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!

Support the Site

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If you enjoy our articles, videos, and podcasts, support us by pledging a dollar.

And with that, good luck and happy grinding!

KYT

Captain’s Log #16 – My First Pro Tour

My laptop battery is dead. I am in the air on my way back to Montreal. A lot of people tell me they write articles on their phones and I have always had doubts about the enjoyment of said exercise, but I am forced to try it right now.

My first Pro Tour experience was extremely pleasing. The venue was beautiful. The tournament was well-run. It’s definitely something I want to involve myself with again. With that said, let’s start at the beginning to see how I prepared for my biggest tournament yet.

Resurrecting Team ManaDeprived

I had won one of the earliest PTQs possible for this event, claiming top spot in an M15 Limited PTQ that took place all the way back in August of 2014. At the time, I foresaw working for the Pro Tour mostly by myself with some help from the players at my local store (Check Swing) and the writers of this very website.

I knew I would be at a huge disadvantage against the professional super teams around the world but at the same time, working largely on my own forced me to come up with my own ideas. At this point in my career, I would just be a sheep on any super team.

However, in November, friends Xavier Allegrucci and Jessica Buchanan finished in the top 8 of Grand Prix Ottawa, giving me two Pro Tour teammates for the event. Later on, Jessica invited Sam-Luca Rolph and I brought on Chris Woodall.

We were all first timers. There wasn’t any set testing plan. We just jammed Modern games and drafted together. Jessica, who is from Toronto, even decided to stay in Montreal for a week so she could get some quality games in with Xavier and me.

Becoming Immense

So how did I end up playing Infect?

Modern contains many viable decks. The only reason I started to test Infect first was due to hearing my fellow Eh Team podcast host Jeremey Schofield tell me after the bannings announcement that [card]Become Immense[/card] possibly became the new best Delve spell in Modern. It also helped that Ari Lax called [card]Become Immense[/card] “the real deal” in a video he did for SCG leading up to Grand Prix Omaha.

I started things off consuming everything written by the man who has made a name for himself with Infect in Tom Ross. He has written numerous articles on Infect and I recommend reading every one of them if you are interested in playing the archetype. I have to also mention that Tom Ross is a really cool guy. He actually shared a bit of his thoughts to me prior to flying out to work with CFB Pantheon and we also ended up playing an excellent match against each other on Day Two.

Here’s the last public list of his that I could find:

UG Infect by Tom Ross

[deck]
[Lands]
4 Breeding Pool
2 Forest
4 Inkmoth Nexus
4 Misty Rainforest
2 Pendelhaven
4 Verdant Catacombs
[/Lands]
[Spells]
2 Distortion Strike
3 Gitaxian Probe
4 Groundswell
2 Might of Old Krosa
4 Mutagenic Growth
1 Pact of Negation
1 Phytoburst
4 Vines of Vastwood
1 Wild Defiance
[/Spells]
[Creatures]
1 Birds of Paradise
4 Blighted Agent
1 Dryad Arbor
4 Glistener Elf
4 Noble Hierarch
4 Viridian Corrupter
[/Creatures]
[Sideboard]
2 Hunt the Hunter
2 Wild Defiance
2 Spellskite
2 Twisted Image
3 Dispel
4 Nature’s Claim
[/Sideboard]
[/deck]

I did the obvious changes to accommodate [card]Become Immense[/card]. I went up to 4 [card]Gitaxian Probe[/card]s and cut a lot of the funky cards Tom was trying out to make room for the new Delve spell. No more need for [card]Pact of Negation[/card] or [card]Phytoburst[/card]!

I put the deck together and proceeded to test the list out on MTGO. I won most of my games easily and the ones that I did lose, most of the time, it was due to some misplay that I committed. I also came away impressed with the card [card]Become Immense[/card] itself. I started with 3 in my first version and 3 has always been the number.

Jay Lansdaal, one of my writers, was concerned that Junk would be a concern. It was predicted to be the most popular deck at the Pro Tour and that would be a problem for Infect as [card]Lingering Souls[/card] is one of the most annoying cards against us. All they honestly have to do is keep [card]Blighted Agent[/card] in check and they are in good shape. Tom Ross had told me he felt [card]Viridian Corrupter[/card] was now bad and that he would be considering [card]Ichorclaw Myr[/card]s instead.

But in my head, I didn’t think [card]Ichorclaw Myr[/card] was a good card overall. Sure they can safely attack into Lingering Soul tokens, but Junk will still be able to buy a ton of time and as the game goes long, the Junk player is favoured to take the game.

I went all the way back to Pro Tour Return to Ravnica for inspiration. Yeah, I did a lot of homework. Ari Lax had finished 9th with a BUG Infect list. You took more damage from your lands but you had the benefit of playing [card]Plague Stinger[/card] over [card]Ichorclaw Myr[/card]. Spirit tokens are still a problem for the Stinger but when they don’t have the 3 mana sorcery, Stinger is way more impressive than the Myr, being able to avoid [card]Scavenging Ooze[/card], [card]Tarmogoyf[/card], [card]Siege Rhino[/card], Tasigur, etc. The evasion from Stinger is important against other decks too.

After extensive testing with Jay, I found the Junk matchup very close but I figured that if it were to be the most popular deck, some sideboard tech would be useful and so 2 [card]Illness in the Ranks[/card] was included to fight off their best card against me.

Outside of Junk, the deck was testing really well. It had game against Twin and it was heavily favoured against Storm and Tron. Burn was rough and UWR was a nightmare, but I thought I could live with that.

Here’s what I registered at the Pro Tour:

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]
2 Abrupt Decay
1 Dismember
2 Illness in the Ranks
3 Nature’s Claim
4 Spellskite
3 Wild Defiance
[/Sideboard]
[/deck]

I call this list my baby but there’s nothing too innovative about it. I feel my main divergence from the mainstream is my choice of which pump spell to cut to make room for [card]Become Immense[/card] and [card]Gitaxian Probe[/card]. I chose to cut [card]Mutagenic Growth[/card]. Growth is able to give you these killer combo draws but because I expected Junk to be the #1 deck, I decided it was correct to take out the least individually powerful pump spell from the deck.

A lot of your Junk matches comes down to them discarding all your spells and you needing to draw a pump spell off the top to kill them with an [card]Inkmoth Nexus[/card] or something and often enough, [card]Mutagenic Growth[/card] would not be enough. Heavy discard strategies prey on decks that rely on synergy.

Another thing I did was add an extra fetchland which of course helps fuel [card]Become Immense[/card]. The other reason I wanted another land was the fact that we generally sideboard into cards that need more colour sources than normal. [card]Abrupt Decay[/card] can be a pain to cast so with the extra fetchland, I add another black source to the deck.

Unfortunately, I did not perform as I had hoped at the Pro Tour. I started off with a 1-2 record and was already feeling a bit down on myself but I had been in a similar position before at Grand Prix where I needed to rally a string of wins to make it to the second day. I rolled off the next 4 with my Infect deck, losing to Burn in the last round of Day One to finish 5-3. Reid Duke consoled me saying it took him quite a few tries to get out of Day One at the Pro Tour.

Day Two started off even worst than Day One as I ended up going 0-3 in my draft pod. With top 8 no longer in my sights, I lost the drive to play at my best and made numerous errors to finish my last five rounds 2-3 giving my Infect deck an overall performance of 6-4.

