Coming off nearly winning Player of the Year and several straight years of Platinum, I had high hopes this season. Nothing went right.
I began the year being inducted into the Hall of Fame, but real life kept me from testing anywhere near the amount I should have. I ended up 3-4 in that tournament before facing an unintentional draw in round 8. I conceded the match to miss Day 2.
I worked on my own for Pro Tours this season. It’s been almost a year now since I last played a game of Constructed against a live opponent whom I wasn’t paired against in a tournament, which makes the process extremely difficult.
Nonetheless, the next 2 Pro Tours both started off awesome. I went 5-1 in Draft between them on Day 1, and was feeling great. In the first instance, I was playing Kiki-Chord in Modern, a deck that was pretty heavy on interaction and that I was able to win over 80% of my matches with on MTGO. But it turns out the deck just simply isn’t good. MTGO Constructed testing for a Pro Tour is pretty useless for finding out if a deck is good, because your win rate is infalted. I had basically no hope for finding a good Eldrazi shell while working solo, despite being confident something was there, because the cards weren’t on MTGO and I could never test just how good the deck was. While my Kiki-Chord deck didn’t have an awful Eldrazi matchup, it was also just an absolute mistake to not play a degenerate deck like Infect or Affinity in this event from my position. I ended up getting paired against a couple nightmare matchups in RG Scapeshift and RG Tron that absolutely crushed me.
A terrible deck choice, mulligans, and some bad matchups left me 0-5 in Modern after going 3-0 in the draft.
The next PT was no different. I had a GW Tokens list that was much better than the ones played in the SCG Opens, but far, far worse than the one Face to Face used to win the event. I was fairly sure I was going to play it or Bant Company, but I was losing to the White Humans deck. I’ve almost never played the aggressive deck of the format in a PT, but thought that may be the best path to try to put up a decent record and hope my draft matches would then be the difference to getting into the money.
I ended up on UW Humans, however, which was an absolute mistake. There’s a reason that deck completely disappeared right after the tournament. I liked Reflector Mage, and Dragonlord Ojutai out of the sideboard with Always Watching was powerful, but to support that I was playing far more lands in my aggro deck. I should have played the 18-land Humans decks that stuck around, or one of my original lists, but I punted this one off as well. After going 2-1 in Draft, I actually won my first round against GW Tokens. It would be my final victory after rattling off 4 more losses.
At this point, I had as many losses in my 10 rounds of Constructed in 2 PTs than I had in all 40 Constructed rounds combined the previous season. I was stuck on 34 Pro Points despite having a decent GP year where I managed to earn Pro Points in every single event I played, but several of which ended up not counting. This meant it was Top 8 for Platinum or nothing. No pressure!
Luckily, Patrick Chapin had left his former team and we were going to work together for this event. Having one of the best minds in the history of Magic is beneficial for figuring out the format, to say the least. Unfortunately, it turned out Chapin wasn’t going to be able to make it to Australia thanks to the last-minute visa issues.
His initial impressions of the format were that Spirits were the real deal, but that there was likely something in BG Delirium. He built an aggressive version of the deck and wasn’t having too much difficulty beating my stock versions of Bant Company. Even a small sample of games was extremely telling of the power of some of the new cards in the format. Gnarlwood Dryad was excellent, Grim Flayer had potential, and Liliana, the Last Hope was downright broken.
I left for Australia confident that I wanted to find the best Liliana shell. I wasn’t completely sold on the aggressive shell for a BG Delirium deck, but it was clear there was something pretty powerful there. Seeing Ali Aintrazi finish 2nd in an Open with Sultai Control was eye-opening to the potential of some of the new cards on the format.
Ali Aintrazi, 2nd place in a Standard Open
There are a ton of mistakes in this list, but some really great things as well. The removal options were wrong, the creature count needed to be cleaned up, and for the love of everything please get more Lilianas in there!
I set to work on this deck, confident that I could clean it up and have an option that was better than BG Delirium. The following weekend, Ali ran back Sultai Control, and he independently made the vast majority of the changes I had made to my own list! Aintrazi ended up making the Top 16 with what I felt was a really great deck that wasn’t too far off of what I wanted to be doing. I kind of hoped people wouldn’t notice just how much potential was there.
