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Settling on Sultai

The first Mythic Championships is behind us, and TeamCFB jumped to first place in the Team Series thanks to back-to-back spectacular performances from our captain, Luis Scott-Vargas. Personally, I’ve got some work to do. I had a poor personal performance in this event, and it hit me a little harder than usual this time with the MPL around, as we all know the stakes have gotten higher.

I was the feature drafter on Day 1 in this event. All eyes were on me for the first few rounds of the event, and having the opportunity to show the world my Draft, my deck build, and of course my matches, was a unique experience. I played some tough games against tough opponents and it was a dream come true to get to show that to the world.

Prep for this tournament was different this time around. Those of us in the MPL decided we wanted to be more transparent with our preparation. We wanted to play a lot on stream, and didn’t want to try to disguise what we were doing during those times, instead utilizing that time for positive gains in tournament preparation.

Wilderness Reclamation

For those paying attention, you probably saw Martin Juza play Sultai, Alexander Hayne playing Mono-Blue Tempo, and Matt Nass iterating on Wilderness Reclamation decks. I wasn’t very impressed with anything initially, except the card Wilderness Reclamation.

For me, when I play a deck for a short amount of time, I start looking for the positive things it is doing. Wilderness Reclamation is a broken card. Let’s figure out how to best use it! Sultai is good against aggressive decks. If we expect a lot of aggro we can play that. So on, and so forth.

The issue is that when you play a variety of decks, and you play them a lot, you start to focus more on their weaknesses. One thing I’ve struggled with is that I like to try and find a way to beat everything with the deck I choose. A lot of that is from not too long ago when my team and I were actually able to do so. We had great decks for Pro Tours for a couple of years in a row. Thanks to our preparation and newer formats, that was a possibility.

I began my preparation wanting to play with Wilderness Reclamation. I believed, and still believe, that it’s the best card in the format. Zero-mana cards that produce tons of mana on each additional turn are too powerful for Standard. I still believe there is a chance Wilderness Reclamation itself will have to be banned at some point, but it will largely depend on what builds people find with the card, and what cards are printed after it.

We explored the path in fine detail, and found the Nexus Reclamation decks to be much stronger against Mono-Blue than the rest of the world felt it was. Yes, it’s an underdog to the deck, but the cries of “Nexus is a bye for Mono-Blue” were largely overstated. We played many sets of the matchup, in-house, and found ten-game sets were often going even or 6-4 in favor of blue.

If people were dismissing this deck based on that, and not worried about it because they thought blue would push it out, then we thought this was a good place to be.

Eventually what ended up happening, however, was that all of the matchups we thought were very favorable ended up being much closer than we anticipated. Yes, Sultai is very easy to beat in game 1, but in post-board games Sultai picked up a ton of points. That still wasn’t a big enough swing to push me off the deck, though.

When preparation began, we wanted a rough idea of what the matchups looked like. Matt Nass and I played small sets of games with Azorius Aggro against Nexus and felt the matchup was close but maybe slightly favored aggro.

Once we got in-house, and got to test the matchup even more, it became apparent that was not the case. In fact, Azorius Aggro was easily the worst matchup for Nexus, and it felt incredibly lopsided post-board when Negate was brought into the mix.

Expansion // Explosion

White Aggro can put out a much faster clock than Mono-Blue, and thus, needed fewer counters to disrupt Nexus enough.

Nexus can set up against Mono-Blue. They can be patient, wait to draw Expansion // Explosion and extra mana before trying to combo off, counter one of Mono-Blue’s counterspells, and copy it with Expansion.

Against Azorius Aggro, you simply don’t have the time. The clock changes dramatically turn to turn with cards like Benalish Marshal or Venerated Loxodon to put incredible amounts of power on the battlefield in one turn, forcing Nexus into awkward positions where they not only have to draw incredibly well, but have to have enough mana to cast everything they need on time.

After playing this matchup a lot, and winning less against our good matchups than expected, I thought bringing the deck to the Mythic Championships would be like walking into a buzzsaw. Matt and Paulo ended up playing the Nexus deck to reasonable results, so maybe it was worth playing after all.

Arclight Phoenix

Once I realized I didn’t want to play Nexus I decided to try the Arclight Phoenix deck Sam Pardee was high on and LSV took to the Top 8 of the event. I played a few Leagues with the deck with one day to go in testing and thought it was fine, but didn’t think it was a sizable upgrade to a deck I was extremely comfortable with: Sultai.

Sultai was tried and true, and I felt it had reasonable matchups across the board. Building the deck was rather difficult because it had a ton of options.

Here’s where I ended up after playing with Corey Burkhart’s 2nd place deck in GP Memphis:

Sultai

4 Breeding Pool
4 Drowned Catacomb
4 Overgrown Tomb
3 Watery Grave
4 Woodland Cemetery
5 Forest
1 Swamp
4 Llanowar Elves
4 Merfolk Branchwalker
4 Hydroid Krasis
3 Hostage Taker
4 Wildgrowth Walker
1 Carnage Tyrant
4 Jadelight Ranger
3 Cast Down
3 Vivien Reid
3 Vraska's Contempt
2 Find/Finality

Sideboard
4 Kraul Harpooner
1 Hostage Taker
1 Cast Down
1 Negate
2 Disdainful Stroke
1 Carnage Tyrant
4 Duress
1 Cry of the Carnarium

The reason I liked this deck and thought it would be a good choice was because of Kraul Harpooner. Yes, it’s great against Mono-Blue, and that’s one of the premier uses of the card, but that wasn’t it. Kraul Harpooner offered a drastic upgrade in a lot of my tougher matchups.