I definitely thought my Infect deck deserved more. I punted a game where I played around [card]Lightning Bolt[/card] from Storm when no lists I ever saw had any in the main deck so instead of killing him outright, I gave him a chance to combo off. Against Jamie Parke in the Infect mirror, I brain farted and didn’t [card]Vines of Vastwood[/card] his [card]Blighted Agent[/card] in response to him tapping out for a [card]Wild Defiance[/card]. In both cases, these were game punting errors. I’ve still got a long way to go when it comes to maintaining an A+ game throughout a tournament.

I found some consolation that CFB Pantheon came to the Pro Tour with the same archetype as me and according to this article by the amazing Adam Styborski, Infect was the top Day One performing deck when it came to archetypes that had more than 5 pilots.

Sideboard Guide

It has become a common thing for writers to talk about how useless a sideboard guide is and they are if they aren’t backed with the reasoning behind the choices as well. I’ll try to include some insights that might not be obvious to newer players of the format.

Junk

Out:
[draft]
3 Might of Old Krosa
[/draft]

In:
[draft]
1 Dismember
2 Illness in the Ranks
[/draft]

Jay convinced me I needed [card]Dismember[/card] in this matchup but I’m still not 100% sure as I have won many games where I just chump block my opponent’s Gofys and Oozes with my Hierarchs or Glistener Elves in order to give myself enough time to win with another Infect creature. Rhino has trample though so I can see myself needing to [card]Dismember[/card] it.

Burn

Out:
[draft]
3 Apostle’s Blessing
1 Distortion Strike
4 Gitaxian Probe
2 Might of Old Krosa
[/draft]

In:
[draft]
3 Nature’s Claim
4 Spellskite
3 Wild Defiance
[/draft]

You want [card]Nature’s Claim[/card] here because [card]Eidolon of the Great Revel[/card] is their best card against you. You are bringing in [card]Spellskite[/card] and [card]Wild Defiance[/card] which you can also use your Claims on if you have to.

Twin

Out:
[draft]
3 Apostle’s Blessing
4 Might of Old Krosa
[/draft]

In:
[draft]
2 Abrupt Decay
2 Nature’s Claim
3 Spellskite
[/draft]

Against decks with [card]Lightning Bolt[/card], [card]Might of Old Krosa[/card] is most often your worst pump spell. [card]Groundswell[/card] allows you to keep a fetch on your side of the table on your opponent’s turn, so that you can use it to save your creature from a Bolt effect.

Affinity

Out:
[draft]
4 Gitaxian Probe
3 Might of Old Krosa
[/draft]

In:
[draft]
2 Abrupt Decay
3 Nature’s Claim
2 Spellskite
[/draft]

[card]Spellskite[/card] can block [card]Etched Champion[/card] and you can use it to redirect Arcbound Ravager’s Modular trigger.

UG Infect

Out:
[draft]
4 Glistener Elf
4 Groundswell
4 Might of Old Krosa
[/draft]

In:
[draft]
2 Abrupt Decay
3 Nature’s Claim
4 Spellskite
3 Wild Defiance
[/draft]

This is still really theoretical as I haven’t played against the mirror much outside of my match against Jamie Parke in the Pro Tour. [card]Wild Defiance[/card] allows you to kill your opponent even if they have a [card]Spellskite[/card]. The UG version plays [card]Twisted Image[/card]s and that’s one of their edges over us.

If you need help with other matchups, feel free to ask me in the comments section below the article.

Moving Forward

If I am flying to Grand Prix Vancouver, would I play the exact same 75? I wouldn’t hate it though Burn being the second most popular deck at the Pro Tour hurt my chances of running the tables in the Modern portion of the tournament. I lost to two of them.

Searing Blaze is just too much of a blow out because even if you [card]Apostle’s Blessing[/card] or Vines one of your creatures, you still unfortunately take 3. My deck can’t afford to run [card]Feed the Clan[/card], so maybe I play the white Leyline roulette?

I appreciate all the support from my friends and fans throughout the weekend. Thank YOU.

I also need to give a shout-out to Tallegrucci. The Pro Tour vacation would have been far less enjoyable without you.

I’ll be back. I promise. My boy Jay Lansdaal (who helped me the most in tweaking my Infect list) is qualified for Brussels and I’ll be damned if I won’t be there battling by his side.

KYT

Captain’s Log #15 – Noah’s Ascendancy

If you aren’t playing Twin, Jund or Ascendancy, you’re playing Modern wrong.
– Noah Long

Because I qualified for Pro Tour Dewey in February, I have been making sure to keep an eye on the developments of Modern. This past weekend, I chose to do coverage for the Mana Deprived Super Series event in Toronto. It was a 6K event, making it our biggest Modern event ever. I was especially excited to cover the event because Ontario has quite the Modern following. The Southern Ontario Magic Society has been hosting Modern tournaments for the last couple of months and they had been getting over 100 players at each of these, which in my opinion is quite high for a non-PTQ event.

Jeskai Ascendancy

Khans of Tarkir is a very exciting set. Outside of the return of the [card]Onslaught[/card] fetchlands, it includes a few cards that should be seen as viable in Modern. There’s [card]Treasure Cruise[/card]. There’s [card]Dig Through Time[/card]. Heck, [card]Deflecting Palm[/card] is making its way in Burn decks. But just a few days prior to the MDSS event, Sam Black had written up an article about the possibility of a new turn 2 kill in Modern thanks to the new card [card]Jeskai Ascendancy[/card].

[deck title=Ascendancy Combo – Sam Black]
[Lands]
2 Breeding Pool
4 Mana Confluence
2 Misty Rainforest
2 Stomping Ground
1 Temple Garden
2 Verdant Catacombs
2 Windswept Heath
[/Lands]
[Creatures]
2 Arbor Elf
4 Birds of Paradise
4 Noble Hierarch
4 Sylvan Caryatid
1 Dryad Arbor
[/Creatures]
[Other Spells]
3 Jeskai Ascendancy
4 Cerulean Wisps
3 Manamorphose
4 Gitaxian Probe
4 Glittering Wish
1 Grapeshot
4 Serum Visions
4 Sleight of Hand
3 Treasure Cruise
[/Other Spells]
[Sideboard]
1 Meddling Mage
1 Jeskai Ascendancy
1 Wheel of Sun and Moon
1 Abrupt Decay
1 Guttural Response
1 Lightning Bolt
1 Manamorphose
1 Rakdos Charm
1 Simic Charm
4 Swan Song
1 Firespout
1 Maelstrom Pulse
[/Sideboard]
[/deck]

At first glance, it might be hard to see how this deck wins. If you have a mana dork and Jeskai Ascendancy in play, you can choose to use all these cheap cycle spells to go through your deck. Your mana dork keeps untapping, so you never run out of mana and the loot effect makes it likely that you will draw into more cycle spells. Once you have cycled enough, your mana dork can just kill your opponent by attacking or you can draw into your [card]Grapeshot[/card] and kill them that way. It’s actually very consistent at killing an opponent once it starts flowing through cards.

Knowing the Cards

In Modern and even in Legacy, many players preach that knowing your deck is more important than the deck choice itself. Doing coverage allowed me to see players make mistakes due to the unfamiliarity of certain cards and sometimes people don’t even understand the combo that they are playing.

