Some call it protecting the house. Others might phrase it as defending the wall. I was the not only the hero my store deserved on Sunday, but also the one it needed. I’ll give a quick recap of the finals (it was a short lived match, #aggro) before going over some of things I’ve taken away from tournaments and matches I’ve played since the Grand Prix. I have a tendency to play multiple decks at the beginning of a format until I find something that really clicks with me and I feel I can win with, which I think is pretty much par for the course. Where I think I deviate from a lot of people I know is that I generally play the same deck all season. I’ll jam, grind, and playtest until my deck is literally unplayable*. So, if you’re interested in following the performance of a deck and thought process of a player over the course of a season, you’ll probably enjoy most of my content.
*RIP Blue-White Midrange
Born: Shadows Over Innistrad
Died: Eldritch Moon
We’ll never forget you, Ojutai + Always Watching.
Flash-forward to Sunday. The stage is the finals of a PreTQ at Nex-Gen Comics, also known as Steve and Mike’s School for Gifted Youngsters, which I literally just made up. The opponent is on Red/Green Energy [Editor’s Note: The combo version of R/G Energy. See the complete PPTQ metagame breakdown and Top 8 in an article later this week]. I’ve only played the matchup once before but sitting down I couldn’t be happier. As is the case with most tournament playoff rounds, I know what deck my opponent is on and am able to leverage that knowledge when deciding to keep or mulligan. I keep a hand highlighted by two removal spells and a Gideon (jackpot). The game plays out exactly like we drew it up, with me handling his first few threats and letting my planeswalker close it out.
After game one I felt even more favored, bringing in two copies of Blessed Alliance, a Stasis Snare, a Chandra, and three Galvanic Bombardment. My opponent’s deck helped me out a bit here with a mulligan to five, but my hand of multiple removal spells and creatures was going to be hard to beat on a full grip. Staring down a board of attackers with only a Servant of the Conduit back on defense, my opponent extended their hand. Without further ado, I give you the latest version of Red-White Humans.
Red-White Humans, 1st Place – Jt DiMaio
4 Inventor’s Apprentice
4 Thraben Inspector
4 Thalia’s Lieutenant
4 Hanweir Garrison
4 Pia Nalaar
1 Archangel Avacyn
4 Smuggler’s Copter
4 Gideon, Ally of Zendikar
4 Harnessed Lightning
3 Declaration In Stone
1 Stasis Snare
4 Aether Hub
4 Inspiring Vantage
4 Needle Spires
1 Hanweir Battlements
3 Galvanic Bombardment
2 Skywhaler’s Shot
2 Chandra, Torch of Defiance
2 Blessed Alliance
2 Weaver of Lightning
1 Archangel Avacyn
1 Stasis Snare
The most notable changes you’ll see in the deck since my GP Providence list are the four mainboard Gideons and the absence of Thalia, Heretic Cathar. The reasons behind both of these changes are curve consideration and power level. Gideon does a great job helping you break through when you and your opponent are at parity and completely takes over the game when you’re ahead. Another point to consider is that if Thalia is living to affect the board, it means the opponent likely doesn’t have removal. If your copy of Thalia was say, an additional copy of Hanweir Garrison in that scenario, the opponent is dead shortly after most of the time. Going up to four copies of Gideon also presents a case for the fourth Garrison over a reactive card like the Declaration In Stone that was cut. One last benefit of upping the Gideon count is that it frees up two extra slots in the sideboard. One copy of Galvanic Bombardment doesn’t make a ton of sense, but we were able to play three Sunday and they were a welcome addition.
Since Grand Prix Providence, I’ve played against the following decks in sanctioned tournaments, (one weeknight standard event, one FNM, and two PreTQs). Next to each deck is the results of each matchup.
Green-Black Delirium : 7-0-1 (ID) (3 Aggro, 5 Midrange/Control)
Blue-White Flash: 2-0
Temur Emerge: 2-0
Red-Green Energy: 1-0-1* (ID)
Red-Black Aggro: 1-1
Mono Black Zombies: 0-1
Jund Artifact Aggro: 1-0
Grixis Control: 1-0
Black-White Midrange: 1-0
Jeskai Tower: 1-0
Red-White Vehicles: 1-0
Combined Record: 18-2-2*
(*We actually played this match out, since my opponent wasn’t sure if they could safely draw into top 8. I won the two games we played, but decided to draw with my opponent to give them a chance at top 8. Spoiler Alert: We both lost in the semifinals.)
Obviously, none of these results present a large enough sample size to truly determine if a matchup is good or bad, but the point here is to provide a walkthrough and reflect on the success I’ve had so far.
