MDSS Toronto Report *2nd*

Scavenging Ooze. Burning Earth. Zero top eight appearances in the three major Standard Magic the Gathering tournaments from the previous week. All reasons that pointed to UWR Flash being an outdated deck and a poor metagame choice for the weekend.

So how did I reach the finals of the 153-player Mana Deprived Super Series in Toronto?

It started with one of the Hungarian national team member’s Unified Standard deck from the World Magic Cup:

The World Magic Cup coverage made Archangel of Thune look too awesome for me to resist playing, when Hosszú was featured against Stanislav Cifka in the Semis and Raphaël Lévy in the Finals. It’s a reasonable clock on it’s own, pulls you out of burn range, and is often difficult to answer post-board. And the coverage didn’t even showcase Rhox Faithmender and Archangel of Thune in play together, but you can imagine the potential there.

In theory, boarding out counterspells for more creatures makes you less of a Flash deck, and more of a deck trying to establish a board position before Domri Rade or Burning Earth can take over. Rhox Faithmender makes your every Warleader’s Helix and Sphinx’s Revelation even more devastating, and the rhino only gets better in multiples. Archangel of Thune replaces Thundermaw Hellkite as the five-drop flier of choice; it is significantly less hasty, but can still come in against midrange and control as an additional threat.

I tested a few matches with the deck on Magic Online, with little success. Having the six-slot creature package in the sideboard doesn’t leave you with a lot of room for cards for other matchups. I cut down on counterspells in the sideboard for the control matchups and had fewer Clones than I wanted to have against Thragtusk decks.

I actually sleeved up Domri Naya the night before the MDSS, a list with which Osyp Lebedowicz won a PTQ a week earlier. I was prepared to audible to a deck that seemed easy enough to play cold, had game against Brian Kibler’s RG deck that was sure to be popular, and would require less mental energy over the course of a long tournament. I told myself that I would switch to Naya if the tournament ended up being more than eight rounds of Swiss.

Of course, I don’t usually sleep well before tournaments, so I got up to play one last eight-man with UWR in the middle of the night. I ended up winning it, which was enough to convince me to stay on Flash.

The next morning, I registered the following:

You’ll notice a few changes from the Hungarian list. I didn’t really like Thundermaw Hellkite anymore. Lingering Souls has dropped in numbers since Kibler’s four-Thundermaw deck became popular. AEtherling is a better win condition anyway, especially against Jund. I like having one in the maindeck to give some inevitability.

Twenty-five lands and two Think Twice seemed really greedy to me. I did some previous testing with a 25-land version, and I immediately wanted to add the 26th. Adding another shockland reduced the number of dreaded “all come-into-play tapped land” draws. I also added a Ghost Quarter, which ended up having a ton of utility.

I went down to two Snapcaster Mages, mainly because of Scavenging Ooze. Post-board, I usually leave only one in. I varied the countermagic a bit, since having all Counterfluxes is not ideal against a diverse field. I actually never even considered playing Counterflux over Dissipate or Syncopate; its only relevance is against other blue decks, whereas exiling creatures and spells is extremely relevant. The single Izzet Charm was especially good. I don’t like Syncopate because of how quickly it gets worse, especially when flashing it back. But cutting a Snapcaster made me feel a bit more comfortable about playing two copies.

Boarding in a third Supreme Verdict didn’t really make sense to me when also boarding in six creatures. The only time you’d want more Verdicts but not Faithmenders and Archangels would be in the Hexproof matchup, so I added a second Celestial Flare instead.

I don’t recall what happened in every single game of the Swiss rounds, but I’ll mention some of the interesting things that happened over the course of the day.

Round 1: Jund

I started the day with a loss to one William Blondon playing Jund. In game one, I thought I had taken control of the game, but he miracled a Bonfire to kill me on the turn that I was going to Sphinx’s Revelation. It was a shame to lose to Jund right away, since I would have a long, uphill climb ahead of me, and Jund is generally a very winnable matchup.

Round 2: UW Control

Pre-sideboard, you have a lot of dead cards against control, but so do they. I was able to kill him with a combination of AEtherling and burn spells in a very long game one.

During this match, I was somewhat distracted by the table next to me, where Lucas Siow’s opponent was bleeding all over the place from his upper lip. Hope that guy ended up okay.

Round 3: Kibler RG

I was able to steal a game one win by outracing with Restoration Angels. Sometimes, you have no choice but to open yourself up to losing to Ghor-Clan Rampager or a haste creature and just hope that they don’t have it.

I finally got a chance to put my sweet sideboard plan against aggro into action here. A couple of turns of gaining eight life thanks to Rhox Faithmender, Warleader’s Helix, and Sphinx’s Revelation was enough to keep me from dying.

Round 4: Jund Zombies

My opponent led with turn-one Deathrite Shaman, and I assumed he was on some sort of Jund Midrange list. It turns out he was playing a Jund Zombie deck with Lotleth Trolls, Falkenrath Aristocrats, Blood Artists, and all the usual undead suspects.

My opponent cast Appetite for Brains in game two, gaining bonus points for flavor and taking Turn//Burn from my hand. I was unsure if Turn//Burn was actually a legal target, so we called a judge over and he ruled that it was. Turns out that was incorrect (split cards have two separate converted mana costs, and neither Turn nor Burn can be taken with Appetite for Brains), but that’s partially my fault. The more you know.

