Captain’s Log #17 – What I’m Playing

It’s been a crazy week for me. After doing poorly on Day Two at Pro Tour Washington, I sought immediate redemption at the Pro Tour Qualifier in Ottawa this past Saturday. Despite the day being Valentine’s Day, I had a pass to play some tournament Magic because my girlfriend was actually working on this particular occasion.

And I won the whole damn thing!

Unlike the first time, where I was filled with intense joy when I won the decisive match, this time, I was in complete shock. I started ManaDeprived.com in 2010 and making a serious run at the Pro Tour has been a goal of mine since then. I failed for so many years that becoming a back-to-back PTQ Champion felt too surreal.

The victory was also bittersweet as I defeated my friend David Schnayer who has been trying very hard to qualify for the first time in his career.

Before I jump into the Standard deck that I played, I did want to quickly touch on Modern as Grand Prix Vancouver is happening this weekend. I have declined to attend GP Vancouver due to the fact that this is the week where my family celebrates Chinese New Year. My father is coming back from Ottawa while my sister is traveling home from Toronto.

Sideboarding In and Out

I got a lot of feedback on my Infect list from my last article. One of the questions I got was “If you are always sideboarding out [card]Might of Old Krosa[/card], should you not play something else instead?” I want to address this question because I see it asked a lot in the comment sections of other articles.

When people ask these questions, they aren’t taking into account how variables change when you go from game one to game two. For example, there was a time where control decks packed 4 [card]Baneslayer Angel[/card]s in their sideboard and they would bring them in for almost every matchup. Why? Because their opponents would take out most of their removal after game one. Therefore, you cannot make the assumption that because a deck always sides a card in, it should be in the main deck. It simply does not work like that.

Back to [card]Might of Old Krosa[/card] in the Infect deck, it is a very strong game one card, but when you go into game two, it is often your worst pump spell because your opponent is likely siding in interactive hate and “sorcery” speed pump will no longer be where you want to be at.

What I Would Play in Modern

The other question I have been getting is “Do you think your Infect list is a good choice for Grand Prix Vancouver or SCG Baltimore?”

I still like the deck, but I don’t love it if the Pro Tour metagame was indicative of what lies ahead. Despite having an incredible overall record in the tournament, Infect has a terrible Burn matchup, which showed up as the second most popular deck.

People tell me “Wild Defiance is a card” I know that. I played it at the Pro Tour but Burn is extremely difficult because it attacks you from so many angles. Most of the time, they don’t care if you have [card]Wild Defiance[/card]. They will still attack you with [card]Goblin Guide[/card]s. They will still burn you to the face and finally, they will still lock you out with [card]Eidolon of the Great Revel[/card].

I have tested a few ideas. I went deep in the tank. At the same time, Zac Hill was spit-balling ideas at me. [card]Dragon’s Claw[/card]? [card]Sun Droplet[/card]? [card]Counterbalance[/card]?! I tried Nourish first but the GG cost was too annoying. It has forced me to settle on [card]Feed the Clan[/card]. In testing the card, there were openings where you could trigger Ferocious and surprise your opponent with a 10 point life gain.

I ultimately cut [card]Illness in the Ranks[/card] for [card]Distortion Strike[/card]. Part of the appeal in Illness was the fact that it was also a sideboard card against the Twin combo. However, we already had way too many answers to Twin that this particular versatility didn’t actually matter. A lot of people I have talked to didn’t even know that Vines counters [card]Splinter Twin[/card].

Here’s what I would play if BUG Infect was my choice for the GP:

BUG Infect by Kar Yung Tom

[deck]
[Lands]
2 Breeding Pool
2 Forest
4 Inkmoth Nexus
4 Misty Rainforest
2 Overgrown Tomb
2 Pendelhaven
4 Wooded Foothills
1 Verdant Catacombs
[/Lands]
[Spells]
3 Apostle’s Blessing
3 Become Immense
1 Distortion Strike
4 Gitaxian Probe
4 Groundswell
4 Might of Old Krosa
4 Vines of Vastwood
[/Spells]
[Creatures]
4 Blighted Agent
4 Glistener Elf
4 Noble Hierarch
4 Plague Stinger
[/Creatures]
[Sideboard]
1 Distortion Strike
3 Feed the Clan
4 Nature’s Claim
4 Spellskite
3 Wild Defiance
[/Sideboard]
[/deck]

There is definitely an argument to just play CFB Pantheon’s version of UG Infect, but I still prefer the extra 4 Infect creatures black provides in [card]Plague Stinger[/card].

