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Going to the Dark Side in Barcelona

Last weekend featured two Standard GPs, and they were packed with two archetypes. The Top 8 in Barcelona had 4 Saheeli decks and 4 Mardu decks, and in New Jersey the story wasn’t much different as the Top 8 consisted of 4 Mardu, 3 Saheeli, and 1 Jund Energy in the hands of Hall-of-Famer and my CFB Ice teammate Ben Stark. Welp, that’s not much diversity. When choosing a deck for a competitive Standard tournament, it looks like you have 3 options:

  • Play Mardu.
  • Play 4c Saheeli.
  • Play something else and drop midway in the tournament.

As of right now, Standard is a 2-deck format. I understand that there are more decks that are okay to play, but if your goal is to win the tournament, you should pick one of these two. That’s not a healthy format. Wizards had a chance to do something about it, but they didn’t. I’m not that surprised. As I said in my last article, it’s hard to fix the problems of Standard with only one ban. Standard is like the mythical hydra at the moment. If you cut off one ugly head, two more will replace it. Wizards therefore went with the option of not upsetting the player base with more bans.

Their explanation strikes me as suspicious, though. They said one of the main reasons for no bans were the results of GP Utrecht. They claimed that they saw movement in the format, and identified Temur Tower as one of the promising decks. I was one of the people who played it there. One of the main reasons I did was because I thought my competition would be under-prepared for it and would make mistakes because of that. Now that the deck is a known quantity, I chose to play 4c Saheeli instead in Barcelona.

This kind of announcement looks like they didn’t take into account this weekend’s results when they made the decision. Especially given the fact that they talk about the big three while B/G has been utterly outclassed by both Mardu and Saheeli. Another thing that worries me is that it looks like the plan is to wait for Amonkhet and hope the issue resolves itself. There is one problem. From what I understand, Wizards missed the Felidar + Saheeli combo and that also means they tested Amonkhet with no knowledge of it. That is alarming, as the metagame is now shaped by this combo and it’s hard to fix it when you didn’t know there was a problem to begin with. Overall, I understand and respect Wizard’s decision. It’s a tough call either way. Let’s just hope they will learn their lesson and start printing better answers. The people who work in R&D are very smart, so I have no doubt they’re listening and will act accordingly.

Barcelona

I took a break after GP Utrecht to visit my family, but soon I was back on the grind. I tried Temur Tower but failed to get results, and after several conversations with people smarter than myself, I chose to set it aside. It was time to pick a different deck, and it was clear that it should be either Mardu or 4C Saheeli. It was hard for me to choose one. I think both decks are tremendously close in power level and that it all comes down to preference. Eventually, I chose Saheeli because I thought the Mardu mirror match was miserable to play. I thought there would also be more room to outplay my opponent in the Saheeli mirror as the games tend to go longer and are more interactive.

What I didn’t take into account is that the Saheeli mirror is stupid as well. The threat of the combo is too great. When your opponent plays Saheeli on turn 3, you have to just tap out to play a threat and be ready to instantly die to the combo. When I realized this, it was too late to switch, as I’d spent a lot of time on Tower and didn’t have much practice with Mardu. I also didn’t really like the Mardu deck lists I was seeing. I disliked Fatal Push and Walking Ballista, which I think was foolish because I didn’t actually play any games. Overall, I think it may have been correct to play Mardu because it is slightly more powerful and it fit my style better. In the end, I went with Saheeli because I just couldn’t resist playing such a sweet deck.

Now I had to figure out what deck list I should play. I had no idea what to do as I hadn’t played enough games to form my own opinion. Luckily, I turned to my wise adviser Mike Sigrist, who told me to message Saheeli expert Brad Nelson. I did, and to my surprise, Brad was kind enough to ship me his 75 and a sideboard guide. He also allowed me to share it with my European friends, which I did. I changed one card because I like Tamiyo a lot, and then sent the deck list to Petr Sochurek, who played it card for card. This is how it came to pass that both GPs were won by almost identical deck lists.

I played a slightly different list than Petr, though. I met Lukas at the airport while flying to Barcelona and after a talk, I moved some cards around, but we got to Spain so late that I couldn’t reach Petr, so he played a different list. I don’t think he has any regrets.

As some of you may know, I’m roommates with Ivan Floch, and neither of us are the most timely human beings. Because of this, we showed up at the airport kind of late—about 50 minutes before our flight was supposed to take off. We walked to the check-in desk and the lady informed us that our flight was overbooked and that I was put on a standby list while Ivan was miraculously checked in without doing anything (lucky!).

I’m getting anxious as our flight is leaving at 11 p.m. on Friday and it would be very complicated for me to get to Barcelona on time. As we approach the gate, we met with the other Czech group consisting of Lukas and PT Top 8 competitor Jan Ksandr. Jan informs us he is also on a standby. We had to wait until after everyone boarded, and given the fact that I was the last one to arrive, I didn’t like my chances. It turned out there were 7 places left on the plane and I was number 8 on the standby list. Luckily, number 7 doesn’t want to separate me from my friends and is fine with taking a flight on Sunday, so I snuck in. I thought that’s where my luck for the week began, but it actually had just run out. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

4c Saheeli

I think the main deck is mostly stock, with a couple of exceptions.

