Valiant Pachyderms take down LGS Standard

I’ve been traveling like a madman this summer and didn’t really have time to put something else together for a Sunday Standard at my FLGS so I just played Brave the Elephants again with a couple small changes to the sideboard, expecting to not see Bant Hexproof there and bringing at least something to deal with Sphinx’s Revelation. Here’s the list:

Four rounds, cut to top 4. Sunday tends to be much tougher at my LGS than FNM. It’s a smaller crowd but a more capable one; essentially, the top half of the FNM field plus a couple other high-quality players generally show—so a good test for the deck.

Round 1: Bob, playing Jund
Bob’s a regular who I’ve played several times and is always a tough opponent, though a really nice guy. I won the roll and kept a two-lander with three Voices, a Spectral Flight, and I don’t remember what else in it. I didn’t draw the third land for several turns, but when Jund is trading spot removal for Voices, well, that’s the two-land hand you want to be stuck with. At one point he had me with two elemental tokens on the battlefield and with two lands I cast two Militants, letting me swing for 8, which was pretty sweet. I did eventually draw a third land and finished him off with a Smiter. Usual Jund sb plan: -4 Militant, +1 Sigarda, +2 ORing, +1 Scavenging Ooze. Game 2 I had an early Thalia, which was pretty good but he had an Ooze and a Lifebane Zombie which took a Sigarda, then on turn 5 (after a Farseek in there somewhere) he dropped Curse of Death’s Hold which killed Thalia and made it very tough for me to race with him, even with Geist, and Olivia sealed it. For game 3 I took out the Ooze and put in a Ray of Revelation, which was the key play, because he again dropped an early Curse, but I actually had the Ray. Turns out this was really good because he had a second Curse in hand, but it was pretty dead with a Ray in the ‘yard. We traded a bunch of creatures back and forth, and I suicided a Geist into a trade to bring him to 2, both our boards and hands empty. I cast a Smiter and a Voice. He came back with Huntmaster, and I drew BTE FTW.
1-0 matches, 2-1 games

Round 2: Brandon, playing Kibler RG
So, what I found out at the SCG Open is that my deck is not favored against the more weenie rush Burning Tree/Firefist Striker version of RG aggro, but this was my first match against the Kibler deck and I think this is actually a better matchup because Smiter still outclasses everything on the ground, and with no Firefists it can actually block. Thundermaw is a card, of course, but Selesnya Charm is a perfectly good answer to that. Anyway, I didn’t know what it was right away as he started out with a Stomping Ground, and I incorrectly had him on Jund. I actually had turn 3 Geist with turn 4 Spectral Flight and followed that with turn 5 Smiter plus Voice, and just barely won the race because of a Rampager on a Flinthoof Boar from him. He had me on Bant Hexproof based on this, but of course that’s not what I was doing so I wonder if he boarded properly. As for me, I boarded out the Thalias, the Spectral Flights, and Sigarda for the Oozes, the Rays (figuring he would board in Burning Earth), and the Unflinching Courages. I came out with Voice and Smiter and he ramped into turn 4 Thundermaw, which hit me once and then ate a Charm. The second Smiter meant my team outclassed his mana dorks and lone Strangleroot Geist, and when I effectively countered his miracled Bonfire with a BTE he scooped.
2-0 matches, 4-1 games

Round 3: John, playing Golgari Control
John is one of the store’s stronger players. I won the roll and kept a hand with three land but no source of blue because it had a Thalia and a Sublime, but also a Geist and a Spectral Flight. I had won the roll, but on my turn 3 i had Thalia on the table and just played a land and passed because I still hadn’t drawn a blue source. His turn he cast a Lifebane Zombie, saw the Plains in my hand and took the Sublime over the Geist. Much to my surprise, I then topdecked a Breeding Pool and put down the Geist, then of course followed with Spectral, and that carried me all the way. Now, John has been playing Junk Renanimator forever and I didn’t really see enough in the firs game to realize he wasn’t still on that, so I probably boarded not optimally for this, bringing in two ORings and two Oozes. Ooze probably wasn’t right in this matchup, but i never saw one so it didn’t matter. I don’t really remember the second game all that well, other than it involved Geist and Smiter and me putting on ORing on a Desecration Demon and using BTE as essentially a Falter to win the game.
3-0 matches, 6-1 games

Round 4: Daniel, playing Esper Control
Since we were the only two undefeateds, we ID’d.
3-0-1 matches, 6-1 games

Now, it is not uncommon at my LGS that the top 4 just splits the prize pool and doesn’t play it out, particularly on Sunday as dinnertime approaches. However, the rule is that if anyone wants to play it out, we all play. One person did, who turned out to be my opponent.

Semifinals: Festus, playing Jund
Festus is a capable player that I’ve faced many times. He got on my nerves a little this time with a big speech about how he really wanted to play me because it was such a good matchup for him. OK, whatever. My opening hand had three Geists and a Spectral in it, but no source of white. Well, the deck runs 15 lands that produce white in it so I had about a 60% chance of hitting one in my first two draws, and I did. (Side note: the math is even better if you count the Pilgrims as a source of white.) I followed with a Voice to protect the Geist in case of Liliana, but he never got one of those anyway, and I just ran him over. Standard Jund sideboard was applied (see round 1). Game 2 was a little more interactive. I had turn 2 Voice with turn 3 Smiter followed by a mana dork. He had a Nighthawk on turn 3 and an an Ooze plus a Pillar for the Voice on 4, then followed with an Olivia. Since there were no creatures in any graveyards, the Ooze just ended up chumping a Smiter. I had a second Smiter down when he dropped Olivia and I swung in with both Elephants, which he didn’t block. I ORing’d Olivia and he left the Nighthawk back to block, played land, and passed. I again came in with the two Smiters, and he blocked with Nighthawk. I had two BTEs in my hand, but I let him trade with the Smiter because I also had a Sigarda and a Geist in hand. He Slipped the other Smiter after damage, and I put down Sigarda. Sigarda plus two BTE is pretty much game against Jund because they have no way to interact with her except a big Bonfire, and BTE is a perfect answer there. Festus actually picked up Sigarda and read her, then shook his head, which I just loved. Sigarda is still a card, folks! I followed Sigarda with a Geist and he came back with Thragtusk. I used one BTE as a Falter to bring my team through the beast, leaving him at 2 with a ‘Tusk on the board and me with two hexproof creatures and a BTE in hand. He failed to draw a Barter in Blood and that was game. He complained that he never drew a Bonfire, and I pointed out I had two BTEs in hand for most of the game so it really wouldn’t have mattered if he had.
4-0-1 matches, 8-1 games

Still undefeated against Jund. Yes, the sample size is small, but still, that seems favorable.

Brandon from round 2 was the other finalist, and I agreed to the split so he could go with his friends to get dinner. In preparation for rotation, I used my spoils to get a fourth Jace, Architect of Thought, a third Obzedat, Ghost Council and one of the cool foil promo Izzet Charms, just because.

Comments on the Deck
Well, first, I still love it, but I think that’s probably obvious. Overall, though, I think the shift in the meta from when I played at the SCG a couple weeks ago is favorable.

UW control variants are still the matchup I least want to see, as Verdict/Revelation is a tough road for this deck. However, those decks are pretty bad against Burning Earth, so I think they might be falling out of favor. The Golgari control deck is a much better matchup. Yes, Mutilate and Lifebane Zombie aren’t great cards to face, but Voice and Thalia are not bad there, and it’s just easier to keep the pressure on when they can’t do the major card draw/lifegain double whammy.

Kibler’s recent article about how to beat his deck shows that this deck is actually a pretty reasonable approach. Smiter, Hexproof creatures, and Selesnya Charm are all very good in this matchup and Unflinching Courage out of the sideboard is also very strong. While the Bant manabase is bad vs. Burning Earth, Ray of Revelation in the sideboard seems like a great cheap answer. I’d need to play more of this matchup to be certain, but I don’t think it’s awful. The real value of this deck is its effect on the rest of the meta: if we get less UWx control and Aristocrats as a result of it, that’s only good news for our valiant pachyderms.

Another deck Kibler recommends to beat his list is Bant Hexproof. If Hexproof (or Bant Auras if you prefer) becomes more popular, then I think Brave the Elephants is really well-positioned. I’ve played the Hexproof deck and other aggro decks are not really what you want to play against; your target is midrange. Bant Hexproof is not much faster than this deck, and Ray is a killer in the sideboard. If you expect Hexproof, run 3 Rays rather than 2. That’s what I ran at the SCG Open in Minneapolis and that matchup just seemed like it would be really hard to loose. Note that the main deck Thalia is actually really good against Hexproof, too—they have almost no removal and Thalia seriously slows down the rate at which they can buff their creatures. Without those buffs, the Elephants and Sublimes really outclass them. (Yes, some Hexproof variants run Smiter, but that seems to be on the decline.)

I guess the other deck that seems like a really horrible matchup is the Elfball deck that’s running around, or whatever that ramp/Garruk/Craterhoof deck is called. I think the only way to win that is to race, and I don’t think that’s the most favorable race. Hopefully that won’t get any bigger in the meta than it is now.

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:

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.

Vegas, Baby, Vegas… My GP Experience

I know it’s been a while, but I’ve been busy with work since I got back from the trip and only now had time to write about my experience. And GP Vegas was certainly an experience. WARNING: This is long. Skip to the pictures if you’re not interested in the details.

The Backstory

I’ve only ever been to a handful of GPs before, never traveled more than a few-hour drive, and never stayed more than a night. But this was Modern Masters and, more importantly, an excuse to go to Vegas. I happen to love Vegas, so the MM GP served as a perfect excuse. My best GP was the previous weekend here in Houston, and I mean “best” in the sense that I had the best overall weekend, not that I did well. Why was it the best? Because my 12-year-old son Simon made Day 2 of the GP.

I had done one Modern Masters draft at my LGS two weeks before (went 3-1 with Faeries and earned two prize packs), but that was all the MM I had actually played. I had opened a few virtual sealed pools on line, and it was clear from doing that that Sealed is a very different beast than Draft with Modern Masters. With draft, it’s all about synergy and archetypes. In Sealed, not a lot of the sealed pools had enough of any one archetype to go with it, or at least not with it alone. Also, because of access to six rares or mythics, I guessed it would a little bit more of a bomb-centric format. So, I went in hoping to open good bombs with decent mana fixing, because a lot of decks seemed three-colored.

Now, one of the things I love to do in Vegas is head over to Exotics Racing and drive supercars. Because of EDC-related events, they were closed the Monday after the GP, so I had to book for Tuesday. That meant I couldn’t head out to Vegas until Friday.

I also stayed on the Strip. I went to Vegas for a conference about a year and a half ago, and it was off the strip. Still had a good time, and got to the strip a couple times, but seriously, I never plan to go to Vegas again and stay off-strip. That meant some transportation hassle in terms of cost for getting to the site, but I decided I would just have to suck that up.