Round 5: Naya Midrange

Round five, I was faced with an older-style Naya list with Huntmasters. His fifth land was Cavern of Souls naming Angel, but he played nothing off of it that turn. I thought that he might have either Archangel of Thune or Sigarda, both of which would be a problem for me. I Ghost Quartered his Cavern, and he declined to search for a land, revealing that he had no basics in his deck. Then he dropped another land and played a Sigarda anyway. He played around Supreme Verdict by sandbagging creatures and just attacking me with Sigarda, and I was able to outrace him with AEtherling and a lifelink mode Azorius Charm that gained me nine.

We had an uneventful game two, as my opponent kept a reasonable two-land hand, but never hit his third.

Round 6: Naya Blitz

Here, I was paired down with an X-1-1. Game one was a blowout: my opponent played a Boros Elite on turn one, two more Boros Elites on turn two, and a Hamlet Captain on turn three. I was stuck on two lands and couldn’t find any removal.

I took game two thanks to a turn-four Supreme Verdict, which spelled doom for my Naya Blitz opponent. Game three, my opponent had a flipped Mayor of Avabruck pumping out Wolf tokens, but I was able to keep up with his board, playing three Rhox Faithmenders and an Archangel of Thune in consecutive turns. I ended the game at 30 life.

Round 7: Jund

Moorland Haunt was key in this matchup. My opponent made a suspect play of casting Liliana of the Veil and making me sacrifice my one creature, allowing me to make a Spirit token and kill the Liliana.

I was really hoping that I could draw into the top eight at this point, but I had the worst tiebreakers at X-1. This put me in ninth place and forced me to play against an X-1-1 in the last round.

Round 8: Bant Midrange

My opponent led with Hallowed Fountains and Glacial Fortresses, so I assumed he was on UW Control. Eventually, he played a Breeding Pool, followed by a couple of Centaur Healers. He missed his sixth land drop, and I pressed my mana advantage to kill him.

You can read the written coverage of all three of my top-eight matches here: MDSS Top 8 Coverage

Quarterfinals: Domri Naya

Game one, I stuck to the plan of using my life total as a resource to make sure that my opponent couldn’t resolve an early Domri. I was in a bit of trouble when he resolved an unexpected Advent of the Wurm, but Azorius Charm came to save the day.

In Game 2, I had an awesome tempo draw against my opponent, where I was able to play a quick Archangel of Thune and Time Walk him multiple times while swinging the race more and more in my favor.

Semifinals: BG Midrange

I faced Canadian World Magic Cup team member Andrew Robdrup in the semis. I had no idea what deck he was on, so I took a risky shot in the dark by keeping a hand of Azorius Charm, AEtherling, and five lands. It ended up paying off as AEtherling is the single card that you want in the matchup. I played for the long game but was still at risk of dying at one point and top-decked a crucial Pillar of Flame for his Geralf’s Messenger. I could have and maybe should have played more aggressively in this game by playing AEtherling sooner, but I wanted to stabilize the board before having my mana tied up with AEtherling activations. I expected the BG deck to run out of gas much faster.

Game 2, we both missed our third land drops, and things got awkward. I ended up drawing lands before he did and closed the door with Archangel of Thune.

Finals: Kibler RG

This time, I knew what deck my opponent was on and kept a risky hand on the play of double Glacial Fortress, Syncopate, and some removal spells. He had the dreaded turn-two Domri Rade, but he took an aggressive line and allowed me to attack his Domri to death. He did follow up with a second Domri, but I’m fairly certain that his first Domri could have reached seven loyalty and made an unbeatable emblem, had he defended it. I was on the verge of stabilizing, but died to double Bloodrush after doing the math wrong and blocking incorrectly. Fatigue was affecting the both of us.

I had another sketchy two-land keep in game two, but it at least had a shockland and all three colors. I had the Detention Sphere for his Domri, but died to Thundermaw Hellkite before I could cast Supreme Verdict. I was still reeling a bit from my misplay in game one and struggling with mana issues in both games was not a great way to end my tournament. Looking back, my keep in Game 1 was especially awful, but I think that both hands were reasonable, assuming that I draw a land in the first couple turns.

Still, second place was a lot farther than I had expected to go with UWR Flash. The Rhox Faithmender and Archangel of Thune sideboard plan was impressive and gave me some unbeatable draws versus aggro that don’t normally exist. Although I lost to RG Beats in the finals, the control matchups, if anything, are what need more focus. I’ll be looking to make room for a Jace, Memory Adept, or a second AEtherling in the sideboard, possibly another Dispel. The maindeck counterspell slots will probably keep shifting around, but I think five to six is a good number.

I thought Flash was dead, but it simply has to adapt in Standard. It will always be a deck that has a lot of close games and few easy wins but that rewards discipline and good decision-making. It’s possible that UW becomes the better choice going forward, but I enjoy playing red cards more, which counts for a lot in my book.

Long live America!

Alex Bianchi

A shoutout to all the Canadian players who show up at every event with an impressive amount of competition and sportsmanship. (Plus the awesome Karaoke afterwards.)