This past weekend I played GP Manila and managed to Top 8 with Abzan Whip, one of the decks I wrote about last week. I mentioned that Marijn suggested I try 2 Wingmate Roc and it turned out to be a great addition to the deck, giving me an edge in the Whip mirrors while also being a very strong card in the post-board games, when I usually take out most of the reanimation package and the games become more grindy. This was my final deck list:
Abzan Whip and Abzan Aggro were the two decks that I liked the most before the GP. Aggro seemed well positioned but had issues with the mana base, and Whip always had very smooth draws but I felt hopeless with it against control.
In the end, Ivan Floch and I thought there wouldn’t be too many End Hostilities and U/B or U/W Control decks at the GP, and went with Whip. Our only divergence was that he had a 3rd Hornet Queen and a 3rd Whip instead of the 2 Rocs because he wasn’t convinced and didn’t have time to try them out. I also talked to Christian Calcano who was in Manila as well and he also liked the same deck, although a slightly different version.
The reason I chose this deck is that your creatures are bigger and better than your opponents’ and can easily win the game on their own. The small Whip package is just added value. I have never been a big fan of the card itself, but it’s just very good in the format right now. Doomwake Giant makes sure you aren’t soft to Hornet Queen and Elspeth, while Hornet Queen itself beats the other midrange strategies. Satyr Wayfinder might just be the deck’s MVP, making sure you don’t miss land drops while filling your graveyard with creatures for Whip and making Murderous Cut cheaper.
I really like the current Standard format. Every week you can do well with a different deck. The metagame evolves quickly, but if you correctly identify what you will need to beat that given weekend, there is a very good chance you are going to do well.
This is pretty much the opposite of Modern, where you mostly get rewarded for knowing one deck inside out that you have been playing forever. If you are one of those people who like a format where the Top 8 consists of all Caw-blade decks and the Top 16 has 60 copies of Jace, the Mind Sculptor, then I guess this is not going to be fun for you, but if you are one of those who like to brew their own decks and metagame and want to surprise others with something new every weekend, then this is the right format for you. One thing that also surprised me this weekend was that being on the play or on the draw seemed much less important than usual.
Back to the GP, here’s what I played against.
Round 4: Sidisi Whip – W
Round 5: Ascendancy Combo – L
This was a slaughter. My draws were about as good as I could have hoped for and Lee just killed me on turn 4 both games.
Round 6: Abzan Midrange – D
We had two very long games and when I thought I actually had game 2 locked up, he managed to turn things with Duneblast. For game three we only had a couple minutes and I couldn’t find a Doomwake Giant in time to kill his army of Elspeth Soldiers, so we drew.
I would like to say one thing here. Please don’t pile shuffle. Ever. It doesn’t accomplish anything and it takes forever. If you want to count your deck, there are many other ways to do it faster. If you want to shuffle, do a couple riffles. But please stop pile shuffling. If you do this before every game and every time you mulligan, you can easily eat 5-8 minutes of the round’s time limit.
This is a slow format with slow decks and fetchlands, so you need to play fast. A draw is basically the same thing as a loss these days, so you need to make sure you can finish three games in time.
Round 7: Abzan Midrange – W
Round 8: Sidisi Whip – W
Round 9: U/B Control – W
I mulliganed into a slow hand game 1, and after my opponent played Perilous Vault into Jace’s Ingenuity then untapped and Thoughtseized me, I just scooped with a Sylvan Caryatid and 5 lands in play and a hand full of Hornet Queens and Murderous Cuts. It must have confused him so much that he probably mis-sideboarded because in game 2 he just scooped to my 2 Siege Rhinos with 7 cards in hand without playing a spell. In game 3 he took a mulligan and I had a great draw with turn 2 Wayfinder into Anafenza into Siege Rhino, and after he tapped out on turn 5 to play a Prognostic Sphinx I was able to slam Ajani and win the game.
I barely made Day 2 after starting 4-1-1 but Floch and Calcano were both 9-0, so that definitely made us all feel pretty good.
Round 10: Abzan Midrange – W
Round 11: R/G Aggro – W
Round 12: R/G Midrange – W
Round 13: Temur – W
Getting to start Day 2 against 4 good matchups was key.