Friday’s GP Preview

So, I didn’t get in to Vegas after 2:00 in the afternoon on Friday. That meant I missed the horrific lines early on Friday, and that I had no shot at a playmat, but that was OK. By the time I had checked into my hotel and gotten a cab (through ugly traffic) it was around 4:00 in the afternoon when I got to the site.

The site itself was slightly surreal. If you haven’t seen pictures of the Vegas site, I highly recommend you look at the WotC GP coverage or Rich Hagon’s great column about the event. The place was enormous, basically split into four sections, each one of them a “normal” GP of its own. Absolutely wild.

So, because of huge turnout, there were actually lotteries for many of the side events. I was really hoping to play in the “GP Preview” Sealed event to get in one shot of really playing sealed beforehand. I went up to registration to check, and I had not been lucky and gotten on the list. So I left the site for a while to get something to eat, then came back and figured I would play in the usual GP “foiled again” event. I was loitering near the signup stage when they announced that they had gone through the lottery list and the entire alternate list for the GP Preview, so they were taking open signups. I was standing immediately next to the judge who was to organize the line for it, so I was first in line. Yes! First win of GP Vegas!

Little did I know what was coming next.

So this event was supposed to fire at 4:00 and didn’t end up starting until around 6:00. There was a fair amount of grousing about that, but I was just thrilled to be there in the first place, so no complaints at all from me. They handed out packs, and then did an odd thing: they told us it would be Regular REL so we’d be keeping the pool we opened. Having that happen isn’t odd, but it seems to make more sense to tell the players that after opening the pools. Whatever.

The first rare I opened was Vedalken Shackles—an excellent start. Then it was Death Cloud, also not bad. Then Cryptic Command, then Kira, Great-Glass-Spinner, then Auriok Salvagers, then finally Meloku the Clouded Mirror. Holy crazy pool!

Here was the complete pool—try not to drool on your keyboard or tablet, it’s that ridiculous.

I debated for a while trying to go mono-blue, but I wanted to play Cloudgoat Ranger and Flickerwisp, and Bound in Silence, Meadowboon, and Otherworldly Journey all seemed just a little too good to cut. The black was also very good, but I thought three colors would be pushing it if I actually wanted to be casting Cryptic Command even a little on time, which I really did. Here’s what I finally built with it:

Note that almost everything in the deck flies—pretty good for Limited, I’ve heard.

In retrospect I’d probably take out the Cenn’s Enlistment and instead play the Saltfield Recluse. In this deck, though, it probably doesn’t matter that much.

I don’t remember all the details of all the rounds, but I can fill in highlights:

Round 1 my opponent had a Sword of Light and Shadow, which he got on turn 3 of game 1. Unfortunately, it doesn’t give protection from Blue, or from Shackles. 2-0 to me.

Round 2 my opponent played a cool Black/Red goblins deck. He did win game 2 with a Mad Auntie followed by a Facevaulter followed by multiple Empty the Warrens. 2-1 to me.

Round 3 had a very close game 3. We wiped each other out in the first two games—bad draw for each of us, I think I blew him out with Cryptic one game, the other game the only action I had was a Shackles but he had a Maelstrom Pulse for it. Game 3 was a drawn-out affair that was very close. Late in the game I had a small army of fliers and it looked like I had it in the bag, but he did have a Doubling Season out. Turns out Doubling Season is pretty interesting when you get Skeletal Vampire. Yikes! I had Meloku on the board, so it was a bit dicey. However, the big vampire’s regeneration doesn’t save him from an Erratic Mutation (revealed a Faerie Mechanist), and I was able to make enough Illusions with Meloku to carry it. 2-1 to me.

Round 4 we had a very back and forth match. He won game 1 in about a half an hour because I had Shackles, and then thanks to a Take Possession he had Shackles for a long time until I got it back with Flickerwisp, but by then it was too late and he had me. I took a slightly less close, but still grindy, game 2 and we were almost at time while we were shuffling up for game 3. We went to time and he was on turn 5 of turns and we had a little conversation about how awful draws are in an event that pays out strictly on wins, so a draw was as good as a loss for both of us, which seemed dumb. So he scooped. 2-1 to me, kind of.

Round 5 was another close match—you’d think I wouldn’t have had so many of these with this deck, but in game 1 I drew a bunch of small fliers and not much else, and his giants ran me over. Game 2 went better. I played a Mothdust on turn 1, passed turn 2, played land and passed my turn 3 but with Pestermite in hand. So on his turn 3 upkeep, I cast Petermite, tapping one of his land. He had no 2-drop, so it was a time walk, sweet. Turn 4 for me was Machinist, which netted me another Machinist, which I cast on my turn 5, and that netted me a Shackles. Now, he had something big, 4 or 5 power by this point, and he did get a lick in, and I only had a couple Islands, so I wasn’t quite a lock to win this race, especially since on his turn 6 he cast Feudkiller’s Verdict, which put him like 1 or 2 life ahead of me so he got the Warrior token. Grr. The good news for me is that I drew my third Island so I could bounce the token (and draw) with Cryptic, and that got me there. Game 3 we both got out pretty good sets of creatures but I had Kira, which made his tricks and removal all terrible and his ground fat couldn’t quite keep up with my air force, and I sealed it with a Cryptic on his upkeep to tap all his creatures and swung in for the win my next turn. 2-1 to me.

So, how about that for a start to the weekend? Half a box of Modern Masters for that, which was great. Now, I did find my Round 4 opponent after the prizes were handed out, and I was his only “loss,” so I gave him 3 packs. That way we both ended up with 9, which seemed equitable, and was still more than the 6 would have gotten if I had ended up at 4-1.

They were closing the hall at this point and I was completely exhausted, so I walked up to Fremont Street (about a mile from the site) and took a cab back to my hotel on the Strip, grabbed a sandwich, and crashed for the early morning the next morning.

Saturday’s Main Event

Until you’ve seen the TOs try to seat 4500 players and get all the product out, you haven’t seen anything. One of the best parts was the judge staff maneuvering the zillions of cards. I took this photo, which I titled “Guardians of the Product” and tweeted it:

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Yep, those are all cases of Modern Masters, and that was just a small portion of what was handed out. Wow.

So, around 10:00 we all got seated and eventually all got our product. I opened what I thought was a really strong White/Green pool but I certainly don’t have complaints about the pool I received:

It was clear to me immediately that I had to play Black, and the Green was just too synergistic not to play it. Here’s what I ended up building:

So, that build was my first mistake of the day. What I should have done, and what I sided in most of the day, was cut the Deepcavern Imps and the Incremental Growth for the Giant Dustwasp, the Phthisis, and the Tromp the Domains. Even still, that’s a good enough deck that I think I had a reasonable shot at Day 2.

Round 1 was against Will, a very nice Canadian who was one of the buddies of my Round 4 opponent from Friday. I lost one of the games to a Rift Elemental that sucked multiple counters off a Pardic Dragon. We got to game 3 and we didn’t have a lot of time. In Game 3 I got a bit behind and had to reset the world with a medium-sized Death Cloud, leaving us both in topdeck mode but with him ahead on life and me ahead on land. My first draw step was Masked Admirers, which was amazing, and off that I drew… Tombstalker. OK, so I won this one with a bit of luck on my side. Will was cool about it, though, and we wished each other luck the rest of the day.
1-0 matches, 2-1 games

Round 2 was against Kevin from Silicon Valley. Kevin was an amazingly nice guy, and we had some professional overlap, so we had a good chat while we were shuffling. He had also read my previous blog post about Simon making day 2 of the GP, which was cool. I have to admit my memory of the first two games was a little sketchy, other than that we split them, with him having a lot of fliers. We had a lot of complex board states at various points and Kevin tanked a bit at various points, and they called time only a turn or so into game 3. He was stuck on two land and I had cast Kodama’s Reach on my turn 3, so on my turn 4, which was also turn 4 of extra turns, I cast Death Cloud for 2, leaving him landless. He could not kill me next turn, and again, a draw this early did nobody any good, so given that if we had had time to finish the game, I probably would have won with him on zero land and all (his draw for the last turn of extra turns was not land), so he conceded on the last turn of extra turns. Incredibly gracious.
2-0 matches, 4-2 games

Round 3 was against a young man from Mexico whose full name I couldn’t pronounce. He was playing mostly Black/White rebels but with a few other tricks in there. Game 1 he took with a pair of Rathi Trappers locking me down. Game 2 he kept a slow hand and I curved out on Thallids, and when I Clouded for three and only had to give up Saprolings, he scooped. Game 3 was one of those long, drawn-out board stalls that was greatly aided by his early Stinkweed Imp and then made awful by his late Yosei, the Morning Star. He again had two Rathi Trappers to my one, and while I was making all kinds of Saprolings, they weren’t big enough to get me into a productive attack. He finally got there, and i have to say that I felt like this was my worst-played game of the day. I’m sure that a better player would have figured out a way to win that game, but I just couldn’t find it.
2-1 matches, 5-4 games

Round 4 was against Peter from eastern Pennsylvania. Allentown, maybe? Sorry I forgot. Game 1 he kept a slow hand and I ran him over, including the amazing Death Cloud for three, killing 10 points of flying power on his side of the board and 3 Saprolings on mine. Game 2 was a grinder that he won on the back of those fliers. Game 3 we both got seriously flooded, but I drew action first in the form of Verdeloth, which is pretty good when you have 11 land on the table.
3-1 matches, 7-5 games

Round 5 was against Simon, who is a Vegas local. He was playing Black/White rebels with a strong artifact theme. Game 1 I had three creatures on the board on my turn 5, including a Stinkweed Imp, when I cast Incremental Growth. He never handled the huge deathtouch flier. Game 2 he won pretty easily with Divinity of Pride. Game 3 I managed to draw tons of removal to kill off his Arcbound Ravager multiple times and locked up the win with Tombstalker.
4-1 matches, 9-6 games

OK, at X-1 with four rounds to go, and starting to get hungry and a little tired, all I wanted from here was to either go 3-0 to make day 2 or to just go 0-2 and be done. The worst would be going 2-1 and then losing to just miss day 2—anything but that. Well, I didn’t get that.

