Pro Tour Guilds of Ravnica was going to be my first Standard event in over a year and while I planned on retiring with Pro Tour 25th Anniversary, my fire was lit again afterwards and I was really excited about this Pro Tour. I was lacking a good PT finish, and I felt like the combination of a fresh Standard format and plenty of time to prepare online fit me perfectly.
I would prepare for the event with fellow Swedes Elias Watsfeldt, Love Rask, Christian Åhlström, Niklas Dahlqvist, and for a brief period, when he was still planning on going, Joel Larsson.
After the Grand Prix results from Lille and New Jersey were in, we got to work. It didn’t take long before Boros got our attention. At first I tried to build more of a ”good stuff” version of the deck with Knight of Grace, Boros Challenger, and other cards. I also didn’t think eight sources of red was enough to splash, so I tried 3-drops like Tajic and Legion Warboss that allowed the deck to run Mountains. This all felt fine, but weirdly enough inconsistent. The mana was better than where I later ended up and the cards were a higher individual power level, but as a whole there was something not quite right.
At some point, however (which I imagine involved tapping multiple 1/1s to Venerated Loxodon on turn 3), I had something of a eureka moment. Maybe the deck isn’t the traditional aggro deck that wants to curve out. Maybe it’s rather the kind of deck where you aim for one plus one to be three—a deck revolving around enablers and payoff. The list I ended up with for the PT maximized that idea.
If you look at the list it’s all about the high density of payoff cards. Maybe they’re better described as force multipliers.
These are the cards that make your early drops good and by choosing the right ones you maximize the potential of the payoff. It’s the combination that really shoots the power level through the roof.
The best example of this is the Loxodon. While this card is quite clunky with a mix of 1-, 2- and 3-drops, it’s absolutely explosive with lots of 1s and cards with vigilance. If you start with three 1-drops, you can play Loxodon on turn 3 even with them killing something or you missing a land drop. More importantly, you can play and use 1-drops on the turn you cast the Loxodon, basically turning the card into a 0- or 1-mana green Gearhulk you can play on turn 3.
Running a full suite of these payoff cards is a lot, but in order to maximize the power level of the deck for game 1, I think it is the only right call. If anything, we were keeping the numbers down on History of Benalia at one point. It’s one of the best cards in your deck, but does little in increasing the power of your other ones.
What’s maybe most unusual about the list compared to the others is the choice of 1-drops, especially the fact that we almost completely ignored the ones with 2 power. There are two Bodyguards, but they are mostly a hedge against Jeskai Control. It’s quite possible they would have been better as the fourth Healer’s Hawk and Legion’s Landing.
There is a very good reason for this choice and it’s based in equal parts metagame and math. A simple way to look at it is that going from 1 power to 2 is a 100% increase, while many of the more common 1-drops are only increased by 50%. With twelve anthem effects, cards with values other than pure stats made sense.
As for the metagame, there were a couple qualities we really wanted in our creatures. Flying was rated highly as it decided many mirrors and was great against G/B as they tended to gum up the ground. 2 toughness was strong because of Goblin Chainwalker, and Hunted Witness was important to combat the many sweepers that we would face post-board.
Hunted Witness actually merits a mention on its own—it was the most important creature in the deck. It might look innocent as a 1/1 for W, but it did some work! Against red decks it made it easier to drop the turn-3 Loxodon, playing around Shock on turn 1. In the mirror it held the ground against 2/1s. Together with flyers it was easy to flip Legion’s Landing without losing too much value and it let you keep pressure after a sweeper together with Adanto Vanguard. In our testing, Jeskai was actually a fine matchup as there were plenty of ways to instantly deal 6 to 10 damage after a Clarion.
One thing to note with cards like Skymarcher Aspirant, Dauntless Bodyguard, and Knight of Grace is that they often trade up in combat. The point, however, is that we were not really interested in trading in the early turns. It’s better to keep a wide board with as many creatures as possible to boost in the later turns.
With the sideboard we wanted to be able to go big as opponents got more effective in answering our game 1 plan and against decks naturally good at doing so (mono-red).
Aurelia turned out to be an all-star in the post-board games against red and in the mirror. Being both an offensive and defensive threat at a good spot in the curve made it a good draw in almost every game, and it was especially powerful in our list with its many flyers and lifelinkers. Elias even went so far as to include two Lyras in his board, in addition to three Aurelias.
Experimental Frenzy is a card I liked best on the draw as I wanted to maximize the aggressive draws on the play, but it’s certainly among the most powerful things you can do in Standard.
We were also boarding removal in several matchups as the games slowed down post-board. There are four threats that need to be removed from the table as soon as possible: Lyra Dawnbringer, Wildgrowth Walker, Benalish Marshal, and Experimental Frenzy. We tried to have enough answers for each of those in the 75 with a few surprises available, like being able to kill Marshal at instant speed with Strike. A copy of Ixalan’s Binding was one of the last cards cut, but one I would include again if I expected a lot of mono-red. Taking away their ability to Frenzy is basically game over in the post-board games.
Our list being good in the mirror is one of the reasons we stayed with the deck despite its breakout performance in the MOCS the week before the PT. Other than being on the play, the mirror is usually decided by two things: more flyers and bigger creatures. We usually had more of both.
The Loxodon is especially huge as it can get into combat much more effectively than the Marshal can without losing out on the boost to other creatures.
We found Heroic Reinforcements surprisingly bad in the mirror. It’s true that it’s an anthem effect, but it was still hard to make alpha strikes without being dead on the back swing a lot of the time. It’s better on the play, but even then it’s a high variance card.
At the PT I didn’t board the third Tribunal most of the time, but with so many others finding Aurelia it’s quite possible you should. Adding two Baffling Ends or one Frenzy is defensible and you could make the greedy play of not adding the Mountain on the draw.
This matchup could go from great to poor depending on their list, but I think you are favored game 1 most of the time. You are usually not well served by playing around any sweepers as they can easily develop a better board than you, so my plan is usually just to go as aggressive as possible.
Out on the Play
In on the Play
Out on the Draw
In on the Draw
This is your best matchup by far and with this list you’re not even that soft to Fiery Cannonade. The only really problematic card is the Murmuring Mystic, so be sure to be ready for that one. You sometimes randomly lose to them hitting you for 20 in a turn so don’t overcommit with your own flyers. Sometimes a well-timed chump block decides the game in your favor.
I try not to board too much here. You just want some extra answers and trim the cards that are weakest to Cannonade.
I think the matchup is okay, but if they want to beat you they can. With Witness, Adanto, and Loxodon you can definitely beat Clarion, but multiple sweepers or Crackling Drakes with lifelink on top of that is still tough, as are Lava Coil and Seal Away.
Marshal plays into Clarion and Hawk is your worst 1-drop. There is a danger that this board strategy is too heavy on 4-drops, but there are not that many ways they can kill a resolved Aurelia so I think you want at least a couple.
Really bad game 1, but I think you are okay game 2 with your own Frenzies and Aurelia, which are just incredible. This is another matchup where Loxodon really shines. Even post-board with fewer 1-drops it’s still okay just as a 4/4 for 5.
This is your worst matchup by far, but luckily their deck is not very good and you can beat them if they stumble. If they curve removal into multiple Angels there’s not much you can do.
I’ve had this matchup marked as very good, as I feel you can race them most of the time. I’ve heard other opinions though, and haven’t tested the matchup more than what I’ve played online.
Our strategy going into the PT was to add removal and cut the most expensive cards. Be ready to adapt, though—heroic is strong if they go heavy on sorcery speed defensive cards like Entrancing Melody or Exclusion Mage.