofer to go so high.

In fact, to me, Dave’s description of the Titan tweeter in the LX announcement thread is essentially “I wanted a dome tweeter that had as much of the positive aspects of the ribbons as possible, but being a dome, wouldn’t have those downsides.” That frees up the woofer from having to do the upper mids, so the woofer can be pushed lower.

As far as I can tell from listening, the Titan tweeters are indeed a big leap in this direction. I don’t think they quite get all of the advantages of the RAALs, but they’re pretty close, while simultaneously skirting the downsides. Still, there is a little something lost, and I can certainly hear that loss when I’m really listening for it, but there’s so much more gained. I think overall it’s the right tradeoff to make. The measurements certainly suggest that’s the case, and my ears agree.

My guess, and this is completely unsubstantiated speculation (feel free to laugh at me, Dave), is that the Titan tweeters also cost less than the RAALs. It wouldn’t surprise me if the LX woofers were also slightly less costly than the EX woofers. Both drivers being cheaper = less expensive speaker. $250 less for a pair of LXs might be the most amazing part of the whole thing.

Gear Notes

The room (one of the more important pieces of gear) is my study, which is basically a 9′ x 11′ room with ceilings that slope up to 12′ high. It is thankfully not quite rectangular, and has a mixture of different treatments in various places, from 1/2″ tiles to 4″ panels. It’s not recording-studio quiet, but if you’re having a conversation and you walk in from another room, you immediately notice a big drop in reverb.

The speakers are normally separated by a little less than six feet center-to-center and I sit about six feet away. (The speakers were a little closer together for this because I had all four speakers in the room at the same time, the EXs to the left of the LXs.) The EXs normally sit on custom 38″ high stands so that my ears are exactly level with the EX tweeters. I bought a second pair of height-adjustable stands and had one of each speaker on each stand type to even that out, all height-matched.

The source is an iMac Pro running Audirvana Origin. When I’m working and not listening carefully it’s just Apple Music playing back my library (mostly ALAC, mostly 16/44.1 but a few 24/96), but when I’m really paying attention it’s Audirvana, so that’s what I used for all testing.

I normally use two DACs which I call the subjective DAC and the objective DAC. The “subjective” DAC is a 1st-gen Schiit Bifrost that got sent in for the R2R upgrade. You might remember a bit of a kerfuffle about this DAC when ASR first reviewed it because it did not measure well—but of course a lot of people like how it sounds. I have kind of a love/hate relationship with it. Just depends on the material. The “objective” DAC is an SMSL Sanskrit 10th Mk2, which is an inexpensive DAC based on the AKM 4493 that measures amazingly well, particularly for the price. I did my main test listening here with the Sanskrit just to avoid any weird DAC interactions.

Amp is a Yamaha A-S500 integrated amp, rated at 85wpc into 8 ohms. This is more than enough in my little room—it easily hits over 100dB just past 12 o’clock on the volume knob. I don’t listen that loud hardly ever, but I did want to check. I had both the LXs and the EXs hooked up, one as the A and one as the B. No room correction or EQ, amp on Pure Direct. This was a test of the speakers, not the other electronics.

I’m not a huge believer in break-in but I do like to get things a little warmed up so when I first get new speakers or headphones I run them hot for about an hour with something that has a lot of bass, the TRON:Legacy soundtrack and a couple other bass-heavy tracks. Wow do the LX woofers move! Amazing amount of excursion.

In my room with the door open, the EXs are louder with pink noise by a little less than 3dB. For a lot of music, it was closer to to 2dB though it depended a little on the music. When I switched back and forth between A and B I also adjusted the volume in software to keep them pretty much level-matched. It’s not perfect because different material interacts with the room somewhat differently and so sometimes the LXs seemed a little louder and sometimes the EXs seemed a little louder, but it was always close and not a consistent advantage for either speaker.

Also possibly relevant: my first Ascend speakers were Sierra-1s which I bought in 2010. I have upgraded them to NrTs, then to 2s, then to 2EXs. I still have S1s in my office on campus (2.0), and S1 NrTs in the master bedroom (2.1 for the occasional TV or movie). My home theater setup is Ascend Luna Duos for LCR and Philharmonic Mini Philharmonitors (the RAAL ones) as surrounds, QAcoustics 3020i as front heights (needed white for WAF reasons) with a Rythmik L22 sub. I have PSB Image series speakers (circa 2001) in the upstairs home theater, Philharmonic AA monitors in the garage, and Ascend HTM-200s in the kitchen. Yes, essentially every room in the house where I spend significant time has a pair of speakers in it.

Full Song List

“Il Pleure (At the Turn of the Century)” by The Art of Noise from The Seduction of Claude Debussy
“Into the Void” by Nine Inch Nails from The Fragile (Right)
“Stinkfist” by Tool from Ænima
“Wild Flower” by The Cult from Electric
“Start of the Breakdown” by Tears for Fears from The Hurting
“Breakfast in the Field” by Michael Hedges from Live on the Double Planet
“Hanuman” by Rodrigo y Gabriela from 11:11
“Spring Creek” by George Winston from Summer
“Concerto No.2 “L’estate”, RV 315; III. Presto” by Janine Jansen from Vivaldi – The Four Seasons
“Concerto for 2 Violins, Strings and Continuo in D minor, BWV. 1043: I. Vivace” by Hahn/LA Chamber Orchestra/Kahane from Bach ・ Concertos
“Some Like It Hot” by The Power Station from The Power Station
“Little Speaker” by Underworld from A Hundred Days Off
“Root Beer” by Thomas Newman from American Beauty
“Oasis” by Shadowfax from The Odd Get Even
“Precious Things” by Tori Amos from Little Earthquakes
“Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic” by The Police from Ghost in the Machine
“Strength to Dream” by Propaganda from A Secret Wish
“The Happiest Days of Our Lives” by Pink Floyd from The Wall (Disc 1)
“Escape Artist” by Zoe Keating from Into the Trees
“An Dio” by Rene Lacaille & Bob Brozman from Dig Dig
“The Chain” by Fleetwood Mac from Rumours
“Homeless” by Paul Simon from Graceland
“Driven to Tears” by Sting from Bring on the Night (Disc 1)
“Came Back Haunted” by Nine Inch Nails from Hesitation Marks (Audiophile Mastered Version) (24/48)
“View From a Stairway” by Deepsky from In Silico
“Money” by Pink Floyd from Dark Side of the Moon (MFSL)
“Bodyrock” by Moby from Play
“The Pot” by Tool from 10,000 Days
“The Game Has Changed” by Daft Punk from TRON: Legacy
“Violin Concerto in D, Op.77: 3. Allegro giocoso, ma non troppo vivace – Poco più presto” by Janine Jansen [Violin], Orchestra dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia [Orchestra] & Antonio Pappano [Conductor] from Brahms: Violin Concerto; Bartók: Violin Concerto No.1 (24/96)
“Haydn: Symphony #95 In C Minor, H 1/95 – 4. Finale: Vivace” by Colin Davis; Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra from Haydn: The London Symphonies [Disc 1]
“Handel: Water Music Suite #1 In F, HWV 348 – Minuet For The French Horn” by Bamberg Philharmonic Orchestra from Handel: Water Music Suite, Etc.
“Saving Buckbeak” by John Williams from Harry Potter & the Prisoner of Azkaban
“Helm’s Deep” by Howard Shore from The Two Towers
“Possible” by Zoe Keating from Snowmelt (EP) (24/96)
“Sat in Your Lap” by Kate Bush from The Dreaming
“Blinding” by Florence + The Machine from Lungs
“Rollercoaster” by Everything but the Girl from Like the Deserts Miss the Rain
“Super Blaster” by Curve from Cuckoo
“The Working Hour (2014 Steven Wilson Mix)” by Tears For Fears from Songs From the Big Chair (24/96)
“Pneuma” by Tool from Fear Inoculum (24/96)
“Discipline” by Nine Inch Nails from The Slip (24/96)
“Time” by Pink Floyd from The Dark Side of the Moon (Immortal Edition)
“Joy Joy” by Kinga Glyk from Feelings

Temur Dragons Cashes FNM

Background

I’ve always liked Temur and played it twice in KTK standard, once in a more midrangey-planeswalker style which did well, and once in an aggro build that was a disaster. Based on the disaster I stayed away from that wedge, but then I saw Brian Dolan’s list at the SCG Open and I just loved it.

I had been on a travel-related MTG hiatus for a while and didn’t have any Thunderbreak Regents when I returned, so the first MTG I played since the DTK pre-release couldn’t be this deck. I played an Abzan Reanimator list that was OK but I didn’t love it. But my Regents arrived in time for this last FNM and I was excited to play it.

The Deck: Temur Dragons

I made a few small changes to Dolan’s list and this is what I sleeved up:

Creatures (22)
4 Sylvan Caryatid
4 Courser of Kruphix
4 Savage Knuckleblade
4 Thunderbreak Regent
2 Whisperwood Elemental
4 Stormbreath Dragon

Spells (14)
2 Wild Slash
3 Crater’s Claws
4 Stubborn Denial
2 Draconic Roar
2 Lightning Strike
1 Sarkhan Unbroken

Lands (24)
2 Shivan Reef
2 Temple of Abandon
2 Temple of Mystery
3 Forest
3 Mountain
4 Frontier Bivouac
4 Wooded Foothills
4 Yavimaya Coast

Sideboard (15)
1 Destructive Revelry
3 Roast
4 Disdainful Stroke
1 Anger of the Gods
1 Seismic Rupture
2 Hornet Nest
1 Xenagos, the Reveler
2 Ashcloud Phoenix

Basically, I cut a Whisperwood for a Sarkhan, cut a Lightning Strike and a Wild Slash for two Draconic Roars, and fiddled with the sideboard a little (I refuse to play Feed the Clan). Tweaks, but nothing major.

