Fournier’s Goblin Guide: Kanister’s broken and Pioneer rocks

Welcome to another installment of the Goblin Guide, where I take a look at what’s happened in competitive Magic over the last week and distill that information into recommendations for the weekend’s tournaments. Today, we’re going to quickly recap the events of the Mythic Championship in Long Beach and GP Brisbane, looking forward to Standard GPs in Oklahoma City and Portland in coming weeks. Afterwards, we’ll dig into the quickly-developing Pioneer metagame. Stay tuned next week for Modern, ahead of Face to Face Games Toronto’s Ultimate Showdown! Let’s get right into it.

There was a ton of Standard played last weekend — and it felt oddly fresh, despite it being a rather old format at this point. I guess there’s some upside to banning half of a horrible format, after all. We have two significant events to look at, the more prestigious and innovative one being the Mythic Championship, upon which the MPL descended with a smorgasbord of interesting decks, some better than others. There was plenty of innovation to be found, with Brad Nelson and friends playing a Seth Manfield concoction: a hybrid of Simic Flash and some of the guild’s more midrange cards, like Nissa and [Card]Hydroid Krasis[/Card].

Going even deeper, we find a [Card]Cavalier of Thorns[/Card]/[Card]Quasiduplicate[/Card] deck piloted by Andrea Mengucci and Lucas Esper Berthoud. These decks are sweet, but they ultimately couldn’t steal the limelight, as I really feel like Jund Sacrifice was the name of the game at the Mythic Championship. Kanister took it down in the end, and sure, he had effectively six byes in the Swiss, and sure, he’s incredibly cool and funny, which many consider to be an unfair advantage in a Magic tournament, but the deck is real. If you’re staring down a bunch of three mana counterspells, while your card advantage engine just requires a bunch of one-drops to assemble, you’re probably going to have a good time. The Jund players have put a lot of work into fixing their Jeskai Fires matchup, landing on [Card]Beanstalk Giant[/Card] as a ramp piece over [Card]Paradise Druid[/Card] to reduce exposure to [Card]Deafening Clarion[/Card], and it shows. You should play it.

[Deck Title= Jund Sacrifice, by Piotr Głogowski – 1st place, Mythic Championship]
[Creatures]
3 Beanstalk Giant
4 Cauldron Familiar
4 Gilded Goose
2 Korvold, Fae-Cursed King
2 Massacre Girl
4 Mayhem Devil
2 Murderous Rider
2 Thrashing Brontodon
[/Creatures]
[Spells]
4 Trail of Crumbs
4 Witch’s Oven
4 Casualties of War
[/Spells]
[Lands]
4 Blood Crypt
2 Castle Locthwain
3 Fabled Passage
5 Forest
1 Mountain
4 Overgrown Tomb
4 Stomping Ground
2 Swamp
[/Lands]
[Sideboard]
2 Deathless Knight
4 Duress
1 Korvold, Fae-Cursed King
3 Lovestruck Beast
1 Massacre Girl
1 Murderous Rider
1 Thrashing Brontodon
2 Wicked Wolf
[/Sideboard]
[/Deck]

There is, of course, always Jeskai Fires. Grand Prix Brisbane was a completely different story from the Mythic Championship, with a full five copies of the deck flooding the Top 8 bracket. Nothing quite matches this deck on sheer power level, and recent innovations in [Card]Sphinx of Foresight[/Card] and a tight split in the two-drop slot have made it brutally consistent. Of the many lists available, I’d have to recommend Jason Chung’s. It takes advantage of Rei Sato’s [Card]Tithe Taker[/Card] innovation to push tight Flash and Azorius matchups into favourable territory, and doesn’t waste any slots on extraneous cards like unnecessary wrath effects. It even goes so far as to include a clutch third copy of Kenrith in the sideboard for the [Card]Cauldron Familiar[/Card] matchups, where chump blocking can be a nightmare.

[Deck Title= Jeskai Fires, by Jason Chung – Top 8, Grand Prix Brisbane]
[Creatures]
4 Sphinx of Foresight
2 Bonecrusher Giant
4 Cavalier of Flame
3 Cavalier of Gales
2 Kenrith, the Returned King
[/Creatures]
[Spells]
4 Deafening Clarion
4 Fires of Invention
1 Justice Strike
3 Shimmer of Possibility
2 Aether Gust
4 Teferi, Time Raveler
[/Spells]
[Lands]
3 Castle Vantress
3 Fabled Passage
4 Hallowed Fountain
2 Island
2 Mountain
1 Plains
2 Sacred Foundry
4 Steam Vents
3 Temple of Epiphany
3 Temple of Triumph
[/Lands]
[Sideboard]
1 Bonecrusher Giant
2 Devout Decree
2 Disenchant
1 Justice Strike
1 Kenrith, the Returned King
4 Mystical Dispute
4 Tithe Taker
[/Sideboard]
[/Deck]

Pioneer has moved at a lightning pace since the most recent bannings of [Card]Field of the Dead[/Card], [Card]Smuggler’s Copter[/Card] and [Card]Once Upon a Time[/Card]. This brazen banning of the top three strategies unsurprisingly caused a bit of an upheaval in the format, and a series of major trends emerged. Simic decks could still operate reasonably well without [Card]Once Upon a Time[/Card], [Card]Nexus of Fate[/Card] reared its ugly head, and nothing could stop people from playing the Mono-Black Aggro shell. The opening weekend was dominated by variants on a Gerry Thompson Simic Devotion deck oddly reminiscent of the Simic Food decks from Standard, just with the ability to make an even larger [Card]Hydroid Krasis[/Card]. Turns out turn two Oko and playing Nissa ahead of schedule was still a very effective strategy, even if it was rendered slightly less consistent with a banning. Who knew?

These decks are very powerful, and very versatile. I’ve personally played two Pioneer 1ks in Toronto with variants of the deck — albeit with card selection strangled by the cards I found on my desk the night before the event — and took them both down with relative ease. [Card]Wicked Wolf[/Card] was an absolute house, and the versatility of the blue sideboard cards ensured that I had no truly bad matchups across the field.

