First consideration: The EV

I almost decided to skip this Invitational. My reasoning was such:

1) The dip from 75k to 50k is significant, making it much harder to cash.
2) The series is well established, making it a sharkfest. I like a good challenge as much as the next guy, but softer tournaments are more profitable.
3) It’s in New Jersey.

All of those factors make it not profitable to fly, and this is coming from someone with byes and a competitive chance at Top 8’ing.

On the other hand, I have been playing well lately, and it’s important to maximize tournament exposure during hot streaks. Since I found a ride and a free place to stay, I will be attending.

Not only will I spend a weekend with friends and play lots of (hopefully) high-level Magic, I also have a reason to write this article.

Second Consideration: The New Standard

First, let’s consider the deck to beat:

Jund

[deck]Main Deck
4 Stomping Ground
4 Blood Crypt
4 Overgrown Tomb
4 Woodland Cemetery
3 Dragonskull Summit
3 Rootbound Crag
1 Forest
2 Kessig Wolf Run
4 Thragtusk
4 Huntmaster of the Fells
3 Olivia Valdaren
3 Scavenging Ooze
3 Bonfire of the Damned
2 Mizzium Mortars
2 Putrefy
2 Doom Blade
1 Sever the Bloodline
1 Dreadbore
1 Abrupt Decay
1 Rakdos’s Return
2 Garruk, Primal Hunter
2 Liliana of the Veil
4 Farseek
Sideboard
3 Duress
1 Curse of Death’s Hold
1 Garruk, Primal Hunter
4 Pillar of Flame
1 Barter in Blood
2 Rakdos’s Return
3 Lifebane Zombie[/deck]

This list is tuned specifically for the Invitational, where the mirror will be popular and people are likely to turn to slow control decks with good Jund matchups.

I’m not playing [card]Vampire Nighthawk[/card] or [card]Arbor Elf[/card] because I hate losing value to sweepers, especially in the Jund mirror. Also, I tend to win more when I start with a grip of spells, killing whatever my opponent is doing. My openers full of creatures are more likely to lose, making me want to keep my threat count low. [card]Scavenging Ooze[/card] is too bonkers not to play.

Since I am upping the creature count, [card]Rakdos Keyrune[/card] as a threat becomes less important, and black and red mana don’t do anything for Ooze. The Cavern into [card]Sire of Insanity[/card] might be a reasonable choice for this tournament. I was one of the first people to advocate cutting Cavern before, but the Invitational should feature enough Ux control decks to make it worth it.

The removal suite is adjusted for [card]Doom Blade[/card], which is even better than [card]Abrupt Decay[/card] at killing early threats. [card]Abrupt Decay[/card] hits smaller planeswalkers like [card]Domri Rade[/card] and Liliana, though, so I still want access to one. Similarly, [card]Dreadbore[/card]’s ability to hit ‘walkers remains important.

I started running a miser’s [card]Sever the Bloodline[/card] a while ago because I liked it against Junk and in the Jund mirror. While Junk disappeared from the face of the metagame, the Jund mirror grew more popular. My only complaint about the card is that, since it exiles, it doesn’t combine well with [card]Scavenging Ooze[/card]. Ooze is another reason not to maindeck [card]Pillar of Flame[/card], though it’s important to have 4 in the 75.

A lot of people underestimate [card]Olivia Voldaren[/card] in the new Jund mirror. Before, we had four or five removal spells for it and Olivas of our own. Now, players are cutting the relevant removal, like [card]Tragic Slip[/card], [card]Sever the Bloodline[/card], and [card]Mizzium Mortars[/card], and we can no longer legend rule it. While the card almost never got there before, it’s looking like a better and better threat.

The sideboard saw some modifications. Without Junk, the [card]Slaughter Games[/card] and [card]Appetite for Brains[/card] aren’t necessary. Slaughter Games is still great vs. [card]Sphinx’s Revelation[/card], and eating the opponent’s brain is still a fine plan in the mirror, but those roles can be filled by [card]Duress[/card], [card]Cavern of Souls[/card], and [card]Lifebane Zombie[/card]. Playing black and not boarding a pile of Lifebane Zombies is a big mistake.

While Jund is the best deck for this weekend, I’m also considering a few other lists.

UR Delver

[card]Young Pyromancer[/card] screams “pair me with a Pike,” and I enjoy playing Delver decks. Here’s what I came up with:

[deck]Main Deck
4 Sulfur Falls
4 Steam Vents
8 Island
5 Mountain
1 Cavern of Souls
4 Delver of Secrets
4 Snapcaster Mage
2 Young Pyromancer
1 Talrand, Sky Summoner
2 Thundermaw Hellkite
4 Thought Scour
2 Searing Spear
1 Turn Burn
1 Thoughtflare
1 Devil’s Play
4 Unsummon
3 Think Twice
1 Dissipate
2 Essence Scatter
1 Izzet Charm
3 Pillar of Flame
2 Runechanter’s Pike[/deck]

Glenn Jones might not even remember, but I invented the Standard UR Delver archetype for an Open a while ago. After [card]Ponder[/card] rotated, I tried it again and cashed a random Open, though I haven’t touched it since.

