I’ve been playing Magic since 1996, but it wasn’t until 2012 that I learned about the existence of competitive Magic—that completely changed the way I saw the game. Since then, I’ve tried to play at all of the South American GPs, of which there aren’t many—about two per year.
I’d never had a Pro Tour invite or a finish worth mentioning until last month when my team and I got one of the two Brazil RPTQ invites. Two spots in 113 teams sounded impossible, but we actually made it. Fast-forward a month, and here I am with yet another Pro Tour invite and a GP Top 8 under my belt. I wouldn’t believe it if you’d told me…
The deck that took me to my first GP Top 8, Red-Green Eldrazi, first caught my attention when Grzegorz Kowalski won a GP with it. Then, after Bloodbraid Elf was unbanned, I just had to try it. I am a sucker for haste creatures and this deck has plenty of them! I’ve been playing it ever since, and this is the list I registered for GP São Paulo:
I like the aggressive element of the deck in a format as wide open as Modern where being proactive is key, but I also like not folding to a couple removal spells or a sweeper while also having some form of disruption and powerful plays. I am a midrange guy at heart, I guess.
There is nothing really new in this list except for the three Boreal Druids, and they sure get a lot of attention. People pick them up every game to read even though the text box is quite simple: Tap: add 1 to your mana pool.
Why Boreal Druid?
Let me get this out of the way: If Blood Moon did not exist, Boreal Druid would not be needed as you have plenty of colorless mana. Birds of Paradise would be a much better choice or maybe even Llanowar Elves since you are doing a lot of attacking. Most people play Mind Stone or Talisman of Impulse in those slots, which are more reliable against Blood Moon but worst against everything else. It is a bad turn-2 play in this deck as you want to be attacking for 3 or 4 with Eldrazi Obligator, casting a Matter Reshaper, or playing the broken turn-2 Thought-Knot Seer.
Boreal Druid does all that without being too hard on your mana, since it even shares creature types with both Noble Hierarch and Bloodbraid Elf, smoothing out the Cavern of Souls choices. The default creature type for Cavern of Souls in this Eldrazi deck is actually Elf, since Bloodbraid Elf has the most restrictive casting cost. So summoning Boreal Druid from a Cavern of Souls on turn 1 is usually fine unless you are facing a counterspell deck or some other specific scenario.
In sum, Boreal Druid is just a nod to Blood Moon. It’s meant to give you a fighting chance. Blood Moon is a nightmare and if you expect a lot of the red enchantment you might need to consider another deck entirely or run the less explosive mana rocks. Just as a reference, my only loss in the Swiss rounds was to a R/G Ponza deck, and Blood Moon (the opponent did cast three of them) won a game by itself. I really think that Boreal Druid is the best option overall and is worth the risk. Casting a turn-2 Thought-Knot Seer to take the Blood Moon is always an out.
What’s the Play?
I think the deck is pretty straightforward and writing a tournament report or a deck guide might not be as interesting—maybe in the near future. Instead, I would like to go through one play during Round 12 of Grand Prix São Paulo to show how even with such a straightforward deck, some decisions can be complex. This is the board state:
The opponent has no cards in hand and no relevant cards in the graveyard. I have Thought-Knot Seer, Karplusan Forest, and Eldrazi Obligator in hand. So, the play looks clear: play the land and cast Eldrazi Obligator to steal the Death’s Shadow. It will die once I control it since I am at 15 life, and then I can get aggressive and attack. I look at my lands and notice that there is a choice to be made: pay 1 life with Karplusan Forest or give the opponent 1 life with Grove of the Burnwillows for the red mana.
Since it is time to get aggressive and 15 is plenty of life, my first reaction is to pay 1 life. Surveying the board before making the final call, I see the Grim Lavamancer that raises the alert: I should not go to 14 because taking 2 from the Lavamancer would put me at 12 and the Death’s Shadow would live as a 1/1. Then attacking for 7 would leave the opponent at 1 with a huge creature that wins on the swing back. That does not sound like a good play at all. Giving them 1 life seems to be the correct play then, even if not ideal when you want to be aggressive and end the game quickly. That was my line of thinking and the play I made. PVDDR was broadcasting, and got to the same conclusion in about half the time (well, that’s a different subject…) and it worked out well for me. A couple of turns later I won the match and thought I played well by noticing this game deciding detail.
Turns out there was a better line. So, what’s the play?
Putting my opponent down to 1 always makes me feel like I could have gotten there somehow, and in this case I actually could. When I cast the Eldrazi Obligator, taking 1 damage from the Karplusan Forest and stacking the trigger targeting the Death’s Shadow, I prompt my opponent to make a decision. He could either tap the Lavamancer, his only blocker, and deal 2 damage to me to keep his Death’s Shadow alive as a 1/1, or leave it back to block, kill both attackers, and lose his Death’s Shadow. The detail here is that I have multiple Karplusan Forests and I get to decide after my opponent on how to use them. If they deal me the 2 damage I can then pay for the Obligator’s triggered ability, tapping one Karplusan Forest for colored mana, losing 1 more life to make the Death’s Shadow a 2/2, a lethal attack. If they see it and don’t deal me the 2 damage, I don’t take another damage from my land, the Death’s Shadow will die anyway, and I did not give them 1 life now that I want to be aggressive and end the game quickly.
While the benefit of this play might seem small if my opponent sees it, the entire picture makes it a much better play. I am putting myself in a position to win the game on the spot while setting up a tempting trap. My opponent might think that I made a mistake and would love the chance of winning in their next turn. And the entire play is even consistent with my game plan of being aggressive. I wish I saw this line at the time. It would have been so sweet!
This is a very nice example of the type of skill I want to develop in my game—precision. I want to achieve this tighter technical play and be able to execute it inside the game within a reasonable time frame. I am sure that given a few more seconds PVDDR would have seen it, but I had to watch the stream the next day and let it sink in for a while before I came up with it. We know the rules, the math, the goal, the board—processing all this information to find the optimal solution inside a game of Magic is the first thing that makes great players. This is what I love about competitive Magic and I cannot help but think about how many sweet plays like this I’ve missed and will never have the chance to think about ever again. I guess I need to keep playing on camera then…