Braving the Elephants at SCG Minneapolis

Despite living in Texas, I grew up in Minnesota and my parents still live there. Every summer I take my kids up to visit their grandparents for about a week. It just so happened that this year, our visit coincided with the Star City Open in Minneapolis. I was just going to play Jund (having not actually played it before), but at the last minute my son decided he wanted to come with me and the he wanted to play Jund. So I needed a deck. I didn’t think I would have much fun playing a control deck for nine or ten rounds, so went looking for something else. I decided in a world full of Jund that I wanted to play Geist of Saint Traft and built a Bant aggro list around that, and it was OK, but then I saw Craig Wescoe’s Brave the Elephants article on TCGPlayer and I built that, played a few games against my son playing Jund and a Boros aggro deck, and I was hooked. Silly, fun, and actually pretty decent.

I made a few small changes based on card availability and testing, and here’s what I actually sleeved up:

[deck title=Brave the Elephants]
4 Avacyn’s Pilgrim
4 Dryad Militant
3 Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
4 Voice of Resurgence
4 Geist of Saint Traft
4 Loxodon Smiter
3 Sublime Archangel
1 Sigarda, Host of Herons
4 Brave the Elements
3 Selesnya Charm
3 Spectral Flight
4 Breeding Pool
4 Forest
2 Glacial Fortress
4 Hallowed Fountain
1 Plains
4 Sunpetal Grove
4 Temple Garden
1 Alchemist’s Refuge
1 Moorland Haunt
3 Ray of Revelation
2 Scavenging Ooze
2 Oblivion Ring
2 Rootborn Defenses
3 Unflinching Courage
1 Sigarda, Host of Herons

550 people at the event meant 10 rounds of Swiss. That’s a lot of Magic! I’ve never played at an SCG Open so I didn’t have a good idea of what kind of competition to expect; I figured something in between a GP and FNM, maybe something like a PTQ. I think that was about right.

Round 1: Charles, playing RWU Control
Charles was a friendly guy who and a very competent pilot. Game 1 was all about Sphinx’s Revelation and my inability to kill him before he could cast a few of them. I got him down to 8 and he cast one for 4, then I got him down to 4 and he cast one for 6, then I got him down to 6 and he cast one for 7. I simply could not beat that much life gain and that many cards. Game 2 I sided in the two lands, the Rootborns, and the Oozes for the Charms and Spectrals. I got an early Moorland Haunt which did a lot of work, but again, I could not get there fast enough, and he drew too many cards and gained too much life off Revelations. This deck can be a little soft to control, and of note, I didn’t see a Thalia until very late in game 2. Not the best start.
0-1 matches, 0-2 games

Round 2: Eric, playing Grixis Delver
Eric was also a friendly guy, but a card got loose while he was shuffling and I saw it was a checklist card, so I put him on Jund. Wrong! He won the roll and led off with turn 1 Delver of Secrets, which blind-flipped on turn 2 with a Dissipate. So, bonus points for playing something off the wall, and double-bonus for getting it to work. Unfortunately, after that he didn’t have much action and he eventually stopped hitting me with the Delver and blocked with it. With him at six life and both of us with empty boards, he put down a Duskmantle Seer. I cast a Loxodon Smiter and passed. On the Seer trigger, he revealed a Searing Spear to put him at 4, and I took 2 from a Spectral Flight. He swung with the Seer to put me down to 8 and then clogged the ground tapping out for two Snapcasters, clearly forgetting about the Spectral. So dumbo grew wings and flew over for 6. Game 2 I got turn 4 Sigarda, which is extremely difficult for Grixis to handle, and that was that. Eric dropped since he was out of top 8 contention.
1-1 matches, 2-2 games

Round 3: Nick playing Naya
Nick was another friendly guy and this was pretty much a good old-fashioned slugfest. Game 1 I don’t remember all that well: there was bashing, some burning, some Braving, and I came out on top. I boarded in the Oozes, the Courages, and the extra Sigarda, taking out the Spectral Flights and I don’t remember what else. Game 2 he ran over my turn 2 Thalia with some Rampager bloodrush, putting me at 15. We got to a state where he had a Smiter and an Ooze (but no open green mana), and I had a Smiter with Unflinching Courage on it. I swung, and he chose to double-block. That was OK with me, so I went back to 21 and we both had empty boards. He missed his fifth land drop and played a Boros Reckoner. I did not miss my fifth, however, and played Sigarda. Not a good race position for him, and when I followed with an Ooze that immediately became a 5/5, putting me at 24, he knew I would never block his Reckoner, and he never had the answer to Sigarda. Nick dropped, now being out of the top 8.
2-1 matches, 4-2 games

