Theros Game Day Champion Report. Bonus: 9yo Son Made Top 8, Too

I haven’t played Standard since before Theros was released and didn’t really start paying attention to it until after the Pro Tour; however, since the Pro Tour I did some more serious thinking about it and even did a little breakdown of the States metagame in my last post.

I had sort of intended to play Sin City (that’s my name for WBR) midrange, but I just couldn’t get over how bad the manabase looks. I’ll probably still play it some time before the next set is released, but I just didn’t feel like it was the right choice for my first time out in Standard with this set. I also haven’t played a control deck in ages, so I thought it was time to dust one off. It’s not very original, but here was the build I put together:

27 players for Game Day, so 5 rounds cutting to top 8. As you might be able to tell from my sideboard, I was actually expecting a fair amount of control, and was certainly expecting someone to be on monoblue devotion. That’s not quite how it worked out, though. The other important thing to note is that I brought my 9-year-old son Stuart with me, and he also made the top 8. His deck list will come later.

Round 1: Otto, playing Monoblack Devotion
I have to admit that I don’t really remember game 1 very well. I know I won it, but I really don’t remember exactly how it went. Game 2 I punted a little bit. He had a turn 3 Lifebane Zombie (which of course missed). When he swung with it, I killed it with Hero’s Downfall, which left me open to his turn 4 Desecration Demon. Unfortunately it took me a couple turns to answer the Demon—meaning he hit me for 12 with it—and by then he had drawn into a Mutavault, and when he got the second Mutavault down, even though I had an AEthering, I was done. Game 3 was a close one. He had an early Liliana of the Dark Realms and I had to use a Needle on it before it got crazy, which let him go to town with Underworld Connections. He successfully got a Merchant out to drain me for 7 down to 10, and got in one whack with the Merchant before I dealt with it. I got an AEtherling, he got Erebos. He got a Descration Demon to make Erebos live, but I was able to Verdict off the Demon and get in two swings with the shapeshifter, which was lethal, before he could get Erebos going again. Very good since I was at 3. Whew.
1-0 matches, 2-1 games

Round 2: Tim, playing Naya Aggro
Game 1 was another punt for me, as I did not kill a Fleecemane Lion when I had the chance, and it got monstrous and went pretty much all the way before I could find an Elspeth or an AEtherling. Game 2 I flooded like crazy and only played four spells the entire game.
1-1 matches, 2-3 games

Round 3: Daniel, playing Sin City Midrange
Daniel and I had a long history of alternating wins with each other, but he had actually taken the last two or three in a row from me, so I was hoping luck would be on my side in this one. Turns out it was. Game 1 I hit all my first four land drops and he had missed one of his, and I cast Jace into an empty board and used his -2, hitting something meaningful, and Daniel simply scooped after his next draw phase wasn’t land. Apparently he had a lot of dead cards against me—my guess is multiple Anger of the Gods—and didn’t think he’d be able to make up the land disparity. Game 2 we both mostly drew, played land, and passed (though I got in a couple hits with my Mutavault), and then I stuck a Blood Baron and was able to Dissolve his answers, and that was it.
2-1 matches, 4-3 games

Round 4: Jeremy, playing Monoblack Devotion
Game 1 we spent the first several turns just blowing up each other’s stuff, but I eventually stuck an AEtherling and it went all the way. Game 2 I got a turn 5 Blood Baron, but he had a Devour Flesh for it, so that was a no-op. At one point he had an Underworld Connections out, and I Thoughtseized him to find another Connections and something else, and I took whatever else it was, so he ended up with two Connections on the board. He drew a lot of cards this way, but paid a lot of life for it, and fortunately drew mostly land. I was also a bit flooded, but I finally drew a Detention Sphere to take out both Connections. He was down to 4 when he finally drew a Merchant with a Whip on the table, which brought him back up to 8. That was good for him, as I drew my second Baron, but it turns out Baron was just too good, and I got in two hits with Baron before he could get anything going.
3-1 matches, 6-3 games

Round 5: ID
There were four players on 10 points and five players on 9, so we knew the #9, who was rounded down, had to play, and the #7 and #8 players were paired and they had to play, so we were safe to ID in. I ended up as the overall #7 seed, because the #9 seed won and all the top 4 (with 10 points) ID’d.
3-1-1 matches, 6-3 games