Swiss Rounds

Round 1: Ron, Jeskai Prowess
Sometmes at FNM you get a new player playing a substandard deck. It’s great, people have to start somewhere, but it’s kind of a bye when you’re playing a serious deck. These are, of course, also the matches where you least need great draws to win, and of course that’s always when I get the best draws. I won the die roll, went T1 tapland, T2 tapland, leave up a tapland and then Wild Slash the opposing Swiftspear, T3 Knuckleblade, T4 Thunderbreak, T5 Stormbreath. Many real decks would have issues with that draw. Game 2 I had turn 2 Carytid into T3 Thunderbreak and T4 Stormbreath. Silly.
1-0 matches, 2-0 games

Round 2: Tyler, playing BW Warriors
Tyler’s deck is very similar to the BW Warriors deck recently Deck Tech’d on SCG Live. Tyler’s build played a few copies of Secure the Wastes, a slightly different set of warriors, and at least one Rush of Battle but it’s the same basic idea. Game 1 I had a slower start but with a Courser to smooth things out, but Tyler got off a Secure for 4 at the end of my turn with a followup Rush of Battle that put him up to 29 life and me down to 13. But from there I got a Sarkhan and then a Stormbreath, and Stormbreath is a real problem for his deck. Turns out Courser plus Sarkhan’s +1 is very good. I eventually killed him with a 7/7 Stormbreath. I boarded in the Nests and the red small sweepers. Game 2 was less interesting because of my turn 3 Hornet Nest, which just locked out the ground way too well.
2-0 matches, 4-0 games

Round 3: Zac, playing GR Aggro
This was mostly a pre-DTK list featuring Heir of the Wilds, Rabblemaster, Fanatic of Xenagos, Flamewake Phoenix, Ashcloud Phoenix, Boon Satyr, and burn spells—but no dragons. I think the only DTK card was Surrak. My draw in the opener was a little slow and his wasn’t. I had to take 4 from a Fanatic before I could Roar it and just could not keep up with the followups, including a Yasova that let him take my Courser. I again boarded in the Nests and the red sweepers plus the Xenagos. Game 2 he had a turn 2 Heir and a turn 3 Rabblemaster to my turn 3 Courser, but my turn 4 play was Anger to wipe his board and get in for 2 with Courser. I got Xenagos and used his plus to generate extra mana and cast a Stormbreath on the same turn. Next turn I used his plus again to generate a Thunderbreak and something else and my air force carried it home. Game 3 he had Heir on turns 2 and 3 and followed with a Boon Satyr to make them 3/3s. However, I dropped a Hornet Nest and that gummed things up. He decided he had to swing, which got me down to 7 but then got me three insects. I followed with a Stormbreath and let the insects hold the ground. He eventually swung into he insects and committed another low-toughness creature to the board, and that played right into the Anger I had just drawn into.
3-0 matches, 6-1 games

Round 4: Evan, playing UB Control
Sometimes at 3-0 it’s possible to double-draw in, but Evan was 2-1 so he couldn’t. I knew what Evan was on I was interested in exactly how big a deal the Stubborn Denials would really be. Turns out they were huge. He of course had no early pressure and I managed to stick a Knuckleblade with a Denial in hand and blue up on turn 4. I followed up with a Courser and he tried to play a Perilous Vault but I Denied that. I got in for 8 the next turn by pumping Knuckleblade, and Courser was letting me play lands and just draw all gas, I hit something else with a Denial, and so we went to game 2. I boarded in the Strokes, the Xenagos, the Revelry, and the Ashclouds. Game 2 was just about me getting a good mix of threats (including an Ashcloud) and him not being able to kill everything fast enough. I’m pretty sure something got Denied or Disdainful Stroked along the way, but I don’t remember the details.
4-0 matches, 8-1 games

Round 5: Mac, RG Dragons
We were the only 4-0s so we ID’d.
4-0-1 matches, 8-1 games

Top 8

Quarterfinals: Evan, playing UB Control
Evan won his 5th round match and squeaked in, so we got a rematch. Game 1 I had a mediocre draw with double Lightning Strike (a card I side out in this matchup), but it had lands and a Courser, too, so I kept it. It was a good keep. I got the Courser and a hasty Knuckleblade and hit him down to 14, he tapped out for Crux and I double Struck him down to 8, then drew other hasty threats to close it out without a single Denial. Game 2 I started on a slow hand, but it did have a Revelry in it. He tapped out for a turn 3 Ashiok and my followup was… a Courser. I hit the Ashiok with it once and got down a Regent next, and he tapped down to 1 for a Vault. I untapped and blew up the Vault with Revelry, directed the two 2 Ashiok, and finished off the planeswalker. There was some back and forth with me casting a couple things and him killing them, but when I got to seven mana I had both a Stormbreath and two untapped blue. I cast Stormbreath, he tried to Encase it, I Denied, he Negated, and I Denied again. My next draw was a Stroke and he never drew a sub-four-mana answer, so that was it.
5-0-1 matches, 10-1 games

Semifinals: Patrick, playing Abzan Aggro
Game 1 I kept a 3-land, 4-spell hand with two Wild Slash, a Lightning Strike, and a Knuckleblade (the lands were such that I would be able to cast the Knuck on turn 3). I was the better seed, so I was on the play, dropped my Frontier Bivouac, and passed. He Thoughtsiezed me his turn 1 and took the Strike, I drew land so had nothing on turn 2, he Thoughtsiezed me again and took the Knuck. Ugh. I drew a Courser and played that, he came back with Fleecemane Lion, I drew more land, he dropped another creature (can’t remember what, though), and I had to double-Slash the Lion, and I just never got there. I probably mis-boarded here, as I had him on a more midrange build and brought in Strokes, but he was running Death Dealers and Wardens, which I didn’t see in game 1. Game 2 was very, very close. I had a Stubborn Denial he knew about from an early Thoughtseize but was a little choked on mana. We had traded a lot of blows (including me blocking a Death Dealer with Knuckleblade, he pumped, I pumped in response, and he pumped again to make it a trade and him playing a Rhino and me top decking a Roast immediately after) and got to this state: I had a Thunderbreak on the board but he had an Anafenza and something else (I think a non-monstrous Lion). I had a Stormbreath and another Regent in hand and him at 10, me at 7. I had only five lands, so I could cast either one of them, but if I cast the Stormbreath I couldn’t cast Denial. I cast the Regent and hit him down to 6 with the other Regent, so any removal in his hand was dead, and I didn’t think he could get in for 7 since I could block Anafenza with the untapped Regent, and next turn I could come with Stormbreath. Unfortunately, what he had in hand was… Surrak. Dang, haste got there—I did not see that coming at all. Really great game, though. In hindsight I should have not boarded in all 4 Strokes since this was a low-to-the-ground aggro list, and I should have brought in the Hornet Nests. Oh well.
5-1-1 matches, 10-3 games

Well, 3rd/4th isn’t too bad—cashing is always good. Got a second copy of Sarkhan Unbroken with my store credit with a little left over credit for next time.

Comments on the Deck

There’s a certain elegance in the design of this deck that I really appreciate. In particular, the lack of Elvish Mystics and Temur Charms and a lot of other baggage while still maintaining Savage Knuckleblade. I’ve played the Knuckleblade with Elvish Mystics before, and while Knuck is actually a very good card, it’s really awful with the Mystic, because the only way you actually get a turn 2 Knuckleblade is turn 1 Yavimaya Coast into mystic, turn 2 Mountain/Shivan Reef. It just never works out—Mystic just doesn’t do enough. However, with Sylvan you much more often get Knuckleblade on turn 4, but because Carytid gives any color, you can often hit haste on that turn, or cast it without haste and leave up Stubborn Denial. This is actually OK because this is not an aggro deck, it’s a midrange deck with a lot of reach. It’s very fun to play, because you get to be both proactive and reactive, but it lacks the raw power of cars like Siege Rhino or Ojutai.

Some other thoughts:

  • I really liked the manabase. I had almost no color problems, and it was great to not take constant damage off of Mana Confluence. This is really a red-green deck with a light splash of blue, which eases the mana issues. (If double blue were tenable I’d love to try some Icefall Regents in the 5-spot but it seems like a stretch).
  • Abzan Aggro seems like a generally tough matchup, which given the current meta is less than ideal. It’s not unwinnable but it’s not easy. Maybe the sideboard Encase in Ice would help, but I don’t like that card against decks where Dromoko’s Command is usually run.
  • On the flip side, playing against UB Control felt like playing on easy mode. Probably in no small part because of the next point.
  • 4 main deck Stubborn Denial was amazing. I feel like between that and the 4 sideboard Strokes, the more control-ish builds of Abzan are probably a much better matchup, but those are less common in the meta now.
  • I think I only cast Whisperwood once at a point in a game where it wouldn’t have mattered much. I’d like to try it without the Whisperwoods and include a second Sarkhan and a 1-of Atarka.
  • Double red isn’t that hard to hit. I’d change the sideboard Seismic Rupture for another Anger for sure.

Magic Origins RPTQ Metagame Analysis

So, WoTC just released the Top 8 Decklists for the Magic Orgins Regional Pro Tour Qualifiers. I had fun perusing the lists and, of course, I noticed that many of the same decks came up a lot. I started to wonder how just how much “a lot” was for some of the decks, and decided to write a little script and made some graphs. I thought people might like to see them as well. Here’s the breakdown of the major players:

A lot of Esper Dragons and a lot of red aggro. I just scraped the deck titles as they appeared on the WoTC site (with a few corrections of obvious typos), so the “red aggro” category doesn’t split out Atarka Red from mono-red builds. I just skimmed over the lists so I don’t have a clear sense of how that category actually breaks down.

Notice that the “other” category is less than 20% of the total metagame. I’m not sure exactly what that means, but it’s 24 different decks in those 39 “other” so most are 1- or 2-ofs in that group.

I also like to look at which deck actually won, though here I suspect that there were a lot of decks that “won” in name only since either the whole top 8 or in some cases just the top 4 qualified. Thus, it’s not clear how much incentive there was to actually come in first at these. Regardless, here’s the graph:

So, Esper Dragons not only was the most frequent deck in the top 8, it also had a high conversion rate once it got there. Abzan Midrange also did quite well, converting 12 top 8 entries into 3 first-place finishes. Notice that the “other” category is a bit larger, with 7 unique decks in there, most notably not including Bant Midrange or Sidisi Whip. (There was one each of Abzan Control and Red-Green Dragons.)

The best converters of top 8 into winner, though, were Chromantiflayer and Temur Dragons, both of which had 2 top 8s and 1 win, so a 50% rate. (In fact, the best conversion rate was actually 100%—Flores’s Blue Dragonlord Control deck—but that wasn’t exactly a known metagame choice going in, whereas we’d all seen Chromantiflayer and Temur Dragons before.)