I was witnessing a match in round 1 where a Jeskai Ascendancy player was up against the wall versus an Affinity deck. It was going into extra turns and the Ascendancy player tried to go off. Ultimately, he could only [card]Grapeshot[/card] for 9 and he chose to point all the copies at his opponent, bringing him from 18 to 9. The Affinity player was able to untap, play a [card]Cranial Plating[/card] and kill the Ascendancy player. The [card]Grapeshot[/card]s could have been used to clean the Affinity player’s board.

In a tight match between Affinity and Jund, the Affinity player went all-in with Arcbound Ravager’s ability before casting [card]Galvanic Blast[/card] because his mind just forgot that Metalcraft was printed on the red burn spell.

In the top 8 of the event, the RG [card]Scapeshift[/card] player who had only picked up the deck for the tournament lost both games to Hate Bears because he sacrificed too many Mountains when resolving [card]Scapeshift[/card].

I’ve made similar mistakes myself. At Grand Prix Boston this year, I just completely forgot that [card]Master of Etherium[/card] was an artifact creature lord. [card]Golgari Charm[/card] on a board with [card]Master of Etherium[/card] is not an effective play. Make sure to get your reps in if you want to do well at a tournament!

Tuning Ascendancy Combo

Back to the Ascendancy Combo deck, a lot of people already think it’s going to be a flash in the pan while others are scared that a tuned version might well be the best deck in Modern. Tyler Longo ended up taking a slightly tweaked list from Sam Black’s all the way to the finals of MDSS Toronto 2014. He added a [card]Dryad Arbor[/card] to the deck. He cut the [card]Grapeshot[/card] in favour of the full set of [card]Manamorphose[/card].

[deck title=Ascendancy Combo – Tyler Longo]
[Lands]
2 Breeding Pool
4 Mana Confluence
2 Misty Rainforest
2 Stomping Ground
1 Temple Garden
2 Verdant Catacombs
2 Windswept Heath
1 Dryad Arbor
[/Lands]
[Creatures]
2 Arbor Elf
4 Birds of Paradise
4 Noble Hierarch
4 Sylvan Caryatid
[/Creatures]
[Other Spells]
3 Jeskai Ascendancy
4 Cerulean Wisps
4 Manamorphose
4 Gitaxian Probe
4 Glittering Wish
4 Serum Visions
4 Sleight of Hand
3 Treasure Cruise
[/Other Spells]
[Sideboard]
1 Meddling Mage
1 Jeskai Ascendancy
1 Wheel of Sun and Moon
1 Abrupt Decay
1 Guttural Response
1 Rakdos Charm
1 Simic Charm
4 Swan Song
1 Firespout
1 Maelstrom Pulse
1 Fiery Justice
1 Flesh // Blood
[/Sideboard]
[/deck]

During the finals, he kept stating that his major objections with his list were the Arbor Elves and the [card]Wheel of Sun and Moon[/card]. The Arbor Elves can prove to be awkward if you only have [card]Mana Confluence[/card]s and they don’t help casting a Jeskai Ascendancy easier. He also could not imagine any scenario he would ever Wish for a [card]Wheel of Sun and Moon[/card].

Despite losing to Kaspar So in the finals, everyone watching came away impressed with the Ascendancy Combo deck. Noah Long, noted Canadian player who is a master at Magic/Yugioh/Kaijudo/Ballet/Having Good Looks, decided he was going to pilot the deck at the SOMS Invitational tournament the very next day and he was able to win that event with the following list:

[deck title=Ascendancy Combo – Noah Long]
[Lands]
1 Island
1 Dryad Arbor
4 Misty Rainforest
4 Mana Confluence
2 Verdant Catacombs
1 Stomping Ground
1 Temple Garden
2 Breeding Pool
[/Lands]
[Creatures]
4 Sylvan Caryatid
4 Birds of Paradise
4 Noble Hierarch
[/Creatures]
[Other Spells]
3 Jeskai Ascendancy
4 Glittering Wish
4 Serum Visions
4 Gitaxian Probe
4 Sleight of Hand
4 Manamorphose
4 Treasure Cruise
4 Cerulean Wisps
1 Crimson Wisps
[/Other Spells]
[Sideboard]
1 Jeskai Ascendancy
1 Flesh // Blood
1 Wear // Tear
1 Fiery Justice
1 Simic Charm
1 Abrupt Decay
1 Scarscale Ritual
1 Guttural Response
3 Leyline of Sanctity
4 Swan Song
[/Sideboard]
[/deck]

Jund is considered the single worst matchup for the deck so as Eggs has done itself in the past, Noah added [card]Leyline of Sanctity[/card] to shore up the deck’s weakness against lists packing discard spells. Noah attributes his win to the deck’s sheer power, but I think his looks had something to do with the win.

Look at my beautiful face!
Look at my beautiful face!

A Conversation with Noah Long

I sat down with Noah to pick his brain on the Ascendancy Combo archetype. We are still inching our way towards an optimal list.

KYT: Noah, most of your recent Magic success has come piloting combo decks. You won a PTQ with Storm and you even cashed Pro Tour Return to Ravnica with Eggs. Stanislav Cifka won the Pro Tour but in retrospect, you were probably on the right Constructed deck for that tournament. How does Ascendancy Combo compare to your past loves in Eggs and Storm?

Noah: This deck is Eggs and Storm but much MUCH better… R&D messsed up.

KYT: Is it ban worthy?

Noah: Just the fact that it takes forever to win like Eggs (even at a moderate pace) is enough to ban it. Let alone winning on turn 3 70% of my games, and the odd few on turn 2… 1st goldfish with the deck was turn 2… I was in love and extremely horny for more. Jund is the only very bad matchup, but the Leylines help a ton.

KYT: I noticed you are in agreement with Tyler Longo in taking out the [card]Grapeshot[/card].

Noah: Yes. The [card]Grapeshot[/card] plan is not necessary when you have [card]Flesh // Blood[/card] in the sideboard. Just Wish for it when you need that win condition. The problem with [card]Grapeshot[/card] was that it was sometimes a dead draw.

KYT: I hear you are not a fan of [card]Dryad Arbor[/card]?

Noah: [card]Dryad Arbor[/card] was very bad for me. I never needed to combo with green mana as I mainly created blue unless I was casting Wish to end the game or to find [card]Scarscale Ritual[/card] for more digging. Having Arbor in my opening hand was a mulligan as well and forced me to either mulligan or just skip a full turn.

KYT: Anything you want to talk about regarding sideboarding with the deck?

Noah: The worst cantrips are the [card]Cerulean Wisps[/card], so those usually came out the most.

KYT: What are some the changes you recommend for the deck moving forward?

Noah: I’d love to see some amount of [card]Path to Exile[/card] because while [card]Swan Song[/card] is basically the best sideboard card for this type of deck, it does not deal with Linvala. [card]Swan Song[/card] also fails to deal with [card]Abrupt Decay[/card] and I think that’s where a card like [card]Silence[/card] can shine. It’s cheap and it’s also useful in other situations. I think I’d play some number of them in the future.

KYT: How do you beat Jeskai’s Ascendacy? A lot of people just auto-lose games against combo when they don’t know what’s going on.

Noah: I got a checklist of thoughts for you KYT.

– Play creature removal (Anger being the best card) backed by hand disruption and/or counter magic.

– Play Linvala and other hate bears like Canonist. You can also play very focused cards like [card]Rule of Law[/card] and the like which completely cripple the deck if they do not have the answer.

– Safely tapping out may occur when they have zero mana dorks and not enough mana to cast Ascendancy + dork + [card]Crimson Wisp[/card]. [card]Crimson Wisp[/card] is currently not a staple in the archetype though.