Round 4: Tyler, playing GR Aggro
I had played a few games against another aggro deck with my son and I knew the key to this kind of matchup was Smiter. Unfortunately, my opening hand had only 1 land, and my 6-card hand had two land and a Smiter in it, so I kept. Little did I know that I wasn’t going to draw land again for like five turns, which is about how long you get to live against GR Aggro. I did actually manage to draw out the game a little bit with a couple Braves, but just could not hang on. Game 2 I kept what I thought was an OK hand, but never drew into a Smiter or a Courage and ultimately died to the double Reckoner plus Hellrider board he developed. I was a little annoyed at how this match played out, this eliminating me from the top 8. So far feast or famine, no three-game matches.
2-2 matches, 4-4 games

Round 5: Joe, playing Esper Control
Joe was a nice guy and a very sharp player; this was the best match of the day for me. Game 1 he really got the better of me, with Supreme Verdict when he needed it and Revelation when he needed that and a Detention Sphere for my Voice; the closest I got him to dead was 9, which wasn’t very good. Game 2 was also pretty lopsided, as he mulled down to 5 and I started with turn 2 Smiter followed by Voice, which got there. Game 3 he did mull to 6, but I didn’t have a super-fast start, either, and tried to not play out too much stuff at once, fearing Verdict. He never did Verdict but had a lot of spot removal (again a Sphere for a Voice), and I had him on his back foot enough that he only got in one Revelation for 3, from 7 life up to 10, but my swing back brought him to 3. I had Alchemist’s Refuge in play so when he didn’t Verdict, but had a Augur of Bolas in play, I used it to cast a Voice at the end of his turn. He Doom Bladed the Smiter that was in play so I had only a pair of 2-power creatures on the board, but I had a Brave to give them both pro-Blue and swing for lethal. Being now a longshot for top 64, Joe dropped.
3-2 matches, 6-5 games

Round 6: Brandon playing Jund
Finally! I had expected lots of Jund in the field and hadn’t seen any, so it was about time. Game 1 had a little back and forth, but I pulled ahead with a Voice and a Geist on the board, then cast a Sublime and Geist got in there big. He killed the angel and dropped me to 11, but he never answered the Geist, so on to game 2. The Jund sideboard I settled on was -4 Militant, +2 Oblivion Ring, +1 Scavenging Ooze, +1 Sigarda. He obviously kept a 2-lander and didn’t draw land, but it was also a double-Farseek hand so he still made a game of it. I had an ORing in my opening hand so his turn-5 Olivia went away immediately. I came back with an Ooze and made it a 4/4, but he died to Dreadbore. I got out a Smiter and a Sublime (still had a Pilgrim in play) and he came back with Thragtusk. I sent in both and he blocked with Thragtusk, but I had a Charm to make that unprofitable, dropping him to 11. He came back with Olivia #2 (still on 5 land), and of course had a beast token. My draw was Spectral Flight, which I put on the Pilgrim and swung with the team. He only blocked the Smiter and went down to 4. He untapped, Putrefied the Sublime, leaving only two mana open. I Braved the Elephant to give him pro Black and he didn’t have the Doom Blade or Abrupt Decay in response (he only had one card in hand), and that was the match. Yay, the Jund Menace beaten by a brave elephant! Brandon then dropped.
4-2 matches, 7-5 games

Round 7: Solomon playing GR Aggro
Solomon was another friendly guy, but this is just a bad matchup for me. Game 1 I saw no Smiters and he just ran me over. Game 2 I got an Unflinching Courage on a Sublime and hit for 8, bringing him to 6 and me up to 20. However, he drew Hellrider and knocked me back down to 4, but didn’t have enough burn to kill me or take down the Sublime, so that was it. Game 3 I actually got an Ooze at one point and even got an Unflinching Courage on it to bring us both to 15, but he had a Firefist Striker so the Ooze was never going to block, and while I did draw another Courage, all I had to put it on was a Pilgrim, and that just wasn’t enough. Now, I was technically still alive for the money at X-3, but even that was an outside shot. I however, did not drop.
4-3 matches, 8-6 games

Round 8: Tom, playing Bant Hexproof
I had seen a lot of this around and wasn’t at all surprised to finally face it. While I had never played against it with this deck, I had played Bant Hexproof for a while and I felt like this matchup favored me because this deck can race, and of course three Rays in the sideboard are really good. Game 1 was exactly the “race” situation, as I was the one with the early Geist. Selesnya Charm kept the Geist alive for a couple swings. We got to a board state where I had Geist and something else on the board, and he cast Fiendslayer Paladin and had a Rancor on it at 7 life. I swung with the team, cast Brave to give them all pro-White, and we were off to game 2. I sided in all three Rays and an ORing for the Militants. My opening hand for Game 2 was Giest, Pilgrim, Thalia, Ray, Forest, Voice, and two lands, so that meant turn 2 Geist from me. His turn 2 was an Invisible Stalker, and his turn 3 was a Rancor. I followed up with a swing for six, a Ray for the Rancor and then Thalia. He came back with another Stalker. I swung with the team, and he Fog’d. I played Voice and passed. He put an Ethereal Armor on one Stalker and swung. I swung back, and he Fog’d again. I passed, having drawn land the last couple turns. He played another Ethereal Armor on the second Stalker and swung. I flashed back Ray to kill the armor and went down to 11. I drew a Selesnya Charm, swung with the team. This time he did not have Fog and tried to block, but the Charm made my team lethal. Tom dropped.
5-3 matches, 10-6 games