Hopefully this, in combination with the usual GP and SCG results, are useful/interesting in helping people navigate the near-future Standard metagame.

Why Modern and PTFRF Were a Success

We recently had a Modern-format Pro Tour (Pro Tour Fate Reforged). There are some PTs where I don’t watch much, and some where I watch a lot. This one was somewhere in between. I watched a few rounds on Friday, a little on Saturday, and about half of the Sunday coverage.

I liked it. Modern, that is—I liked watching Modern on camera.

I don’t play a lot of Modern, so that’s not the reason why, and while Ian Duke was a nice addition to the coverage team, I mostly didn’t notice the coverage all that much in either a positive or negative ways that weren’t the norm (e.g., LSV in the booth is always positive, but that wasn’t new because he’s always great). No, what I mean is, I liked watching the actual games of Modern being played out. (FRF is also a pretty good limited format to watch, and the Zvi Moshowitz vs. Martin Muller match was just awesome, as in literally a thing of awe.)

So, who cares that I liked it? Well, I think that my liking it actually means something—more on that in a bit. First, some context. WotC announced that they were no longer going to have a Modern PT, and there was a huge backlash, and so we got a Modern PT back. Hooray, right?

Apparently not. Numerous prominent pros (such as, but surely not limited to, PV, Brian Kibler, and Ari Lax) have been on record on Twitter and/or via articles that they don’t like Modern as a format. This is articulated pretty well in PV’s latest article. For expository purposes, I’m going to paraphrase him with the full acknowledgment that I’m glossing over many important details. Basically, the argument goes that many Pro players don’t like the current Modern because there’s only one “fair” deck (Abzan) that’s got a good chance against the whole field. There are too many basically “unfair” linear aggro/combo decks that are easy to hate out from the sideboard, so it basically comes down to whether or not you draw your sideboard silver bullet or not. Whether this happens is not a function of skill, so it’s bad—or at least, bad as a PT format.

Matt Sperling has a rebuttal which essentially argues that the format is as healthy as a non-rotating format can be expected to be. It’s not really broken according to his criteria for broken (which are well-considered—go read it if you haven’t), so don’t fix it.

As far as I’m concerned, they both have solid arguments. I think PV is right that a lot of Pros are going to dislike any format where there are matchups that are essentially unwinnable based on deck choice and/or sideboard configuration. I also think Sperling is right that this problem is probably intrinsic to any non-rotating format because of simple combinatorics. Furthermore, it’s actually more contained in Modern than it could be. So where does that leave us? Well, I think the two of them can argue on that axis forever without either one of them being fundamentally wrong, so I’m not sure how productive that is in the long run.

I want to take this issue on from another angle, though I’m going to guess it’s one that some, maybe many, Pros won’t like much.

I think PTFRF and the Modern format was a success. Not, perhaps, for some of the established Pros, but it was successful in achieving the primary goals that WotC is actually trying to accomplish. So what is the Pro Tour trying to do? Indeed, it’s surely multiple things, and while I’d guess “make the Pro players happy” is actually one of the things on that list, it isn’t at the top of it.

The Pro Tour costs WotC a fair amount of money. Prize pool, airfare for players and judges, rental of the space, logistics, coverage and lots of other things I’m sure I don’t want to know about all cost substantial dollars, and I’m pretty sure the primary function of all those dollars isn’t as a charity for the PT players.

I believe the point of the Pro Tour is to increase WotC’s revenue, and most of that revenue comes from selling cards. (And MTGO, but that’s mostly really selling digital cards). How does the PT sell cards? By getting people excited about the game. For some players, it gives them something to aspire to—they want to be on the PT, and they buy cards to try to get on the Tour. I’m going to guess (though I bet WotC knows with some precision) that’s not a majority of the player base. Me, for example—I have no aspirations to get on the Tour, and I buy a pretty fair number of cards.

So how does a Modern PT help sell cards to people who aren’t trying to get on the Pro Tour itself? Again, I bet there are multiple ways. The most mundane way, but probably a pretty important one from a sales perspective, is that by having a popular non-rotating format, players can convince themselves that the money they spend on cards now is at least something of an investment, because some of the cards will still hold value for Modern. (In some sense this is technically true of Legacy as well, but the numbers there are pretty bad.)

The other way, and the main reason I think WotC spends money on the hours of live coverage, is by creating excitement for the game. Players who are fired up about the game are more likely to play, and thus more likely to want cards. And that’s where I think this PT succeeded. First, the MTG community demanded a Modern PT, and they got it. Hey, WotC listens to us!

More importantly, though, is that I think this version of Modern is actually fun to watch. (See, I said I’d get back to that.) Yes, there are individual cards that hose entire decks, but from the viewer’s perspective, that creates drama. Will the Twin player draw the Blood Moon that wrecks his opponent? Does the Burn player have the Combust that aces Twin? Can the Affinity player deal 20 (or maybe 10 infect) before Creeping Corrosion comes online? Can the Amulet Bloom player go off on turn 2 before that Torpor Orb hits the table? Can the burn deck draw enough gas before it dies to the turn 4 Splinter Twin? Yes, there’s a lot of variance, but if it’s the right kind of variance, it’s fun to watch because it creates drama. (Mana screw and mana flood are mostly not fun to watch.) I think what we had with this Modern PT was the right kind of variance.

I can see why as a Pro player, this would be maddening. You want to play a “fair” deck to reduce variance and give yourself the best opportunity to outplay your opponent, or maybe your build is just a little better than your opponent’s because you’ve been more diligent in testing, and you want that edge to count. You don’t want it to come down entirely to factors that are beyond your ability to control in-game, or at least prepare for in deckbuilding. I suspect a lot of Pros miss Birthing Pod because it is an outstanding variance reducer. (I suspect this is the same underlying logic that has led several Pros to say they are no longer interested in limited GPs because they have no control over their sealed pool.)

But what’s good for the some individual Pro players is not the same as what’s good for the game, or even good for the PT from WotC’s perspective. My son and I enjoyed the coverage, and we’re excited to play Modern. I think that’s what WotC wants, and so I think this PT, and this Modern format, are actually successful.

Starting Off FRF Standard

So, I haven’t posted here in a long time. It’s not because I haven’t been playing MTG, it’s just that I haven’t gotten around to posting. My last post was… yikes, in the summer, back in June. I won’t recount everything since then, but a little summary is in order.

For JOU standard, I only played in 4 events, but managed a 15-5-5 overall record cashing in 2 of the 4. Not too bad. For M15 standard, I played 9 different decks at 12 events and put up a solid but not awesome 30-19-7 record, cashing 5 times. For KTK standard, I played 10 different decks in 13 events and put up a somewhat more indifferent 29-20-10 record with 4 cashes. Now, while I didn’t do all that well, I did really enjoy KTK Standard. There seemed to be a good variety of decks and a number of different strategies. I think my favorite deck was Brad Nelson’s 4-color midrange deck that ran both Siege Rhino and Butcher of the Horde. Powerful cards, sketchy manabase? Sign me up! (That was one of the 4 cashes.)

So now we’re up to FRF and I’m guessing there won’t be a huge number of events for me since my LGS has gone to Modern on Sundays rather than Standard, but that’s OK in that I think Modern is now pretty fun since the Treasure Cruise and Birthing Pod bans.



First FNM, 2/6: Sultai Walkers

So, the first Standard rolled around, I hadn’t really looked at singles, and sifted through what came out of what I got at the prerelease and what I got in the box I bought, and had very little time to be creative, so I just played a stock list that I liked, which was Fabiano’s list from the SCG Open. Not very original, but it’s a fun list!

Round 1: Elliot playing Mardu Midrange
Felt like a slightly unfair matchup overall with a couple caveats. Butcher of the Horde doesn’t die to Sultai Charm, which puts some early pressure on the Downfalls, and that makes Sarkhan somewhat annoying. However, Kiora handles Sarkhan pretty well, so it all worked out just fine after a Dig found her.
1-0 matches, 2-0 games

Round 2: Alex playing Abzan Midrange
Alex is a long-time regular and a strong player who’s been on this deck since right after KTK came out. He does love his rhinos. Game 1 I had an early Ashiok, which is very good in this matchup and that gummed things up a bit until he finally managed to use a lot of his own cards killing, well, his own cards. He finally got ahead on board, with even an Elspeth out, but I was able to come back by casting Ugin and taking a -6 to wipe out his side of the table. Game 2 I stumbled a little bit, which was aided by an early Thoughtseize, and he carried it without too much trouble. Game 3 was more interesting, and came down to a race. He had an Ajani, Mentor of Heroes on the table, and I had Tasigur and an Ashiok-stolen Fleecemane Lion, and he was at 14 and had just swung at me with a rhino with 3 counters on it, putting me at 13. He had no cards in hand. Should I swing at the Ajani, or go for the two-turn clock and swing at Alex? I chose to swing at Alex. He untapped, made the rhino into a 10/11 and hit me down to 3, and passed. I drew… not a removal spell. Well, I had lethal on the board, so I had to hope his last draw was also not removal… and it wasn’t, for the win.
2-0 matches, 4-1 games

Round 3: Mac playing UB Control
I probably punted this first game somewhere along the way, because I actually got milled out with him at 7. I probably went one or two too deep on Digs. Game 2 I managed to stick and protect a Kiora long enough to ultimate her, and while he did a good job of staying alive for a while against he kraken tokens, they ultimately ran him out of cards and got there. Unfortunately, these games simply took way too long and these slow decks could not finish against each other in game 3.
2-0-1 matches, 5-2-1 games

Round 4: Dillon, playing UB Control
Great, two UB Control players in the room and I got both of them. Game 1 I managed to actually kill a Pearl Lake Ancient by getting him to bounce it with a removal spell, then coming back with a Thoughtseize. I again got Kiora to her ultimate, and the tokens got there. Game 2 I punted hard. I got a turn 2 Rakshasa Deathdealer and was getting in there with it, but I got a little greedy with pumps and pumped twice to take one more turn off the clock, fearing a Perilous Vault, and the second pump meant I could only regenerate once, and Dillon had the pair of removal spells to kill it, and I got milled out by his sideboard, cast on turn 2 Grindclock. We didn’t even get to start game 3.
2-0-2 matches, 6-3-1 games

Round 5: Karl playing Abzan midrange
Karl could draw in but I couldn’t, so we played it out. My score sheet tells me that the only damage I took in game 1 was 2 from my own Thoughtseize, but I don’t remember how I won it.. Game 2 I managed to get to a board state where he had just an Elspeth and six tokens on the board and I cast Downfall at the end of his turn, untapped, and cast Ugin with a minus zero to wipe his board, and managed to get Ugin to ultimate.
3-0-2 matches, 8-3-1 games

Quaterfinals: Karl playing Abzan Midrange
Turns out Karl made it on breakers so we got to go again. He won the die roll and I was just a step behind all game, and simply could not draw a Crux to get back into it. (In fact, I never cast Crux the entire night.) Game 2 he mulled to six, kept a two-lander, did not draw a third land for way too long, and that was it. Game 3 was a tight one. He actually got me down to 7 and I cast Interpret the Signs and scry’d to see two lands and a Thoughtseize. I sent them all to the bottom and flipped… Ugin. Whew. Drew 8 cards, he hit me down to 5, and I cast Ugin to wipe the board. That stabilized me and I just overwhelmed him with card advantage.
4-0-2 matches, 10-4-1 games

We split in the top 4 because it was late and I was paired in the top 4 with my son, so splitting was the way to go for a final record of 4-0-3.