While I designed this list with [card]Young Pyromancer[/card] in mind, it evolved into more of a [card]Snapcaster Mage[/card] deck. The goal is not to control the game or aggro the opponent out with fast threats, though those things can happen, but rather to deny the opponent tempo long enough for some efficient threat to win. As a bonus, sometimes the stars align and [card]Thundermaw Hellkite[/card] picks up a [card]Runechanter’s Pike[/card].

The deck has a high velocity, and tears through itself looking for the important cards. [card]Unsummon[/card] is necessary for picking up your own threats in response to removal, especially [card]Snapcaster Mage[/card]s, and can also answer problematic cards out of aggro like [card]Domri Rade[/card] and [card]Ghor-Clan Rampager[/card].

I didn’t settle on a sideboard, but it would involve some number of [card]Dispel[/card], [card]Opportunity[/card], and [card]Glaring Spotlight[/card].

While competitive and fun, the deck is too weak to [card]Scavenging Ooze[/card], [card]Rest in Peace[/card], and slower blue decks to be a strong choice for this event.

The last deck I considered is Hexproof, which people seem to be forgetting about. Hexproof was already a decent deck with an even Jund matchup, and it gained a one-drop threat.

Here’s the list I came up with:

[deck]Main Deck
3 Hinterland Harbor
4 Breeding Pool
2 Glacial Fortress
4 Sunpetal Grove
4 Temple Garden
4 Hallowed Fountain
1 Forest
4 Voice of Resurgence
4 Gladecover Scout
4 Geist of Saint Traft
4 Invisible Stalker
1 Fiendslayer Paladin
2 Spell Rupture
1 Selesnya Charm
4 Ethereal Armor
4 Unflinching Courage
4 Rancor
4 Spectral Flight
2 Abundant Growth
Sideboard
1 Spell Rupture
2 Strangleroot Geist
1 Negate
4 Ghost Quarter
2 Fiendslayer Paladin
2 Ajani, Caller of the Pride
2 Nearheath Pilgrim
1 Garruk Relentless[/deck]

Note the 9 comes-into-play-untapped green sources. With only 9, I didn’t want to add another green one-drop willy-nilly, and [card]Gladecover Scout[/card] swapped with [card]Avacyn’s Pilgrim[/card]. The mana dork was a way for other decks to interact with this deck in the early game, especially the removal heavy Jund decks. While I miss turn 2’ing [card]Geist of Saint Traft[/card], I have the new nut draw of turn one Scout into turn two double enchantment.

To keep the white count up, I added a pair of [card]Abundant Growth[/card]s, which have been decent. The deck loses to its mana on occasion and I wanted to shore up that weakness. I started with four Growths and a lower land count, but one-land [card]Abundant Growth[/card] hands were hard to evaluate and I never wanted to draw multiples in mana tight hands.

The [card]Spell Rupture[/card]s are great in the matchups they’re intended for, Jund and durdle-y blue decks, but I don’t want to draw them against aggro. Luckily, sideboarding is a thing.

The [card]Ghost Quarter[/card]s aren’t there to hit random utility lands, but rather for decks that don’t run basics (like the mirror). Unfortunately, with most Jund lists moving away from Mortars, people are running basics in that deck now, making Quarter harder to justify. If I was going to cut a card from the board, this is where I’d start.

Over the last weekend, a few different lists popped up in the Top 16 of the Open in Richmond, each with their own take on the archetype.

Hexproof, by Alex Evans

[deck]Main Deck
4 Breeding Pool
2 Glacial Fortress
4 Hallowed Fountain
2 Hinterland Harbor
2 Overgrown Tomb
4 Sunpetal Grove
4 Temple Garden
4 Avacyn’s Pilgrim
4 Fiendslayer Paladin
3 Gladecover Scout
4 Invisible Stalker
4 Ethereal Armor
2 Gift of Orzhova
4 Rancor
4 Spectral Flight
4 Unflinching Courage
4 Geist of Saint Traft
1 Ajani, Caller of the Pride
Sideboard
2 Nearheath Pilgrim
4 Voice of Resurgence
2 Fog
2 Mending Touch
2 Negate
2 Ray of Revelation
1 Ajani, Caller of the Pride[/deck]

Even though he’s running the full set of [card]Avacyn’s Pilgrim[/card]s and I have zero, I like Alex’s list. To justify keeping the mana dorks, he added three-drops, making the 1->3 curve more consistent. The main problem I have with this approach is that he opens himself up to Bonfire.