Round 6 was against Kaase from L.A. who was also on Black/White rebels. I kept a sketchy hand of three lands and three big (5cc or higher) spells, with a three-drop in there. I did not draw cheap or even medium-sized spells and paid the price. I believe I cast only two spells this game. Game 2 was just the worst game ever. I mulled to six and kept a 3-land, 3-spell hand including two spells I could actually cast, a Rathi Trapper and a Stinkweed Imp. And I drew land. And more land. In total, I drew 11 land and 6 spells in the game, and the sixth spell was a Kodama’s Reach, so I died with 13 lands in play and 6 spells either on the board or in the graveyard. So, chalk up one bad mulligan decision, and one bad moment of variance.
4-2 matches, 9-7 games

Round 7 was against Jon from Iowa on RWU artifacts. If there’s ever been a match of Magic that I feel like I should have won but yet still didn’t, this was it. Game 1 I got a little behind and he had me down to 10 and I had just given up my last creature on board, leaving him with two creatures, two cards in hand, and four land, and me with five land and a Bonesplitter on the board, and four cards in hand, one of which was Tombstalker. I cast Death Cloud for two, wiping his board and his hand. Next turn I cast Tombstalker and equipped it. Later he told me he had exactly two cards in his deck that could deal with that: a Bound in Silence and a Shrapnel Blast, and of course for the blast he had to have an artifact. You know what he topdecked, of course? That’s right, a land and then a Bound in Silence. Grr. Game 2 I won pretty easily since his deck was soft to fat creatures, and I got Imperiousaur and Verdeloth, plus a Phthisis that went off killing his guy and doing 5 to him, and just ran him over. Game 3 I kept a hand with 2 Swamps, 1 Forest, 2 Sporesower Thallids and two other cards I don’t remember. And, as you might expect, I never saw a second Forest until it was way, way too late. I think I had six swamps and the forest on the table before I drew another forest. I showed him what was in my hand and he remarked, “yep, if could have cast those two big Thallds on turn 4 or 5 you would have had me—I can’t deal with those, especially not with what I had.”
4-3 matches, 10-9 games

I was mentally exhausted and getting hungry by this point, so I walked up to Fremont St. (about a mile from the site) and caught the bus back to my hotel, had some dinner, and crashed. Not making day 2 at least meant I didn’t have to get up early on Sunday.

That’s a pretty inauspicious record given the card pool. The important things to take away:

• It’s a game of inches, as the football commentators like to say. What I mean by this is that the margins at an even like a GP are very small. Small mistakes here or there cost games, and those games add up to matches, and that means no day 2 if you don’t have any byes. It’s not as if I didn’t know that going in to the event, but it’s tough when you’ve never played with most of the cards before. (I wasn’t playing for the entire run of Modern Masters.) More practice beforehand would have helped, and I almost certainly should have mulliganed game 1 of round 6.

• Build the deck correctly from the start. Still not sure what I was thinking when I made some of those choices. Pretty much only time I ever play Sealed is for pre-releases and I think that might have been a factor. Not sure there.

• It was great to be part of a record-breaking 4500-person event, but I never need to do that again. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t run badly—quite the contrary, I thought the TOs and the judges did a very good job. But the whole thing was just too big and unweildy. I never got near any of the artists, as they were mobbed all the times that I had any time (Friday evening and on Sunday).

Despite all that, it was great and I’m really glad I did it. My seven opponents in the main event (and, frankly, my five opponents from the preview event) were all terrific guys and really fun to play with, even when the matches themselves weren’t all that great (though most of them were pretty competitive and fun). MM Sealed is a really fun format where almost every card can be good with the right other cards in the deck. The atmosphere was crazy and too crowded but there was also a great energy and it was a good time.

Sunday Side Events

When I conked out on Saturday night, I didn’t set an alarm, and it felt really good to sleep in a bit. I seriously considered not even going up to the site, but Arthur Halavais tweeted that he might be running a draft using “Tales of Home,” a set he had designed, so I thought I’d head on up. I rode the Vegas monorail for the first time, all the way from the MGM to the now-defunct Sahara, walked to the Stratosphere and took a cab ride from there—much cheaper.

Arthur wasn’t sure the draft would actually fire, though, so to kill time I signed up for the Sunday Super Series Standard event. That was kind of a mistake, since 175 other people did the same. It was all Swiss with only the top 4 advancing to the Super Series, so basically it was a 175-person single-elimination event. I played a White-Black-Red midrange deck that I’ve played a bit recently, including a 4-2 finish at one of the GP Houston side events. Here’s the list:

It’s called “Sin City” for the color mix (that’s what I call that wedge), which seemed appropriate for the location. It’s actually a really fun deck to play, is surprisingly well-positioned for the metagame, and my son Simon piloted it to a win at our most recent FNM.

I didn’t do quite as well. I won round 1 2-1 against an Immortal Servitude deck that is almost the same list as Junk Aristocrats. I lost round 2 to Junk Tokens because he had the god draw in game 3 with Intangible Virtue on turns 2 and 3 and he followed my Mortars with a Lingering Souls plus the flashback. I was out, but I decided to stay in to see if Arthur’s draft would fire. Now, the worst matchup for this deck is probably Jund unless they’ve gone to Sire of Insanity, as most lists have. Unfortunately, my third-round opponent hadn’t, and won on the back of Rakdos’s Return for 4 in the first game and for 3 in the second. (He had also read my blog post about Simon making day 2 of the GP, though, so that was cool.)

This was the point at which I decided that I was Magic’d out for the weekend, and Arthur didn’t think his draft would end up firing anyway, so I took off. Here was the rest of my Sunday:

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That’s pizza from DOCG at the Cosmopolitan. Delicious. That was followed by:

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Yep, the fountains at the Bellagio. (If you haven’t seen the remake of Ocean’s Eleven, go see it.) Inside the Bellagio, there was this:

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That would be the theater for Cirque du Soleil’s “O” show, as seen from the front row (where I was sitting) which was excellent. (Yes, you do get a little bit wet if you sit in the front row.)

Other Side Events

Monday is the “day off” in Vegas, no shows. However, the town was still hopping even at 10:00 at night:

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That was after a lovely steak at Biscayne. I spend the next several hours playing blackjack at the Cosmopolitan, where i went through a half-dozen martinis, tipped my dealers and cocktail waitresses well, and walked out with exactly the same amount of money in my pocket that I walked in with. Can’t complain about that.

Tuesday was supercars:

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That’s the Aston Martin Vanquish S, and it was absolutely a dream to drive. It’s actually on the slow side for a real supercar, but the car just feels terrific to drive and is plenty fast. It also has the sweetest sounding engine ever. The other ride:

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That’s the Nissan GT-R, aka “Godzilla.” It was also fantastic but to be honest, even though the GT-R is faster, I actually like the Aston better. The GT-R really wanted to be in charge of where it was going, and I’m sure it was right, but I ended up fighting the computer a little and of course, the computer always won. The Aston just did what I wanted, even if what I wanted was to make a “mistake” and not take the corner perfectly. Still, a great way to spend the day.

Remember, kids, going to a GP doesn’t just have to be about Magic.

12-year-old Makes GP Day 2!

I’ve been playing MTG off and on (mostly off) since 1997; you can read more of my story on that here. I am not a particularly high-level player, mostly an FNMer. I don’t play PTQs, but if there’s a GP within driving distance, I’ll go. (Exception: I am flying to Las Vegas for the Modern Masters GP.) Since there was a GP in my own back yard, of course I was happy to sign up. This, however, is not really my story.

This is Simon’s story. He’s 12 years old and has been coming with me to FNMs and other events at my local store since New Phyrexia; his first FNM deck was Tempered Steel, which is of course now one of his all-time favorite decks. He only played Standard for a while, but eventually started to come to drafts as well. Almost all his Sealed experience comes from pre-releases; Innistrad was his first one of those. We also play sealed at home whenever we buy a box or win packs.

Simon’s favorite thing to do outside Magic is play lacrosse. He was the defensive captain for his team this year, and on the same Sunday as the GP was the first day of summer lacrosse camp for him. I figured this wasn’t really going to be a problem, after all, what 12-year-old makes day 2 of a Limited GP? (Twitter later told me that this has actually happened before; a kid in Seattle Day 2’d a GP there that was INN/DKA.)

I had Friday afternoon off so we went up early for side events. PV had tweeted that he really liked the GP Houston playmats, so I took a picture of Simon with his playmat and tweeted it to PV. Here’s Simon:

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The hat will re-appear in the story later.

We played in the Friday Grand Melee, which was very silly but was also much fun. Simon also played a Standard grinder but lost in the second round in game 3 to Jund. The other event of note on Friday was a bunch of pros did a Modern Masters draft. Simon went over and watched some of it and also spoke to several of them. He talked more to Reid Duke than anyone else, Reid was very friendly and Simon was very pleased he got to meet some pros and see them play.

He brought some cards with him on Saturday that he hoped to get signed by his favorite pros. For the player meeting and deck registration, we were seated near Sam Black, and Simon just loves Sam’s “Walking Dead” Legacy deck, and Sam was nice enough to sign a playset of Bloodghasts for Simon.

So, we got our pools and built. I won’t bother with my pool because this isn’t about me. It turns out of you’re going to make day 2 of a GP, it helps to have a good pool to start with. Here is the deck Simon ended up registering:

I won’t go into great detail on the individual matches, partly because he doesn’t remember all the details and partly because I want to stay more on the big picture.

Simon won round 1 fairly easily with Snare Squad as his MVP.

He lost round 2 to turn 2 Pack Rat both games. He was understandably kind of miffed about that. However, I think it was after this round that we spotted Brian Kibler, Simon’s favorite pro, and Simon got Brian to sign a Knight of the Reliquary, so Simon was pleased about that.

In round 3, Simon lost the third game to Angel of Serenity. But not to hard-cast Angel. Simon had used Mind Rot in the first few turns, and his opponent discarded the Angel. His opponent had ramped with a Cluestone and got back Angel with Obzedat’s Aid, blanking Simon’s entire team.

Simon was a little down after this, clearly expecting to lose the next round and drop, so we had a little pep talk. I reminded him that his deck was really good, and that if he played without mistakes and let the deck do the work, he could come back and still do OK. I also told him that yes, it’s a big event, but it’s still just a Magic tournament and to just play like he does at our local store and not think about that. He seemed to perk up a little after that and went to battle in round 4.

He won round 4 2-0, said he curved out and just ran his opponent over.

I should note this was Simon’s first Limited tournament that required decklists. In round 5, Simon got deck checked and got a game loss for a mis-registration. However, his opponent for the round did not show up (which I think will be referred to as “pulling a Ben Stark”—sorry, Ben—for the next while), so I think this went on the books as a 2-1 win. If you’re going to get a game loss for deck registration, that was the time to do it.

Round 6 Simon said his opponent was playing 4 colors and got color screwed game 1, and game 2 the Baron came for a visit.

Round 7 Simon carried a game 2 he thought he might lose because his opponent had an Advent of the Wurm token with Knightly Valor on it, and nothing in Simon’s deck can tangle with that and live. However, he kept his cool, realized that trample damage doesn’t go through if the attacking creature is actually dead, and Smited the beast.

At 12 years old and X-2, Simon started showing up on other people radar. The judge staff was clearly watching out for him. He got LSV to sign an Elvish Visionary (and, in honor of Mr. Vargas’s penchant for puns, we will forever refer to this card as “LSVisionary”), he got Tom Martell to sign a Boros Reckoner, and he talked with Brian Kibler again. Both LSV and Tom Martell looked over his deck (nobody liked the Mind Rot in it, otherwise all the feedback was thumbs-up), and Simon got great encouragement from all of them.

