I almost didn’t make it to the TCGPlayer Championship. Here it was, the most positivest EV tournament of the year, and my travel buddies were out of town. Other grinders couldn’t get off work, and I was left desperately staring at Greyhound bus schedules. If I booked at the right times, I wouldn’t even need to get a hotel on two of the nights. I could just sleep on the bus!
To put this in perspective, the last time I took a Greyhound to a tournament it left me behind. The unfortunate incident began during a four-hour layover in between cities. As usual, I watched people put their travel belongings in a line in front of where the bus would show. I didn’t, because I had thousands of dollars in cards and it’d be crazy to leave it lying on the ground. I had a ticket, and I didn’t care who got on the bus first for the better seats or whatever.
Unbeknownst to me, Greyhound has a habit of overbooking, and the line of possessions was to literally reserve a spot on the bus. I waited hours for a layover, Greyhound left me behind anyway, and since the next bus wasn’t for another four hours I missed my tournament.
It was an experience I didn’t want to repeat.
Fortunately, I didn’t have to, and a few buddies spoke up at the last minute, saying they were game if I could find them decks and points to register. I’d have to ship them the points I had reserved for my byes, but at least I had a ride.
They both registered Siege Rhino decks, with a combined three matches of testing between them. Both cashed, and one made 9th on breakers.
If you want to do well in this format and don’t have time to test, play Siege Rhino. Does this card remind you of Thragtusk? Good, play it and collect your free wins. It doesn’t matter what the rest of the deck looks like, and so long as the cards do stuff it’s fine. Rhino Aggro, Rhino Reanimator, Rhino Midrange—whatever—it doesn’t matter just play it. Heck, the Ascendancy combo deck should probably splash black and play Rhinos.
Naturally, I didn’t play it. I’d been beating the rest of the field with whatever Rhino deck, but couldn’t figure out the mirror. I didn’t know what cards were important or what I should be boarding out, and the games seemed frustratingly draw dependent in a format that generally rewards decision making.
I expected Abzan to be the most popular matchup, and I didn’t want to wade through a field of a mirrors, so I went back to working on the Chord deck that I’d been testing at the start of the season. When I left the shell, I was convinced that Rabblemaster and Hordeling Outburst were at odds with what Chord wanted to do.
They’re red creatures, awkward with the triple-green convoke, and they reward you for playing removal to clear the way for them while Chord rewards a critical mass of creatures to stay consistent. They’re high variance cards when I wanted consistency.
Meanwhile, the miser’s Hornet Nest was overperforming. Not only did it make green tokens and block well, but a certain percentage of the field couldn’t beat the card by itself. In fact, it was only really dead against UB control, which I didn’t expect much of at the TCGPlayer Championship.
“What’s this, a handsome family picnic woefully underpopulated by bees? A large influx of bees ought to put a stop to that.”
At this point, I was pretty sure splashing blue was correct for Clever Impersonator as a Chord target, acting as redundant copies of key cards, copying opponent’s planeswalkers, creating unexpected situations mid-combat, and basically being way more powerful than a four-mana Chordable should be.
Also, I liked Temur Charm as a versatile tool that could crack Hornet Nest.
The deck was good, and I recorded a video set with it here.
At the last minute, I decided to cut blue from the list. In testing, the couple of scrylands overperformed, and I wanted more. Setessan Tactics and Chandra, Pyromaster proved to be the most powerful enablers for hornet tokens, and holding up Temur Charm was at odds with what the deck wanted to do and was a miserable topdeck when you were flooding on mana dorks and needed gas.
In the main event, I played against my fair share of good players including Ray “futurepro” Perez, Josh McClain, and Cody Lingelbach, as well as a few lesser known players that impressed me. I freerolled my Temur and Abzhan matchups and then split my matches against the rest of the field, eventually chopping the Top 4 for a hot $6,000.
Here’s my updated list:
Mana Confluence: The deck is color hungry, and it’s important to have green early for mana dorks and double-red for Chandra and Dragon.
Windswept Heath: Using fetchlands to scry with Courser of Kruphix is big game, and if you have multiple Coursers you actually gain life off of the crack.
Hornet Nest: Going into the event, I was under the impression that 90% of the field couldn’t beat a resolved Hornet Nest. After 12-2-2’ing the Swiss, my opinion hasn’t changed.
The nice thing about this list is that Nest still does stuff even without the opponent attacking into it. Aside from the obvious Setessan Tactics, pinging yourself with Chandra is a great way to fill the board with tokens, snowballing into an overwhelming advantage. The best part is that the tokens protect the Chandra.
Chording for an unexpected Hornet Nest mid-combat is a filthy trick, though it comes up less often than you’d think. It’s a little risky because it taps down your other blockers, but has a high payout.
Polukranos: Solid early play, larger than Siege Rhino, nigh impossible to burn out, and a terrific mana sink once you have Xenagos going. 29 mana is the most I’ve pumped into one so far, which isn’t that crazy when compared to a Nykthos deck, but it’s crazy enough.
Ashcloud Phoenix: I ran Phoenix relatively untested as a miser’s copy in the board, and it overperformed. I boarded it in against many opponents, including Abzan.
In my updated list, it replaced my maindeck Reclamation Sage, which was frequently awful. Blowing up Coursers isn’t exciting because they probably already gained some value, are likely to hit another Courser eventually, and it’s not that big of an impact on the board. You really only want Sage against Whip or Ascendancy.
