I have had a pretty fortunate career so far in this amazing game we all love so much. A handful of Grand Prix top 8s and a couple of Pro Tour top 8s is enough to make anyone proud/happy. But in my almost three years of playing professionally, two tournaments stand out from the crowd. Some might assume one of these is Worlds, as it was a great tournament for me, but it doesn't meet the criteria exactly. Instead, I look back at a PTQ in Albuquerque almost 3 years ago, and Grand Prix Orlando earlier this week. For at the end of those two tournaments, there was not a hint of dissatisfaction.
Making top 8 and doing well on a consistent basis is an amazing experience, and I am grateful for those times, but no matter how well you do, if you aren't hoisting the trophy at the end of the tournament, you are going to be slightly dissatisfied. That feeling of knowing that you could not have done any better (from a standings perspective, obviously you can always play better) is quite unique and was something that had eluded me in premier play until Sunday night.
With the Holidays just behind us and a Pro Tour rapidly approaching, it was difficult to find too much time to work on the “solved” format that was Standard for a Grand Prix that would mark the end of the format until Dark Ascension greets us. Some matches online here and there and theory crafting were about all the prep work I could make time for. As a result, I was pretty sure I would be playing a Tempered Steel list with Gavony Township similar to the list Wrapter played in Orlando (although he stuck to a build more resembling our Worlds deck where as mine had a few other unique cards as you can see in some Rogue's Gallery videos that should be up sometime soon).
On the plane, I wrote down my list of Tempered Steel again, and just for fun, I toyed around with a BG ramp list that my buddy Brian Grewe had mentioned to me. I got into Orlando sooner than most of my team, so I decided to play a few games online with my Tempered Township list. After I lost to a list packing main deck Curses, Ancient Grudge, Ratchet Bomb, and Slagstorm (similar to Patrick Chapin's list) I decided I couldn't bring myself to playing the list. Too many people had artifact had at the ready for all of the Swords and Pikes running around, so it seemed like a good time to audible.
The BG ramp list I had been looking at seemed like it could be built in such a way that attacked the metagame from the angle I wanted to attack it. Most of the cards you could play had very small advantages over the Red counterparts against the big deck in the field (Delver) but they also supplied huge advantages elsewhere. Consider the “mirror” for example; One side has to control the others Titans through a series of Galvanic Blasts and Slagstorms that total up to 6, while the other side has Doom Blades and other spot removal that takes out a Titan by itself.
I began scribbling down various lists and getting a feel for them but I had another problem, card availability. Normally I bring all of my cards with me and turn to CFB for any additional help. After scouring the room for help, Strikezone offered me some help and ended up lending me essentially the entire deck.
I had tossed around a lot of ideas that I wanted to fit into the deck but also didn't want to try anything too crazy, as I would be playing it mostly untested. When Kibler asked about potentially adding Glissa, the Traitor to the deck, a card I had already considered, that was all I needed to include the legendary Zombie Elf. Here was the list I ended up with:
Every card just seemed to add a little more to your match ups than the red equivalent could claim. For example:
Grave Titan- This was one of the bigger shifts and I think it turned out really well. Against the various Delver and Snapcaster decks, if you play an Inferno Titan, they basically get Lava Spiked, as you cannot hit their important creatures due to Hexproof or Sword of War and Peace and then they just Vapor Snag your Titan, putting you really far behind. With Grave Titan, even if they do have Vapor Snag, you leave behind some bodies that can block a Geist for example and can actually start pressing the offense with them.
Against control decks, Grave Titan offered a card that was much more resistant to spot removal. It cannot be hit by a Doom Blade and Oblivion Ring is similar to the Vapor Snag scenario from above. With Day of Judgment at an all time low, some number of bodies were bound to be left behind when the Grave Dad got home from work.
Black Sun's Zenith- At first glance, this seems worse than a card like Slagstorm, mainly because it costs more mana for a similar effect. But if you think about the Ramp strategy, there is rarely a functional difference between 3 and 4 mana. Regardless of which sweeper you are using, you want to be leading with a ramp spell on turn 2, allowing you access to 4 mana on turn 3. Whether you spend that on a Slagstorm and have one left or spend all 4 on a Zenith, the end result is the same. In UB control lists, Zenith is a functional turn 4 card due to the lack of mana acceleration, but not in a ramp deck.
Once that argument is put to rest, Zenith is better in most ways. First, it is able to kill Thrun, the Last Troll, which is relevant in any type of mirror match during game one situations. Second, it is able to single handedly take out Titan-class threats in the late game. I managed to take out a Consecrated Sphinx in Orlando for example. Zenith also has the benefit of being modular, so you can keep your 2/2s around when you are just killing off a bunch of 1/1s. This came up quite a few times over the weekend actually. Lastly, the shuffle in effect is pretty big. Against a deck like Illusions, you want a Wrath effect early, but also need one late to stem the bleeding from things like Moorland Haunt. When you use a Slagstorm, its gone. When you use a Zenith though, the chance of drawing a second one remains the same as drawing the first, giving you a better chance at drawing that back up Wrath for the late game.
