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:

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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…)

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