[Deck Title= Simic Food, by yamakiller – 1st place, MTGO PTQ]
[Creatures]
3 Elvish Mystic
4 Gilded Goose
4 Hydroid Krasis
4 Jadelight Ranger
3 Llanowar Elves
2 Scavenging Ooze
3 Walking Ballista
4 Wicked Wolf
[/Creatures]
[Spells]
4 Nissa, Who Shakes the World
4 Oko, Thief of Crowns
[/Spells]
[Lands]
2 Yavimaya Coast
8 Forest
4 Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx
4 Botanical Sanctum
4 Breeding Pool
1 Castle Garenbrig
[/Lands]
[Sideboard]
2 Aether Gust
2 Aethersphere Harvester
2 Lifecrafter’s Bestiary
3 Lovestruck Beast
4 Negate
2 Reclamation Sage
[/Sideboard]
[/Deck]

However, Pioneer never stands still on Magic Online. By the next weekend’s events, a new beast had reared its head: [Card]Teferi, Hero of Dominaria[/Card]. Azorius Control was back with a vengeance, fueled by the strength of [Card]Supreme Verdict[/Card] against a field of green creature decks. This deck is quite powerful, featuring multiple Standard formats worth of all-star control cards, from [Card]Azorius Charm[/Card] to [Card]Teferi, Time Raveler[/Card]. There’s even the [Card]Narset, Parter of Veils[/Card]/[Card]Geier Reach Sanitarium[/Card] lock — for the uninitiated, activating the Sanitarium on an opponent’s upkeep locks them out of their draw step thanks to Narset’s passive. Couple this with some mediocre counterspells and a Lyra pivot out of the sideboard, and you’ve got yourself a hell of a deck.

There are plenty of other sweet decks rising out of the woodworks of this wide-open Pioneer format, but this deck, as well as Simic, are the two that I recommend in the short-term. Simic is at risk of an almost-inevitable Oko banning, while I can’t imagine any of the core cards in Azorius Control getting the axe in the near future. They didn’t ban Teferi in Standard, so it seems unlikely that a hate mob will be able to get to it here.

[Deck Title= Azorius Control, by Zxrogue – 6th place, MTGO PTQ]
[Spells]
2 Jace, Architect of Thought
2 Narset, Parter of Veils
3 Teferi, Hero of Dominaria
3 Teferi, Time Raveler
4 Absorb
4 Azorius Charm
2 Blessed Alliance
3 Cast Out
2 Dig Through Time
4 Opt
4 Supreme Verdict
2 Syncopate
[/Spells]
[Lands]
2 Castle Ardenvale
2 Castle Vantress
1 Field of Ruin
1 Geier Reach Sanitarium
4 Glacial Fortress
4 Hallowed Fountain
5 Plains
6 Island
[/Lands]
[Sideboard]
3 Aether Gust
1 Brazen Borrower
3 Dovin’s Veto
1 Elspeth, Sun’s Champion
2 Lyra Dawnbringer
1 Mystical Dispute
1 Narset, Parter of Veils
1 Pithing Needle
2 Rest in Peace
[/Sideboard]
[/Deck]

Good luck on the battlefield!

Delver in Modern!?

You might look at this headline and think, “Ah, this author is a fool. [Card]Delver of Secrets[/Card] is only playable in Legacy. I must now call him a soyboy on Twitter.” However, the fool would in fact be you, because I haven’t played Legacy in months, and Delver absolutely slaps in Modern right now. You’re right about the soy stuff though, I’ve been eating a lot of tofu lately. What can I say, it’s a great source of protein for this growing (soy)boy.

But wait, Modern? Delver? The last time Delver reared its head in Modern, things were, let’s say a little different. You wouldn’t get laughed out of the group chat for playing [Card]Remand[/Card] and [Card]Steppe Lynx[/Card] was a card that could qualify you for the Pro Tour. Somehow, these two facts coexisted in peace. It was a different time. In the current era of Modern, powerful linear decks alongside reactive decks chock full of efficient removal like [Card]Fatal Push[/Card] have all but removed Delver-like strategies from the metagame. Without sticking early threats, Delver decks were just bad control strategies with no sources of card advantage to carry them into the late game, where their cards were simply outclassed by new, powerful threats.

Once again, things have changed. Throne of Eldraine brought a bevy of absurd Magic cards to the table, and one of them, the inexplicably fetchable [Card]Mystic Sanctuary[/Card], has given [Card]Delver of Secrets[/Card] new life. [Card]Deprive[/Card], a card featured in the Delver decks of yore, is all of a sudden an incredible late-game lock piece, and Modern Horizons saw the printing of [Card]Force of Negation[/Card] to let us tap out for threats on early turns without immediately dying to a turn three Karn. Hell, this deck is even playing a full playset of [Card]Archmage’s Charm[/Card], a card I spent months making fun of. With [Card]Death’s Shadow[/Card] playing a significant role in the metagame, the third mode on this [Card]Divination[/Card]/[Card]Cancel[/Card] hybrid is suddenly very relevant again.

Still, you might ask why a deck full of counterspells, something traditionally atrocious in Modern, is actually playable, and maybe even good. Much like how Mill was randomly quite good during Phoenix’s era of dominance, there are now a bunch of decks that consist of mostly air, a la [Card]Arcum’s Astrolabe[/Card] or [Card]Matter Reshaper[/Card], with maybe 10-20 actually relevant spells, either being played ahead of schedule or just being so impactful with their supporting cast that playing them on curve is acceptable. Being able to [Card]Force of Negation[/Card] a [Card]Karn, the Great Creator[/Card] is a game-ending play so long as your opponent is either under pressure or you have a lock to set up afterwards — and this deck is capable of doing both of these things.

Let’s get to the list:

[Deck Title= Izzet Delver – Daniel Fournier]
[Creatures]
4 Delver of Secrets
4 Young Pyromancer
4 Snapcaster Mage
[/Creatures]
[Spells]
4 Opt
4 Serum Visions
2 Spell Snare
4 Lightning Bolt
3 Deprive
4 Force of Negation
4 Archmage’s Charm
2 Magmatic Sinkhole
[/Spells]
[Lands]
2 Flooded Strand
2 Misty Rainforest
2 Polluted Delta
2 Scalding Tarn
2 Mystic Sanctuary
4 Island
3 Steam Vents
4 Spirebluff Canal
[/Lands]
[Sideboard]
1 Ceremonious Rejection
1 Spell Snare
2 Mystical Dispute
2 Dismember
3 Blood Moon
2 Abrade
2 Saheeli, Sublime Artificer
2 Dragon’s Claw
[/Sideboard]
[/Deck]

A few notes about card selection before we move on to gameplay tips and the dreaded sideboard guide. There are two interesting things to talk about in regards to the manabase: first off, whenever possible, it’s wise to split up fetchlands. This deck plays no basic Mountain thanks to [Card]Mystic Sanctuary[/Card] and [Card]Archmage’s Charm[/Card], so no blue fetchland is inherently better than the other. In a format where people still legitimately play [Card]Pithing Needle[/Card] and [Card]Surgical Extraction[/Card] for some reason, this split is a free roll, and it’s always a good idea to take advantage of those small margins in deckbuilding. There’s also the matter of [Card]Spirebluff Canal[/Card] to discuss. This is an extremely powerful [Card]Mystic Sanctuary[/Card] deck. It might even be the best [Card]Mystic Sanctuary[/Card] deck. Why then, are we playing a play-set of lands that aren’t Islands? The answer is pretty straightforward. So long as Burn and Prowess are popular decks, we can’t afford to be constantly shocking ourselves with our manabase in the early turns of every game. [Card]Spirebluff Canal[/Card] does a great [Card]Volcanic Island[/Card] impression in turns one to three, where our deck is at its weakest, with its engine inactive. These are crucial turns, and while replacing the Canals with more fetches and a fourth [Card]Steam Vents[/Card] would be preferable, I don’t think we can get away with it at this time. Be aware that when you’re stuck with a hand full of surplus lands, you can simply hold on to [Card]Spirebluff Canal[/Card]s in order to see if you draw three Islands and a fetchland or Sanctuary to be active on turn four. If you whiff, you can just play the Canal on turn three, then cry when you draw a second one on turn four. That’s a two-for-one.