While the [card]Overgrown Tomb[/card]s for [card]Gift of Orzhova[/card] are cute, I fear the life gain from Gift grows redunant with all these Paladins in the deck. I’d cut the enchantment for some two mana spells, possibly [card]Voice of Resurgence[/card] or [card]Selesnya Charm[/card].

Hexproof, by Joe Maguire

[deck]Main Deck
1 Forest
4 Breeding Pool
2 Glacial Fortress
4 Hallowed Fountain
4 Hinterland Harbor
2 Sunpetal Grove
4 Temple Garden
3 Avacyn’s Pilgrim
3 Fencing Ace
4 Gladecover Scout
4 Invisible Stalker
4 Curiosity
4 Ethereal Armor
4 Rancor
3 Spectral Flight
4 Unflinching Courage
2 Simic Charm
4 Geist of Saint Traft
Sideboard
2 Loxodon Smiter
3 Nearheath Pilgrim
2 Rest in Peace
3 Fog
2 Mending Touch
1 Ajani, Caller of the Pride
2 Cavern of Souls[/deck]

While I dislike a lot of Joe’s choices, he has some neat ideas. [card]Curiosity[/card] is an underused card that could turn out to be a great tool for fighting through Jund decks, and I will test this version before this weekend.

Like Alex and myself, Joe realized that 8 green one-drops was a bad idea. Since he hasn’t put any extra weight on the three-drop slot like Alex did, I agree with his cutting a Pilgrim. Because the deck only wants to draw one Pilgrim or Scout, and they get worse in multiples, three of each might be correct.

Aside from Jund, Delver, and Hexproof, there are a few other considerations I’m setting aside due to time constraints. I’m only human, after all, and I no longer have time to test everything. The controlling blue decks are well positioned, as I feel they have inevitability against the current crop of Jund lists. I’m not talking about aggro Geist or efficient flash decks, but rather true durdle control with counters, planeswalkers, and [card]Aetherling[/card]s.

I like the thought of some awesome Humans deck to take advantage of our new manland. Even when [card]Mayor of Avabruck[/card] flips he keeps pumping [card]Mutavault[/card]!

Something like this:

[deck]3 Plains
3 Forest
4 Mutavault
4 Cavern of Souls
4 Sunpetal Grove
4 Temple Garden
2 Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
4 Mayor of Avabruck
4 Imposing Sovereign
4 Banisher Priest
4 Boros Elite
4 Hamlet Captain
4 Silverblade Paladin
4 Champion of the Parish
4 Avacyn’s Pilgrim
2 Rancor
2 Garruk Relentless[/deck]

I haven’t had time to test this puppy beyond a few disheartening games against Jund, but it looks sweet on paper.

Even with all those dual lands, the mana is still a little awkward. We’ve got a 3-3 split between basics, despite way more white one-drops and double-white costs, but it seems a necessary evil to keep the green count up for the non-Human spells and the turn one Pilgrim that fixes for white.

If we wanted access to yet another lord, [card]Mikaeus, the Lunarch[/card] is an option that works well with [card]Avacyn’s Pilgrim[/card] draws.

Third Consideration: Picking the Right Legacy Weapon

Legacy is as diverse as ever, though the Invitationals have a certain UWx bent.

Let’s consider the deck to beat:

Esper Deathblade, by Alex B

[deck]Main Deck
2 Wasteland
1 Creeping Tar Pit
1 Karakas
1 Tropical Island
1 Scrubland
4 Underground Sea
3 Tundra
4 Polluted Delta
3 Flooded Strand
3 Marsh Flats
4 Deathrite Shaman
4 Dark Confidant
4 Stoneforge Mystic
3 Snapcaster Mage
3 Jace, the Mind Sculptor
2 Liliana of the Veil
4 Brainstorm
1 Ponder
4 Swords to Plowshares
1 Umezawa’s Jitte
1 Batterskull
1 Detention Sphere
3 Thoughtseize
2 Inquisition of Kozilek
Sideboard
4 Force of Will
1 Counterspell
1 Vendilion Clique
2 Spell Pierce
1 Thoughtseize
1 Inquisition of Kozilek
3 Surgical Extraction
2 Supreme Verdict[/deck]

UWx Stoneblade decks have always been popular at Invitationals, as they appeal to the spikey player base. I like Alex’s list because it eschews the somewhat popular [card]Geist of Saint Traft[/card] for more planeswalkers. Geist is a resilient threat, but its mileage varies based on the matchup. [card]Liliana of the Veil[/card], on the other hand, is more consistently good against the field.

Most lists don’t run this much discard, instead favoring maindeck countermagic and [card]Meddling Mage[/card] in the board. Here, the discard combines with all these [card]Snapcaster Mage[/card]s, and the end result is a deck that retains Deathblade’s strengths while improving the game one matchups against the grindier decks. The lack of [card]Force of Will[/card] makes it more fragile against fast combo decks like Belcher, but that’s a strong tradeoff for an Invitational.