If you have any questions, feel free to ask them in the comments section below.

What I Would Play in Standard

I was originally planning on playing RW Aggro at the Ottawa Pro Tour Qualifier. Despite winning a PPTQ with Abzan Aggro in the pre-Khans Standard format, I did believe that the metagame had shifted enough to make it less dominant. [card]Stormbreath Dragon[/card] has always been a problem for Abzan and with RW Aggro being the most popular deck in the format online, I decided to send my [card]Fleecemane Lion[/card]s and [card]Rakshasa Deathdealer[/card]s on a vacation.

I started shredding everything with RW Aggro until I ran into Jarvis Yu in the finals of a Standard 8-man on MTGO. He crushed me with Abzan Control and it did not feel close at all. Jarvis would slow the game down enough for him to have time to cast Ugin and the new Planeswalker is actually fairly sweet against RW, blowing up [card]Chained to the Rocks[/card] and [card]Outpost Siege[/card]s.

After the match, I talked with Jarvis a little and he told me he had been winning at a ridiculous rate since picking up the deck. My teammate Jay Lansdaal looked at the decklist and felt confident his RW build could eat it for breakfast. We decided to jam some games and I proceeded to 6-0 him. I was sold.

From what I have read, this particular build of Abzan was designed by Steve Rubin. It first gained attention when Dan Musser finished in the top 8 of SCG Washington which took place on January 24-25. A week later, Dan goes ahead and wins a PTQ with it. Quite impressive.

With the help of Adam Yurchick, I was able to get a hold of Dan’s latest list. Dan had felt that his RW Aggro matchup wasn’t as good as he had hoped, so he cut 1 [card]Back to Nature[/card] and 1 [card]Murderous Cut[/card] for 1 [card]Bile Blight[/card] and 1 [card]Hero’s Downfall[/card]. Dan’s results against RW don’t match up with mine. I lost to Jarvis as RW and as Abzan, my record now stands at 10-0 against RW decks. You are a dog game one but the RW decks have too many X/2s that they cannot side them completely out, so post-board, those [card]Bile Blight[/card]s and [card]Drown in Sorrow[/card]s do a lot of work.

Abzan Control by Dan Musser

[deck]
[Lands]
3 Caves of Koilos
2 Forest
2 Llanowar Wastes
2 Plains
4 Sandsteppe Citadel
4 Temple of Malady
4 Temple of Silence
1 Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth
4 Windswept Heath
[/Lands]
[Spells]
4 Abzan Charm
3 Bile Blight
3 Elspeth, Sun’s Champion
2 End Hostilities
3 Hero’s Downfall
1 Liliana Vess
1 Murderous Cut
2 Read the Bones
4 Thoughtseize
1 Ugin, the Spirit Dragon
1 Utter End
[/Spells]
[Creatures]
4 Courser of Kruphix
4 Siege Rhino
1 Tasigur, the Golden Fang
[/Creatures]
[Sideboard]
1 Bile Blight
1 Hero’s Downfall
1 Tasigur, the Golden Fang
2 Read the Bones
1 Utter End
3 Glare of Heresy
3 Drown in Sorrow
1 Sorin, Solemn Visitor
1 Nissa, Worldwaker
1 Ajani, Mentor of Heroes
[/Sideboard]
[/deck]

The difference between this list and other Abzan Midrange decks was the removal of [card]Sylvan Caryatid[/card]s though I’m unsure who the first person to do it was as I have seen Lucas Siow finish in 2nd at a PTQ with the same idea on January 10th (pre-Khans Standard). Paul Dean would then take Lucas’s list the weekend after to win a PTQ in Quebec. For reference:

Abzan Control by Lucas Siow

[deck]
[Lands]
2 Caves of Koilos
3 Forest
3 Llanowar Wastes
2 Plains
3 Sandsteppe Citadel
4 Temple of Malady
4 Temple of Silence
1 Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth
4 Windswept Heath
[/Lands]
[Spells]
4 Abzan Charm
2 Bile Blight
1 Duneblast
3 Elspeth, Sun’s Champion
1 End Hostilities
4 Hero’s Downfall
1 Nissa, Worldwaker
1 Read the Bones
4 Thoughtseize
2 Utter End
[/Spells]
[Creatures]
4 Courser of Kruphix
3 Fleecemane Lion
4 Siege Rhino
[/Creatures]
[Sideboard]
1 Nissa, Worldwaker
2 Glare of Heresy
1 Erase
1 Sorin, Solemn Visitor
2 Read the Bones
1 Ulcerate
2 Drown in Sorrow
1 Utter End
2 Hornet Queen
1 Empty the Pits
1 End Hostilities
[/Sideboard]
[/deck]

How was my experience with the deck during my PTQ win? I beat Sidisi Whip, RW Aggro, UWR Control, RG Aggro, UB Control, and Abzan Midrage in the Swiss. I won against Abzan Midrange, Abzan Midrange, and GB Constellation in the top 8. My only loss came against a BG Aggro deck that featured [card]Warden of the First Tree[/card] and [card]Herald of Torment[/card] piloted by Nathan Tankus.

Over the course of the tournament, I felt the deck could use more green sources, so I would follow Lucas’s lead in having 3 [card]Llanowar Wastes[/card] and 2 [card]Caves of Koilos[/card]. I had awkward hands that could not cast a Courser on turn 3.

The type of deck I don’t want to face the most with Abzan Control is one that plays copies of [card]Whip of Erebos[/card]. In the finals against David, I felt like I was at a significant disadvantage having only two answers in the two copies of [card]Utter End[/card] to remove a resolved Whip. I would want at least one [card]Erase[/card] and possibly more if I thought I could fit more.

Looking over at MTG Goldfish, this flavour of Abzan is currently the third most popular deck online and I do sense that we will see a lot more of this deck in real-life this coming weekend. I think [card]Garruk, Apex Predator[/card] is an awesome trump to have in the mirror match.

With all of those thoughts in mind, here’s where I would start off:

Abzan Control by Kar Yung Tom

[deck]
[Lands]
2 Caves of Koilos
2 Forest
3 Llanowar Wastes
2 Plains
4 Sandsteppe Citadel
4 Temple of Malady
4 Temple of Silence
1 Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth
4 Windswept Heath
[/Lands]
[Spells]
4 Abzan Charm
3 Bile Blight
3 Elspeth, Sun’s Champion
2 End Hostilities
3 Hero’s Downfall
1 Liliana Vess
1 Murderous Cut
2 Read the Bones
4 Thoughtseize
1 Ugin, the Spirit Dragon
1 Utter End
[/Spells]
[Creatures]
4 Courser of Kruphix
4 Siege Rhino
1 Tasigur, the Golden Fang
[/Creatures]
[Sideboard]
1 Bile Blight
1 Erase
1 Hero’s Downfall
1 Tasigur, the Golden Fang
2 Read the Bones
1 Utter End
2 Glare of Heresy
3 Drown in Sorrow
1 Garruk, Apex Predator
1 Nissa, Worldwaker
1 Ajani, Mentor of Heroes
[/Sideboard]
[/deck]

Sideboarding with this deck is very much still an experiment for me despite my success with the deck. Some players elect to keep some amount of [card]Thoughtseize[/card]s against any deck with this list because they want to ensure that they have some early plays while others like me will cut them all out against any form of aggro.

When I was discussing sideboard plans against different Whip decks with some of the more prominent players in Ottawa, it was interesting to see the different takes they had. Jon Rowe suggested that I should play as many [card]Drown in Sorrow[/card]s as I can while Dan Lanthier felt it was safer to go with a max of two as the Whip decks could present a board that doesn’t involve X/2s. They could just be beating your face in with [card]Doomwake Giant[/card]s.

I do want to mention that I love [card]Thoughtseize[/card] against Whip decks more than most. Sure, the Whip decks have this crazy long game and they are generating card advantage through [card]Eidolon of Blossoms[/card] so achieving a one for one with a [card]Thoughtseize[/card] doesn’t seem great, but to me, they can draw as many cards as they want. There’s a specific set of cards that truly matter and those I want to discard.

If you want to talk sideboarding, start a thread in the comments!

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And with that, good luck and happy grinding!

KYT