I’ve traveled a lot for Magic. I’ve been to a lot of convention centres in a lot of cities of wildly diverse quality. I’ve been let down before, as recently as this month’s GP Louisville, in a barren wasteland near the airport. I thought Memphis would be fun, but the city’s downtown core is little more than a ghost town on weekends.
Columbus never disappoints me. The city is packed, with countless good restaurants, a vibrant club scene, and multiple Starbucks all within walking distance of the huge, clean convention centre right in the downtown core. But nothing compares to the North Market. I’ve written about this place before, but it’s just so important to any tournament weekend in Columbus that it bears repeating. Less than a block away from the venue lies a market filled with food, coffee, a tiny liquor store filled with local and imported craft beer… and all of it is stellar. Most important to me is a Belgian waffle shop hidden in a corner, who make the best chicken and waffles I’ve ever had, not close. When I first came to Columbus for the SCG Invitational last year, I had it three times, and lost in the finals of the Open. This weekend, I had it twice, and lost in the top 8.
I know what I have to do next time.
Oh, right, this is a Magic website, not a food blog. My bad. A short few weeks before this event, and the accompanying release of Aether Revolt, we were thrown a major curveball: the bannings of Reflector Mage, Emrakul, the Promised End, and Smuggler’s Copter. This made me very excited, as we were about to get to play a brand new format, albeit one with plenty of cards we were already familiar with. Aether Revolt was also very exciting, with Saheeli Rai/Felidar Guardian combo, Winding Constrictor, Walking Ballista, Fatal Push, and others likely to shake up the metagame.
Because of this aggressive ban, we didn’t have much time to test. Always the pessimist, I started by trying to beat the Jeskai Saheeli decks with Temur Dynavolt Tower, a deck Paul Dean had played back at GP Denver. Its primary predator, Emrakul, had since been banned, and a powerful UR Control deck with recurring removal looked solid. I was crushing our initial midrange-heavy builds of the combo deck, but started getting crushed once Oath of Jace and more control elements were added.
I spent a lot of time playing Splinter Twin in Modern, so I knew that I had found my deck. A couple long nights of testing later, we arrived on more or less the list that I took to the event.
Daniel Fournier – Jeskai Saheeli
Instead of a card-by-card breakdown (Saheeli Rai is a combination with Felidar Guardian, so I played four copies of each of the card!), I’ll touch on a few interesting points in the building of the deck.
3 Torrential Gearhulk – This card is obviously the most important finisher in this format’s control strategies, and in conjunction with Glimmer of Genius, gives the deck the amount of gas it needs to turn the corner. I love this card. I want to play as many as possible. Unfortunately, we have playsets of 3 and 4-drops that don’t proactively interact with our opponents’ board. We don’t want to board the express train to Clunk City, so unfortunately, a Gearhulk had to bite the dust.
7 Island, 2 Plains, 1 Wandering Fumarole, 2 Needle Spires – As Edgar Magalhaes was so kind as to mention as I was writing my decklist, hands with two Plains in them don’t cast Saheeli Rai very easily. Reliably casting Saheeli on 3 is much more important than Wandering Fumarole is better than Needle Spires, so the split of these four lands is skewed in that direction.
2 Revolutionary Rebuff – This was a risk. Rebuff is a powerful card, as all situational 2-mana counterspells are, but a risk that I felt was worth taking. It gives us an edge in the mirror, as being able to counter turn 3 Saheelis is extremely important due to the lack of effective removal for the card. Unfortunately, I spent a couple turns staring down on-stack Walking Ballistas with this card in hand in the later rounds of the tournament, which was awkward. As long as people continue to play cards like Gideon, Ally of Zendikar and Mindwrack Demon, Revolutionary Rebuff will have a spot in my heart.
2 Oath of Jace – This card’s bad, right? Three mana at sorcery speed for a Brainstorm? Yeah, it’s not great on its own. What this card does, however, is let us win the game with Felidar Sovereign and Saheeli Rai through card advantage rather than let our combo be disrupted by something as benign as a Shock or a Thermo-Alchemist activation. Unfortunately, its downside as a part of the United States of Clunk can make it a serious liability.