Now that we’ve seamlessly segued into gameplay tips, we might as well continue down that path. Canal is not the only card that it’s often wise to hold — when presented with a hand containing both Delver and [Card]Serum Visions[/Card], but, say, lacking in early interaction, missing lands, or just containing a [Card]Magmatic Sinkhole[/Card] that you’ll need to cast early on in the matchup, you should probably wait to jam Delver. You don’t have the tempo-centric supporting cast that you do in Legacy. Most of your counterspells aren’t free, and you don’t have [Card]Wasteland[/Card]s in your deck to [Card]Time Walk[/Card] your opponent. Your only aggressive potential outside of that card comes from [Card]Lightning Bolt[/Card], so don’t be afraid to either hold Delver until you can play it with shields up, or even just hold it indefinitely as [Card]Force of Negation[/Card] fodder.

Similarly, don’t be afraid to simply board them out in attrition-heavy matchups. Your opponent will likely overboard in favour of removal upon seeing Delver, since that’s really just a heuristic upon which Magic players operate, but you’re really not much of a creature deck. This can allow you to grind them out with looping [Card]Archmage’s Charms[/Card] and [Card]Snapcaster Mage[/Card]s, forcing them to use valuable removal spells on Elemental tokens and what not.

Mulligans with this deck are quite complicated. Unlike a lot of other blue decks currently running around, it’s hard to just keep lands and spells with this deck, especially blind. Many of our spells are just air, and while I love nothing more than to keep three lands and four cantrips, the low power of this format’s cantrips can quickly turn that hand into five lands and two mediocre threats. I won’t mulligan aggressively into the engine, but take a look at the hand and think about the game it presents on turn three. Are you holding up a counterspell with a threat in play or the ability to start a [Card]Mystic Sanctuary[/Card] chain, or are you jamming a mainphase [Card]Opt[/Card], desperately looking for a catch-up card that exists neither in this deck nor in Izzet colours in general? Just remember, your deck is slower than it looks, and it’s easy to fall behind on board.

Sideboard Guide

Let’s move on to sideboarding, and individual matchups. Here’s a link to the sideboard guide in printable form.

vs Grixis Shadow
IN
2 Mystical Dispute
2 Dismember
3 Blood Moon
2 Saheeli, Sublime Artificer
OUT
4 Force of Negation
4 Lightning Bolt
1 Spell Snare

This deck is built to have a reasonable game against Shadow, with eight answers to the eponymous card in post-board games, and additional threats in [Card]Blood Moon[/Card] and Saheeli. We even have a pseudo-[Card]Dispel[/Card] for the most threatening card in our opponent’s deck: [Card]Stubborn Denial[/Card]. That said, nothing in this cursed world beat’s Shadow’s most egregious draws, especially when it’s on the play, so be aware that no matter how far we push things, getting overrun is not necessarily evidence that the matchup is somehow bad.

Be aware while making mulligan decisions that Delver is absolutely not a premium card in this matchup. Pressuring Shadow’s life total is always an awkward dance, and their density of removal post-cantrips makes it unlikely that they won’t have an answer to Insectile Aberration once you’ve pushed their life total to exactly where they want it. Only send when you’re confident that you have a supporting cast to mitigate this problem.

vs 4c Shadow
IN
1 Spell Snare
2 Dismember
3 Blood Moon
2 Saheeli, Sublime Artificer
OUT
4 Force of Negation
4 Lightning Bolt

This matchup is largely identical to Grixis, except instead of a bunch of unbeatable Gurmags, we get to [Card]Spell Snare[/Card] their [Card]Tarmogoyf[/Card]s. That rules. We don’t bring in [Card]Mystical Dispute[/Card], because losing Snapcaster as a target really cramps our style.

vs Eldrazi Tron
IN
1 Ceremonious Rejection
2 Abrade
2 Dismember
2 Blood Moon
OUT
4 Lightning Bolt
2 Spell Snare
1 Serum Visions

Ah, the deck that everyone is convinced is good. And is actually good. But is also bad, because [Card]Matter Reshaper[/Card]. Luckily for us, we have a reasonable matchup here, with Delver actually being a bit of an all-star. E-Tron relies on [Card]Karn, the Great Creator[/Card] for its current high power level, but it would be an understatement to say that the creature deck full of counterspells considers planeswalkers that hardly affect the board to be a bit of a joke.

Hold up countermagic to deal with their mana-intensive cards, and sneak in a board position when you can. Empty your hand of ones as soon as possible to mitigate the impact of Chalice, and try to mulligan hands that fold to it.

vs Simic Urza
IN
2 Mystical Dispute
2 Dismember
OUT
2 Spell Snare
2 Lightning Bolt

Urza is the reason to play this deck. They have at most twelve cards that matter, and we have a deck full of answers, not to mention threats so mediocre that Elking them is pretty much an upgrade. Be wary on the draw of the threat of turn two Oko, and play cautiously due to the sheer power level of their threats.

vs Burn
IN
1 Spell Snare
2 Abrade
2 Dragon’s Claw
OUT
2 Young Pyromancer
2 Archmage’s Charm
1 Magmatic Sinkhole

Surprisingly, this matchup has been quite excellent for me so far. I’m used to playing control deck that are full of planeswalkers and other assorted nonsense that might as well not have any text against Burn decks, but all of a sudden, I get to actually have cheap threats and a late-game lock that stops them from being able to kill me with top-deck Bolts? Damn, that’s sick. [Card]Lightning Bolt[/Card] and the [Card]Mystic Sanctuary[/Card] chains are the important pieces here, so mulligan with that in mind.

vs Amulet Titan
IN
3 Blood Moon
2 Abrade
OUT
2 Spell Snare
2 Magmatic Sinkhole
1 Snapcaster Mage

[Card]Blood Moon[/Card]. Eat it, Edgar.