Round 9: Mitchell, playing Junk Reanimator
Despite the preponderance of Scavenging Oozes, reanimator decks are still around. Mitchell was a great fun guy, and this was fun to play. Well, more fun for me. I won the roll, went turn 2 Voice, turn 3 Geist, turn 4 Sublime and the Exalted Geist started eating chump blockers and even his Thragtusk was not enough to save him. He was really impressed with the deck, and asked me if I had designed it myself. I laughed and told him where it came from. He said it was the coolest rouge deck he’d seen. Anyway, I sided in the Oozes and the ORings, and I’m not sure what I took out, but it certainly wasn’t the Militants. Game 2 I came out with a turn 2 Thalia, which he eventually spent 4 mana to Putrefy. His next play was a Resto on an empty board, but I kept the Geist he blocked alive with a Charm, bringing him down to 8. He attacked with Resto and came back with Thragtusk, and I came back with a Voice and a Spectral flight and bashed him down to 5. He swung with Resto and Thragtusk, and I chumped Thragtusk with Voice and went down to 10. Post-combat he Resto’d Thragtusk to go up to 10. I looked at the board, swung out with the team for 11, and cast Brave twice, once for white and once for green, and that was it. He was a little shocked, saying he had another Thragtusk and some reanimator stuff coming and thought he had finally stabilized. Brave the Elements is pretty good indeed… Mitchell dropped.
6-3 matches, 12-6 games

Round 10: Logan, playing Chronic Flooding Human Reanimator
Wow, another reanimator! Logan was affable and I didn’t know what he was playing for a few turns until he finally cast a Chronic Flooding. What was strange about this game is that I never drew a source of blue and the Geist in my opening hand was never played. However, I had Dryad and Voice and Smiter and a couple Charms to destroy blockers and I managed to finish him off before he got anything serious going in the graveyard; his Chronic Flooding didn’t come out until turn 4 or 5. I sided in the Oozes and ORings again, taking out the Flights and one other card, though I’m not sure which that was. I had a good draw but with no blue in it, but my first draw was a Hallowed Fountain so I managed a turn 2 Geist, which was followed by a turn 3 Thalia. Thalia was key because he got an early Flooding and milled both an Unburial Rites and an Angel of Glory’s Rise. So I had to kill him before he got up to five land. I swung with everything except the Pilgrim, and he flashed in a Staticaster and shot Thalia. I charmed her in response, which meant I got in for extra damage, bringing him to 2. He untapped, and shot Thalia again, and I responded with Brave the Elements, tapping my last land and the Pilgrim. He couldn’t cast the Unburial Rites, and couldn’t cast a flying blocker to keep himself alive next turn, so BTE FTW!
7-3 matches, 14-6 games

Overall a good game win percentage—nice not to drop a game in the last three rounds—and 7-3 isn’t bad, either. However, 7-3 was only good enough to top 64 and cash with good tiebreakers, and my tiebreakers were not good. Most of my opponents dropped after losing to me, and I know my round 4 loss stayed in and only finished 5-5. 21 points ran from place 32 to place 80; I finished 79th. So that was a little disappointing.

On the other hand, it’s a rogue deck that I had never played in a tournament and I took it out to something big, so that wasn’t really a bad performance. This should get me up over 750 points for the season, meaning two GP byes if I can make it to a GP in the near future.

Some thoughts on the deck:

  • It’s reasonably fun to play. It’s a little more complex than just turning guys sideways, but not overly complex by any stretch.
  • Brave the Elements was excellent. It took almost all of my opponents by surprise the first time they saw it. It’s a counterspell against removal, yes, but it also makes your team lethal against blockers when your opponent is on low life.
  • I boarded in Scavenging Ooze almost every match—against everything except Hexproof. It has the downside that it’s not protected with BTE, but it’s graveyard disruption against reanimator and control, and life gain vs. aggro. I’m not sure what to take out main deck, though, since what I took out for them varied widely.
  • Sigarda is a card most people seem to have forgotten about. Still a card, still very good.
  • It’s a little sketchy against control. I changed the sideboard to add Rootborn Defenses to counter Supreme Verdict, but it turns out that what it really needs is some kind of answer to Sphinx’s Revelation, and has none. You just have to kill them before they can cast a big one, and that can be tricky.
  • It’s also a little sketchy against GR Aggro. Against other aggro decks the Smiters and the Charms do a lot of work, but GR is just too fast with Hellriders and Rampagers. Firefist Striker is also a big problem. A card like Smite would help with the others, but not with the Striker. Not sure what the right answer would be.
  • It’s better against Reanimator than I thought, because it can come out fast. Or maybe I’m just lucky.
  • I somehow managed to dodge any Aristocrats variant. That doesn’t seem like a very good matchup, but I could be wrong.