Quarterfinals: Michael, playing Boros Aggro
Game 1 was pretty dumb. He got in a couple hits with 1/1s and I got Jace and Verdict and had board control, but he drew a Magma Jet and every single one of his Boros Charms (yes, all 4) to burn me out. Game 2 he got in some early damage and I cleaned up with a Verdict and then we both flooded out, but his first action once the flood ended was a 1/1 and mine was a Revelation for 8, which was pretty much the end of the game. Game 3 he got me down to 8 before I fired off a Revelation for 6. After that, I used Jace’s -2 and hit two Elspeth and an Ox. Hmm, two Elspeth, that’s a pretty good little Fact or Fiction, Jace. Elspeth locked it up for me after that.
4-1-1 matches, 8-5 games

Semifinals: Aaron, playing Boros Aggro
It’s not unusual at the store to split in the top 4, but this was my fifth Game Day top 8 without earning a playmat, and I really wanted one, so I rejected the split, and got the déjà vu pairing. Game 1 I kept a two-lander because I had two Doom Blades and one of the land was a Temple of Silence so I’d get an extra card to look for land. I sent an AEtherling to the bottom and was rewarded with an Island, Doom Bladed his first two plays, stuck Jace, hit him with Thoughtseize and hit a Boros Charm and saw his other two cards were Chained to the Rocks, so I was under no pressure (plus, he had no Mountains; his red was two Temples). I Revelationed from 12 up to 17, stuck AEtherling and he went all the way. Game 2 I again kept a two-lander because I had an Ox, a Doom Blade and a Divination. I cast the Ox on turn 2 and drew a land and got more land off the Divination. I again stuck a turn 4 Jace to keep the beats off me, then followed up with a Blood Baron. I though he’d go all the way but he died to Celestial Flare. Really? Against a deck with like five creatures? Well, can’t argue with the result. Anyway, he ate the Ox with a Banisher Priest, but the Priest doesn’t do much against Jace, and when he put two more creatures on the board I had the Verdict, then a Revelation to go from 14 to 19, then took over with Elspeth. I even got her to ultimate for the win.
5-1-1 matches, 10-5 games

Final: ID
My finals opponent, who was actually the person I ID’d with in round 5, wanted to go home so he wanted to split. I said I’d split if I got the playmat. He offered to roll for it, but gave me the edge on the roll, 8 or higher on a D20. I decided that was good enough and rolled a 19 so I got the playmat. Yay!
5-1-2 matches, 10-5 games

Also, the top 2 split was $51 in store credit, which was excellent. I got a fourth Thoughtseize, a fourth Soldier of the Pantheon, some Mistcutter Hydras, and a bunch of Temples—plus, of course, the glorious Theros Game Day Champion playmat featuring Elspeth:

wpid-PastedGraphic-2013-10-21-13-451.png

Thoughts on the Deck
The deck is obviously very good; I don’t think it’s a mistake that there were 5 Esper Control decks in the top 16 at GP Louisville. This probably isn’t the optimal build but I don’t think it’s a bad one. I’m sure one of the potentially controversial choices in the full suite of Doom Blades. Doom Blade is actually amazing in most matchups, but obviously completely dead against monoblack. If I knew there would be quite that much monoblack I’d consider going down to 2 or 3 and adding a couple of either Far // Away or Ultimate Price—something that actually kills a Desecration Demon.

Also, a few words about Elspeth are in order. I have said publicly (on Reddit) that I didn’t think Elspeth was really all that good because of her high mana cost. (And this is coming from a huge fan of the original Elspeth.) Oh, how very, very wrong I was. Yes, AEtherling ends the game more quickly, but Elspeth offers such terrific protection in the interim, without recurring mana investments. My dear Sun’s Champion, I apologize. You are indeed awesome.

Stuart Makes Top 8

Now, as I said before, my 9-year-old son Stuart also came with me, at his insistence. His first ever Magic tournament was actually Gatecrash Game Day, which he top 8’d with Red Deck Wins. He’s not really ready for anything complicated, but he’s usually reasonably capable with something straightforward. It doesn’t get much more straightforward than this:

I didn’t record his opponents’ names or anything, and I don’t actually remember all of his matches, but I can give the flavor of them.