Round 14: G/B Constellation – W
I was paired against Mihara, which I was afraid of because he had already beaten Floch and Calcano and was 12-0 at some point, but fortunately he never drew an Eidolon in game 1 and I had all the right answers. In game 2 he gambled and kept a Swamp, Urborg hand and didn’t draw a green source.
Round 15: Abzan Whip – ID
Getting to draw into the Top 8 with my buddy C Calc made it even sweeter. And what a Top 8 it was. Lee Shi Tian (who managed to beat Floch, Calc, Mihara, and I in the Swiss—talk about a bad matchup), Makihito Mihara, Tzu Ching Kuo, Christian Calcano. Also, 8 players representing 8 different countries!
In the Top 8 I was paired against Makihito Mihara again. In game 1 I mulliganed into Rhino, Whip, and 4 lands, including a scry land. That hand is far from good in this matchup, but I don’t think an average 5-card hand is going to be better and if I hit a turn-2 Caryatid or Wayfinder I can still make a good game out of it.
Unfortunately, I drew 3 more lands and his draw was so good that I don’t think I could have won even if I were allowed to stack my library. In game 2 I had Caryatid into Rhino into Ajani, and knowing he had no removal spells in his 75 I just kept making the Rhino bigger and bigger. On my final turn, I was only able to put him to 1 life, so I killed his 2 copies of Sylvan Caryatid by killing my own with Bile Blight to make sure nothing crazy could happen with Nykthos, and he just nodded and conceded.
In game 3 I Thoughtseized him when he had a Voyaging Satyr, Forest, and Nykthos in play, and he showed me a hand of Thoughtseize, Courser, Eidolon of Blossoms, Polukranos, and more expensive cards. I took the Courser and hoped he wouldn’t draw a land right away, but I had a land-heavy draw again, so even though he bricked twice, I was only able to resolve a Doomwake Giant.
I had another one in hand, so I needed him to draw an untapped land and play the Eidolon, which would allow me to slam the second Doomwake and clear his board. If he played the Polukranos instead, I would kill it and hope for the same sequence next turn.
He drew a Temple of Malady, took a long time on the scry, eventually deciding to leave the card on top, then he untapped it with the Satyr and Thoughtseized my Doomwake Giant, leaving me with only Utter End in hand. I realized that his top card clearly wasn’t a land because otherwise he wouldn’t think for so long, killed his Satyr, and attacked for 4.
He drew and played a Courser, which made sense and hit a land off the top, which allowed him to start casting more spells and make more mana with Nykthos. I got him to something like 5 life and just needed to draw a little bit of extra pressure, but I drew a couple more lands and conceded when he started resolving See the Unwrittens.
Many people have asked me how to sideboard with the deck, so here’s a sideboard guide:
Hornet Queen is already bad in game 1 because they have Doomwake Giants to clear the tokens and a 2/2 for 7 mana is not exactly a good deal. After sideboard, the game completely changes. It’s not about your graveyard or synergies anymore. They bring in Ashioks, Disdainful Strokes, and Reclamation Sages, so you need to put as much pressure on them as possible. They also have Thoughtseizes and usually bring in even more.
You need to make sure you can answer their Ashiok because that’s pretty much the only way they can beat you. You don’t need the full 4 Murderous Cut, because there isn’t that much you need to kill and your creatures are bigger and better anyway. Ajani really shines in this matchup. If they don’t have a counter for it, it will win you the game.
I keep the Caryatids because mana advantage is still important and I don’t bring in the Thoughtseizes because the game usually goes long and you don’t want to draw a dead card. It’s somewhat fine on turn 1 and 2 and protects your big spells from their Thoughtseize and Disdainful Strokes, but it does nothing if you draw it after they resolve an Ashiok or if they have 2 of the card you want to take, and I just don’t think you need it.
Sideboarding and post-board games here are pretty much the same as against Sidisi. I like putting pressure on them with cards like Anafenza and Ajani, especially if they keep their Whips in. Your trump cards are Wingmate Roc and Ajani.
Once again all the graveyard stuff gets boarded out. Pharika, Whip, and Commune are just too slow. Doomwake’s ability is almost irrelevant, but at least it has a big body and blocks well. Glare of Heresy is one of your best cards. Try to prevent them from triggering raid, because beating 2 big flyers on turn 5 is really hard.
