By the time you guys read this, I’ll hopefully be France’s reigning National champ, or at least will have made it all the way to the finals to earn myself a spot on this year’s French team and a right to compete in Barcelona this coming December in the World Magic Cup, a tournament I haven’t gotten a chance to play in even though I came close a couple times.
I was basically one good draw step away last year, losing an incredibly close game 3 in the semis to eventual champion Alain Bardini.
I also felt like I got robbed by the system a few years ago when Raphael Levy and I ended the season tied in Pro Points. In that case, the tiebreaker was most PT Top 8 finishes that season, which neither of us had. It was then most GP Top 8s. I had none, and Raph didn’t have any individual GP Top 8s either—but he had a 5th place finish in a team GP, which technically counted. So, despite the fact that I had much better PT finishes with two Top 16s, the tiebreaker ended up working in his favor. I think they’ve actually changed the way things work, since a 5th through 8th place in a team GP doesn’t count as a GP Top 8 anymore.
I was a bit bitter when I found out, but in hindsight, it all worked out. I wasn’t playing much Magic back then and with the World Series of Poker happening right before the WMC, I wouldn’t really have had the time to playtest. Raph, Yann Guthmann, and Timothée Simonot showed up fully prepared and took down the tournament, earning France their first international team trophy ever.
Nationals are held in Muret this year, a little city right outside of Toulouse, and I’m currently on my way there via train, where I’ll be hosted by locals… Raph and his wife Monica.
My preparation started as it often does with Limited. I’m sure you’ve now heard it a million times, but it just makes more sense to start with Draft when a new set comes out while the online/live Magic community does the heavy lifting in Standard. It’s unlikely that a single individual or a small group of people come up with a better deck during the first week of a new format than the Magic Online 5-0 deck lists, PTQ deck lists, or big live events will provide ten or fifteen days down the road.
Even though there is no Sealed deck portion at Nationals, that’s what I started with since that was the first M19 Limited format available on MTGO. I’ll share the pools I opened, as well as what I ended up running if any of you guys are interested.
Here is the first pool:
And here is the second one:
Here are the two decks I built for the first pool:
And my other build was:
I played the Esper build for the most part, and I think it was superior. It seems lo line up with what Michael Jacobs shared recently on Twitter. The TL;DR was: Blue is the best by far, green is the worst color by far, half of your opponents will be green (maybe not anymore after this post), and never play Golgari.
I only felt like I had one viable deck for my second pool:
Note that the Apex of Power was in at first just to test its power level, but it is not playable. Anticipate, Disperse, and maybe Sift should be in over Apex, Onakke Ogre, and maybe a Hostile Minotaur.
From what I have seen in Sealed deck, it seems like Draft will be fun and interesting as well. Perhaps not Dominaria levels of greatness, but better than some of the past core sets. I haven’t drafted a ton, maybe 20 Leagues or so, but I’ve enjoyed the format and I think I’ve gotten a decent grasp on it even if my understanding of M19 is probably not as deep as it has been for some of the more recent sets, where I usually get in over 70 Drafts and get to discuss the format at length with my Pantheon teammates.
So far, I feel that the 5 colors are fairly balanced, even though it does seem like the subtheme and payoff for some of the color combos are more powerful or easier to put into place. I’ve had the most success with white-green, but it’s over a tiny sample and I don’t think I will be forcing or avoiding any colors at Nationals even though I might lean toward white. Raph actually loves white aggro and is even looking to force it, and Amiel told me that it’s the only archetype he managed to win a League with.
Here are some of my 3-0 decks:
Now for what most of you are probably most interested in: Standard.
I started off more or less where I had left the format, with the archetype I played at the PT: Jeskai Control. I ran Kevin Jones’ list from U.S. Nationals, which was only one sideboard card different from Ryoichi Tamada’s Top 8 list from GP Singapore.
Kevin Jones, Top 4 at U.S. Nationals
Despite the fact that I really liked most of the card choices and numbers, the deck felt underwhelming and I didn’t think there was a ton of room for improvement, so I decided not to spend too much time on it, and moved onto something else.
Ten days or so ago, Zombies, Mono-Green, and Red were all on the rise, and I felt that U/W Control might be in a good spot, which seemed to be confirmed by the Open results with both Jonathan Rosum and Dylan Donegan placing into the Top 8 with the exact same 75 (it was Team Constructed Trios, and I’m not sure how they individually did).
