This week has been pretty exciting for Magic, though not for me personally. I’ve been in a bit of a lull since GP Toronto, with no big events to practice for and only GP Indy and Christmas in my future. With Indy being Sealed Deck, I found it hard to write an article about my preparation, considering it would just be showing you some practice Sealeds and explaining how I would build them.

In the past, those have usually been unpopular so I decided to try something new. Instead, I’m going to go over the Top 8 Standard deck lists from the Invitational, and give a quick rundown of what I like and dislike about the lists.

1st: Reid Duke

[deck]Main Deck:
3 Augur of Bolas
1 Restoration Angel
4 Thragtusk
2 Island
1 Alchemist's Refuge
4 Glacial Fortress
4 Hallowed Fountain
4 Hinterland Harbor
2 Nephalia Drownyard
2 Overgrown Tomb
4 Sunpetal Grove
3 Temple Garden
1 Detention Sphere
1 Rest in Peace
3 Azorius Charm
4 Dissipate
4 Sphinx's Revelation
4 Think Twice
1 Amass the Components
4 Farseek
3 Supreme Verdict
1 Terminus
Sideboard
1 Pithing Needle
1 Restoration Angel
2 Rhox Faithmender
1 Silklash Spider
1 Detention Sphere
1 Rest in Peace
1 Azorius Charm
2 Dispel
2 Negate
1 Jace, Memory Adept[/deck]

I love this deck! I’ve written about it many times and said that I think it’s the best choice for current Standard.

I know how to play the deck well enough to win any matchup, it's highly customizable for any metagame, and I think it has some of the best cards in the format, like [card]Farseek[/card] and [card]Sphinx's Revelation[/card]. Reid chose to play without [card]Elixir of Immortality[/card], which was a bold move. To be honest, I never really liked the Elixir and often sideboarded it out, but I still thought it was absolutely the most important card in the deck for beating matchups like Reanimator with [card]Unburial Rites[/card] and token decks.

For the expected field, I think Reid made a wise decision, but I wouldn’t consider this list the baseline. At GP Charleston, I played 1 sideboard [card]Rhox Faithmender[/card] and I loved it. Playing it alongside [card]Thragtusk[/card] or [card]Sphinx's Revelation[/card], it can close out the game very effectively. I am skeptical of playing 3 [card]Supreme Verdict[/card]s and 1 [card]Terminus[/card], but it doesn’t look like it hurt him too badly. I realize [card]Terminus[/card] is much, MUCH better against Zombies because of cards like [card]Geralf's Messenger[/card] and [card]Falkenrath Aristocrat[/card], but I think at least one game in the GW aggro matchups is always decided by, “did you draw [card]Supreme Verdict[/card] before turn 5?”

2nd: Ben Weinburg

[deck]Main Deck:
4 Avacyn's Pilgrim
3 Borderland Ranger
4 Champion of the Parish
2 Fiend Hunter
3 Huntmaster of the Fells
3 Knight of Glory
4 Mayor of Avabruck
4 Restoration Angel
2 Silverblade Paladin
2 Zealous Conscripts
3 Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
3 Forest
1 Mountain
3 Plains
4 Cavern of Souls
2 Clifftop Retreat
3 Gavony Township
2 Rootbound Crag
1 Sunpetal Grove
4 Temple Garden
3 Selesnya Charm
Sideboard
1 Angel of Glory's Rise
1 Huntmaster of the Fells
2 Intrepid Hero
2 Silverblade Paladin
1 Zealous Conscripts
3 Nevermore
3 Rest in Peace
2 Sigarda, Host of Herons[/deck]

At first glance, this deck looks to me like an inferior version of GW Humans, but when you dig a little deeper you see that it acts more like a midrange aggro-killer type deck. It's Constructed with Zombies and GW Humans as its expected opponents, and I think it will beat those decks quite well. [card]Borderland Ranger[/card] makes for a more long-game deck, hoping to take advantage of [card]Gavony Township[/card] and [card]Restoration Angel[/card].

It stays away from cards like [card]Rancor[/card] and [card]Precinct Captain[/card], to play red for [card]Huntmaster of the Fells[/card] and [card]Zealous Conscripts[/card]. Huntmaster is a way of beating aggressive decks and providing a “must Wrath” threat, and [card]Zealous Conscripts[/card] is the best possible line of defense against [card]Thragtusk[/card].