Comments on the Deck
It’s a very good deck and it’s quite fun to play. Ugin is insanely powerful—I will admit I really underestimated his -X ability until I got to make use of it. Good stuff indeed. Specific card comments:

  • Rakshasa’s Secret is an odd card. There were a couple situations in which it was pretty good, and a lot of others where I just wished it was almost anything else. Cute, but I would probably cut it from the main deck in favor of a third Sultai Charm and another copy of the next card.
  • Silumgar, the Drifting Death is insanely good and should be in the main deck.
  • I have no idea what Feed the Clan is supposed to be doing in the sideboard and if I had thought about it for 30 seconds before throwing the deck together I would have cut it completely, probably for a third Pharika’s Cure and a second Drown in Sorrow.
  • I also probably would have cut the Polukranos from the sideboard. I never even considered siding it in, but then again, I didn’t play against a lot of small ago decks. I’d probably replace it with a third Crux.
  • I liked Tasigur in the sideboard. You want their removal to be dead in game 1, then they side it out, and that makes Tasigur good in game 2.
  • Sultai Charm is great. Gives you a way to interact with things like Whip and the Sieges or take out a Banishing Light or a Vault. Very high utility.
  • Look, we all know that Dig Through Time is amazing, but it feels even more amazing in this deck, because this is the one that really wants the filtering, and instant speed? Excellent.

Second FNM, 2/13: RG Aggro

I never play the same deck twice in a row, and I try not to even repeat decks at all too often. So, I decided to go completely the other way here and go for the beatdown. This week I had a little more time to think about this and while I looked at other lists for inspiration, I came up with my own take. The 3-drop slot here is packed, but all with 2s and 3s rather than 4-ofs because I wanted a little more robustness to Bile Blight. So, here’s the list:

Round 1: Marcus playing Mono-red Aggro
I apparently had ninja cutting skills in game 1, because he mulled to 3 and I had a strong draw, so on to game 2. This was more exciting. He got me down to 5 but I had an active Chandra which really took over the board, and then Sarkhan came to play as well and closed it out. The key to this game was that I managed a couple 2-for-1’s with him enchanting creatures with Hammerhand and then me burning the creature. Good to get ahead on cards in the aggro matchup.
1-0 matches, 2-0 games

Round 2: Alex playing Abzan
Same Alex as round 2 from last FNM—we seem to get paired a lot. That’s fine by me, he’s a good guy and a skilled pilot so the matches are usually good. Well, this one wasn’t that great. Game 1 I ramped into a turn 3 Chandra protected by a an Heir, which was a great way to control his Siege Rhino, making it unable to block. He eventually did swing it into the Heir because he was worried about Chandra’s ultimate, and then the coast was clear for Yasova and friends. Game 2 his best play other than Thoughtseizing Xenagos early was killing an Ashcloud Phoenix in response to me bestowing a Boon Satyr on it. It wasn’t enough, though, and my air forces carried it.
2-0 matches, 4-0 games

Round 3: Jason playing RW Aggro
Jason is one of the store’s stronger players (he won the Modern SCG Super IQ last weekend) and he was really talking up his deck as the best deck in the format with no bad matchups. Well, it certainly didn’t play out that way. Game 1 I kept a hand with triple Lightning Strike in it and killed two early Rabblemasters with them, and used the third one to finish him after Chandra kept the other tokens at bay and my air force got there. Game 2 he got all excited when he slammed turn 4 Outpost Siege on to the table. I slowly untapped, played my fourth land, played an Heir of the Wilds and then a Back to Nature, followed that with a Stormbreath the next turn, and then a couple turns later made the Stormbreath into a true monster. Look, the RW aggro deck is really good, I like it a lot and will probably play it myself sometime, but there’s not a lot it can do against a 7/7 flyer with pro white.
3-0 matches, 6-0 games

Round 4: Kevin playing Esper Control
Not a super popular deck in the format, but Kevin has been on it for some time and generally pilots it pretty well. At 3-0 it’s sometimes possible to double-draw the last two rounds, so I offered Kevin a draw but at 2-1 he couldn’t take it so we played. I won Game 1 largely on the back of multiple Ashcloud Phoenixes, which just took him too many resources to deal with, though ultimately I got there against an active Elspeth. He had just cast her against my board of Chandra, Yasova, and an Heir. I pinged a token and stole another one so he had no productive blocks other than chumping the Heir, which was not a good long-term solution. Game 2 in came all 5 extra planeswalkers, but he got Xenagos early with a Thoughtsieze. Turn 3 I cast a Fanatic and he paid tribute, and then he followed up by tapping out for Sorin and made a vampire. I thought that was a slightly weird play given the board, but I swung at Sorin… and he blocked with the token. Uhh, OK, Sorin’s dead. “What?” he said. I reminded him that Fanatic has trample. Not his best play ever, but I was stuck on three land for a couple turns so he recovered (and my 4th land was a Rugged Highlands, so not so great). There was some back and forth and we got to this board state: I had five lands, Chandra, and an Heir in play with three cards in hand and him at 11. I don’t remember exactly how many lands he had untapped—I think two—and he had something on the board he could have blocked with. I activated Chandra for zero and hit exactly what I wanted: a Mountain (well, any untapped land would have done). Cast Ashcloud Phoenix, resolved, which meant the coast was probably clear. Swing with Heir, ferocious trigger, he chose not to block. Delve five, cast Become Immense, hit for 9. With my last land, cast Crater’s Claws for 0, ferocious trigger for 2, GG. Sweet.
4-0 matches, 8-0 games

Round 5: ID
We were the 1 and 2 seeds, so we took the draw. It’s pretty rare to run the table without even a game loss, but sometimes that happens. I credited my quality draws (I had a few mulligans, but nothing below six), but I was feeling good about the situation. Then the top 8 happened and the pairings…ugh.
4-0-1 matches

Quarterfinals: Zach, playing Mono-black Aggro
Game 1 I kept a very slightly sketchy draw with only one land, but multiple mana dorks. As it turned out, that wasn’t going to get it done against his awesome draw of turn 1 Bloodsoaked Champion followed by two more of them on turn 2. His turn 3 was a Bile Blight on my two Elvish Mystics and that pretty much ended it. Game 2 I kept a better hand, but his turn 1 play was to get an Arc Lightning with a Thoughtsieze and then strip my only threat card with a Despise. Not much happened for a while after that since he was stuck on two land and I was flooding, but he can function better on two land than I can with no spells, and when he ripped the third land and started dropping Herald of Torments, it was over.
4-1-1 matches, 8-2 games

Bleah, so much for good draws getting me there. Kind of disappointing to start out 8-0 in games and then fail to cash.

Comments on the Deck
Overall I liked it a lot. It’s fast and powerful, with a little more resilience and reach than a lot of other aggro decks. I can definitely see myself playing this deck again. Card choice comments:

  • Not sure about Back to Nature. Yes, powerful, but Destructive Revelry might just be better in this deck.
  • Fanatic of Xenagos was excellent. He’s great as a followup to turn 2 Heir, because no matter what they choose, Heir gets ferocious.
  • Both kinds of Phoenix were very strong. Flamewake was not as good as Ashcloud, but it was still good and I’m glad I split the 3 slot up to have a diverse set of threats. I don’t think I ever un-morphed an Ashcloud, but it was still a great 2-for-1 in multiple games and of course enables ferocious.
  • Memo to standard: Stormbreath Dragon is still good.
  • Yasova was only OK, as was Boon Satyr. 4-power 3-drops are of course highly aggressive and Yasova’s ability is powerful on paper, but with Wild Slash becoming more popular, it’s not clear these 2-toughness creatures are worth 3 mana. I’d probably cut one Satyr for a Shaman of the Great Hunt, which yes, does still die to shock effects, but usually not after the first turn.
  • I had been tempted before the tournament to cut a Chandra from the main deck but I’m glad I didn’t; she was excellent. She’s feels like she’s great against almost everything in the format right now. She kills mana dorks and tokens, she makes Siege Rhino and other midrange-y creatures unable to block, and she’s a card advantage machine vs. control. She seems very well-suited to the current metagame.
  • The card I sided out the most was Rattleclaw Mystic. I would probably cut both of those, one for the 4th Elvish Mystic and the other for a second Shaman of the Great Hunt.

While all that was good, I’m still not sure how this deck beats Drown in Sorrow, which kills more than half of the creatures in here. Siege Rhino is a small problem in game 1 (though as I said, Chandra helps a lot with that), but it seems like such a juicy Harness by Force target in sideboard games that I’m not that worried about it.

Fate Reforged Game Day Champion: 4-Color Delve

OK, so this is the juicy one, because (a) it’s a little more off the beaten path, and (b) the results were quite good.