– Key cards to keep off the table are mana dorks and the enchantment itself. Everything else is irrelevant. Treasure Cruise will always be their back up card for refueling, so [card]Scavenging Ooze[/card] and other graveyard disruption (such as [card]Rest in Peace[/card]) can put a damper on this back-up plan.

KYT: What’s the list you would recommend moving forward?

Noah: This beauty right here. I expect it to run as smooth as a baby’s bottom. Play it before it gets banned!

[deck title=Ascendancy Combo v2 – Noah Long]
[Lands]
1 Island
4 Misty Rainforest
4 Mana Confluence
2 Verdant Catacombs
1 Stomping Ground
1 Temple Garden
2 Breeding Pool
[/Lands]
[Creatures]
4 Sylvan Caryatid
4 Birds of Paradise
4 Noble Hierarch
[/Creatures]
[Other Spells]
3 Jeskai Ascendancy
4 Glittering Wish
4 Serum Visions
4 Gitaxian Probe
4 Sleight of Hand
4 Manamorphose
4 Treasure Cruise
4 Cerulean Wisps
2 Silence
[/Other Spells]
[Sideboard]
1 Jeskai Ascendancy
1 Flesh // Blood
1 Wear // Tear
1 Fiery Justice
1 Abrupt Decay
1 Scarscale Ritual
1 Guttural Response
3 Leyline of Sanctity
2 Path to Exile
3 Swan Song
[/Sideboard]
[/deck]

KYT: Thanks Noah!

Support Me!

As always, you can support my continuing efforts to provide you guys with free Magic content here. The hope is to hit the $300 milestone by the end of the month.

KYT

Captain’s Log #14 – Relearning Limited

On my previous Captain’s Log, kadeworld congratulated me on my PTQ win and left a few questions that I didn’t feel like I could answer in one small comment reply, so I’m going to devote an entire article for this task, which will basically cover a lot of different Limited-related topics. Here’s his comment:

Congratulations KYT! I am really glad for you.

Apart from the acknowledge that you had been overvaluing [card]Frost Lynx[/card], what else changed in your approach to the format from those 12 first drafts to the next ones?

Also, what is your take on the best way to test limited? How do you draw conclusions?

I find it hard sometimes to understand why a deck works and why other doesn’t. Do you seek input from fellow players? Do you analyze it on a vacuum, match by match…? And also, do you believe in pick orders? Any tips in this regard?

Share your knowledge on dominating this format! 🙂

Thanks, and again, congratulations!

K.

Thanks again, kadeworld. You asked a lot of M15-specific questions but also some more general ones that can apply to the upcoming Khans of Tarkir Limited format. I am likely to be attending one Friday at midnight. I always regret it but I keep showing up. I clearly love punishment.

Testing Limited

It might simply be the case that the only reason I won the PTQ last month was because I ran really hot. There’s no denying that my Sealed pool for that tournament was very good. However, top players have told me that I have always been a legitimate threat at local PTQs, so I hope I’m doing something right and that there’s something that you guys can take away from my approach.

With that said, I don’t actually think about what the best way to test Limited is. I focus on what I can do with what I have and thankfully, I’ve got quite a bit. Two of my friends who I respect for their play skill, Tom Cheung and Frédéric Lefrançois-Jutras, are players who no longer try to play every single local competitive event.

However, they love the game so much that they are willing to buy boxes of the latest sets and we just play non-stop Sealed tournaments against each other. Each match is a best-of-five so that we get a better feel for our decks. After the tournament, we generally sit down and discuss how our card evaluations have changed. The fact that we are usually exactly three is actually beneficial to our games because the person sitting out can comment on better lines that each of the players could have taken.

We have also made it pretty competitive. I keep track of all our tournament matches and use that data to generate ELO ratings for us, so we can see who is probably understanding the format more. I think ELO ratings for specific draft formats can be fairly telling.

I realize I can’t talk about this playing group of mine without mentioning that we also plug in some crazy stipulations sometimes. Fred always finds the idea of one of us buying an expensive piece of technology enjoyable, so after the last Sealed, Tom now has to get himself an Apple Watch at Launch Day. We are apparently happier when there’s one big loser and no winners. I can’t explain it.

That’s for Sealed, but for draft, MTGO has been an invaluable resource and although it’s expensive, I can tell you that the first twelve M15 drafts that I did online (0 final wins!) contributed a great amount to my PTQ win. What’s important to note is how easy it is to play with your draft decks even after the queue is over. It certainly makes you learn more. I did a draft video where I won a 4-3-2-2 with a BG Monstrosity that played a [card]Flesh to Dust[/card] and three copies of [card]Covenant of Blood[/card]. I destroyed the queue, but when I loaded it up and played against Tom who piloted his own queue-winning Rakdos deck, I was getting completely destroyed and it told me what I needed to know. My BG deck was not that good.

Pick Orders

I think pick orders or card ratings are a good starting point. I think LSV produces the most useful Limited set reviews on the planet, but it’s just important not to fall in the trap of treating everything you read as gospel. The pros are constantly learning about the format and their ratings change over time. For example, I definitely currently rate [card]Hunt the Weak[/card] and [card]Sacred Armory[/card] higher than LSV did in his set review series.

Of course, it’s always awesome to get different perspectives. I read Karsten’s and PV’s M15 articles during the week before I won my PTQ. It was important for me to see if there were cards that maybe I overrated or underrated in their eyes. I recommend checking those two articles out.

Frank Analysis – A Pick Order List for M15

PV’s Playhouse – M15 Limited

Ultimately, I don’t use a pick order because outside of the first couple of picks, the rest depend on a variety of factors such as which colour seems to be open, what my curve looks like, etc. It would take too much effort to make a thorough pick order of any kind.

At the end of the day, you have to trust yourself. Despite players who are better than me thinking that BG Self-Mill decks in M15 are more playable than I claim they are, I have been sticking to my guns. It’s more than likely that I am wrong in my evaluation, but if my goal for a draft is to win and not to learn, I need to use the cards that have served me the best because I know that I can win with them. Before the top 8 draft of my PTQ win, I didn’t ask anybody for their opinion of which archetypes would be good for me to draft. I didn’t play over 20+ 8-4 drafts on MTGO to last-minute ask someone what they think.

Drafting M15

M15 has already become a dead format in real life this week but there are still some online PTQ preliminaries to be played and from what I assume, the upcoming online PTQ will be M15 Limited. Like I did for my last article, I’m just going to drop some quick thoughts that I have that might prove useful. I’m also going to talk about how I have been misevaluating splashing and card draw for most of my Limited career.

Sticking to Your Guns and Avoiding Blue

Resident draft video producer Travis Sowers mentioned this on one of our Men from Modo podcasts and Owen Turtenwald also wrote an article about this particular strategy. It involves forcing a single colour. The main reason this works is that all of the colours are fairly deep so that if you decide to marry yourself to a powerful card, you are punished less than in previous formats.

I don’t use this approach 100% of the time as my drafting style is to basically stay as open as possible (almost to a fault), but every time I have forced a single colour, I experienced success. I think the fact that [card]Cone of Flame[/card] (or Cone of Game) is an uncommon ultimately gives you at least nine shots of opening a bomb in red, so it helps to be able to draft that up when you aren’t already committed to two other colours.