You know you’re doing something right when the control player is afraid to cast his most powerful creature. I like the fact that this deck plays maindeck [card]Fiend Hunter[/card]—decks like this usually lack any reliable way to remove a creature. Lastly, I hate the fact that this deck only plays 2 [card]Silverblade Paladin[/card]s—I understand that it's slightly worse in a deck like this, but it’s still one of the most powerful cards in standard.

3rd: Matt Nass

Matt Nass’s list isn’t posted anywhere, but I know he got 3rd place in the tournament with a UW [card]Snapcaster Mage[/card] deck, and the major changes were adding [card]Geist of Saint Traft[/card] to the main and 4 [card]Unsummon[/card]s. He pretty much just built a Geist deck, which obviously served him well.

I don’t hate [card]Unsummon[/card] in this format, it’s very good at bouncing creatures like [card]Champion of the Parish[/card] and [card]Thundermaw Hellkite[/card]. It is slightly peculiar to me that more people don’t run [card]Geist of Saint Traft[/card], but I suppose that’s because of how weak it is to [card]Thragtusk[/card] and how many of the [card]Thragtusk[/card] decks play [card]Cavern of Souls[/card].

4th: Johnathan Job

[deck]Main Deck:
3 Angel of Serenity
4 Avacyn's Pilgrim
3 Borderland Ranger
4 Centaur Healer
3 Huntmaster of the Fells
4 Restoration Angel
4 Thragtusk
2 Garruk, Primal Hunter
2 Forest
1 Mountain
2 Plains
4 Cavern of Souls
2 Kessig Wolf Run
4 Rootbound Crag
4 Sunpetal Grove
4 Temple Garden
4 Selesnya Charm
2 Bonfire of the Damned
4 Farseek
Sideboard
4 Loxodon Smiter
2 Oblivion Ring
3 Rest in Peace
2 Triumph of Ferocity
1 Sigarda, Host of Herons
1 Bonfire of the Damned
2 Pillar of Flame[/deck]

When I was watching the coverage for this tournament, they said that before Johnathan got eliminated in the Top 4, he had a pristine 9-0 record in Standard matches played. I spoke a little too soon when I described Ben Weinburg's deck as the aggro-killer. THIS is a deck that has a single mission in life: to beat aggressive decks.

I look at this list, and think to myself that it can never beat Bant in a million years—the only possible edge it has going for it against Bant is the full amount of [card]Cavern of Souls[/card], with two copies of [card]Kessig Wolf Run[/card]. In this format, [card]Kessig Wolf Run[/card] is horribly undervalued and one of the best ways to compete with the stupid amounts of life gain that the Bant deck can present. It’s like your own personal anti-[card]Sphinx's Revelation[/card] every turn, assuming your opponent doesn’t show up with an [card]Azorious Charm[/card] to put a wrinkle in your plan.

5th: Nick Spagnolo

[deck]Main Deck:
2 Jace, Architect of Thought
1 Jace, Memory Adept
1 Sorin, Lord of Innistrad
1 Tamiyo, the Moon Sage
3 Island
1 Plains
2 Swamp
4 Drowned Catacomb
1 Evolving Wilds
1 Ghost Quarter
4 Glacial Fortress
4 Hallowed Fountain
4 Isolated Chapel
4 Nephalia Drownyard
1 Curse of Death's Hold
2 Detention Sphere
4 Azorius Charm
1 Cyclonic Rift
2 Dissipate
1 Forbidden Alchemy
1 Negate
4 Sphinx's Revelation
3 Think Twice
2 Ultimate Price
2 Lingering Souls
2 Supreme Verdict
3 Terminus
Sideboard
1 Curse of Death's Hold
1 Detention Sphere
3 Rest in Peace
1 Dispel
2 Feeling of Dread
3 Negate
1 Jace, Memory Adept
1 Sever the Bloodline
1 Supreme Verdict
1 Terminus[/deck]

I don’t usually say purely negative things in my articles, but I have to say I hate how this deck looks. Even just the idea seems flawed—when I look at this deck, I just see Bant without [card]Farseek[/card] and [card]Thragtusk[/card]. Now I understand that [card]Thragtusk[/card] is a bit overrated and agree that it isn’t a card you need to play in control for the deck to function, but it is still really good, right?

