The Goose is Loose: what I would have played at the Invitational

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I’m pretty sick. And not in the usual sense, where I feel compelled to play Celestial Colonnade into a well-understood Hogaak metagame. This time, it’s real. It’s bronchitis.

Now, I’m still trucking along, and I didn’t let it stop me from attending the ol’ Mythic Championship last weekend, but I decided yesterday to be real with myself, and stay home and recover rather than attend the SCG Invitational this weekend. I felt absolutely awful in Richmond last week, barely able to talk without inducing a coughing fit, and I struggled to hear what anyone was saying since my ears didn’t pop on the flight over. I’d be a fool to run that experience back, so Magic Online PTQs and Saturday’s Toronto Face to Face Games Open+ it is. That said, I put a bunch of work into my Modern and Pioneer decks for the Invitational, so in a twist on the typical article format, here’s what I… would have played this weekend. If you see me on Saturday though, no guarantee I won’t be playing something much spicier for the Toronto (read: Jund, but also more Jund) metagame.

Speaking of Modern, let’s start there. Given that socializing was pretty much off the books thanks to my, uh, “condition” (again, not the proclivity to play Snapcaster Mage regardless of context), I spent a lot of time in Richmond watching rounds of Modern PTQs. Dylan Donegan and Julien Henry won the two events with almost identical decks — the Lotus Box Gilded Goose Urza strategy.

That deck’s been crushing it lately in the hands of the best players on the SCG Tour, but I can’t help but think that something’s missing in the philosophy of the deck construction. I’ve played my fair share of broken artifact-centric decks, and the idea of eschewing consistency in the combo finish for Cryptic Command, of all things, just doesn’t make sense to me. I think there’s a lot of very smart stuff going on in this deck, mind you. Gilded Goose is a very powerful card, especially when you’re able to take advantage of the Food token being an artifact, and already want to play the Goose’s natural partner in Oko, Thief of Crowns.

Earlier this week, my beloved editor and fellow large-brained genius Keith “One Million YouTube Subscribers” Capstick sent me some Whirza lists he had been working on that bailed on the Goose plan entirely, instead playing a full clip of Thopter Foundries. I liked that approach, given that the combo plan is quite effective in the mirror, and the stock Lotus Box deck isn’t particularly good at assembling the combo. However, while this approach did a great job of assembling the combo often, it also cut Emry in favour of cards like Cryptic Command and Serum Visions in order to reduce exposure to creature removal in the early game.

I agree with this philosophy, but in a broad Modern format with little removal, I would rather solve this problem by playing a full clip of removal targets rather than just give up on a bunch of the most powerful and proactive cards in our deck. I settled on a hybrid approach that tries to do as many, well, powerful and proactive things as possible, with full sets of Gilded Goose, Emry and Thopter Foundry, but none of this Cryptic Command nonsense. I would rather Whir and win the game than be forced to mulligan clunky hands with a bunch of four-drops in them. With four Foundries in my deck, I found myself wanting to skew my deckbuilding slightly around the card, hence the inclusion of a couple Chromatic Stars and an additional Whir to ensure that the combo is more easily assembled. With only one desirable target and more demands on the mana thanks to Foundry, I also went down to a single Mystic Sanctuary.

I’m pretty confident in this build of the deck, though I can’t say with any degree of certainty whether or not it’s actually better than the Cryptic Command variant that the Lotus Box crew keep dominating with. My hypothesis was essentially that the core of the deck was so powerful that it didn’t matter all that much what the last eight or so cards actually were, and that there was little harm in trying a more proactive approach in this incredibly powerful shell.


Sideboard Guide

vs Amulet
IN
3 Damping Sphere
2 Thoughtseize
OUT
4 Oko, Thief of Crowns
1 Chromatic Star

vs Eldrazi Tron
IN
2 Thoughtseize
1 Assassin’s Trophy
1 Ensnaring Bridge
OUT
2 Chromatic Star
1 Thopter Foundry
1 Engineered Explosives

vs Burn
IN
4 Fatal Push
OUT
1 Whir of Invention
2 Chromatic Star
1 Thopter Foundry

vs Whirza
IN
2 Mystical Dispute
2 Thoughtseize
OUT
1 Thopter Foundry
1 Whir of Invention
2 Chromatic Star

vs Grixis Shadow
IN
1 Ensnaring Bridge
2 Fatal Push
OUT
1 Thopter Foundry
2 Chromatic Star

vs Tron
IN
3 Damping Sphere
1 Pithing Needle
2 Thoughtseize
OUT
2 Engineered Explosives
4 Oko, Thief of Crowns

vs Jund
IN
1 Nihil Spellbomb
2 Fatal Push
OUT
1 Chromatic Star
1 Thopter Foundry
1 Whir of Invention

vs Control
IN
2 Thoughtseize
2 Mystical Dispute
OUT
2 Engineered Explosives
2 Gilded Goose

Now on to Pioneer, the format of kings.