This is also where the hat comes in. Simon said to me that he was definitely keeping his hat on for the rest of the day, because the only two rounds he lost were the rounds where he didn’t wear his hat. This, apparently, is how lucky hats are born.

Round 8 was the aggro mirror, which Simon carried in game 1 thanks to Snare Squad’s interference in blocking, and game 2 was another visit from the Baron.

One more match! After a 1-2 start, Simon was one match away from making day 2 of his first GP! He was really excited about it, and very hopeful without being cocky.

Round 9 was really the highlight of the day. I was playing in a Standard side event at the time, and I missed the beginning of the match. I came over and saw Simon had superior board position, and it played out in his favor from there. Game 2 he kept a slightly sketchy hand with no white source in it. However, he did have a Mind Rot. Normally, not too impressive—but his opponent mulliganed to 5 (on the play, of course), which makes Mind Rot pretty much a bomb.

I pulled myself away from the match at this point to stop and talk to one of the judges, Arther Halavais, who I’ve been Twitter buddies with for a while but who I didn’t actually meet in person until Friday afternoon. Arthur had a free moment and I asked him if he knew who the youngest player ever to day 2 a Limited GP was. We both remembered there was a kid in Singapore who day 2’d a GP in the Bloodbraid Jund standard era who was probably younger than 12, but I didn’t know about Limited. Nor did Arthur, but he promised to check for me.

Here’s the part of the day that was the highlight. Arthur then told me that he and the other judges had kind of been keeping an eye on Simon for a while, and that, yes, his deck was good, but he was also playing really well—keeping calm when he got behind, making clean plays with very few mistakes. Most importantly, Arthur said he was also impressed by Simon’s demeanor, very polite and respectful. Now, maybe Arthur was just trying to make my day, but the day before Father’s Day, that’s about the best thing anyone can say to you—those of you who are parents understand.

We looked over, and Simon’s match was done. As expected, he had carried it. Simon said that one of his opponent’s friends was watching, and when Simon Mind Rotted his opponent, the friend rolled his eyes and turned away, signaling that is was pretty much over.

Holy cow! My 12 year old son had just made day 2 of a GP after starting 1-2! A 6-0 run is pretty amazing at a GP for anyone, much less a 12-year-old. As you might imagine, Simon was SUPER excited, and I was just as excited for him. I’ve never made day 2 at a GP, so it was quite an event for both of us. Simon told me the part of his deck that was his hardest set of decisions were mulligan decisions, mostly on colors. Obviously, he did that part of it well.

Day 2 was a very novel experience for Simon. He had never done a draft at competitive REL, much less professional. He doesn’t have a lot of experience drafting and had never done a timed draft before. However, this is where the Web coverage of the Pro Tour is a great thing—Simon had watched a couple of these drafts, so he knew how it worked. He also got a little drafting advice from the pros and Arthur, all of whom were enthusiastic in cheering for Simon after he made the second day. Simon was definitely nervous going in to the draft, but also excited for the opportunity. We spectators were not allowed to be too close to the draft, so I couldn’t get a very good picture of him in action, but I got this blurry one from a distance:

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Unfortunately for Simon, no hat during the draft. He could have just turned it around, but chose to take it off instead. Anyway, here is the deck he registered:

He also had a Golgari Charm in the sideboard. I got to look over his deck after the draft, and my thoughts on it were that it was OK, maybe a little slow, but good overall card quality, though the mana might be a problem because he was so three-colored. However, he was very three-colored yesterday and it went fine, so maybe that would hold up.

Simon usually is OK with me watching him play, but today he preferred I didn’t, so I wandered off and tried to watch feature matches or guys from my local store, of which there were a at least three others who made day 2.

Round 1 went long. Simon won game 1 on the back of Necropolis Regent, lost a grindy game 2, then lost a grindy game 3 where he never drew a source of green mana and also never hit his third black for Regent.

Round 2 went very quickly. Simon didn’t draw any white in game 2, and didn’t draw any black in game 3. The match was over quickly, and we got a snack so Simon could unwind a little. We talked about plans for the day, and we determined that Simon had to win out to make top 64, so if he lost his next round he would drop so he could still make it to lacrosse camp in time.

The third round, unfortunately, didn’t go much better. Simon won game 1 very quickly as his opponent got stuck on three lands. Game 2 Simon again had color issues. Game 3 Simon lost when his opponent overloaded a Dynacharge for exactly lethal damage.

So, that was the end. Simon collected three packs for his troubles and we went home, and he geared up for lacrosse camp. Nothing like getting to batter someone with a titanium pole to vent any frustration.

Overall, the experience was absolutely fantastic. Simon was so excited to make day 2, and I was so proud of him.

One of the things that really made it great was how friendly and encouraging everyone was. Simon got to meet a bunch of pro players who were all very friendly and really gave him a lot of inspiration. Special shout outs to Tom Martell, Brian Kibler, and LSV for really taking the time out to look over Simon’s deck and give him advice to get him ready for day 2 and for all the encouragement. (Simon got a great high five from LSV after making it.) Also, thanks very much to Arthur Halavais for keeping an eye out for Simon and keeping him company after the last round while I was still in my side event.

I think it’s the best story you won’t see on the GP coverage site—but I may be more than a little biased. Happy Father’s day to me!

What’s In a Name? or Why Doesn’t White-Red-Black (Really) Have One?

Shards of Alara was released in fall of 2008. Almost four years later, “Jund,” “Esper” and the other shard names are still firmly entrenched in the Magic lexicon, and my guess is that they’re not going away anytime soon. In contrast, when I started playing (a second time, after a ten-year absence) in fall of 2009—that is, right about four years after the original Ravnica block—almost nobody ever used the Ravnica guild names. The exception was Boros, as there was a Standard deck around that time that was known as “Boros Bushwhacker.” And, frankly, I had no idea where the name “Boros” came from for quite some time, because none of the other guild names were in regular use. UW control decks were definitely a thing at the time and literally nobody, either verbally on in print, called these things “Azorius.”

So, the question is, why? That is, why did the guild names (mostly) die over four years whereas the shard names are still going strong over roughly the same time period? Why do some names work and some names fail?

As it turns out, this isn’t exactly a science, but there are some ideas out there about this, for instance, there’s lots of advice in the world of marketing about the criteria to use when evaluating brand names that kind of apply here. Names for color combinations aren’t exactly brands, but some of the principles overlap. I think the key ideas are these:

Distinctiveness. A set of labels that all sound very similar isn’t going to be a very good set because people will confuse them. They must be distinct, both visually and by sound.

Brevity. Why do we make acronyms and abbreviations, and why do they stick? Because they take less effort to say and type. Almost any successful new name has to be shorter than the name its trying to replace. “Golgari,” for instance, is twice as many syllables as “black-green” so it seems unlikely that it will ever really replace just using the names of the two colors involved.

Likability. This one is admittedly more cloudy, but a good linguist could probably quantify this reasonably well. This is sort of a “how good does the word feel in your mouth?” kind of criterion. Since in MTG these are generally made-up words this isn’t (usually) a question about what kind of imagery is invoked or what other associations the name will create.

Easy Spelling and Pronunciation. I’ll just quote directly from the cited piece: “Will most people be able to spell the name after hearing it spoken? Will they be able to pronounce it after seeing it written? A name shouldn’t turn into a spelling test or make people feel ignorant.”

So, let’s look at some of the names that have been generated for MTG color combinations. I’ll start with the Alara shards:

  • Jund. Distinct, brief, feels good, easy to spell/pronounce. I give it an “A.”
  • Bant. Right up with Jund. A
  • Naya. Not quite as brief, spelling might be an issue if you hear it but don’t see it written out. B+
  • Esper. Easier to spell based on sound than Naya, not quite as brief as others (two syllables), but still strong. A-
  • Grixis. Probably the worst shard name, not very likable, easy to misspell if you just hear it first. B-

Overall, this is a very strong set of names. These caught on with the player base and really stuck, and that’s because they’re really good.

Now, the guild names:

  • Azorius. Distinctive but way too long, spelling issues (“azorious”). D+
  • Izzet. Short, but completely indistinct from regular English “is it.” B-
  • Golgari. Distinct, but way long and clunky to say. D
  • Rakdos. Not bad, pretty short, but not as distinct from Boros as it needs to be. B+
  • Selesnya. Again, way too long and a little bit clunky. D+
  • Boros. The best of the guild names: shortish, distinct, hard to mess up, likable. There’s a reason this was the only one left four years later. A-
  • Dimir. Fails on spelling/pronunciation, but at least it’s short. C-
  • Orzhov. Another minor spelling problem, though at least it’s short to say. C
  • Gruul. Who hearing this for the fist time didn’t spell it “grool” in their head? Seriously sounds like WotC was trying to evoke “drool” with this name, which I guess kind of matches up with the guild’s style, but still. D+
  • Simic. Probably the third best guild name, though still occasional spelling/pronunciation issues (I’ve heard people say “SIGH-meeck” until being corrected.) B

We have a few pretty decent ones (even the best one still doesn’t get the full A because its two syllables), but lots of not very good ones. Unless we have “Revisiting Ravnica Again” block in the next couple years, I expect these guild names to recede again, though it may take a little longer this time since this is the second time the community has gotten to see these.

So, let’s talk about the wedges. There are three naming schemes I’ve heard for these: the Apocalypse names (Necra, Raka, etc.), the names of the Planar Chaos dragons (Numot, Teneb, etc.), and the common names MTG players actually use. I’ll consider each of these in turn.

The Apocalypse names had the first shot at this and basically failed. I have literally never heard a Magic player use these names in describing a deck, but every once in a while someone on the Internet will reference them, usually when showing off how long they’ve been playing or what an MTG encyclopedia they are or to correct someone else when they say the wedges don’t have names. These are based on a some cycles of creatures in the set, and they aren’t really names, but prefixes. They are Ana, Ceta, Dega, Necra, and Raka. (Bonus point to readers who can actually name what wedges go with which names without looking it up. The fact that I have to look it up every time does not bode well for the names.) The names are short and easy to spell and pronounce, but completely fail on distinctiveness, both from each other (not so much in print, but say them out loud) and from other common words or MTG terms. (For example, “Necra” a couple years after “Necro” was the shorthand name for both a card and a deck that are mono-colored? Not a win there.) Also, these names weren’t pushed very hard by WotC; there aren’t multiple cycles of lands and artifacts and coherent themes for these things, so they don’t really have identities under these names.

The Planar Chaos dragons (Intet, Numot, Oros, Teneb, and Vorosh) are moderately well-named as a set, though overall they could be a little shorter and more distinct. Also, “Oros” is a complete disaster because of the Boros guild name (and the guild name was there first). Once again, these names weren’t pushed very hard by WotC so they don’t really have identities with these labels. Plus, of course, these are names for creatures, not actually names of wedges themselves.