Blue is considered by many to be the worst colour in M15 and I have made it a point to pass blue when there’s cards of similar value in the pack but of a different colour. I mentioned in my previous article that I only want to jump in blue if I am getting fed an aggressive [card]Welkin Tern[/card] deck. [card]Coral Barrier[/card] is a fine card and it’s good in slower decks, but there’s no guarantee that you will actually have a better late-game than your opponent, so I’m never excited to be going towards that direction.

Verdant Havens and Meteorites

Before really analyzing every facet of my M15 game, I was in auto-pilot mode when it came to splashing. If I drafted a Fireball in one of the older formats, I would follow the commonly shared advice that I should have at least 2 sources of red mana in my deck. In M15, if I drafted a [card]Lightning Strike[/card], I would make sure I had enough sources covered by a combination of [card]Evolving Wilds[/card], [card]Verdant Haven[/card]s, and [card]Meteorite[/card]s.

But the more I drafted, I realized that whereas [card]Evolving Wilds[/card] allowed a splash that did not affect your spell total, [card]Verdant Haven[/card]s and [card]Meteorite[/card]s can certainly dilute your deck’s power. The other night, I was able to beat a deck easily because my opponent’s spells were [card]Satyr Wayfinder[/card], [card]Verdant Haven[/card], and [card]Nissa’s Expedition[/card]. I had three action cards instead of those three. It made me realize more than ever before that when you go out of your way to ramp, your deck has to be able to make up for the fact that you have less business spells. And if you are just splashing and not ramping, you better have a very powerful splash card to make up for those lost slots.

If you are playing ramp to get to [card]Hornet Queen[/card], then that’s great as she and her army can catch you back up or simply push you ahead. If you are playing 2 [card]Verdant Haven[/card]s just to be able to play that [card]Stab Wound[/card] though, you are likely doing it wrong.

In Khans of Tarkir, instead of [card]Verdant Haven[/card]s, you get to play with Banners that can cycle for a card later on in the game, so I definitely value that more highly than gaining 2 life. I’m still going to be very conscious of how many Banners my decks will contain.

Card Draw

I was always scared of card draw, because of how I used to view the game. I thought card advantage was the key path to victory. Life is a resource that you can sacrifice most of the time, but if you fall behind on cards, you are likely to lose, which is why I often rate cards like [card]Jace’s Ingenuity[/card], [card]Divination[/card], and [card]Sign in Blood[/card] so highly. They are the cards that scare me the most when cast by my opponents.

At some point though, I believe it was Alexander Hayne who made me realize that every card drawn in a typical deck (ignoring the starting seven) has roughly a 23/40 chance (57.5%) of being an actual spell which means that in the late-game, [card]Divination[/card] is actually not that scary as the lands drawn are usually going to be dead cards.

I think I am so used to 2 for 1s on the battlefield being a blowout that I basically viewed [card]Divination[/card] in the same light but it’s not. When you are trading one for two on the board, the spells traded are usual relevant threats. [card]Divination[/card] might not draw you anything.

All of this seems so obvious as I write this but it actually took me a while to understand why I have been overrating card draw all these years. At Grand Prix Montreal this year, I snap locked in [card]Divination[/card] for my UR Theros Sealed deck because it’s a 2 for 1, but Francis Toussaint was the first to look at my deck and say that [card]Divination[/card] was not something that my deck wanted to do on turn 3 or needed later on. I just sat there going “Really?!”, so even as recently as this year, I didn’t have a full grasp on how to evaluate card draw properly.

I believe all these little tweaks in my thinking (regardless of how minor each of them individually are) add up to something. In my case, they added up to a PTQ win. I hope you too can break down simple-looking concepts and become a better player than you were before.

Support Me!

I’m going to end this column with a call for help.

ManaDeprived.com started in May of 2010 and it’s been one heck of a ride. I’ll just be straight and to the point. I need your help to keep this going.

If you have enjoyed any of the content I have produced in the past or any of the over 200 podcast episodes I have co-hosted/produced, I want you to know that $1/month will go a long way towards allowing me to continue what I do.

For more details on how to help out, check out my Patreon page!

Until next time,

KYT

Captain’s Log #13 – Cone of Game

Despite not having written a new entry in this column for roughly five months, I hadn’t swayed away from my goal of working hard to make it to the Pro Tour for the first time in my life. I’m looking at my Planeswalker Points history for the year of 2014 right now and I’ve actually played in six Grand Prix so far, which is a significant amount for an unqualified Canadian.

Well, I’m happy to say that all the hard work paid off as I just qualified for Pro Tour Washington this past weekend!

Before the PTQ

I had prepared a good amount for the M15 Team Sealed main event at Grand Prix Portland. My teammates were Travis Sowers and FlamingSheep, both video producers here at ManaDeprived.com. Travis and I were part of a team that finished 5th at Grand Prix Providence last year and we had every intention of one-upping ourselves.

I’m not the type to complain about pool strength but I would be lying if I said I didn’t feel a strong sense to vomit when we were told which pool we were keeping to build with. All three of us flew in from the East Coast, so it was a little heartbreaking to know that we probably each threw a large amount of money into the garbage, but of course, you always try to make the best with what you have because that’s all you have control over. There’s always the chance that better decks stumble against you.

Our positivity led us to a 6-1 start, but ultimately, we didn’t make it to Day Two with me losing the last rounds of the tournament. I know it’s not 100% on me, but I couldn’t help but feel that I let my team down. I was the unofficial captain and the best player on the team yet I couldn’t seal the deal for us. I vowed to become the best M15 player I could be in time for the new PTQ season.

It didn’t start off all that great though as I was unable to win my first twelve 8-4 drafts on MTGO, but I kept at it and even forced myself to record a daily draft which explains the random influx of Drafting with KYT videos. As of now, I have made the finals of 7 out of my last 8 online drafts, winning 6 of them.

The PTQ

The PTQ was hosted by my sponsor Face to Face Games at the Sheraton Hotel. It was head judged by Chris Lansdell from Newfoundland and the whole tournament ran smoothly (or should I say CLSmoothly…).

During the deckbuilding portion, I was reminded of Franky Richard, my dear friend who had to skip the event for another occasion. One of his biggest pet peeves at Sealed events is people complaining openly about their pool strength. Sammy T, known for being outspoken, was sitting next to me and he wasn’t going to let someone who received [card]Burning Anger[/card] in his pool complain and get away with it.

I, on the other hand, had nothing to complain about. I looked at my cards and saw a 40-card combination that was going to give me a real shot at clinching a top 8.

Sealed PTQ

Spectral Ward and Burning Anger? Along with all these other auras to make [card]Brood Keeper[/card] insane? There’s a few things that keep this deck from being a 10/10. It didn’t have enough removal spells for large bombs. It overly relied on [card]Constricting Sliver[/card] to take care of problematic cards like Souls. I nearly dropped a match against a deck containing [card]Soul of Zendikar[/card]. The deck could have certainly used a [card]Devouring Light[/card] or a [card]Pillar of Light[/card].

And of course, a single copy of [card]Heliod’s Pilgrim[/card] would have upgraded the deck significantly, but again, I was beyond pleased. My main concerns were the fact that my sideboard contained zero artifact/enchantment hate and that my deck looked like it would matchup poorly against a good GW Triplicate Spirits/Sanctified Charge deck.