While my number of games played in this format is not where I’d like it to be, I’ve spent a ton of time watching great deckbuilders play it on Twitch. Between this and obsessively scouring tournament results, I feel like I have a pretty good understanding of what’s been going on in Pioneer, and the trends that are going to manifest themselves this weekend. My read is that the format is currently dominated by the high power of Once Upon a Time, ensuring that a deck with full clips of Elvish Mystic and Llanowar Elves can always play powerful cards ahead of curve, be they Vivien, Arkbow Ranger in a Hardened Scales context or simply turn two Goblin Rabblemaster. There are a lot of redundant early threats in this format, and there are plenty of very successful decks taking advantage of this to populate the board more quickly than their opponents.

However, Supreme Verdict is legal.

Unfortunately, I remain unconvinced that UWx control is a viable archetype in Pioneer, despite some middling tournament results and the banning of Veil of Summer. If my opponent is playing Legion Warboss or Nissa, Voice of Zendikar on turn two, I would be the biggest fool in the universe to have a bunch of Absorbs and Syncopates in my hand. Therefore, I’d rather take the other approach to Azorius decks, namely to look at the tempo deck that was so dominant in Standard that it earned Reflector Mage, of all cards, an entry on the banlist.

This deck is entirely legal in Pioneer, and of course has many upgrades from the last couple years. Azorius Tempo is a known archetype in the format, but I think a couple deviations from the norm are critical to pushing the deck into a more optimal form. The stock list plays Selfless Spirit as a two-drop and its Archangel Avacyn enabler. That card sucks, and we can do better. Our mana is fully capable of supporting Knight of the White Orchid, an oft-forgotten all-star from the Frontier days that does a great job of catching us up on the draw, or even if we’ve missed a land drop. This deck is quite mana-hungry, so the Knight should be a welcome addition to the team.

Having cut Selfless Spirit, we still need a way to trigger Archangel Avacyn against the multitude of go-wide decks that plague the format, and that job falls to Walking Ballista. It used to be that Avacyn midrange decks would play a bunch of Hangarback Walkers to do this, but, well, we have an upgrade, so why not run with it? This deck feels extremely well-positioned to me, with access to nine wrath effects post-board and a ton of ways to interact with difficult-to-answer creatures out of Ensoul and Phoenix.


Sideboard Guide

vs Phoenix
IN
1 Settle the Wreckage
2 Detention Sphere
2 Rest in Peace
OUT
1 Gideon, Ally of Zendikar
1 Archangel Avacyn
3 Walking Ballista

vs Green Devotion
IN
4 Aether Gust
4 Supreme Verdict
1 Settle the Wreckage
OUT
1 Brazen Borrower
4 Spell Queller
4 Teferi, Time Raveler (draw)
4 Knight of the White Orchid (play)

vs UG Nexus
IN
2 Mystical Dispute
4 Aether Gust
2 Rest in Peace
OUT
4 Reflector Mage
3 Walking Ballista
1 Archangel Avacyn

vs Mono Red
IN
4 Aether Gust
OUT
3 Walking Ballista
1 Brazen Borrower

vs Black Aggro
IN
2 Detention Sphere
1 Settle the Wreckage
OUT
3 Spell Queller

vs Field Ramp
IN
4 Aether Gust
OUT
4 Teferi, Time Raveler

vs UW Tempo
IN
2 Detention Sphere
OUT
2 Knight of the White Orchid (play)
1 Brazen Borrower (draw)
1 Reflector Mage (draw)

vs UR Ensoul
IN
2 Detention Sphere
1 Settle the Wreckage
4 Supreme Verdict
OUT
4 Spell Queller
3 Archangel Avacyn