The biggest takeaway is that Green-Black Delirium is favorable, especially considering my 3-0 record against the deck at Grand Prix Providence as well. From my experience, a reasonable draw from the humans deck absolutely crushes the games where Green-Black takes a couple of turns playing a tapped land, traversing (which is effectively playing another tapped land), or setting up delirium via Vessel of Nascency/Grapple With The Past. I’d also like to note that this is one of the matchups where Thalia is at her best, since the deck plays Evolving Wilds and Ishkanah, Grafwidow and her spiders coming in tapped lets you get one more hit in. That being said, I didn’t miss her at all and I think the aggressive versions of Green-Black actually match up better against humans and Thalia is definitely less impressive there.
The flash decks present a less favorable matchup, especially on the draw. Spell Queller and Stasis Snare make it hard to resolve a three drop and also very hard to crew a Smuggler’s Copter into open mana. The best thing you can do against them is to operate as much as possible at instant speed (one opponent went so far as to say it felt more like the mirror than a match against Red-White Vehicles). That means cutting Declaration in Stone, a Hanweir Garrison, and a Gideon on the draw for Avacyn, Stasis Snare, and a pair of Skywhaler’s Shot. Red-White Humans is a little soft to opposing Gideons since we lack the evasive fliers to pressure it through Reflector Mage. Looking at the successful vehicles lists recently, almost all of them are playing some number of Skysovereign, Consul Flagship. Maybe being immune to Spell Queller and potentially killing a creature or planeswalker immediately is enough upside here.
I used to think getting ahead on card advantage with a Savage Alliance would make a lot of sense in this matchup, but even though the upside is huge, I’ve found that card to be a little too slow. Galvanic Bombardment is great here since the first and second copy answer a lot of threats, while the third and fourth answer pretty much everything short of Gideon for one mana. Sorcery speed removal isn’t great here since the actual vehicles in the deck are largely immune to it. Stasis Snare is excellent since it’s a clean answer to Gideon should he come across while also getting around Selfless Spirit. Fragmentize is solid here, with plenty of targets to hit in Smuggler’s Copter, Fleetwheel Cruiser, Stasis Snare, and Cultivator’s Caravan out of Mardu.
Red-Black Aggro, Red-Green Energy, and Temur Emerge
While these three decks are usually all present at tournaments, they definitely constitute less of the field and I’d say Emerge is even a tick below in popularity than Red-Black and Red-Green. Red-Black does just enough things well to keep the humans deck off balance, especially on the draw. Between Scrapheap Scrounger hitting a little harder than you would think, Key to the City providing reach, and Unlicensed Disintegration being a messed up magic card, I’d prefer not to be sitting across from a skilled Red-Black player. I’m currently considering Gisela, The Broken Blade out of the sideboard, since we can afford to play an extra four drop and she seems backbreaking if allowed to live. Energy is the exact opposite, which is nice. Their cards don’t do a ton on their own and you can sideboard enough removal to use Blessed Alliance against an opposing Bristling Hydra or Electrostatic Pummeler. The more I think about it, the more I think Temur Emerge is actually a pretty good matchup. In the end it hinges on a couple on two things: A Kozilek’s Return for two, and “flashbacked” Kozilek’s Return for 5. If you can play around getting blown out by a Kozilek’s Return for two and keep them off “mana” to emerge with removal on Pilgrim’s Eye or Filigree Familiar, your average draws should be enough to get the job done.
The Rest of The Field and Sideboarding
You really can’t bank on playing any of the other decks specifically at a given tournament, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t prepare for them. Right now you want your sideboard cards to be extremely efficient against the decks above, but also have application elsewhere. For example, Fragmentize is excellent against vehicles, but also quite good against Aetherworks Marvel and Dynavolt Tower decks. Stasis Snare, while being an excellent card in most matchups, also has the exile clause making it better than Harnessed Lightning against the Haunted Dead and Prized Amalgam decks. I’ll be cutting the cards that are a little more narrow in application from my sideboard going forward (looking at you, Weaver of Lightning) for cards that need a little less work to be strong like Gisela and Skysovereign, or the fourth copy of Galvanic Bombardment.
Where Do We Go From Here
Well obviously to the Regional Pro Tour Qualifier, but that’s not until February. It’s a little late to plan a trip and book a flight to an SCG Open before the end of the season and there isn’t a Grand Prix that makes sense to play until February. That puts me in the conundrum of having time to play Magic since I won a PreTQ, but can’t play any events because they’re all PreTQs. I’ve thought about trying to go to as many IQs as possible to qualify for an invitation, but there aren’t many stores close to me running those events. I also have my two byes, so winning a Grand Prix Trial doesn’t do a ton, but may be the only course that makes a ton of sense, if only to stay sharp. I’ll still be producing content in the meantime and maybe I’ll give recording some draft videos a go. I’m definitely open to suggestions!
I want to give a quick shout out to Nex-Gen Comics for running the PreTQ. Starting at 11:00 AM and having rounds start and end promptly on time made for a great event. As always, thanks for taking the time out of your day to read. May your energy pool reserve be full when you need it and your opponents mulligan into oblivion.