The list is based on Patrick Crowe’s list from SCG Indianapolis. I switched it up a little and in retrospect I would have switched it up a little more now that I’ve played it, but the basic framework is the same. The main change is that list is Whip-less, and Whip seems really good with this, so I added one to the main and 1 to the sideboard. Also, I think I’m playing Silumgar in almost any list that can support it right now. So, the final deal looks like this:

Now, there was an SCG in town, so the Game Day field was not huge: 4 rounds cut to top 4 rather than top 8. However, the Ugin playmat is gorgeous, so the folks who did show up all brought their A game and everyone really wanted the mat.

Round 1: Brianna playing RB Aggro
Turn 1 Monastery Swiftspear had me thinking mono-red aggro, which is probably not the ideal game 1 matchup for this deck, but hers was a slower build that ran black for things like Bloodsoaked Champion and Hero’s Downfall. I’ve gone a little sour on the Courer-Carytid thing, in part because I’ve played it a fair amount, and in part because so many decks are so well-tuned to beat it, but turns out those are still good vs. weenie aggro, and I got Coursers active in both games. Also, Wayfinder is also great vs. weenie decks. Siege Rhino also still good here, and the rhino/Sidisi combo was just way too much.
1-0 matches, 2-0 games

Round 2: Michael playing Abzan Midrange
“Abzan Midrange” is itself kind of a range of decks right now—this was at the more control-y end of that range. Still running Carytid and Courser, with Rhinos and Elspeths and lots of removal. Michael is a regular at my LGS and we’ve played lots of times in the “Michael Mirror” and he’s always fun to play against and a gracious guy, win or lose. Anyway, he got on the board first with a Courser, and I got a turn 4 Sidisi, which flipped a Soul into the graveyard. He made a Rhino but didn’t swing with it the following turn because he wanted to force me to keep Sidisi back. Other than land drops, we both blanked turn 5. Turn 6 I cast Silumgar, and turn 7 I swung with the dragon, Sidisi, and the zombie token. Sidisi’s trigger got me another zombie. He blocked Sidisi with Rhino and the token with Courser, and before damage I exiled Soul for the blowout 13-point life gain and board wipe. He came back with a bunch of removal spells and Nissa, but the dragon was still doing work. After activating two of his lands, he did gain 8 life and draw a couple cards off of a Shamanic Revelation but once I got a Rhino and he was out of removal, it was over. Game 2 wasn’t very exciting, as he was a bit mana screwed and I generated both a Rhino and a Whip, so that ended ugly.
2-0 matches, 4-0 games

Round 3: Zach, playing Mono-black Aggro
Yes, this is the same Zach that I lost to in the top 8 at FNM. The super-aggro deck didn’t seem like the best matchup for me in game 1, but the extra Whip and the Drowns in game 2 gave me hope for the later games. Game 1 he had another great draw, I didn’t, and he just mowed me down. Game 2 I boarded in the two Drowns, the Whip, and the Banishing Light. He did not manage much early pressure and if I’m still at 16 life at turn 6 and I can cast a Soul, the game is not going to end well for him. Game 3 was the closest game of the day. I got Sidisi going to make blockers that traded with most of his stuff, but he got out a Brutal Hordechief and that was a problem. Fortunately, I got a Whip, but he came back by bestowing a Herald on something and got me down to 3. I got something else and a Tasigur to make all of his attacks bad and swung with Sidisi to get myself back to 6. I finally locked it up with Silumgar after a swing that brought me from 6 to 12.
3-0 matches, 6-1 games

Round 4: ID
My 11-year-old son, playing RW Aggro, was the only other undefeated so we ID’d. This was the first time my LGS was going to use play-draw in the elimination rounds based on seeding, so we could have played for the 1 seed, but the loser would probably lose the 2 seed, so we didn’t play it out.
3-0-1 matches, 6-1 games

Semifinals: Victor playing Abzan Aggro
Real aggro with Deathdealers and Fleecemane Lions, and a new twist I liked, Warden of the First Tree. Fortunately I was on the play and had a turn 2 Wayfinder and a turn 3 Courser. He got two early Wardens, though, but I managed a Rhino and he kept dumping mana into the Wardens, plus got a Downfall for my Rhino. I got a Whip, though, so I had some cushion, and then got Sidisi, which I needed because he got a Warden up to 8/8, but now I had enough in my yard to also delve for a Cut on his big Warden. A Sidisi attack got a Soul into the yard and a full swing out got me to 47 life, which was it. Game 2 I ended up using two Glares on two Lions in order to prevent them from going monstrous, I managed to dump stuff into the yard with Wayfinders, including a Soul, and another Soul-fueled attack got me from 4 to 13 life and a Rhino stabilized the board fully and dropping a Soul onto the board from my hand ended it.
4-0-1 matches, 8-1 games

Finals: Zach playing Mono-black Aggro
So Zach ended up being the #4 seed and beat my son in the other semis by apparently topdecking a Bile Blight in one game and a lethal Mogis’s Marauder in the other one, so we had the rematch, and the rubber match for the weekend since we had played each other twice since Friday. Hooray for being the top seed and being on the play. Game 1 I mulled to six into a hand with a Wayfinder and another dork plus a Whip, which is a snap keep. He Thoughtseized me for the Whip, though, but I was happy to trade the Wayfinder for one of his 2/1s and then hit another Wayfinder to fill the yard, giving me an early Tasigur and a Rhino. He had a bunch of 2/1s on the board and cast Grim Haruspex, figuring he could swing in and not worry about losing too many guys since he’d get card draw, but I had a Cut in hand and just enough to delve it mid-combat, so his guys died without replacement, and my 4/5s were just better than his guys and carried me. Game 2 was another game decided by life gain, including two Rhinos and a Whip-backed attack that brought me from 3 to 15. He hit me back to 10 in the air with a something that had a Herald on it, but I got out Silumgar and even though he drew another Herald and had the mana to bestow it, he couldn’t get through the flier and that was it.
5-0-1 matches, 10-1 games

Hooray, my second Game Day championship. Not really that big a deal since there weren’t all that many players, but hey, now I have this:

wpid-PastedGraphic1-2015-02-17-00-33.png

Pretty hot, actually. I think it’s even better than my Theros Game Day champion playmat. I own probably around 10 playmats and I almost always use my Baneslayer Angel playmat, but I gave it a rest for all of THS standard for that playmat, and I think I’ll give it another rest for the remainder of FRF standard. Heh, fun.

Comments on the Deck
While I really enjoyed the deck a lot —winning is always fun—and it’s plenty powerful, I’d make a bunch of changes were I to play it again. Some thoughts on the good and the bad:

  • Satyr Wayfinder is the best card in the deck, hands down. Digging for land is critical in a 4-color deck and filling your graveyard is awesome.
  • Soul of Theros was indeed excellent but I wouldn’t want 4. The mana requirements are too steep, and you never want one in your opening hand.
  • I’m really not sure what I was thinking with Rattleclaw Mystic. Should have been either Elvish Mystics or one of those and a 4th Courser. They gave me something good to side out when I was bringing in Drown, though.
  • Commune with the Gods was mediocre. I’m glad I cut to 1 and could see cutting the last one entirely.
  • Treasure Cruise was only OK, but then I didn’t play against any control decks. It’s actually not super easy to cast since you’re always pulling stuff from the yard for other reasons. I think I’d rather have a Dig, except of course double blue would be a challenge without the Rattleclaws.
  • This is the right deck for Tasigur and the best deck for Murderous Cut. I cast those for one or two mana all day. Such value.
  • Sidisi was interesting. Half the time I wasn’t that excited to draw or play it, but it was always good (I rarely whiffed) and the extra cards in the graveyard were fantastic.
  • The aggro matchup is better than I thought. I boarded in Drown in Sorrow a lot but never actually cast it and still did fine vs. aggro decks.
  • I felt like a solid favorite vs. Abzan Midrange because while they have a lot of removal, you have even more value than they do and Whip is a monster against them. Plus Disdainful Stroke.
  • On the other hand, I don’t see how it isn’t really soft to control. Whip is good against sweepers like Crux and End Hostilities, but this deck seems pretty soft to Vault. You want either a lot of permanents or a lot of stuff to go to the graveyard, and there is no way to remove a Vault at all other than countering or Thoughtseizing it. Maybe that’s enough but it seems sketchy. I just was lucky enough to dodge that matchup.
  • I didn’t like Wingmate Roc very much. I mean, it’s a good card and casting it wasn’t the issue, but it’s useless in the graveyard and has really poor value with Whip. I know, the original version of this deck didn’t run Whip, but that also didn’t make sense to me. Whip is amazing. I might cut one Roc for a second main deck Whip and then maybe another Silumgar or another removal spell.
  • This deck would fold like a lawn chair to Burn Away or Tormod’s Crypt. Good thing almost nobody boards those. Yikes. Ashiok’s ultimate is normally really good but against this deck it would be GG immediately.

So, now I need a new deck for this week’s FNM. I hate Abzan Midrange, not because it’s a bad deck, but because the mirror is just so awful. (Yes, most mirrors are, but so grindy…)

RUG FunStuff cashes FNM

Been a while since I wrote a report. I only managed to play in a total of a half-dozen events in BNG standard after Game Day, and I wrote a report for the first of those, which was the finals of Game Day with Jund Monsters. I missed Game Day for Journey into Nyx, but this is the second Standard FNM since JOU. However, the first one I was caught off-guard because my LGS switched from draft to Standard last minute, and I ended up playing a Junk midrange deck with like 4 Journey cards that I jammed in at the last minute.

But you don’t want to hear about all that. What you really want is this list and the report, because it’s amusing. Here’s the list:

Is it RUG Monsters? Is it RUG Walkers? I couldn’t decide so I made up a name goofy enough to suit the deck. The key to the fun of the deck is that one slot is, instead of a 4-of, is 4 1-ofs, and each one something slightly weird, but powerful: Keranos, Prophet of Kruphix, Prime Speaker, and Progenitor Mimic—cards a little off the beaten path. I was fully expecting to have people read my cards.

The only cards I really struggled with were the sideboard slots, where I cut three Mistcutters for the 3 Disciples, because I expected mostly control and other aggro, but not mono blue. Turns out this was the wrong call, as there were many people piloting mono blue, but it turned out more or less OK anyway.

