In today’s article I’m going to go over some of the deckbuilding choices I’ve seen from the past 2 weeks worth of tournaments and analyze whether I think they should become the norm moving forward, or flukes that you should not try to replicate.
Chandras in GW
This last weekend, Raphael Levy won the tournament with this version of GW Tokens:
When I first saw this deck list, I assumed the 2 Chandra Flamecaller were a transposition error—they were clearly part of another deck. Then I counted the list and it was 60 cards. Then I read the rest of the coverage and saw that his deck was called “GW Chandra.” Then it dawned on me that Hall-of-Famer Raphael Levy was actually playing two 6-drops without any lands to cast them.
I respect Levy a lot as a player, but I think this is one of the weirdest deckbuilding decisions I’ve ever seen. Still, it’s Levy, so I think it bears a look—I know he is not a deranged person and would not do something completely insane (only moderately insane). First, there’s the question of whether the deck wants Chandra to begin with. If it cost 4GG, would you play it? The effect overall seems good, and fits the overall theme of the deck—resiliency and multiple threats (Elementals + Gideon emblem!). Having a Wrath that people aren’t expecting in your deck full of planeswalkers is also nice, as is having multiple small chump blockers to protect said planeswalker. The big question I have is whether Chandra does something that the deck is not already doing, and I think the answer is no—you already have a ton of planeswalkers and Avacyn gives you this wrath effect.
In the end, I imagine you would play a couple because it’s a powerful card, but it certainly wouldn’t be an automatic addition—the deck already has plenty to do with its mana and there are other late-game cards you could play (such as Secure the Wastes). 6 mana is a lot in Magic. According to Magic Workstation (a much maligned program, but it has a wonderful resource for calculating percentages), a deck with 2 Chandra, Flamecaller in it will draw them by turn 7 (or 6 on the draw, or 6 with a Clue) 42% of the time. It will draw Chandra and 6 lands by turn 7 only 21% of the time—exactly half as often. So roughly half the time you have Chandra in your hand, you won’t be able to cast it by turn 6-7. That’s a lot!
Even if you count Oath of Nissa as a land (which it definitely isn’t), you’re still only 30% to reach 6 lands + Chandra by turn 7, so you still have a 25% chance of not being able to cast it.
Then there’s the question of how often you’ll draw Chandra, have 6 lands, and still not be able to cast it. Again, according to MWS, your chance to draw Chandra plus 6 lands on turn 6 is 16%—the chance to draw Chandra + Oath + 6 lands is 8%—half the time. The chance to flat-out draw Oath of Nissa by turn 6 is 63%.
Here, the math gets a bit more complicated than MWS can handle—for example, drawing Oath of Nissa makes it more likely to hit your 6th land drop or to find Chandra. In return, you get the fact that drawing Oath of Nissa on turn 6 doesn’t help cast Chandra on turn 6. Overall I’d say that if you assume you won’t be able to cast Chandra a quarter of the time that you have 6 lands, I think you are being generous, but I’m sure Frank Karsten will do the proper math in an article in the future.
Then there’s the fact that Oath of Nissa is actually killable, and one of the most played cards in the format is Dromoka’s Command—a card that will kill it as an afterthought. Now I’m not saying people are going to Dromoka’s Command your Oath of Nissa in the dark (though it can happen if you are unable to cast Gideon, Ally of Zendikar without it, for example), but once it becomes known that you have Chandra it’s definitely a possibility, and it can be devastating to plan your whole game around it to simply get it Commanded. You can’t even defend from it very well by being lucky and drawing multiple Oaths, as you can only have one in play, so you’d have to sandbag the second one until you hit 7 lands.
Now, all of this doesn’t necessarily mean that Chandra is bad in the GW deck—maybe it’s such a good card that casting it is worth the times where you can’t cast it, and maybe you can afford a dead card in a lot of the games. But I simply do not believe this to be the case this time. All in all, the combination of “Chandra is good but not that good,” “I’m not even sure I want a 6-drop to begin with,” “4 sources in 60 cards is not enough,” and “Those sources can be killed if people know what you’re up to (and they most certainly will after Levy’s win)” makes the decision easy for me—do not play this card in future GW decks.