What’s most interesting to see about the wedges is what people in the community actually call them. Effectively, three of the wedges have names, one of them kind of does, and one of them simply doesn’t. The color combinations black-blue-green and red-blue-green just go by “BUG” and “RUG.” Not very distinct, but very short to both say and type. Black-white-green is generally called “Junk” both verbally and in print, and I believe comes from a pretty old extended deck. For instance, the currently trendy black-white-green reanimator decks are usually called “Junk Rites” decks. Notice that brevity is the clear win here, as all of these are single-syllable names, just like the best shard names.

Red-white-blue is sometimes called “U.S.A.” or “American” after the U.S. flag, but those aren’t much shorter than just saying “red-white-blue” and in print people usually just type UWR or RWU or whatever. And, of course, using U.S. flag references as a name is just wrong anyway, since lots of other countries have flags that are red, white, and blue—looking at you, U.K., France, Australia, etc.

Poor white-black-red (that’s the order the colors are on a printed card of this wedge) really doesn’t have a name in common usage. It’s a shame because that’s my favorite wedge. Personally I refer to it as “Sin City” because black and white plus red was basically the color scheme for the comic/movie, but this doesn’t work because nobody gets it. That’s the problem with names, they only work if most people actually know and use them. So while technically this wedge could be called “Oros” or “Dega,” if you use one of those, most people won’t get what you’re talking about. That more or less defeats the point of a name in the first place, so this wedge effectively has no name, no matter how pedantic people want to be about it. (If a name exists but nobody uses it, does it still have meaning? I’d argue no.)

So, WotC, we have a clear need here. We need a block that is wedge-themed like Alara was shard-themed, it needs to have good names for the wedges, and those names have to be reinforced by multiple cycles of lands, creatures, artifacts, etc. just like the shards in Alara were. I know you’ll get right on that.

Modern Masters Reactions

I don’t actually play much Modern, but like many other MTG addicts, I’ve been following along as pieces have been revealed and planned a trip to Vegas with the MM Grand Prix as my flimsy excuse to go. Now that the whole set is out and I’ve gotten to play it I thought I’d share some of my reactions:

• The limited environment is fantastic. Kudos to Erik Lauer and everyone else involved for another absolute home run. (I say “another” because the esteemed Mr. Lauer was also lead developer of Innistrad, which was also a tremendous limited environment.) The boxes have 24 packs with the obvious intent to draft, and wow, it’s fun to draft and to play. I wasn’t actually playing for most of the Modern run and it was terrific to see all these archetypes that I’d heard about but never actually played. The strategies seem well-balanced and fun things abound. I don’t think it’s possible for me to say quite enough here about how good this was to draft. I’m not sure it will go quite as well as a sealed environment, but we’ll have to see. But there was all kinds of cool stuff going on all over the place at my FLGS’s MM draft event, such as:

– A mono-red Storm player won by suspending four Rift Bolts on turn four, then on turn 5 following those with two Grapeshots. GG.
– I lost a game to turn 3 Vedalken Shackles followed by Kira, Great Glass-Spinner. However, I won the match in game 3 by countering a key Peppersmoke with a (foil) Spellstutter Sprite. (Note: I had never played Faeries before. Wild mirror.)
– A rebels deck winning where something like 18 of the damage in the game was dealt by 4 copies of Blightspeaker.
– A match won by one player playing Lotus Bloom on turn 1 both games, then getting one of the Kamigawa dragons on turn 3—two different dragons in the two different games.

• I will say that I am flummoxed by a couple omissions from the set. Note that this is not because I desperately wanted these cards or that I’m upset that they weren’t included, but I just found certain omissions very surprising. These were the two: Thoughtseize and Remand. I seem to recall that both of these cards have been labelled “too good to be reprinted in Standard” so I was surprised they wouldn’t be reprinted here, because they don’t seem like they’d adversely affect the limited environment to have those around (assuming Thoughtseize would come in at Rare). I guess I was a little surprised, though less so, that Cranial Plating and Mutavault were also not printed (though I’d think Plating would be an uncommon in this environment). Great to see Lightning Helix and Elspeth, Knight-Errant, though.

• The set’s “limited” print run is a bit of a problem. I understand that WotC is trying to walk a very fine line here, trying to bring more people into Modern while stabilizing the prices on the money cards but not collapsing them. I acknowledge that’s a difficult task. However, so far it looks like it might have gone a little too far on the side of the collectors, which, frankly, seems like the wrong direction to go. Maybe it’s because I’m not that much of a collector, but I’d rather see cards in play than cards being hoarded for dollar value. Boxes being sold for $300 and local stores running $50-60 drafts is just ridiculous. Why put in the effort to make this a fantastic draft set if it’s going to be prohibitively expensive to draft it? If the goal is to support draft, then it’s got to be at least kind of affordable to draft. If the set is primarily for collectors, why worry so much about the limited environment? Seems like a very mixed message. Again, I realize this is a difficult line to walk and WotC has a tough job to do here, but it does appear they fell over one side of the line, and unfortunately I think it’s the wrong side. Maybe it’s just that I want more drafts!

So, the TLDR version: home run in terms of draft fun, too bad it’s so co$t-prohibitive to make one happen.

Now for Something Completely Different: BUG Aggro

Well, it’s not completely different, as I guess that Bant Hexproof is on the aggro end of the world, but normally I don’t play much aggro, I’m more for the midrange or control decks, but I dip into the aggro pool for a while. When I do, though, it’s usually something at least a little off the beaten path. This one is definitely off the beaten path. I saw a couple lists kind of like this in the States lists, and came up with my own version. Here’s the list:

I think half my desire to play this deck was just because I wanted to play with Duskmantle Seer. I know other builds with this deck play Zameck Guildmage, but Varolz just seems so much better. Also, most lists I’ve seen didn’t run Lotleth Troll, which seems zany to me; that is a pretty sweet 2-drop. I’ve also been on something of a hot streak at my local FLGS, having finished in the money with great regularity lately. So I thought I’d push that pretty hard. I have to say, my initial thought is that this deck looks like a pile of crap—but it plays a lot better than it looks. The night before my son insisted that I actually build it and test against him playing RWU control. Much to my surprise, I won probably 75% of those games.

So, off to my FLGS Sunday Standard. Only 15 people showed up, so just 4 rounds cutting to top 4.

Round 1: Zach, playing BR Vampires
OK, so not exactly a tier 1 deck on the opposing side, but it’s actually not that bad: Vampire Nighthawk, Falkenrath Aristocrat, Stromkirk Captain, Bloodline Keepers, Olivias, various black removal spells for 1 and 2 mana, a couple Vampire Nocturnus, and a full slate of Blood Artists and a couple Killing Waves. I’ve played worse (and played against worse). To be honest, I don’t really remember game 1 all that well. I know I had some early plays, used Decay to kill a Nighthawk, countered something with a Rupture, and got there. I sided in the Appetites, the Far // Aways, and the Sever. I didn’t have a fast enough early draw, got a little flooded, and he got a Bloodline Keeper going and it was over when he dropped Olivia. Game 3 he came out with two early Blood Artists, which meant this game took a while because he kept gaining life. I eventually got everything off his board except the Artists and fused a Far // Away, which slowed down his life gain, and got Varolz out and was scavenging onto it, which got me there.
1-0 matches, 2-1 games

Round 2: Tony, playing Junk Midrange
This was a pretty terrible round. Tony mulled to five both games, apparently all on 1-landers. At least in game 1, he immediately topdecked a land and was able to cast Farseek, so he was OK on mana. Unfortunately, I came out blazing: Experiment One followed by Strangelroot Geists on the next two turns put him on his back foot, and I Hybridized a Giest to evolve my human ooze to put way too much on the board for him to deal with. I read him as playing Reanimator so I sided in the Deathrites, the Sever, and the Evil Twin. Game 2 he again mulled to five on one land, but he drew out of it in, but even with a Centaur Healer and a Smiter he could not keep up with another relatively fast start from me. The Smiter got Decayed and Rancor let me swing through the Healer and keep the pressure on, and he scooped to me casting Duskmantle Seer with him at 5.
2-0 matches, 4-1 games

Round 3: Zachariah, playing Junk Rites
Zach was 8-8 at Pro Tour Dragon’s Maze, which was his first PT; so this was a real test for this deck. Game 1 he had a slowish start whereas I went Experiment One into Strangleroot, so I quickly had him at 12. He came back with a Thragtusk, but I came back with a Lotleth Troll and eventually a Rancor, so eventually he had to chump with the Thragusk. Then I came back with a Duskmantle Seer. That was kind of interesting, as having him draw cards wasn’t likely to actually be good for me unless he drew something monstrous to take a big hit of damage, which he never did. He also never drew an Unburial Rites, which was good for me because he had Salvaged an Angel of Serenity fairly early. However, he made a tech play after that, and cast Fiend Hunter then cast Restoration Angel with the trigger on the stack, meaning he took out both the Troll and the Seer. Fortunately for me, I had another Seer. My next turn, he was at 7, took 4 from the Resto he drew off the Seer trigger, but he thought he was OK because he had Resto back to block. However, I had not one, but two Rancors for the Seer, so the trample damage killed him. I sided in the same anti-reanimator package I put in round 2. Game 2 he got an early Rhox Faithmender, followed by a Thragtusk (bringing him to 31) and I had a Seer and a couple other dudes with me at 10 and him at 15 when he did pull off the Angel of Serenity, wiping my board. I just scooped to that. I sided in two Appetites for Game 3, and that was definitely the right call, because when I did it I discovered he had no land in hand and was relying on two mana dorks, plus I managed to get the Faithmender in his hand. I also had a Deathrite Shaman out so I wasn’t too worried about reanimation shenanaigans. Next turn I Slipped one of his mana dorks, leaving him with only two mana sources. From there I pretty much ran him over, though at one point I did lose a Dreg Mangler to Renounce the Guilds. I knew he had it from the Appetite, but I wanted to get it out of his hand and I thought I’d rather lose that than the LolTroll on the board. When I played a Seer, he just scooped.
3-0 matches, 6-2 games

Round 4: Daniel, playing Jund
We were the only two undefeateds, so we ID’d into the top 4.
3-0-1 matches, 6-2 games

Semifinals: Zachariah, playing Junk Rites
The top 4 ended up being me, Zachariah, Daniel, and another Junk Rites deck. Most of them wanted to leave to go eat so I agreed to a top 4 split.
3-0-2 matches, 6-2 games

I got about $20 in store credit, which I used to buy a Progenitor Mimic so next FNM I can play 4c Progenitor Reanimator, and I also got a Domri Rade to go up to 2, or maybe 3 of those.