I tried the deck, and it felt okay, but the Mono-Green matchup felt rough. I’ve pretty much been testing alone so I don’t have the largest sample sizes, and anything I share may end up being wrong due to variance or sub-optimal play. At any rate, I still think Pull from Tomorrow is garbage and there is pretty much no reason to play it over Glimmer of Genius, even more so when your sideboard plan includes Torrential Gearhulk. You’re basically almost never going to get to the late game, get to resolve a Glimmer, and lose because it wasn’t a Pull. But being able to find that turn-5 Fumigate is often key, especially in a format dominated by Mono-Green. The synergy with Settle the Wreckage is great as well, and lets you punish opponents who play around the 4-mana pseudo sweeper.
That’s where I left the deck about a week ago but given the current meta, I would probably try to fit in a third Fumigate in the main and a Gearhulk or two as well.
Speaking of the current meta, I’ve seen a bunch of streamers play the Storm deck, and I have even gotten paired against Numot in a streamer’s showdown when I was testing U/W and he made quick work of me, though part of it may have been because I was unfamiliar with the matchup.
So when it made a strong showing in the Magic Online PTQ with RayFuturePro a.k.a. Ray Perez Jr. coming in 7th and a couple of others making it into the Top 32, I decided to give it a go. I started with Ray’s list, which is basically the list Marc Tobiasch has been working on forever (he played the deck way before it was cool or good, pre-M19 and the arrival of Sai, Master Thopterist) and the deck seemed like the real deal.
I put up a bunch of good finishes, the Grixis matchup seemed easy, Red seemed favorable, and control seemed like a good pairing as well. My old demons came back to haunt me, though, and Storm was struggling against Mono-Green. My results in Leagues started to get worse as it seemed that was all people were playing. I was still beating Green some of the time, but it felt unfavorable, so I spent the last couple of days practicing the matchup and tuning the sideboard for it. I’m still not sure if my plan and my choices are good as combo decks are usually very tricky to sideboard with, but I think I’m okay with how things are.
From what I’ve heard here and there, it seems like I might not be the only one playing the deck this weekend and I want to be ready for the mirror. I hope that people don’t come over-prepared for it, as it owes much of its success to the same factors that allow KCI to do well in Modern. People are not very used to playing against it yet, their main decks are tuned to beat other decks, and I’ve faced very little hate so far. It might become much harder to win if people start showing up with cards like Damping Sphere or By Force. The Grixis deck that won the online PTQ a week ago had zero copies of Abrade in its 75, for example, but I’d be shocked if that’s what most people were still running (I actually played against Grixis this afternoon and my opponent had both Cut // Ribbons and Abrade in the main).
The list I plan on running at Nationals tomorrow isn’t much different from the original list.
I was skeptical about Anticipate at first since it doesn’t combo with Zai or Outcome, but it’s been playing nicely. I’m not going to give you guys the complete sideboard guide, but I plan on boarding out Reservoir and boarding in Karn in a lot of matchups. The theory is that Reservoir gets worse after sideboard when your opponent has more interactive cards and that if you go off, passing the turn with a bunch of Thopters and two or three Karn’s Construct (you can improvise Karn into play, then bounce it with Outcome a couple times usually) is usually enough to lock up the game against most decks as almost none of them have any kind of reach, and you can even sometimes have the mana for Commit up anyways.
Some of the Storm grinders like Tiemuuu, who went 7-1 in the Online PTQ and 5-0’d at least once in Leagues with the deck, like Reverse Engineer over Metallic Rebuke, but Rebuke has been solid for me and while I haven’t played with Reverse Engineer, I’m not sure how that would really help the Green matchup. While it’s probably fine in the mirror, Rebuke is very good there as well.
I had limited time and manpower to test for this event so I decided to stay fairly focused but if I still think the deck is good after Nationals, I’ll probably give the Reverse Engineer build a try.
Three or four days ago, I would have said that it’s stupid not to play either Storm or Mono-Green this weekend, but things shift fast. It’s Friday night and I’m second guessing my deck choice.
I hope that I do well at Nats, but even if I don’t, I’m super excited about getting back to work testing and tuning our decks for the team PT in two weeks (all right, maybe not Legacy, which I know essentially nothing about).
Good luck to me!