vs Humans
IN
2 Dismember
2 Abrade
3 Blood Moon
OUT
4 Force of Negation
3 Deprive

You haven’t lived until you’ve stolen an [Card]Aether Vial[/Card] with [Card]Archmage’s Charm[/Card] then slammed a [Card]Blood Moon[/Card]. Charm is a surprising all-star here, both thanks to that cheese game plan, but also in locking up the ground by stealing a large [Card]Champion of the Parish[/Card]. As usual, removal is king here, and be careful not to get stuck with a hand full of countermagic.

vs Tron
IN
1 Ceremonious Rejection
3 Blood Moon
2 Abrade
OUT
2 Spell Snare
2 Magmatic Sinkhole
2 Lightning Bolt

Ah, real Tron, where [Card]Blood Moon[/Card] is actually good. This matchup is quite easy, thanks to counterspells and [Card]Mystic Sanctuary[/Card]. They have a hard time dealing with our threats, as well, so that’s neat.

vs Crabvine
IN
2 Dismember
2 Abrade
OUT
2 Spell Snare
2 Magmatic Sinkhole

Note that there is no graveyard hate in the sideboard. This is because this deck doesn’t beat graveyard decks, no matter how many Leylines you jam in there. This sideboard plan is gunning for your only way to win this matchup: your opponent keeping a sketchy hand that relies on the mill from a [Card]Hedron Crab[/Card], and you killing it with a removal spell. You’ll lose anyways, but at least you’ll feel smart for having tried to win.

vs UW Stoneblade
IN
1 Spell Snare
2 Mystical Dispute
2 Abrade
2 Saheeli, Sublime Artificer
OUT
4 Force of Negation
2 Archmage’s Charm
1 Lightning Bolt

Magic as it was intended to be played. A classic matchup, of [Card]Stoneforge Mystic[/Card] fighting [Card]Delver of Secrets[/Card]. Ah, what a blessing. These matchups are fun as hell, until your opponent resolves a Teferi and you immediately suffer an existential crisis. Try not to let that happen.

vs Jund
IN
1 Spell Snare
2 Dismember
3 Blood Moon
2 Saheeli, Sublime Artificer
OUT
4 Delver of Secrets
4 Force of Negation

Jund, while ostensibly a close matchup, can be an utter nightmare if your opponent is able to stick a [Card]Wrenn and Six[/Card]. We can’t afford to keep in [Card]Force of Negation[/Card] against a [Card]Thoughtseize[/Card] deck, so instead there’s a third [Card]Spell Snare[/Card] in the sideboard to give us as many chances to keep Wrenn in the graveyard as possible.

Otherwise, this matchup is very back-and-forth and an absolute blast to play. They have to respect [Card]Blood Moon[/Card] and play as though they were scared of [Card]Splinter Twin[/Card], and that tension leads to very dynamic gameplay.

vs Infect
IN
2 Dismember
2 Abrade
OUT
4 Archmage’s Charm

Not much to say here. If you’ve played Infect with a Snapcaster/Bolt deck before, then you’ve already mastered this matchup. Kill things on your own turn when possible, and remember that it can be wise to have [Card]Blood Moon[/Card] in on the play to deal with [Card]Inkmoth Nexus[/Card], especially if they’re being cute and splashing a third colour.

vs Dredge
IN
1 Spell Snare
OUT
1 Magmatic Sinkhole

Good luck. You’ll need it.

vs Druid
IN
1 Spell Snare
2 Dismember
2 Abrade
OUT
4 Archmage’s Charm
1 Force of Negation

Druid is a unique matchup, in that every single card in our deck is actually quite good against them. This, of course, leads to a fairly lopsided matchup. It’s nice. If they’re a Teferi build, of course be wary of that, and if you see Teferi, you can assume that there will be Oko, so it’s reasonable to bring in [Card]Mystical Dispute[/Card].

vs Titanshift
IN
1 Spell Snare
3 Blood Moon
OUT
4 Lightning Bolt

It’s normally the case that blue decks get rolled by Titanshift, but we are no mere blue deck. We have a clock! And [Card]Blood Moon[/Card]s, I suppose. This one’s pretty straightforward, and a matchup that I’m quite happy with.

vs Prowess
IN
2 Abrade
2 Saheeli, Sublime Artificer
2 Dragon’s Claw
OUT
2 Spell Snare
4 Young Pyromancer

This is probably our most awkward matchup. You might have noticed that all our threats have one toughness, and that the Prowess deck contains four copies of the card [Card]Lava Dart[/Card]. This makes our threats absolutely worthless and pushes us deep into the control role — which surprisingly works out quite well for us.

The most consistent path to victory here is to kill our opponents with a mixture of Saheeli tokens and their own [Card]Monastery Swiftspear[/Card]s, by way of [Card]Archmage’s Charm[/Card]. Mulligan aggressively into removal, hold up countermagic for [Card]Bedlam Reveler[/Card], and be willing to counter burn spells a bit more aggressively than normal to keep your life total at a reasonable place.

Let me know if you choose to play this powerful rogue deck – I’d love to see some other [Card]Steam Vents[/Card] addicts take up the mantle of the noble Insectile Aberration!

Fournier’s Goblin Guide: Pioneer PTQ week and the Montreal F2F Open

Welcome to another installment of the Goblin Guide, where I take a look at what’s happened in competitive Magic over the last week and distill that information into recommendations for the weekend’s tournaments. Today, we’re going to take a deep dive into the week full of online Pioneer PTQs, with a quick pit stop in Modern to help you prepare for this weekend’s Face to Face Games Open in Montreal. Let’s jump right into it.

Against my better judgment, I’ve played every round of every last one of these Pioneer PTQs, and with the final results released this morning, we have a lot of information to build off of. Saturday’s Pioneer MOCS had some diverse results, with the standout performance being Cain Rianhard’s Golgari Field deck as the sole 8-0. People freaked out, and the metagame shifted a lot in favour of threats that completely ignore zombie tokens, from [Card]Questing Beast[/Card] and [Card]Glorybringer[/Card] to [Card]Steel-Leaf Champion[/Card]. On Monday and Tuesday, the narrative was quite simple: Mono-Black is the best deck, and nobody has figured out how to beat it reliably. Wednesday and Thursday’s events still featured a ton of Mono-Black at the top tables, with several copies in each Top 8, but some people had figured out how to break through: both events were won by Simic variants. Wednesday’s still featured the powerful [Card]Steel-Leaf Champion[/Card] (and a full clip of maindeck [Card]Stubborn Denial[/Card]s), but Thursday’s winner looked like the now-banned Standard Simic Food deck, with [Card]Hydroid Krasis[/Card] and Nissa aplenty. Furthermore, a bunch of Gruul Aggro decks have begun to appear over the past two days.

