Ladies and gentlemen, it's time to Snek yourselves before you wreck yourselves. I'm Ryan Hare, newly-minted Grand Prix Pittsburgh 2017 Champion, and I'd like to share a little of my story with you.
Without further ado, my deck list:
B/G Turbo Snek
I have a long history of playing B/G/x in Constructed, from Modern Jund to Siege Rhino Abzan. When a chance to play a B/G variant in Standard presents itself, I jump at the opportunity. B/G Midrange decks generally contain the most efficient disruption and threats to adjust to the matchup and pivot from aggro to control as needed. B/G Turbo Snek adds a new factor to the mix: explosive synergy. To use Modern as an analogy, this deck is more Affinity than Jund.
Oh, Winding Constrictor. Our local Buffalo testing group promptly dubbed it "Snek" and it has since slithered his way into our hearts. This is the latest installment in the line of Wizards' "Draft Uncommons R&D Vastly Underrated in Constructed." They could have added more words to the card, but it already does it all, so why just add flavor text?
There's much debate on the origins of the Winding Constrictor. Some call it snake, Snek, Constrictor, boa—I'm certain its affinity for multiplying counters makes it… an adder.
Walking Ballista/Rishkar, Peema Renegade, Verdurous Gearhulk
The counter themes with Rishkar, Peema Renegade and Walking Ballista give this deck its explosive potential. Oh, and did they print a 5-drop mythic Titan that synergizes with all of these cards yet is highly playable at its own rate? Verdurous Gearhulk, you say? Uh oh.
Fatal Push, Grasp of Darkness
By far the most efficient removal spells in Standard with the widest breadth of juicy targets.
Oath of Nissa
Once hailed as the Tarmogoyf of Standard, this is now again the Tarmogoyf of Standard.
Nissa, Voice of Zendikar
On the outside, she may look docile while producing 0/1 Plants, but she is fierce and fiery on the inside with her minus ability, enabling some of the most ridiculous board states in the deck.
The Swiss army knife of Eldrazi—this provides countless minor synergies and glues the deck together. Sifter enables 5 mana for Gearhulk on turn 4, enables revolt on Fatal Push, provides scry value when your Sneks get stepped on, and provides two bodies for Nissa/Rishkar/Gearhulk to place their counters.
To be honest, I was not completely happy with my sideboard before, during, or after the event. Luckily, B/G allows for great flexibility and can be adapted significantly as needed. But if you find yourself wanting to cut Distended Mindbender, please don't. Bending minds off any creature shreds your opponent's ability to interact while usually upgrading the emerged creature to a 5/5, all in a hard-to-counter, 1-card combo. I've even Mindbendered from a Mindbender, which essentially turned it into a double discard spell for BB. For everyone claiming the control matchup is bad for B/G, try this card.
The Mardu Vehicles matchup is no longer "B/G Midrange versus generic aggro deck," and needs to be approached accordingly. The endless B/G mirrors range from nuanced to swingy, and having a clear plan is important. Gonti, Lord of Luxury is definitely a card I should have played.
The Tournament: Day One
After a pleasant drive down from Buffalo dodging most of the poor weather, we arrived at our hotel where I promptly went to work figuring out my deck. There are many ways to build this deck—the Top 8 has 4 distinctly tuned versions alone, with only two overlapping copies of the delirium build. You can have any color you like—as long as it's B/G. In my preparation, I tested our version from Columbus (teammate Andrew Skorik played it to a Top 8 finish), the delirium version, and a variant of Oliver Tiu's list from the PT. But the delirium cards didn't feel right to me, and didn't maximize Winding Constrictor. Our original version had issues, in that the 24 lands provided no opportunity to fix mana flood or screw, which I valued from Delirium's Traverses.
Enter Oath of Nissa. I'd always had trouble with the last few flex slots in our list, and juggled between Trackers and Liliana and Heart of Kiran and removal and… the list goes on. What I didn't originally see was that a cheap cantrip effect would help the consistency without forcing me to play 4-of legendary creatures and planeswalkers, and would allow for a great turn-1 play. So, with minimal testing, and plenty of hope and faith in Tiu's list, 4 Oath of Nissa made their way into my deck list. Ponder can't be wrong, can it?