3 Shock – I expected there to be a lot of aggro at this tournament. Whether as a vehicle-centric deck or as a Humans deck powered by Metallic Mimic, I expected Shock to crush these strategies while doing double duty disrupting the Saheeli combo in pre-board games. Well, it turns out Shock doesn’t do much against Heart of Kiran, and nobody will combo into open mana like that. Whoops.
4 Spell Queller (sideboard) – We tested a lot of sideboard threats, but all of them fell short somewhere. Gideon, Ally of Zendikar was obviously extremely powerful, but a huge liability to tap out for against Saheeli decks, which we expected to be the “control” strategy of choice. We then tried more efficient threats, like Dragonmaster Outcast and Kari Zev, Skyship Raider, which were, well, bad. We wanted a card that was good against control and could also pressure difficult-to-answer Planeswalkers. More Spell Quellers was the most palatable answer, despite its obvious lack of synergy with Fumigate and Radiant Flames.
The tournament obviously went quite well for me. I took a couple quick wins against decks that seemed questionably prepared for my strategy, either with too many Authority of the Consuls or insufficient aggression. My first loss was in the fourth round against a GW Planeswalkers deck, where I first discovered that Shock does not in fact defeat Heart of Kiran, and that sometimes, 4 Negates isn’t good enough. That round also taught me that Walking Ballista could be a big problem, and that all these attacking threats were overloading my Harnessed Lightnings. I won a few more matches against aggressive decks and mirror matches until being paired against the most interesting deck I saw all weekend: a 4-colour Saheeli deck with Thermo-Alchemist and a bunch of Attune with Aether/Traverse the Ulvenwald with which to fuel it. Typically, against the more midrangey versions of the Saheeli decks, I want to combo them with some kind of countermagic as backup. This doesn’t work so well against Thermo-Alchemist. I got wrecked, but was able to salvage a 7-2.
Sunday started off worse for me, as the North Market doesn’t open until the tournament starts, and as such, I had not yet eaten chicken and waffles. I somehow rattled off a pair of wins against aggro decks anyways, probably thanks to the part where I was playing way too many removal spells. I then played against BG Winding Constrictor for the first time, and was summarily embarrassed by massive Walking Ballistas. Fortunately, my good friend Nathan was kind enough as to bring me my extremely important chicken and waffles, so I won the next three rounds easily, fueled by the power of Ohio maple syrup.
I had to sweat some tiebreakers, but I ended up in 7th! This put me up against another BG deck in the quarterfinals, which I knew from my experience a few hours earlier could be a bit of trouble. In the first game, I died on turn 5 to a Winding Constrictor/Walking Ballista draw. I took game 2 with the control plan, then died in the decider to an 8/7 Tireless Tracker with 8 cards in my hand.
You don’t die in a control deck, hitting your land drops, with that many cards in hand if you built and sideboarded correctly.
So what did I get wrong? Shock was terrible, and the decks that beat our combo/control plan looked like they could never beat a real control deck with removal and card advantage in a million years. One of my favourite things about Splinter Twin decks in Modern was their ability to heavily trim the combo and become a sketchy control deck. This deck has the ability to do just the same, and I want future iterations of the deck to go further down that path.
Daniel Fournier – Jeskai Saheeli 2.0
Immolating Glare is unfortunately a bit of a necessary evil, as our Harnessed Lightnings are extremely overtaxed in a world of un-Shockable creatures. I felt like it was reasonable to cut the fourth Felidar Guardian for a fourth Glimmer of Genius, as the latter is simply so important in our control plan, and the cat is extremely clunky in a lot of games. We have enough cantrips that we can find it whenever we want to combo.
A Fumigate made its way into the maindeck in response to BG decks being so powerful, and I also felt like it was a good idea to find room for the fourth Disallow after seeing that it wasn’t in fact too clunky in most matchups. A Spell Queller was also cut in the sideboard for a fourth Torrential Gearhulk, which comes in when you want to board out a bunch of the combo.
I’ll be taking this list to PPTQs and to Face to Face Games Toronto’s Standard Sunday Showdown this weekend, so wish me luck! Hit me up on Twitter at @tirentu if you have any questions!