I went 6-1-1 in the Swiss portion, losing only to fellow friend Dan Lanthier who also sported [card]Spectra Ward[/card] in his deck. I lost in three games where the last game had me keeping a two-lander with [card]Raise the Alarm[/card] only to draw my third land when it was too late. For the most part, my deck ran like a well-oiled machine.

One funny thing that I realized is that against certain decks, I wasn’t really sure if I was supposed to search something up with [card]Hoarding Dragon[/card]. If they exile it, I’m not getting the artifact and sometimes, I wish the artifact was still in my deck. It’s not uncommon for a [card]Gargoyle Sentinel[/card] to be one of my few good draws in a scenario.

The Top 8

The top 8 was about to start. Philippe Gareau, a fine gentleman from Quebec City, had been asking around to see if any of the top 8 participants had drafted. Apparently only he and I had a significant amount of experience with the draft format. On top of that, the most accomplished player in our pod, Dan Lanthier, genuinely did not know all the cards in the format. I was really confident to win it all.

I was confident prior to the top 8. I trained hours for this opportunity. Unlike my fellow beloved Eh Team podcasters Jeremey Schofield and Scott MacCallum who have had impressive finishes in their own right, I don’t believe in “the zone”. I believe in being prepared when the cards are going your way.

One of my best friends Alexander Hayne was still on his way back from Australia after having played Grand Prix Sydney, but he was making sure that I knew he was cheering me on. I told him how confident I was and this is something that I have never felt before because net-decking was a big part of my Constructed game. Get the right amount of preparation and confidence will come to you too! That’s the real reason Scott has been crushing with #TeamGeist in the Modern format.

FB_Convo_With_Hayne

I sat down for the top 8 draft and opened my first booster pack. I saw [card]Resolute Archangel[/card] and thirteen other unexciting cards, so I slammed the Angel. I don’t think it’s the craziest of cards but it’s a solid curve topper. I then get passed a [card]Devouring Light[/card] and an [card]Ulcerate[/card]. I take the white card and at this point, I’m open to the idea of forcing white and giving the clear signal to Toby Rosman on my left that he should be in black.

The boosters played into my strategy. Every pack that came to me happened to contain only one solid white playable. I took it and passed everything else to Toby. In the end, there were only two white drafters, my finals opponent and myself. That’s pretty crazy when it’s consensus that white is the strongest color in M15 Limited.

In Pack Two, I opened [card]Triplicate Spirits[/card], whereas Toby who ended in BG Self-Mill was looking at [card]Soul of Theros[/card] and [card]Cone of Flame[/card]. According to him, there weren’t any good BG cards, so he decided to hate on the Soul. I took the Cone, thinking red might be open from my left, but it really wasn’t. I was only able to fill out the rest of my deck because again, there were only two white drafters.

Draft PTQ

The finished product didn’t have as many bomb threats as my Sealed deck, but it had premium removal. It also contained one very important copy of Cone of Game.

In top 8, I faced off against Philippe Gareau who drafted one of his fave archetypes in BG Self-Mill, which as previously mentioned Toby had also drafted in the same pod. It was a close match, but I was able to put him away with flyers. One of the games required me to go all-in with [card]Sungrace Pegasus[/card] before he threw his [card]Flesh to Dust[/card] and sure enough, the removal spell was exactly one turn too late.

In top 4, I played against some 4 color monstrosity. In Game One, he was dominating the board with a [card]Welkin Tern[/card], a Paragon of the Gathering Mists, and a [card]Nimbus of the Isles[/card]. When I was about to lose, I drew [card]Cone of Flame[/card] to destroy his blue army and comeback for the win. It was such a devastating draw that my opponent coined the card Cone of Game. Game Two saw my opponent curve out in spectacular fashion: [card]Frenzied Goblin[/card] into [card]Welkin Tern[/card] into [card]Necrogen Scudder[/card] into Kird Cheiftain. And yes, he had exactly Mountain, Island, Swamp, and Forest.

Game Three, my opponent was punished for his mana as he only had red and black lands out. However, he was able to deal with all of my threats to the point where he had multiple cards in hand but I had none. Luckily, I was able to draw [card]Resolute Archangel[/card] into [card]Sacred Armory[/card] before my opponent cast any of his cards.

The finals were actually sort of anti-climatic. My opponent who was playing GW had slow starts in both games while I had extremely aggressive ones. To give you an idea, he had to quickly go into chump block mode against my [card]Juggernaut[/card] with a Mark of Honor on it.

After I attacked for lethal and my opponent extended his hand to me, there was a huge sense of relief inside of me. I had finally did it. I turned around and was elated to see Barry Hum and Jake Meszaros there. These are two guys that I have played at my local store forever with and we have always talked about one of us making it to the Pro Tour someday. I have played Magic with Barry for over 10 years. Davies Clarke was also there for me and he was the first person I met at an event that complimented me on my work with ManaDeprived.com. This whole experience was making me go down memory lane.

I can’t forget to mention that it was extra sweet to have Chris Lansdell and Salvatore Reda witness my first Pro Tour berth.

I did it. I finally did it.

Thanks to everyone on Twitter and Facebook who congratulated me on my finish. I read everything and they all made me feel really good.

Before I end this article, there’s a few random thoughts I have on the format that I wish to share. Maybe it will spark some discussion.

BG Self-Mill

There aren’t that many unique archetypes in M15 outside of UR Artifacts and the BG Self-Mill deck. The BG Self-Mill deck consists of a few components. It uses cards such as [card]Satyr Wayfinder[/card] and [card]Necromancer’s Assistant[/card] in order to fill the graveyard. It then uses spells like [card]Unmake the Graves[/card] and [card]Restock[/card] to gain an advantage. Lastly, it can play a number of [card]Undergrowth Scavenger[/card]s because they will tend to come into play with a large number of counters.

I’ve tried to build this deck and I’ve faced it multiple times online. In both cases, the BG Self-Mill deck generally lost, so I currently think that it’s an archetype that I want to be avoiding. For one, I think it can be too slow. While you are spending time milling yourself and casting [card]Unmake the Graves[/card], your opponent can be putting a lot of pressure on you, especially in the air. [card]Netcaster Spider[/card] is definitely a key card to have if you must go BG.

I also think the deck is too inconsistent. At Grand Prix Portland, my teammate Travis, had 2 [card]Satyr Wayfinder[/card]s, 2 [card]Necromancer’s Assistant[/card]s, and 4 [card]Undergrowth Scavenger[/card]s in his deck. Sometimes, I would look over at his hand and see that if he were to cast a Scavenger, it would come out as a 2/2. That’s awful.

And sometimes, the [card]Undergrowth Scavenger[/card] will come out as a 16/16, but so what? If your opponent has a creature with deathtouch or a [card]Coral Barrier[/card] out, you are not getting in for massive damage anytime soon. I watched Travis lose as he cast multiple giant Scavengers that were too slow to steal the game from him.

In one round, one of Travis’s opponents came up with a smart sideboarding plan. He brought in his own [card]Undergrowth Scavenger[/card] along with a [card]Hot Soup[/card]. Travis was able to cast a few decent-sized Scavengers in the game, but his opponent was able to lay down the last one and it was the biggest one.

I’m always open to be wrong, so I did ask my friend Jon Stern about his thoughts and he told me that he liked the archetype more than me while also stating that he’s not that impressed with [card]Undergrowth Scavenger[/card]. I was intrigued. His approach is to draft bombs and [card]Endless Obedience[/card], so that his deck is essentially able to draw into these bombs at a more frequent basis. What would constitute as a bomb in this deck? [card]Hornet Queen[/card] for one. If I am ever giving BG another chance again, I am going to keep Stern’s approach in mind.