Round 1: Naomi, playing BW Midrange
This wasn’t quite the typical BW Midrange, but had some of the same core cards, like Desecration Demon and main deck Doom Blade and Banishing Light. She was also running Hopeful Eidolon, which seems a little substandard, but is actually slightly scary when bestowed on a Desecration Demon, which happened in game 1. The good news is that I had a Xenagos at that point, so I never did get hit by a Demon, but it was like an 11/11 by the end of the game. A Courser and an Ooze kept me OK on life, and while a Stormbreath and that Ooze both died to Ultimate Price, the Courser was still around, and I stuck Keranos, which Naomi stopped and read. The Courser-Domri interaction is one people like to talk about, but Courser-Keranos is no slouch, either, and was the first “achievement unlocked” moment of the night for me. I even got enough devotion to get Keranos live, and that ended it. Game 2 I got an early Domri and we spent most of the rest of the game trading resources. She drew a few creatures, I drew a few removal spells and a lot of land, but could not draw creatures other than Mystics, even with Domri. However, she only had a single creature of her own, and I got Kiora on-line to protect Domri, which I got to ultimate—with two Mystics as my only creatures. I had a Prime Speaker in hand, and I just cast it for a whole 1 counter and 2 cards—weakest Prime Speaker ever. However, with the Domri emblem, even that was enough.
1-0 matches, 2-0 games

Round 2: Nestor, playing mono-White aggro
Interesting matchup, since the only sweeper-like card I have access to is pretty bad against Brave the Elements. In fact, in game 1, my attempted 3-for-1 overloaded Mortars met with exactly a Brave. He did get me down to 9, but Courser and Ooze again kept my life afloat. I did lose a Stormbreath to a main deck Celestial Flare, but I managed a second Stormbreath and then a more respectable Prime Speaker (which he stopped to read), and that locked it up. Game 2 I ramped early into… nothing. However, I did have the mana to overload Mortars after he had tapped out to play a Blind Obedience and then attack with a pair of Boros Elite backed by a Launch the Fleet. My followup to that was Prophet of Kruphix, however, and that not only nullified the tapped part of Blind Obedience, but allowed me to flash in a pair of Ætherlings on consecutive turns (achievement unlocked!). Now, he had been extorting all his small spells and I was down to 5, but a pair of shapeshifters will end the game pretty quickly.
2-0 matches, 4-0 games

Round 3: Tim, playing mono-Black aggro
So, this matchup is mostly about trying to stay alive long enough to be able to overload Mortars, which is a one-way Wrath here. In Game 1 I managed to do exactly that behind a Carytid and an Ooze, then later a Courser after the Ooze had eaten a Doom Blade. Ral Zarek also kept his guys mostly off the table. I don’t even remember which big monsters brought it home in the end. Game 2 I mulled to six and still didn’t have a great hand, and he just curved me into oblivion and I didn’t get enough removal. Game 3 he drew pretty much all the 2-power 1-drops available in his deck. I had a Carytid and a Courser out, but he had 5 2-power guys on the board (plus two Mutavaults) and had bestowed a Gnarled Scarhide on my Courser so I couldn’t block with it. I was at 7 and had a Mortars and a Nylea’s Disciple in my hand with four lands and the Carytid on board. I drew for my turn, and if the top card flip was a non-Temple land, I could haved wiped his board and then followed up with a life gain of five. And the top card was… Kiora. Dang. The next card was a Steam Vents. Bummer, missed it by a card. Good match.
2-1 matches, 5-2 games

Round 4: Karl, playing mono-Blue
As I said in the intro, I didn’t think there would be any of this around and so I didn’t have much in the way of sideboard for this matchup. My best hope was to sneak by game 1 on the back of his lack of removal, and then hope to split the sideboarded games. A fair if somewhat unlikely plan. Game 1 turned into a classic. He had a faster start than me, of course, but not too fast, so I had a chance. I got out a Prophet, which was excellent. However, he came back with a Master of Waves for six (yikes!) and swung with his only flier (a 2/3 Cloudfin) and I think with Thassa. However, I flashed in a Stormbreath to block and kill the Cloudfin. Then on my turn I had a land, and cast Progenitor Mimic, which caused a slight ruckus. Karl stopped and read the card a couple times, finally looked and me and said “every upkeep?” I nodded. “And when you copy the Dragon, this will have haste, too, won’t it?” I nodded again, and he handed the card back—it resolved, and copied my Stormbreath Dragon (achievement unlocked!). I attacked for 8, putting him to 10 and everything untapped. He was able to hit me down to 8 on the swing back, but he couldn’t stop 12 in the air the following turn. Game 2 I had a turn 1 Mystic, which he locked down with a Tidebinder. I don’t remember if I had a turn 2 play, but his 3 was a Nightveil Specter, and his 4 was Thassa, and he just ran me over—that one was short and boring, but easy for him. Game 3 I had a turn 1 Mystic again, he played a Familiar. I played a Temple and passed. He played land, swung in the air, and passed with no 2-drop. On my 3, I played land and passed with a Syncopate in hand, expecting a Thassa on 3 from him. He obliged, and I could Syncopate for 1 and leave 1 up to pay for the Familiar, so Thassa hit the bin. On my 4 I played Prophet and untapped on his turn. He played a Cloudfin and passed, and on his end step I flashed in an Ooze and a Courser. He realized just how bad the Prophet really was for him and Hybridized it in response to the second creature. I untapped, played Xenagos, and swung with Courser, Frog Lizard, Satyr token, and Elf. He played a not very relevant Bident, I made another Satyr token and some other monster and that was it. (I’m pretty sure he thought he had me with Thassa followed by Bident and Cloudfin—I don’t think he saw the Syncopate coming.)
3-1 matches, 7-3 games

Round 5: Festus, playing mono-Red
The breaks were funny because there were two people with 10 points, but they weren’t paired, and there were many people with 9, including one 9 who got rounded down and had to play a 7. We were 4th and 5th on breakers, though, and decided to chance it and ID’d. It worked, we both got in.
3-1-1 matches, 7-3 games

Quarterfinals: John, playing Jund Monsters
I think that strictly speaking, Jund is the better deck overall (has to be more consistent than my collection of 1-ofs). But head-to-head, I think it’s pretty close, and these games were entirely consistent with that. Game 1 he came out a little faster than I did and I was at 10 pretty quick (some of that was shockland damage) but I managed to stabilize with a 3-for-1 overloaded Mortars because I got two lands in play on 1 turn with Kiora’s minus-1, and that meant we were going for the long game. I managed to get out an Ooze and eat four creatures, and while that ate a removal spell and he eventually got Kiora, I cast both Ral Zarek and Xenagos on the same turn (untagging a land with Ral to cast the second planes walker) and things started to get interesting. I got a Stormbreath and got it monstrous, and attacked and then untapped it with Ral. He played a Stormbreath of his own (I knew it was coming; he had a Courser out) but couldn’t swing. I saw his next card was a Ghor-Clan Rampager and he was at 14. He had the ground kind of clogged with two Coursers, I had a Courser of my own and a Satyr token. He had plenty of land—certainly enough to monstrous his Stormbreath—but he was dead if I could connect twice with my Stormbreath. Also, Ral was up to 6. So I ticked up Ral to tap his Dragon and swing in for 7 and made another Satyr. He drew the Ghor-Clan and revealed a land (fortunately not a Dreadbore, but he had already used one of those), which he played to put him back up to 9. He could not get out since I was either going to ultimate Ral or get in with Stormbreath and my ground crew, so we went to game 2. Game 2 was another tricky one. I got an early Domri and a Courser, and there was a Stormbreath on the top of my library (but another in my hand). He was ahead on mana, also had a Courser out, and cast Vraska. So, the decision: plus Vraska or use her to take out Domri? If he had plussed her, I would have used Domri to have my Dragon fight his Courser and then swung into Vraska, then taken Vraska out with the second Stormbreath. Instead, he took out Domri. I got in with the Dragon, then got a second Dragon, then wiped his board with a Mortars. He came back by wiping my Dragons out with a Mortars of his own—I probably should have made one monstrous to avoid that, but instead had cast a Kiora. However, he was only able to manage one creature and so Kiora ticked up and I added a Domri. I stuck a Keranos and had a Prime Speaker in hand, but not enough devotion to turn Keranos on, even if I played the Prime Speaker (still only six). But I managed to get Kiora to 5 and got to ultimate her (achievement unlocked) and that was the match.
4-1-1 matches, 9-3 games

Semifinals: ID
It was past midnight and my 10-year-old was with me, and other folks were amenable to a split, so we chopped the prize pool. The top 4 split was $35 in store credit, and I won the die roll for a promo, so a pretty good night overall.

Comments on the Deck
Well, I have to say, this was the most fun I’ve had playing Magic in a long time. Not simply because I mostly won, which is always nice, but because I got to unleash my inner Timmy. Or is that Johnny, I can never really get those straight. Regardless, there are multiple cute interactions possible in the deck which makes it very fun to play. And there are 9 Planeswalkers. Other thoughts:

  • I think it’s a little soft to straight aggro which is why the three Disciples are in the sideboard, but I’m not sure that’s the right answer.
  • Ral Zarek was actually pretty good. I had thought about cutting him but I’m glad I didn’t.
  • I sided in Turn / Burn often, so maybe at least one of those should be in the main deck.
  • Prophet of Kruphix is amazing. Might want to work in a second one.
  • Prime Speaker Zegana is, even for this deck, probably trying to be a little greedy. I’d like to try a Xenagos, God of Revels in that spot.
  • Despite winning, I’m still not sure the mono-blue matchup is that great. Mistcutters would be nice, but I’m not sure what comes out of the sideboard; maybe the Needles.

BNG Game Day Monsters Report

I’ve top 8’d a lot of Game Days—that’s not a brag, we’re talking about Game Day here, not a big event—but I have only one playmat to show for it, which is the Theros one. As usual, I have played literally zero standard since Born of the Gods came out, because my LGS does draft at FNM for the first month after a new set comes out.