Now, 3 rounds isn’t exactly a stringent test, so I played a few other matches afterward. One of them I played against the BUG Walkers deck that just top 8’d an SCG Open. I rolled that game 1 with turn 1 Young Wolf, turn 2 double Rancor; lost a sideboarded game 2 off a hand I should have mulliganed, and easily won game 3 with the Experiment One, Strangleroot, Rapid Hybridization EOT turn 3 to just come in with a huge attack the following turn. I also played against a RUG Control deck and beat that 2-0 without too much difficulty, particularly fun was the double-Seer game where he drew Turn // Burn to take 5, then Ral Zarek to take 4. Oops.

So, while the deck kind of looks like a pile, it’s actually surprisingly good. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a great deck, but it catches people by surprise and is definitely not an easy out.

Varolz is a great addition to this deck, as being able to scavenge everything in the graveyard is really excellent, especially onto Experiment One, giving that regeneration. The really fast draws with this deck are almost as fast as the Gruul Aggro decks, but this deck is a little more resilient in the long run because of all the undying and regeneration. As I said earlier, half the reason I wanted to play it was to see how Duskmantle Seer really plays out. Since other than the Seer, everything in the deck costs 3 or less, he’s actually pretty decent. Given the number of decks running big expensive spells, Seer is actually a real threat, since the opponent is often under 10 life by turn 5 or so, which is when he usually comes down. He’s not a general-purpose card, but in the right deck (like this one), he’s not bad at all.

So, if you’re looking for something different that’s fun to play and a little off the wall while still being good, give this a whirl.

DGM Game Day with Junk Aristokens

Because I hadn’t played enough Magic the last two days, I also went to Game Day. I’d had quite enough of Bant Auras and wanted to go in a different direction. What I really wanted to play was the 4C Progenitor Mimic Reanimator deck because that looks like a blast, but I only have two Mimics and I knew my FLGS didn’t have any in stock so I didn’t want to show up with an incomplete deck, and it just wouldn’t be as fun to play with only two of them in the deck. I also didn’t have the time or inclination to brew, as I’m not much of a brewer to start with and even when the urge strikes me, it takes me forever to work out the deck, and I didn’t have time for that.

So instead, I went hunting for a fun rogue deck. And, courtesy of Jake Van Lunen’s very nice survey of the current Standard, I found a deck. I know it’s called “Junk Ghost Hulk” there but I like the name “Aristokens” better, as it’s really more of Junk Tokens plus Aristocrats Act 2 fusion. It’s a riot:

The deck has all kinds of cool synergies in it—very fun. Anyway, as mentioned in my last post, there was an SCG open in Dallas this weekend so attendance was down a little. 5 rounds of Swiss cutting to top 8.

Round 1: Alan playing Rakdos Aggro
Game 1 was all about Lingering Souls—I think I drew three of them and flashed them all back, and they carried the day. Would have been blown out if he had a Thundermaw, but he didn’t draw one. Game 2 I drew two Advent of the Wurm and he swung into the first one, and the second one was just more than he could handle.
1-0 matches, 2-0 games

Round 2: Josh playing Dark Bant… something. Elves, kind of
Josh is a good player (a couple PTQ top 8s) who had something of a wacky, but very powerful deck. Lots of elves including Archdruid and Gyre Sage, plus Master Biomancer and a few other goodies. Game 1 a couple Sorins did some heavy lifting, generating multiple tokens and emblems between them, and once the Blood Artist got involved it got silly, despite his Biomancer making a few very large guys on his side. It helped that he never drew a white source. I sided in the Putrefys, the Garruk, the Charms, and 2 of the Appeties (enough cards, I think). He dropped an Arbor Elf and passed, I came back with Appetite. He had two targets, an Increasing Savagery and a Master Biomancer. I had an inkling how bad the Biomancer might be from Game 1 and so I took that, which was a mistake. He dropped a Gyre Sage on turn 2 and then on turn 3 put 5 counters on it, allowing Thragtusk the next turn and flashback of Savagery the following turn. I had no removal in hand and just died to big guys—you know it’s bad when you have Advent of the Wurm in hand and it’s useless because it’s too small to really be relevant. Game 3 wasn’t very interesting—he kept a hand with an Arbor Elf and two Sunpetal Groves, and didn’t draw out of it quickly enough to answer my early pressure and then Sorin. I had him down to 2 and had a Cartel Aristocrat on board, and he realized that was game.
2-0 matches, 4-1 games

Round 3: Matt, playing Jund
Matt is a regular at my FLGS that I haven’t played in a while. I won the roll and went Doomed Traveler into Voice into Lingering Souls into High Priest and he was mostly dinking around with Farseeks. When it was clear he wasn’t going to be able to stop me from making a demon with the High Priest, he just scooped. I’m not sure exactly what I sided in; I think it was the Charms, the Putrefys, and Obzedat, but I could be remembering that wrong. Game 2 went completely the other way. I drew a slow hand and he ramped into turn 4 Thragtusk, turn 5 Thragtusk, turn 6 Thragtusk and I just couldn’t do very much with that. Game 3 was even worse. I kept a two-lander (all three colors, though), missed two land drops, and then drew… Township. Not really a good color solution. All I was doing was casting Lingering Souls and flashing it back, and he was developing a real board presence. I missed my next two land drops, finally drew a fourth land, but it was just way too late. Ugh.
2-1 matches, 5-3 games

Round 4: Audra, playing Big Naya
This was a beefy version of Naya Midrange with ramp, Aurelia, Advent, Trostani, Call of the Conclave, Sigarda; the red was mostly a splash for a couple burn spells and Aurelia. Oh, and I got rounded up for this one. Audra is not the fastest player around—every draw step is a slow roll, like she’s looking for a Bonfire and then decides to put it in her hand. Game 1 we traded a couple early blows but she just got bigger stuff out than I could deal with, and she got Sigarda out and Trostani going and she just ground me out. I sideboarded the Appetites, the Charms, and the Putrefys (again). Game 2 was an epic battle. I cast Appetite turn 1 and took Sigarda over Trostani. Turn 2 was an Aristocrat, turn 3 was Lingering Souls, and turn 4 was Sorin. Sorin stayed around for a long time, alternately making emblems and tokens, and the lifelink on those tokens kept me alive, though she gained a ton of life from Trostani before I finally drew a kill spell. I did manage to have a Tragic Slip in my hand for Aurelia and sacrificed a spirit to Aristocrat to power up morbid, so that was good, but I didn’t draw much else in the way of removal, so we were grinding out Wurm tokens against each other. I was at 6 and she was at 20 when she finally drew a Reckoner but I finally drew a removal spell, an Orzhov Charm, putting me in Helix range. However, the Reckoner was her last guy on the board, and I still had the Aristocrat and two Sorin emblems (Sorin was dead by this time), and managed to get there by (finally) drawing a Blood Artist. I think we both had like 14 lands in play at this point—it was a very long game. We had less than five minutes on the clock when it ended. I didn’t think we’d make it through game 3, and we didn’t. I will say that if the game had been allowed to finish, I was in a fair amount of trouble, as she was at 43 life (Trostani again; where was all that removal?) and I was at 14, but we were stalled out such that there were no productive attacks to be had on either side.
2-1-1 matches, 6-4-1 games

Round 5: John, playing Naya
So, I again got rounded up. John could draw in, but I couldn’t, so we had to play it. There was still some outside chance he could get in if he lost, so he wasn’t too upset at his bad luck of being rounded down. His build was a little more midrange, but definitely not the Blitz-style Naya deck. Game 1 was really interesting. I started off with Doomed Traveler into Blood Artist into Aristocrat into Sorin. Sorin made a token, then got hit by a Resto that was flashed in for no value at the end of my turn. Sorin gave me one more token before dying to the Resto. However, I had two more Sorins in hand. The second Sorin made an emblem and got eaten by a second Resto. He followed that Resto with an Assemble the Legion, which I had no way to interact with. Sorin #3 came out and made an emblem before dying to Resto. I got in for a few more to get John down to 11, but his next turn had him up to six soldier tokens and I knew I just didn’t have the numbers… so I swung with the Aristocrat and a vampire token for 7. No blocks, putting John at four with one card in hand that I guessed probably wasn’t instant-speed life gain, and I had a total of five creatures in play, so I sacced the other for to the Aristocrat, draining him for four and the game. I don’t think he saw that coming. Game 2 was curvetastic for me. Doomed Traveler into Voice into Varolz, follow with Blood Artist, sac the Traveler to regenerate Varolz from a burn spell, scavenge the Traveler onto the spirit token, Putrify a blocker, swing in to bring him to 2 with his only permanent being Assemble the Legion at 1 counter, concession. Yay, into the top 8 for me. Unfortunately, John’s breakers weren’t good enough and he didn’t get in.
3-1-1 matches, 8-4-1 games

Quarterfinals: Bobby, playing Boros Aggro
This was pretty dumb, actually. Basically, both games he got Legion Loyalist on turn 1, meaning all the Doomed Travelers and Lingering Souls and Advent of the Wurms in the world weren’t going to stop his rush, and the High Priest I drew in game 1 just wasn’t going to come on line fast enough to save me. Maybe if I had managed to draw a single removal spell in either game it would have helped, but I didn’t. Actually, that’s not quite true, as I did draw one Orzhov Charm game 1 when I was at 4 life and him with a Boros Reckoner on board. Not exactly helpful.
3-2-1 matches, 8-6-1 games

The last match was awful, but overall not a bad showing for having found the decklist the morning of the tournament and throwing it together, then playing it for the first time in round 1 of the tournament. Also on the upside, I got two packs for finishing in the top 8, and they had Ral Zarek in one and Ætherling in the other, so that was pretty decent.

Now, comments on the deck. As I noted in the intro, this deck is really a cross between Junk Tokens and The Aristocrats Act 2. Junk Tokens isn’t a particularly popular archetype right now, but it does work together with some of the tricks in the Aristocrats, but it does give up the explosive power of Blasphemous Act for a more grindy, midrange feel.

The deck is fun to play. The synergy between Cartel Aristocrat, Blood Artist, Voice of Resurgence, and Varolz is great, and enables all kinds of fun shenanigans. However fun these interactions are, they mostly aren’t fast, and while they can be useful, they aren’t always all that powerful. The biggest scavenge target in the deck is Voice, which is +2/+2—nothing to sneeze at, but not exactly overwhelming. In principle it seems like it ought to be really good against aggro decks with all the tokens and incremental life gain, but if the aggro opponent is running Legion Loyalist and you don’t draw a removal spell for that guy, you will get run over even with many blockers on the table. I didn’t get to play against any control decks, but it seems like it ought to be highly resilient to sweepers and sacrifice effects, as you would expect from a token deck. So the big question is how the deck plays against other midrange decks. It is somewhat weak against large creatures, especially if those creatures have trample. There’s a fair amount of removal in the deck (and it’s generally easy to have morbid live for Tragic Slip) but if you don’t draw it, an opposing Thragtusk or Olivia can be a real problem, and Angel of Serenity seems like a blowout. I think I need to play it more against other midrange decks to get a clearer sense of those matchups. Still, a very fun deck to experiment with, even if it may not be quite Tier 1 right now.