To summarize, it seems that people have, through rapid iteration, found some ways to compete effectively against Mono-Black, and that is to deploy a bunch of beefy creatures before the black deck can both set up a board and disrupt you effectively. These decks often have ten mana dorks, and if you’re stuck on the draw against them, whatever measly turn one play you can muster will immediately be staring down an Oko, a [Card]Goblin Rabblemaster[/Card] or even worse: [Card]Steel-Leaf Champion[/Card]. Yes, this is proof that [Card]Llanowar Elves[/Card] was a design mistake that was inappropriate to constantly revisit, but here we are, playing Magic in a world where snowballing out of control is the name of the game. As such, if you’re playing Pioneer this weekend, I strongly recommend either jamming one of these mana dork decks that plays to the board very quickly, or finding a way to go well over the top of them while keeping the board as clear as possible. Here’s how I’m trying to do that:

[Deck Title= BG Field, by Daniel Fournier – currently 3-0 in a PTQ, please pray for me]
[Creatures]
4 Arboreal Grazer
3 Tireless Tracker
4 Elvish Rejuvenator
3 Ulvenwald Hydra
[/Creatures]
[Spells]
2 Vraska’s Contempt
4 Hour of Promise
4 Fatal Push
3 Abrupt Decay
4 Once Upon a Time
1 Legion’s End
[/Spells]
[Lands]
1 Castle Garenbrig
1 Jungle Hollow
1 Sea Gate Wreckage
1 Blooming Marsh
1 Castle Locthwain
2 Fabled Passage
1 Hashep Oasis
1 Hissing Quagmire
1 Ifnir Deadlands
1 Llanowar Wastes
2 Overgrown Tomb
1 Temple of Malady
1 Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth
1 Woodland Cemetery
4 Field of the Dead
1 Crumbling Vestige
1 Radiant Fountain
1 Westvale Abbey
2 Forest
2 Swamp
1 Scavenger Grounds
[/Lands]
[Sideboard]
2 Cry of the Carnarium
2 Reclamation Sage
1 Legion’s End
2 Oblivion Sower
2 Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger
4 Thoughtseize
2 Assassin’s Trophy
[/Sideboard]
[/Deck]

I’ve been having a lot of fun with this deck, and felt vindicated as winning lists started cutting [Card]Thoughtseize[/Card]s from the maindeck, matching my experiences with the deck. I’m doing one thing very different from the norm, which is playing a bunch of [Card]Ulvenwald Hydra[/Card]s. This throwback to the final form of [Card]Aetherworks Marvel[/Card] Standard is a surprisingly powerful addition to this deck. In addition to being [Card]Grave Titan[/Card], the Reach keyword is clutch in a ton of situations, thanks to this deck’s weakness to fliers. I’m quite happy with the development of this deck, and while I keep running into a couple matches each event where my opponents have dedicated every single card in their deck to beating the five per cent of the metagame playing [Card]Field of the Dead[/Card], I keep making deep runs and prizing the PTQs.

Of course, you can’t be faulted for playing the metagame rather than trying to game it, and so playing the most linear and powerful version of the mana dork decks is perfectly reasonable. This list won Wednesday’s PTQ, and while I’m not so certain about the maindeck [Card]Stubborn Denial[/Card]s, the strategy of playing five-power monsters on turn-two is no joke.

[Deck Title= Green Stompy, by Wasticore – MTGO PTQ, 1st place]
[Creatures]
4 Elvish Mystic
2 Gilded Goose
4 Llanowar Elves
4 Lovestruck Beast
3 Questing Beast
1 Rhonas the Indomitable
4 Steel Leaf Champion
2 Wicked Wolf
[/Creatures]
[Spells]
4 Once Upon a Time
4 Stubborn Denial
2 Heart of Kiran
3 Smuggler’s Copter
4 Oko, Thief of Crowns
[/Spells]
[Lands]
4 Botanical Sanctum
4 Breeding Pool
5 Forest
2 Hashep Oasis
4 Yavimaya Coast
[/Lands]
[Sideboard]
1 Gilded Goose
1 Questing Beast
2 Wicked Wolf
1 Smuggler’s Copter
4 Aether Gust
1 Brazen Borrower
2 Dispel
1 Mystical Dispute
2 Scavenging Ooze
[/Sideboard]
[/Deck]

This Pioneer arms race is all good fun, but this weekend’s local tabletop events seem to largely be Modern, so let’s take a peek at what’s going on in this particular hell-scape. Urza won the GP last weekend, much to everyone’s surprise, and it was, wow, unbelievable, the stock Lotus Box list, the same one that’s won what feels like every single tournament since the SCG where Zan Syed made a fool out of everyone talking trash about [Card]Gilded Goose[/Card] in Modern. Online results paint a different picture, however, with the oft-maligned (by me) Eldrazi Tron utterly dominating across the board. Sure, the Eldrazi part of the deck is still incredibly poor, and it’s not like it assembles Tron very well, but [Card]Chalice of the Void[/Card] and [Card]Karn, the Great Creator[/Card] can apparently carry an infinite amount of dead weight on their backs. So, against my better judgment, and despite my moral framework screaming in defiance, I am going to recommend that you play Eldrazi Tron (or just the Lotus Box Urza deck) this weekend. I’m not happy about it.

[Deck Title= Eldrazi Tron, by GGoggles – 1st place, Modern Challenge]
[Creatures]
1 Endbringer
1 Hangarback Walker
4 Matter Reshaper
4 Reality Smasher
4 Thought-Knot Seer
2 Walking Ballista
[/Creatures]
[Spells]
1 All Is Dust
2 Dismember
2 Warping Wail
4 Chalice of the Void
4 Expedition Map
1 Mind Stone
4 Karn, the Great Creator
2 Ugin, the Ineffable
[/Spells]
[Lands]
2 Blast Zone
1 Cavern of Souls
4 Eldrazi Temple
1 Ghost Quarter
1 Scavenger Grounds
1 Tectonic Edge
4 Urza’s Mine
4 Urza’s Power Plant
4 Urza’s Tower
2 Wastes
[/Lands]
[Sideboard]
1 Walking Ballista
1 Ensnaring Bridge
1 Grafdigger’s Cage
1 Liquimetal Coating
1 Mycosynth Lattice
1 Pithing Needle
2 Relic of Progenitus
1 Skysovereign, Consul Flagship
1 Sorcerous Spyglass
2 Spatial Contortion
1 Tormod’s Crypt
1 Witchbane Orb
1 Wurmcoil Engine
[/Sideboard]
[/Deck]