So I was looking to repeat, and the early meta didn’t seem all that much affected by Born of the Gods, with the exception of the RG “Monsters” deck. I had most of the cards for it (had to buy some Coursers and Xenagods) and I took it with me to FNM on Friday to play it between rounds, and I have to say I wasn’t all that impressed. However, I had a really busy Saturday so I didn’t really have time to think much about or build an alternative from scratch, so I decided that the way to make it both better and more interesting was to go the Jund route. Here’s what I sleeved up:

A couple comments. When I did play it on Friday, I was really impressed with Ghor-Clan Rampager and pretty underwhelmed with Polukranos. Most of the Jund lists seem to be cutting Ghor-Clan straight up for Reaper, but I wanted to leave in some Rampagers, so I cut a Stormbreath and a Domri, in part because I only own three of those, and also because it’s rare for me to load up on four of any Planeswalker that I’m actually trying to ultimate, because I hate having them stranded in my hand. So that’s how I got to this list.

Round 1: Mac playing UW Control
Mac apparently did not get the memo that all the cool control players have switched to Esper because of the Mistcutters and Stormbreaths in exactly this deck. Yay. Game 1 didn’t help, either, since he had no Detention Spheres in his opening hand. Why is that bad? Because I won the die roll and went turn 2 Domri, turn 3 Xenagos. So, on to game 2. I sided in 12 cards—everything except the Ultimate Prices—and cut the Reapers, Polukranoses, Mortars, Oozes, and 1 Courser. In game 2 I got a Domri again, lost a Miscutter to a Celestial Flare (derp on my part), and did manage to ultimate Domri… and then never drew a single creature that I could make active. All lands, Decays, Charms, and both forms of Xenagos. Meanwhile, he stuck an Ætherling and killed me in a couple swings. Game 3 I managed a Mistcutter for 4 on turn 4, then a Xenagod on turn 5, plus had a Mystic to play around Flare, and that got there.
1-0 matches, 2-1 games

Round 2: Melody, playing BR Minotaurs
This should have been a relatively easy match, and it was—in the wrong direction. It turns out that if you draw no removal in game 1 (mostly Coursers and land) and almost no creatures at all in game 2, you just lose. Very disappointing.
1-1 matches, 2-3 games

Round 3: ID
So, I got paired against my 9-year-old son, and since we were doing 4 rounds cut to top 8, another loss would knock one of us out, so we ID’d, knowing we’d both have to win our next round to make the cut.
1-1-1 matches, 2-3 games

Round 4: Jorge, playing Rakdos Aggro
I like this deck and might build something like it this rotation. Fortunately for me, he wasn’t playing Herald in it, at least not that I saw. I made a mana management error in game 1 and got a little too far behind, and he killed me. Game 2 I had turn 2 Carytid and turn 3 Carytid, which is pretty much wall of hexproof until he gets up to Exava or a deathtouch guy, but by the time he got there I had a Reaper going and drew just enough removal to push through. Game 3 I also got an early Carytid to hold back his early Cackler, had removal for his Thrill-Kill Assassin, got a Xenagos, generator of blockers. He did get a Mogis down, which started costing me life, but I got a Courser down, and while he had Exava, a Cackler, and a Xathrid Necromancer on the board with him at 14 life. He got in with Exava, and I dropped to 11. EOT I cast Golgari Charm to kill his Cackler (yes, it was not unleashed), untapped, cast Ultimate Price to kill the Necromancer, then swung with a Courser and a Reaper, with two Rampagers in hand to swing for exactly 14. Whew.
2-1-1 matches, 4-4 games

Not exactly an auspicious record, but it was good enough for me to squeak in to the top 8.

Quarterfinals: Mac, playing UW Control
Yep, a rematch. i don’t really remember Game 1 much other than that I had an early Courser and played a lot of shocklands, so my life total kept going up and down a little bit, but not that much. I know the first 9 point of damage I did to him was a Mystic and a Courser. I think I stuck a Xenagod to carry it through. Same 12 cards in from the sideboard. Game 2 I kept a slightly slow hand, did not draw out of it, and failed to play around a Fated Retribution that took out two mana dorks, a Xenagos, a Satyr token, and something else (a Courser, maybe?), and did not come back. Game 3 I got another kind of mediocre draw and had no real action until a turn 4 Cutter for 4 off a mana dork, which he took out with a Verdict. I followed with a 3-power Cutter that got in a few hits, though he Rev’d for 3 so he was at 10 and dropped an Archangel of Thune. I Dreadbored that, hit him down to 7 with the Cutter. He shocked himself down to 5 (can’t remember why) and put out another Archangel. I came back with a Stormbreath, putting him down to 1. He Rev’d for 7 to look for an out, but I had two more Dragons in my hand, and the outs to that were not there.
3-1-1 matches, 6-5 games

Semifinals: Tim, playing RG Monsters
Ahh, so the non-Jund version. I felt I was favored here, and it pretty much played out that way. I got a turn 3 Reaper, which he Mortared. Uhh, OK. He then realized the mistake, but it was too late. He set up to double-block the Reaper with a Ghor-Clan and a Mystic, but I had a Ghor-Clan of my own, and he scooped to Xenagod. Game 2 he just had a much better draw than me, one of those games where his turn 2 Courser always flipped land onto the field and every draw for him was gas, and I just did not draw enough action to keep up. Turn 5 Ruric Thar from him was actually pretty devastating. Game 3 I got another early Reaper, then a Xenagod, then a Stormbreath (which did eat a Mortars), but had already done 8, then two Mystics to turn on Xenagod, and that was it.
4-1-1 matches, 8-6 games

Finals: Festus, playing RDW
Yay, on the doorstep of getting a second playmat! I’ve played Festus a lot in the last few months, and lately I’ve mostly had the upper hand. Well, this time it went the other way. He won the die roll, and my opening hand was three land, two Mystics, a Domri, and a Xenagod. Not exactly going to get there against RDW. My six wasn’t great, but was a little better, but it didn’t matter much, as he had Cackler into Burning-Tree into Burning-Tree into Fanatic for 7, and I was drawing card that were just too slow. Game 2 I managed to make a game out of with a turn 2 Carytid and a Decay for his Burning-Tree, but I had to use a Mortars on his Phoenix because I had nothing in the air, though I did follow with Xenagos to generate ground blockers and did take out his Firefist Striker with a Golgari Charm, I just couldn’t quite keep up with the damage and of course he drew a Lightning Strike to regrow the Phoenix, and I did not have another answer.
4-2-1 matches, 8-8 games

Well, that’s a pretty bad game win percentage there, but the only match I really felt like I couldn’t win was the final; I think the loss in Round 2 was just one of those things.

Fun deck. I really like it better with the black.

Theros Standard: 16 events, 13 decks

So, the problem with Theros Standard lately is essentially the usual problem that we have with the end of the time with the fall set: the card pool is on the small side, and the format is considered “solved.” This might be slightly more true this time around that other times, but I’m not sure it’s all that much worse.

Regardless of what Standard is right now, it really was possible, over the three months of the format, to have fun playing a variety of different decks. I got to play more Standard than usual this time around, and decided I was really going to vary my decks a lot. I played 16 different Standard events, and played a total of 13 different decks, without playing Monoblack, Monoblue, or RDW.

I’m not recommending everybody do this—it’s not good for your quality of play, since you never get deep into the nuances of each deck. (I don’t have time to playtest; almost all games I play are in-tournament.) But if you’re like me and you like to try out new decks, this kind of thing is a lot of fun.

So, here’s the list:

10/20/2013 Theros game day: Esper Control

10/27/2013 Sunday Standard: Bg Devotion

  • Record: 3-1, missed T4 cut on tiebreakers.
    decklist

11/3/2013 Sunday Standard: Esper Control (repeat)

11/8/2013 FNM: WBR Midrange

  • Record: 1-4, simply awful. Not the deck, my draws and my play.
    decklist

11/15/2013 FNM: Selesnya Aggro

11/22/2013 FNM: BUG Midrange

11/29/2013 FNM: Wb Devotion

12/6/2013 FNM: Kibler Golgari

12/8/2013 Sunday Standard: Bant Control

12/13/2013 FNM: Barely Boros Burn

  • Record: 3-2, missed T8 on breakers.
    decklist

12/20/2013 FNM: Wb Devotion (repeat)

12/29/2013 Sunday Standard: Naya Control

1/3/2014 FNM: Rw Devotion

1/17/2014 FNM: Esper Midrange (aka Esper Humans)

  • Record: 3-2, missed T8 on breakers
    decklist

1/24/2014 FNM: Junk Midrange

  • Record 2-3, obviously missed T8.
    decklist

1/31/2014 FNM: Naya Control (repeat)

Total record: 45-26-15, with all except 2 of the draws being IDs into elimination rounds or splits in T4 or finals. Spectacular? No. But a heck of a lot of fun! Certainly, these are not all top-tier decks but, with the exception of Bant Control (which was just silly) and Junk Midrange, these archetypes have all at one time or another made the top 8 of a big tourney (GP or SCG), so these are all at least competitive decks.

I played Naya Control and Wb Devotion twice because they were the most fun. Esper Control I only repeated because I didn’t expect to play that day and didn’t have time to build something new. If I had to repeat one more I’d give Esper Midrange another shot, as that was a lot of fun as well.

Also, anything with Prophet of Kruphix in it is a good time because that card is a blast. It’s just not really in particularly strong decks right now, but maybe Kiora will give us a Bant or BUG list with Prophet that is actually competitive.

Naya Controls Last Theros FNM

My next post is going to be the story and all the decklists from the 16 THS Standard events I’ve played. There are 13 different decks. This was one of the few repeats. I had such a good time playing this one earlier, but only for a few rounds, so I decided for the sendoff of THS Standard I’d give this one a go. It’s not quite the same list as last time, but it’s pretty close:

Basically, I cut the Selesnya Keyrunes for Chandras and shaved one main deck Assemble and one Selesnya Charm to go up to the full playset of Advent of the Wurm, and tightened up the sideboard.

Five rounds cutting to top 8, but because the store was running a midnight pre-release as well, we knew we’d be splitting the top 4.