Harpooner was able to put a better clock on Nexus decks than Wildgrowth Walker, which needed more help to get going.

Kraul Harpooner

Kraul Harpooner proved phenomenal against Esper as well. Esper usually brought in Thief of Sanity, and Kraul Harpooner allowed you to have a proactive card and cover your bases as a reactive card against the Thief.

Kraul Harpooner added to the beatdown role in the matchup as well. You don’t just want to throw your threats at Esper to try and run them out of counterspells. You want Esper to tap out to deal with your cheap threats, and then use that vital turn to stick a Vivien Reid or another snowball threat that requires another immediate answer. Having creatures on the battlefield also allows you to do this without fear of your planeswalker getting hit by a Teferi and then allowing them to untap with Teferi still in play.

Kraul Harpooner was also an improvement to Wildgrowth Walker in the Drakes matchup where it doubles as a removal spell as long as you have one creature in the graveyard. Between Llanowar Elves getting Shocked a fair amount, and exploring, it wasn’t too difficult to get there. Drakes can deal you so much damage at once that the life gain from Wildgrowth Walker is almost negligible and the goal is to mostly keep the battlefield as clean as possible.

Additionally, I thought Hostage Taker was another reason to play this deck. With the printing of Hydroid Krasis, and decks like Mono-White and Mono-Blue being light on removal, Hostage Taker is a premium card in the format right now. I think four is the correct number. The only question is whether the fourth should be in the main deck or sideboard.

Cast Down

With four copies of both of these cards, and four Cast Downs, I actually wanted to play against Mono-Blue, a matchup I otherwise felt was unfavorable.

What I didn’t like about this deck was Wildgrowth Walker. While the card can overperform against White Aggro and Mono-Red, they were very small parts of the metagame, and the card needed help to be playable elsewhere. If you draw a couple of explore creatures in matchups like the mirror, Esper, and Nexus, the card can be passable. If you don’t, you’re drawing more bricks than you can afford. With limited sideboard space, having to take out your removal and Walker for these matchups made the card less good than it was in the past.

I toyed with the idea of swapping Kraul Harpooners and Wildgrowth Walkers but didn’t have the guts to actually do it. I think the explore package is quite weak though, and I think the 2-drop slot needs some work moving forward. Yes, if Mono-Blue takes up 25-30% of the metagame all of a sudden I think you should maindeck Harpooner. If not, then I think we need to find another way to go. Growth-Chamber Guardian is an option I wanted to try, but I’ve heard reports it isn’t good enough, which makes a lot of sense. Your deck is playing expensive sorcery speed spells that don’t work very well with Growth-Chamber Guardian. You have Hydroid Krasis to sink mana into already for the late game.

Some people like Incubation Druid. I’ve found the card to be very good in the mirror, and quite bad mostly everywhere else. It gives you a huge mana advantage when it sticks around, but it doesn’t block well, doesn’t apply pressure early, and is expensive to adapt when it needs to be a threat. I’m notnot particula interested in Sultai as a ramp strategy.

Longtusk Cub

I’ve heard Sultai compared to Temur Energy, and while the comparison makes some sense, it falls short because it doesn’t have a 2-drop threat that is as snowbally as Longtusk Cub was. Longtusk Cub allowed Temur Energy to win in matchups it needed to be aggressive, and right now we have Merfolk Branchwalker playing that role. It’s simply not powerful enough to do that for the deck to be as dominant as Temur Energy was.

Find // Finality

Another card I disliked in the deck was Find // Finality. Outside of mirrors and White Aggro matchups, Find // Finality was too slow or too bad. While the mirror is popular, it’s not popular enough to warrant three copies. I trimmed a copy down to two, and Martin trimmed down to one.

A lot of changes you make to this deck will result in a worse mirror match, and that is one of the problems with a deck like this being so popular. It ends up cannibalizing itself, where some people build their deck to beat the mirror and have weaker cards elsewhere, and others build it to beat the field and lose to the stock version of the deck.

There’s no deck I wish I played looking back after the tournament. Blue Tempo did the best, and of course you’d think I wish I played it, but in reality I might just try and work more on Sultai and less on Nexus if I had to do itit ov. Esper Control seems intriguing to me, as it also did very well, and a friend of mine, Matt Costa, spoke highly of the deck he took to a 17th place finish.

This Mythic Championship felt much different than a Pro Tour to me. Not because of the name, but because each tournament carries so much more weight than it did before. With the old Pro Point system, I had a target I could see and shoot for, whereas now there’s no goal post as of right now, so I feel the pressure of each round and each tournament much more. Leaving the first event as an MPL member with no Mythic Points already has me feeling like I’m behind the eight ball and have a lot of work to do to catch up. That just means I’ll have to work even harder, and get a little more lucky in the next few events.

Lastly, I want to congratulate Autumn Burchett. Autumn is someone whose play has impressed me since the very first time I watched them play. They’ve racked up a ton of results over the last year or so, and did so in impressive fashion. While I didn’t get to watch the entirety of the Top 8 as I was playing side events at the MagicFest and escaping rooms, the games I did get to watch they played flawlessly, against the best players in the World, on the biggest stage possible. A truly great and inspiring champion.

From here on out, it’s best-of-one Standard for me. With the Mythic Invitational around the corner taking place in my hometown and with my family watching, I want to be as prepared and focused as possible.

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