Breaking Through – Running it Back

You know, we Pros generally try to make you think we do an insane amount of work preparing for events. It’ certainly true to an extent. For Pro Tours, and even some Grand Prixs, we set aside days or weeks of our time looking for the best possible deck and the best possible data. But then there are times like Grand Prix Minneapolis.

Only two weeks ago, following Pro Tour Avacyn Restored, my teammates and I flew 12 hours east for Grand Prix Minneapolis. Considering the length of the trip alongside our “real life” responsibilities, we’re left with very little time to prepare for a GP. Any and all free time you do have is spent recovering from jet lag or, in this case, other illnesses Barcelona had in store for us. 

Generally, with a Pro Tour on a separate continent the week before a Grand Prix, I prefer the GP format be Limited in order to accommodate the most people. This time around, the Limited Grand Prix was in Europe, and the States got the Constructed one – making for an oddly situated tournament. 

Few of us had the time to actually brew something new, and most of us didn’t even have a chance to test small tweaks. All we had to go on was some theory and a Standard Grand Prix from about a month back in Salt Lake City – which was the natural starting point for many of us. 

Because we did not have as much time to put into preparation as we would like, we had to lean on the most recent event. That forced many of us to simply adjust lists we played in Salt Lake or play new lists in the dark. I ended up running something that was about 15 cards different than my Salt Lake brew. Others on the team, like LSV, ran the same archetype as well. Here’s what I sleeved up:

[deck]Main Deck:
4 Sphere of the Suns
4 Rampant Growth
4 Lingering Souls
2 Go for the Throat
2 Beast Within
4 Solemn Simulacrum
3 Sorin, Lord of Innistrad
1 Ratchet Bomb
3 Day of Judgment
3 Grave Titan
2 Primeval Titan
1 Massacre Wurm
2 Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite
2 Gavony Township
1 Vault of the Archangel
1 Ghost Quarter
4 Razorverge Thicket
4 Isolated Chapel
4 Woodland Cemetery
3 Forest
3 Swamp
3 Plains
1 Day of Judgment
2 Naturalize
1 Beast Within
1 Ratchet Bomb
1 Batterskull
1 Tribute to Hunger
1 Karn Liberated
2 Curse of Death’s Hold
1 Celestial Purge
1 Tragic Slip
1 Terminus
2 Liliana of the Veil[/deck]

After Salt Lake, I knew I wanted to work on the list slightly and to adapt it to the metagame a bit better. But, with the Pro Tour and other life situations that came up, the time was lost to me. That said, I did do a little testing immediately following the Grand Prix on MtGO -so I did have a place to jump off from.

In Salt Lake, our Delver matchup was not as good as I would have liked. You were about 50/50 or a slight underdog in the match, so it wasn’t an auto-lose or anything, but to have one of the most popular decks be a mediocre matchup seemed flawed.

I went back to the drawing board and ultimately added the main deck [card]Ratchet Bomb[/card], [card]Massacre Wurm[/card], and switched some [card]Oblivion Ring[/card]s for [card]Beast Within[/card] as well. This configuration pulled the matchup up to an actual 50-50 matchup with Delver in game one, but I would need to be sure to devote enough sideboard space to make sure the matchup was favorable overall.

But if the Delver matchup wasn’t the selling point for the list, what was? Green decks, of pretty much any variety, were the matchup I wanted to face most in Salt Lake, and with pulling back on my anti-control cards and adding more Delver hate, the green decks became an even better matchup. When I refer to green decks, I really do mean any green decks: Ramp, Mid-range, RG Aggro, and any variety of Pod deck. All of those matchups were awesome, as we are essentially a control deck that goes over the top. Similarly, both UW and RW Humans were pretty solid matchups.

Of course, in order to improve vital matchups like Delver, something had to give. In this case, I gave up almost any shot I had at beating a control deck. Basically, I needed to get a little lucky, or resolve an early Liliana to beat any deck packing a draw-go package. More tap-out style control decks were decent matchups; but once you begin staring down the 7th or 8th counterspell, those matchups get much worse.

I am sure many of you are wondering why [card]Cavern of Souls[/card] did not make the list, as it has in other ramp decks, to fight counterspells. 