Round 1: Alex, playing UR Pyromancer
OK, so this is not really a Tier 1 deck on the other side from me, but it has the potential to be dangerous. Unfortunately for Alex, it was just potential this time around. Game 1 we both flooded like crazy, trading a few blows each way but removal winning out, then finally I drew a Stormbreath, and we had both flooded so badly that I was able to cast and make it monstrous on the same turn, which ended the game quickly. Game 2 I drew a couple Mistcutters, the first one for 5, which died to a Lightning Strike plus a Magma Jet, but the second one for 7, which got there.
1-0 matches, 2-0 games

Round 2: Nick, playing Monoblack Devotion
Very interesting matchup. Game 1 I managed to draw more threats than he drew answers, and in fairness he was a little flooded, but when your monoblack opponent is using Pharika’s Cure to kill Xenagos satyr tokens, you know you’re in a good spot. I also had a lot of the right answers at the right time, like a Chained to the Rocks in hand when he cast Erebos. I expected Lifebane Zombies after sideboard, so I took out all the Smiters. Dragon isn’t very good here, either, so those came out as well. Unfortunately, Game 2 went completely the other way, with him Thoughtseizing me on turns 1 and 2 and then again on turn 4 or 5. From there on it, if I drew a creature, he had removal, and if I drew a planeswalker, he drew Downfall. He actually did most of the damage this game with a Mutavault, and me with Anger and Chained in my hand. The only good result during this game is that he did play a Lifebane and missed with it. Game 3 his turn 2 was a Pack Rat, and his turn 3 was an Underworld Connections, so he couldn’t activate the Rat. I had a Bramblecrush in my hand, but I played Chandra and killed the Rat because the only other removal I had in hand was a Selesnya Charm. He untapped and Downfall’d Chandra, and rather than using Bramblecrush, I played Assemble the Legion because I didn’t want to lose it to a Thoughtseize. He came back with a Whip. My draws since Chandra had been all removal, so I let him have the Whip and used Bramblecrush to take out the the Temple with Connections on it. He of course never drew an answer to Assemble, and I kept everything relevant of his off the table, and my hasty soldiers went all the way.
2-0 matches, 4-1 games

Round 3: Ryan, playing UW Control
Ryan is a good guy who I’ve played many times. Game 1 I kept a sketchy hand in the opener: lots of land, but two pretty much dead cards (Chained and Mortars) against him. While not missing land drops was good, I drew too few threats and he drew lots of answers, and he eventually took over. i did actually overload Mortars twice to take out Elspeth tokens and hit her, but it was never quite enough. So, sideboarding. I sided in 13 cards and considered siding in all 15. The two I didn’t side in were Skylashers, thought I did side in one of those. I sided out all the Charms, Mortars, Chained, and two of the Angers. Game 2 he had a turn 2 Ratchet Bomb (knowing I’d bring in Mistcutters) and a turn 4 Sphere for my Xenagos, and I got the 2-for-1 with Wear & Tear. Sweet. He was then stuck on 4 land with only 1 blue source and I just crushed in. Turns out he left in a full playset of Last Breath, thinking I would side in Voice. Hey, if my opponent wants to use a full card to kill a single Xenagos satyr, I’m OK with that. Game 3 I just drew threat after threat, including multiple ‘Cutters, and finished him off with a Helix.
3-0 matches, 6-2 games

Rounds 4 and 5: ID
We did the math, all four 3-0 players were safe to draw in from here, which we did. During one of my rounds off, I played a few games against my son who was playing Monoblue. Always good since I hadn’t played this yet. Turns out Monoblue is a tough matchup main deck (not impossible, I did win once), so I see why some build run the full playlets of both Mistcutters and Skylashers. The protection from red on Master of Waves is a definite difficulty.
3-0-2 matches, 6-2 games

Quarterfinals: Festus, playing RDW
One of the players from one of the other top 8 matches came by and asked us if we would take the 8-way split, and I declined, no so much because I wanted the prize, but because I really wanted to play after sitting out the last two rounds. Also, I won the roll and saw my opener, which included an Anger and a Smiter, so I felt like I was in a good position. So, I played land and passed, he played a Rakdos Cackler and passed, land-go from me, then Burning-Tree into Firefist Striker for him. Cool, 3-for-1 with Anger. He seemed surprised by the main deck Anger—I think he had me on a more midrange Naya build. He came back with a Boros Reckoner, and I still played the Smiter, but didn’t block his swing, bringing me to 13. He played another Reckoner, and I decided to use the Anger to take out both of them, which meant I took six—but I really didn’t want to give him the chance to Fanatic me for seven. I followed with another Smiter and the elephants got there. Game 2 I kept a hand with 2 Smiters and an Advent, but no green source, and paid the price when I didn’t draw one and he just ran me over. Game 3 was pretty close, but I got another 2-for-1 with an Anger (taking out a Phoenix, always a bonus) and got Xenagos making blockers. He burnt me down to 2, but I had a Helix to give me some cushion and then got consecutive Dragons, which brought me home.
4-0-2 matches, 8-3 games

The top 4 split was $32.50 in store credit, and I won the die roll for one of the two FNM promos (my second Helix promo). Not a bad night at all.

Thoughts on the Deck
As I noted last time, this is a very fun deck to play, though I didn’t really explain why. While it is a control deck, it is also one that can close out a game quickly with large threats. The decision space is often whether to play out another threat or to deal with one of your opponents’ threats, and there’s good give-and-take there that makes it fun to play. The other thing about playing a “rogue” deck—but one that’s actually decent, and not just rogue for the sake of being rogue—is that opponents sometimes aren’t quite sure which way you’re going with it and play around things you don’t have or fail to anticipate things you do have. Thoughtseize still sucks, of course, but I can’t play black all the time. Also, Xenagos is really good in this deck. He’s a strong card that I think is underplayed because he just doesn’t fit into the dominant GR deck right now, but he generates pressure against control decks and stalls the ground against aggro decks, and those are pretty valuable.

I was very happy with this particular build. While the Keyrunes were actually OK for me last time out, I really liked Chandra and having a full set of Advents. The sideboard seemed really good as well. I’d really like to be able to work in a third Helix, but I’m not sure what I can cut for it. Maybe Bramblecrush is a little on the cute side and could go, but it seems so good against Monoblack and UWx control decks. I’d also like to work in a Bow of Nylea somewhere, but again, I’m not sure what I’d cut to get it in there.

Of course, all of this is pretty moot, since the environment is about to change with Born of the Gods coming out—nothing in that set jumps out as being especially good in this deck, except maybe Brimaz, which is probably good in almost everything white, and the GW Temple, and that I’m not so sure about—but it certainly was a fun deck for this environment.

Naya Control Cashes LGS Sunday Standard

OK, so I wrote this a while ago (December 29th, so almost a month) and forgot to actually post it. It’s not a super impressive win or anything, but I need this for reference in a post I’m going to do soon, so here it is…

On Sundays my LGS has been running standard, and every once in a while we make it to that. For Christmas this year I got a couple of Stormbreath Dragons and so I decided I should put those to use, and put together Naya Control. Here’s the list:

The sideboard is a little weird as there really should be 1 or 2 more Assemble the Legion in there, but I only had 2. (That situation has been corrected.) Not tons of people, so four rounds cutting to top 4.

Round 1: Sean, playing Jund Aggro
G1 I got a little behind, but got him to swing into 4 open mana on my end (1 was a Keyrune) and thus into a Wurm token. I ended up with two Keyrunes, which are actually pretty good against 2-power creatures and Dreadbores. I played Elspeth and that covered it. Game 2 he mulled to 5 and I kept a 2-lander with 3 Chained to the Rocks, an Anger, and a Charm. Needless to say, nothing of his early plays lived, and I eventually drew into a Smiter and Xenagos, and they went all the way.
1-0 matches, 2-0 games

Round 2: John, playing Orzhov Control
Best match of the day, though this is in part because I punted the first game. I got T3 Smiter, then T4 I played land and passed because I had an Advent in my hand, and he played a Sin Collector, so I cast Advent in response. He took a Mizzium Mortars. I came back with another Smiter and swung, he chumped the Smiter with the Collector. The problem is that he came back with a Blood Baron. Oops, no Mortars. Now, with 13 power on the board and a lead on the life total, this was winnable, but he drew some removal and then I punted. He was at 11 and had a Pack Rat in play and 3 mana open; I had a Chained, an Anger, and a Charm in hand. So, if I got rid of the Rat, I had him. Unfortunately, I led with the Anger. He just let the Rat die and cast Devour Flesh when I swung. If I had used the Chained instead, I could have Charmed in response to the Devour to sac the knight token and gotten in for lethal. Of course, he came back with a second Blood Baron and I lost that race. G2 I kept a 2-lander (both W/R land) with a Keyrune, both Elspeth, a Xenagos and a Charm. he Thoughtseized me turn 1 and took Xenagos. I did eventually draw land—more W/R land—and he got stuck on 3 Swamps. I cast T5 Elspeth and made tokens, he Downfall’d her. T6 we did it again. He did draw a 4th land, but the tokens and the Keyrune got there. G3 I took out both a Pack Rat and a Llifebane Zombie (that had missed) with Anger and then stuck an Assemble, then locked it out with Ruric Thar after taking out his Connectioned Swamp with a Bramblecrush.
2-0 matches, 4-1 games

Round 3: Sabrina, playing Monoblack
This wasn’t quite the standard monoblack build but did run Gray Merchants and a mess of other black cards, including things like Tormented Hero and Agent of the Fates. Game 1 was T2 removal for me, T3 Smiter, T4 Advent, T5 Smiter and she was stuck on 3 and I just rolled. Game 3 was much closer. While I did eventually develop an insane board with two Assembles, Xenagos, and Elspeth, my life total was dangerously low because of a couple Gray Merchants. Fortunately, she did not draw another one or any kind of answer to my massive token assault, so I carried it.
3-0 matches, 6-1 games

Round 4: Festus, playing RDW
We were the only two undefeateds so we were guaranteed a spot in the top 4 and we ID’d.
3-0-1, 6-1 games

Sometimes at the LGS we split the top 4, and this ended up being one of those times because one of the guys who made it had to go, and one of the others in the top 4 was my son Simon, and we hate playing each other to determine differences in store credit that we end up splitting anyway, so we were all cool with a split.

Thoughts on the Deck
Very fun, lots of different angles to play, and the matchups seem interesting. I played a couple games between rounds against a proper monoblack devotion deck and split. The deck really should run 2 more Assembles in the sideboard, which is amazing against Monoblack. I’d like to play the monoblue matchup to see how that goes, but it seems to have very solid game against other aggro. I’d also like to play against UW or UWx control, which seems like it might be a tougher matchup.