Round 1 he lost. My round 1 was a grinder and I’m not sure what exactly he lost to–some other aggro deck, I think. I have a vague memory of him looking over and him having punted it. He’s nine, that’ll happen.

Round 2 he won vs. Boros Aggro. His opponent started the game with his sideboard still in his main deck (I noticed this when he played a main deck Glare of Heresy), which he somehow thought was OK with the new sideboarding rules. Uhh, no. Game 2 Stuart won, I think on the back of Unflinching Courage.

I don’t remember the order of his round 3/4 matches, nor do I remember the exact deck matchup for one of them, but I do recall that Stuart’s opponent Josh stumbled a bit on land and got punished for it. The other round was against Bob playing Azorious Control. Stuart won it 2-1, one of them on a Rootborn Defenses effectively countering a Verdict, and the third game on a slightly slow draw from his opponent and Stuart just immediately refilling the board after a Verdict.

Round 5 I watched the entire thing, since I got to draw that round. Stuart was 3-1 but could not draw because his opponent was at #8, but tied on points with the #9 who played. So while Stuart would have been happy to draw, his opponent couldn’t. His opponent was also running Boros aggro. Game 1 his opponent kept a 1-lander, Stuart had all gas and curved out for the easy win. Game 2 did not go as well. Stu got turn 1 Experiment One, his opponent got turn 2 Ash Zealot, Stuart got turn 2… something 3/3, I don’t remember if it was a Fleecemane or a Call. Turn 3 for his opponent was a Chained to the Rocks for Stuart’s 3/3 and another swing with the Zealot. Stuart had nothing on turn 3, holding just land and an Advent. Opponent’s turn 4 was Purphoros. Stuart played land and passed. Opponent played a Chandra’s Phoenix, making Purphoros live and burning Stuart for 2, then swing with the team. Here Stuart punted, not playing the Advent during combat, and that left him at 2, which meant the Phoenix would get him next turn regardless. (Had he blocked with the Advent token, he’d have been at 4 and the god would no longer have been live, but he would be dead to a burn spell or another creature anyway, so it’s not like he punted a game he was likely to have won.) Game 3 Stuart had turn 1 Soldier, who ate a burn spell. Turn 2 Stuart had a Fleecemane, opponent passed. Stuart came back with Ajani, put a counter on the lion, and swung for 4. Opponent came back with Boros Reckoner. Stuart then had the play of the day: he put Unflinching Courage on the Lion, then gave it flying and double strike with Ajani for the 20-point life swing, leaving his opponent at 4. Opponent played some other red creature, Stuart played Brave the Elements for the win. Sweet win into the top 8!

In the quarterfinals, Stuart played against Junk Midrange and lost; I was busy with my own quarterfinal and I didn’t really see much of what happened, though I know Stuart made a sideboarding mistake and took out the Selesnya Charms, which are important for fighting the Desecration Demons. Still, 4-2 is not a bad outing for a 9-year-old!

Thoughts on the Deck
Selesnya Aggro put a lot of decks into the top 8 at States and had a lot of 18+ point decks at the PT but had no overall wins at States and didn’t make the top 8 at the PT. It’s a good deck with the opportunity to punish decks for slow draws, but I have no idea how it beats Monoblue Devotion, which seems like a key weakness. Fortunately, Stuart didn’t play against that. As Craig Wescoe showed at PT Dragon’s Maze, a deck like this can be a tough out for control decks; Rootborn Defenses has something to say there. Fleecemane Lion is just really good; the deck should play 4 and cut a Call of the Conclave, but we only had 3 Fleecemanes. Boon Satyr is good but I think 3 is the right number there.

The real weakness of the deck is the lack of reach or evasion; when we playtested against each other me sticking an Elspeth was simply game over. A swarm of chump blockers is just too much most of the time. Perhaps a third Ajani would be good for that reason. (I should note I lost pretty much all the games where I didn’t get Elspeth.)

Finally, Last Breath is in there for Master of Waves; that perhaps should be Mistcutter Hydra.