Doom Blade- Being a little slower than Galvanic Blast does suck, but because the deck so rarely goes to the face with a Blast, Doom Blade is better in most other ways. Being able to take down opposing Titans, Heroes of Bladehold, Elesh Norn, and Consecrated Sphinx was huge for me all weekend. Too much spot removal is actually a bad thing right now, with so many hexproof creatures running around, so I would rather make sure my 3 slots are going to be solid which is something Galvanic Blast cannot always insure.
Geth's Verdict- Another thing pulling the build towards black was the existence of a very solid Edict effect that really only had the downside of a mana cost of BB. With so many Hexproof creatures running around, Mirran Crusader and Phyrexian Crusader, along with things like Thrun and Titans, Verdict acted like a Doom Blade against the big creatures, while getting around the mess that was the protection abilities on the smaller creatures. Tribute to Hunger was significantly harder to resolve around turn 4 or 5 as Mana Leak could still snag it, and Verdict could be cast on turn 2 to take out an Invisible Stalker while the opponent was tapped out.
One of the big pulls into Black right now is Curse of Death's Hold. The card can single handedly stop an Illusions deck in its tracks while being quite strong against other aggressive decks like Humans or Tempered Steel. I could only find room for two of the enchantment, as I had so many other removal spells for those decks already, but they certainly pulled their weight.
Just about every card in the sideboard speaks for itself and was quite useful at some point in the tournament, save for the Tree of Redemption, as I never ran into Mono Red. I can't complain though, as that was a match up I was a little worried about, so I would rather be in the position of never finding out than to find out that it was bad new bad (trademarked).
Going into specific games is a bit unnecessary as I think I spent 7 total rounds under the camera, which can all be found on Wizards official coverage, and beyond that another two rounds were spent on the text coverage tables. That said, I have had a lot of requests for sideboarding help, so here are the plans I used during the tournament.
Against Delver, it is important to think about their specific cards rather than just look at the style of the deck. Against most aggro decks, it would look crazy to board out a Doom Blade, but when you consider that the only targets for the card were Delver and spirit tokens, plus the fact that we were bringing in so much additional removal, relying on just 2 Blades made perfect sense.
Primeval Titan is a bit of a liability against Vapor Snag until you reach the very late game, in which case you should be good post-board anyway. Birds on the other hand, is too much of a lost resource when we go up to 4 Zenith and 2 Ratchet Bomb that all intend on sweeping the board. It is also a bit swingy if they happen to leave in Gut Shot and you go all in on a Bird to accelerate you.
Vs Solar Flare
I occasionally mixed this one up a bit, sometimes taking out a copy of Grave Titan or Nihil Spellbomb for a copy of Batterskull, but in general, you just want to deploy threat after threat until they cave. Glissa is a great source of card advantage and Wrath protection in these match ups.
During day 2, I played against Solar Flare and used a Grave Titan to bait out a Dissipate in order to resolve a Glissa. I had a Solemn Simulacrum already in the bin and one in play, along with a Nihil Spellbomb in the yard. I knew that in order to deal with the Glissa and the pair of 2/2s I had in play, he would need to Wrath, as his Doom Blades were dead. He had just cast a White Sun's Zenith for 3 the turn prior. So, now forced to Wrath, I ended up bringing back the Solemn from in play, in the yard, and the Spellbomb, mitigating the effects of the sweeper altogether.
You can easily sub out additional Batterskulls for the last Primeval Titan, although against Humans, I did like the ability to Zenith one up in the late game, as they do not have the Vapor Snags that the Delver decks do.
Vs Wolf Run Red
I am still a little unsure of the sideboarding here, as I only played against the deck once or twice during the tournament. I remember bringing back in Ratchet Bomb after I saw Garruk Relentless, but I think just going with your own Garruk might be better. They don't have ways to deal with Grave Titan or Primeval Titan efficiently, where as we have a lot of ways to do just that, so I liked the match up a lot.
This match up was a little strange, as the way that the team decided was best to mulligan, ended up not being correct because Chapin boarded out his artifacts, but I am unsure of whether that will be a common play or not, so I will list you with the way I boarded in the finals, and then you can make adjustments accordingly.
So that is that. Like I said, if you are interested in match coverage, go check out the official coverage over at dailymtg.com and they have a full video archive as well as text archive. With Dark Ascension right around the corner, it is difficult to tell if this style of deck will continue to be good, but there looks to be a high likelihood that some BG land akin to Moorland Haunt or Kessig Wolf Run will see print which could be a big boost.
Thank you for all of the support over the weekend and all of the kind words via facebook and Twitter that I received. Hopefully I can keep up whatever sort of “run” this is, come Honolulu. As always, thanks for reading!