When you get hands where you draw two or you use it with [card]Restoration Angel[/card], it can still produce some awesome games. I’ve even seen Andrew Cuneo play only 3 in his Bant list when he streams. But losing [card]Farseek[/card] is inexcusable to me, and for what benefit? You get to play four [card]Nephalia Drownyard[/card]s, which is all well and good as a plan to beat Bant, except that Nick got beat 3-0 in a clean sweep by Bant in the Top 8 of this tournament! My advice is stay away from Esper.

6th: Todd Anderson

[deck]Main Deck:
4 Augur of Bolas
4 Restoration Angel
3 Snapcaster Mage
2 Island
1 Mountain
1 Plains
4 Clifftop Retreat
4 Glacial Fortress
4 Hallowed Fountain
1 Moorland Haunt
4 Steam Vents
4 Sulfur Falls
1 Runechanter's Pike
4 Azorius Charm
2 Counterflux
1 Izzet Charm
1 Rewind
3 Sphinx's Revelation
2 Think Twice
4 Thought Scour
1 Unsummon
4 Pillar of Flame
1 Supreme Verdict
Sideboard
2 Grafdigger's Cage
4 Izzet Staticaster
2 Oblivion Ring
1 Rest in Peace
2 Dispel
1 Negate
2 Jace, Memory Adept
1 Supreme Verdict[/deck]

This is a deck trying to do it all, and it doesn’t fall as short as you might expect. It has [card]Pillar of Flame[/card] and [card]Counterflux[/card] as it tries to be equally matched against [card]Geralf's Messenger[/card] and [card]Sphinx's Revelation[/card]. I really like [card]Counterflux[/card], as there are far more counterspells being played now, and far fewer flashback cards being played than before.

When I played Bant for the first time at GP San Antonio, I always wondered if it was right for the UWR decks to play [card]Dissipate[/card] or [card]Counterflux[/card], and as I said I think now the clear favorite is [card]Counterflux[/card]. If it weren’t for a blunder in his game five, we could well have seen Todd Anderson holding the trophy at the end of the day. This deck is awesome against Zombies and has decent game against Bant, but I’m just a little surprised to see zero copies of [card]Geist of Saint Traft[/card] in the sideboard—instead Todd solves those long control matchups with [card]Jace, Memory Adept[/card], which is a card I have always run and liked.

7th: Leon Kornacki

Leon Kornacki did not have his decklist posted and I have no idea what he played, my apologies.

8th: Adam Prosak

[deck]Main Deck:
4 Augur of Bolas
4 Restoration Angel
4 Snapcaster Mage
9 Island
4 Plains
2 Azorius Guildgate
4 Glacial Fortress
4 Hallowed Fountain
2 Moorland Haunt
1 Runechanter's Pike
4 Azorius Charm
3 Dissipate
3 Sphinx's Revelation
2 Syncopate
2 Think Twice
4 Thought Scour
3 Unsummon
1 Supreme Verdict
Sideboard
3 Rhox Faithmender
2 Dispel
2 Erase
2 Faith's Shield
1 Negate
1 Unsummon
2 Talrand, Sky Summoner
2 Supreme Verdict[/deck]

Noooooooo! Why Adam!? Why would you play with [card]Azorius Guildgate[/card]? Lands like [card]Azorius Guildgate[/card] are already really poor in Constructed, but even worse in decks like this with many cheap cantrips that allow you to keep land light hands and rip through your deck quickly in the first couple turns.

With the old UW Delver deck, as a rule, it was OK to spend your early turns looking for spell or looking for lands, but never OK to try to do both. Basically, keeping a 1-land hand with [card]Ponder[/card] when your land is [card]Glacial Fortress[/card] means you’re going to be starting in an even larger hole. He also uses [card]Rhox Faithmender[/card], though to a much less powerful total upside than the Bant list. [card]Erase[/card] is a strange card that stands out like a sore thumb, I have to assume he is playing it for [card]Detention Sphere[/card]s and [card]Rancor[/card] that works well with [card]Snapcaster Mage[/card].

This was a pretty strong Top 8, with excellent players and some fine decks—the big takeaway is definitely to play Bant, because it crushes every deck in the format that tries to beat Zombies. There were no Zombies in the Top 8. The strongest sideboard cards from these lists are [card]Jace, Memory Adept[/card], [card]Izzet Staticaster[/card], and [card]Rhox Faithmender[/card]. So keep an eye out for those.

Owen Turtenwald
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