One overpriced hotel breakfast buffet filled with bacon and sausage later, we found ourselves at the venue for a day of Snakes and planes. I tuned my deck to have a very solid game 1 matchup against Mardu and was able to sufficiently sideboard for control and combo as a result. Right off the bat, I started with a Mardu matchup and was victorious. 4 B/G mirrors later (including one smashing at the hands of Brad Nelson where he beat me with my own Aethersphere Harvester and his Gearhulk), and I was 6-1. Jeskai Control followed by U/B Control let me flex my sideboard muscles, including several copies of the lovely Distended Mindbender, who deserves an award for Best Emerging Artist. After an 8-1 record on the day, our customary visit to Church Brewery was in order (it's a brewery in a church, surprisingly enough).
After a white chocolate mocha and a close call on punctuality, in round 10 I found myself facing Greg Orange on U/R Control. Highlights include his third and fourth Galvanic Bombardments targeting a 3/4 Advocate and 4/5 Plant token respectively, which is something I can say with near certainty has never happened before. The rest of the day included a play where I sequenced a second Tireless Tracker before my land drop and then promptly forgot my second Clue trigger (no one's perfect), a Distended Mindbender against 4c Saheeli that stripped an Elder Deep-Fiend and a Saheeli (leaving him with a Felidar Guardian in hand), and a brutal Verdurous Gearhulk topdeck against Eli Kassis from an empty hand. I did get a nice clean lethal at 6 with a Ballista at 3, Snek, Nissa minus on the stack, a Harnessed Lightning targeting my Snek, and a level on the Ballista in response. My "PTQ final" in round 14 at 12-1 included a Sylvan Advocate on the draw followed by a Flaying Tendrils that got a Toolcraft Exemplar, a Scrapheap Scrounger, and a Pia Nalaar with Thopter.
At this point I was off the wall. I am normally reserved, but I could barely contain my excitement. My friend Nick hoisted me up and swung me around in the air to celebrate, which was disorienting yet very encouraging. People are great! Despite having to play and losing round 15, I was still in a great position. My breakers held nicely, leaving me at 3rd place in the final standings—a flurry of congratulations and the insane feeling of hearing them call my name in the Top 8 announcement followed. Time for a quick photo op with the legendary Rich Hagon!
My Top 8 matches against Hunter Cochran and Robert Beatty on distinct builds of B/G provided much excitement, as I was able to weave my way through some obstacles and smash directly through others with an influx of +1/+1 counters. Game 3 of the semis involved about four turns of me drawing lands and then attacking with Hissing Quagmires. You work with what you've got!
I can't even do the finals justice in a written report. Bronson Gervasi was a class act and played well throughout his Top 8, and was inches away from the title himself. After a powerful opening game 1 with a uncontested Nissa that eventually produced 12 power with Constrictor and Advocate on turn 4, game 2 was decided by a timely Fumigate. Game 3 was one of the most intense games of Magic I've ever played. After a good opening sequence and a strong midgame, I blindly missed signals for Fumigate in my haste and overextended with a Rishkar into Bronson's telegraphed Fumigate. Bronson played this match incredibly well and if not for the generosity of my topdecks you might be reading a tournament winning report from someone else. Confession: I boarded down to 2 Gearhulks against Mardu.
Sometimes you just run hot. 16-2, 1st Place.
This list just shifts some priorities around, as focusing on the B/G mirror this weekend seems like a good idea. Additionally, the "rock, paper, scissors" (B/G < Saheeli < Mardu < B/G) nature of Standard points to Saheeli having the top spot moving forward, so if you're playing a B/G deck, you'll want a plan for control.
It still feels unreal to win a Grand Prix and I can't explain beyond the word "unbelievable." I'd like to give a shout-out to all my friends and teammates from WNY Gaming, Dark Forest Games, Millennium Games, Dave and Adam's, Team NFGBot, and the Good Jargon Gents. No step on Snek!
To close, here are some fun achievements from testing or the event:
- Have 5 creatures (2 Snek) and a Nissa in play versus Aetherflux Reservoir at 40 life. Minus Nissa, play Nissa and minus. Total Power: +30
- Have Snek, Snek, Snek, and 5 lands. Draw Gearhulk. Total Power: +20
- Have Ballista with 1 counter and Catacomb Sifter/Scion against tapped-out Jeskai control at 13 life. Cast Gearhulk, dump counters on Ballista, attack for 8, ping five times. Dead Jeskai Players: 1/Hasty Gearhulk Damage: 8
- Cast Distended Mindbender, remember to say "trigger." Games lost after casting Distended Mindbender: zero