FNM and TCG Player with Bant Auras

So, this week I did something I almost never do: I played the same deck multiple tournaments in a row. I know it hurts my consistency to constantly be fiddling with different decks; you don’t really learn all the subtleties of a particular deck until you’ve played it a bunch. So I thought I’d play one deck a bunch. Unfortunately, I didn’t really think that cunning plan all the way through, because the deck I played is not one that has a lot of subtleties. However, it’s a good deck, and lessons were learned, so I thought I should write them down.

The deck, of course, is Bant Auras (a.k.a. Bant Hexproof). It’s straightforward and only a few cards different than the one I played at the most recent Sunday Standard at my FLGS:

The differences: (1) Got rid of Fencing Ace in favor of Loxodon Smiter. I came to really dislike the Ace, because it just dies to everything and simply isn’t any kind of threat on its own. Yes, it can be better when it’s suited up, but the Smiter just wasn’t doing it for me. (2) I changed up the sideboard, adding two Rootborn Defenses in place of Selesnya Charm. I expected more Supreme Verdict and Sphinx’s Revelation, which are bad for this deck, and can only really be managed by Nevermore and cards like Rootborn Defenses. Turns out this sideboard probably wasn’t optimal; Strangleroot Geist would have been much better than Nevermore, though I’m still not sold on Selesnya Charm.

Anyway, on to the matches.

Tournament 1, May 24th: Friday Night Magic

There was an SCG Open in Dallas this weekend, plus it was a holiday weekend, which meant attendance wasn’t great, only 17 players, so 4 rounds cutting to top 8.

Round 1: Ryan, playing Junk Midrange (not Reanimator)
Game 1 I got off to a slow start, and he was the one who ended up with a Fencing Ace with Unflinching Courage on it, and then later he got a Hydra out, and I lost that race. Game 2 I got early Geist with Courage and something else, and ran him over easily. Game 3 was similar, though this time it was an early Stalker instead of a Geist.
1-0 matches, 2-1 games

Round 2: Melody, playing Possibility Exhaustion
What, you might ask, is Possibility Exhaustion? It’s a RWU combo deck based on Possibility Storm and Cure of Exhaustion. Once your opponent gets that, you cannot cast another spell for the rest of the game. Other than that, it’s a control deck with lots of sweepers and card draw. The earliest the combo can come down is turn 5, but if it does and you don’t have any way to get rid of enchantments, you have to get there with whatever creatures you have on the board at the time the combo comes down. Urgh. Game 1 I punted, getting her down to 2 and failing to pump with the Simic Charm in my hand, and she came back with a Supreme Verdict and then next turn, the combo. Oops. I sided in all the Nevermores, the Negates, and the Ray. I got Nevermore for Curse of Exhaustion but she did get down a Possibility Storm. Let me tell you, playing Magic with one of those in play is an experience in annoyance. You cast what you have, and hope it turns into something. I managed to get two Stalkers on board, but no enchantments, which was not a fast enough clock. I finally turned a Pilgrim into a Smiter, had a Ray in hand that turned into a Negate for her Terminus, and won the day. Game 3 I got turn 2 Geist, turn 3 Rancor, sat back on a Negate and brought it home quickly.
2-0 matches, 4-2 games

Round 3: John, playing Junk Rites
John is one of the top players at the store; he makes very few mistakes, and always plays a Tier 1 deck. Fortunately, I think this particular matchup favors the Bant deck. Game 1 I got an early Giest suited up and was bashing for 9 with lifelink plus the Angel token. He even got an Angel of Serenity out, but that doesn’t stop Ghost Pants. I boarded in the Ground Seals and maybe the Feeling of Dread and off we went. I did not get a great start, though not an awful one, with a turn 2 Voice which got Rancor. He blocked it for a trade, and I followed with a Stalker and a Pilgrim. When I cast Rancor on the Stalker, he blew me out with Golgari Charm, a nice little 4-for-1. Oops, forgot about that card. The good news is that I had a Smiter next turn, and drew into the enchantments I needed, so he carried the day. This deck just really punishes decks that can’t race and don’t have enough removal, which is where Junk Rites sits.
3-0 matches, 6-2 games

Round 4: John, playing BR Zombies
We ID’d, something he had never done before—he’s a relatively recent convert from kitchen table to the tournament scene, but coming along really strong of late. We played three games without sideboard just for funsies, and I won games 1 and 3 of those. This is actually not the best matchup, since BR Zombies can race pretty well and has enough removal that a hexproof guy is pretty much a requirement. Game 1 I got it off a turn 2 Stalker that got suited up, game 2 I didn’t get anyone hexproof and lost the race to Messengers, and game 3 I won with an early lifelinked Geist.
3-0-1 matches, 6-2 games

Quarterfinals: Zach, playing BR Vampires
Vampires? Seriously? In the top 8? I guess it was a softer field than usual. He won the roll and ran out an early Vampire Nighthawk to my Stalker, then he followed with a Stromkirk Captain. Turns out that’s actually pretty good if you’re a deck with no removal, so we had to race. I eventually got lifelink on the Stalker to make up for the lifelink on his Nighthawk and then slowly drew into enough enchantments to win the race with his other vampires. I sided in Feeling of Dread and the Nearheath Pilgrims. Game 2 I got an early Geist followed by Rancor and Spectral Flight and hit him for 10. He had a Captain again, and then put out a Nighthawk, which could actually block and kill Geist. Good think I had the Feeling of Dread in hand.
4-0-1 matches, 8-2 games

The top 4 were Melody and John (from round 3) and someone I didn’t know playing BW Tokens. I rather liked all those matchups but everyone else wanted to split to play EDH, so I agreed to it. I have to remember when I agree to top 4 splits at FNM to make getting a promo one of the conditions, though I already have one of this month’s promos from the previous week.

The deck did exactly what I wanted it to, so I was happy to sleeve it up for the next day’s tournament.

Tournament 2, May 25th: TCG Player Platinum Qualifier $1k

Houston hosts a comic con of its own every year called Comicpalooza. The relevant thing for me is that it was also hosting a TCG Player Platinum, which is a $1k event. With an SCG open within driving distance, I figured the field would be reasonable. Turns out it was not only reasonable, but quite small: only 48 players showed up. My 12-year-old son Simon came with me with his UB Zombies deck that has been doing really well at our FLGS. The real downside to the tournament was that the start time was listed as noon, but the room was really well-hidden so they gave people some extra time to find it… but they gave way too much extra time, so we started nearly two hours late. Look, an hour is excusable, even reasonable, under the circumstances, but two hours? Come on.

Anyway, we eventually got started. I was really optimistic, as I’d been playing pretty well and the deck had been cooperating. Ha, ha.

Round 1: Paul, playing RDW
RDW is not exactly the best matchup, since it can race. Pretty much like BR Zombies, I have to get hexproof guys or lifelink to win. The good news was that game 1, I won the roll, got turn 2 Geist, turn 3 Rancor and Spectral Flight, and killed him in two attacks. The bad news was that he still managed to get me down to 8, so on the draw I’d have been dead, even with that opener. Game 2 illustrated that problem pretty well; I had both a Pilgrim and a Geist in my opener (and a Smiter, which is a good roadblock against RDW) and a couple auras, but a Sunpetal Grove as my only green source. I guess I should have mulliganed that hand, as I lost with him still at 20. Game 3 I probably should have mulliganed again, as my opener was four land, two Geists, and an Unflinching Courage. Unfortunately, in the four draw steps I got, I drew… four more land. Even with the lifelink on the Geist, I could not race him. I hit him twice down to 4 but still died. If I had drawn a single chump blocker I think I should have had that one. Ah, well, variance…
0-1 matches, 1-2 games

Round 2: Dominic playing RUG PeddleCaster
I lost the roll and he played a turn 2 Nighshade Peddler followed by a turn 3 Izzet Staticaster, stranding the pair of Smiters in my hand. From there, I drew essentially only land for the next five turns… but I wasn’t dead, because he wasn’t drawing anything either. (I was taking one per turn from the Peddler.) I finally drew a Stalker and immediately suited him up and hit for 7 with lifelink the next turn. He also finally started to draw action but he could not race the 14-point swing I was generating per turn. Game 2 was one that he readily admitted he had no business winning. I got an early Geist, suited him up, and hit for 10… and then he dropped Glaring Spotlight and killed the Geist. Fine, I played another Geist, he played a Huntmaster. I suited up the Geist, which he double-blocked but it still put him at 1. I played Giest number three and still hand a Rancor. He topdecked… Thragtusk, going back to 6. I decided I had to hit him, but that again only put him at 1. Grr. I drew and played a Pilgrim, and put Rancor on him… but that didn’t get me past the beast token. My next four draws were, you guessed it, land. He came back with Huntmaster and Ral Zarek and a second Huntmaster, and killed the Pilgrim when his pair of Huntmasters flipped because I had no spell to play. OK, fine, game three. My opener was Stalker, Simic Charm, and five land. Not a keeper. My six had no land. My five had no land. My four, however, had two land in it. It turns out, however, that four cards is not enough to win with, especially when your opponent plays Huntmaster on turn 3 and 4 (he had Farseek on 2). Yeah, my Rancor’d Voice of Resurgence could hang with that. Ultimate suckage. 0-2, but I refused to drop because 4-2 could still make top 16 and my son was 1-1 so he wasn’t going anywhere, anyway. Still, not really the start I was hoping for.
0-2 matches, 2-4 games

Round 3: Robert, playing Boros Aggro
My round 1 opponent lost and I was literally at the bottom table–worst record with the worst tiebreaks. Whee. Worse, my opponent was playing what looked a hell of a lot like my DGM prerelease deck. I lost the roll, but kept since I had a Geist and some auras in hand. I still lost this game, on the funniest thing ever. He dropped a Boros Elite on turn 1, and on turn 2 dropped a Syndic of Tithes. Turn 3 he played a Firefist Striker and extorted. That one extort won him the game. Why? I swung back for ten (Geist plus Spectral plus Rancor), which put him at… 11. I could not kill him next turn and so I was dead to a haste creature or a burn spell. I had not other play so I had to just swing and hope. I hit him to 1 and died to I don’t remember which. I guess I could have held the Geist back to block, but there was no other draw that got me out since the Striker would have prevented any other creature I could have put in the way from blocking. Grr. In went the Nearheath Pilgrims, the Fogs, and the Feeling of Dread. Game 2 I mulled to five (ugh), keeping four land and a Stalker. Fortunately, the top of my deck was kind and gave me Courage on turn 3 followed by a pair of Ethereal Armors. Game 3 I got an early Geist and got him suited up and killed him in three attacks, including a second attack with Courage, bringing my life from 6 to 12 so I could win the race. Of course, the thing that even kept me at 6 was… Fog. Tech! And fortunately I got off the schnide, which was good.
1-2 matches, 4-5 games