Overrating Frost Lynx

I overrated [card]Frost Lynx[/card] when I first drafted this set. It’s not that it’s not a good card, but I was regarding it as a premium pick when it’s actually not that high on the scale. It’s a tempo card that’s dependent on the rest of your deck. You are getting the most value out of the card when your deck is able to consistently attack with multiple one and two-drops. I really didn’t see it that way early on and simply couldn’t understand why I was losing with a deck that contained 4 copies of [card]Frost Lynx[/card].

Although some pros have listed it as the best blue common, for me, the real reason to go blue is [card]Welkin Tern[/card] and if I can supplement my [card]Welkin Tern[/card]s with [card]Frost Lynx[/card]s, then I am a happy blue mage for that draft.

Closing

Best of luck in your own PTQs and hopefully, I will be seeing some of you at Pro Tour Washington in February.

KYT
@kytmagic

Captain’s Log #12 – Lucky Numbers

I am on the plane from Detroit to Montreal as I write this. All in all, despite not repeating our collective success at Grand Prix Vancouver, I had an extremely fun-filled weekend with two of my best Magic friends in Alexander Hayne and Jon Stern.

Above the Sky
Above the Sky

For the past few weeks, I had been wanting to write an article on everything that has been going on in my Magic life, but things like planning the many ManaDeprived events for Grand Prix Montreal got in the way.

For this article, I am going to focus mainly on Standard and the new technology my team came up with for the Mono Black Devotion deck. Of course, I am also going to talk a bit about the awesome time I had in Cincinnati with one Jonathan Medina because that guy is totally legit, DUDE.

Post-PTQ Thoughts

Two weeks ago, I played in a PTQ in Toronto. Despite constantly thinking Mono Black Devotion was no longer as strong as it once was, it was still my weapon of choice as it was the deck I was most familiar with. After all, I finished 11th at Grand Prix Vancouver with it.

Here’s the list I registered:

[deck title=Mono Black Devotion]
[Lands]
4 Mutavault
18 Swamp
4 Temple of Deceit
[/Lands]
[Creatures]
4 Desecration Demon
4 Gray Merchant of Asphodel
4 Nightveil Specter
4 Pack Rat
[/Creatures]
[Other Spells]
2 Bile Blight
2 Devour Flesh
4 Hero’s Downfall
4 Thoughtseize
2 Ultimate Price
4 Underworld Connections
[/Other Spells]
[Sideboard]
2 Bile Blight
2 Dark Betrayal
1 Doom Blade
3 Duress
3 Erebos, God of the Dead
4 Lifebane Zombie
[/Sideboard]
[/deck]

I did not do so hot, dropping the tournament with a record of 2-3. Usually I would have played every round of the tournament but there was a Standard side event where the winner would be receiving a Modern Masters box, so I decided to sign myself up for that.

I started the tournament off with four straight wins, locked up top seed, but ultimately lost my first elimination match to Uw Devotion. Uw Devotion was also one of my losses during the main event courtesy of Mike Vasovski.

One of the lessons I took away from this PTQ was that if Uw Devotion was going to become a major force in the metagame, Mono Black Devotion would then certainly become a poorer deck choice for future tournaments. Splashing white for [card]Revoke Existence[/card] or splashing green for [card]Abrupt Decay[/card] would become a necessary adjustment in my opinion.

I would also like to say that from my perspective as the Mono Black player, I did not find Ephara too impressive. I am reading many articles where authors share the same view, suggesting versions of the deck that only include one copy of the blue-white God.


Another takeaway for me was that I was starting to dislike Erebos as a sideboard card. This is because control decks have learned to adopt [card]Revoke Existence[/card] as a solution from Born of the Gods.

There’s also the fact that it is a challenge to get Erebos to become a creature against the splash versions of Mono Black. In all of these Black-based showdowns, a lot of removal is being brought in by both sides for the post-sideboard games. That is why in the straight mirror, [card]Underworld Connections[/card] is the card that is able to provide the devotion needed for Erebos to attack, but against splash versions of Mono Black, Connections might not have the luxury of sticking around when it hits play.

The PTQ didn’t go as planned but Scott MacCallum still made it one heck of a weekend for me, letting William Blondon and I stay at his place. I think he’s got the cutest daughter and I will admit that I absolutely love how instead of calling me KYT, she calls me T-Rex.

Grand Prix Cincinnati

I wasn’t planning to go to Grand Prix Cincinnati but Alex started telling me how cheap the flights were and top of that, Jonathan Medina offered us a place to stay in Ohio. Medina has been a big part of my Magic life, so I wasn’t about to turn down an opportunity to spend time with him in person.

Scry Seven

On the way to the venue from the airport, Alex questioned Jon and I on the number of scry lands we planned to play in the main event as he felt it was something that Mono Black Devotion players didn’t really bother to analyze. He desperately wanted the two of us to play exactly seven scry lands.

I’ve actually asked people about this topic before but the answers were never backed by any real testing and no one I know ever brought up the idea of playing seven in Mono Black. Everyone just felt for whatever reason that the ideal number of scry lands was between four and five.

The problem with testing with Alex is that he is a master troll to anyone he is fond of. Or perhaps to anyone period. I had to ask him repeatedly if he was being serious in his recommendation of seven scry lands for the Mono Black deck.

When we arrived at the venue, Shahar Shenhar sat down to discuss Mono Black with Jon and Dan Lanthier. I sat to the side, laying out the number of scry lands I was potentially going to be playing at the main event.

“Seven? This is a joke right?” – Dan Lanthier

It had to be a joke, right? One of the most ideal starts from the Mono Black deck is to be able to go turn one [card]Thoughtseize[/card], turn two [card]Pack Rat[/card] followed by playing a third untapped land in order to make a Rat token.

But Alex reminded me of all the times that the Mono Black deck can tend to flood out due to its high number of lands. It does play twenty-six and recent decklists I have seen online have decided to go down to twenty-five. Playing more scry lands would allow us to find [card]Underworld Connections[/card] faster than our opponents in the mirror and it gives us a higher chance of finding threats against the control decks.

When we got back to Medina’s house Friday night, Jon and I decided to test the scry lands idea. Jon had the idea of testing the deck with eight so that we could get a better feel of how much the tap lands could hurt. He had me pilot the Jund Monsters deck as it is one of the more aggressive decks in the format. He soundly beat me 7-1 and I just couldn’t believe it. I actually had good hands in some of the games, but it’s like he was able to somehow find the right answer every single time…

-light bulb-

Alex jumped in to help out by piloting the Mono Blue deck against Mono Black. After another set of games, all Jon had was praise for the scry lands to the point of actually feeling like eight might be the right number and not seven.

Ultimately, to better figure out how many scry lands we wanted, Jon created a spreadsheet to see the odds of getting X scry lands in our opening hand based on how many copies existed in our deck. As it turns out, even if it was just a number Alex came up with on the spot, seven gave us the highest chance of having specifically one scry land in our first eight cards of a game.

Testing at Medina's
Testing at Medina’s

After discussing the deck with Jon, I decided I would play his 75 because he shared my opinion on essentially every aspect of the deck (e.g., not cutting [card]Nightveil Specter[/card]s, not being as high on Erebos as other Mono Black pilots).