Nylea’s Disciple: Like Sage, Disciple is a Chord target that’s kind of lackluster to draw naturally, but all the worst game one matchups are against decks with Stoke the Flames, and losing after stabilizing the board is the worst feeling ever. While keeping Disciple in the board is fine, I like the hedge against getting burned out.
Stormbreath Dragon: Nice card to ramp into and acts as a mana sink for Xenagos. It’s nice to have a hasty Chord target, especially with Setessan Tactics in the deck. I arrived at two over many, many games. In some matches, I board down to one or zero, but I never want more than two.
Hornet Queen: “What’s this, an overabundance of bees in the workplace? My briefcase full of bees ought to put a stop to that.”
Hornet Queen is the ultimate Chord target, board stall, and Plague Wind when combined with Tactics. Getting one at instant speed leads to some of the biggest blowouts in the game.
Usually, if you cast Queen naturally you can Chord on the same turn, which is a nice burst in tempo.
Xenagos, the Reveler: Xenagos is very strong, and I considered going up to four. The tokens work with Chord and the mana ability essentially doubles your creature count for Chording though you need to do it at sorcery speed.
Xenagos lets you out-power the green mirrors, dropping multiple planeswalkers or threats in a turn, acts as a wall and inevitability vs. fast aggro, produces fodder for Tactics, and applies pressure against control.
Chandra, Pyromaster: Aside from the Nest interaction, Chandra is a legitimately good card on its own. Most of the time, upticking on the opponent doesn’t do much, and I’m usually pinging myself or using the 0. Even if you tap out to play Chandra, the 0 ability is still fine if you haven’t played a land yet, acting as a pseudo-Courser. Naturally, if you have a Courser in play then Chandra gets a lot better.
Having a draw engine in a deck that wants to connect a few different working pieces is important, and Chandra is one of the key cards in the deck, even if it does come out against fast aggro.
Nissa, Worldwaker: I ran two in the Championship, and that’s a fine number, but it’s not always easy to protect and not at all important to the game plan. Untapping Forests can be nice with Chord, but Nissa will rarely make more mana than Xenagos. I still like the card because it’s powerful enough to swing games on its own and creates pressure that the opponent needs to answer.
Crater’s Claws: This deck can’t turn on ferocious all the time, but can often enough. The card is so good in the late game that I like the miser’s copy a lot, and it’s solid for handling midgame threats, which is where you’re starting to pull ahead on mana but haven’t quite locked up the game yet.
Magma Spray: Incredibly good against the current crop of red decks. In that matchup, we really just want to last into the mid-game with a decent life total, and Spray does that. Sometimes I board it against Ashcloud Phoenix.
Anger of the Gods: I’m still not sure if this card is better than Arc Lightning, which doesn’t sweep our mana dorks and is a reasonable answer to Mantis Rider, but I wanted to have a little bit of game against the Ascendancy deck and Anger can kill Sylvan Caryatid. Either way, the main purpose, as with Magma Spray, is to avoid getting overrun by dorks in the early game.
Crater’s Claws: Comes in vs control and the slower Rhino decks, where you’ll more consistently go late.
Ashcloud Phoenix: If your opponent is trying to kill your guys, Phoenix makes for amazing pressure. It’s kind of the aggro Thragtusk in that you need two removal spells to deal with it.
Boon Satyr: Another piece of the anti-control plan. It’s important to have relevant cards to bring in when Nest and Tactics are dead, even if that doesn’t happen very often. Boon comes in when I want versatile pressure.
Arbor Colossus: My losses are something like 50% fast flyers that come down before I can generate Hornets and 50% other stuff, which is why I’m considering swapping Colossus with one of the maindeck five-drops.
I keep almost everything that isn’t slow. Ideally that includes a mana dork and something to cast with it, but I’m not picky. The mana dork is more important than something to ramp into, and the worst hands I’ve kept are like one-land Caryatids or scry land into turn three Courser on the draw, which is fine in some matchups but too slow vs. most of the field. Don’t be afraid to throw those hands back because the deck has a lot of redundancy and mulligans well.
Hopefully you have some idea of how this goes from the card explanations, but here’s a quick and dirty guide for some of the more popular matchups:
Phoenix can be hard for them to deal with, and Satyr is mostly to act as an early-game removal spell for Lions or Anafenza.
Nest and Tactics get a lot worse when the opponent has more Bile Blights and suchlike. They’re still fine, but you mind more if you draw multiples so shaving makes sense.
For a while I was leaving Hornet Queen in to make sure I could stabilize with Chord plus a pile of mana, but Polukranos does something similar in this matchup.
I’ve tested the Mardu and Jeskai matchups a decent amount, but my sideboarding plans change depending on what I think my opponent is going to do. I always bring in Arbor Colossus because it’s so good against Sarkhan and Mantis Rider.
Usually Magma Spray is loose as the opponent tries to transition into a more controlling deck, but on the draw it’s a bit better because they’re more likely to have Rabblemaster. I would never board in more than one or two Sprays.
If they want to go controlling, Worldwaker is one of your best cards. If they’re trying to aggro you out, it’s one of the worst.
Against RGx mirrors, you’re almost certainly going to win with the maindeck configuration so try not to overboard. A fast Phoenix is probably the only way you lose, so boarding in a couple Spray and the Arbor Colossus makes a lot of sense.
I don’t usually recommend my own decks. Instead, I’m content telling people its strengths and weaknesses and how it works and letting them figure it out if they want to play it for themselves. Still, this one has been wildly profitable for me on MTGO and in real life. It’s consistent, well positioned, fun, and easy to play. It has its weaknesses, but so does everything. Give it a shot.