Eldrazi Displacer in Bant Humans
Eldrazi Displacer has been a fixture in Bant decks for a while now, but Andrew Elenbogen’s deck is the first time I’ve seen it in a Humans shell:
Eldrazi Displacer is certainly a powerful card. It has a respectable body and gets rid of blockers—some temporarily, and some permanently (such as Hangarback Walker and Westvale Abbey). It resets your own Reflector Mage and Thalia’s Lieutenant, as well as your sideboarded Avacyn and Profaner of the Dead (as well as Thraben Inspector if you’re really flooded). The downside is that it’s not a Human, and the deck already has a lot to do with its mana between Duskwatch Recruiter and Tireless Tracker. It also requires colorless mana to be good, which forces you to play a Wastes and potentially have to fetch it with Evolving Wilds. The biggest question, to me, is whether you should actually play Humans if you’re interested in this sort of thing instead of simply playing Bant. Here is a sample Bant deck list from the other GP:
The lists are actually similar, except the Humans deck has a slightly more aggressive component (while not being nearly as aggressive as the straight white or white/blue Humans builds). Instead of having cards like Sylvan Advocate that ramp up to become great in the midgame, it has cards like Thalia’s Lieutenant and Lambholt Pacifist that can make an early lead overwhelming. I have to say I like the Humans approach better. The reason is that the aggressive component is important for dealing with planeswalker-based decks (such as GW), and it gives you a different angle of attack simply by being fast. Normally the trade-off would be a worse late game, but with Duskwatch Recruiter, Eldrazi Displacer, Tireless Tracker and Collected Company, your late game is already great anyway, so the downside is almost negligible. Not having the Sylvan Advocate + Lumbering Falls combo will make you weaker against Languish decks, but I think this is a price worth paying to get a lot of free wins by simply being faster and bigger early on.
Profaner of the Dead in Bant Humans
Andrew Elenbogen didn’t only innovate with his Displacers, but also with his sideboard Profaner of the Deads. I’ve seen it before, but not often, and never in this context. It’s the kind of card that is easy to miss as there was no video coverage and it didn’t come up in his semifinals feature.
My first instinct is that it’s great against Tokens—if your opponent clogs the board with Nissa, Voice of Zendikar, Gideon, Ally of Zendikar and even Secure tokens (though Secure should mostly be sided out), you can sacrifice the Profaner itself and bounce all of them. But even against “normal” creatures it should be pretty good because your creatures are beefy enough (you have cards like Tireless Tracker and Thalia’s Lieutenant) that you should be able to bounce most of their board and then alpha strike. It’s the sort of effect that no one is expecting, and it’s all the more devastating for it. On top of everything, it also works well with his Eldrazi Displacer, but you have to be careful about running it into Dromoka’s Command or other similar instant-speed removal, as that will stop the exploit from happening.
Overall I think it’s an interesting card, and it’s especially interesting because there aren’t many different things you can do in those board stalls. It is, however, the type of card that usually plays worse than it looks, so I’d have to test it a little bit to be sure.
Verdict: I wouldn’t just put it in my deck right now, but I believe it’s worth testing.
Thrun, the Last Troll in Jund’s Sideboard
Thrun in the sideboard is nothing really new—the card has been around for ages—but I think it’s especially good right now because of Nahiri decks. Seriously, what can that deck do against it? They can’t counter it, can’t Path it, and can’t even Supreme Verdict it away if you have 2 mana (though Wrath of God does work). Their best bet is probably something like Timely Reinforcements or 2 Snapcaster Mage chumps while Nahiri, the Harbinger gets going. I know Nahiri didn’t Top 8 either GP, but it’s still a good and popular deck, and Thrun is also good versus Grixis. Mike Sigrist played 2 in his Jund sideboard, Adonny Medrano played 1, and Jon Bolding played 1 in his Naya sideboard. Javier Dominguez played 0 in his Jund deck, and most Jund decks in the Top 32 of either tournament played 1 or 0. Personally, if I were to play Jund or Junk, I would definitely play 2 of them.
Verdict: Yes, play 2 in your sideboard.