[Deck Title= Simic Urza, by Brian Coval – 1st place, GP Columbus]
[Creatures]
4 Emry, Lurker of the Loch
4 Gilded Goose
4 Urza, Lord High Artificer
[/Creatures]
[Spells]
3 Karn, the Great Creator
4 Oko, Thief of Crowns
4 Arcum’s Astrolabe
2 Cryptic Command
3 Engineered Explosives
1 Everflowing Chalice
2 Metallic Rebuke
4 Mishra’s Bauble
4 Mox Opal
1 Witching Well
[/Spells]
[Lands]
2 Breeding Pool
2 Flooded Strand
4 Misty Rainforest
2 Mystic Sanctuary
2 Polluted Delta
2 Scalding Tarn
1 Snow-Covered Forest
4 Snow-Covered Island
1 Watery Grave
[/Lands]
[Sideboard]
2 Assassin’s Trophy
3 Damping Sphere
2 Drown in the Loch
1 Ensnaring Bridge
2 Fatal Push
1 Mycosynth Lattice
1 Pithing Needle
2 Thoughtseize
1 Tormod’s Crypt
[/Sideboard]
[/Deck]

Good luck on the battlefield!

Fournier’s Goblin Guide: GP Columbus and the Calgary Open+

Welcome to another edition of the Goblin Guide, where I take a look at what’s happened in tournament Magic over the last week and tell you exactly what you need to know going into the weekend’s events. We’ve got some big banlist updates switching things up in Standard, so there’s a lot to cover this time around. I’m going to hold off on talking about the effect a [Card]Wrenn and Six[/Card] banning has had on Legacy, since I’ve been deadly focused on, well, every other format this week and I have no interest in feeding you, my beloved readers, inaccurate information. There are some big Modern events this weekend, including a Grand Prix in Columbus and a Face to Face Games Open+ in Calgary featuring a fancy Player’s Tour invite for the winner, so let’s start off there.

Modern has been facing down some big issues as of late, and by big issues, I mean [Card]Oko, Thief of Crowns[/Card] and [Card]Urza, Lord High Artificer[/Card]. These cards are routinely deployed early by means of [Card]Gilded Goose[/Card] and its synergy with [Card]Mox Opal[/Card], and are able to immediately dominate the board as well as invalidate many opposing strategies. Oko is obviously an egregious card, and this Simic Urza shell is so powerful that people have been able to take the deck to absurd and foolish places while maintaining a reasonable win-rate.

At last weekend’s SCG Invitational, Team Lotus Box pushed the deck forward by going up to nine four-drops, adding three copies of [Card]Karn, the Great Creator[/Card] to the deck. This tries to take further advantage of the fast mana and presumably add some power in the mirror, foregoing any of the middling attempts at [Card]Thopter Foundry[/Card] combos that previous iterations of the deck had included. There are some problems here, however. First off, Karn is, let’s say not ideal against the field at large. Sure, maindeck access to [Card]Damping Sphere[/Card] is neat, but a six-mana copy of the card isn’t going to actually help you against Amulet or Tron. [Card]Ensnaring Bridge[/Card] is an Elk, and this deck doesn’t turbo mana quite effectively enough for the Lattice-lock to be particularly powerful.

[Deck Title= Simic Urza, by Edgar Magalhaes – 10th place, SCG Invitational]
[Creatures]
4 Urza, Lord High Artificer
4 Emry, Lurker of the Loch
4 Gilded Goose
[/Creatures]
[Spells]
4 Arcum’s Astrolabe
2 Cryptic Command
3 Engineered Explosives
2 Everflowing Chalice
3 Karn, the Great Creator
2 Metallic Rebuke
4 Mishra’s Bauble
4 Mox Opal
4 Oko, Thief of Crowns
[/Spells]
[Lands]
2 Polluted Delta
3 Scalding Tarn
5 Snow-Covered Island
1 Watery Grave
2 Mystic Sanctuary
3 Misty Rainforest
2 Flooded Strand
2 Breeding Pool
[/Lands]
[Sideboard]
2 Assassin’s Trophy
3 Damping Sphere
2 Drown in the Loch
1 Ensnaring Bridge
2 Fatal Push
1 Mycosynth Lattice
1 Mystic Forge
1 Pithing Needle
2 Thoughtseize
[/Sideboard]
[/Deck]

Needless to say, I am not a fan of this approach, and prefer a version of the deck that adheres to a more reasonable curve and retains the infinite combo that made Whirza the powerful deck it is today. The [Card]Gilded Goose[/Card] and Oko innovations remain excellent, giving you absurd midrange staying power against many of the decks in the field, but access to [Card]Thopter Foundry[/Card] and [Card]Sword of the Meek[/Card] is not something I would throw away in favour of clunky cards like Karn and [Card]Cryptic Command[/Card].

Furthermore, the combo is very powerful in the mirror, and while it might get shut off by Karn, the operative cards in the matchup (Oko and Urza) can make it difficult to keep a planeswalker on the board if you’re even slightly behind. I would recommend playing this absurd deck into any open metagame, and I strongly suggest playing a version similar to what I posted last week in order to maximize on raw power level instead of getting cute and clunky. You can cut the sideboard [Card]Ensnaring Bridge[/Card] though, that card doesn’t do anything anymore. Play an [Card]Assassin’s Trophy[/Card] or something else that can kill a [Card]Gurmag Angler[/Card].

[Deck Title= Sultai Whirza, by Daniel Fournier – 17th place,  F2F Games Toronto Open+]
[Creatures]
4 Gilded Goose
4 Emry, Lurker of the Loch
4 Urza, Lord High Artificer
[/Creatures]
[Spells]
4 Mishra’s Bauble
4 Mox Opal
3 Engineered Explosives
2 Chromatic Star
4 Arcum’s Astrolabe
4 Thopter Foundry
2 Sword of the Meek
4 Oko, Thief of Crowns
2 Whir of Invention
[/Spells]
[Lands]
4 Misty Rainforest
3 Polluted Delta
2 Scalding Tarn
2 Flooded Strand
4 Snow-Covered Island
1 Snow-Covered Forest
1 Mystic Sanctuary
1 Breeding Pool
1 Watery Grave
[/Lands]
[Sideboard]
3 Fatal Push
1 Pithing Needle
1 Nihil Spellbomb
1 Ensnaring Bridge
3 Damping Sphere
2 Drown in the Loch
2 Mystical Dispute
2 Thoughtseize
[/Sideboard]
[/Deck]

Let’s hop on over to Standard, where a nice big banlist update on Monday really shook things up. No longer are we relegated to heinous games ruled by an early [Card]Oko, Thief of Crowns[/Card] — at least, in this format. [Card]Veil of Summer[/Card] will no longer oppress the downtrodden blue and black reactive cards and [Card]Once Upon a Time[/Card]’s absence will make sure that [Card]Edgewall Innkeeper[/Card] decks don’t immediately rise to fill the void left by the death of Simic Food variants.

