Grand Prix Vegas was a total blast. I won’t lie—I had concerns that the triple coinciding tournament structure wouldn’t work, but it really ran very smoothly. Parts of the tournament had a little more wait than usual, but nothing broke down, and overall the GPs ran well. I can’t wait until the next one.
Vegas also reaffirmed the importance of friendship in Magic. I really love the game, but it wouldn’t be special without my friends there with me. I saw people I hadn’t seen since the last Las Vegas GP. I saw my friend Daniel Wong break through with his crazy Taking Turns deck (quad sleeves is too much Daniel—debate solved!), and partook in a string of fun events throughout the week. My plan was to just play the Limited main event and hang out the other days on site. Obviously this plan could have gone poorly, but thankfully I managed to finish 13-2 after a 3-2 start in Limited to get back on the Pro Tour!
On Day 1, I had a slightly above average B/W deck that had few removal spells, but had grindy card advantage with Gravedigger, Oracle’s Vault, and Supernatural Stamina when combined with the right cards. I wanted to Stamina a dying Regal Caracal all day, but that dream never became a reality. What was most interesting about the pool was how close all the nongreen colors were. I ended up looking at 5 different decks in deckbuilding instead of my usual 2-3.
Blue had some flyers, including a Curator of Mysteries to finish games. Red had 3 Magma Sprays but lacked any good aggressive support. U/R was therefore very good at closing games in the air, but only situationally powerful. Magma Spray is awesome, but it doesn’t do anything against a herd of Colossapedes. For this reason I started the B/W deck, but boarded into U/R against aggressive Sealed decks, especially R/W, which I did in 3 rounds to good success. The fact that you can often build multiple decks in this format was part of the reason I ended up liking it so much.
I entered with a 7-2 record Day 2 and needed to run the tables for a PT qualification. My hope was to draft good aggressive decks and leave any durdly nonsense for fun Drafts in side events and Magic Online Leagues. The packs had a different plan for me. I ended up drafting blue and black when red and white were completely cut off. I drafted a 6th pick Sandwurm Convergence pack 1, which was incredibly late, but the only way I could play it was in a U/G style ramp deck. Every time I’ve drafted U/G ramp I’ve lost. Despite how powerful Convergence is I felt it better to avoid that trap. I waffled around for a bit but eventually settled into a U/B cycling deck that featured 2 Ruthless Snipers. Fortunately, I played against 2 R/W decks with a ton of small creatures to pick off and started the day with a 3-0 Draft.
Draft 2 started as a train wreck, as I had the makings of a U/R-splash-Gravedigger deck at the end of pack 1. Not exactly the archetype you’re looking to draft when you sit down at the table. I actually picked up some good early red and thought I could maybe be in a preferred red aggressive deck, but all the good, cheap, red cards either weren’t opened or were sucked up at different parts of the table. In pack 2 I had an interesting choice between a 2nd pick Enigma Drake and Drake Haven. I figured the Enigma Drake was more likely to wheel, but I also had very few cyclers at the time and a had a handful of spells so went with the Enigma Drake in the end. Thankfully, on pick 10 the Drake Haven wheeled! By that point it was much better in my deck, and I even rounded out pack 2 with 2 Tormenting Voice. Pack 3 I was passed an Honored Hydra and my ultimate graveyard cycling deck was born:
When I finished building the deck I honestly had no idea if it was any good. It had a lot of powerful cards and good synergies but would those come together often enough? I hadn’t drafted a deck like this before in the format. Thankfully, there was enough card draw and synergistic pairings that the deck ran like a well-oiled machine. I even got to live the dream of turn-4 Honored Hydra embalm after discarding it. But my favorite turn went like this: Tormenting Voice and make a Drake, loot with Seeker and make a Drake, then Vizier to untap Seeker and loot into another Drake. Your turn!
I was worried throughout the day that my blue decks would just get run over, but the format has matured to a point where everyone wants to draft aggressive decks. Good aggressive cards just weren’t available in my Draft seat and I had to look to other options. The good news was that this meant everyone else was fighting over these cards and making their decks all substantially worse. Had I drafted two blue decks at the beginning of the format, I’m not so sure I would have the same level of success (and in fact I went 1-2 with U/R at GP Richmond). Draft is self-correcting—weaker archetypes gain a lot of strength in the later stages because they become under-drafted while the best decks become over-drafted.
The G/x Exert Deck
I still think you want to attack in Amonkhet, but I want to focus on a different way to do that. We all know that Gust Walker is good at delivering the beats, but these good aggressive decks just aren’t going to get the same card quality they had at the beginning of the format. Instead, I want to turn my attention to green exert.
Green is thought of as a ramp color in Amonkhet, but it actually has a fantastic aggressive base as well. I ended up drafting many heavy green exert decks before Vegas because the other green drafters were going bigger and I was having trouble getting the good aggressive cards in other colors. This was another instance where I needed to zig when others zagged. The core of the deck really revolves around Initiate’s Companion and Hooded Brawler. These two work together in tandem, but also demonstrate the core mentality of putting as much power in play as quickly as possible.
Spidery Grasp and Synchronized Strike complement the Companion’s untap shenanigans and allow you to get in with whatever exert team you’ve assembled. AKH is also unlikely to punish these tricks, because the removal that will stop you is expensive. This means you can gain a huge advantage with Strike on either offense or defense, even though playing this type of card defensively has been bad in the past because it’s easy to get blown out. There are also some cool tricks you can do like tap with a Fan Bearer in G/W and then attack with it if that gives you lethal.
What you don’t want to do with a green exert deck is draft a bunch of good-but-out-of-place ramp cards like Naga Vitalist or Gift of Paradise. These are great at powering out Greater Sandwurms but aren’t so good at attacking. Doing so will put you halfway between aggression and controlling midrange, which will equate to a bad deck. If these are the types of green cards you’re seeing, then an aggressive green deck just isn’t the place to be. Remember, I’m discussing this deck because it has been more open late into the format. You want to be drafting it when it’s under-drafted and Hooded Brawlers aren’t being picked very early.
While this is a base green strategy, it can pair up with any color. Red and white are the two most common pairings because they provide a steady stream of exert creatures, but black and blue can also contribute. Normally, black is just a light splash for removal spells, but it also lets you take advantage of a -1/-1 counter subtheme. Quarry Hauler is much better here than the other versions of the deck, and is the best home for the card in general since a 4/3 body with upside is great in a deck that wants to attack. Be careful to remain focused with the attacking plan when splashing black. It’s easy to end up with a ton of Soulstingers just because they’re good cards, but they aren’t really good at attacking. If you end up drafting a bunch of these slower type cards, you’re really aiming for a slower G/B counter-style deck, which is also good but an entirely different focus.
Lastly, I actually like G/u exert, as opposed to U/G ramp, a deck I avoid like the plague. The reason is that blue provides good attacking flying creatures such as Aven Initiate and Shimmerscale Drake. When you cast these cards on the back foot they’re less impressive, but if they’re attacking they’re usually dealing unblockable damage, which will close games. Furthermore, you can utilize Winds of Rebuke, a card that excels in U/W but is also fantastic here to help apply pressure. Cartouche of Knowledge is also at its best at lifting giant green creatures into the air, and if you put this all together you can start to see how an unexpected plan starts to look unexpectedly great.
All in all, AKH Limited offers a lot of room for creativity. There are baseline archetypes and decks everyone is looking to draft, but when those decks become over-drafted, there’s room in the format for innovation and underrepresented strategies to succeed. In fact, I’m still enjoying the format this far in because of these constant changes. I’m excited to see what’s waiting for me in my next queue.