Ali Aintrazi, Top 16 in a Standard Open
My biggest concern was figuring out the mana base, as that is extremely difficult when you’re testing solo on MTGO. I’ve built many of the mana bases used for Team ChannelFireball decks throughout history, but that involved being able to play with and watch the best in the world pilot the decks. I needed to take more of a “feel” approach as to how many enters-the-battlefield tapped lands I could run. In the end, I ended up not tinkering too much with Aintrazi’s mana base, instead just making sure to have more green mana, and to have a couple more lands I knew would enter untapped.
As for the card choices, the most important isLiliana, the Last Hope. The power level on this 3-mana planeswalker is obscene. This card was single-handedly beating Spirits decks and the different Zombie decks I was seeing on MTGO. Some people claimed that it was not stellar against Bant Company, but this is pretty far from the truth in a deck with plenty of interaction. It both forces them to overextend into a sweeper and you have plenty of other creatures to block. Being able to team up with Languish to kill even the big Sylvan Advocates was a big deal.
The thing about Liliana, as you saw in the finals of the Pro Tour, is that it doesn’t even really need to be doing anything to be doing everything. Just ticking her up to set up an ultimate is game winning against control decks. They have to answer her, and she can just provide tons of card advantage against BW Control. There are lots of great creatures to help find or bring back. A turn-3 Liliana was the best thing you could be doing in a world that isn’t all about Emrakul. While that may shift thanks to Emrakul’s dominance in this PT, we still saw what an emblem is capable of and how strong being able to kill a Pilgrim’s Eye to slow down emerge is. This is a slam-dunk 4-of.
The more challenging decision was whether to stick to 4 Languishes. Without knowing the precise metagame, it was a difficult decision, and the 4th Languish floated between the main deck and sideboard. While you never needed 4 against Bant Company in the past, having extra copies when they have Spell Queller was proving useful. Going forward, there is no chance I would still have 4 in my main deck, but I was happy with it in the Pro Tour. I ended up being paired vs. 1 Ramp deck and 1 BW Control deck, where they were awful, but I also faced Zombies twice where they were amazing. 3 main and 1 sideboard would be my advice going forward.
For the removal options, 4 Grasp of Darkness is a must. It kills most creatures in the format, and at instant speed. It’ll trade up with Archangel Avacyn, and deal with Advocate, Spell Queller, Thalia, Kalitas, and creaturelands. Spell Queller has completely destroyed the stock of powerful cards like Ultimate Price, and I couldn’t really afford to have the better-mana option that couldn’t kill the Spirit. I also ended up including a single Murder, that I was very happy with, as both the 5th Grasp and a card that could kill Elder Deep-Fiend.
Aintrazi opted for cards like Hedron Archive and Silumgar’s Command. Both are powerful, but not cards I’d play. The deck was already a bit slow, so while Command is a great tool that can get you out of tight spots, I couldn’t afford it. I really like the Archive, especially as another card type for Emrakul, but it gets hit by Spell Queller and doesn’t do anything early in the game or the turn you cast it. The tempo gained was offset too much by the tempo lost, and I cut them all.
Ob Nixilis Reignited ended up being amazing for me in testing as a way to kill a creature that gets around Spell Queller, and can deal with Emrakul. I would have loved a second copy, but I couldn’t realistically play another 5+ mana spell in this deck.
I’d love to run more copies of Traverse the Ulvenwald as well, but I’m not sure that I should. I played 2 in the tournament, and 3 could be correct, but it would require having access to more green mana sources so that you can use it early to fix your mana. With 4 Grasp, 4 Liliana, and 4 Languish, you need so much black mana. I could have gone the Llanowar Wastes route, but then you’re severely hurting your ability to play Sunken Hollows and/or Choked Estuary untapped. Traverse is a great card to cast early to get a land when you can just flash it back late to tutor for whatever creature you need.
Sylvan Advocate is so unbelievably good, but not an all-star in this deck. Getting to 6+ mana is already a good sign in a control deck and a 4/5 body isn’t overly impressive, but it also just didn’t do enough in the early game. Sometimes forcing them to commit more to the board for Languish was excellent, but you also committed more to the board in this instance. I considered shaving down from 4 copies, but couldn’t really convince myself that cutting such a powerful card was correct. Going forward, however, I likely would cut some, and I shaved the number down in most sideboard games.
Nissa, Vastwood Seer overperformed so much in testing that I added the second copy last-minute. Getting more lands is awesome, you don’t care too much if it dies with cards like Liliana, and she consistently took over the late game with card advantage.