Those of us with PTQs to play in the new format this weekend were blessed by a midweek Twitch Rivals tournament, featuring a bunch of the top players in the world playing post-ban Standard for a big enough prize pool that even the most jaded of pros would be trying their hardest to win. Despite losing [Card]Once Upon a Time[/Card], Golgari Adventures took it down in the hands of Mike Sigrist, but the version of the archetype I’d like to highlight is Yuuki Ichikawa’s semifinals list, which I feel plays better to the deck’s strengths with a full set of [Card]Vivien, Arkbow Ranger[/Card]s. This deck is the perennial Standard favourite: Golgari Medium. Every card is mediocre, the card advantage synergies are marginal, and yet it always seems to eke out more wins than the competition. If you’re playing Standard this weekend, you could do a lot worse than n*tdeck this list.

[Deck Title= Golgari Adventures, by Yuuki Ichikawa – 3rd place, Twitch Rivals]
[Creatures]
4 Edgewall Innkeeper
4 Foulmire Knight
4 Lovestruck Beast
4 Murderous Rider
2 Order of Midnight
4 Paradise Druid
4 Questing Beast
[/Creatures]
[Spells]
4 Vivien, Arkbow Ranger
2 Nissa, Who Shakes the World
2 Find/Finality
2 Legion’s End
[/Spells]
[Lands]
8 Forest
6 Swamp
4 Temple of Malady
4 Overgrown Tomb
2 Fabled Passage
[/Lands]
[Sideboard]
1 Cavalier of Night
4 Duress
2 Liliana, Dreadhorde General
2 Massacre Girl
4 Noxious Grasp
2 Thrashing Brontodon
[/Sideboard]
[/Deck]

Another standout deck from the tournament, popular on ladder and in leagues as well, is the Jeskai Fires deck, specifically the Cavalier build. Like the majority of decks in this format, Fires relies significantly on its namesake card being in play to actually generate the advantage needed to win the game, but when it gets to go off, it sure does go off. Untapping with a creature and Fires often leads to absurd turns with a [Card]Cavalier of Fires[/Card] drawing into a second creature and immediately attacking for lethal as soon as turn six – ridiculous for a control deck! That said, without a [Card]Fires of Invention[/Card] in play, you’re playing the world’s clunkiest and most inefficient Jeskai control deck ever. As such, you have to take major steps in order to ensure that you always draw the four-mana enchantment. Javier Dominguez, notable winner of tournaments, took the approach of including [Card]Sphinx of Foresight[/Card] in his deck, freeing up his mana in early turns to interact with the format’s aggressive decks instead of spending it on cantrips like [Card]Shimmer of Possibility[/Card]. I like this approach on pure power level, and would recommend playing this build over the versions that contain a bunch of air.

[Deck Title= Jeskai Fires, by Javier Dominguez – top 16, Twitch Rivals]
[Creatures]
4 Fae of Wishes
3 Bonecrusher Giant
4 Cavalier of Flame
2 Cavalier of Gales
2 Sphinx of Foresight
2 Kenrith, the Returned King
[/Creatures]
[Spells]
4 Deafening Clarion
2 Drawn from Dreams
4 Fires of Invention
2 Prison Realm
4 Teferi, Time Raveler
[/Spells]
[Lands]
4 Temple of Epiphany
2 Temple of Triumph
4 Steam Vents
4 Sacred Foundry
4 Hallowed Fountain
2 Mountain
2 Island
1 Plains
2 Fabled Passage
2 Castle Vantress
[/Lands]
[Sideboard]
1 Casualties of War
1 Chandra, Awakened Inferno
2 Disenchant
1 Dovin’s Veto
1 Enter the God-Eternals
1 Ethereal Absolution
1 Liliana, Dreadhorde General
3 Mystical Dispute
1 Nicol Bolas, Dragon-God
1 Planar Cleansing
1 Planewide Celebration
1 Time Wipe
[/Sideboard]
[/Deck]

Good luck on the battlefield!

Fournier’s Goblin Guide: how to salvage your tournament

Alright, let’s do something different this week. Normally, I’d be chatting about the metagame and dropping some lists for you filthy n*tdeckers to copy, but I kind of covered all of that in yesterday’s article about the Pioneer and Modern decks I’d have played this weekend were I well enough to make my way down to Roanoke.

If you’re a poor soul stuck playing Standard before Monday’s banlist update, well, I can break down Standard in a single sentence. If you’re, say, playing an MCQ where you feel the metagame will be developed, and players will be trying hard to win, then you should play the Sultai Cat deck, while if you think you’re gonna play against a random field of non-Oko pet decks, then you should play some boring stock Oko deck, be it Sultai or Simic.

Back to the topic at hand. I mentioned briefly in yesterday’s article that my time at the ol’ Mythic Championship in Richmond last weekend was downright miserable thanks largely to factors out of my control. I had a viral infection, I could barely talk, couldn’t hear out of one ear and every game of Standard was absolute garbage. Yeah sure, I could’ve prepared more for draft, but that really wasn’t the deciding factor here. I felt awful and everything I was doing felt awful. However, it could have been much worse had I not quickly come to terms with this and established a series of coping mechanisms to lessen the blow of a Magic weekend gone wrong. I’m proud of myself for managing to do this, to take a step back from my emotions gone wrong and plot out a path forward, so I’d like to share a couple heuristics for salvaging a tournament.

Identify what’s wrong.

This can be pretty broad — are you just tilted off the face of the earth because you’re 0-2 to mana variance, or are there external variables wreaking havoc on your emotional state? It’s much easier to handle tournament-related frustration when it’s isolated from other extenuating problems, but it can be dangerous to simply compartmentalize all of your feelings. I’m no therapist, so take everything I say about this stuff with a grain of salt, but I’ve definitely been around the block as a depressed Magic player losing at tournaments.

In short, I can’t help you much with the latter of the two problems beyond sharing my self-care strategy, which is to make sure to have a nice, good dinner after the event instead of fast food or some chain restaurant garbage. Hit up Twitter, ask the locals, and find something that makes you feel better. However, if the ol’ serotonin is firing off at normal levels, and you’re just having problems with the tournament, then let’s move on to tip number two.

Remember, it’s just Magic.

Chances are you’re not playing a match that determines your relegation from the MPL. Sure, we all play this stupid game because we strive to do our best and fulfill our competitive itch, but it’s essential to take a step back and remind yourself that it is, ultimately, just a game. Losing a win-and-in or bombing out of your last chance to qualify for an important event is a huge blow to the competitive ego, but unless Magic tournament results are, say, your only source of income — and I strongly recommend moving away from that if that’s the case — then you have to simply take the L and move on. You cannot define yourself by your Magic resume and be happy. It’s just not possible. It doesn’t matter how good you are, how hard you test, how many team Patreons you’re subscribed to, Magic is inherently a high-variance game. Making it to the top requires absurd runs across multiple tournaments, and only some small fraction of the best players in the world are ever going to truly find success in it.