First off, look at this mana base. I tried to keep the colorless lands to a minimum to support the best possible mana base, and adding another colorless land to the mix would be quite damaging. This leaves the Cavern, at best, in the sideboard; but there it would take up two valuable slots that could be used to beat decks we actually know will show up, like Delver.

Secondly, look at our creatures! Unlike R/G ramp which can often be seen running a full 8-suite of Titans, we have 5 Titans, 2 Praetors, and 1 Wurm to name with our Caverns, and that is about it. That means each Cavern is likely only going to lend its benefits to one spell during a game, two if you are lucky. That is just not the level of impact I want from my sideboard ace-in-the-hole.

Lastly, unlike the R/G decks, resolving a Titan in this list does not just always lead to a win. Obviously there is a positive correlation there, but Wrath effects or other removal can still allow a control player to climb back into the game. When you are resolving a [card]Primeval Titan[/card] in R/G, you are grabbing additional threats, like [card]Inkmoth Nexus[/card]. This makes your Titans much better against control than in our deck, with the downside of making [card]Primeval Titan[/card] the focal point of your deck. Our list can and does win plenty of games without a Titan, which is a feature – but against control, our Titans are just another big dude.

In a somewhat ironic twist, I was not always planning to sleeve up Junk Ramp for Minneapolis. The day before the tournament, I took a look through the artifacts and Blue cards that Standard had to offer. I was thinking about potentially bringing a [card]Grand Architect[/card] brew to the Grand Prix, since it seemed no worse than anything else. Ultimately, I talked myself out of it. Still, when Brad came up to me prior to the tournament, with a pile of Blue cards and artifacts, it made me smirk. Naturally, that worked out well for him and makes me regret not playing it myself, but oh well.

As for the tournament itself, I can say that my prediction of the metagame was fairly accurate, which is always nice, though the actual rounds did not favor me. I played against Wolf-Run, BR Zombies, Delver, R/G Aggro, and some strange BUG list that did not have Pod in it. That was a fairly representative field and given the matchups alone, I probably should Day Two most times I play that tournament.

Of course, Magic is Magic, and you play the games for a reason. Some of the sequences of that tournament were pretty amazing. For example, the way I was knocked out of the tournament involved me playing a [card]Karn Liberated[/card] on an empty board against Naya Wolf-Run. I plus 4’ed it and got a [card]Day of Judgment[/card]. My opponent then drew, revealed [card]Entreat the Angels[/card], and made five fliers. 

While I knew the situation was rough, I responded by Karn’ing his hand once again, this time securing myself a [card]Batterskull[/card] and giving me an actual chance to win with a Karn ultimate. I then cast [card]Tribute to Hunger[/card], going up to 24 and dispatched an Angel. I hoped [card]Lingering Souls[/card] plus flashback would protect my Karn as I passed the turn back. But an [card]Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite[/card] jumped off the top for my opponent, not only ruining my Karn plans, but just killing me from 24 thanks to the squadron of Angels the turn before. As I said, Magic is Magic, and this is not intended to be a bad-beat article, so let’s move on.

I am not positive that this list is viable moving forward. I think for the metagame going into Minneapolis a good version of Junk ramp can beat most of the field. But when you factor in the GP results, I have a feeling the format might shift a little more. With the Delver list playing more cards aimed at dealing with creatures, and a mono-blue creature deck making the finals, I would not be surprised to hear of control lists with only a few creatures surfacing sometime soon. Of course, the next big stage of Standard is the World Magic Cup Qualifiers, so we will have to take a look at those to see if that prediction is accurate.

Wrap Up

So this coming weekend is a return to the Block format that so many people just experienced via the Pro Tour. I can’t say I am in love with the format, or even that I have a deck, so this might be another shaky Grand Prix. But, hopefully something comes together in time – I would really like a strong finish early in this new season.

For anyone interested in Block, I would suggest checking out my article from last week. I think it does a pretty good job of explaining some of the holes in the format and, as a deck builder, if you can ever find a way to exploit a hole like that, good things are bound to happen.

Without a ton of time to test anything out, however, I am going to be doing a lot of theory-crafting for this one, so I hope my Spidey-sense is on this time around. To everyone competing in PTQs or what-have-you around the World, good luck as always. Thanks for reading!

Conley Woods

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