Den Protector was fine—never overly exciting—but a good tool. Is some games I would want to Traverse for her, and others where she was awesome to bring back with Liliana, but still a little slow and not a huge impact on the board. I had a second copy in the board for a while, but was never impressed enough to want it. I think 1 main 0 sideboard is correct for this deck.
Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy is still great. It may not be as powerful as it was in a fetchland world, but it’s still amazing. Jace is what allowed me to gamble on the number of Languishes I played, as I had the outlet to upgrade them when I needed it. There isn’t enough early interaction in Standard, so Jace tends to live far more often than he used to. All creatures are under control with Jace and Liliana side-by-side.
Ishkanah, Grafwidow is what makes this deck work. There were a number of games against Chapin when I felt like I could never lose, but then he would Traverse for his 1-of Ishkanah and I could never win. It was an easy decision to move up to a second copy main with a third in the sideboard, and I could see that number increasing even more going forward. Ish is format defining.
Speaking of format defining, I knew Emrakul, the Promised End was absolutely sick, but even then I was underestimating it. I won every single game I cast Emrakul, and I was able to get to the point where I could cast her in most games played. If you watched the Pro Tour, you understand just how good she is.
I cut Dragonlord Silumgar from the main deck due to how weak it was against Bant Company and aggressive decks like Zombies. I think that was a mistake and I’m glad I rectified it before submitting. Having access to even a single Dragonlord alongside Traverse, Den Protector, Liliana, and Jace was instrumental to my success. Opponents couldn’t tick up their Lilianas to ultimate range for fear of just losing the game on the spot. This is the most powerful weapon you have against planeswalkers and allowed me to forgo a weaker card like Ruinous Path.
I had Gilt-Leaf Winnower until the last minute, but ended up losing it on the cutting room floor in the end. It was nice to be able to kill a Spell Queller without getting Queller’d, but the 4/3 body was walking right into my own Languishes and 5 was too high a cost. With a second Ish, Ob Nixilis, Dragonlord Silumgar, and Emrakul already in the deck, I wanted to lower the curve. Winnower is decent, and worked well with Liliana, but I think it was better left out.
I had 3 Oath of Jace for the longest time, but Chapin was appropriately skeptical. The card is not amazing, although it was another way to help get rid of cards like excess Languishes or creatures I didn’t want to cast. The scry was actually a useful ability as this deck does have Jace, Liliana, Ob Nix, and Nissa to fuel it. In the end, I was super impressed with Dead Weight in a number of matchups, including vs. Bant Company. While I didn’t want more dead cards to go with my Languishes against control decks, I ended up playing a single Dead Weight main and shaved down to 2 Oaths.
Here’s the final list I registered for Pro Tour Eldritch Moon:
Eric Froehlich, Top 75 at PT Eldritch Moon
I love where I ended up. Big thanks to Chapin for turning me on to how powerful the delirium cards were. I know this wouldn’t have been the direction I’d go otherwise. It felt great to finally have an awesome deck and to have a better grasp on the format than some of the top teams.
I ended up drafting an excellent RB deck to start. I got paired against Sam Pardee round 1, who was also drafting RB 2 seats to my left. Knowing that there were no second playables in any of the packs for Shadows over Innistrad, I knew I should be decently far ahead in the matchup. After a mulligan and mana flood game 1, I flooded out hard game 2 again before I drew my Cryptolith Fragment with me at 5 and him still at 3. Despite playing with this card and “knowing” what it did—it flips in my upkeep and that it only works if we both have 10 or fewer life—I somehow had made up in my mind that it can only flip if it had been activated. This makes absolutely zero sense with how the card is set up and printed, but during my upkeep I had never tapped it so I didn’t flip it, preparing to use it, flip it, and kill him the following turn. This massive punt came back to punish me when he top decked a way to win through my removal spell.
Starting 0-1 after making a horrific mistake is probably the very worst way you could start a tournament. It would have been great to force a game 3 and try to get my tournament started the right way, but I threw it away.
That didn’t improve much as I ended up 1-2’ing the draft. My final round against Simon Nielson looked great, as he mulliganed to 5 on the play. I can’t remember ever losing to a mull to 5 on the play in Limited when I keep my 7, but I drew too many 4- and 5-drops and not enough lands, and he was able to capitalize.
In Constructed, things started off right. I defeated GW Tokens on the back of Dragonlord Silumgar stealing and ultimating a Nissa, Voice of Zendikar. I dropped to 2-3 overall in the tournament the next round after stumbling on lands against Bant Company.