There’s nothing wrong with playing the deck to beat, but the rule is to be prepared for the mirror. In the above list, it’s probably correct to cut [card]Detention Sphere[/card] for [card]Vindicate[/card], as it’s a more reliable answer to Jace when some opponents run [card]Abrupt Decay[/card] off of the splash.

Personally, I haven’t tested the mirror, and as such I’m unlikely to pick up Deathblade this late in the game. The other choice, the more CalebD one, is to brew something that beats the most played deck.

Punishing RUG

[deck]Main Deck
1 Mountain
1 Island
1 Forest
4 Misty Rainforest
3 Scalding Tarn
3 Volcanic Island
2 Tropical Island
3 Wasteland
4 Grove of the Burnwillows
4 Tarmogoyf
2 Augur of Bolas
3 Jace, the Mind Sculptor
4 Lightning Bolt
4 Punishing Fires
3 Spell Pierce
4 Force of Will
1 Negate
1 Misdirection
1 Life from the Loam
4 Brainstorm
3 Ponder
2 Engineered Explosives
1 Firespout
1 Dismember
Sideboard
2 Submerge
1 Vendilion Clique
2 Arcane Laboratory
3 Red Elemental Blast
2 Pyroblast
1 Pithing Needle
2 Grafdigger’s Cage
1 Krosan Grip[/deck]

I’ve written about this deck a few times already, and have a set of videos here that explore its evolution, so my emphasis will be on explaining why I’m considering it as opposed to my card choices. Still, there are a few cards that people balk at, so I’ll go over them quickly.

[card]Augur of Bolas[/card] is a less mana-intensive [card]Snapcaster Mage[/card] that blocks for Jace and finds the engine pieces.

In this deck, I have plenty of answers to creatures, making [card]Negate[/card] a hard counter that I can cast off a colorless land.

This deck demolishes any Deathrite shell, including Deathblade, Jund, and the BUG variants, and the removal gives it a decent matchup against the tribal decks too. Post-board, it has the tools to deal with Omniscience and RUG Delver.

I like that it’s consistent with powerful engines and few weaknesses. On top of that, it’s a lot of fun to pilot, and I know I’d stay sharp with it throughout a long tournament.

The fear is that I’ll play against an unfair deck I can’t interact with, like Storm or Dredge, or that I’ll get hosed by [card]Rest in Peace[/card]. It doesn’t help that there are always a few Miracles players at these things. Speaking of which:

Miracles, by Joe Lossett

[deck]Main Deck
4 Flooded Strand
2 Mystic Gate
2 Tundra
2 Volcanic Island
2 Misty Rainforest
2 Polluted Delta
1 Arid Mesa
2 Plains
4 Island
2 Karakas
4 Sensei’s Divining Top
3 Swords to Plowshares
4 Brainstorm
4 Counterbalance
1 Rest in Peace
3 Force of Will
3 Terminus
2 Entreat the Angels
2 Spell Pierce
1 Counterspell
3 Vendilion Clique
1 Venser, Shaper Savant
3 Jace, the Mind Sculptor
1 Supreme Verdict
1 Misdirection
1 Flusterstorm
Sideboard
2 Rest in Peace
1 Sulfur Elemental
2 Red Elemental Blast
1 Pyroblast
1 Flusterstorm
1 Venser, Shaper Savant
1 Pithing Needle
1 Wear Tear
2 Misdirection
1 Entreat the Angels
2 Engineered Explosives[/deck]

I’ve only played Miracles in one tournament, mostly to test maindeck [card]Rest in Peace[c/ard]. After that, I figured the deck was mostly locked slots and moved onto more interesting projects. Here, Joe proved me wrong and made some neat adjustments including shaving [card]Force of Will[/card] and Swords down to three-ofs. He increased the threat count with a high number of legendary creatures for [card]Karakas[/card], reducing the chances of flooding out. Post-board, he can bring in a third Entreat for even more threats in the grind-y matchups.

I’m guessing that, with the new legend rule, Joe is going to want a fourth REB effect in the board to answer opposing Jaces, but the creature pressure and other countermagic might be enough. I’d consider cutting the Needle, [card]Flusterstorm[card], or one of the [card]Misdirection[/card]s.

I like how Miracles answers the Deathrite menace. That is, it doesn’t specifically, but rather waits to sweep it away with whatever else the opponent is doing. Sometimes, it even mises the maindeck [card]Rest in Peace[/card] to make the card look extra silly.

Miracles is a powerful deck with a slew of even-ish matchups, and the mirror is straightforward enough that I could see picking it up for this event.

Whatever decks I decide on, I’m excited to be playing this weekend.

Caleb Durward