Don’t read this as me admonishing you for caring, however! It’s crucial to care about the things you do, and you shouldn’t take this as advice to just give up and become the most casual player in the world. The objective here is to find the right balance, where you can find fulfillment in playing competitive Magic while not placing so much importance on it that taking a couple losses can ruin your weekend. I struggle with this all the time, and a bad run can cause me an existential crisis, though I can’t help but blame that on my good friend depression rather than, you know, rational thinking. I lost six games in a row at the end of PT Kyoto to miss Silver by one point for the second year in a row, and I just about lost my mind crying in my tiny AirBnB.

Find a way to recover in the short term.

I managed to fight my way through it. My friends give me a hard time for being incredibly thirsty for Magic, to the point where when I lose out in a tournament or get crushed in a crucial match, I immediately look for redemption in a side event or the next GP. There was no doubt in my mind that after dying at 1-5 in Richmond last weekend, that I was going to fight my way through the GP. When I got crushed in my Top 8 match at GP Montreal, I immediately joined a side draft. In Kyoto, I looked up whether I could rebook my flight home through Minneapolis to play a GP there the following weekend. I even considered spending the next week in Tokyo jamming Standard on Magic Online all day, all in a quest to find redemption. Luckily, I came to my senses, and realized that some tourism would probably leave me in a better place overall.

Being a ridiculous grinder aside, this is my coping mechanism for losing in Magic tournaments. Focusing my frustration into personal advancement and further competition helps me keep my head on straight and avoid the absolute ego death all too common with Magic players these days. Your mechanism might be different — maybe it’s just a nice dinner, maybe it’s spending the rest of the weekend hanging out with friends, maybe it’s even a Two-Headed Giant side event! This can apply even inside of a tournament. Say you’re playing a GP and you’re off to an 0-2 start after your byes. Instead of letting this overcome you, go grab a drink after getting stomped, take a walk outside and come back to your next match with a fresh attitude and an understanding of what really matters. Whether that’s something nice you’re going to do for yourself after the tournament, or for me, having a nice fun match with someone deep in the trenches. Magic can be fun, even in the 2-2 bracket, so long as you let yourself have fun!

Don’t let this game get the better of you. Take a step back, identify what’s going wrong, stop yourself from being irrational, and find what makes you feel better. Magic forever. Good luck on the battlefield!

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

I’m pretty sick. And not in the usual sense, where I feel compelled to play [Card]Celestial Colonnade[/Card] 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 [Card]Snapcaster Mage[/Card] 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 [Card]Gilded Goose[/Card] 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 [Card]Cryptic Command[/Card], 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. [Card]Gilded Goose[/Card] 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 [Card]Oko, Thief of Crowns[/Card].

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 [Card]Cryptic Command[/Card] and [Card]Serum Visions[/Card] 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 [Card]Gilded Goose[/Card], Emry and [Card]Thopter Foundry[/Card], but none of this [Card]Cryptic Command[/Card] 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 [Card]Chromatic Star[/Card]s 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 [Card]Mystic Sanctuary[/Card].

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 [Card]Cryptic Command[/Card] 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.

[Deck Title= Sultai Whirza – Daniel Fournier]
[Creatures]
4 Gilded Goose
4 Emry, Lurker of the Loch
4 Urza, Lord High Artificer
[/Creatures]
[Spells]
4 Mishra’s Bauble
4 Mox Opal
2 Engineered Explosives
2 Chromatic Star
4 Arcum’s Astrolabe
4 Thopter Foundry
2 Sword of the Meek
4 Oko, Thief of Crowns
3 Whir of Invention
[/Spells]
[Lands]
4 Misty Rainforest
3 Polluted Delta
2 Scalding Tarn
2 Flooded Strand
4 Snow-Covered Island
1 Snow-Covered Forest
1 Mystic Sanctuary
1 Breeding Pool
1 Watery Grave
[/Lands]
[Sideboard]
4 Fatal Push
1 Pithing Needle
1 Nihil Spellbomb
1 Ensnaring Bridge
3 Damping Sphere
1 Assassin’s Trophy
2 Mystical Dispute
2 Thoughtseize
[/Sideboard]
[/Deck]

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 [Card]Once Upon a Time[/Card], ensuring that a deck with full clips of [Card]Elvish Mystic[/Card] and [Card]Llanowar Elves[/Card] can always play powerful cards ahead of curve, be they [Card]Vivien, Arkbow Ranger[/Card] in a [Card]Hardened Scales[/Card] context or simply turn two [Card]Goblin Rabblemaster[/Card]. 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, [Card]Supreme Verdict[/Card] is legal.

Unfortunately, I remain unconvinced that UWx control is a viable archetype in Pioneer, despite some middling tournament results and the banning of [Card]Veil of Summer[/Card]. If my opponent is playing [Card]Legion Warboss[/Card] or [Card]Nissa, Voice of Zendikar[/Card] on turn two, I would be the biggest fool in the universe to have a bunch of [Card]Absorb[/Card]s and [Card]Syncopate[/Card]s 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 [Card]Reflector Mage[/Card], 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 [Card]Selfless Spirit[/Card] as a two-drop and its [Card]Archangel Avacyn[/Card] enabler. That card sucks, and we can do better. Our mana is fully capable of supporting [Card]Knight of the White Orchid[/Card], 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 [Card]Selfless Spirit[/Card], we still need a way to trigger [Card]Archangel Avacyn[/Card] against the multitude of go-wide decks that plague the format, and that job falls to [Card]Walking Ballista[/Card]. It used to be that Avacyn midrange decks would play a bunch of [Card]Hangarback Walker[/Card]s 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.

[Deck Title= Azorius Tempo – Daniel Fournier]
[Creatures]
4 Thraben Inspector
4 Knight of the White Orchid
1 Brazen Borrower
4 Reflector Mage
4 Spell Queller
4 Archangel Avacyn
3 Walking Ballista
[/Creatures]
[Spells]
4 Smuggler’s Copter
4 Teferi, Time Raveler
4 Gideon, Ally of Zendikar
[/Spells]
[Lands]
2 Castle Ardenvale
4 Glacial Fortress
4 Hallowed Fountain
3 Port Town
4 Island
7 Plains
[/Lands]
[Sideboard]
4 Aether Gust
2 Mystical Dispute
2 Detention Sphere
2 Rest in Peace
1 Settle the Wreckage
4 Supreme Verdict
[/Sideboard]
[/Deck]

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