Round 7 at 3-3 was against Bant Spirits, which should be one of my best matchups with both Liliana and Languish. I ended up losing a close game 2 against some excellent Companys, but game 3 was another massacre in the right direction. I had Aerial Volley in my sideboard, but this match made me pretty confident that it was not necessary. The card is great vs. Spirits, but that deck is both unpopular and already severely disadvantaged in the matchup.
I closed the day with a win against Marcio Carvalho and UB Zombies. I used to take a record like 5-3 on Day 1 for granted, but I was extremely grateful. Going 4-1 with what I felt was an excellent Constructed deck had me really excited for Day 2.
I ended up drafting a solid, nearly-mono-white deck and winning round 1, but failed to assemble the critical combination of lands and spells in the next 2. At 6-5, I was out of contention for Top 8, meaning my run of Platinum seasons was also over.
My next match was against WB Control, where I lost a quick game 1 after putting him on a creature deck and keeping a land-heavy hand with Languishes and removal. I died to Gideon in the minimum number of turns. Game 3 ended up being epic where he correctly didn’t gamble on ticking his Liliana up to 7, as I would have been able to Dragonlord it and win the game, but I wiped his board with Emrakul and brought it back with a future Liliana to win an awesome match.
In round 15 I played against the Japanese RG Ramp deck, which was super sweet. I lost game 1 to triple-Emrakul, but managed to take a pretty sick match. The preboard matchup is horrible, but boarding in Negates, Transgresses, and Summary Dismissal was effective. I was short on blue mana, so I actually was casting my Painful Truths for 2 so that I didn’t force myself to need to hit an untapped blue for my countermagic.
At 9-6, I was paired against Andrew Baeckstrom, who I believe was on the UltraPro Zombie deck (a.k.a. my best matchup). We took an ID as neither of us were playing for anything besides cash at this point and both ended up making the money.
The Sultai deck was amazing for me and I was really happy with it. There are, of course, a few changes I would make going forward, and the mana base could probably use more work, but overall I’m thrilled. 7-1 in Constructed rounds played is an awesome record for the Pro Tour or anywhere else.
As for sideboarding, I mixed it up throughout the event and would also make adjustments for play/draw.
Negate and Summary Dismissal are similar. If Languish isn’t good, Negate likely is. Summary Dismissal is your best option against any deck with Emrakul, but don’t be afraid to board it in as a bad counter when you need a better card than a removal spell. I definitely mixed up where I brought in Negates for non-control matchups. I would bring in 1-2 against Bant Company depending on what I saw, as it was a nice insurance policy. Having 1-2 against GW Tokens ended up also being pretty solid in testing, as countering Gideon is awesome and it’s a nice security blanket as long as you have enough removal for Avacyn. Transgress is similar, although a better proactive tool against Bant Company.
Kalitas is a bit of a catch-all that kept proving really good against Zombies, so I played a second copy. This is one of your better cards against decks like GW Tokens, but also happens to be completely game-breaking against the Temur Emerge deck that was developed at this PT.
Dragonlord Silumgar takes big things and planeswalkers—another trump for token decks or for something like the mirror. It’s also excellent against WB Control’s planeswalkers.
Dead Weight can lower your curve against aggressive decks. I brought it in against Bant Company and Zombies.
Aerial Volley was for Spirits. It was a mistake.
Ishkanah is so good against decks like Bant and Zombies that I wanted a third copy. It’s also a card that I trimmed against the slower decks, so I think keeping 2 main 1 board is correct for now.
Ruinous Path was a cheaper answer to planeswalkers. Not a great card, but useful against decks with Gideon.
I played a single Seasons Past in the sideboard to really help in the attrition battles as a game-winning trump. It was not necessary.
Going forward, the list I would look to play would be very similar to what I ran in the Pro Tour. Here’s where I would start:
Sultai Control, Updated
Eric Froehlich, Top 75 at PT Eldritch Moon
I think this deck is one of the best in Standard and I look forward to seeing what people do with it going forward. It was a blast to play and extremely powerful. The similarities to GB Delirium are plentiful, so the real question is whether it is worth it to have inferior mana for more power. I believe Jace to be a much better card than Grim Flayer, assuming you can support it and flip it early, so it fits much better into a Languish shell. Both this deck and the GB Delirium decks had truly awesome weekends, so time will tell!