There are only 3 copies of Whirler Virtuoso. The first copy of the card is great, but the second is kind of a mulligan, so we just ran 3. Then we have the spicy ones. Shock over-performed for me and if I could play the tournament again, I would play 2 Shock and 2 Oath. It’s just really good in the mirror, especially when it’s unexpected. The Flagship started in the sideboard, but it turns out you want it against everything, so we just moved one into the main deck.

As for the sideboard, we chose to play 0 Authority of the Consuls and instead went with the Walking Ballista. Both cards have similar functions in stopping the combo, but one of them is a potent late-game threat while the other is a virtual mulligan as the life gain isn’t that important. I was really happy with that, and I actually felt it might give us a bit of an edge in the mirror. Unfortunately, the matchup is still stupid, and it really depends on how the draws of both players line up. As for the rest, I think it’s also stock, but I might change some cards. More on that later.

Sideboarding with the deck is especially difficult and I’m not going to claim that I solved it. I talked to a bunch of people and no one had a clear answer. I can give you some pointers, though. My one piece of advice, as always, is to play a lot and form your own opinion. I have always viewed sideboarding as a matter of individual preference. Just make sure you like the 60 you present and you should be good to go.

Mardu

Cards you definitely want to bring in are the Flagship, Tireless Tracker, and some of the artifact removal. I talked to Petr after the tournament and he mentioned that the more he played, the less he was excited about Release the Gremlins. He told me he didn’t even bring it in the finals. That’s a bit extreme, but I agree with him that over time, it feels like the Mardu players adjusted to Release.

Release is only really good when you can cast it for 2. You can also bring in Negate, but that really depends on your opponent’s deck and whether you’re on the play or draw, as do the cards you are taking out. On the play, you are more inclined to take out some removal while on the draw you want to take out Chandra and Saheeli. Some players like to take out Chandra no matter what, but Petr told me he likes to keep it in on the play, so I would trust him. Raphael Levy suggested cutting Tamiyo, but that card is just too good both on the play and draw, so keep it in. Take out 1 Oath of Nissa when you bring in a substantial number of noncreature spells.

As for the games, they are fascinating. That’s probably the best thing about this Standard. These games are highly interactive and nothing is intuitive. From Saheeli’s side, the most problematic cards are Unlicensed Disintegration, Gideon, Ally of Zendikar, Archangel Avacyn, and Heart of Kiran to some extent, so always try to play with those in mind. Don’t be afraid to “waste” your Release the Gremlins on Clues, as having an artifact is especially valuable to them. I don’t really have one tip on how to beat this deck, but just try to control the board and threaten them with combo as their answer costs 3 mana, so it constrains their mana a lot. I went 2-5 against this deck at the GP, so I quite clearly don’t have it figured out yet or I just got incredibly unlucky (pick one).

The Mirror

This matchup, on the other hand, is dumb. Game 1, just try to win the die roll and play Saheeli on turn 3, which should put your opponent into a tough position. It’s basically a race to a combo as your interaction is limited. Post-board, there are more answers—Ballista in particular is golden—but sideboarding is still hard. I heard some suggest siding out the combo but I think it’s too powerful to not have. I usually just cut a piece of each. Other cards I like to take out are Oath of Chandra, Servant, and Chandra—again all play/draw dependent. Bring in Trackers, Ship, and Ballista. Negate is also situationally good.

The Rest

Doesn’t matter—you win anyway.

As for changes moving forward, I missed the third Tireless Tracker in my 75. I would love to think of a card that breaks the Mardu matchup but I don’t think there is one. I’d suggest playing less artifact removal. It would be nice if there were more answers to Archangel Avacyn—I thought about trying out Flame Lash, but Lukas told me it was just too expensive and I didn’t have time to play games with it. I’d give that a shot.

All in all, I really like this deck and I almost wish there were more tournaments to play. As for the GP, I lost the last 2 matches to finish with a 9-6 record. With 3 byes that’s 6-6. Not great. I made some mistakes like forgetting about Gideon, Ally of Zendikar emblem twice in the same game. Once I simply forgot, and the second my brain just malfunctioned as I was aware of it but somehow still thought my Shock would be able to kill his Scrounger.

I also made an error that I hadn’t made in a couple of years. I played a different card from my hand than I intended to. I meant to play turn-3 Virtuoso and I instead played Saheeli. That play definitely cost me a match, so that was a steep price to pay. I have no clue how it happened, and like I said, it basically never happens to me, so I just shrugged it off and battled on.

Luckily, the GP was a success overall as one of my best friends won it. It’s kind of bittersweet as I obviously root for Petr, but on the other hand I have to admit I’m kind of jealous. This is his 2nd GP win in a year, and I would also like to win one someday. Well, I’ll have a few tries this month as I’m flying to the U.S. to play at GP Orlando and then the Team GPs in San Antonio and Mexico City. Time to go work on my Limited game!

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