Round 4: Clark, playing RWU
Clark’s deck was something between a midrange deck and a control deck. I got turn 2 Stalker with Courage and he went all the way, though on his last turn to live Clark did burn me down to 11. In went the Negates, the Rootborn Defenses, and two Nevermores. Game 2 was a near thing. The key thing was me drawing both Negates and both Nevermores. I managed to nullify both Revelation and Verdict and Negated a key Helix along the way, and actually outraced an Ætherling with a 8/6 flying, trampling Loxodon Smiter—one of the few things Ætherling cannot do is fly. He died with both a Revelation and a Verdict in hand and was none too pleased about it. Not really my best matchup but I got there. I was also finally above .500 in games, which was good.
2-2 matches, 6-5 games

Round 5: Chuck, playing Gruul Aggro
Chuck was top 4 in Texas States the weekend before with the same deck, so he was a capable pilot with a good deck, and a bad matchup for my deck. Game 1 proved that really effectively; he got the god draw, turn 1 Stromkirk Noble, turn 2 Burning-Tree into Firefist Striker, turn 3 Flinthoof Boar with haste, turn 4 Hellrider. Yeah, OK, no way I’m beating that. In went the Nearheath Pilgrims, the Fogs, and the Feeling of Dread. Game 2 he mulled to five, kept a one-lander, and was looking at turn 2 Geist and had no second land to play, so he just scooped. Game 3 was more interesting. He burned my turn 1 Avacyn’s Pilgrim, which I followed up with a turn 2 Nearheath Pilgrim and I could tell he was annoyed with that play. I followed with Geist, bonded to the Pilgrim. I then had turn 4 Spectral Flight plus Ethereal Armor, hit him for 10 and gained six back up to 17. He came back with a kill for the Pilgrim but did not have the damage to kill me, and I had another Armor to hit him for a zillion. He was annoyed that he didn’t have the mana for a Reckoner because he drew the one Forest in the deck, but I don’t see how even a turn 3 Reckoner was going to get him out of that. Nice to now be above .500 in matches after the horrible start I had.
3-2 matches, 8-6 games

Round 6: Ryan, playing Junk Rites
Yay, a midrange deck! I lost the roll and he opened with a Pilgrim off a Temple Garden, and I opened with a Pilgrim as well. His turn 2 was swing with the Pilgrim, land, go. My turn 2 was Geist. My turn 3 was Armor, Armor, swing for 12. He scooped. I put in the two Ground Seals. I have to admit I don’t really remember how game 2 went other than that I didn’t have much going on and he managed both a Thragtusk and a Centaur Healer during that game. Game 3 I got an early Voice and a Geist but no auras and he kept holding up 4 mana on his turn, which I read as Resto. When I drew the second Geist I tested that, and he did indeed have the Resto. I drew auras after that, including Courage, trampling over another Resto, then drew Armor, then Armor, and that was it.
4-2 matches, 10-7 games

I had the worst tiebreakers of all the 4-2s (by rather a lot), so 4-2 was only good enough for 16th, but given the horrible start I was pretty OK with that. Unfortunately, 16th wasn’t enough for cash, but I got a very nice playmat and 10 TCGPlayer points, though I’m not sure what good those are since there are few TCG events in my area, so getting the other 10 necessary to go to their $50K tournament in November seems unlikely, not that I could make it anyway—November is horrible time for me to be traveling.

Deck Notes

Anyway, the deck. It’s not like I could say I didn’t know what I was getting into with this deck. First, it’s inconsistent. It’s a high-risk, high-reward deck. The great draws are fantastic–turn 2 Geist plus a meaningful aura can win against most opposition. The bad draws are unplayable, so you have to be willing to mulligan aggressively, which sometimes backfires. It’s not a hard desk to play in terms of the number of decisions that have to be made, but because the deck is so “all in” on its core strategy, the decisions you do have to make (frequently, the decision is “can I win if I just race?”) are very high-impact.

Second, it’s pretty matchup-dependent. Its best matchup is against midrange decks like Jund and Junk Rites, and there are a lot of those in the field right now. It can be soft to sacrifice effects (e.g., Liliana) that do appear in some of those decks, but that’s not a fatal weakness and can often be played around. It does not match up particularly well with the premier aggro decks because it can be out-raced; the better draws of Gruul Aggro, for instance, are very difficult to beat. Control decks are a mixed bag: RWU isn’t too bad, but Esper control seems like a tougher matchup because of the possible sacrifice effects; Far // Away seems like a particularly good card against Bant Auras, though I haven’t actually played that matchup.

Were I to play it again, I wouldn’t modify the main deck at all; I strongly prefer Loxodon Smiter over Fencing Ace, but that may be a matter of personal preference. I would change the sideboard, however. I did not fully appreciate why some people are running Strangleroot Geist in the sideboard, but now I get it. SG buys time against the aggro decks, being able to trade with most of the stuff in those decks more than once. It’s also good against sweepers and sacrifice effects. It’s good enough here that I would consider running it main deck if it weren’t for the GG casting cost.

The one real upside to this deck, particularly for long tournaments, is that the matches are usually short, one way or the other. It’s much less draining to get through many rounds when your matches take 10–15 minutes.

Early DGM Standard Metagame Overview: 2013 Spring States

This is, in some ways, almost scooped by a very nice survey of the current Standard by Jacob Van Lunen appearing on the mothership. I’d refer you there for decklists for almost all the archetypes mentioned here, though I will have a couple comments on some of them.

Van Lunen’s piece does a great job of detailing what is in the metagame, but it doesn’t describe how much of each thing there really is in the meta. That’s my main purpose here.

First, what I did: I looked at all 368 top 8 decks posted for the 2013 TCGPlayer Spring States. States are an interesting meta, not quite a PTQ but more competitive than your average FNM. By looking at the top 8, however, i think it may provide some insight into what might be expected to be found running around a PTQ or maybe an SCG Open (of which there are two Standard Opens in Dallas this week, plus a TCGPlayer 1K in Houston—what’s up with Texas this weekend?). It’s also not quite the MTGO metagame, but again, I think it’s an interesting picture. The data aren’t perfect, of course, since the listings on the site aren’t always consistently named, but I think there’s enough overall data to overwhelm that little bit of noise.

So, I did a little counting and aggregating across decklists, and generated this:

wpid-StatesMeta46States-2013-05-23-23-38.png

That is a lot fewer overall archetypes than appeared in Van Lunen’s piece, but of course the “other” slice of the pie is quite large here. That “other” slice represents all decks with less than 2% of the metagame, 47 different archetypes spread across 100 decks.

So, your Big Two decks are clearly Jund Midrange and Junk Rites. Junk Rites was maybe not the consensus “best deck” before Dragon’s Maze, but it was pretty clearly one of the top “decks to beat.” It still is, but it looks like at the top tables, there are more Jund Midrange decks being played. Sire of Insanity is be the big addition from Dragon’s Maze.

Our next two decks are Bant Auras, a deck that was popular for a while then went away, and now is back, probably mostly because of Armadill…err, Unflinching Courage. (Voice of Resurgence is pretty good in that deck as well), and Gruul Aggro, a deck that mostly doesn’t run any Dragon’s Maze cards at all.

The real takeaway, though, is that the metagame has a lot of variety in it. There is no single “deck to beat” and a lot of different things can be successful right now. Control continues to be a little down, though I have a suspicion that as Ætherling starts to show up in standard, we may see at least a little bit of a comeback for control. (Esper control also go Far // Away and RWU got Turn // Burn, both of which seem very viable.)

I tweeted an earlier version of this graph to Aaron Forsythe, head of WotC R&D, to get his reaction. Here was his reply:

wpid-PastedGraphic-2013-05-23-23-38.png

It is indeed very green. In fact, a substantial proportion (69%) of the “other” slice include decks that run Forests (remember, many shocklands count as Forests). Green is almost everywhere in the current metagame. Aristocrats, Esper Control, American Midrange, and a few rogue decks aren’t running green; everyone else is.

After I tweeted another version of the graph—which Aaron kindly retweeted—@joshuamilliken asked a very pertinent question: Which decks actually won those top 8s? So I generated another graph, this time with just the winners, and something interesting emerged:

wpid-46States1st-2013-05-23-23-38.png

Whoa! What happened to Junk Rites? And look how hot Naya Humans (also commonly called Naya Blitz) is, relative to how many made the top 8. Also, looks like going rogue can get you to the top 8, but it’s not as good a bet once it gets there. Note that American Midrange, Naya Midrange, and Bant Flash are now part of the “other” category, and that all 8 decks in the “other” category are singletons. (Esper Control is not—not a single Esper Control pilot won any of these 46 states.)

So what’s going on?

I think Jund Midrange gains here because it’s a hard deck to hate out. Look at a typical Jund Midrange 1st-place list from States. It’s just a collection of strong, moderately synergistic cards from the Jund colors. There’s no one clear strategy to hate out there. True, it’s not super fast, but it has a lot of removal for the early game and life gain for the middle game, plus ‘walkers and Olivia for the long game. There’s no obvious “sideboard this particular card” that handles this deck, so it’s pretty resilient against the field. I also think Sire is helping Jund in the control matchups.

The one place you’d think it might be weak, particularly game 1, is against Junk Rites. However, what’s particularly interesting here is that I took a more careful look at the 12 Jund Midrange decks that came in first, and the majority of them (I think it was 7) run at least one, and often two, Ground Seal in the main deck. That’s right, not just in the sideboard, in the main deck. Sure, most Junk Rites decks are running 3 or even 4 Acidic Slime main deck, but still, that’s a meaningful hurdle.

Main decking Ground Seal seems like a great strategy against Junk Rites and any deck running Snapcaster Mage, and while it doesn’t seem very good against the rest of this pie chart, at least it doesn’t cost a card. Making what can be a tough matchup into something where you’re actually favored game 1 is probably worth it, and those can be boarded out in game 2 against everything else.

Naya Blitz also gains a lot when it reaches the top 8. I think this is because the deck is just too fast for Junk Rites, which lost a little in this matchup because of the popular change from Centaur Healer to Sin Collector. The Collector is a great 2-for-1 against a lot of decks, but Blitz runs few non-creatures and a 2/1 body is just not the speed bump that a 3/3 body plus a Healing Salve is. So my guess is that Junk Rites is giving away top 8 matches to both Blitz and Jund, but even that’s not enough to quite account for Blitz’s big jump here.

Bant Auras, Gruul Aggro, and The Aristocrats also all get a little bit better in the top 8, but this change is not dramatic. My guess—and this is speculation, I don’t have numbers to back this up—is that this is mostly at the expense of the “other” category, and this is probably where most of the Blitz increase is coming from as well.

Also note that this chart is even more green than the last one. Apparently, in the current Standard, is actually is easy being green.