2013 Fall States Metagame Report

So, Theros has been released, and there’s been a Pro Tour, and TCGPlayer hosted States. Maybe your’e getting ready for Game Day or for an upcoming FNM and you’re wondering about the metagame. Well, I can’t forecast what the metagame will but, but I can relay some information about what the metagame was for States.

States is kind of an interesting set of tournaments, being more competitive than your average FNM but certainly not at the level of a GP, and maybe not quite at the level of a PTQ, but not a casual format. By looking at what did well at States, perhaps there’s something to be learned. The great thing about States is that TCGPlayer posts all the decklists, tagged by archetype, so it’s easy to look at the whole thing and figure out what happened. These States were also held at an interesting time, being mostly Saturday events after the first day of Pro Tour Theros was in the books. Some of these were held on Sunday, so for those, everything but the top 8 was in the books.

So, I took a look at the top 8 decks from all 351 decks from the 44 states that have reported in. (Note that that should be 352 decks. For some reason, Illinois only reported 7. What’s up with that?). Now, these data aren’t perfect, because sometimes decks get mislabeled or put into a category that they don’t really quite belong in, but the sample size is large enough that hopefully it’s still informative.

So, I did a little counting and aggregating across decklists, and generated this look at the top ten archetypes, plus those that didn’t get up to 4% of the metagame:

wpid-PastedGraphic-2013-10-16-15-42.png

Wow, look at all that Monoblue Devotion! That’s a deck that wasn’t really on the radar prior to the PT, and it did very well at States. Given that the deck was brand new, the pilots could not have had a great deal of practice with the deck, so that’s an impressive showing, as 15% is a pretty sizable chunk of the metagame.

The next two most popular decks both came in around 10% and represent completely different strategies, straight-up creature-based aggro and generally close to creatureless control. A similar contrast applies to the next two decks, another hard-core aggro strategy and another creature-light control deck.

After that it’s pretty much all red or black based midrange until we hit the “other” category, which is a mishmash of different things, though I would say that category is about a third midrange and a third aggro, with a smattering of control and other offbeat decks (including a Maze’s End deck!).

So, the top 8 metagame is pretty diverse. Unlike the DGM metagame, it is no longer dominated by green; the rotation of Thragtusk and Farseek probably has something to do with that. If you classify the Monoblue Devotion deck as a midrange deck, then the meta is still pretty heavily weighted toward midrange decks. Given that this has been the metagame for a while now, I’m staring to wonder if this is a conscious plan by WotC R&D, as midrange battles tend to be more interactive creature fights, which R&D thinks is more enticing to new players (and probably better on camera).

Now, the numbers above come from the entire top 8. But who wins in the top 8? It turns out that the graph is quite substantially different:

wpid-PastedGraphic1-2013-10-16-15-42.png

Wow! How about the domination by Monoblue Devotion, which doubled its share, taking home the trophy in almost a third of the states? Esper Control also had a nice gain in its share. RDW, Azorious Control, BWR Midrange, and Gruul Midrange were fairly stable from top 8 to champion. Three decks have completely vanished: Selesnya Aggro, Junk Midrange, and Orzhov Midrange. Two new decks have appeared: Boros Aggro and Golgari Midrange, both of which had between 2 and 3% of the top 8 metagame, thus missing the top ten in the earlier graph.

The two biggest stories are probably to be the domination by Monoblue Devotion and the complete disappearance of Selesnya Aggro. I’m not going to say much about the deck that constituted 3 of the top 4 at the PT, as plenty has already been said there. It’s undoubtedly a very strong deck and will probably occupy a central space in the metagame for some time and I think this will be the “deck to beat” going forward. I expect to either see multiple copies in the next several SCG top 8s, unless someone finds a good solution soon.Hopefully we don’t approach Caw-Blade levels of hegemony, but I’m predicting something like the dominance Shards-era Jund had. I hope I’m wrong.

