Since the Standard Open in Richmond, Virginia this past weekend was largely overshadowed by the Invitational, my Top 8 run with Jeskai Tokens was made quietly. And while a lot of the stiff competition at the event was competing in the Invitational instead of the Open, it was a relief to finally achieve an Open Series Top 8 in the 500-player tournament.

I had an ominous start to the long weekend with a 1-4 drop from the Invitational on Friday. I played Abzan Aggro in the Standard portion, going 0-2 against Green-Red Devotion and 1-1 against Mono-Red Aggro. I wanted to play Dromoka’s Command, as it was one of the best cards from the new set, and I was also impressed by Surrak, the Hunt Caller’s potential. But my deck just felt majorly outclassed by the average Green Devotion draw.

While on the rails of the feature match area, I saw Brian Braun-Duin and Brad Nelson and their Jeskai Tokens list featuring Dragonlord Ojutai in the sideboard. BBD’s opponent Eli Kassis had a Virulent Plague in play, a card that Jeskai Tokens would normally never even dream of beating. But the new Ojutai proved to sidestep typical sideboard hate cards like Virulent Plague, Drown in Sorrow, Anger of the Gods, Bile Blight, Duress, and Negate. On top of that, cards that do answer Dragonlord Ojutai such as Abzan Charm, Hero’s Downfall, and Valorous Stance are typically sideboarded out against Jeskai Tokens, not to mention the deck’s ability to protect Ojutai using Jeskai Ascendancy’s untap trigger.

I immediately went to a dealer booth and bought three Ojutais for the next day’s Standard Open.

Jeskai Tokens – Alex Bianchi

The other factor that went into me choosing to play Jeskai Tokens was the printing of Ultimate Price, which would assumably replace some amount of Bile Blights in Abzan and Blue-Black Control decks. This would bode well for Raise the Alarm and Hordeling Outburst.

My tournament went as follows:

Round 1: Win vs. Jeskai Aggro
Round 2: Win vs. Jeskai Tokens
Round 3: Win vs. G/R Aggro
Round 4: Loss vs. Mono-Red Aggro
Round 5: Win vs. Jeskai Tokens
Round 6: Win vs. Jeskai Tokens
Round 7: Win vs. Jeskai Tokens
Round 8: Win vs. Abzan Aggro
Round 9: Win vs. G/R Aggro
Round 10: Loss vs. Red Aggro splash Atarka’s Command
Round 11: Win vs. Abzan Aggro
Round 12: Win vs. Jeskai Tokens
Round 13: Win vs. Jeskai Ascendancy Combo
Round 14: Loss vs. G/W Devotion
Round 15: Win vs. Abzan Aggro
Quarterfinals: Loss vs. Abzan Aggro

I had an excellent Day One, finishing 8-1, highlighted by defeating Brad Nelson in a mirror match in Round Seven. My Day Two began with a loss to Red Aggro splashing Atarka’s Command, which blew me out when I tried to trade a bunch of my tokens for his tokens. I won the next three rounds, and sitting at 11-2, needed to win one of the next two rounds to make the Top 8. I lost my first win-and-in to Green-White Devotion, mostly due to me thinking that it was better to sideboard into the more controlling configuration that I had been using against Abzan. Given the fact that Green-White doesn’t have access to the same sweeper effects that other Green midrange decks do – Drown in Sorrow, Doomwake Giant, Harbinger of the Hunt – it probably would have been better for me to stick to Plan A and try to flood the board with tokens.

My second win-and-in was a pair-up against Abzan Aggro in the final round of the Swiss. I won in convincing fashion, but our immediate rematch in the quarterfinals of the Top 8 went the other way. Part of my success throughout the tournament was due to the surprise factor of Dragonlord Ojutai and the rest of my sideboarding plan, but the transformational sideboard lost some effectiveness in the Top 8 against my opponent who I had just played in the previous round and who had my decklist in front of him.

I’m looking to run back my success from last weekend at the Syracuse Open, with a few changes in mind.

Jeskai Tokens – Alex Bianchi

I think that choosing between Soulfire Grand Master and Seeker of the Way is a close call, but I hardly ever found myself activating the Grand Master throughout the tournament. This makes me want to try Seeker, who threatens to make more of an impact in the early turns of the game without additional mana investment and who can also survive a Wild Slash or a Drown in Sorrow with one Prowess trigger.

I felt like I was being tormented all tournament by Fleecemane Lions, so the first Lightning Strike is a welcome addition. I would look to add a second one if you expect to play against a lot of Abzan and G/W.

I also underestimated the power of Mono-Red, which I expected to be an easy matchup but was proven otherwise by Zurgo Bellringer and company. It’s definitely winnable, but I’d like some additional help in the form of Twin Bolt, which is a flexible way to kill two x/1’s, Goblin Rabblemaster, and all manner of Dash creatures.

I left the Invitational weekend with a renewed interest in Standard, and witnessed the impact of early Dragons of Tarkir standouts – Thunderbreak Regent, Dromoka’s Command, Zurgo Bellringer, Anticipate, Dragonlord Ojutai, Dragonlord Atarka, and Haven of the Spirit Dragon, to name a few. We’ve only seen the beginning of “Dragons matter” cards like Silumgar’s Scorn and Dragonic Roar. I expect several more cards to be uncovered as the format evolves, especially with the Pro Tour hitting in a couple weeks. Until then, the Standard format is still taking form, and just showing up to a tournament with a better tuned deck and new twists that people aren’t accustomed to playing against yet is going to go far in these early weeks.