Here is the 75 Jon Stern put together:

[deck title=Mono Black Devotion v7]
[Lands]
4 Mutavault
15 Swamp
4 Temple of Silence
3 Temple of Deceit
[/Lands]
[Creatures]
4 Desecration Demon
4 Gray Merchant of Asphodel
2 Lifebane Zombie
4 Nightveil Specter
4 Pack Rat
[/Creatures]
[Other Spells]
3 Devour Flesh
4 Hero’s Downfall
1 Pharika’s Cure
4 Thoughtseize
4 Underworld Connections
[/Other Spells]
[Sideboard]
2 Dark Betrayal
1 Devour Flesh
1 Doom Blade
4 Duress
2 Erebos, God of the Dead
2 Lifebane Zombie
2 Pharika’s Cure
1 Ultimate Price
[/Sideboard]
[/deck]

One of the other more glaring aspects of Jon’s list is the fact that it plays zero copies of [card]Bile Blight[/card]. Playing zero copies was an idea I suggested when the three of us first arrived in Cincinnati. It’s not very good against the Monsters deck and in the mirror, your opponent is going to respect [card]Bile Blight[/card] regardless of whether you actually have it in your hand or not.

It was also on my mind that the RW Burn deck would be popular at this event. The exact eight creature version popularized by James Fazzolari was picking up steam. I’ve seen multiple copies of that deck finish well in tournaments and against that deck, [card]Pharika’s Cure[/card] can be a more powerful tool.

However, both Jon and I lost a game during the Grand Prix because we didn’t have access to [card]Bile Blight[/card] in the mirror. On the other side of the coin, we also both won games were [card]Pharika’s Cure[/card] saved us against Burn. If I were going to Grand Prix Phoenix, I’d be looking to fit both in somehow.

I have to give special shout-outs to Matthew Ratajczak and Alex Bianchi. I had actually forgotten to bring my Mono Black deck to Cincinnati and these guys came through big time for me by making another copy out of the cards they owned.

Jon’s Playbook

As I have written about him before, Jon is a preparation fanatic and for all of you looking to play this deck in a tournament, I have decided to publish his sideboarding playbook right here.

The mirror

Out:
[draft]
4 Desecration Demon
2 Hero’s Downfall
2 Lifebane Zombie
1 Pharika’s Cure
[/draft]

In:
[draft]
2 Dark Betrayal
1 Devour Flesh
3 Duress
2 Erebos, God of the Dead
1 Ultimate Price
[/draft]

Orzhov Midrange

Out:
[draft]
4 Desecration Demon
4 Hero’s Downfall
1 Pharika’s Cure
[/draft]

In:
[draft]
2 Dark Betrayal
1 Devour Flesh
2 Duress
2 Erebos, God of the Dead
2 Lifebane Zombie
[/draft]

UW/Esper

Out:
[draft]
2 Desecration Demon
3 Devour Flesh
2 Hero’s Downfall
1 Pharika’s Cure
[/draft]

In:
[draft]
4 Duress
2 Erebos, God of the Dead
2 Lifebane Zombie
[/draft]

RG/Jund Monsters

Out:
[draft]
1 Pharika’s Cure
4 Underworld Connections
[/draft]

In:
[draft]
1 Devour Flesh
1 Doom Blade
2 Lifebane Zombie
1 Ultimate Price
[/draft]

Burn

Out:
[draft]
4 Hero’s Downfall
3 Thoughtseize
4 Underworld Connections
[/draft]

In:
[draft]
1 Devour Flesh
1 Doom Blade
4 Duress
2 Lifebane Zombie
2 Pharika’s Cure
1 Ultimate Price
[/draft]

Mono Blue Devotion (on the play)

Out:
[draft]
2 Lifebane Zombie
4 Underworld Connections
[/draft]

In:
[draft]
1 Devour Flesh
1 Doom Blade
1 Duress
2 Pharika’s Cure
1 Ultimate Price
[/draft]

Mono Blue Devotion (on the draw)

Out:
[draft]
4 Pack Rat
4 Underworld Connections
[/draft]

In:
[draft]
1 Dark Betrayal
1 Devour Flesh
1 Doom Blade
1 Duress
1 Lifebane Zombie
2 Pharika’s Cure
1 Ultimate Price
[/draft]

Hexproof

Out:
[draft]
4 Hero’s Downfall
3 Underworld Connections
1 Pharika’s Cure
[/draft]

In:
[draft]
1 Devour Flesh
4 Duress
1 Doom Blade
2 Lifebane Zombie
[/draft]

Slaughter Games

A few of you might want to ask me what I think of the different splash versions of Mono Black. The red splash for [card]Slaughter Games[/card] was a popular choice for this weekend as from what I hear, Team ChannelFireball members and Shahar ended up selecting that specific version as their weapon of choice. Jon and I just didn’t hate the control matchup that much and we really didn’t like having to twist our mana base to accommodate the red cards.

Number 13

I ended the tournament at 6-3 at the end of Day One, losing to two mirrors and Mono Red Aggro. Jon made Day Two with a record of 8-1 but he was 2-3 on Day Two before conceding to LSV in the last round. Neglecting byes, our list had a collective record of 11-7 (61%). Nothing too impressive, but we remain pleased with the deck we piloted. Moving forward, both of us are more likely to play seven scry lands than four in Mono Black Devotion. You win, Alex, you win.

Since my Grand Prix streak of making Day Two nine times in a row snapped, I played in the Super Sunday Series (Sealed). My pool was average but I was able to start things off at 5-0 largely due to play errors from my opponents. I proceeded to 0-3 before winning my last round.

Due to my results in Grand Prix Vancouver (11th) and Grand Prix Montreal (12th), many of my friends made the joke that I would finish 13th at Grand Prix Cincinnati. Well, I did, but in the Sunday Super Series…

After collecting my prize from the Sunday Super Series, Alex, Jon, and I went back to Medina’s house that night to drown our sorrows over games of Ascension. It was a huge bummer to see Alex finish 9th after such a strong start.

Playing Ascension
Playing Ascension

Steak ‘n Shake

Best Place on Earth
Best Place on Earth

Steak ‘n Shake was one of the bigger revelations for Alex, Jon, and I this past weekend. A lot of people love to joke about how Americans are fat because they serve delicious unhealthy food at a cheap price, but to a Canadian, an amazing burger for $4 is a concept that is inconceivable.

Of course, the service is slower than snails and the fries taste like utter garbage, but we loved the place so much we actually ate there Saturday night AND Sunday night. Jon was opposed to any criticism I had for his new Best Place on Earth. I got the Royale burger both times because for whatever reason, I have a thing for burgers that come with a fried egg.

The Grind Continues

Despite my disappointing performance, it’s already time to get back on the saddle for another chance to qualify for the Pro Tour. This weekend, FacetoFaceGames is hosting a PTQ in Montreal, so I plan to port over some of the success I had in Limited at Grand Prix Montreal to this tournament.

Grand Prix Cincinnati will always be a fond memory. I got to hang out with THE Jonathan Medina, who was a host and a half for us. I had missed him tremendously since his departure from the game and re-experiencing the chemistry we shared was indescribable. Seeing Mark Sun again was a welcome treat as well.

I also got to spend time with Alex and Jon which is a less frequent occasion these days as they are usually spending their time flying around slaying Magic tournaments. How long will it take for me to join them?

The Canadian Trio
The Canadian Trio

As always, thanks for reading!

KYT
@kytmagic