The other big story is the GW Aggo disappearance. Selesnya Aggro had a lot of decks with 18 or more points at the PT, but none of its pilots made the top 8. On the surface it seems to me to be such an obvious deck, as there are so many GW creatures that come out with more power than mana cost (e.g., Fleecemane Lion, Call of the Conclave, Loxodon Smiter, Advent of the Wurm, Boon Satyr) that the deck can create tremendous pressure—with Voice of Resurgence along for the ride, the creature base is crazy good. On the other hand, it has little evasion and no reach to speak of—the threats are powerful, but just aren’t very diverse. I think it’s a good deck, but just not good enough to quite get there at the highest levels. I wonder if the wave of Monoblue Devotion decks will wash this out of the meta (pun intended), or if there’s some way this deck can adapt. I’m pretty sure Skylasher in the sideboard is not a good enough answer, but Mistcutter Hydra might help. Maybe.

So, be ready for lots of Master of Waves and Thassa, then Esper/UW control, then RDW and a bevy of midrange decks of varying stripes. The card pool doesn’t change for quite a while, so it will be interesting to see how the meta adapts.

Apple’s October 22nd Event

It’s pundit/forecaster time again!

I did this for the September 10th event and had a mixed record. Both my locks hit, and I was 1 for 2 on my “likely” predictions, got none of the things I was hoping for, and correctly called 4 of the 5 in the “Not So Much” category. Not too bad. My miss in the “Not So Much” category was a partial miss, as there wasn’t anything at that event on the iMacs, but there was a refresh in late September, and I predicted November.

As a brief reminder, here’s the current state of the MacRumors Buyer’s Guide, and there’s still quite a bit of red here:

wpid-PastedGraphic-2013-10-15-16-52.png

So, what am I predicting/hoping for? Well, something like this:

Locks
• iPad 5. This is pretty much a done deal; full case designs have been floating around the Net for a while now. I predict an A7X processor, same screen resolution, slightly smaller and lighter form factor (less bezel), and probably a somewhat improved camera, but not of the same class as the 5S. I’m guessing TouchID as well. Availability pretty soon after the event.

• iPad mini. It’s a lock that something will happen here. The less-certain question: Retina or not? I’m going to go way out on a limb here and suggest that Apple will bifurcate this product line, maintaing a lower-cost mini without a Retina display; almost immediate availability on this. Then, a “mini Pro” (not with that name) that has a Retina display and costs more. Apple hasn’t done this with iPads but has for MacBook Pros for some time, and so I think there’s precedent for it. The Retina mini will come out a bit later—maybe two weeks after the regular mini—but in time for the holiday shopping season.

• Mac Pro. This was my miss from last time, but I Apple is now running out of “fall” for a release timeframe, so I think this has to be the event for it. Availability will not be immediate, though, but again, in time for the holiday season (though that matters less for this one). Mind-blowing performance with similarly mind-blowing price, which will also be revealed. As noted, work owes me a new machine so I will be on this thing like white on rice.

• OS X Mavericks. Will ship coincident with the Mac Pro, mid-to-late November, because the Pro will require it.

Likely
• New Apple TV. Probably an A6 inside and maybe mild bump to memory and GPU, otherwise not too much different in terms of specs. I expect a facelift for the OS to look more like iOS 7. My guess is still no generic third-party app support, but if so, I’d order it immediately. If there’s no third-party support, then immediate availability. If there is, then I’d say mid-to-late November.

• MacBook Pros. I wasn’t high on these for the September event and I’m still not sure, but the rumor mill has been churning, and people seem to think this is more likely now. I’m going to guess Haswell processors, faster PCIE Express, general performance bump, but nothing too radical.

• iPod Classic. I’m guessing this will officially be dropped, though it won’t actually be announced that this is happening.

Still Not So Much
• Mac mini. I will quote myself from my September 10th prediction: “Apple has been letting the update cycle on these go longer than most of their other product lines. I’d guess late Spring or early Summer for this.” I’ll stand by that again.

• New displays. My guess is that 4K displays are coming from Apple, but not yet. I’m going to guess summer or fall of next year.

• MacBook Air. Nothing here as well. Again, probably next summer.

• iWatch. I doubt it. I think Apple execs are probably enjoying the crap out of the horrible reviews for the Galaxy Gear and are in no hurry to stop other vendors from putting out misguided guesses for a while.

• Bigger iPad. There are rumors about of a larger iPad. I’m going to guess that this might be coming next year, but again, not yet.