I like to side out the Banishing Lights because they usually bring in Erases in addition to Utter Ends, and getting blown out with it in combat is pretty bad. While I normally don’t like the Thoughtseizes, I think they are fine in this matchup, because you can usually expect them to have a few copies of game-breaking cards like End Hostilities or Duneblast. Soul of Innistrad and Hornet Queen are your best cards in this matchup.
Murderous Cut does absolutely nothing and Sylvan Caryatid doesn’t really accomplish anything either, because in this matchup you don’t need to ramp into expensive stuff, you just need to have more relevant spells than they can counter and kill. Both Doomwake Giant and Hornet Queen are pretty mediocre, but I like to keep the Queens in because if they don’t have a counter, it’s really hard for them to kill it unless they bring in some number of Drown in Sorrows, in which case I’d rather have the Giant. Reclamation Sage and Banishing Light can randomly destroy a Perilous Vault when they don’t it see coming. Make sure you have an answer for Ashiok.
Glare of Heresy is better than Banishing Light, because it’s one mana cheaper and they can’t remove it with their own Banishing Light or Erase. It takes some practice, but try not to overextend into End Hostilities and keep a Doomwake Giant for Elspeth tokens if possible. Bring in a Reclamation Sage for 1 Doomwake Giant if you see Banishing Lights.
R/G Aggro and Temur
The cards you board out are just too slow in the matchup. Pharika seems like it might be fine, but it doesn’t help you against Ashcloud Phoenix, Stormbreath Dragon, and Sarkhan. If you can choose which removal to use on their creatures, save Hero’s Downfall and Murderous Cut for Stormbreath Dragon, and Banishing Light and Utter End for Sarkhan and Phoenix. Be aware of Destructive Revelry and Boon Satyr, both can blow you out in combat. Drown in Sorrow is good against versions with Goblin Rabblemaster and Heir of the Wilds, but don’t bring it in if they have Savage Knuckleblade, Centaur Courser, and Sylvan Caryatid instead.
Banishing Light is just worse than every other removal spell we have and it matches up pretty poorly against what they are trying to do, but at least it gets rid of a planeswalker that they might bring in after sideboard. Make sure you are using the correct removal spell, just as in the R/G matchup.
This matchup is almost unwinnable. They have all the time in the world to set up their combo and you have very little pressure. It would be nice to have an Erase or two in the board against them, but to be fair the matchup is so bad that it wouldn’t really change much anyway. I don’t like bringing in Glare of Heresy because they usually keep their Ascendancy in hand until the turn they go off.
G/B Constellation (Mihara’s Version)
Sideboarding in this matchup depends on exactly what version they are playing. I knew Mihara had no removal and that the matchup favored him, so I tried to be as aggressive as possible and use the fact that he can’t really interact with me to my advantage. If the game goes long, cards like Eidolon of Blossoms and Nykthos will eventually give him too big an advantage.
Banishing Light seems bad against multiple Reclamation Sages. If your opponent figures out that he should board out Elvish Mystic because it always dies to Doomwake Giant, then Drown in Sorrow is bad, otherwise bring it in.
For game 3 of the quarters I brought in 2 Thoughtseizes and they didn’t feel very good, but it’s possible that rather than be aggressive you want to transform into a removal-heavy deck that Thoughtseizes and kills everything to eventually set up Doomwake Giant + Pharika.
This is also a matchup where I’m not 100% sure how to sideboard because there are many different ways they can go after sideboard. I like Thoughtseize because they usually have End Hostilities, Treasure Cruise, and planeswalkers. Murderous Cut is bad because it only kills Goblin Rabblemaster and you don’t want to be killing tokens with it. Pharika and Hornet Queen just seem too slow.
This matchup is just about staying alive. Don’t try to race them, build a good board position, kill everything they have, and they will eventually draw too many lands and you will win with card advantage from Courser and extra life from Whip and Rhino.
I think that should cover almost everything. I don’t think I would make any changes to the deck, although I could see cutting the Banishing Lights for 1 or 2 Hero’s Downfall or 1 Utter End, which would make up some space in the sideboard while still giving you flexible answers. Unfortuntely, at that point your deck needs GG for Courser, BB for Downfall, and WW for Wingmate Roc, which is usually not a problem in game 2 when the games tend to be a bit slower, but it might be more problematic in game 1. The mana base is so good that I suspect making some changes to it to support this change wouldn’t be too hard.
That’s all I have for today, thanks for reading!